Address by Hon. Justice Bernard M. Ngoepe, Vice President of the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, on the occasion of the Opening of the 55th Ordinary Session of the African


       His Excellency Mr. Rui Mangueira, Minister of Justice and Human Rights of  the Republic of Angola, Minister of the Republic of Angola,                                                                                                                                                                                   

       Honourable  Zainabo  Sylvie  Kayitesi,  Chairperson  of the  African Commission,

       Honourable,   Vice   Chairperson   and   Members   of the   African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights,

       Her    Excellency     Dr.    Aisha     L    Abdullahi,     Commissioner for Political Affairs of the African Union Commission, 

       Honourable   Members   of the Government   of the Republic   of Angola,

       Honourable Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Ministers of Justice,  

    •Excellences, Members of the Diplomatic and Consular   Corps accredited to Angola

       Distinguished Delegates of African Union Member States,

       Distinguished Representatives of International Organisations,

       Distinguished   Representatives     of    National    Human    Rights Institutions,

       Distinguished  Representatives of  Non-governmental Organisations,

        Distiinguished  Ladies and Gentlemen                                                          

     1.            I bring you warm greetings from the President of the Court and from my other  colleagues,  Judges  of the  African  Court.  I feel particularly honored  to have been requested  by the President  to represent  the  Court  at this  55th Ordinary  Session  of the African Commission  on Human and Peoples' Rights.

    2.            This is the first time I am attending  a session  of the Commission, and it is particularly  significant to me, given the fact that my term as Judge  of the Court will come to an end  in September  of this year,  and  as  such,  this  is likely to be the last  time  I attend  this august  assembly   as  a  representative   of the  Court.  I therefore attach a lot of significance to this occasion.

    3. That  the  Court  continues  to  be  invited  to  your  sessions   and accorded  the opportunity  to  address  the  Commission,   and  the entire  African  human  rights family,  is highly appreciated.   It is a concrete   expression   of the complementarity relationship between our two institutions envisaged in the Protocol establishing the Court.

    Excellencies

    Madam Chairperson

    Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

     4.  Since the harmonization   of our Rules of Procedures   in 2010, there has   been significant    interactions    between    our   two institutions, and we now better understand the role of each other in our complementary relationship.  The Bureaus of our two institutions have met six times, while the two institutions have met twice. The  Commission   has  filed  three  cases  before  the  Court,  and may be appearing  before the latter to make oral arguments  later this year with respect to one of those cases.

    5. The rich jurisprudence   of the Commission has been widely used to strengthen   the jurisprudence   of the Court.  At all the public hearings   organized   by  the  Court,   as  well   as  in  their  written pleadings,  counsel  for  the  parties  have  placed  reliance  on the Commission's     jurisprudence.    This   jurisprudence     has   been reflected in some of the judgments of the Court.  As the Court continues to receive more cases, it will no doubt continue to refer to this  rich  reservoir   of   jurisprudence     developed    by   the Commission.

     6, The  co-operation   between  our  two  organs  go  beyond  just  the building              of  human   rights  jurisprudence;    it  translates   into  the general  development  of the African  Human  Rights system.  This was shown during the last AU Summit in January 2014 when the Commission   and the Court, jointly, requested the AU Assembly to declare 2016 as Africa Year of Human Rights with particular focus on the rights of women.

    7. The  Executive   Council  adopted  a  decision   on  the  same  and requested                the  Commission  and the  Court,  in collaboration  with relevant  organs with human rights mandate,  to submit  a concept note     on  the   celebration.   I  wish   to  take   this   opportunity   to congratulate       the  Registry  of  the  Court,  the  Secretariat   of  the Commission,         the   Secretariat   of  the   African   Committee   of Experts  on the  Rights of the  Child, the  Gender  Directorate  and the  Department  of Political Affairs,  for preparing  the first  draft of the concept  paper, I am glad to report that members  of the Court have made their inputs to the draft, and we call on those  organs that  have  not already  done  so, to submit  their  comments  to the Registry  of the Court, before 12 May 2014, as the final document has to  be submitted  to the African  Union Commission  by 21 May 2014.

     8.  It should be recalled that 2016 is a veritable watershed   in the continental  human     rights     trajectory:     2016     marks     the 35th Anniversary   of the adoption of the African Charter in 1981; the 30th Anniversary   of the entry into force  of the African  Charter in 1986; the 29thAnniversary  of the operationalization  of the Commission   in  1987 (in 2016 the  Commission  will  be just  one year  shy of its 30th   anniversary).  The year 2016  also  marks the 10thAnniversary   of  the  operationalization   of  the  African   Court.

    The adoption  of the Maputo  Protocol  ushered  in a new thinking in  addressing   gender   inequality   and  the  rights  of  women   in Africa.  In 2016, the Protocol will be 13 years old.

