The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights has dismissed a case instituted by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) for lack of jurisdiction.
It says it agrees with Nigeria and Uganda’s view that it has no jurisdiction over the case.
SERAP went to the court to seek an advisory opinion on whether or not “the growing poverty, under-development and grand corruption in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa amount to violations of the human rights guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and if so, whether the citizens of these countries are entitled to bring cases to seek justice before the court.”
It argued that, “Human rights should not be the preserve of the rich and wealthy, and that human rights contained in the African Charter are not indifferent to the plight of those who live in poverty.
“Poverty is not just an economic or developmental matter but also a crucial human rights issue, and that poverty is not an inevitable problem but something created, enabled and perpetuated by acts and omissions of states and other economic actors.”
The court, in clarifying its position on advisory opinion requests by NGOs, sought the views of African Union members, including Cape Verde, Zambia, Nigeria and Uganda on the matter, and whether SERAP was competent to bring the suit.
However, while Cape Verde and Zambia defended SERAP’s position, Nigeria opposed it. Uganda aligned with Nigeria while Burkina Faso and Burundi did not provide any observations.
Nigeria argued that, “SERAP is not an African organisation. Also, that there is a clear distinction between the AU and an organ of the AU. Recognition by an organ of the AU is not the same as recognition by the AU. Article 34(6) of the court’s protocol has therefore effectively barred the court from entertaining the request from SERAP, being an NGO registered in Nigeria.”
However, Zambia countered Nigeria’s position by arguing that, “SERAP appears on the list of civil society organisations which have been granted observer status by the African Union Commission under the auspices of the AU. This fact implies recognition by the AU. Consequently, SERAP has, for purposes of requesting for advisory opinions of the court, the requisite legal standing.”
Uganda while aligning itself with Nigeria argued that, “SERAP did not show how it has been aggrieved or how the African Charter has been violated. For these reasons, the court is implored to find that there is no need for an advisory opinion and thus disallow the request.”
The court, agreeing with Nigeria and Uganda, concluded that it had no jurisdiction to render an advisory opinion on the SERAP’s Request.
The court said while it agreed that SERAP is an “African organisation” under its protocol, the organisation does not have an observer status with the AU, and as such, cannot bring the request for an advisory opinion before it.
In his reaction to the ruling, SERAP’s Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, said the opposition by Nigeria to the case influenced Uganda to take a wrong turn, and effectively turned the court’s decision on its head. “Nevertheless, we accept the decision and will pursue an observer status application before the AU,” he said
He said the group is urging Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo to urgently instruct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to file a declaration under the court protocol that would now allow individuals and NGOs direct access to the court, if the government is to correct this historic failure of leadership, and show that it’s truly committed to the fight against corruption and promotion of human rights in the country.