Positive signs from AU summit
The assembly welcomed the launch of the court and requested all members of the organization to “extend all necessary support to the court to ensure that it starts its work as soon as possible and functions smoothly”.
The Permanent Representatives Committee had been tasked to consider and adopt the structure of the registry of the court to enable to function effectively.
Eleven legal experts from across the continent took to the podium last weekend and pledged to “preserve, protect and defend” the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights.
AU Commissioner for Political Affairs Julia Joiner said: “This court will strengthen jurisprudence and contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights in the continent. It means you have another level where states and people can seek recourse before the African Commission (on Human and People’s Rights) and prosecutions can be made, not just judgments and resolutions.”
The court – which was established on paper in 1998 and will be based in Arusha, Tanzania – can only apply and rule on any international treaty or law ratified by the State in question, including treaties that do not themselves refer human rights violators to a court.
States, AU organs, individuals and non-governmental organisations can all request for rulings from the newly-established court.
The Protocol on the Establishment of an African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights was adopted in June 1998 and came into effect in January 2004.
In July of the same year, the AU assembly took a decision to merge the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights with the Court of Justice of the continental Union.
According to the legal team of experts, the main purpose of the new court is to “complement and reinforce the functions of the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights” and as such its authority will extend to “all cases and disputes submitted to it concerning the interpretation and application of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and any other human rights instruments ratified by African States”.
The launch of the court has added significance in the context of the same Summit’s endorsement of Senegal’s decision to try former Chadian leader Hissene Habre for crimes committed against humanity during his reign.
Habre, whose regime was accused by the Chad Truth and Reconciliation Commission of killing tens of thousands of people during his eight years in power, has been living in exile in Senegal since he was deposed in 1990.
Senagal’s President Abdoulaye Wade subsequently said he would ask his country’s Parliament to change national laws to facilitate Habre’s trial though it remains unclear when the trial will begin.Recently, former Liberian strongman Charles Taylor was given up to continental authorities before being handed over to The Hague to face almost similar charges.
UN secretary general Kofi Annan ‘ who was also in attendance at the Summit ‘ said of the court: “Africans have demonstrated that human rights are African rights.”
Further to this, observers and delegates also hailed the adoption by the assembly of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance in Africa, which consolidates collectively made commitments to strengthen democracy and good governance across the continent.
Said one observer in Banjul: “This Charter constitutes a major step toward the implementation of the democratic agenda of the AU.”
The assembly duly asked all member States to make strenuous efforts to ensure the rapid signing, ratification and accession of the Charter.
One of the closest watched issues was that of Darfur where the Sudanese government of President Omar Al-Bashir was resisting suggestions that a UN peacekeeping force replace an under-resourced AU unit operating in the troubled region.
The AU, after deliberations with Kofi Annan decided to let the 7 000-strong AU peacekeeping force extend its stay in Darfur until at least the end of the year after which a decision would be made commensurate with developments on the ground.
However, Annan made it clear that he would continue to push for UN forces to take over soon.
He was quoted saying: “I, of course, will continue to press for the eventual deployment of U.N. forces in Darfur. On this point we agreed that the dialogue had to continue.
In the meantime, President Bashir said he would prepare a plan for the next six months, which he would submit to me by the end of the month.”
The Darfur conflict began in early 2003 when ethnic groups revolted against the Khartoum government soon after the discovery of significant oil reserves in the region.
To date, the conflict has claimed over 180 000 lives and left some two million people seeking refuge in countries like Chad and the Central African Republic.
Though Annan hailed the progress made by Africa in the fields of development, human rights and security, he pointed out that these gains needed to be consolidated and built upon.
“There are still huge obstacles to be overcome if Africa as a whole is to reach all the Millennium Development Goals,” he said.
“But our progress on some of the individual Goals is deeply encouraging,” Annan added, citing examples of increased enrolment ratio in schools, lower AIDS prevalence, greater availability of safe drinking water and overall economic growth, with 27 African countries projected to see their gross domestic product expand by more than five per cent next year.
Annan cautioned the gathered Heads of State and Government: “Let us not deceive ourselves. Overall, the number of Africans living in extreme poverty continues to increase. The spread of HIV/AIDS continues to outpace our efforts to halt it. Food security continues to elude us, and the environment continues to degrade. Youth unemployment continues to rise.
Apart from Annan, notable dignitaries present at the Summit included Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Indian UN under-secretary general Shri Tharoor who is bidding to take over the top UN post when the incumbent secretary general relinquishes the reigns at the end of this year.
The Summit also agreed to suspend the recognition of new regional economic groupings, a move observers said was motivated by the need to enhance the efficiency of existing communities with the view to properly amalgamating some of them in the near future.
Off-late, there have been calls for the number of regional groupings to reduced from the current eight to five.
<BR> After the Summit, one observer, writing in the Gambian press, said:
“The sense of dedication, commitment and the spirit of Pan-Africanism demonstrated by all genuine compatriots towards this success story, is a manifestation that Africa will sooner or later unite for complete economic and political independence .
“Virtually, Africa’s integration took the centre stage of all the deliberations at the summit, suggesting that with commitments, the dream of the AU will come into reality.
The next AU Summit will be held in six months time at the organization’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.