Briefing Paper

Sonya Sceats
  • Human rights abuses on a massive scale continue to afflict the lives of millions of people across the continent of Africa. As in other parts of the world, the obstacles in pursuing justice are currently insurmountable for most victims.
  • Against this troubling backdrop, the African Union (AU) has decided to add a human rights section to its new court which has been agreed upon but not yet set up. This court is called the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.
  • In the meantime, another pan-African human rights court, the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, has recently opened in Arusha, Tanzania. This court will be wound down to make way for the African Court of Justice and Human Rights but is expected to operate for the next few years at least.
  • These two courts represent the third instalment in efforts since the Second World War to create regional human rights courts. Because they have broad powers to enforce socio-economic rights and the collective rights of peoples, they may be setting an example for new developments around the world.
  • This briefing paper focuses on the African Court of Justice and Human Rights, but it also explains key features of the interim African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights. It addresses questions including:
    - Can victims of human rights abuses bring cases?
    - Will the Court be able to try African heads of state?
    - Will governments comply with judgments?