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Statement by the Commission at the opening session of the African Commission on Human and  Peoples Rights 49th Ordinary Session

28th April to 12th MAY 2011 BANJUL, THE GAMBIA

Chairperson, Commissioners of the African Commission, Distinguished guests, States delegates, Friends and delegates from NHRIs Friends and Delegates from Non-governmental organisations, all protocol observed

The South African Human Rights Commission acknowledges the important role of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) on the continent. The recent wave of uprisings and calls from many citizens throughout Africa for democracy demonstrates the inherent nature of fundamental human rights that can never be destroyed. As part of the regional human rights mechanism, your work at this session has increased urgency and importance. We therefore anticipate that you will have constructive deliberations with positive outcomes at this session.

The SAHRC is delighted that late last year, after we briefed our Parliaments Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation on the implications of ratifying the AU Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, a decision was taken to ratify the instrument.

We wish to congratulate our government for becoming the 8th country to ratify the Charter on 24 December 2010. There are still however 5 ratifications necessary in order for the Charter to come into force. Recent events throughout the continent demonstrate the urgent need for this Charter to be ratified and effectively implemented. It is incumbent on NHRIs to encourage their governments to ratify and effectively implement international human rights instruments.

We have just learnt that the Africa Human Rights Strategy that will contribute towards entrenching human rights on the African continent has been adopted. We would urge that there be greater consultation with all stakeholders as the process moves forward with the creation of an implementation plan.

It cannot go unnoticed that South Africa’s reports to the African Commission are overdue. As the national human rights institution we assure you that we are engaging with government and our Parliament at a number of levels with the purpose that this situation will be addressed.

Despite many advances, South Africa still has much work to do to realize the rights of those who are vulnerable including children, women, persons with disabilities, the elderly and those living with and affected by HIV AIDS. We note the positive recent developments at the African Commission with the establishment of a Working Group for Persons with Disabilities and the Elderly. We are however of the view that the issues that affect these two vulnerable groups are distinct and would welcome in the future this groups separation into two separate working groups.

The SAHRC has recently decided that it will have a Commissioner that will focus on children’s rights. This has resulted in a renewed focus and energy being placed in this area of our work. We look forward to engaging more actively in the regional system in relation to child rights and would join the call for the appointment by the ACHPR of a Special Rapporteur on child rights.

Discrimination and intolerance remain on the human rights agenda in South Africa. The SAHRC has recently commenced a project with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) which will strengthen the internal capacity of the Commission to respond to racism, xenophobia and other related forms of intolerance. The Commission also continues to advocate for the enactment of adequate legislative measures to address hate crimes perpetrated on various grounds of discrimination be it race, social origin or sexual orientation.

It is important that the ACHPR demonstrates its commitment towards and support of NHRIs in their work. In this regard, it is important for the Commission to take notice of the degree of independence that NHRIs enjoy at a country level. Many NHRIs are limited in their ability to contribute more substantially due to inadequate funding and this compromises their independence. The ACHPR is accordingly urged to address these issues when considering State reports.

Finally, South Africa will assume the chairmanship of the Network of National Human Rights Institutions (NANR)I in October 2011 when we host the 8th Biannual NANHRI Conference. We are aware that this is an enormous responsibility and we look forward to the African Commission continuing the good work they have already started of working closely with national human rights institutions on the continent.

Thank you

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