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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