The main objective of the Seminar was to raise awareness about the Court in all its dimensions to a wide spectrum of partners of the human rights system from East and North African States, encourage more ratifications of the Protocol establishing the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and encourage more deposits of the declaration allowing individuals and NGOs direct access to the Court as well as strengthen the partnership with those partners in promoting the Court.
During the three-day seminar the Court and its key partners discussed the ways and means of making the Court more visible throughout the African continent as well as ways of helping the Court effectively achieve its mandate that confers to it a two-fold jurisdiction: the contentious jurisdiction dealing with the interpretation and application of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and any other relevant International Human Rights Instruments ratified by African States, and the advisory jurisdiction under which the Court may proffer opinion on any legal matter relating to human rights at the request of an interested State.
In fact, for more than six years of its operation, the Court has been under-utilized for both of its two jurisdictions because, to date, it has received only 24 petitions relating to contentious matters and three requests for advisory opinion. This situation of under-utilization of the Court stems from two main factors. The first one is the fact that the Court is relatively new. In other words, the Court is yet to be well-known to African populations and the various entities entitled to bring cases before it. The second factor is that a few States have ratified the Protocol establishing it. As a matter of fact, out of the 54 Member States of the African Union, only 26 have ratified the Protocol; and in particular, out of the 26 States, only 5 have so far authorized individuals and NGOs to institute cases directly before the African Court.
In an effort to remedy to these challenges that have been hindering its functions, the Court decided since 2010 to undertake a series of promotional activities comprising sensitization seminars like the present one to get both State and non-State players operating in the area of Human Rights to ensure that the States that have not yet to ratified the Protocol do so; and those which have ratified the Protocol authorize individuals and NGOs to institute cases directly before the Court.
In this regard, participants adopted important recommendations for each category of stakeholders to help ensure an effective African Court. The media was encouraged to, among other things, consistently popularize the Court among the different stakeholders, using all the means at their disposal; the National Human Rights Institutions to use the broad powers they are endowed with and their closeness to the authorities to repeatedly sensitize Governments about the Court; Civil society organizations and NGOs to continue to sensitize their members and the public in the different areas in which they operate, and work in a concerted manner with the Court to ensure that it is well known by the people; and Academic institutions to continue, through research, training and teaching, to engage relevant stakeholders.
The Seminar was attended by, amongst others, five Judges of the Court, representatives of AU Organs (Pan African Parliament, African Union Commission, African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare on the Child, the African Union Advisory Board on Corruption, African Union Commission on International Law), the President of the East African Court of Justice, the Registrar of the SADC Tribunal, and representatives of other human rights stakeholders from the two regions, including, Bar Associations, National Human Rights Institutions, the Academia, the Media and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). The countries represented at the Seminar were: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritania, Mauritius, Rwanda, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania.