20 years after the TRC: Are we any the better?

thabang_mokgatleAuthor: Thabang Mokgatle
Candidate Attorney, Rushmere Noach Incorporated, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

“We are looking to maintain not retribution but reparation; we are seeking room for humanity rather than revenge”
– Desmond Tutu, First hearing of the TRC in April 1996

15 April 2016 marked the twentieth anniversary since the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) first commenced in South Africa. In reflecting on the occasion, the words of Desmond Tutu above quoted have unveiled two pertinent questions:  Did post-apartheid South Africa, in 1996, require a moment for justice or for reconciliation? Would the pursuit of the former in the first instance, not have led to the achievement of the latter? There is a growing sense that in prioritising the ‘rainbow nation’, the TRC substantially undermined the realisation of justice (institutional justice through the court system). Victims of apartheid-era crimes have supposedly been short-changed, leaving much to be desired since the TRC first convened.

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Suppressing dissent: The Gambian reality

satang_nabanehAuthor: Satang Nabaneh
Gambian Reporter to the Oxford Constitutions Online Project

The right to freedom of assembly as guaranteed by the 1997 Constitution includes the right to take part in peaceful demonstrations. However, people are deterred from organising and participating in such demonstrations. Section 18(4)(C) allows for the use of force and the deprivation of life in the ‘suppression of a riot, insurrection or mutiny’. This gives law enforcement officials with immunity when a person dies under circumstances in which reasonable force was used.

On Thursday, 14 April 2016, Mr. Solo Sandeng, National Organising Secretary and other members of the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) were arrested for leading a peaceful protest for electoral reforms and demanding for the resignation of President Jammeh. Two days after the arrest, senior members of the UDP, including the leader Ousainou Darboe, confirmed in a press conference the death of Solo Sandeng while in detention.  Lawyer Darboe also stated that two detained female protesters were also in a coma following their arrest and alleged brutal torture by the security agents. Angered by the harsh treatment meted on the detainees, Darboe and a group of UPD stalwarts led began a protest march but were swiftly rounded up by Gambia’s security force and arrested. Eyewitnesses said the security agents fired tear gas at the crowd to disperse it.

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It’s official: The East African Court of Justice can now adjudicate human rights cases

ally_possiAuthor: Ally Possi
Lecturer, Law School of Tanzania; Advocate of the High Court of Tanzania

The legitimacy of the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) to adjudicate human rights cases has been a debatable aspect ever since the Court’s inception. Articles 6(d) and 7(2) of the East African Community (EAC) Treaty mention human rights, which ordinarily the EACJ is mandated to interpret. However, article 27(2) of the Treaty implies to suspend what seems to be a legitimate human rights authority of the Court. Consequently, articles 6(d), 7(2) and 27(2) have made litigants, legal scholars and even EACJ judges to be at cross-roads with respect to EACJ’s human rights jurisdiction.

The recent decision in Democratic Party v. The Secretary General of the EAC, Appeal No. 1 of 2014 (Democratic Party case) will make the functioning of the EACJ rather interesting within the near future. In that case, the EACJ unequivocally held that it has ‘jurisdiction to interpret the Charter [African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights herein the African Charter] in the context of the [EAC] Treaty.’ This lining of the decision becomes more authoritative as it is from the Appellate Division section of the Court.

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Rising against the silencing of the SADC Tribunal: Tanzania

Gertrude Mafoa QuanAuthor: Gertrude Mafoa Quan
Candidate Attorney; LLM (Multidisciplinary Human Rights) student at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

‘We have created a monster that will devour us all’.

These were the words of Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete regarding the SADC Tribunal. This is at best an expression that is the epitome of the fear of SADC leaders of an existing and functioning Tribunal.

Like in many other regions, the SADC tribunal served as the mechanism through which the region’s dispute could be settled. One of the goals of the treaty was to establish a tribunal (which it did) and that the “[t]ribunal shall be constituted to ensure the adherence to and the proper interpretation of the provisions of this Treaty and subsidiary instruments and to adjudicate upon such disputes as may be referred to it” ( SADC Treaty, 1992, Article 16.1). Perhaps one of its most striking promises was in Article 4(c) which bluntly states that ‘ SADC and its Member States shall act in accordance with the principles of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law’. The implication is that all member States could indeed be held accountable should any of the said principles in Article 4(c) be violated. According to the Protocol on the SADC Tribunal, subject to the exhaustion of local remedies, all companies and individuals may approach the Tribunal to seek remedy if and when a member State has infringed on their rights (Article 15).

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Factors inhibiting the identification and investigation of human trafficking cases

monique_esmerAuthor: Monique Emser
Research Associate, Department of Criminal and Medical Law, University of the Free State, South Africa

World Day of Social Justice – Ending human trafficking and forced labour: 20 February 2015

Law enforcement efforts have failed to keep pace with the mutable phenomenon of human trafficking despite the fact that it is regarded as the fastest growing and second most profitable criminal enterprise after drug trafficking.

The biggest challenge facing law enforcement in human trafficking cases is finding victims and their traffickers in the first place, since human trafficking involves the movement and concealment of victims.

Victims of human trafficking often do not self-identify as such. There are numerous reasons for this. Some victims may have consciously engaged in illicit activities, such as undocumented migration into the Republic or engaging in sex work. In such cases, ‘victims are unlikely to report their victimisation to the police or seek help from service providers.’[1] Where trafficking occurs within diaspora communities, self-identification and reporting to the police are even lower.

Others are too traumatised by their experiences and remain in denial. Distrust of law enforcement, fear of retaliation by traffickers, a lack of understanding of basic rights, are further inhibiting factors in relation to victim cooperation and investigation.

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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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In the absence of democratic principles, tyranny reigns

thato_motaungAuthor: Thato Motaung
Researcher, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

International Day of Democracy: 15 September 2014

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” – William Wilberforce​

When the world celebrated the International Day of Democracy (15 September 2014), I reminded myself of some of the key tenets of democracy, namely: free and fair elections, the rule of law, the upholding of fundamental rights and freedoms — to name but a few. The mention of the rule of law in particular raised red flags in my mind as I pondered where to place Eritrea when choosing between definitions of democracy and autocracy.

The rule of law and the respect for human rights stand as prerequisites to realising democratic statehood. The laws which govern a state are enshrined in a constitution; a constitution sets the parameters for lines that cannot be crossed; the principles by which a state should conduct itself. Where then does one begin to place or reference these barriers in a country with no constitution? Who has legitimacy in decision-making? What legal standards are used? The lines continue to blur…

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