Opening Address of the Chairperson of the African Commission
on Human and Peoples' Rights, Her Excellency Reine Alapini Gansou,
delivered on the Occasion of the Opening Ceremony
of the 49th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on
Human and Peoples' Rights
Theme: "Under the sign of Democracy and Alternate Governance"
Madam the Representative of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Republic of The Gambia;
Ladies and Gentlemen Honourable Members of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, dear Colleagues;
Ladies and Gentlemen members of the Government of the Republic of The Gambia;
Your Excellency Mme Julia D. Joiner, Commissioner for Political Affairs of the African Union Commission;
Your Excellencies Ladies and Gentlemen members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps accredited to the Republic of The Gambia;
Ladies and Gentlemen delegates of the member States of the African Union;
Ladies and Gentlemen Representatives of International Organizations and partners at various levels;
Ladies and Gentlemen representatives of National Human Rights Institutions;
Ladies and Gentlemen representatives of Non-Governmental Organizations; representatives of Civil Society;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
In your respective ranks, qualities and grades;
All protocols duly observed.
This Session is once again holding in Banjul on Gambian territory and I would like, in this context, to thank the Government and the entire Gambian people very warmly for the legendary hospitality which they have always shown the African Commission and also all those who collaborate with it in particular within the framework of its statutory mandate.
It is true that the African Commission has its headquarters in Banjul and that under the terms of the rules which govern the cooperation between The Gambia and the Commission the sessions of the Commission should take place at its headquarters in the absence of any request from a State Party; but it has been close to two years that none of our Sessions have been hosted by another State Party to the Charter, despite the requests made by the African Commission to the other States Parties.
For this reason, the Government of The Gambia has always responded favourably to the holding of our Sessions, and without this sense of respect for a commitment made by the host State, the African Commission would have undoubtedly had problems in fulfilling one of its obligations, namely the holding of its Ordinary Sessions as scheduled.
I hereby thank His Excellency Pr. Sheikh Alhaji Dr.Yahya A.J.J Jammeh, President of the Republic of The Gambia most sincerely; and I beg you, Madam, to kindly convey to His Excellency my colleagues’ and my appreciation and polite greetings.
In January 2011, the States Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, under the banner of the African Union brainstormed on the shared values within the African system. Some understood it to mean values which were unanimously shared within the African system itself and others thought of the values which Africa shares with other systems.
However, what really retained attention are the values registered in the various legal instruments under the terms of which we observe the issue of democratic change and the will of the peoples to decide their own destiny. In this regard, does the African Charter not stipulate in its preamble that freedom, justice and dignity constitute essential objectives for the realization of the peoples’ aspirations?
A retrospective look at the current human rights situation on our Continent shows that the deliberations of the 49th Ordinary Session of the African Commission are commencing at a time when the radical changes which are taking place in some States are giving rise to or are followed by serious human rights violations;
Even where this year 2011 has been recognized as elections year in Africa, the African Commission has, since February, been endlessly contacted about cases of massive human rights violations or even of crimes against humanity in a number of these countries where elections have been organized.
Defenceless and unarmed civilian populations have been subjected to brutality, to acts of violence and killings following elections which have been challenged by political activists. Such was the case in Cote d’Ivoire where according to some sources more than 1,500 verified deaths were registered.
In other States Parties the wind of genuine need for reform of the political systems is still blowing and unfortunately it is bringing with it its share of human rights violations.
Thus, we have experienced and continue to live through situations of serious, massive and obvious human rights violations of the populations in the face of a genuinely legitimate will of the populations for the effective change of the manner of governance by the political actors.
In this respect, whereas the cases of Tunisia and Egypt appear to have found the beginnings of a solution with time, that of Libya remains a matter of great concern, for in that country it is no longer a secret that the rights guaranteed by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights have been violated, in particular the right to life and to the bare minimum, all of this in major and highly alarming human proportions.
With the phenomenon being so visible the African Commission has again been put to the test where human rights are concerned and it is of the view that it is high time to seek the root causes and embark on a reflection during this solemn occasion where all the stakeholders, the ACHPR included, the representatives of States Parties and of civil society and the partners at various levels, have just taken stock of the situation, keeping in mind that we will not have the time to see the hidden face of the Iceberg.
