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Human Rights Law

African Human Rights System - the Charter, Commission & Court

The African regional human rights system was established under the auspices of the African Union. 

The African Charter of Human and Peoples' Rights ('the Charter' - also known as the Banjul Charter) is an international human rights instrument intended to promote and protect human rights and basic freedoms in the African continent. Oversight and interpretation of the Charter is the task of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, which was set up in 1987 and is headquartered in Banjul, Gambia. 

The African Commission on Human and People's Rights promotes and protects human rights in 53 of the 54 Member States of the African Union (with the exception of South Sudan) that have ratified the Charter. The Commission accepts complaints ('communications') from individuals, groups of individuals, non-governmental organisations, and States concerning alleged violations of the Charter.

  • All Decisions on Communications are available on the Commission's website.
  • Detailed information about the Commission is available from the Commission's website.
  • The Commission creates Special Mechanisms such as special rapporteurs, committees, and working groups to report on particular issues.

Protocol to the Charter was adopted in 1998 and came into effect in 2005. Article 1 of the Protocol established the African Court of Human and Peoples' RightsBased in Arusha, Tanzania, the Court was established in 2006 and handed down its first decision in 2009. The Court has advisory and contentious jurisdiction concerning the interpretation and application of the Charter, the Protocol and any other relevant human rights instrument ratified by the States concerned. Its jurisdiction extends to the States that have ratified Article 1 of the Protocol. According to Article 5 of the Protocol and Rule 33 of the Court Rules, the Court may receive complaints and/or applications submitted to it either by the Commission or State parties to the Protocol or African Intergovernmental Organizations. As at February 2016, 30 countries have ratified the Protocol. NGO's with observer status before the Commission and individuals from States which have made a Declaration accepting the jurisdiction of the Court can also institute cases directly before the Court. As at February 2016, only seven countries had made such a Declaration: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Tanzania and Republic of Cote d'Ivoire.  

  • CASES: all decisions (status, pending, referred and finalised) and Advisory Opinions are available in full text on the Court's website.  
  • Detailed information about the Court is available on the International Justice Resource Centre's African Human Rights System website, and from the Court's website.

The Commission and Court are charged with interpreting and applying a number of regional human rights instruments and non-treaty documents. See the full list of these instruments on the International Justice Resource Center. 

Finding African Human Rights Law Cases in multiple courts

The African Human Rights Case Law Analyser can be used to find cases by court/tribunal, country, keyword or legal instrument. Cases can be browsed, or the Documents tab used to search. A very useful feature is the citator - each Legal Instrument (Charter, Treaties, Protocols, Declarations, Statutes and Rules) includes links to cases citing it, and each case provides links to citing cases. 

The African Human Rights Law Reports Database includes almost 300 cases decided by domestic courts, courts of sub-regional intergovernmental organisations, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights and United Nations treaty monitoring bodies. The database covers cases dealing with human rights in more than 40 African countries. Most of the cases in the database have been published in the African Human Rights Law Reports. This database is very useful for comparative research, but is out of date, so individual courts or the African Human Rights Case Law Analyser should be checked for recent decisions.

The African Human Rights Law Reports began in 2000 and are available freely from the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria. The African Human Rights Law Reports include selected domestic decisions from the whole continent, as well as the decisions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the United Nations treaty bodies, dealing with African countries. The Reports are fully indexed.

Decisions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights can be searched simultaneously in WorldCourts.

States' Compliance with Charter Obligations

The Charter requires states to submit two types of report: an Initial Report is required to be submitted two years after ratification or accession to the Charter, and a Periodic Report is required to be submitted every two years after the initial report. Statistics, State Reports, and a State Reporting Map are available on the Commission's State Reporting web page.

Regional Binding Instruments & Soft Law

The Commission's Legal Instruments page lists and links to all regional binding human rights instruments, a Binding Instruments Ratification Map and soft law documents (resolutions, declarations, guidelines etc). The binding instruments are:

  • African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance    
  • Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa    
  • Constitutive Act of the African Union    
  • Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights    
  • African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child    
  • African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights    
  • AU Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa

See ratification status by all African states of all binding regional human rights legal instruments. The binding instruments that have not been ratified by all states are the Refugee Convention, Womens' Protocol, Child Charter, African Charter on Democracy and the Protocol on the Establishment of the African Court.

Books, Book Chapters & Journals 


Book Chapter 

José Pina-Delgado, 'The African Court on Human and People’s Rights and its Position in the International and African Judicial Architectures' in Dário Moura Vicente, Towards a Universal Justice? Putting International Courts and Jurisdictions into Perspective (Brill, 2016) 98-135 (UniMelb staff & student access).


Other Research Guides