A judge of the African Court of Human and People's Rights and Ecowas Court of Justice has criticised government commitments to safeguarding human rights across the continent, pointing out a very poor trend of adherence by member states to court rulings on human rights issues.
According to the African Court's incumbent President Judge Imani Aboud, less than 10 percent of hundreds of decisions handed down by the African Court during its 17 years of operation have so far been implemented by respondent states.
Aboud told the 77th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People's Rights in Arusha that most African governments still appeared to lack the political will to accept basic weaknesses discerned by courts in their enforcement of human rights protocols.
"Many of these governments are not even ready to accept charges brought against them by citizens of their own countries, let alone judgments that go against them," she noted in her October 20 address which was delivered by the court's registrar Robert Eno.
Records available on the African Court website show that it has so far finalised 212 out of 353 petitions filed by individuals and civil society organisations and handed down 374 judgments and orders on matters involving civil rights.
The numbers of fresh applications on a yearly basis reached their highest point of 66 in 2019 but have plummeted since then to just seven in 2022 and eight so far this year.
The court was established in 1998 but did not start formal operations until 2006. It was initially based in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa before moving its permanent seat to Arusha in 2007.
A total of 34 African states have so far ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights under which it operates, but only eight have assented to the protocol's controversial Article 34(6) which gives the court jurisdiction to accept cases directly from individuals and non-governmental organisations.
Rwanda withdrew its initial assent to the clause in 2017, followed by Tanzania in 2019 and Côte d’Ivoire and Benin in 2020.
Aboud (a Tanzanian national) called on member states which are not comfortable with the provision to reconsider their positions for the good of human rights advancement across the continent.
She told the conference in Arusha that non-compliance of the court's decisions presented it with a heavy challenge in fulfilling its mandate to protect the Charter on human rights that member states themselves endorsed of their own free will.
The African Court president's views were echoed by her counterpart from the Ecowas Court of Justice in West Africa, Judge Edward Amoako Asante, who also showed concern over "inconsistencies" in respecting court rulings in human rights cases across the continent.
Judge Asante noted that while African countries were quick to commit themselves to international instruments of human rights, these commitments were rarely reflected in their enforcement of court decisions "probably with a view to evading scrutiny of their own human rights records."
He said such behaviour contributed to the erosion of public trust in human rights protection entities in Africa.
The three-week African Commission conference began on October 20 and is scheduled to run until November 9, covering a myriad of human rights issues across the continent's social, political and economic fronts.
Discussions have revolved around bolstering the independence and capacity of the continent's human rights protection bodies, pressuring governments to enact more laws designed to enhance their own human rights records, and issues of economic management, good governance, poverty alleviation and land rights.
A group of about 300 CSOs said in a joint presentation that the ongoing civil strife in countries such as Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and those caught in the middle of a spate of recent coups in West Africa was a stark example of how neglecting human rights can lead to dire social consequences.
The CSOs also hit at African countries that continue to use the death penalty as punishment for serious criminal offences, describing it as a gross violation of the human right to life.