Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention


The Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention is one of the special mechanisms overseen by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Special Rapporteurship was created in 1996 during the Commission’s 20th Ordinary Session. See, e.g., ACommHPR, Tenth Annual Activity Report of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights 1996/97. Its purpose is to examine the conditions in prisons and other detention centers to ensure that they comply with African Union (AU) Member States’ international obligations toward persons deprived of liberty.


The Commission appoints Special Rapporteurs either by a consensus or by a vote. See ACommHPR, Rules of Procedure of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 2010, Rule 23(2). The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention was originally authorized for two years, but it has been renewed by the Commission several times. See, e.g., ACommHPR, Resolution 244, Resolution on the Renewal of the Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa, 5 November 2013. As of October 2014, each individual appointed as Special Rapporteur has been a Commissioner, simultaneously serving on the African Commission.

The Special Rapporteur undertakes a number of duties, including providing guidance on alleged violations, proposing urgent action measures to the Commission, analyzing States’ domestic laws and their compliance with international standards, conducting visits to Member States, and studying relevant human rights conditions or situations

Guidance on Alleged Violations

The Special Rapporteur also provides the Commission with guidance in responding to communications that concern the deprivation of liberty. The mandate holder may lend expertise or insight during the Commission’s considering of complaints related to his or her mandate.

And, the Special Rapporteur may propose that the Commission send an urgent appeal to a State concerning an emergency matter, as defined in Rule 79 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure.

Analysis of National Practices and Policies

The Special Rapporteurship evaluates Member States’ laws and makes recommendations, encouraging the States to better align their policies with their obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other international standards.

The Special Rapporteurship’s mandate includes the training of different individuals who impact prison conditions, including law enforcement officials, police officers, prison guards, and administrators, among others. See Med S.K. Kaggwa, Report of the Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa, Intersession Activity Report, 52nd Ordinary Session (2012).

Country Visits

The Special Rapporteur undertakes country visits to Member States, with their consent. During these visits, which are also known as missions, the Special Rapporteur examines the human rights conditions in prisons and detention centers, and makes recommendations to the State on how to improve them.

According to Rule 60 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure, after the completion of a mission, the Special Rapporteur has a duty to publish a Mission Report, which may be found on its website. These reports contain general recommendations to the State, and often include specific recommendations to prison officials, police, the African Union, the international community, and civil society, among others.

States are encouraged to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur to ensure that he or she is able to engage with individuals who are deprived of their liberty, their families, government officials, and civil society organizations.


The Special Rapporteur is responsible for seeking and receiving information from individuals, governmental and non-governmental organizations and institutions, and other stakeholders concerning cases or situations that involve the deprivation of liberty.

Along with information gathered from such actors and during missions, the Special Rapporteur disseminates and obtains information through promotional activities, such as workshops, conferences, and expert meetings. The Special Rapporteur often coordinates these activities with other relevant Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups of the Commission or the United Nations.

On the basis of information received, the Special Rapporteur may propose that the Commission take a certain action or decision, or he or she may raise awareness of an issue in his or her reports, press releases, or other activities.


The Special Rapporteur submits Intersession Activity Reports to the Commission each year, which outline the activities the Special Rapporteurship has undertaken. The Commission also prepares an annual Activity Report that it submits to the African Union Assembly, which includes information gathered from the Special Rapporteur, summarizing positive developments and areas of concern regarding human rights in Africa.


The Special Rapporteur may be contacted by:

  • Mail:

Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention
31 Bijilo Annex Layout, Kombo North District
Western Region P.O. Box 673 Banjul
The Gambia

  • Email: The Special Rapporteur’s website contains an automated system to send the Special Rapporteur emails, by selecting the “Contact Commissioner” link.

The Special Rapporteur does not accept individual complaints or requests for provisional measures. Such communications must be addressed to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. For additional information, see the Commission’s Guidelines for the Submission of Communications or IJRC’s resources on the African human rights system.