30 January 2012
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged African countries to entrench civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights to boost stability and development on the continent.
“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a promise to all people in all places at all times,” Ban told African leaders gathered in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, for the annual African Union (AU) summit.
Discrimination against gays and lesbians
He cited discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity as one of the injustices that had been ignored or even sanctioned by many African states for too long.
“This has prompted some governments to treat people as second-class citizens, or even criminals. Confronting this discrimination is a challenge. But we must live up to the ideals of the Universal Declaration,” Ban told the summit, held in a new conference centre funded and built by China.
“I salute your efforts to build African prosperity and grow intra-African trade. Our challenge is to transform Africa’s potential into progress for all,” he said.
Repression ‘underlay Arab Spring’
The secretary-general noted that 25 African countries would hold elections at either the presidential, legislative or local levels this year, and urged them to ensure that the polls were well-managed, transparent and inclusive.
“The transition in Tunisia has been a model for other States. In Libya, our political mission is helping the new transitional authorities to organise elections and improve public security, rule of law and transitional justice,” said Ban.
He once again encouraged the transitional authorities in Egypt to guarantee the peaceful and early handover of power to a civilian government, uphold human rights, release political prisoners and accelerate the pace of reform.
Ban pointed out that the so-called Arab Spring – popular protests for civil rights during 2011 – had takan the world by surprise because traditional indicators were showing that the affected countries were “stable”.
“Yet below the surface, there was deprivation, exclusion, abuse. Events have proved that repression is a dead-end. Police power is no match for people power seeking dignity and justice,” he said.
UN, African Union to deepen ties
Ban said he was committed to deepening ties between the United Nations and African Union, noting that the fruits of the two organisations’ partnership had manifested themselves in the search for peace in Darfur, in common diplomatic efforts in Guinea and cooperation on Somalia.
“Where there are differences, let us continue to find common ground for the future. For example – let us review how effectively and how quickly we are able to respond to crises,” he said.
He called for joint efforts between the UN and AU to improve the lot of women and youth in Africa, who account for 80 percent of the continent’s population, pointing out that the presence of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, at the summit was an indication that women were not only victims of war.
“They are also champions of peace,” said the Secretary-General.
Women and youth
He called for greater representation of women in parliaments across Africa, which he said currently stands at 20 percent on average.
“We must ensure that women are fully represented in decision-making bodies, including in Egypt and Tunisia, where they played a role in the recent pro-democracy protests.
“And we must restore hope and a better future for youth in Africa. Unemployment and poverty feed chronic instability and create tensions. I intend to appoint a special representative for youth, who will open dialogue with young people and lead our efforts,” he added.
On the sidelines of the Summit, Ban had separate meetings with the leaders of African countries, including Salva Kiir, the president of South Sudan, with whom he discussed several issues, including the country’s new institutions and the constitutional review process.