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Support to the African Human Rights System

Recent improvement of adjudication and litigation by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (2013 – 2015)

Background

  • The mandate of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission) is broadly classified as: (a) promotion and (b) protection. The protection mandate entails: (i) adjudication of Communications (complaints alleging violations of rights and freedoms against member States); and (ii) referral of cases before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Court) on behalf of individuals. Complaints are handled at three main stages: seizure, admissibility, and merits. The Commission first decides whether to be seized of a Communication. The admissibility stage determines whether the complaint should be considered on the merits. The merits stage decides whether the complaint is valid or not, i.e. whether the State violated the rights and freedoms as provided for in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Charter). To discharge its dual mandate (promotion/protection), the Commission, comprised of 11 Commissioners, holds two ordinary sessions annually, each lasting close to two weeks, and two extraordinary sessions each running for about 10 days. With Commissioners working part time, the effectiveness of the Commission in delivering on its dual mandate is profoundly dependent on the capacity of its Secretariat.
  • Owing to the Secretariat’s inadequate capacity in terms of numbers and technical expertise of staff, the Commission has not been able to discharge the two-fold mandate equally and effectively. As a result, a backlog of cases built up over the years. By 2013 some Communications had stalled at the admissibility stage for up to 8 years. For the same and other reasons, over the 5 years since 2010 when the Rules of Procedure of the Commission and the Court were harmonisedto provide for transfer of cases between the two institutions, the Commission has referred a paltry 3 cases to the Court, one of which was thrown out for lack of diligent prosecution. The other two were still under consideration by the Court as at September 2015. The characteristic delays in concluding Communications and the meagre number of referrals to the Court have negatively affected the confidence of stakeholders in the Commission’s protection mandate.
  • The project “Strengthening the capacity of the ACHPR” was introduced, as the name amply indicates, to enhance the capacity of the Commission in discharging its protection mandate. The project aimed at reducing the ever-growing backlog of Communications, increasing referral of cases to the Court, providing training, and contribute to the on-going internal efforts to improve the work-flow processes at the Commission’s Secretariat. The project’s methods included provision of three legal experts dedicated to processing of Communications and referral of cases, use of consultants to review and assist in improving the workflow processes at the Secretariat, and provision of training through dialogue with both Secretariat staff as well as Commissioners.
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