ECOWAS Community Court of Justice

Applies to/Se aplica a

State practice
State law
Individual cases
For Urgent Action
Only under 18-s
A

Summary

According to the Supplementary Protocol from 19 January 2005, “the Court has jurisdiction to determine cases of violations of human rights that occur in any Member State.” There is no requirement to exhaust domestic remedies, meaning individuals do not need to pursue national judicial remedies before bringing a claim to the ECOWAS Court of Justice. Rather, the principal requirements are that the application not be anonymous and that the matter is not pending before another international court.
A case can be brought by anyone under the jurisdiction of a member state of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). However, according to article 12 of the Protocol establishing the Court of Justice, representation by an agent or lawyer is required.
The reference framework of the Community Court of Justice are the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), as well as other universal instruments for the protection of human rights adopted by the United Nations.
Proceedings before the court consist of written and oral proceedings, after which the Court will hand down its judgment in open Court. Judgements of the Court are binding on each Member State, institutions of ECOWAS and on individuals.
More information is available at the website of the Community Court of Justice at http://www.courtecowas.org/.

1. Likely result from the use of this mechanism

Following the filing of a case with the Community Court of Justice, the Court will appoint a Judge-Rapporteur, who will prepare the case for the Court, and make recommendations regarding what inquiries might be needed, which might include further documents, oral testimony, expert reports, or site visits. Following the completion of the preparatory inquiry, a date for the oral procedure will be set by the Court, which might involve the hearing of witnesses. This session will be public.
After the conclusion of the oral procedure, the Court will deliberate on the judgment in closed session, and deliver its judgment in open Court.

Urgent action:

According to article 20 of Protocol A/P.l/7/91 on the Community Court of Justice, “the Court, each time a case is brought before it, may order any provisional measures or issue any provisional instructions which it may consider necessary or desirable.
When filing a case with the Community Court of Justice, it is possible – in a separate document – to also file an application for interim measures. Such an application should be referred to the Court by the President within 48 hours after it has been lodged.
Articles 79-86 of the Rules of Procedure deal in more detail with interim measures.

2. To which States does this mechanism apply?

The mechanism applies to those States that are members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). A list of member States is available at http://ecowas.int/.

3. Who can submit information?

According to article 10 of Protocol A/SP.1/01/05, individuals who are subject to the jurisdiction of a member State of ECOWAS can apply to the Community Court of Justice for relief for violation of their human rights.
However, according to article 12 of the Protocol establishing the Court of Justice, representation by an agent or lawyer is required.

4. When to submit information?

A case should be filed with the Community Court of Justice as soon as possible, even though neither the Protocol establishing the Court, nor the Rules of Procedures give any time limits in cases of human rights violations. There is no need for the exhaustion of domestic remedies – in fact, the Community Court of Justice stated that it is not an appeal court, so a case should be filed directly with the Community Court of Justice.

5. Special rules of procedure or advice for making a submission?

The Community Court of Justice is a proper court, and according to article 12 of the Protocol establishing the Court of Justice, representation by an agent or lawyer is required. Any lawyer representing a victim of human rights violations needs to be authorised to practice before a court of a member State of ECOWAS.

How to file a case with the Community Court of Justice:

As representation by a lawyer or agent is obligatory when filing a case before the Community Court of Justice, the following is only a brief summary, which should aid a decision on whether to file a case.

While the official languages of the Community Court of Justice are English, French, and Portuguese, a case against a member State needs to be filed in one of the official languages of that State. Articles 32 to 40 of the Rules of Procedure relate to the written procedure before the Community Court of Justice.

An application to the Community Court of Justice needs to include:

  • the name and address of the applicant;
  • the party against which the application is made (the “defendants”), which – in the case of human rights violations – might be the State;
  • the subject matter, which means a clear description of the alleged human rights violations, and which provisions of the ACHPR are alleged to have been violated;
  • what kind of order the applicant wants the court to make;
  • where appropriate, the nature of any evidence offered in support.

An application to the Community Court of Justice needs to be in writing and signed by the agent or lawyer of the applicant, with five certified copies for the Court plus one copy each for each party to the case.

Emergency procedures:

Article 20 of Protocol A/P.l/7/91 on the Community Court of Justice establishes that the Court may “order any provisional measures or issue any provisional instructions which it may consider necessary or desirable”, thus establishing an emergency procedure. Articles 79-86 of the Rules of Procedure deal in more detail with interim measures.
An application for interim measures or provisional instructions should be made in a separate document at the same time as the main application, and should explains why interim measures or provisional instructions are needed as a matter of urgency. The application should also include what measures or instructions the Court should order.
After lodging of the application, the President shall refer it to the Court within 48 hours. The defendant will also be given a brief period of time to respond to the application.
The Community Court of Justice will then decide on any interim measures or provisional instructions, and make the appropriate order.

6. What happens to the submission (how long will it take)?

The Community Court of Justice deals with cases in the order in which they are registered. Following the lodging of a case, the applications will be served on the defendant, who then has one month to reply. However, this time limit can be extended on application.
Following this, the applicant is given one month time to respond to the defence, which then is again given one month to respond to the reply of the applicant.
A Judge-Rapporteur will be in charge of the application, and will produce a preliminary report, which includes recommendation whether a preparatory inquiry or other preparatory steps are needed. This can also include the commissioning of an expert's report.
Based on the report of the Judge-Rapporteur, the Community Court of Justice will decide on the measures of inquiry, which can include:

  • the personal appearance of the parties;
  • a request for information and for further documents;
  • oral testimony;
  • the commissioning of an expert's report;
  • an inspection of the place or of evidence.

Following the completion of the preparatory inquiry, the Community Court of Justice will fix the date for the opening of the oral procedure, which can then include oral evidence by witnesses in open session of the Court.

After hearing all evidence and the presentations of the parties, the Court will deliberate on its judgment in closed session. The judgment itself will then be delivered in open Court, and it will be binding from the date of its delivery.

It is likely that the process takes more than two years in total.

7. History of the use of this mechanism

This mechanism has so far not been used for conscientious objection to military service.

Contact Details: 
Community Court of Justice – ECOWAS 10 Dar Es Salaam Crescent, Off Aminu Kano Crescent, Wuse II, Abuja, Nigeria. Tel: +234-9-5240781 Fax: +234-9-6708210 Email : information@courtecowas.org or info@courtecowas.org or president@courtecowas.org Website: http://courtecowas.org
Further Reading: 
Jurisprudence

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