Does International Human Rights Law in African Courts Make a Difference?

By Daniel Abebe

Is international human rights law effective in Africa? Extant studies assess effectiveness by focusing on the potential of individual African regional and sub-regional courts to promote human rights and influence domestic actors. However, few if any studies actually evaluate the entire human rights jurisprudence of the five major African courts with jurisdiction to hear human rights claims. In this Article, I examine the entire human rights caseload of these courts from 1988 through 2015 along four important dimensions of effectiveness: (1) court structure; (2) volume of cases; (3) compliance rate; and (4) funding and independence. The Article finds that African regional and sub-regional courts are facing significant challenges as they struggle with structural deficiencies, meager caseloads, low compliance rates, and persistent budgetary issues. The Article then describes the institutional, procedural, and operational challenges that limit the effectiveness of African regional and sub-regional courts and concludes that, based on a case-specific model of effectiveness, much improvement is necessary before the courts can become effective in vindicating human rights claims.

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