Opening Statement by the Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Honourable Kayitesi Zainabo Sylvie

    Honourable Minister of Justice and Human Rights of the Republic of Angola

    Honourable Ministers and Senior Government Officials of the Republic of Angola here present

    Honourable colleagues, Members of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights,

    Excellencies  representing the State Parties to the African Union

    Excellencies Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps accredited to the Republic of Angola

    Distinguished Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

    Distinguished Representatives of the United Nations family and International Organisations

    Distinguished Representatives National and International Human Rights Institutions

    Distinguished Representatives of Civil Society Organisations

    Distinguished invited Guests

    Members of the Press

    Ladies and Gentlemen

    All other protocols respectfully observed:

     

    Allow me, on behalf of the Commission and on my own behalf, welcome you all to the 55th Ordinary Session of the Commission. You have all come from far and wide, from within the Continent and beyond, to attend this Session. Your attendance and participation is thus a clear testimony of your commitment and support to the work that the Commission is doing in fulfillment of its mandate to promote and protect human and peoples’ rights in Africa. 

    Let me at the outset also express our sincere thanks and appreciation to the Government and people of the Republic of Angola for hosting the 55th Ordinary Session in this beautiful Capital of theirs, and for putting all the necessary facilities at our disposal to ensure the success of this Session. 

    Excellencies, Distinguished Guests;

    Beginning today, and for the next two weeks, we will deliberate on the status of human and peoples’ rights on our beloved continent. It is a period when we appraise the progress made during the intercession, identify emerging threats to human rights, address violations of human rights, and strategize on how to nurture a culture of human rights observance in the continent.

    In her final opening statement during the 54th Ordinary Session, my predecessor referred to the many human rights challenges that still continue to beleaguer our continent. These persisting challenges show that despite the many achievements that have been registered in the promotion and protection of human rights over the years, there is still a long way to go before human rights justice becomes the everyday lived reality of the majority of the citizens of Africa, before the Commission can say it has truly, 100% delivered on the responsibility entrusted to it by its constitutive text, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, before Member States can honestly say as States Parties they have fully met their obligations under the African Charter.

     

    Excellencies, Distinguished Guests:

    I have now been handed the baton to continue the hard work of consolidating the gains registered so far, and also to deal with the emerging human rights issues. Issues such as the painful human rights landscape created by the increase in acts of terrorism and political strife on the continent; I have here in mind the situation in the Arab Republic of Egypt, in the Republic of Kenya, in the Republic of Mali, in the Central African Republic, in the two Sudans and in the Federal Republic of Nigeria – to name just a few.

     

    While we recognize and appreciate the various efforts being taken at the national, regional, continental and international levels, we are also acutely aware that the impact of these efforts is not really being felt on the ground as the violations continue unabated – and all of us in this room today are living witnesses to this.

     

    Innocent victims, most of them women and children, bear the brunt of the terrible negative effects of these human rights violations and in many cases the perpetrators are doing so with impunity.

     

    Thousands of people of different faiths continue to die on a daily basis. One strand of this atrocity is the continuous and coordinated attacks of the Boko Haram in different parts of Nigeria, particularly in the North – including the church and bus bombings as well as the recent kidnapping of more than a hundred high school girls from a boarding school. Another strand is the daily massacre of people of the Muslim faith by the Anti Ballica Militia which continues in the Central African Republic despite the presence of peacekeeping troops. The Militia in Mali also continues to attack and maim innocent civilians daily and people are also routinely killed and injured in the violence in South Sudan, while Darfur has been a bleeding human rights tumour on the continent for almost a decade and half now.

     

    All these atrocities are an affront to the dignity and human rights of these people, and to all of us as human rights stakeholders, and they have to stop. They are a challenge which African States Parties and the international community as a whole have to step up to,  so that the ideals of the African Charter and other international human rights instruments which State Parties have ratified and committed themselves to will be implemented and have meaning for the African citizenry.

     

    The innocent victims of these atrocities are all crying out for help – the Commission’s help, your help, our help – they are looking up to us as a collective body to put a stop to their daily suffering, so they can live in dignity and in security, free from want.

     

    Excellencies, Distinguished Guests:

    I am also particularly concerned about “vulnerable states” characterized by simmering conflicts of different intensities - those countries that do not have open and fully fledged conflicts as such but where there are open and consistent human rights abuses; where human rights are violated with impunity, where there is lack of economic opportunities and gross disparities in distribution of wealth; where constitutional guarantees either do not exist or are woefully inadequate; where there is lack of respect for the laws of the country and lack of independence of the judiciary; where neither freedom of expression nor freedom of assembly exist; where arbitrary arrests and detentions without trial, corruption, unemployment and extreme poverty are the norm; where there is general disillusionment with the leadership and the Government, especially on the part of the youth - and the list goes on.

     

    These conditions not only erode the enjoyment of human rights in the continent, but as experience has shown, in the long run such situations can lead to social and political unrests with devastating consequences on the national population as well as the continent at large.

