The vice president of the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice, Micah Wilkins Wright, has clarified that the court was not established to hear only wealthy people’s cases, but everybody’s.
“Any citizen of any of the member states of ECOWAS has the right to bring their case to this court. You do not have to be rich, poor, small, or a big person. Everyone in West Africa has the right to bring their case to the court, particularly human rights violation cases,” Justice Wright emphasized.
The Community Court of Justice is located in Abuja, Nigeria, and its mandate is to hear and determine cases involving human rights violations.
Justice Wright made the statement on Friday, when three of the seven judges of the court held a closed door meeting with justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia.
Justice Wright admitted to journalists later that not much has been done by the Court to ensure that ordinary people understand its mandate and scope of operation.
“During the meeting with the justices, the President and the Ministry of Justice, we briefed them about activities of the court and sought their support and cooperation,” he said.
He added: “We want to bring justice closer to the people of West Africa and we are going from one member state to another to give people the message that the court is for them.
“On the issue of human rights violations, the court is available, but we need to explain to the people what the court can and cannot do. We need to explain about the relationship between the ECOWAS Court and the Supreme Court of member countries.”
He noted that the court can only determine cases relating to human rights violations by member states against their own people.
“We cannot hear criminal or civil cases like husband and wife issues. If you feel that your rights have been violated by anyone, including your government, then, you can file your complaint to us at the ECOWAS Court,” Justice Wright explained.
He said very few people know about the functions of the court in West Africa. “They only know about the political and military arms of the commission not about the court, and it is our responsibility to make them know about what constitutes the court.
“If we cannot reach out to the people they would not know and understand the workings of the court; and as a result, all efforts and money would be wasted, because the court would not make its desired impact in the lives of the people.”
Justice Wright noted that they were also considering establishing sub-offices in every member state, where people would find it easy to file complaints when their rights are violated.
He said members of the court would be back in the country from February 19 to 26, at which time they would be able to meet with stakeholders to explain about the work of the court.