The President of the Economic Community for West Africa (ECOWAS) Court of Justice, Mr Edward Amoako Asante, says many people, including lawyers in member countries, are not aware of the existence of the court.
The lack of knowledge about the existence of the court, he said, was making it impossible for people with complaints of alleged human rights violations to seek justice from the courts.
Speaking at a stakeholder’s forum in Accra yesterday, Mr Asante assured citizens and institutions of member countries of the court’s unrelenting efforts in the sustenance of human rights in the region.
The forum is part of a four-day citizens campaign by the ECOWAS Court of Justice in Ghana.
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The court which is headquartered in Abuja, Nigeria, was established in 2001 to ensure that the principles of equity and human rights within the ECOWAS community were duly observed.
It is composed of seven independent judges appointed by their respective Heads of State and governments for a four-year non-renewable tenure.
The court is the judicial organ of ECOWAS charged with resolving disputes related to the community’s treaties, protocols and conventions and also hears individual complaints of alleged human rights violations.
Mr Asante said the court had jurisdiction over four general types of disputes, comprising those relating to the interpretation, application or legality of ECOWAS regulations, those that arise between ECOWAS and its employees, those relating to liability for or against ECOWAS, and those that involve a violation of human rights committed by a member state.
“The ECOWAS Court of Justice has competence under its protocol to adjudicate on any dispute.
In this regard , access to the court is open to staff of any community institution, after the staff has exhausted all appeal processes available under the ECOWAS Staff rules and Regulations,” he said.
The most prominent mandate of the court, he said, was gained in January 2005 with the adoption of supplementary protocol for individuals to access the court in respect of violations of their human rights by the community or member state actors.
The Director of Africa and Regional Integration at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Mr Harold A. Agyeman, said the activities of the Community Court of Justice were important for the deepening of the regional integration agenda within the region.
A Chief Registrar of the Community Court of Justice, Mr Tony Anene Maidoh, said a total of 382 cases had been filed before the court since its establishment.
Out of the number, the court has given its judgements on 190 cases, ruled on 106, while 18 decisions are under review.
Mr Maidoh said most of the cases were filed by individuals or non-governmental agencies on behalf of individuals or institutions.
“No member state has ever filed an application before the court,” he said and explained that cases filed did not attract filing fees and that the only cost of the litigants would be their cost of transportation from their location to Abuja where the court was located and charges of their lawyers.
An application of the judgement of the court is at 1,000 naira which is about GH¢13.
He said there was no domestic exhaustion of remedies requirement limiting the court’s jurisdiction, meaning individuals do not need to pursue national judicial remedies before bringing a claim to the ECOWAS Court of Justice.
Rather, the principal requirements, he said, were that the application should not be anonymous and that the matter must not be pending before another international court.
The main challenge of the court was with enforcement of judgements and to overcome that the court had appealed to member countries to appoint focal persons or focal institutions, preferably the ministries of justice where litigants can take their writ of execution to ensure enforcement of judgements.
Mr Maidoh said only five out of the 15 member countries of the community have appointed focal persons or institutions so far.
He said the court which did not provide lawyers for litigants was currently working on the establishment of a legal aid scheme and a fund to assist persons who genuinely cannot afford the services of a lawyer.