Defending the independence of African human rights body

Publish Date: 
Friday, October 19, 2018

ESCR-Net members, Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER), Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR), Just Associates (JASS) and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) are among several organizations that have recently signed a joint statement calling on the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) to resist a recent decision of the Executive Committee of the African Union (AU), which threatens the independence of the human rights body.

The ACHPR is the main regional body tasked with protecting human rights in the African region, and has provided redress and remedies to victims of human rights abuses. Over time several ESCR-Net members have engaged the ACHPR to protect economic, social and cultural rights and have, at times, found it to be effective. 

The statement expresses serious concerns regarding several points of the Executive Council decision, which calls on the ACHPR to revise its criteria for granting or withdrawing observer status of NGOs in alignment with criteria used by the AU for accreditation of NGOs as well as “taking into account African values and traditions”. As a direct result of this decision, the ACHPR has been instructed to withdraw observer status from Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL). This part of the decision puts all 517 currently accredited NGOs at risk and imposes a more cumbersome process on NGOs looking for accreditation.

The decision, alleges the letter, also prescribes a new, and erroneous, interpretation regarding the independence of the ACPHR as being ‘functional’, rather than the current legal principles which confirm its functional, institutional and financial independence. This new interpretation means that the ACPHR would be primarily responsible and accountable to the AU member states, rather than towards the people whose human rights it is meant to protect.

Furthermore, the Executive Committee’s decision also expresses concern that the ACHPR has acted as an appellate body and thereby undermining national legal systems. The joint statement, however, calls attention to the fact that a key purpose of ACHPR is to provide recourse when national legal systems fails to appropriately do so, and only when national remedies have been exhausted.  

The statement expresses concern that this decision is an attack on the independence of the ACHPR and will lead to increasing impunity for human rights violations and leave many across the African continent without recourse. The signatories call upon the ACHPR and States to resist attempts of interference and attacks on the ACHPR’s independence.  See the full letter (in English) here