By: Tiffany Johnson
Impunity Watch News Staff Writer
The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) is facing an existential crisis as countries continue to defy its decisions. This regional institution is dedicated to upholding human rights across the continent, and countries’ defiance undermines the AfCHPR’s existence. The Organization of African Unity (OAU), the forerunner of the African Union (AU), adopted a protocol in Burkina Faso in 1998, which led to the establishment of the AfCHPR. In 2004, the agreement went into effect after being ratified by more than fifteen nations. The Court’s initial judges were chosen in 2006, and its initial decision was rendered in 2009.
The AfCHPR and any other pertinent human rights treaties that have been ratified by the state in question are both circumstances in which the court will consider involving alleged violations of human rights. It was founded with a noble mission – to provide a legal platform for individuals and communities to seek redress for human rights violations. One of its remedies is to provide just recompense or make amends. Its judgments are legally binding, and signatory nations are obligated to comply with its rulings. Yet, the Court’s effectiveness is under threat as several African countries openly disregard its decisions.
The Court’s authority, and ability to protect fundamental human rights in Africa are at stake due to persistent non-compliance. According to a report released earlier this year on the Court’s activities in 2021, states’ “poor level of compliance” with its rulings was a significant issue. During the Court’s 16-year existence only a small number of judgments and orders were implemented out of more than the 200 that were issued. However, a majority have been disregarded by the respondent nations. According to the report, “as of July 2021, only 7% of judgments of the Court had been fully complied with, 18% partially complied and 75% non-compliance. Some States have stated clearly before the Executive Council that they will not comply with the Court’s decisions.”
By end of 2020, the governments of Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, and Tanzania had all revoked the right of individuals and non-governmental organizations to register cases directly with the Court. Rwanda revoked this privilege in 2016, bringing the total number of nations restricting access to this vital path to justice to four. All three governments revoked this right in response to what they perceived to be unfavorable decisions, a rise in intolerance towards human rights defenders, and a general deterioration of national human rights conditions. Tanzania withdrew the privilege, falsely claiming that the Court entertained matters that should have been handled by national courts. Benin disagreed with the Court’s decision to defer the seizure of an applicant’s property in a dispute with a bank, arguing that the decision undermined the country’s economic and political stability.
Most recently, the AfCHPR concluded its 70th Ordinary Session on September 29, 2023. It issued fifteen rulings on September 5, 2023. Responses to these 15 rulings will be foretelling. Despite the Court’s directive, little progress has been made to rectify this injustice, calling into question Tanzania’s commitment to upholding the Court’s decisions.
Cases such as these, regrettably, are not isolated instances. The reasons for non-compliance are multifaceted and include political considerations, limited resources, lack of awareness among government officials and the public regarding the Court’s authority, and concerns over external interference. The implications of non-compliance are far-reaching. They erode the trust in the AfCHPR and weaken its power to protect human rights. If countries can choose to disregard the Court’s rulings with impunity, the very purpose of the Court is undermined, and the dream of justice for human rights abuses in Africa remains elusive.
To ensure the survival and effectiveness of the AfCHPR, a multi-pronged approach is necessary. Primarily, it is essential for member states to honor their obligations and comply with the Court’s decisions. The African Union can play a pivotal role by engaging in diplomatic efforts to encourage compliance and emphasizing the importance of a united commitment to human rights.
Additionally, public awareness campaigns should be launched to educate citizens and government officials alike about the AfCHPR’s role and authority, underlining how it plays a critical role in promoting justice and accountability on the continent.
Moreover, international pressure and cooperation can be instrumental in holding non-compliant countries accountable. The international community can work collectively to stress the importance of human rights and the necessity for all nations to adhere to international norms and agreements.
The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, a beacon of hope for justice and human rights in Africa, stands at a crossroads. The threat of non-compliance with its decisions jeopardizes the very existence of this crucial institution. It is a call to action for African nations, the African Union, and the global community to come together and safeguard the AfCHPR’s authority and its mission of promoting and protecting human rights across the continent. Failure to address this issue may result in the erosion of fundamental human rights in Africa and a setback for justice and accountability.
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