Statement By The Chairperson Of The African Commission On Human And Peoples’ Rights On The Human Rights Situation In Africa


Excellency, the President of the Human Rights Council,

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured to share with you the human rights situation in Africa and the work that is being done by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights towards improving the situation. The Commission’s work is often demanding and is largely unknown.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter) lays down the mandate of the African Commission, the primary organ of the African Union mandated to promote and protect human rights on the continent and to interpret the African Charter.

With regard to its promotion mandate, the African Commission conducts activities aimed at raising awareness, public mobilization and disseminating information on human rights through seminars, symposia, conferences and missions.

In implementing its protection mandate, the African Commission ensures that human and peoples’ rights are protected through fact-finding missions to countries, and the last fact-finding mission was undertaken to the Central African Republic in September 2014.

The African Commission is known for its Communications/Complaints procedure whereby Communications are submitted against States parties by States parties to the African Charter, NGOs, individuals and African Union organs. As at December 2014, there were 89 Communications before the African Commission. During its last Session held in February 2015, the African Commission considered one inter-State Communication and 52 individual Communications on seizure, admissibility and merits.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In Africa, as it is the case on other continents, human rights violations are a recurrent phenomenon and our efforts to prevent and put an end to such violations show how recurrent the phenomenon has become. Considering the social gap between the rich and the poor, and other social and political problems that have become endemic, eradicating human rights violations is certainly a difficult and challenging task in the context of Africa.

In spite of this, African States have made significant progress in the areas of ratification of human rights instruments and submission of State periodic reports, and nine reports submitted to the African Commission will be considered during the Ordinary Session to be held in April 2015. States are increasingly responding to letters of urgent appeal sent in cases of human rights violations with a view to putting an end to and preventing reported cases of human rights violations.

There has been positive progress in the area of freedom of expression, press freedom and access to information, including the bill on the right to information in Ghana, the initiative by the Government of Mozambique to prepare a bill on the right to information which is currently before Parliament, the judgement issued by the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Zimbabwe decriminalising defamation, and the decision of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in favour of freedom of expression in Application No. 004/2013: Konaté v. Burkina Faso.

The right to nationality is a concern for the African Commission, and a study on the right to nationality was launched during the last AU Summit held in January 2015 under the distinguished patronage of H.E. the President of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire and H.E. the Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

With regard to the issue of death penalty, progress has been made including the ongoing reforms of penal codes towards the abolition of the death penalty in the Union of the Comoros, Ghana and Chad, and Madagascar recently enacted a law to abolish capital punishment.

With a view to providing a regional instrument abolishing the death penalty, the African Commission has prepared a draft Protocol to the African Charter on the Abolition of the Death Penalty which will soon be submitted to the African Union. The Republic of Benin has already expressed its support for the draft Protocol by accepting to lead the political process of adopting the instrument at the level of the AU. I would like to once again express my gratitude to the Government of the Republic of Benin, in particular H.E. President Yayi Boni for his personal commitment to the abolition of the death penalty.  

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The African Commission and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights requested the Assembly of the Union to declare 2016 as African Year of Human Rights. The two institutions together with the African Union Commission are working on Project 2016, “African Year of Human Rights with particular focus on the rights of women”. We invite you all to celebrate with Africa in 2016.

In January 2012, the African Commission formalised its cooperation with UN special procedures mandate-holders through the Addis Ababa Roadmap. Within this framework, the two institutions have organised meetings and shared information on a regular basis, have conducted joint activities, issued joint statements on the human rights situation in African countries and have continued to work together on other human rights issues. These activities have contributed to improving the nature and level of responses of the special mechanisms of the African Commission and the UN special procedures mandate-holders to human rights issues in Africa and the impact of such responses.  

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

You will agree with me that 2014 was a very challenging year for the promotion and protection of human rights given the several cases of human rights violations recorded on the continent. In spite of the efforts made by the African Union, regional institutions and the international community, we still have conflict in several parts of Africa, including the Central African Republic, the Somali Republic and the Republic of South Sudan. Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Somalia and Kenya continue to combat terrorism within their borders. Libya has been experiencing political and economic instability since 2011, and the people are bearing the brunt of these crises.

Ebola is also threatening the lives and dignity of Africans in an unprecedented manner and the situation remains one of concern, and we wish to commend the efforts of the African Union and the international community in combating the virus. We would also like to urge all AU Member States and the international community to increase their efforts and resources towards winning the fight against this deadly disease which has already killed many people and continues to kill.

With regard to respect for the rights of human rights defenders, several human rights defenders are victims of reprisals by States and the communities they serve. This phenomenon is of concern and is counterproductive, in particular because the Commission often depends on the generosity of human rights defenders to have information on human rights issues.

The African Commission would like to call on the African States where there is still the problem of reprisals against human rights defenders to resolve this problem in order to enable them serve their communities without endangering their lives and property.

Other challenges include the gross and recurrent human rights violations in some countries: where the judiciary is not independent, where freedom of expression and freedom of association are virtually non-existent, where arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention are still being practiced; corruption is rampant and the majority of the population is unemployed.

In the light of the above, it is obvious that the situation of human rights in Africa has significantly improved over the years, and that there are still challenges to be met.

I would like to seize this opportunity to call on all States parties to the African Charter and partners to work together to support the African Commission, the African Court and other African Union organs with a human rights mandate so that together we will be able to carry out our human rights protection mandate in an effective and efficient manner.

I thank you all for your attention.

Geneva, 5 March 2015


Hon. Kayitesi Zainabo Sylvie

Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights?