ECOWAS Court conference urges tough measures against unconstitutional change of government

The keynote address at the opening of the conference on Monday, 22nd May 2023, was delivered by Professor of Practice at Tuft University in the US, Professor Chidi Odinkalu. It was opened by President Adama Barrow.

Is allowance instantly strangers applauded

The ECOWAS Community Court’s 2023 International Conference on Zero Tolerance for Unconstitutional Change of Government, in West Africa, has ended in Banjul, the Gambian capital with wide-ranging recommendations, including the criminalisation of Unconstitutional Change of Government (UCG) and the creation of a special task force to intervene in cases of Member States.

The four-day meeting also called for the strengthening of “the apolitical nature of the Armed Forces to guard against UCG,” and utilising “early warning tools and existing protocols to recalibrate the regional peace and security architecture.”

Participants, mostly jurists, lawyers and academics, called for the definition of the term “unconstitutional change” in the ECOWAS instruments and what constitutes a violation of convergence principles clearly spelt out, said the Conference Communique. It also called on “Member States to stem tenure elongation, eliminate all pseudo-democratic laws, and criminalise UCG at the national level with national courts having jurisdiction.”

It recommended effective sanctions against perpetrators of UCG, including coup plotters and their supporters, with the amendment of the ECOWAS Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Governance to “ensure that sanctions do not affect the fundamental human rights of ordinary citizens.”

It further called for a stop to tenure extension by political leaders, while the Protocol of the Community Court of Justice should be modified to allow for judicial intervention in election matters.

It also recommended the strengthening of the means of settling electoral disputes at the national level through the enactment of laws and setting up of mechanisms for independent adjudication of electoral disputes.

In his remarks at the closing ceremony, Gambia's Minister of Trade, Industry and Regional Integration, Mr Baboucar Joof described the experience of the conference as a ‘first class law school which provided an opportunity to listen to great minds from the region and commended the Court for hosting the conference in the country.”

Similarly, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Dawda Jallow described the conference as “humbling,” with the expectation that the outcome will ensure that “West Africa is firmly rooted in good democracy and good governance.”

In his closing remarks, the President of the Court, Justice Edward Amoako Asante said the conference was characterised by “excellent presentations by our very knowledgeable resource persons, robust contributions by our distinguished participants and the cross fertilization of ideas resulting in a fruitful conference.”

Justice Asante described the timing of the conference as apt, coinciding with a period of the resurgence of military governments in three Member States, assuring that ‘we would therefore continue to sound the alarm about the dangers of unconstitutional change of government.

“Elections must be free, fair and transparent in order to avoid unnecessary conflicts and political instability in our sub-region as we are convinced that we cannot achieve our economic integration agenda without sustainable participatory democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights," he said.