African rights court chief eyes protocol endorsement

ARUSHA, Tanzania (AA) – The new president of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) is seeking to persuade member states to endorse the court’s protocol and declare their acceptance of the court’s jurisdiction – or revoke an article of the protocol that would allow individuals to file complaints about the rights situation in their countries without that country’s consent.

“There is a protocol which guides the court and we have to follow that,” Justice Augustine Ramadhani told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview.

“The only thing is to try to persuade the heads of states and member countries to ratify the protocol and to make the declaration… or even to revoke that article, which requires declarations,” he added.

Ramadhani, however, ruled out any “radical” changes in the court’s work.

“I do not think people should expect that there is going to be that drastic a change. There is nothing drastic I can do to change it,” he said.

The AfCHPR, jointly established by African countries in 2004, is mandated with safeguarding human rights on the continent.

So far, however, only 26 of the court’s 54 member states have ratified the protocol establishing the court.

According to Article 5 of the court’s protocol, the court may receive complaints and/or applications submitted to it by either the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights or state parties to the protocol and African NGOs and individuals from countries that have declared their acceptance of the court’s jurisdiction.

To date, only seven countries have made such a declaration.

Ramadhani, a former Tanzanian chief justice, said the court would accept complaints from individuals when the article that requires member-states to make the declaration was amended.

“If that sub-article is amended, we are going to open the court’s doors,” he asserted.

The court recently rejected complaints lodged by Egyptian activists against Egypt’s ruling regime over the deteriorating human rights situation in that country.

“The answer was very simple: one, Egypt has not ratified the protocol. Two, there is no declaration,” Ramadhani said. “For those reasons, we said ‘No, we are not going to accept or receive your application’.”

The chief justice, who was elected to a two-year term earlier this month, said the Egyptian activists had gone through a Senegalese NGO in order to file their complaint before the court.

“We still have to deliberate on that and make our decision whether or not we are going to accept and deal with this application from the NGO in Senegal,” Ramadhani added.

-Awareness-

Justice Ramadhani says he will try to raise awareness among Africans about the AfCHPR’s role and jurisdiction.

“Many people in Africa do know or are aware of the court. So we have gone around sensitizing,” he told AA.

“The sensitization, I would say, is threefold. One, there is the protocol, which has established this court. Now, African countries, member countries of the African Union, have to ratify this protocol,” he said.

He now plans to try to persuade as many states as possible to ratify the protocol.

“The court can only have jurisdiction in those states if they have ratified the protocol,” he stressed.

“[Secondly], the protocol allows individuals and NGOs to come to our court, provided the state parties have made a declaration allowing their individuals and the NGOs to come to us,” he said.

“Out of 26 states that have ratified, only seven have made the declaration [to date]. So individuals who can come to us are from those seven,” he added.

The chief justice said, however, that even people in countries that had ratified the AfCHPR protocol and had made the declaration were not approaching the court.

“We have read five or six cases. There is not any other country. Even in Tanzania, still not many people are aware,” he said.

“There is a need for more sensitization of the people, which I shall continue,” he added.

Former chief justice Sophia Akuffo also stressed the need to raise awareness in Africa about the court’s role.

“The lack of awareness [about the court] across Africa is quite daunting,” Akuffo told AA.

“You would be surprised at the levels that people do not know about the court. [Even] The lawyers do not know much about the court,” she said.

“That is why, right at the beginning of establishing the court, we made sensitization and awareness-raising one of our important core activities,” Akuffo asserted.

© 2014, Peter Saramba Ongiri. All rights reserved. – The views expressed here are purely those of the author and not necessarily those of the publishers. – Newstime Africa content cannot be reproduced in any form – electronic or print – without prior consent of the Publishers. Copyright infringement will be pursued and perpetrators prosecuted.

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