The African Union Summit in Rwanda: Which Human Rights?

The 27th Summit of the Heads of State of the African Union will be held in Kigali, Rwanda from 10 -18 July 2016 under the theme: “African Year of Human Rights with Specific focus on the Rights of Women”. The African Union Commission decided not to invite observers (Non-African countries, Non-State Actors and other) to this summit. I would like to share the following personal reflections on the Summit:

Issues likely to dominate the AU Summit

Which Human Rights? The year 2016 has been declared as the “African Year of Human Rights with Specific focus on Women’s Rights”.  Officially, this theme is premised on the realisation that 2016 marks a watershed in the continent’s efforts to promote and protect human rights and provides an opportunity to take stock of the gains made over the years by the human rights bodies within the continent.

Interestingly 2016 is being marked by a serious decline on fundamental human rights in Africa with numerous violations of basic political rights and a denial of the African Union “shared values” by a number of leaders, most of whom have been clinging to power for decades by all means including changing the supreme law of the land… the constitution.

In Kigali, Heads of State and Government will have an interactive discussion following a presentation on the theme by the African Union Commission and a decision or a solemn declaration/commitment may be be adopted on the theme as usual.

am not sure what an additional decision or declaration on Human Rights will be for… while in Gambia politicians and activists are being tortured to death and in Uganda  political opposition leaders and candidates  jailed before, during and after the elections… and this did not prevent regional and continental “observers” to declare  the elections free and fair….

After  failing to send troops to protect innocent civilians, can the heads of state really convince Burundians that this is their “Year of Human Rights” ?

If  our leaders are really serious about the “Year of Human Rights” they should consider  the  concrete suggestions below while making their decisions.  The upcoming Summit is also an opportunity for progressive, like-minded and pro-democracy and pro-” AU’s shared values” leaders to break the silence against old school dictators who are  only pulling our continent backward.

Elections of the AU Commission Leadership: The “hottest” business of the Summit is the election of the AU Commission Cabinet. The 10 cabinet members of the AU Commission including the Chairperson, the Deputy Chairperson and 8 Commissioners will be elected/re-elected in Kigali if everything goes well. The current Chairperson Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who has only served one 4-year term (from 2012) is re-eligible but she is not contesting (officially) for another term.  The Deputy Chairperson, Erastus Mwencha and two other commissioners (Infrastructure and Energy, Rural Economy and Agriculture), having been elected twice (in 2008 and 2012) are not eligible for re-election.  The other six commissioners (Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Social Affairs, Trade and Industry,  Economic Affairs and Human Resources Science and Technology), who have only served one term are eligible for re-election. However except the Commissioner for Political Affairs and the Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology, these have all put forward their candidature.

Some analysts think that, even if the election happens, it is unlikely for any of the current candidates for the Chairpersonship to gather the 2/3 votes from Member States,  needed to be elected. So, there is an eventuality for a postponement of the elections. Some countries/regions are  pushing for the postponement of the election and the  re-opening of the applications to new candidates.

Peace and Security: The summit is expected to discuss the on-going conflicts in the continent. The Peace and Security Council will also meet at Heads of State level. The Summit will normally adopt an omnibus decision on the state of peace and security in the continent. The following burning and unresolved situations will be discussed: Burundi, South Sudan, Sudan, DRC, Somalia, CAR, Western Sahara, Mali etc. Emerging threats to peace and security, such as maritime security and terrorism are also likely to be discussed.

Constitutionalism, Governance, Electoral Fraud/Violence & Unlimited Presidential Terms: It is not sure who will champion discussions on electoral frauds and violence as well as unlimited presidential terms issues in Kigali, but it is now in the common knowledge that if these issues are not resolved soon in Africa, more violent conflicts will emerge and our development plans including the Agendas 2063 /2030 will remain just “beautiful papers” with no prospect for realisation. It is expected that some progressive leaders will table these issues for discussion.

One African Passport/Free Movement: As part of the 10-year implementation plan of the agenda 2063, the AU is making efforts to create a single African passport for travel across the continent. Such a passport will presented to the heads of states in Kigali. In an attempt to promote free movement of people, related decisions are expected to happen during the Kigali summit. There is already a plan to adopt a protocol on free movement in Africa in 2018.  A few countries including Rwanda, Ghana and Namibia have issued “visa on arrival” policies for African passport holders. More countries must do so in the mean time.

