The African Charter of Democracy, Elections and Governance
On 17 February 2012, the African Charter of Democracy, Elections and Governance entered into force (the “Charter”).
15 ratifications were necessary for the Charter to enter into force pursuant to Article 48. Bearing in mind the recent civil unrest and violence in Arab nations such as Egypt, Tunisia and Egypt, and considering the potential for election-related conflict in 2012, the entering into force of the Charter is a significant development and a very important step for the Continent. Indeed, in 2012, there will be approximately 25 elections in Africa.
The entering into force of the Charter constitutes a real move forward, as it is the first binding African instrument to cover the issues of democracy, elections and governance. The Charter summarises and reconfirms existing African engagements on democracy and good governance.
The Charter aims to improve the daily lives of the people of Africa by providing a means through which an individual can exercise their civil rights. The Charter intends to establish a system of free, transparent and organised elections throughout Africa, led by independent and impartial electoral bodies. The Charter commits State Parties to, inter alia, the promotion of democracy; the rule of law; the elimination of all forms of discrimination; and the protection of the rights of migrants, ethnic minorities and women, encouraging their participation in political life. Specifically, the Charter requires that State Parties adopt legislative measures and establish public institutions to guarantee the holding of free and fair elections. The Charter also provides for the imposition of sanctions upon governments or other bodies engaging in unconstitutional transfers of governmental power or coups d’etat. Finally, it commits State Parties to fight against corruption, to guarantee the equitable allocation of the nation’s wealth and natural resources, and to respect economic and social rights. The Charter empowers the Peace and Security Council of the African Union to impose sanctions. However, although it is not specifically mentioned, the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) will also have a role to play. Indeed, as provided by Article 5 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s rights, “the African Commission, a State Party to the Protocol or any African inter-governmental organization” and “Non Governmental organizations (NGOs) with observer status before the Commission, and individuals, in accordance with article 34 (6) of this Protocol” are entitled to lodge petitions before the AfCHPR. Cases may be referred to the AfCHPR in relation to violations of the provisions of the 1981 African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights, its protocols, as well as any other relevant human rights instrument ratified by the State concerned. The jurisdiction of the AfCHPR is therefore based on a large range of legal instruments, including the provisions of the African Charter of Democracy, Elections and Governance.The entry into force of the Charter is a progressive step towards the Continent’s management of situations threatening peace, security and human rights, and the ratification by some of the ‘democratic’ countries is encouraging. However, the next step will be for the 53 remaining States members to undertake the ratification process.
By Jennifer Castello