International human-rights organizations are welcoming the establishment of the African Court on Human and People's Rights, the continent's first judicial institution dedicated to protecting basic human rights.
Calling the court's establishment a very important step, Amnesty International's spokesman in London, Kolawole Olaniyan, says his organization hopes that the court can fulfill its mandate and become a genuine judicial forum for all victims of human-rights violations in Africa.
"We hope that the African court will be able to make a difference, if fully supported and if fully funded and manned by independent and impartial judges who are competent in the area of human rights," said Mr. Olaniyan.
The African human rights court came into force on Sunday after 15 of the 53-member African Union ratified the protocol.
The court will not be opened until member states select a host country and elect judges. A spokesman for the Addis Ababa-based African Union, Desmond Ojiako, says that process will likely begin at the general assembly in July.
Mr. Ojiako dismisses criticisms from some African analysts, who question whether the African Union can better deal with human-rights violations than its ineffective predecessor, the Organization of African Unity. The OAU was dissolved nearly two years ago, unable to resolve many of Africa's problems and conflicts during its 39 years in existence.
"During the time of OAU, human-rights issues were not prerogatives," he said. "But in the new African Union, human rights, popular participation, democratization, gender empowerment are issues of great interest."
While welcoming the new human rights court in principle, Mr. Olaniyan at Amnesty International warns the court could end up with severely limited powers unless all African Union members ratify the protocol.
Right now, the court has jurisdiction only in the 15 countries that have ratified it: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Gambia, Libya, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritania, Rwanda, South Africa, Senegal, Togo, Uganda, Ivory Coast and Comoros.
"Violations of human rights are a continuing event in Africa so it is important that states that have not done so should ratify the protocol," added Mr. Olaniyan. "Not only that, they must also adopt declarations that will enable individuals and NGOs [non-governmental organizations] [to] have direct access to the court to seek remedy for violation of human rights."
Mr. Olaniyan acknowledges that getting all 53 African Union member states to approve the protocol may take years, if not decades. It took more than five years to get the necessary 15 countries to ratify.