Oral intervention of CLO on the human rights situation in Nigeria


Can I start by Congratulating you, Mr. Chairman, for the purposeful manner in which you have this far directed the proceedings of the Commission.

The adoption of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights in 1986 was greeted with enthusiasm and optimism at least among those who thought that this development could only be in the best interest of the peoples of Africa. The Charter came as a response to a long yearning by Africans for better recognition of human rights. The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights was established to provide the institutional frame work for the protection of the rights enshrined in the African charter of human and peoples rights.

Mr. Chairman, given its very huge responsibilities and its pre-eminent position in Africa, it is reasonable to assume that the African Commission would be a household name on the continent. If the truth is to be told this has not been the case. More than a decade after the adoption of the charter, brutal suppression of opposition in form of mass arrests, detention without trial, extra-judicial execution, gender inequality to mention a few abuses, have sadly become common traits of African states. Even the most enthusiastic supporters of the African Commission will readily admit that there is a general apathy towards the ability of the commission to deliver its mandate.

It will be fair to say that the Commissions handicap in the face of violations on the continent is the result of a variety of situations rooted in both the economic and political realities in Africa. Issues of poor funding, absence of political will on the part of head of governments are frequently cited reasons for the Commissions limitations. I will `not dwell on these difficulties only to say that an option is not for the Commission to fold its arms. Even in the face of these limitations the Commission has an obligation to make itself attractive as an institution to obtain the necessary support and credible in the eyes of the peoples of Africa to earn their respect.

Mr. Chairman, it must be obvious to all that the reality on the African continent today is such that running the affairs of the Commission can not be on the basis of business as usual. The Commission now has to respond strategically, pragmatically and realistically to the changing faces of human rights concerns on the continent. The time has come for the African Commission to rethink its strategy for engaging African governments as well as our teeming civil society movement across the continent.

The fact Sir, that African Head of States did not see the Commission worthy of mention in their all important NEPAD document must be a clear indication of how African leaders see the Commission. Mr. Chairman the Commission must now make itself heard and take its rightful place in the hearts of the peoples of Africa. Our peoples elementary understanding of the mandate of the Commission is that it was set up to further their fundamental human rights particularly with respect to their relations with their governments.

With your kind permission Mr. Chairman, I would briefly proffer suggestions on the way forward.

My first suggestion is that the Commission should consider the practicability of making its next session a strategic and planning session to discuss future collaboration with government and civil society. Stakeholders in the Commission need to sit down to discuss how the Commission can be strengthened and agree on concrete steps indicating who does what and within what time frame . Between this session therefore and the next session the Commission must put to use all the resources at its disposal to ensure the reasonable attendance of government representatives and civil society organisations. I am very much aware of the Mauritius Plan of Action but it seems to me that that plan of action has become so overtaken by events as to make it irrelevant in dealing with the myriad of human rights problems on the continent.

The second suggestion is that the Commission must consider the desirability of making pronouncements on specific human rights concerns that are common to Africa. The Commission should begin to develop an African Human Rights Jurisprudence outside its decisions on communications brought before it. The people of Africa want to know the position of the Commission on death penalty, Female Genital mutilation, dimensions of violence against women, Human rights and HIV/AIDs, NEPAD and Human rights, religiousity and the tendency to use religion as a pretext for Human Rights Violation . Most importantly our people are clamoring for a regime that enables the Commission to respond immediately and urgently to the situation of human rights defenders who suffer detention and harassment across the continent daily.

The third suggestion concerns the Commission itself, Mr. Chairman the job of serving on the African Commission is by no means an easy one. The situation of human rights in Africa today particularly given the near absence of country specific models which one can readily point to as evidence of progress on the continent, has led an increasing number of analysts to conclude that it is either the distinguished Commissioners have been unable to grapple with their mandate or that the governments in Africa are not listening to them. Either way our peoples are the losers.

Mr. Chairman promoting and protecting the rights of our people cannot be done on a part-time basis. Our people require the full attention of the Commissioners. Anything less will be perpetuating injustice on our people. We cannot compound the mystery of our people by telling them that we have a commission to promote and protect their rights and when they ask us where are the Commissioners we are unable to give any meaningful answer. Our people must know their Commissioners and their Commissioners must know them. We need to look again at the part-time nature of the work of our Commissioners. In addition we need to revisit the promotional mandate of each commissioner and see how this can be strengthened. Can I also suggest that the Commissioners must make special effort to actively participate in the NGO forum. This is one of the ways in which they can appreciate the issues in the countries they cover. Further I will like to propose that the Commissions working schedule for each session necessarily includes setting aside one day for our Commissioners to meet with civil society representatives from the countries in which they cover.

Mr. Chairman these are trying times for the promotion and protection of human rights on the continent. The challenges that confront us are many and on several fronts. The Commission must position itself appropriately to grapple with these challenges. The time for action is now.

I thank you for your attention

Olawale Fapohunda

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