25.09.2008 - SHSviews 20

Interview with Sylvie Kayitesi Zaïnabo: ‘Poverty is a denial of human rights.’

in SHSviews 20

Former Minister of Public Service and Labour of Rwanda, Sylvie Kayitesi Zainabo, Chairman of the Rwandan Commission for Human Rights was elected head of the Network of African National Institutes for Human Rights in 2007.
In her interview she discusses human rights in Africa as well as the situation of refugees and displaced persons, victims of internal conflict which undermines the continent and puts the population at risk, preventing them from living in harmony and peace. Sylvie Kayitesi Zainabo invites everyone to fight against poverty, seen as a denial of human rights, in order to give the most needy access to food, a decent dwelling, education and health facilities.

The National Human Rights Institutions have an important role to play within the global network of organizations in charge of promoting those rights. What do they represent and how do they function in Africa?

The National Human Rights Institutions have indeed an important role to play within the global network of organizations in charge of promoting human rights. As governmental institutions, they represent real bridges between civil society and governments.

Moreover, these institutions have been established in every country under the guidance of the “Paris Principles” established by the resolution N°1992/54 of the United Nations Commission confirmed by the UN General Assembly resolution N°48/134 on October 20 1993.

According to those principles, a national Institution has the capacity to protect and promote human rights and has to remain independent from established government bodies to be efficient.

One should note that until 2007, only 32 out of 53 African countries had National Human Rights Institutions. Among them, only certain have complied with the “Paris Principles” and other have not done so yet. Furthermore, those at the preliminary stage of their development face several challenges since they not only seek to gain the trust of the populations, but also they endeavour to be more efficient compared to other human rights advocacy organizations.

What is the role played by the African Human Rights Institutions Network that you chair since 2007?

This network was created in 1996 after the adoption of the “Paris Principles” at a time when several structures of this type were being established in African countries.

Its purpose is to support the establishment and reinforcement of National Human Rights Institutions across the continent, aiming at improving the work carried by each of them at the national level. The network itself provides a greater visibility of African institutions on an international level. It has only very recently been called as such. Since at the beginning, this coordination and promotion organization was called “Coordinating Committee for African National Institutions”. It was only last year, in October 2007 that it changed its name to become a “Network” after a General Assembly held during the 6th Conference of African National Human Rights Institutions.

You are the President of the Human Rights Committee of Rwanda, are you the first woman elected to that function?

No. Several other women have occupied this position before. Since its creation, this organization has been chaired by several women: the President of the Human Rights Committee of Uganda, then the Executive Secretary of the Human Rights Committee of Nigeria in replacement of the President of this Committee.

How does your network structure itself to provide help and assistance to the 12 millions of men, women and children, who flee conflict zones in Africa, a continent which holds the unfortunate record of having nearly half of the world’s displaced persons?

The Network has a clear perception of the issue of displaced persons in the world and more specifically in Africa. A proof is the organization of the 6th Conference of African National Human Rights Institutions which aimed at strengthening the role of national institutions in protecting refugees, displaced persons within their own country and stateless persons. This conference offered an opportunity to define strategies to provide a better care system to this vulnerable group of the population. The Institutions who are members of the network agreed to assist persons displaced within their own countries through their protection policies.

Other than the problem of refugees, what are the principal human rights challenges Africa has to face?

Other than the problem of refugees and displaced persons within their own countries, resulting from internal conflicts, Africa has to face many other challenges affecting the enjoyment of their rights by their populations. Notably, poverty is perceived as a human rights denial. Indeed, the poor do not have resources to have access to food, decent dwellings, education and health care.

Strengthening women’s rights is another essential issue which should be raised. The role played by women in the reconstruction process of post-conflict countries and in the socioeconomic development of their countries is indeed crucial.

Does the reform of the UN System modify your relationship with partners like UNESCO?

The Network of African National Human Rights Institutions is becoming more and more visible within international institutions thanks to its presence within the Bureau of the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and its permanent secretariat which enables it to advertise its activities on the international stage, thanks to the organization of numerous international conferences.

Today, we thus collaborate with other national institutions around the world but also with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (ICC), the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, the East African Countries’ Community and many other intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.

Concerning its relationship with UNESCO, we are really looking forward to strengthening them especially within the framework of the human rights education programme as we are convinced that National Human Rights Institutions are strategic partners for the implementation of this programme.

Interview by Nfaly « Vieux » Savané

Sylvie Kayitesi Zaïnabo

Born in May 1962, Sylvie Kayitesi Zaïnabo holds a degree in law from the National University of Rwanda. Strongly committed to the rights of women and children in her country, she was Associate Protection Officer at the High Commissioner for Refugees from 1996 to 1999 when she was appointed State Secretary at the Ministry of Lands, Human Resettlement and Environmental Protection and then Minister of Public Service and Labour of Rwanda.

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