On 8 June 2012, the President of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Honorable Prof. Gerard Niyungeko, gave a public lecture on protection of Human Rights in Africa at the Tunamini University Makumira located on the outskirts of Arusha Town, in Tanzania.
In his presentation, Justice Gerard Niyungeko who, in addition to being a Judge, is also a member of the academia as he taught Law in different universities, gave a background on the establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and an overview of the normative and institutional framework of the Court.
The participants learned from Honorable Justice Niyungeko that the Court was established by the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights which was adopted by Member States of the then Organization of African Unity (OAU) in June 1998. The Protocol came into force on 25 January 2004 after it was ratified by 15 States.
The Court officially started its operations in November 2006. Between then and 2008, the Court dealt principally with its operationalization and administrative issues, including the drafting of its Interim Rules of Procedure, elaboration of the structure of the Court's Registry, preparation of its budget and conclusion of its Host Agreement with the United Republic of Tanzania. By 2008, the Court was ready to receive cases. The Court received its first Application by Mr Michelot Yogogombaye against the Republic of Senegal in August 2008 and delivered judgment thereon in 2009. To date, the Court has received 22 Applications and three requests for Advisory Opinion. It has finalized 10 Applications. Currently 12 Applications and one request for Advisory Opinion are pending.
During his lecture, Justice Niyungeko also elaborated on the contentious and advisory jurisdiction of the Court. He stated that the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul Commission), States parties to the Protocol and African Intergovernmental Organizations are entitled to submit cases to the Court. In addition, in line with Article 5(3) of the Protocol, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) with Observer Status before the Banjul Commission, and individuals can institute cases directly before the Court, if the State Party they are complaining against has made the declaration under Article 34(6) of the Protocol, allowing such applications. Before submitting their cases to the Court, NGOs and individuals must have exhausted local remedies. It is worth noting that only African States are the Respondent before the Court.
With regards to the Court’s activities, Honorable Justice Niyungeko said that even though the Court has registered a good number of achievements, it also faces many challenges. These are, among others, the lack of public awareness about the Court and the fact that a few States have ratified the Protocol establishing the Court. Only 26 States out of 54 Member States of the African Union have ratified the Protocol and only five of them (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, and Tanzania) have made the declaration allowing individual and NGOs to directly bring cases before the Court. To remedy this situation, the Court is undertaking sensitization programmes in States that have ratified the Protocol to get them to also make the declaration.
Members and students of the Faculty of Law at Tumaini University Makumira also learned from Justice Niyungeko that, in July 2008, the Assembly of African Heads of State and Government adopted a protocol merging the Court with the Court of Justice of the African Union, to form the African Court of Justice and Human Rights. However, the this protocol merging the two Courts is yet to enter into force as it has been ratified by only three States (Burkina Faso, Libya and Mali), while it requires at least fifteen ratifications to do so. Justice Niyungeko announced that there is a move by the African Union to extend the jurisdiction of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights to include criminal matters such as on genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The Protocol of the merged Court with extended jurisdiction will be examined by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government during the AU Summit that will take place next month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Following the presentation by Justice Niyungeko, the participants sought to know more about the Court and its progress. They posed many questions and also gave some suggestions on the improvement of the protection of Human Rights in Africa. Many of them expressed concern with the requirement for the declaration under Article 34(6) of the Protocol. They questioned the necessity for this provision and recommended that it be deleted.
The lecture was attended by the Deputy Vice Chancellor, students and teaching staff of the Faculty of Law and other interested members of the Tumaini Makumira University.