The idea of an African passport and the freedom of movement of persons in the continent: Only wishful thinking?

cristiano_dorsiAuthor: Cristiano d’Orsi
Post-Doctoral Researcher and Lecturer, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria (South Africa)

“Hail! United States of Africa-free!
Hail! Motherland most bright, divinely fair!
State in perfect sisterhood united,
Born of truth; mighty thou shalt ever be.”

This is the incipit of the poem Hail, United States of Africa, composed in 1924 by M.M. Garvey, a famous Pan-Africanist leader.

This poem is considered to have initiated the concept of United States of Africa (USAf), a federation, extensible to all the fifty-four sovereign states, on the African continent.

In 2002, at the launch of the African Union (AU), President T. Mbeki, its first chairman, proclaimed that: “By forming the Union, the peoples of our continent have made the unequivocal statement that Africa must unite! We as Africans have a common and a shared destiny!”[1]

After that occasion, the concept of USAf has been highlighted in a more concrete way by other African leaders, such as A.O. Konaré in 2006,[2] M. Gaddafi in 2009 –the first to mention the possibility to issue a unique passport for the entire continent-[3] and, more recently, by R. Mugabe.[4]

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International human rights day: A call to Eritrea to own up to its shocking human rights record!

Legogang MaxeleguAuthor: Lebogang Maxelegu
Assistant Researcher, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

10 December 2015 marked the 65th anniversary of the International Human Rights Day, which the international community celebrates annually to commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. The UDHR is arguably the first global document to pronounce on human rights standards that countries ought to aspire to. Though not a treaty itself and therefore not binding on Member States, the UDHR serves as the cornerstone for the definition of human rights and fundamental freedoms as outlined in the United Nations Charter, which is legally binding on all State Parties including Eritrea which joined the United Nations(UN) in 1993.

The UDHR is also the bedrock upon which treaties such the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) were founded. Eritrea has notably ratified both covenants, further and invariably placing upon itself a legal obligation to abide by the human rights norms enunciated in the declaration as well as other ratified treaties.

The United Nations General Assembly held its Seventieth Session in October 2015, during which the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Eritrea, H.E. Mr. Osman Saleh, was invited to address the assembly. In his speech, the Honourable Minister declared that Eritrea is making remarkable progress in building a nation founded on the respect for human rights, contrary to what he described as “unfair and baseless accusations” of human rights violations that Eritrea has been subjected to. But is Eritrea truly making the progress that it has committed itself to in terms of the UDHR? Is it being unfairly targeted by the international community? These questions warrant an examination of some of the observations on the state of human rights in Eritrea made by treaty bodies and the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.

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To achieve transformation, Kenyan law needs to shun a hierarchy of sources

humphrey_sipallaAuthor: Humphrey Sipalla
Freelance editor

It is opined by some in Kenya that the regime of former President Moi hardly broke constitutional law. For the most part, it rather, applying provisos and rigid compartmentalised thinking, bended and stretched it absurdly. There may be some truth to this. Previously on this platform, I opined that Kenyan society is prone to absolutes, in that instance, equating legitimate use of force with its disproportionate immoral use in “law enforcement”. It would seem that the legal fraternity too suffers its own peculiar version of this Kenyan tendency to be rigid.

At a conference on transformative constitutionalism, Prof. Ambreena Manji noted that for Kenya to realise the aims of its visionary transformative constitution, we needed a certain conversion of the soul, not just the mind, of the Kenyan jurist. At this same conference, the Chief Justice of Kenya, Dr Willy Mutunga lamented the old judiciary’s reliance of “mechanistic jurisprudence”. Such judicial policy led to the dismissal of the late Wangari Maathai’s (later Nobel Peace Prize Laureate) 1989 case against government plans to build a 60 storey building on Nairobi’s Uhuru Park as she did not show what injury would befall her were the environment to be spoilt. In 1989 too, the High Court held that the Bill of Rights could not be enforced as the Chief Justice had not issued enforcement rules as obligated by the Constitution. In 1993, again, presidential candidate, Kenneth Matiba’s election petition ground to a halt as he was unable to serve the sitting president with suit papers personally.

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People with mental disabilities ALSO have the right to marry in Kenya

william_asekaAuthor: William Aseka
Human Rights Fellow at Burton Blatt Institute, Syracuse University

The Marriage Bill (now Act) 2014 has elicited different reactions from Kenyans. Some mostly women, have argued that the law will allow men to engage in polygamous marriages. Some have hailed the law as consolidating the different types of marriages into one piece of legislation. However, the people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities have completely been left out of this debate. The law clearly discriminates and expressly denies people with mental disorders from exercising their right to marry. Section 11(2)(b) of the Marriage Act 2014 provides:-

Consent is not freely given where the party who purports to give it is suffering from any mental disorder or mental disability whether permanent or temporary…

The Act further provides in section 73 that if one suffers from ‘recurrent bouts of insanity’ then the partner is allowed to have the marriage annulled. This essay seeks to argue that the Marriage Act 2014 not only violates Kenya’s obligation under international law but also violates the Constitution of Kenya 2010 Article 27(4), which proscribes discrimination based on disability.

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Survival rights of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia: The Shimelba refugee camp case

Kbrom AlemaAuthor: Kbrom Alema Germay
Candidate Judge at the Aga’ezi Justice Organs Professional Training Center and Legal Research Institute

Currently, Ethiopia is among the developing countries that are hosting thousands of refugees from Eritrea, Kenya, Somali and Sudan, and that mandates refugee to reside in camps. Some of the refugees in Ethiopia live in the northern parts of the country in a camp called the Shimelba refugee camp. Refugees in this particular camp lived in Eritrea and fled to avoid military service, religious persecution and ethnic discrimination. This camp is situated is in a place widely recognised for its diverse settings and agro-ecosystems, displaying a wide array of environmental problems and vulnerabilities. To this end, the lands are fragile and vulnerable to both natural and human generated calamities, ranging from the shortage of or unpredictable rainfall to species and resource base depletion and degradation rendered more acute by the effects of drought. The location of the camp site is isolated. The environmental conditions are difficult, with temperature ranging up to 42 degree Celsius. The Ethiopian government in collaboration with the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR), oversight and manages Shimelba.

Ethiopia is signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its Protocol. Regionally, Ethiopia is also a party to the 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (African Refugee Convention). Besides these refugee-specific instruments, Ethiopia is also a party to most of international and regional human rights instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); the International Convention on Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, therefore reinforcing the protection for refugees.

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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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