     9. The  declaration  of 2016 as "African Year  of Human  Rights  with particular focus  on the  rights  of Women"  seeks  to  provide  an opportunity               for  the  entire  continent  to  be engaged in, and take stock, of the  human  rights situation  on the continent  in general, and the situation  of the human rights of women in particular.   The celebration seeks   to,   among   other   things:   enhance    public awareness  about   human   rights;   assess   the   ratification   and implementation                of the human rights instruments,  in particular,  the Maputo  Protocol,  and the progress  made in advancing  the rights of women   since   the   adoption   of  the   Protocol;    encourage Member              States   to   develop   policies,    plans   of   actions   and programmes on  the  promotion  and  protection   of  human  and peoples' rights,  and  specific  programmes  with  the  intention  of integrating women   in  all  spheres   of  life,  so  as  to  boost  the development  of women  in Africa;  encourage  Member  States  to recommit  to the promotion and protection of human rights.

     10. It is therefore an opportunity for all stakeholders interested in the promotion and protection of human rights on the Continent, to find a way of contributing  to this initiative. While the initiative is from the Commission  and the Court, it has now gained the status of a  Continental   initiative  and  all  stakeholders   are  therefore invited to make their contributions.

     Excellencies

    Madam Chairperson

    Distinguished  Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

     11.            The  Court  and the Commission  continue  to work  in many other ways   to   promote   and   protect   human   rights   on   the continent;  for  instance,  we  have  made  it a  point that  at  each Ordinary  Summit  of the African  Union, we organize  a joint  press conference in  which   both   the   President   of  the   Court,   and Chairperson  of the Commission, address   and take questions  from the     press.   At   the   last   summit,   we   also   organized   a  joint exhibition, in collaboration  with the Committee  on the Rights  and Welfare  of the Child and the Department  of Political Affairs.

    Excellencies

    Madam  Chairperson

    Distinguished  Guests,  Ladies and Gentlemen

        

    I can assure  you that we are on a good course  and as we meet regularly and further strengthen our relationship,  the development    of a viable  human  rights  culture  on the  continent will  become  a reality and not remain  a dream.   To achieve this, we  need  the  support   of  all  stakeholders,   especially   Member States.

    Excellencies

    Madam  Chairperson

    Distinguished  Guests,  Ladies and Gentlemen

    13.I wish  to  use  this  platform  to  address  the  distinguished delegates from  Member  States  of  our  Union,  especially  those States  that  have  not  yet  ratified  the  Protocol  establishing   the Court  and  made the declaration  allowing  individuals  and  NGOs to bring cases directly to the Court.

    14. Today, more  than  fifteen  years  after  the  adoption  of the Protocol  establishing  the Court, only twenty seven (27) of the fifty four     (54)  Member  States  of the  African  Union  have  ratified  it. [With        your  permission,   I would  like to  read  them  -  they  are: Algeria,    Burkina  Faso, Burundi,  Congo,  Cote d'ivoire,  Comoros, Gabon,   the  Gambia,   Ghana,   Kenya,  Libya,  Lesotho,   Malawi, Mali,    Mauritania,     Mauritius,    Mozambique,     Niger,    Nigeria, Uganda,   Rwanda,   Sawahari   Arab   Republic,   Senegal,   South Africa,  Tanzania,  Togo and Tunisia].  Of the 27 State  Parties to the Protocol,  only seven,  namely: Burkina  Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana,  Malawi,  Mali, Rwanda and Tanzania  have deposited  the Article  34(6) declaration  accepting the jurisdiction  of the Court to receive     cases     from     individuals     and     non-governmental organizations.

     15.In practice  therefore,  the  Court  has jurisdiction   to  receive cases from   individuals   and  NGOs,  only  against  these   seven countries,  thus  depriving  the vast  majority  of potential  victims  of human rights violations, direct access to the Court.                  

    16.   At the moment, the  Court  relies  to  a large  extent  on the Commission, which  has direct access to the Court, to file cases against  States that have ratified the Protocol, but have not yet  made the declaration.

    17. I therefore  call on   those  Member  States that  have not yet don so,   to   urgently   ratify   the   Protocol   and/or   make   the declaration,  if  they  are  truly  committed   to  the   protection   of human rights in their countries and on the Continent  as a whole.

    Excellencies

    Madam Chairperson

    Distinguished Guests, ladies and Gentlemen

     18. Let me end by thanking  the Commission  for the  invitation extended  to the Court and to congratulate it on the contribution  it has made,  and continues  to make, towards  the development   of the African  human rights jurisprudence.

    People of Africa and distinguished guests here present, 19.Let  me,  on  behalf  of  the  Court,  also  wish  all  of  you  a successful deliberation  during  this  55th   Ordinary  Session  of the Commission and  once  again  reiterate  the  Court's  readiness  to work with all stakeholders  to protect human rights in Africa.

    Thank you for your attention.

    Bernard M Ngoepe, Vice-President,

    African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights

    April 2014

     Luanda, Angola


     

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