There was a “David and Goliath” type court battle last week before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights when Cape Verde and Zambia confronted Nigeria and Uganda over a corruption case instituted by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project before the court.
SERAP had in the suit No. 001/2013 sought an advisory opinion from the African court to decide whether or not “the growing poverty, under-development and grand corruption in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa amount to violations of the human rights guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and if so, whether the citizens of these countries are entitled to bring cases to seek justice before the court”.
SERAP had argued: “Human rights should not be the preserve of the rich and wealthy, and that human rights contained in the African Charter are not indifferent to the plight of those who live in poverty. Poverty is not just an economic or developmental matter but also a crucial human rights issue, and that poverty is not an inevitable problem but something created, enabled and perpetuated by acts and omissions of States and other economic actors.”
The court, for the first time, clarified its position on advisory opinion requests by NGOs.
The court sought the views of African Union members, including Cape Verde, Zambia, Nigeria and Uganda on the matter, and whether SERAP was competent to bring the suit.
However, while Cape Verde and Zambia staunchly backed and defended SERAP’s position, Nigeria opposed it.
Uganda aligned with Nigeria, while Burkina Faso and Burundi did not provide any observation.
The court, agreeing with Nigeria and Uganda, concluded that it had no jurisdiction to render an advisory opinion on the SERAP request.
The court said while it agreed that SERAP is an “African organization” under its protocol, the organization does not have an observer status with the AU and as such cannot bring the Request for an advisory opinion before it.
Adetokunbo Mumuni, SERAP Executive Director, said: “We thank Cape Verde and Zambia for bringing useful clarity on the correct position of the law on the matter. Unfortunately, the opposition by Nigeria to the case influenced Uganda to take a wrong turn, and effectively turned the court’s decision on its head. Nevertheless, we accept the decision and will pursue an observer status application before the AU.
“The Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo would do well to urgently instruct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN to file a declaration under the court protocol that would now allow individuals and NGOs direct access to the court, if the government is to correct this historic failure of leadership, and show that it’s truly committed to the fight against corruption and promotion of human rights in the country.”
05 June, 2017