Conflict and crisis situations present perhaps the most formidable challenge to the protection and observance of human and peoples’ rights. These are situations in which observing human rights is not often seen as an important strategic consideration by conflict actors. The ordinary institutions for the promotion and protection of rights can also exert weak influence on the behavior of conflict actors. As experiences from across the various conflict and crisis situations on the African continent and indeed elsewhere in the world show, it is also in conflict and crisis situations that the most egregious violations and abuses of rights are perpetrated. For all the foregoing reasons, it is in conflict and crisis situations that there is a greater demand and need for the effective operationalization of applicable human and peoples’ rights regimes. Given the extraordinary challenge that they present, it is also in conflict and crisis situations that the relevant human rights system needs to put in place and effectively deploy appropriate mechanisms of protection and mobilisation of collective action for ensuring observance of rights. With the changes in the nature of conflicts and the attendant heightened threat to human and peoples’ rights, there is a greater need for the human rights system to pay increasing attention to and provide effective responses to the challenges that these new dynamics present to the protection and observance of rights.
In the context of the transition of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to the African Union (AU) and importantly the increasing role that the AU, vi/ Addressing Human Rights Issues in Conflict Situations through its Peace and Security Council (PSC), on its own or in collaboration with sub-regional organisations, has come to assume in the promotion and maintenance of peace and security in Africa, the importance of human and peoples’ rights has become legally recognised both in the Constitutive Act of the AU and the Protocol Establishing the PSC. It has thus become imperative that adequate mechanisms, tools and approaches for ensuring the protection and observance of rights are established as part of the exercise by the AU of its role of promoting and maintaining peace and security on the continent.
It is clear from the foregoing that putting in place effective response mechanisms for addressing the grave challenges that conflict and crisis situations present to human and peoples’ rights is one of the weightiest responsibilities of the African human rights system. This is particularly the case for the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights that enjoys not only some attributes of judicial powers but also major powers of normmaking, advocacy, investigation and public pronouncement on the most pressing human rights issues of the day. In conflict and crisis situations, the exercise of these powers requires different tools, mechanisms and approaches from the ones used in ordinary situations. As such, there is a need for the African Commission to have a dedicated framework for conflict and crisis situations that enables it to effectively respond to the exigencies of such situations.
The adoption by the African Commission of Resolution 332 on human rights in conflict situations has thus been a long time coming. As the study it requested and the interest around it attests, it is one of the Commission’s most consequential initiatives. As robustly and comprehensively articulated, this study certainly presents not only the Commission’s authoritative view on human rights in conflict situations but also how the Commission on its own or in concert with other relevant actors engages to address the challenges of human and peoples’ rights in conflict situations in a systematic, proactive and institutionalised form (as opposed to the ad hoc and mostly reactive approach dominant thus far). The Study presents by far the most comprehensive analysis in the African human rights system of the problematic of human rights in conflict situations and as such it represents a landmark work for the AU human rights and peace and security system. This has been demonstrated in the fact that it has already started to inform and shape the AU’s engagement, including the PSC and in relation to its peace support operations work.