A little publicized decision by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights is, however, a positive reminder that victims of human rights atrocities are not forgotten and that their voices continue to be heard.
In May 2009, the African Commission found that Sudan had violated several Articles of the African Charter, a human rights instrument meant to protect and guarantee basic human rights on the African continent, and recommended that Sudan “take all necessary and urgent measures to ensure protection of victims of human rights violations in the Darfur Region.” To this end, Sudan should
a. conduct effective official investigations into the abuses, committed by members of military forces
b. undertake major reforms of its legislative and judicial framework in order to handle cases of serious and massive human rights violations;
c. take steps to prosecute those responsible for the human rights violations, including murder, rape, arson and destruction of property;
d. take measures to ensure that the victims of human rights abuses are given effective remedies, including restitution and compensation;
e. rehabilitate economic and social infrastructure, such as education, health, water, and agricultural services, in the Darfur provinces in order to provide conditions for return in safety and dignity for the IDPs and Refugees;
f. establish a National Reconciliation Forum to address the long-term sources of conflict, equitable allocation of national resources to the various provinces, including affirmative action for Darfur, resolve issues of land, grazing and water rights, including destocking of livestock;
g. desist from adopting amnesty laws for perpetrators of human rights abuses; and
h. consolidate and finalise pending Peace Agreements.
Two different organizations submitted their “communications” to the Commission, seeking redress for human rights violations that were taking place in the Darfur region. Sudan argued that the Commission lacked jurisdiction to hear the claims because the allegations were not supported by facts, Sudan was not responsible for the violations, and available domestic remedies were not exhausted. Specifically, the Sudanese government argued that the conflict in Darfur is a consequence of “instability in neighboring countries;” that the increase in violence and the influx of IDPs and refugees was attributable to the armed conflicts in Chad, Congo, and Central African Republic; and that all allegations are moot as several United Nations Security Council resolutions have resolved the allegations put forward by the claimants.
The Commission found both communications admissible, but since only one of the organizations proceeded to the merits stage of the case, the Commission limited its analysis only to those allegations. The main argument presented was that the forcible eviction of thousands of indigenous tribes and the accompanying human rights violations constituted violations of the African Charter. Sudan, emphasizing the existence of the Peace Agreement and the creation of several bodies to deal with the reconstruction, compensation, and return of IDPs, argued that work was already being done to remedy the violations.
The Commission dismissed all of Sudan’s counterclaims, and, relying on numerous UN and other international reports regarding the continued human rights violations in the country, held that Sudan not only violated the rights of the Charter, but also failed to protect its civilians.