5 November 2012

East Africa: EAC States on Human Rights

Arusha, Tanzania — It is only Tanzania among the five partner states of the East African Community (EAC) that has made a declaration that allows her citizens and non-governmental organizations to report cases to the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR).

Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Burundi have only ratified the protocol but are yet to make declaration allowing individuals and non-governmental organization report cases to the court.

That is why the Tanzania Minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs Mathias Chikawe said ironically, more than fourteen years after the adoption of the Protocol establishing the Court, less than half of the member states of the Union, have ratified the protocol.

"It is even more striking to note that of the twenty six; only five have made the declaration accepting the competence of the Court to receive cases from individuals and NGOs.

"If we do not want to allow individuals and NGOs to access the Court after exhausting domestic remedies, why then did we establish the Court on the first place?" he asked at the retreat between the court and the permanent representatives committee of the African Union held at Mt. Meru hotel in Arusha, Tanzania. "I know the intention of our leaders for establishing the Court was genuine, this intention must be demonstrated in our support for the Court, and this can only be done by ratifying the Protocol and making the declaration accepting individuals and NGOs access to the Court," he added.

He said that this is the proper forum to begin that process of ratification and making of that declaration.

"The committee is the representative of the African Union Member States in Addis Ababa, this is one of the most important organs of the Union and the first port of call for everything and anything that climbs the policy making ladder of the African Union," he said adding that it is therefore incumbent upon the PRC to advice Member States of the importance and necessity of ratifying the Protocol and making the declaration. Court's Commissioner Dr. Aisha Abdullah said that this retreat comes at an opportune moment in our history as a continent, a time when the AU is preparing to celebrate 10 years since its inception in 2003 and half a century of the Organization of African Unity.

"The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights' turned 31 this year since its adoption in Nairobi in 1981 and the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights is marking its silver jubilee while the Court celebrates its sixth anniversary since the first judges were sworn in July 2006 in Banjul, the Gambia," noted the commissioner.

The African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights is designed to complement the protective mandate of its much elder sibling - the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. The effective exercise of the complementary principle between these two institutions cannot be overemphasized and in fact as the main human rights architecture of the African Union, it is an imperative for all actors and stakeholders to support its proper functioning - in political, technical, logistical and financial terms - to ensure effective realization of human and peoples' rights on the continent. Court President Justice Sophia Akuffo said the retreat is aimed at enhancing cooperation and facilitating the effectiveness of the Court to achieve its mandate within the African Union.

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