39th SESSION OF THE AFRICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN AND PEOPLES’ RIGHTS
The session was held on 11–25 May 2006, in Banjul, The Gambia. Participants consisted of government delegates, international organisations, national institutions as well as national and international NGOs. The session was opened by Mr Sheikh Tijan Hydara, the Attorney-General and Secretary of State for Justice of the Republic of The Gambia.
Human Rights Situation in Africa
The first topic on the agenda covered the general human rights situation on the African continent. Statements were made by various participants and in the following order:
Statements by State Delegates
Statements by Intergovernmental Organisations
Statements by National Human Rights Institutions
Statements by NGOs
Interesting to note is some discrepancies that existed between state delegate statements and NGO statements.
Regarding the SADC region, state delegates of Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Botswana made their statements before the Commission. NGOs such as the Centre for Human Rights (South Africa) and Lawyers for Human Rights (Zimbabwe) also made statements before the Commission.
Relationship with National Human Rights Institutions and NGOs
The African Commission regards the cooperation between themselves and National Human Rights Institutions and NGOs as an imperative component of their successful functioning. The Chairperson of the African Commission, Salamata Sawadogo, stated that the Commission encouraged regular reporting by NGOs enjoying observer status with the Commission. She also emphasised that the submission of shadow reports by NGOs was of paramount importance.
Regarding the cooperation and relationship between the African Commission and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), the following important points were raised:
The coinciding of the 39th Session of the African Commission and the 2nd AU Conference of NHRIs, shows the importance of these two set of institutions to work together in the promotion and protection of human rights.
The African Commission appealed to states to give adequate resources or support to NHRIs, in order for them to deliver their mandate.
The African Commission encouraged NHRIs to also have a forum (like the one NGOs have) preceding Ordinary Sessions of the African Commission.
Partnership relationships between the African Commission and NHRIs should be more permanent in nature, thus implying that there should be an active relationship between these two set of institutions also between sessions of the African Commission.
Regarding the cooperation and relationship between the African Commission and NGOs, the following noteworthy points were raised:
Commissioners commended the organising of the NGO Forum before each session
The granting of observer status to NGOs was very important, especially to NGOs that were not officially recognised in their respective countries. [AMT examples of NGOs]
To date, round about 300 NGOs enjoy observer status with the African Commission.
More and more NGOs are involved in various meetings at the AU level.
Of utmost importance is to include NGOs in most aspects of the African Commission.
The 39th Session of the African Commission considered the following State Party Reports:
The Initial Report of Seychelles;
The Periodic Report of Cameroon;
The Periodic Report of Libya; and
The Initial Report of the Central African Republic.
Concerns were raised by some of the Commissioners that a considerable amount of state parties are not up to date with their reporting. Even more concerning is the fact that various state parties has never submitted their reports before the Commission. As a result, the point was raised that the Commission should meet with the governments that are failing to submit their reports.
African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)
HURISA, as a member of the Coalition for an Effective African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, made a statement before the Commission on behalf of the NGO Forum. Noteworthy are:
The inadequate gender representation of the Judges of the ACHPR
The Protocol establishing the ACHPR imposes a legal obligation on Member States to complete the process of operationalization of an effective, impartial and independent ACHPR.
The Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU was urged to inter alia complete the process of operationalization of an independent and effective human rights court without further delay, through the final determination of the seat of the Court, allocation of adequate resources and determination of other operational issues. Inter-sessional Activity Reports
The Commissioners presented reports on their inter-sessional activities. These included:
Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa
Rights of Women in Africa
Human Rights Defenders in Africa
Freedom of Expression in Africa
Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Internally Displaced Persons in Africa
In a nutshell, the reports covered the progress made by the above mentioned specific missions in different African countries. It also highlighted the difficulties encountered during such missions.
2nd AFRICAN UNION CONFERENCE OF NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS INSTITUTIONS
The 2nd AU Conference of National Human Rights Institutions coincided with the 39th Ordinary Session of the African Commission. It took place from 12–14 May 2006. Significant points that were raised:
The continuous violation of the rights of children, women and displaced persons in Africa is very concerning.
It is very important that member states of the AU who have not yet established national human rights institutions should do so without further delay.
It is important that governments safeguard the independence and effectiveness of human rights organisations operating within their countries.
Although many African countries ratify numerous human rights policies, they often fail to translate these provisions into practical realities.
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) raised the following:
More human rights work needs to be done in the far flung corners of South Africa, i.e. the isolated rural areas. 70% of South Africa’s population live in rural areas and therefore it is essential that the SAHRC work more with traditional leaders.
It is important to remember that with rights come certain responsibilities. The focus should not only be on the entitlement of rights. Inequality continues to be a major issue in South Africa. Accordingly, it is essential to find an answer for the question “How can a rights-based approach be used to solve the problem of inequality?” It is essential for the SAHRC to extend its human rights work beyond South Africa’s borders. There is a need to explore how to work together with sub-regional institutions in the SADC region. Even more so, the SAHRC has to work in synergy with other NHRIs on the African continent. It doesn’t help that only one part of the African continent have successes in human rights issues. The bigger picture is of more importance.