A New International Human Rights Court for West Africa: The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice

107 American Journal of International Law 737-779 (2013)

42 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2012 Last revised: 1 Sep 2015

Karen J. Alter

Northwestern University - Department of Political Science; University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Law - iCourts Center of Excellence

Laurence Helfer

Duke University School of Law; University of Copenhagen - iCourts - Centre of Excellence for International Courts

Jacqueline R McAllister

Kenyon College

Date Written: February 13, 2014

Abstract

The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice (ECCJ) is an increasingly active and bold international adjudicator of human rights violations in West Africa. Since acquiring jurisdiction over human rights issues in 2005, the ECCJ has issued several path-breaking judgments, including against the Gambia for the torture of journalists, against Niger for condoning modern forms of slavery, and against Nigeria for failing to regulate the multinational oil companies that polluted the Niger Delta. This article explains why ECOWAS member states authorized the ECCJ to review human rights suits by individuals but did not allow private actors to complain about violations of regional economic rules. In addition to explaining the ECCJ’s striking transformation, the article makes several other contributions. It illustrates how an existing international institution can be redeployed for new purposes; it highlights the contributions of civil society, supranational officials, and ECOWAS judges to expanding the Court’s mandate; it analyzes the ECCJ’s distinctive jurisdiction and access rules; and it shows how the ECCJ has survived challenges to its authority. Our analysis is based on original field research in Nigeria, including more than two-dozen interviews with judges, government officials, attorneys, and NGOs. We also draw upon the first-ever coding of all ECCJ decisions through 2010. The ECCJ’s transformation is also theoretically significant. The article’s final section and conclusion reassesses theories of regional integration, institutional change, and transnational legal mobilization in light of the ECCJ’s experience to demonstrate the implications of our findings for international institutions beyond West Africa.

Keywords: international law, human rights, international courts, Africa, West Africa, ECOWAS, regional integration, civil society mobilization

Suggested Citation

Alter, Karen J. and Helfer, Laurence and McAllister, Jacqueline R, A New International Human Rights Court for West Africa: The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice (February 13, 2014). 107 American Journal of International Law 737-779 (2013) . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2107427 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2107427

Karen J. Alter (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Department of Political Science ( email )

601 University Place
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Law - iCourts Center of Excellence ( email )

Studiestraede 6
Studiestrade 6
Copenhagen, DK-1455
Denmark

Laurence Helfer

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Dr.
Box 90360
Durham, NC 27708
United States
+1-919-613-8573 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://law.duke.edu/fac/helfer/

University of Copenhagen - iCourts - Centre of Excellence for International Courts ( email )

University of Copenhagen Faculty of Law
Karen Blixens Plads 16
Copenhagen S, DK-2300
Denmark

HOME PAGE: http://jura.ku.dk/icourts/

Jacqueline R McAllister

Kenyon College ( email )

Gambier, OH 43022
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.jacquelinemcallister.com

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