CDHR loses suit challenging Morocco’s bid to join ECOWAS

The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice has dismissed a suit filed by the Committee for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) challenging the application and the proposal to admit Morocco as a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

A statement by the information unit of the court said, on Wednesday, that the court declared the case inadmissible after finding the non-governmental organisation incompetent to institute the action.

The statement said the judgment read by the judge rapporteur, Gberi-Be Ouattara, dismissed the suit for not being in line with Article 10 (b) on access to the court.

The Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS had, at their meeting held in Liberia in 2016, acceded to the request by Morocco, a country geographically located in North Africa, to join the organisation of the West Africa sub-region.

In July 2018, CDHR filed its suit at the ECOWAS Court to challenge the decision citing the alleged non-eligibility of Morocco based on its geographical location, among other grounds.

But dismissing the suit, the court, according to the statement, “stated three essential conditions for its admissibility namely: that an applicant justifies being a victim of the alleged violation, that the application must not be anonymous, and lastly, that the matter is not before another international court.”

It observed that the organisation met two conditions, but did not give proof of being a victim of the alleged human rights violation attributable to the two respondents – ECOWAS Community and ECOWAS Commission.

The plaintiff’s submissions, according to the court were rather based on allegations of the incompetence of the respondents to admit Morocco as a member state of the 15-member ECOWAS.

In determining the legal capacity of the NGO to approach the Court for an assessment of the legality of action in relation to the legal texts of the ECOWAS Community, the court noted this is within the purview of Article 10 (b) which provides that only “Member States, the Council of Ministers and the Executive Secretary (ECOWAS Commission) in proceeding for the determination of the legality of an action in relation to any Community texts.”

Consequently, the Court dismissed the application of the NGO on the grounds that it lacked the legal capacity and interest to file such matter since it was neither part of a Member State, Council of Ministers nor ECOWAS Commission. The Court also ordered the NGO to bear the costs.

On jurisdiction, the Court held that it had the competence to hear the matter considering that the NGO claimed the violation of its human rights which is one of its mandate areas but declared the matter inadmissible on the grounds that the NGO lacked the legal capacity and interest to file such matter bordering on the legality of action in relation to the legal texts of the ECOWAS Community in line with Article 10 (b) of the 2005 Protocol relating to the Court.

In the initiating application with suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/30/18 filed on July 26, 2018, Sola Egbeyinka, the lawyer representing the CDHR, told the court to hold both respondents liable for the violation of the ECOWAS Treaty, the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good governance, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This, the plaintiff recalled, followed an agreement in principle at the 55th ordinary summit of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS held in Liberia in 2016 acceding to Morocco’s request to be admitted into the Community.

The lawyer added that the summit had directed ECOWAS Commission (the second respondent) to examine the legal implication of Morocco’s accession as a member state.

He told the court that admitting Morocco to ECOWAS would be contrary to the aspirations and good intentions of the founding fathers of ECOWAS.

Having examined the ECOWAS Revised Treaty and other relevant legal texts, he said Morocco was not legally qualified to join the Community.

Furthermore, he said Morocco was geographically located in North Africa which is outside the West African region of ECOWAS member states, adding that there was no accession clause in the ECOWAS Treaty permitting Morocco or other African non-member states to be admitted as a member state of ECOWAS.

He also said the Kingdom of Morocco was a monarchy differentiating it from ECOWAS member states governed by principles and ideologies of democracy as well as the promotion and protection of human rights within the region.

The lawyer added among others that admitting Morocco would expose the ECOWAS region to the free circulation of persons and goods that would be detrimental to the objectives of the Community.

He asked the court to declare the respondents incompetent to authorise the admission of Morocco into ECOWAS and to stop them from permitting the accession, adding that it will result in the amendment of the ECOWAS Treaty and other ECOWAS legal texts annexed to it.

But the respondents – ECOWAS, a regional organisation comprising 15-member states in West Africa, and ECOWAS Commission, it’s executive institution/arm charged with the harmonisation and coordination of its regional integration programmes and activities, told the court that geographical area was not a tangible limit to accession to a treaty.

The bodies, which argued through their lawyer, Franck Chude, cited Article 2 of the ECOWAS Revised Treaty that states, as stating that: “THE HIGH CONTRACTING PARTIES, by this Treaty, hereby reaffirm the establishment of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and decide that It shall ultimately be the sole economic Community in the region for the purpose of economic integration and the realisation of the objectives of the African Economic Community.”

He also cited the example of Mauritania, which he said is geographically located outside the ECOWAS region but was a member of the ECOWAS Community till the year 2000 when it withdrew from the organisation.

Moreover, he argued that some member states of ECOWAS were at the inception of the Community, not democracies but under military rule, adding that Article 7 of the ECOWAS Revised Treaty empowers the Conference of Heads of State and Government to take necessary measures for the progressive development of the Community and the realisation of its objectives.

He asked the court to declare the respondent competent to review the admission of Morocco in line with Articles 2 paragraph 2 and 3, and Article 7 paragraph 1 and 2 of the ECOWAS Revised Treaty of 1993.

The judgment was delivered during the ongoing external session of the court in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.

Also on the panel were judges of the court – Edward Amoako Asante (presiding) and Dupe Atoki (member).

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