African court meets with human rights groups in Senegal

Senegal's flag. Photo by: Felix Trigger / CC BY-SA

As a delegation from the African Court on Human and People’s Rights tours Senegal this week as part of a political outreach mission, the International Federation on Human Rights, or FIDH, issued a call Wednesday (Sept. 5) for Senegalese national authorities to “make firm commitments in favor of access to justice of human rights violations.”

FIDH also spoke out for the rights of individuals and nongovernmental organizations to have direct access to the African Court, noting the “small proportion of states allowing NGOs and individuals to bring their cases directly before the Court.”

Amnesty International and the Norwegian Refugee Council are among the international organizations that can take cases before the African Court, as they have observer status to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. But nongovernmental organizations can only do so when the state party against which the complaint is lodged allows direct access to the court. So far, none of them are known to have taken a case before the court. As of April 2011, only Burkina Faso, Mali, Malawi, Tanzania and Ghana have passed a declaration paving direct access to the African Court.

According to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, while a few countries in Africa are working to enable laws and regulations that support civil society organizations, many governments are trying to “restrict or narrow civil space.”

The governments of Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Zambia, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe have all enacted legal measures in the past several years that create limitations on civil society freedoms. In Senegal, two different ministries must approve nongovernmental organizations’ programs and NGOs must also regularly submit reports on projects for evaluations.

Established in 1998, the Arusha, Tanzania-based African Court has only heard a handful of cases; its first case was in 2009.

In May 2012, a coalition of civil society groups responded to the proposed expansion of the African Court to prosecution of individuals for crimes including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. “The expansion of the African Court’s jurisdiction risks undermining progress in the development of Africa’s human rights system,” the statement said.

The African Court’s high-level delegation will offer a sensitization seminar for human rights organizations in Senegal Thursday (Sept. 6).

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About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is an award-winning journalist based in New York City. Her coverage on politics, social justice issues, development and climate change has appeared in a variety of international news outlets, including The Guardian, Slate and The Atlantic. She has reported from the U.N. Headquarters, in addition to nine countries outside of the U.S. Amy received her master of arts degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in May 2014. Last year she completed a yearlong fellowship on the oil industry and climate change and co-published her findings with a team in the Los Angeles Times.