, ARUSHA, Tanzania, June 2 – The third meeting of the East African Community (EAC) National Human Rights Commissions got underway in Arusha to review the draft EAC Bill of Rights. The meeting is attended by Chairpersons, Commissioners and legal officials from the Human Rights Commissions from all the five Partner States.
The fundamental principles of the Community contained in Article 6 of the EAC Treaty include good governance which embraces the principles of democracy, the rule of law, transparency, social justice, gender equality as well as the recognition, protection and promotion of human rights.
The EAC draft Bill attempts to harmonise the rights and freedoms obtaining in the Partner States. It examines the various national constitutions and other international and regional instruments with a view to standardize and adopt international best practices.
The draft Bill was initiated by the National Human Rights Commissions and facilitated by Kituo cha Katiba (Centre for Constitutional Development), a regional organisation that has observer status with the EAC.
The draft Bill, which contains 45 Articles, includes among others, fundamental rights, right to fair hearing, protection of freedom of conscience, expression, religion and assembly, right to information, protection of freedom of movement, right to contest elections as an independent candidate, protection of minorities, rights of children, rights to property, rights of women, rights of persons with disabilities and protection of elderly.
Opening the meeting, the EAC Deputy Secretary General (Political Federation), Beatrice Kiraso, said that the importance of developing common standards on protecting and upholding human rights in East Africa cannot be over emphasised, especially in view of the stage at which the EAC integration has reached. With freedom of movement and rights of residence and establishment, East Africans should be accorded equal treatment across the five Partner States.
The EAC, she said, has taken a bold decision to put in place a Protocol on Good Governance which will prescribe standards that are in line with international requirements.
"We cannot afford to continue applying different benchmarks to issues of governance if we hope to move this integration to a Political Federation. We also need to be brave enough and bring to the fore what disrespect for Human Rights has caused us in the past so that collectively we correct the past mistakes and put in place mechanisms to deal with Human Rights protection in future,’’ she told the delegates.
She added: "The draft Bill of Rights will be forwarded to the EAC Council of Ministers after involvement of various stakeholders. It should operationalise that pillar of the EAC Good Governance framework of Human Rights and Equal Opportunities.’’
She applauded the National Human Rights Commissions for this initiative, adding that the Anti-Corruption Agencies have also been pro-active and have already developed a draft mechanism to operationalise the pillar on anti-corruption, ethics and integrity.