The African Court has expressed concern over the recent withdrawals by Benin and Côte d’Ivoire of their declarations which recognized the jurisdiction of the Court.
The withdrawals, described as regrettable, effectively put a stop to direct access of the two countries’ individual citizens and relevant NGOs to the Court.
The Court expressed concern and deeply regretted the action of the two States, said a statement issued at the end of a virtual meeting of the Judges of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights held on Monday May 4.
Benin through its embassy in Ethiopia on April 21, 2020 transmitted a note verbale expressing the government’s decision to withdraw its Declaration, which was deposited on Feb. 8, 2016.
It cited “African Court interference and intrusions in areas that have not been assigned to its jurisdiction which results into serious disruption of the domestic legal order.”
Cote d’Ivoire meanwhile said it’s withdraw was a result of serious and intolerable actions from the African Court.
In a statement issued on April 29, 2020 Cote d’Ivoire claimed that the African Court had undermined the sovereignty and the Ivorian justice system.
But the withdrawal notice from Cote d’Ivoire came a week after the African Court issued an order instructing government to suspend arrest warrant for its former prime minister Guillaume Soro– who was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison for embezzlement and money laundering.
Soro, also a former speaker of parliament, has expressed intentions to contest in the upcoming October presidential elections in Cote d’Ivoire.
The court had also ordered government to release 19 of his relatives who are reported to have been imprisoned for several months.
Benin and Cote d’Ivoire join Rwanda and Tanzania in a series of withdrawal from Article 34(6) of the African Court Protocol, putting a stop to direct access for individuals and relevant NGOs to the African Court.
The withdrawals have been described as a step back towards access to justice and promotion of human rights in Africa.
Rights activists also see it as a manifestation of the unwillingness to recognize the authorities of regional human rights systems and unwillingness to abide to human rights commitments in the region.
The Court reiterated its commitment to independence, objectivity and loyalty in the discharge of its mandate, the statement said.
Meanwhile the Judges also discussed the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on the work of the Court, and measures put in place to ensure safety of staff and business continuity of the Court.
It urged the Registrar to remain vigilant and not hesitate to take further measures as necessary.
On the organization of its 57th Ordinary Session, the Court resolved to hold the session virtually from June 1 to 26, instructing the Registrar to take all necessary measures to ensure the smooth organization and conduct of the session.
The Court expressed solidarity with the Governments and peoples of Africa during this difficult moment, noting that even in the midst of a pandemic, justice and respect for human rights must never be compromised. The meeting was attended by all eleven Judges.