The African Union on Oct 21 led the African continent in marking African Human Rights Day through a virtual event in which representatives of various organizations called for sustained focus on healthcare, food and social protection to strengthen African societies.
The event’s guest of honor was Mokgweetsi Masisi, the president of Botswana, and the theme was “Africa Human Rights Day: Building Back Better”. Participants called on African governments to approach issues of human rights with urgency and seriousness.
“The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights came into force on Oct 21, 1986, and this day has been declared and is celebrated as African Human Rights Day. As president of Botswana, I call on African leaders to recommit to the respect of the rule of law and human rights for all. We should lead and build an Africa where all people are treated equally before the law and their right to exist is respected,” Masisi said.
“I call upon the continent to join hands in building the Africa that we envisage. It all starts with recognizing the rights of the next person. As we do this we should have the rights of children and women to be free from all forms of abuse as key in our agenda. Of course, the rights of men too must be respected,” he added.
Speaking on behalf of the African Union chairman, Minata Samate Cessouma, African Union Commissioner for Political Affairs, said the commemoration of the African Day of Human Rights is happening under difficult circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. She added despite the challenges, the continent has displayed resilience and prevented the worst manifestation of the pandemic.
“I am pleased to convey to all Africans and lovers of our dear continent the renewed hope and commitment to the promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights as enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights,” Cessouma said. “As we grapple with the challenges of COVID-19 including human rights violations, poverty and unemployment amongst others, significant developments are underway in Africa, including the launching of the continental campaign to silence the guns in Africa.”
She added the African Union has resolved to collaborate more with member states, regional economic communities, the private sector, development partners and civil society organizations to silence the guns in Africa and to ensure its development and transformation.
Despite the hope expressed by the African Union, a report entitled The State of African Regional Human Rights Bodies and Mechanisms 2019-2020 released by Amnesty International on Oct 21 says there is still room for growth in addressing human rights in Africa.
The report, which was released to coincide with African Human Rights Day, said the mechanisms established to safeguard human rights across the continent are facing enormous challenges, and at least one is facing an existential threat.
“Given the magnitude of human rights violations across the African continent, regional human rights bodies play a critical role in providing justice and accountability,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s director for research and advocacy.
“These mechanisms must be protected and fully supported. They serve as vital alternative channels for people to seek justice and effective remedies when national systems are compromised or inadequate,” he added.