International human rights advocacy and the abolition of irreducible life imprisonment in Zimbabwe

Andrew NovakAuthor: Andrew Novak
Adjunct Professor of Criminology, Law, and Society at George Mason University

On July 13, 2016, the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe (ConCourt) found that life imprisonment without the possibility of parole was unconstitutional as it violated the rights to equal protection and human dignity and the prohibition on cruel and degrading punishment.  The decision, Makoni v. Commissioner of Prisons, is undoubtedly a victory for human rights, due to the dismal state of prison conditions in Zimbabwe and the emotional and psychological harm caused by indeterminate sentences. In its decision, the ConCourt cited a wide range of jurisprudence from foreign and international courts, including the European Court of Human Rights, South African Constitutional Court, Supreme Court of Namibia, and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London to discern a global trend toward rehabilitative criminal sentences.  Many of these foreign and international legal sources were brought to the ConCourt’s attention by transnational human rights lawyers themselves in their Heads of Argument, underscoring the important role that advocates play in the diffusion of international human rights norms.

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A shift towards culture and skills development: A solution for internally displaced persons in Nigeria

Tim Sahliu BraimahAuthor: Tim Sahliu Braimah
Human Rights Researcher

The ongoing insurgency by Boko Haram and the terrorist activities it has perpetrated since 2009 has led to a huge displacement of people from Northern Nigeria. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, there is an estimated 2,152,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Nigeria. While there is no international binding instrument for IDPs, Nigeria is a signatory to the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention). Nigeria ratified the Kampala Convention on 17 April 2012 which means that it has a primary duty and responsibility to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to IDPs within Nigeria.[1] Irrespective of this ratification, Nigeria’s treatment of IDPs remains poor. According to reports, some challenges IDPs face in camps include inconsistent and poor feeding, poor sanitary conditions, and a lack of proper medical conditions and security.[2]

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20 years after the TRC: Are we any the better?

thabang_mokgatleAuthor: Thabang Mokgatle
Candidate Attorney, Rushmere Noach Incorporated, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

“We are looking to maintain not retribution but reparation; we are seeking room for humanity rather than revenge”
– Desmond Tutu, First hearing of the TRC in April 1996

15 April 2016 marked the twentieth anniversary since the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) first commenced in South Africa. In reflecting on the occasion, the words of Desmond Tutu above quoted have unveiled two pertinent questions:  Did post-apartheid South Africa, in 1996, require a moment for justice or for reconciliation? Would the pursuit of the former in the first instance, not have led to the achievement of the latter? There is a growing sense that in prioritising the ‘rainbow nation’, the TRC substantially undermined the realisation of justice (institutional justice through the court system). Victims of apartheid-era crimes have supposedly been short-changed, leaving much to be desired since the TRC first convened.

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The upcoming Hate Crimes Bill: A welcome development in the fight against xenophobia and hate crimes in South Africa

Gideon MuchiriAuthor: Gideon Muchiri
LLD student, Department of Jurisprudence, University of Pretoria

The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJCD) of South Africa is working on the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes Bill,[1] due for tabling in Parliament in September 2016. This Bill, if enacted into law, will strengthen the role of law enforcement officials including the police, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and courts in holding perpetrators of hate crimes, including xenophobic conduct, legally accountable for not only the criminal acts committed, but also for the hate motive. The new law will foster a rights-based approach to enhancement of the rights of victims and thus send a clear and unequivocal message to the society that crimes motivated by hate and xenophobia will not be tolerated in South Africa and are subject to punishment.

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The right to happiness in Africa

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

Leopold Sedar Senghor said: emotion is African.[1] This emotion has been channeled to constitutions. Happiness is a core value in many African constitutions. It was explicitly mentioned in Liberia, Namibia, Ghana, Nigeria, Swaziland, and Egypt.

Article 1 of the Constitution of Liberia, 1986, proclaims that all free governments are instituted by the people’s authority, for their benefit, and they have the right to alter and reform it when their safety and ‘happiness’ require it.[2] The preamble of the Egyptian Constitution, 2014, cites ‘a place of common happiness for its people’.   The Namibian Constitution, 1990, assures the right ‘to the pursuit of happiness’. In this regard, Frederick Fourie defends the preamble of the Namibian Constitution, explaining that it is coloured by the struggle against colonialism and racism; that it is built around the denial of the ‘right of the individual life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ by colonialism, racism and apartheid.[3]

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The conviction of Hissène Habré by the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese Courts: Bringing justice in cases of serious human rights violations in Africa

Juan Pablo Perez-Leon-AcevedoAuthor: Juan Pablo Pérez-León-Acevedo
Vice-Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

Background

On 30 May 2016, the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal (EAC) found the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré criminally responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture. The EAC condemned Hissène Habré to life in prison. The EAC indicated that the defence would have 15 days to appeal the conviction. Accordingly, the defence lawyers proceeded to appeal the conviction on 10 June 2016. During the trial that started on 20 July 2015 and ended on 11 February 2016, 96 witnesses, victims and experts participated, and 5600 transcript pages and over 56 exhibits were examined. The trial concerned crimes committed in Chad between 7 June 1982 and 1 December 1990, which corresponded to Habré’s rule. The EAC Trial Chamber convicted Habré, as a member of a joint criminal enterprise (involving, among others, directors of his political police aka the Direction de la documentation et de la sécurité (Documentation and Security Directorate (DSS)), of crimes against humanity of rape, sexual slavery, murder, summary execution, kidnapping followed by enforced disappearance, torture and inhumane acts committed against the Hadjerai and Zaghawa ethnic groups, the inhabitants of southern Chad and political opponents. As a member of a joint criminal enterprise, Habré was also convicted of torture. Additionally, the Chamber convicted Habré, under the modality of superior or command liability, of the war crimes of murder, torture, inhumane treatment and unlawful confinement committed against prisoners of war (international armed conflict), and of the war crimes of murder, torture and cruel treatment (non-international armed conflict). War crimes were examined, on the one hand, in the context of the non-international armed conflict between the Forces Armées Nationales du Tchad (National Armed Forces of Chad (FANT)) and the Gouvernment d’Union Nationale de Transition (Transitional Government of National Unity (GUNT)), and, on the other one, in the context of the international armed conflict between Libya, allied to the GUNT, and Chad supported by France and the United States. Nevertheless, the Chamber acquitted Habré of the war crime of unlawful transfer.

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