African justice and rights courts set to merge

Monday September 11 2017

The Court's President Justice Sylvain Oré

The Court's President Justice Sylvain Oré (centre) makes remarks at a consultative meeting to review Court's Information and Communication Strategy in Arusha on 31 Aug 2017. Pic Courtesy of The African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights 

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The mandate of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) will not be usurped by the proposed African Court of Justice and Human Rights.

When the latter’s protocol finally comes into force, they will merge and there will be no hierarchy of importance as far as the charter and instruments of the African Union are concerned.

According to Justice Sylvain Sore, president of the AfCHPR, the court will remain separate, obligated to its mandate but as a chamber of the new court.

He added that the proposed African Court of Justice and Human Rights will have three chambers: Human rights, general affairs and international law, and criminal law.

Justice Sore was speaking to journalists in Arusha on the sidelines of a workshop to come up with a new communications strategy to improve the visibility of the work of the AfCHPR.

It was one of the court’s year-long activities marking its 10th anniversary, which was celebrated last year.

Landmark decision

The AfCHPR was created by the African Union’s Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Court in 2006.

The Arusha-based court started its work on a low note and its first key decision was in June 2013, when it ruled on Tanzania’s election law — now regarded as a landmark decision.

Recently, the number of cases filed with the court has significantly increased to 33 in 2015 and 22 in the first quarter of 2016. Currently, 61 cases are pending at the court and 25 have been concluded.

Eight-year legal battle

The most recent case is the eight-year legal battle of The Ogiek versus The Republic of Kenya, concluded this year and ruled in favour of the Ogiek community.

They sued the government for violation of their rights to life, property, natural resources, development, religion and culture under the African Charter, to which Kenya is a signatory.

The ruling is now considered a precedent for marginalised indigenous communities on the continent and around the world. Kenya said it will abide by the court’s ruling.

Another historic ruling was that of the son of the late Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi.

In June 2016, the court ruled that the Libyan government had violated Gaddafi’s rights to liberty and a fair trial by detaining him since 2011 and that he should be released. The government at first declined, but later released him.