The commission as a party before the court – reflections on the complementarity arrangement

27 July 2016

The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights has worked as the continent's watchdog, under the ACHPR, for almost 30 years. Much has changed since the time of its inception. More institutions, set to ensure the implementation of the ACHPR, have been added. As the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights became operational, a two-tiered human rights system was created. This article explores the inter-relationship between the ACHPR, the Protocol Establishing the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Procedural Rules of these two institutions within the specific context of the African Commission's mandate to refer communications to the African Court. The aim is to offer a purposeful interpretation of the Procedural Rules governing referrals, guided by the understanding of the principle of complementarity in the preparatory works. The author argues that an appropriate interpretation of complementarity, within the context of referrals, becomes vital in alleviating one of the long-term plagues of the African, protective, human rights system, namely the lack of resources and human capital. It is suggested that the African Commission and the African Court can only be effective if they take proper cognisance of the principle of complementarity, in referring and receiving communications.