The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), on Wednesday, 13 May, 2009, commences it's 45th Ordinary Session at the Kairaba Beach Hotel. The theme for these two weeks of deliberations on all forms of Human Rights violations is "Human Rights, our collective responsibility."
In presenting her opening speech titled "Strengthening the Rule of Law in pursuit of Justice and Democracy", the chairperson of the Commission, Justice Sanji Mmasenono Monageng, said during the two weeks they are not only to report on, examine and evaluate some of the major human rights developments on the continent during the also six months, but that they should also exchange views openly on how they can be able to build together a free and democratic Africa that respects the rights of every man, woman and child.
Justice Monageng said, "I suggest that the big lesson here is that, without strengthening peoples' capacity to access and effectively utilise established democratic systems and processes at the local, national and international levels to further the goals of social justice, the continent's vision of a united democratic Africa will continue to be an elusive mirage."
The African Commission chairperson said many communities in Africa need peace but that they need justice as well. She said that all should vigorously pursue efforts to bring to reality the comprehensive vision of human rights set forth in the African Charter, envisioning an Africa where impunity will not be tolerated, but that only peace, justice and democracy will be assured to the millions of Africans.
Justice Monageng said since African countries attained independence new constitutions have been adopted and many of which explicitly protect human rights, but that the legal commitment has not always been marked by realities on the ground. She said this is an obligation upon governments to translate these purely legislative instruments into pragmatic gains. "This is a duty of governments, not a choice", she said.
She emphasised that it is both a privilege and a duty for civil society and other human rights actors to hold governments accountable to the standards that they have signed to uphold.
Chairperson Monageng said, "The trumpet has sounded, not as a call to arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are, but as a call to continue to bear the of realizing the promises of the Charter and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights."
She expressed her hope that with input from the participants, the session would be able come out with conclusions that will represent the triumph of the values of Freedom, Justice, Democracy, Respect for Human Rights and for the Supremacy of the Authority of Law, so that fellow Africans could enjoy Prosperity, Progress, Security and Justice.
Justice Monageng concluded with these lines from the famous Nehru's "Trust with destiny speech" as thus, "The service of all nations means the service of millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our general has been sent to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over."
Mrs. Hannah Forster, the Executive Director of the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS), in presenting the final report of the NGO Forum, which held its session from the 9 to 11 May, said they have found out that Africa continues to face serious human rights challenges characterized by violence, conflict, poverty and insecurity, internal political strife, disease, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and extra judicial killings continue to bring disorientation to the majority of citizens of the affected countries, particularly the women and children.
She cited countries like "Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Kenya, Madagascar, Somalia and Sudan" as States where serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in varying degrees exist.
Madame Forster said the NGO Forum received reports of arbitrary arrests and illegal detentions in the said countries. She said their Forum will be urging the African Commission to call on the authorities to respect their constitutional provisions and to abide by their international obligations. She added that they have also expressed the desire for those responsible for the atrocities in the CAR, DRC and Somalia to be brought to justice in order to eradicate the climate of impunity.
On the recent assassinations in Guinea Bissau and the narcotic drugs issue aas well as the issue of resolving the present political situation in Guinea Conakry, Madame Forster said their forum is calling on the African Commission to conduct fact finding missions to these two countries.
She said the NGO Forum has applauded the adoption of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (The African Democracy Charter), but noted that only two States have ratified the treaty, i.e, Mauritania and Ethiopia; that they are therefore calling on the other African States to ratify and domesticate this instrument that will consolidate democracy in Africa.
On the freedom of the press, Madame Forster said, "The challenge on our continent with the constant formulation of repressive laws, harassment, intimidation, killings and arbitrary detention in many an African country, particularly, Angola, Lesotho, Swaziland, Sudan and Zimbabwe. We urge the Special Rapporteur for Freedom or Expression in Africa to investigate the discrimination of the media, the existence of redundant laws, especially electoral laws in the aforementioned countries and to make recommendations in order to assist them in addressing the situation."
She reported that they also deliberated on the harassment, intimidation and arrests of human rights defenders (HRDs) and have noted the existence of laws in some African countries curtailing freedom of association and freedom of expression.
Madame Forster indicated that their forum also recognized that disability is not synonymous with lack of ability and call on the African Commission to integrate and mainstream the fight of people with disability in their work; that they have also raised concerns about the death penalty and the use of torture in some countries and called on the abolition of both.
The Forum, according to her, also expressed concern on the continuing depletion of Africa's natural resources which contributes to the deterioration of the environment, displacement of communities and the untold poverty to the continent.
Madam Forster said the Forum recommended for human rights education capacity building, the ratification of the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights and Justice to enhance the justice system in Africa and the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa by State parties.
Madam Forster finally noted the Human Rights NGOs' Forums concern over the wave of impunity which, she said, remains very disconcerting on the continent.