African Union

Last updated: 9 December 2023


The African Union (AU) came into existence in 2002 when it replaced the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which was established in 1963.  The main objectives of the OAU were to end colonialism and apartheid on the continent; to promote unity and solidarity among African states; to protect African countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity; and to coordinate and intensify international cooperation for development. The OAU was supplemented in 1994 by the African Economic Community (AEC), which had the general objective of promoting the socio-economic development and the integration of Africa.

The AU formation process began in 1999. The goal of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the OAU was to transform the continental organization into one that could keep pace with new political and socio-economic developments in the world in conformity with the ultimate objectives of the OAU Charter and AEC Treaty. Accordingly, the Constitutive Act of the African Union (Constitutive Act) was adopted in 2000 and entered into force in 2001. After a transitional period of one year, the AU formally replaced the OAU in 2002. In stark contrast to its predecessor, the objectives and guiding principles of the AU include the promotion of democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance, promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights, and the ability of the organization to take action upon the decision of the Assembly (in cases of grave violations of human rights) or upon request of a member state.

Currently, key issues of contention between civil society and governments at the African Union Commission, which functions as the secretariat of the AU, include the shrinking space for civil society in many African countries and the increase in the number of governments imposing laws that restrict the operations of civil society and exercise of citizens’ rights. In addition, the AU has played a diplomatic role in mediating conflicts in countries such as Libya, Central African Republic and Burkina Faso, and responding to unconstitutional changes of government, such as in Guinea and Sudan, though its effectiveness is sometimes a question of debate among African civil society and Africa followers. A positive development is that the AU has begun soliciting views from African civil society about the role it can play in political and socio-economic development, human welfare, governance, peace and security in Africa with the AU in coming decades as part of the African Union Agenda 2063 project.

The AU has also embraced initiatives that remain forward-looking. The AU, for example, declared 2018 as the “African Anti-Corruption Year.” Under the leadership of the AU Advisory Board on Corruption (AUABC), the AU, its organs, Member States, Regional Economic Communities (RECs), and civil society organizations (CSOs) together with citizens attempted to address the urgent need to curb corruption. Furthermore, the AU is cooperating with other regional institutions to promote peace and security. For example, in February 2020, the European Union (EU) pledged to support the AU’s “coordination and partnership” with CSOs “to adapt to emerging security challenges in Africa.”

The AU’s supreme organ is the Assembly of Heads of State and Government. Other key organs include the Executive Council; the Pan-African Parliament; the African Court of Justice; the Economic, Social and Cultural Council; and the Peace and Security Council. The AU is a relatively young organization and some of its institutions, including judicial bodies, are still not fully operational.

Please see the African Union website here.

Headquarters Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Members 55
Established 2002
Founding Document Constitutive Act of the African Union
Head Current Chairperson of the AU (2021): President Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi (Democratic Republic of Congo); with President Macky Sall (Senegal) taking over in 2022; and Chairperson of the AU Commission (Secretariat of the African Union): Moussa Faki Mahamat (Chad)
Governing Bodies Assembly of Heads of State and Government: supreme decision-making body
The Executive Council: coordinates and makes decisions on policies in areas of common interest to the Member States and considers issues referred to it and monitors the implementation of policies formulated by the Assembly
Pan-African Parliament
African Court of Justice
Economic, Social and Cultural Council
Peace and Security Council
Key Human Rights Agreements African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter);
Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (to remain in force for not longer than one year after the entry into force of the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights)
Key Judicial Bodies African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR);
African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (to become the African Court of Justice and Human Rights after merger with the African Court of Justice)
Algeria Gabon Republic of Congo
Angola The Gambia Rwanda
Benin Ghana Saharawi Arab Republic
Botswana Guinea São Tomé and Príncipe
Burkina Faso Guinea-Bissau Senegal
Burundi Kenya Seychelles
Cameroon Lesotho Sierra Leone
Cape Verde Liberia Somalia
Central African Republic Libya South Africa
Chad Madagascar South Sudan
Comoros Malawi Sudan
Côte d’Ivoire Mali Swaziland/Eswatini
Democratic Republic of the Congo Mauritius Tanzania
Djibouti Mauritania Togo
Egypt Mozambique Tunisia
Equatorial Guinea Namibia Uganda
Eritrea Niger Zambia
Ethiopia Nigeria Zimbabwe

Note: Morocco rejoined the African Union in 2017 33 after it had withdrawn its membership

Freedom of Association Legal Protection African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Article 10

African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Article 8

African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, Articles 6, 7, and 12(3)

Legislature The Pan-African Parliament
Judicial and Quasi-Judicial Bodies African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (will become the African Court of Justice and Human Rights after being merged with the African Court of Justice, whose Protocol entered into force in February 2009).

