ECOWAS Court awards 10,000,000 FCFA to Beninese Retiree for the violation of her right to fair hearing following loss of property

The ECOWAS Court of Justice has awarded the sum of ten million (10,000, 000) CFA as compensation to a retired teacher, Mrs Aissatou Alidou for the violation of her right to fair hearing by the Republic of Benin because of an abnormal delay in the country’s judicial system that led to the loss of her property.

The former Teacher sued the country after her complaints to administrative and judicial authorities stalled for almost ten years which frustrated her effort to recover a land she bought in October 1987.

In the judgment delivered on Friday 25 March 2022 by the presiding judge, Justice Gberi-bè Ouattara, the Court held that the Applicant’s right to be tried within a reasonable time was violated by the national Courts

The Court however, dismissed her application for the violations of her rights to property, as the Applicant was unable to show an administrative document acknowledging ownership of the plot she allegedly lost. The Court observed that the private deed for the sale of the plot in question did not confer on its holder the right of ownership.

The Court also dismissed the application for the violation of her rights to protection of the elderly, noting that Mrs Alidou did not adduce evidence that she was the subject of discrimination or ill-treatment as an elderly person. 

In suit ECW/CCJ/APP/38/17, Mrs Alidou, lodged before the Court on. 19th October 2017, the applicant urged the Court to hold the State of Benin liable for the violation of her rights because of an ‘abnormal delay’ in the country’s judicial system that led to the loss of a property she acquired in October 1987.

Mrs Alidou said she bought a land of 500 m2 under the supervision of a surveyor appointed by the Mayor of Abomey-Calavi, the competent administrative authority for land matters.

In the initiating application, the Applicant said months later, her ownership of the property was contested by unknown persons and despite her complaints to the surveyor and formal complaints to the Mayor’s office, they could not help her retain the plot.

Consequently, the Applicant said she sued the surveyors’ office, but the “Tribunal de Premiere Instance” of the Abomey-Calavi city adjourned the case since March 2013. She was then compelled to appeal the matter to the Constitutional Court for the denial of justice which acknowledged the “abnormal delay” in the handling of the case.

Unfortunately, she said the Constitutional Court dismissed subsequent applications that could either have enabled her to regain possession of the plot or be paid damages.

Mrs Aissatou is therefore asking the Court to hold that by the failure of the national Courts to render judgment, the Republic of Benin was in violation of Articles 8, 10 and 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (ACHPR) and Articles 7.d, 18/ 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Moreover, she said the failure was also contrary to the specific measures for the protection of the elderly contained in Article 18/4 of the ACHPR.

She is asking the Court to order the payment of one hundred million CFA as compensation  for the loss of the property by the State.

In its response, the Republic of Benin said that the process filed by the Applicant ended with the demise of the Surveyor with whom the land was registered, citing Article 469, paragraphs 1 and 2, of the country’s “procédure civile, commerciale, sociale, administrative et des comptes.”

The Respondent also pointed out that it could not be held liable for the loss as it did not emanate from an administrative act but that of the late surveyor and therefore urged the Court dismiss the case.

However, the State said it was ready for an amicable resolution of the matter should the Court hold it liable for the alleged damages suffered by the Applicant and that this will require the reconstruction of the file from the “Agent Judiciaire” or the Minister of Justice. 

On the three-member panel hearing the suit were also Justices Dupe Atoki and Januaria T. S. Moreiro Costa.