The African Union Human Rights Memorial

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Managing Memories of Mau Mau

A statue of Dedan Kimathi was unveiled in central Nairobi on the 18 February 2007, 50 years to the day that he was hanged by the British colonial government in Kenya. In July 1953 the British had identified Kimathi as the ‘most wanted’ rebel of Kenya’s Mau Mau uprising, leading to his capture in October 1956 and his hanging in February 1957.

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Constructing Memory of Victims of Human Rights Abuses

Building a memorial takes time. But one cannot wait forever to build one. Many seem to recognise the fact that building a memorial not only is expensive and time-consuming, it also requires high level of commitment if it is going to be a place worthy of its purpose.

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Optimism for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the First Female Chairperson of the AU

Hailed as a victory for women and the African continent, on Tuesday, July 17th 2012 Nkosazana Dlamini-Zumba of South Africa was sworn in as the first female chairperson of the African Union Commission. After six tough months of electioneering and uncertainty, her accession to the role of head of the executive arm of the AU was greeted with proclamations of relief and praise.

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Never Again: A powerful promise or empty rhetoric?

The phrase ‘never again’ is one of the most historically complicated set of words in existence. Intended as a solemn promise following the horrific events of World War Two and the Holocaust, never again to stand by and allow mass atrocities to occur, it has been used by multiple actors to apply to multiple situations.

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Women and peacebuilding in Rwanda

The 1994 genocide in Rwanda had devastating consequences for the Rwandan society as a whole. The intensity and cruelty of the 1994 events left behind a chaotic situation marked by extensive number of casualties, and a society characterised from fear and insecurity.

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South Africa: Memorialisation as Transitional Justice

The policy of apartheid in South Africa institutionalised racism against black people through segregation cemented in white supremacy.  Introduced in 1948, apartheid lasted for five decades and imposed on almost every aspect of personal and public life.

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Beyond Transitional Justice: Memorialisation in Africa

Memorialisation is the process of creating public memorials. Sites of conscience are more comprehensive, integrated public memorials that make a specific commitment to democratic engagement through programs that stimulate dialogue on pressing social issues today and that provide opportunities for public involvement in those issues.  Sites of conscience have the potential to further the engagement of civil society and the general public in democracy processes in post conflict states.

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Why the African Union Needs a Human Rights Memorial

Eighteen years ago, in what came to be known as the 100-day Rwanda genocide, nearly one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in Rwanda. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a message issued on the occasion of last year’s commemoration, emphasized that “Rwanda’s survivors have made us confront the ugly reality of a preventable tragedy.”

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The role of Women in the Rwandan Genocide

April 6th 1994 will always be remembered as a day marked by unleashed terror and violence leading to one of the worst tragedies of the twentieth century. On April 6, 1994 a plane carrying Rwandan President Habyarimana was shot down. Almost simultaneously, a wave of extreme violence and killings took over the whole country. In approximately one hundred days, up to 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by Hutu extremists.

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The Commemoration of the 18th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide a solemn reminder of the sincere commitments of the AU Human Rights Memorial

Saturday April 7th 2012 marked the 18th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, a date conserved by the African Union Commission. The annual ceremony which commemorates the memory of the victims was held in Addis Ababa in the company of Professor Andreas Eshete, Chairperson of the Interim Board of the AU Human Rights Memorial (AUHRM). The event was attended by representatives  of the Ethiopian government, the authorities of the Republic of Rwanda, civil society organisations, African Union (AU) officials, national human rights institutions, as well as intergovernmental organisations and religious leaders.

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Slaves loaded onto ships in chains.

Brief History of Slavery in Africa

Many Africans were kidnapped, incarcerated and shipped out of Africa to be traded like animals. Since Europeans could not easily travel inland and navigate through the West African kingdoms to capture slaves, they employed Africans to carry out the task . West African rulers for example exchanged prisoners of war for firearms . One slave, Olaudah Equiano records in his memoirs that at the age of eleven when ‘I and my dear sister were left to mind the house, two men and a woman got over our walls and in a moment seized both of us and without giving us time to cry out or make resistance [they grabbed us] and ran off into the nearest wood’ . Children such as Equiano, along with other adults, would then be marched to the coast .

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Colonialism and a Dark Past

The transformation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to the African Union (AU) saw the commemorative history of Africa under colonialism being largely delegated to individual African nation – states. Continental commemorative initiatives today act subsidiary to national independence celebrations. However, as outlined in this article, it still remains essential for Africa to collectively remember the shared painful history of the continent under the yoke of colonialism.

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Number Four – section of prison reserved for non-whites

Colonial Africa ‘Gulags’: Transforming centres of rights abuses to seats of citizen protection and empowerment

The system of racial segregation that pervaded the generality of South Africa’s society was also well enunciated at ‘Number Four’. Non-white prisoners were placed at the bottom of the racial hierarchy even in prisons.

