Summary of the System
The African human rights system is composed of several human rights treaties—or agreements between the African
Union member states—and the mechanisms that monitor compliance with these treaties.
African Regional Human Rights Treaties
African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul Charter)
Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women
in Africa (Maputo Protocol)
Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Persons
with Disabilities in Africa (Disability Protocol)
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC)
African Regional Human Rights Mechanisms
African Union (AU, formerly the Organisation of African Unity (OAU)) is a union of African countries that
promotes integration and development of the countries and people across the continent. One of the AU’s
objectives is to promote and protect human and peoples’ rights.
The AU currently has 55 member states. The Assembly of Heads of States and Governments adopts human
rights treaties and protocols. For each document to be legally binding in a member state, the state needs to
sign and ratify it, according to its domestic legal procedures for entering into an international agreement.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (African Commission) ensures compliance with and effective implementation of the Banjul Charter and the supplementary protocols, including the Maputo Protocol and, when it goes into effect, the Disability Protocol. The African Commission is composed of eleven members serving in their personal and independent capacity and not as representatives of their countries or
governments. The African Commission holds two ordinary sessions each year and holds extraordinary sessions as necessary. The main functions of the African Commission include:
Example of General Comments
General Comment No. 2 on Article 14.1 (a), (b), (c) and (f) and Article 14. 2 (a) and (c) of the Protocol to the
African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa
53. It is crucial to ensure availability, accessibility, acceptability and good quality reproductive health care,
including family planning / contraception and safe abortion for women. State parties should ensure services
that are comprehensive, integrated, rights-based, sensitive to the reality of women in all contexts, and
adapted to women living with disabilities and the youth, free from any coercion, discrimination and violence.
54. They should integrate and/or link family planning/contraception and safe abortion services funded by
public resources to other services relating to reproductive health, primary health care, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases
Example of Concluding Observations
Concluding Observations and Recommendations on the Initial and Combined Periodic Report of the Republic
of Malawi on the Implementation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1995 – 2013)
IV. Areas of Concern
69. The existence of customary discriminatory practices such as patriarchal attitudes and deep-rooted
stereotypes regarding the roles, responsibilities and identities of women and men in all spheres of life, as well
as traditional beliefs resulting in acts of torture and violence against elderly women on account of suspicion
of practicing witchcraft;
V. Recommendations to the Government of the Republic of Malawi
102. Adopt a comprehensive strategy to modify or eliminate negative cultural practices and stereotypes which
are harmful to and discriminate against women, and to promote women’s full enjoyment of their humanrights
Conduct missions in African Union (AU) member states to investigate and disseminate information. The African Commission conducts two types of missions:
Protective missions, which typically include on-site visits, for example to investigate specific facts relating to a pending individual complaint or allegations of massive and serious human rights violations; and
Promotional missions, undertaken by the African Commission or its Special Mechanisms to sensitize States about the role of the Banjul Charter, encourage states to ratify the Banjul Charter or other human rights instruments, or to persuade non-reporting states to comply with their reporting
Subsidiary special mechanisms, including Special Rapporteurs, Committees, and Working Groups, are
mandated by the African Commission to:
The Special Rapporteurs and Committees focus on monitoring and awareness-raising, while the Working Groups
are tasked to develop principles, guidelines or strategies on certain issues. These mechanisms report to the African Commission during its sessions.
African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC)
The ACERWC promotes and protects the rights of children by monitoring implementation of the ACRWC. It is currently the only regional treaty body worldwide focused on children’s rights. The primary functions include:
Similar to but independent from the African Commission, the ACERWC performs several functions to achieve its
mandate, including holding regular sessions, monitoring State Reports, and hearing Individual
Examples of Special Mechanisms Concerning Women and Girls with Disabilities
The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Court)
The African Court is a continental court established by African countries to ensure the protection of human and peoples’ rights in Africa. The African Court may:
African Regional Human Rights Mechanisms
Civil society plays an important role in the African human rights system by providing essential information to the regional human rights mechanisms discussed above to ensure that the system is responsive to the human rights situation on the ground, including for women and girls with disabilities. The African system is complex and offers multiple forums and opportunities for civil society to engage with. While the process to engage with different bodies can be similar, it is important to check with those bodies separately regarding their requirements for civil society engagement. Advocates can also use these instruments and mechanisms in complementary ways to strengthen the efficacy of their advocacy strategies.
Participation in African Commission/ACERWC Sessions
Civil society can participate in the African Commission and the ACERWC sessions by proposing agenda items, attending sessions and making statements (where NGOs have Observer Status), advocating and networking at the NGO Forum/CSO forum held before the sessions, and organizing side events.
Participating in the State Reporting Process
Any person or group may submit a Shadow Report to the African Commission (called a Complimentary Report when submitted to the ACERWC) to provide alternative perspectives on the human rights situation in a given country.
Engaging with Special Mechanisms and African Commission Missions
Civil society can actively communicate with the Special Mechanisms and the Commissioners of the African Commission by providing independent information in person or in writing on specific human rights topics, as well as encouraging recommendations and reports on the situation of women and girls with disabilities regarding the rights of women and girls with disabilities.
Requesting an Advisory Opinion from the African Court
NGOs with observer status before the African Commission can request advisory opinions from the African Court. Since advisory opinions are interpretations of international law, rather than judgments on an individual case, they apply equally to all states that have ratified the relevant treaty. As a result, advisory opinions can be a powerful tool for clarifying what states must do to protect the rights of women and girls with disabilities. Bringing Individual Complaints to African Regional Human Rights Bodies Civil society can bring individual complaints before the African Commission, the ACERWC and the African Court. Each body has its own criteria and procedures for accepting and hearing a complaint. For example:
When a communication is under consideration, NGOs can submit amicus curiae briefs. Amicus curiae briefs are written submissions by an individual or organization who is not a party to a case but who would like to offer additional information or legal analysis to help inform the body considering a case.
Deciding on an Advocacy Strategy
Several questions can help advocates identify what advocacy opportunities are available to them and which forums and actions would be most strategic:
NGOs with Observer Status
Some engagement opportunities are only reserved for NGOs with observer status, including: