21 October marked 40 years since the adoption and ratification of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights 1981 – 2021 publication. The Centre for Human Rights (CHR) at UP collaborated with the Human Rights Institute of South Africa and the South African Human Rights Commission on a virtual event to celebrate this milestone.
The event highlighted the progress of Africa’s development as far as human rights are concerned. Judge Alapini Gansou, former Commissioner of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, said that the charter “[…] defied odds that Africa wouldn’t be able to do anything”. Gansou further emphasised the importance of the youth in showing an interest in human rights issues because they are the future.
In A Guide to the African Human Rights System, the Centre for Human Rights stated the following: “The adoption of the African Charter represents a drastic curtailment of the principle of non- interference in the domestic affairs, which was a pillar of the 1963 OAU Charter”. The objectives of the charter are consistent with Agenda 2063: “The Africa we want of the African Union which intends on transforming Africa into a global powerhouse of the future by delivering on inclusive and sustainable development and by refocusing on the continent’s struggle against apartheid and attaining political development”. The adoption and implementation of the charter has changed the normative and institutional human rights landscape and it has laid a foundation for the development of soft-law standards and protocols. These serve as a guideline for states in the implementation and clarification of the rights of African people.
An example of the expansion of the charter is the Maputo Protocol that is inclusive of civil, political, economic, social, cultural and group rights, and it is the first international treaty that is inclusive of sexual and reproductive rights. A Guide to the African Human Rights System explains this as follows: “It also contains innovative provisions that advance women’s rights further than any existing legally binding international treaty. For example, the legal prohibition of female genital mutilation is prescribed as well as the authorisation of abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the foetus”. Violence against women, child marriage, polygamy and harmful traditional practices are some of the issues addressed, as well as separate provisions for widows, older women and women with disabilities.
A press release by the Centre for Human Rights stated that the challenges encountered with the realisation of objectives include the “[…] lack of implementation of decisions and recommendations and a lack of coordination between the bodies of the African Union with a human-rights related mandate”. Key speakers further emphasised the importance of implementation and use of various accountability mechanisms and access to information in ensuring the fulfilment of the responsibilities and agenda of the charter.