ECOWAS Court now treats individual lawsuits against human rights violations

ECOWAS Court now treats individual lawsuits against human rights violations

The Community Court of Justice, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), says it has expanded the responsibilities of the court to allow individuals to bring complaints of human rights violations by member states.

A judge of the court, Justice Dupe Atoki disclosed this on Thursday, October 17, during a press conference as part of activities to mark the advocacy visit of members of the court to Enugu.

Atoki is a member of the body of judges of the court representing Nigeria.

The judge said that they were in the state on a sensitisation mission “because we realised that citizens needed to know more about the court.

“We have made efforts to project the mandates of the court in the state to the critical stakeholders,” she said.

Atoki said that litigants were at liberty to file hard copies of their processes before the court via email and send their witnesses during their sitting where necessary.

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“We have adopted an e-platform so that wherever you are in West Africa if you file your process, you may not need to attend the hearings in person.

“We deliver judgment based on the paper so filed,” she said.

Atoki said that the ECOWAS court had no powers to nullify judgments of national courts of member states as neither of them was superior to the other.

“The treaty establishing the ECOWAS recognized the sovereignty of member states and the ECOWAS court does not serve as an appellate court for national courts,” she said.

Atoki explained that the court could only intervene when a litigant approached it on the grounds; that their rights to a fair hearing were infringed on leading to the decision of the national court.

“If such is alleged and the matter brought before us; we will look at the procedures leading to the judgment and not whether the decision was right or wrong.

“You approach the ECOWAS separately as it does not require the exhaustion of local remedies. It is also a final court as you do not appeal against our decisions,” she said.

The judge, however, noted that the enforcement of its orders was a matter of the political will of member states of the commission.

She said that the obligation of the court just as other conventional courts ended at arriving at decisions and ensuring that the writ of the judgment was transmitted to the concerned member state.

Atoki said that the court had situations where its decisions were not complied with by member states, including Nigeria.

“Enforcement of court order is a matter of having the political will and it is up to the executive arm of any government to enforce decisions of national and international courts.

“The member states made commitments to comply with the decisions of the court but that is not always the case as our judgments are not always complied with to the fullest,” she said.

Atoki said that disobedience to the court orders had its sanctions as provided in the ECOWAS treaty for non-compliance with the obligations of member states.

She described the court as “a court of human rights” which did not require the exhaustion of local remedies before hearing the matter on violation of human rights against any member state.

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