Arusha,18 February,2008(FH)--Only about half of the member states of the African Union (AU) have ratified the Protocol establishing the African Human Rights Court whose seat is in Arusha, according to the Court's President, Professor Gerard Niungeko.

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"Out of the 53 member states of AU that are also party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, only 24 member states have so far ratified the Protocol," he said in his address to the Tanganyika Law
Society annual meeting over the weekend.

Regrettably, he added, it was only Burkina Faso which has issued declaration accepting the Court's competence to entertain cases from individuals and NGOs.

"There is therefore an urgent need for the Court and its stakeholders to undertake a massive campaign for African states to ratify the Protocol and issue the declaration necessary to enable individuals and non-governmental organizations to approach the Court with their cases,'' he stressed.

Among early countries which have ratified the Protocol include Rwanda, which had seen one of the worst killings of the modern century in 1994. According to the United Nations estimates, about 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were butchered in the April-July bloodbath.

Tanzania, regarded as an African model of justice and democracy, ratified the Protocol in February l2006, which paved the way for it to host the
Court. Kenya, which has recently seen post-election violence, has also endorsed it.

Other countries are: Algeria,Burkina Faso,Burundi,Cote d'Ivoire,Comoros,Gabon,Gambia,Ghana,Libya and Lesotho.

Others are :Madagascar,Mozambique,Mauritania,Mauritius,Nigeria,Niger, Rwanda,South Africa,Senegal,Tanzania,Togo,Tunisia and Uganda.

Prof. Niungeko said that the Court, unlike other organs of AU, "is empowered to give binding judgements which are enforceable against

The Court is currently in the process of firmly stabling itself in Arusha with the support of the Tanzanian government, he said, adding that recruitment of its staff was underway.

According to the Court's President, experts have been very busy drafting the rules and would be ready to effectively receive any applications for adjudication in coming months.

Prof Niungeko said that the Court's emergence was in the right direction, underlining that entrenchment of human rights culture in Africa was "appropriate environment for the development of the rule of law at the
national level, as well as at the continental level."

The Court was established by the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Protocol adopted by members states in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in June 1998. The Protocol entered into force in January 2004.

The Court started its operations in Addis Ababa in November 2006 but moved to its permanent seat in Arusha in August, last year.

It is only the President of the Court who is engaged as full-time and permanently resident at the Court's Headquarters. The other ten judges work part-time.

© Hirondelle Agency