Justifying its involvement in the crisis in Mali, the West African sub-regional bloc, ECOWAS, attributed the current global interest in the country to the untiring efforts of West African leaders.
The justification was made by the ECOWAS Commissioner for Human Development and Gender, Dr. Adrienne Diop, when he addressed the opening of a two-day workshop and annual general assembly of the Network of National Human Rights Institutions (NNHRI) in West Africa here Thursday.
She debunked suggestions that ECOWAS did not show sufficient interest in the Malian crisis, insisting that from the onset, the organization declared zero tolerance over the March 2012 coup d’état that toppled President Amadou Toumani Toure and attempts by insurgents to split the country.
She said that never in the history of the organization have regional leaders – both at the ministerial and heads of state levels – held over 10 extra-ordinary meetings within such a short space of time, trying to resolve the crisis in any Member State.
“We have been at the fore-front and at the centre of the crisis in Mali, even to the deployment of AFISMA. We will be there even after the United Nations has fully taken over, because we want to see the return of normalcy to that country”, she stated.
Dr. Diop, who represented the ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Mrs. Salamatu Hussaini-Suleiman, at the meeting, expressed optimism at the prospect of the restoration of peace to the country, adding: “We hope that what has happened in Mali does not happen in any other Member States”.
Describing the timing of the meeting as apt, she said it coincided with a period “when ECOWAS finds itself addressing alleged impunity and other forms of human rights violations perpetrated by terrorists and extremist groups in Mali”.
She disclosed that ECOWAS had appropriately responded by empanelling a group of human rights observers drawn from the members of the Network of National Human Rights Institutions in West Africa to “contribute to putting an end to these despicable and denigrating acts”.
The commissioner noted that the Mali mission had reinforced the relevance of the network in the practical protection and promotion of human rights in the region.
While acknowledging certain challenges faced by the Network, she urged the in-coming leadership to reposition itself so as to accomplish its objectives by leveraging on capacity building initiatives facilitated by ECOWAS to enhance institutional efficiency at the national level.
According to her, areas of activities should include monitoring, reporting and documentation of atrocities and other forms of human rights violations, enhancement of cross-border cooperation and collaboration through the institutionalization of functional medium-term exchange programme.
Dr. Diop called on members of the Network to work more closely with the civil society through the West Africa Civil Society Forum (WACSOF)’s thematic group on human rights and other relevant regional mechanisms aimed at mainstreaming the civil society in the protection and promotion of human rights.
In addition, she challenged members of the Network to respond to the human rights abuses in their various countries as “West Africa must no longer be singled out for its human rights abuses. Your task is indeed a tough one”.
She thanked the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for its “fidelity” to the Network, and pledged ECOWAS continued support for the implementation of the Network’s work plan.
The workshop is aimed at creating a more effective approach for the NNHRI to prevent and tackle emerging human rights challenges in the region.
More specifically, it is expected to increase the capacity of members to respond to emerging human rights challenges in the region; reinforce the capacities of senior officials of Member States of the NNHRI in investigation, monitoring, documentation and reporting of human rights violations; as well as reposition the NNHRI and its Secretariat for more effectiveness in the protection and promotion of human rights in West Africa.