Author: O. M. Atoyebi S.A.N FCIArb. (U.K.)., Contributor: LILIAN EKU
The Community Court of Justice was created pursuant to the provisions of Articles 6 and 15 of the Revised Treaty of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Its Organizational framework, functioning mechanism, powers, and the procedures applicable before it is set out in Protocol A/P1/7/91 of 6 July 1991, Supplementary Protocol A/SP.1/01/05 of 19 January 2005, Supplementary Protocol A/SP.2/06/06 of 14 June 2006, Regulation of 3 June 2002, and Supplementary Regulation C/REG.2/06/06 of 13 June 2006.
The desire towards the establishment of the ECOWAS Court of Justice and an economic community embracing all the states of the West African region was initiated in the early sixties. The Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS COURT) is an increasingly active and bold adjudicator of human rights. Since acquiring jurisdiction over human rights complaints in 2005, the ECOWAS Court has issued numerous decisions condemning human rights violations by the member states of the Economic Community of West African States (Community). The ECOWAS COMMUNITY COURT OF JUSTICE is more like a ‘God sent’ to the West African community. At least justice can be manifestly seen to be served devoid of any nation’s political bias.
In this article, we shall look at how the ECOWAS Court functions, and especially the basic role they play in the protection of human rights.
COMPOSITION OF THE COURT
The Court is composed of five (5) independent Judges who are persons of high moral character, appointed by the Authority of Heads of State of Government, from nationals of Member States, for a four-year term of office, upon recommendation of the Community Judicial council.
This article would focus on examining the role of the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice (ECCJ) in the protection of human rights in the West African sub-region specifically, under the ECOWAS Treaties of 1975 and the Revised Treaty of 1993.
JURISDICTION OF THE ECOWAS COMMUNITY COURT OF JUSTICE
The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice also known as CCJ jurisdiction is set out in Article 9 of the 1991 Protocol which states that the Court “shall ensure the observance of law and the principles of equity in the interpretation and application of the provisions of the Treaty.” The Court has ruled that this includes jurisdiction over human rights cases. This principle was codified by a 2005 ECOWAS Supplemental Protocol, which states that the CCJ has jurisdiction to hear human rights cases and expands the admissibility rules to include disputes between individuals and their own member states.
As a result of these amendments, the CCJ is thus four Courts in one:
The Role of ECOWAS COMMUNITY COURT OF JUSTICE IN THE PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
The Court can consider cases brought by:
BASIC ROLES PLAYED BY THE ECOWAS COURT OF JUSTICE IN THE PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS.
It is not enough to simply say the ECOWAS Court of Justice helps in protecting human rights in the West African community. Here are some of the roles they play in protecting human rights in Nigeria:
CASES ADMINISTERED BY THE ECOWAS COMMUNITY COURT OF JUSTICE.
The Court’s major human rights decisions have included a landmark 2008 ruling on slavery; Hadijatou Mani Koroua v. Niger in which the Court held the State of Niger responsible for failing to protect one of its citizens from enslavement by passively tolerating the practice. The case was the first ECOWAS ruling on slavery and only the second conviction made under Niger’s 2003 anti-slavery law. In the case, the applicant who was born to a mother in slavery, was sold to a local chief at age 12. For the next nine years, she was subjected to rape, violence, and forced labour without remuneration. When Niger’s Supreme Court failed to convict her “owner” under Article 270.1-5 of the Nigerien Criminal Code, which made slavery illegal in 2003. The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice having been informed, intervened and ruled that the applicant had been a slave under the definition in Article 1(1) of the Slavery Convention of 1926 and that failing to convict her former “owner”, Niger had not upheld its legal responsibility to protect her from slavery under international law.
REMEDIES AVAILABLE IN THE ECOWAS COMMUNITY COURT OF JUSTICE.
The ECOWAS instruments do not specify the remedies that the Court can provide. In past cases, remedies ordered by the Court included both awards of damages, as well as specific orders such as an order for the immediate release of an illegally detained journalist (see Manneh v. Gambia).
THE ENFORCEMENT OF THE COURT’S JUDGEMENT.
Decisions of the Court are final and binding under the 1991 Protocol. Member states and ECOWAS institutions must take all measures necessary to ensure the execution of the Court’s decision. Under Article 24 of the 2005 Protocol, the execution of a judgment of the Court must be in the form of a Writ of Execution, and the Chief Registrar is required to submit this Writ to the member state. The member state is required to execute the judgment according to its national Courts. The member state must also determine the national authority to execute the Court’s judgment and inform the Court of the relevant authority.
There is no gainsaying that the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice has been of immense benefit to us in this modern world. It is indeed a great sector of the ECOWAS. It has come to the aid of individuals whose rights are being infringed upon in their country or by the government in their country. However, the Court only assists in peculiar instances where it is manifestly seen that the individual has exhausted the judicial processes in their country and still wasn’t given justice or other peculiar circumstances as the Court may deem fit.
 ECOWAS Community Court of Justice.