President Bouteflika's Opening Speech, The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, meeting at its 27th Ordinary Session in Algiers, Algeria, from 27 April - 11 May 2000

Mr. Chairman,
Honourable Members of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights,
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Algeria is honoured to be hosting the deliberations of your commission, a commission whose mission and responsibilities, in our day, has taken on a considerably increased importance for the promotion of human progress in all its forms in Africa.

Indeed, human rights, which are in our view inseparable from peoples' rights, at this dawn of a new era in the evolution of the world, constitute a reality made up of greatly expanded demands and aspirations within our societies, and which must imperatively be met. But, oftentimes, they also constitute, at the international level, a source of misunderstandings and, in certain respects, engender a certain orientation to contemporary debate which bears the risk of obscuring the nature and profound causes of the difficult situations facing our continent.

Before anything else, twenty years on since the adoption of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights which instituted your commission, it gives me pleasure to highlight the advances achieved in the promotion of human rights on our continent. The end of the apartheid regime, following on the victories over colonialism, constituted a capital moment in the effective consecration of human dignity. The principles of democratic organisation have advanced considerably in institutional practices in recent years, and the emergence of active civil societies has reinforced these gains. In this connection, the forum of African NGOs, taking place in parallel with your deliberations, is an illustration of the new dynamics which tend to mobilise all energies and coalesce all efforts for the supreme cause of human dignity.

A lot, though, remains to be done to ensure the full realisation of and respect for the fundamental rights of the human being as well as the consolidation of the rule of law on our continent.

Recognising this reality, less than a year ago, here in Algiers, the 35th Summit of the Organisation of African Unity emphasised the need to accelerate current evolutions and reaffirmed with renewed vigour the desire of the countries of Africa to remove, be it individually or jointly, all those obstacles on the path leading to the accomplishment of this objective.

In this framework, in particular, they agreed to combine and redouble efforts to bring an end to the fratricidal conflicts ravaging certain parts of the continent, compounding human distress and creating fertile ground for the violation of the most sacred human rights.

Unquestionably, these conflicts have oftentimes been stoked or exacerbated by the interplay of rivalries external to the continent, and the entire international community's responsibility is thereby established. Nevertheless, the image of the continent on the international scene and its collective credibility in the expression of its legitimate demands depends in large part on the ability of Africans to subdue these eruptions of violence and restore peace.

The abatement of open conflicts therefore constitutes, in all regards, an essential priority for the promotion of human rights in Africa. The Organisation of African Unity has taken multiple actions in this domain and has initiated processes that clear the path towards peaceful resolutions, already attained in some cases. All Africans need to be convinced of the need to relentlessly pursue these actions and should be able to count on a more active and disinterested support from the international community, which can by this means concretely manifest its much proclaimed sympathy for the cause of the promotion of human rights.

Mr. Chairman,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The human rights question in Africa is particularly complex and is rendered even more crucial because of external pressures which, in good faith or with hidden agendas, often engage in unfounded or narrow analyses. These either conclude in the isolation of the human rights situation from the state of backwardness and material distress in which much of the continent is enmeshed; or they bring about the overshadowing of those rights that are vital to survival, food, health, and education, while focussing exclusively on civil and political rights.

In this manner, do we witness the tendency to exclude from the debate that has been established the after-effects of some of the darkest centuries of human history and in which Africa, victim of the infamous practice of slavery and the pitiless colonial oppression and exploitation, paid an onerous tribute which explains, in large measure, a present characterised by economic, social and cultural retrogression, which give rise to multiple frustrations and perversions.

In this manner do we see excluded from this contorted debate a world economic order made by and for the strong; which excludes the poor and in particular African countries from international discussions and decision mechanisms; which increases inequalities; which blocks the African continent's prospects for development through the incessant devaluation to its detriment of the terms of exchange, through the odious yoke of an endlessly recommencing debt, through an increased marginalisation which causes Africa to receive less than 1% of all direct foreign investment in the world.

It is not my intention in these reflections to subordinate some human rights to others, nor to justify on the grounds of the dramatic problems of hunger, malnutrition and sickness the violations of civil and political rights, the freedom to oppress, the abuse of power and transgressions of the law, all of them practices that we must condemn vigorously and for whose elimination we must jointly work - with your commission leading the way - with steadfastness and determination.

Nor is it my intention to contest the right of the international community, be it as States or non-governmental organisations, to be concerned by the human rights situation on our continent and in our countries and to express their appraisal. This being the fair corollary to our adhesion to the relevant international conventions, whenever they are expressed without any pernicious calculations, we should see in them, first and foremost, a salutary protection against the abuses that can be caused by the exercise of sovereign power in a phase in which the internal mechanisms and conditions for full democratic expression are yet to be perfected, polished or created.

What I would simply like to suggest is more objectivity in judgements, which must shun excessively simplifying transpositions. Which must take into consideration the significant deficits in terms of the construction of the State, in terms of education, training, of penetration of the civic spirit in societies that are strongly marked by reflexes and forms of solidarity inherited from traditional settings; in terms of the difficulties in the coexistence of markedly contrasting modes of life and the multifarious demands, oftentimes contradictory always complex, arising therefrom.

