Photo: © African Union
Mr. Dawit Mesfin, Principal Director of Justice Africa and Mr. El Ghassim Wane, AU’s Director of Peace and Security
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, to expedite the process of establishing the AU Human Rights Memorial (AUHRM) for the victims of human rights abuses in Africa, particularly the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, the Alem Bekagn prison massacres (1937 & 1974) and the Red Terror (1977-78) horrors in Ethiopia, the apartheid policy in South Africa and the slave trade in Africa.
The signing of the MoU seals a process that had begun since 2010 during the Year of Peace and Security (YoPS) activities, when experts in human rights and memorials, including Justice Africa, gathered in Addis Ababa to discuss the issue. This process was followed by a second consultative meeting from 4 to 5 November 2011. As part of the Agreement, Justice Africa will, among others, assist the Commission in organizing expert group meetings, coordinate the production of publications, establish an online presence, assemble relevant archives, and work closely with the Commission in building the permanent Memorial Center. It should be recalled that, in his Report on the ‘Year of Peace and Security’ in Africa to the 14th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Union, held in Addis Ababa from 31 January to 2 February 2010, the Chairperson of the Commission indicated that, among other activities planned to celebrate the YoPS, the Commission would “initiate steps to build a permanent memorial to the victims of human rights violations, including genocide, within the AU Headquarters”. The Assembly of the Union expressed support for the envisaged activities.
It is important to note that the site of the construction of the AU Conference and Office Complex, which shall be commissioned on 28 January 2012, has its own significance. It is the location of the former central prison, known as “Alem Bekagn”, which was the venue of the 1937 Graziani Massacres, the execution of sixty ministers in the Government of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974 and the imprisonment, torture and execution of thousands of Ethiopians during the days of the Derg Regime, especially the Red Terror atrocities of 1977-78. The site is, therefore, of historic significance for Ethiopia and Africa. Establishing the AU Memorial is a reminder and recognition of a dark past, an affirmation of the resolve to respect the dignity of humankind, and a commitment to prevent future recurrence of such acts. As the AU pursues and intensifies its efforts towards the promotion of peace on the continent, the Memorial will emphasize the intimate linkage with human rights, and build upon progress made in this regard.