Apr 1, 2009, 6:58 AM
We welcome to The Gambia representatives of NGOs and human rights defenders in and outside Africa working in the areas of democracy, governance, and human rights promotion and protection on the continent.
They will be in The Gambia for the next two weeks or so starting from Friday 16 April to participate in the forum on the Participation of NGOs before fusing into the 56th ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The human rights activists are expected to discuss the current human rights and democracy challenges in Africa, as well as review corresponding strategies to address the identified challenges.
From the outlook, the situation of human rights in Africa has modestly improved over the years. But there are still significant challenges to be met.
Progress in the area of freedom of expression, press freedom, and access to information continues to be mixed, if not completely miserable. Countries like Ghana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, generally, at least, continue to maintain a good record in these areas.
But there continue to be gross and recurrent violations of these basic human rights in Africa, particularly in countries where the judiciary is not independent and where arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists is the order of the day.
In many of our countries, freedom of expression and information are virtually non-existent.
In spite of this, freedom of expression is not one of the main agenda items of this forum. Issues of freedom of expression should consistently feature in such programmes to constantly remind our duty bearers that suppressing divergent views and information should be a non-starter, and is not helping anyone.
Also, several human rights defenders and journalists continue to be victims of reprisals by their governments. This phenomenon continues to be a concern, particularly given the fact that many international agencies, even the African Commission itself, often depend on human rights defenders and journalists to have information on human rights issues in our various countries.
And if those people are silenced and the issue is swept under the carpet, then we are promoting the culture of impunity, as the world will not know the atrocities committed in our countries.
The NGO Forum should continue to be calling on African states to stop invoking their draconian legal provisions to interfere with the work of human rights defenders and journalists.
However, we are optimistic that these and other topical human rights issues will be dealt with thoroughly by the resource persons and facilitators during the forum and other meetings of the rights defenders, who have expert knowledge in the field of human rights and democracy in Africa.
rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but
also by unfair economic structures that creates huge inequalities.”