41 Years Later – The African Charter is Dying

ZimRights Statement on Africa Human Rights Day

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) joins the African continent and the rest of the world in commemorating the Africa Human Rights Day. The Africa Human Rights Day is observed every year on the 21st of October, inviting the African peoples to reflect on the continent’s human rights journey. This year, Africa Human Rights Day comes when we are commemorating 41 years of the coming into force of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Charter).

ZimRights acknowledges the great strides that Africa has taken in developing mechanisms for the protection and promotion of human rights. These include the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, pursuant to Article 45 of the Charter, which is mandated with promoting and protecting human and peoples’ rights in Africa. In addition, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ rights was established to protect the human and peoples’ rights in Africa principally through pursuit of justice for aggrieved Africans. These are complemented by a number of other instruments promoting specific rights such as the ‘Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa’; the ‘Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa’; the ‘AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption’ the ‘African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance; and the Robben Island Guidelines for the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture in Africa among others.

ZimRights, however, notes that these mechanisms are only strong in potential but have not been effective in curtailing human rights violations in Africa. This year, the Africa Human Rights Day comes when the African continent is experiencing retrogression of the human rights agenda against the aspirations of the Charter. The celebrated African Charter is dying. African governments seem more inclined to sabotage the human rights mechanisms rather than support them. The result is a collapse in African people’s confidence in Africa’s own human rights mechanisms. Where people lose faith in formal human rights mechanisms, the danger of violence increases, which explains why Africa is slowly becoming a hub of violent conflict. ZimRights’ ongoing Right to Peace Campaign emphasises that without the observance of human rights, development is impossible.

As we commemorate Africa Human Rights Day, the people of Zimbabwe identify with the challenges being faced by their fellow Africans across the continent and the African Diaspora. ZimRights reflects on the shrinking civic space in most African countries, the rise in extractivism, development induced displacements, state sponsored violence against civilian populations and disempowering economic policies that serve only the few, leaving the majority in abject poverty.

ZimRights is worried that Zimbabwe has continued to show disregard for the African human rights system which in the past has made clear pronouncement on how the human rights situation in Zimbabwe can be improved in line with the standards outlined in the Charter and other regional instruments.

In 2020 through resolution 443, the African Commission urged the Zimbabwean government to; “ensure that measures taken by its law enforcement agents do not lead to violations of fundamental rights and freedoms, including expression, association and assembly; Guarantee at all times the right to fair trial of all detained persons, in compliance with international fair trial standards and as stipulated in the Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa; Refrain from the crackdown of peaceful protests, arrest and detention of peaceful protestors, and adhere to obligations under the African Charter and other international human rights instruments to which Zimbabwe is a party; Guarantee protection of the rights of human rights defenders, political activists, journalists, healthcare workers and other peaceful protestors, including from arbitrary arrest and detention; Conduct prompt and impartial investigations into all allegations of torture, rape and physical assault committed against persons in detention, including the three Women Human Rights Defenders, in addition to holding the perpetrators accountable and ensuring redress to the victims.”

These recommendations resonate with Zimbabwe’s own constitutional provisions yet the violations seem to continue unabated.

It is against this background that ZimRights takes the occasion of the Africa Human Rights Day to encourage African government to support, in action and substance, the African human rights mechanisms by faithfully implementing the pronouncements of the bodies that are charged with the implementation of the Charter.

ZimRights specifically encourages the government of Zimbabwe to halt the ongoing crusade aimed at criminalising human rights work by individual activists as well as by civil society groups, which work is protected by the African Charter and Zimbabwe’s own Constitution which protects fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and the right to protest.

ZimRights encourages African people across the continent to continue their organising around the human rights agenda and to push back the ongoing anti-rights tide on the continent as this is the spirit of the African Charter.

Finally, ZimRights pays tribute to men and women across the continent who continue to put their lives on the line, thriving to bring to life the ideals embodied by the African Charter. There is no better way to commemorate the Africa Human Rights Day than to honour the men and women who are making it possible for millions of Africans to enjoy their human rights and who keep the hope of human rights alive.

Happy Africa Human Rights Day Zimbabwe.
Happy Africa Human Rights Day Africa.

Issued by the ZimRights Information Department