To make it independent, there are two or three things that we should be focusing on. First of all is finance. There is no institution that can work without finances. And we should ensure that the African Commission has autonomy in their finances. Because in this specific case, the finances of the African Commission comes from the African Union and are subject to some decisions of the AU leaders to adopt their budget or not. We have seen cases where the African Commission presented their activity reports and the AU said that they couldn’t focus on their request to adopt their budget unless they can revise their activity report, removing some resolution that they think for them is something that is jeopardizing African culture for instance.
The second thing is the nomination itself of the commissioners. The process, from my perspective, is not quite transparent. There are no proper vetting mechanisms, whether at the national level or at the continental level. It’s usually a nomination made by the minister of foreign affairs in a very opaque process that people are not aware of. I think opening up to a transparent appointment of the commissioners could be something very good.
Our leaders, state parties to the commission, should cooperate with the African Commission and accept implementing the decisions of the African Commission knowing that it’s a mandate that they ratified
And the third thing to be independent is our leaders, state parties to the commission, should cooperate with the African Commission and accept implementing the decisions of the African Commission knowing that it’s a mandate that they ratified, they are party to the African Charter, and they should implement the decisions of the African Commission.
We have seen little interest from our governments to go towards achieving justice for their people on the continent. If my memory still works, I think so far we have 9 states actually allowing their individuals to go and bring cases to the African Court. Which is quite sad for a continent that strives for justice, peace, and security. For a continent that designed the framework of the Africa we want under Agenda 2063, it’s quite sad for a continent to think that they would like to implement a human rights plan of action in terms of protecting the welfare of their citizens and the dignity of their people. I think they should be quite serious in ratifying most important protocols. Not only ratifying but implementing and committing to implement some of those decisions.
The commission itself should move to the people rather than the people coming to the commission
Another recommendation I will say is the commission itself should move to the people rather than the people coming to the commission. I think there is little work done in terms of promotion of the African human rights system. The elected people, let’s say the people living in the cities, the people who have access to the internet, and all of that, know very well of the African Commission because in one way or another we have been to school or something. But how about the people in the grassroots communities?
There is a huge majority of people who are not aware about those instruments. Now the question is, how can we move now those standards, which are high, to the people in the grassroots? It’s really relevant. Maybe applying a human rights based approach to the Agenda 2063? And perhaps, why not change the practical way of propagation of the African Commission, then moving from their comfort zone out of another terrain where they could find more people in need and discuss and get more challenges.
Joseph Bikanda works for DefendDefenders Uganda as the coordinator of the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network. He focuses specifically on the protection of human rights defenders, including capacity building, advocacy, and emergency support for human rights defenders around the continent.