Opening Speech of the Chairperson of the African Commission, Commissioner Reine Alapini-Gansou

Opening Address of the Chairperson of
the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, Commissioner Reine Alapini-Gansou,
 Reflection on the Human Rights of Women in Africa
48th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
 10 to 24 November 2010


Excellency Mr. Edward Gomez, Minister of Justice of the Republic of The Gambia;
Excellency Mrs Julia Dolly Joiner, Commissioner for Political Affairs of the Commission of the African Union;
Excellency Mme Salamata Sawadogo, former Chairperson of the ACHPR and Minister for the Promotion of Human Rights of the Republic of Burkina Faso;
Honourable Judge Gérard Niyungeko, President of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights;
Honourable Mumba Malila, Vice-Chairperson of the ACHPR;
Honourable Member of the African Court;  
Your Excellencies Ladies and Gentlemen Ambassadors and Representatives of the Diplomatic Corps;
Excellency Mr Mahamane Cisse-Gouro, Regional Representative of the High Commission for Human Rights for West Africa;
Excellency Mr Musa Gasama Regional Representative for High Commission for Human Rights for East Africa and the Africa Union;
Excellency Mr. Patrice Vahard, Representative of the United Nations West Africa Bureau;
Your Excellencies Ladies and Gentlemen Representatives of International Organizations;
Ladies and Gentlemen Representatives of National Human Rights Institutions;
Ladies and Gentlemen Representatives of Non-Governmental Organizations;
Distinguished Guests,
In your respective ranks and capacities;
All protocols observed;

Dear Colleagues, honourable Members of the ACHPR,

Here we are once again gathered in response to the call, and even before you embark on your assignment, please allow me to indicate, on your behalf and on behalf of the ACHPR, that during this intersession and more than ever before you have been working tirelessly to strengthen the culture of human rights on our Continent generally and more particularly, you have been working to achieve greater effectiveness of the diverse special procedures under your responsibility.  

Some of us have been doing this out of duty, not to say love and service for human rights. I appreciate all this with great pride and wish to re-assure you of my confidence in each and every one of you. I am especially satisfied with the fact that for the past two years we have been working with reduced staff at a time when our Commission has felt the need for increased visibility and greater recognition;

It is with joy therefore that I welcome the election of Mrs Lucy Asuagbor to whom I present all my felicitations; welcome Madame to this human rights family. I wish you all the emulation that you desire in the fulfilment of your mandate.

Honourable delegates,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me, at the beginning of my address, to warmly acknowledge the presence among us for the very first time, of the Honourable Judge Gérard Niyungeko, President of the African Court. Your Excellency, I would like to render to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and to God that which belongs to God, by expressing my profound joy and the hope that the ACHPR places in this complementarity between our two Organs; which is conditional upon our common will and our commitment to human rights in Africa. 

I would like at this point in my address to express the privilege of having among us someone who has always held the ACHPR’s torch aloft despite the vagaries of this responsibility. Mme Salamata Sawadogo the hour has come to pay you homage and to thank you on behalf of the ACHPR and on my own behalf for the example of women’s solidarity and friendship which you have always shown and which will continue to inspire us.  

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The 48th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) will afford us the opportunity to, once again, appreciate the human rights situation on the Continent. And, rather than a duty, it is a ritual for us. I would rather call it an odyssey of human rights during which all the stakeholders get involved in the dialogue that we open on the implementation of African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the other subsequent legal instruments. 

This time again I would like to propose that we move beyond the rhetoric and focus more on the human rights of Women in Africa in the face of the test of time.

Before that however, I would like us to take a rapid look back on the human rights situation on our Continent and in so doing, take the measure of our joint responsibility.

As I had recalled in my opening address of the 47th Session we are moving resolutely towards the assessment of the Year of Peace and Security in Africa. The findings realized by the States Parties to the Charter themselves and by Civil Society Organizations are that, in spite of the efforts deployed at both the legislative and political levels, and despite the numerous programmes undertaken within the States Parties, well justified fears still persist, in particular during election and post election periods as well as in those countries which unfortunately are still ravaged by armed conflicts. 

Let us also say that armed conflicts continue to be rife in Africa and are hindering the development of a culture of human rights as well as the viability of solid democracies within which the primacy of Law should rule. In the last six months the ACHPR has, for its part, seen that in the States Parties to the Charter the governance issue remains on the Agenda and does not appear to rouse the conscience of the Politicians since, to date, the Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance has not entered into force. We deplore the fact that this instrument which is indispensable for the anchorage of a genuine democracy has only been ratified by 3 out of 53 African States Parties to the Charter.

