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Statement by the NANHRI 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

By Chairperson Lourence Mushwana, Commissioner responsible for Migration & Equality  

Your Excellency Representative of the Government of the Gambia,Your Excellency Representative of the African Union,
Your Excellency Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights,
Dear Commissioners members of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights,
Your Excellencies Diplomats accredited to the Gambia,State delegates and Participants
Invited guests,

Dear Colleagues.
Thank you for the privilege and honour to be afforded this opportunity to address you at this 49th Ordinary Session on behalf of the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI).  We extend our most sincere gratitude to the authorities and the people of the Republic of the Gambia for their warm welcome and hospitality.

NANHRI, as the umbrella body of African NHRIs appreciates our relationship with the ACHPR. This relationship is continuously strengthening and provides many opportunities to promote and protect human rights on the continent within international, regional and domestic fora. This was evident in the recent workshops NANHRI organised on regional human rights mechanisms for NHRIs from South and East Africa and from North and West Africa that were held in Johannesburg and Dakar respectively.

Ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of NANHRI allow me to thank the leadership of the ACHPR for their participation at these workshops which contributed towards the adoption of various action points and commitment to the Dakar Declaration. One of the most important action points was the resolution to work towards NANHRI being accorded affiliate status by the ACHPR. The status has since been accorded to NANHRI and has been instrumental in strengthening the relationship between NANHRI and the ACHPR.

African NHRIs operate within a context of limited financial resources. This 49th ordinary session of the African Commission is taking place at a time when there are a number of new challenges facing African NHRIs. Some institutions are even in conflict with their State authorities for challenging legislation that could potentially limit freedom of expression. .

The Chairperson of the Malawian Human Rights Commission, Mr. John Kapito, has come under increasing pressure to resign. Mr.Kapito had been summoned by the Minister of Internal Affairs where he was warned to stop criticizing government and was asked to withdraw all cases in which the Commission had taken government to court. We have been made to understand that last week, the Presidential spokesperson, and the Minister of Information, addressed a press conference which was broadcast on TV and radio where they called for the resignation of the Commission Chair. Currently, we understand that government is coercing some Commissioners within the Commission to cast a vote of no confidence against the Chairperson.   NANHRI  wishes to strongly urge Malawi to ensure that they are following the Paris Principles and to allow the Commission to function independently.

The recent uprisings in North Africa demonstrate how NHRIs are placed in increasingly difficult contexts in which they are expected to promote and protect human rights both during and after conflict. Conflict situations often entail massive human rights violations that need to be adequately addressed. This poses a challenge to NHRIs in the execution of their mandates.  NANHRI therefore calls upon the ACHPR and like minded stakeholders in the human rights community to strengthen their support for African NHRIs within the continent in every way possible.  Such support will go a long way in entrenching NHRIs as part of the human rights machinery on the African continent.  Independent, well capacitated and resourced NHRIs that are compliant with the Paris Principles are key to a strong and effective national human rights system.

We have recently witnessed in some parts of the continent, the failure of electoral systems. This poses a threat to strengthening democracy on the continent resulting in massive violations of human rights including the loss of life. Africa cannot afford to allow weak institutions to compromise the many gains of democracy achieved. This highlights the importance and the need for all States to sign, ratify and implement the African Unions Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.

NANHRI urges the African Union to react within its mandate and power where infringements and violations of the right to freedom of assembly are perpetrated against citizens who hold peaceful demonstrations. The African Union should act promptly to support democracy and respect for human rights.

The promotion and protection of human rights requires an integrated approach involving all stakeholders. There is a need to respect all human rights stakeholders as this will contribute towards building and strengthening a human rights culture on the African continent.

NANHRI in recognizing the important role of NHRIs will therefore continue nurturing the existing NHRIs and encourage more African nations to form these institutions in line with the international norms and standards.

Ladies and gentlemen,
 NANHRI is delighted that the number of NHRIs is increasing on the continent. We have been privileged to assist in the process of establishing the Burundi Human Rights Commission which was finalized in January 2011 with the signing into law of the necessary legislation. This has been an enormous achievement for a country that for a long time was plagued by conflict. Burundi is currently in the process of appointing Commissioners for this newly established Commission. NANHRI stands ready to assist the new commissioners when they assume office.

Further South on the continent, NANHRI has assisted with the induction of Commissioners for the Zimbabwean Human Rights Commission. We look forward to their national legislation being enacted and the Commission being adequately funded with the necessary resources in order to effectively carry out its functions.

 We acknowledge the Commission for the commendable work which its various working groups are doing. We urge the Commission to prioritise work towards the framing of standards and mechanism to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities.

Ladies and gentlemen,
In conclusion, NANHRI urges the ACHPR to continue its support for the work of the Network. By fostering our relationship and ensuring strong independent national human rights institutions on Africa, respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law will be entrenched.

I thank you.

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The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

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