Our partners at Justice Africa have recently published a report of the In-Country Consultations 2013-2014. Below is the executive summary and foreword, by Chair of the Interim Board of the AUHRM, Andreas Ensheté. The full text of the report, as well as individual country consultation reports can be found on Justice Africa’s website. Additional information about the project can be found from Justice Africa and World Peace Foundation.
This report was prepared by a meeting of representatives of AUHRM Interim Board and Network in May 2014, drawing upon an extensive consultation process involving stakeholders from across the continent.
The report is introduced by the chair of the AUHRM Interim Board Professor Andreas Esheté. First, it outlines the in-country consultation process, as adopted at the Third Consultative Meeting for the AUHRM, convened and hosted by the AU Commission in April 2013. This involved meetings held in Rwanda, Ethiopia, Senegal and South Africa.
Second, it summarizes the key points of mission and principles arising from the three Consultative Meetings convened by the African Union Commission. The central points are the intent to honour the memory and dignity of those Africans who perished in genocide and human rights violations in a spirit of Pan-African solidarity, to document the histories of human rights violations, to educate young Africans on these issues, and to denounce and confront human rights crimes committed.
Third, it presents a synthesis of the key recommendations from the four in-country consultations regarding the mission and principles of the AUHRM, drawing upon the discussions held with representatives of survivors’ and victims’ groups, centres for memorialization and museums, other stakeholders, and members of the Interim Board. The main recommendations are that there should be both a Memorial and a Memorial Centre, which reflect the specific importance of the site of the former central prison, and which provide a ‘living memorial’ that connects people across the continent in ongoing memorialisation activities.
Lastly, this report sets out the vision articulated by participants in the consultations for the structures, forms and content of the AUHRM Centre and related memorialisation activities, and makes proposals to the Interim Board and the African Union Commission accordingly.
Foreword by Chair of the Interim Board, AUHRM, Andreas Ensheté
The idea of an African Union Human Rights Memorial was born from the recognition that the soil on which the new headquarters of the African Union stands was the grounds of the notorious Alem Bekagn Prison, where thousands of innocent Ethiopians were slain and tortured during two periods of dictatorship: first, the Italian occupation under the leadership of the infamous fascist war criminal General Rodolfo Graziani; second, the home grown military dictatorship, particularly in the course of its horrific Red Terror campaign. Moreover, the foundation stone for the memorial is close to the spot where the military dictatorship summarily executed and buried sixty senior officials of Emperor Haile Selassie’s government.
During the inaugural ceremony for the new African Union headquarters, the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi eloquently noted the irony that the new premise that symbolizes hope for a bright African future was for years the site of despair, doom, and death. Surely it matters that the premier African public institution, with responsibility to uphold the dignity and freedom of Africans, acknowledges the unspeakable crimes committed against African citizens in the very place where it conducts its affairs. It is unthinkable that the African Union would fail the many dead, the survivors and their families by not seizing this unique opportunity to memorialize Alem Bekagn.
The importance of African memorialization was forcefully brought home to all by a recent disgraceful event in Italy. In 2012, there was an initiative by Italian officials to dedicate a mausoleum and a park in a town outside Rome to honor the memory of the fascist war criminal General Graziani. Apart from the killings at Alem Bekagn prison, Graziani was directly responsible for a wide range of war crimes in Libya and Ethiopia, including the use of internationally banned poison gas on the civilian population and the brutal massacre of hundreds of monks and nuns at the monastery of Debre Libanos in Ethiopia. Though charges were brought against Graziani after the war for crimes against humanity in Europe in collaboration with the Nazis, his crimes against Africans were overlooked in the interest of Western reasons of state and in deference to prevailing racist attitudes, manifesting a reluctance to punish a white man, however guilty, for crimes committed against black people. Happily, international public outrage together with opposition by progressive Italians seems to have succeeded in aborting this shameful gesture of turning a fascist war criminal into a hero. An African memorial would serve to defy a posture of indifference, impunity or, even, mockery that still attends grave violations of the human rights of Africans such as those inflicted upon the inmates of Alem Bekagn.
Beyond Alem Bekagn, as is well known, abundant public evil has been Africa’s fate in the modern age: above all, the slave trade, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and the many indignities of disenfranchisement, racial violence and destitution under white supremacist rule. Our shared sufferings as well as our victorious struggles to overcome them across the continent and in the diaspora – are the deep source and driving spirit of Pan-Africanism. Thus another reason why memorializing the formative moments of the Pan-African spirit matters is because Pan-Africanism is the foundational and regulative ideal of the African Union. To say that these tragedies and triumphs are formative of a shared bond and a sense of solidarity among all Africans is not to devalue the cultural, historical and social specificity or singularity of each of these experiences. A meaningful memorial must contrive creative ways of striking a delicate balance between universalist and particularist dimensions of Africa’s dark past.
The Memorial matters not just because our collective past deserves remembrance. Indeed, honouring the past can itself fulfil a crucial forward-looking public purpose. The Memorial is a standing public expression of the collective resolve of African states and peoples to ward off such public evils with vigilance and determination. The African Union Memorial should inspire among emergent generations of Africans a settled conviction and a passionate commitment to resist any infringement on the fundamental human rights of Africans, especially infringements through the agency or complicity of African states and leaders as well as through the misdeeds of militant, politicized faiths that have taken root in Africa.
Accordingly, the Memorial would present a vivid image of the shift effected by Africa’s leading continental institution from its original to its present mission and identity. Finally, it bears noting that the peerless undertaking of a continental Memorial is a fitting manifestation of the enduring power and vitality of Pan-Africanism, a noble ideal integral to the African Union.
Professor Andreas Esheté
Chair, Interim Board of the AUHRM