A review of the work of the African Commission’s Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations in AfricaPosted: 26 April, 2016
Author: 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. 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.
The right to life in Africa: General Comment No. 3 on the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ RightsPosted: 10 February, 2016
Author: 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.
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.
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.
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.
Right to stand for elections as an independent candidate in the African human rights system: The death of the margin of appreciation doctrine?Posted: 19 August, 2013
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.