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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Some reflections on the current Africa’s project on the establishment of African Court of Justice and Human Right (ACJHR)

Tefera Degu AddisAuthor: Tefera Degu Addis
LLM candidate, International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, University of Essex School of Law, UK

It has been more than thirteen years since the ICC was established and started its operation on most serious crimes of international concern, namely genocide, crime against humanity, crimes of war and aggression. The court is established by virtue of the Rome Statute as a permanent international criminal tribunal independent from other UN bodies. To date, all cases that have been investigated by ICC are from Africa. African countries generally have cooperated in the early stages of the establishment of ICC.

Nowadays, however, it seems that the relationship between the ICC and Africa is turning into a growing trend of contention. It has been a point of discussion in the academia and in the international politics as to whether the court is indeed exclusively targeting Africa regardless of their contribution and cooperation in the creation and advancement of ICC. The AU and various leaders in Africa have expressed their dissatisfaction in different occasions that the court is “neo-colonialist policy” or “post-colonial court.” As a result, the AU in 2008 adopted a protocol on the establishment of African Court of Justice and Human Rights (ACJHR). The protocol is being circulated and so far 11 countries have signed the document. Last year at the AU Summit, the current president of Kenya urged for the immediate establishment of the court.

Notwithstanding the current uncertainty about the fate of the Draft Protocol and thereby the establishment of the ACJHR, it is worthwhile to examine some of the challenges and opportunities that the court might face and the future of international criminal justice in Africa.

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South Africa apartheid lawsuit – The end of the epopee?

Marek Jan WasinskiAuthor: Marek Jan Wasinski
Assistant Professor and Chair of Public International Law and International Relations – Faculty of Law and Administration, University of Lodz, Poland

On 21 August 2013, the 2nd United States (US) Circuit Court of Appeal reached a decision on a decade long putative class action suits brought on behalf of individuals harmed by the South African apartheid regime. The suits were originally initiated by two groups of plaintiffs, the Balintulo (or Khulumani plaintiffs) and the Ntsebeza plaintiffs against corporate defendants (namely: Daimler, Ford, and IBM). Plaintiffs asserted that the South African subsidiary companies of the defendants aided and abetted violations of customary international law committed by the (then) South African government. It was claimed inter alia that subsidiary companies had sold cars and computers to the South African government, thus facilitating race-based depredations and injustices, including rape, torture, and extrajudicial killings. A legal basis for the US court’s jurisdiction was the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a famous part of the Judiciary Act of 1789, conferring federal jurisdiction over “any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States”. The ATS remained dormant nearly for two centuries until it spectacularly entered the stage before 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeal in a Filartiga v Pena-Irala wherein Paraguay citizens were allowed to sue a former Paraguayan police officer allegedly involved in an extrajudicial killing of a Paraguayan dissident’s son in Paraguay. The decision in Filartiga led to a dramatic rise in international human rights litigation in US courts, involving not only suits against private individuals but also against corporate entities for aiding and abetting violations of the law of nations. There were instances of such litigations ending with profitable settlements. For example, in Abdullahi v Pfizer Inc., Pfizer has reportedly agreed to pay $75 million as compensation for illegal clinical trials in Nigeria. Similarly in Wiwa v Shell Oil Co., faced with claims of complicity in murder, torture, and other crimes related to oil production in the Niger Delta, the Shell provided $15.5 million as compensation to those affected.

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