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African Human Rights Law Journal

On-line version ISSN 1996-2096
Print version ISSN 1609-073X

Afr. hum. rights law j. vol.11 n.2 Pretoria  2011

 

Approaches to the justiciability of economic, social and cultural rights in the jurisprudence of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights: Progress and perspectives

 

 

Sisay Alemahu Yeshanew

Post-Doctoral Researcher, Institute for Human Rights, Abo Akademi University, Finland

 

 


SUMMARY

Various approaches to the adjudication of economic, social and cultural rights have developed out of jurisprudential and doctrinal debates around the justiciability of these rights. This article advocates for the application of both direct and indirect approaches to the justiciability of economic, social and cultural rights in the African human rights system. Under the direct approach, it argues for a model that combines the analysis of relevant provisions to identify normative standards and the evaluation of the conduct of states based on those standards. Under the indirect approach, it makes a case for the interdependent interpretation of substantive rights falling in different commonly-used categories to bridge gaps in the protection of specific economic, social and cultural rights and to ensure the coherent application of human rights norms. There is evidence in the jurisprudence of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights that it applies both approaches. Its reasoning in many of the relevant decisions has, however, been lacking in the level of rigour, soberness, detail and consistency that is needed for a principled disposition of cases. The further development of its jurisprudence based on the evaluation of competing approaches to the justiciability of economic, social and cultural rights could increase the legal value of its decisions and the likelihood of their implementation.


 

 

