Chapter 7: Inviting civil society to the table: the case of the African Commission
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The lives of millions of Africans are intimately linked to the preservation of the environment. With more than 70 per cent of sub-Saharan African people depending in large measure on forests for their living and with predictions that by 2080, climate change may triple the number of undernourished people in Sub-Saharan Africa compared to 1990, preservation of the environment should be a top priority for African states. Unfortunately, deforestation, desertification, declining soil productivity, pollution and depletion of fresh water are all-too-common issues. In the current situation, civil society has a great role to play in the protection of the environment, including in the area of enforcement by bringing cases to court. Implementing the ever-expanding body of international environmental law is the main challenge of our times, and NGOs are particularly keen for a greater role in adjudicatory procedures. This chapter focuses on civil society and environmental litigation at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The African Commission is a quasi-judicial body whose protective mandate includes the rendering of decisions on communications alleging violations of the rights enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Two things are interesting here: first, the Commission allows for public interest litigation with civil society organizations being given a broad right of standing, and second, Article 24 of the African Charter renders justiciable the right to a satisfactory environment. Still, few NGOs have brought communications on the right to a satisfactory environment before the Commission. The chapter highlights five main challenges: the unavailability of financial resources; a hostile local environment; a lack of a culture of openness and transparency; a lack of awareness of the Commission; and the lack of an enforcement mechanism. The chapter ends by providing recommendations towards the greater involvement of civil society in environmental litigation.

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