African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
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The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Court) is a continental court established by African countries to ensure protection of human and peoples’ rights in Africa. It complements and reinforces the functions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The Court was established by virtue of Article 1 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Protocol), which was adopted by Member States of the then Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in June 1998. The Protocol came into force on 25 January 2004 after it was ratified by more than 15 countries.
The Court has jurisdiction over all cases and disputes submitted to it concerning the interpretation and application of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Charter), the Protocol and any other relevant human rights instrument ratified by the States concerned. Specifically, the Court has two types of jurisdiction: contentious and advisory.
The Court is composed of eleven Judges, nationals of member states of the African Union. The first Judges of the Court were elected in January 2006, in Khartoum, Sudan. They were sworn in before the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union on 2 July 2006, in Banjul, the Gambia. The Judges of the Court are elected, after nomination by their respective states, in their individual capacities from among African jurists of proven integrity and of recognized practical, judicial or academic competence and experience in the field of human rights. The judges are elected for a six-year or four-year term renewable once. The judges of the Court elect a President and Vice-President of the Court among themselves who serve a two-year term. They can be re-elected only once. The President of the Court resides and works on a full-time basis at the seat of the Court, while the other ten judges work on a part-time basis. In the accomplishment of his duties, the President is assisted by a Registrar who performs registry, managerial and administrative functions of the Court.
The Court officially started its operations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in November 2006. In August 2007, it moved its seat to Arusha, the United Republic of Tanzania, where the government has provided it with temporary premises pending the construction of a permanent structure. Between 2006 and 2008, the Court dealt principally with operational and administrative issues, including the development of the structure of the Court’s registry, preparation of its budget and drafting of its Interim Rules of Procedure. In 2008, during the Court’s Ninth Ordinary Session, judges of the Court provisionally adopted the Interim Rules of the Court pending consultation with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, based in Banjul, Gambia in order to harmonize their rules to achieve the purpose of the provisions of the Protocol establishing the Court, which requires that the two institutions must harmonize their respective Rules so as to achieve the intended complementarity between the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. This harmonization process was completed in April 2010 and in June 2010, the Court adopted its final Rules of Court.
According to the Protocol (Article 5) and the Rules (Rule 33), the Court may receive complaints and/or applications submitted to it either by the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights or State parties to the Protocol or African Intergovernmental Organizations. Non-Governmental Organizations with observer status before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and individuals from States which have made a Declaration accepting the jurisdiction of the Court can also institute cases directly before the Court. As of January 2019, only nine countries have made such a declaration. Those countries are Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Tanzania, Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, Tunisia and the Gambia.
The Court delivered its first judgment in 2009 following an application dated 11 August 2008 by Michelot Yogogombaye against the Republic of Senegal. As at January, 2016, the Court received 74 applications and finalized 25 cases. Currently the Court has five pending cases on its table to examine including requests for advisory opinion.
As of January 2019, nine state parties to the protocol have made a declaration recognizing the competence of the Court to receive cases from non-government organizations (NGOs) and individuals. The nine states are Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, the Gambia and Tunisia. Altogether, 30 states have ratified the protocol: Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Lesotho, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Mauritania, Mauritius, Nigeria, Niger, Rwanda, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, South Africa, Senegal, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, and Uganda.
The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights was established to complement and reinforce the functions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission – often referred to as the Banjul Commission), which is a quasi-judicial body charged with monitoring the implementation of the Charter.
The mission of the Court is to enhance the protective mandate of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights by strengthening the human rights protection system in Africa and ensuring respect for and compliance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, as well as other international human rights instruments, through judicial decisions.
The vision of the Court is an Africa with a viable human rights culture.
- Judicial independence from any partisanship, bias, influence, whether it comes from States, NGOs, funding agencies, or individuals.
- Fair and impartial application and interpretation of the provisions of the African Charter, the Protocol, the Rules, and other relevant international human rights instruments.
- Transparent and ethical accountability in the operations of the Court.
- Fundamental rights of every individual to enjoy basic civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights are upheld.
- Collaboration with relevant stakeholders in pursuance of the Court’s objective of protecting human and peoples’ rights.
- Non-discrimination and equality in performance of the work of the Court.
- Integrity of the Judges and staff working at the Court.
- Provide equal access to all potential users of the Court.
- Be responsive to the needs of those who approach the Court.
- Exercise jurisdiction in all cases and disputes brought before it concerning the interpretation and application of the Charter, the protocol and any other relevant instrument relating to human rights ratified by the States concerned;
- Collaborate with sub-regional and national judicial bodies to enhance the protection of human rights on the continent;
- To enhance the participation of the African people in the work of the Court;
- To enhance the capacity of the Registry of the Court to be able to fulfill its mandate; and
- To enhance working relationship between the Court and the African Commission.
