At its fifth meeting in Sirte, Libya, the African Union (AU) Summit decided that the merger of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Court of Justice needs to be completed. It also decided that ‘all necessary measures for the functioning of the Human Rights Court be taken, including particularly the election of the judges, the determination of the budget and the operationalisation of the Registry’ (Assembly AU/6(V)). One can only express the hope that the African Human Rights Court, which was already ready to be established early in 2004, should by early 2006 become a reality.

The terms of four members of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission) came to an end when the AU Assembly elected their replacements in July 2005. They are Commissioners Dankwa, Chirwa, Chigovera and Johm, all stalwarts in the Commission.

Professor Dankwa served as Chairperson of the Commission from 1999 to 2001, and as Vice-Chairperson between 1995 and 1997. The period of his chairmanship saw a significant improvement in the Commission’s jurisprudence. As ‘rapporteur’, Professor Dankwa had an important role in a number of important decisions, including the celebrated SERAC case (Communication 155/96, (2001) AHRLR 60 (ACHPR 2001)). He also served as the first Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa, establishing it as one of the Commission’s most successful endeavours.

Dr Vera Chirwa succeeded him as Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa. Having herself serve many years in Malawian prisons, she brought further moral authority, legitimacy and experience to the position. Dr Chirwa was relentless in her promotion of prisoners’ rights, and also highlighted the issue of the death penalty in Africa.

Commissioner Chigovera, who previously served on the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, enriched the African Commission with his experience and technical legal expertise. He was influential in the drafting of normative standards of the Commission and at the time of his retirement, served as the first Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in Africa.

Commissioner Johm was Vice-Chairperson of the African Commission between 2001 and 2003. Her close relations with NGOs enabled her to play a forceful role in the Commission. She advocated for and served as the first Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa.

The four new Commission members are Ms Peine Alapini-Gansou, Mr Musa Bitaye, Adv Pansy Tlakula and Mr Mumba Malila. Ms Alapini-Gansou is a lawyer and NGO activist in Benin; Mr Bitaye is President of the Bar Association of The Gambia; Adv Tlakula is the Chief Electoral Officer of the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa; and Mr Malila chairs the Zambian Human Rights Commission. None of the new commissioners therefore falls within the category of serving as member of the executive or diplomatic service of their country of origin, a much criticised feature of earlier appointments. It would appear that the AU’s note verbale (BC/OLC/66/Vol XVIII, April 2005), issued in respect of membership of the African Commission and calling on states not to nominate government officials, had an impact on the nomination and selection of commissioners.

One of the first issues the new Commission has to deal with is its relationship with the AU institutions, such as the Peace and Security Council and the Economic, Social and Cultural Council. A request of the AU Assembly that the African Commission considers and reports about this aspect has been forwarded some time ago – without any apparent reaction from the African Commission. (See Decision Assembly/AU/Dec 7(II), reiterated at the last session, Assembly/AU/Dec 77(V).) This silence should be terminated as soon as possible.

The editors thank the following people who acted as referees over the period since the previous issue of the Journal appeared: Karin Arts, Evarist Baimu, Kealeboga Bojosi, Daniel Bradlow, Daniel Chirwa, Benyam Dawit, Jacques de Ville, Lourens du Plessis, Willemien du Plessis, Adam Geary, Magnus Killander, Anton Kok, Dino Kritsiotis, Irma Kroeze, Amanda Lloyd, Bronwen Manby, James Michael, Ahmed Motala, Martin Nsibirwa, Marius Pieterse, Ignatius Rautenbach, Solomon Sacco, Jeremy Sarkin, Nsongurua Udombana and David Weissbrodt.