In a landmark decision, Communication 296/05, Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) v The Sudan, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights ruled on a communication centring on allegations of a wide range of human rights violations committed by the Sudanese government and non-state actors against the people of Darfur.
The ruling, released on 29 July, was made in a case brought by the Geneva-based international human rights group, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), against the Sudanese government in 2005. In its decision, the African Commission found Sudan responsible for large-scale forced evictions and violations of a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, housing, sfood, health, judicial remedies and to be free from torture, including rape.
While there are a number of important aspects to this groundbreaking decision, including that fact that this decision came from an African tribunal applying an African human rights instrument, it principally constitutes a very significant addition to the economic and social rights jurisprudence of the Commission. Two key elements of the Commission’s findings include: (1) the Commission’s recognition of the right to water as being implicitly protected by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; and, (2) a consideration of the collective right to economic, social and cultural development set out in Article 22 of that instrument. The Commission’s recognition of the right to water comes in the same week that the Human Rights Committee found violations of the right to water and sanitation as violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Art. 1, self determination; Art. 6, right to life; Art. 7 prohibition on inhumane treatment; Art. 26 right to equality; Art. 27 minority right to enjoy particular culture). ((Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Israel (2010), UN Doc. CCPR/C/ISR/CO/3).
The decision consistutes a valuable addition to previous ESR jurisprudence of the Commission in cases such as Communication No. 155/96, Social and Economic Rights Action Center & the Center for Economic and Social Rights v Nigeria and Communication No. 241/2001, Purohit and Moore v The Gambia. It also builds on the Commission’s findings on the right to development in the recent decision of Communication No. 276/2003, Centre for Minority Rights Development (Kenya) and Minority Rights Group International on behalf of Endorois Welfare Council v Kenya.
In a press release issued by COHRE, that organisation’s Executive Director, Salih Booker, noted that, ‘With this decision, we see an African mechanism asserting its political independence and upholding international human rights standards as being fully consistent with the African charter. This differs substantially from the treatment of Sudan by many of Africa’s political leaders up until now, and highlights the importance of the African continent’s continuing development of independent pan-African bodies.’
The release also highlight the remedial measures directed by the Commssion: The African Commission ordered the Sudanese government, amongst other measures, to investigate abuses in Darfur and hold those responsible accountable, to undertake legislative and judicial reforms to ensure that victims of human rights violations have effective domestic remedies, and to provide restitution and compensation to the survivors of human rights violations in Darfur. The Commission also ordered Sudan to rehabilitate economic and social infrastructure in Darfur such as education, health care, water and agricultural services as one way to facilitate the right of Darfuris displaced by violence to return to their communities.
Bret Thiele, Senior Expert for Litigation at COHRE and lead lawyer in the case, said, ‘This decision is ground-breaking in that it not only reaffirms that the African Charter protects the rights to adequate food and housing, including the prohibition on forced evictions, but it also guarantees the right to water on the African continent and people’s right to economic, social and cultural development.’
More information on the decision is available at the COHRE website. An in-depth analysis of the decision will appear in the forthcoming edition of the Housing and ESC Rights Law Quarterly which will be available here.
For further information, please contact Bret Thiele at email@example.com.