The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child

Civil Society Participation Ability to Participate in AU Activities There are generally four formal avenues for CSOs to participate in the activities of the AU:

1. Participation in sessions and meetings of the AU and its organs with AU Observer Status;

2. As members of ECOSOCC, which is an AU organ designed specifically to give CSOs a voice in the AU;

3. Participation in pre-Summit meetings organized by the Citizens’ Directorate (CIDO) of the AU Commission; and

4. Participation in the work and sessions of the ACHPR and the Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (for CSOs with Observer Status at these bodies).

CSOs may also participate in the work of the AU through consultative meetings and other ad hoc fora with the AU’s various organs and departments.

One such organ is the the African Governance Architecture (AGA). The AGA is inspired by the Constitutive Act of the African Union (AU) that expresses the AU’s determination to ‘promote and protect human and people’s rights, consolidate democratic institutions and culture and ensure good governance and the rule of law’. The principal objective is implementation of AU Shared Values and in particular the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG). The AGA is further a platform for dialogue between the various stakeholders who are mandated to promote good governance and strengthen democracy in Africa, in addition to translating the objectives of the legal and policy pronouncements in the AU Shared Values.

Registration Process CSOs must go through the procedure and meet the criteria outlined by the Executive Council decision EX.CL/195(VII); or Statute of ECOSOCC [1], article 6; criteria set by CIDO; or the Criteria for Granting Observer Status of either of the human rights bodies.
Registered CSOs 150 ECOSSOC members and more than 535 CSOs with Observer Status at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Human Rights Defenders Current Status The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has established a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa.

[1] ECOSOCC is having its accreditation reviewed, which is controversial because it is occurring at the behest of heads of state who are trying to restrict civil society.

African Commission on Human and People’s Rights YEAR
Civil Liberties Organization in respect of Nigerian Bar Association vs. Nigeria – 8th Annual Report, (¶¶ 14 – 16) 1994-95
International Pen, Constitutional Rights Project, Interights on behalf of Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr. and Civil Liberties Organisation/Nigeria – 12th Annual Report, p. 62-73 (¶¶ 107-110) 1998
ACHPR /Res.30(XXIV)98: Resolution on the Cooperation between the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and NGOs having Observer Status with the Commission 1998
Amnesty International/Zambia – 12th Annual Report, p. 76-81 (¶¶ 48-49) 1999
ACHPR /Res.5(XI)92: Resolution on the Right to Freedom of Association 1999
ACHPR /Res.33 (XXV) 99: Resolution on the Criteria for Granting and Enjoying Observer Status to Non-Governmental Organizations Working in the Field of Human and Peoples’ Rights 1999
Sir Dawda K. Jawara/The Gambia – 13th Annual Report, p. 96-107 (¶¶ 68-69) 2000
Kazeem Aminu / Nigeria – 13th Annual Report, p. 112-116 (¶¶ 22-23) 2000
John D. Ouko/Kenya – 14th Annual Report, pp. 73-77 (¶¶ 29-30) 2000
Huri-Laws v. Nigeria – 14th Annual Report, pp. 57-66 (¶¶ 47-49) 2000
Malawi African Association and others/Mauritania – 13th Annual Report, p. 138-162 (¶¶106-107) 2000
African Commission’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Endorses “Defending Civil Society” Report 2008
ACHPR/Res151(XLVI)09: Resolution on the Need for the Conduct of a Study on the Freedom of Association in Africa 2009
ACHPR Report of the Study Group on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa 2014
African Court on Human and People’s Rights
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum v Zimbabwe, p. 54 – 102 (¶¶ 101, 104, 107, 129, 187) 2006

African Court of Justice and Human Rights
Tanganyika Law Society et al v. The United Republic of Tanzania 2013
African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
The Committee is not yet operational

The AU is still a relatively young organization whose institutions are being formed and developed.

A. Judicial Bodies

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Commission), a quasi-judicial body, is charged with protecting and promoting human rights under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter) through interpretation of the African Charter at the request of a State Party or an organization recognized by the AU, consideration of inter-state and individual communications, and examination of State reports. The Commission also develops general comments and other guidance/soft law on various provisions of the Charter.

The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Committee of Experts), another quasi-judicial human rights body, was created by the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Children’s Charter, or ACRWC), which was adopted in 1990 and entered into force in 1999. The Committee of Experts came into being in 2001 and is responsible for interpreting the provisions of the ACRWC at the request of a State Party or institutions recognized by the AU or a State Party. The Committee of Experts may examine a State Party’s reports, consider communications submitted by any person, group, NGO recognized by the AU or a Member State, and conduct onsite investigations. The Committee of Experts has been examining states’ reports and considering at least 16 communications. In March 2011, it passed its first decision, finding Kenya in violation of the rights of children of Nubian descent, and held admissible a case concerning children’s rights in Northern Uganda. In January 2014, the Committee of Experts launched “The Campaign for the Universal Ratification of and Reporting on the ACWRC.” Only five countries are yet to agree to the implementation of the ACRWC.

