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Human Rights Law:
Prospects & Challenges
Week 4, Lecture 6:
The African Charter

human rights system

Lecture Overview
Review the provisions of the African

Charter on Human & Peoples Rights.

Summarize the activities and

challenges of the African Commission

of Human & Peoples Rights.
Explain the jurisdiction and access
rules of the African Court of Human
and Peoples Rights (ACtHPR).

African Charter of Human

and Peoples Rights
Adopted 1981; entered into force 1986
54 African nations are members
African Charters substantive provisions:
Civil and political rights
Economic and social rights
Collective and development rights
Limitations on rights
Individual duties


African Commission on
Human & Peoples Rights
Began operations in 1986.
Reviews reports from States parties on

compliance with the African Charter.

Investigates violations of specific HRs

issues and in specific countries.

Reviews communications from

individuals and NGOs and issues

nonbinding recommendations to States.

African Commission:
Criticisms & challenges
Insufficient visibility of Commissions

activities and decisions.

Delays in reviewing complaints from

individuals and NGOs.

Limited follow-up with States parties

on human rights problems.

Decisions are non-binding.

Sporadic compliance by States Parties.

ACtHPR Background
Until the 1990s, African governments

were wary of creating a permanent

regional human rights court that could
issue legally binding judgments.
Their wariness began to diminish with
the end of the Cold War, the growing
number of democracies in Africa, the
increasing visibility of human rights
NGOs, and external financial backing
for access to justice projects.


ACtHPR Timeline
1998 Adoption of a Protocol to the African Charter

to establish an ACtHPR.

2004 The Protocol enters into force.

2006 First 11 ACtHPR judges are sworn in.
2008 Courts headquarters is established.
2009 First admissibility ruling dismissing a

complaint for lack of jurisdiction.

2013 First judgment on the merits.

ACtHPR judges at the Courts

headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania

ACtHPR Jurisdiction
and Access Rules
Question: Which African States

are have recognized the

jurisdiction of the ACtHPR to
review complaints alleging
violations of the African Charter?
Answer: Those that have ratified
the African Court Protocol.


States that have ratified the ACtHPR Protocol


48% of the 54
States Parties to the
African Charter

ACtHPR Jurisdiction
and access rules
Question: For States that have ratified

the Protocol, how are cases submitted

to the ACtHPR?
Answer: Cases are referred from the
African Commission on Human and
Peoples Rights, unless the respondent
State has filed an optional declaration
authorizing the Court to hear cases
filed directly by individuals and NGOs.

ACtHPR Direct access by private litigants

Article 5(3): The Court may entitle relevant NGOs ... and

individuals to institute cases directly before it, in

accordance with article 34(6) of this Protocol.
Article 34(6): At the time of the ratification of this
Protocol or any time thereafter, the State shall make a
declaration accepting the competence of the Court to
receive cases under article 5(3) of this Protocol. The Court
shall not receive any petition under article 5(3) involving a
State Party which has not made such a declaration.


ACtHPR Direct access by private litigants

Question: Which States have filed the optional declaration

giving private litigants direct access to the ACtHPR?


For additional information

ACtHPR Home page
African Commission on HRs Home page
Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria
African HRs Law Journal
Oxford Human Rights Hub: Sub-Saharan Africa
East and Horn of Africa HRs Defenders Project
Southern Africa Litigation Centre