Thumbs up for African court

The International Bar Association has agreed to back the formation of an African Court of Human Rights, to act where African state courts have failed.

Nutifafa Kuenyehia, past-president of the Ghanian Bar Association, who proposed the motion at the IBA Council's Madrid meeting on 1 June, said: “The idea for this court came from law firms in Africa. It has been discussed in Africa since 1992 when a conference on human rights in Nigeria called for its establishment. Recent events in Rwanda, Liberia and Somalia have shown the need for it.

“With the IBA's backing, we have now made the issue international, rather than just African. This should help bring international pressure on African heads of state to support the court.”

He said if African heads of state agreed to the court at the next Organisation of African Unity (OAU) meeting in the summer of 1997, it could be established then.

The OAU drew up an African Charter for Human Rights and a draft protocol to establish an African Court of Human Rights, which the IBA considered during its human rights workshop held in July 1995.

Separately, the East African Law Society's Bill of Rights Workshop, held in Arusha in January, recommended such a court.

The IBA's resolution states: “A regional court of Human Rights in Africa would play a vital role in protecting human rights by acting where state courts have failed, refused and/or neglected to act, whether crimes are committed in war or peace and whether the perpetrators are leaders, subordinates, civilians or soldiers.”

And the IBA Council resolved “that the OAU be encouraged to mobilise governments to accept the establishment of such a court, to be responsible for its adequate funding and to submit to its jurisdiction”.