The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) will open its 56th Ordinary Session on April 21, 2015 in Banjul, the Gambia. During this session, which continues through May 7, the Commission’s agenda includes discussion of the human rights situation in Africa, consideration of State reports, and hearing activity reports from members of the Commission and its special mechanisms. This 56th Ordinary Session was originally scheduled for October 2014 but was postponed twice due to the Ebola pandemic. [ACDHRS: September; ACDHRS: November]
56th Ordinary Session
The 56th Ordinary Session is scheduled to begin with discussions of the human rights situation in Africa during which State delegates, relevant African Union Organs, intergovernmental and international organizations, national human rights institutions (NHRIs), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will have the opportunity to make statements to the Commission.
The first day is also scheduled to include panels concerning torture and the death penalty. During a two-hour session on the fourth day, the Commission is scheduled to consider applications from NHRIs and NGOs seeking affiliate and observer status.
Review of State Reports
The Commission will consider scheduled periodic reports from Nigeria, Djibouti, Senegal, Ethiopia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, and Malawi. States are required to submit these reports to the Commission every two years. The reports contain information on what measures governments have taken to implement the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, as well as progress made and challenges faced in doing so. After it has examined these reports, the Commission publishes concluding observations, identifying advances, challenges, and recommendations for the State concerning its implementation of the African Charter.
The State Reports, which are not yet posted on the Commission’s page, are expected to be available following the Session. The agenda schedules 40 minutes for each State’s presentation of its report, 10 minutes for the Commissioner Rapporteur assigned to the State, four minutes each for Commissioners’ questions and comments, 20 minutes for the State’s response, and 10 minutes for concluding remarks by the Commissioner Rapporteur and Chairperson.
Launch of Studies, General Comments, and Guidelines
During the session, the ACHPR will launch several new interpretations and studies of specific human rights topics.
The ACHPR will launch General Comment 2 on Article 14 of the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa on April 21. This General Comment, which was adopted in 2014, aims to provide States with guidance on their obligations to implement Article 14, which guarantees the right to health, including sexual and reproductive health.
The ACHPR will launch a Study on Nationality on April 23. This study, undertaken by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, was conducted to investigate the issue of statelessness in various countries in Africa, including both information on stateless persons and relevant laws. The Study concludes with a set of recommendations, including the adoption of a Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Right to a Nationality.
The ACHPR will also launch the Study on the Situation of Women Human Rights Defenders in Africa on April 23. The Commission adopted the resolution for this study in October of 2012. The resolution notes that States Parties to the African Charter are obliged to guarantee the security of persons living in their territories, and the freedoms of assembly, association, and expression of human rights defenders. Under this resolution, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders was tasked with conducting a study on the situation of women human rights defenders in Africa, including relevant laws and practices.
The ACHPR is scheduled to launch the Report of the Study Group on Freedom of Association in Africa on April 25. The Study Group was established in November of 2009 to explore laws on freedom of association as well as practices that violate this right in Africa.
Guidelines on Conditions of Arrest, Police Custody and Pre-Trial Detention in Africa and Interactive Sessions on Policing and Human Rights will be launched by the ACHPR on April 25. The Commission adopted these Guidelines in 2014. They are based on rights guaranteed by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, namely the rights to life, dignity, security, fair trial, and the independence of the judiciary, as well as international law. They include provisions on arrest, police custody, pre-trial detention, registers, procedures in case of human rights violations committed in the course of arrest and pre-trial detention, conditions of detention and pre-trial detention, as well as protections for vulnerable groups.
The Commission will hear activity reports from the Chairperson of the Commission, Vice-Chairperson of the Commission, Members of the Commission, and Special Mechanisms. The presentations are allotted 20 minutes, States are allotted five minutes per speaker, and NGOs and NHRIs are each allotted three minutes.
The Chairperson of the Commission and Chairperson of the Working Group on the Death Penalty and Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings in Africa is scheduled to give an activity report on April 28. The Working Group is mandated to, among other things, develop a concept paper on the death penalty in Africa; to create a strategic plan on the abolition of the death penalty; and to collect information on and monitor the use of the death penalty in African States.
The Vice-Chairperson of the Commission and Chairperson of the Working Group on Economic and Social Rights, scheduled to give a report on April 28, is mandated to develop and propose to the Commission a set of draft Principles and Guidelines on economic, social, and cultural rights and to perform research and studies on these rights, among other tasks.
The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa is scheduled to give a report at the end of the day on April 28. The Special Rapporteur’s mandate includes analyzing, monitoring, and advising Member States on the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa; undertaking fact-finding missions and promotional country missions to Member States; and making public interventions when the right to freedom of expression and access to information is violated and brought to the Rapporteur’s attention.