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Human Rights Court) was established to complement the protective mandate of the Commission. The Human Rights Court has jurisdiction over all cases and disputes submitted to it concerning the interpretation and application of the African Charter and any other relevant human rights instrument ratified by the State concerned. It may also provide advisory opinions on legal matters relating to these instruments upon the request of the AU, its organs and Member States as well as any African organization recognized by the AU.  The Court has so far decided a number of individual applications on the basis of preliminary objections to its jurisdiction and it has referred a few cases to the African Commission. The Court has been considering expanding its jurisdiction to cover criminal offences, but whether that would include war crimes and crimes against humanity is not yet known. The Court’s decisions can be found at this link.

In July 2008, the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights (Merger Protocol) was adopted. The Merger Protocol created the African Court of Justice and Human Rights (Merged Court), a single court that encompasses the functions of both the Human Rights Court and the African Court of Justice. The Protocol establishing the Human Rights Court shall remain in force for a period not exceeding one year after it enters into force of the Merger Protocol. This is expected to take some time as only eight countries have ratified the protocol out of 15 needed for its entry into force.

The African Court of Justice and Human Rights will be the main judicial organ of the AU. Once operational, it will have a General Affairs Section and a Human Rights Section. The Human Rights Section will have jurisdiction over cases and legal disputes that relate to, among other things, the interpretation and the application of the African Charter, and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, the African Child Rights Charter, and any other legal instruments relating to human rights ratified by the State Parties concerned. This will make it a Court with jurisdiction over all substantive human rights norms within the AU framework. Those entitled to submit cases to the African Court of Justice and Human Rights include State Parties to the Merger Protocol, the Commission, the Committee of Experts, African intergovernmental organizations accredited by the AU or its organs, and African national human rights institutions. Individuals and NGOs are only able to bring cases in their own right if the state against which they are complaining has at the time of ratification made a declaration accepting the competence of the Court to hear cases brought via this route. While the African Court of Justice and Human Rights appears to allow for greater access to the AU human rights judicial system by expanding the category of those with standing to bring cases before it, it also limits access by restricting standing to intergovernmental organizations accredited by the AU or its organs and changing the requirement for NGO access from those with Observer Status at the Commission to those accredited by the AU or its organs. Additionally, the “special declaration” requirement may make it difficult in practice for individuals and NGOs to be heard before the Court, as AU Member States have shown reluctance to grant such authority. Only several countries have given the Human Rights Court such authority. Of the 10 member states that entered the declaration, four have since withdrawn (Rwanda in 2016, Tanzania in 2019, and Benin and Cote d’Ivoire in 2020).

B. Freedom of Association

Article 10 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights provides:

  1. Every individual shall have the right to free association provided that he abides by the law.
  2. Subject to the obligation of solidarity provided for in Article 29, no one may be compelled to join an association.

Article 8 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child provides: Every child shall have the right to free association and freedom of peaceful assembly in conformity with the law.

Article 10 of the African Charter, contains a ‘claw-back’ provision (“provided that he abides by the law”) that may filter the freedom of association through the domestic law of Member States. The Commission, however, has repeatedly held that domestic laws regulating freedom of association should be in conformity with international human rights standards and should not unduly restrict the exercise of the right. (Resolution on Freedom of Association, Communications 101/93, 147/95 & 149/96, and 225/98). The Commission has further underlined the interrelationship among the freedom of association, the freedom of assembly and the freedom of expression, stating that actions violating the first two implicitly violate the third. (Communications 137/94 and others, 245/2002). It also has found that persecution or imprisonment for belonging to a political party, organization or group whose criminal nature is not established violates Article 10. (Communications 205/97, 54/91 and others, 137/94 and others, and 212/98).  In addition, the Commission has interpreted the scope and meaning of Article 10 in several cases.

The Commission established in 2004 a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) in Africa, who is currently Remy Ngoy Lumbu of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Special Rapporteur’s mandate includes seeking, receiving, examining, and acting upon information regarding human rights defenders in Africa; cooperating and engaging in dialogue with Member States, national, regional and international mechanisms of protection of human rights defenders, human rights defenders and other stake holders; developing and recommending effective strategies to better protect human rights defenders; and promoting the implementation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in Africa. In order to fulfill its mandate, the Special Rapporteur regularly engages civil society organizations working on human rights in Member States.

In August 2013, for example, Lucy Asuagbor of Cameroon spoke at the Second Meeting of the Study Group on Freedom of Association in Africa in Benin, where she “reminded the members of the Study Group of the key role played by freedom of association and underscored the fact that freedom of association is a gateway to all the rights guaranteed by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.” The Study Group report was adopted at the Session in May 2014 in Angola and was published later that year. This Study Group report initiated a process to develop the Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa (the Guidelines), which the Commission adopted in 2017. To support the implementation of the Guidelines, the Commission established a Support Group, under the leadership of the Special Rapporteur on HRDs. In December 2020, the Commission extended the Support Group’s initial mandate for a further two years to: (i) monitor implementation by governments, parliaments and other State entities and advocate for the adoption of national laws and regulations that are in line with the Guidelines of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 37 on the Right of Peaceful Assembly as well as the Joint Declaration of the Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Democratic Governance; (ii) conduct research and document the situation of freedom of association and assembly in Africa; and (iii) monitor and evaluate the impact of COVID-19 measures adopted by States on the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly across Africa so as to inform the African Commission’s dialogue with States and civil society.

