Banjul, The Gambia.A. General human rights situation in Africa
In March 2006, the establishment of Benin’s new government was an encouraging instance of good governance, State building and the rule of law in Africa. The ceasefire and transition period in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as the country prepares for upcoming presidential elections, seem to signal a new, more stable era after so many gross human rights violations. Meanwhile, concerted efforts by certain countries (such as Ghana) toward reaching the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) bring hope. At the same time, Johnson-Sirleaf’s election in Liberia, as the first woman Head of State in Africa, shows promise for the promotion and protection of women’s human rights on the continent.
Despite these encouraging examples, the human rights situation in many places remains bleak. Forced evictions in Zimbabwe may no longer draw media attention, but continue to affect thousands of people. The crisis in Darfur has produced millions of internally displaced people and refugees, as well as countless enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and a state of general terror. The situation continues to have a very negative effect on human rights and fundamental freedoms in Sudan. Chad’s recent coup d’état is a prime example of what can happen when the people become frustrated with bad governance, abuse of power, mismanagement of petroleum resources and widespread poverty. In the Central African Republic, security problems in the north persist due to earlier mutinies and conflict in neighbouring countries; security issues prevent the population from working normally. In northern Uganda , the conflict situation and ensuing atrocities intensify while the authors of gross human rights violations refuse to cooperate with the International Criminal Court. The entire Great Lakes region is fragile due to the precarious post-conflict situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as the latter tries to recover from an extended period of human rights violations including rape and summary execution. The situation in Côte d’Ivoire remains problematic too. Widespread hunger, notably in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia following the famine in Niger, affects populations’ ability to fully enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights. In Togo , rampant impunity continues and the majority of the country’s refugees are still in precarious conditions in Ghana and Benin.
B. Peacebuilding and transitional justice :
Transitional justice must be based on human rights law
A number of the Africa’s conflict zones remain volatile. The situation in Darfur is as pressing as ever. Peace in Côte d’Ivoire, and between Ethiopia and Eritrea, has not yet been fully realized. The Great Lakes region merits special and sustained attention in its own fragile peace process. Chad, for its part, continues to raise serious questions.
Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone have just recently emerged from severe conflict situations. In the aftermath of myriad gross human rights violations committed during prolonged warfare, it is of great importance that human rights remain the primary pillar of the peace and stabilization processes. The African Commission should play a leading role in integrating a rights-based approach in plans for countries emerging from conflict. This approach should be based on universal principles that reinforce peacebuilding, i.e. the triad of: respect for human rights, the fight against impunity and reparation for victims and their families.
As such, Franciscans International believes that the peace process should be anchored in the following:
• Defined systematic and coordinated policies that will provide a better, fairer distribution of national resources and the fruits of development;
• Civil society allowed to participate in managing reconstruction, which includes taking into account and developing national capacities and resources within a culture of peace;
• Effectively implementing the refugees’ and internally displaced persons’ right-of-return, including the complete restitution of their homes and other goods that belong to them, and refraining from adopting or applying any measures that hinder the restitution process;
• Conducting impartial enquiries, to establish who will be responsible for each task, with the full participation of humanitarian and international organizations (including the UN peacekeeping forces), who helped in supporting the peace process;
• Mindful to respect the rule of law and human rights, especially in the administration of justice, wherein independence and impartiality must be guaranteed to avoid discrimination, and above all impunity, for the authors, abettors, or mercenaries involved in carrying out atrocities. This includes high-ranking individuals in State and other public institutions;
• Guarantee the composition, working methods and procedures for military tribunals for the authors of atrocities to be judged. Tribunals should conform to international standards and be based on the following principles:
o Military tribunals must be created by law;
o Exceptional measures must respect the principles of good administration of justice and not create a new parallel legal regime outside of the pre-existing legal system;
o Military tribunals must not judge minors, according to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, nor should they include the death penalty, and in exceptional cases where capital punishment is handed down, sentences should conform to international norms;
o Military tribunals must refrain from judging civilians, and only address crimes committed by military personnel while carrying out their duties;
o Gross human rights violations such as genocide, crimes against humanity, summary and extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and torture must be investigated, prosecuted and judged within civilian courts;
o The trial process must include effective participation of victims and their legal representatives;
o ‘Obeying orders’ does not exonerate an individual from responsibility, and superiors must be held accountable for gross violations committed by subordinates if the former did not act, or did not do enough to prevent the subordinates’ actions.
• Respecting national law, abstaining from self-serving legislative changes (that preserve and protect impunity) and from measures that lead to impunity, such as amnesty laws;
• Respecting international obligations that have been committed to by implementing all of the concluding recommendations and observations, namely regarding the lawfulness and human rights, made by African Union institutions, regional organizations and the United Nations;
• The principles of reparation and compensation should be an integral part of the return to political and social stability;
• Cooperating efficiently with international legal and judicial institutions, in particular regarding: extradition of presumed war criminals, collaborating in enquiries, facilitating procedures and implementing judicial decisions.