The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders is scheduled to present on the morning of April 29. This Rapporteur was established to research and act upon information on the situation of human rights defenders in Africa; to collaborate with Member States, NHRIs, intergovernmental bodies, international and regional mechanisms of protection of human rights defenders and other stakeholders; to make recommendations and enforce better protection strategies for human rights defenders; and to promote the implementation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in Africa.
The Chairperson of the Working Group on Rights of Older Persons and Persons with Disabilities is scheduled to present an activity report on April 29 on the Working Group’s mandate to develop a Concept Note to form the basis of the Draft Protocol on Ageing and People with Disabilities; to guide comparative research on the human rights of older persons and people with disabilities; to gather data to ensure that Member States are respecting the rights of older persons and people with disabilities; and to identify good practices.
The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, scheduled to report on April 29, is mandated to assist African governments in promoting and protecting the rights of women in their policies; investigating the situation of women’s rights of Member States; and working with other actors responsible for the promotion and protection of women’s rights internationally, regionally, and nationally.
The Chairperson of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of People Living with HIV (PLHIV) and Those at Risk, Vulnerable to and Affected by HIV is scheduled to give its report on April 29. Under its mandate, the Committee gathers information on the situation and rights of PLHIV and those at risk; engages State Parties and non-state actors on their responsibilities to respect and fulfill the rights of PLHIV and those vulnerable to infection; recommends strategies to better protect the rights of PLHIV; and focuses on vulnerable communities.
The Special Rapporteur on Prison and Conditions of Detention is also scheduled to present a report on April 29. The Rapporteur is authorized to investigate the situation of persons deprived of their liberty in Member States.
The Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons is scheduled to report on April 29. The Rapporteur conducted this study to research the situation of refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons; to help Member States develop laws and policies to further the protection of refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons; to collaborate with Member States, NHRIs, relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental bodies; and to help implement the UN Convention of Refugees of 1951 and the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugees Problems in Africa.
The Chairperson of the Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations, is also scheduled to give a report on April 29. This Working Group analyzes the impact of extractive industries on human rights and develops recommendations and proposals on appropriate measures and activities to prevent and provide reparations for violations of human rights by extractive industries.
The Chairperson of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa is scheduled to give a report on April 30. The mandate authorizes the Working Group to study the implication of the African Charter and the well-being of indigenous communities, particularly with regard to certain Charter rights.
The Chairperson of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture in Africa is scheduled to give a report on April 30 concerning the implementation of the Robben Island Guidelines for the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture in Africa and dissemination of these Guidelines.
The Chairperson of the Working Group on Communications is scheduled to give an activity report on April 30 concerning questions of seizure, admissibility, and the merits of communications alleging human rights violations and to make recommendations to the Commission.
From April 17 to the 19, the Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the Ordinary Sessions (“NGO Forum”) will meet in Banjul, the Gambia to discuss updates on the human rights situation in Africa and to identify possible remedies for these situations in advance of the 56th Ordinary Session of the ACHPR. The NGO Forum aims to foster collaboration among NGOs as well as between NGOs and the Commission towards the goal of promoting and protecting human rights in Africa. The Forum will cover three main topics: the status of human rights and democracy in Africa, special interest group discussions, and networking for human rights.
With respect to the special interest group discussions, participants will have the opportunity to discuss topics that mirror the scheduled activity reports from members of the Commission and Special Mechanisms.
Additional objectives of the Forum include the following: to provide a discussion platform for organizations working on the topic of democracy and human rights; to deliberate on and adopt resolutions and recommendations to be presented to the Commission; and to promote inter-regional/organizational networking for the implementation of decisions made at the Forum. Outcomes will be shared at a press conference at the end of the Forum.
As is its practice, the Secretary to the Commission has extended an invitation to NGOs who have been granted observer status with the Commission to attend and participate in the Session.
The African Commission
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights is the body responsible for the protection and promotion of human rights in the 54 Member States of the African Union. All of the Member States except for South Sudan have ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The Commission holds two ordinary sessions each year and may also hold extraordinary sessions at the request of the Chairperson of the Commission or a majority of Commissioners. During ordinary sessions, the Commission considers periodic reports submitted by States, as well as reports from members of the Commission and its Special Mechanisms. Additionally, the Commission may consider reports concerning country visits, or “Special Missions,” which are typically dispatched to countries experiencing political or social unrest.
The Commission also accepts complaints (“communications”) from individuals, groups of individuals, NGOs, and States concerning alleged violations of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
More information on the African human rights system is available on IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.