The African Court takes its first steps

Apr 01, 11 The African Court takes its first steps

The African Court on Human and People’s Rights published its first binding ruling yesterday (30 March 2011). In February, the Commission received complaints from the Egyptian Initiative on Personal Rights (EIPR), Human Rights Watch, and Interights, alleging multiple human rights violations by Libya following the unrest and requested that the Commission order “provisional measures.” The Commission took the case to the Court which was unexpectedly quick in ruling on the application.  A unanimous and binding order was made to the government of the ”Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”, requiring that it refrain immediately from action that would result in further loss of life and breaches of human rights. The Libyan government was also summoned to appear before the Court within 15 days to explain what has been done to implement the order.

Although one might remain sceptical as to the reality of the ”binding” nature of the order and the extent to which the African Union, never mind Gaddafi, will act to ensure its implementation, this is nevertheless a very exciting development for a variety of reasons.

For one, this is of course the Court’s first substantive ruling. Although the order itself  is not of significant jurisprudential value, that the Court took decisive action in such a short period of time is remarkable. Seeing the cooperation between the Commission and the Court is also rather promising.

If the order is any indication of the development of a decisive and responsive African Human Rights system, a mechanism may well be under construction to counter the perversely politicised interests that have dictated ambivalence, inaction or inappropriate action when things get sticky in the region.  Of course even a highly effective and strongly-enforced Human Rights system is no panacea to the ills of poor governance, economic underdevelopment, societal strife and political oppression. However, the African Court and Commission stand in a position to harness the African Union through the rally of rights where political consensus is difficult to achieve.  Although signatories to the Court’s jurisdiction remain low, its ability to have a say through cases brought by the Commission has finally proved possible.

So while we won’t breathe sighs of relief just yet, we may certainly inhale a whimper of hope from the Court’s first steps.

Image by jetalone