African Agenda 2063: The AU’s Agenda 2063 has been adopted by African Heads of State and Government as the Continent’s new long-term vision for the next 50 years. Priority programmes and projects of the Agenda include: An Integrated High Speed Train Network, the Continental Free Trade Area, the African Passport and Free Movement of people, Unification of African Air Space, the Grand Inga Dam Project etc.  The 10-year implementation plan is having hard time to show concrete steps 3 years after the adoption of the Agenda while basic conditions for a true development move are getting worse in the continent.

Other issues: A number of other issues including the illicit financial flows out of Africa, the alternative sources of funding of the AU, the restructuring of the African Union Commission, the ICC etc. will also be on the agenda of the Kigali Summit. Find out more in the coming weeks on www.assodesire.com

Calendar of the Summit

  • From 10 to 12 July 2016: Ordinary Session of the Permanent Representatives’ Committee (Ambassadors)
  • From 13 to 15 July 2016: Ordinary Session of the Executive Council (Ministers of Foreign Affairs)
  • From 17 and 18 July 2016: Ordinary Session of the Assembly (Heads of State and Government)

Closing of the mid-year Summits to observers

In January 2015, the Assembly of the Union directed the Commission to make proposals on the streamlining of the AU Summits and the working methods of the Union in order to accelerate the implementation of the Agenda 2063. In June 2015, the Commission proposed a set of recommendations to the Assembly including a proposal that only one summit be open to partners and that only partners (observers accredited to the AU/with MOUs with AU) with business related to the theme of the Summit be invited to the AU Summit. The Assembly then decided among other things to “continue with 2 summits which should be streamlined with one Summit focusing on policy issues with participation of partners (…) and the other Summit focusing on the implementation of decisions”. The decision did not precise which of the 2 Summits will be open and which will be closed but given the practice of the last 2 years, it is looking like the January Summit will be open and the June/July summit closed.

The AU Commission is not inviting observers to the Kigali Summit. So, CSOs, non-African countries and other observers are not invited and their side events may not be allowed within and around the summit premises. This move is being strongly contested by the civil society and is seen as part of the whole strategy of governments to shrink civic space. (See my blog on this issue here: https://assodesire.com/2016/06/06/the-controversial-closing-of-the-au-summits-to-citizensobservers/ )

To give a true meaning to the “Year of Human Rights” The Kigali Summit should adopt the following decisions/ Commitments

1- On Civic Space: The Summit should decide a moratorium on all existing national laws that restrict CSOs’ operations and call for the revision of those laws before the end of the year in accordance to universal rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Since 2012, at least 29 restrictive laws  on civic space have been introduced in African countries.

2- All AU Members should commit to ratify the  African Court of Human and People’s Rights Protocol before the end of 2016. on  As of December 2015 only 29 out of the 54 AU members were Parties to the Protocol seventeen years after its adoption.

3- All AU Members  should accept the competence of the African Court of Human and People’s  Rights to receive cases from individuals and NGOs before the end of the year.  As of December 2016 only 7 countries have done so.

4- Kigali Summit should demand the immediate release of all political prisoners, stop intimidations and cases against political leaders  in all AU Members states and call for investigations on the recent cases of torture to death in Gambia, force disappearance and other gross HR violations in the continent.

5- The Kigali Summit should decide on concrete sanctions applicable to countries that do not comply to the HR Courts  decisions and the list of those countries should be published  regularly.

6- The African Passport in preparation for the Summit must be issued to  a number of ordinary citizens of the continent… not just to heads of state as currently planned.

7- Because of the high risk that constitutional amendments present now on  peace and security in Africa, the Kigali Summit should decide a moratorium on those changes aiming  to prolong presidential terms until a serious discussion happens and decisions  made at continental level in this.  Not doing it will be like jeopardizing the realisation of our Agenda 2063, “the Africa we want” and a denial of our shared values.

8- On the rights of women: all member states  should show case of  the concrete national policy and practice changes (with figures)  that they have operated since the adoption of the AU Women Rights Protocol and the Solemn Declaration on Gender Mainstreaming.

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