SSRN: Judgment in the First Case Before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Available on SSRN:

Judgment in the First Case Before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights: A Missed Opportunity or Mockery of International Law in Africa?

Chacha Bhoke Murungu

Full-text of the court’s decision can be found at the Minnesota Human Rights Library: In the Matter of Michelot Yogogombaye v. Republic of Senegal.


Article Abstract:     
On 15 December 2009 the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (‘the African Human Rights Court, or ‘the court’) sitting in Arusha, Tanzania delivered its first ever judgment. The purpose of this article is to reflect and comment on several issues and principles found in this first ever case to be filed before the court. In the course of discussion, the article will present the conclusion reached by the court and the Separate Opinion of Judge Fatsah Ouguergouz. At first, a discussion is on the arguments raised by the applicant, Mr Michelot Yogogombaye against Senegal in respect of the on-going legal proceedings instituted in Senegal against Hissene Habre, former President of Chad, charging him with crimes against humanity, particularly torture committed in Chad between 1982 and December 1990. Then, a discussion is on Senegal’s preliminary objections to the application touching on the lack of jurisdiction by the court on the basis that Senegal has not made a declaration under article 34(6) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Protocol) allowing individuals to institute cases against it before the court.

Although the judgment of the court did not go into the merits of the case, this article discusses the implications that the judgment would have had on the developments of international law in Africa, had it gone into merits and substance of the case. It examines several key issues that had been raised by the applicant before the court. These include ‘functional immunity’ of former heads of state in relation to serious human rights violations as alluded to by the applicant; the principle of ‘universal jurisdiction’; retroactivity of penal laws; status of a political asylee under the law on refugees; issues of access to the court by individuals under the concept of personal jurisdiction (jurisdiction ratione personae) as reflected in article 5(3) of the Protocol, and whether the court may ‘receive’ applications from individuals against a state which has not made an express declaration under article 34(6) of the Protocol. In this connection, the article follows the interpretation of the words ‘receive’ and shall’ as found in articles 5(3) and 34(6) of the Protocol, and offers its own interpretation of ‘individuals’ as used in the same provisions of the Protocol. Further, it examines the possibility of the court’s judgment to suspend the decision of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) mandating Senegal to try Hissene Habre. The article further examines whether the court had been seized with an opportunity to develop its own jurisprudence on international law in Africa, in line with the provisions of the Protocol.

In addition to the questions raised, the article also examines whether the applicant in the case had indeed understood some of the principles he contended that Senegal has violated in prosecuting Hissene Habre or his arguments are simply a mockery of international law and obligations of states in the prosecution and punishment of individuals who commit human rights violations.

To understand the context of the judgment of the court, it is necessary that the application and preliminary objections as well as statement of defense filed before the court be discussed as a whole. But, before attempting to discuss the judgment of the court, it is necessary to consider the pre-existing legal proceedings against Mr Hissene Habre and Senegal before different legal and judicial institutions in the world. These proceedings will inform the readers about the context within which the present judgment of the court came into being. For brevity reasons, it suffices to highlight here that Hissene Habre sits at the centre of various legal proceedings before national and international judicial bodies. The prior legal proceedings that had been instituted against Mr Hissene Habre in Senegal and Belgium, as well as against Senegal before the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) are the ones that also have an impact on the first case before the African Human Rights Court. What follows below is now a discussion on the judgment in the first case before the African Human Rights Court and its

Briefing Paper on the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Chathan House  Briefing Paper on the African Court on Human and People’s Rights. Chathan House is a UK based NGO focusing on internatioanl affairs.

Africa’s New Human Rights Court: Whistling in the Wind?

Sonya Sceats

March 2009




Summary of the briefing

_ Human rights abuses on a massive scale continue to afflict the lives of millions of

people across the continent of Africa. As in other parts of the world, the obstacles

in pursuing justice are currently insurmountable for most victims.


_ Against this troubling backdrop, the African Union (AU) has decided to add a

human rights section to its new court which has been agreed upon but not yet set

up. This court is called the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.


_ In the meantime, another pan-African human rights court, the African Court on

Human and Peoples’ Rights, has recently opened in Arusha, Tanzania. This court will

be wound down to make way for the African Court of Justice and Human Rights but

is expected to operate for the next few years at least.


_ These two courts represent the third instalment in efforts since the Second World

War to create regional human rights courts. Because they have broad powers to

enforce socio-economic rights and the collective rights of peoples, they may be

setting an example for new developments around the world.


_ This briefing paper focuses on the African Court of Justice and Human Rights, but it

also explains key features of the interim African Court on Human and Peoples’

Rights. It addresses questions including:

_ Can victims of human rights abuses bring cases?

_ Will the Court be able to try African heads of state?

_ Will governments comply with judgments?