Opening Statement of the Representive of NGO's, Hon Hannah Forster

Statement on behalf of Participants of the Forum of NGOs
at the Official Opening of the
49th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on
Human and Peoples' Rights,
28th April 2011
Kairaba Beach Hotel, Banjul, The Gambia

Madame Isatou Alwar Graham representing the Honourable Attorney General and Secretary of State for Justice of the Republic of The Gambia,
Your Excellency, Commissioner Julia Joiner, Department of Political Affairs, African Union Commission (DPA/AUC),
Honourable Chairperson of The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), Madame Reine Alapini Gansou and Members of the African Commission,
Honourable Vice Chairperson and Members of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR),
Honourable Members of the Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child,
My Lord, Chief Justice of the Republic of The Gambia,
Mr. Musa Gassama, Representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, East African Office,
Representative of the United Nations Office in West Africa,
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps,
Honourable Members of the National Assembly,
Honourable Secretaries of State,
Distinguished State Representatives,
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 the Executive Director of the The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS), the Secretariat of the NGO Forum and the Chairperson of the NGO Forum Steering Committee, I am humbled to be called upon 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 of NGOs in the 49 th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. On behalf of all the participants of the NGO Forum, and indeed on my own behalf, like to thank the Chairperson and Members of the African Commission for affording us this opportunity.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to also express the gratitude of all the participants to the Government and people of The Gambia for their hospitality, in facilitating the activities of the 49th Ordinary Session and to reiterate the appreciation of the Forum of NGOs for the warm welcome afforded them since their arrival on the ‘smiling coast of Africa’.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Forum is saddened by news of the demise of a dear colleague and former participant of the NGO Forum. Mr. Alpha Fall was one of the co-founders of the African Institute for Human Rights and Development. (1 minute silence) May his soul rest in peace.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

The NGO Forum, held for three days prior to the commencement of this Session of the Commission, registered yet another remarkable turnout. Notwithstanding the limitation of time and the many human rights areas to be reviewed, the debate was objective and professional leading to commendable outcomes. About 200 representatives from over 30 African countries participated including 25 participants from Europe, The USA and Asia.

The Forum acknowledged that despite the persistence as a result of the human rights and democracy situation on the continent leading to violence, insecurity and conflict, real and positive developments have been registered in a good number of African countries.

Some of these positive and welcome developments reported during the Forum were the conscious harmonisation of domestic law to take into consideration the human rights of persons with disabilities as well as the human rights of women; some countries have been applauded for taking steps to progressive inclusion of people with disability in the electoral process. It was noted that six African countries have adopted legislation criminalising torture in their jurisdiction while ten have ratified the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. The Forum welcomed the fact that a spirit of goodwill and cooperation exist among many African countries to respect the human rights of its citizen despite the negative economic environment with its attendant challenges. These times have also seen an increasing trend of collaboration between state and non state actors for human rights in Africa, to name but a few.

Despite these and many other positive developments, The Forum was overwhelmed by the situation in some countries in recent months which remain a cause for concern for all the participants of the Forum.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Please bear with me as I present to you the highlights of the said deliberations.

Participants opined that North Africa would never be the same after the tumultuous and historic demand for human rights that had been spreading like wild fire in that sub region, particularly in Tunis, Egypt and Libya. Furthermore, the persistence of challenges related to the conduct of elections have been brought alive by the stalemate in Cote D’Ivoire. In an effort to encourage the African Commission and its partners to curb and or deal with these issues in a timely manner, The Forum has highlighted the situation in many an African country but have come out with resolutions on Burundi, Djibouti, Cote D’Ivoire, Libya, North Africa and Swaziland. Thematic resolutions and recommendations prepared for the attention of the African Commission includes the following themes: the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights; the Human Rights of Children; Persons with Disabilities; Elections; Forced Disappearances; Freedom of Expression, Opinion, Assembly and the Press; Conditions of Prisons and Places of Detention; the observance of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; HIV/Aids and Human Rights; the prohibition of Torture; Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons; Reprisals of Human Rights Defenders; Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities; the human rights of Women and the African Consensus emerging from The World Social Forum. Furthermore, the Forum also prepared a Declaration of Solidarity with the People of North Africa . Full details are provided in the resolutions and recommendations emanating from the Forum.

I would wish to reiterate that it is not the intention of the Forum to name and shame but a call to action in order to address potentially deteriorating observance of human rights, rule of law and democracy on the continent.

