The ECOWAS Court of Justice is the judicial organ of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and is charged with resolving disputes related to the Community’s treaty, protocols and conventions. The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice has competence to hear individual complaints of alleged human rights violations.
Founded on May 28, 1975, under the Treaty of Lagos for the purpose of promoting economic integration across the region, ECOWAS comprises 15 West African countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.
The ECOWAS Court of Justice was created pursuant to the Revised Treaty of the Economic Community of West African States of 1993, and is headquartered in Abuja, Nigeria. In addition to providing advisory opinions on the meaning of Community law, the Court has jurisdiction to examine cases involving:
- an alleged failure by a Member State to comply with Community law;
- a dispute relating to the interpretation and application of Community acts;
- dispute between Community institutions and their officials;
- Community liability
- human rights violations, and
- the legality of Community laws and policies
The Court gained “jurisdiction to determine case[s] of violation[s] of human rights that occur in any Member State” in 2005 with the implementation of Supplementary Protocol A/SP.1/01/05, which followed the adoption of Protocol A/SP1/12/01 on Democracy and Good Governance, requiring that the Court be given “the power to hear, inter-alia, cases relating to violations of human rights…” The Court’s decisions on human rights matters interpret the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, considered by Article 1(h) of Protocol A/SP1/12/01 to contain “constitutional principles shared by all Member States” as legally binding on ECOWAS Member States. Corporations and individuals can submit complaints alleging human rights violations by the Community or Member State actors.
There is no domestic exhaustion of remedies requirement limiting the Court’s jurisdiction, meaning individuals do not need to pursue national judicial remedies before bringing a claim to the ECOWAS Court of Justice. Rather, the principal requirements are that the application not be anonymous and that the matter is not pending before another international court. See Hadijatou Mani Koraou v. Republic of Niger, Judgment No. ECW/CCJ/JUD/06/08, 27 October 2008.
The Court has heard cases involving education (see SERAP v. Federal Republic of Nigeria, Judgment No. ECW/CCJ/APP/0808, 27 October 2009, finding that education is a legal and human right), due process (see Ebrimah Manneh v. Republic of the Gambia, Judgment No. ECW/CCJ/JUD/03/08, 5 June 2008); the rights of women and children (see Amouzou Henry v. Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, Judgment No. ECW/CCJ/JUG/04/09, 17 December 2009); and slavery (see Hadijatou Mani Koraou v. Republic of Niger, Judgment No. ECW/CCJ/JUD/06/08, 27 October 2008). See also Hissein Habré v. Republic of Senegal, Judgment No. ECW/CCJ/JUD/06/10, 18 November 2010, finding that the former President of Chad could not be tried by a Senegalese court for international crimes committed in Chad because it would violate the prohibition of non-retroactive penal law.
The ECOWAS Court operates according to its Rules of Procedure.