Community Court President Calls For Regional Human Rights Charter for ECOWAS Citizens

The President of West Africa’s Community court, Honourable Justice Maria Do Céu Silva Monteiro has called for the “urgent” development of a region-wide human rights instrument that will contain the catalogue of rights for the region’s 300 million citizens.

“This may take the form of a West African Convention on human rights,” the President said on Wednesday, 4th February 2015 while opening the 2014/2015 legal year of the Court whose mandate includes the protection of the human rights of community citizens.

She lamented the “low rate of the enforcement of the judgments of the Court” which 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.

She said that the theme of the celebration the “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, Honourable Justice Monteiro said that the region’s citizens can 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 has been formulated by the Court but awaiting the concurrence of the region’s legal experts and the Council of Ministers.

In his presentation, the guest speaker at the ceremony, Professor Chidi Anselm Odinkalu 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.

Professor Odinkalu, who chairs the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria, also proposed the designation of a judge-rapporteur who will 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 can become a source of peer pressure in favour of compliance.

Lastly, he urged the Court to consider the possibility of invoking sanctions as an instrument for guaranteeing compliance as provided for in the relevant Community texts.

Earlier, the Court’s Chief Registrar, Mr Tony Anene-Maidoh had 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 has had 532 sessions.  He also stated that since the inception of the Court, 201 cases have been lodged before it.  A total of 183 Decisions comprising of 82 Rulings, 86 Judgments, 12 Review Judgments and 3 Advisory Opinions has been delivered by the Court and that currently, there are 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 has been recognised globally.

In one of the goodwill messages, the President of the ECOWAS Commission, His Excellency Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo praised the Court as 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 the Chairman of the Community’s Judicial Council and President of the Constitutional Court of Cote d’Ivoire, Honourable Justice Mamadou Koné, in a historic ceremony. Honourable Justice Koné, chaired the process for the recruitment of the judges as head of the Judicial Council.

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

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

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