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Comparison of African Court and Commission with other Regional Human Rights Courts and Commissions



By Dr. Kariuki Muigua, PhD (Leading Environmental Law Scholar, Policy Advisor, Natural Resources Lawyer and Dispute Resolution Expert from Kenya), Winner of Kenya’s ADR Practitioner of the Year 2021, ADR Publication of the Year 2021 and CIArb (Kenya) Lifetime Achievement Award 2021*

The African Court of Justice and Human Rights (as already renamed but still operating under the name African Court of Human and People’s Rights as it winds up) has the mandate to decide cases on the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul Charter) and its Protocol, and also any other relevant human rights instrument ratified by the Member State concerned. This unique mandate is not directly matched by either of the Court’s regional counterparts: The European Court of Human Rights or the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights are the two bodies established by the Organization of American States to monitor human rights in the Americas. The European Court of Human Rights is established under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Article 106 of the Charter of the Organization of American States (A41) establishes the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, whose principal function is to promote the observance and protection of human rights and to serve as a consultative organ of the Organization in these matters. Specifically, in the exercise of its mandate, the Commission has the following functions and powers: to develop an awareness of human rights among the peoples of America; and to make recommendations to the governments of the member states, when it considers such action advisable, for the adoption of progressive measures in favor of human rights within the framework of their domestic law and constitutional provisions as well as appropriate measures to further the observance of those rights.

Further, the Commission has mandate to prepare such studies or reports as it considers advisable in the performance of its duties and to request the governments of the member states to supply it with information on the measures adopted by them in matters of human right. The Commission is also to respond, through the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States, to inquiries made by the member states on matters related to human rights and, within the limits of its possibilities, to provide those states with the advisory services they request. In addition, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is required to take action on petitions and other communications pursuant to its authority under the provisions of Articles 44 through 51 of this Convention; and to submit an annual report to the General Assembly of the Organization of American States.

On the other hand, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is the judicial organ of the Inter-American human rights system. The American Court has a mandate that is more limited than that of the Commission because the Court may only decide cases brought against the Organization of American States (OAS) Member States that have specifically accepted the Court’s contentious jurisdiction. Unlike the African Court, for the American Court to hear any such case, the cases must first be processed by the Commission. Further, only States parties and the Commission may refer contentious cases to the Court closing out individual parties and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) whose role in actualizing the jurisdiction the African Court has proven indispensable.

The European Court of Human Rights

The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms establishes the European Court of Human Rights to ensure the observance of the engagements undertaken by the High Contracting Parties in the Convention and the Protocols thereto. The jurisdiction of the Court extends to all matters concerning the interpretation and application of the Convention and the protocols thereto which are referred to it as provided in Articles 33, 34, 46 and 47. In addition, the Court may, at the request of the Committee of Ministers, give advisory opinions on legal questions concerning the interpretation of the Convention and the protocols thereto. However, such opinions must not deal with any question relating to the content or scope of the rights or freedoms defined in Section I of the Convention and the protocols thereto, or with any other question which the Court or the Committee of Ministers might have to consider in consequence of any such proceedings as could be instituted in accordance with the Convention.

The Convention provides that ‘any High Contracting Party may refer to the Court any alleged breach of the provisions of the Convention and the protocols thereto by another High Contracting Party’. Of significant relevance is the provision that ‘the Court may receive applications from any person, non-governmental organization or group of individuals claiming to be the victim of a violation by one of the High Contracting Parties of the rights set forth in the Convention or the protocols thereto. The High Contracting Parties undertake not to hinder in any way the effective exercise of this right’. While the Convention provides that the Court may only deal with the matter after all domestic remedies have been exhausted, according to the generally recognised rules of international law, and within a period of six months from the date on which the final decision was taken, the European Court practice departs from the African Court’s approach that requires that the concerned party state must have made a declaration to allow its individual citizens or NGOs to directly access the Court. The European Court goes further to make a provision to the effect that the High Contracting Parties must undertake not to hinder in any way the effective exercise of this right of individuals’ and NGOs’ direct access to the Court.

Way Forward on the Future of the African Court and Commission

As the African Court establishes its jurisprudence, it may require revisiting the emerging issues of the extent of its jurisdiction by consideration and a balancing of the scope of rights as intended by the drafters of the Charter with those protected by other human rights treaties. In addition, there is a need for the African Union Member States to revisit the Protocol and the Charter especially in the case of the requirement for countries to make declarations allowing individuals and NGOs to have direct access to the African Court as a way of showing their commitment to fight human rights violations in the Continent. They need to borrow a leaf from the European Union’s approach to the same. The current approach that allows states to opt in and out of making such declarations is arguably self-defeating in achieving the mandate of the African Charter and Protocol on protecting the human rights of Africans. The Court must be allowed to build its jurisprudence and legacy on comprehensive protection of human rights in the continent without fear of sabotage or reprisal from the member states.

