West Africa

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“As I deliver this statement, many Africans continue to ask questions and are still wondering whether Human Rights do exist on our continent. Whether this is a legitimate question or not, it is nonetheless a topical issue. Various examples illustrate this assertion. For instance yesterday it was Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau and the North of Mali, and today it is the Central African Republic. All of this bears testimony to the fact that fighting for civil, political, social and cultural rights is still a concern on the African continent”.
Gnénéma Mamadou Coulibaly, Minister of Justice, Republic of Cote D’Ivoire 53rd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights 9 – 22 April 2013. Banjul, Gambia


“Ghana’s progress on human rights is commendable, but it will have little meaning if left as an isolated example,”
Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch
9th July 2009
following President Obama’s visit to Ghana

“Although we have made solid progress in promoting human rights over the past 20 years since the coming into force of the 1992 Constitution, Ghana still has a long road to travel to advance human rights, administrative justice and integrity in the country”.
Richard Quayson, Deputy Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ)
Report on the State of Human Rights in Ghana December 10 2013

“It is hoped that this process will be expedited and the Gambia will soon be part of some African States that have a functional independent National Human Rights Commission…………the Government of The Gambia has taken steps in ensuring that The Gambia complies with its reporting obligations under all regional, sub regional and international Human Rights treaties that it is a party to. To this end a newly constituted taskforce has been created to mobilize Government departments and other stakeholders to ensure that the Gambia complies with its reporting obligations”.
Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Republic of the Gambia Hon. Justice Lamin A.M.S. Jobarteh


African states, including those in West Africa have signed, ratified and implemented a wide range of charters, international human rights’ and related conventions. A core issue is identifying whether or not the established national legislative instruments have real effect in supporting individual human rights in the maritime environment against a background of limited or no human rights’ legislative provisions specifically dealing with abuses or related offences off the coast of West Africa.

One of the current limiting factors for identifying effectiveness of legislative provisions is the lack of co-ordinated monitoring and overt reporting of human rights’ abuses by West African States. This is otherwise invariably left to independent national and international civil society organisations such as Amnesty International , Human Rights Watch and Save the Children.

In terms of the protection of Human Rights at Sea (HRAS), the challenges which individuals or communities face in West Africa are firstly, the lack of information or awareness of their existing rights and secondly, the lack of assistance in pursuing these rights. Legal costs also play a significant role in preventing the majority of those affected from seeking redress through the established courts and commissions. The fact that there are not specific and explicit legislative provisions for the protection of ‘Human Rights at Sea’ makes obtaining a successful remedy even more of a restricting factor in promoting human rights in the maritime environment throughout West Africa.

In considering West Africa, there are various documentary examples originating from government ministries, UN reports, court judgements and civil society Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) as to the current state of affairs in respect to human rights’ awareness, access and abuses. There are also limited studies and reports specifically relating to human rights abuses at sea, though more recently, awareness appears to being increasing in respect to issues relating to fishing communities, piracy, child trafficking, abandonment and crew conditions on unseaworthy commercial vessels.

The current challenges for West African states in combating human rights abuses are that the constabulary, judicial and political systems in place tend not to be trusted by those who need to rely upon them. There are often perceived as being ineffective and mired by alleged corrupt practices that prevent justice being done. Additionally, most West African legislative systems, although now amended and updated, are based upon previous colonial criminal and civil codes and which often fail to reflect local customs and traditions relating to available remedies.

Set against this background, the development and availability of protections and remedies for human rights abuses at sea currently appears limited in West Africa.

Kwabena Asare
29 May 2014

David Hammond
Founder Human Right at Sea
29 May 2014



Collaborative Partners


ARC is an initiative whose mission is to secure justice and strengthen the rule of law in Africa


ARC’s mission is to secure justice and strengthen the rule of law in Africa by taking cases before regional courts, tribunals and commissions, and raising awareness of egregious human rights violations through social media.

ARC provides technical assistance in the form of legal advice to local advocates on initiating and managing cases before regional courts, tribunals and commissions in Africa. This may include substantive legal advice on international human rights law and international criminal law as well as strategic advice.

ARC works with legal professionals, law societies, NGOs, and concerned individuals to raise awareness of human rights abuses in Africa. This includes monitoring of cases and court reform proposals, as well as wider public awareness campaigns utilising social media. ARC provides training to local advocates in Africa on substantive and procedural human rights mechanisms.

ARC was founded in 2012 by Gillian Higgins, an international human rights and criminal law barrister at 9 Bedford Row International and founding member of the International Criminal Law Bureau, following her visit to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ rights in Arusha, Tanzania and initial consultation with the East African Law Society. ARC has assembled a team of international barristers and solicitors to achieve its mission.

The African Court

ARC aims to raise awareness and take action to assist the work and functioning of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and its intended successor, the African Court on Justice and Human Rights. ARC runs three programmes: Case Watch, Court Watch and Technical Assistance.

On 25 January 2004, the Protocol to the African Charter entered into force, establishing the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR). The AfCHPR may be referred cases relating to violations of the provisions of the African Charter, its protocols, and any other relevant human rights instrument ratified by the State concerned. At present, 27 of the 53 Member States of the African Union have ratified the Protocol establishing the Court. Of these, only seven States allow individuals and NGOs to petition the Court directly, namely Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Tanzania and Republic of Cote d’Ivoire..