Fewer than half of AU members have ratified African court

Only 26 of the 54 member states of the African Union have so far ratified the protocol setting up the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, according to the President of the Court, Gerard Niyungeko.

Even worse, only five AU members have issued the necessary declaration granting the Court jurisdiction in cases brought against states by individuals or NGOs. “We are in the paradoxical situation of a human rights court that is not easily accessible to individuals”, said Niyungeko, addressing a press conference on Monday at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.

The five states that have issued the declaration that would allow individuals to approach the African Court are Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana, Tanzania and Malawi. Niyungero described these countries as “human rights champions”.

The court, which sits in the Tanzanian city of Arusha, was therefore trying to persuade those states that have ratified the protocol to issue the declaration as well. Five states were visited in 2011 with this objective – Mozambique, South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda and Gabon. Niyungeko believed that all were committed to taking the matter seriously.

“We have been saying this to the continent – you cannot set up a continental court, and then not allow it to function, not allow citizens access to it”, he exclaimed.

The 11 judges on the court were elected by an AU summit in 2006, and the first three years of the court’s existance were occupied in preparatory and administrative work. Since the Court is not a well known institution, cases have trickled in slowly – only one up to the end of 2010, and 14 a year later.

But some of those cases, Niyungeko said, had to be thrown out because they came from individuals in states which have not ratified the protocol, or have not passed the declaration granting the African Court jurisdiction in such cases.

For example, two individuals claimed they had suffered robbery and torture at the hands of Mozambican officials in the northern city of Pemba. They approached the African court, which had to tell them it had no jurisdiction in the case because the Mozambican government has not yet provided the declaration that would allow individuals to sue the Mozambican state before the court.

The best known case accepted by the Court was brought by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights against the country that was then known as “the Great Socialist Libyan People’s Arab Jamahiriya”- that is, the regime of Col. Muammar Gaddaffi.

The Commission had expressed concern about the “serious and massive violations” of human rights under Gaddaffi, notably “the violence and use of force against civilians and the suppression of peaceful demonstrators”.

The complaint reached the court in early March 2011. The Gaddaffi government was contacted and asked for its response, which the court received in June. But the wheels of history move faster than those of justice – the Libya case is still pending at the court, but the government it was aimed at no longer exists, and even the name of the country has been changed.

Moves are now afoot to extend the court’s jurisdiction to criminal matters. The matter will be discussed by African Justice Ministers in March, and may be brought before the heads of state at the next AU summit, in July.

Post published in: Africa News

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