Any victim, individual or organisation, as well as AU state, can submit a complaint or “communication” to the African Commission on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR). However, the Commission is now requesting that the complainant, whether an organisation or individual, have a link to the victim(s) to avoid complicating an examination of the case. For example, a case may not be admissible if an organisation is filing on behalf of a victim without having contacted the victim.
The Commission considers all such complaints, decides whether Charter rights were violated, and makes recommendations to the state to prevent such occurrences, right the situation for victims and/or investigate the violations. On only one occasion has the Commission examined a complaint coming from a state; generally, complaints are sent by civil society organisations.
Complaints can be sent at any time; those sent at least two months before an ordinary session will be discussed at that session, however it can take several sessions for the Commission to make its decision on the case. Communications must be written in Arabic, English, French or Portuguese. They must be addressed either to the Chairman or the Secretary.
Each communication should describe the human rights violation(s) that occurred and, if possible, indicate the date, time and where the incident(s) took place. A complaint must meet the following seven requirements, which are highlighted in Article 56 of the African Charter.
7 REQUIREMENTS OF A COMMUNICATION
Every complaint must:
1. Clearly indicate the authors and stipulate whether the report is coming from a victim, an individual acting on the behalf of the victim or a human rights organisation. Include contact information and an address for the organisation's representatives. Individuals submitting a complaint should include their name, address, age and profession. Those wishing anonymity must indicate as much, however, must still include this information in the original submission. (In subsequent reports and interactions, the individual will remain anonymous.)
2. State which right was violated and provide evidence (see #4). The right must be protected by the African Charter, and the violation must have occurred after the state signed the African Charter. To see when any AU country ratified the Charter, click here. Note: the complaint is inadmissible if it requests a remedy that is incompatible with the African Charter or the Constitutive Act of the African Union.
3. Avoid offensive or insulting language. It should simply include the facts and analysis necessary to show that a Charter violation has occurred. An application that described the Cameroon government as a “barbaric government” and a “regime of torture” was turned down on the grounds that it did not fulfill this requirement.
4. Be based largely on original sources, whether personal accounts, witness statements or government documents such as court decisions, though it may also contain media reports. However, the Commission has also stated that “there is doubt that the media remains the most important, if not the only source of information…The issue therefore should not be the information was gotten from the media but whether the information is correct.”
5. Prove an attempt to exhaust domestic remedies to no avail. If the complainant has not appealed to local and national remedies they must explain why. For example, the complainant could provide evidence showing that the domestic court or mechanism has systematically failed to address similar violations. Under normal circumstances, the three main criteria used in determining whether a domestic remedy is required are that it must be available, effective and sufficient. A remedy is considered available if the petitioner can pursue it without impediments. 'Effective' means the remedy offers a prospect of success, while sufficient means the remedy is capable of redressing the complaint. A remedy is insufficient if, for example, the applicant cannot turn to the judiciary of his/her country because of a generalized fear for his/her life. A remedy would also be insufficient if it depended on extrajudicial considerations, such as discretion or some extraordinary power vested in an executive state official. In situations of massive violations of human rights, the pervasiveness of these violations dispenses with the requirement of exhaustion of local remedies, especially where the State took no steps to prevent or stop them.
6. Be submitted within a “reasonable” time period once national remedies have been exhausted. However, the Commission doesn't define reasonable and has been flexible in this regard.
7. Not focus on an issue settled previously by the Commission or other international human rights mechanisms including the UN Charter, the OAU Charter or the Constitutive Act of the AU. In addition, the complainant cannot refer to violations that are currently being considered or administered by another international treaty monitoring body such as the UN Human Rights Committee. According to the Comission, the notion of “same complaint” refers to “the same remedy concerning the same person filed by him/her or a person representing him/her before two international bodies.”
TIPS: ADDITIONAL TIPS FOR COMPLAINTS
- If the complaint does not satisfy the seven requirements, the complainant may submit again on the same issue, providing the submission demonstrates the grounds for declaring the complaint inadmissible no longer exist (for example, the complaint has been withdrawn from another international human rights mechanism).
- The complainant may also ask for the Commission to recommend interim measures taken ahead of the session in which the complaint is considered to prevent irreparable harm to a victim. For example, individuals or organisations may request the Commission to ask the state not to carry out the death penalty against the victim(s).
- Individuals or organisations are free to submit communications without a lawyer, however, it is recommended that complainants seek the advice of a lawyer, who can interpret the legal principles behind the rights alleged to have been violated and point to additional arguments.
- It is the author’s responsibility to perform adequate research and verification processes to evaluate and present evidence of human rights violations. The complainant may want to attach relevant documents and reports to provide additional evidence.
- In addition to referring to articles in the African Charter, it is a good idea to point to the additional principles adopted by the Commission, including the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, if relevant to the submission. The Declaration is available here
- The communication should be focused on specific facts, rather than general terms of rights violations.
- If mass human rights violations are occurring, organisations should encourage other groups to submit complaints to the ACHPR. The AU Assembly is more likely to call for an investigation, and a special rapporteur more likely to disseminate a report on the issues, when the ACHPR can present multiple communications on serious and numerous human rights violations.
WHERE TO SEND A COMPLAINT
African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
P.O. Box 673
Telephone: (220) 4392962
Fax: (220) 4390 764
E-mail: achpr (@) achpr.org