AFRICA: Commission on rights adopts first general comment

Wednesday, October 24, 2012
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights

During its 52nd Session in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (African Commission) adopted a general comment on article 14(1)(d) and (e) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (African Women's Protocol, also known as the Maputo Protocol) which provides for women's human rights in the context of the HIV pandemic. It is the first time the African Commission has adopted a general comment, which is an interpretive text to clarify the normative content of human rights provisions and the nature and scope of state obligations. General comments have been elaborated in many instances in the UN human rights treaty body system.

The African Women's Protocol is the first legally binding instrument to recognise the intersection of women's human rights and HIV and guarantee corresponding protections. Article 14(1)(d) and (e) of the Protocol provides for women's right to self-protection and to be protected from HIV, as well as the right to be informed on one's status and the status of one's partner in accordance with international standards and best practices. However, despite the progressive nature of the provisions, they do not clearly stipulate the necessary steps that States need to take to meet their obligations.

The General Comment addresses the ambiguities of these provisions by elaborating the normative content of the rights, enumerating state obligations, and identifying, and including in the text of the General Comment, the international standards and best practices in accordance with which states are expected to give effect to the enshrined rights. The General Comments aims to guide the 34 African Union member states that have already accepted the Women's Protocol as binding, in adopting appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures to give effect to the relevant provisions of the Protocol.

The drafting process for the general comment was led by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa in partnership with the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria (Centre) which provided technical support and expertise. One of the Centre's Human Rights Clinics, in which students on the LLM (Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa) worked under the supervision of the Head of the Centre's Gender Unit, Karen Stefiszyn, conducted the background research. The Centre convened an expert working group in Pretoria, South Africa, to develop the first draft, followed by a broader consultation in Dakar, Senegal, with experts in West Africa. The expert working group meetings were financially supported by the Solidarity for African Women's Rights Network (SOAWR), of which the Centre is a member, and UNAIDS.

Following the regional consultations, the Commission discussed, refined and finalised the text of the General Comment, after it was presented by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, Commissioner Soyata Maiga.

The final document will be widely disseminated to all relevant stakeholders once it becomes available by the Commission.