A model law is typically a detailed set of provisions embodying the international, regional or sub-regional standards on a particular subject, developed for the purpose of facilitating the adoption of national legislation. As the word ‘model’ suggests, a model law need not be adopted by States in its exact form, but could be adjusted to suit the legal and other realities of each State. Thus, unlike treaties, which are binding once ratified and impose obligations on States Parties, a model law is a non-binding document crafted specifically as a tool to guide law makers in translating obligations emanating from international treaties into detailed national legislation.
Article 1 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter) obliges States Parties to ‘adopt legislative, or other measures to give effect’ to the ‘rights, duties and freedoms enshrined’ therein. To assist States in fulfilling this obligation, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission) has, since its establishment in November 1987, sought to elaborate on the scope and content of some of the rights contained in the African Charter through the adoption of ‘soft law’. An example is the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa (the Declaration), adopted by the African Commission in 2002 to supplement article 9 of the African Charter which provides that ‘every individual shall have the right to receive information’. While the Declaration and other ‘soft law’ adopted by the African Commission have expanded on States Parties obligations under the African Charter, they do not specifically provide guidance on the form and content of the legislation to be enacted to give effect to these obligations at the domestic level. In adopting the Model Law on Access to Information for Africa, the African Commission has therefore gone a step further than the Declaration, by providing detailed and practical content to the legislative obligations of Member States to the African Charter with respect to the right of access to information, while leaving the specific form in which such laws will be adopted to individual States Parties. Ultimately, each State Party must determine the nature and scope of adjustments that may be required to the content of this Model Law based on the provisions of its Constitution and the structure of its own legal system.
The adoption of Model Laws by the African Union on issues of shared importance on the continent is by no means a recent phenomenon. Earlier examples of Model Laws include the African Union Model Law on Biosafety in Technology 2000,1 and the African Union Model Law on the Rights of Local Communities, Farmers, Breeders and Access 2000.2 Increasingly, there is growing recognition in Africa of the importance of using Model Laws to shape the development of national legislation in conformity with regional standards, as evidenced by the on-going development of a Draft African Model Law on Counter-Terrorism3 and a Draft African Union Model National Law on the Ratification of Treaties.