C. Civil Society Participation

The AU has been criticized for the limited access it grants to civil society organizations. According to an audit report completed by an independent high-level panel commissioned by the AU, “[D]espite stated commitment from all policy organs of the African Union; the Panel finds that the involvement of African citizens, civil society organizations, and private sector bodies is still at a nascent stage.” (Audit Report (2007), ¶194) This section considers the available avenues for civil society participation:

1. AU Observer Status

CSOs may secure Observer Status at the AU through the procedure established by the Criteria for Granting Observer Status and for a System of Accreditation within the AU. The Criteria establishes the requirements and procedure for granting AU Observer Status to CSOs and the accreditation procedure for Non-African States and International Organizations at the AU. An CSO granted Observer Status under the Criteria may participate in the meetings (including in closed meetings upon invitation and with a chance to take the floor with authorization) of the AU and its organs on matters of their interest and may have access to unrestricted AU documents.

To be eligible for Observer Status, CSOs must, among other criteria, derive at least two-thirds of their basic resources from membership contributions, although the eligibility criteria reportedly has been subject to reconsideration or may be reconsidered in the near future. In light of the difficulty in generating such resources, such eligibility requirements serve as a real barrier in attaining Observer Status. Tellingly, the only entities that have been granted Observer Status or accreditation by the AU since 2005 are foreign states and intergovernmental organizations including UN agencies and programs. This is why the AU may be reconsidering the criteria for granting Observer Status, although since 2005 there do not appear to have been any confirmed significant changes in the system. (See Decision on the Application by Lions Club International for Accreditation with the AU Doc. EX.CL/212 (VIII).


The principle consultative platform for CSO involvement with the African Union is through the Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC), which originated from the premise that continental integration should be people-driven and built on community-based partnership between governments and all sectors of civil society. ECOSOCC is established by Article 5 of the Constitutive Act and specifically designed to give CSOs a voice in AU decision-making processes. However, as of December 2021, ECOSOCC is having its accreditation reviewed.

ECOSOCC’s objectives include promoting dialogue and partnership between African governments and their peoples and among the African people themselves; promoting the participation of African CSOs in programs and activities of the AU and building their capacity; and promoting human rights, good governance, and the rule of law.

The AU Assembly adopted ECOSOCC’s Rules of Procedure in January 2016 (Assembly/AU/ Dec.589(XXVI)). The dedicated Secretariat started operations in Lusaka, Zambia in 2019. The ECOSOCC Statutes, articles 8–12, provide for the following structure:

• General Assembly: composed of all members, and ECOSOCC’s highest decision- and policy-making body.

• Bureau: composed of the Presiding Officer and four deputies elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly on the basis of equitable geographical distribution and rotation, including one member representing the diaspora.

• Standing Committee: composed of 18 members – the Bureau, Chairpersons of the 10 Sectoral Cluster Committees and two AU Commission (AUC) representatives, elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms.

• Ten Sectoral Cluster Committees: operational thematic mechanisms that mirror AUC technical departments.

• Credentials Committee: composed of one CSO representative from each of the five regions and one from the African diaspora, one nominated representative for special interest groups and two AUC representatives, and established by the General Assembly. In addition, the second General Assembly highlighted the need for national chapters as a framework of accountability for elected members and for disseminating information and mobilizing support for AU policies and programmes. Interim chapters have been established in some Member States.

Members: The ECOSOCC Statutes, article 4, provide for the following membership:

– Two CSOs from each AU Member State;

– Ten CSOs operating at regional level and eight at continental level;

-Twenty CSOs from the African diaspora, as defined by the Executive Council and covering the continents of the world;

– Six CSOs, in ex officio capacity, nominated by the AUC based on special considerations, in consultation with Member States.

Article 4 also provides for Member State, regional, continental and diaspora representatives to be elected on the basis of 50 percent gender equality and 50 percent aged between 18 and 35. Members are elected for four-year terms and may be re-elected once. CSO members include but are not limited to social groups, professional groups, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), community-based organisations (CBOs), voluntary organisations, cultural organisations, and social and professional organisations in the African diaspora.

3. Pre-Summit Meetings and Summit Representation

The African Citizens’ Directorate (CIDO) was established in 2005 to liaise with CSOs on the continent, reach out to the African Diaspora, and function as an interim secretariat for ECOSOCC. CIDO is mandated to facilitate civil society contributions to the decision-making processes of the AU, including the Summits. It has also been instrumental in the establishment of the ECOSOCC. Specifically, CIDO offers strategic frameworks of cooperation between diaspora communities and Member States; mobilizes diasporas to become involved in the development of the continent; supports and advises on Diaspora Engagement Policies & Programmes; and works to realize innovative ideas and Diaspora Legacy Projects.

