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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


The African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights' order in respect of the situation in Libya: A watershed in the regional protection of human rights?



Judy Oder

Lawyer, Interights, United Kingdom




The article considers the significant features of the order rendered by the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights in respect of the situation in Libya after protests that began on 16 February 2011. During the first weeks of the unrest, the government of Libya responded to protests across the country in a highhanded and violent manner, further worsening the situation which escalated even further to a more serious level of human rights violations. The applicants - human rights organisations - petitioned the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in respect of the deteriorating circumstances that were unfolding across Libya. The African Commission did not grant provisional measures; instead it referred the matter to the African Court. The Court swiftly responded to the African Commission's petition by granting an order for provisional measures. This note looks at features of the Court's order and reflects on its significance. Beyond this matter, the article looks at the relationship between the Court and the Commission and highlights lessons from the Inter-American regional system from which stakeholders within the African system could draw. It also looks at what the emergence of the African Court means to various stakeholders in the region.



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* LLB (Makerere), LLM (Lund);
1 The African Commission submitted the application pursuant to art 5(1)(a) of the African Court Protocol which lists the Commission as one of the parties entitled to submit cases to the Court. It also submitted the petition in accordance with rule 118(3), which provides that the Commission may submit a matter to the Court in a situation that in its view constitutes serious and massive human rights violations as provided for under art 58 of the African Charter.
2 The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Interights and Human Rights Watch jointly filed a complaint to the African Commission. The International Federation of Human Rights and the Libyan League for Human Rights filed the second complaint.
3 International human rights organisations have reported extensively on the situation in Libya, See Human Rights Watch 'Security forces fire on day of anger demonstrations' 17 February 2011 (accessed 30 September 2011);         [ Links ] Amnesty International ''Campaign of forced disappearances must end' 29 March 2011 (accessed 30 September 2011).         [ Links ] See International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) Alkarama 'At least 250 people disappeared, 70 dead in Al |abl Al Akhdar region'         [ Links ] See Report of the International Commission of Inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Human Rights Council, 1 June 2011 A/HRC/17/44 pdf (accessed 30 September 2011).         [ Links ]
4 The application for provisional measures is on file with the author.
5 This application is on file with the author.
6 The letter from the Secretariat of the African Commission, on file with the author.
8 In the matter of African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights v Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Application 004/2011, Order for Provisional Measures, paras 2 & 3 (accessed 12 June 2011).         [ Links ]
9 n 8 above, para 13 of the Court Order.
10 n 8 above, para 22 of the Court Order.
11 n 8 above, para 25 of the Court Order.
12 Court Order (n 8 above).
13 The applicant's experience litigating before the African Commission.
14 F Viljoen International human rights law in Africa (2007) 326.
15 La Grand case (Germany v USA), ICJ Reports 2001 466 (accessed 30 September 2011).         [ Links ]
16 Rule 98 African Commission's 2010 Rules of Procedure.
17 (2000) AHRLR 212 (ACHPR 1998) para 10.
18 As above.
19 (2003) AHRLR 55 (ACHPR 2003) para 49.
20 Law Offices of Ghazi Suleiman v Sudan Communication 228/98 and more recently in Redress Trust, SDFG, HRW & Interights v Sudan in respect of the situation in South Kordofan (not yet decided).
21 Libya ratified the African Charter on 19 July 1986 and it came into force on 21 October 1986.
22 Libya ratified the African Court Protocol on 19 November 2003 and it came into force on 25 January 2004.
23 Rule 39 African Court's Rules.
24 Art 2 African Court Protocol.
25 Art 5(1) African Court Protocol.
26 Arts 6(1) & (3) African Court Protocol.
27 S Ababou v Algeria Case 002/2011; D Amare & Another v Mozambique & Mozambique Airlines Case 005/2011.
28 Association jurists dAfrique pour la bonne gouvernance v Cóte d'lvoire Case 006/ 2011.
29 AE Dulitzky 'The relationship between the African Commission and the African Court: Lessons from the Inter-American system' in 'A Human Rights Court for Africa' (2004) 15 Interights Bulletin 10.         [ Links ]
30 As above.
31 Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Velasquez Rodriquez case, preliminary objections, judgment of 26 June 1989, para 60.
32 Dulitzky (n 29 above) 10.
33 C Medina 'The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights: Reflections on a joint venture' (1990) 4 Human Rights Quarterly 439.         [ Links ]
34 Dulitzky (n 29 above) 10.
35 Eg, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Gangaram Panday case, judgment of 21 January 1994, para 49, stating that in proceedings to determine human rights violations, the state cannot rely on the defence that the complainant has failed to present evidence when it cannot be obtained without the state's co-operation.
36 Dulitzky (n 29 above) 12.
37 Rule 29(1)(a) African Court's Rules.
38 Rule 29(1)(b) African Court's Rules.
39 Rule 29(2) African Court's Rules.
40 Rule 51(3) African Court's Rules.
41 Rule 51(4) African Court's Rules.
42 Art 30 African Court Protocol.
43 Art 29 African Court Protocol.
44 B Kioko 'The African Union and the implementation of the decisions of the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights' in Interights Bulletin (n 29 above) 8.
45 Art 31 African Court Protocol.
46 F Rabkin 'Country reprimanded for denying critic access to court' Business Day 12 August 2010.         [ Links ] Botswana's Foreign Minister, Phandu Skelemani, responding to the African Commission's decision in Kenneth Good v Botswana Communication 313/05, stated: 'We are not going to follow on the recommendation made by the commission; it does not give orders, and it is not a court. We are not going to listen to them.'
47 See comments by the government of Zimbabwe on the Report of the Fact-Finding Mission 18 (accessed 22 June 2011).         [ Links ]
48 See Resolutions adopted during the 38th ordinary session and responses from states 38 (accessed 22 June 2011).         [ Links ]
49 Kioko (n 44 above) 9-10.
50 Rule 118(1) African Commission's Rules of Procedure.
51 Art 34(6) African Court Protocol.
52 Art 3 African Court Protocol.
53 See the application form at (accessed 20 September 2011).         [ Links ]
54 Art 10(2) African Court Protocol.
55 Rule 68 Rules of Court.
56 A Dieng 'Introduction to the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights' Interights Bulletin (n 29 above) 6.         [ Links ]
57 Rule 2 of the African Commission's Rules of Procedure states that serious or massive violations refer to grave human rights violations as distinguished by their scale and importance.
58 Lawyers Committee for Human Rights vZaire (2000) AHRLR 71 (ACHPR 1994); International Pen v Chad (2000) AHRLR 66 (ACHPR 1994); Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture & Others v Rwanda (2000) AHRLR 282 (ACHPR 1996); Constitutional Rights Project & Another v Nigeria (2000) AHRLR 191 (ACHPR 1998); Malawi African Association & Others v Mauritania (2000) AHRLR 149 (ACHPR 2000).

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