In Addis Ababa, Ban urges leaders to build on progress in human rights and women's empowerment

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the 26th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 2016 UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

30 January 2016 – Hailing vital commitments the African Union (AU) has made on human rights and women's rights, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today encouraged the continent's leaders to move on from setting standards to what he called “the three I's” – Implementation, Institution-building and Investment in real change – and set a shining example for the wider world.

In his final visit as UN Secretary-General to the AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Mr. Ban cited key steps forward including the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women, the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, and the protocol creating the African Court on Human and People's Rights.

“I encourage you to make these real by ratifying them where necessary,” he said urging the gathered leaders to move on from setting standards towards implementation, institution-building and investment in real change, all of which would be a fitting legacy of the African Year of Human Rights.

“Human rights are crucial to the maintenance of peace and security, the fight against violent extremism and promoting sustainable development,” continued Mr. Ban, also stressing that women need to participate fully in the life of society, including the highest levels of state structures and in the framework of the peace talks.

“The era of exclusion is over. To change the dynamic, we must resolutely invest in empowering women and expanding opportunities available to them,” he underscored.

He went on to note that the AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan was a particularly significant step and he urged all parties to act on its recommendations and to make greater use of these inquiries to address abuses.

African governments were instrumental in establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC) – the ultimate guarantor of accountability for the victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity, continued the Secretary-General, calling the court “an ally for African victims of these most heinous crimes.”

Commending those nations that are actively supporting the Court's vital work and urge all to maintain their commitment to the ICC's founding Rome Statute, Mr. Ban said that strengthening the court will strengthen accountability for victims, in Africa and around the world.

“Leaders who stand by while civilians are slaughtered in their name must be held responsible. I am particularly concerned that leaders in South Sudan have again failed to meet the deadline to form a transitional government,” he said, adding that instead of enjoying the fruits of independence, their people have endured more than two years of unimaginable suffering.

As for crisis-torn Burundi, he welcomed the AU proposal to deploy human rights observers and to establish a prevention and protection mission. “This crisis requires the most serious and urgent commitment from all of us,” he underscored, applauding the AU for taking collective responsibility and acting decisively. “The United Nations stands ready to support your efforts,” he added.

“As the Universal Declaration [Of Human Rights] says: everyone, without distinction of any kind, is entitled to human rights,” recalled the Secretary-General, emphasizing that peace and security, development, and human rights are won only by committing to protecting the rights of others, regardless of skin colour, religion, ethnicity, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, age, disability, or other distinctions.

“This continent has endured discrimination of the worst kind. My dream is that Africa will provide a shining example to the world of tolerance, understanding, and respect for human rights,” he said.

The UN chief went on to say that the historic agreements reached last year on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change represent a victory for all inhabitants of the planet and the planet itself.

“They would not have been concluded without the meaningful participation of African States. The commitment to limit the rise in global temperature is of paramount importance to Africa, the continent that has contributed the least to climate change but is likely to suffer the most,” he explained, noting that the objectives of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) fit perfectly with the AU's own ambitions, as outlined in its Agenda 2063 continent-wide socio-economic development plan.

But the hard part will be to give effect to the decisions taken. “This requires that rich countries fulfil their commitments implementing the financing for development scheme adopted here in Addis Ababa. They need to share knowledge and transfer appropriate technologies,” said the Secretary-General.

It would also require a fundamental commitment to good governance and respect for human rights, one which had been manifested in the effort to contain the Ebola outbreak last year.

Participation is also crucial, and elections are another test of good governance. Seventeen African countries will go to the ballot box in 2016. “Leaders should never use undemocratic constitutional changes and legal loopholes to cling to power. We have all seen the tragic consequences when they do. Leaders must protect their people, not themselves,” said the UN chief, commending those leaders who committed to stepping aside and respect constitutional term limits.

While noting that the 2030 Agenda promises to leave no one behind, and to help those farthest behind first, he also said that the World Humanitarian Summit that will be held in Istanbul, Turkey from 23 to 24 May, aims to restore hope and dignity for the most vulnerable. It will address issues from the protection of civilians to humanitarian financing. Please engage with the summit process; “your voices need to be heard.”

On organizational matters, he said that Dialogue between the AU Peace and Security Council and the UN Security Council, the respective Secretariats and troop- and police-contributing countries is critical. There must be a common understanding of the human rights standards under which peace and security operations are carried out.

“We are all deeply ashamed and horrified over the damage that has been done when peacekeepers exploit and abuse vulnerable people. The appalling acts of a few undermine the dedicated work of many. The UN has a zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse and exploitation. We must all work together to ensure accountability and transparency,” he stressed.

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

At African Union Peace and Security Council, Ban discusses Burundi, South Sudan and counter-terrorism

Related Stories

Secretary-General’s remarks at the opening of the 26th African Union Summit. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

More videos »

In-depth Interviews