Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa

 

SYMPOSIUM

Welcome Address by Barrister Felix Agbor Nkongho, Executive Director Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) on the Symposium on Corruption and Human Rights.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Lord Mayor of Buea Rural Council, Dear panelist, The President of the Cameroon Bar Council, Distinguished Guest, Ladies and Gentlemen, on behalf of The Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA), I wish to welcome each and everyone to this Symposium on “Corruption and its Implications on Human Rights”. This symposium is a follow up of that organize by CHRDA in 2007 on Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in Africa: The Role of Diplomacy, Judiciary, Press, National Human Rights Commission and The Church. The symposium today is part of the goal of CHRDA on education and Human Rights awareness.

Before commencing this Welcome address, let me crave your indulgence to say a word about CHRDA. CHRDA is an independent, nongovernmental, apolitical and non-profit making organization dedicated to the protection and advancement of human rights and the promotion of democracy as a political culture in Africa. It engages in different and sensitive issues related to the advancement of Human Rights and Democracy via a series of projects, and also seeks to foster research in these fields by offering opportunities to Human Rights activists, legal practitioners, graduate and undergraduate students to volunteer, intern and study at the Centre and its partner institutions. With offices in Africa, we help local activists, scholars, researchers in providing research facilities and creating a culture of respect of human rights and democracy.

CHRDA is formed for specifically, but not exclusively, for the following purposes:

  1. Enhancing the promotion and respect for human rights and rule of law. 
  2. Promoting democracy and good governance.
  3. Developing strategies and gathering resources in securing compliance with human rights norms.
  4. Working with government authorities to improve human rights situations, to keep abuses to a minimum, and to encourage ratification of international treaties and agreements related to human rights.
  5. Providing legal services to victims of human rights violations at national and international fora (National Courts, African Commission)
  6.  Legal Assistance to victims of Human Rights abuses (individuals and groups) by working in close collaboration with legal practitioners who render pro bono services.
  7. Collaborating with members of the legislative, judicial and executive branches so as to bring the necessary legal changes.
  8. Serving as a liaison with other (domestic and international) Non –Governmental organisations focused on human rights, ranging from educational institutions, governmental and intergovernmental bodies to charities.
  9. Providing invaluable resources to persons seeking to intern and volunteer opportunities, and also aspiring academics at all levels to engage in research on issues of human rights, democracy and international law.
  10. Fostering sensitization and awareness of Human Rights and Democracy through the organization of lectures, seminars, conferences, debates.
  11. Working with African inter-governmental initiatives to promote and ensure respect for human rights (African Commission for Human and People’s Rights, New Economic Partnership for African Development, African Court, African Peer Review Mechanism).

In order to effectively fulfill its desired goals, CHRDA adopt strategies grouped under defined projects, covering the following: Women’s Rights, Children’s Rights, Human Trafficking, Human Rights Monitoring, Prisoners’ Rights, Legal Literacy, Legal Aid, Research and Democracy amongst others.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I might be the face of CHRDA but behind the scene there is a group of committed and dedicated Human Rights officers who are doing a marvelous and awesome job and who deserved all the credit.  If not of these dedicated Human Rights advocates and defenders, CHRDA will not be in existence and we would not have been able to organise this symposium. These dedicated CHRDA staff have been working on voluntary basis for more than 2 years. This just shows the sacrifice they are making for the cause of Human Rights; a cause which they truly believe in and hold so dear in their hearts. At this juncture, it’s my honor and pleasure to introduce the dedicated CHRDA staff which includes Ms. Valerie Chia, Deputy Executive Director, Sebastien Makam, Ethel Aminateh, Fieyim Njonguo, Samuel Mbua and Priso Egbe all Human Rights Officers. These are the people behind the mask. I have total respect for them because in a society wherein materialism, graft and avarice are the order of the day, they have opted to serve the public. The culture of serving the public and making sacrifices for a cause you truly believe in is a laudable one. At CHRDA we hold the opinion that we can make sacrifices for the cause of Human Rights. That’s why from its inception CHRDA has been solely funded by its founder.  

I would also like to take this opportunity to also mention other members of the bureau of CHRDA. They include Charles Achaleke Taku, William Lifongo, Ms. Sabrina Mahtani, Ashuntantang Tanjong, Justice Ebah Ntoko, Agbor Effim Joseph, Bate Valentine, Alpha Sesay, Avitus Agbor, Jacob Enow and Marinus Ambe amongst others. We thank you for all your support.

Distinguished Guests, in its short period of existence, CHRDA has made major inroads in the domain of Human Rights.  We have had more than 100 cases of Human Rights Violations and more than 200 cases of issues not relating to Human Rights. It shows that the public have faith and trust in us. We started the CHRDA “Help the Children Programme” aimed at helping pupils from 4 different villages in the locality of Buea to go to school. We are working with schools in the creation of Human Rights Club in Secondary Schools and University, Prizes for Best Human Rights Essay. We carried out a project on Bullying in secondary schools and also we have done enormous Human Rights Education. We have carried out several visits to the Prisons.  We have our weekly HR Report which will be included in our yearly Report following in the footsteps of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and The US State Department. In this vein, I wish to draw the attention of Mr. Clinton Brown, the Representative of the US Embassy that CHRDA will be willing to synergize with the Embassy in making valuable contributions in its end of year report.  

