As of January 2012, the Human Rights Committee has decided upon 1,390 individual communications. 89 of these were individual complaints regarding 17 different African states. Three exemplary decisions below illustrate how the mechanism of individual communications works in practice in the African context.
Philip Afuson Njaru is a journalist and well-known human rights activist from Cameroon. In 1997, he was threatened by police because of his “unpatriotic” articles and his accusations against a police officer. On 12 October 1997, one of the police officers attacked him on the street and beat him to unconsciousness. The resulting injuries were so severe that the Human Rights Committee later defined them as torture within the meaning of the CCPR. In the following years, Mr. Njaru continued to receive threats of death and torture, should he not stop publishing critical articles and disclose his sources. On three occasions, he was arrested without an arrest warrant and without an explanation of the charges against him. Despite Mr. Njaru’s repeated complaints to different judicial authorities, no public investigation was ever initiated.
The Human Rights Committee confirmed that Cameroon had violated the CCPR in this case, in particular the prohibition of torture (article 7), the right to liberty and security of the person (article 9) and the right to freedom of expression (article 19, paragraph 2). The Committee ruled that Cameroon was under the obligation to provide effective remedy to the complainant and ensure that similar violations will not occur in the future. The complaint attracted significant international attention to the case.
The complainant in this case, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was persecuted in Libya because of his political beliefs. In 1998, he was away in Egypt seeking medical treatment for his nephew when he was warned that security personnel had been at his home to arrest him. He decided not to return home and, without his wife and children, fled to Switzerland, where he was later granted asylum. When his wife and the six children attempted to leave Libya to join him in Switzerland, they were stopped at the border and his wife’s passport was confiscated. She tried to retrieve her passport from authorities several times, without success.
The Human Rights Committee established that this amounted to a violation of several rights guaranteed in the CCPR. First and foremost, Libya had denied the complainant’s wife and children the right to freely leave their own country (article 12, paragraph 2) without reasonable justification. Further, Libya had arbitrarily interfered in the complainant’s private and family life (article 17) and violated its obligation to protect the family as the natural and fundamental group unit of society (article 23). In respect of those children who were under the age of 18 when the family tried to leave the country, the Committee also found a violation of article 24 of the CCPR, the right to appropriate protection for minors.
In another case, an individual complaint was submitted by a woman from Algeria. Her son disappeared in 1997. Since then, the family has no information as to what happened to him. Several witnesses had seen her son being arrested by the police. Other sources, including a friend of her son who had been arrested with him, told the complainant that her son had been held in several prisons. Despite ceaseless efforts, the complainant did not receive official information from the various authorities she approached.
Since a landmark decision in 1983, the Human Rights Committee has accepted in its views that the forced disappearance of a loved one can constitute a violation of the right not to be tortured or subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (article 7 CCPR). Also in this case, the Committee found that Algeria had violated article 7 with respect to both mother and son. Furthermore, according to the Committee, Algerian authorities violated the son’s right to liberty and security of the person (article 9) and right to be recognized as a person before the law (article 16). Finally, both mother and son did not have access to effective remedies (article 2, paragraph 3).
For a complete list of decisions of the Human Rights Committee see:
http://www.bayefsky.com/docs.php/area/jurisprudence/treaty/ccpr/opt/0/node/5/type/all (Service-website of a Canadian university professor and lawyer)