Honourable delegates,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The rationale underlying the choice of my topic for reflection « Human Rights for Women in Africa » is that, at the level of the ACHPR the human rights of Women constitute one of the primary themes on the agenda of the African Human Rights System. Is this by pure coincidence? Or, is it because the adoption by the African Member States of the 1979 UN Convention on all forms of discrimination against women has been the reason for this new awareness?

In any case, the records show that during its 25th Ordinary Session held in Bujumbura, BURUNDI, in May 1999, the ACHPR adopted its Resolution ACHPR /res.38 (XXV) 99 which appointed a Special Rapporteur for the Rights of Women in Africa. This was the first mechanism established within the ACHPR, and this was the first option to move from general to specific cases. Furthermore, in that same year, several events heightened the awareness of the International and African Community on the role of women in society and on the role to be played by human rights promotion and protection Institutions on the Continent.

The struggle for Women’s rights is a perpetual one. It reached its peak during the 18th Century in the West, and 360 years ago women in London addressed the British Parliament demanding, I quote « Have the liberties and freedoms that guarantee rights related petitions and other good laws of the Kingdom been established only for men and not for us? »,  today the African Woman has the right to ask the same question, even though following Dakar and Beijing conferences, and their platforms of action, the Maputo Protocol, the solemn Declaration of the Heads of State and Governments on gender equality in Africa, the African Women’s Decade are all geared towards reducing this pessimism.

Honourable delegates,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In 2009, during the evaluation of Beijing+15, an inventory of the implementation of these different instruments and declarations in Africa highlighted the urgent need for a more vigorous engagement of all the stakeholders for the effective enjoyment by African Women of all their rights, namely: civil, political, economic, social, cultural and third generation rights. In 2010, we are still preoccupied with all the ills which impinge the human dignity, moral and physical integrity of the African woman. Some of these ills constitute: forced marriages, early marriages, violence against women including domestic violence, sexual abuse, female genital mutilation, women and child trafficking, sexual harassment, forced prostitution, retrogressive and harmful traditional practices, difficulties of property ownership, inheritance, difficulties of access to  basic health and social services, difficulties linked to the lack of respect for the right to reproductive. I would also add to these, the difficulties in obtaining education, employment, justice and information.

All these issues still remain to be addressed and continue to be debated in numerous fora on women’s rights as well as the imperative integration of gender in our Countries’ programs and policies. Thus the need to recall that the year 2010 had focused not only on Peace and Security but also on the plight of the African woman.

2010 follows 10 years of implementation of Resolution 1325 of the UN Security Council on Women’s rights, Peace and Security as well as other related Resolutions on the effective representation of women and their participation in the decision making processes, protection and legal assistance in instances of violation of their rights and on the integration of gender in all the activities of State and non-State actors. Studies show that much remains to be done in terms of pertinent gender policies and the mobilisation of adequate financial resources for their implementation in most of these countries. Finally 2010 ushered in the launching of the Decade of the African Woman 2010-2020, on 15th October in Nairobi.    

This Decade of the African Woman which idea had been debated since 1975 with a lot of prevarication in Copenhagen in 1980, 1985 in Nairobi, and 1995 in BEIJING, 2008 in Maseru has finally made it here.

The long road towards the realisation of women’s rights in Africa is thus following its course. But is seems one should not be too optimistic considering the persistent large scale rape and other forms of gender based violence in countries such as DRC and Guinea; considering that in other countries a deplorable judicial vacuum exists regarding women’s rights; a situation that borders on the denial of justice for the African Woman and considering the rise of fundamentalism in countries which have peremptorily opted for secularism, democracy and respect for human rights in their Constitutions.

I have taken the liberty,

Honourable delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen;

Of once again taking a peek under the veil of this sensitive issue so that all stakeholders are reminded of their obligations, and I would like to quote Simone Veil, former Minister of Health of France, who took inspiration from her travels within the country stated that there are no equal opportunities since women’s opportunities derive too much from luck and not enough from the rules of the game. It suffices at this moment to use big words and to engage in theoretical debates on principles while neglecting social realities ».

I would therefore like to urge States Parties to respect their commitments and promises; and at this point of my address I wish to be allowed to state that we need to think of future generations and the kind of legacy we want to leave them. Do we want them to inherit an intolerant world? an Africa devastated by wars; an Africa that refuses to move forward?

It is high time for us to move to action act and in so doing all should walk in the same direction.

I would like to urge States Parties and all other stakeholders to reflect on these questions.

Honourable delegates,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish you all an excellent Session. May our deliberations which I know will be highly constructive yield concrete results that will contribute to advancing the cause of human rights and to the establishment of sustainable peace on the African Continent.


Thank You.


                                  Banjul, 10th November 2010



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