African Human Rights System
The African System is the youngest of the three judicial or quasi-judicial regional human rights systems, and was created 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.
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 (AfCHPR) decides complaints against the African Union Member States concerning alleged violations of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which is also referred to as the Banjul Charter. The AfCHPR decided its first case in December of 2009 and has taken up over two dozen other cases since then.
Complaints against any State that has accepted the Court’s jurisdiction may be referred to the Court by: the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, States Parties (as respondent or petitioner in a case before the Commission, or on behalf of a individual citizen), and African intergovernmental organizations. As of July 2013, 26 States had accepted the Court’s jurisdiction. To see the most recent ratification information, visit the African Court’s Basic Documents webpage.
The Court also has jurisdiction to hear cases instituted by individuals and non-governmental organizations with observer status before the African Commission, provided that the relevant State has made the necessary declaration under Article 34 of the Protocol to allow these complaints, described in Article 5(3). To date, seven States have accepted the Court’s jurisdiction to receive complaints referred by individuals and NGOs; these are: Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, and Tanzania.
The eleven judges of the court are elected for renewable, six-year terms. The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, along with the AfCHPR’s Rules of Court, set out the Court’s functions and operating procedures.
Additionally, the States of the African Union have agreed to establish an African Court of Justice and Human Rights, intended to hear disputes arising under all African Union instruments, including the human rights agreements. However, the protocol must be ratified by 15 States before this new tribunal comes into being.
African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Seat: Banjul, The Gambia Instrument: ACHPR Operating Since: 1987
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) promotes and protects human rights in the 53 Member States of the African Union, which have all ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The Commission accepts complaints (“communications”) from individuals, groups of individuals, non-governmental organizations, and States concerning alleged violations of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The ACHPR 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 submitted by States parties, as well as reports from members of the Commission and its Special Mechanisms (rapporteurs, committees and working groups). The Commission also considers reports concerning country visits (“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
- OAU 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
- 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 Special Mechanisms to assist 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
Resources for Victims & Advocates
Decisions of the African human rights bodies can be accessed on the websites of the Commission and Court. However, the most effective tool for researching their caselaw is the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa’s Case Law Analyser.
The NGO Forum supports and coordinates civil society engagement with the African Commission, through twice yearly meetings ahead of the Commission’s sessions.
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 International Service for Human Rights’ publications, Road map for civil society engagement: State reporting procedure of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (2011) and A Human Rights Defenders’ Guide to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (2012).