By Amie Sanneh
The 58th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) yesterday opened in Banjul at a local hotel.
The meeting, which is expected to end on 20 April, 2016, attracted both local and international participants from civil society and human rights groups, amongst others.
Gilbert Sebihogo, Executive Director Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI), has urged the Commission to consider working together with different players at the regional, national and community level in order to have optimal results that have direct implications on the lives of African citizens in different parts of the continent.
He highlighted the excessive use of pre-trial detention of suspected criminals’ as a challenge in the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Africa. “The situation has led to, inter alia increased risk and cases of torture and other ill treatment, corruption, high rate of over-crowding in police cells and prisons, conditions of detention that do not meet minimum international standards, and the denial of procedural safeguards”. He added that a systematic violation of human rights in the pre-trial context contributes significantly to human rights abuses and inefficiencies in the rest of the criminal justice chain. It undermines the rule of law and delays or denies fair criminal justice outcomes.
He called on the African head of states to ensure free and fair elections while praising those that have had their elections during the course of 2015 and the beginning of 2016.
He also expressed concern over the rising level of terror threat in the sub-region.
In conclusion, he urged the Commission to consider the adoption of the proposal to set aside the 25th day of April of each year to commemorate the Africa Pre-trial Detention Day. This, he added, will go a long way to enhance the implementation of the Luanda Guidelines, the monitoring of states’ compliance and increase awareness among the populace. He noted that the commemoration of the Day will also be an occasion for recommitment to the cause of human rights and fundamental rights of pre-trial detainees on the continent and to advocate for reforms in the continent’s criminal justice system.
The Secretary General and Head of the Civil Service of the Gambia Mr Sulayman Samba noted that The Gambia government has worked steadily towards improving the lives of its citizens and ensuring that its obligations under the African Charter and other regional and international human rights instruments are adhered to.
He said the Gambia, to this end, has made tremendous strides in various human rights related areas, such as health, education, empowerment of women and youths, children’s issues and agriculture.
SG Samba noted that other African states have made strides in the promotion and protection of human rights in their respective countries; African States have been adopting laws and policies to fulfill their human rights obligations under the various international instruments they are parties to, he added.
The Head of the Civil Service said despite the various positive achievements within the African continent on the safeguarding of human rights, many challenges still remain, as Africa is still faced with armed conflicts and violence, terrorist attacks, socio-economic downturns, high maternal and infant mortality rates, poverty amongst other issues.
He said to alleviate these problems, the Government of The Gambia would therefore like to reiterate its support and commitment to the African Union and the international community, in their quest to improve the plight of people in Africa and beyond, especially in the fight against terrorism which has become a major concern affecting all countries.
According to him, it is the responsibilities of states to promote and protect women in all spheres of life, to boost their development. He further said that the Gambia Government has taken numerous steps to fulfill this obligation citing the recent banning of female genital mutilation/cutting and the enactment of law prohibiting FGM as well as other legal framework such as the domestic violence Act of 2013, the sexual offences Act of 2013.
The Chairman of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Commissioner Pansy Tlakula,
said 2016 marks the 35th anniversary of the adoption of the African Charter on human and people’s rights and 30 years of its coming into effect, the 26th anniversary of the protocol to the African Charter on human and people’s rights on the establishment of an African Court on human and people’s rights and the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the African Youth Charter.
The African Commission Chair said these African Union texts have made significant contributions to the promotion and protection of human and people’s rights on the continent.
Commissioner Tlakula also praised The Gambia for banning FGM and Ghana for launching the AU Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa on 10 February 2016.