ECOWAS Court, UNHCR Sign Agreement to Protect Refugees

Maria do Ceu Silva Monteiro

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The ECOWAS Court and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees have signed a three-year cooperation agreement to protect the rights of refugees

THE ECOWAS Community Court of Justice, ECCJ, on Wednesday, June 17, signed a framework document with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, for cooperation in improving the protection of the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers, returnees, IDPs, stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness in West Africa.

Activities to be implemented under the Memorandum of Understanding, which was signed by Justice Maria do Ceu Silva Monteiro, president of the Court, and Madame Angele Dikongue-Atangana, special representative of the UNHCR to Nigeria and ECOWAS are broadly in the areas of training and capacity building for judges and staff of Court and the UNHCR, advice on cases before the Court and issues of mutual interest as well as information sharing.

The MOU, to be implemented over three years ( 2015-2107) will also facilitate their collaboration in promoting the proper interpretation and application of relevant international, regional and national legal and policy instruments relating to the protection of the rights of these vulnerable persons.

Specifically, both parties will jointly develop the framework for the training of judges and staff of the Court on international and regional law relating to refugees, stateless persons and internally displaced persons, IDPs, that responds to the needs of the Court with the support of the UNHCR`S Global Learning Centre, GLC, where necessary.

Similarly, the Court will develop and conduct trainings for UNHCR staff on its mandate, jurisprudence and procedures tailored to the needs of the UNHCR under the MOU, an offshoot of a 2001 MOU signed between ECOWAS and the UNHCR for multi-sectoral cooperation in areas of mutual interest.

Moreover, lawyers from the region who may bring cases before the Court on behalf of refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless person’s and IDPS will also be trained under a joint programme to be facilitated by the two parties. The training will focus on its mandate, jurisprudence, procedures, and available resources for case preparation.

Justice Ceu Silva Monteiro hailed the framework as “an exceptionally important document that impacts not only on humanity and the dignity of the citizens of the region but also on regional peace and security.”

“While the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, returnees, internally displaced persons have been recognised and respected as human rights, the treatment of such persons, particularly stateless persons violate community texts and remain an obstacle to the attainment of the community’s vision 2020 for an ECOWAS of people,” she said in remarks prior to the signing.

Also, Fatimata Sow, ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, expressed optimism that the MOU would “open up new vistas in our quest for solutions for the protection of the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, returnees, IDPs, stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness in our region.”

She added that this could be achieved “through proper interpretation and effective application of relevant international, regional and national laws” which on realization would certainly contribute immensely to the development, peace and security of our region.

Angele Dikongue-Atangana, resident representative of the UNHCR in Nigeria, said that the 2011 framework signed with the ECOWAS Commission has enable both organisations to develop durable solutions in the areas of refugee protection; free movement and right of residence for asylum seekers and refugees; promote peace and security; improve early warning; the asylum-migration nexus; and ensure capacity building for humanitarian emergency preparedness and response.

These achievements, however, should not overshadow the enduring challenges that many people in the sub-region are facing with regard to refugee, forced displacement and statelessness situations, she said, noting that there comes at a critical time in the sub-region, where additional efforts are needed to improve the legal protection environment for persons of concern and ensure the full respect of their rights.

Similarly, Auwal Musa, acting secretary general of the umbrella organisation for West Africa’s civil society, called for strong regional linkages between organisations active in the spheres of refugees, human rights with civil society groups to facilitate information sharing, learning, adaption, stakeholder dialogue and collaboration.

It is crucial that strong regional linkages are forged between refugees, human rights and humanitarian organisations, and other civil society groups, to facilitate information-sharing, learning, adaptation, stakeholder dialogue and collaboration.

He said that an informed and trained civil society, particularly WASCOF, would impact on the citizenry and contribute positively to the citizen appreciation and protection of their human rights and that the attainment of this goal would require collaboration between the UNHCR, the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice, member states and civil society.

Al-Hassan Conteh, Liberia’s ambassador to Nigeria, who read a speech on behalf of ECOWAS ambassadors, said the MOU is expected to help member states and partners further comprehend the complex rules for the attribution of nationality as member states continue their efforts to harmonise disparate legislations in addressing the problems of refugees, IDP’s and statelessness.

The signing ceremony was witnessed top officials of the two organisations, ECOWAS Commission, the ECOWAS Parliament, Ambassadors of ECOWAS Member States, members of the United Nations Country team, the African Union, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, UNHCR main donor Countries, West African Civil Society Forum, WACSOF, and UNHCR National Stakeholders. West African Civil Society Forum, WACSOF,

— Jun 29, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT

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