Landmark judgment

2008-11-03 00:00

Last week the regional Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States convicted the state of Niger for failing in its obligation to protect a 12-year-old girl from being sold into slavery in 1996. The girl, now a young woman of 24, was sold for $500, beaten and sexually abused, and later jailed for bigamy in a Nigerian court for marrying against the wishes of her “owner”.

The case was brought with the help of British-based anti-slavery groups, in the hope that it will set a precedent and help press African governments to stamp out slavery — a monstrous trade operating now on a global scale.

The court decision, which reminds us that culpability is not limited by borders, is healthy, opening the way for similar cases in other

West African states in which human beings are routinely bought and sold. But for those of us in sub-Saharan Africa it could have greater meaning, for it tells us that the countries of the Economic Community of West African States are taking seriously the peer review system and are ready to act against any country contravening community principles.

The record of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is pitiful by contrast: much self-righteous bombast about peer review, but too inert or too fearful to attempt to deal with blatantly renegade states such as Zimbabwe. May we cautiously hope that SADC will be inspired by the Niger ruling and will, finally, come to understand that it is acceptable for African countries to judge, censure and punish other African countries that don’t come up to the mark?

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