Coexistence and Justice in West Africa

westafricamap Over the past several years, two program areas of the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life have carried out work in the West African region.

Programs in International Justice and Society have concentrated on the role and performance of judges and examined the more general “justice landscape” found in the region. The Center’s two West African Judicial Colloquia, held in Dakar and Accra, focused on the challenges that domestic judges face both in learning about international law and in applying it in their jurisdictions. Some of these challenges are the result of persistent under-funding of the justice sector, while others arise from longstanding patterns of professional insularity and complacency. Related Center work on “gender justice” issues, including a conference on gender justice, have shown that limited access by local populations both to judicial institutions in West Africa and to information about human rights compound the problems caused by lack of government support and professionalism. The result is that the justice systems of the region are less informed, efficient, and equitable than they might be. In addition, the Center has collaborated on the Know Your Rights! project, which creates and disseminates critical information on human and peoples' rights in selected African languages.

Participants in CI's seminar on Faith,
Ethnicity, and Governance in Nigeria

Coexistence International, with a focus on social inclusion in diverse and often divided societies, has pursued its work in West Africa from another angle. CI engages with local civil society organizations whose work is concerned with questions of coexistence, governance, and justice. Through this engagement, CI has become increasingly aware of the opportunities and challenges for creating sustainable coexistence in the region. On the one hand, there are positive efforts on the part of national governments to establish Ministries of Reconciliation, pass legislation that mandates protection of ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities, and implement recommendations from Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. On the other hand, after years of conflict and division, the citizenry often have a profound distrust in their governments, including the judiciary. Many of CI’s civil society partners in West Africa repeatedly observe that laws and recommendations with great potential to promote social inclusion go ignored, which is a source of great frustration.

Judges at the 2nd West African
Judicial Colloquium

The experiences of both programs have shown is that there is a consistent disparity between the promise of democracy by West African governments – whether expressed through the signing of international treaties, the passing of legislation, or public declarations – and reality on the ground. Signing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court does not necessarily mean that government leaders will endorse the end of impunity for those who commit crimes against humanity. Nor does ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women assume that gender parity is safeguarded at the domestic level. Similarly, publicly declaring an end to ethnic and religious conflict, or producing a set of recommendations for the necessary structural and communal steps to move towards improved coexistence in a post-violence period, run the risk of being purely rhetorical and symbolic rather than genuine efforts to solve the tensions and divisions that characterize many nations in the region.


A presentation on the Center's work in West Africa related to international justice and coexistence is available here.