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* LLB (Addis Ababa), LLM (Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa) (Pretoria), PhD (Abo, Finland); sisis2002et@gmail.com
1 Preamble, para 7 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, CAB/LEG/67/3/Rev 5 (1985).         [ Links ]
2 Arts 2, 3, 5, 7 & 15-17 African Charter.
3 Arts 14, 18, 22 & 24 African Charter.
4 Arts 30 & 45 African Charter.
5 Arts 46-58 African Charter.
6 Arts 2 & 26-28 Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, OAU/LEG/EXP/ AFCHPR/PROT (III) (2004). A decision has been taken to merge the African Court with the Court of Justice of the African Union, resulting in the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights which is not yet in force.
7 Arts 60-61 African Charter; arts 3 & 7 African Court Protocol.
8 Out of only 71 cases which the African Commission finalised on the merits by the end of 2009, it decided 13 cases involving claims of violations of one or more of the classic economic, social and cultural rights. If we add cases in which violations of the right to property and the right to protection of the family were found, the number jumps to 25, which is 35% of the cases decided on the merits by the end of 2009. There were some relevant pending cases at the time of writing.
9 For a review and characterisation of the African Commission's approach with regard to economic, social and cultural rights cases decided until 2003, see C Mbazira 'Enforcing the economic, social and cultural rights in the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights: Twenty years of redundancy, progression and significant strides' (2006) 6 African Human Rights Law¡ournal 333 342-353.         [ Links ]
10 AA An-Na'im 'To affirm the full human rights standing of economic, social and cultural rights' in Y Ghai & G Cottrell (eds) Economic, social and cultural rights in practice: The role of judges in implementing economic, social and cultural rights (2004) 7.         [ Links ]
11 See T Melish Protecting economic, social and cultural rights in the Inter-American human rights system: A manual on presenting claims (2002) 193-357.         [ Links ]
12 United Nations Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR Committee) General Comment 3 The nature of states parties' obligations (1990) paras 4 & 10.         [ Links ]
13 K Young 'Conceptualising minimalism in socio-economic rights' (2008) 9 ESR Review 6 7-9.         [ Links ]
14 See F Coomans 'In search of the core content of the right to education' in D Brand & S Russell (eds) Exploring the core content of economic and social rights: South African and international perspectives (2002) 166-167.         [ Links ] See generally A Chapman & S Russell (eds) Core obligations: Building a framework for economic, social and cultural rights (2002).         [ Links ]
15 For example, while the Committee makes failure to meet the core minimum exceptionally justifiable under General Comment 3 para 10, it says that the minimum core is non-derogable in General Comment 14, The right to the highest attainable standard of health (2000) para 47 and General Comment 15, The right to water (2003) para 40.
16 See General Comment 13, The right to education (1999) para 57; General Comment 14 para 43; General Comment 15 para 37.
17 See Government of the Republic of South Africa & Others v Grootboom & Others 2000 11 BCLR 1169 (CC) para 33.
18 See M Langford 'Judging resource availability' in J Squires et al (eds) The road to a remedy: Current issues in the litigation of economic, social and cultural rights (2005) 99-100.         [ Links ]
19 Grootboom (n 17 above) paras 29-33; Minster of Health & Others v Treatment Action Campaign & Others 2002 10 BCLR 1033 (CC) (TAC) paras 26-39. See also Lindiwe Mazibuko & Others v City of Johannesburg & Others 2009 ZACC 28 paras 52-58, 60-62 & 68 (rejecting the argument of the lower courts indicating the possibility of determining the minimum core in relation to the right to water).
20 See D Bilchitz 'Towards a reasonable approach to the minimum core: Laying the foundations for future socio-economic rights jurisprudence' (2003) 19 South African journal on Human Rights 1.         [ Links ]
21 Grootboom (n 17 above) para 33; TAC (n 19 above) para 34.
22 Free Legal Assistance Group & Others v Zaire (2000) AHRLR 74 (ACHPR 1995) para 47.
23 See ESCR Committee General Comment 14 para 43 (enumerating access to safe and potable water and the provision of essential drugs as part of the minimum core of the right to health). Note that the provisions of art 12(1) of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, which the General Comment elaborates, resemble those of art 16(1) of the African Charter.
24 Free Legal Assistance Group (n 22 above) 48.
25 Malawi African Association & Others v Mauritania (2000) AHRLR 146 (ACHPR 2000) paras 121-122; Media Rights Agenda & Others v Nigeria (2000) AHRLR 200 (ACHPR 1998) paras 89-91; International PEN & Others (on behalf of Saro-Wiwa) v Nigeria (2000) AHRLR 212 (ACHPR 1998) paras 111-112.
