ECOWAS Court Dismisses Alleged Human Rights Violation Case Involving Republic of Benin

ECOWAS Court has dismissed a case brought by a Beninois alleging that a law passed by the country’s parliament in 2018 modifying its electoral code and requiring existing political parties to fulfil prior conditions within six months in order to avoid losing their legal status, violated his right to participate freely in the public affairs of the country.

Mr Fidèle Sonon through his lawyer Mr Issiaka Moustafa told the Court that Law No. 2018-23 of 17 September 2018 on the charter of political parties and Law No 2018-031 of 09 October 2018 modifying the Electoral Code both of which were validated by the Constitutional Court after approval by the National Assembly, were inconsistent with international treaties to which Benin is a signatory as well as the right of citizens to fully participate in the public affairs of their country.

Consequently, he asked the Court to hold the government of Benin liable for the violation of its obligation to create independent and impartial electoral bodies and the violation of its obligation not to alter unilaterally the electoral laws in less than six (6) months before the elections without a political majority in line with the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.

He asked the Court to, among others, declare the government liable for the violations; order the State to remove the certificate of conformity from list of documents required to participate in the legislative elections; order the State to dismiss the members of CENA, its electoral commission and replace them with two members each of the parliamentary majority and minority respectively.

He equally sought orders of the Court removing all obstacles to the free participation of political parties in the parliamentary elections and compel the state to pay 500 million CFA francs to him as compensation.

In addition to his initiating application ECW/CCJ/APP/13/19, Mr Sonon also filed applications for expedited hearing and for interim measures to postpone the parliamentary elections of 28 April 2019 pending the determination of the case before the Court.

On their part, Mrs Irene Aclombessi representing the government of Benin stated that both laws were adopted by the National Assembly with the aim of strengthening the political system.

The government also challenged the competence of the ECOWAS Court to review the decision of the country’s Constitutional Court and that the Applicant lacked the legal personality to file this matter before the Court adding that only Member States or the ECOWAS Commission can institute such matters.

Furthermore, the Respondent said Mr Sonon did not disclose the acts of illegality being criticized, and that evidence has not been led to show either the violation of his rights to vote or participate in the public affairs of the country.

Justice Gberi-Be Ouattara, judge rapporteur, who delivered the judgment said the Court has jurisdiction to hear the case concerning alleged human rights violations and that the case was admissible.

On Sonon’s applications for expedited hearing and interim measures respectively, His Lordship noted the requests were no longer operative since the elections have been held.

However, the case was dismissed for lack of justification and proof of how he was refused participation in the public affairs of Benin, among other reasons.

Also on the panel were Justices Edward Amoako Asante and Keikura Bangura.