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Menu: What is the African Commission on Human and People's Rights? | Powers and functions of the Commission | Reporting procedure |

How to get involved: NGO participation | How does the complaints system work? | What about cases of child rights violations? | How does the Commission deal with particular issues of concern? | Provisional or interim measures | Useful links and contacts

What is the African Commission on Human and People's Rights?

The African Commission, which was created by Article 30 – 45 of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, monitors the implementation of the rights set out in the Charter. All 53 African States are Parties to the Charter.

The Commission is formed by 11 independent experts who are nationals of State Parties to the Charter who meet for two 15-day sessions each year which are held in April/ May and October/ November. The permanent Secretariat of the Commission is based in Banjul, the Gambia.

The African Union was created in 2002, replacing the Organisation of African Unity which was established in 1963 to promote cooperation among the newly independent African States, but which did not have a human rights focus.

What are the powers and functions of the Commission?

The Commission promotes human rights through awareness-raising programmes, sets human rights standards, and interprets articles of the Charter.

The Commission protects human rights through its complaints mechanism which empowers it to receive individual and inter-State complaints alleging human rights violations. The Commission also receives and considers periodic reports that States Parties are required to submit under Article 62 about how they are implementing the Charter.

Reporting procedure

States must submit reports about their progress in implementing the African Charter to the Commission every two years. The reports are considered by the Commission in public sessions, following which it issues recommendations to the reporting State which are called ‘Concluding Observations’. However, over half of the State parties to the Charter have not yet submitted any report. More information on the State Reporting Procedure.

NGO participation

NGOs can submit Alternative reports to give additional information about human rights in their country when their State reports to the Commission, however, this mechanism has been little used in practice as NGOs have been given very little time to review State reports.

NGOs often play a role in bringing cases to the Commission, proposing agenda items for Commission sessions, and providing logistical and other support to the special rapporteurs, working groups and missions, and developing resolutions and new protocols to the African Charter.

How does the complaints system work?

The Commission is authorised to consider both inter-State and individual communications about breaches of human rights. In fact, the Charter binds all States Parties to accept the Commission’s power to supervise and monitor all rights.

The Commission is a quasi-judicial body so its decisions do not carry the binding force of a court of law.

The Commission also has special investigative powers to monitor emergency situations; that is, cases which reveal a pattern of serious or massive violations. It can do this through appointing experts, requesting States to adopt interim measures to protect victims, receiving testimonies, etc.

The inter-State communications procedure has only been used once (Democratic Republic of Congo vs. Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda, 15th annual activity report 1001-2 227/99)

For the Commission to consider a complaint, it must meet certain ‘admissibility’ criteria. These include that the complainant has taken their case to the highest court in their own country without success, or the prospect of success, and, that the communication is not written in ‘disparaging or insulting language directed against the State concerned and its institutions’.

Guidelines on reporting human rights violations

What about cases of child rights violations?

Cases of child rights violations are generally reported to the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child which can receive complaints of breaches of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. The case below detailing breaches of a group of students' rights in Sudan has been ruled on by the Commission, but there is no information about the ages of the students.

Sudan: Communication 236/2000 - Curtis Francis Doebbler vs. Sudan

On 13 June 1999, a group of female students at the Nubia Association at Ahlia University held a picnic in Buri, Khartoum along the banks of the river. They were sentenced to 25 - 40 lashes for ‘public order’ offences, contrary to Article 152 of the Criminal Law of 1991, because they were not properly dressed or acted in a way considered immoral, for example girls danced and talked with boys.

A complaint was brought to the Commission stating that this punishment was carried out in violation of Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment.

The Commission ruled the communication admissible and requested the government of Sudan to:

- Immediately amend the Criminal Law of 1991, in conformity with its obligations under the African Charter and other relevant international human rights instruments

- Abolish the penalty of lashes; and

- Take appropriate measures to ensure compensation of victims

(Decision made at the 33rd Ordinary session in Niamey, Niger 15-29 May 2003)

Read the full judgement here

How does the Commission deal with particular issues of concern?

The African Commission has established a number of special mechanisms to monitor thematic issues of concern in the region, there is currently no special mechanism on child rights. The special mechanisms are formed of individual experts or working groups, which include a member of the Commission. The current special mechanisms are:

Special Rapporteurs: Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa, the Rights of Women in Africa, Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, Human Rights Defenders in Africa, Extra-Judicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions in Africa, Freedom of Expression in Africa.

Working groups: Specific Issues, Indigenous Populations, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Robben Island Guidelines, and the Death Penalty.

Provisional or interim measures

The Commission can request that a State adopt certain measures in cases where there is a risk of serious or immediate harm to a person or a group, for example a communication was sent to the Nigerian government requesting them not to execute Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Useful contacts and links

African Commission on Human and People's Rights
Kairaba Avenue, P.O. Box 673, Banjul, The Gambia
Tel (220) 4392 962; Fax (220) 4390 764

African Union Headquarters
P.O. Box 3243, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Tel: (251) 11 551 77 00 ; Fax: (251) 11 551 78 44

New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD)

NEPAD Secretariat
P.O. Box 1234, Halfway House, Midrand, 1685, Johannesburg, South Africa

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Last updated 24/11/2011 09:02:16

Please note that these reports are hosted by CRIN as a resource for Child Rights campaigners, researchers and other interested parties. Unless otherwise stated, they are not the work of CRIN and their inclusion in our database does not necessarily signify endorsement or agreement with their content by CRIN.

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