The Centre for Human Rights,Faculty of Law,  University of Pretoria welcomes and applauds the recent adoption of the Resolution on mass surveillance and unlawful targeted surveillance by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission).  Resolution 573 was adopted during the 77th Ordinary Session of the African Commission held from 20 October to 9 November 2023 in Arusha, Tanzania. The landmark Resolution on the deployment of mass and unlawful targeted communication surveillance and its impact on human rights in Africa, is a significant step by the African Commission in recognising the importance of human rights protection in an increasingly interconnected world, particularly the need to safeguard privacy rights in the face of evolving technological advancements. 

The Resolution is anchored on the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa (the Declaration) and other human rights standards which recognise the right to privacy, including the confidentiality of communications and the protection of personal information. Mass surveillance and unlawful targeted surveillance pose serious threats to individual freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law. In the Resolution, the African Commission reiterates the obligations of States as duty bearers, to safeguard the right to privacy through, for instance, by promoting and encouraging the use of privacy-enhancing technologies and aligning approaches on the regulation of communication surveillance with relevant international human rights law and standards. The Resolution is also a call to States to only engage in targeted communication surveillance that is authorised by law as defined in  accordance with international human rights law and standards. States are also required to ensure that victims of violations arising from arbitrary surveillance measures have access to effective remedies. 

As this crucial milestone is being celebrated, the Centre for Human Rights acknowledges that states can have a legitimate interest in undertaking specific or targeted surveillance in response to issues of public concern, including addressing serious and organised crime and national security threats. It is therefore crucial for States to balance between legitimate security concerns and the protection of privacy rights. States are called upon to implement legal and other measures to give effect to the obligations outlined in the Resolution, in good faith, in order to foster democratic approaches to surveillance policies. The Centre also calls on States to reinforce commitment to promotion and protection of human rights whilst embracing technological advancements. We urge states to ensure that any restrictions on the rights of privacy and other fundamental freedoms are necessary and proportionate and in harmony with international human rights law and norms. 

The Centre for Human Rights remains committed to working with stakeholders to advance the promotion and protection of privacy rights and promoting responsible and transparent surveillance practices.

For more information, please contact:

Hlengiwe Dube
Expression, Information and Digital Rights Unit

Tel: +27 (0) 12 420 4199
Fax: +27 (0) 86 580 5743


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