RWI organized a study visit for judges and key staff from two important regional courts in East and West Africa last week.
The purpose was to launch the new cooperation between the Institute and the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) and the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
During the last few years, regional courts in Africa have become an arena where human rights lawyers and civil society groups can advocate for their cases. However, the member states of these courts do sometimes use their executive powers in order to affect the ruling of the courts, and national implementation of regional court decisions is at times a challenge. The focus of the study visit was therefore not only to discuss how other regional human rights courts operate, but also the challenges they face, in particular with regard to court implementation on the national level.
The week-long visit allowed for the exchange of promising practice from these important regional courts, which have a human rights mandate. And it fostered discussions on the national implementation of regional court decisions.
“We had the opportunity to learn about several practices that are different between our Courts. For example, the different tenures for the judges, ECOWAS judges’ time in office is very short, only four years, meanwhile ours is seven years. This short tenure might have a negative impact on the jurisprudence when everyone is changed at the same time,” says Hon. Justice Dr. Emmanuel Ugirashebuja, President of the East African Court of Justice.
For President Ugirashebuja, whose background in legal research originally focused on environmental law, human rights creeped into his work naturally:
“There is no escaping human rights – they tend to spread their tentacles on everything. I thought I was going into restrictions on pollution, but when you go into the practical world of law, you start seeing humanity question, regardless of whether the right to life involves environmental matters. Could pollution, for example, be captured within the framework of the right to life, as it has been in the Green Court in India? You always talk about human rights, no matter what area you go in to.”
During the week, the delegation visited the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the Court of Appeal in Malmö, and participated in other sessions in Lund where the European human rights system was presented and discussed.
A panel discussion was also held on electronic courts with experts from various countries in Europe to discuss how such technologies may be used to further human rights in the justice system.
Renewed Agreement with East African Court of Justice
RWI also renewed its cooperation with the East African Court of Justice following the signing of a new five-year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The MoU was signed on 12 March 2018 by Dr. Ugirashebuja, and Morten Kjaerum, Director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute. This is the second MoU for the East African Court of Justice and President Ugirashebuja pushed for its importance when connecting locally in East Africa and with the RWI:
“We discussed the issue of research, specifically, how to come up with thematic areas of research that enable collaboration with RWI researchers, the Faculty of Law in Lund University or universities in East Africa. This in order to see and understand the impact of our court’s decisions on people in East Africa and if these decisions make lifer better for its citizens.”
The MoU will guide continuous development of the successful direct cooperation with this Court started under the previous Regional Africa Programme.
This also follows a similar MoU that was signed with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice on 6 December 2017.
RWI’s cooperation with these two courts looks to increase their ability to exercise human rights-related mandates, including through strengthening the understanding and capacity of the courts and related stakeholders.
The study visit was the first major inception phase activity in our cooperation with the two courts and will lead to further direct engagements to inform design of the implementation phase of our cooperation in the next couple of years. RWI will also work closely with both courts to strengthen their research capacity, including literature support.
RWI’s Regional Africa Programme, which is financially supported by Swedish Development Cooperation, is currently in its inception phase with a strong emphasis on mutual collaboration and wide-ranging consultation to co-create the programme framework.