Opening Statement on behalf of Participants of the Forum of NGOs, by Hon. Hannah Forster

 Statement on behalf of Participants of the Forum of NGOs
at the Official Opening of the
48th Ordinary Session of the African Commission
Human and Peoples' Rights
10th November, 2010 – Sheraton Hotel, Banjul, The Gambia


Honourable Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Republic of The Gambia, Mr Edward Anthony Gomez,
Your Excellency, Commissioner for Political Affairs, African Union Commission (DPA/AUC), Mrs Julia Dolly Joiner,
Honourable Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), Mrs Reine Alapini Gansou,
Honourable Vice Chairperson and Mmebers of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, Justice Gerard Niyungeko, and Member, Justice Modibo Tounty Guindo,
My Lord, Chief Justice of the Republic of the Gambia,
Mr Musa Gassama, Special Representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, East Africa Regional Office,
Mr Patrice Vahard, Senior Human Rights Advisor, United Nations Office for West Africa,
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps,
Honourable Salamata Sawadogo, Minister for Human Rights of the Republic of Burkina Faso,
Distinguished Governing Council Members of the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS),
Distinguished Members of the NGO Forum Steering Committee,
Honourable Members of the National Assembly,
Honourable Ministers,
Distinguished State Representative,
Venerable Religious and Traditional Leaders,
Representatives of National Human Rights Institutions,
Representatives of National and International NGOs,
Representatives of the Press,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
All protocols respectfully observed

As a representative of the NGO Forum Steering Committee, it is a privilege for me to stand before this august gathering, charged with the responsibility to deliver a statement on behalf of my colleagues of the Forum on the Participation in the 48th Ordinary Session on the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. I would, therefore, on behalf of the NGO Forum Steering Committee and all participants of the NGO Forum, and indeed on my own behalf, like to thank the Chairperson of the African Commission for affording us this opportunity.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

We would like to express our gratitude to the Government and people of The Gambia for their hospitality, in facilitating the activities of the 48th Ordinary Session and to reiterate the appreciation of the Forum of NGOs for the continued hospitality and warmth accorded them since their arrival on Gambian soil.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

In keeping with tradition, the NGO Forum was held for three days prior to the commencement of this Session of the Commission. As usual, the turnout was remarkable, the debate objective and professional leading to commendable outcomes. Over 190 representatives from 32 African countries participated including 40 participants from Asia, Australia, Europe, The USA and Latin America.

The Forum acknowledged that although challenges in the human rights and democracy situation on the continent persists leading to violence, insecurity and conflict, some real and positive developments have been registered in a good number of African countries. The increasing trend of collaboration between state and non state actors for human rights in Africa was viewed as very positive. It was also noted that the dev elopement of a human rights strategy for Africa as well as the launching of the African Women's Decade 2010 – 2020 were indeed a step in the right direction.

The full report of the Forum together with the adopted resolutions and recommendations will be forwarded, for the kind consideration of your distinguished body, as our contribution to your deliberations at this 48th Session.

Distinguished Ladies and gentlemen,

I would crave your indulgence, however, to present to you some highlights of the said deliberations.

The Forum would like to draw your attention to a number of incidents, which have occurred in recent months and have raised the concern of participants. Full details are provided in the resolutions and recommendations emanating from the Forum.

The Forum reiterated the fact that many recommendations and resolutions sent to the African Commission are yet to receive attention.

In Burundi, Malawi, Rwanda and Uganda, among others, there are reports of continuing increased intimidation, harassment and homophobic attacks directed at people of different sexual orientation and gender identities. Access to justice is minimal or non-existent, while Lesbian, Gay, Bi sexual, Transgender and Intersex Women HRDs face the brunt of the violence most. Another concern is the rejection of observer status to a group engaged in facilitating the work of LGBTI's by your august body.

The Forum also received reports of extrajudicial and arbitrary killings as well as enforced disappearances in a number of countries including DRC.

Consequently, we would wish to reiterate our request to the African Commission to ascertain the veracity of these reports and to adopt a resolution publicly condemning all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by all parties in all comflicts in Africa and to work with the African Union in their resolution.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Forum would like to urge the African Commission to investigate all situations of violations with the view to propose and implement concrete steps to ensure the resolution of these situations of conflicts. Furthermore, we request the African Commission to urge States to respect their international, regional and national commitments.

