Arusha — In response to criticisms that it is not much known across the continent, the Arusha-based African Court of Human and People's Rights (AfCHPR) recently embarked on a promotion tour of North African states, and found the visit quite rewarding.
Leaders of two of the countries visited were apparently gratified not only to see the delegation of the judicial organ of the African Union (AU) in their capitals, but also to hear what the court was doing on human rights issues across the continent.
"The African Court must be popularised across the continent because its establishment guarantees protection of human rights in Africa," said Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi.
AfCHPR delegation led by the President of the Court Justice Sylvain Ore was upbeat because those were the remarks from the leader of the country, which is still recovering from the wounds of the Arab Spring uprising six years ago.
The Tunisian president went on to emphasise during the meeting with the court officials that Africans would be guaranteed of protection of their human rights and sustained democratic progress of its people once they are adequately sensitised on the judicial body.
Extensive dissemination of information on the Court will enable the population to know, understand and appreciate the Court's existence "and its noble work to deepen democratic processes in the continent", he said.
The visit had not ended when Tunisia, a country tucked in the northern tip of Africa, signed a legal instrument of the Court, which allowed individual citizens and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in that country to file a case in the Court.
"I hail the government of Tunisia on this decision and urge other African countries to follow suit," remarked Justice Ore, who led the delegation on the sensitisation mission.
Article 34 (6) Declaration, which is contained in the Protocol that established the Court, enabled NGOs and individuals to access the Court directly.
By signing the declaration on April 13th, Tunisia became the eighth country in Africa to do so. Others are Tanzania, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Malawi and Mali.
Rwanda, which signed the legal instrument some years ago, formally withdrew from the declaration last month, although the African Union (AU) Summit has urged the East African country to reconsider its position.
The declaration was signed on behalf of the Tunisian government by the country's minister for Foreign Affairs Mr Khemaies Jhninaoui.
From Tunisia the AfCHPR delegation went to Egypt, an influential country in the region and the second most populous country in Africa with a strong voice in the Arab world and the entire Middle East.
The visit to Cairo, though nearly coincided with the terrorist attacks on the Coptic churches in the capital city and Alexandria. Some officials in the AfCHPR delegation admitted they were initially scared.
However, all went well with the visitors who managed to hold discussions with various senior officials of the Egyptian government, including the minister for Foreign Affairs and the Speaker of Parliament, from April 9th to 11th.
Egypt, which has not ratified the Protocol on the establishment of the Court, however, expressed its appreciation of the Court's work for the past ten years and is considering to ratify the protocol very soon.
"The visit to Egypt was encouraging and we are looking forward to the North African country ratifying the Protocol," said Justice Ore. Records indicate that Egypt signed the Protocol establishing the Court in February 1999, but is yet to ratify and make a declaration.
Tunisia, on the other hand, ratified the Protocol on the establishment of the African Court in August 2007 and signed the Declaration allowing its citizens and NGOs to access the Court on April 13th, 2017.
According to him, the sensitisation visits helped to raise awareness on the court's existence and also to encourage more AU member states to ratify the protocol and to make declaration to allow individuals and NGOs direct access to the Court.
Since 2010, the court has carried out continent-wide promotion programmes which have so far seen it undertake 27 sensitisation visits and held 12 regional and continental seminars and conferences.
The trip later took the AfCHPR delegation to Cote d' Ivoire, one of the eight countries, which have signed the declaration allowing their citizens and NGOs to access the court like Tanzania.
By virtue of being among the 30 countries that have ratified the Protocol and the eight signatories of the declaration, Cote d'Ivoire is one of those countries in the good books of the court.
And its leader was more than welcoming. President Alassane Ouattara pledged his government's commitment and full support to the work and programmes of the AU judicial organ.
"My government is ready to work hand in hand with the court to put in place all necessary arrangements to make the two sides work together for the common good of human rights in Africa," he said. However, the relationship between the African Court and Cote d'Ivoire are currently rather tricky.
Last year, the Ouattara government was ordered to amend its election law in order to allow for best practices in holding elections.
The court insisted that the existing laws in the West African country were flawed such that they were liable to accommodating the misuse of power and bad governance.
The order was made as the Court delivered a judgement in favour of a suit filed by the Abidjan-based Association for the Protection of Human Rights against their government.
Although protocol for establishment of the Court was signed by AU (then known as the Organisation of African Unity - OAU) way back in 1998, only 30 countries have ratified the protocol out of 54 AU member countries while only eight now have allowed individuals and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to file applications before the court.
In addition to the ratification of the protocol, states have to make a declaration required under Article 34(6) of the protocol to allow individuals and NGOs to bring cases directly before the Court. Without such declaration, the court would have no jurisdiction over cases brought by individuals and NGOs.
Lack of awareness on its existence and general ratification procedures involved to ratify its protocol are other reasons why some states have failed to embrace the judicial organ, according to other legal experts. Tanzania ratified the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on March 9th, 1984 and the Protocol on 10th February 2006 and is party to both instruments.
The country equally deposited on 10th March 2010, a declaration accepting the competence of the Court to receive cases from individuals and non-governmental organizations.
Up until February 29th this year, the African Court had received 74 applications of which 25 have been finalised. Four applications have been transferred to the African Commission on Human and People's Rights.