Child marriage as ‘security’?

thato_motaungAuthor: Thato Motaung
Researcher, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

International Day of the Girl Child: 11 October 2014

“The female soldiers did everything we did. In addition they were forced to cook for the commanders, wash their clothes, and some were forced to have sex with them.” – Khalid al-Amin on life as a conscript, Aljazeera interview – Escaping Eritrea’s ‘open prison’ (3 October 2014)

The legal age at which a girl can get married in Eritrea is 18 years, however many marry earlier as an act of great desperation.

Child marriage is prohibited in numerous international human rights instruments, namely; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) and in the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. That said, child marriage is nevertheless rampant on the African continent. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) figures (2013), out of the 20 countries most affected by child marriage, Africa hosts 15. ‘Typical’ drivers of child marriage include customary/traditional beliefs, desire for economic gain or to provide security. I hesitated at the mention of ‘security’ because how does a minor gain security from being forced to engage in sexual reproduction, childbearing and birth within a completely unprepared body and mind?

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Freedom of expression under attack in Swaziland

kudzani_ndlovuAuthor: Kudzani Ndlovu
Intern, Katiba Institute, Nairobi, Kenya; MPhil candidate, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

The recent arrest and imprisonment of The Nation magazine editor, Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer and the magazine’s columnist for contempt of court, while shocking the world, has exposed the government’s malevolent desire to suppress freedom of expression and crash dissent.

The two, who were arrested after publishing articles questioning the detention without trial of a government vehicle inspector, have subsequently been sentenced to an effective two years in prison.

Swaziland’s Constitution of 2005 clearly provides for freedom of expression in section 24. It stipulates that every person has a right of freedom of expression and opinion. Harassment, torture, incarceration of journalists or any other attempts to suppress free speech is a violation of this constitutionally guaranteed right.

The incarceration of the two is not an isolated incident but rather a highlight of the repressive regime’s longstanding intention to suppress freedom of expression. To understand Swaziland’s lack of freedom of expression it is important to look into the country’s media landscape. The government has maintained a tight grip on the media so as to control the information being disseminated while the few ‘independent’ media outlets have been constantly attacked leading to unprecedented levels of self-censorship.

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The right to education: Children with disabilities in The Gambia

Sheriff Kumba JobeAuthor: Sheriff Kumba Jobe
Graduate, Faculty of Law, University of The Gambia

Section 30 of the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia states, “All persons shall have the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities and with a view to achieving the full realization of that right- (a) basic education shall be free, compulsory and available to all; (b) secondary education, including technical and vocational education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular, by the progressive introduction of free education.”

It is without doubt that the Gambia has been working toward this constitutional provision and has registered a significant gain in the area of education. The enabling environment has been created to make this fundamental right realistic by acceding and ratifying enormous international conventions such as the African Charter on Human and People Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Convention on Elimination of All forms of Discriminations Against Women, United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child to name just a few; and there are also domestic legal frameworks in addition to the Constitution such as the Children Act 2005 and Women Act 2010 all geared toward promoting right to education among others.

Notwithstanding of the government of The Gambia active role in promotion of children’s rights to education which is translated into the promulgation of the above named laws and building adequate schools in all the four corners of the country. There is yet a huge gap or disparity that needs to be addressed. Children with disabilities in The Gambia are confronted with challenges such as discrimination and marginalisation both in formal and informal institutions. It is therefore urgent to draw the attention of the government into the plight of these children as they equally have right to education as enshrined in the supreme law of the land and the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

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In the absence of democratic principles, tyranny reigns

thato_motaungAuthor: Thato Motaung
Researcher, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

International Day of Democracy: 15 September 2014

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” – William Wilberforce​

When the world celebrated the International Day of Democracy (15 September 2014), I reminded myself of some of the key tenets of democracy, namely: free and fair elections, the rule of law, the upholding of fundamental rights and freedoms — to name but a few. The mention of the rule of law in particular raised red flags in my mind as I pondered where to place Eritrea when choosing between definitions of democracy and autocracy.

The rule of law and the respect for human rights stand as prerequisites to realising democratic statehood. The laws which govern a state are enshrined in a constitution; a constitution sets the parameters for lines that cannot be crossed; the principles by which a state should conduct itself. Where then does one begin to place or reference these barriers in a country with no constitution? Who has legitimacy in decision-making? What legal standards are used? The lines continue to blur…

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Sentencing ‘at the president’s pleasure’ and what it means to persons with mental disabilities in Kenya

felicia_mburuAuthor: Felicia Mburu
Advocate of the High Court of Kenya

On 8 May 2013, the High Court of Kenya in Case Number 14 of 2010 passes a sentence on the accused who had pleaded guilty on a murder charge. Nawya Mawjoya, a person with mental disability, was sentenced to detention ‘at the president’s pleasure’ under section 167(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) instead of being given a probationary sentence. The Court relied on the probation officer’s recommendation that he be institutionalised as the family believes he was bewitched and will be subjected to rituals. Such cases are common in Kenya for two reasons: lack of awareness by the criminal justice system on mental disability and cultural perception associated with mental disabilities. Thus the criminal justice system operates as a conduit to institutionalise persons with mental disabilities.

Kenya is a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Article 14 (1) (b) of the CRPD provides for the rights of persons with disabilities not to be deprived of their liberty on the basis of their disability. Article 19 further provides that persons with disability have a right to live in the community on an equal basis with others. Article 50 of the Constitution of Kenya provides for the right to a fair trial for all persons. Article 29 further supports the rights of person not to be arbitrarily denied their freedom without just cause. Article 54 of the Constitution states the rights of persons with disabilities to be treated with dignity and respect.

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This is no magic trick: I can make you disappear

thato_motaungAuthor: Thato Motaung
Researcher, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance: 30 August 2014

To cite magic here wrongly alludes to fantasy and enchantment. The reality is people disappear without warning and information in Eritrea. There is no make-believe; from one day to the next, a person can vanish into thin air.

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (2006) defines enforced disappearances as:

“… the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State”.

Enforced disappearances are followed by the State’s refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or the concealment of the fate or whereabouts of disappeared persons. Enforced disappearances, which constitute a crime against humanity, in effect place the ‘disappeared’ outside the protection of the law.

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Human rights and democratisation in Africa

Sheriff Kumba JobeAuthor: Sheriff Kumba Jobe
2014 Graduate, Faculty of Law, University of The Gambia

The globalisation of human rights and democratisation has gained significant momentum in the 21st Century. It has proved to be the linchpin of progressive and sustainable socio-economic and political development for other continental organisations such as European Union and Inter-American Organisation. It is unfortunate that the African Union (AU) has done little or nothing in the actualisation and application of these universal principles in its member states. There are plethora legal frameworks geared toward promoting and protecting human rights and democratisation in Africa. However, they have translated meaningless because their practical applications are neglected.

The establishment of the AU inter alia is anchored on the promotion and protection of human rights and democratisation in Africa. This is as a result of the inhuman and undemocratic experiences of the continent under the so-called colonial masters’ bad governance. In an attempt to correct the human rights catastrophes perpetrated by colonial institutions, the AU was created. Thus, the sole intent of the drafters of the Organisation’s legal framework and indeed the yearning and aspiration of the people of the continent was to create a continental institution to promote and protect human rights and democratisation which are essential for the development of Africa.

However, legally construing the AU Charter, it creates no legal binding obligation on state parties for promotion and protection of human rights and democratisation in Africa. Although, it requires member states to have due regard for human rights and democratisation as enshrined under international law; and also promulgated plethora continental laws aimed at mandating state parties to promote and protect these concepts.

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