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Torturing Device Used by Kebeles

The Ethiopian Red Terror

In October 1977 alone an estimated 3,000-4,000 individuals were killed and all opposition members in high-level government positions were removed.The Red Terror officials conducted two major house to house searches that lasted days, killing many in their path. Bodies of those killed would then be placed on display in the streets with posters on their corpses branding them as enemies of the revolution. Many accounts state that security forces did indeed often simply dump dead bodies along the side of the road and piled them on street corners. Some victims were even forced to dig their own graves before being murdered, while families were made to pay a fee to retrieve bodies of their relatives25. Even more shockingly, children also became the target of the kebeles26. Save the Children protested in early 1978 against the alleged execution of 1,000 children, many under thirteen, whom the government labelled as ‘liaison agents of the counter revolutionaries’27. Clearly, during the Red Terror, no one was safe.

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The African Union Human Rights Memorial A Symbol and a Promise

Much of the debate over memorialising human rights abuses centres around concerns for the future; critics of memorialisation find it difficult to accept that remembrance serves to honour the past and avoid being bound by it. Memorialisation however is not about vengeance or blame, but about remembrance and recognition. As Ellie Wiesel, one of the Holocaust’s most famous chroniclers put it, those who refuse to remember the victims of atrocities “. . . are committing the greatest indignity human beings can inflict on one another: telling people who have suffered excruciating pain and loss that their pain and loss were illusions.”


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Documenting a Genocidal History

Ethiopians were hopeful. The new government promised to strip away a history of fuedalism and promised to liberate the masses. But, within months, Mengistu made it clear that we would brink no opposition, slaughtering over 60 of the former Emperor’s ministers. Emperor Haile Selassie was killed in August 1975. Later in the year, Mengistu unleashed a campaign of mass murder and terror which he officially dubbed “The Red Terror” on the civilian population, targeting mainly the educated youth and urban elites.

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The Rwandan Genocide

“Those who do not live in Rwanda need to understand where this tragedy came from in order to prevent it from happening in their own country. Others need to understand so that they can help the Rwandan people end the violence.”
- Fr. Modeste Mungwarareba

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Rwanda: First Impressions

Rwanda has been — and will remain to be for some time — defined by the genocide. A day spent talking to ordinary Rwandese, the first lady, a judge from the supreme court and the ministry of justice showed us that the genocide and its aftermath informs the development agenda of the country.

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MoU signed with Justice Africa for the establishment of the AU Human Rights Memorial

The Commission of the African Union (AU) and the London-based Non-Governmental Organisation Justice Africa have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Wednesday, 21 December 2011, at the AU headquarters

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Remarks at the Inaugural of the AU Human Rights Memorial

The Memorial is also an acknowledgement at a continental level that African peoples anywhere cannot ever again be the victims of such abuses. And in the event of such gross violations, it is a collective responsibility to come to the rescue of those targeted and to make sure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

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Architectual image of the African Union headquarters, opening in January 2012.

A Windy Afternoon at the African Union

On the afternoon of January 28th, as the African heads of state met inside the new conference center and office complex, I stood with a handful of others in a windy corner of the compound, at the spot where human rights memorial will stand. Now, there is only a block of [...]

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Remember Alem Bekagn

The new headquarters of the African Union have been built on the site of Addis Ababa’s former central prison, officially called Akaki, but known in Ethiopia as Alem Bekagn, or ‘farewell to the world’, and the site of detentions and massacres, from the Italian occupation of 1936 to the Red Terror of 1977-78.

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African Union Human Rights Memorial: Reflection on the Importance of Respecting Human Dignity

The AUHRM places a burden of obligation on African leaders and the AU to be responsive to human rights violations in the continent. By ratifying the AU Constitutive Act African nation–states made a commitment to never shy away from gross human rights violations should they occur in member states. As the people of Africa commemorate and reflect on human rights violations through the AUHRM they also monitor and evaluate the commitment of the AU and African leaders in working towards the promotion of peace and respect for human rights on the continent.

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An Accidental Monument to African Ambivalence

Much blood was spilled on this land. In 1937, soon after Alem Bekagn, was built, thousands of Ethiopians were rounded up there and executed for trying to assassinate the Italian governor. When Haile Selassie was restored to power, in 1941, he too found the prison useful to warehouse political prisoners. Ethiopia had regained its independence, but its people won few freedoms.

Yet Selassie, the fearsome autocrat at home, was also an inspiration to African independence leaders. In 1963, Ethiopia became host to the Organization of African Unity, newly set up to promote pan-African solidarity. The O.A.U. was given a momentary residence in a police academy set on the sloping compound directly across from Alem Bekagn. Then the temporary became permanent, and an intimate relationship between the organization and the prison was accidentally created.

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