African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights--Universal Declaration of Human Rights--International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights--African Charter on Democracy, Election and Good Governance--right to freedom of association--right to nondiscrimination and free practice of religion
HOUNGUE ERIC NOUDEHOUENOU V. REPUBLIC OF BENIN. App. No. 003/2020. At https://www.african-court.org/en/images/Cases/Judgrnent/003-2020_Houngue_Eric_Noudehouenou_v_Benin-_Judgment.pdf.
African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights, December 3, 2020.
The judgment in Houngue Eric Noudehouenou v. Republic of Benin (1) adds to the growing body of human rights jurisprudence on national electoral processes in Africa's international courts. (2) Houngue Noudehouenou's (Houngue) case was sparked by a series of amendments to the 1990 Constitution of the Republic of Benin (Benin), Law No. 2019-40 (Revised Constitution), and changes to Benin's electoral law (para. I). (3) Houngue argued that the cumulative effect of the amendments violated his right to stand for election in the upcoming 2021 presidential election as an independent candidate, as well as his right to freedom of expression and freedom of association.
The decision demonstrates the growing importance of Africa's regional and subregional courts as an alternative venue for opposition politicians, activists, and citizens to mobilize and challenge election processes and constitutional amendment processes where the playing field in their state is uneven. In turn, it reinforces the pivotal role of the regional and subregional courts in consolidating democratic governance in Africa, and reveals the limits of assessing the performance of Africa's international courts solely on conventional measures of effectiveness and compliance. (4)
The African Court's decision arrives in the shadow of Benin's socio-political crisis and only a few months before the April 2021 presidential elections. Houngue's case also needs to be situated in the context of the country's recent parliamentary and municipal elections. Benin is one of the first states in Africa to introduce multiparty elections. However, Benin's electoral success (5) and democratic health has slipped since President Patrice Talon took power in 2016. (6) Under President Talon's watch, Benin has grown increasingly repressive: free speech has been curtailed, and intimidation of political opponents has increased (including the detention of the former president, Thomas Boni Yayi). (7)
In 2018, Houngue was arrested and charged with embezzling public funds. In March 2019, the Investigating Committee of the Court for the Repression of Economic Crimes and Terrorism (CRIET) referred him to the Correctional Chamber of that Court with a new charge for complicity in the abuse of office. He was convicted, and on July 25, 2019, he was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment. The detention that led to Houngue's conviction before the CRIET is illustrative of a wider crackdown against opposition politicians in Benin. Indeed, the delegitimization of the opposition is a common strategy among incumbent political figures in Africa. (8)
Under the new electoral system ushered in by the Revised Constitution and Amended Electoral Code, political parties must pay 249 million CFA francs (approximately $400,000) to field candidates in parliamentary elections. In addition, parties have to secure 10 percent of the total national vote to enter the legislature, forcing local parties to...