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 Charter and the Commission’s Rules of Procedure establish its composition and procedures.

The African Instruments

The Commission and Court are charged with interpreting and applying a number of regional human rights instruments, which include:

They also interpret the principles contained in the following non-treaty documents:

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:

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 Commission’s website also includes States’ periodic reports and its concluding observation on those reports, as well as the Commission’s reports on country visits and other activities.

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).