The Nigerian Coalition on the International Criminal Court (NCICC) in partnership with TrustAfrica foundation held a consultative forum on strengthening the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice and enhancing access to justice in the sub-region on 11 and 12 April 2018 at the Rock view Hotel Royale Abuja, Nigeria.
The forum was attended by 60 stakeholders and key players across the African continent including Judges of the ECOWAS Court of Justice (ECCJ), ECOWAS Commission officials, actors in the ECCJ, CSOs, government officials, and other stakeholders.
The consultative forum was opened by His Excellency, the President of the ECOWAS Court of Justice; Judge Traore Jerome while Mr Femi Falana SAN delivered a key note address. The 2-day workshop had panelists who led discussions on different themes including the recent developments in the jurisdiction of the court, challenges and lessons in the operations and procedures of the court, the future of the ECCJ, ways of improving justice delivery to victims of human rights and humanitarian laws in West Africa, ADR mechanisms, increasing the capacity of the Court and promoting transitional justice in the ECCJ.
The following recommendations were drawn from the discussions, comments, and contributions of the participants.
- That the decision by the Authority of Heads of State and Governments to reduce the number of judges of the ECCJ from seven (7) to five (5) should be reviewed and reversed, and indeed, more judges appointed to the Court for Effective and efficient justice delivery.
- That provision for adequate staffing of the courts is required to meet the increasing demands made on the court by the Community citizens.
- An adequate building and necessary infrastructure should be built for the Court to enable it carry out its mandate and ensure that citizens benefit from the activities of the court.
- A Legal Aid Fund should be established at the Court to facilitate access to justice for indigent victims of human rights abuses.
- That the proposed appellate chambers of the Court should be established. The forum noted that the right of review or appeal against decision of any court is inherent to the right to fair hearing.
- There is need to widen the frontiers of the ECCJ to confer criminal jurisdiction so that it can exercise adjudicatory powers over International crimes.
- That the capacity of the Court can be strengthened through concerted and collaborative efforts of Civil Society Organizations.
- Civil Society Organizations have an enormous role to play by adopting various supportive strategies and mechanisms that will foster the Effective functioning of the Court and in demanding accountability from the government of member states.
- That the statute of limitation on filing human rights violation actions has been removed in the recently delivered judgment of Federation of African Journalists v Republic of Gambia such that human rights actions can be instituted at any given time.
- However, the court should revisit its current position and permit NGOs to file and maintain actions against the government of their member states if their rights as corporate entities are violated. It was resolved that if NGOs can file actions on behalf individuals and groups, the position of the Court should be revised to allow NGOs maintain an action as plaintiffs before the Court.
- It was noted that there is a low level of co-operation between member states and the Court given that only 4 states out of the 15 member states (and recently, the Niger Republic) have established bodies to follow up on enforcement of the decisions of the Court as stipulated in the 2005 Supplementary Protocol of the ECOWAS. It was recommended that governments of member states should make efforts to set up statutorily required implementing authority that will follow up on the decisions of the Court and facilitate enforcement.
- The victims of violations of human rights and humanitarian laws including victims of Sexual and Gender-based violence (SGBV) should be assisted to seek justice from the Court by CSOs. In this regard, justice for victims extends beyond monetary compensations and to also consider justice from the perspective of the victims. The Court should always consider other mechanisms such as psycho-social support to the victims of HR violations.
- The adjudicatory system of conflict resolution may not always be attainable, therefore it is important to explore alternative dispute resolution mechanisms (ADR) by the ECCJ as it saves times, cost, and promotes healthy relationships post-conflict.
- ADR is essential in peace-building, security, and reconciliation. Thus, there should be arbitral rules/guidelines made for the ECCJ to assist the Court to carry out its mandate and there should be an arbitral clause designating the court as the body for ADR.
- There should be established, a multi-door court house and arbitral tribunals in the ECCJ.
- That infrastructural and staff capacity should be built promote use of IT. The court should consider allowing electronic and online filing of case documents in addition to hard copy paper copies as well as deploy more IT tools in its work.
- The Court should collaborate with Universities in bridging the language deficiency gap and also delivery companies to fast-track dispatch of court processes.
- That engagement platform should be created where CSOs can engage policy makers and also lobby them to promote accountability and support them to fulfill their obligations under the ECOWAS treaty.
- CSOs attending the forum resolved to collaborate under the umbrella and name of Coalition for Effective ECOWAS community court of justice, and to support the courts, work with all its organs in strengthen its capacity and systems, and engage with the members states to ensure the integrity, capacity and resources of the court are adequately provided.
- The CSOs resolves to engage with the member states and other institutions to promote political support for the Court.
- The CSOs agree to commission needs assessment research of the ECCJ in order to identify the critical areas of need, and articulate the kind of intervention required to meet those needs.
- The forum’s participants expressed gratitude and appreciation to the president, judges, dean, registrar and other officials of the ECCJ for the progress in the work and jurisprudence of the court, and encourage them to engage more with CSOs to ensure increased efficiency and productivity.
Dated this 12th day of April 2018
Name Title and organisation/agency
- Chino Obiagw Chair Steering Committee, NCICC
- Dr Abiola Akiyode Vice-Chair NCICC
- Benson Olugbo CLEEN Foundation
- Wale Fapohunda WABA
- Brenda Peace TrustAfrica
- Sina Odugbemi HEDA,Lagos
- Hajia Hamsatu Allamin Allamin Foundation
- Chetachi Louis Udeh Alliances for Africa
- Emeka Obegolu ICMC
- Sufiya Bray CSVR
- Mama Koite Doumbia The Trust Fund for Victimes
- Uchechukwu Eze WANEP
- Ossai Ojigbo Amnesty International Nigeria
- Allan Ngari ISS
- Diallo Mamadou Guinee Coalition for the ICC