Côte d'Ivoire is the fourth African country to withdraw its voluntary declaration accepting the jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
On 29 April 2020, the Ivorian State announced that it was withdrawing its declaration of jurisdiction to the Court provided for in Article 34 (6) of the Protocol establishing the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights" which allows individuals and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) of State Parties to directly refer cases to the Court.
The Ivorian Government has specified that this decision does not affect the State's commitment to remain a party to the said Protocol.
Côte d'Ivoire announced its withdrawal immediately after the African Court's 22 April provisional measures requesting for the suspension of the arrest warrant against Mr Guillaume Soro, former president of the National Assembly and candidate for the 2020 presidential election. The Court stressed in its decision that "the execution of arrest and detention warrants against political figures [...] risks seriously compromising the exercise of the applicants' political rights and freedoms". The Court also requested the bail of 19 Soro supporters who have been in detention for more than four months.
A few days earlier, Benin sent a letter dated 21 April withdrawing its voluntary declaration accepting the jurisdiction of the African Court for cases from individuals and NGOs. According to the Beninese Government, the African Court has for some years "been interfering in State sovereignty issues and matters that are not within its jurisdiction, repeated acts that attempt to disrupt the constitutional order of the country".
The Court has repeatedly sentenced the Benin State, in particular asking it to suspend the municipal elections of 17 May 2020 after a referral for human rights violations by businessman Sebastien Ajavon, former ally of President Patrice Talon who became an opponent. Ajavon, sentenced in absentia to twenty (20) years in prison in a drug trafficking case, criticized the government for not being able to present lists to the municipal elections following the adoption of the new Electoral Code.
It should be recalled that Article 3 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights gives jurisdiction to the Court to hear and determine “all cases and disputes submitted to it concerning the interpretation and application of the Charter, this present Protocol and any other relevant human rights instruments ratified by the States concerned". Article 5 of this Protocol provides that, in addition to African States and inter-governmental organisations, "the Court may allow individuals as well as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) having observer status with the Commission to submit applications directly to it in accordance with Article 34(6) of this Protocol". The Protocol specifies that, at any time after ratification of this Protocol, the State should make a declaration accepting the competence of the Court to receive the applications set out above.
In addition to Côte d'Ivoire and Benin, Tanzania, the host-country of the Court, and Rwanda have also withdrawn their voluntary declarations. These withdrawals were all made following decisions of the Court that were unfavourable to the Governments of these countries.
Concerned about the respect for democratic values and the protection of human rights, the signatory civil society organisations call on the States concerned to reverse these decisions because by withdrawing their declaration of jurisdiction, they are depriving individuals and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) of the possibility of bringing cases of human rights violations directly before the Court.
Since the entry into force of this Protocol in 2004, only 10 of the 30 States Parties had endorsed the declaration, allowing individuals and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to bring cases directly before the Court.
The signatory civil society organizations thus denounce the propensity of States to turn away from legal instruments and to circumvent the Court's sanctions instead of using them to correct violations of human and peoples’ rights. The African Court is the only continental body that can order State Parties to take all appropriate measures to remedy human rights violations, including the payment of compensation, change laws or grant fair compensation.
Civil society organisations call on Africans to keep in mind that these withdrawals of declarations of competence weaken the authority of regional judicial institutions, which are essential legal remedies for civil society organisations and African citizens. Indeed, giving States the discretion to discard instruments that are not favourable to them open doors for all types of abuses.
Civil society organisations therefore call on States to fully uphold the contents of the declarations, conventions and other existing instruments adopted by the African Union and to implement them in good faith.
The signatory civil society organisations call on all African civil society to stand together and take concerted action to stop this trend of jeopardising human rights gains and as a result undermine the very foundations of the African Union.
The signatory civil society organisations recommend that the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and the relevant bodies of the African Union take up the issue in conjunction with the Court to halt the tendency of States to withdraw their declaration of jurisdiction and weaken African human rights institutions.
2- Centre d'Education aux Droits de l'Homme et des Peuples - CEDHOP
3- Association des Blogueurs de Guinée (ABLOGUI)
4- Association des Blogueurs Centrafricains (ABCA)
5- Mouvement Citoyen pour la Bonne Gouvernance au Gabon pour notre engagement.
6- Voix et Actions Citoyennes
7- AfrikaJom Centre
8- Association Villageois2.0
10- Think tank citoyen de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (WATHI)
- ARTICLE 19, West Africa