- NGO Forum 9-11 May, 2009
- 45th Session of the African Commission of Human and People’s Rights, Banjul, The Gambia.
An intensive three day NGO Forum preceded the 45th session of the African Commission with an opening speech by the Commissioner Sanji Monageng. The NGO Forum which takes place twice a year with the aim to promote and protect human rights in Africa is a platform which civil society uses through NGOs to bring to the table the concerns they wish to raise in the African Commission sessions which follow. There are discussions, presentation and sharing of information which is educative in raising awareness of human rights situation to better address violations of human rights.
The NGO Forum is significant in that it gives access to civil society to directly reach the African Commission, allowing for collaboration between the African Commission and the civil society. The discussion and sharing during the Forum is a healthy tool to exploring new ways to promote and protect human rights or to finding solutions to human rights issues which have become chronic. This platform also becomes a place where much networking takes place, expanding and enlarging the work in the field of human rights.
The NGO Forum includes plenary meetings with presentations by speakers and there are special interest groups that meet to discuss specific human rights situations in different regions in Africa which then report to the plenary. The NGO Forum comes up with draft declarations and resolutions drafted by a drafting committee on thematic issues of human rights. They are presented during the plenary meetings for adoption by the Forum and submitted to the African Commission to be considered for possible adoption or incorporation into the work of the African Commission.
The possibility to hold side events is a further enhancement of the NGO Forum’s work on special situations of human rights violations in African states, or on relevant themes.
With possibilities to make statements on given items, the intensive work of the forum, the concrete resolutions which they present to the Commission and the eventual advocacy and lobbying that they may choose to do gives the civil society a significant opportunity to add its valuable contributions to the ongoing work of the African Commission.
The special group meetings were particularly intense at the May 2009 Forum, with the objective of drafting resolutions, they covered themes such as, Prevention of Torture, an in-depth discussion on the situation of African prisons, focusing on Rwanda and Sudan. There was unanimity on the subject of abolishing the death penalty amongst the NGOs gathered at the Forum. Human Rights Defenders discussed the freedom of expression, association, movement which are being denied to many human rights defenders in numerous African states. The presentation on sexual orientation by NGOs became an educative session, and fellow participants showed much openness to this rather difficult area. Right of women was very important and all joined forces to combat for the violations thereof. The indigenous community and their rights proved to be an area deserving more efforts. The NGOs gathered in Banjul for this Forum demonstrated enthusiasm and a will to end human rights violations.
The unanimous conclusion was that the problems lay clearly in the implementation of the instruments which were already in place. With some twenty resolutions adopted at the plenary and passed on to the African Commission the NGO Forum ended to be resumed in November 2009 before the next African Commission’s Sessions.
The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.
This session was attended by some 15 to 20 African States (?) chaired by Commissioner Sanji Manageng, Vice-chaired by Commissioner Mukirya Nyanduga; with Commissioners and Special Rapporteur on Prison and Detention, Mr. Muba Mallila; Commissioner and Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, Mrs. Soyata, Miaga; Commissioner and Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, IDPs and Migrants in Africa, Mr. Bahame Tom Mukirya Nyanduga; Commissioner and Special Rapportuer on Human Rights Defenders, Mme Reine Alapini-Gansou; Commissioner and Chairperson of the Working Group on the Situation of Indigenous People’s/Communities in Africa; Commissioner and Chairperson of the Working Group on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Africa and Chairperson of the Working Group on the Special Issues Relevant to the Work of the African Commission, Dr. Angela Melo; Commissioner and Chairperson of the Working Group on Death Penalty, Mrs. Zaainabo Sylvie Kayitesi; Commissioner Yeung Kam John Yeung Sik Yuen; Commissioner and Chairperson of the Follow up Committee on the implementation of the Robben Island Guidelines, Mrs. Catherine Dupe Atoki.
The 45th Session commenced with an opening speech by the Chairperson of the African Commission, Mrs. Sanji Monageng, ‘Strengthening the Rule of Law in Pursuit of Justice and Democracy’ was a most fitting theme for the session to follow. She reminded of the gains thus far in the combat for human rights and justice, namely the recognition of rape as a crime against humanity and tool of war and the accountability attributed to such crime. Mrs. Monageng continued to remind all those gathered at the session of the lack of justice, peace and security in the African communities across the continent. She spoke of the situation of war and conflict, the resulting destruction and millions of African people’s suffering which needed to be addressed, reiterating the most vulnerable, women and children in all situations especially that of internal displacement. In her speech Mrs. Monageng reminded that African countries were severely affected by situations of war and conflicts and also reflected high levels of human rights violations, impunity, injustice and lack of democracy. She said that it was a collective responsibility to hold the governments of the African states directly responsible for the situation of the suffering of the millions of African people across the continent, that it was the governments duty and obligation and the people’s right to have peace, justice, security and a society in which they could prosper. Her speech ended with a quotation by Nehru which rendered high responsibility on behalf of all suffering of injustice in all nations, a note of inspiration and obligation to combat injustice…
According to the Agenda, the session progressed covering the agenda items as adopted. There were statements on the Human Rights situation in Africa by States, the African Union groups, intergovernmental groups, international organizations, and NGOs.
Nigeria took the floor bringing to the table the issue of poverty, the importance of criminal justice, due process, and also the necessity of a close collaboration with civil society and for a national action plan as key to improving the human rights situation.
