Presidents of South Africa, Rwanda, Benin and many other dignitaries during the unveiling ceremony
On January 28th, in a quiet corner of the new African Union headquarters in Addis Abba Ethiopia, the foundation stone for the African Union Human Rights Memorial (AUHRM) was laid. The event was suitably modest, attended by those involved in the planning of the Memorial, including Principal Director of Justice Africa, Dawit Mesfin, as well as African Union Officials, African Heads of State and some international dignitaries, including representatives of the Japanese and Danish governments.
The site of the memorial is significant, situated where once the notorious Alem Bekagn prison stood, where victims of Ethiopia’s Red Terror were imprisoned. The Red Terror is one of the human rights atrocities which will be memorialised, as well as the Rwandan Genocide, Apartheid inSouth Africaand the continent wide atrocity of Slavery.
It was a windy afternoon, causing the flame set in a torch before the foundation stone to flicker. The intimate size of those in attendance was befitting of the solemn nature of the occasion. Today there is no physical remainder of the prison but soon there will be a permanent memorial to the victims, and to the victims of other atrocities, as well as an opportunity to educate future generations about the atrocities which occurred.
The Presidents of South Africa, Rwanda and Benin were in attendance and together the three leaders cut the ceremonial ribbon and unveiled the cornerstone; a modest slab of grey marble but a poignant symbol none the less of this commitment to memorialising victims of atrocities and protecting the rights of future generations of Africans. Chairman of the Interim Board of the AUHRM, Andreas Eshete read a brief but eloquent statement in which he commented “In the event of such gross violations, it is a collective responsibility to come to the rescue of those targeted and to make sure that the perpetrators are brought to justice. In sum, the Memorial is a standing symbol of Africa’s collective commitment to justice.”
Eshete’s words reflect the fact that the memorial marks a major milestone for the African Union and indeed mark a renewed commitment to the protection of human rights on the continent. The site was also visited the next day by former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki and the current Burundian President.
The inscription on the foundation stone reads as follows:
For all the victims of human rights abuses in Africa, including those of the slave trade and colonialism, and particularly the genocide in Rwanda (1994), the Alem Bekagn prison massacres (1937 & 1974), the Red Terror (1977-78) in Ethiopia and Apartheid in South Africa.
Unveiled on the occasion of the commissioning of the AU conference and office complex, 18th summit of heads of state and government Addis Ababa, 28 January 2012
Justice Africa signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Commission of the African Union in December 2011, to undertake the establishment and development of the AU Human Rights Memorial. The process of undertaking the construction of a memorial began in 2010 and Justice Africa is excited to be spearheading this important and worthy project which marks a major commitment by African leaders towards the protection and promotion of human rights on the continent.