1st West African Judicial Colloquium
Keynote Address by Mr. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations for West Africa
Senior Minister, Mr. Cheikh Tidiane Sy,
Honourable Judge Goldstone,
Professor Babacar Kanté,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The choice of Dakar to host this meeting is appropriate. It is a symbol of support for the recent efforts made in Africa in judicial matters, especially with the establishment of the African Court for Human and Peoples’ Rights and the sustained actions of international tribunals such as those in Rwanda and Sierra Leone. In that respect, I would like to thank the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life of Brandeis University and the West African Research Center for their achievement and the quality of the organisation. I would also like to give special thanks to Prof. Babacar Kante and, in particular, to Dr. Leigh Swigart whose determination has been well demonstrated. The Brandeis Ethics Center, on whose Advisory Committee I am pleased to serve, is inaugurating today an enterprise of great public importance. The presence here of its director, Mr. Daniel Terris, testifies to this fact.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, justice can no longer be ignored. People demand it everywhere as much as they demand environmental protection and the control of HIV/AIDS. Due to globalisation, peoples have become increasingly concerned by the necessity to protect citizens and communities against abuses of all kinds, first and foremost by the misuse of power by their own governments.
There is much work to do on the continent in the field of justice: the independence of judicial systems; their capacity building; their credibility, etc. Finding ways to address these challenges is very important for both populations and governments.
The United Nations Regional Office for West Africa (UNOWA) strongly believes that justice is a very important element for peace, stability and development. Therefore, justice is very much a determining factor in preventing and resolving conflicts, and thus ensuring peace. UNOWA is prepared to ensure the follow-up of this meeting, in collaboration with its organisers.
The main theme of this colloquium is the relation between national and international justice. In order to fully understand this theme, I think we should consider what lies at the heart of our daily concerns about justice: impunity, the lack of respect of human rights, and the violation of humanitarian law in times of armed conflicts. These topics, along with women’s rights, are some of the issues discussed during the 38th ordinary session of the African Commission of Peoples’ and Human Rights, which was recently held in Banjul, the Gambian capital, less than three months ago.
The violation of those rights dangerously hampers the development of a credible justice and, with it, a peaceful society as well as a balanced socioeconomic development.
Real justice implies first of all the credibility of the judiciary. It is important to ensure the independence of the judiciary across the continent because, otherwise, it would be difficult to think about genuine collaboration at the international level. But priority should be given to justice at the national level, in order to make sure that governments practice at home what they preach at the continental level.
Obstacles to the independence of justice are found everywhere in the world, but especially in Africa. There are a number of reasons for the persistence of these obstacles, including:
- a political culture still dominated by one-party system mentalities;
- the absence or non-respect of the constitutional state, considered as an unnecessary luxury;
- corruption, at times endemic, which brings discredit upon public institutions;
- a stranglehold by the apparatus of government on the judiciary;
- impunity, which is both the source of conflicts and the reason for their perpetuation;
- the obsolescence of administrative and physical infrastructure, which constitutes an obstacle to national integration and the emergence of a strong civil society.
- the professionalization of justice, particularly through the independence of judges and magistrates;
- the strengthening of the status of judges (which implies a renovation of infrastructures) and of their credibility through moral and financial support;
- an investment in the training of new generations of judges and lawyers;
- the depoliticization of high courts of justice;
- the setting up of professional or regulatory bodies as part of legal systems;
- compliance by public authorities with legal texts and procedures;
- strict enforcement of judicial decisions by the state.
Judicial cooperation between states and the complementarity of national justice systems present a challenge but are absolutely necessary. Such cooperation implies that states strictly respect the above-mentioned principles. Furthermore, for more effective cooperation, states should be on the same wavelength. They should therefore make sure that both texts and treaties are harmonized and that mutual assistance is forthcoming, both at the African regional and international levels.
West and Central Africa have already made important progress in harmonizing business law. One of those achievements is the OHADA treaty (Organisation for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa), which has succeeded in establishing the supremacy of community law over national law, and creating a single institution for control and conflict resolution. But justice is a work in progress. Tremendous efforts should be made to harmonize national legislations (on the traffic of children, the proliferation of light arms, the fight against corruption, etc.) and to unify jurisprudences. Such efforts should be made at the following two levels:
(1) Between African states
- Ratification, application, and enforcement of existing treaties;
- Compatibility of systems (French-speaking vs. English-speaking vs. Portuguese-speaking...), following the example of Europe;
- Strengthening exchanges in terms of practice; and
- Creation of vocational or advanced training institutions in the sub-region.
- Establishment and strengthening of treaties and conventions on legal assistance;
- Strengthening of institutional relations; and
- Assistance in training and exchanges.
As for the United Nations, it can play an important role in:
The establishment of basic humanitarian standards;
The resolution of conflicts (the example of the Bakassi Peninsula);
The creation of special international criminal courts.
The fundamental issue of impunity and its role in cycles of violence should be stressed here.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to conclude with a certain number of issues that concern us all.
- The need for justice becomes indispensable in the context of globalization. It has become a precious consumer good for all citizens. The need to protect populations and individuals, especially against the misuse of power by governments, is a necessity for these modern times.
- "There will be no more justice behind closed doors." It is more than ever accepted that, as Martin Luther King once said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." As a result, it is our responsibility to protect everybody by recalling their rights and by defending them whenever there is an injustice.
- This is not about giving up national sovereignty, but rather about strengthening the constitutional State so that it can serve the most vulnerable. Of course, the feeling that there exists a double standard or two sets of rules, which comes out in some situations, may suggest the rejection of international law by some peoples. The credibility of the law and decisions of major international organisations is essential to their own legitimacy.
- Today, the struggle for justice should be carried out with the same resolve as the struggle against poverty, which it can help alleviate.
- While the debate on issues surrounding national and international law issue goes on, it is urgent to explore the cultural legacy of African countries in the area of customary law. This would help strengthen local justice in those countries and in other places where the majority of the people still live in traditional societies.
The Brandeis Institute for International Judges 2006 was funded by the JEHT Foundation, the David Berg Foundation and the Rice Family Foundation.
The West African Judicial Colloquium 2006 was funded by the JEHT Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Rice Family Foundation.