Enforcing the economic, social and cultural rights in the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights : twenty years of redundancy, progression and significant strides

Publication Type:

Journal Article


African Human Rights Law Journal, Volume 6, Issue 2, p.333-35 (2006)



The fight against poverty and underdevelopment in Africa is amongst others dependent on how successfully the socio-economic rights protected in both the regional and universal instruments are concretised. The last 20 years since the adoption of the African Charter show a slow but steady move towards such concretisation. The African Commission has moved from a stage of redundancy, when not much was done to give normative content to the rights, to a stage of progression, in which the African Commission has started giving content to the rights. In spite of this, the recommendations of the African Commission are yet to be taken seriously not only by state parties, but by the African Union. There is no reliable mechanism to enforce the recommendations of the African Commission and, as the African Court on Human and People's Rights begins operation, its success is likely to be hampered by the same problem. This is in spite of the fact that the African Court has a wide remedial mandate in comparison to the African Commission. As the African Court propels the African human rights system into a stage of significant strides, this is the biggest obstacle in its way. The African Union is central in sanctioning states that fail to implement the judgments of the African Court. However, history shows that the Assembly of Heads of State and Government has always been reluctant to sanction its members. Unless there is a change of heart and more commitment to human rights, this practice is likely to persist and thereby negatively impact on the rights protected by the African Charter.