The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Court) is a continental court established by African countries to ensure the protection of human and peoples’ rights in Africa. It complements and reinforces the functions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The Court was established by pursuant to Article 1 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, (the Protocol) which was adopted by Member States of the then Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in June 1998. The Protocol came into force on 25 January 2004.
The 31 States which have ratified the Protocol are: Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Comoros, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Lesotho, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Mauritania, Mauritius, Nigeria, Niger, Rwanda, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, South Africa, Senegal, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia and Uganda.
To date, only six (6) of the thirty-one (31) State Parties to the Protocol have deposited the declaration recognizing the competence of the Court to receive cases directly from NGOs and individuals. The six States are: Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Ghana, Mali, Malawi and Tunisia.*
The Court’s Contentious Jurisdiction applies to all cases and disputes submitted to it in respect of the interpretation and application of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, (the Charter), the Protocol and any other relevant human rights instrument ratified by the States concerned.
For its Advisory Jurisdiction, the Court may, at the request of a Member State of the African Union (AU), the AU, any of its organs or any African organisation recognised by the AU, give an opinion on any other legal matter relating to the Charter or any other relevant human rights instruments, provided that the subject matter of the opinion is not related to a matter being examined by the Commission.
The Court is composed of eleven judges who are nationals of Member States of the African Union. The first Judges of the Court were elected in January 2006 in Khartoum, Sudan. They were sworn in before the 7th Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union on 2nd July 2006 in Banjul, Gambia.
Upon nomination by their respective States, the Judges of the Court are elected, in their individual capacities, from among African jurists of proven integrity and of recognized practical, judicial or academic competence and experience in the field of human rights.
The Judges are elected for a six-year term, renewable once.
The Judges of the Court elect from among themselves, a President and Vice-President of the Court who serve a two-year term. They can be re-elected only once. The President of the Court resides and works full time at the seat of the Court, while the other ten (10) Judges work on part-time basis. In the discharge of his/her duties, the President is assisted by a Registrar who performs registry, managerial and administrative functions of the Court.
The Court officially started its operations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in November 2006. In August 2007 it moved to its seat in Arusha, the United Republic of Tanzania. Between 2006 and 2008, the Court dealt principally with operational and administrative issues, including developing of the structure of the Court’s Registry, preparing its budget and drafting of its Interim Rules of Procedure.
In 2008, during the Court’s Ninth Ordinary Session, the Court adopted the Interim Rules of Court, pending consultation with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, with a view to harmonizing their rules. This harmonization process was completed in April 2010, and in June 2010, the Court adopted its Final Rules of Court*. The Court may receive cases filed by the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights, State Parties to the Protocol or African Intergovernmental Organizations. Non-Governmental Organizations with observer status with the African Commission and individuals can file cases directly at the Court as long as the State that they are suing has deposited the Article 34(6) declaration recognizing the jurisdiction of the Court to accept cases from individuals and NGOs.
*During its 58th Ordinary Session, the Court adopted new Rules which came into force on 25 September 2020