The importance of member states depositing a declaration under Article 34(6) of the protocol establishing African Court on Human and People’s Rights, dominated discussions at the recently concluded conference and capacity building programme organised by the Court in Tanzania.
Comprising justices, lawyers, rights organisations as well as media professionals, they frowned at the level of apathy displayed by African political leaders towards the court, and called for more recognition and improved implementation of the court’s decisions.
The events, which include capacity building for media professionals, first international conference on the implementation and impact of the decisions of the Court and the 5th Judicial Dialogue, held in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.
The capacity building for the media was to boost awareness on the existence and activities of the court towards addressing prevalent cases of rights violation in the continent.
Consequently, the events began with a four-day training for journalists, to equip them with adequate information for better coverage and reportage of the court’s activities.
President of the court, Justice Imani D. Aboud, at the opening ceremony, expressed the need for media visibility.
She noted that while it was vital for the court to deliver justice to litigants, it is more critical for the public to be informed of its activities. The training, the President said, was to help in refining human rights communication through specialisation.
“For the media to effectively play their role of watch dogs, they ought to be trained to deal with the specialised and peculiar areas of human rights, its litigation, adjudication, implementation and impact.
“The role of the media therefore becomes of a greater importance as the court celebrates the 15th anniversary of its operations and marks the beginning of a renewed approach to engagement with states as it takes the lead in its reforms in an era of states disengagement.
“The second reason for strengthening initiatives such as the court’s media training is that the court and the media are natural partners. Both institutions share the mandate of acting as watchdogs to public governance through different means and processes.
“While the African Court undertakes governance oversight through judicial supervision of human rights protection, the media play the same role by shedding light on governance practices and ensuring that they keep the public abreast of how their representatives perform and whether they are discharging their functions in compliance with various laws and policies,” he said.
The forum allowed participants to critically analyse how the court has impacted human rights issues in the continent as well as the level of implementation of its decisions. Beyond that, factors responsible for poor implementation of decisions as well as the seeming apathy towards deposition of declarations by member states were addressed.
Many were of the opinion that so long as there were no stringent measures compelling every African nation to ratify the protocol, deposit the court’s declarations or implement its decisions, it would continue to experience apathy.
Without a nation depositing the declaration of the court, its citizens or civil society organisations cannot bring application against the government of such nation before the court. So far, only about 10 African nations have deposited the declaration, while 33 African countries, including Nigeria, have ratified the protocol.
For the Registrar, Dr. Robert Eno, the court could no longer sit idle and watch its decisions flagrantly undermined by member states. Consequently, “it was coming up with a mechanism that will involve relevant organs of the continental body in ensuring implementation of the decisions of the court.’
Eno emphasised that non-implementation of the court’s decision by member states has become worrisome as such development has serious effects on the judges as well as prospective applicants.
According to him, failure to implement the court’s decisions defeats the very essence of its establishment and weakens public confidence in it. He frowned at the lack of stringent measures to compel member states to obey the court’s judgment.
“The only sanction open to the African Union on the issue may not exceed economic sanction or suspension of the country, yet, it also does not have the police force to monitor implementations.
“I don’t think the continental body has gotten to the level where it can impose sanctions for not implementing the decision of the court. At the moment, the Union is only encouraging states to ratify the protocol. Only 31 countries have ratified the protocols of the court,” he stated.
In her contribution, the Nigerian judge on the African Court panel, Justice Stella Akanum, said she was not comfortable with Nigeria’s failure to deposit the declaration of the court.
She noted that while Nigeria has fully domesticated the African charter, it is yet to deposit the declaration. She however expressed hope that the Federal Government will do so soon.
“I am hopeful because the court visited Nigeria in 2018 and met with the Vice President, who was acting on behalf of the President then. The same Vice President visited the court recently and he made a commitment.
“So, we are still waiting. Recently, the court wrote to remind Nigeria of the need to deposit. I want to believe that having fully ratified the protocol, and having domesticated it in the constitution, there is no reason it will not do the next one which is the deposition of the declaration,” she declared.
Speaking on what Nigeria stands to lose from not depositing the declaration, Justice Anukam identified inability to hear the application brought by a human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN).
“The implication is that Nigerian citizens and NGSs are being denied access to the court as well as NGOs that operate in the country. So, you can infer on your own the consequences.
“It is like you have not completed the entire hub of allowing the citizens human right to be protected because that is all we are about. The charter is meant for the promotion and protection of human rights of all citizens.
“So when the declaration is not made, that right is somehow infringed upon. Nobody can fully utilise the court in that respect,” she explained.
Justice Anukam added that should Nigeria deposit the declaration, the court will no doubt experience an influx of applications due to prevalence of rights abuses in the country.
Her words: “Yes, I have been confronted with that fear. However, it may not exist because in African court, our Article 56 (5&6) of the Charter, which is on the admissibility of the application, provides that before an application can be admitted by the court, local remedies must have been exhausted.
“That is to say that the same claim must have been looked into before coming to African court. The applicant must show evidence of getting to the Supreme Court and couldn’t get justice. And you know what it means to get to the Supreme Court.
“The positive implication is that we do not entertain frivolous applications. By the time it is coming to the African Court, it is not likely to be frivolous, having passed through the whole hub at the domestic levels. Aside that, you must bring the application within a reasonable time.”
On his own, the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission, Anthony O. Ojukwu, also expressed concern that Nigeria was yet to deposit the declaration in spite of last year’s visit to the country on the issue.
He said: “A country like Nigeria with the kind of differences we have, will need an avenue of the court to expand opportunities for the realisation of human rights.
“Also, Nigeria being a key member of the African Union that participated in the establishment of the African court is expected to show leadership in depositing the declaration. You can agree with me that with a population of over 200 million people, you cannot have enough avenues for people to canvass their human rights.
“The non-deposition of declaration is shifting the capacity of Nigerians to canvass their rights. On our return, we will renew the efforts at pressuring the government to do the declaration as it will be a boost to the issue of human rights protection in Nigeria.”