MUNYAGA: Is Africa serious on Human Rights?

MBONEKO: How ready are we to mark Africa Human Rights Year?
Human Rights

Very few people on the continent, I believe, know that African leaders in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last December declared 2016 as Africa’s Year for Human Rights with particular focus on the rights of women. Still, far fewer people know that the continent actually lives through the African Women’s Decade (2010-2020).

It is not the intention of the author to sound elitist but simply to state a fact. Almost every year, Africa comes up with very noble aspirations only for them to float conveniently into the grinding mill of finished business with sadly very little done to show quantifiable milestones.

Given the pace of initial enthusiasm, I am afraid, the recent declaration could also go the same way unless something is done now and urgently to sensitize the people more about the intended benefits of the continent’s current rallying call for human rights.

The declaration of 2016 as the Africa Year of Human Rights will provide further opportunity to consolidate the gains already made over the years, ensure better coordination of human rights bodies on the continent, and move towards the establishment of a true human rights culture on the continent,” reads paragraph 12 of the African Union’s (AU) concept paper for the declaration.

Arguably, that is a tall order to accomplish in just one. The only inference therefore is that the year and the declaration only provide the occasion for the human rights spirit to live on until Africa casts away the insult that it is a place where human life and dignity are not values held dearly both by the people and their leaders.

The specific objectives of the declaration included to evaluate the level of ratification, domestication and implementation of regional and major international human rights instruments into national legislation. Sadly very little has been done here especially as regards the Protocol setting up the African court on Human and People’s Rights (AfCHPR).

Others were to evaluate the progress made in advancing the socio-economic and political rights of women; and best practices since the coming into force of the Maputo Protocol and encourage member states to develop policies, plans of action and programmes on the promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights, and specific programmes with the intention of integrating women in all spheres of life, so as to boost women’s empowerment in Africa, reads the document.

More others were to encourage member states to recommit to the promotion and protection of human rights, to encourage member states of the African Union that have not already done so, to ratify the Protocol establishing the Court and make the declaration under Article 34(6) thereof, allowing individuals and NGOs direct access to the Court and evaluate the work accomplished by various mechanisms in the promotion and protection of human rights, notably, the rights of women.

Finally, the declaration hopes to provide a platform for constructive debate on human rights with a view to putting human rights at the foundation of the AU framework, popularize the Maputo Protocol with, information, education and communication strategies at grassroots women and men’s level to make them aware of the protocol and  popularize the Maputo Protocol and other AU and UN instruments like the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), UN Resolutions on Women with simplified publication and also translated into local languages, and also through local media used by communities.

Like I said, those are very noble aspirations. However, the “plans and programmes” of action to translate them into reality seem to be glaringly missing. Setting up the AfCHPR was no doubt a major human rights milestone. However, only 29 states out of 54 African Union members have ratified the Protocol setting up the court much as Africa discourages trying human rights abuses at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague!

These are Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Comoros, Congo, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Niger, Uganda, Rwanda, Arab Saharawi Republic, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo and Tunisia. Cases against the states may only be made by the African Commission or African inter-governmental organisations.

 Individuals and NGOs can only access the Court if their countries have deposited a Declaration according to Article 34(6) of the Protocol. Only seven countries have so far done so. They are Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda and Tanzania. So, from the standpoint of that record alone, Africa still has a long way to go before human rights become part of the continent’s culture and inspiration to future generations. The time to act is now. The media and civil society should double their efforts.

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Story By Mboneko Munyaga
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