The jurisdiction of the African Commission may also need to be reconsidered by either giving it prosecutorial powers over certain cases or by making it part of the African Court’s human rights division in order to ensure that all their decisions can be enforced against member states. While the Commission has played a significant role in exposing instances of human rights violations in many African States, reparation for such victims will remain a dream as long as direct access to the Court is hampered and the Commission’s role is reduced to that of making recommendations. If the African continent is to shed the longstanding tag of impunity and violation of human rights, then the above concerns must urgently be addressed.

*This is article is an extract from an article by Dr. Kariuki Muigua, PhD, Kenya’s ADR Practitioner of the Year 2021 (Nairobi Legal Awards), ADR Publisher of the Year 2021 and Lifetime Achievement Award 2021 (CIArb Kenya): Muigua, K., “African Court of Justice and Human Rights: Emerging Jurisprudence,” Available at: Dr. Kariuki Muigua is Kenya’s foremost Environmental Law and Natural Resources Lawyer and Scholar, Sustainable Development Advocate and Conflict Management Expert. Dr. Kariuki Muigua is a Senior Lecturer of Environmental Law and Dispute resolution at the University of Nairobi School of Law and The Center for Advanced Studies in Environmental Law and Policy (CASELAP). He has published numerous books and articles on Environmental Law, Environmental Justice Conflict Management, Alternative Dispute Resolution and Sustainable Development. Dr. Muigua is also a Chartered Arbitrator, an Accredited Mediator, the Africa Trustee of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and the Managing Partner of Kariuki Muigua & Co. Advocates. Dr. Muigua is recognized as one of the leading lawyers and dispute resolution experts by the Chambers Global Guide 2021. 


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News & Analysis

Why is THE LAWYER AFRICA Listing Top Law Firms and Top Lawyers?




The Litigation Hall of Fame | Kenya in 2023 (The Most Distinguished 50 Litigation Lawyers in Kenya).

We live in the age of information overload where too much information (TMI) is increasingly making it difficult to find actionable legal data about a good law firm or lawyer. At the same time, legal services are increasingly going digital and finding your next lawyer is a now a matter of a few clicks. Many existing, new and potential clients are interested to know more about the lawyer handling or likely to handle their next case or transaction as every HR Manager seeks to know how their In-house Lawyer or next hire compares to peers.

The biggest dilemma especially for commercial consumers of legal services  is where to begin the journey in finding the law firm or the lawyer to meet their immediate legal need created by their new venture,  business, transaction or dispute. In-house counsel are also called upon to justify opting for one lawyer or law firm or over the other.  Hence, the rise in the popularity of international law directories rankings as an attempt to fill the yawning gap by listing a few dozen lawyers and law firms in esoteric categories that often don’t align with the legal needs of the domestic legal market.

But ranking two dozen elite lawyers or big law firms in a big jurisdiction like Kenya there are over 20,000 lawyers is merely a drop in the ocean. The result is the same candidates are listed year after year and an In-house Legal Team looking to infuse new blood in their external counsel panel is left very little discretion. At best, International legal ranking only succeed to tilt the scales in favour of few big firms and their lawyers and to aid the choice of International Legal buyers who are constrained for time in picking their External Counsel in jurisdictions where they cannot find referrals.

The questions that beg are: What about the other top law firms and lawyers who are equally good if not better but don’t have the time to fill the technical paperwork that comes with International Legal Directories rankings? What about Domestic Legal Buyers who simply want to justify why they prefer a lawyer or law firm not listed in the International Directory? Can increasing the number of listed lawyers or law firms from less 0.1% of the profession (as captured by International Law Directories) to at least 1% of the profession or higher for those specializing in the practice area help in enhancing access to justice in Africa? Can ranking law firms by number of fee earners help in the quest for a more accurate bird’s eye view of a country’s legal landscape?

At THE LAWYER AFRICA, we have set out to list Top Law Firms and Top Lawyers in the various practice areas in a way that democratizes law rankings and listings and brings this essential value add within reach of most lawyers and every law firms doing top legal work. We don’t promise to list all the top lawyers or law firms, but we commit to make sure every lawyer or law firm we list is at the top of the game in the listed practice area. We aim to help both little known and already known law firms and lawyers doing top legal work in their area of specialization get discovered by discerning clients and possibly get more opportunities to do great work.

THE LAWYER AFRICA is looking to list up to Top 200 Law Firms in every African Jurisdiction based on their reputation and number of fee earners headcount with a goal of listing at least Africa’s Top 1,000 Law Firms which are leaders in their respective countries. We also seek to list up to Top 1,000 Lawyers in every country in Africa in at least five main practice areas, namely, Litigation, Commercial Law, Property law, In-house and Private Sector or more.

THE LAWYER AFRICA categorizes law firms in large jurisdictions as Top 5, Top 10, Top 20, Top 50 and Top 100 (and allow tying where number of counsel is equal). The Top Lawyers are listed in three categories, namely, Hall of Fame (the Distinguished Top 50 or 75 Practitioners in a Practice Area), Top 100 (the Leading Top 100 Practitioners in a Practice Area) and Up-and-Coming (the promising Top 50 or 75 Practitioners in a Practice Area).  The placing of a listings depends on a number of key factors including the number of key matters or transactions handled, years in practice and experience, size of team working under a counsel, reputation and opinion of peers (where available) as established by THE LAWYER AFRICA.

