Boosting governance, safeguarding human rights

Boosting governance, safeguarding human rights

Friday, 30 April, 2010

The Commissions of the African and European Unions met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 13-14 April, in what were fruitful discussions on governance and human rights. With both sides eager to move the partnership forward, discussions centred on human rights dialogue and future implementation of the related road map.

Experts from both Africa and Europe convened in Addis Ababa for the 3rd informal Joint Experts Group meeting (iJEG) to discuss the three priority actions in the Democratic Governance and Human Rights partnership as outlined in the 1st Action Plan covering 2008-2010.

The first priority action covers dialogue at the international level. The EC presented its plans to hold a workshop on the functioning of the future platform for dialogue in this partnership. The platform will be a specific tool to ease intercontinental dialogue on human rights and democratic governance at all levels. It is hoped it will stimulate a wide range of actors to get involved and thus close the gap between decision-makers and human rights activists.

The workshop will be organised before the 3rd Africa-EU Summit, and back-to-back with the next iJEG meeting in September. It is hoped the AU and EU sides can come to an agreement on the format and modalities of the platform, which will then be endorsed by the subsequent iJEG meeting. Some 45 representatives from the AU and EU are expected to attend the workshop, including 15 civil society representatives from Africa.

At the iJeg meeting, the AU team then presented a study on combating racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, which the EU side promised to share among EU capitals and convey its thoughts on at the next gathering.

Governance in Africa

With the African continent building on recent democratic governance gains, the AU Commission (AUC) is in the process of establishing an African Governance Architecture (AGA). The AU side highlighted the AGA as the overarching political and institutional framework to uphold governance in Africa. In unison with the AGA, is the Human Rights Strategy for Africa, which was presented at the meeting, is being developed by the AUC in co-operation with the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and its Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

Furthermore, it was noted that the next AU-EU Human Rights Dialogue will be held on 7 May in Brussels.

Responding to the EU’s paper dealing with enhanced co-operation in international institutions, the AU decided to add one more topic to the four already mentioned. So, along with the UPR process; human rights of people with disabilities; human rights of children; and economic, social and cultural rights, the AU proposed to add a fifth one on racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia. The EU will consult with its capitals and follow up at the next iJEG meeting.

The second priority action on the African Peer Review Mechanism was discussed by delegates, and they agreed that a proposal on a workshop would be discussed at the next iJEG meeting in September.

Cultural restitution

Discussions on the third priority action on cultural goods centred on the African side wanting the issue of restitution of cultural goods and national archives addressed. The EU maintained that these types of issues should be discussed in the framework of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy.

The Africans and Europeans agreed to work on a document which would guide the next iJEG meeting on a possible 2nd Action Plan for the partnership.

Success story: Local councils in Sierra Leone
In Sierra Leone, elected local governments were abolished in 1972, with power centralised in the capital, Freetown. A civil war that raged from 1991 to 2002 left the country ravaged. The new government that came into power after national elections in 2002 enacted the Local Government Act, which paved the way for local council elections in May 2004. Through funding from the EU and World Bank, all 19 local councils are now up and running in Sierra Leone. The second rounds of local elections took place in 2008 and were deemed free and fair, while national elections the year before went ahead peacefully. This is quite unique for a post-conflict country, and is testament to the reconciliation process underway. Strong commitment to the decentralisation procedure in Sierra Leone has led to sustained donor support which is building capacity in the local councils. Increased autonomy from centralised bureaucratic procedures in Freetown has helped increase efficiency at the local level. This has, in turn, been a driver in boosting an active and lively civil society in the country.