The African Court: Need for a system-based approach to jurisprudential affirmation

Author: Sègnonna Horace Adjolohoun
Visiting Professor of international human rights law and comparative African constitutional law, Central European University;
Extraordinary Lecturer, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria
Principal Legal Officer, African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights

This article is a summarised version of a much longer commentary which shall be published subsequently.
The views expressed below are exclusively those of the author and not of the African Court.

THE IMPERATIVE OF SYSTEM-BASED LAW MAKING

When the African Court became operational in 2006, the expectation was that it will affirm the then widely criticised African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights rather than merely “judicialise” the system. The Court therefore bears the historical duty to adopt a system strengthening approach to judicial law-making. As it makes law over the years, it becomes paramount to vet the Court’s pronouncements against that raison d’être. I attempt to do so with respect to its recent decisions.

ADVISORY MATTERS

Substantively, the requests related to a varied range of matters that are both current and novel, ranging from the meaning and scope of the role of the African Union policy organs to ‘consider’ the Activity Report of the African Human Rights Commission to the modalities of litigating the crime of unconstitutional change of government. Unfortunately, the Court did not assert jurisdiction to pronounce itself on the merit of those issues.

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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 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 African Youth Charter and the role of regional institutions in an age of Africa rising

romola_adeolaAuthor: Romola Adeola
LLD candidate, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

The African Youth Charter (Youth Charter) was adopted by African heads of states and government in Banjul, the Gambia on the 2nd of July 2006. Upon the attainment of 15 ratifications as required in article 30(2), the Youth Charter entered into force on 8 August 2009.

As the first international treaty on youth development, the Youth Charter bears a significant place in the protection of the rights of young persons. Although its jurisdictional scope is Africa, the Youth Charter sets a standard for the international community in the development of norms for the protection of young persons. In its ‘Definitions’ section, the Youth Charter sets the age for ‘youth or young people’ within the ages of 15 and 35 years. As at 2014, 36 African Union (AU) states had ratified the Youth Charter while 42 AU states had signed.

The Youth Charter contains 31 provisions and places significant emphasis on human rights. While re-emphasising some of the rights contained in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the Youth Charter goes a step further in providing for the right to gainful employment (article 15); right to rest and leisure (article 22) and the right of youths with disabilities (article 24). Articles 10 and 14 of the Youth Charter offer expositions on the content of the right to development of youths in Africa. Importantly, the Youth Charter obligate state parties to ‘promote and ensure through teaching, education and publication’ (article 27) respect for the rights in the Youth Charter. State parties are further mandated ‘to see to it that these freedoms, rights and responsibilities as well as corresponding obligations and duties are understood’ (article 27). Although the Youth Charter obligate state parties to take ‘necessary steps’ in the realisation of the obligations contained in it (article 1(2)); the Youth Charter does not provide adequate enforcement mechanisms at the regional level.

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Tanzania’s proposed new constitution and the fate of social and economic rights

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

The United Republic of Tanzania is currently in the process of enacting a new constitution. In the text of the final draft of the proposed constitution (http://sheria.go.tz/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=44&Itemid=68) currently being deliberated by the constituent assembly, are interesting proposals to include important social and economic rights (ESR) as justiciable rights. But the specific content of rights and scope of obligations to be incorporated therein is a matter that is likely to be controversial. Indeed, judicial adjudication of ESR is a matter that is often still disputed or even entirely rejected in many national legal systems. Like many other domestic jurisdictions, Tanzania adopts the idealized distinction of human rights and the popular perception remains that, for lack of constitutional recognition, ESR are simply objectives and principles of state policy as opposed to legally enforceable rights. Nonetheless, socio-economic rights occupy a central place in the well-being of the human person and the international community has accordingly recognised a positive international legal framework imposing varied obligations to advance these rights.

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Freedom of expression for a day in Eritrea

thato_motaungAuthor: Thato Motaung
Researcher, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists: 2 November 2014

In a land where the right to freedom of expression and information is heavily curtailed, I sought to interview three exiled Eritrean journalists and allow them the space to freely express what they cannot in their country.

Why did you choose to become a journalist?

*Aman: “I used to be a development worker; I was taken to prison camps and three times I saw people tortured and killed. I started to write stories and post articles on what was happening…I became a journalist by accident – all I wanted to do was contribute to justice”.

Since Eritrea’s “liberation” from Ethiopia in 1991 and its international recognition as an independent sovereign state in 1993, the country gradually evolved into a nation rife with human rights abuses. Notably, the systematic attack on dissent of any form resulting in extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and indefinite incommunicado detentions.

What does freedom of expression mean to you?

Aman:” It is a symbol of democracy- the flow of information without fear or restrictions – the means to freely enlighten and educate”.

18 September 2001 was coined as the Eritrean government’s ‘Crackdown’ on all independent media, when it banned the entire private press by shutting down media houses. It also marked the end of dissenting voices at the political level. Eighteen journalists, as well as eleven political leaders  were rounded – up and imprisoned incommunicado without trial. Their whereabouts are still unknown till today. Since then, more than 70 journalists have been detained at different periods in time.

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Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and the right to freedom of expression

Patrick GriffithAuthor: Patrick Griffith
Programme Attorney, Freedom Now

On Wednesday 17 July 2013, members of the European Parliament’s Sub-committee on Human Rights visited Ethiopia and urged the government to release journalists and opposition activists imprisoned under the country’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation No. 652/2009 (Anti-Terror Proclamation). The visit is an important reminder that despite widely hailed progress on poverty reduction, the Ethiopian government continues to punish free expression in violation of international law.

Eskinder Nega, an outspoken journalist and blogger who was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment in July 2012, is amongst those arbitrarily detained under the Anti-Terror Proclamation. In early 2011, Nega began writing and speaking publicly about the protest movements then sweeping north Africa. Although initially hesitant to draw direct parallels with Ethiopia, he was clearly supportive of the protesters abroad and critical of his government at home. He also consistently emphasised the importance of non-violence. But despite the clear protection of peaceful free expression under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Ethiopia is a party, the government reacted by prosecuting Nega as a traitor and terrorist.

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