Your Excellency the Vice-President of the Court
Honourable Judges, Dear Colleagues
Ladies and Gentlemen, Expert Academics, Dear Resource Persons
Mr. Registrar of the Court
Ladies and Gentlemen, Legal Officers and Interpreters of the Court,
- I am honoured to take the floor on the occasion of the opening ceremony of the very first Judicial Retreat of Judges of the African Court and to tell you how honoured we are by your virtual presence, while respecting the restrictions imposed on us by the COVID-19 health crisis.
- I would like, on behalf of all the Honourable Judges of the Court, on behalf of the entire Staff and on my own behalf, to wish you all a warm and cordial welcome.
- Allow me to take a minute to thank my colleagues for the confidence they reposed in me and the Vice-President two days ago when they elected us as members of the Bureau of the Court for the next two years. I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the tremendous work done by our predecessors and all the other judges over the past fifteen years. The solid foundation they laid have shaped the African Court we know today and deserve to be acknowledged.
Excellencies, Distinguished participants,
- I assume the helm of the African Court at a time when the world, Africa and the Court itself are facing enormous challenges, with dire consequences on the protection of human rights. I am however comforted by the fact that at the same time, numerous opportunities abound to strengthen our Court and make it play its rightful role in the socio-economic and political development of the continent. In this regard, I see this Retreat as one such opportunity. It is also comforting to note that the wide-range of stakeholders we invited for this engagement have responded positively, and to see that some of the participants were instrumental in the initiative leading to the drafting of the Protocol establishing the Court is very gratifying.
- It would have been nice to greet all of you individually, but allow me to extend special greetings to the Chairperson of the African Union Commission , His Excellency Mr Moussa Faki Mahamat and the Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union, whose presence among us gives this meeting its solemnity and is an invaluable comfort to us.
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
- By accepting our invitation and suspending your current activities to participate in the work of this Judicial Retreat, you demonstrate, once again, your willingness to spare no effort to contribute to the smooth functioning of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in particular and the African human rights protection system in general.
- This Retreat, the first of its kind to be organized by our Court, is the first step in the implementation of the Court’s 2021-2025 strategic plan, which focuses on consolidating its achievements, improving its judicial work and strengthening its partnership with stakeholders through judicial diplomacy.
- This Retreat, let me remind you, is intended to be a meeting of reflection between high-level jurists, human rights specialists and experts in judicial matters on the future of the African Court as the judicial organ of the African Union with a human rights mandate. It is initiated by the Court itself, which intends to find ways and strategies to rethink its judicial system, dissect the pitfalls that could stand in the way of its progress and propose new approaches with a view to building a more accessible and sound justice system that protects the rights of all persons, and which has the support of both States and African citizens; a justice system safe from vehement criticisms from wherever they come from, criticisms that undermine the morale of the Court and the confidence of stakeholders in our justice system. It is at the core of our vision of an African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights dedicated to promoting the culture of human rights, peace, democratic society and human development.
- Our task will be to take stock of the Court’s operating system, its jurisprudence, and its relations with other human rights actors in Africa, to identify its strengths and weaknesses as well as to find ways and means to consolidate its achievements, fill in the gaps, remedy weaknesses and correct failings.
- Indeed, as Foulek RINGEHEIM said, and I quote, “justice must not be considered as an administration frozen in its habits but as an institution in movement whose founding concepts must be re-evaluated, by shedding the prejudices that shackle thought, and by being wary of the obvious, which often prevent us from seeing things clearly”.
- The judicial protection of human rights by our Court, if we want it to be strong, just, and protective of the rights of all, must be based on the philosophy that human rights is an ideal, a perpetual and ever-perfectible quest. Therefore, our justice system must be open to reflection and self-examination in order to avoid fossilisation.
- This requires us to broaden our legal horizons and to be curious about what is happening elsewhere; in short, to air our courtroom by opening a window to the outside world. We are gathered to “rethink our way of protecting human rights” in order to improve it because perfection, as an ideal, is never definitively attained.
- The basis for a better promotion and protection of human rights will not, of course, come from conventions and charters applicable before human rights adjudication bodies, nor from established jurisprudence, but we are convinced that the debates and the exchange of ideas among high-level practitioners will open the door to significantly greater benefits and impact of our work for the good of all Africans.
- I would like once again to remind you that this meeting is a projection into the future, starting from the criticisms and difficulties that the Court has faced in recent years as its activities, particularly its judicial activities, have expanded. In this regard, I would like to mention, among other things, the strong resistance put up by States in the execution of our decisions; the suspicion of bias of the Court in favour of the applicants; the invocation of State sovereignty to justify the non-adherence to the procedures and decisions of the Court; the withdrawal by some States of the Declaration which allows individuals, NGOs and others to bring cases before the Court. Together, therefore, we are going to make an introspective examination of the work of the Court, find ways to ease the tense relations between the Court and some member states and see how to improve the work of the Court for better protection of human rights in Africa.
- During the three days of the retreat, prominent figures from the academic and judicial world will analyse the topics of the retreat agenda in order to identify the resources required to meet our expectations. Together we will make a comprehensive diagnosis of all these topics and hopefully map out the ways and means that will allow the Court to decode and make sense of the human rights we protect.
- Dear speakers, resource persons and high-level experts who no longer need to be introduced, at the beginning of my speech I quoted Judge Robert Badinter who said, and I quote, “The judge of yesterday is no longer and the judge of today is searching for himself”. Yes, the judge of our time is searching for himself because his function has fundamentally changed. He is no longer the reader-reciter of the law that he applies indiscriminately. The judge gives meaning to the law and adapts it to the evolution of society. The law, it must be said, is an intrinsic element of the life of society, “a living instrument that is interpreted according to the evolution of society, time and morals” and history teaches us that thanks to the so-called dynamic interpretation, legal professionals have given a meaning adapted to current situations to laws that were considered very old, incomplete or outdated.
- The work before us therefore calls for rigour, predictability, innovation, adaptation and precision. I have no doubt that you will be able to give your best so that at the end of this Retreat our mission as judges of the African Court will be better fulfilled and better perceived by the other organs of the Union, the stakeholders, in particular the States and the African citizens who expect a lot from us.
- This is why I would like to express to you, upfront, our gratitude for your willingness to accompany us during these three days.
I thank you for your kind attention