A review of the work of the African Commission’s Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations in Africa

Miriam AzuAuthor: Miriam Azu
Lawyer, Human Rights Advocate and Environmental Activist

The Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations in Africa (Working Group) is an oversight mechanism of the African human rights system. Its general mandate is to monitor and report on how extractive activities affect the human rights and environment of the African peoples.[1] This article briefly evaluates what the Working Group has done so far vis-à-vis its mandate, notes some of its challenges and concludes with recommendations on the way forward.

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Happiness and same-sex affection

saul_lealAuthor: Saul Leal
Vice-Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA)

Chinelo Okparanta is a Nigerian writer, currently living as a citizen in the United States. She understands the prejudices of her native country, especially against homosexuals. In some parts of Nigeria, a gay individual may be stoned to death under the Shari’a law. Okparanta writes, in her lesbian romance Happiness like Water, ‘yes, our love may be hidden, but it is strong. It can still bring happiness’.[1]

Why must the love between two consenting adults be hidden? Should the State have the power to decide towards whom one may show affection? These disconcerting questions may be answered in terms of global Constitutions.

The most important Brazilian decision which entailed the right to happiness was in 2011.[2] The Supreme Court had to rule on the interpretation to be given to article 1.723 of the Civil Code, which only recognizes a common-law relationship between a man and a woman as a family unit which must be public knowledge, continuous, and long-lasting, and be established for the purpose of building a family. The need for the aforementioned ruling resulted from the fact that government bodies refused to grant these rights to homo-affectionate couples. Therefore, the Court had to decide if this union also covered same-sex couples, even though the provision expressly mentions ‘man and a woman’.[3]

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Suppressing dissent: The Gambian reality

satang_nabanehAuthor: Satang Nabaneh
Gambian Reporter to the Oxford Constitutions Online Project

The right to freedom of assembly as guaranteed by the 1997 Constitution includes the right to take part in peaceful demonstrations. However, people are deterred from organising and participating in such demonstrations. Section 18(4)(C) allows for the use of force and the deprivation of life in the ‘suppression of a riot, insurrection or mutiny’. This gives law enforcement officials with immunity when a person dies under circumstances in which reasonable force was used.

On Thursday, 14 April 2016, Mr. Solo Sandeng, National Organising Secretary and other members of the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) were arrested for leading a peaceful protest for electoral reforms and demanding for the resignation of President Jammeh. Two days after the arrest, senior members of the UDP, including the leader Ousainou Darboe, confirmed in a press conference the death of Solo Sandeng while in detention.  Lawyer Darboe also stated that two detained female protesters were also in a coma following their arrest and alleged brutal torture by the security agents. Angered by the harsh treatment meted on the detainees, Darboe and a group of UPD stalwarts led began a protest march but were swiftly rounded up by Gambia’s security force and arrested. Eyewitnesses said the security agents fired tear gas at the crowd to disperse it.

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Ghana’s Human Rights Court gives life to the right to information

michael_gyan_nyarkoAuthor: Michael Gyan Nyarko
Doctoral Candidate and Academic Tutor, Centre for Human Rights; Editor: AfricLaw.com

Ghana has been described as ‘a beacon of hope in Africa’ on account of its good governance and respect for human rights.’[1] With a fairly liberal constitution which guarantees quite an elaborate list of civil and political rights as well as socio-economic rights, political stability and economic growth over the past two decades, this description of Ghana is not farfetched.  While Ghana has performed reasonably well with regards to respect for human rights, there still remain several human rights issues that require urgent attention. One of those issues is the right to information.

The right to information is guaranteed and entrenched in the Constitution.[2] Article 21(1)(f) of the Constitutions provides that ‘all persons shall have the right to information, subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society’.  However, this right has not been effectively enjoyed as government has failed to enact a right to information law to give effect to the constitutional provision. A right to information bill proposed by successive governments has been pending for over a decades. The absence of a right to information law has left a vacuum where citizens do not have clarity on whom to approach for official government information, which information may not be requested and what financial burden they may bear for such request. This has resulted in the rather limited use of the right to information, especially with regards to request for official government documents.

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Stifling democracy – the Museveni way!

Solomon Joojo CobbinahAuthor: Solomon Joojo Cobbinah
Ghanaian Journalist and Human Rights Activist

The Uganda Police Force is perhaps the most proactive in the entire world. They actively swing into action and arrest people they suspect are hatching plans to commit a crime. However, it seems the Police largely targets politicians, who are deemed to be “threats” to President Yoweri Museveni who has been in power for 30 years.

More than a month after Uganda’s February 2016 Presidential and Parliamentary Election, opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye, flagbearer of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) continues to be under what the Police describes as “preventive arrest”. Preventive arrest is meant to stop him from leading protests against a declaration from Uganda’s Electoral Commission that President Museveni won the 2016 Presidential Election. Dr Besigye’s arrest on the Election Day restrained him from legally challenging an election he deemed fraudulent.

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Constitutional jurisdiction and the right to happiness

saul_lealAuthor: Saul Leal
Vice-Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA)

Should it be a role of the Judiciary to assure happiness for the people? Is it appropriate for a Constitutional Court to consider happiness to be a right? Does the establishment of fundamental rights expand the collective happiness? To answer these questions, it is essential to examine the root of Constitutional jurisdiction.

Karl Loewenstein questioned whether the Constitution would be “instrumental for the pursuit of happiness of the people”,[1] based on his intrigue into the purpose and meaning of a Constitution. He is accompanied by Hans Kelsen, for whom “the longing for justice is man’s eternal longing for happiness”.[2]

The answer to the aforementioned questions lies within the examination of the Constitution of the State of Pennsylvania, in the United States, in 1776, in order to address the power given to the courts to assess the constitutionality of the laws and of normative acts.

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