Opening Address by Deputy President Zuma to the 31st Ordinary Session of the African Commission on the Human and People's Rights

The Minister of Justice,
Chairperson of African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights,
Members of the Diplomatic and consular corps,
Representatives of the United Nations agencies,
Representatives of Non-governmental Organisations,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Republic of South Africa and its people are indeed honoured to host you for this 31st Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.

We are proud to be hosting the Commission for the first time, and truly thank you for affording us this honour. We feel especially privileged given the painful history we come from, which has made us value the protection and promotion of a human rights culture throughout the continent and the whole world.

Director of Ceremonies, the continent has indeed come a long way since the adoption of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and the African Commission in Nairobi, Kenya in 1981, by the 18th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). On 12 June 1989, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights was inaugurated in The Gambia.

All these developments, ladies and gentlemen, took place during a period of ongoing conflicts on the African continent, thus underscoring the willingness of Governments to advance the course of the promotion and protection of human and peoples' rights in Africa.

The conflicts have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced scores of people, and have also robbed ordinary people of their rights to elect into power governments of their choice, and have denied them basic human rights and other rights enshrined in the African Charter for Human and Peoples' Rights.

Conflicts on the continent undermine the rule of law and breed impunity. In addition, the levels of underdevelopment and poverty, linked with insecurity, also contribute to the lack of promotion and protection of human and peoples' rights.

We are of the view that stability, democracy, good governance, and the rule of law form the foundation for the promotion and protection of human and peoples' rights on the African continent.

We also need to recognize the need for strong and effective criminal justice systems in the respective national states, to deal with manifestations of human rights violations.

In this regard, there is a need for a vigilant and outspoken legal fraternity and judiciary in many parts of the continent, who are not afraid to speak out against human rights abuses in their countries, in order to protect the vulnerable.

Having said all this, distinguished guests, it is important to recognise and acknowledge that a lot is being done to ensure a turnaround of the situation socially, economically and politically in the continent.

There are positive developments that have taken place, which should give us all hope. For example, Africa and the world witnessed the emergence of democracy in the continent during the last decade. Countries took steps in adopting Constitutions that nurture democratic governments.

Multiparty elections took place in a number of countries, signaling the beginning of a new era and a new way of doing things.

A landmark development in this new millennium, is the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), which introduces a dynamic blueprint for economic, political and social development. It is designed to extricate the continent from underdevelopment, instability and insecurity, and allow it to leapfrog into a future of sustainable development and growth.

The strength of NEPAD is that it was conceptualized and developed by African Heads of States, and they are actively involved in working towards its implementation. In that sense, it is going to succeed because of the political will and determination that exists among leaders.

Through NEPAD, heads of states are calling for viable economic partnerships with the developed world, and are moving beyond request development aid flows.

The Heads of State have firmly committed themselves to good governance and democracy through NEPAD. There is consensus on the adherence to the principles of the rule of law and the strict separation of powers, including the protection of the independence of the judiciary.

Among the principles in the new way of doing things is to ensure a periodic democratic renewal of leadership, in line with national constitutions, through holding elections at the required intervals.

What also demonstrates the new way is the support for the OAU position of not recognising governments, which come to power through unconstitutional means such as military coups. There is a call for the expansion of the yellow card principle further to include seriously undemocratic and unconstitutional behaviour, as well as gross violations of human rights by governments.

Another landmark development in the continent is the emerging consensus on the establishment of an African Peer Review Mechanism.

The Mechanism will enhance African ownership of its development agenda, through a system of self-assessment that ensures that policies of African countries are based on best current knowledge and practices.

The Heads of State also strongly support the establishment of a portfolio of a Commissioner to be responsible for Democracy, Human Rights and Good Governance within the African Union.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am emphasizing all these points to indicate that positive signals are emerging in the continent.

Another boost to the efforts of eradicating conflicts is the preparations for the International Criminal Court, which is expected to start functioning during mid 2003. The Court will have jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, in cases where national states are unwilling or unable to deal with these cases.

South Africa participated actively in the development of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court adopted in Rome on 17 July 1998, and continues to do so regarding the development of other instruments needed for the operation of the Court. A Bill for the implementation of the Rome Statute is in place and this will be passed into law in the near future.

Distinguished delegates, I would like to emphasise that based on the new way of doing things in the continent, government and civil society organs need to work even harder together to ensure the translation of the rights in the African Charter on Human Rights into reality for the millions of people in the continent.

I must reiterate that the legal fraternity in Africa has a critical role to play in entrenching a human rights culture in the continent, in partnership with government and other civil society institutions. Without working together, we may never achieve our goals in totality.

Ladies and gentlemen, once again, welcome to our country. I wish you a fruitful session, and may this gathering enhance the promotion of human rights in the continent.

I thank you.

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