We, therefore, request the African Commission to express solidarity with all human rights defenders , especially women human rights defenders; journalists, LGBTIs (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender and Intersex) other marginalised groups living under extreme persecution and to urge states to abolish repressive laws and to ensure a conducive environment for the protection of all these groups in Africa.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

We noted that human dignity has been observed by some states by substituting life imprisonment for the death penalty. However, the need for states to condemn the death penalty and to commit themselves to its abolition was also reiterated.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Forum also re-emphasised the necessity of popularising the various documents emanating particularly from the African Union and the African Commission to ensure that the messages contained therein reach the African populace. The importance of human rights education was underscored and representatives of the Forum re committed themselves to work towards the achievement of this goal.

The Forum would like to encourage more collaboration and joint actions between the Institutions of the African Union especially the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights .

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of all the participants, I would wish to again congratulate the African Commission and indeed the Chairperson for the many missions and achievements registered during the last inter session . The Forum noted with satisfaction, the reaction of the Commission to the situation in North Africa and for taking the necessary action to contribute towards its resolution. While we congratulate the joint harmonization and adoption of the rules of procedures for The Court and The African Commission, we would equally wish to recognise and applaud the joint effort of The African Court and The African Commission on securing the order of provisional measures in relation to the current situation in Libya as we reiterate the readiness of the NGO community to work with these and other relevant institutions and their mechanisms in the realization of their mandates.

The threat of citizenship as a potential source of conflict in Cote D’Ivoire has been raised over a decade ago by the Forum calling on the Commission to action. However, we are also pleased that the African Commission is seized of the situation in Cote D’Ivoire and we would wish to acknowledge the nomination of Madam Alapini-Gansou as a member of the UN Investigation Team to this country.

Madam Chairperson, allow me, on behalf of the Forum, to express our profound gratitude to the African Commission for your collaboration and support in the organisation 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 continue to urge as many of our colleagues in the wider community to consider applying for observer status to enable them play their role and maximise the accrued benefits that can be achieved from the access provided by this great institution.

The Forum applauds the resounding success of the January Summit with its apt theme of Shared Values and would like to congratulate Department of Political Affairs of the African Union Commission for effectively leading the formulation and discussion process of the development of a human rights strategy for Africa, which has led to its adoption in the last few days. We recognise that the human rights strategy for Africa forms an integral part of the African Governance Architecture and hereby wish to convey the Forum’s pledge and commitment to support and collaborate with your esteemed institution in its implementation.

Within this framework of collaboration, the Forum wishes to request the African Commission to urge states to cooperate in the operationalisation of their commitment to the UPR process. It was observed that many African countries have undergone the APRM process , the need for the UPR process to draw inspiration from the APRM was proposed.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Participants at the Forum recognised that while there has been some progress in the ratification of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG), there is a need for more states to ratify and accelerate its entry into force into the not too distant future. Lack of independence of the electoral systems have made elections in Africa a growing source of conflict. Spurred by the substance of the ACDEG, participants have committed themselves to actively support the call of the DPA/AUC to campaign for its speedy ratification and implementation. The efforts of the Pan African Parliament and other AU organs in this endeavour were also noted.

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 harmonise and implement these treaties at the national level in order to maximise their impact. Consequently, we would wish to appeal to states, which have not ratified these pertinent treaties, to speedily ratify them and therefore enable their inevitable implementation. We similarly, urge those who have ratified to ensure that harmonisation does take place to speed up their implementation and thereby give life to their provisions.

In the same vein, we wish to urge states to ratify and expedite action on the domestication and effective implementation of the Rome Statutes .

Furthermore, to date, there are only 22 ratifications of the Protocol to the African Court adopted since 1998, we would equally urge state parties to work towards its universal ratification and to consider also signing the Declaration, as per Article 34 (6) by which individuals are granted access to the Court.

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 and gender equality in Africa. We fervently hope that universal ratification by other states would usher in that much needed momentum to put into action gender equality in our various countries. The launch of the African Women’s Decade provides the much needed impetus in the development of the human rights of women. The Forum reviewed the linkages between HIV/AIDS and the Protocol and wishes to acknowledge that Violence Against Women is adequately covered in the Protocol.

Participants at the Forum recognised the lack of impetus in the implementation of the World Conference against Racism (WCAR) Declaration and Programme of Action urged the OHCHR to renew and revitalise its strategy in accompanying the implementation process of the Programme of Action.

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

While the Forum congratulates the African Commission as its celebrates 30 years since the adoption of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, allow me to conclude by reiterating the readiness of your partners, particularly NGOs with Observer Status to work in collaboration with the African Commission and its partners 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 49th session of the African Commission, allow me to wish you, Your Excellency, and all the Commissioners a fruitful deliberation and a successful session .

Thank You.



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