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African Journalists should be passionate about African Court as they do for FIFA

The African Court for Human and Peoples Rights
The African Court for Human and Peoples Rights

One of the judges of the African Court for Human and Peoples Rights based in Arusha, Tanzania, Justice Ramadani says African journalists should be passionate about the Court and highlight its activities effectively as they do for the sport world body FIFA. Speaking at the African Continental Media Conference hosted in Arusha, Tanzania by the Court from November 21 to 22 this year, Justice Ramadani highlighted several issues relating to the Court that included the challenges of the Court and the role of the media in highlighting its activities.

He said one of the challenges facing the Court currently was that of enforcing judgment. He however noted: “It is a common phenomenon even at domestic level”, adding that the Court could pronounce a judgement but the problem was compelling states to adhere to the dictates of the judgement. He stressed the need for journalists to inform the wider population about judgments of the Court, and that journalists should show more enthusiasm on reporting the activities of the Court as they do for FIFA.

The African Court for Human and Peoples Rights based in Arusha has called for support and cooperation from member states of the AU so as to enable it carry out its mandate effectively. The Court, which is a creation of the African Union, is currently faced with several challenges that include the non-signing of the protocols of the Court. This has prevented individuals and organizations in states which have not ratified the protocol to have access to the Court. Since the adoption of the protocol in 1998, only 26 of the 54 member states of the AU have ratified the protocol. In addition to the ratification of the protocol, states have to make a declaration to allow individuals and organizations to take cases to the Court in Arusha. Unfortunately my country Sierra Leone has not even ratified the protocol for which I urge our government, President Ernest Bai Koroma, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, parliamentarians and all stakeholders in our democratic dispensation to endeavour and make the necessary preparations to ratify the protocol.

As at January 2013, only 6 of the 26 state parties to the protocol had made the declaration recognizing the competence of the Court. These were all facts that were revealed at the African Continental Media Conference. Approximately forty-seven journalists from different African countries participated in the conference and several issues, including challenges facing the Court, were discussed and resolutions formulated for the way forward. Presentations were also made by various participants.

During the opening ceremony, Hon. Justice Bernard Ngoepe – who is the current Vice President of the Court – said one of the primary aims of the conference was to give information about the activities of the Court so as to make journalists become familiar with its operations and all issues related to it. He said the Court appreciated the role of the media in the protection of human rights that was why it encouraged dialogue and interaction with the media.

Lady Justice Elsie Thompson in her speech made a distinction between the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights and the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights. She said in the former decisions are binding when once they have been pronounced because they are judicial in nature while in the Commission, decisions are not binding. She also spoke on the composition of the Court, whose staff include judges drawn from different countries in Africa. She also enlightened participants on those who were entitled to submit cases to the Court. She said these are: the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights; the state party to the protocol which had lodged a complaint to the Commission;  the state party to the protocol against which the complaint has been lodged to the Commission; the state party to the protocol whose citizen is a victim of a human rights violation; and African intergovernmental organizations.

Another presentation was made by Justice Fatsah Ouguergouz of Algeria titled, “The Relationships between the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights and other African Human Rights Structures”. He said the African Court does not stand in a hollow but belongs to the AU system. According to him, more African states have accepted obligations to human rights than the United States, which is a leading nation in the world. He pointed out that the U.S. has not recognized the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Inter American Court, and highlighted the role of the media in the construction of a democratic state. “The essence of organizing this conference is that you (journalists) are the best channel to reach the wider population,” he said and underscored the main principles of the constitutive act of the OAU, the predecessor of the AU, contained in Article 4 that enshrines the promotion of gender equality, respect for democratic principles, human rights and the rule of law, good governance, promotion of social justice so as to ensure balanced economic development, respect for the sanctity of human rights, condemnation and rejection of impunity and condemnation and rejection of unconstitutional acts. He also pointed out the Court’s right to intervention and its responsibility to protect victims; examples in war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Jean Pierre is in the Senior Information Officer in the Information and Communication Department of the Court. He also enlightened journalists on the communication strategies of the court.

The Senior Public Sector Management Specialist for African Region at the World Bank, Mr.  Walid Malik, highlighted several issues relating to the Court and proffered suggestions on the way forward among which he said were the adoption of international approaches that also included ideas for enhancing judicial information and engaging in citizens outreach in Africa. He also pointed out factors that affect the justice system in Africa, among which he said were institutional policy gaps and lack of access to justice in many African countries. He suggested for the need for mobile courts in Africa as happens in some Latin American countries. He also pointed out weak media partnerships that impede effective and timely flow of information.

There were also several panel discussions on a range of issues relating to the Court during which journalists identified problems and proffered solutions. The overall objective of the conference was to bring journalists on board in the Court’s drive to enhance the protection of human rights in Africa by developing linkages between it and the media, acquaint the media with the African human rights system and acquaint it also with complete information about the Court.

The conference was hosted at the Naura Springs Hotel from November 21 to 22 this year in Arusha, Tanzania and attracted over forty-seven journalists from different parts of Africa. The official languages of the Court are: Arabic, English, French and Portuguese. The conference was funded by the European Union and GIZ.

The current President of the Court is Lady Justice Sophia Akuffo of Ghana. The Registrar is Dr. Robert Eno from Cameroon. The Deputy Registrar is Ms. Jester Helena Charewa from Zimbabwe.

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