The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice’s conference on the regional integration model has ended with participants calling on member States to publish, ratify and domesticate the ECOWAS Revised Treaty.
A communique adopted at the end of the conference noted the importance of an enabling legal environment in the integration arrangement.
Although ECOWAS has a copious legal regime; consisting of the Revised Treaty, numerous Protocols, Conventions, Supplementary Acts, Regulations and other subsidiary legal texts, it is yet to evolve into a Community legal order, it said.
The communique urged Member States to demonstrate the necessary political will to domesticate the ECOWAS Revised Treaty.
“A Community legal order should clearly manifest the legal relationship between the ECOWAS Court of Justice and the national courts of Member States, the harmonization of the legal and judicial systems of the Community as envisaged in the Revised Treaty, the direct applicability of Community norms before municipal courts and the rights of ECOWAS Community citizens to invoke Community norms before national courts,” it said.
The conference also noted that not a single referral had been made by any national court to the ECOWAS Court of Justice as provided for by the Supplementary Protocol on the Court since 2005 and that the national courts also were not enforcing the judgments of the Court.
The conference affirmed the direct relationship between regional integration and regional protection of human rights as gross human rights violations could negatively impact, derail or destabilize the integration arrangement.
The focus of the ECOWAS Court of Justice has been predominantly based on human rights because of the very few cases before the Court in relation to the Community objectives due to the lack of or limited access of individuals to the Court in respect of the integration objectives.
The conference also noted that there are obvious benefits for ECOWAS Community citizens by the non-requirement of the exhaustion of local remedies but that the Court should put measures in place to avoid forum shopping that could lead to conflicts with national courts.
The conference called for active involvement and a greater role play of ECOWAS Community citizens in the integration process and noted the obvious benefits for all the Member States and Community citizens in having an integration arrangement for West Africa.
It urged Member States not to fear ceding a part of their sovereignty or delegating competences to the supranational authority created by them for the purpose of acting on their behalf in areas of their common interest.
“ECOWAS Member States should not see this as a general loss of sovereignty as the supranational authority (ECOWAS), only has exclusive or shared competences with the Member States in the areas of their common interest in which it has been authorized to act on their behalf,” it said.
The conference noted that only six Member States (Guinea, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo and Ghana) had appointed the competent national authority for the enforcement of the judgments of the Court and that the compliance rate with the judgments of the Court is about 30 percent, which is unsatisfactory.
The participants observed that the reduction of the number of judges of the ECOWAS Court of Justice from seven to five and the reduction of their tenure from five years renewable to four years non-renewable is also not in the interests of the Court or the Community.
The conference recommended an early warning mechanism be set up to continuously appraise the preparedness of each Member State towards targets set with a view to assisting those not committed or making good progress to meet the targets.
It also recommended that ECOWAS should put a system in place to monitor the implementation of Member States of Community laws and to strengthen regulatory functions and commonality to achieve a higher degree of supranationalism necessary for integration.