UNHCR, ECOWAS Court Sign Partnership Agreement

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The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice (ECCJ) on Wednesday in Abuja, Nigeria, signed a partnership agreement on training, capacity building and information sharing.

A dispatch from the Liberian Embassy in Abuja says the agreement will enable the UNHCR and ECCJ to cooperate in protecting the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers, returnees, Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s), stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness in West Africa.

Both organizations will also ensure the proper interpretation and application of relevant international, regional and national legal and policy instruments affecting persons of concern.

Justice Maria Monteiro, President of the ECCJ and Madam Angele Dikongue-Atangana, the UNHCR Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, delivered separate speeches prior to signing and exchanging the agreements on behalf of their respective organizations.

According to the dispatch, Liberia’s Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ambassador Dr. Al-Hassan Conteh, presented a statement on behalf of ECOWAS Ambassadors. Also in attendance was Liberia’s Justice Micah Wilkins Wright who is currently a sitting judge at the ECCJ.

In her opening address, the UNHCR Representative noted that despite the positive collaboration between the UNHCR and the ECOWAS Commission since 2001, there were still challenges in the region. “The achievements should not, however, overshadow the challenges with the problems of refugees, forced migration and statelessness in the sub-region.”

Madam Atangana added that the partnership came at a critical time when additional efforts were needed to improve the legal protection of persons of concern in the sub-region by ensuring the full respect of their rights.

The UNHCR Representative disclosed that her agency has undertaken a number of initiatives including biannual UNHCR-ECOWAS Ambassadors retreats, the ECOWAS Emergency Response Project, and the Regional Ministerial Conference on Statelessness held in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, last year.

The partnership agreement will enable both organizations to enhance their work in protecting refugees, asylum seekers, returnees, IDP’s, stateless persons and those that are at risk of statelessness in West Africa, she added.

For her part, Justice Monteiro provided assurances of the Court’s full cooperation: “The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice will do everything to cooperate in remedying situations surrounding the protection of the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers, and returnees, Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s), stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness.”

Ambassador Conteh, representing the Dean of the ECOWAS Ambassadors, described the signing of the partnership as very strategic. “It would afford all stakeholders to get a better understanding of the legal complexities of these lingering problems with multifarious causes, including civil wars, post-electoral violence, border porosity and the ambiguities in nationality laws,” the Liberian Ambassador stressed.

He also asserted that the signing of a partnership agreement between the UNHCR and the ECCJ would help ECOWAS Member States and their partners to further comprehend the complex rules for the attribution of nationality as efforts for the harmonization of disparate legislations are undertaken by member States in addressing the problems of refugees, IDP’s and statelessness.

To implement their agreement, the UNHCR and ECCJ envision a number of activities over the next three years, including the training of staff, judges, and lawyers in the region who may bring cases before the ECCJ on behalf of refugees, asylum-seekers, returnees, IDP’s, stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness.

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