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African solutions to African problems: African Commission’s
human rights protection mandate
Rights NGO Forum
Human Rights Forum (the “Forum”) is currently represented
at the 53rd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human
and People’s Rights (ACHPR) which is taking place from 9th-23rd
of April 2013, in Banjul, The Gambia. By way of background the ACHPR
is an organization based in Banjul, The Gambia, and mandated by
the African Union to hear human rights cases when member countries’
internal remedies have been exhausted or do not exist.
current attendance this year comes in the wake of recent judgements
(communications) pertaining to Zimbabwe by this regional body. The
first case relates to Beavan Kazingachire and Another, handled by
the Forum. In this case, the Government of Zimbabwe was found to
be in violation of Articles 1 and 4 of the African
Charter by failing to protect its citizens from extra judicial
killings as well as affording effective redress to the bereaved
In the second
case handled by Redress Trust involving the torture of a prominent
Zimbabwean human rights lawyer and activist, Gabriel Shumba, the
Commission ruled on the case in May 2012, and published its
decision on 21 March 2013, finding the Government of Zimbabwe guilty
of violating Article 5 (prohibition of torture and ill-treatment)
of the African Charter. The Commission ordered the Government to
pay compensation to Mr Shumba and to hold to account those responsible
for torturing him.
attendance also comes in the wake of increasing international calls
to strengthen regional human rights bodies. Recently during the
14th Session of the EU-NGO Forum on Human Rights in Brussels, where
the Forum was represented, the importance of regional mechanisms
was underscored as an effective tool to deal with the perpertuation
of human rights violations under the cloack of cultural relativism
to deny universal rights to citizens of the nations concerned.
to universalism of human rights, the text of the Vienna Declaration
and Programme of Action, as adopted by the World Conference on Human
Rights on 25 June 1993, in article 5, clearly states that all human
rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated.
The international community must treat human rights globally in
a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same
emphasis. While the significance of national and regional particularities
and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must
be borne in mind, it is the duty of States, regardless of their
political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect
all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The two cases
of Gabriel Shumba and also that of Beavan Kazingachire and Another
highlighted above, is a clear vindication that regional bodies such
as the ACHPR are increasingly upholding the principle of universality
of rights despite the fierce cultural relativism currently pervasive
in the region. Cultural relativism in Africa is partly founded on
religion and partly on deference to patriarchy and in the case of
Zimbabwe deference to the founding fathers of African freedom. This,
in our view, still stands as a formidable barrier to the full implementation
of the Commission’s laudable decisions.
Faced with these
barriers, the Forum has not been resting on its laurels but has
been leading in various initiatives to ensure that universal rights
are not only mainstreamed at the African Union and ACHPR levels
but are protected through regional mechanisms. One such initiative
has been the work by the African Court Coalition of which the Forum
is the focal point in Southern Africa. The Coalition seeks to see
an efficient and effective African Court on Human and Peoples’
Rights (African Court). In order to achieve this, the African Court
Coalition advocates for the universal ratification of the Protocol
establishing the African Court (the protocol).
also advocates for the making of the declaration by State Parties
under Article 34 (6) of the Protocol which allows for direct petitioning
by individuals and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and to
advocate for an independent and credible African Court including
a transparent process for the nomination and election of judges
to the African Court, which guarantees an equitable representation
of the African judicial systems and gender parity in the nomination
and election of judges.
On the side
lines of the current ACHPR Session, the Forum has also been working
tirelessly. It participated in the litigants group discussion and
meetings, the first of which was an introduction to the Communication
procedure and also the forum of NGOs where discussions focussed
on the Commission’s protective mandate. The Forum also chaired
a session of the thematic group on Prevention of Torture in Africa
where experiences and best practices coming from the various countries
represented where shared.
also came up with recommendations for the Commission which included
encouraging state parties to legislate on torture as well as to
implement the Robben island guidelines and also ensure access to
places of detention. As a follow up, the Forum and other participants
will be drafting a manual on best practices for practitioners.
Fort those who
are interested in learning more on this and other general news,
please visit our website. However if you are specifically interested
in following African regional bodies jurisprudence, the case law
database jointly built by Huridocs and by the Institute for Human
Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) would be useful. Although
the database is not fully comprehensive yet, it is still the most
comprehensive out there and much better accessible than the bodies'
websites. Moreover, it allows you to filter by violated or referenced
articles or carefully applied keywords.
Visit the Zimbabwe
Human Rights NGO Forum fact
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