The AU convenes a consultative seminar on a human rights memorial at the au headquarters

By: Ahmed Alhaj (Site Admin)

Khartoum, (sudanow.info.sd) - A Consultative Seminar was held in Addis Ababa, from 4 to 5 November 2011, to discuss and agree on modalities for building a permanent Memorial for the victims of human rights violations, including genocide, within the AU Headquarters.

The African Union has pointed out in a statement it issued in Addis Ababa, received in Khartoum that the initiative builds upon an earlier undertaking to ensure that the victims of the genocide in Rwanda and the Red Terror in Ethiopia are recognized and commemorated at the AU Headquarters.

Julia Dolly Joiner Political Affairs Commissioner and Acting Chairperson of the Commission, addressed the meeting pointing out to AU's commitment to human rights, and noted the significance of establishing a Memorial on the site of the former Addis Ababa central prison, which is now the location of the new AU Conference Centre.

The statement said Ms. Joiner underlined that this initiative was “a matter of national and international import”, and indicated some of the many forms that memorials may take, including providing a location for events such as lectures and exhibitions.

She was quoted as underlining that establishing the planned Memorial would be “a reminder and recognition of a darker past, an affirmation of the resolve to respect the dignity of human kind, and a commitment to prevent future recurrence of such acts”.

The meeting drew upon the discussions and recommendations of the first Consultative Seminar, held in November 2010, at the initiative of the AU Commission. In addition to the AU,participants also included some Permanent Representatives to the AU, survivors’ groups,representatives of African museums and African civil society, experts and international partners.

The release said participants agreed upon the need for an event immediately prior to the inauguration of the new Conference Centre, which would acknowledge the nature of the Alem Bekagn site, and provide an opportunity for survivors to recount their testimonies, and leaders from across Africa to address the issue.

It quoted them as also pointing to a calendar of commemorative events, including the Memorial Day for the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda (7 April), the day of commemorating slavery, apartheid and others, which would be opportunities for public events at the site of the Memorial.

In this regard, the meeting agreed on the need to identify and safeguard particular locations within the compound of the Conference Centre, including the places which had been the site for executions, to serve as places of remembrance.

Participants discussed how best to organize competitions for the design of both permanent memorials and temporary exhibitions, and made specific recommendations for how these could be managed.

The importance of the AU Memorial for African memorials, survivors and civil society organizations was stressed, and participants proposed forming a network of African organizations that can contribute to the Memorial and related events, and can in turn gain from them.

One of the priorities of the Memorial is public education and, to that end, the meeting agreed that a dedicated website be established to provide a forum for contributions from across Africa and to publicize the Memorial and related activities.

It is to be noted, the statement said, between 1935 and 2005; it was occupied by the Addis Ababa central prison known as Alem Bekagn, “farewell to the world.” It referred to the 1936, when it was the main location of the “Graziani Massacre,” in which the Italian fascist Governor rounded up and killed the cream of the Ethiopian elite in retribution for an attempt on his life.

Under Emperor Haile Selassie, Alem Bekagn was the prison in which both common criminals and political prisoners were interned, and became a de facto college for educating the revolutionary generation. Many of the leaders of the Eritrean nationalist movement were imprisoned there. Immediately following the 1974 Revolution, the prison was the site for the execution and burial of sixty Ministers from the Imperial Government. It gained notoriety for the large?scale imprisonment, torture and execution of thousands of Ethiopians during the days of the Derg Regime, especially the Red Terror atrocities of 1977?78.

Members of the Ethiopian Royal Family, political leaders, students, and others spent years in Alem Bekagn. When the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) forces took control of Addis Ababa, in 1991, they threw open the gates of the prison. The land was handed over to the African Union for its use for expanding its headquarters in 2005

The release stressed that in the spirit of collaboration between the AU and African civil society, the meeting proposed that an Interim Board be established, including representatives of the victims and survivorsgroups, museums and memorials, and civil society, with authority over the Memorial and related events. In due course, this Board would be transformed into a permanent entity.

The recommendations of the Seminar will inform the next steps that will be taken by the Commission towards the establishment of the AU Memorial. The Chairperson of the commission will update the forthcoming AU Summit, in January 2012.



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