This publication was produced under the ”Consolidating Civil Society’s Role in the Transition from African Human Rights Standards to Practice project”, funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by the International Commission of Jurists – European Institutions (ICJ-EI), the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS), the ICJ Kenya Section and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). It was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of the ICJ and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.
With the adoption in 1981 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter), the foundation for an African Human Rights System was laid. Coming approximately two decades after the wave of independence from colonial rule swept through the African continent, the African Charter was adopted at a time when nationalist feelings were highest on the continent and African leaders were battling to assert control over often fluid territories. Although, African leaders reluctantly approved the establishment of a quasi-judicial African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission) as the mechanism to supervise implementation of the Charter, neither the leaders nor the vast majority of African citizens expected much in terms of concrete results. Awareness of human rights was low and the idea of challenging the actions of political leaders, especially before an international monitor was alien.
Several decades later, the continental landscape presents a very different story. With the adoption of several human rights instruments and rights-related instruments, the addition of a continental human rights court, the establishment of another quasi-judicial organ to supervise implementation of a regional Children’s Charter of rights and the emergence of sub-regional courts with human rights mandate among other things, Africa has one of the richest arrays of regional human rights mechanisms and norms. Yet, the use of the continental normative and institutional framework for human rights protection remains relatively low. Part of the reason for this underutilization of the system is that most of Africa have remained unaware of the workings of the African Human Rights System. This handbook is an attempt to contribute to improvement in the use of system through a simplified presentation of the main features, norms and institutions of the African Human Rights System.
The pages that follow aim to introduce the idea of international protection of human rights by giving a general explanation of the link between human rights and international law, an introduction into the regional protection of human rights and a brief history of the African system. This is followed by an overview of the normative and institutional framework for the protection of human rights in Africa. As much as possible, the handbook avoids technical terms so that it can be useful even to readers without any background in law.