EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Mr. Eamon Gilmore
Remarks at Public Session of 69th Ordinary Session of the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights
15 November 2021
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Chairperson Solomon Dersso, Excellences, members of the Diplomatic Community, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is a great privilege to be with you today on behalf of the European Union to address the opening ceremony of this 69th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. This year is particularly significant as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the adoption of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The European Union’s partnership with the African Union and its Human Rights Organs is rooted in common values and shared interests, and guided by a unique strategic vision for the future. It covers human rights and democracy, peace, security, the rule of law and good governance, sustainable development, trade and investment, climate change, digitalisation, migration and human mobility. We want to deepen and enrich this relationship, putting human rights and democracy at its core.
The AU – EU Ministerial Meeting of 25 – 26 October in Kigali reflected exactly this. It is essential to ensure that human rights are central also in the upcoming AU – EU Summit scheduled to take place in February 2022.
Our annual human rights dialogue shows the seriousness of our firm commitment to promote and protect human rights on both continents, as well as worldwide. And I had the honour to co-chair the 17th EU-AU Human Rights Dialogue with Commissioner Bankole just last week.
The Dialogue confirmed our common interest to advance the human rights agenda on both continents, in particular the abolition of the death penalty, transitional justice, gender equality and women`s empowerment and how to protect electoral and democratic integrity. On the agenda we also discussed the right to development and we intensified our discussions on business and human rights. We will continue to work together on Transitional Justice, following the successful expert seminar that took place in October, organised by the AU, EU, Belgium and academia. And I had the pleasure together with Commissioner Bankole to deliver a keynote address to that event.
I would like to reiterate that the participation of AU human rights organs, including the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights, remains critical to the success of the dialogue.
You are at the forefront of the promotion and protection of human rights for all on the African continent, and your action is key to contribute to “building the Africa Africans want”.
Of equal importance is the role of civil society, with which we all should maintain an open dialogue, based on mutual trust and transparency. I would like to congratulate the Commission on the recent decision to grant Observer Status to seven (7) NGOs, bringing the number to 535 organizations with this status.
I want to express our particular concern in relation to recent developments in some countries. In Ethiopia, the alarming humanitarian situation and the deeply disturbing report of human rights violations and abuses as well as violations of international humanitarian law, recently documented by the OHCHR and the ECHR, as well as the yearlong impact of the conflict on civilians is devastating. The military coup in Sudan, including reports of violence against peaceful protesters and the growing deteriorating security situation in the Sahel remains of serious concern.
The AU and EU stand together in firmly condemning human rights violations and abuses, serious violations of international humanitarian law, as well as attacks against democratically elected leaders whenever they occur. We jointly call for accountability for these violations and abuses.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the African Charter turns 40 this year. The anniversary is an opportunity to reaffirm the full validity and force of the Charter as the legal foundation upon which the African system rests. It is important celebrate the progress made to date, renew Africa’s commitment to human rights and to reflect on the way forward.
Progress made on the implementation of the African Charter over the past four decades demonstrates the willingness of individual African countries and the African Union as a regional entity to live up to their international human rights obligations. Let me mention just two examples:
- The African continent is the only region that has a specific Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
- The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child conducted the first-of-its kind campaign against child marriage at continental level.
These results would have been hard to imagine 40 years ago.
Respecting human rights is not a political choice for countries or governments. It is a legal obligation rooted in international and regional human rights instruments, such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Human Rights do not belong to governments, they belong to the People, and Governments must honour them.
And we look forward to continuing our cooperation with the African Union and its Human Rights Organs as we are at our strongest and most resilient when we work together.
Thank you for the honour of participating in your opening session and I wish you all the best for your discussions in the coming days.