The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Court) was established through a Protocol to the African Charter. The Protocol on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights was adopted in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on 9 June 1998 and entered into force on 25 January 2004. The Court was established in order to complement the protective mandate of the Commission. Its decisions are final and binding on state parties to the Protocol.
The Court consists of 11 judges elected by the AU Assembly from a list of candidates nominated by member states of the AU. The judges are elected in their personal capacity but no two serving judges shall be nationals of the same state. Due consideration is also given to gender and geographical representation. The judges are elected for a period of six years and are eligible for re-election only once. Only the president of the Court holds office on full time basis. The other 10 judges work part-time. The first judges of the Court were sworn in on 1 July 2006. The seat of the Court is Arusha, Tanzania.
Jurisdiction of the Court
The Court’s jurisdiction applies only to states that have ratified the Court’s Protocol. As at 21 October 2011, only 26 states have ratified the Protocol.The Court may entertain cases and disputes concerning the interpretation and application of the African Charter, the Court’s Protocol and any other human rights treaty ratified by the state concerned. The Court may also render advisory opinion on any matter within its jurisdiction. The advisory opinion of the Court may be requested by the AU, member states of the AU, AU organs and any African organisation recognised by the AU. The Court is also empowered to promote amicable settlement of cases pending before it. The Court can also interpret its own judgment.
The temporal jurisdiction of the Court extends to the time the Court Protocol entered into force in respect of a particular state except in cases of continuing violations. The principle of continuing violation was earlier endorsed by the African Commission in Lawyers for Human Rights v Swaziland.
The following entities are competent to submit communications to the Court: the African Commission, state parties to the Court’s Protocol, African Inter-governmental Organisations, NGOs with observer status before the Commission and individuals.
Admissibility criteria for cases brought before the Court
In respect of cases brought by NGOs and individuals, articles 6 and 34(6) of the Protocol establishing the Court provides for the following admissibility requirements: In addition to the seven admissibility requirements under article 56 of the African Charter, cases brought directly before the Court by individuals and NGOs are admissible only when the state against which the complaint is brought has made a declaration under article 5(3) of the Court’s Protocol accepting the competence of the court to receive such complaints. As at 21 October 2011, only Ghana, Tanzania, Mali, Malawi and Burkina Faso have made the declaration.