CSOs must meet certain selection criteria in order to participate in CIDO’s pre-Summit meetings.  CIDO’s selections are based on the theme of the Summit (the most important criterion), the availability of resources, regional balance, social diversity to reflect the various social and professional groups, the scope of representation of a CSO, the location of the Summit (to enhance the profile of CSOs in the area while reducing cost), and considerations of gender balance and representation of disadvantaged groups. This selection process has also been criticized for being unpredictable and unduly subjective. (Audit Report, para 205).

Local as well as international CSOs may further be represented at a Summit of the AU through ad hoc observer status or accreditation that is processed through CIDO. CIDO receives applications from interested CSOs well before the dates of the Summit and decisions are made for the very limited slots based among others on relevance to the Summit theme, timing of application, role envisaged in Summit, and history of association with AU. This is in addition to 5 CSOs representing the ECOSOCC, as an organ of the AU, at the Summits and others that have special summit representation facilities by virtue of separate agreement with the AU.

4. Observer Status at the ACHPR

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) is the one organ within the AU where the participation of CSOs has been strong. In 1999, the ACHPR adopted Criteria for Granting and Enjoying Observer Status to establish the accreditation procedure, and rules governing organizations with Observer Status. In 2016, the ACHPR updated the criteria through a new Resolution on the Criteria for Granting and Maintaining Observer Status to Non-Governmental Organizations working on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Africa (ACHPR/Res.361 (LIX) 2016). CSOs with Observer Status are invited to public and sometimes closed sessions of the ACHPR; they have access to ACHPR documents, provided the documents deal with issues of relevance to the organization, and are not of a confidential nature; and may request the inclusion of issues on the provisional agenda of the Commission. CSOs may be authorized by the Chairperson of the Commission to make a statement on an issue that concerns them, subject to the text of the statement having been provided, with sufficient lead-time, to the Chairperson of the Commission through the Secretary to the Commission; and the Chairperson may give the floor to observers to respond to questions directed at them by participants. In 2018, the African Union Executive Council adopted Decision 1015, in which it recommended that the Commission revisit the criteria for granting and withdrawing observer status for CSOs to ensure that they are “in line with the already existing criteria on the accreditation of NGOs to the AU, taking into account African values and traditions.” The attacks on the independence of the ACHPR and their implications for CSO participation have been well documented.

There are 535 CSOs with Observer Status at the ACHPR as of May 2021. They have submitted complaints on behalf of African citizens to the ACHPR, provided information necessary for the examination of states’ reports, and participated in the work of special mechanisms and working groups of the ACHPR. A civil society-led NGO Forum is held before Commission sessions where Commissioners take part. There are growing Networks of sub-regional Human Rights Defenders that work actively with the ACHPR.

In 2011, the Study Group on Freedom of Association and Assembly, which was formed by ACHPR to draft regional Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa, resulted in the ACHPR adopting the Guidelines at its 60th session in Niamey, Niger. The Guidelines were then formally launched during the 61st Session in Banjul, The Gambia on November 3, 2017. The Guidelines are the first of their kind in Africa, having been developed through extensive consultations with civil society practitioners and legal experts. They are a tool for States and civil society alike to interpret how these rights should be protected across the continent. The ACHPR has since established by resolution a Support Group to assist the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders. The Support Group’s mandate is to:

  • Monitor implementation by governments, parliaments and other State entities and advocate for the adoption of national laws and regulations that are in line with the Guidelines of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 37 on the Right of Peaceful Assembly as well as the Joint Declaration of the Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Democratic Governance;
  • Conduct research and document the situation of freedom of association and assembly in Africa; and
  • Monitor and evaluate the impact of COVID-19 measures adopted by States on the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly across Africa so as to inform the African Commission’s dialogue with States and civil society.monitor implementation of the Guidelines.

5. Observer Status at African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child

CSOs have been involved in the meetings of the Committee of Experts since it began work in 2002. CSOs have been allowed to participate in its public sessions. Specifically, CSOs with information regarding State reports have been permitted to submit alternative reports. In order to formalize collaboration with CSOs, the Expert Committee adopted Criteria for Granting Observer Status to NGOs and Associations in 2007.

A CSO with Observer Status may participate in the meetings of the Expert Committee (closed meetings may be attended upon invitation), have access to unrestricted documents, and may request the inclusion of an issue on the Expert Committee’s agenda. The Committee had difficulty granting many applications for observer status because of some stringent requirements in its Criteria, which it amended in November 2009. It has since granted observer status to a number of CSOs.

