African Human Rights Day – Thursday 21 October

By: Chris Muthuri,

African Human Rights Day is celebrated annually on 21 October to commemorate the day that the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights came into effect on 21 October 1986.

This year’s theme is

Africa Human Rights 40 years after the adoption of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (African Charter) was adopted in 1981 (40 years ago) and it is the normative foundation upon which the African Human Rights System rests. It operates within the African Union (AU), Africa’s continental union, and has been ratified by almost all AU member states.

The Constitutive Act of the AU, in Article 3(h) provides a clear mandate on the promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights in Africa. Along with the African Charter, this mandate is reinforced by other continental human rights instruments, such as the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (African Children’s Charter); the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol); and the AU Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention).

These human rights treaties are complemented by several soft law instruments that have been generated, over time, by the core human rights mechanisms and the relevant policy organs.

There are three principal mechanisms or treaty bodies that are charged with assessing compliance with human rights standards and monitoring the extent of their implementation, these are:

  • the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR or African Commission), established under the African Charter;
  • the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC or African Child Rights Committee), established under the African Children’s Charter;
  • and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACtHPR or African Court), established under the Protocol to the African Charter on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Court Protocol).

The African Commission is a quasi-judicial body tasked with promoting and protecting human and peoples’ rights throughout the African continent as well as interpreting the African Charter and considering individual complaints of violations of the Charter. It has established several special mechanisms in the form of special rapporteurs, working groups and committees with mandates to focus on specific human rights issues, such as freedom of expression, women’s rights, and indigenous populations among others.

During its fifth (5th) Ordinary Session held in Benghazi, Libya in 1989, the African Commission adopted Resolution ACHPR/Res.1(V)89 on the celebration of an African Day of Human and Peoples’ Rights. It is for this reason that Member States of the African Union commemorate 21 October of each year as the African Human Rights Day.

The overall goal of the commemoration of Africa Human Rights Day is to, among other things, reflect on and recommit to the solemn declaration by the peoples and leaders of Africa on promotion and protection of human and people’s rights on the Continent.

To learn more about RWI’s work within the African Human Rights System, click here.

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