African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights: Communication Procedure

Applies to/Se aplica a

State practice
State law
Individual cases
For Urgent Action
Only under 18-s
A

Summary

Under Articles 55 and 56 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, everyone can submit information or communications to the African Commission. By submitting a communication to the African Commission, victims of human rights abuses who for one reason or another could not obtain justice in their countries after exhausting all the available legal remedies may obtain help. A case that has been submitted to the African Commission should not at the same time be submitted to another international human rights system.

Before a decision on the merits of the complaint, the African Commission may request from the State concerned to take provisional measures to prevent irreparable harm to the victim or victims of the alleged violation as urgently as the situation demands.

After investigating a complaint, the African Commission makes a recommendation to the State(s) concerned, to ensure that the occurrences of human rights violations are investigated, that the victim(s) is compensated (if necessary) and that measures are taken to prevent the recurrence of human rights violations. The African Commission also offers its “Good Office” to achieve a friendly settlement of the case.

The African Commission's recommendations are submitted to the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union for adoption.

All measures taken by the African Commission remain confidential, unless the Assembly decides otherwise. However, a report will be published following the adoption by the Assembly.

1. Likely results from use of mechanism

Following the submission of a communication, the African Commission will first take a decisions on admissibility. If a complaint is found admissible, the African Commission will investigate the complaint and take a decision on the merits of the case, and make recommendations to the State concerned. This may include compensation to the victim(s) of human rights violations and measures to prevent a recurrence.

To prevent irreparable harm to the victim or victims of the alleged violation as urgently as the situation demands, the African Commission may request from the State concerned to take provisional measures before a decision on the merits of the complaint.

Besides a decision on the merits, the African Commission is also available to achieve of friendly settlement of the case.

The African Commission's recommendations are submitted to the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union for adoption.

All measures taken by the African Commission remain confidential, unless the Assembly decides otherwise. However, a report will be published following the adoption by the Assembly.

2. To which States does this mechanism apply?

This mechanism applies to all States parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR). An overview of the status of ratification of the African Charter is available at http://www.achpr.org/instruments/achpr/ratification/.

A complaint can be brought against any State which had jurisdiction over the victim at the time of the violation, and which has at the same time ratified the African Charter.

3. Who can submit information?

Under article 55 of the African Charter, the African Commission can receive communications from anyone, including individuals or NGOs.

While the complainant can request to remain anonymous, a complaint cannot be submitted anonymously. It needs to include name and address of the complainant and needs to be signed.

4. When to submit information?

A complaint should be submitted to the African Commission within a reasonable period from the time local remedies are exhausted. After the exhaustion of local remedies, or where the complainant realises that such remedies shall be unduly prolonged, he or she can submit the complaint to the African Commission immediately. The African Charter does not give a time limit but talks of reasonable time. It is therefore always advisable to submit a complaint as early as possible.

5. Special rules of procedure or advice for making a submission?

How to write a complaint:

The communication procedure of the African Commission is straightforward, and does not require legal representation. A complaint can be brought by the victim of alleged human rights violations, or by another person acting on his or her behalf, or any group of people, including NGOs.

For a complaint to be admissible, it needs to meet the following requirements:

  • The name, nationality, and signature of the person or persons filing it, or in the case of NGOs the name(s) and signature(s) of the legal representatives;
  • whether the complainant wishes his or her identity to be withheld from the State concerned;
  • an address for correspondence, possibly including fax and/or email;
  • a detailed description of the alleged human rights violations, specifying date, place, and nature of the alleged violations;
  • the name(s) of the State(s) alleged to have violated the African Charter;
  • any steps taken to exhaust domestic remedies, or an explanation why an exhaustion of domestic remedies would be unduly prolonged or ineffective;
  • an indication that the complaint has not been submitted to another international settlement proceeding.

It is advisable to refer to the provisions of the African Charter that are alleged to have been violated, although this is not strictly necessary. Infosheet No 2 of the African Commission includes guidelines for the submission of communications (see http://www.achpr.org/files/pages/communications/guidelines/achpr_infosheet_communications_eng.pdf).

Emergency procedures:

A communication should indicate if the victim's life, personal integrity or health is in imminent danger. In such an emergency, the African Commission has the power to adopt provisional measures, urging the State concerned not to take any action that will cause irreparable damage to the victim until the case has been heard by the African Commission. The African Commission can also adopt other urgent measures as it sees fit.

6. What happens to the submission (how long will it take)?

Once a communication has been submitted to the Secretariat of the African Commission, it will be registered and the Secretariat will acknowledge receipt of the communication.
As a first step, the African Commission has to be “seized” by the communication, which means it decides to deal with it, at the latest during the first session following receipt of the communication. After the African Commission has been seized by a communication, the complainant and the State party are informed, and have three months to comment on the communication, and on its admissibility. At the next session of the African Commission, a decision will be taken as to the admissibility of the complaint.

After a complaint has been declared admissible, the African Commission will either seek to obtain a friendly settlement, or decide on the merits of the case. If a friendly settlement is reached, a report containing the terms of the settlement is presented to the African Commission at its session. This will automatically bring consideration of the case to an end.

If there is no friendly settlement, the Secretariat of the African Commission prepares a draft decision on the merits taking into account all the facts at its disposal. This is meant to guide the Commissioners in their deliberations. During the session of the African Commission, the parties are liberty to make written or oral presentations. Some States send representatives to the African Commission's sessions to refute allegations made against them. NGOs and individuals are also granted audience to make oral presentations. However, there is no requirement to make oral presentations, or to be present at the session – written submissions are sufficient.

Finally, the African Commission will decide whether their has been a violation of the African Charter or not. If it finds on a violation of the Charter, it will make recommendations to the State concerned.

If a violation is found, the recommendations of the African Commission will include the required action to be taken by the State party to remedy the violation.

The mandate of the African Commission is quasi-judicial and as such, its final recommendations are not in themselves legally binding on the States concerned.

These recommendations are included in the Commissioner's Annual Activity Reports which are submitted to the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government in conformity with article 54 of the Charter. If they are adopted, they become binding on the States parties and are published.

7. History of the use of this mechanism

To the knowledge of the authors of this guide, this mechanism has so far not been used in a case of conscientious objection to military service.

It is therefore highly recommended that you get in touch with the authors if you want to engage in standard setting with the African Commission.

Contact Details: 
African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights PO Box 673 Banjul The Gambia Tel: +220-441 05 05, 441 05 06 Fax: +220-441 05 04 E-mail: : au-banjul@africa-union.org Website: http://www.achpr.org/
Further Reading: 
Recommendations adopted

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