Election of judges
On January 22, 2006, the Eighth Ordinary Session of the Executive Council of the African Union elected the first eleven Judges of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Judges are normally elected for six-year terms and can be re-elected once. The President and Vice-President are elected to two-year terms and can be re-elected once.
The Court had its First Ordinary Session from July 2–5, 2006 in Banjul, the Gambia.
The Court is located in Arusha, Tanzania, at the Phase II of the Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Conservation Centre Complex along Dodoma Road.
The Court has jurisdiction to determine applications against state parties of the Court Protocol. To date, 30 states have ratified the protocol: Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Gabon, the Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Niger, Uganda, Rwanda, Arab Saharawi Republic, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo and Tunisia.
An application against these states may be made by the African Commission or African inter-governmental organisations.
Where a state has made a declaration accepting the right of individual application, an individual or NGO with observer status before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights may make an application. Nine states have made the declaration: Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Tanzania, Tunisia and The Gambia.
On December 15, 2009, the Court delivered its first judgment, finding an application against Senegal inadmissible.
The Court’s first judgement on the merits of a case was issued on June 14, 2013, in a case involving Tanzania. It found Tanzania had violated its citizens’ rights to freely participate in government directly or through representatives regardless of their party affiliation, and ordered Tanzania to take constitutional, legislative, and all other measures necessary to remedy these violations.
On March 28, 2014, the Court ruled against Burkina Faso, in a case brought by the family of Norbert Zongo, a newspaper editor who was murdered in 1998. The court found that Burkina Faso had failed to properly investigate the murder, and had failed in its obligations to protect journalists.
Composition of the Court
|Justice Ben Kioko||Kenya||Vice President||2012||2018|
|Justice El Hadji Guissé||Senegal||Judge||2012||2018|
|Justice Solomy Balungi Bossa||Uganda||Judge||2014||2020|
|Justice Ntyam Mengue||Cameroon||Judge||2016||2022|
|Justice Marie Thérèse Mukamulisa||Rwanda||Judge||2016||2022|
|Justice Tujilane Chizumila||Malawi||Judge||2017||2023|
|Justice Bensaoula Chafika||Algeria||Judge||2017||2023|
|George W. Kanyeihamba||Uganda||Judge||2006||2008|
|Jean Emile Somda||Burkina Faso||Judge||2006||2008|
|Kellelo Justina Mafoso-Guni||Lesotho||Judge||2006||2010|
|Sophia A.B. Akuffo||Ghana||President||2012||2014|
|Justice Gérard Niyungeko||Burundi||President||2006||2012|
|Bernard Ngoepe||South Africa||Judge||2006||2014|
|Justice Fatsah Ouguergouz||Algeria||Judge||2006||2016|
|Justice Elsie Nwanwuri Thompson||Nigeria||Vice-President||2010||2016|
Planned merger with the African Court of Justice
On July 1, 2008, at the African Union Summit in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, Heads of State and Government signed a protocol on the merger of the AfCHPR with the still non-existent African Court of Justice following a decision by member states at a June 2004 African Union Summit. As of 3 February 2014, only five countries have ratified the protocol out of 15 needed for its entry into force. The new court would be known as the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.
- European Court of Human Rights – regional court originally established in 1950
- Inter-American Court of Human Rights – regional court established in 1979
- Linguistic rights
- List of Linguistic Rights in Constitutions
- Kate Stone, African Court of Human and People’s Rights (Advocates for International Development, February 2012). Legal Guide (2012)
- The Gambia becomes the ninth country to allow NGOs and individuals to access the African Court directly
- Cameroon ratifies the Protocol
- Judgment in the matter of Michelot Yogogombaye versus the Republic of Senegal, 15 December 2009. Archived December 15, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
- “36. App. No. 032/2015 – Kijiji Isiaga v. United Republic of Tanzania”. www.african-court.org.
- “Tanzania’s Constitution Violates the Rights of Political Candidates”. jurist.org.
- “Application No 013/2011”. Archived from the original on 2014-04-07.
- “The Killing of Norbert Zongo: African Court Stresses State Obligation to Protect Journalists”. Open Society Foundations.
- Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights Archived June 5, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, 1 July 2008.
- Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights, Status list Archived 2017-12-02 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 2019-03-07.
- Official website of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights
- Biographies of AfCHPR Judges
- African International Courts and Tribunals website
- Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
- African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights: Ten years on and still no justice (2008), London, Minority Rights Group
- Coalition for an Effective African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
- The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, American Society of International Law, ASIL Insight, September 19, 2006, Volume 10, Issue 24
- “The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights: An Introduction”, a lecture by Mr. Frans Viljoen, Professor of International Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria, in the Lecture Series of the United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law