The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) was established to protect and promote the rights of people across the African continent. In its 35-year history, it has played a pivotal role in delivering justice for people and communities who otherwise may not have had a voice.
The Commission’s 35th anniversary is an appropriate moment to both celebrate these successes while recognizing the need to for the organization to reinvigorate its relationships with the media and civil society organizations.
Media is an all-important instrument for defending human rights in Africa, and investigative reporting has pushed governments to address abuses across the continent. Community radio, television, newspapers, and social media are platforms where activists can share their messages and interact with audiences both inside and outside the continent.
Historically, the ACHPR has been able to harness the media to deliver real change. This is something it should build upon.
In 2015, the ACHPR ruled in favor of the Nubian community’s demand for land rights in Kenya, acknowledging the immense suffering of a minority community that could not receive redress through the Kenyan justice system. While the ACHPR’s decision had put the government on notice, it was the widespread media coverage that kept people talking. In 2017, as a result of sustained pressure, the Kenyan government finally granted Nubians the right to own the land they lived on for generations.
In 2003, a complaint was filed with the Commission on behalf of the Endorois people who had been evicted from their ancestral land by the Kenyan government. The ACHPR found in favor of the Endorois people, a landmark decision that saw Indigenous people’s rights as landowners recognized in an African human rights tribunal for the first time. The case was covered widely by African and international media and helped the decision to be formally approved by the African Union in 2010.
These cases exemplify how a stronger relationship between the media and the ACHPR can lead to public support, meaningful change for marginalized people, and restoring dignity and justice in situations that could seem hopeless.
The ACHPR should embrace the thriving and innovative media landscape in Africa, and collaborate further with journalists, bloggers, podcasters, community radio, and traditional media to lead discussions that affect Africans.