Two major legal victories for human rights at the ECOWAS Court of Justice

In late June 2021, the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA), an SRT grantee since 2014, earned two major victories in the advancement of human rights in sub-Saharan Africa.

The first victory represents a major step towards the protection of widows in Mali’s strongly patriarchal society. On June 22, 2021, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ruled in favor of the plaintiff in suit no ECW/CCJ APP/42/19-Kadiatou SIBY v Mali.

The plaintiff, Kadaitou Siby, is a Malian widow who, after the death of her husband in 2013, was entitled to inherit her husband’s property. Upon her refusal to marry her husband’s brother, Souleymane Siby, her in-laws chased her from her home and beat her severely. The local police ignored her complaint. Her case floundered in local courts for years until November 2019, when IHRDA and their Malian partner Association pour le Progrès et la Défense de Droits de Femmes au Mali (APDF) filed a case on her behalf. The ECOWAS Court found the Republic of Mali in violation of Kadiatou’s right to dignity and right for her case to be heard in a reasonable time. Additionally, the Court found that Mali had failed to protect Kadiatou and her family. The Court compels Mali to try the case in a reasonable time, to liquidate Kadiatou’s husband’s estate, and to pay her one hundred million FCFA (about $181,000) for damages.

That same week, on June 24, 2021, the ECOWAS Court also ruled in favor of the plaintiff in suit no ECW/CCJ/APP/27/19-Fodi Mohammed v Niger.

IHRDA and their Niger partner Timidria filed the case on behalf of Fodi Mohammed, a woman who was enslaved by the Takaboune Idiabaz family from childhood for over thirty years. One of Fodi’s daughters, Zainabu, was given as a wedding gift to Idiabaz’s granddaughter. Zainabu filed legal proceedings requesting freedom, but the prosecutor merely treated the matter as a misdemeanor. This ruling was in direct contravention of several treaties to which Niger is a party, including the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and violated Niger’s law that criminalized slavery in 2003. The Court condemned Niger for failing to protect Fodi and her children’s right to dignity and to fair trial and determined that the country must pay her family some 63,000,000 FCFA ($114,000 USD) in damages.

These two victories build on IHRDA’s decades-long track record of strategic litigation on behalf of victims of human rights abuses across the African continent.

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