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Justice Africa Organises the 3rd Consultative Meeting of Experts of the African Union Human Rights Memorial Project

February 5th, 2013

The new African Union Headquarters built on the site of Alem Bekagn prison.

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“Establishing the African Union Memorial for the victims and survivors of Human Rights abuses and genocides in the African continent provides an important opportunity. It is a reminder and recognition of a dark past; an affirmation of the resolve to respect the dignity of humankind; and a commitment to prevent future recurrence of such acts.”

Opening Remarks by H.E Mrs. Julia Dolly Joiner during the 2nd AUHRM Consultative Meeting

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Prompted by the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide and motivated to make a deep commitment to the promotion of human rights in Africa, in 2004 the African Union pledged to create a permanent memorial in honour of victims of major human rights atrocities in Africa, at the AU headquarters in Addis Abba, Ethiopia. Justice Africa, as the main implementing partner of the project, has actively been working to bring the memorial to realisation.

 

In many of the mass atrocities in Africa, such as the Rwandan genocide and Apartheid in South Africa, the perpetrators were many. Crimes may have been so widespread, as in Rwanda, or abuse so entrenched in society, as was the case in South Africa, that to prosecute all those who are guilty would be impossible. The absence of accountability whether perceived or actual, can damage the growth of post conflict societies and while transitional justice efforts such as truth commissions or criminal prosecutions are important, the creation of public memorials can greatly aid the healing of fractured societies. By remembering the dead, recognizing the hardships of survivors and educating the future generations, public memorials “can promote social recovery after violent conflict ends.”[1] The process of creating a memorial can greatly help post-conflict peacebuilding efforts, promote the institutionalization of human rights norms at all levels of society and assist in preventing violent conflict in the future.

Although individual national memorials exist, until now, there had been no attempt to establish a continental memorial to commemorate and remember past African atrocities and highlight the collective responsibility of African states to intervene. The AUHRM aims to create such a memorial but in order to do so there are many voices, opinions and ideas that must first be taken into account. To ensure that the AUHRM creates a memorial that respectfully, accurately and effectively memorializes past African atrocities and provides peacebuilding and conflict prevention activities, Justice Africa has organised three consultative meetings of experts, the Third Meeting to be held in April, 2013.

The 1st and 2nd consultative meetings of experts held in 2010 and 2011 respectively, brought together AU officials, permanent representatives to the AU, academics, representatives of museums, memorials, civil society organisations and human rights activists in order to exchange ideas on the objectives, function and design of the Memorial and its relationship to the theme of peace.

This First Consultative Meeting produced recommendations for the creation of an inclusive memorialisation process and a dynamic memorial site, reflecting the grave atrocities committed against Africans and the diverse forms and practices of commemoration around the continent. As a result of the meeting, the AU recommended a plot of land within the AU premises for a visitors centre.

The Second Consultative Meeting produced an action plan for the project with recommendations that the memorial should include an external space dedicated to the memory of the victims of Alem Bekagn central prison, the creation of permanent memorials to the Rwandan Genocide, Apartheid and slavery, and an inaugural event to commemorate those who perished during the Red Terror campaign and victims of other human rights violations.

Justice Africa is organising the Third Consultative Meeting, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to be held in April 2013. The third meeting will aim to devise concrete plans for various stages of the overall project by providing a platform for stakeholder participation. It will bring stakeholders together to discuss how the AUHRM project will proceed; how to ensure best practices; how to best honour the memory of past violence, and how to establish a memorial that is a sustainable, permanent and powerful recognition of the histories of the human rights abuses in Africa.

Memorialisation is a form of peace building necessary to allow societies which have experienced mass atrocities to move forward, aware of their past but not bound by it. It can be cathartic for societies. By remembering victims of mass atrocities, victims feel their wrongs have been recognised and this contributes to long term peacebuilding and stability. If adequate memorialisation does not occur in post conflict societies, parties may feel their suffering has not been justly recognised and acknowledged and tensions can simmer and eventually erupt once more into violence. By organising a series of consultative meetings, Justice Africa seeks to ensure that a wide range of stakeholder voices and opinions are heard and integrated in order to ensure that the AUHRM provides an accurate, respectful and powerful memorial that will actively contribute to conflict prevention through its outreach and educational activities and simultaneously underline the collective responsibility of African states to intervene and work together to improve human rights.


[1] Barsalou, Judy & Baxter, Victoria (2007) The Urge to Remember: the role of memorials in social reconstruction and transitional justice

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