Uganda: Why the Constitutional Court should rule on the right to health

michael_addaneyAuthor: Michael Addaney
Senior Research Assistant, University of Energy and Natural Resources, Ghana

A case currently before the Constitutional Court of Uganda is providing an interesting test for how far courts can go in protecting basic human rights. Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings. Every person is equally entitled to them without discrimination. They are interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.

Universal human rights are often guaranteed by law through treaties and various sources of international law which generally oblige governments to respect, protect and fulfill human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.

Apart from international obligations, countries have various ways of entrenching human rights. Most contemporary constitutions entrench basic human rights. Such constitutions include the 1996 Constitution of South Africa and the 2010 Kenyan Constitution. Likewise, the 1995 Constitution of Uganda contains the Bill of Rights that guarantees fundamental freedoms and basic rights including the rights to health and to life.

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Happiness as constitutional empowerment in Nigeria

saul_lealAuthor: Saul Leal
Vice-Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA)

In Nigeria, happiness is understood as a Constitutional right and is more than a mere linguistic expression. Section 16(1)(b) of the Constitution provides that ‘the State shall, within the context of the ideals and objectives for which provisions are made in this Constitution, control the national economy in such a manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and “happiness” of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity’. Nigeria thus constitutionalized happiness as part as its movement toward to a sustainable economy. This prevents the interference of economy with the people’s happiness.[1]

Nigeria shows how commitment to peoples’ happiness is able to diminish the strength of money in areas which must not be sold, thus emphasizing that there are things that money cannot buy. The African collective trauma caused by the intense economic exploitation conducted by the colonial system shows its value by inserting limitative factor into a constitutional provision in order to face the eventual side effects of unlimited economic power. The Nigerian government’s decision to deregulate the pricing of petroleum, the nation’s most valuable asset, ended up in court in a case which reached landmark status.

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Challenging anti-terrorism laws in Swaziland: When the judiciary becomes the stumbling block

kudzani_ndlovuAuthor: Kudzani Ndlovu
Part-time lecturer, Lupane State University, Zimbabwe

On 8 and 9 February 2016 the pro-democracy movement in Swaziland converged at the High Court in Mbabane to attend a hearing on the constitutionality of the country’s two draconian and repressive laws – the Suppression of Terrorism Act No. 3 of 2008 (STA) and the British colonial era 1938 Sedition and Subversive Activities Act (Sedition Act) – which continue to be used by the state to stifle opposition and silence critics of the authoritarian monarchy.

Many, especially those outside Africa’s last absolute monarchy, had labelled this hearing as ‘historic’ but local activists remained less optimistic knowing that most of the country’s judges have sold their independence for thirty pieces of silver. The King’s influence in the appointment of judges has seriously undermined the independence of the judiciary. The Constitution of Swaziland provides that the judges are appointed by the King after consultation with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). Judges are answerable to the King and hence they can never claim to be independent. It will only take rabid denialists and anarchists to argue that there is hope of an independent judiciary in Swaziland under the current system.

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Happiness and same-sex affection

saul_lealAuthor: Saul Leal
Vice-Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA)

Chinelo Okparanta is a Nigerian writer, currently living as a citizen in the United States. She understands the prejudices of her native country, especially against homosexuals. In some parts of Nigeria, a gay individual may be stoned to death under the Shari’a law. Okparanta writes, in her lesbian romance Happiness like Water, ‘yes, our love may be hidden, but it is strong. It can still bring happiness’.[1]

Why must the love between two consenting adults be hidden? Should the State have the power to decide towards whom one may show affection? These disconcerting questions may be answered in terms of global Constitutions.

The most important Brazilian decision which entailed the right to happiness was in 2011.[2] The Supreme Court had to rule on the interpretation to be given to article 1.723 of the Civil Code, which only recognizes a common-law relationship between a man and a woman as a family unit which must be public knowledge, continuous, and long-lasting, and be established for the purpose of building a family. The need for the aforementioned ruling resulted from the fact that government bodies refused to grant these rights to homo-affectionate couples. Therefore, the Court had to decide if this union also covered same-sex couples, even though the provision expressly mentions ‘man and a woman’.[3]

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Ghana’s Human Rights Court gives life to the right to information

michael_gyan_nyarkoAuthor: Michael Gyan Nyarko
Doctoral Candidate and Academic Tutor, Centre for Human Rights; Editor: AfricLaw.com

Ghana has been described as ‘a beacon of hope in Africa’ on account of its good governance and respect for human rights.’[1] With a fairly liberal constitution which guarantees quite an elaborate list of civil and political rights as well as socio-economic rights, political stability and economic growth over the past two decades, this description of Ghana is not farfetched.  While Ghana has performed reasonably well with regards to respect for human rights, there still remain several human rights issues that require urgent attention. One of those issues is the right to information.

