African Court's 'hands tied' on Egypt rights complaints

The court advised Egyptian activists to take their complaints to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

By Peter Saramba Ongiri

ARUSHA, Tanzania (AA) – The African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights (AfCHPR) is unable to process complaints of human rights violations lodged against the ruling regime in Egypt because the latter has not ratified the protocol establishing the court.

"Our hands are tied," Court Registrar Robert Eno told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview at his office in the Tanzanian city of Arusha, the seat of the court.

He said the court had received three applications from Egyptians regarding the rights situation in their country, but had been unable to process them because Egypt had not ratified a protocol allowing its citizens and NGOs to file applications with the court.

"We cannot deal with applications from Egypt until that country ratifies the protocol and declaration on the establishment of this honorable court," Eno explained.

He said the court could only receive applications from NGOs and citizens from countries that had signed and ratified the protocol.

"After signing and ratifying [the protocol], countries must sign a declaration to allow their citizens and NGOs to file their applications before the court," the registrar added.

To date, only 27 out of Africa's 54 countries have ratified the protocol.

"Of those 27 African countries, only seven – Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Malawi and Rwanda – have made [the] declaration to allow their citizens and NGOs to file their application to the court," said Eno.

He cited two recent applications lodged with the court by Egyptian activists, which the court had been unable to process.

The first was filed on June 16 by five applicants against a handful of Egyptian officials, including Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, former army chief and current president; Ahmed al-Tayyib, grand imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar; Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II; Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim; Adly Mansour, a former interim president; and Abdel-Maguid Mahmoud, a former attorney-general.

A second application – targeting the same officials – was filed the same day by four other Egyptians.

Both applications were filed with the court's registry by lawyer Mostafa Mutawalli.

According to court records made available to AA, the applications were based on alleged crimes against humanity, torture, and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment that violates the principles of the United Nations Charter and poses a serious threat to international peace and security.

The court officially responded to the two applications on June 20 with a letter signed by Deputy Registrar Nouhou M. Diallo.

"As I have already explained to you during our meeting on Wednesday, June 18, Egypt has not yet ratified the protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the establishment on an African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights," read Diallo's letter, a copy of which was obtained by AA.

"As such, the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the matter," he insisted.

Instead, the court has instructed the lawyer and his clients to communicate the matter to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights – headquartered in Banjul, Gambia – since Egypt is a signatory to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

"It's the commission which can bring to the court matters from countries which have signed the protocol on the establishment of the commission but have not ratified the court's protocol," Registrar Eno told AA.

Supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi told a press conference in Istanbul last month that the court had agreed to look into a lawsuit against Egypt's current authorities.

Walid Sharabi, a judge opposed to Morsi's military ouster last year, said at the conference that the lawsuit contained documented "violations" committed by Egypt's army-backed authorities since Morsi's ouster last summer.

The AfCHPR, which was established in 2006, is a continental court is a continental court established by African countries to ensure protection of human and peoples’ rights in the continent.

Each of the court judges, who hail from 11 different African countries, serves a six-year term and can only be re-elected once.

The court's president and vice-president are, meanwhile, elected to two-year terms each. They, too, can only be re-elected once.

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