Sudan evoked the spirit of African solidarity in the fight for HR. The importance of democratic elections was brought up especially at a time when many African states are preparing for elections. Proportional balloting was key, and women needed to run for seats stated the representative of Sudan as some of the key issues for change. In response of NGOs’ request for a ceasefire, it promised immediate ceasefire and reminded of the ongoing peace talks, the Addis Ababa meeting on the peace process and the Doha peace talks. It acknowledged the plight of the IDPs’ and Refugees’ suffering and reported that it was allowing for certain NGOs and humanitarian organizations to enter the country. It showed its good will by extending invitations to special rapporteurs to come to examine the situation on women, IDPs and the disappeared.
Secretary General of the Representative of Africa to the UN evoked the Coup d’Etat which has brought a serious security threat to West Africa. He spoke of the food and financial crisis, the aggravated drug trafficking, climate change and its impact on land and property related conflicts, the link between human rights and peace and security, role of women in the peace process and urgent need to address impunity.
Cote D’Ivoire had the question of death penalty and impunity at the top of their list of agenda.
Zimbabwe addressed the migrant issues, sharing its own progress of regularization of those living in the country. Gender was a topic of discussion and it informed of the policies and framework that it uses to bring about gender equality.
The Inter-American Commission of HR shared its good will to collaborate with the African Commission.
The ICRC made statement stressing the situation of the IDPs in Africa, the danger of cluster bomb usage, forced disappearances and the need of for the recognition of human rights law.
The National HR Institution of Burkina Faso, South African Human Rights Commission and the Rwandan HR Commission were amongst the organizations to take the floor voicing their support to uphold human rights by fulfilling the obligations under the African Charter.
Nord Sud XXI made noticeable contribution to the Human Rights concerns, with strong and substantial statements composed by Professor Doebbler on various themes. Professor Doebbler reminded the participants of the 45th session of the Durban Review Conference and its discriminating policies, namely the treatment and lack of support in the organization for the NGOs of the African states. He explained the manner in which the outcome document had been prepared with the forced restraint and demanded sacrifices from the Southern countries. His statement brought clarity and understanding for many African people who had not received adequate information to truly understand the workings of the DRC. Other Nord Sud statements were on rights women; Condition of Detention, especially that in Uganda, prisoners on death row for more than three years due to problems of backlog and inhumane treatment amongst others; Working Group on the Economic and Social Rights, emphasizing the exacerbated situations of inequality at a time of global financial crisis and recession and its impact on the African countries. It invited the commission to be present at the UNGA meeting of June 2009 in New York. The Refugees, Asylum Seekers, IDPs and the Migrant group too received Nord Sud’s address, here the timeliness of the Commission’s response was called for the on behalf of the victims of groups. The death penalty was challenged as violation to the most basic rights of all human rights, the right to life, by Nord Sud. It defended the rights of the Indigenous communities and populations calling for their respect and protection. The human rights defenders protection was also an issue of importance to Nord Sud and it suggested the creation of a database system towards the protection of this targeted group. Cooperation between the ACHPR and NGOs was an important one as it considered a revision of the Rules of Procedures draft to be adopted in the upcoming weeks. Nord Sud XXI had some important suggestions to make for improving the cooperation between NGOs and the Commission. Professor Doebbler had come up with some key issues to be addressed under this item, such as requesting more transparency from the commission especially in regard to the adoption of the new Rules to be adopted. He requested for more transparency and inclusiveness of the NGOs in this process. He also asked for amendments on the reporting period, that of every two years to be prolonged to every five years, for the reasons that the Commission did not actually have the time to consider two yearly reports and the two yearly reports were a administrative burden for many NGOs. This would also help the Commission to better involve the NGOs in the reports of the Commission. Nord Sud XXI became an inspiration for many and while the Commission thanked Professor Doebbler for his participation at the 45th session many NGOs looked for possibilities to seek its support in their own work of human rights.
There were periodic State reports presented by Republic of Mauritius, Republic of Uganda and the Republic of Benin. These showed good will on the part of the states and each in their turn gave an account of all the instruments, regional, national, or international to which they were parties, they assured of their sincere efforts in all areas of concern. Yet their reports left the issues to be answered unaddressed and the commissioners followed with elaborate lists of questions and recommendations after each reports especially in the case of Uganda. Although it took the time to prepare its replies it seemed to have worked hard mostly to attempt to avoid the important concerns.
The work of the Commission is a challenging one especially in the follow up of these reports but even more so in the work to ensure the implementations of the obligations to which most African States are bound by their ratifications. The capacity of the African Commission, due to lack of budgeting and personnel, seems almost disproportionate when compared to the large African continent and the uncountable human rights violations or the ongoing wars and conflicts, and the extreme situations of poverty, not to mention the climate change which continues exacerbated the already existing conflicts, also adding hundreds of thousands to the list of the internally displaced.
It is the demonstration of the collective will of the African people at the 45thsession which impressed as being the key, a solidarity between the Commission and civil society, a link which along with the strong aspiration for democratic values and rule of justice and law can empower and accelerate any process in the promotion and protection for human rights. The commission will need to improve and expand become more transparent and augment its collaboration with the Civil Society, taking into account advise and suggestions from the civil society/NGOs in order to continue to progress to better fulfill its duties as an important mechanism, for the protection and promotion of justice and human Rights on the African continent.