It was observed that suppression of the freedom of expression, opinion, assembly and the press remained a cause for concern on our continent with formulation of draconian laws, harassment, intimidation, killings and arbitrary detention. The Forum agreed that the lack of independence of the judiciary contributed greatly to the aggravation of the situation. We thereby request the African Commission to express solidarity with all journalists living under extreme persecution and to urge States to abolish repressive laws while ensuring a conducive environment for the protection of journalists in Africa. The Forum also request The African Commission to urge States to respect the separation of powers to guarantee the independence of the judiciary and to adopt and endorse the Declaration of the Table Mountain to repeal insult and criminal defamation laws in African countries

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Although the situation of Human Rights Defenders on the continent continues to be precarious, we are heartened by steps taken the African Commission to address this challenge. The Forum however, urges the African Commission to consider the preparation of resolutions on countries with such disturbing prevailing circumstances relating to HRDs and to urge States to implement the UN Resolution on HRDs.

The situation of Women Human Rights Defenders remains a preoccupation and more attention should be taken to integrate and mainstream this special group into the work of namely the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Similarly, we would wish to reiterate the fact that increasing numbers of African migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons are forced to leave their homes, leading to total disruption of their livelihoods as a result of insecurity and conflict. It was noted that illegal migration has indeed compounded the situation, not to mention the attendant criminalization of migration. The Forum sincerely hopes that States would speedily ratify and implement the African Union Convention on the Protection of Refugees and Displaced Persons, which will hopefully help to mitigate the suffering of millions of refugees and IDPs in Africa.

The need to offer special protection to the elderly, the disabled and particularly to women and girl children who often find themselves open to abuse as a result of break down in security, in all circumstances, was also raised. It was proposed, however, that the working group established for the elderly and the disabled should be separated as these were fundamentally different conceptually and normatively. While restating that disability does not mean inability, it was believed that this course of action will allow for more focused intervention on these two issues by the African Commission. The African Commission is urged to include and provide access to these special groups of persons to their sessions.

The deplorable situation of indigenous populations was noted. The increased exploitation of land owned by these populations as well as their vulnerability, it was agreed, needed more attention.

Consequently, The Forum would like to request the African Commission to carry out systematic regional consultations through its Working Group on Indigenous Populations and to consider establishing a mechanism by appointing a Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Populations. It is unfortunate that the Republic of Kenya is yet to implement the Commission's ruling on relating to the Endorois Community.

The Forum noted that challenges exist in the maintenance of prisons and places of detention and the use of torture in some States and hereby request the African Commission to urge States to ratify and implement the Convention Against Torture and it Optional Protocol to prohibit torture and to accelerate the establishment of the National Preventive Mechanisms and therefore contribute to the systematic monitoring of prisons and places of detention as well as use of torture. We urge the Committee on the Prohibition of Torture in Africa (CPTA) to explore the possibilities for closer cooperation with the Sub Committee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT).

Although it was learnt that the increase in drug and sex related crimes have motivated some States to reinstate the death penalty, there is need to review alternative forms of punishment. States are urges to respect the sanctity of life, to condemn the death penalty and to commit themselves to its abolition.

Yours Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and gentlemen,

The continuing depletion of Africa's natural resources as the deterioration of the environment as result to the lack of transparency in investments and corporate policy was also a subject of review. While the African Commission was commended for setting up a working group oh this theme, it was necessary to consider the formulation of mechanisms to protect Africa from exploitation in its various forms.

In a bid to support the strengthening of international justice, The Forum fully endorses the principles of the State's Responsibility to Protect and continue to request the African Commission to urge Member States to fully collaborate with the International Criminal Court in order to prevent the atrocities in Africa. Furthermore, the African Commission is urged to take note of the legacy of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and to strengthen the mechanisms for the fight against impunity.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Forum reemphasized the necessity of popularizing the various documents emanating particularly from the African Union Commission (AUC) and the African Commission (ACHPR) to ensure that the messages contained therein reach the African populace. The importance of human rights education in enhancing the work of the AUC and ACHPR cannot be overemphasized and was also underscored by representatives of the Forum. Consequently, the participants have recommitted themselves to work individually and collectively towards the achievement of this goal.

The Forum continued to encourage more collaboration and joint actions between the Institutions of the African Union especially the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights end the Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. While urging the African Commission to make a clear statement that violence against children is a violation of human right, the need to increase investment in education and to prioritize the right to educate was flagged as being very crucial to the development of children.

The Forum would like to reiterate its call for the African Commission to look into the issue of citizenship and nationality as many groups in Africa are increasingly being classed as stateless. It should be noted that migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and internal displaced persons not to mention the large group of women and children that are trafficked within our porous borders are affected the most.

