A banner at the opening of the 65th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) in Banjul, Gambia, which reads ‘our collective responsibility’ in the four working languages of the ACHPR.

© 2019 Private

New leadership took the helm of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) this week at a crucial time for human rights across the continent.

On October 21, on the 33rd anniversary of the ratification of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the ACHPR elected Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso, an Ethiopian national, as the new chairperson. Dersso is a recognized legal scholar and expert on democracy and governance in Africa. The new Vice-Chairperson, Commissioner Remy Ngoy Lumbu from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is a professor and respected expert on international justice.

Outgoing Chairperson, Commissioner Soyata Maiga, and Vice-Chairperson, Commissioner Lawrence Muguru Mute, ended their tenure leaving a legacy of championing the rights of women, minority groups, and persons with disabilities. 

Both Dersso and Lumbu have played key roles in advancing the protection and promotion of human rights on the African continent through the provisions of the African Charter. As a Commissioner and Focal Point for the Transitional Justice Study, Dersso was instrumental in drafting the African Union Transitional Justice Policy, a tool adopted by the Assembly of the African Union in February 2019 to address past atrocities and grave human rights abuses and move towards lasting peace and reconciliation. Lumbu championed the rights of human rights defenders, authoring the Compendium on the Legal Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Africa in his capacity as Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Focal Point on Reprisals in Africa.

The appointments come amid a challenging time for human rights on the continent, as some African Union State parties have pushed back against the norms and values espoused by the African Charter. Despite the charter’s insistence on “freedom, equality, justice, and dignity,” many state parties continue to flout human rights norms, the rule of law, and the right to freedom of expression and association.   

It is also a time when citizens are increasingly taking to the streets from Khartoum to Conakry to demand respect for their rights and an end to impunity for abuses and government wrongdoing.

The new leadership should seize the moment to reinforce human rights norms and values by prioritizing justice and accountability during their tenure. Doing so would not only demonstrate their commitment to the fundamental principles of the charter but would also bring much needed relief to victims and survivors of abuse.