26 Social and Economic Rights Action Centre & Another v Nigeria (2001) AHRLR 60 (ACHPR 2001) (Ogoni case) paras 58-68.
27 Ogoni case (n 26 above) para 58.
28 Ogoni case (n 26 above) paras 61-62.
29 Ogoni case (n 26 above) paras 65-66.
30 Ogoni case (n 26 above) para 68.
31 F Coomans 'The Ogoni case before the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights' (2003) 52 International and Comparative Law Quarterly 749 757.         [ Links ]
32 General Comment 12, The right to adequate food (1999) paras 8-13. See also Coomans (n 31 above) 756.
33 Purohit & Another v The Gambia (2003) AHRLR 96 (ACHPR 2003) para 84.
34 General Comment 3 paras 1-2.
35 Mbazira (n 9 above) 353; F Viljoen International human rights law in Africa (2007) 240.
36 Young (n 13 above) 7.
37 Centre for Minority Rights Development & Others v Kenya (2009) AHRLR 75 (ACHPR 2009) (Endorois case) paras 250-251.
38 Sudan Human Rights Organisation & Another v Sudan (2009) AHRLR 153 (ACHPR 2009) (Darfur case) paras 205, 212, 216 & 223. See text accompanying n 91/93 below.
39 See M Langford 'The justiciability of social rights: From practice to theory' in M Lang-ford (ed) Social rights jurisprudence: Emerging trends in international and comparative law (2008) 3 43.         [ Links ]
40 See D Brand 'Socio-economic rights and courts in South Africa: Justiciability on a sliding scale' in F Coomans (ed) Justiciability of economic and social rights: Experiences from domestic systems (2006) 227; CR Sunstein Designing democracy: What constitutions do? (2001) 222-23.         [ Links ]
41 Mazibuko (n 19 above) para 67.
42 Grootboom (n 17 above) paras 39-43; TAC (n 19 above) paras 68, 78, 95 & 123; Residents of Joe Slovo Community, Western Cape v Thubelisha Homes & Others 2009 ZACC 16 paras 115-117; and Mazibuko (n 19 above) para 93. For the elaboration of some of the criteria, see S Liebenberg Socio-economic rights: Adjudication under a transformative constitution (2010) 151-157.         [ Links ]
43 Olmstead v LC 527 US 581 (1999) part III B 18-22 (whether the state had a comprehensive and effectively working plan and a waiting list that moved at a reasonable pace).
44 Eg, see Complaint 39/2006, European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) v France (5 December 2007) paras 56-58; and Complaint 41/2001, Mental Disability Advocacy Centre (MDAC) v Bulgaria (3 June 2008) para 39 (applying such criteria as reasonable timeframe, measureable progress, meaningful statistics on needs, resources and results, regular reviews of the impact of the strategies adopted and special attention to vulnerable groups).
45 Optional Protocol to ICESCR (2008) art 8(4); B Porter 'The reasonableness of article 8(4) - Adjudicating claims from the margins' (2009) 27 Nordic journal of Human Rights 39 46-50.
46 See Liebenberg (n 42 above) 308; S Liebenberg 'Enforcing positive socio-economic rights claims: The South African model of reasonableness review' in Squires et al (n 18 above) 83; Bilchitz (n 20 above) 9 19.
47 Ogoni case (n 26 above) para 52.
48 Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa v Angola (2008) AHRLR 43 (ACHPR 2008) (IHRDA) paras 72-73.
49 Endorois case (n 37 above) para 187.
50 Endorois case (n 37 above) paras 218 & 224-228.
51 Endorois case (n 37 above) paras 238 & 281-298.
52 Endorois case (n 37 above) para 267.
53 IHRDA (n 48 above) paras 74-76.
54 See Bilchitz (n 20 above) 1-26.
55 Statement 'An evaluation of the obligation to take steps to the "maximum available resources" under an Optional Protocol to the Covenant' (10 May 2007). The criteria include that the measures taken towards the fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights be deliberate, concrete and targeted, non-discriminatory and non-arbitrary, recognise the precarious situation of disadvantaged and marginalised individuals, and follow transparent and participative decision-making process. Elements of core obligations are also made part of the criteria in the examination of failure to take steps and retrogressive measures.
56 Purohit (n 33 above).
57 Purohit (n 33 above) paras 80-82.
58 Purohit (n 33 above) para 83.
59 Ogoni case (n 26 above) para 68.
60 GJ Naldi 'The African Union and the regional human rights system' in M Evans & R Murray The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights: The system in practice, 1986-2006 (2008) 20 30.         [ Links ]
61 See Viljoen (n 35 above) 354.
62 Ogoni case (n 26 above); Purohit (n 33 above); Endorois case (n 37 above); Darfur case (n 38 above).
63 Preamble, para 7 African Charter.
64 Purohit (n 33 above) para 48.
65 Arts 60-61 African Charter; arts 3 & 7 African Court Protocol.
66 For the analysis of relevant cases, see M Scheinin 'Economic and social rights as legal rights' in A Eide et al (eds) Economic, social and cultural rights: A textbook (2001) 32-38;         [ Links ] C Krause & M Scheinin 'The right not to be discriminated against: The case of social security' in T Orlin et al (eds) The jurisprudence of human rights law: A comparative interpretive approach (2000) 259-264.         [ Links ]
67 Sidabras & Dziautas v Lithuania (2004) 42 EHRR 104 paras 50 & 62; Zdzislaw Nitecki vPoland, application 65653/01, decision, ECHR (2002) para 1.
