By Bassey Udo
The non-enforcement of the decisions of the ECOWAS Court of Justice could imperil its role in the region’s integration as well as the promotion of good governance, accountability and political stability through the exercise of its human rights mandate, its President, Justice Edward Amoako Asante has warned.
By its initial Protocol, the Court has the sole mandate for the observance of the law and justice in the interpretation and application of the ECOWAS Treaty and the other Community texts.
The mandate was expanded with the 2005 Protocol which not only granted individuals direct access to the Court, but also gave it the mandate as a human rights court, a court for Community staff as well as granted it an arbitration mandate.
“The Court is aware of its key role in the integration process of the Community and as the guardian of the Community law and protector of human rights which has become the dominant aspect of its judicial functions,’ Asante said at the opening of the 2021 external court session of the Court in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire on Tuesday.
The President of the ECOWAS Court said that only six of the 15 Member States have complied with their obligation under Article 24 of the Protocol on the Court that requires that decisions of the Court be executed by the Member States in accordance with their Rules of Civil Procedure, particularly the requirement that they “determine the competent national authority for the purpose of receipt and processing of the execution and notify the Court accordingly.”
Asante expressed regrets that only a few Member States have complied with this provision/ He used the opportunity to appeal to ‘the high political and judicial authorities of Cote d’Ivoire to discharge its Treaty obligation by appointing such an opportunity as soon as possible.”
Only the Republics of Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Togo and the Federal Republic of Nigeria have designated such authorities for their countries.
Through its ‘bold decisions on human rights complaints,’ the ECOWAS Court President said that the ‘international community has recognized the evolving ECOWAS human rights regime, its unique feature being the absence of the requirement for the exhaustion of local remedies before approaching the regional Court.”
“Community citizens, therefore, have the option of lodging complaints for human rights violations before their National Courts or the ECOWAS Court of Justice without the need to exhaust local remedies,” he added.
In order to fully play its role as the watchdog of the community legal order and maintain the image of a viral and independent regional Court, the ECOWAS Court President said the Court must cooperate with Member-States in order to maintain the credibility of the Court.
He also spoke to the issue of the tenure of the judges, which was reduced from seven renewable to four renewable as well as the reduction in their number from seven to five, decisions that left the Court in the peculiar position of being the only international court with such tenure and number.
Earlier, the President of the National Council of Human Rights of the host country, Namizata Sangare, said that since the sensitization visit of the court to the country last year, both institutions have established cooperation in furtherance of their work.
She described the session as helpful, particularly for indigent parties and lawyers as it provides an opportunity for them to familiarize themselves with the oral proceedings of the court and requested for the establishment of judicial assistance for victims of human rights violations.
In a speech at the opening, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, African Integrati0n and the Diaspora, Kandia Camara said that the session was important to the Court as a promotional tool noting that the role of the court has become more vital as exemplified by the rising cases filed before the Court.
The minister, who was represented by his Director of Cabinet, Assomou Kabra, challenged the judges to rise up to the expectations of the citizens who have placed a great premium on the court for cases related to the violation of their human rights.
The Acting Permanent Representative of ECOWAS, Jerome Wanyou, said the session would avail Community citizens in the country an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the practice and procedure of the Court.
Thirty-eight cases are scheduled to be heard during the two-week session, the first by the present college of judges following their assumption of duty in 2018.
Judgment will also be delivered in 11 other cases, one of them against the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire.