25th Summit of the African Union: the AU must make human rights central to its action for the resolution of conflicts and crises

Press release
en fr

The African Union (AU) should make human rights central to its action towards resolving conflicts and crises. The 25th Summit of the AU, that is now being held in South Africa, must arrive at firm decisions that can eliminate the cycles of violence and guarantee lasting security for the civilian populations.

For Karim Lahidji, FIDH President, The AU regularly declares that it is determined to guarantee the security of civilians in zones of instability. The time has come for these declarations of intention to be replaced by tangible actions if the AU wants to maintain its credibility and its legitimacy to intervene in such situations.

Efforts at political mediation should be combined with a strategy for the protection of human rights. Several tangible measures could be taken along these lines. The AU must strengthen its capacity to document and denounce human rights violations that occur in conflict and crisis zones and support initiatives that can guarantee that such violations will not be repeated. To do this requires perfecting the deployment and monitoring of its commissions of inquiry and of human rights observers, as well as improving the coordination between these mechanisms and the UN mechanisms. The AU, furthermore, should do more to implement sanctions against persons responsible for human rights violations and actively support justice mechanisms designed to combat impunity. Lastly, the AU should pay particular attention to the protection of human rights defenders working in high-risk zones.

Such measures should be applied immediately in many situations. For example, in South Sudan, the AU should publish the conclusions and recommendations of the March 2014 commission of inquiry which was established to shed light on the violations committed since the conflict erupted in December 2013. The publication of the Commission’s report was held back apparently because it might hinder the political negotiations between the parties in conflict. Yet, during the last few weeks, the armed factions have resumed hostilities, especially in Unity State where reports make mention of torched villages, rape, and recruitment of child soldiers. The publication of the report of the AU commission of inquiry should make it possible to identify the persons responsible for these crimes and to establish credible judicial mechanisms that would allow the victims to claim their rights and to strengthen the justice system and prevent more atrocities.

In Burundi, since a new electoral calendar has just been adopted, the AU should make sure that the general elections are inclusive, credible, transparent and safe. Elections such as these require political dialogue; halting the repression of those opposing the third term of office for the outgoing President; fighting the Imbonerakure’s operations; the assurance of unimpeded participation by the opposition parties in the elections; and the guarantee of freedom for the press and of action for civil society. But since these conditions do not yet exist, the AU should apply the measures that are outlined in its own legal texts to prevent the situation from deteriorating. At a time when human rights defenders and journalists are being stigmatised, intimidated and threatened, the AU should follow through on its decision to send human rights observers to Burundi. The AU must ensure that the observers have the means (including material means) required to document and denounce violations and that their actions are coordinated with those of the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to Burundi.

There is also cause for concern about the pre-electoral climate in Guinea where the presidential elections is to be held in four months. The political dialogue between the government and the opposition is in a deadlock, and the social climate is tensed along community and ethnic divides. Considering the recent violence stoked by the elections in the country, the AU should take every possible step to ensure that the upcoming elections will be free, democratic and transparent. Guarantees for a peaceful political life will require the resumption of discussions between those in power and the opposition in order to settle outstanding disagreements about the electoral agenda and the organisation of the presidential election, as well as the protection of civil and political rights and fundamental freedoms, and the accountability of all political actors in managing demonstrations so that they do not degenerate again into a cycle of violence This was the context, when, on 11 May 2015, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, former head of the military junta, announced that he would run for president in the upcoming election, and that he would return to Guinea at the end of June 2015. Since political violence, impunity and the obstacles to the independence of the judiciary have been the causes of the recurring serious violations of human rights perpetrated in Guinea for several decades, it is beholden on the AU to use all its influence to ensure that the judicial proceedings concerning these violations and in particular the 28 September 2009 massacre, reach an effective conclusion, which will give rise to truth and justice, both of which are essential to the national reconciliation process.

Despite the 15 May 2015 signing of a peace and reconciliation agreement, the security situation in Mali is still precarious, especially in the north of the country. During the last few months, the clashes between the armed groups and the Malian armed forces for control of the towns in the north have led to the death of over 150 people and dozens of wounded. On the judicial level, national proceedings against the suspects of serious violations of human rights carried out in the north during the armed conflict that began in 2012, remain fragile and need more support if they are to culminate in fair trials and prevent further crimes. It is incumbent on the AU to ensure that all parties strictly adhere to the ceasefire agreement, apply the May peace agreement and that the judicial proceedings reach an effective conclusion.

The right of crime victims to obtain justice and reparation should not be sacrificed on the altar of political compromises. The AU’s commitment in the fight against impunity should involve stronger support for national and international judicial proceedings, stated Mabassa Fall, FIDH Representative to the African Union.

Read more