Opening Statement On Behalf Of Paticipants Of The Forum Of NGOs, Mrs. Hannah Forster

    Honourable Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Republic of The Gambia, Mrs. Mama Fatima Singateh;

    Honourable Chairperson of The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), Madame Silvie Zeynabou Kayetesi, Hon. Vice Chairperson, Hon. Bechir Khalfallah and Members of the African Commission;

    Dr. Khabele Matlosa representing Her Excellency, Madame Aicha L. Abdulahi, Commissioner for Political Affairs, African Union Commission;

    My Lord, Honourable Justice Augustino S.L. Ramadhani, President, African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights;

    Hon. 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;

    Mr. Joseph Chilengi, Returning Officer, ECOSOCC, African Union Commission;

    Honourable Members of the African Union Organs here present;

    Representatives of African Union Member States;

    Mr. Andrea Ori, Representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Right;t

    Mr. Gilbert Sebihogo, Representive, and Members of the Network of National Human Rights Institutions

    Your Excellencies, The Dean and Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps;

    Honourable Ministers of the Republic of The Gambia;

    Honourable Members of the National Assembly;

    Members of the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies Governing Council;

    Distinguished Members of the NGO Forum Steering Committee;

    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

    On behalf of my colleagues of the Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the 56th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, I am privileged to deliver this statement to this august gathering. At the onset, please allow me, on behalf of all the participants of the NGO Forum, and indeed on my own behalf, to thank the Chairperson and Members of the African Commissionfor affording us this opportunity.

    Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

    On behalf of The Forum, I would wish also to express our gratitude to the Government and people of The Gambia for their warmth and hospitality, in facilitating the activities of the 56th Ordinary Session and to express the appreciation of the Forum of NGOs for the continued cordiality and warmth accorded them since their arrival on the soil of this beautiful country.

    Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

    The Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the 56th Ordinary Session on the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and the 30th African Human Rights Book Fair, organised and facilitated by the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies in collaboration with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, was held at the Kairaba Beach Hotel from 17th – 18th April, 2015. Despite challenges associated with travelling in Africa, the turnout was remarkable, the debate objective and professional leading to the adoption of commendable outcomes. Over 200 representatives from 36 African countries participated as well as participants from Belgium, Denmark, France, Geneva, Sweden, The United Kingdom, The United States of America and as far away as Palestine.

    The programme was guided by the provisional agenda for the 56th Ordinary Session of the African Commission circulated prior to the said meeting and prepared in consultation with the NGO Steering Committee, all participants, the Secretariat of the African Commission and the ACDHRS Governing Council respectively, with the aim to review and formulate strategies and recommendations on the following three themes–

    1.     The Developments on the Situation of Human Rights and Democracy in Africa;

    2.     The Review of Specific Human Rights Relevant to the Work of the African Commission; and

    3.     Networking for Human Rights in Africa.

    The full report of the Forum together with the adopted resolutions and recommendations will be forwarded, for the kind consideration of your distinguished body, as our contribution to your deliberations at this 56th Session.

    Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

    We crave your indulgence as we present to you a few highlights of the said deliberations.

    Under the themes mentioned above, the various panels included The situation of Women Human Rights Defenders; The role of Youth in Governance and Democracy; Freedom of Association and Assembly; Accountability for Women’s Reproductive Rights; Reprisals; Elections and Human Rights in Africa; and Statelessness and the Right to a Nationality.

    Positive developments in the situation of human rights and democracy were recognised by the Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the Work of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. No doubt, the conduct of the recent elections in Nigeria is but a very heartening example among others as it emphasises that the harnessing of efforts towards the common goal of accomplishing democracy is attainable. However, it was asserted that a lot more needs to be done as many African countries continue to face challenges of insecurity, disease, poverty, corruption, unemployment, arbitrary detention and extrajudicial killings, violence, rise in terrorist attacks e.g. Boko Haram in the West of Africa and Al Shabab in the East, and many other human rights violations that bring untold hardship and even death to the citizenry of the concerned countries.

    The Forum noted with concern, that the ongoing conflict situations in Cameroun, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan coupled with reports of serious crimes under international law continue to pose serious threats to peace and security in Africa.

    In Libya, the violence has dramatically escalated and reached the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Over the course of 2014, hundreds of activists and civil society members have been targeted, kidnapped, tortured and killed with no one held accountable for these crimes. More than 400,000 people were internally displaced across 25 cities in the country.

    In Egypt, civil society organization’s work is still restricted by a draconian legislation that is disregards the African Commission’s standard and Egypt’s own Constitution. Several human rights defenders are being prosecuted on the grounds of the peaceful activities and investigation as well as judicial harassment into the work of independent human rights organizations is still ongoing.

    The African Commission is urged to consider convening an open panel and interactive session on conflicts and human rights in Africa to open space for constructive wider consultation and discussion on strategies and make recommendations aimed at collectively responding to conflicts in Africa; and to use its powers under Article 58 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to draw the attention of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government to these cases.

    Madame Chairperson, Members of the African Commission, Distinguished Guests

    The 41 years of instability in Guinea Bissau, generated by numerous human rights violations and perpetuated by a culture of impunity for violations was another preoccupation for the Forum. While recalling UN Security Resolution 2203 (2015), it is important that the levels of cooperation with UNIOGBIS is consolidated. The Forum urges the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ and its special mechanisms to pay attention to the situation of human rights in Guinea Bissau and to undertake country visits and missions to appraise themselves.

    Madame Chairperson, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

    The importance of fostering the involvement of Youth in the development and maintenance of democracy and nation building through inclusive and participation was a subject of discussion. We are all aware that the death toll of illegal migrants has reached dimensions beyond imagination, as the while the Mediterranean Sea has become an open grave preferable to African youths rather than to stay at home in Africa.

    The hostile environment characterising the hazardous situation of human rights defenders, not to mention the shrinking space for interaction as reprisals are on the increase in many states; the precarious fate of the LGBTI with the continued persecution legitimised with the enactment of anti gay bills; the kidnapping, maiming, destruction and killing that has been the hallmark of terrorists and armed gangs, especially on women and girls in Nigeria; and the increase of counter terrorism bills restricting association and the work of human rights defenders to curb the rise in public protests with corresponding cases of freedom of assembly; the freedom of the press and the media under siege; the disturbing rise in religious persecution manifested in the massacre of over 140 students in Kenya; disappearances of human rights defenders and journalist in Angola, Cameroon and Zimbabwe. The list goes on but suffice it to say that latest wave of xenophobic attacks and killings in South Africa is among the most disturbing.

    Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

    The Forum reviewed in depth in over twelve thematic special interest groups, namely: the situation relating to Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons; Minorities and Indigenous Persons; Women, Reproductive Rights and Sexual Violence; Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity; the Death Penalty; the situation of Human Rights Defenders, especially Women Human Rights Defenders under terrorism law; Prevention of Torture; Ebola Virus Disease; Impunity; and Freedom of the Press; Prison Conditions and Places of Detention; Rights of Older Person and Persons with Disabilities; Threats to Human Rights, Peace and Security in Africa; Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations; Statelessness and the Right to a Nationality; Economic Social and Cultural Rights; Freedom of Association and Assembly among others.

    Most of the issues emerging from the main Panels and these Special Interest Groups meetings have formed the core of the developed resolutions and recommendations as a result of in-depth review and proposal of strategies for civil society engagement in collaboration with their partners, the African Commission in particular aimed at addressing the rising violations in their various areas of intervention.

    Madam Chairperson, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

    • In line with the objectives of the ACDHRS' Networking for Human Rights in Africa session, which was geared towards the provision and sharing of more information between the three main partners i.e. the African Commission; States; and Civil Society, in the development and maintenance of an effective human rights community included
    • Updates on the development the consultation on Reprisals as well as the activities of the Study Group on Freedom of Association and Assembly

    Opportunities for networking and collaboration continue to be at the core of Forum. It was therefore worthy to note that networking and collaboration continues to be one of the objectives of the Forum. Relationships among civil society and between civil society and other partners especially the African Commission, National Human Rights Institutions, OHCHR and other partners were examined to consolidate on the strategies for effective collaboration between these groups with a common goal of promoting and protecting human rights in Africa.

    The final panel provide a space for further exchange of information and experience on advocacy strategies around the ACHPR and formed a basis to share best practices and lessons learnt from previous interaction. It emerged that there are many strategies which can be used. However, it was pointed out that there is no one size fit all and thus it is crucial to think through situations in order to be more effective in our interventions.

    Madam Chairperson, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

    The Forum, continue to appeal to states, which have not ratified pertinent treaties, to speedily do so in order to enable their implementation. The ratification of many regional and international instruments by many states was commended, however, the usual challenge of harmonisation and implementation of these treaties at the national level, remains.

    The Forum would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all the eight states that have submitted their reports for review by the African Commission and would like to single out Malawi, which country is doing so for the first time. We would therefore, wish to urge other States who have not yet submitted fulfilled this obligation to follow this example as soon as is feasible.

    Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen 

    Permit me, Madam Chairperson, to restate our profound gratitude to the African Commission for the collaboration and support in the organisation and facilitation of the NGO Forum, characterised by the existing interest enjoyed by the NGO community from the Secretariat of the African Commission, and particularly to the Secretary and the Legal Officers.. While we continue to urge as many of our participants in the wider community to apply for observer status to enable them play their role and benefit from the corresponding access provided by this great institution, we insist on their fulfilling their obligations to their constituencies and maintain a high level of credibility and engagement.

    The Forum would wish to extend a congratulatory note to the African Union Commission for dedicating 2016 as the Year for Human Rights, with emphasis on the Rights of Women. As civil society stand ready to contribute and engage in this laudable process.

    Madam Chairperson, Distinguished Commissioners,

    I bring you congratulatory wishes from all the participants, for the number of missions and achievements registered during the last inter session, and for institutionalise the extraordinary sessions to deal with urgent matters relating to human rights on the continent. In the same vein, they would like to reiterate the availability and willingness as your partners, particularly those NGOs with Observer Status to continue to work in collaboration with the African Commission in a bid to complement your efforts to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, rule of law and good governance in Africa.

    Madam Chairperson

    On behalf of the participants of the Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the work of the 56th session of the African Commission, allow me to wish you, Honourable Chairperson, our best wishes and to all the other Commissioners, a fruitful deliberation and a successful session.

    Your Excellencies, Madam Chairperson, Hon. Members of ACHPR, Distinguished Guests,

    I thank you for your kind attention.

     

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