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human rights, international courts, Africa, West Africa, ECOWAS, ECCJ, regional integration, civil society mobilization, economic integration


The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice (ECCJ) is an increasingly active and bold international adjudicator of human rights violations in West Africa. Since acquiring jurisdiction over human rights issues in 2005, the ECCJ has issued several path-breaking judgments, including against the Gambia for the torture of journalists, against Niger for condoning modern forms of slavery, and against Nigeria for failing to regulate the multinational oil companies that polluted the Niger Delta. This article explains why ECOWAS member states authorized the ECCJ to review human rights suits by individuals but did not allow private actors to complain about violations of regional economic rules. In addition to explaining the ECCJ’s striking transformation, the article makes several other contributions. It illustrates how an existing international institution can be redeployed for new purposes; it highlights the contributions of civil society, supranational officials, and ECOWAS judges to expanding the Court’s mandate; it analyzes the ECCJ’s distinctive jurisdiction and access rules; and it shows how the ECCJ has survived challenges to its authority. Our analysis is based on original field research in Nigeria, including more than two-dozen interviews with judges, government officials, attorneys, and NGOs. We also draw upon the first-ever coding of all ECCJ decisions through 2010. The ECCJ’s transformation is also theoretically significant. The article’s final section and conclusion reassesses theories of regional integration, institutional change, and transnational legal mobilization in light of the ECCJ’s experience to demonstrate the implications of our findings for international institutions beyond West Africa.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Civil society, West Africa, Africa, International courts, International economic integration, Human rights, Community Court of Justice, Economic Community of West African States