20 years of the ECOWAS Court of Justice

Continuation from yesterday

One of the first beneficiaries of these new practices has been the Community Court, which has become even more important for the achievement of these objectives, and more accessible.

In 2007, it began to hold external sessions in Member States, outside its base in Abuja, in accordance with article 26, paragraph 2, of the 1991 protocol which allows that “when the circumstances or facts of the case so require, the court may decide to sit in the territory of another Member State.

It is perhaps instructive that two of his most famous decisions that changed the face of jurisprudence occurred during these external sessions. In the case of Moussa Leo Kaita v. Republic of Mali held in Bamako, Mali, the Court established for all intents and purposes its jurisdiction over cases of human rights violations in any part of West Africa.

And in the now world-famous case brought by Hadijatou Mani Karaou, sold at the age of 12 and repeatedly sexually abused for years, against the government of Niger, the Court held that: “Mrs. been a victim of slavery and that the Republic of Niger is responsible for the inaction of its administrative and judicial authorities; Accepts the request for compensation for the damage suffered by Mrs. Hadijatou Mani Koraou and grants a lump sum compensation of ten million CFA francs (10,000,000)”.

It was a landmark decision that now binds member states, especially countries like Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger where the practice is widespread.

“We respect the law and will respect this decision,” Mossi Boubacar, a Niger government lawyer, told Reuters.

Alas, not all judgments of the Court have been equally well received or effective, and ECOWAS Court judges as well as human rights lawyers and activists consistently decry the effects of non-compliance with judgments. of the Court.

Member States frequently fail to take the necessary steps to ensure compliance, as noted by Femi Falana during an international conference held on the theme: ECOWAS Court: Achievements, Challenges and Prospects organized by the Court of Justice of ECOWAS in Lomé, Togo.

“It is common knowledge that the rate of compliance with Court judgments is embarrassingly low,” he said and the President of the Court agrees, complaining of the “unsatisfactory rate of compliance of 30% of the Court’s decisions”.

Yet, there is no doubt that the Court has made tremendous strides in advancing the course of justice on the continent. Some of its decisions on rights to education (SERAP v. Federal Republic of Nigeria); the need for due process (Ebrimah Manneh v. Republic of The Gambia); the rights of women and children (Amouzou Henry v. Republic of Côte d’Ivoire), the illegality of retroactive criminal law (Hissein Habré v. Republic of Senegal) and many others diligently pursued by SERAP, have had a telling effect on governance and fueled the desire of states to better cope with the peer review of other members of the Community.

As Laurence R. Helfer, a distinguished professor of international law at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and a leading expert in the field of international human rights law and institutions, including United Nations human rights treaty bodies and the design and effectiveness of international and regional human rights courts. noted, a bad non-conformity does not automatically translate into failure or lack of effectiveness. “International rules (or rulings) with high compliance rates can be totally ineffective, while those with low compliance rates can be quite effective if they bring about some change in state behavior.”

Furthermore, notes Olisa Agbakoba, a prominent human rights activist and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, “Article 77 of the ECOWAS Revised Treaty empowers the authority of Heads of State and Government to ECOWAS to impose certain sanctions on any Member State that does not respect its obligations towards the Community by suspending new Community loans or aid, suspending disbursements on ongoing Community projects or aid.

As the years go by, there is no doubt that compliance will improve and the court’s influence can only increase with the Court’s recent use of holding virtual parameters to reduce inconvenience to litigants traveling to Abuja for hearings. This extraordinary accessibility has made the Court even more popular among the people of West Africa.

With all sessions now being broadcast live, a decision the current panel of judges made after COVID-19 suspended sessions for three whole months, the presiding judge, Justice Hön Asante, said is obviously “evidence that the Court is making strides in deploying technology to reach more citizens in the region.

As he told reporters last year in Ghana, “The Court belongs to all of us and therefore everyone should benefit from it”.

There is no doubt that his leadership of the Court has been invaluable in making these benefits available to millions.

Jacobs, a former newspaper editor, wrote from Abuja.

Elna M. Lemons