ABUJA – The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has advised the ECOWAS Commission to always comply with the decisions of the Community Court of Justice and set good examples for member states.
The Chairman of the commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu made the call at the inauguration of the 2014/2015 Legal Year of the ECOWAS Court in Abuja.
Odinkalu, who said overall compliance with the decisions of the court was essential to the credibility of ECOWAS and its institutions, enjoined citizens to take advantage of the legal system in place.
“The commission of ECOWAS is probably the most problematic because it’s the most serious judgment debtor before this court.
“The commission of ECOWAS is the secretariat of ECOWAS; so it’s the engine room and the place that should be telling countries to comply with the decisions of the court.
“If it is not complying with the decisions, then we are in trouble. The first we need to do is let the ECOWAS Secretariat itself comply with the decisions against it; if we can get that done that is a good first step.
“There are 28 decisions that require compliance; Niger is the only country that has habitually complied in a case that involved the enslavement of women; but most other countries are all owing judgment debts.
“What that means is that they don’t take the court seriously and when they don’t take the court seriously, people begin to ask the question is this the place to go to for resolution of disputes, to seek your right when vindicated?
“We are in a region in which national governments put courts under pressure not to do what they could do and this is therefore the only court that is not under the thumb of national governments.
“If we cannot encourage citizens to come here because countries are not complying with the decisions, we risk going back to that kind of West Africa where people take to the streets to resolve their issues and we cannot afford that.“
He said compliance by institutions of ECOWAS would demonstrate their preparedness to invoke sanctions in support of the community court of justice.
The NHRC chairman urged member states to designate competent national authorities in their various countries to be responsible for the implementation of the court’s decisions.
He spoke of the need for the court to establish a unit within the registry that would be responsible for enforcing compliance with the judgments of the court.
He said: “The instrument of sanction as a guarantor of compliance with the decisions of the court can only be triggered by the court itself; where a country becomes an outlaw country, the right thing to do is use the instrument of sanction; anything from expulsion to trade blockade can be done.
“There are a lot of instruments that can be used within the framework of community sanctions if a country proves to be an outlaw country and at the point where everything fails to bring it in line, the Heads of States need to step in.“
Justice Maria Do Céu Monteiro, the President of the ECOWAS Court, reiterated the need for the relevant political authorities in member states to take up the responsibility of implementing court judgments.