In a landmark acknowledgement of the importance of the normative elaboration of the obligation of Member States with respect to the right of access to information in electoral processes, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission) adopted the Guidelines on Access to Information and Elections for Africa (the Guidelines) on 10 November 2017, during its 61st Ordinary Session, in Banjul, The Gambia. To celebrate this milestone, the Guidelines were officially launched during the recently concluded 62nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission, which took place from 25 April to 9 May 2018 in Nouakchott, Mauritania, in a session presided over by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa (Special Rapporteur), Commissioner Lawrence Mute.
The Guidelines illustrate in practical terms, the importance of the right of access to information as guaranteed by article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter) in the realisation of other rights enshrined in the African Charter. In this instance, the ‘enabling nature’ of the right of access to information is given expression in relation to the right to participate in government whether directly or through freely chosen representatives, as guaranteed by Article 13 of the African Charter.
The Guidelines thus complement other continental documents like the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, that also recognise the importance of access to information in the conduct of transparent, free, fair and credible elections. Reiterating key principles of the right of access to information as embodied in the Model Law on Access to Information for Africa, the Guidelines provide a non-exhaustive list of the categories of information that specific stakeholders in the electoral process must proactively disclose to the public.
The Guidelines were developed pursuant to Resolution 307 of the African Commission, which was adopted in August 2015. The Resolution authorised the then Special Rapporteur, Commissioner Pansy Tlakula, to develop guidelines on access to information and elections for Africa, as a means of guaranteeing the credibility of elections in Member States and the overall strengthening of democratic governance in Africa. The process, which was coordinated by the Centre for Human Rights, began in May 2016 with an expert meeting in Pretoria, at which a Working Group was formed and tasked with developing the text. The first draft of the text was subsequently presented to the African Commission during its 60th Ordinary Session in Niamey, Niger, in May 2017. Two sub-regional consultations were held in Maputo, Mozambique and in Nairobi, Kenya in March and June 2017 respectively, to elicit feedback from key stakeholders on the draft text. In addition, comments were received electronically by the Secretariat of the African Commission, in response to a public call for comments. All the comments received electronically and at each consultative meeting informed the finalisation of the draft text by the Working Group.
To maximise the potential of this important document in transforming electoral processes in Africa, its implementation by Member States through the adoption of appropriate legislative and administrative measures as well as training and dissemination of the Guidelines is imperative. This is necessary not only to cultivate a democratic culture of free, fair and credible elections in Africa, but also as a means of maintaining peace, security and stability on the continent. The Centre for Human Rights thus intends to develop and implement and advocacy and capacity building framework, as a means of contributing to the effective implementation of the Guidelines.