The African human rights system is one of the three regional systems for human rights protection running parallel to the United Nations system, established in line with the Articles 52, 53, 54 and 56 of the UN Charter which encourages the creation of regional frameworks for dealing with matters related to the maintenance of international peace and security. Following the adoption of the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the protection of human rights has become an issue of human rights concern leading to the adoption of a range of human rights bodies and instruments to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. This is largely premised on the idea that enforceability of the decisions amongst regional organizations within the same geographical, historical and even cultural zones would often be more positive than within the universal system.
The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted in 1981, forms the basis for the African regional human rights system. The Charter recognises the indivisibility and interrelatedness of human rights by combining civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights in one document unlike other regional human rights documents. It also recognises collective rights such as the right to development, self-determination, and environment, as well as the concept of ‘duties’ as being a correlative of ‘rights’ of the individual.
The Charter further establishes the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), a quasi-judicial body of eleven experts charged with ensuring the promotion and protection of Human and Peoples’ Rights throughout the African Continent and interpreting the Charter. To complement the mandates of the Commission, the Protocol to the African Charter on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, adopted in 1998, created the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, authorised to make binding decisions.
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, adopted in 1990, sets out rights and defines universal principles and norms for the status of children, covering the whole spectrum of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. This Charter also establishes the African Committee of Experts on the Rights of the Child to promote and monitor its implementation.
Other key treaties on human rights in the continent include the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, adopted in 2003, whose implementation is also monitored by the ACHPR; the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Older Persons in Africa, adopted in 2018; the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, adopted in 2011; the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, adopted in 2003; and the AU Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa 1969.
The ACHPR, ACtHPR and ACERWC therefore consist of the main human rights mechanisms in the Africa continent. At the sub-regional level, some of the regional economic communities also have judicial bodies, whose mandates extend to the determination of human rights disputes relating to the regional treaties. These include the East African Court of Justice established by the East African Community, and the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice established by the Economic Community of West African States. Further to these regional and sub-regional systems, there exists a domestic level of human rights protection mechanism, mainly the National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) which are independent national bodies created by states and governed by international principles.
In this multi-layered international community of human rights institutions, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which is the basis for the African regional human rights system, envisages cooperation between the different institutions in the system to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights in the continent.
Members of the SOAWR Steering Committee who were elected into office by the SOAWR Coalition members in January 2020.
RWI’s Regional Africa Programme is therefore focused on supporting the following areas:
- Enhancing cooperation and usage of existing mechanisms to further access to justice and implementation of human rights commitments in Africa
- Increasing the extent to which duty bearers consider gender equality a core aspect in access to justice and human rights advancement
- Improving human rights performance of targeted bodies in the African human rights system
Members of the SOAWR Coalition from 27 countries at the conclusion of a three day AGM held in Nairobi in January 2020
Notable milestones in the programme include:
- Support to regular and structured human rights interactions and meetings between targeted organisations and institutions: Annual Exchange Forums organised by NANHRI, at the margins of the ordinary sessions of ACHPR, with the aim of promoting NHRIs interaction with regional institutions to increase their abilities to follow-up, monitor and influence the implementation of regional human rights commitments. As a result of the exchange of information and experiences between state representatives, NHRIs and CSOs, on the progress and challenges in the implementation of selected decisions of the African Commission, various actions to be taken by various actors to improve effective implementation of decisions of ACHPR, such as the convening of national consultations and the contribution to the national processes for implementation.
- Support to the strengthening of women rights’ movements in African: Activities held by the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) have led to the development of their strategic plan for the period 2020-2024. SOAWR is a coalition of 33 civil society organisations across Africa working to ensure that the Protocol to the African Union (AU) Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa remains on the agenda of policy makers and to urge African leaders to safeguard women’s rights through ratification and implementation of the Protocol.
- Support to the development and application of common standards for policing: A set of indicators and measures for the Common Standards of Policing in East Africa (Common Standards) developed by the East African Police Commissioners Cooperation Organization (EAPCCO) with technical support of APCOF, have been used to advocate for increased human rights implementation through improving the human rights performance of AU and REC bodies in this instance, the East African Community (EAC) and its policing partner EAPCCO. The indicators and measures on common standards for policing have been adapted to the East Africa context.
- Support to the creation of public awareness on the policies and legislations of the EACJ: A comprehensive review of existing policies and legislations undertaken by EALS through a baseline study on status of implementation of decisions of the East African Court of Justice and level of awareness of the Court has been used to create public awareness and enhance utilization of the East African Court of Justice by residents of the EAC. The policies and legislations reviewed include: the East African community treaty 1999; The East African Law society digest, judgements and rulings; The East African Legislative Assembly rules and procedures of the East African Court of Justice.
- Support to enhance implementation of the African Court’s decisions by member states: a baseline study conducted by ACC on the level of implementation of decisions rendered by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights by state parties, has provided information for human rights stakeholders including Judges and officials of the African Court, representatives from state departments, litigants before the African Court, representatives from Human Rights Institutions, and representatives from academic institutions. The baseline provided information on challenges and experiences on implementation and monitoring of the Court’s decisions, to enable development of strategies that will help enhance implementation of the African Court’s decisions by member states.
- Support to the implementation of Agenda 2063 and 10-Year Action Plan for the implementation of the Human and Peoples’ Rights Decade: Interventions aimed at furthering implementation of Agenda 2063 and 10-YAP, organised by PALU at the NGO Forum and 65th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, have reinforced a deeper understanding of and commitment to the culture of human and peoples’ rights, highlighting the importance of citizen-centred, starting at community level; national level; then regional levels. The interventions increased the visibility of the 10-YAP and its relevance to upholding human rights and Agenda 2063, the importance of enhanced complementarity between and among AU organs and institutions, CSOs, duty bearers and citizens themselves, and the need to strengthen the African human rights system at all levels from grassroots level to the highest.