What I would like to suggest is that solicitude, however legitimate, over political rights and individual freedoms should be accompanied with equal attention to the unending dramas of those who are hungry and cannot feed themselves, the tens of millions of diseased human being who can find no care, the tens of millions of children deprived of education, of youths dispossessed of hope.

What I would like to suggest is that just as Africans' own undeniable responsibility for these situations is alluded to, it should be linked, with equal force and conviction, to the responsibility of the inequitable and unjust relations within the international order, that of the egoism of the more affluent. That the mobilisation for democracy in internal organisations be matched with greater democracy in the system of international relations based, more than ever before in Human history, on the law, the truth and the interests of the most powerful and the least numerous..

What I would like to suggest, also, and which I feel deep inside of me, is that any gains in the field of human rights will remain fragile for as long as the misery, the frustrations and the despair of the majority are a source of extreme temptations and threaten to explode in violence, destroying everything.

One notices some changes taking place in western opinion in this regard, which we can only welcome. Hence, at the recent summit held under the auspices of the OAU and the European Union, clear acknowledgement was accorded the indivisible nature of human rights and the causative link existing between individual rights and the collective right to development - which can only be achieved through substantive reorientation in the world economic order. We hope that this attitude pre-announce concrete actions which will open up a new era, oriented towards more balanced development world-wide, which can not but bring about progress in all regards on our continent.

Mr. Chairman,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
These reflections should not blind us to the new exigencies and the duties incumbent on our own countries in the realisation, notwithstanding all obstacles, according to our own priorities and interests, of more open, more participatory societies, founded on the primacy of the law and full respect for human rights.
The role and activity of your commission at this particular juncture are loaded with considerable importance.

They are particularly important because, by reinforcing its moral authority and extending its credibility, your commission will be in a position to contribute greatly to disqualify external interventions stacked with dubious objectives and, very often, leading to cruel forms of blackmail.

They are important also because while the desire to promote human rights is universally displayed on our continent, there are risks as regards the interpretation of the content of the concept which we will need to watchfully delimit.

The first risk is that of the negation, under the guise of universality, of the cultural and social specificities of our societies, which undergird their identity and serve as a bond for social consensus.

The second risk, contrariwise, is that of a calling into question, under the guise of specificity, of rights that are essential to human dignity or of unjustified demurral in the actualisation of the conditions for bringing them into full effect.

In this perspective, and most especially in the exercise of your mission, it is important to safeguard the harmonious balance that those who drew up the Charter sought to achieve: between human rights and peoples' rights, between civil and political rights on the one hand and social and economic rights on the other, between the rights of an individual and his obligations; a balance which reflects the specificities of social organisation in Africa, which is based more on the community and solidarity than on the individual.

In so doing, we will be progressively giving form to a vision of human rights founded on indivisibility and which will add to the universal dimension of human rights a concrete content of human dignity which is gravely undermined by the inequality of economic conditions.

Complementing this action, the establishment of an African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights, the prospect of which is brought closer to reality by the drafting of the 1998 protocol, will reinforce the collective determination of our countries to bring about a situation whereby Africans, who have most suffered, more than any other peoples, from the violations of their human rights by others, will have lessons or admonishments to receive from anyone other than themselves in this area.

Mr. Chairman,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Algeria, which is hosting you, is emerging from a painful period in its history, characterised by bloody eruptions of violence and hatred. It emerges thanks to a tremendous national recovery expressed in the referendum on civil concord which manifested the triumph of forgiveness over vengeance, of comprehension over rejection, of mutual acceptance over division.

Beyond its immediate import, this event registered the desire and readiness of Algerians, in their vast majority, to collectively come to terms with their differences through the peaceful confrontation of ideas and respect for the rights of others.

Hence, from the long tribulations we have been through we have been able to draw out strongly matured prospects for the advent of an authentic democratic order, based on the primacy of the law, on respect for our profound identity and the acumen of our people, and on solidarity in action geared towards the realisation of common hopes.

These are the prospects we commit ourselves to fully realise, in consonance with the full reestablishment of public peace and security, and in consonance with the effort for economic development, without which social consensus, so painfully restored and which tightly determines all sustainable democratic progress, would remain vulnerable.

The task is certainly difficult and we are fully conscious of the gaps remaining to be filled, the weaknesses to be corrected, the mentalities to be transformed, the multiple advances to be induced and achieved.

But because we are firmly, resolutely determined to make up for them, we have no fear of transparency or attention to our weaknesses, to the extent that such attention is founded on a sincere and exclusive concern for the defence of human rights, devoid of any dubious designs. And even it were not.
It was in this spirit that we responded favourably to the requests of the non-governmental organisations which wanted to come to Algeria and whose visit coincides with your session. We will give identical replies to any other organisations that manifest their desire.

Mr. Chairman,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
While once again welcoming you to Algeria, I would also like to express the high regard in which we hold your action and assure you of my country's full and, I hope, fruitful, cooperation.
I wish you every success in your deliberations in the service of a better future for Africa and Africans.
I thank you all.


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