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Up and running at last… and a little direct action

22 November 2007

MRG’s Programmes Officer, Neil Clarke, finally gets his teeth stuck into the African Commission and muses on the shortcomings of the infrastructure.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights is up and running at last and has been bustling through the weekend trying to catch up with its schedule, that is, given one or two ‘technical difficulties’. Today’s technical detail being that the Commissioners themselves were forced to move hotel during the session, because the government had not paid the bill…

I have pondered the lack of preparation in my last blog. Is it because the Congo does not have the capacity or because the Commission have been negligent in supporting the Congolese? Neither one it seems. The Commission apparently has little in the way of its own funds and is reliant on the invitation of a government prepared to foot the bill. In the case of the Congo it seems the invitation was extended by an eager official, but not by the President himself. The Congo government is definitely not over-resourced and certainly not prepared to invest the large sums of money and manpower necessary for this event. Thus for example it is not subsidising the costs of hotels, which are possibly the most expensive in the African continent.

The Commissioners themselves have responded by setting a fine example to the many activists present – taking direct action in defence of their right to per diems. When it appeared that they would not be receiving their daily allowance, they threatened to bring the Commission to a premature end. The Government it seems relented in the face of such forceful advocacy. The next technical difficulty appears to be that the Commissioners suitcases have been lost between hotels. We are left wondering if as a further protest the Commissioners will be appearing naked at tomorrow’s session?

My impressions of the Commission so far? Not bad. There is a greater intimacy to proceedings than in say Geneva, largely because of the smaller venue. NGOs are not left clinging to the edges of the room and are able to mingle with government officials. There is also an air of faith in the process from the NGOs, which is refreshing. Perhaps this is because the rotating location means that participation is not dominated by a small number of NGOS. The NGO discourse as a result, seems more diverse and less about preserving status, which often comes across in Geneva. But in terms of content, scope for interaction and capacity to hold States to account, I would say it is little different to other human rights bodies. It’s a useful tool with the capacity to become more useful, but far from an end in itself.

‘Technical difficulties’ permitting, MRG will be making an intervention tomorrow along with our partner organisations and I can explain our purpose for being here, other than to ‘enjoy’ the hotels.

This article reflects the sole opinion of its author and does not engage MRG’s responsibility.