African Commission and NGOs Review Human Rights Concerns at November Session

Participants in the NGO ForumCredit: African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights
Participants in the NGO Forum
Credit: African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights

During its most recent session, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) welcomed two new commissioners; examined four States’ human rights records; heard activity reports from its special mechanisms; and focused particular attention on the rights of women, implementation of ACHPR decisions, its relationship with non-governmental organizations and with national human rights institutions, and the intersections between international humanitarian law and human rights standards. The 57th Ordinary Session took place from November 4 to 11 and 18, 2015 in Banjul, the Gambia and the agenda included consideration of the periodic reports of Algeria, Burkina Faso, Kenya, and Sierra Leone. Prior to the session, members of civil society gathered in Banjul for the NGO Forum and 31st African Human Rights Book Fair.

Zainabo Sylvie Kayitesi, outgoing Chairperson of the African Commission, opened the session and reviewed the ACHPR’s achievements during her four-year term. [All Africa] She noted that the Commission had managed to decrease the backlog in pending complaints, review more State reports, strengthen its relationships with groups across the continent, and emit several soft law texts. However, she also stressed the human rights challenges in the African continent, and encouraged more States to invite the ACHPR to carry out promotion missions. [All Africa]

A reported 518 people participated in the session, including 138 in representation of Member States and 280 representing non-governmental organizations (NGOs). See ACommHPR, Final Communiqué of the 57th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 18 November 2015. 

With regard to decisions made during the session, the ACHPR granted observer status to eight NGOs; adopted concluding observations concerning its prior reviews of Malawi, Nigeria, and Uganda; adopted a Draft General Comment No. 3 on Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Right to Life; and adopted a number of resolutions renewing or extending the mandates of special mechanisms, as well as resolutions on the need for a fact-finding mission to Burundi and appointing a Focal Point on Transitional Justice in Africa. See id

The Commission privately considered twenty-three complaints, referred to as communicationsSee id. Of those communications, the ACHPR decided to be seized of 13, meaning they met the minimum requirements to be processed; reviewed the merits of three; struck out six; and agreed to refer one to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. See id. The Commission granted provisional measures with regard to six communications. See id. 

The ACHPR will meet for its 19th Extraordinary Session from February 16 to 25, 2016 in Banjul and for its 58th Ordinary Session from April 6 to 20, 2016 at a place to be determined. See id. For more information about the ACHPR and the African human rights system, visit the IJRC Online Resource Hub.

New Commissioners

At the beginning of the session, the ACHPR swore in two new commissioners, Solomon Ayele Dersso from Ethiopia and Jamesina E.L. King from Sierre Leone.   The Assembly of the African Union appointed the two new commissioners and reappointed Commissioner Kayitesi to a second term at its June 2015 session, following their earlier election by the Executive Council. See Assembly of the African Union, Decision on the Election of Three Members of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Doc. EX.CL/919(XXVII), Assembly/AU/Dec.576(XXV), Decisions, Declarations and Resolutions, Assembly/AU/Dec.569-587(XXV), 14-15 June 2015. The new members replace Pacifique Manirakiza of Burundi and Mohamed Bechir Khalfallah of Tunisia, who joined the ACHPR in 2011 and 2009, respectively.

Solomon Ayele Dersso has taught human rights law at Addis Ababa University and served as a senior researcher with the Institute for Security Studies, where he has studied and provided guidance on issues of peace and security in Africa. He has also advised governmental and civil society entities on specific international legal matters, and writes for outlets such as Al Jazeera English. He holds a PhD in law from the University of Witwatersrand, an LL.M from the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, and an LL.B from the Addis Ababa University School of Law.

Mrs. Jamesina E.L. King has served as the chair of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone and as president of the organization Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equality Rights and Social Justice (LAWYERS). She holds a post-graduate degree from Georgetown University Law Center and a certificate in “Implementing Human Rights Conventions” from the University of Nottingham Human Rights Centre. She has written and spoken widely on women’s rights, access to justice, and sexual violence in armed conflict, among other topics.

State Reports

During this month’s session, the ACHPR considered the reports of Algeria, Burkina Faso, Kenya, and Sierra Leone concerning their implementation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Specifically, the Commission conducted its reviews on the basis of Algeria’s combined fifth and sixth periodic report, Burkina Faso’s combined third and fourth periodic report, Kenya’s combined eighth through eleventh periodic report, and Sierra Leone’s initial and combined second through fourteenth periodic report. When adopted, the ACHPR will publish its concluding observations concerning these reports via the State Reporting page of its website. As is reflected among the States under review during this session, most Member States (47 of 54) are delinquent in submitting their biennial reports to the ACHPR, according to its published statistics.

NGO Forum

From October 31 to November 2, 2015 the Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the 57th Ordinary Session of the ACHPR (NGO Forum) and 31st African Human Rights Book Fair took place in Banjul.  Organized by the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS), the NGO Forum is held twice a year in advance of the ordinary sessions of the ACHPR, as a platform for discussion and collaboration among civil society groups concerning the human rights situation in Africa, including the specific countries and topics to be reviewed by the ACHPR during its session. Over 200 participants gathered at the most recent NGO Forum. See ACDHRS, Statement on Behalf of Participants of the Forum of NGOs at the Official Opening of the 57th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Nov. 4, 2015).

During the three days of discussion, participants welcomed advances that included limiting the spread of Ebola, arresting those behind the coup in Burkina Faso, and new legislation in Cote d’Ivoire to protect human rights defenders. Nonetheless, they pointed to a number of persistent challenges, including terrorism and other violence, criminalization of offenses related to poverty, public corruption, lack of employment opportunities, unlawful detention and killings, and serious threats and limitations impacting civil society. See id. The NGOs also emphasized concerns regarding accessibility of persons with disabilities, access to justice, torture, marginalization and discrimination of indigenous children, the rights of youth and women, and freedom of expression and access to information. See id. Participants called on the African Union, States, and civil society to address the situation of the many Africans who risk their lives to seek safety outside their home countries or outside Africa in order to escape violence, impoverishment, and persecution. See id.

The NGO Forum highlighted Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Burundi, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Senegal, Mauritania, the Gambia, Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Central African Republic, Cameroon, and Congo has having the most troubling human rights concerns on the continent. See id.

The participants of the NGO Forum urged “more States and indeed NGOs to use and popularize the ACHPR processes and decisions and to encourage States to comply with decisions as well as consider signing Article 34(6) of the Protocol to the African Charter on the Court.” See id.

Moreover, they called on the African Commission to support the work of its Focal Point on Reprisals and protect human rights defenders from harassment and intimidation. See id.

With regard to sub-regional courts, while encouraged by the activities of the East African Court of Justice and ECOWAS Court of Justice, NGO Forum participants urged States to reauthorize a fully functioning SADC Tribunal. See id.

See the specific country recommendations, country resolutions, thematic recommendations, and thematic resolutions adopted by the NGO Forum on the ACDHRS website.