In his interesting discussion (over at International Law Observer) on the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights' ruling that Libya “immediately refrain from any action that would result in loss of life or violation of physical integrity of persons”, Abebe A. Mulugeta raises the issue of enforcement. He suggests that although the Order is binding, it "can only be implemented through diplomatic pressure". There may however be other avenues open to the Court and states wishing to enforce it.
As we noted previously, the Court was introduced in part to address the African Commission's inability to give binding decicions. To this end Article 30 of the Court's Statute states:
"The States parties to the present Protocol undertake to comply with the judgment in any case to which they are parties within the time stipulated by the Court and to guarantee its execution."
In addition, Rule 60(5) of the Court's Interim Rules states: "The judgment of the Court shall be binding on the parties."
Notably, these provisions refer to the judgement. However, there seems to be little basis for differentiation between the binding nature of provisional measures and judgements of the Court. In this regard the Rules refer to the Court's discretion to "prescribe to the parties any interim measure which it deems necessary to adopt in the interest of the parties or of justice". (Rule 51) This language serves to confirm the peremptory nature of "interim measures".
So what then of enforcement measures. On a generous interpretation of the Court's Statute two avenues exist:
First, article 29 of the Court's Protocol states that the AU's Executive Council "shall monitor [the Court''s judgements] execution on behalf of the Assembly" of the AU. Again, if one considers "interim measures" to be as binding as judgements, then arguably the Executive Council's responsibility under article 29 would extend to such measures as well. The question then becomes how "monitor" is constructed.
Second, and perhaps more generously, one could interpret article 30 as placing an obligation on States Parties to the Court to guarantee the enforcement of the Court's decisions (including interim measures for the reasons set out above). This can be done by reading the provision disjunctively; thereby creating two obligations on States Parties: The first being a specific obligation to "comply with the judgment in any case to which they are parties within the time stipulated by the Court", the second being a general obligation on all States Parties to guarantee the execution of decisions of the Court. This is a tenuous reading of the text, but two aspects of article 30 make a plain reading of it difficult and suggest it is open to a more constructive, nuanced interpretation.
The first is its reference to "States Parties". Surely it would have been simpler to merely state that "Parties to a decision of the Court undertake to comply with the judgment" or, better still, "The Court's decisions are binding". This is the simpler formulation adopted in Rule 60(5). In addition, if the provision is read narrowly it suggests that only states that are party to a dispute are bound by the Court's decisions, while "other" parties (such as an individual complainants or the Commission) are not. This cannot be so. Rule 60(5) confirms this by referring to "parties" being bound (including an individual complainant or the Commission). In light of these complications, one could argue that the reference to States Parties in article 30 must have been made deliberately and with a purpose: to establish obligations in respect of the judgement on all States Parties to the Banjul Charter, not merely those who are party to the judgement.
The second "kink" in article 30 militating in favour of a more nuanced interpretation is its requirement that its subjects "guarantee [the Court's judgment's] execution". Given that the article already requires that states who are party to the dispute comply with the judgements of the Court, this additional requirement is puzzling. It's not clear what guaranteeing a judgements execution means, how it differs from compliance and (if it doesn't) why it was included. Here the doctrine of effective construction might be put to work, to say that in order give this phrase meaning it must be understood as referring to states other than those already under an obligation to comply with the judgement (as parties to it), this can only be all other States Parties. This would square nicely with, and give meaning to, the article's reference to States Parties to begin with.
These are not merely hypothetical ruminations. Under the terms of the Order, Libya was due to report back to the Court within 15 days on measures it had taken to give effect to it. By my count that gave it until last weekend (Saturday), about the time the African Union delegation headed by Jacob Zuma arrived in Libya to present its peace plan (I wonder if the Order was mentioned in their discussions). To date, there is no indication from the Court that Libya did so, and so the avenues open to the Court in ensuring that it does are of immediate relevance.
If Libya did not respond to the Court's ruling, and does not intend to, Rule 55 of the Court's Interim Rules might come into effect. In terms of which :
"Whenever a party does not appear before the Court, or fails to defend its case, the Court may, on the application of the other party, pass judgement in default after it has satisfied itself that the defaulting party has been duly served with the application and all other documents pertinent to the proceedings."
If that happens we will once again be in the realm of enforcement measures, but there will be little doubt as to the judgments binding nature.