Benin: Withdrawal of individuals right to refer cases to the African Court a dangerous setback in the protection of human rights

The decision to withdraw the right of individuals and non-governmental organizations to submit complaints directly to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights marks yet another stage in the growing repression of dissenting voices in Benin, Amnesty International said today.

In a letter dated 21 April, the government informed the African Union of its decision which comes at a time of growing human rights abuses by the authorities, particularly in relation to freedom of expression.

This decision which will block individuals and NGOs from directly accessing the African Court demonstrates a real deterioration in the Benin government’s protection of human rights.
Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

" This decision which will block individuals and NGOs from directly accessing the African Court demonstrates a real deterioration in the Benin government’s protection of human rights,’" said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa. 

 "We call on the authorities to reconsider this deplorable decision, which is a full-on attack on human rights.”

Last week, following a complaint made by Sebastien Ajavon, a political opponent of Benin’s President, the Court ordered the authorities to temporarily postpone local elections until it had issued a decision on the allegations.

The African Court is the judicial body of the African Union that oversees the protection and promotion of human rights by its Member States. It was established by the 1998 Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

By ratifying this protocol and making the declaration set out in Article 34(6) thereof, Benin offered individuals and NGOs the possibility of bringing a complaint regarding the State’s violation of the African Charter to this Court, after exhaustion of all local remedies.

Benin now becomes the third African country after Rwanda and Tanzania, and the first in West Africa, to withdraw individuals’ and NGOs’ right to submit complaints to the African Court. This decision will take effect in one year’s time.

"The African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights has once more become a target for political attack by governments who show scant regard for human rights. With this act, Benin is undermining efforts to build a credible and effective regional human rights system," said Samira Daoud.

Background

A wave of arbitrary arrests of political activists and journalists together with the repression of peaceful demonstrations has reached an alarming level in in Benin during the parliamentary elections of 28 April 2019.

With the Internet cut off for the whole of election day, Amnesty International documented at least four deaths by firearm between then and 2 May 2019, including a 19-year-old man and a 37-year-old woman.

On 31 October 2019, Parliament voted a law on "amnesty for criminal offences" committed during violence around the demonstrations that followed the parliamentary elections. This amnesty applies to anyone suspected of crimes during the post-electoral period, including members of the security forces and ordinary citizens. This law is in violation of the victims’ right to obtain justice and reparation.

In less than two years, at least 17 journalists, bloggers and political activists have been prosecuted under Law No. 2017-20 of 20 April 2018, which sets out repressive measures that restrict rights to freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Benin. The Benin authorities last year expelled the European Union Ambassador for alleged interference in internal affairs.