Sharm El Sheikh- Egypt (PANA) -- African states are fighting to limit their citiz ens' access to the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights ahead of its merger with the African Court of Justice, seen as critical to eradicating impunity and v iolation of rights.
President of the Arusha-based African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, Prof.
Gerard Niyungeko, said here Thursday the protocol establishing the court still h a d challenges that might impede its effective operation, given the limited access to litigants.
African leaders agreed to set up the court in the 1980s and formally appointed i ts judges in Khartoum, Sudan, in 2006, but out of the 24 countries which have ra t ified the protocol, only two have allowed their citizens and non- governmental or g anisations direct access.
African states have signed the protocol establishing the court, but are reluctan t to allow their nationals to seek justice outside their national jurisdictions, even though the independence offered through the court is seen as a critical ste p against impunity.
"The states may not wish the direct access to be available.
But it might not be too late on the occasion of the merger of the two protocols," Niyungeko told a n e ws conference ahead of talks on the merger with African Court of Justice.
"The court will deal with issues of legal and matters of human rights," said Ben Kioko, the Director of Legal Services and the AU Commission chief legal counsel .
The judges of the court are to be increased to 16, from the current number, 11, to be able to deal with arising matters within the continent.
The failure by several states to allow the court to tackle cases from their nati onals and human rights abuse cases is the most critical part of the protocol.
Experts say efforts to assert the court's authority over human rights issues hav e failed before with most countries opposing it, but it has also emerged that st a tes rarely take legal action against each other and that most cases are about st a te involvement in rights violations.
So far, Burkina Faso and Mali are the only states to have allowed their citizens to file cases in the court, although more than 24, out of the 53 states have si g ned up.
Kioko said the merger of the two courts was meant to make it more efficient.
"It may not be too late for them (states) to restrict access to the court.
The p resent system subordinates it to the specific governments to restrict access to t he court," Niyungeko said.
African leaders, due to meet here next week, are expected to fill the vacant pos itions of four judges, expected to retire over the next two years, from the cour t .