International humanitarian law in the African Commission’s General Comment No 3 on the Right to Life: A critical and comparative analysis

Author: Brian Sang YK

ISSN: 2521-2621
Affiliations: LLB LLM PhD MCIArb, Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Egerton University
Source: African Yearbook on International Humanitarian Law, 2021, p. 93 – 133


The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which is the treaty body established to monitor the States Parties’ compliance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, adopted General Comment No 3 on the Right to Life in 2015. The African Commission’s General Comment No 3 provides authoritative normative guidance for interpreting and implementing the right to life under Article 4 of the African Charter in armed conflict situations. Specifically, it outlines the African Commission’s perspective on the right to life by elaborating on its scope and content, and also by clarifying the protections for individuals and the concomitant obligations of states. This article systematically discusses how and to what extent international humanitarian law (IHL) norms are integrated into the African Commission’s General Comment No 3, and what the likely effects of such integration are. Using a critical and comparative approach, this article analyses General Comment No 3’s interpretive approach to arbitrary deprivation of life in armed conflict; the constraints on lethal force during the conduct of hostilities; and states’ extraterritorial legal obligations. The article demonstrates that, although it is a creditable advance in elaborating the right to life during armed conflict and other situations of violence, General Comment No 3 leaves key aspects of the IHL–human rights law interface either laconically addressed or ineffectually articulated. Those aspects will have to be clarified in the African Commission’s future jurisprudence.