52nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission to be Held October 9-22

The 52nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights will take place October 9-22 in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire.  The session will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the formation of the African Commission, which is tasked with promoting and protecting human rights throughout the African Continent as well as interpreting the African (Banjul) Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.   According to the draft agenda published by the African Commission, the session will focus on its relationship with partners, including other African Union (AU) bodies, Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs), National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), and the United Nations (UN).  Commissioners will also consider a Draft Protocol on the Rights of Older Persons and a Draft Law on Access to Information as well as the Periodic Report of Côte d’Ivoire, among other agenda items.

Cooperation with Partners

A main feature of the 52nd Ordinary Session will be a discussion of the African Commission’s relationship with its partners.  According to the draft agenda, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay will deliver opening remarks at the session.  The presence of Commissioner Pillay will mark the latest example of the increased collaboration between the UN and regional human rights mechanisms, including the African Commission.   In 2006 General Assembly resolution 60/251, the UN General Assembly charged the Human Rights Council with working in “close cooperation” with regional human rights organizations.  The UN Human Rights Council has shown its commitment to fulfilling this task through several resolutions, most recently Resolution 18/14 in 2011 which called for a workshop on regional human rights mechanisms to be held in 2012 and through a joint statement on reprisals against human rights defenders co-signed by the Commissioners of the African Commission and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.  This week, Commissioner Pillay emphasized the important role regional bodies play in protecting and promoting human rights while commenting on Venezuela’s decision to denounce the American Charter on Human Rights.

NGO Engagement

NHRIs and NGOs are invited to participate in sessions.  Although attendance at the session is not limited to NGOs who hold observer status with the African Commission, only NGOs who have been granted observer status may take the floor during the sessions.  The African Commission considers applications for observer status at each session and during the 51st Ordinary Session, fifty-one NGOs with observer status participated in the session.

The African Commission also has a close working relationship with the NGO Forum, which is organized through the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies and held immediately prior to the sessions.  The main objectives of the NGO Forum are to:

  • Foster collaboration and cooperation among NGOs, and with the African Commission for promotion and protection of human rights in Africa;
  • To provide a discussion platform for organizations working on democracy and human issues in the continent;
  • To promote inter-regional/organizational networking for the implementation of decisions of the Forum as contained in the African Commission Communiqué amongst others.

Commissioners generally participate in the NGO Forum and at the end of the NGO Forum participants adopt resolutions to be presented to the African Commission for consideration during its session.  At the NGO Forum held prior to the 51st Ordinary Session, five Commissioners participated in the Forum with a number of Commissioners “steer[ing] the discussion in Special Interest Working Groups relevant to their mandate.”  Summary Report of NGO Forum for the 51st Ordinary Session.  During the 51st Ordinary Session,  Adama Cooper representing the NGOs who had participated in the NGO Forum read a statement expressing concern over human rights violations committed in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, and the Horn of Africa as well as the recent coups d’états in the Republic of Mali and the Republic of Guinea Bissau.  She concluded by stressing the NGOs’ willingness to collaborate with the African Commission to help further human rights throughout the continent.

The influence of the NGO Forum can be seen in the resolutions adopted by the NGO Forum and the African Commission during the 51st Ordinary Session.  For example, at the conclusion of the NGO Forum, participants had passed a NGO Forum resolution that included calling on the African Commission to:

At the conclusion of the 51st Ordinary Session, the African Commission adopted Resolution 222 on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information that adopted nearly all of the above recommendations.

The NGO Forum preceding the 52nd Ordinary Session will be held from October 6 to 8 in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire.

Further information on the African Commission and other aspects of the human rights system in African, such as the African Court can be found here.