ECOWAS Court calls for human rights instrument for citizens

LawJustice Maria Do Céu Silva Monteiro, President of West Africa’s Community Court, has called for the urgent development of a region-wide human rights instrument to contain the catalogue of rights for the 300 million citizens.

“This may take the form of a West African Convention on human rights,” the President said at the opening of the 2014/2015 legal year of the court in Abuja, Nigeria last Wednesday.

A statement issued by the ECOWAS Secretariat and made available to the Ghana News Agency in Accra said Justice Monteiro lamented the “low rate of the enforcement of the judgments of the Court.”

This has implications for the credibility of the court, a situation that has been blamed on the absence in most member states of local implementing authorities as required under Article 24 of the Court’s 2005 Supplementary Protocol.

The court’s mandate includes the protection of the human rights of community citizens.

She said that the theme of the celebration: “Effectiveness of ECOWAS Community Law: Challenges of Enforcement” was designed to draw attention to this challenge, reminding, member states of their obligations under international law to honour their commitments.

By resolving the problem of enforcement, Justice Monteiro said the region’s citizens could rely on the assurances provided in the legal safeguards of the law, particularly those relating to the protection of their human rights.

“Justice without enforcement is impotent and the use of force without justice is tyrannical… justice and enforcement must, therefore, go together and thus, ensure that whatever is just is made to become powerful and whatever is powerful is just,” the President said in paraphrasing French philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal.

While the court has “set down a huge jurisprudence of great quality” during its 14-year history, the President acknowledged that much still needed to be done including the finalisation of the rules of arbitration of the court which had been formulated by the court but awaiting the concurrence of the region’s legal experts and the Council of Ministers.

Professor Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Chairman of the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria, at the ceremony, urged the court to explore the possibility of adopting five measures to improve on compliance with its decisions including the establishment of a properly equipped unit in the court’s registry responsible for compliance and implementation of judgments.

He also proposed the designation of a judge-rapporteur who would liaise with the registry and report to the bench of the court while working with states to ensure compliance, thereby helping to build a body of positive precedence that could become a source of peer pressure in favour of compliance.

Professor Odinkalu asked the court to consider the possibility of invoking sanctions as an instrument for guaranteeing compliance as provided for in the relevant community texts.

The Court’s Chief Registrar, Mr Tony Anene-Maidoh, noted that the effectiveness and credibility of the court depended on the effectiveness of its enforcement machinery, noting that since its inaugural sitting on 22nd January 2004, the court had had 532 sessions.

He said since the inception of the court, 201 cases had been lodged before it.  A total of 183 decisions comprising 82 rulings, 86 judgments, 12 review judgments and three advisory opinions had been delivered by the court with 56 pending cases.

He paid tribute to the pioneer judges of the court who ‘built the court from scratch’ and bequeathed a very rich jurisprudence, especially on the emerging human rights regime of ECOWAS that had been recognised globally.’

In a goodwill message, Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo, President of the ECOWAS Commission, praised the court for being an important institution for the interpretation of community texts and defence of the human rights of the citizens.

At the commencement of the event, the seven new judges of the court were installed by Honourable Justice Mamadou Koné, Chairman of the Community’s Judicial Council and President of the Constitutional Court of Cote d’Ivoire, in a historic ceremony.

Justice Koné chaired the process for the recruitment of the judges as head of the Judicial Council.

The new judges include the President, Justice Maria Do Céu Silva Monteiro from Guinea Bissau, the Vice President,Justice Friday Chijioke Nwoke from Nigeria, Justice Jérôme Traoré from Burkina Faso, who is the Dean.

Others are Justice Micah Wilkins Wright from Liberia, Justice Yaya Boiro from Guinea, Justice Hameye Foune Malhalmadane from Mali and Justice Alioune Sall from Senegal.

Source: GNA

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