The founding treaty of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) states that its aim is to promote co-operation and integration, leading to the establishment of an economic union in West Africa in order to raise the living standards of its peoples, and to maintain and enhance economic stability, foster relations among member states, and contribute to the progress and development of the African continent.

Treaty Establishing the Economic Community of West African States

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First signed in 1975 and revised in 1993, this treaty establishes the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a political and economic union of 15 West African countries. The treaty establishes several policies and instruments of cooperation, including a customs union, meaning that trade barriers between member countries are removed and there is a common tariff in relation to external countries. Article 4 of the treaty details fundamental principles such as the “peaceful settlement of disputes among Member States, active cooperation between neighbouring countries and promotion of a peaceful environment as a prerequisite for economic development.” Article 58(2) establishes several undertakings in relation to regional peace and security, such as “strengthening appropriate mechanisms for the timely prevention and resolution of intra-State and inter-State conflicts, paying particular regard to the need to: (a) maintain periodic and regular consultations between national border administration authorities; (b) establish local or national joint commissions to examine any problems encountered in relations between neighbouring States; (c) encourage exchanges and cooperation between communities, townships and administrative regions; (d) organise meetings between relevant ministries on various aspects of inter-State relations; (e) employ where appropriate, good offices, conciliation, meditation and other methods of peaceful settlement of disputes.”

ECOWAS Protocol on the Community Court of Justice

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Originally devised in 1991 and implemented in 1996, this protocol lays out the terms of the Community Court of Justice as the “principal legal organ” of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). According to Article 3, the court is to be composed of independent judges from ECOWAS member countries. Article 9 details the competencies of the court, which include the management of disputes between member states, or between member states and ECOWAS institutions, regarding the interpretation or application of the ECOWAS treaty.

ECOWAS Supplementary Protocol on the Community Court of Justice

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This supplementary protocol on the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), developed in 2005, includes a reference to human rights, which are not mentioned in the original protocol. Article 3(1) states that the court may adjudicate on disputes that relate to a range of issues, including “the action for damages against a Community institution or an official of the Community for any action or omission in the exercise of official functions.” Article 3(4) of the supplementary protocol states that the court “has jurisdiction to determine a case of violation of human rights that occur in any Member State.”

ECOWAS Protocol Relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security

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Signed in December 1999, this protocol establishes a “mechanism for collective security and peace” among member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which is triggered in cases including conflict (between or within member states) and humanitarian disaster (see Article 25 for a detailed list of conditions). The protocol contains several measures relevant to transitional justice. Article 15 states that in the interests of managing, preventing and resolving conflict, the ECOWAS executive secretary may initiate actions such as “fact-finding, mediation, facilitation, negotiation and reconciliation of parties in conflict.” Article 8 establishes a Mediation and Security Council, while Article 20 establishes the Council of Elders to engage in mediation, facilitation and conciliation on behalf of ECOWAS. According to Article 27, the Mediation and Security Council can initiate several kinds of interventions, including “fact-finding missions, political and mediation missions, or intervention by ECOMOG [a structure composed of civilian and military modules].”

ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance

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This protocol is a supplementary to the Protocol Relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It was signed in 2001 and implemented in 2008. Article 35(2) of the protocol states that “within the framework of [a regional network of institutions], each national institution shall systematically submit to the Executive Secretariat, any report on human rights violations observed on its territory.” Article 39 of the protocol commits to reviewing the protocol on the Community Court of Justice in order to “give the Court the power to hear, inter-alia, cases relating to violations of human rights, after all attempts to resolve the matter at the national level have failed.”

ECOWAS Protocol Relating to Free Movement of Persons, Residence and Establishment

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This protocol, adopted in 1979 and implemented in 1980, sets out the terms by which a citizen of a member country of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) can enter or reside in the territory of another member country. The protocol aims to achieve complete freedom of movement across ECOWAS countries in phases. The first phase, for instance, allows ECOWAS citizens to travel to other member countries without a visa, provided they are staying for under 90 days, as detailed in Article 3(2). The second phase allows for the right of residence across member states, while the third phase allows for the right of establishment, meaning that individuals can access economic activity in another member country, for instance by acquiring a job in that country. Article 11(1) holds that if an individual is expelled from a member state, the relevant authorities should notify the individual, the individual’s country of citizenship and the ECOWAS executive secretary. Article 11(3) notes that “in case of expulsion, the security of the citizen concerned as well as that of his family shall be guaranteed and his property protected and returned to him without prejudice to his obligations to third party.” 

ECOWAS Conflict Prevention Framework

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According to Paragraph 4, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Conflict Prevention Framework is designed to provide a “reference for the ECOWAS system and Member States in their efforts to strengthen human security in the region.” Paragraph 26 notes that military intervention should be only “a segment” of the broader ECOWAS “peace and security architecture” and that ECOWAS must place special emphasis on “a culture of democracy” and on “peacebuilding.” The concept of peacebuilding is defined in Paragraph 19(b) by several activities and concepts, including “justice, rule of law [and] reconciliation.” Paragraph 41(c) specifies that ECOWAS is imbued with the power not only to prevent and react to humanitarian catastrophes, but also to “rebuild” via “actions taken to ensure recovery, reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation in the aftermath of violent conflicts, humanitarian or natural disasters.” Several paragraphs in the framework are consistent with this message. Paragraph 57(d) commits member states to “create space and structures to address issues of past and present justice to promote reconciliation and unity, especially in post-conflict and post-authoritarian settings.” Paragraph 49 obliges member states to “cooperate with and facilitate the work of fact-finding missions, special envoys, mediators and any such entities as may be deployed in their territory for the purposes of mediation, conciliation and facilitation.” Finally, Paragraph 74(h) obliges member states to ensure that “demobilized combatants and retrenched or retired soldiers and officers are adequately retrained, reintegrated, rehabilitated or compensated under restructuring and DDR [disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration] exercises.”

ECOWAS Convention on Extradition


This convention lays out the terms under which member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) must extradite individuals convicted of a crime. The convention allows countries to refuse extradition in several instances. For instance, Article 5 holds that extradition shall not be granted if the requesting country is likely to torture the extradited individual or engage in other cruel, inhuman or degrading practices against that person. Article 6 allows countries to refuse extradition if it “would be incompatible with humanitarian considerations in view of age or health.” Of particular importance in relation to transitional justice, Article 16 holds that extradition shall “not be granted for an offence in respect of which an amnesty has been declared in the requested State [i.e., the state that has been requested to extradite the individual] and which that State had competence to prosecute under its own criminal law.”

Draft ECOWAS Handbook on Access to Justice and Transitional Justice, and the upcoming ECOWAS Transitional Justice Project


Following the drafting of its Handbook on Access to Justice and Transitional Justice, representatives of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met with various civil society organisations to review the draft in a two-day meeting in April 2019. The handbook was written with the aim of allowing ECOWAS “to promote the rule of law and enhance access to justice in order to meet the aspirations of [ECOWAS] citizens for a just safe a secure [sic] region through the ECOWAS Transitional Justice Project (ETJP).” The ETJP in turn “seeks to provide a strategic and operational guide to enhance Member States’ effort in the implementation of transitional justice policies and also to foster an inclusive justice system through the implementation of a broad-based, multiple actors and multi-dimensional transitional justice measures in Member States.” No new (digitised) news has surfaced about the handbook or the project since April 2019.

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