The African human rights system is the "youngest" regional system. One of the most distinctive features of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights is its recognition of collective rights. It views individual and peoples rights as linked. The other distinctive feature is the recognition of the right to development.
The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights was ratified by an absolute majority of States after an energetic consciousness-raising campaign conducted by certain Heads of State of the OAU and certain NGOs. The Charter contains a list of the prerogatives and obligations, and also of the organs for the protection and defence of those same values. Part I includes rights and duties applying to individuals and groups alike, e.g. the right to life (article 4). The Charter places special emphasis on the rights and duties of the community, especially the family, society and nation. Lastly, the Charter accords a place to the so-called third generation rights, mainly the rights to peace, solidarity, a healthy environment and development.
Article 18 (4) of the Charter provides that the disabled have the right to special measures of protection in keeping with their physical or moral needs. Article 16 (1) provides that every individual shall have the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health.
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, ratified in 1999, also includes special mention to persons with disabilities. Article 13 on Handicapped Children provides for special measures of protection, together with principles of self-reliance, participation and access. Most of the provisions of the African Children's Charter are modelled after the articles of the CRC. The main difference lies in the existence of provisions concerning children's duties, in line with the African Human Rights Charter.
Article 30 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights provides for the establishment of an African Commission on Human Rights within the Organisation of African Unity. The mandate of the Commission is to promote Human and Peoples' Rights. In particular, it collects documents; undertakes studies and research on African problems in the field of human and peoples' rights; organises seminars, symposia and conferences; disseminates information; encourages national and local institutions concerned with human and peoples' rights; and make recommendations to Governments (article 45, 1). The Commission also ensures the protection of human and peoples' rights under conditions laid down by the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (article 45, 2).
The Commission receives communications from a State, when this State believes that another State Party has violated the provisions of the Charter (article 49). The Commission can only deal with a matter submitted to it after making sure that all local remedies, if they exist, have been exhausted (article 50). The Commission shall prepare a report stating the facts and its findings. This report shall be sent to the States concerned and communicated to the Assembly of Heads of State and Government (article 52). The Commission also receives other communications, which have to be brought to the knowledge of the State concerned. The Commission also makes a report on the other communications, as well (article 55-59).
The applicable principles of Commission are as follows: "The Commission shall draw inspiration from international law on human and peoples' rights, particularly from the provisions of various African instruments on human and peoples' rights, the Charter of the United Nations, the Charter of the Organisation of African Unity, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, other instruments adopted by the United Nations and by African countries in the field of human and peoples' rights, as well as from the provisions of various instruments adopted within the Specialised Agencies of the United Nations of which the parties to the (African Charter) are Members."
For inter-state communications, the African Charter emphasizes the need to exhaust all domestic remedies unless the Commission decides that local remedies either did not exist or the procedure for achieving them is unduly long. A state can, by written communication, draw another state's attention to the violation of the provisions of the African Charter by the state.
Individuals or groups submit written communications to the African Commission alleging violation of the provisions of the African Charter by a state. When the Commission undertakes an investigation, whether of an inter-state communication or other complaint, it has the right to choose any appropriate method of investigation. This opens a channel for disability rights advocates to educate the Commission on issues relating to disabled persons human rights.
Advocates can also bring any issues relating to human rights violations to the monitoring arm of the African Commission. This may result in in-depth examination of issues relating to human rights in a particular country and to recommendations to the government to the government to improve the rights of disabled persons.
Since the adoption of the "African Children's Charter", the Commission has also been mandated to receive reports and investigate violations with regards to rights protected by that Charter. Originally a separate monitoring body was to be established, but this failed due to the financial difficulties of the OAU.
A 1997 Protocol to the African Charter on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights establishes a Court that would complement the mandate of the Commission, and therefore resemble the Inter-American system of protection of human rights. The Protocol is not yet in force.
So far, the African human rights monitoring system has been the less effective than the European and Inter-American ones, partly because of the political climate and preference for diplomatic solutions, and partly because of some weaknesses in the language used in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, and because of the focus on promotion of human rights instead of monitoring by the Commission.
The decade 2000-2009 has been proclaimed the Africa Decade of Disabled People. It is an initiative of the non-governmental community in Africa. The goals of the Decade are to promote awareness and commitment to full participation, equality and empowerment of persons with disabilities in Africa.
In February 2002, the OAU organized at Addis Ababa, in collaboration with regional organizations of persons with disabilities, the Pan-African Conference on the Africa Decade of Disabled Persons to consider a "Plan of Action for the Decade". The Action Plan calls upon OAU member States and Governments to study the situation of persons with disabilities with a view to formulating measures favouring equalization of opportunities, full participation and their independence in society.