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Court Dismisses Case Involving ECOWAS Staff & His Former Wife Alleging Human Rights Violation

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The ECOWAS Court has dismissed a suit filed by Sarah Odoro, former spouse of an ECOWAS Staff, in which she alleged the violation of her fundamental human rights as enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights by the former husband.

In its judgment read by the judge rapporteur Justice Dupe Atoki, the Court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction to adjudicate on the matter as it involved three Respondents who were improper parties before the Court.

Her Lordship said: “Only States that are contracting parties to the ECOWAS Revised Treaty and to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and similar Human Rights Treaties can be sued before it, for alleged violation of human rights occurring in their territory.”

And Article 9 (1) (g) of its Supplementary Protocol states: “The Court has competence to adjudicate on any dispute relating to the action for damages against a Community institution or an official of the Community for any action or omission in the exercise of official functions.”

Consequently, the Court held that the third Respondent Kingsley Odoro, former husband of the Applicant, was not a state party to the ECOWAS Revised Treaty and that though the second and third Respondents ECOWAS Commission and ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID) were actionable before the Court, the instant matter arising from a dispute between a staff and his former spouse did not constitute official functions of the community institutions.

The Applicant, Sarah Odoro, who was married to the third Respondent for about 23 years, initiated suit ECW/CCJ/APP/33/18 on 3 August 2018 in which she alleged the violation of her rights to life, freedom of movement, personal liberty, right to property and right to human dignity.

She urged the Court to prevail on ECOWAS Commission and EBID, first and second Respondents respectively, to compel the third Respondent, Kingsley Odoro to grant her access to their properties especially the building in Lome, Togo and entitlement to some properties being a contributor to their acquisition.

She also prayed for an order of the Court restraining the third Respondent and his privies from further harassment and inhuman and degrading treatment; incessant/continuous threats to her life and that of her son whom the third Respondent voluntarily agreed to adopt.

She equally demanded an order of the Court mandating the third Respondent to pay 120 million Naira in favour of herself and her son for the violations suffered.

In a counter argument, the first and second Respondents filed a preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the Court to entertain the matter, arguing that they were wrongly joined as parties and that the matter lacked an international character.

They further argued that they were not parties to the alleged marriage between the Applicant and the third Respondent and were not privy to the circumstances between them before or during the marriage.

In its ruling on the preliminary objection, the Court struck off the names of the first and second Respondents as “the facts of this case clearly fail to implicate the 1st and 2nd Respondents as falling within the ambit of Article 9 (g) of the Supplementary Protocol of carrying out an act or omission on official capacity by the community institution”.

On the international character of the suit, Justice Atoki said: “The Court hastens to state that the nature and circumstances of the instant case are clearly not within the purview of the Court’s jurisdiction as an International Court despite allegation of violations of numerous human rights enshrined in the African Charter”.

In his defence, the third Respondent countered the submissions of the Applicant to whom he was married for 23 years. He added that the marriage was dissolved by a court of competence jurisdiction (on 27 July 2018) before the initiation of this suit and urged the Court to dismiss the unmeritorious suit concluding that the Court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate on dispute between two individuals.

Following its analysis, the Court also dismissed the application against the third Respondent who is an individual describing him as an improper party against whom the Applicant can not initiate an action before the Court.

Also on the panel were Justices Gberi-Be Ouattara (presiding) and Januaria Costa.

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