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This paper discusses three credible attempts by African governments to restrict the jurisdiction of three similarly-situated sub-regional courts in response to politically controversial rulings. In West Africa, when the ECOWAS Court upheld allegations of torture by opposition journalists in the Gambia, that country’s political leaders sought to restrict the Court’s power to review human rights complaints. The other member states ultimately defeated the Gambia’s proposal. In East Africa, Kenya failed in its efforts to eliminate the EACJ and to remove some of its judges after a decision challenging an election to a sub-regional legislature. However, the member states agreed to restructure the EACJ in ways that have significantly affected the court’s subsequent trajectory. In Southern Africa, after the SADC Tribunal ruled in favor of white farmers in disputes over land seizure, Zimbabwe prevailed upon SADC member states to suspend the Tribunal and strip its power to review complaints from private litigants. Variations in the mobilization efforts of Community secretariats, civil society groups and sub-regional Parliaments explain why efforts to eliminate the three courts or narrow their jurisdiction were defeated in ECOWAS, scaled back in the EAC, and largely succeeded in SADC.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

International courts, Jurisdiction, Judicial process, Human rights