UN and African Union agree on human rights collaboration

The UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the African Union [official websites] agreed on Tuesday to cooperate [communiqué, PDF] on numerous human rights goals in an effort “to explore and develop joint approaches to preventing and addressing human rights abuses and violations.”

The AU and OHCHR plan to “actively involve and coordinate their human rights-related initiatives,” including finalizing and implementing the 10 Year Action Plan on the Human and Peoples Rights Decade in Africa, establishing a human rights compliance mechanism for the AU’s peacekeeping operations, and collaborating to deliver on the promises in the AU’s declaration of 2018 as the Year of Winning the Fight against Corruption [press release]. The international organizations also agreed to “intensify their joint efforts by strengthening the AU interventions in conflict and post conflict situations” by promoting transitional justice, reconciliation and post-conflict development as part of peacekeeping operations. They also signaled their intention [press release] to work toward a joint AU-UN Framework on Human Rights.

Highlighting “short-sighted nationalism, isolationism and the rapid rise of xenophobia” as challenges to international institutions like the UN and the AU, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein [official profile] sought to underscore the importance [remarks] of human rights to peaceful development of states:

Human rights are not an afterthought. They are not a second-stage, which countries can begin to construct after development is well underway. They are not a project which unfolds after peace has been established. Rights are the drivers of development. Rights are the constructive elements of peace. … We – and the human rights we stand for – have a powerful capacity to make States stronger. Stronger, because they are more fair. Richer, and more sustainably developed, because they can count on the full expression of the skills, talents, and views – including critical views – of their people. More peaceful, because their people are not torn apart by festering grievances, biting inequalities and injustice.

AU Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat [official profile] highlighted the need for local involvement [remarks, in French] in the process, saying that “our action can only succeed if it is based on genuine African ownership” and noting that “human rights is an integral part of the agenda of the African Union.”

Without diminishing the strength of our commitments and the firmness of our determination to translate them into reality, the international community must be sensitive to the specific contexts that are sometimes ours and to the imperatives that limit our action. … Very often, non-African actors tend to have a restrictive conception of justice, understood solely from the perspective of its criminal dimension, which must prevail over all other considerations, especially those relating to peace. … In the approach of the African Union, peace and reconciliation, on the one hand, and justice, on the other, must be pursued in a mutually complementary manner. It is not a question of promoting impunity, but of responding to the imperative of justice without hampering peace efforts.

The AU and UN met for the inaugural High-Level Dialogue on Human Rights at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, agreed to meet for a second High-Level Dialogue next year at the OHCHR office in Geneva and intend to hold subsequent meetings annually.

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