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Assembly's Decision Should Not Undermine Court

News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International

AI Index: IOR 30/020/2004 9 August 2004

African Union: Assembly's decision should not undermine the African Court

Amnesty International has written to the Chairman of the African Union (AU), President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, expressing grave concern about the future of the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights (African Court).

During its Third Ordinary Session in July, in Addis Ababa, the African Union's (AU) Assembly took a decision to integrate the African Court and the Court of Justice of the AU into one Court.

"This decision is inconsistent with an earlier decision taken by the AU Assembly in Maputo in July 2003, to the effect that the African Court 'shall remain separate and distinct from the Court of Justice of the African Union'," the organization said.

"This decision, if implemented, will further delay, undermine or stop the full establishment of an effective and functioning African Court," Amnesty International's Secretary General, Irene Khan warned in an open letter to President Obasanjo.

While the Court of Justice established under the AU Constitutive Act has jurisdiction to resolve disputes between member states that have ratified the Court's Protocol, the African Court is empowered to hear cases challenging violations of civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and other relevant human rights instruments.

Furthermore, unlike the judges of the African Court who are required to be competent in human rights issues, the judges of the Court of Justice are only required to "possess the necessary qualifications required in their respective countries for appointment to the highest judicial offices".

Amnesty International believes that the African Court is an essential mechanism that would increase the protection of human rights regionally and nationally. Since the African Court is supposed to work together with the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, the Court could also contribute to the long-term effectiveness of the Commission.

"At a time when the human rights of individuals are under great pressure in the region, it is essential for the AU to ensure and maintain the integrity of the justice system it has established," Irene Khan said

The AU Chairman should "initiate consultations with member states , especially those that have ratified the African Court's Protocol and nominated judges to the Court, on the possible impact of the AU Assembly's decision on the protection of human rights on the continent. The full participation of civil society organizations, including human rights non-governmental organizations, in these consultations is essential for ensuring the long-term effectiveness of the African Court," Amnesty International said.

"We urge you to encourage AU member states to reaffirm their expressed commitments to the African Court, and to support the principles embodied in the Court's Protocol," Irene Khan told the AU Chairman. "AU member states should not allow the AU Assembly's decision to prejudice, restrict or weaken the essence of the African Court, which is to provide an effective remedy in individual cases."

Open Letter to the Chairman of the African Union (AU) seeking clarifications and assurances that the Establishment of an effective African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights will not be delayed or undermined:


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