Andrew Orolua, Abuja
The President of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights Justice Sylvan Ore and some justices of the Court on Monday (yesterday) began one – week working visit to Nigeria seeking her declaration.
But interestingly, only very few people – some officials of the Federal ministry of Justice, Foreign Affairs and top Federal Government officials known about the existence of the Court.
This may not be entirely true or correct but awareness problem appears one of the reasons for the delegation visit to President Muhammadu Buhari, ECOWAS Court of Justice and some key officials of Foreign Affairs and Justice.
The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights is a continental court established by the 55 Members States of the Africa Union through protocol in 1998.
However, only a little more than half the number of member States, precisely 30 of them have ratified the protocol.
But, abysmally only 9 member States out of the 30 have made declarations which permits their citizens and Non Governmental Organizations to bring cases directly to the Court, in the continent where human rights abuses are rampant.
What are the reasons 21 member States are holding back their declaration and 25 other States are yet to merely ratify the protocol? Though none of these States nor the Court itself have officially put forward the reasons,some individuals have .
In fact, they have alluded to the duplication of the Court jurisdiction and the fear that an effective African Court with binding decisions would erode States sovereignty.
These are misplaced fears. The jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights is limited to rights abuses cases.
It’s jurisdiction can be said to be complementary to those of the regional Courts like Economic Community of West African Court of Justice which has its headquarters in Abuja.
The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights was established to complement and reinforce the protective mandate of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (often referred to as the Banjul declaration).
It seeks, therefore, to strengthen “the human rights protection system in Africa and ensuring respect for and compliance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights as well as other international human rights instruments, through judicial decisions.”
However, citizens whose rights have been abused or are threatened can not directly approach the Court to seek redress except his or her country had ratified the protocol and make declaration.
This was what befall the case of Mr Michelot Yogogombaye, a citizen of Republic of Senegal who filed an application on August 11, 2008 before the Court praying it to suspend proceedings instituted by Senegal against Mr. Hissen Habre , a former President of the Republic of Chad ,who is exile in Senegal.
In determining Yogogombaye’ s application the Court in pursuant to Article 34 (6) of the Protocol and Rule 33 (f) of the Rules of Court, found that the application was not admissible as the Court had no jurisdiction to hear it since Senegal had not made the declaration recognizing the jurisdiction of the Court to receive applications submitted directly by individuals or Non- Governmental Organization.
Besides, citizens seeking to utilize or avail themselves of opportunity offered by the Court must first exhaust local remedy . The Court decision are either contentious or advisory nature and they are enforce through the meetings of Head of States.
Nigeria’s representative in the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Justice Stella Anukam last week’s Thursday urged Nigeria to avail herself of the huge benefits embedded in being a part of the continental court.
Justice Anukam, who is one of the two judges from the West Africa region on the bench of the 11 member justices of the continental court disclosed that the court over time had reached several remarkable decisions in protecting the rights of her citizens.
The judge of the African Court who disclosed this while declaring open a Mini African Court Sensitisation and Training Programme for the Media yesterday in Abuja, lamented the failure of the country to make the declaration recognising the competence of the Court to receive cases from Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and individuals.
She said, “We want Nigerians to take full advantage of the court. The African Court was created to protect human and peoples’ rights.”
Justice Anukam disclosed that the parley with the media was aimed at increasing awareness of the court and its benefits to the people of Nigeria.
As the Court continue with its tour to enlighten member States , individuals and civil society groups about its existence , efforts should be intensified to win more States to persuade them taking queue from states like Benin, Burkina Faso,Cote d’Ivoire ,Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Tanzania , Tunisia and one other country that have made the required declaration recognizing the competence of the Court to receive cases from NGOs and individuals.