African Union Makes Moves to Neutralise Africa’s Main Human Rights Body

The International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

By David Kode

For many African activists based on the continent, getting to a major human rights summit just underway in The Gambia is likely to have been a challenging exercise. The journey by air from many African countries to the capital, Banjul, for the 63rd Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), could have been prohibitively expensive, involved transiting through multiple cities and taken days.

And if the African Union (AU) has its way, getting the host institution – Africa’s main human rights body – to respond to their grievances of rights violations, as it has done for years, is going to be equally challenging for them. Recent moves by the AU to curtail the Commission’s independence could ultimately leave African activists and citizens without a vital and often rare structure where human rights abuses committed against them are addressed.

The ACHPR, whose sessions represent the largest gatherings of civil society in Africa, was established more than 30 years ago in Ethiopia by the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Its mandate was to protect and promote people’s and human rights throughout the continent, as well as its founding treaty, the African Charter.

Over the years, the Commission has provided a precious space for civil society representatives from nations such as Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Ethiopia – countries where the space for civil society has been closed – to air human rights grievances and see action taken. Indeed, for activists from a country like Eritrea, in which no independent human rights groups are allowed to operate, this body provides presents a unique platform to let the world know about the abuses Eritreans face and to call for solidarity and action, backed by the Commission. Today, the independence that enabled the ACHPR to pass binding resolutions on rights violations is being consistently eroded by the AU.

Evidence of this can be seen in a recent AU Executive Council decision that the Commission has a “functional nature” and is not independent from the structures that created it. The statement goes further to caution the Commission against acting as an “appellate body” that undermines national legal systems. The Commission, however, was created by and gets its authority from the African Charter and the fact that its commissioners serve in their individual capacity and not as country representatives suggests the objective of the Commission to carry out independent investigations into human rights violations independent of states.

While the AU has remained silent on countless instances of governments’ gross violations of people’s rights, the African Commission has spoken out publicly in its capacity as a quasi-judicial body, condemning these abuses and calling on states to address them.

Another AU Executive Council decision instructed the ACHPR to withdraw its accreditation of the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) by the end of the year – a move that would deny this prominent LGBTI rights group access to the Commission. This resolution clearly undermines the Commission’s independence and could set a precedent for excluding other organisations during crucial human rights work.

The Commission has made some significant judgements such as one passed last year in a case brought by the indigenous Endorois community in Kenya against the Kenyan government. The ACHPR ruled that the government had violated provisions of the African Charter and that it recognise the community’s right of ownership of their land and restitute it. In another landmark case a few months later, the Commission ruled that the DRC pay US $2.5million to the victims and families of those massacred in the southeastern town of Kilwa in 2004. While these judgments are not enforceable, they represent big wins for civil society and communities that are often disappointed by national judicial processes.

The threats to the ACHPR’s independence resonate with a worrying trend on the continent where states work to erode the powers of regional and international human rights mechanisms, leaving citizens vulnerable to abuses with no recourse to justice. In 2016, Burundi, The Gambia and South Africa notified the International Criminal Court (ICC) of their intention to withdraw from the body and the Rome Statute. Other countries such as Kenya and Uganda have at threatened to also leave, citing a bias by the court against African leaders.

The AU also called for a mass pull out of African states and discussed the idea of a collective withdrawal by the continental body. Of the three countries that notified the ICC of their intention to leave, Burundi became was the first and only country to do so, a year ago. Many African states contested the AU’s proposed “withdrawal strategy” while Gambia re-joined the court after a change of government. South Africa put its pull-out plans “on hold” after a South African High Court ruled that a notice of withdrawal without parliament’s approval was unconstitutional.

We saw the trend of states undermining judicial bodies emerge again when, in 2011, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) resolved to suspend all operations of one of its key institutions, the SADC Tribunal. SADC heads of state followed this up three years later with the adoption of a protocol limiting the Tribunal’s jurisdiction to inter-state disputes. This decision dealt a major blow to states’ accountability, particularly since the independence of the judiciary in most African countries is compromised and courts are controlled by the executive, leaving citizens with no recourse to seek justice for violations, especially when states are the main perpetrators.

The campaign by African states to undermine key regional and international human rights mechanisms have been in response to attempts by these structures to hold them and their leaders accountable. The ACHPR requires individuals and organisations to bring cases before it after exhausting all national legal avenues. Other regional human rights systems are either inaccessible, inefficient or compromised. As the judiciary in many African countries increasingly succumb to pressure from the executive, national courts fail citizens miserably leaving them with no choice but to approach take the African Commission.

The AU’s curtailing of the Commission’s independence, SADC’s the suspension of its Tribunal and African states’ rejection of the Rome Statute and the ICC all contribute to an environment in which citizens are left vulnerable to human rights violations and crimes against humanity, and victims and survivors are denied access to justice.

If African leaders succeed in stripping the ACHPR of its independence and authority, African people will effectively lose yet another valuable institution to the rising tide of repressive and restrictive governance, keeping many vulnerable to a cycle of human rights violations, with no recourse for justice or even a hearing.

World Green Economy Summit 2018 concludes

DUBAI, Oct 25 2018 (WAM)

The 5th World Green Economy Summit (WGES), held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, concluded today. The summit, held under the theme ‘Driving Innovation, Leading Change’ brought together many prominent speakers from across the globe, in addition to dignitaries and representatives from government organisations, academicians, experts and the media.

Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, Vice Chairman of the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy, Managing Director and CEO of Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), and Chairman of WGES, announced the Dubai Declaration 2018 at the conclusion of WGES 2018, expressing his gratitude and appreciation to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, for his patronage of the Summit. He also thanked H.H. Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, for his presence at the opening ceremony of the summit.

Al Tayer said: “Since its inception in 2014, the summit has made great progress and many achievements, notably due to increased cooperation between decision-makers from the public and private sectors. Over 3,700 participants consisting of global experts, thought leaders and business leaders in green economy and sustainable development, have participated in WGES 2018 to discuss key issues such as climate change and global warming.”

“This summit is especially important, because it has set the journey towards the adoption and signature of the agreement establishing the World Green Economy Organisation (WGEO). We sincerely hope that we can count many of your countries amongst the original members of WGEO, who have a very important role in shaping its future,” Al Tayer added.

He further said, “We are concerned by the report recently released by the IPCC defining a stringent scenario for the world to achieve the 1.5 degrees target. Nonetheless we are optimistic, as we know that it can be achieved by harvesting the capabilities of the private sector to make their industries and sectors green. This is why we are here, to form and focus an engine of green transformation built on diversity and entrepreneurship.”

Speaking about the summit’s pillars, Al Tayer said, “WGES 2018 focused on three main pillars including ‘Green Capital’, which has been a focus of discussions at this year’s Summit. This comes at a time when the World Green Economy Organisation (WGEO) and the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), signed in October 2018 a partnership agreement in Dubai to fast-track green investments into bankable smart city projects.”

“One of Dubai’s major green projects is the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park. This is the largest single-site solar park in the world. Based on the Independent Power Producer model, it will have a capacity of 5,000MW by 2030. This includes the world’s largest single-site Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) project with a capacity of 700MW,” Al Tayer highlighted.

WAM/Hatem Mohamed/Tariq alfaham