The response of the Government of Sierra Leone through its Attorney General to the ECOWAS Court has always been an adamant adherence to the incompetent position that the court had no jurisdiction in the case of the petitioner, former Vice President Sam Sumana, against his former administration. In order to understand the ruling against the Government of Sierra Leone, I begin by dismissing the position, as the court earlier did, that a court established by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has no competence over claims of individual human rights violations brought against member states. Article 3(4) of the Supplementary Protocol A/SP.1/01/05, amending Protocol A/P1/7/91 states that the court has jurisdiction to determine cases of human rights violation that occur in member states. The provision is as clear as a harmattan day.
Mr. Sumana’s claims pertained to violations of his due process right by the Government of Sierra Leone by his arbitrary removal from office. According to International Human Rights Law norm, the petitioner should have exhausted all national legal means of redress before submitting claims to the court, which in this case was denied. While acknowledging the right of the president to remove a party member from office for actions contrary to the party constitution, a removal in breach of the Constitution of Sierra Leone (1991), it held that removing the vice president while his right of appeal was subsisting amounted to a breach of his right to fair hearing.
The ECOWAS Court, like many international courts with human rights jurisdiction, has a mandate to refer to other competent international human rights instruments and norms. In this instant, the Sumana ruling weighed heavily on the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right, an African Union treaty applicable to Sierra Leone. The court held that Mr. Sumana’s removal violated his due process right in contravention of Article 7 of the charter. Referring to Article 13 of the Charter, which states that “Every citizen shall have the right to participate freely in the government of his country, either directly or through freely chosen representatives in accordance with the provisions of the law,” the court held that the right of individuals to participate in the government of their country is a recognized and enforceable human rights.
For these violations, the petitioner had asked the court for $130m in damages and an additional $75m for anxiety, psychological trauma, deterioration in health, and embarrassment caused by his removal and loss of income. He also sought his reinstatement as the elected vice president of Sierra Leone. However, the court did not grant these damages, citing deference to national jurisdiction, but ordered instead that the government of Sierra Leone pays all remunerations, prerequisite of office and other entitlement due to the vice president from the day of his removal from office to the day when his constitutional tenure of office is expected to end.
The pinnacle of the indignity of the violations against the vice president was the embarrassing refusal by the Government of Sierra Leone to honor the court by appearing in its defense. ECOWAS was instrumental in the restoration of the democracy we enjoy in Sierra Leone. The least we can do is respect its legal instrument for advancing Freedom, democracy, and justice in West Africa. The government must now respect the court’s holding and restore our standing as bona fide members of the ECOWAS community.
Joseph Kaifala, ESQ. is the Director of Joseph Kaifala Consulting (SL) Ltd. and founder of the Jeneba Project Inc. He holds a JD and Certificate in International and Comparative Law. He is a member of the Renaissance Movement (SL).
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