68 M Scheinin 'The right to enjoy a distinct culture: Indigenous and competing uses of land' in Orlin et al (n 66 above) 164-168.
69 Mayanga (Sumo) Awas Tingni Community v Nicaragua IACHR (2001) Ser C 79 paras 137-139 & 148-155.
70 Akdivar & Others v Turkey application 21893/93, ECHR 1998-II 69 (1998) (finding forced evictions and destruction of housing in violation of the right to property); Gaygusuz v Austria, application 17371/90, ECHR 1996-IV 14 (1996) para 41 (social benefits as pecuniary rights covered by the right to property); and Case of the 'Five Pensioners' v Peru IACHR (2003) Ser C 98 paras 102, 103 & 121 (finding arbitrary changes in the amount of pensions to be in violation of the right to property).
71 Tellis & Others v Bombay Municipal Corp & Others (1987) LRC (Const) 351; Pashim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity v State of West Bengal (1996) AIR SC 2426; Shantistar Builders v Narayan Khimalal Totame & Others (1990) 1 SCC 520; Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation vNawab Khan Gulab Khan & Others (1997) AIR SC 152; Francis Coralie Mullin v The Administrator Union Territory of Delhi (1981) 2 SCR 516 529; jain v State of Karnataka (1992) 3 SCC 666; Krishnan v State of Andhra Pradesh & Others (1993) 4 LRC 234; Bandhua Mukti Morcha v Union of India (1984) 2 SCR 67.
72 See T Melish 'Rethinking the "less as more" thesis: Supranational litigation of economic, social and cultural rights in the Americas' (2006) 39 New York University Journal of International Law and Politics 326-327.
73 Arts 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 12, 13(2) & (3), 14, 19 & 20-22 African Charter.
74 Purohit (n 33 above) para 49; Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum v Zimbabwe (2006) AHRLR 128 (ACHPR 2006) para 169.
75 Legal Resources Foundation vZambia (2001) AHRLR 84 (ACHPR 2001) para 63; Malawi African Association (n 25 above) para 131; Purohit (n 33 above) para 49; IHRDA (n 48 above) para 78; Mouvement Ivoirien des Droits Humains (MIDH) v Cóte d'lvoire (2008) AHRLR 75 (ACHPR 2008) para 87.
76 See IHRDA (n 48 above) paras 45-48.
77 Gunme & Others v Cameroon (2009) AHRLR 9 (ACHPR 2009) paras 102-108 & 162.
78 Purohit (n 33 above) paras 34-38 & 52-54.
79 The right to the respect of the dignity inherent in a human being under this article is taken as a self-standing right that may be applied to a wide range of cases. Eg, see Amnesty International vZambia (2000) AHRLR 325 (ACHPR 1999) para 58; and Malawi African Association (n 25 above) para 135.
80 See Purohit (n 33 above) para 57; and Darfur case (n 38 above) para 163.
81 Prince v South Africa (2004) AHRLR 105 (ACHPR 2004) para 49.
82 See Darfur case (n 38) para146.
83 Civil Liberties Organisation v Nigeria (2000) AHRLR 243 (ACHPR 1999) paras 5, 25 & 27; Constitution Rights Project & Another v Nigeria (2000) AHRLR 235 (ACHPR 1999) paras 5 & 28; Malawi African Association (n 25 above) paras 116 & 118; Huri-Laws v Nigeria (2000) AHRLR 273 (ACHPR 2000) paras 40-41; and IHRDA (n 48 above) paras 49-53. See also Amnesty International & Others v Sudan (2000) AHRLR 297 (ACHPR 1999) para 54.
84 Malawi African Association (n 25 above) para 120.
85 Malawi African Association (n 25 above) para 135.
86 Ogoni case (n 26 above) paras 59-60 & 64-65. (In the case of the right to food, the African Commission basically accepted the interdependence argument advanced by the communication.)
87 Ogoni case (n 26 above) para 60.
88 Ogoni case (n 26 above) para 65.
89 Darfur case (n 38 above) paras 112-126. (The applicant requested the African Commission to read the rights to housing and food into the African Charter and to develop its jurisprudence further by reading the right to water into some specific provisions.)
90 Darfur case (n 38 above) paras 155-164 & 168.
91 Interviews with Commissioners Mumba Malila (on 12 November 2009); Faith Pansy Tlakula (on 14 November 2009), Catherine Dupe Atoki (on 14 November 2009); Yeung Kam John Yeung Sik Yuen (on 16 November 2009); and Musa Ngary Bitaye (17 November 2009) (all arguing for reading rights into the African Charter based on the interdependence of human rights).
92 Darfur case (n 38 above) para 205.
93 Malawi African Association (n 25 above) para 128.
94 Rencontre Africaine pour la Defense de Droits de l'Homme (RADDHO) v Zambia (2000) AHRLR 321 (ACHPR 1996) paras 20 & 31; Union Inter-Africaine des Droits de l'Homme & Others v Angola (2000) AHRLR 18 (ACHPR 1997) paras 15-16, IHRDA (n 48 above) paras 63 & 67-69; African Institute for Human Rights and Development (on behalf of Sierra Leonean Refugees in Guinea) v Guinea (2004) AHRLR 57 (ACHPR 2004) paras 69 & 71.
95 Modise v Botswana (2000) AHRLR 30 (ACHPR 2000) para 90.
96 Union Inter-Africaine (n 94 above) para 17 (but a violation of arts 15 and 17 was not found in the operative part of the decision). See also Modise (n 95 above).
97 RADDHO (n 94 above) paras 20-25; Union Inter-Africaine (n 94 above) para 18; and IHRDA (n 48 above) paras 77-80.

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