Under Article 62 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, the states parties must submit a report every two years on their domestic human rights situtation. After a report has been submitted, states are invited to send representatives to a session of the African Commission to present the report in person. These reports are to include national constitutions and other legislation affecting human rights, such as the criminal code, and to discuss the status of the African Charter in domestic law. They furnish a unique source of information on law and human rights in Africa.
The history of this procedure is quite brief. The African Commission was established in 1987 and the first reports were examined in 1991. To date, only 15 states have submitted their initial reports, two states their second reports, and out of these, 14 have been examined. There have been long delays before state representatives appear before the Commission, and no official record of these examinations has yet been published.
In the interest of disseminating information on the work of the African Commission and the situation of human rights in Africa, the Danish Centre for Human Rights proposed to publish the state reports as well as transcripts of the examinations before the Commission. Authorization for this was given by the African Commission at its 16th session in October 1994, and the present volumes are the fruit of this undertaking.
The first volume contains the reports and discussions of Libya, Rwanda and Tunisia which were examined at the 9th Session in March 1991. No state reports were presented at the 10th Session, thus Volume II. covers Egypt and Tanzania, discussed at the 11th Session in March 1992. Volume III. contains The Gambia, Senegal and Zimbabwe, from the 12th Session in October 1992, and Volume IV. Nigeria and Togo examined at the 13th Session in April 1993. Finaly Volume V. covers the report of Ghana, discussed at the 14th Session in December 1993.1The reports of Benin and Cape Verde as well as the second reports of The Gambia, all examined at the 16th Session are not included. Where it has been possible, the discussions on procedural questions have been put in separate chapters. However, at the 14th Session the general remarks were integrated in the discussion of Ghana.
The state reports vary widely in their quality and content, and the character of the discussions likewise. The Commission began its first examinations with no clear procedure. Throughout the past several years, a modus operandi has evolved, but each examination has a distinct character, influenced by the framework set out by the report, the background and preparation of the state representatives, and the attitude of the Commissioners. A careful reader will find plenty of interest both in the text and between the lines.
Examinations begin with the state representative delivering an overview of the report. One Commissioner, the Special Rapporteur, is assigned to study the report in depth and prepare questions which are then put to the representative to open the discussion. After the questions of the Special Rapporteur, the floor is open to all Commissioners to ask questions. The state representative answers as many of these as possible, whereafter the Special Rapporteur is supposed to summarize and conclude.
The examinations have often been fora for wide-reaching discussions that give valuable indications of how the Commission interprets certain provisions of the African Charter. Subjects such as peoples' rights, traditional cultural practices, and the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights have been taken up.
The publication of these transcripts would not have been possible without the combined efforts of many people. The Danish Centre for Human Rights must recognize the work of Astrid Danielsen, who conceived this project and administered it throughout, and Julia Harrington, who compiled the index and summaries.
The Danish Centre would like to thank the Commissioners of the African Commission for having entrusted this important project to the Centre.
Copenhagen, August 1995
Mr. Morten Kjaerum
Director of the Danish Centre
for Human Rights
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