The ECOWAS Court on Monday 13th March 2023 dismissed a case filed by two Togolese families seeking compensation from the Republic of Togo for the demolition of their properties in 1979 for the construction of a statue of the late President Gnassingbe Eyadema for lack of jurisdiction.

In the suit, the applicants, Mr.  Tetevi Kokou Woamede and Mr. Kossi Tamakloe, both retirees and acting on behalf of their respective families complained that all efforts made to obtain compensation from the Togolese Government for the damages over the demolition of their properties were unsuccessful.

The Applicants maintained that the failure of the Respondent to pay for the reparation for the material and moral damages suffered constitutes the violation of their human rights, particularly the right to property and housing contrary to Articles 17 and 25 respectively as well as the right to reparation.

But in the Court’s judgment delivered by Justice Dupe Atoki, the Judge Rapporteur, the Court held that it is “incapable of hearing a matter that concerns an alleged violation regarding the expropriation of the Applicant’s property in 1979” explaining that the alleged expropriation occurred in 1979, twelve years before the establishment of the Court in 1991 and 26 years before the Court was granted the power to hear matters related to the violation of human rights in 2005.

Moreover, the Court maintained that the allegation having therefore predated 2005, the Court ipso facto has no jurisdiction to adjudicate over the Application alleging the violation of the Applicants’ rights to property and housing under Articles 17 and 25 respectively of the UDHR.”

In dismissing the Application, the Court also held that it is equally devoid of jurisdiction to adjudicate over the Applicants’ alleged violation by the Respondent of their right to reparation arising from the violation of their right to adequate housing concluding that the jurisdiction of the court cannot be invoked to adjudicate over an alleged violation that predates its existence.

At the Thursday, 16th February 2023 hearing of the case during which the Court urged Counsel to the Applicants, Mr Eric Bizimana to address the Court on whether the case should still be entertained in view of the time of the alleged demolition, Mr. Bizimana had argued that the matter was not statute barred and that the Court retains jurisdiction as the violation is continuous.

But in the judgement, the Court held that it “finds that the demolition of the Applicants’ property by the Respondent on the 23rd of August 1979, terminates their legal rights over same instantly.” It added that any attempt to claim the contrary by stretching this act beyond that date cannot stand and therefore fails.

“The Court consequently holds that the alleged violation of the Applicants’ right to property is not a continuous act.”

The Court noted that the Respondent did not file any defence to the application. During today’s judgment, the Applicant were represented by their counsel, Mr. Eric Bizimana while the Respondent was not represented.

In document submitted before the Court, the two families said they rejected an offer of a lump sum payment of one million two hundred and sixty thousand (1,260,000) CFA as compensation to each of family.

In their initiating application filed with the Court on 31st January 2022, the applicants, who are represented by the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA), a pan-African non-governmental organization and the Center for Documentation and Training on Human Rights (CDFDH)a non-profit association for the protection and promotion of human rights,  asked the State to pay to the WOAMEDE family the sum of Three hundred and twenty nine million ninety thousand nine hundred and fifty (329,090,950) CFA francs.

They also urged the Court to order the State to pay another Six hundred and twenty-four million eight hundred and forty thousand (624,840,000) CFA francs to the Tamakloe family in compensation for the material and moral damages suffered.

The families also urged the Court to hold the Republic of Togo responsible for the violation of the right to property, the right to housing and the right to reparation as enshrined in the international instruments on human rights cited in their application.

They claimed that efforts by the families to seek reparation for the damages suffered from the Respondent State were unsuccessful and that the inaction of the State constitutes a violation of their property rights as enshrined in Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; their right to housing guaranteed by article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as their right to reparation, guaranteed by article 1 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The applicants, who are represented by Mr. Gaye Sowe, Eric Bizimana and Desire Bigirimana, all three acting on behalf of CDFDH and IHRDH, recounted that in 1979, the State demolished their properties to construct the statue of former President Eyadema adding that all the steps taken for compensation were unsuccessful. They added that on May 27, 1991, they unsuccessfully approached the National Commission of Human Rights seeking remedy for the demolition.

The two families added that in June 2010, each of them submitted a deposition to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (CVJR) about the demolition following which a lump sum compensation of One million two hundred and sixty thousand (1,260,000) CFA francs was offered to the families, which they rejected because they considered it insufficient, preferring instead a compensation commensurate with the value of the damage.

The applicants said that in view of their insistence for the payment of commensurate compensation, the High Commissioner for Reconciliation and Strengthening of National Unity (HCRRUN) dispatched a fact-finding mission to the site in Kpalime in Togo which after interviewing residents of the area, concluded that the land belongs to the respondent State.

The applicants concluded that despite multiple administrative appeals since 1979, they have not as at November 2021 been compensated for the expropriation by the Togolese Republic of their properties.

Also on the panel for the case were Justices Edward Asante Amoako, presiding and  Gberi-be Ouattara