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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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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A call to shift the seat: The Gambia is not a suitable seat for the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

frans_viljoen_newAuthor: Frans Viljoen
Director, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria; Professor of Human Rights Law

In 1986, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter) entered into force. Under the African Charter, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission) is established to monitor state compliance with the Charter. The Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1987 decided that the Commission’s Secretariat should be based in Banjul, The Gambia. It has been located in Banjul ever since.

The initial rationale for the choice of seat has since fallen away

At the time this decision was taken, the choice of Banjul made much sense. Much of the drafting of the African Charter took place in Banjul, to the extent that the African Charter is often referred to as the ‘Banjul Charter’. In fact, The Gambia was one of the few states in Africa that, at the time, had any claim to democratic credentials. The head of state at the time, President Jawara, strongly supported the drafting process of the Charter, and assisted in overcoming political difficulties that arose in the drafting process.

However, this situation has changed dramatically. Since Jawara’s removal from power through a coup d’état in 1994, The Gambia has lost its claim to democratic legitimacy. The 1994 coup leader and current President, Jammeh, has now been in power for almost 20 years. While elections have subsequently been held, they are widely regarded as not meeting the standard of “free and fair”. In 2011, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decided not to send an electoral observer mission to The Gambia for the presidential election because the political environment was not conducive to free and fair elections (http://thinkafricapress.com/gambia/jammeh-win-extend-rule). The Gambia is now generally regarded as the “odd country out”, in an ever-democratising Africa, and counts among the most undemocratic and authoritarian states on the continent.

At the first session after the unconstitutional change of government had taken place, the Commission adopted a resolution condemning the coup as a “flagrant and grave violation of the right of The Gambian people to freely choose their government”, and called on the military government to observe international human rights standards (Resolution on The Gambia, adopted at the Commission’s 17th session, 22 March 1995, Eighth Annual Activity Report, Annex VIII). However, short of finding a violation of the Charter in a communication submitted by the Former President Jawara (communications 147/95, 149/95 (joined), Jawara v The Gambia (2000)), the Commission seemed initially to have settled comfortably into life under the new regime.

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