THE LAWYER AFRICA prefers to list a counsel in only one listing, as far as possible. The Team tries (as far as possible) not to contact listed law firms or lawyers before the listing is finalized in the first. However, a listed law firm or lawyer may be contacted at the pre-launch stage of a list for purposes of selling merchandise relating to the launch but such engagement will not affect the listing. In case of future listings, it is expected that interested lawyers or law firms who feel they were previously left out of the list may to provide information for consideration to determine if they qualify for the next listing but that will not guarantee any listing.

THE LAWYER AFRICA undertakes not to charge for listing any lawyer or law firm. However, upon publication of a listing, as part of recovering the sunk costs we incur in the research and publication of the listings, we shall charge a token for printing and shipping of Quality A3 Certificate for listed Law Firms and/or A4 Certificate for listed Lawyers who wish to have or display the branded souvenirs or to use our proprietary digital materials in their business  branding. We may also charge listed and unlisted law firms and lawyers an affordable fee for limited banner advertising or publishing of enhanced profiles next to the listings.

For any question or feedback on any list or listing, feel free to contact THE LAWYER AFRICA PUBLISHER at info[at]thelawyer[dot]africa.

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News & Analysis

The Roles of the Three Parts of the Permanent Court of Arbitration




H.E. Amb. Marcin Czepelak, the Fourteenth Secretary-General of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA)

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News & Analysis

Brief History of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA)




By Dr. Kariuki Muigua, PhD, C.Arb, Current Member of Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) Representing the Republic of Kenya.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) is a 124 Years Old Intergovernmental Organization currently with 122 contracting states. It was established at the turn of 20th Century during the first Hague Peace Conference held between 18th May and 29th July 1899. The conference was an initiative of then Russian Czar Nicholas II to discuss peace and disarmament and specifically with the object of “seeking the most effective means of ensuring to all peoples the benefits of a real and lasting peace, and, above all, of limiting the progressive development of existing armaments.” The culmination of the conference was the adoption of a Convention on the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, which dealt not only with arbitration but also with other methods of pacific settlement, such as good offices and mediation.

The aim of the conference was to “strengthen systems of international dispute resolution” especially international arbitration which in the last century had proven effective for the purpose with number of successful international arbitrations being concluded among Nations. The Alabama arbitration of 1871-1872 between the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) under the Treaty of Washington of 1871 culminating in the arbitral tribunal’s award that the UK pay the US compensation for breach of neutrality during American Civil War which it did had demonstrated the effectiveness of arbitration in settling of international disputes and piqued interest of many practitioners in it as a mode of dispute resolution during the latter years of the nineteenth century.

The Institut de Droit International adopted a code of procedure for arbitration in 1875 to answer the need for a general law of arbitration governing for countries and parties wishing to have recourse to international arbitration. The growth of arbitration as a mode of international dispute resolution formed the background of the 1899 conference and informed its most enduring achievement, namely, the establishment of the PCA as the first global mechanism for the settlement of disputes between states. Article 16 of the 1899 Convention recognized that “in questions of a legal nature, and especially in the interpretation or application of International Conventions” arbitration is the “most effective, and at the same time the most equitable, means of settling disputes which diplomacy has failed to settle.”

In turn, the 1899 Convention provided for the creation of permanent machinery to enable the setting up of arbitral tribunals as necessary and to facilitate their work under the auspices of the institution it named as the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). In particular, Article 20 of the 1899 Convention stated that “[w]ith the object of facilitating an immediate recourse to arbitration for international differences which it has not been possible to settle by diplomacy, the signatory Powers undertake to organize a Permanent Court of Arbitration, accessible at all times and operating, unless otherwise stipulated by the parties, in accordance with the rules of procedure inserted in the present Convention.” In effect, the Convention set up a permanent system of international arbitration and institutionalized the law and practice of arbitration in a definite and acceptable way.

As a result, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) was established in 1900 and began operating in 1902. The PCA as established consisted of a panel of jurists designated by each country acceding to the Convention with each country being entitled to designate up to four from among whom the members of each arbitral tribunal might be chosen. In addition, the Convention created a permanent Bureau, located in The Hague, with functions similar to those of a court registry or secretariat. The 1899 Convention also laid down a set of rules of procedure to govern the conduct of arbitrations under the PCA framework.

The second Hague Peace Conference in 1907 saw a revision of the 1899 Convention and improvement of the rules governing arbitral proceedings. Today, the PCA has developed into a modern, multi-faceted arbitral institution perfectly situated to meet the evolving dispute resolution needs of the international community. The Permanent Court of Arbitration has also diversified its service offering alongside those contemplated by the Conventions. For instance, today the International Bureau of the Permanent Court of Arbitration serves as a registry in important international arbitrations. In 1993, the Permanent Court of Arbitration adopted new “Optional Rules for Arbitrating Disputes between Two Parties of Which Only One Is a State” and, in 2001, “Optional Rules for Arbitration of Disputes Relating to Natural Resources and/or the Environment”.


PCA Website: (accessed on 25th May 2023).

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