Friday, 23 October 2015

FEMI FALANA CALLS FOR EXPANSION OF ECOWAS COURT’S JURISDICTION

Femi Falana (SAN)
As the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), marks 40 years of its formation, Nigerian Human Rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has called on the Heads of Governments of the sub-region to expand the jurisdiction of the Community Court of Justice of ECOWAS to cover cross border crimes such as money laundering, terrorism, human trafficking, drug trafficking, armed robbery and the like.

Falana, who was the guest speaker at a ceremony to mark the commencement of the 2015/2016 legal year of the ECOWAS Court, praised the court for its effective judgements on human rights issues across the sub-region, adding that the court is now a point of reference in international courts.

He noted that the ECOWAS Court has done very well in deciding cases within the sub-region though it did not attend to some issues in the past. One of such issues, according to Falana, was the third term bid of President Tanja of Niger Republic. The case was filed by Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), but was thrown out by the court on the grounds that the CDD did not have support from Niger Republic.

“If the ECOWAS Court had intervened at the time, the coup that occurred in Niger Republic may not have occurred”, he said.

On the other hand, he noted that it is good that the court intervened in the case of Burkina Faso.

“The fear of ECOWAS Court has really improved the human rights environment in The Gambia”, he added.

Falana added that the ECOWAS Court has brought a new legal regime within the sub-region. He therefore, called for the establishment of an appellate arm to the ECOWAS Court to further promote the rights of citizens, who currently have to compulsorily abide by the decision of the ECOWAS Court because there is no window for appeal. He also urged governments of Member States to execute the decisions of the court, calling on Nigeria to lead by example in this regard.

President of the Community Court, Honourable Justice Maria do Ceu Silva Monteiro, who declared the new legal year open, assured ECOWAS governments and citizens that the court would in no way shirk its responsibilities to the people of the sub-region in its efforts to ensure an ECOWAS of the people and not an ECOWAS of only states.

In her own words: “I have an opportunity to say this, and I will repeat it once again, that we will assume the responsibility that weighs on this distinguished court, because our role is vital, our motivation constant, so also is our determination and our expertise to fulfill the mandate given to us.”

According to her, enormous challenges exist on the path of the court, one of which is the need for Nigeria to honour the court headquaters agreement signed in Accra in December 2003, between ECOWAS and the Federal Repblic of Nigeria, for the provision of adequate space to house the court.

She said: “The legal institution deserves to be housed in a more spacious and decent premises, which will increase the potential of the various departments that make up the court. Another great difficulty confronting the court relates directly with the execution of the court’s judgment. Despite repeated requests, only three States have complied with this statutory requirement. These are the Republic of Guinea, Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Republic of Mali.”

Representatives of the ECOWAS Commission, ECOWAS Parliament, Nigeria’s Federal Ministries of Justice, Federal Capital Territory and other institutions, read their goodwill messages, pledging more cooperation with the ECOWAS Court.

Registrar of the court, Tony Anene-Maidoh, said that numerous conventions, supplementary Acts, and subsidiary legal instruments have been adopted since the establishment of ECOWAS, and now what is needed by the Community is to focus on creating enabling legal framework for the economic integration of the sub-region by giving the court the necessary competence in matters of trade.

In his review of the judicial activities in the court, the Registrar said that a total of 227 cases were lodged before the court since 2003.

In his own words: “The court has delivered 208 decisions consisting of 106 judgements, 87 rulings, 12 revision of judgements and three advisory options. Since the sitting of the court on January 22nd, 2004 the court has held a total of 617 sessions. Currently there are 58 pending cases before the court. A few of these cases have already been adjourned for judgment.”

He added that so far in 2015, 30 cases have been filed before the court. ”The court has so far in 2015, delivered 25 decisions consisting of 20 judgments and five rulings. It has had 84 court sessions so far this year.” (guardian)