South Africa’s intention to withdraw from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: Time to seriously consider an African alternative?

rodger_owisoAuthor: Rodger Owiso
LLB – Nairobi, PGD Law – KSL

While the decision by South Africa to commence the formal process of withdrawing from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is shocking, honest observers will admit it was not entirely unforeseen. African countries through the African Union (AU) have long voiced misgivings about the International Criminal Court (ICC) and it was just a matter of time before the usually slow-moving AU clock started ticking. The AU had earlier this year urged its members to consider withdrawing from the Rome Statute.[1] This was triggered by the refusal by the United Nations Security Council and the ICC to accede to the AU’s requests for suspension or termination of the cases against Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto.

While South Africa’s decision should be condemned, nothing much is likely to come of such condemnation. Treaties are a product of state consent[2] and it follows that withdrawal is equally a unilateral act of the state.[3] Even if an argument could be advanced against such unilateralism, the process is still a political one which rests almost entirely with the political class, at least in imperfect democracies. South Africa’s move is likely to embolden other African countries to commence similar processes. South Africa is Africa’s biggest economy and the AU’s largest member contributor. It is also arguably one of Africa’s better-off imperfect democracies. For these reasons, it is often the case in continental affairs that other African countries hold on to their cards until South Africa plays after which they emerge from their cocoons and play theirs in more or less similar fashion. With the possible exception of ‘righteous’ Botswana and perhaps Mauritius that considers itself African only when the situation suits it, the possibility that other African countries will follow South Africa’s lead on the ICC cannot be ruled out. In light of such possibility, how then does Africa assure its citizens that the fight against impunity as is entrenched in its founding instrument[4] is still top of its agenda, if at all it ever was?

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The right to life in Africa: General Comment No. 3 on the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights

paul_ogendiAuthor: Paul Ogendi
Researcher, Working Group on death penalty and extrajudicial summary or arbitrary killings in Africa, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

During its 57th Ordinary Session held from 4 to 18 November 2015 in Banjul, The Gambia, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission) adopted General Comment No. 3 on the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (General Comment No. 3) focusing on the right to life.

The document is timely because the protection of the right to life is currently under threat globally. Africa is no exception.

The Commission in 2012 expanded the work of one of its working groups focusing on the right to life to include not just death penalty but also extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings in Africa.

Some of the salient features of the new General Comment are discussed below.

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It’s official: The East African Court of Justice can now adjudicate human rights cases

ally_possiAuthor: Ally Possi
Lecturer, Law School of Tanzania; Advocate of the High Court of Tanzania

The legitimacy of the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) to adjudicate human rights cases has been a debatable aspect ever since the Court’s inception. Articles 6(d) and 7(2) of the East African Community (EAC) Treaty mention human rights, which ordinarily the EACJ is mandated to interpret. However, article 27(2) of the Treaty implies to suspend what seems to be a legitimate human rights authority of the Court. Consequently, articles 6(d), 7(2) and 27(2) have made litigants, legal scholars and even EACJ judges to be at cross-roads with respect to EACJ’s human rights jurisdiction.

The recent decision in Democratic Party v. The Secretary General of the EAC, Appeal No. 1 of 2014 (Democratic Party case) will make the functioning of the EACJ rather interesting within the near future. In that case, the EACJ unequivocally held that it has ‘jurisdiction to interpret the Charter [African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights herein the African Charter] in the context of the [EAC] Treaty.’ This lining of the decision becomes more authoritative as it is from the Appellate Division section of the Court.

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Of Tanzania’s cybercrimes law and the threat to freedom of expression and information

daniel_marariAuthor: Daniel Marari
LLM, International Human Rights Law, Lund University, Sweden

On May 8th, 2015 a press release revealed that the Tanzanian President, Jakaya Kikwete, has signed the controversial Cybercrimes Bill which seeks to criminalize acts related to computer systems and information and communication technologies and to provide for a system of investigation, collection and use of electronic evidence. The said law has serious implications for constitutional and international human rights, particularly freedom of expression and information online and the right to privacy. The most controversial provisions relate to criminalization of sharing of information, extensive police powers of search and seizure, surveillance without judicial authorization as well numerous vaguely defined offences.

It is important to note that that freedom of expression is one of the fundamental aspects of human life. As human beings, we need freedom to develop and share thoughts or ideas about things that happen and influence the way we live. Freedom of opinion, expression and information encourages free debate and plurality of ideas which is important for development of any society. More importantly, these rights are internationally recognised human rights. They are engrained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (art.19), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 (art.19) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights 1981 (art.9), all of which have been ratified by Tanzania.

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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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Drawing lessons from the protection of taxpayers’ rights in Europe

Eric Ntini KasokainAuthor: Eric Ntini Kasoko
PhD candidate, University of Liege (Belgium)

“You can have a Lord, you can have a King, but the man to fear is the tax collector”- Sumerian proverb.

Today, fearing the tax man does not seem to hold true when it comes to the protection of taxpayers’ rights in most European countries. Indeed, for several decades now, taxpayers’ rights in Europe have been benefiting from internationalisation of human rights process. Under the impulse of case law from the European Court on Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Court of Justice (ECJ), human rights have become a fundamental part of taxation. While Africa is running the marathon of attracting and boosting private investments, it may be vital to stimulate the interaction of these two areas of law as a means to strengthen the rule of law on the continent.

In Africa, tax is primarily regarded as a civic duty. Article 29 (6) of the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights (hereinafter referred to as “the Charter”) states that “the individual shall also have the duty (…) to pay taxes imposed by law in the interest of the society”. It follows in particular that the state has the right to levy taxes on its citizens, whether individual or corporate. In contrast, citizens are entitled to enjoy property rights in respect of Article 14 of the Charter or any other pertinent instrument relating to international human rights law. Since the state and its citizens have opposing interests, a balance is obviously required between the individual’s right to property and the state’s right of establishing taxes. In others words, in case of a dispute regarding taxation, the judge should be able to censure any excessively high tax burden on citizens.

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