Three New Judges Elected to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights

African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights Credit: AfCHPR
Staff and Judges of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Credit: AfCHPR

The Assembly of the African Union appointed four judges to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) during its 25th Session in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. Three of the judges, Mrs. Solomy Balungi Bossa (Uganda), Mr. Rafaa Ben Achour (Tunisia), and Mr. Angelo Vasco Matusse (Mozambique), are new to the AfCHPR and the fourth, Justice Sylvain Oré (Côte d’Ivoire), was re-elected to serve a second term. [AfCHPR: New Judges] The swearing-in ceremony will be held on September 8, 2014 in Arusha, Tanzania during a public session of the Court.

The three new judges will replace Justice Sophia A. B. Akuffo (Ghana), the current President of the Court, and Justice Bernard M. Ngoepe (South Africa), the current Vice President, who have both served the statutory limit and are not eligible for reelection. Justice Kimelabalou Aba (Togo) was not re-elected. [AfCHPR: New Judges]

The other current members of the African Court are justices Gérard Niyungeko (Burundi), Fatsah Ouguergouz (Algeria), Augustino S.L. Ramadhani (Tanzania), Duncan Tambala (Malawi), Elsie Nwanwuri Thompson (Nigeria), El Hadji Guisse (Senegal), and Ben Kioko (Kenya).

The Election Process

The African Court of Human and People’s Rights is composed of 11 judges who are nationals of the Member States of the African Union (AU) and may be nominated by the 27 States that have ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Protocol). [ACtHPR: Judges of the Court] Judges serve in their personal capacities, not as representatives of their national governments.

The role and election of judges is governed by articles 11 through 20 of the Protocol. Judges are elected to serve six-year terms and may only be re-elected once, pursuant to Article 15(1). The first members were elected to the Court for shorter terms of two or four years, as the Court was established and to allow for the judges’ terms to be staggered.

The Assembly of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union formally appoints judges elected by its Executive Council by secret ballot from a list of candidates proposed by States parties to the Protocol. Each Member State may propose up to three candidates, including at least two of its own nationals. See Protocol, art. 12(1). However, no two judges elected may be nationals of the same State. See id., art. 11(2). At the most recent election, the judges were chosen from a pool of thirteen candidates. [AfCHPR: New Judges]

According to the Protocol, judges are to be selected “from among jurists of high moral character and of recognized practical, judicial or academic competence and experience in the field of human and peoples’ rights.” Protocol, art. 11. And, the bench is intended to reflect both gender and geographic balance, which are factors the Assembly is instructed to consider during the election process. Protocol, art. 14(2)-(3). Ahead of this year’s election, the African Union Commission had outlined the criteria and qualifications sought in candidates.

In order to ensure representation of each of the main geographic regions and legal traditions, the Executive Council of the African Union has recommended that the Court be composed of two judges each from East, North, South, and Central Africa and three judges from West Africa. Executive Council of the African Union, Report on the Election of Three (3) Judges of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights (AfCHPR), AU Doc. EX.CL/741(XXI), July 2012, para. 20.

In the Court’s new composition, Ms. Solomy Balungi Bossa will join Justice Elsie Nwanwuri Thompson to maintain the current gender distribution of two women and nine men. The new composition does not follow the suggested regional distribution, in that there will be four judges from the east, two from the north, one from the south, one from Central Africa, and three from the west. For a detailed history of the election process and the pursuit of gender equity on the Court, see Osai Justina Ojigho’s opinion article from September 2012. [allAfrica]

The New Judges

Prior to her election to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, Ms. Solomy Balungi Bossa of Uganda served as a judge on the High Court of Uganda and on the East African Court of Justice, and as an ad litem judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. [ICTR] Ms. Bossa has reportedly founded several non-profit organizations, including Kituo cha Katiba (East African Centre for Constitutional Development), East African Law Society, and the Uganda Network on Law, Ethics, HIV and Aids. She has also been active in several other civil society organizations at the local, national, regional and international level. [ICTR]

Mr. Rafaa Ben Achour is a Professor of Law at the Faculty of Legal, Political and Social Sciences at the University of Tunis. He has also held several posts within the Tunisian government, including Secretary of State to the Minister of Education in charge of educational innovation, Ambassador of Tunisia to Morocco, and Minister to the Prime Minister. Mr. Ben Achour has also participated in several notable organizations including the National Committee of the Law of the Sea, the Tunisian Association Constitutional Law, and the French Association of International Law. [Leaders; Tunisie Numerique]

Mr. Angelo Vasco Matusse is a lawyer who has served as Deputy Attorney General (Procurador-Geral Adjunto) for Mozambique. [Mozambique] He also apparently taught public international law at the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane. [Moçambique para todos] He made the news in 2011 for criticizing the police practice of displaying arrestees in public and describing them as criminals before they had been arraigned or tried. [allAfrica] As a professor, he was quoted commenting on the barriers – including the requirement of exhausting domestic remedies and the possible reluctance of Commissioners to hold States accountable – that weakened or limited recourse to the Court’s counterpart, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. [Moçambique para todos] The available information on Angelo Vasco Matusse is limited, but the African Court website will likely be updated in the near future with a biographical profile on each of the new judges.

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) is a regional human rights tribunal with advisory and contentious jurisdiction. It decides complaints brought by the African Commission, intergovernmental organizations, and States against the 26 States that have ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and may also decide individual and non-governmental organizations’ complaints against the seven States that have accepted this mechanism. The AfCHPR decided its first case in December of 2009.

For more information on the Court, see the Online Resource Hub section on the African Human Rights System.