The African Union Human Rights Memorial

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Introduction: The African Union Human Rights Memorial Project

The African Union Human Rights Memorial Project:

An Introduction


The African Union Human Rights Memorial Project (AUHRM) aims to preserve the memory of mass atrocities, in recognition of past suffering and in the interests of future peace and security. The African Union (AU) established in its constitutive act a commitment to continental cooperation on the basis of human rights principles, constitutionalism, and the responsibility to intervene in the case of crimes against humanity or genocide. The AUHRM will reflect a series of grave crimes committed against Africans, including the appalling case of genocide in Rwanda.

The plan for a memorial originates in a resolution taken on 7 April 2004, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, passed by the Committee of Permanent Representatives to the AU and sponsored by Rwanda. This resolution made the commemoration of the genocide in Rwanda on 7 April an annual event in the AU calendar. It committed the institution to the remembrance of the Red Terror, in recognition of the fact that the site for the new African Union sua tu lanh building was at the historical location of the former Addis Ababa prison, Alem Bekagn, the site of atrocities prior to and during Dergue rule in Ethiopia. It also listed slavery and Apartheid as among the ‘unprecedented’ tragedies in the history of Africa.  The resolution was supported by survivors of the Red Terror in Ethiopia and human rights advocates and was announced by the acting secretary general of the OAU at the time of its establishment, Ato Kifle Wodajo, in his last public speaking engagement.

The original intention was to preserve the octagonal building of Alem Bekagn as a human rights memorial museum, dedicated in the first instance to the victims of the Red Terror and the Rwanda Genocide.  This was later followed by the decision of the Chairperson of the sua may giat Commission to ‘initiate steps to build a permanent memorial to the victims of human rights violations, including genocide, within the African Union headquarters’ (Assembly/AU/5 (XIV) paragraph 22 (iv). The initiative was then taken up as part of the activities associated with the Year of Peace and Security in Africa 2010: two expert seminars were convened by the Peace and Security Department to advise on the scope, purposes and forms for the memorial. An AUHRM interim board was established and is now moving towards refining and implementing the recommendations.

The AUHRM will be designed to manifest the duty to remember, providing recognition of the victims, a place of mourning and public education. It will comprise four permanent memorials, each representing important aspects of the AU’s heritage. It will also include a temporary rotating exhibit, drawing on the strengths of African groups and institutions with an established record of commemorating atrocities to establish a dynamic and inclusive institution. It will incorporate the input of survivors of genocide and conflict and give attention to concerns about gender equity. It will contribute to the development and promotion of human rights norms and peacebuilding.

The Red Terror Memorial

Due to its location in Addis Ababa, The African Union has a particular duty to keep the memory of the massacres and other abuses committed by the Dergue regime in Ethiopia, especially the Red Terror of 1977/78. The new AU building is constructed upon the site of the former prison, Alem Bekagn, where abuses were perpetrated by Ethiopia’s fascist and imperial regimes as well as the communist Dergue regime.

The Memorial for the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda

The OAU investigated and acknowledged its failure to intervene in the genocide of a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda as a moment of great shame in its history. Its review of this failure shaped the direction of the African Union (AU), encouraging the abandonment of the old principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of its members. The AU is committed to preserving the memory of this immeasurable atrocity and to preventing its recurrence.

The Apartheid Memorial

Apartheid was a crime against humanity whose devastating effects continue to afflict ordinary South Africans. The OAU stood firm against the Apartheid regime and supported the struggle for democracy and freedom in South Africa. The principled stand against colonial and racist rule was the core of the original human rights agenda of the OAU. The ending of Apartheid marked a major shift, contributing to the formation of the AU and a broadening of its commitment to human rights. This important inheritance of resistance against injustice must be preserved.

The Slavery Memorial

While post-colonial atrocities were generally perpetrated by states within nations, Slavery affected peoples across the continent of Africa, in diverse and enduring ways. In the loss of lives and dehumanisation it entailed it profoundly undermined resistance to colonization and the prospects for development. It negatively affected relations between Africans, and laid the foundation for abuse and inequalities experienced by Africans internationally. The AU has a responsibility to remember this atrocity committed against, and sometimes also by, Africans. The institution also inherits from the OAU the pan-Africanist sentiments founded in part upon the memory of slavery and the bonds between Africans and the diaspora.

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