Africa: States Frustrate Continental Rights Bodies' Efforts to Uphold Human Rights

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African rights bodies are frustrated at every turn by the lack of cooperation and support from African Union (AU) member states who desperately try to undermine their independence and autonomy, according to a new report published by Amnesty International.

The report, The State of African Regional Human Rights Bodies and Mechanisms, found that the continent's rights bodies are working in harsh conditions whereby their decisions are blatantly ignored and their pleas for proper funding and human resources persistently fall on deaf ears.

"Africa's human rights bodies are being wilfully subverted. The African Union's Executive Council must resist these efforts and take its responsibility to monitor and enforce compliance with the decisions of the human rights mechanisms seriously," said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International's Director for Research and Advocacy.

States' poor performance record

The report offers an assessment of the performance of three of Africa's regional human rights institutions between January 2018 and June 2019: the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (African Commission); the African Child Rights Committee; and the African Court.

It found that out of the continent's 54 countries, five (Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe and Somalia) have not submitted a single report on the human rights situation in their countries since they ratified the Africa Charter for Human and People's Rights.

Many countries that submitted their human rights reports to the African Commission during the reporting period did so after delays in excess of a decade. Gambia and Eritrea set records by submitting their reports 21 and 19 years late respectively.

In the timeframe in review, the African Commission sent 83 urgent appeals to states over concerns of human rights violations. Of these only 26 (31 percent) received a written response. The African Commission further requested 27 country visits, of which only 13 were authorized in principle, and just five materialized.

Room for improvement

Despite facing many stubborn challenges, African human rights bodies registered a relatively impressive record in developing new norms and standards including developing a draft treaty on the rights to social protection and social security. The African Commission also published seminal studies on transitional justice and on human rights in conflicts.

The African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights (African Court) issued 25 decisions. However, only Burkina Faso had fully complied with the court's decisions by the end of the reporting period. Some countries, including Tanzania, partially complied, while Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya, Libya and Rwanda didn't comply at all.

Both the African Commission and the African Court performed dismally in clearing a backlog of complaints, with 240 and 143 cases pending respectively by June 2019. On the other hand, the African Child Rights Committee remained grossly under-utilized, having received only 11 cases from its inception.

"Both the African Commission and the African Court face a chronic backlog problem because of a slow pace in determining cases. They must urgently develop plans to speed up determinations and ensure strict adherence to time limits for parties, especially state parties," said Netsanet Belay.

Human rights defenders under siege

The report also highlights an onslaught on human rights defenders (HRDs) in Africa. Between January 2018 and June 2019, appeals for protection of HRDs accounted for 71 percent of all appeals issued to state parties by the African Commission.

HRDs in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Egypt were the worst hit, the Africa Commission issuing 11 and 10 urgent appeals respectively to their governments. These were closely followed by Burundi with seven urgent appeals, Cameroon and Algeria each with six, and Uganda and Sudan, each with five appeals.

"It is extremely alarming that governments across Africa have singled out human rights defenders to try to silence them and bring an end to their activism through brutal attacks, harassment, unlawful arrest and detention," said Netsanet Belay.

"Attacks on human rights defenders are an attack on the rights of all the people whose freedoms they are fighting for."

Background

This new Amnesty International report, to be published annually, will serve as a regular audit of the performance of the three regional human rights institutions in Africa: the African Commission; the African Child Rights Committee; and the African Court.

Beginning with this inaugural review, The State of the African Regional Human Rights Bodies and Mechanisms will be published every 21 October in commemoration of the adoption of the African Charter on this day in 1981.

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