General News

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights: Alert to the NGO Forum (September 2023)
The Forum on the Participation of NGOs in ordinary sessions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission), also known as the ‘NGO Forum’, is an advocacy platform coordinated by the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS) to promote advocacy, lobbying and networking among and between human rights NGOs for the promotion and protection of human rights in Africa. The NGO Forum shares updates on the human rights situation in Africa by the African and international NGO community with a view of identifying responses as well as adopting strategies towards the promotion and protection of human rights in the continent. The Forum will deliberate on the following sub-themes, among others: Role of Youth in the Implementation of the African Union Agenda 2063; Achievements and challenges of the Maputo Protocol; and Artificial Intelligence, Data Protection, and Human Rights.

AU wants African governments to respect freedom of expression (May 2023)
Media stakeholders and international bodies, including African Union Commission, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and European Union (EU) have urged African governments to promote freedom of expression and repeal legislation that stifles access to information. The stakeholders also expressed concerns over attacks on journalists on the continent and the tense environments in which many of them operate.

How the African Union can put the youth demographic at the centre of leadership (March 2023)
African youths make up about 60% of the continent’s population, and by 2030, they are expected to make up 42% of the world’s youth population. Despite Africa’s booming youth demographic, the face of African leadership remains old and does not reflect its populace: the continent’s median age is just over 18 years old, but two-fifths of its leaders are over 70. The African Union (AU) can play a strategic role in closing this representation gap. Youth advocacy groups and civil society have consistently clamored for enhanced youth political participation in African countries.

The African Union at 20: some reason to cheer, but lots of work ahead (July 2022)
There is some reason to cheer as the African Union celebrates its 20th anniversary. Key among its achievements is the African Continental Free Trade Area, which commenced on January 1, 2021. However, Africa is seeing a relapse into the autocratic rule of the Cold War era. An increasing number of democratically elected and legitimate governments are cracking down on civil society organisations.

‘Unity’ of purpose and action needed: Guterres tells AU-UN Conference (December 2021)
For two decades, the African Union (AU) has been “a gold standard of regional co-operation,” Secretary-General António Guterres told the fifth UN-AU Annual Conference on Wednesday in New York. Mr. Guterres also focused on areas critical for an inclusive, resilient and sustainable recovery on the continent, that are grounded in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the AU’s Agenda 2063, to help Africans “reap the rewards of opportunities.”

First International Conference on Public Health in Africa Closes With Urgent Call for a New Public Health Order (December 2021)
The first international Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA 2021) hosted by the African Union (AU) and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) concluded its main programme following three days of sessions focused on the need to address long-standing health challenges on the continent, including vaccine inequity and weak health systems. Over 140 African policymakers, scientists, public health experts, data experts, and civil society representatives presented the latest learnings and research from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the actions needed to better guard against current and future health crises.

Paradigm shift in EU’s collaboration with the AU in Africa (November 2021)
As policy-makers gear up for a summit on 17-18 February 2022 where a new multi-year strategic agreement (2021-27) between the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU) will be introduced, research universities sent a clear message that enhanced African-European university collaboration should be a key component of the agreement. This message was highlighted at a virtual conference themed “Strengthening the African knowledge society: Towards more sustainable African-European university partnerships” on 22 November. Participants included AU and EU policy-makers, as well as university leaders and scientists from both continents.

Can coups be removed from Guinea’s political culture? (September 2021)
The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States have suspended Guinea’s membership. Both bodies are committed to helping stabilize the country along with other external partners, such as France, which expressed support for a quick return to constitutional order. As civil society and political representatives meet to chart the transition, more attention is needed on institution building and adherence to the rule of law rather than the shallow concept of a government of national unity.

African Court Issues Advisory Opinion on Elections during a Pandemic (July 2021)
On July 16, 2021, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights issued an advisory opinion on the right to participate in the government of one’s country in the context of an election held during a public health emergency or a pandemic, such as the COVID-19 crisis. Filed by the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU) in June 2020, the request sought the Court’s opinion on a number of issues relating to the impact of a health emergency on electoral processes in African Union member states. With regard to the first issue, the Court noted that the African Charter of Human Rights (as supplemented by the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance) leaves it to domestic law to govern the conditions under which elections are held and therefore, it is also for the states to determine whether or not to postpone an election in an emergency situation.

Slow Progress in Meeting Commitment to Ratify Maputo Protocol (December 2020)
A two-day meeting convened to evaluate the status of the ratification, domestication and implementation of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, commonly referred to as the Maputo Protocol on Women’s Rights, has concluded with strong recommendations on how to accelerate actions on the commitment to African women. Described as a vanguard document at the time of its adoption in 2003, the Maputo Protocol remains one of the most progressive legal instruments providing a comprehensive set of human rights for African women. However, the deficits in the ratification and implementation of the Protocol have had grave consequences on the lives of women and girls on the continent, moreso with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has aggravated the exposure of women to more perilous situations.