As the 2011 Elections approaches, we have already drafted Guidelines on Human Rights monitoring of these elections. We shall share this document with The National Commission for Human Rights and Freedom, other Human Rights Organisations and also with ELECAM. Furthermore, in cooperation with other Human Rights Organisations, we shall be setting up a Human Rights Working Group in Buea. This group will comprise of The National Commission for Human Rights and Freedom, all Human Rights Organizations, advocates, Defenders, Law Enforcement Officials and all stakeholders in Buea who are committed to the cause of Human Rights.  As a research Centre, we have a library which is open to the public. The library contains about 3000 literature on all areas of Human Rights and we call on those interested in Human Rights to visit the office. We are connected to the internet so it’s easier for those doing Human Rights Research to come to our office.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the other day I had an interview over the Radio and one of the presenters asked me a very interesting question: Why symposium on corruption when there are other Human serious Human Rights Violations in the Country?  The question was not surprising to me because it is a truism that historically, Human Rights activism has been centered on civil and political rights while economic social and cultural rights have been viewed as aspirations. Partly arising from this, advocacy on corruption as a human rights issue has not found prominence amongst the citizenry and even human rights organizations despite it negative effects.
The importance and consequences of corruption in our society cannot be underestimated. In the words of Cobus de Swardt, Managing Director, Transparency International “The fight against corruption is central to the struggle for human rights. Corruption has always greased the wheels of the exploitation and injustice which characterized our world.  From violent ethnic cleansing to institutionalized racism, political actors have abused their entrusted powers to focus on gains for the few at great cost for the many”.

Corruption is one of the biggest challenges to us as a people, a Nation and a continent. Today, in Africa, the biggest crime is what Professor Ndiva Kofele Kale writing in 1995, terms patrimonicide- the crime of exterminating the patrimony. (Prof Kale will address this notion in his keynote speech).  In almost all African countries, corruption has become a modus vivendi of government. Grand corruption and abuse of power have mophed into one. Within the past 19 years, many African countries have made big gains in civil and political rights with the transition from autocracy to democracy. Corruption threatens this transition irredeemably and it is vital that these gains be safeguarded through vigilance.

It is in the context of this background that CHRDA decided to organize a one day symposium bringing together civil society organization, human rights organization, civil servants, University Lecturers, members of the Judiciary, Members of the Bar and the general public to highlight the human rights aspect of corruption. The conference falls within the ambit of CHRDA’S goal of Human Rights awareness by educating the public and also contributing in the debate on corruption.

Corruption amounts to a gross violation of individuals’ rights and freedoms. It also poses a threat to democracy. When a State fails to curb corruption, it also fails to fulfill its obligations to promote, protect and preserve the fundamental rights of the people. It perpetuates discrimination, prevents the full realization of social and economic rights and violates fundamental civil and political rights such as the rights to free and fair elections.

Corruption seriously undermines the protection and enjoyment of human rights and perpetuates discrimination. Whereas the UDHR, for example, provides that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights provides equality as well as equal protection before the law, corruption makes a mockery of these entitlements.

Corruption is particularly harmful and poses a great danger when it becomes pervasive in law courts. By tilting the scale of justice, corruption denies the citizens their right to legal redress when their freedoms are violated. In this way, a person’s rights to a fair trial and recognition as an equal person before the law are violated. (Justice Rose Mbah Acha will highlight this point in her presentation on Corruption under Cameroon Law)

Furthermore, corruption leads to the infringement of numerous civil and political rights. When corruption permeates politics, for example, and electoral outcomes are determined though vote buying and bribery, citizens are denied their right to political participation. (Am sure Prof Asonganyi will elaborate on that in his paper on Political Corruption).  The rights of the citizens to vote through universal and equal suffrage are, therefore, greatly watered down. The consequences include incapable and weak leaders, patronage and sycophancy and the erosion of democratic principles. It leads to a culture of political Methuselah’s wherein leaders stay in power in perpetuity with complete disregard and disdain for the citizenry after all they were not voted by them. These results in an octogenarian leadership where some stay in power for 41 years and others manipulate the parliament to extend their mandate beyond that stipulated by the Constitution.  Political patronage privileged persons with the right ethnic or political origins, or with the right pedigree, filial, genital, or other relationships of narrow presidential propinquity, at the expense of merit or service delivery skills.

The traditional relationship between corruption and human rights is always a negative one. In the words of the Council of Europe, corruption threatens the rule of law, democracy and human rights, undermines governance, fairness and social justice, distorts competition, hinders economic growth and endangers institutions and moral foundations of society. There is need to establish mutually reinforcing institutional and legal frameworks, strengthen complementing legal framework and increase involvement of national human rights institutions, non-governmental organization and other civil society movements in the fight against corruption.

CHRDA has a very important role to play in the fights against graft by keeping the public informed, criticizing government action and omissions that perpetuate corruption and generally lobbying against corrupt practices by government and their agents. In short, our primarily goal is raising awareness, lobbying and advocacy, and keeping the anti corruption agenda alive. That in my estimation is why we are here today.

Distinguished Guests, your massive presence here today shows the trust and faith you have in CHRDA.  We wish to assure you all that we shall live up to the ideals of our mission statement and we shall maintain the high standards set by us in our maiden symposium in 2007.  We have a lot of vision but we shall need your support and Assistance to carry on our mission. We shall thus appreciate if you can assist us in whatever little way. We shall also appreciate your suggestions and constructive criticism in making CHRDA a better organization since there is always room for improvement.

Ladies and Gentlemen, with these few remarks, I again extend to you all a special welcome, and I promise you that the symposium will be inspiring, intellectually stimulating and enriching.

Thank you all.

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