Support for the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Title: Supporting capacity building at the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Member states of the African Union
Lead executing agency: African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Overall term: 2007 to 2013
The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) has had its seat in Arusha, Tanzania, since September 2007. Its mandate is to monitor respect for human rights on the African continent in line with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other human rights instruments. Of the eleven judges, only the President is employed full time at the Court’s headquarters. All the other judges work there part-time and attend the Ordinary Sessions every three months. Up to now, 26 African states have recognised the jurisdiction of the Court, and five of these – Mali, Malawi, Tanzania, Burkina Faso and Ghana – have also recognised petitions submitted by individuals.
In 2008, the Court passed its provisional Rules of Court. In 2010, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights harmonised their rules of procedure. Since the beginning of 2011 more and more cases have been brought before the Court. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has also presented its first case. It is directed against Libya and concerns the violent suppression of peaceful protests. Owing to the severity of the human rights violations and the urgency of the matter, in March 2011 the Court issued an order for provisional measures against the Libyan Government. The Court is expected to issue decisions in this case and other pending cases.
Despite the increasing number of cases, the Court is still not being used sufficiently by the African population and by non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The main reasons for this are lack of knowledge about how to bring a case before the Court, and limited access to the Court for individuals and NGOs. The Member States have not issued an additional declaration regarding the admissibility of individual petitions.
Human rights have better court protection at the pan-African level.
The project initially promoted the administrative and organisational establishment of the Court so that it could operate efficiently. For example, electronic communication systems were set up for the judges and other staff, along with a website, a Court Library and training programmes for judges and the Court staff. These measures played a key role in enabling the Court to function.
The ongoing phase of the project focuses on support for the activities of the Court and extending the categories of those entitled to file a petition. Outreach activities help to publicise the work of the Court both among experts in the field and among the public. To this end, the project helps the Court to foster contacts with other courts, human rights institutions and relevant NGOs. Beyond this networking, special emphasis must be given to the Court’s relationship with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. These two bodies should have complementary mandates for protecting human rights in Africa.
If human rights are to be strengthened and harmonised in Africa in the long term, it is important that more African states recognise the Court’s expertise in general, and its mandate for accepting individual petitions in particular. The project’s activities support the achievement of these objectives.
Results achieved so far
The Court is operational. With support from outreach activities, the Court can fulfil its jurisdictional mandate. The number of cases being brought before the Court is rising. Oral proceedings have already been conducted, and the first judgements have been delivered.