FIDH Practical Guide on the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights

The birth of an institution protecting human rights is always a reason of satisfaction for those who defend a world living in peace and respect of human rights. After the creation of the International Criminal Court which aims at sanctioning the individual responsibility of the most important criminals, we are accompanying with great interest the first steps of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights which aims at sanctioning the international responsibility of the States which violate their
obligations.

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights is finally operational. It issued its first decision on 15 December 2009. This is a momentous occasion for all supporters of the fight against impunity in Africa and all victims of human rights violations. The actual establishment of the Court has been slow. More than five years. Indeed, while the Protocol entered into force in January 2004, the Court only became fully operational in early 2009 – after choosing a seat, the election of judges, the appointment of a Registrar and Court staff and the adoption of adequate operating funds. The Court has now entered into action and we must use it to assert the rights of the victims.
The Court’s lifespan is obviously limited since it is destined to become the Human Rights Section of the future African Court of Justice and Human Rights when its Protocol enters into force. But this change will have little consequences on the overall African system of protection of human rights. And meanwhile, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights does indeed exist for yet an undetermined time and sets the scenery of the Court that will succeed it: therefore, all of those who, like FIDH, are working so that the rule of law prevails where the rule of force used to, should imperatively master its functioning.
The Court’s mandate is to judge the compliance by a State Party with rights included in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other instruments on the protection of human rights ratified by that State. Individuals and non-governmental organizations may, under certain conditions, bring a case of a breach of human rights directly before the Court or indirectly through the African Commission on
Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Considering that the preservation of peace and security depends upon the fight against impunity and unconditional respect for human rights, the inauguration of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights brings hope for the entire African continent.

Since the 1980s and the adoption of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, FIDH and its member organizations have been fighting for the existence on this continent of a truly judicial body charged with protecting the core values of the human condition: the right to life, freedom of expression and assembly, the right to move freely, the right to shelter, the right to an adequate standard of living in a healthy environment, etc.
This goal was quickly transformed into a demand after serious violations of human rights were suffered by the African civilian population. The genocide in Rwanda and the international crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Darfur are dramatic examples. But FIDH is also constantly mobilized against torture, slavery, censorship, arbitrary arrests and detentions, discrimination against women or ethnic minorities, barriers to educa- tion or to the right to health, etc. These many fields are covered by the Charter and included in the jurisdiction of the new Court.
This guide, an updated edition, is a practical tool for victims and human rights defenders to better understand and use the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and to consider the arrival of the new African Court of Justice and Human Rights. The ideal goal would be for each Burundian, Mauritanian, Senegalese, Angolan, Kenyan, South African, to hold the key to assert his or her right to justice and redress when their country does not respect its regional and international commitments regarding the protection of human rights.
Now that the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights is functioning, we must continue to mobilize African States to ratify the Protocol to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and to accept the right of individual application. We must support victims in making claims before the Court on “their right to rights” and ensure that the Court’s judgments are actually effected. Finally, we must ensure the effective implementation of the new African Court of Justice and Human Rights.

Souhayr Belhassen

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