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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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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The idea of an African passport and the freedom of movement of persons in the continent: Only wishful thinking?

cristiano_dorsiAuthor: Cristiano d’Orsi
Post-Doctoral Researcher and Lecturer, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria (South Africa)

“Hail! United States of Africa-free!
Hail! Motherland most bright, divinely fair!
State in perfect sisterhood united,
Born of truth; mighty thou shalt ever be.”

This is the incipit of the poem Hail, United States of Africa, composed in 1924 by M.M. Garvey, a famous Pan-Africanist leader.

This poem is considered to have initiated the concept of United States of Africa (USAf), a federation, extensible to all the fifty-four sovereign states, on the African continent.

In 2002, at the launch of the African Union (AU), President T. Mbeki, its first chairman, proclaimed that: “By forming the Union, the peoples of our continent have made the unequivocal statement that Africa must unite! We as Africans have a common and a shared destiny!”[1]

After that occasion, the concept of USAf has been highlighted in a more concrete way by other African leaders, such as A.O. Konaré in 2006,[2] M. Gaddafi in 2009 –the first to mention the possibility to issue a unique passport for the entire continent-[3] and, more recently, by R. Mugabe.[4]

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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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The SADC Tribunal: Concerted efforts for waves of change we want to see

Patricia_MwanyisaAuthor: Patricia Mwanyisa
Human Rights, Justice and Rule of Law Programme Officer, Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)

Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe is known for its spectacular and majestic water falls. In August last year it was not just water that was falling at Victoria Falls but the SADC Tribunal as we know it fell spectacularly as leaders from the Southern African Development Community approved a new protocol to reconstitute the SADC Tribunal. The new tribunal has a limited mandate. By adopting a new protocol, the leaders effectively buried the SADC Tribunal which used to operate under the 2000 protocol. They decided to ignore recommendations from their own legal advisors and attorney generals and created a new Tribunal whose mandate is limited only to the adjudication of inter-state disputes. Simply put, under the 2014 Protocol, citizens are deprived of their right to refer a dispute between themselves and their government to the SADC Tribunal. Without a tribunal, justice and redress will remain elusive for people of the region.

It is important to remember that central to the demise of the tribunal is the case of Mike Campbell and Others v Zimbabwe (Campbell Case) in which the Tribunal found in favor of Zimbabwean white farmers whose land had been compulsorily acquired and without compensation by the Zimbabwean government. In retaliation Zimbabwe strategically attacked the jurisdiction and operation of the tribunal, mobilized support for its suspension and ultimately, its eventual disbandment. By succumbing to the demands of Zimbabwe, SADC Heads of state have ultimately eliminated the access of individuals and groups to the Tribunal at the behest of one State [Zimbabwe] and consequently depriving the entire region of the benefits of such an important institution. Discussions and decisions on the utility of the Tribunal should rather surpass the opinion of one State’s argument based on just one case and personal short term gains. Even so, Zimbabweans themselves and particularly politicians and elected MPs who represent the people of that country must objectively review the wisdom in taking such a stance – more so at a time when Zimbabwe chairs the SADC bloc. They must never forget that they too are ordinary individuals who also depend on fair, transparent and accessible judicial mechanisms which they may need at some point in their lives regardless of their political affiliations. That is, at any given time the tide turns, politicians whether in opposition or in power are susceptible to becoming victims of State sanctioned attacks on the dignity of individuals, including political violence.

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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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Right to stand for elections as an independent candidate in the African human rights system: The death of the margin of appreciation doctrine?

adem_abebeAuthor: Adem Kassie Abebe
Post-doctoral Fellow, University of Pretoria

Although the right to stand for elections is recognised as an essential aspect of the right to political participation, international human rights law does not specifically address the right of individuals to stand for elections as independent candidates, for example, without being a member of and sponsored by a political party. In fact, the only implied reference to independent candidacy is to be found in General Comment No 25 of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the organ in charge of monitoring compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the right to participation. The Committee observes that “[t]he right of persons to stand for election should not be limited unreasonably by requiring candidates to be members of parties or of specific parties” (paragraph 21). What constitutes an “unreasonable” limit to the right of persons to stand for election is not apparent. As a result of the lack of a clear rule, the law and practice in relation to independent candidates varies across borders. In some countries, individuals must be members of political parties to be able to stand for election. In others, they may stand for elections as independent candidates. In some others, independent candidates are allowed in relation to local elections but not in relation to parliamentary and presidential elections.

It is within this context of uncertainty that the African Court had to decide whether the ban on independent candidacy in Tanzania was compatible with the right to equality, the right to political participation, and the right to association in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Tanganyika Law Society and The Legal and Human Rights Centre and Reverend Christopher Mtikila v The United Republic of Tanzania, Applications 009 and 011/2011). This case is interesting in many respects. Firstly, the case presented the African Court the first opportunity to address the margin of appreciation doctrine. Secondly, the application presented a test case to evaluate the trajectory of the African Court towards the jurisprudence of other international and regional human rights organs on similar issues. Thirdly, Tanzania is not the only African country that bans independent candidacy. The decision of the Court therefore has consequences for many other African countries.

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