18 August 2010

Namibia: African Court Becomes White Elephant

ALTHOUGH the African Court has been in existence for the past seven years, it has only heard one case, which was thrown out on technical grounds.

As a result, some of the continent's most prominent human rights watchdogs have started campaigning for greater visibility of this court, which aims to keep an eye on human rights violations on the continent.

At a panel discussion, Blessing Gorejena, senior projects lawyer at the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, said the African Court was created in 2003 "to have an independent, effective court to provide redress for human rights violations".

According to her, the effectiveness of the court is, however, seriously hampered by the fact that only two African countries have given the green light to individuals to take their governments to this court in the event of an alleged human rights transgression.

She said that the only Southern African Development Community (SADC) country which allows its residents this option is Malawi.

The African Court is financed by the African Union (AU).

Regarding the human rights situation in her country, Zimbabwe, Gorejena was reluctant to elaborate, admitting that the state of affairs was far from rosy. This, she said, was particularly evident as far as 'institutional reform' was concerned.

She said: "In terms of progress, there are still issues."

She admitted that the Zimbabwean government dragged its feet to grant international monitoring bodies accreditation with the implementation of the coalition agreement between Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democracy and Change (MDC).

Apart from this, those who were given accreditation only had 'limited mandates', she said.

Furthermore, she said that as a result of the poor support from the continent's governments, the African Court has battled to build on its competence and credibility. She said: "There is a general reluctance on State parties to accept the competence of the African Court."

Rangu Nyamundira of Zimbabwean Lawyers for Human Rights said the African Court was a "progressive initiative by people advocating for human rights".

The panel discussion was organised by the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC).

At the occasion, Amon Ngavetene of the LAC said the African Court Coalition consisted a network of individuals, NGOs and independent national human rights institutions in Africa.

Its key purpose is to "have an effective and independent African Court in order to provide redress to victims of human rights violations and strengthen the human rights protection system in Africa".

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