The predecessor of the African Union (AU), the Organisation for African Unity (OAU), in 1981 adopted a regional human rights instrument, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter). After its entry into force in 1986, the implementation mechanism provided for in the Charter, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission), was established in 1987. The African Commission is mandated to promote and protect human rights in state parties to the African Charter. All 53 members of the AU are now also party to the African Charter. The main functions performed by the Commission are the consideration of individual communications and the examination of state reports.

Over time, however, the Commission took the initiative to establish other procedures to supplement its initial mandate. One of these mechanisms was the establishment of the position of Special Rapporteur. The Commission established and appointed three such Special Rapporteurs: the Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions in Africa (in 1994), the Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa (SRP - in 1996) and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa (in 1999). The position of SRP was established at the Commission’s 20 th session, which took place in Mauritius, in October 1996.

From the outset, Penal Reform International (PRI) supported the SRP by providing administrative and secretarial assistance to the Secretariat of the African Commission, and the individual SRP. PRI also obtained financial support from the Norwegian Agency for Development (NORAD) to enable the sustained functioning of the SRP. The financial support covered two periods: the first, 1997 – 1999, and the second, from January 2000, for two years.

Consultations were undertaken in 1996 to finalise the SRP’s mandate. The Secretariat of the Commission prepared a document with a proposed mandate. This was used as a preliminary framework, which was refined by a working group meeting in Banjul, in January 1997. The following mandate was eventually submitted to the Commission’s 21 st session, and was adopted:


  • In accordance with its mandate under Article 45 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Charter) the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (The Commission) hereby establishes the position of Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa.
  • The Special Rapporteur is empowered to examine the situation of persons deprived of their liberty within the territories of States Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Methods of work

The Special Rapporteur shall

    • examine the state of the prisons and conditions of detention in Africa and make recommendations with a view to improving them;
    • advocate adherence to the Charter and international human rights norms and standards concerning the rights and conditions of persons deprived of their liberty, examine the relevant national law and regulations in the respective States Parties as well as their implementation and make appropriate recommendations on their conformity with the Charter and with international law and standards;
    • at the request of the Commission, make recommendations to it as regards communications filed by individuals who have been deprived of their liberty, their families, representatives, by NGOs or other concerned persons or institutions;
    • propose appropriate urgent action.
  • The Special Rapporteur shall conduct studies into conditions or situations contributing to human rights violations of prisons deprived of their liberty and recommend preventive measures. The Special Rapporteur shall co-ordinate activities with other relevant Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups of the African Commission and United Nations.
  • The Special Rapporteur shall submit an annual report to the Commission. The report shall be published and widely disseminated in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Charter.
Means of implementing the mandate

The Special Rapporteur shall seek and receive information from States Parties to the Charter, individuals, national and international organisations and institutions as well as other relevant bodies on cases or situations which fall within the scope of the mandate described above.

In order to discharge his/her mandate effectively the Special Rapporteur should be given all the necessary assistance and co-operation to carry out on-site visits and receive information from individuals who have been deprived of their liberty, their families or representatives, from governmental or non governmental organisations and individuals.

The Special Rapporteur shall seek co-operation with States Parties and assurance from the latter that persons, organisations or institutions rendering or providing information to the Special Rapporteur shall not be prejudiced thereby.

Duration of the mandate

This mandate was for initial period of two years which may be renewed by the Commission.