The right to information is guaranteed and entrenched in the Constitution.[2] Article 21(1)(f) of the Constitutions provides that ‘all persons shall have the right to information, subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a democratic society’.  However, this right has not been effectively enjoyed as government has failed to enact a right to information law to give effect to the constitutional provision. A right to information bill proposed by successive governments has been pending for over a decades. The absence of a right to information law has left a vacuum where citizens do not have clarity on whom to approach for official government information, which information may not be requested and what financial burden they may bear for such request. This has resulted in the rather limited use of the right to information, especially with regards to request for official government documents.

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Constitutional jurisdiction and the right to happiness

saul_lealAuthor: Saul Leal
Vice-Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA)

Should it be a role of the Judiciary to assure happiness for the people? Is it appropriate for a Constitutional Court to consider happiness to be a right? Does the establishment of fundamental rights expand the collective happiness? To answer these questions, it is essential to examine the root of Constitutional jurisdiction.

Karl Loewenstein questioned whether the Constitution would be “instrumental for the pursuit of happiness of the people”,[1] based on his intrigue into the purpose and meaning of a Constitution. He is accompanied by Hans Kelsen, for whom “the longing for justice is man’s eternal longing for happiness”.[2]

The answer to the aforementioned questions lies within the examination of the Constitution of the State of Pennsylvania, in the United States, in 1776, in order to address the power given to the courts to assess the constitutionality of the laws and of normative acts.

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We must include and empower people with disabilities

william_asekaAuthor: William Aseka
Disability Rights Program Advisor, Kenya Human Rights Commission

Today one billion people around the world are living with disabilities. According to Kenya National Survey for Persons with Disabilities more than three million people in Kenya are living with disabilities. Many persons with disabilities have good jobs and proper education. However, far too many persons with disabilities in Kenya face barriers to inclusion in many key aspects of society. As a result, people with disabilities do not enjoy access to society on an equal basis with others, which includes areas of transportation, employment, and education as well as social and political participation. The right to participate in public life is essential to create stable democracies, active citizenship and reduce inequalities in society.

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Misinterpreting justice in Venda

Abiy Alemu AshenafiAuthor: Abiy Alemu Ashenafi
Student (LLM in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa), Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

As the High Court in Johannesburg grapples with the question of whether some schools in Gauteng must teach in two languages, in Venda it is the courts themselves which have a language problem.

Too often, individuals who appear before the courts in Venda are denied full access to justice because of the language they speak – or don’t speak. Cities like Thohoyandou and others across Venda attract people from across this diverse country, and not all are fluent in Tsivenda or Xitsonga. While the police in Venda are most often able to articulate the rights of the arrested person in that person’s vernacular, the next step of the judicial process – the courts – might as well be in Greek.

In actuality, the courts in Venda and throughout South Africa use English (and sometimes Afrikaans). All other languages must be translated, and the interpreters employed by the courts must not only translate the words, but also the ideas and concepts behind them, serving as something of a ‘culture broker’.

Needless to say, the meanings of words and phrases are fluid between languages – sometimes within languages. What if the true meaning of words or legal concepts is lost in translation?

It can happen. In Venda, qualified interpreters are often unavailable, meaning the court sometimes utilises interpreters who are not professionals, and who are not made to take an oath. Researchers have recently identified several cases where inadequate translations between English and other South African languages have proved to be an impediment to – if not a miscarriage of – justice. Would you want your loved one’s life or liberty to be at the mercy of a bad translation?

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Sexual violence against children: Are girls in Mozambique little angels or sex objects?

michael_addaneyAuthor: Michael Addaney
Student (MPhil Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa), Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

Global statistics indicate that child sexual abuse is increasing with an estimated 150 million girls and 73 million boys under the age of 18 having experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual abuse. According to the East, Central and Southern Africa Health Commission, one out of three girls in Sub-Saharan African experiences some form of sexual violence before the age of 18. In Mozambique alone, 33% of children between 12 and 15 years have been victims of sexual violence, one of the highest rates in the world.

Also, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) observes that child prostitution is a growing concern in Mozambique. The Mozambican Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Affairs links the increased sexual violence with the country’s failure in the realisation of the child’s right to education with an estimated 36% of girls aged between 13 and 18 years married instead of being in school.

This situation is also attributed to the Mozambican civil war which weakened institutions particularly those protecting the rights and welfare of children. Despite major sector-specific strategic frameworks to combat sexual violence against children, these are often done with little consultation and coordination. This has had a deleterious effect on the enforcement of children’s rights through the existing legal and institutional arrangements.

Meanwhile, Mozambique is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter), Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and all the relevant international human rights instruments. The domestic framework for addressing sexual violence against children includes the Children’s Act of 2008 and Juvenile Justice Act of 2008 which translate the CRC and the ACRWC into national child rights legislation.

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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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