A three-day ECOWAS Brainstorming and Expert Planning Workshop on National Human Rights Institutions opened in Accra yesterday to develop an effective strategy to promote and protect human rights in the Sub-Region.
The workshop would also review the agenda and options for human rights in West Africa as well as consider the functions of human rights institutions, their efficacy and contribution to the promotion of human rights in West Africa.
Colonel Mahamane Toure, Deputy Executive Secretary at the Department of Political Affairs, Defence and Security of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), noted that there was no way a society could foster democracy or modern governance without giving priority to human rights.
"The gross violations of the rights of the people either as individuals or as a group have been a major factor in the protracted conflicts and civil wars and lingering political crisis we have had and continue to experience in the West African Sub-Region," he said
Col. Toure noted that participants attending the workshop included different stakeholders from national human rights institutions, academia, civil society actors and technical partner institutions representing a new face and vision of ECOWAS.
The workshop follows ECOWAS' interest in the promotion of human rights and good governance in the Sub-Region based on the commitments espoused in the Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.
The Protocol sets the basic tenets of the new democratic culture to which Member States have made commitment. Under the Protocol, Member States are committed to the establishment of national human rights institutions with the responsibility of strengthening their capacities and creating a regional network among them.
Col. Toure noted that the general image of national human rights institutions were government agents and that people were sceptical about them hence the need to transform them into people-driven, people-oriented and people-serving public institutions. "We simply want to harness knowledge, experiences, talent and practice of all partners. We are servants of the community and not its leaders," he said.
Dr Said Adejumobi, Political Governance Adviser of ECOWAS, reiterated the need for participants to strengthen the capacity of national human institutions in the Sub-Region making them effective and functional and to develop common standards and norms on human rights protection.
"We can help to bridge the gap between leadership and followers and make leadership in our Sub-Region accountable. Respecting the rights of individuals and groups is a veritable means of promoting accountability in governance," he said
Dr Adejumobi expressed the hope that with the number of experts present at the workshop, they would leave richer in knowledge and ideas and with a roadmap on changing the course of human rights in West Africa.
Professor Augustine Loada, a participant, mentioned the lack of guarantee of basic human rights, persistent armed conflict in some West African countries as issues that needed to be addressed in the Sub-Region.
He said the lack of political will and material resources and the perpetration of violence against vulnerable groups, especially women and children, were other concerns and called for quick attention to be focused on such issues.
Ms Anna Bossman, Acting Commissioner, Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), said the institution needed financial autonomy and that CHRAJ should be de-linked from the conditions of service of the Civil Service.
She said even though CHRAJ had wide jurisdiction, the organisation received about 10,000 complaints annually hence a heavy workload.
Ms Bossman, however, said CHRAJ had enjoyed public legitimacy and high public confidence adding that the organisation was also highly accessible.