It is useful to see what guides the committee uses to interpret the provisions and decide cases. There are two key indicators of interpretation.
The preamble to a treaty helps to ascertain the purpose of the law, and is therefore a guide to how it might be interpreted. See the preamble here
Previous decisions of the committee. Whilst the committee is not obliged to follow their previous decisions, there is a fairly high degree of consistency in its decisions.
The following are examples of past findings made by the Committee:
Free Legal Assistance Group, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Union Interafricaine des Droits de l’Homme, Les Témoins de Jehovah v. Zaire
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights found that a two year long closure of universities and secondary schools in Zaire (as it was at the time) constituted a violation of the right to education.
The Commission, considering there to have been a grave and massive violation of human rights, brought the matter to the OAU's Assembly of the Heads of State, and requested that Zaire receive a mission of two of its members to discover the extent and cause of the violations. There was no response to this request or to the communications, and the Commission found them admissible as the vast and varied scope of the violations alleged and the general situation prevailing in Zaire made it impractical or undesirable for the domestic courts to be seized in respect of each one.
The Commission held, amongst other things, that, in the absence of a substantive response from Zaire, it must treat the complainants' submissions as fact and make its decisions accordingly; and that the closure of schools and universities described in that communication did constitute a violation of Art 17. Nevertheless it emphasised that the main goal was a positive dialogue which could lead to an amicable resolution of the case. This was impossible as the State party made no response at all. The violations found cover an extremely wide range of rights and they are generally of an unambiguous character. Of particular interest are the findings relating to social and economic rights in the AfCHPR, and particularly the recognition of a duty on the part of States to provide basic health services. It did not, however, explore the submission that the non-provision of the latter was degrading and, therefore, a violation also of Art 5.
Purohit and Moore v Gambia African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Communication 241/200. Decided at 33rd Ordinary Session of the African Commission (15-29 May 2003).
In this case the applicants alleged, amongst other things, that the legislative regime in The Gambia for mental health patients violated the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health (Article 16), and the right of the disabled to special measures of protection in keeping with their physical and moral needs (Article 18(4)) guaranteed in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The Commission found that the Gambia did not satisfy Articles 16 and 18(4) of the Charter and that enjoyment of the right to health is crucial to the realisation of other fundamental rights and freedoms and includes the right of all to health facilities, as well as access to goods and services, without discrimination of any kind.
Recognising the prevailing poverty that renders African countries incapable of providing the necessary amenities, infrastructure and resources to facilitate enjoyment of the right to health, the Commission read the obligation on States Parties, “to take concrete and targeted steps, while taking full advantage of their available resources, to ensure that the right to health is fully realised in all its aspects without discrimination of any kind“ into Article 16.
This finding is relevant to the right to education because it is likely that the Commission would make similar demands in a case regarding the right to education.
Adapted from COHRE’s Litigating Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Legal Practitioners Dossier" (2006) click here at p.256