Proposed AU reforms threaten the independence and existence of the African Commission


The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights closes the 75th Public Ordinary Session as concerns mount on the rise of clawbacks on democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the independence of the African Commission.

Paris, Nairobi 30 May 2023. From 3-23 May, 2023, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), along with its member organisations from Sudan: the African Centre for Justice and peace Studies (ACJPS), from Uganda: Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) and from Senegal: Rencontre Africaine pour la Defense des Droits de l’Homme (RADDHO), Ligue sénégalaise des Droits de l’Homme (LSDH), and other non-governmental organisations, participated in the 75th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), which was convened both in person in Banjul and virtually. Preceding the Ordinary Session FIDH participated in the NGO pre-session organized by the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS).

ACHPR 75 was convened at a time when armed conflicts, regression on democracy, space for civic engagement and expression are at an all-time high in Africa. FIDH and its member organisations contributed to the framing of the current situation in countries with ongoing conflicts and concerning human rights situations. The ACHPR gave particular attention to the armed conflict ongoing in Sudan since 15 April 2023, that has resulted in a catastrophic humanitarian crisis. In its final communique delivered on 23 April, the Commission indicated it had adopted two country resolutions on the human rights situation in Sudan and in Eswatini.

"FIDH supports citizens’ call for more resolute action by the African Union in resolving the conflicts raging on the African Continent. All available tools must be used to stop the conflict in Sudan, and to ensure that safe humanitarian corridors are opened to citizens, while reinforcing the necessity of the country’s return to civilian-led democratic rule." said Alice Mogwe, President of FIDH.

Regrettably, the African Commission also adopted a resolution to end the mandate of its Commission of Inquiry in the Tigray Region of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia. This development coming at a time when the Ethiopian government refuses to commit to any form of accountability or justice for the serious crimes and human rights violations committed in the Tigray region during the armed conflict.

In addition, the African Commission is also under an existential threat following the African Union Reform process that would see the removal of the protection mandate of the African Commission. This would effectively ensure that African citizen’s cannot submit to the Commission complaints on human rights violations that States fail to redress. The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) that is suggested as the alternative to the ACHPR’s protection mandate, is only available for citizens of six African countries. Indeed, the Protocol establishing the AfCHPR only allows access to the Court for NGOs and citizens of States that have expressly allowed such access by depositing an article 34 (6) declaration. At the moment only six countries have signed the declaration. Between 2016 and 2020, four States have withdrawn their article 34 (6) declarations. The African Union has entrusted this crucial reform process to the Deloitte company.

Citizens from the continent should not be impeded from seeking redress from the African Commission, where national mechanisms fail. Relegating options for redress to the African Court only with its current limited access is an unacceptable clawback on huge progress made in enhancing access to justice in Africa.

“FIDH and its members will continue to advocate for greater adherence to the rule of law and human rights standards guaranteed under the African Charter and other instruments. The fight for an independent and effective African Commission will continue in the coming months, because African Citizens’ refuse to sit back as their options for redress for human rights violations are curtailed.” said Mabassa Fall, FIDH Representative to the African Union.

The reforms would also affect the independence of the Commission, as they propose to reduce the number of commissioners from eleven to five and consolidate the secretariats of all treaty bodies under the African Human rights system. In additional a new accreditation process for civil society organisations engaging with the African Human Rights System, has been proposed, whose terms are likely to ensure limited engagement with the AU bodies.

In the coming months FIDH will work towards amplifying the voice of African citizens in denouncing the move to cripple the African Commission.

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