The judiciary in São Tomé and Príncipe has been building the necessary skills and knowledge to implement the principles and norms embodied in the international human rights treaties it has signed, in general, and, more specifically, those enshrined as part of its obligations under African Union Treaties. Therefore, the country and its judges, prosecutors and lawyers are working to implement the interpretation and application of international human rights documents into their daily routine, which would allow to further harmonize and implement in the country’s legal structure, through its internal judicial system, the legal provisions contained in international treaties.
Towards a Solution
In the framework of the joint African Union-United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project, “Accelerating the Ratification and Domestication of African Union Treaties” was a regional initiative supported by the Government of Sweden, anchored in the UNDP’s Regional Programme for Africa and implemented by the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa. This South-South cooperation initiative contributes to SDGs 5 and 16, as well as to the Istanbul Programme of Action (IPoA) Priority Area 8.
A familiarization visit to Benin by members of São Tomé and Príncipe’s judicial bodies took place in December 2019. The main objective of this three-day South-South exchange visit was to promote the exchange of Beninese good practices in dealing with and interpreting cases based on ratified African Union human rights treaties by gathering inputs in the “domestication” (meaning application to the home country) and implementation of regional treaties. This initiative was implemented by the Government of Benin, the Government of São Tomé and Príncipe and UNDP country offices in São Tomé and Príncipe and Benin.
The São Tomé and Príncipe delegation was composed of judges representing the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance, as well as a prosecutor. The programme of the visit was drawn up jointly by the two countries with UNDP support. Benin accepted the Court’s jurisdiction to receive complaints brought by individuals and NGOs with observer status before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on 8 February 2016. The country’s judiciary has earned significant and important experience in human rights cases as a result of the individual access of citizens to the direct implementation of African Union treaties.
The Santomean delegation had working sessions involving several Beninese entities, including authorities in charge of penitentiary administration, of human-rights protection and of supervised education and social protection of minors, as well as the Cotonou Court, the Cotonou Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court.
The exchange of experiences enabled the São Tomé and Príncipe representatives to familiarize themselves with how human rights violations claimed by common citizens are legally addressed in compliance with ratified African Union treaties. The visit helped raise awareness among the judges on the importance of fulfilling their international commitments, in view of their key law enforcement role.
To ensure the sustainability of the initiative and the achievement of practical results in terms of democratic governance and rule of law, the project is supporting São Tomé and Príncipe to create a favourable environment for good practices to be adapted and replicated. One of the measures taken in this direction was the institutionalization of a national committee and an observatory for the transposition of African Union treaties.