On 28 June 1981, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the “Charter”) was adopted by the Organisation of African Unity, predecessor to the AU, and opened for signature to member states. Drafted over a two-year process, the Charter provides the normative framework for the African human rights system. It is a legally binding treaty that covers civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as the rights of peoples and has been ratified by every member state of the AU.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights is responsible for overseeing the Charter’s implementation and assisting states to achieve this goal, while the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights complements this work.
The Charter is supplemented by the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (known as the Maputo Protocol) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
Want more? The Centre for Human Rights at University of Pretoria (South Africa) collaborated with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to produce ‘A guide to the African human rights system’
State parties are allowed to submit reservations to the Charter. This means that a member state may ratify the Charter but also choose to opt out of certain provisions contained within it. Simply put, the state removes its accountability to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (and other AU bodies) for the specific provisions identified in the reservation. For example, Egypt filed the following reservations at the time of ratification (emphasis added):
“Having considered the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Arab Republic of Egypt signed the said Charter on 16 November 1981 and attached hereto is the following instrument of ratification:
Having accepted all the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights with the approval of the People’s Assembly and with the reservation that article 8 and paragraph 3 of article 8 and paragraph 3 of article 18 be implemented in accordance with the Islamic Law and that, as far as the Arab Republic of Egypt is concerned, the provision of the first paragraph of article 9 should be [confined] to such information as could be obtained within the limits of the Egyptian laws and regulations;
We hereby declare acceptance and ratification of the said Charter.”
Article 18(3) of the Charter states: “The State shall ensure the elimination of every discrimination against women and also ensure the protection of the rights of women and the child as stipulated in international declarations and conventions.” According to its reservation, Egypt attempted to remove certain responsibilities to eliminate gender-based discrimination – insofar as doing so would conflict with the Islamic law of the state (read our summary on EIPR and INTERIGHTS v. Egypt to learn about a case where Egypt was held responsible for violating women’s rights under Article 18(3), among others).
How does it help tackle violence against women?
“3. The State shall ensure the elimination of every discrimination against women and also ensure the protection of the rights of women and the child as stipulated in international declarations and conventions.“
Article 18(3), African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Violence against women is not just an act of violence, but an act of violence that persists through sustained gender inequality. At its core, violence against women is both a cause and a consequence of gender-based discrimination – impacting all women regardless of wealth, race, culture and location. Adopting a human rights perspective is an important part of developing approaches to tackle violence against women, as it obliges states to address the violation as existing in a wider environment of discrimination and inequality. Guaranteeing women the equal enjoyment of all rights in the Charter is not just part of tackling violence against women, it is necessary for eliminating it.
Some of the rights in the Charter often considered most illustrative of and relevant to tackling violence against women include (but are not limited to):
• Article 2: Right to freedom from discrimination
• Article 3: Right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law
• Article 4: Right to life
• Article 5: Prohibition of torture, cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment
• Article 6: Right to personal liberty and protection from arbitrary arrest
• Article 10: Right to freedom of association
• Article 12: Right to freedom of movement
• Article 13: Right to work
• Article 16: Right to health
• Article 17: Right to education
• Article 18: Protection of the family and vulnerable groups
Unlike many other international human rights treaties, the Charter also outlines the duties of each individual to ensure the protection and promotion of rights. One of these duties relevant to tackling violence against women includes:
• Article 28: Every individual shall have the duty to respect and consider his fellow beings without discrimination, and to maintain relations aimed at promoting safeguarding and reinforcing mutual respect and tolerance.