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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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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