The 16th European Union (EU) – African Union (AU) Human Rights Dialogue took place on 8th December 2020 by video conference. The Dialogue was co-chaired by Eamon Gilmore, EU Special Representative for Human Rights and Minata Samate Cessouma, AU Commissioner for Political Affairs. The AU participants also included representatives from the AU human rights bodies: Justice Sylvain ORE, President of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR); Solomon Dersso, Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Joseph Ndayisenga, Chairperson of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC).
The annual Human Rights Dialogue between the AU and EU is a unique platform for both sides to update each other on the situation of human rights in their respective regions, share experiences, exchange points of view and strengthen cooperation on specific human rights issues. The COVID-19 global pandemic has amplified long-standing and deeply rooted human rights problems in the two regions and brought the interdependence of human rights sharply into focus. Both parties agreed that human rights must be at the heart of the COVID-19 response and recovery.
The EU and the AU underlined the need to deepen a truly strategic partnership of equals, built on mutual interest and guided by a long-term vision to be endorsed at the next EU-AU Summit. 2021 will mark 40 years since the adoption of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which is the normative foundation upon which the African system rests. This anniversary will offer a unique opportunity for the AU and its Member States to renew their commitment to the regional human rights system. Both sides agreed to find ways to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Charter, including through a joint public event and yearlong campaign. The upcoming anniversary will recall the critical importance of making steady progress towards ratification, domestication and implementation of African regional human rights instruments.
As the only two regional organisations with a dedicated policy framework for Transitional Justice, the EU and the AU took stock of progress made in this area and discussed how to focus on ensuring implementation at national level. In the accordance with the AU initiative,Silencing the Guns, both parties agreed to cooperate in order to fight insecurity in Africa while protecting human rights. The EU and the AU also expressed regret that an expert seminar on Transitional Justice processes in 2020 could not take place as planned due to the ongoing pandemic but restated their commitment to organise it in 2021 and keep the issue high on their agendas. Both sides underlined the importance of continuing efforts to address impunity and the need for complementarity at national, regional and international levels. In this context, both parties commend the on-going dialogue between the African State Parties to the Rome Statute and the International Criminal Court.
On the Abolition of Death Penalty, the EU commended the pronouncement of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights against death penalty in November 2019, as well as efforts by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to promote the adoption of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the abolition of the Death Penalty in Africa. Both sides called upon African countries to pursue efforts to abolish the death penalty.
On Human Rights and Business, the EU welcomed the efforts of the AU towards defining an AU Business and Human Rights Policy and reiterated its readiness to continue consultations and provide technical assistance as appropriate. Both parties agreed to promote due diligence guidance for responsible supply chain management in order to prevent or mitigate adverse impacts associated with businesses’ activities.
The EU and the AU agreed on the need to ensure that measures taken to address COVID-19 do not undermine space for civil society, human rights defenders or their work. Both parties commended the work of civil society and human rights defenders, particularly in the context of the pandemic, and committed to continue promoting and supporting their activities in both regions.
Both sides focused on the need for a rights-based response to the COVID-19 pandemic and emphasised that any emergency measures introduced to deal with the virus should be time bound, limited, proportionate and non-discriminatory. The EU and AU agreed on the need to protect civil society space, be vigilant on violations of freedom of expression, media independence and the safety of journalists. Both sides agreed to find ways to communicate and replicate good practices of the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of the pandemic.
On ensuring electoral and democratic integrity during the pandemic, the EU and AU held an exchange on good practices for the protection of voters and ensuring transparency, legitimacy and international standards. Several electoral processes have been impacted, potentially increasing political tensions and instability. The EU commends AU efforts to prevent these tensions as well as the establishment of several electoral expert or observation missions, despite the obstacles posed by the pandemic. Both sides agreed on the need to continue cooperating in this area and to uphold the integrity and human rights protection of electoral processes.