COVID-19 further complicates holding free and fair elections in Africa (July 2020)
Africa is severely affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Not only has the pandemic impacted the continent’s development agenda, but it could also reverse the gains already made in terms of respecting the rule of law by holding regular, free, fair and transparent elections. Election observation missions, including those of the African Union (AU), will also be affected by COVID-19. These have shown their limits, as was recently the case in Malawi, where observers had given the 2019 polls a green light before they were judged irregular by the courts.

The African Union and the European Union join forces for ensuring peace (March 2020)
The African Union Commission and the European Union Delegation to the Africa Union signed the fourth EU Support Programme for the implementation of the African Peace and Security Architecture (EU APSA IV). The signing took place on the margins of the AU – EU Commission to Commission meeting that was held in Addis Ababa on 28 February 2020. It will involve support for effective coordination and partnership at all levels within the APSA (including with Civil Society Organizations).

Condé wants a third term in Guinea. The AU must stop him (February 2020)
Guinea’s nascent democracy hangs in the balance as current President Alpha Condé’s resolve to defy the constitution and stand for a third term in office threatens to plunge the country into violence. Under the current constitution, President Conde is only allowed to serve two five-year terms. Since October 2019 civil society groups and the political opposition have lead protests against the president’s attempts to stand for a third term, and more than 30 people have been killed as security forces increasingly use violent measures to crush dissenting voices. The African Union has been accused of standing by in the past as these leaders prolonged their stay, using violence in some cases.

African Union Launches Continent-Wide Free Trade Area (June 2019)
At the African Union Summit in Niger, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari launched the African Continental Free Trade Area by signing the continent’s largest economy onto the deal. After months of reluctance over competition concerns, Nigeria’s support gives weight to forming the world’s largest free trade zone — a 55-nation bloc worth $3.4 trillion.

African Union Makes Moves to Neutralise Africa’s Main Human Rights Body (October 2018)
The ACHPR, whose sessions represent the largest gatherings of civil society in Africa, was established more than 30 years ago in Ethiopia by the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Its mandate was to protect and promote people’s and human rights throughout the continent, as well as its founding treaty, the African Charter. Over the years, the Commission has provided a precious space for civil society representatives from nations such as Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Ethiopia – countries where the space for civil society has been closed – to air human rights grievances and see action taken. Today, the independence that enabled the ACHPR to pass binding resolutions on rights violations is being consistently eroded by the AU.

African Union seeks to shackle human rights watchdog (October 2018)
Human rights activists are fighting against moves by the African Union to rein in the continent’s human rights watchdog, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR). The Coalition of African Lesbians has been barred from meetings of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, which is the continent’s human rights watchdog. LGBT rights organizations have been prominent in the protests, which began after the ACHPR revoked the observer status that it had granted in 2015 to the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL). That move came because of pressure from the 55-nation African Union.

AU rights group urges Mauritania to ‘review’ blasphemy law (May 2018)
The African Union’s human rights body has called on Mauritania to “review” a draft law that applies the death penalty for blasphemy as global outrage grows over the imprisonment of a young blogger. Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould Mkheitir has been detained for more than four years despite his death penalty being downgraded to a two-year sentence in November 2017. In November 2017, the government moved to harden religious laws so that showing repentance for blasphemy and apostasy could no longer prevent the death penalty. But the text of the bill has not yet been promulgated by President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, without official explanation. The head of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Soyata Maiga, called on the government to reconsider the bill.

African Court Refuses to Grant Advisory Opinion on a Case (October 2017)
The African Court on Human and Peoples Rights has declined to offer an Advisory Opinion in a request submitted by La Rencontre Africain Pour La Défense Des Droits De L’homme. The African Court in a ruling made available to the CDA Consult in Accra explained that the fact that the NGO which filed the request does not fall within the first three categories within the meaning of Article 4(1) of the Protocol is not contested. According to the Court “In the instant case, the Applicant has not claimed and has not provided proof as to its Observer Status before the African Union or that it has signed any Memorandum of Understanding with the Union. From the foregoing, the African Court finds that, although the Applicant is an African organisation within the meaning of Article 4(1) of the Protocol, it lacks the second essential condition required by this provision as a basis for the Court’s jurisdiction, namely, to be “recognised by the African Union.”

Twelve Points for the New African Union Commission Chairperson (March 2017)
Africa is experiencing the highest number of humanitarian crises since the 1990s. As the new chair of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, takes office, International Crisis Group suggests how he can strengthen the organisation’s response to threats to continental peace and security.

Morocco rejoins the African Union after 33 years (January 2017)
The African Union has decided to allow Morocco back into the fold after a 33-year absence, despite stiff resistance from some member states over the status of Western Sahara. After an emotional and tense debate, member states decided by consensus to leave the question of the disputed territory of Western Sahara for another day, and resolve it with Morocco “back in the family”. The only African country not to belong to the AU, Morocco left its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, in 1984 after the body recognised the independence of Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara.

