On 10 December 1948, history was made when the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). As members of the United Nations, African Member States are part of the commemoration of this very important day in the international human rights calendar.
At the time of its adoption, the UDHR was perceived as an instrument to put an end to the human rights atrocities and violations which the world witnessed during the Second World War. The Declaration was perceived, at the time, to also be the framework that would close political divides and create a sense of tolerance and oneness across the nations of the world. Today, the UDHR is still central to efforts directed at securing human rights, bearing testimony to the extraordinary foresight and vision of its drafters. It continues to be a "common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations" aimed at securing the universal recognition, observance and realization of human rights.
The African Human Rights System with its various instruments paved the way for the advancement of human rights respect and protection in Africa. It also led to the creation of strategic measures to accelerate the attainment of respect for human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment on the continent. Such instruments have an undeniable moral force and provide practical guidance to States in their conduct. The value of the African Union Human Rights Instruments and Mechanisms rests on their recognition and acceptance by Member States and indeed they may be seen as declaratory of broadly accepted goals and principles within Africa.
As part of the efforts made to enhance the promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights on the Continent, the AU Organs with a human rights mandate adopted the Human Rights Strategy for Africa. The purpose of the Strategy is to strengthen the African human rights system aiming at deepening the culture of democracy and human rights in conformity with the objectives of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other relevant instruments. The Strategy seeks to address the current challenges of the African human rights system in order to ensure effective promotion and protection of human rights on the continent.
The African Union joins hands with the United Nations to celebrate this year's Human Rights Day, which is devoted to the launch of a year-long campaign for the 50th anniversary of the two International Covenants on Human Rights: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 1966. The two Covenants, together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, form the International Bill of Human Rights, setting out the civil, political, cultural, economic, and social rights that are the birth right of all human beings.
This year’s commemoration under the theme: "Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always" aims to promote and raise awareness of the two Covenants on their 50th anniversary. The year-long campaign revolves around the theme of rights and freedoms -- freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear -- which underpin the International Bill of Human Rights are as relevant today as they were when the Covenants were adopted 50 years ago.
The Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) compels us to ensure that human rights are secured for every human being and for all peoples in Africa and elsewhere. These rights must be protected without any distinction or discrimination based on nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We must use this opportunity to renew our commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights as being indivisible, interdependent and inalienable entitlements of every human.
Addis Ababa, 10 December 2015