May I therefore be allowed to place my address under the sign “human rights and alternate governance”, even though it is no longer time for long debate but rather for action.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the face of all the human rights violations which have been identified in the past months, the question which needs to be asked and which remains unanswered is:
What crime has been committed by children, women, peaceful citizens, old men and other vulnerable populations to make them suffer the fate inflicted by our countries’ politicians?
What crime should the African Commission be accused of when, in the face of such situations the appreciation of which is fundamentally and conclusively covered by its mandate, it calls for restraint and the restoration of peace or of the constitutional order, and this pursuant to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which remains the responsibility of the African States emanating in particular from their common will, 30 years after its adoption and 50 years after independence.
During its 9th Extraordinary Session which took place right here in Banjul from 23rd February to 3rd March, the ACHPR adopted a series of Resolutions adapted to the level of deterioration of human rights in some States Parties, and in others where there are fears that the same facts and same effects may take place. At this point in my speech I am therefore pleased to recall,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
That Resolutions occupy an important place among the working tools used by the African Commission, and help to shed light on the human rights situation in the States Parties to the Charter and to give rise to hopefully positive reactions capable of rehabilitating potential or known victims of human rights violations. These Resolutions I say, have a pedagogical effect which help not only to prevent human rights violations, but most often to encourage good practices when States Parties cooperate with the African Commission.
On the basis of its statutory obligations and the relevant provisions of its new Rules of Procedure in force since August 2010, the African Commission has sized up its responsibilities and has, among other actions, seized the African Court on the case of Libya, thus implementing the relevant provisions of the Protocol establishing the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the complementarity between the two Organs in the area of human rights protection. Action highly encouraged by the States Parties themselves which during the recent AU summit specifically instructed our Commission to cooperate with the court.
This could not have happened without the will of the populations to express their thirst for justice and without their courage. It could never have taken place without the audacity of the men and women of civil society to whom I have to pay vibrant homage, a well-deserved homage I would say. But as we all know, I would like us all to keep in mind that a credible civil society, « remains at the back of the platoon to pick up the politician when he falls », as would say NASRIN EBADI, this Iranian woman defender, known for her indefatigable combat for the cause of human rights.
She should show neither mimicry nor lack of integrity in her choices. She should be objective. I would therefore say?
Ladies and Gentlemen, that the African Commission should be able to count on all forces represented by the actors of civil society to accomplish the quantitative and qualitative efforts remaining to be made.
The African Commission needs, more than in the past, the cooperation of the States Parties, particularly in view of the current human rights situation on our Continent. Human rights being at the heart of all development and being a determining factor for the latter, no State, no Community can or should ignore them.
Africa needs its children to rebuild itself, whoever they are and even the youngest, and it could never aspire to any harmonious and sustained development in a context of deliberate violations of the rights of women, children, old people and disabled persons. It could never enter the community of developed nations when each of its regions is draining its share of displaced persons and refugees fleeing from the combats and armed conflicts engaged by the politicians.
Africa cannot aspire to any kind of development if it has to face, daily, the challenge of migrant workers seeking social well-being which the States cannot offer them.
The faith in alternate governance and in democracy which takes all human rights into account may well provide hope for an Africa where all will enjoy a good life knowing that human rights are in dissociable.
At the time when the recent events on our Continent require that we re-affirm our cultural identity and form a collective conscience in this time, I would like to propose that our debates during the session be focused on the need to realize the dream of our populations for the advent of a Rule of Law; while voices are already being raised for meetings to be held on the perspective of human rights in Africa in relation to elections and governance.
I would like to conclude my address on a note of Hope.
The current and future generations should continue to believe that when that day dawns, the real meaning of the dialogue imagined by H. J. GIRAUDOUX in ELECTRE will be illustrated:
« The woman Nares will say, I feel that something is happening; but something that I cannot properly explain. What do you call it when the day dawns like today and that everything is being breathed and all has been lost; that the town is burning, that innocents are killing each other and that the guilty are dying in a corner of the dawning day? Electre would say, ask the merchant; he knows it and the merchant would say, that has a very good name, woman Nares; it is called Dawn…; »
I believe in this Dawn.
Ladies and Gentlemen I believe in a better future for Africa. I feel like saying that today is no longer like yesterday and that tomorrow will no longer be like today. We must remain vigilant and visionary.
I wish us all a successful meeting.
I thank you.