Kenya has been urged to allow the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) to receive cases from NGOs and individuals.
The Arusha-based court is currently handling a case where the Ogiek community has sued the Kenyan government for evicting them from their ancestral land under the auspices of a notice to conserve the forest as a ’reserved water catchment zone’.
The Ogiek argue that their eviction will have far reaching consequences on their political, social and economic survival.
The case was referred to the ACHPR by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2012 as Kenya has not made the declaration to allow individuals and NGOs access it.
Only eight countries have made the declaration recognizing the competence of the Court to receive cases from NGOs and individuals. However Rwanda has asked to withdraw its declaration, a process that would take a year.
Kenya is among 30 countries that have ratified the protocol establishing ACHPR.
ACHPR Vice-President Ben Kioko says the fears by countries that allowing NGOs and individuals access the court would lead to plethora of cases were unfounded.
A team from the court, he said in an interview with the Nation in Arusha, met top government officials in Nairobi in 2013 to push for Kenya to file the declaration.
“We are urging Kenya to consider filing the declaration to improve Kenyans access and jurisprudence of the court. Ghana has filed the declaration but there’s no case from Ghana,” Justice Kioko said.
Seventy of the 126 cases filed at the ACHPR are from Tanzania as it hosts the court.
Judge Kioko who took over as VP last week and Mr Justice Sylvain Ore from Ivory Coast (President) said they had identified things that could be done in next 90 days to improve the institution.
Their website is to have regular updates; the court opened up for more transparency and communication with stakeholders heightened.
“I was among a team of three together with the President (judge Ore) who went to Singapore for benchmarking. Another team went to Turkey. We want to see how to improve the court so that the cases could be filed online and take less time to conclude,” he said.
It currently takes about 24 months for a case to end.
Judge Kioko who attributed his election to working well with other judges, having clear understanding of his responsibility and the vision and energy to improve the court said 38 cases had been disposed while 88 are pending.
The court which is supposed to protect and promote human rights is celebrating 10 years of existence.
Judge Kioko said the court has mandate to handle unconstitutional change of government, piracy, high level corruption, illegal exploitation of resources and crimes that threaten stability of a country.
He decried lack of cooperation by some states.
The move by the court judges to work on part-time, plethora of cases against Tanzania, inadequate funding, lack of political will, lack of awareness, bureaucracy and complex ratification procedures by some of AU member states are other challenges facing ACHPR. The court complements and reinforces the functions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.
The protocol establishing the court was adopted by Member States of the then Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in June 1998.
It came into force on January 25, 2004 after it was ratified by more than 15 countries and is composed of 11 judges, nationals of AU member states.