The African Commission is urged to work with its partners to carry out a fact finding mission on this subject in a bid to develop a mitigation strategy.

Yours Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of all the participants, I would wish to again congratulate the Commission and indeed Her Excellency, the Chairperson, particularly on the occasion of the launching of the 30th Anniversary of the adoption of the African Charter, for the many missions and achievements registered, and would wish to reiterate the readiness of the NGO community to work with the Commission and its mechanisms in the realization of their mandates.

In the same vein, we extend our best wishes to Mrs Lucy Asuagbor on her recent appointment as a Commissioner of this great institution. We wish her well in her new capacity.

Permit me, Madam Chairperson, to express our profound gratitude to the African Commission for your collaboration and support in the organization and facilitation of the NGO Forum. We would equally like to extend our appreciation, through you, to the Secretariat of the African Commission, and particularly to the Secretary and the Legal Officers, for the interest and continued support enjoyed by the NGO community, particularly those with observer status. We will continued to urge as many of our participants in the wider community to apply for observer status and thereby play their role and to benefit from the access provided by this great institution.

Within this framework of collaboration, the Forum wishes to request the African Commission to urges States to cooperate in the operationalisation of their commitment to the UPR process. The need to draw inspiration from the African Peer Review Mechanisms process has been proposed.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and gentlemen,

Participants to the Forum of NGOs reiterated their satisfaction for the continuing elaboration process of the African Governance Architecture and the insightful decision to dedicate the forthcoming January 2011 AU Summit to the theme of “Shared Values”. This process encompasses the formulation and eventual adoption of a human rights strategy for Africa as well as the ratification and entry into force of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG). Lack of independence of the electoral systems has made elections in Africa a growing source of conflict and spurred by the substance of the ACDEG, participants have committed themselves to actively support the call of the Department for Political Affairs of the African Union Commission to campaign for its speedy ratification and implementation.

The Forum applauds the Department of Political Affairs of the African Union Commission in particular, for such an initiative. The participants while appreciating their involvement in the process pledge their resolve to support the Department for Political Affairs of the African Union Commission, as it leads this process and assure them of our readiness to play our part.

The Forum also noted that many African and International instruments have been ratified by States, which is commendable. However, the challenge remains that there is need to harmonize and implement these treaties at the national level in order to maximize their impact. Consequently, we would wish to appeal to States, which have not ratified these pertinent treaties, so speedily ratify them and therefore enable their inevitable implementation. We similarly, urge those who have ratified to ensure that harmonization does take place to speed up their implementation and thereby give life to their provisions.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

The entry into force of the Protocol to the African Charter Relating to the Rights of Women in Africa continues to be a beacon of hope for the promotion and protection of human rights in Africa.

We, therefore, wish to congratulate all the 28 countries that have ratified the Protocol and fervently hope that universal ratifications by other states would usher in that much needed momentum to put into action gender equality in our considering that is also provided an opportunity to review and redouble efforts to further the women, peace and security agenda.

The Forum reviewed the linkages between HIV/AIDS and the provisions of the Charter and its mechanisms and wishes to acknowledge that Violence Against Women is adequately covered in the African Women's Protocol and there was need to consider the establishment of a mechanism on the Right to Health, which is very important to women in these trying times of violence and conflict, which has grave consequences for the women and girls. Furthermore, we request that the African Commission urge states to operationalize United Nations Resolutions 1325 and 1820, particularly in the dev development of their national plans of action.

The importance of management of Human rights information and documentation was also a subject of discussion, considering that quality of our work depends to a large extent to the efficient organization of information. The Forum commits itself to building capacity in this area and calls on the African Commission to take the advantage of opportunity provides by the expertise within civil society. The development of the Case Law Analyser by HURIDOCS on ACHPR cases and decisions held by the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa is indeed a good example of the complementary role of information management for the benefit of human rights individuals and institutions.

Madam Chairperson, Distinguished Commissioners, Honoured Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to conclude by extending a plea from the Forum to the African Commission to reconsider its decision regarding the rejection of observer status to an organization working on LGBTI issues and to provide more information on this case. The Forum reiterates the readiness of your partners, particularly NGOs with Observer Status to work in collaboration with the African Commission to further complement your efforts in your work to promote and protect human rights, good governance and the rule of law in Africa.

Madam Chairperson,

On behalf of the participants of the Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the work of the 48th session of the African Commission, allow me to wish you, Your Excellency, and all the Commissioners a successful session.

Thank you.



November 2010




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