The African System is the youngest among the three judicial or quasi-judicial regional human rights systems, and is operated under the auspices of the African Union. Like the Inter-American System (and the European System, as originally designed), it is composed of two entities: a commission and a court.
Decisions of the African human rights bodies can be accessed through the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa’s Case Law Analyser. Information on engagement with the African Commission and Court can be found in the Commission’s Guide to the African Human Rights System and Guidelines for the Submission of Communications, as well as in the ISHR publications: Road map for civil society engagement: State reporting procedure of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and A Human Rights Defenders’ Guide to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Seat: Arusha, Tanzania Instrument: Protocol to ACHPR
Operating Since: 2006
The African Court on Human and Peoples Rights’ development has been complicated and lengthy, involving its proposed integration with the African Court of Justice (to form the African Court of Justice and Human Rights). The AfCHPR decided its first case in December of 2009, and has taken up over a dozen other cases since then. The Court was established by the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which has been ratified by 26 of the 53 African Union Member States and give the Court the power to emit advisory opinions and resolve contentious cases referred to it.
Notably, cases may be referred to the Court by: the Commission, States Parties (as respondent, petitioner, or on in the interests of a citizen), African intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, and individuals. The Court has jurisdiction to hear cases instituted by individuals and NGOs with observer status before the African Commission, provided that the relevant State has made the requisite declaration under Article 34 of the Protocol to allow these complaints, described in Article 5(3). To date, five States have accepted the Court’s jurisdiction to receive decide complaints referred by individuals and NGOs; these are: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, and Tanzania.
The eleven judges of the court are elected for renewable, six-year terms. The AfCHPR’s Rules of Court set out its operating procedures, while the protocol on the statute of the future African Court of Justice and Human Rights lay out that body’s proposed operations.
African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Seat: Banjul, Gambia Instrument: ACHPR Operating Since: 1987
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights began operating in 1987, and has a broad promotion and protection mandate, in addition to its review of individual cases. Its decisions are available in its annual Activity Reports and also listed here. All 53 Member States of the African Union have ratified the ACHPR. The Commission’s Rules of Procedure establish its composition and procedures. The Commission accepts communications (complaints) from individuals, groups of individuals, NGOs, and States Parties.
The ACPHR holds two ordinary sessions a year and may also hold extraordinary sessions upon the request of the Chairperson of the Commission or a majority of Commissioners. During the biannual ordinary sessions, the ACHPR considers Periodic Reports of States Parties as well as reports from members of the Commission and Special Mechanisms. The latter includes reports from Special Rapporteurs and committee chairpersons such as the Special Rapporteur for the Rights of Women in Africa and the Chairperson of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture in Africa. The Commission also considers reports from Special Missions, which are typically dispatched to countries experiencing political or social unrest.
The African Instruments
The Commission and Court are charged with interpreting and applying a number of regional human rights instruments, which include:
- African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (“Banjul Charter”)
- African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
- Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women
- AUO Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa
- Convention for the Elimination of Mercenarism in Africa
- African Union Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources
- Bamako Convention on the Ban of the Import of Hazardous Wastes into Africa
- African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption
- OAU Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism
- African Union Non-Aggression and Common Defence Pact
- African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance
and interpret the principles contained in the following non-treaty documents:
- Guidelines for African Union Electoral Observations and Monitoring Missions
- Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa
- Pretoria Declaration on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Africa
- Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa
- Kigali Declaration, 2003
- Resolution on Guidelines and Measures for the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Africa (Robben Island Guidelines), 2008
- Ouagadougou Declaration and Plan of Action on Accelerating Prisons and Penal Reforms in Africa
- Grand Bay (Mauritius) Declaration and Plan of Action, 1999
African Rapporteurs and Working Groups
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has established the following rapporteurships and working groups as part of its role in the promotion and oversight of human rights conditions in the 53 Member States of the African Union:
- Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa
- Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa
- Special Raporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa
- Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa
- Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons in Africa
- Special Rapporteur on Summary, Arbitrary and Extra Judicial Execution
- Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa
- Working Group on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Africa
- Working Group on Death Penalty in Africa
- Committee for the Prevention of Torture in Africa
- Working Group on the Rights of Older Persons and People with Disabilities in Africa
- Committee on the Protection of the Rights of People Living with HIV and those at Risk, Vulnerable to and Affected by HIV
- Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations in Africa
- Working Group on Fair Trial
- Study Group on Freedom of Association