     

    Excellencies, Distinguished Guests:

     

    Human rights are universal and interdependent. Therefore the quest to develop infrastructurally as a country must take into account the need to take into account and respect other protected human rights. Yes, State Parties need land to embark on infrastructural development and in most cases these lands are inhabited by people or they belong to a group or community that depends on them for their livelihood and survival. Therefore to remove them forcefully or on short notice without proper consultation or adequate compensation or provision of alternative source of accommodation or livelihood is a violation of Articles 14, 16 and 18 of the African Charter. Consequently, State Parties must take concrete steps to guard against  actions such as forced evictions and put in place appropriate laws and mechanisms to effectively coordinate the implementation of the country’s national agenda for development in line with the African Charter.

    Excellencies, Distinguished Guests:

     

    The contribution of human rights defenders, including women defenders, to the work of the Commission is crucial. This is why in 2011the Commission adopted Resolution ACHPR196 condemning all forms of reprisals against people who collaborate with the African system of human rights. Reprisals against human rights defenders go against the core ideals and principles of the African Union. As you would recall the move from the Organisation of African Unity to the African Union was informed in major part by the need to move the continental organization from a forum for Heads of States to a union of the people of the continent. Hence, this is why the Constitutive Act specifically mandates the Union to collaborate with civil society and calls upon Member States of the Union to partner with all segments of civil society in order to strengthen solidarity and cohesion among our peoples in our respective countries.

     

    Indeed the Constitutive Act lists the Economic, Cultural and Social Council (ECOSOCC) as an organ of the African Union and ECOSOCC is made up of civil society and NGOs. Similarly, the Paris Principles which govern the establishment and functioning of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIS) also call for partnership and cooperation between civil society and Governments. I therefore call upon State Parties to implement Resolution ACHPR196 and to avoid all forms of intimidation and reprisals against all those who collaborate with the Commission and/or participate in its Sessions.

     

    Excellencies, Distinguished Guests:

     

    As Chairperson of the Commission, I intend to marshall the support and collaboration of my colleagues, State Parties, partners and other stakeholders, to do all we can, each at their level, to deploy our respective strengths and comparative advantages to better respond to the needs and aspirations of the people of Africa whose human rights it is our privilege and pleasurable duty to promote and to protect.

     

    I therefore call on you all our collaborators: State Parties, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations, our partners and all other stakeholders to continue your constructive engagement with the Commission. We are all aware of the challenges at hand and as the saying goes, “once a problem is identified, the solution is by the door.”

     

    Part of the solution to this problem is the resolve of State Parties to enact the necessary legal framework, to enforce human and peoples’ rights in their respective countries, to submit their State Periodic Reports for consideration by the Commission under Article 62 of the Charter and implement Concluding Observations made by the Commission after the consideration of those Periodic Reports; to continuously and effectively engage with the Commission including through participation at Sessions of the Commission and acceding to the Commission’s requests to undertake promotion missions in their respective territories.

     

    In particular, I would like to use this opportunity to reiterate the Commission’s request for standing invitations from Member States to the Commission and its special procedures to undertake promotion missions in their respective countries.

     

    Excellencies, Distinguished Guests:

     

    I have the pleasure to inform you that one of the key outcomes of the constructive engagement between the Commission and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights was their joint request to the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union, to have the year 2016 declared the “African Year of Human Rights,” to mark and celebrate this watershed year in the human rights trajectroy of the continent. As you are all aware, the year 2016 marks 35 years of the adoption of the African Charter, 30 years of the entry into force of the African Charter, just under 30 years of the operationalisation of the Commission and just over 10 years of the operationalisation of the Court among others.

     

    In response, the Assembly of the African Union declared 2016 the African Year of Human Rights with a special focus on the rights of women. The idea is to have a year–long series of commemorative events which showcase and celebrate the gains that have been scored in this area, and also reflect on what still needs to be done for the full realization and enjoyment of human rights in all parts of the continent, as well as how this can be achieved in real, concrete terms.

     

    I want to take this opportunity to call on all and sundry - State Parties, National Human Rights Institutions, civil society organizations, partners, the international community and all human rights loving individuals to accompany us in this very important exercise and make the 2016 celebrations a huge and memorable success.

     

    Excellencies, Distinguished Guests:

     

    As I end my statement, I want to seize this occasion to acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of State Parties, all AU Organs with a human rights mandate, our partners and other human rights stakeholders who have provided support to the Commission over the years and to exhort them to continue to render this support to the Commission. I would also extend this call to other potential partners and also to stress that our collective efforts and contribution as a continent, as a people, as those who dared to stand up and be counted for human rights will be there for posterity.

    Finally, I once again welcome all of you to the 55th Ordinary Session of the Commission and I hope that all of you will make the most of the opportunities that this Session offers so that each and everyone of you can be part of the solution whenever and wherever duty calls on you to play your role.

     

    I thank you all for listening.

     

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