Statement delivered on behalf of the High Commissioner for Human Rights by Yanine Poc, Representative of OHCHR in the Regional Office for Southern Africa

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

    Honourable Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
    Honourable Members of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
    Excellencies,

     

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    On behalf of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, it gives me great pleasure to address you at the opening of the 55th ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

    Once again, we are meeting under the auspices of the African Commission to reflect on the situation of human rights on the continent, and to carve out ways to respond to and address the human rights of all.

     

    Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

    Since the last session of the African Commission in October, we have been faced with two major crises on the continent - in the Central African Republic and in South Sudan. In the Central African Republic, the security situation deteriorated greatly and in December and January, we witnessed grave human rights violations. The level of inter-communal hatred manifested through those vicious killings was terrifying.

    During this difficult period, the High Commissioner sent three different monitoring teams to the Central African Republic to document the human rights violations that were taking place. I am also aware, Madam Chairperson, that yourself and Commissioner Khalfallah visited the Central African Republic to see for yourselves the situation in that country. The Human Rights Council also kept a close eye on the situation in the Central African Republic and convened a special session in January this year, at which it established a country mandate. Since her appointment, the Independent Expert on the human rights situation in the Central African Republic has visited the country on two occasions. It is clear that the Central African Republic needs support from the international community to re-establish governance and the rule of law, as well as to facilitate reconciliation and to ensure that human rights are promoted and protected. Those who committed human rights abuses must be held to account. I am glad to report that the Commission of Inquiry on Central African Republic, which was set up by the Security Council in December, is now on the ground and operational. We also have our hopes pinned on the much anticipated  UN  Multidimensional  Integrated  Stabilization  Mission  in  the  Central  African Republic, (MINUSCA), whose robust mandate includes protection of civilians, promoting and protecting human rights and providing support for national and international justice to  restore law and order and bring stability back to the country.

     

    Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

    On 9th July 2011, we welcomed South Sudan into the community of nations. Barely two and a half years later, following the events of 15 December, South Sudan was gripped with violence that escalated at a scale and speed that came as a surprise to us all. Again, civilians have borne the brunt of the crisis, with large numbers being deliberately targeted and killed along ethnic lines. Many have fled their homes. The situation is deeply alarming, and at the request of the Secretary General, the High Commissioner is in Juba on an urgent mission to the country. We also look forward to the outcome of the Commission established by the AU Peace and Security Council, which among other things was mandated, to investigate the human rights violations and abuses committed during the conflict.

     

    Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

    We are all aware that the denial of fundamental rights relating to employment, housing, food or respect for cultural life, together with discrimination and exclusion from the decision-making processes of society, are the root causes of many grave crises and conflicts.

    Similarly, the resolution of such crises, and sustainable social harmony, rest on respect for all human rights. This is not a task that can be done by one entity alone. We all have to work together.

    That is why the Office of the High Commissioner continues to emphasise that the United Nations and the African Union must work in partnership to address the human rights challenges in Africa. At every level, we need to define very concrete and realistic objectives that will pave the way for strong and effective cooperation between the two organisations, in order to ensure that human rights are respected across the continent.

    The  Office  of  the  High  Commissioner  has  continued  to  explore  ways  to  strengthen  its relationship with the African human rights mechanisms - including the AU Commission -
    through sharing knowledge and expertise among others. For instance, the Office is working closely with the AU to organise a High Level Panel which will identify good practices to
    eliminate female genital mutilation. This event will take place during the June session of the Human Rights Council. The Office is also seeking to involve the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in a Human Rights Council panel discussion on preventing 
    and eliminating child, early and forced marriage. The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights also hopes to organise in collaboration with the AU Commission, the African Commission and other stakeholders, a regional forum on business and human rights.

    I very much hope we can extend this cooperation to human rights in the context of peace and security. We need to have a candid discussion on how best the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights can work with the African Union to address human rights in peace operations led by the AU or the UN. Currently, we should be having this discussion in respect of Mali, Central African Republic and Somalia. We need to minimize the risk that we will be working at cross  purposes,  and  we  need  to  maximise  our  resources,  leveraging  our  comparative advantages, for the benefit of the people whose human rights we are all committed to promoting and protecting.

     

    Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

    You may recall that in 2006, the UN and AU signed a declaration reflecting their common commitment to maintaining peace and security; to promoting human rights and reconstruction; and to advancing Africa’s development and regional integration. This declaration, and the UN capacity building programme for the AU Commission and sub-regional organisations, comes to an end in 2016 - the very same year declared by the AU as the  African Human Rights Year.

    The AU has already commenced a consultative process to review this capacity building programme. This is a tremendous opportunity. I appeal to you, as the human rights community, to ensure that human rights are at the centre of discussions relating to the review of that framework of cooperation, both in relation to peace and security issues on the continent and in relation to the development agenda.

    Particularly as we approach 2015, the right to development takes on great importance. It can bring about a real difference in the daily lives of millions around the world - people who currently suffer from want and in fear.

    The concept of the right to development has deep roots in Africa. It is enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which states that “All peoples shall have the right to their economic, social and cultural development with due regard to their freedom and identity in the equal enjoyment of the common heritage of humankind.”

    And yet the current model of development has failed to live up to the standards laid down in the African Charter. It has proven to be unequal, unstable and unsustainable. It privileges the wealthiest individuals and the wealthiest states, and marginalises poorer and less powerful people and States. I am aware that an African common position on the post 2015 development agenda has been articulated, following several consultations. In the African common position, AU Member States have committed, among other things, to “protect human rights of all citizens in  order  to  ensure  their  meaningful  participation  in  society;  fight  against  all  forms  of discrimination; and promote the constructive management of diversity through democratic practices and mechanisms at the local, national and continental levels.”

    I am heartened to see that the AU Members States have made such a commitment. And it is now vital that these States take a clear stand to ensure that the post 2015 development agenda is grounded on the firm foundation of human rights - including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration on the Right to Development and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The African Commission, along with all of us, can remind AU Member States of the commitments they made in the common position. Human rights must underpin the post 2015  agenda  in  order  to  ensure  a  new  more  equitable  and  sustainable  national  and international order.

     

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    The ultimate aim of our collective efforts is to ensure that every person—woman, man, child— can participate in decisions that affect their lives. This recognition of every human being’s
    inherent right to shape their own destiny is rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    It is also in the interest of peace, security, and economic and social development that individuals be empowered to mobilise and participate to make their voices heard; to claim their rights; and to build responsive, inclusive, accountable institutions in their communities, societies and countries. The exercise of freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association and participation in public life is fundamental to fostering dialogue, tolerance, upholding the rule of law and realising good governance.

    Yet people continue to face hurdles related to the “mechanics” of participation, and the path to widening and deepening democratic participation faces many obstacles.

    A free, independent and active civil society - including volunteers, associations, NGOs and social movements - underpins efforts to widen and deepen public participation. This fosters civic virtues and generates greater awareness of rights:  teaching political skills, shaping strategies, mobilizing claims, and acting as critical watchdogs. Civil society actors must be able to do their work freely, independently, safe from fear, retaliation or intimidation.


    Often this is not the case; far too many human rights activists and defenders must risk their own lives in their quest to better the lives of others. This is not acceptable. We must act collectively to denounce reprisals, defend free voices and safeguard those who are targeted. We must protect and expand the space in which civil society can meaningfully participate and contribute if we are to advance in ensuring human rights, peace and development.

     

    Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

    I would like to conclude by extending my gratitude to the Government and people of Angola for hosting this session and for warmly welcoming us to this beautiful country. I wish the African Commission and all of you good deliberations.

     

    Thank You. 

     

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