African Commission: Counter-terrorism efforts must respect human rights


Article disponible en français ici

(Banjul, The Gambia) - Ms Reine Alapini-Gansou, the  Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders for the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (African Commission) hosted a panel on the Principles and Guidelines on Human and Peoples' Rights while Countering Terrorism in Africa  on  10 April 2016 along with Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).

The principles and guidelines were first adopted by the African Commission at its 56th ordinary session in Banjul (April-May 2015) and then officially launched at the African Union Summit in January 2016, in Ethiopia. ‘The Principles and Guidelines were developed on the basis of Article 45(1)(b) of the African Charter, which mandates the African Commission to formulate standards and rules, for which African governments can base their legislation,’ explained Commissioner Reine Alapini-Gansou. ‘The document’s main objective is to focus on new aspects in counter terrorism efforts. We kept the topics broad and looked into private enterprises with regards to their corporate social responsibility role as well as the obligation of private security contractors (military and non-military) to ensure they uphold human rights in their work,’ said a representative from OSIWA.

According to panelists, the Principles and Guidelines set out to meet four specific objectives namely:

  • Focus on women,
  • Contextualise the phenomenon of terrorism,
  • Respond to emerging issues,
  • Underline the importance of cooperation and implementation of the Countering Terrorism in Africa Principles and Guidelines.

The document contains 14 principles and guidelines accompanied by ‘explanatory notes’ that point the reader the source of authority on which the guidelines are based.

Cameroon welcomed the guidelines and explained that terrorism has resulted in the country receiving over 4,000 refugees and having more than 100,000 internally displaced people. To this end they have established an emergency plan for the affected areas and called for more technical assistance beyond the guidelines such as training of police and soldiers in this regard.

Nigeria also welcomed the guidelines and shared that the country had passed a Terrorism Prevention Act in 2013. The law makes terrorism acts criminal and they carry serious punishment. The Government has monetary provision set aside to rebuild areas destroyed by terrorist activities. Since the emergence of terrorist group Boko Haram, Nigeria and neighbouring countries have been victims of countless attacks resulting in the loss of thousands of lives and a multiplicity of human rights violations.

In the last 7 years, Nigeria's Borno State lost 20,000 citizens and suffered property damage worth $5.9bn [N1.9 trillion at the current parallel market exchange rate of N324 to a dollar in the hands of Boko Haram insurgents  according to a Preliminary assessment by World Bank officials reflected in a Post Insurgency Recovery and Peace Building Assessment report. The kidnapping in April 2014 by Boko haram in Chibok, Nigeria of 276 schoolgirls has aroused international consternation on the barbaric acts of the group.Two years on, most of the girls are still missing.

Other terrorist groups such as  Ansar Eddine,  Aqmi , IS  and al-Shabaab have sowed and continue to sow terror in Mali, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, Tunisia, Kenya and Somalia among others.

In reaction to this terrorist threat, many African countries started to adopt counter-terrorism laws. Between the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015, 8 African countries modified their national legislation to include counter-terrorism provisions which brings to more than 15 the number of countries with such laws in Africa.

 While the objective of these laws is to counter terrorism, they sometimes contain provisions that seriously undermine human rights and fundamental freedoms. According to newspaper Jeune Afrique who analysed 15 African countries counter-terrorism laws, 11 of them mention death penalty as a possible punishment and 7 of them set the pre-detention period to more than 12 days. Freedom of association and assembly are also seriously limited by some of these laws in countries such as Egypt and  Cameroon to name a few. Under the framework of these laws human right defenders groups and associations have been qualified and targeted as terrorists groups when raising their voice against the adverse impact of the fight against terrorism.

In her activity report presented at the 57th African Commission's session, Special Rapporteur  Reine Alapini-Gansou stated that: 'A security law which does not distinguish between terrorist movements and NGOs working to promote and protect the fundamental rights of all human beings is inconsistent with international human rights instruments, in particular the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.'

These guidelines aim to limit the negative impact that abusive laws and measures adopted in the fight against terrorism can have on human rights and to assist States who adopt or want to adopt counterterrorism law to comply with human rights standards.

A hard copy of the document was distributed to participants that were present. An electronic version can be found here.


Contact: Mr Clément Voule, ISHR Africa Advocacy Director,



  • Africa
  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
  • NGOs
  • Reprisals and intimidation
  • African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
  • ACHPR Special Rapporteur on HRDs
  • Burkina Faso
  • Ivory Coast
  • Kenya
  • Libya
  • Mali
  • Nigeria
  • Somalia
  • Tunisia