ECOSOCC calls for an expedient and peaceful transition of power in the Gambia (December 2016)
ECOSOCC is extremely concerned about the situation in the Gambia since the outgoing President unjustly rejected the outcome the December 1 election in his statement on 9 December 2016 only one week after he has rightly accepted the election results and conceded defeat to the opposition. ECOSOCC is also particularly concerned about the dangers and risks to Gambian civil society and strongly urges the authorities in Gambian to ensure the safety and security of civil society members including journalists.

The Fifth Annual African Union Dialogue on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance in Africa (December 2016)
A High Level Dialogue (HLD) was part of the celebrations of 2016 as the Year of Human Rights in Africa with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women. The event was held in Arusha, Tanzania, jointly by AU organs with a human rights mandate.

African Union calls for nominations for Dlamini-Zuma position (August 2016)
African Union (AU) chairperson, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is preparing to leave the organisation after having served her term. In a statement, the continental organisation said the process to choose her successor will take place on the 30th and 31st of January 2017. The nomination process closes on 19th August 2016.

The march of democracy slows (August 2016)
Nicholas Cheeseman, an academic at Oxford University, reckons that of 91 presidents and prime ministers to have held office on the continent in civilian regimes since 1989, 45% once either served in the armed forces or were guerrillas before becoming politicians. This includes all four presidents in the Great Lakes region around eastern Congo, as well as Nigeria’s Mr Buhari. Coups are far less common these days; the African Union, often an ineffectual organisation, has recently taken a firm stand against them. Yet the prevalence of so many former fighting men in civilian office highlights the influence that armies still wield in politics.

African Union chief Dlamini-Zuma to step down (April 2016)
African Union Commission head Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is tipped to take over the leadership of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, will step down at the end of her four-year term in July 2016, her spokesman said. Dlamini-Zuma did not submit an application to remain as chairperson for a second term before the deadline for candidates closed last week.

AU goes into election mode (January 2016)
The AU goes into election mode as member states decide who to back for AU Commission chair at the next summit in July. The big question is whether Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma will stand again or repair to South Africa to join the race for the presidency.

26th AU summit opens in Ethiopia’s capital (January 2016)
The 26th ordinary session of the African Union (AU) heads of states and governments kicks off on Saturday at the AU Headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.Heads of states of the 54-member pan-African bloc convene their two-day session under the theme, “2016: African Year of Human Rights with particular focus on the Rights of Women.”

Burkina Faso opposition parties, African Union reject army takeover (November 2014)
Burkina Faso’s opposition parties, the United States and the African Union rejected the army’s seizure of power in the West African country after the resignation of President Blaise Compaore, setting the stage for fresh street protests. The military top brass named Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida, deputy commander of the elite presidential guard, as head of state on Saturday. A power struggle within the armed forces was resolved by sidelining the chief of staff.

Key developments from the 55th session of the African Commission (May 2014)
Shrinking civil society space and violations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity have been the subject of some strong statements from NGOs at the 55th session of the Commission. This prompted aggressive responses from several of the States criticised. Many NGOs also raised the issue of shrinking civil society space across the continent.

News Archive

African human rights court could cover criminal offences (February 2014)

AU Poll Observer Team Holds Meeting With Civil Society Groups (June 2013)

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn elected by African heads of state as chairman of the African Union (February 2013)

African elections succeed when civil society is involved (October 2012)

Joint NGO letter expresses concern about the candidacy of Sudan and Ethiopia to the UNHRC (July 2012)

African civil society raft demands to AU (July 2012)

NGO forum preceding the 51st ordinary session report of the Working Group on Torture, Death Penalty and Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa (May 2012)

Special Rapporteur on Women’s Rights in Africa to the African Union Commission salutes NGO forum (April 2012)

African Charter on Democracy, elections and governance enters into force (February 2012)

Civil society organizations discuss developments affecting criminal justice in Africa (January 2012)

Press Release on ICC Decisions of the Pre-Trial Chamber I on Malawi and Chad (January 2012)

Human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (January 2012)

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights held its first session out of Tanzania (January 2012)

Summary report of the NGOs forum (November 2011)

African leaders agree a common position on aid, development (October 2011)

Decision on children of Nubian descent in Kenya published (September 2011)

African Union summit struggles to raise funds to combat Horn of Africa crisis (August 2011)

Joint declaration – The 5th College-to-College meeting of the European Commission and the African Union Commission (June 2011)

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights meeting at its 49th Ordinary Session  (May 2011)

A call for comments on the draft Access to Information Model Law in Africa (May 2011)

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights orders for Provisional Measures against Libya (March 2011)

Resolution passed at the 16th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Union (February 2011)

Statement by the Chairperson of the African Union Commission on the Situation in Tunisia (January 2011)

Human rights activists critical of Obiang AU nomination (January 2011)

African Union summit agenda skips Egypt, Tunisia (January 2011)

AU’s relevance and prominence on the international stage is growing despite despotic leadership (January 2011)