C . A human rights approach to the AIDS pandemic
There is no respite in sight for the progress of the AIDS pandemic, despite mass efforts made by Governments, and civil society organizations including the Church. Africa remains by far the most affected continent. In certain countries, such as Zambia, over 25 per cent of the adult working population is infected. The pandemic has been feminized, there is a gendered aspect to the pandemic: more than 60 per cent of new infections in 2005 were in women. The infection rate continues to climb in some countries which have, for one reason or another, remained on the sidelines. Economic impacts are clear: there is a definite risk of massive fallout in all sectors, especially in agricultural production, where 80 per cent of the population is employed.
The fight against AIDS must happen within a human rights framework. The right to health, as outlined in Articles 16 and 18 of the African Charter, is not being enjoyed by affected populations. Despite progress made to better coordinate efforts in certain countries, according to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s March 27, 2006 report, national action plans to combat AIDS are not adopting a systematic and integrated approach to mobilization. Thus, civil society organizations often lack information; they may not even know a national plan exists. Similarly, education campaigns are sporadic and short-term.
Access to treatment, as with education, has not yet reached large segments of affected populations. Cultural misconceptions and stigma attached to the disease remain widespread. According to the Secretary-General’s March 2006 report, only 20 per cent of those who urgently need them have access to medications. States need a strong political will in the face of such a massive social disaster.
In the African context, an additional focus must be placed on food security, given that proper nutrition is absolutely essential for treatment.
Franciscans International recommends that the African Commission should take up initiatives, either in the form of resolutions or recommendations, challenging States to maintain the fight against the pandemic. Initiatives must address three fundamental pillars: Prevention (including fighting discrimination and stigmatization), Treatment and Nutrition, all within a human rights framework and as part of a long-term development strategy.
D. Contemporary forms of slavery
It’s the newest African plague – Traditional forms of slavery have been modified, and exploitation persists. Victims’ poverty and vulnerability make them easy targets for organized crime. Certain traditional structures place entire communities at the bottom of the social scale, leaving these people with fewer rights than others. The sale of people for sexual or economic reasons, discrimination based on descent, forced labour, and forced marriages continue to plague Africa.
Article 5 of the African Charter, after having recalled the fundamental nature of respecting inherent human dignity, categorically declares: “All forms of exploitation and degradation of man particularly slavery, slave trade, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment shall be prohibited.”
Franciscans International urges the African Commission to pay due attention to this problem, asking States to adopt or reinforce national or regional Action Plans aimed at fighting contemporary forms of slavery, and human trafficking in particular.
Tens of thousands of Africans suffer inhuman and degrading treatment en route to Europe. This situation warrants African Commission initiatives on migration based on respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. As well, migrants in certain countries on the continent are faced with rampant discrimination at work and in society-at-large. These too should be major items on the Commission agenda.
Franciscans International calls upon the African Commission to:
• Recommend that African countries that have not yet done so ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and adopt all appropriate measures for its ratification;
• Recommend transit and European countries respect fundamental human rights in the fight against irregular migration;
• Challenge Governments on their national poverty reduction strategies, keeping in mind the Millennium Development Goals, knowing that poverty and unemployment are key factors in the migration process.
F. The Commission’s work methods
Commissioners’ reports as well as all those of mechanisms under the umbrella of the African Commission are essential reference documents for stakeholders who, along with the Commission itself, work toward effective implementation of the rights contained in the African Charter. But – experts’ reports are not widely available, which makes lobbying significantly more difficult for NGOs.
Franciscans International would like to encourage the Commission to strengthen its communication with partners by:
• Announcing which State parties will submit their report at the upcoming session, so that NGOs and other civil society organizations are able to submit an alternative report, which will shed further light on the country situation;
• Asking for contributions from national human rights institutions who have signed on to the Paris principles, in order to hear a third voice during the examination of State reports (along with the State itself, and NGO submissions);
• Coordinating with regional organizations (ECOWAS, SADC, COMESA….), and local UN agencies, as well as other organizations who might have insight into the situation on the ground in the country being examined.
Communication between the Commission and other partners
The Commission website, the institution’s ‘window on the world’, is rarely updated. The programme of work and invited guests should be up on the site at least one month before the session’s opening, giving participants time to get organized and coordinate their plans. As well, documents such as certain sessions’ final communiqués have not been posted.
With regard to the private sessions which in fact take up far more time than the regular public sessions, Franciscans International would like to recommend that the Commission consider the possibility of allowing NGOs to participate as observers.
Lastly, it would be advantageous for all to take better advantage of available technology. A password-protected web intranet would allow Commissioners to maintain regular communication amongst themselves, as well as with other concerned partners.