Nigerian lawyer aims to take South Africa to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights Violations for ‘xenophobic violence’

26 Apr 2017


A Nigerian human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, is agitating to take the fight against xenophobic attacks on his countryman to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights Violations. But a failure by the Nigerian government to make a declaration that gives jurisdiction to the Aurusha, Tanzania, located court stands in his way.

Agitation for the Nigerian government to take action against xenophobic attacks in different countries across the continent has gained momentum in recent times. Reports of xenophobic attacks in South Africa against Nigerians and other Africans caused angry reactions in Nigeria. Nigerian civil society and government officials, including the presidency, strongly condemned the attacks and demanded answers and action from the South African government.

The South African government has defended itself saying it has tackled xenophobic violence with firmness and some of incidents tagged as xenophobic violence did not necessarily fit the tag.

But Falana is having none of it. He is talking legal action against the South African government.

Falana has written to the Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister, asking the minister to speedily deposit the declaration that will allow the African Court to hear the matter.

Falana was quoted saying “In South Africa, a number of Nigerians have been subjected to xenophobic attacks, which have led to loss of lives and properties on several occasions. In spite of the recent assurance of the Jacob Zuma administration to prevent further xenophobic attacks on the Nigerian people…”

He has warned that if his requests fails he will approach the Federal High Court of Nigeria to force the Federal Government to deposit the necessary declaration.

The African Court on Human and People’s Rights is positioned above African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR). Located in Banjul, Gambia, the ACHPR was established in 1987 “to oversee and interpret the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (also known as the Banjul Charter).”

The Commission’s mandate and powers are described as follows: The Charter provides for a communication procedure where states, organisations and individuals may take a complaint to the Commission alleging that a State Party to the Charter has violated one or more of the rights contained in the Charter. “Following consideration of complaints, the Commission can make recommendations to the State Party concerned and to the AU Assembly. The Commission’s mandate is quasi-judicial and, as such, its final recommendations are not legally binding and there is no mechanism that can compel states to abide by its recommendations. The Commission may use its ‘good offices’ to secure a settlement at any stage of the proceedings.”

Should the complainant be unsatisfied with the performance of the Commission, they can escalate the matter to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights. This Court was established in 1998 to complement and reinforce the functions of the Commission. This Court can make binding decisions, including orders of compensation or reparation. If the complainant remains unsatisfied with the outcome of the African Court they can proceed to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Ironically there are South Africans who are agitating to tackle the Nigerian government at the African Court on Human and People’s Rights for what they call failure to serve justice for the victims of the 2014 Synagogue Church of All Nations guest house tragedy. 116 people were crushed to death, 81 South Africans, when the guesthouse of TP Joshua’s church guesthouse collapsed.


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