Chief Justice, Sophia A. B. Akuffo is advocating the establishment of an international tribunal to expedite trials of cross-border crimes which do not fall within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) but have devastating consequences on security in the West Africa region.
Additionally, an expansion of the mandate of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights (ACJHR) and the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), she said, could be exploited to deal with such alleged crimes rather than resorting to ad hoc measures which mostly do not inspire confidence in the people to achieve speedy investigations and expeditious trials.
Citing money-laundering, smuggling, human trafficking and trafficking in weapons as examples of such cross-border crimes, she noted that the presence of a harmonised judicial and legal system for member states would make fighting crime a shared responsibility and easier to achieve results than when left to individual states.
Chief Justice Akuffo was speaking in Accra yesterday at the opening of a two-day international justice symposium on the theme “West African International Justice- Leadership, Challenges and Opportunities.”
The event was organised by the Wayamo Foundation and the Africa Group for Justice and Accountability in collaboration with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung’s Rule of Law Programme for Sub-Saharan Africa, Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) and the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA).
Pending the establishment of the international tribunal, the Chief Justice called for the granting of extra-territorial jurisdiction to domestic courts over nationals of other states whose criminal activities cut across borders as well as find ways to strengthen existing domestic institutions by resourcing them.
Further to this, she urged the African Union (AU) and ECOWAS to put in place early warning system for member states on the activities of criminal syndicates especially in regard to human trafficking, trafficking in arms and smuggling and make use of mass communication platforms to encourage people to detect and report criminal activity without compromising the safety of whistleblowers.
ECOWAS civil society groups, Justice Akuffo said must lead in demanding accountability from their governments for their respective international obligation especially in cases that address atrocities within their communities adding that this would minimise the issue of political entanglement in the region’s international criminal justice.
Peter Wendoh, Project Advisor, Rule of Law Programme for Sub-Saharan Africa, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, said that justice and accountability mechanisms mooted on the continent which were meant to apply to everyone was not mostly applied to duty-bearers, mechanism formulators and the responsible enforcement agencies.
“Effective justice and accountability mechanisms cannot be anchored on the presumption that ordinary citizens are guilty until they prove themselves innocent while the elite are innocent until their guilt is proven. There can never be room for double-standards and therefore any mechanism established must apply equally and fairly across board,” he stated.
In order to create effective, independent and efficient local mechanisms in the fight against impunity, he said that people must be aware of their rights, be able to demand and defend these rights, and have trustworthy avenue for redress in the event of violation.
Air Vice Marshall Griffiths S. Evans, Commandant of KAIPTC, said emerging security challenges, human rights violations and atrocities in the region requires constant re-evaluation and update of the existing measures in the fight for international justice.
BY CLAUDE NYARKO ADAMS