The success of the Ecowas integration agenda will require dealing with the assertion of sovereignty of states as a means of evading external accountability and the peer review competence of ECOWAS.
The Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Professional Studies, Professor Ernest Kofi Abotsi, who made the call, said ECOWAS had faced challenges in securing optimal compliance by states with commitments adopted under its constituent treaty and supporting protocols.
“In many ways, these issues have revolved around complications of sovereignty bargains and the larger agenda of establishing a supranational entity capable of actualizing the common goals informing the coming together of the states within the community,” he stated in a paper on “Sovereignty and regionalism” presented at the international conference of the ECOWAS Court of Justice in Praia, Cape Verde.
Prof. Abotsi said the issues of sovereignty had acted as explicit or covert obstacles impacting the effectiveness of ECOWAS and its institutions, including the Court of Justice and the ultimate delivery on their respective mandates.
“In an organization defined by the values of multipolarity and equality of members, controversies surrounding sovereignty, its assertion and surrender can undermine the commitment of members and its general evolution in this regard,” he argued.
He said building a viable and sustainable supranational body would require effective negotiations of the obstacle to sovereignty.
“ECOWAS’ experience with sovereignty claims and its bargaining reflects a complexity in which concerns about the loss of political and regulatory autonomy are compounded by opportunistic rejections of the powers of external control of the ECOWAS, in particular by the countries victims of coup d’etat,” Professor Abotsi said.
He said the establishment of a Parliament and a Court to complement the Commission were bold steps in building structures and systems of supranationality.
However, these need to be strengthened to reflect the particular challenges of sovereignty negotiations in the supranational scheme.
“The effectiveness of ECOWAS as a regional integration project will largely depend on the honouring of commitments made by member states in the context of surrendered sovereignty and the ability of the body to
address shortcomings in respect of commitments through its skills and ability to execute,” Mr. Abotsi said.
In his contribution, Professor Philip Ebow Bondzi-Simpson, the Founding Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Cape Coast, said the bold attempts of the ECOWAs Court of Justice in protecting the rights of citizens of member states had been undermined by a lack of enforcement of the Court’s decisions by member states.
He said political leaders had blatantly and publicly denounced the Court’s decisions, while the so-called dualist member states had failed to ‘domesticate’ relevant ECOWAS Treaty and Protocols, thereby weakening the hands of domestic courts to enforce decisions of the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice.
He said, however, that the ECOWAS court was robust court for human rights protection in West Africa.
Professor Bondzi-Simpson suggested the encouragement of open and democratic societies among member states, the revision of non-exhaustion of domestic remedies and the strengthening of the Court’s decision-making processes and judgments with requisite legal researchers.
The Court could also increase participation of CSOs in its activities with a view to creating awareness of the Court, and the potential of improving its work with receipt and resolution of landmark cases, he said.
For his part, Justice Dr. Richmond Osei-Hwere, Justice of the High Court of Ghana, said the enforcement of judgments of the ECOWAS Court would remain elusive if there were no political and legislative efforts to incorporate the Protocols relating to the ECOWAS Court and other community laws into national laws.
“The current situation where enforcement of judgments is left to the moral obligation of member states is a fetter on integration,” he said.
On the way forward, he suggested an enhanced synergy between the ECOWAS Court and national courts, harmonization of the legal systems of national courts with the ECOWAS Protocols relating to the ECOWAS Court and the use of the referral system to promote the effectiveness of the ECOWAS Court in the quest for enhanced integration.
He suggested the establishment of a framework to ensure periodic meetings of personnel of the ECOWAS Court on one hand and the national courts on the other.
Justice Osei-Hwere emphasised the ratification of the ECOWAS Treaty, Protocols and Conventions was key to the realization of the ECOWAS Court’s full potential in its efforts to promote regional integration.