African Court on Human and Peoples Rights
The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the “Court”) is the judicial organ of the African Union’s human rights system. Established in 1998 (entered into force in 2004) by a protocol to the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Court was designed to complement the protective mandate of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. It has the power to oversee all cases and disputes that concern the interpretation and application of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the “Charter”) – as well as any other protocols or relevant human rights instruments ratified by the states concerned. This includes the Maputo Protocol.
The Court consists of eleven judges who are nationals from AU member states and are elected by the Assembly and serve six year terms, once renewable. Based in Arusha, the Republic of Tanzania, these judges meet four times per year with the possibility of additional meetings. During these meetings, the Court may hear cases or issue advisory opinions.
In general, the Court is responsible for (see the Court’s website for its summary on its mandate, mission, vision, values and strategic objectives):
a. Exercising jurisdiction in all cases and disputes brought before it concerning the interpretation and application of the Charter, the protocol and any other relevant instrument relating to human rights ratified by the States concerned
b. Collaborating with sub-regional and national judicial bodies to enhance the protection of human rights on the continent
c. Enhancing the participation of the African People in the work of the Court
d. Enhancing the capacity of the Registry of the Court to be able to fulfill its mandate
e. Enhancing working relationship between the Court and the African Commission
How does it help tackle violence against women?
Through the Court’s decisions, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights becomes a living instrument. This means that the Court has the opportunity to interpret the right and freedoms outlined in the Charter and apply these interpretations contextually, giving practical application of rights in unique contexts. Because violence against women exists on a continuum, taking many different forms and pervading all spheres of life, the Court’s decisions on VAW-related issues are highly important in the fight to end it.
If a state is found to have violated a person’s rights, the Court determines what that state must do to address the harm suffered and prevent the recurrence of the act. These determinations are legally binding on the state concerned. In other words, states are obliged to implement the Court’s ruling, whether it requires compensation to be paid to the applicant or other specific actions to remedy the violation determined (e.g. through establishment of new laws, services, and so forth).
The decisions of the Court also have a larger impact. These rulings not only define specific obligations for the state concerned, but for all states parties who are bound by the relevant human rights treaty. Each ruling is an interpretation and application of the treaty which gives meaning to what human rights provisions mean in certain circumstances. This means that rulings related to gender-based violence can have an impact on all states parties to the Charter. In the case Association pour le Progrès et la Défense des Droits des Femmes Maliennes (APDF) and the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) v Republic of Mali, African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, application 046/2016, 11 May 2018, the Court found violations of the African Charter, the Maputo Protocol and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, because of Malian law which permitted the marriage of children under 18.
Civil Society Engagement: Individual Complaints
Note: the Court will not accept complaints from non-governmental organisations or individuals unless the state concerned has issued a declaration under Article 34(6) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. However, if the state concerned has ratified the Protocol (without making a declaration), a complaint may be submitted to the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights – which may decide to forward the complaint to the Court for a final decision.
It should also be noted that the Court does not have the authority to decide the guilt or innocence of an individual, nor can it overturn a state’s ruling in this regard. It may only issue judgments regarding state’s compliance with their human rights obligations and issue recommendations.
The Court can accept complaints from individuals, groups and/or organisations to protect women’s rights against a state. Before lodging a complaint, certain ‘admissibility’ requirements must be satisfied. These determine whether the Court has the authority to investigate the complaint concerned. Under Rule 40 of the Court’s Rules of Procedure, these requirements broadly include:
1. Disclose the identity of the Applicant notwithstanding the latter’s request for anonymity
2. Comply with the Constitutive Act of the Union and the Charter
3. Not contain any disparaging or insulting language
4. Not be based exclusively on news disseminated through the mass media
5. Be filed after exhausting local remedies, if any, unless it is obvious that this procedure is unduly prolonged
6. Be filed within a reasonable time from the date local remedies were exhausted or from the date set by the Court as being the commencement of the time limit within which it shall be seized with the matter
7. Not raise any matter or issues previously settled by the parties in accordance with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, the Constitutive Act of the African Union, the provisions of the Charter or of any legal instrument of the African Union.
For those wishing to bring their case to the Court, applications must be submitted to the Court’s registrar (contact information can be found at the bottom of this page). Guidelines and application requirements can be found on the Court’s website.
Want more? You can check online to find out if your state has made a declaration under Article 34(6) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Conservation Centre
P.O. Box 6274 Arusha, Tanzania
Telephone: +255-732-979 506
Fax: +255-732-979 503