Opening Speech by his Excellency President John Agyekum Kuffour

Opening Address by His Excellency President John
Agyekum Kuffour at the 41st Ordinary Session of the
African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
held at the Accra Conference Centre, Accra on 16th
May 2007

Salutation

On behalf of the government and people of Ghana, I welcome you to Ghana. Ghana is very honoured to play host to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Right (the African Commission) on the occasion of its 41st Ordinary Session.

This particularly welcoming at this time, not only because Ghana holds the chairmanship of the African Union, but also when Ghana is celebrating her Golden Jubilee. More so, Ghana’s Golden Jubilee coincides with the 20th Anniversary of the African Commission. Some fifty years ago, Ghana had the unique opportunity to be first sub – Saharan country to become
independent. Today all of Africa is free from domination in the form of colonialism and apartheid. So this jubilee is not only Ghana’s jubilee it is Africa’s jubilee.

Madame Chairperson, as we celebrate fifty years of self determination in Africa we must also take stock. Is our past a past we are proud of and has it prepared us for the future? Has political liberation brought true freedom to our people? These are questions we constantly need to ask ourselves. Our hope is that as Ghanaians and indeed Africans are taking stock of the past so as to plan for the future, the African Commission is also engaged in a similar task. We cannot overemphasize the need for African governments, African civil society and African institutions, such as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to work closely together towards the advancement of human and peoples’ right and true freedom on the African continent.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, in about six weeks the 9th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union will also be held here in Accra. The Session will be discussing African union and African integration. Madam Chairperson lasting unity and integration should and can only be attained on a platform of true peace where each African is the other Africans keeper and there is fundamental human and peoples’ rights for all.

This is the challenge not just for African leaders but also for African institutions and since unity, integration and fundamental human and peoples’ rights are intrinsically linked, the critical role of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights cannot be overemphasized.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, since its establishment in 1987, the African Commission has played a significant role in promoting the African Charter on Human and  Peoples’ Rights on the continent and protecting the rights enshrined therein. Member countries of the African Union and African Commission have been working partner over the years.
The time has come for these two groups to forge a closer alliance and strengthen their relationship in order to enhance the work of the Commission.

The African Union is happy to note that the African Commission has already been involved in the promotion of the African Charter in member countries, signatory to the Charter in  accordance with article 45 of the African Charter. However, the existence and provisions of the Charter is still little known among the populations on the African continent. Perhaps in our fight to entrench fundamental human and peoples’ rights in Africa the most important role of the African Commission is the promotion of human and peoples’ rights through education. It is important that our people are made aware of this Charter, the African Carter on Human and Peoples Rights and the rights they are entitled to as well as their responsibilities.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, this sad situation does not augur well for the effective execution of the functions of the Commission. I believe this state of affairs has a remedy. The promotion of the African Charter should not be left to rest on the shoulders of the African Commission alone. All of us, governments, civil society, the media and all
those who have had privilege of knowing about the provisions of the Charter must take ownership of its provision and be responsible for its promotion in a structured and organized manner across Africa. In this regard I invite the African Commission to take the leadership role since this is part of their mandate and to galvanize the rest of Africa in this regard.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen Self assessment is necessary in the process of development and I invite the African Commission itself to re-assess its strengths and weaknesses in order to enhance its operation for the effective promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights on the continent.

I also invite you to continue to examine the relationship between the African Commission and regional Institutions such as the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. With the establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the fusion of the court with the African Court of Justice I believe that Africa has shown commitment to take promotion and protection of fundamental human and peoples’ Rights to another level. I will  encourage the African Commission to work out a viable relationship with the Court for the smooth running of both institutions. Indeed, the success of both institutions does not only depend on resolutions of the African Union but practical relationship the institutions forge.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, it cannot be overemphasized that women play a very important role in the development of any society. Africa recognizes that women can effectively play an important role in the development process when they are empowered. This is  why the African Union has made the promotion of gender equality one of the cardinal principles of the Union under article 4(1) of the Constitutive Act, 2000. In the preamble of the Constitutive Act, African governments are enjoined to build a strong partnership with women for accelerated and sustainable development.

In its commitment to ensuring gender equality in Africa and to promote and protect the rights of women in Africa, the African Union has gone a step further to adopt in 2003 a Protocol specifically addressing the rights of women in Africa, namely the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa which came into force in
November 2005. State parties to the Women’s Protocol are under an obligation to take legislative, administrative and other steps to ensure gender
equality in their respective jurisdictions.

The key provisions of the Women’s Protocol are the elimination of discrimination against women, the elimination of harmful practices, access to justice and equal protection before the law, right to education, right to dignity, reproductive health rights, widows rights, property rights and special protection for women with disability. In our African context all these rights are crucial to the emancipation and development of women.

In Ghana, our Constitution, 1992 among others guarantees respect for human dignity under article 15, guarantees the principles of nondiscrimination under article 17, and guarantees educational rights under article 25. I am happy to inform you that I, as Attorney – General and Minister of Justice, together with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, regional Integration and NEPAD, and the Minister of Women and Children’s Affairs have been directed by his Excellency, the President, John Agyekum Kufour, to take immediate steps to ensure that Protocol is ratified by Ghana’s Parliament.
 
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am convinced that Africans are capable and debate on the issues of human and peoples’ rights. Hence the African Commission is one of the important institutions under the African Union. This session has a major contribution to make towards the growth of African Commission. Our peoples and populations look up to this
Commission to articulate those issues which regulate dialogue and debate to create a basis for understanding and consensus- the bedrock on which to erect the ramparts of African Unity.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Africans were born free and must remain free. Once again I express my gratitude for the African Commission’s decision to hold its 41st Ordinary Session in Ghana. I welcome you all and I am confident that you will have fruitful deliberations and a successful session.


Thank you all.
 

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