A call to shift the seat: The Gambia is not a suitable seat for the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

frans_viljoen_newAuthor: Frans Viljoen
Director, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria; Professor of Human Rights Law

In 1986, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter) entered into force. Under the African Charter, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission) is established to monitor state compliance with the Charter. The Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1987 decided that the Commission’s Secretariat should be based in Banjul, The Gambia. It has been located in Banjul ever since.

The initial rationale for the choice of seat has since fallen away

At the time this decision was taken, the choice of Banjul made much sense. Much of the drafting of the African Charter took place in Banjul, to the extent that the African Charter is often referred to as the ‘Banjul Charter’. In fact, The Gambia was one of the few states in Africa that, at the time, had any claim to democratic credentials. The head of state at the time, President Jawara, strongly supported the drafting process of the Charter, and assisted in overcoming political difficulties that arose in the drafting process.

However, this situation has changed dramatically. Since Jawara’s removal from power through a coup d’état in 1994, The Gambia has lost its claim to democratic legitimacy. The 1994 coup leader and current President, Jammeh, has now been in power for almost 20 years. While elections have subsequently been held, they are widely regarded as not meeting the standard of “free and fair”. In 2011, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decided not to send an electoral observer mission to The Gambia for the presidential election because the political environment was not conducive to free and fair elections (http://thinkafricapress.com/gambia/jammeh-win-extend-rule). The Gambia is now generally regarded as the “odd country out”, in an ever-democratising Africa, and counts among the most undemocratic and authoritarian states on the continent.

At the first session after the unconstitutional change of government had taken place, the Commission adopted a resolution condemning the coup as a “flagrant and grave violation of the right of The Gambian people to freely choose their government”, and called on the military government to observe international human rights standards (Resolution on The Gambia, adopted at the Commission’s 17th session, 22 March 1995, Eighth Annual Activity Report, Annex VIII). However, short of finding a violation of the Charter in a communication submitted by the Former President Jawara (communications 147/95, 149/95 (joined), Jawara v The Gambia (2000)), the Commission seemed initially to have settled comfortably into life under the new regime.

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The politics of the Ethiopian Justice Sector Reform Program: Justice “reform” or “deform”?

henok_g_gabisaAuthor: Henok G. Gabisa
International Law Fellow, Washington and Lee School of Law, VA, USA

The African post-colonial period marked a new paradigm of triangular discourse amongst law, justice and development in the international playground. The intellectual metamorphoses of this discourse quickly gained momentum in the mid-60s and was patented the “Movement of Law and Development”. Highly alluring to professors and intellectuals from American law schools, this intellectual movement regarded “law” as an instrument to reform the society and ‘lawyers and judges” as social engineers. With this movement, the narrative was that law is central to the development processes. Then in the early 90s, the movement gave birth to the idea of the “Justice System Reform Program”, also referred to as the “Judicial Reform Program”. The emergence of this idea immediately became a serious agenda in the strategic themes of international financial institutions and bilateral states cooperation structures under the wrestling juxtaposition of “rule of law” and “poverty eradication”. The geographical focus of this idea was only limited to the developing nations of Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and some Latin American countries.

There are two main rationales behind the theoretical innovation of ‘judicial reform’: a well-established and effective justice system is not only robust enough to confront corruption and violation of rights (with the assumption that courts as custodies of human rights), it can also be relied on to protect the property rights of foreign investors (the concept of development has always been viewed as capitals flowing from north to south-until very recently that the newly rising economies of BRICS- an acronym for the multi-dimensional partnership between Brazil, Russia, Indian, China and South Africa- proved otherwise that capital can also flow from south to south). The ambition of reforming judiciaries in developing countries beseeches building the practical meaning of judicial independence and professional competence that can help build an unwavering system of justice delivery. However, this initiative seems to have totally been lost in translation and taken advantage of for political purposes by the Ethiopian government.

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The State’s ineptitude or indisposition to deal with Eastern Cape education is a continuous violation of children’s rights

akho_ntanjanaAuthor: Akho Ntanjana
Legal intern, Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA), Banjul, The Gambia

Without citing any empirical evidence, it is known that the quality of school facilities has an indirect effect on learning and ultimately on its output.  For instance, in a study carried out in India (1996), out of 59 schools in a region, only 49 had structures. Of these 49 schools, 25 had a toilet, 20 had electricity, 10 had a school library and four had a television set. In this study, the quality of the learning environment was strongly correlated with pupils’ achievement in Hindi and mathematics.

Further, a research study was conducted in Latin America that included 50 000 students in grades 3 and 4, it was found that learners whose schools lacked classroom materials and had inadequate libraries were significantly more likely to show lower test scores and higher grade repetition than those whose schools were well equipped (see the United Nations Children’s Fund’s paper ‘Defining Quality Education’). There are many other studies done even in Africa, for example in Botswana, Nigeria and Papua New Guinea, indicating similar outcomes.

There seem to be a correlation between good school infrastructures, other quality dimensions (inter alia the quality of content, psychological aspects, quality processes involved) and the achievement of higher grades by learners. In this opinion piece, I examine the state of education in the Eastern Cape, and the failure by the South Africa government to meet its constitutional and international obligations to provide basic education.

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Multinationals and land grabbing in Uganda: A business human rights perspective

samuel_matsikoAuthor: Samuel Matsiko
Lawyer, International Justice Mission, USA

On 11 May 2012 the Committee on World Food Security endorsed the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security to promote secure tenure rights and equitable access to land. These Guidelines offer a framework through which multinational investors may acquire and manage land without affecting the rights of local communities. However, this remains on paper while in practice the narrative is different.

In Uganda, land grabbing involves large scale land acquisitions by multinational and domestic investors either through buying or leasing large pieces of land. A study by the National Association of Professional Environments indicates that communities in the oil rich region of Bulisa in western Uganda, Kalangala Island in the Lake Victoria region, Mabira forest in the central region, and Luwunga forest reserve in Kiboga district have been affected or are yet to be affected by the land grabbing phenomenon.

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