Realising the right to birth registration to prevent statelessness in Africa: in the context of the General Comment on Article 6 of the African Children’s Charter

ayalew_getachew_assefaAuthor: Ayalew Getachew Assefa
Legal researcher, Secretariat of the ACERWC

As is the case with other human rights, the right to birth registration and nationality are interrelated, and the realization of these rights plays a great role in preventing statelessness. Birth registration, as an act of recording a birth of a child by a governmental authority with the effect of granting the child a legal personality, establishes the existence in law of a child. It is through birth registration and acquisition of a birth certificate that the parentage of children, their age, and their place of birth can be recorded. These elements play a significant role in according nationality for children, and hence prevent statelessness.

It is in consideration of this fact that Article 6 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC/the African Children’s Charter) recognizes three interlinked rights and imposes an obligation on State Parties to take legislative measures to prevent statelessness among children. In order to clearly spell out and explain the obligations of State Parties in implementing the provision, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC), in April 2013, adopted a General Comment (the General Comment) on this particular Article. This article briefly explains the reasons why the Committee decided to develop the General Comment and the major principles included in the General Comment.

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Freedom of expression for a day in Eritrea

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

International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists: 2 November 2014

In a land where the right to freedom of expression and information is heavily curtailed, I sought to interview three exiled Eritrean journalists and allow them the space to freely express what they cannot in their country.

Why did you choose to become a journalist?

*Aman: “I used to be a development worker; I was taken to prison camps and three times I saw people tortured and killed. I started to write stories and post articles on what was happening…I became a journalist by accident – all I wanted to do was contribute to justice”.

Since Eritrea’s “liberation” from Ethiopia in 1991 and its international recognition as an independent sovereign state in 1993, the country gradually evolved into a nation rife with human rights abuses. Notably, the systematic attack on dissent of any form resulting in extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and indefinite incommunicado detentions.

What does freedom of expression mean to you?

Aman:” It is a symbol of democracy- the flow of information without fear or restrictions – the means to freely enlighten and educate”.

18 September 2001 was coined as the Eritrean government’s ‘Crackdown’ on all independent media, when it banned the entire private press by shutting down media houses. It also marked the end of dissenting voices at the political level. Eighteen journalists, as well as eleven political leaders  were rounded – up and imprisoned incommunicado without trial. Their whereabouts are still unknown till today. Since then, more than 70 journalists have been detained at different periods in time.

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Love in a Time of Ebola: Africa deserves a human rights determination

Author: Humphrey Sipalla
Freelance editor

When the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared “a public health emergency of international concern” in the three fragile West African states of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the walls fast closed on them and their peoples. Flight bans, citizen entry bans and ripple effects on trade have been announced by African countries, as well as globally. So severe have been the restrictions that vital energy and food supplies have dwindled, with riots breaking out in some areas. The affected countries have pleaded with “the world” to not inflict collective punishment on their populations, and indeed future.

These real world events have grounding in probably the most innocuously titled yet powerful treaty in the world. Nope, not the UN Charter, not the Geneva or Vienna Conventions… the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005). Usually, ‘regulations’ is legalese for subsidiary legislation. But these regulations treat probably the most incendiary issues in human society: infectious diseases and legality, if not morality of mitigating actions.

The IHR’s aim to provide maximum protection from the international spread of infectious diseases while causing minimal harm to global travel and commerce. It originates from the 1892 International Sanitary Convention that sought to control the spread of cholera in the Suez Canal, providing for coercive ship inspections and quarantines.

It may well be said that the Achilles-like duality of IHR, its true power and weakness, lies not in legal theory but sheer human behaviour. Infectious diseases are frightening. They compound the unknown and bring out the worst elements of our self-preservation instinct. Prior to the 2005 revision, states like India and Peru sat on critical information about disease outbreaks to avoid the punishing reactions of other states. Given the treatment of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, one wonders what exactly has changed in the real world.

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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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