It is a principle of international law that the protection of human rights should be carried out by national governments. Domestic judicial procedures are viewed as easier to access and more efficient at resolving a claim. Enforcement by international bodies is typically the last means of achieving justice for the claimant if the national government has failed to provide a remedy for the violation of rights. This is because access to international enforcement mechanisms is a last resort, since a state must be given an opportunity to correct the violation or to carry out justice.
Therefore, before submitting a complaint to any international or regional body, such as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights or the European Court of Human Rights the individual or non-government organization (NGO) must first attempt to remedy the violation using national law: this is known as ‘exhausting domestic remedies’. Exhaustion of domestic remedies requires use of all available procedures to seek protection from future human rights violations and to obtain justice for past abuses. Local remedies can range from making a case in court to lodging a complaint with local police.
The aim of this guide is to:
- introduce the admissibility criteria for exhausting domestic remedies set forth in Article 56 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights;
- explain how to submit a communication before the Charter’s oversight body, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights;
- provide general guidance to exhausting domestic remedies under the African Charter;
- describe various exceptions to the requirement of exhausting domestic remedies.