This week, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights will hold a public hearing of a case in which a family accuses Burkina Faso of refusing to investigate the killing of an investigative journalist.
Until his death in 1998, Norbert Zongo was the publisher and editor of the weekly newspaper, the l’Independent. His family contends that the government may be “involved in the killing, or the government [did] nothing after the killing to investigate and identify the real killer,” said court spokesman Jean-Pierre Uwanone Ntawizeruwanone.
According to court rules, judges have 90 days after the end of the hearing to deliver a decision. The court could have Burkina Faso open an investigation, or order some form of redress to Zongo’s relatives. Its rulings are final and binding.
The court was created to hear violations of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Over two dozen countries have signed the protocol establishing the court. But only a handful, including Burkina Faso, has signed a special agreement recognizing its right to hear complaints from their citizens.
“Among the 26 countries, we have only seven that have made a declaration accepting that the court can receive cases from individuals [or] from citizens directly,” said Ntawizeruwanone. “It’s a political matter, and we have to discuss it and we have to tell the truth. We still need some political will from countries that accept that competence of the court.”
Since the protocol establishing it came into force nearly 10 years ago, the court has been asked to hear 29 cases but rejected a majority of them, according to Ntawizeruwanone.
“Twenty of those cases were disposed of,” he said, “because the court [did] not have jurisprudence. They were brought by individuals from countries which have not made a declaration accepting the competence of the court.”
Critics say the court has achieved very little since its inception. Supporters however say the court has been hampered by a lack of political support from a majority of the 54 African countries.
Ntawizeruwanone says the court has launched educational campaigns around the continent to drum up support.
“The court has undertaken some sensitization campaign to call [on] people [to learn] about the court [and] to ratify the protocol that established the court,” said Ntawizeruwanone. “During the sensitization campaign we also asked countries to make a declaration allowing their citizens to have direct access to the court.”
The court, Ntawizeruwanone said, has recently concluded a seminar in Arusha, Tanzania that attracted judges from all over Africa.
“They discussed ways and means of having a dialogue so nations can cooperate with the court in promoting [it] and explaining the competence of the court,” said Ntawizeruwanone,
He said the court has organized training seminars for African journalists.
“They discussed how the media can help the court to sensitize the public and how the media professionals can help the court to attract more countries to make [ratify the court’s protocol],” said Ntawizeruwanone.