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Guide to Submitting a Complaint to the ACHPR

Any victim, individual or organisation, as well as AU state, can submit a complaint or “communication” to the African Commission on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR). However, the Commission is now requesting that the complainant, whether an organisation or individual, have a link to the victim(s) mentioned in the complaint to avoid complication in examining the case. For example, a case may not be admissible if an organisation is filing on behalf of a victim without having contacted the victim.

As long as the communications adhere to due process, the Commission considers all such complaints and decides whether Charter rights were violated and makes recommendations to the state to prevent such occurrences, redress victims and/or investigate the violations. On only one occasion has the Commission examined a complaint coming from a state; generally, complaints are sent by civil society organisations.

Complaints can be sent at any time; those sent at least two months before an ordinary session will be discussed at that session, however it can take several sessions for the Commission to make its decision on the case. Communications must be written in Arabic, English, French or Portuguese. They must be addressed either to the Chairman or the Secretary (scroll down for address).

Each communication should describe the human rights violation(s) that occurred and, if possible, indicate the date, time and where the incident(s) took place. A complaint must meet the following seven requirements, which are highlighted in Article 56 of the African Charter.

1. The author(s) of the complaint must be clearly indicated, and the report should stipulate whether the report is coming from a victim, an individual acting on the behalf of the victim or a human rights organisation. Contact information for the organisation's representatives and the address must be included. When an individual is submitting the complaint, his or her name, address, age and profession should be included. Those wishing anonymity must indicate as much, however, must still include this information in the original submission. (In subsequent reports and interactions, the individual will be anonymous.)

2. The complaint must clearly state the right that was violated by the state party and provide evidence for this (see #4). The right must be protected by the African Charter. Additionally, the violation must have occurred after the state signed the African Charter. To see when any AU country ratified the Charter, visit: Note: the complaint is inadmissible if it requests a remedy that is incompatible with the African Charter or the Constitutive Act of the African Union.

3. The complaint will not be considered if it is written with offensive or insulting language. It should simply include the facts and analysis necessary to show that a Charter violation has occurred. An application that described the Cameroon government as a “barbaric government” and a “regime of torture” was turned down on the grounds that it did not fulfill this requirement.

4. The communication should not be based solely on media reports, but should have original sources, whether through personal accounts, witness statements or government documents including court decisions. However, the Commission has also stated that “there is doubt that the media remains the most important, if not the only source of information…The issue therefore should not be the information was gotten from the media but whether the information is correct.”

5. The organisation or individual submitting a complaint must prove that the complainant has attempted to use “any domestic legal action that may lead to the resolution of the complaint at the local or national level.” The complainant must provide evidence of an attempt to exhaust local remedies to no avail. If the complainant has not appealed to domestic remedies they must explain why. For example, the complainant could provide evidence showing that the domestic court or mechanism has systematically failed to address similar violations. Under normal circumstances, the three main criteria used in determining whether a domestic remedy is required are that it must be available, effective and sufficient. A remedy is considered available if the petitioner can pursue it without impediments. 'Effective' means the remedy offers a prospect of success, while sufficient means the remedy is capable of redressing the complaint. A remedy is insufficient if, for example, the applicant cannot turn to the judiciary of his/her country because of a generalized fear for his/her life. A remedy would also be insufficient if it depended on extrajudicial considerations, such as discretion or some extraordinary power vested in an executive state official. In situations of massive violations of human rights, the pervasiveness of these violations dispenses with the requirement of exhaustion of local remedies, especially where the State took no steps to prevent or stop them.

6. The complaint must be submitted within a “reasonable” time period once national remedies have been exhausted, however the Commission gives no guidelines on what is meant by reasonable and has shown itself to be flexible in this regard.

7. The issue cannot be one that has been settled previously by the Commission or other international human rights mechanisms including the UN Charter, the OAU Charter or the Constitutive Act of the AU. In addition, the complainant cannot refer to violations that are currently being considered or administered by another international treaty monitoring body such as the UN Human Rights Committee. The notion of “same complaint” is understood as referring to “the same remedy concerning the same person filed by him/her or a person representing him/her before two international bodies,” according to the Commission.

  • If the Commission decides that the complaint does not satisfy the seven requirements, the complainant may submit again on the same issue, providing the submission demonstrates the grounds for declaring the complaint inadmissible no longer exist (for example, the complaint has been withdrawn from another international human rights mechanism).
  • The complainant may also ask in the communication that the Commission recommends interim or provisional measures, that is, measures taken ahead of the session in which the complaint is considered in order to prevent irreparable harm to a victim. Individuals or organisations may wish to request the Commission ask the state not to carry out the death penalty against the victim(s), for example.
  • Individuals or organisations are free to submit communications without the aid of a lawyer, however, it is recommended that complainants seek the advice of a lawyer, who can interpret the legal principles behind the rights alleged to have been violated and point to additional arguments.
  • It is the author's responsibility to perform adequate research and verification processes to evaluate and present evidence of human rights violations of before requesting the Commission's intervention. The complainant may want to attach relevant documents and reports to provide additional evidence.
  • In addition to referring to articles in the African Charter, it is a good idea to point to the additional principles adopted by the Commission, including the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, if relevant to the submission. The Declaration is available here: To view other Declarations passed by the Commission, visit:
  • The communication should be focussed on specific facts, rather than general terms of rights violations.
  • If mass human rights violations are occurring, organisations should encourage other groups to submit communications to the ACHPR. The AU Assembly is more likely to call for an investigation when the ACHPR can present multiple communications on serious and numerous human rights violations. Also, a Special Rapporteur will be more likely to disseminate a report on the issues.

The Secretary
African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
Kairaba Avenue
P.O. Box 673
Banjul, Gambia
Telephone: (220) 4392962
Fax: (220) 4390 764

Ibrahima Kane, African Union Advocacy Director, Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa.

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