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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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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Freedom of the press? Not for the Ugandan press

william_asekaAuthor: William Aseka
Program Assistant (Human Rights Advocacy for Children with Disabilities), Governance Consulting

The freedom to form opinions and express them without fear of repression is a fundamental tenet for the development of a pluralistic, tolerant, and democratic society. This right represents not only the right to privacy of individuals to hold opinions and formulate thoughts, but also to express them in a public forum, especially as part of exercising the right to political participation. In addition, the right to access information, that is the right to seek and receive information, which also forms an important component of this right and which has added significance in the current age of information technology, is intrinsic to the transparent functioning of a democratic government and the effective and well-informed participation of civil society. In this context, freedom of opinion, expression and information is one of the core civil and political rights as it is essential for the exercise of all other human rights.

The right to freedom of opinion, expression and information is well-established and protected at both international and regional levels both legally and institutionally. The right is enshrined in various international instruments, namely: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19), the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (Article 5(d)(viii)), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 13) and the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (Article 6). The main international human rights body within the United Nations system, the Human Rights Council, also provides through its system of special procedures for a Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, which was established in 1993.

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Right to food: A ‘black and white’ choice?

bereket_kefyalewAuthor: Bereket Kefyalew
Freelancer based in Copenhagen, Denmark

The Ethiopian government often associates its developmental ideology with the East Asian model, while at the same time defining itself as a progressive democratic government. Paradoxically, the government defends itself from prodemocracy critics by arguing that food security comes first, then slowly comes democracy. Within this context, I analyse the right to food as a legal concept and how it can be used as a means to achieve food security in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has ratified and adopted the main instruments establishing the right to food such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Covenant on the Rights of the Child; the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women; and the African Charter on Peoples’ Rights. Ethiopia is also bound by international humanitarian law, having ratified the Geneva Convention of 1999 and the Additional Protocols thereto of 1977.

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30 years of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights: Challenges, progress and prospects for Portuguese speaking African countries

Author: Emerson U Lopes
Legal Consultant, SAL & Caldeira Advogados, Mozambique

During its 30 years of existence, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and its enforcement mechanism, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, have not been used much by citizens of Portuguese speaking African Countries (Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Sao Tomé e Príncipe, hereafter referred to as PALOP).

What is the reason behind the lack of participation by PALOP citizens in the African human rights system? Could this mean that PALOP States have a better human rights record than other State Parties?

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