Thursday, October 30, 2008

ECOWAS--ECOWAS Community Court of Justice Frees Nigerien Slave

Rare is the case of civil society collaborating with regional bodies to bring about positive and constructive change; even more rare is when it is in Africa! So when I first heard the case of the 24-yr-old former Nigerien slave who was taking her case to court, I could only more than jump with glee upon hearing that she had taken the case to none other than the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice.

Established in 2005, the Court has not been as high-profile in the ECOWAS region as one would have expected. I believe the ususal red-tapism and lack of political will will have played their parts in good measure. That said, the only case that might have registered in the minds of the sub-region's citizens have been that of the murder of a Gambian journalist. Truth be told, it's been rather difficult following the case on account of its protacted nature.

As for this case of the Nigerien slave who has been mandated by the court to receive the equivalent of some $20,000 as compensation, this particular case is not just unique, but unprecedented. It is unique because though slavery is an old ghost in parts of West Africa, it took a committed individual to usher in necessary change for people like her; and it is unprecendented because not only has it shown that ECOWAS has potential to bare its teeth, but equally the potential to chomp hard on injustice in t he sub-region.

The news that the ruling is binding and that the young woman will receive compensation is equally interesting. As Aidan McQuade, the director of Anti-Slavery International, told the BBC about how the case would be crucial in highlighting the plight of slaves in Africa:

"This is very important in terms of the community of nations, and particularly the African community of nations looking at other countries within that region and saying: 'What standard are we expecting each other to be held to in relation to international and national law?'"

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