What is the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights?
The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Court), which has its seat in Arusha, Tanzania, is one of the two bodies set up by the African Union to monitor human rights violations in the continent. It complements the work of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission).
The African Court was established by the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Protocol), which entered into force in 2006. The Court is composed of 11 judges elected by the African Union among candidates nominated by member States.
What does the African Court do?
The African Court has a contentious role and an advisory role.
The Court’s contentious role allows it to examine disputes on the interpretation and application of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter), the Protocol and any other relevant human rights instruments ratified by the State concerned. Applications can be submitted to the Court by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, by State Parties to the Protocol or by African Intergovernmental Organisations (e.g. the African Union and African Regional Economic Communities). To date, 27 States have ratified the Protocol (see this list of countries).
The Court can only examine direct complaints concerning individual cases of violations by a State Party if the State Party has made a declaration accepting the jurisdiction of the Court. To date, only seven countries have made such a declaration (see this list of countries), which explains why the Court has only been able to issue a handful of decisions on merits. Cases can be brought by individuals or NGOs with observer status before the Commission.
If the Court finds that there has been a violation of the African Charter, it will make “appropriate orders to remedy the violation, including the payment of fair compensation or reparation”.
Within six months of the judgment being issued, a party can apply for it to be reviewed, provided that fresh evidence is submitted. A request for review however does not stay the execution of the initial judgment.
Member States of the African Union, organs of the African Union and any African organisation recognised by the African Union can request an advisory opinion on legal matters relating to the African Charter or any other relevant human rights instruments ratified by the State concerned, so long as the matter is not already being examined by the African Commission. This includes the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC or Committee) - the African Court confirmed in a 2014 advisory opinion that the Committee can request advisory opinions from the African Court, although it cannot bring cases to the African Court.
What kinds of cases have been brought to the African Court?
The Court delivered its first judgment in 2009 and has since finalised decisions in 23 complaints, most of which were found non-admissible. None of them concerns children’s rights. In 2013, the Court issued its first decision on merits, in a case against Tanzania regarding the democratic process in presidential elections.
You can find past cases and decisions, advisory opinions and pending cases on the African Court website.
How can I submit a complaint to the Court?
Individuals or NGOs with observer status before the African Commission may bring their case to the African Court alleging violations of the African Charter, provided that the State concerned has ratified the Protocol and has recognised the Court’s competence to deal with direct applications from individuals.
All available domestic remedies must have been exhausted before bringing a case to the Court. It must be filed within a reasonable time from the date local remedies were exhausted or from the date set by the Court.
The complaint must include, amongst other things, details of the applicant’s identity, notwithstanding his/her request to remain anonymous. The complaint must be written in one of the official languages of the Court (Arabic, English, French or Portuguese).
Applicants are entitled to be represented or to be assisted by legal counsel and/or by any other person of the applicant’s choice. The Court may, in the interest of justice, provide free legal representation and/or legal assistance to the applicant.
It is also possible to access the Court indirectly, through the African Commission. Under Rule 118 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure, the African Commission can seize the African Court in the following instances:
- when a State does not comply with the Commission’s non-binding decision;
- when a State does not comply with interim measures ordered by the Commission; or
- when the Commission finds serious or massive violations of human rights.
The Court can order a State to take any ‘interim measures’ it deems necessary to protect the interests of parties while a case is being processed (Rules of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ rights, art. 51).
For instance, the Court did so in a case brought by the Commission during the Libyan conflict, where the Court ordered the defendant to take measures to “refrain from any action that would result in loss of life or violation of physical integrity of persons”.
The future of the African Court
Once the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights (Protocol on the African Court of Justice) comes into force, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights will be incorporated into the African Court of Justice and Human Rights (African Court of Justice).
Under Article 9 of the Protocol on the African Court of Justice, it will enter into force 30 days after the 15th ratification. As of February 2014, only five States had ratified the Protocol, namely Libya, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin and Congo.
The African Court of Justice will act as a regional criminal court and its jurisdiction will cover international crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Its Human Rights Section will have jurisdiction over human rights instruments including the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Individuals and NGOs accredited to the African Union or its organs will be able to submit complaints to the African Court of Justice provided that the State concerned has made a declaration recognising the Court’s competence to receive such complaints. Article 30 of the Protocol on the African Court of Justice explicitly allows the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child to submit cases to the future Court.
You can find further information on the similarities and differences between the African Court and the African Court of Justice in the International Federation for Human Rights’ Guide to the African Court.
- Rules of the Court
- CRIN’s legal assistance toolkit
- List of counsels accepted under the Legal Aid scheme of the Court
- Read the International Federation for Human Rights’ Guide to the African Court
- Read ‘African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights’, Advocates for International Development, 27 February 2012
Useful contacts and links:
African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Registry of the Court
P.O. Box 6274, Arusha, Tanzania
Fax : +255-732-97 95 03
Email: [email protected]
African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
Kairaba Avenue, P.O. Box 673, Banjul, The Gambia
Tel: (220) 4392 962 | Fax: (220) 4390 764
Email: [email protected]
African Union Headquarters
P.O. Box 3243, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Tel: (251) 11 551 77 00 | Fax: (251) 11 551 78 44