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Karim Lahidji & Jacob van Garderen
11 Jun 2015 15:13
African Union chairperson Robert Mugabe (AFP)
South Africa’s hosting of the 25th Summit of the African Union is not only
an honour; it also brings with it a great responsibility to address the
continent’s most pressing human rights and humanitarian issues.
As one of the continent’s most influential countries, South Africa has a key
role to play in ensuring that this vital work begins promptly and effectively.
This summit, which began yesterday in Johannesburg and runs until June 14, is
the ideal platform to send a loud and clear message of intent.
The crisis situation in Burundi, conflict in Sudan, and South Sudan, among
others, are not only cause for concern for the unfortunate civilians caught up in the violence. The
extra-judicial killings and the collapse of the rule of law in these countries
make a mockery of the African Union’s aspirations for a “peaceful and secure”
continent by 2063.
If the African Union is serious about transforming the continent into a place
where good governance, democracy, and respect for human rights are the rule,
rather than the exception, then it must ensure that those responsible for human
rights violations and international crimes are held accountable and that
victims obtain justice and reparation.
Otherwise the African Union’s lofty statements and projections for socioeconomic
development are little more than hot air.
The release by the African Union Peace and Security Council of its report on
the crimes committed in South Sudan would be a vital step towards the ultimate
goal of stabilising the situation there, and African Union member states must
press for this during the Summit. The African Union must also demonstrate, in
tangible deeds as well as in words, its support for the establishment of
accountability mechanisms in South Sudan as a key step in ensuring justice for
the victims of horrendous crimes, including murder, torture, and rape,
performed by armed groups still operating in this country. Transparent legal proceedings
will send a clear signal that such atrocities will no longer be tolerated.
In Burundi, those responsible for the bloody repression of demonstrators opposing
a third presidential mandate for Pierre Nkurunziza must be held accountable and,
in view of the continuing deadlock in political negotiations, the African
Union’s decision to deploy human rights observers in this country must be
rapidly translated into acts. The continental body is further expected to raise
its voice against the increasing threats, harassment and intimidation faced by
human rights defenders and journalists who are forced to flee the country in
fear for their safety.
In the Central African Republic, the African Union must
demonstrate strong support to the swift operationalisation of the special
criminal court recently created to try those responsible for serious crimes. In
Mali, too many perpetrators of human rights abuses during occupation of the
North of the country by radical armed groups remain at large, and it is the
African Union’s responsibility to assist the authorities there in ensuring that
justice is done. Likewise, the African Union’s support for similar national
proceedings against those responsible for mass killings and other crimes in
Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea must be forthcoming and unequivocal. Victims of
politically-motivated violence have waited long enough for justice. A failure
to clearly demonstrate that those who carry out such atrocities will not go
unpunished weakens not only the fragile foundations of these individual
countries, but also poisons the roots from which Africa’s future will grow.
Unambiguous and decisive action by the African Union at this month’s summit
will help ensure the future of the continent is a prosperous and peaceful one.
Now is the time to act.
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