Arusha, 1 April 2008 (FH) - The President of Arusha-based African Human Rights Court, Professor Gerard Niyungeko, has called on member states to speedily ratify the protocol establishing the continent's first judicial organ.

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Giving Monday a key note address at a regional roundtable on the court's relevance, challenges and prospects, Professor Niyungeko said that among limitations facing the court was the slow pace of its ratification.

The three-day conference is organized by the East African Law Society (EALS) with support of Open Society Initiative East Africa (OSIEA), Swedish NGO Foundation (SNF) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ).

"Currently out of 53 member states of the African Union, only 24 of them have thus far ratified the protocol," he stated.

Among early countries which have ratified the Protocol include Rwanda, which had seen one of the worst for human killings of the modern century in 1994.

Tanzania ratified the Protocol in February l2006, which paved the way for it to host the Court. Other countries are: Algeria, BurkinaFaso, Burundi, Coted'Ivoire, Comoros, Kenya, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Libya and Lesotho. Madagascar, Mozambique, Mauritania, Mauritius, Nigeria, Niger, South Africa, Senegal, Togo, Tunisia and Uganda have also endorsed the protocol.

However, according to Article 34(3) of the Court, the body was legally in force following its ratification by at least 15 countries.

Professor Niyungenko also told the gathering of human rights experts, lawyers and academicians that another limitation was issue of Court's accessibility by individuals and NGOs.

"There is an urgent need to open up access to the Court either by way of many states accepting and subscribing to the competence of the Court as soon as practicable or in the alternative, it might be necessary to amend the Protocol to eliminate all limitations."

There was also a possibility to take advantage of the ongoing process of merging the African Court with the African Court of Justice to address the issue, he said, adding:" If this limitation is not addressed now, it will undoubtedly in the long run term pose a great challenge to and consequently undermine the effectiveness of the Court."

Professor Niyungeko disclosed that the discussions on the Court's Rules of Procedure have been completed."The Court is confident that it shall be ready to receive any applications for adjudication in the coming months," he informed the meeting.

The Court, unlike other organs of AU, was empowered to give binding judgements which are enforceable against parties.

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 News Agency