Tuesday, July 25, 2006

African people's court set up

The two areas that have in the front of the African news lately have been Somalia (which I discussed here) and the impending elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (ably covered in The Salon blog and by the IRIN).

While these important issues along with the Ugandan peace talks and the intervention of Joseph Kony's mother have been in the headlines, one important development in continental justice seems to have slipped by with little attention.

Earlier this month, the African Union launched the historic African Court on Human and People's Rights.

It will be the continent's first court that gives states and people equal rights to challenge governments suspected of human rights violations or other infractions.

Eight years in the making since its creation on paper, the court can apply and rule on any international treaty or law ratified by the state in question, including treaties that do not themselves refer violators to a court. States, AU organs, individuals and non-governmental organisations [NGOs] can all ask for rulings.

Though it's easy to be cynical, this has to the potential to revolutionize justice in Africa. Rather than shipping dictators to Europe to stand trial or to ad hoc tribunals, there will be a single, regular court with a consistent mandate and rules. This will certainly lead to more effective implementation of justice than having to re-invent the wheel after every conflict.

Most international bodies only give standing to governments, some of whom are causing the problems in question in the first place. This court importantly gives equal standing to individuals and NGOs as to states. That means that dictators like Ben Ali, Obiang and Mugabe can no longer hide behind the fig leaf of national sovereignty to cover their gross human rights violations.

After all, the African Charter on Human and People's Rights has been voluntarily ratified by Tunisia, Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe and all 50 other members of the African Union.


At 11:03 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

States, AU organs, individuals and non-governmental organisations [NGOs] can all ask for rulings

Well, sort of. The fine print in the enabling protocol, specifically article 34(6), provides that individuals and NGOs can only sue states with the latter's consent. To the best of my knowledge, no governments have yet consented to be sued by non-state parties, so it's likely to be a while before the court becomes an African equivalent of the ECHR.

Jonathan Edelstein


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