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African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Statement by the Representative of AU Member States: D. Mangota

The Honorable Attorney General & Minister of Justice of the Republic of The Gambia, Justice Lamin Jobarteh

The Chairperson of the African Commission, Hon Dupe Atoki

His Lordship, Chief Justice of the Republic of The Gambia,

Honorable Ministers here present

Honorable Commissioners of the African Commission

Honorable Judges of African Court here present

Excellencies Ambassadors and Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Distinguished Delegates of AU Members States

Distinguished Members of National Human Rights Institutions

Members of Civil Society

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

All Protocol duly observed

I am happy that I have been allowed to address you all on behalf of Member States. Before I do so, however, I want to express my most profound gratitude to the Government and the people of The Gambia firstly for hosting this 51st session and secondly for the warm welcome which they accorded to members of my delegation and myself when we arrived at this beautiful place this last Monday. 

Practically all of us who are gathered in this room are lawyers and we, therefore, suffer the prejudice of non-lawyers who regard us as liars. Hence the saying which goes:

Here lies a lawyer, laugh if you will

He lied while he lived

He lived while he lied

When he could lie no longer

He lied down and died.

I am a lawyer by profession but I am not a liar and I believe that all lawyers who are gathered in this room are not liars. 

Madam Chair, I have associated with the work of this Honorable Commission from year 2001 todate. I have, therefore, remained part and parcel of this

Honorable Commission for well over ten years now and what I will say hereunder are my unqualified observations which I will speak about with a considerable amount of authority. I have seen Commissioners come and go and I have made myself familiar not only with the Commission’s rules of procedure but also with its operations. 

There are, in my view, four major stakeholders who invariably deal with Human Rights issues across the entire continent of Africa. These comprise:

The Commission itself;

AU member States;

National and International non-governmental organizations; and

National Human Rights Institutions.

Madam Chair, please allow me to dish out to the audience here present a critical analysis of how I observed the roles which each of the abovementioned four stakeholders plays in the Human Rights discourse of our entire continent. Let me, please, set upon this journey by spelling out my observations of your Commission, Madam Chair.

a)    The Commission.

This is an organ of the African Union.

African Heads of State and Government formed the Commission and charged it with the mandate of acting as a Human Rights watchdog for, and in, all Member States of the African Union.

The Commission is manned by men and women of integrity who do all in their power to ensure that States Parties which violate the rights of their people are brought to book in some way or other. 

The Commission religiously follows its own rules of procedure and it holds its sessions as and when they fall due and it does so without fail. 

The Commission is our own human rights referee, whom all members of the African Union must support financially, materially, morally and any otherwise.

I, in this vein, urge all African Union members to honour and comply with decisions, directions, and orders of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, as they are dished out to each one of us.

On an unfavourable note, though, our Commission tends to concentrate its work on civil and political rights and, only in part, on economic, social and cultural rights. 

I state that all rights of a person are equally important and therefore indivisible.

They relate to one and the same person and should therefore be accorded equal weight, in my view.

I, in this vein, hope that our Commission will, henceforth, make a conscious decision to deal with all these rights in an undivided manner. 

b)    Member States

These gave birth to the Charter which gave birth to this Honorable Commission and the good work which it performs for all our peoples.

States Parties are, I am afraid to say, working with the Commission in a half-hearted fashion and, at times, haphazardly.

Few Member States attend sessions of the Commission and, when they do, some of them tend to become more confrontational than engaging in constructive debate which   enriches the work of the Commission.

Member States do not, for instance, call meetings of themselves with a view to comparing notes between and amongst themselves of events which may have taken place between one session of the commission and the next. 

One is sometimes left to wonder if all of us, Member States, are aware of the existence of this important organ of the African Union, let alone its very essential work.

I, in this vein, urge all of us to:

1. Attend sessions of this Honourable Commission

2. Respect and comply with the Commission’s decisions/recommendations

3. Make a conscious decision to host sessions of the Commission - and

4. Engage the Commission and all stakeholders in a constructive manner for the good of us all who occupy this region which we call Africa.

(c)   Non-governmental organizations: 

These are a necessary part of our human rights discourse. They are a thoroughly organized lot of persons who, because of their work, make us who are in government jump and tow the correct line when we are off the mark, so to speak.

They invariably meet a day or two before commencement of Sessions of the Commission.

They meet to compare notes on all matters which would have taken place between one Session of the Commission and the next. 

The beauty of their work is that they, more often than not, speak with one voice and they sometimes agree to disagree with the Commission, particularly on matters which they hold dear to themselves although such matters may be contrary to the values and cultures of the African people as a people.

Their work is good but it sometimes leaves one to wonder whether or not it is coming from a conviction of their hearts and minds, or is something which is forced upon them from somewhere else. 

I say so because they invariably are:

1. Flown from all corners of Africa to this beautiful place or to any place where the Commission holds its Sessions;

2. Housed in some posh hotel or other – and

3. Provided with food for their daily sustenance – all this for the simple reason that they must champion the rights of their respective peoples.

4. What worries me the most is that someone who is doing this good work for our non-governmental organizations was yesterday on our respective soils which he parceled into plots, sat on our forefathers and made them work for him in the form of slaves or semi – slaves for centuries and only desisted when the people of Africa told him to leave them in peace and not in pieces, either through negotiations or through the barrel of the gun.

5. It is that same someone, who yesterday came to Africa and shipped some of us across the treacherous waters of the seas to far distant  lands where those of them who survived were treated as goods/chattels, which had to bear fruit for him in a sustained way.

6. This same someone has now changed positions / colours and   is pumping out lots of money to our sons and daughters whom he is urging to work towards the fulfillment of our rights, which he himself never cared about or respected, let alone observed when he was in charge of Africa.

7. If his desires are correct – which I hope they are – and, if his desires are aimed at the fulfillment of ourselves as a people, then I lift my hand and say thank you Lord for bringing a saviour unto us.

8. My fears, which I wish to share with you all, are that we should be weary of such kind–hearted persons who may, through an otherwise good programme, which we established for ourselves, have his hidden agenda of wanting to return to Africa in a different form.

 9.  I say to all of us, let us take care of all those wolves who come to us in sheep’s clothing, lest they devour us.

10. I therefore urge all our sons and daughters who constitute our non-governmental organizations to be weary of this kind of person and not to fall into the trap of giving away their hard – won birth rights which will be difficult, if not impossible, to regain once lost.

11.  I urge further, our non-governmental organizations to make a conscious decision to work on civil and political rights as well as on economic, social and cultural rights because all these rights should be realized for, and on behalf of, one and the same person. 

(d) National Human Rights Institutions:

Practically all members of the African Union are moving in the direction of establishing these institutions.

The work of the institutions is, in my view, very good if the institutions are properly structured and are in compliance with the Paris Principles.

Whilst these institutions are taking root in Africa, the sad thing about them is that they are generally under-funded and are, therefore, disabled to fulfill their mandates as they should. 

National Human Rights Institutions, in my observation, hardly attend Sessions of the Commission and those of them which attend, tend, in some measure or other, to confuse their mandate with that of such other stakeholders as Member States and/or non- governmental organizations.

They are, without doubt, a very important player of Africa’s human rights discourse and they must therefore be accorded their space within this discourse subject, of course, to them studying their respective legislations and adhering to the mandate of their work both at home and at Sessions of this Commission. 

They, in my view, should create a forum through which they discuss issues and compare notes on matters which pertain to their work on the continent.

Member states are once again called upon to:

1. Give to these institutions the requisite support which  would enable them to operate efficiently and effectively; and

2. Allow them to follow internationally accepted best practices.

Madam Chair, I said so much about our Commission and all its stakeholders. I remain encouraged by the fact that we in Africa continue to remain focused on our work on the human rights front. I salute all of us who are here present for being here and for our desire to share best practices. No one will liberate Africa from her prejudices – perceived or otherwise – but ourselves. I therefore thank all of us who are in this room in anticipation of:

1. A constructive debate – and

2. Fruitful deliberations.

I thank you, Madam Chair, and the entire audience for having accorded me your undivided attention. I thank you.

D Mangota

Permanent Secretary

Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs