A hijacked youth that wants to go home

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

International Youth Day: 12 August 2014

Blurred lines come to mind when defining the word “youth” in Eritrea.

There are multiple global ranges afforded to the term “youth”; the United Nations (UN) declares a range of 15 to 24 years old, and the African Youth Charter settles for 15 to 35 years of age. One common definition is to observe youth as a transitional phase from dependent childhood to independent adulthood, a time when parental guidance and experience are equipping children with the tools to construct an independent adult self.

When interviewing young people who left Eritrea, it troubles me that I cannot capture that moment, that space reserved for such transition. I asked 18 year old Hermon* when she first recalled hearing about the compulsory national service introduced in 1995, which systematically recruits people from the ages of 18 to serve their country. Her response was:

I knew what national service was when I was eight years old because there was a round-up [known as giffa] and they took my mother during the night.

By the time Hermon was 12 years old, her mother came to her at night and asked if she would be prepared to “take a long and difficult trip”. She agreed, not knowing that what lay ahead was three days and nights of travel to arrive in Khartoum, Sudan and live for four-years as a member of a nameless, faceless and poor refugee mob. Hermon did not comprehend the risk she and her mother took: the risk of being detained for desertion or the risk of becoming victims of the ‘shoot to kill’ policy at the borders. At 12 years, she could not have possibly understood but saw the fear in her mother’s eyes, who arranged this journey for her daughter so she would never have to go to Sawa or any other military training camp.

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Eritrea’s support of torture

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

Day in Support of Victims of Torture: 26 June 2014

It is called the “helicopter”. You are stripped, hands and feet bound and tied to a tree, hanging or raised above the ground so you are forced to stand on your toes for hours on end. With hands still bound to the tree you are then forced to the ground to endure up to 24 hours of the unbearably hot sun and cold night, desperately willing your punisher to have mercy. If you are lucky the punisher will allow you a short break for meals or to use the toilet.

What human being deserves this?

Torture is defined by the United Nations as: “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person…”
[The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, 1984]

We are told there is never a justification for inflicting torture, degrading treatment or punishment on a human being. The Eritrean government, conveniently not party to this Convention, disregards this absolute prohibition – and as a result torture, both physical and psychological, is widespread in Eritrea.

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In defence of these “disgusting and unnatural”


Benjamin_NgaruAuthor: Benjamin Ng’aru

Legal Assistant, Local Authorities Pensions Trust; Volunteer Programmes Assistant, Legal Exchange Centre, Nairobi, Kenya

On Monday 25 February 2014, Uganda’s long serving president Yoweri Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 (previously referred to as Kill the Gays Bill”). The Long Title thereof provides that this “Act [is intended] to prohibit any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex; prohibit the promotion or recognition of such relations and to provide for other related matters.” Museveni has also, on record, called homosexuals “disgusting and unnatural” persons. The legislation has since received widespread condemnation from human rights organisations and leaders across the globe.

Whereas homosexuality was, since the colonial era, outlawed with the introduction of the British colonial rule and justice system, the new legislation is an all time low. Section 2(2) of the Act provides for a mandatory life sentence for persons convicted of “homosexual acts”. Section 1 of the Act has a wide margin of what constitutes “homosexual acts” such as “the touching of another’s breast, vagina, penis or anus, … however slight …. with any part of the body or through anything”.

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Illegal immigrants now deserve the eye of law in Tanzania

Njiti Lucius BattyAuthor: Njiti Lucius Batty
Candidate Advocate, High Court of Tanzania; Tutorial Assistant and Coordinator, University of Dodoma Law Society & Moot Court, Tanzania

This article comes as result of the historical background on the status of immigrants in the western part of Tanzania where the expulsion of illegal immigrants is never stable (see a BBC report). The main reason leading to the expulsion of illegal immigrates is the fact that most immigrants are not aware of Tanzanian immigration. In turn, Tanzania reacts by deporting them back to various nations along the Great Lake States.

Illegal immigration in Tanzania may be legally assessed based on two perspectives. One, those immigrants who enter Tanzania without observing due processes and are then apprehended, detained and charged with breaching immigration laws, and two, those who are found to be residing with and married to Tanzanians without observing legal procedures.

Illegal immigrants, of whatever nature, as described above, are deserving of human rights as other Tanzanians. Thus, there is a great need for lawyers and non-governmental organisations to offer information and knowledge on issues relating to immigration, labour and citizenship so as to bring awareness amongst refugees of their rights.

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Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and the right to freedom of expression

Patrick GriffithAuthor: Patrick Griffith
Programme Attorney, Freedom Now

On Wednesday 17 July 2013, members of the European Parliament’s Sub-committee on Human Rights visited Ethiopia and urged the government to release journalists and opposition activists imprisoned under the country’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation No. 652/2009 (Anti-Terror Proclamation). The visit is an important reminder that despite widely hailed progress on poverty reduction, the Ethiopian government continues to punish free expression in violation of international law.

Eskinder Nega, an outspoken journalist and blogger who was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment in July 2012, is amongst those arbitrarily detained under the Anti-Terror Proclamation. In early 2011, Nega began writing and speaking publicly about the protest movements then sweeping north Africa. Although initially hesitant to draw direct parallels with Ethiopia, he was clearly supportive of the protesters abroad and critical of his government at home. He also consistently emphasised the importance of non-violence. But despite the clear protection of peaceful free expression under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Ethiopia is a party, the government reacted by prosecuting Nega as a traitor and terrorist.

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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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The State’s ineptitude or indisposition to deal with Eastern Cape education is a continuous violation of children’s rights

akho_ntanjanaAuthor: Akho Ntanjana
Legal intern, Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA), Banjul, The Gambia

Without citing any empirical evidence, it is known that the quality of school facilities has an indirect effect on learning and ultimately on its output.  For instance, in a study carried out in India (1996), out of 59 schools in a region, only 49 had structures. Of these 49 schools, 25 had a toilet, 20 had electricity, 10 had a school library and four had a television set. In this study, the quality of the learning environment was strongly correlated with pupils’ achievement in Hindi and mathematics.

Further, a research study was conducted in Latin America that included 50 000 students in grades 3 and 4, it was found that learners whose schools lacked classroom materials and had inadequate libraries were significantly more likely to show lower test scores and higher grade repetition than those whose schools were well equipped (see the United Nations Children’s Fund’s paper ‘Defining Quality Education’). There are many other studies done even in Africa, for example in Botswana, Nigeria and Papua New Guinea, indicating similar outcomes.

There seem to be a correlation between good school infrastructures, other quality dimensions (inter alia the quality of content, psychological aspects, quality processes involved) and the achievement of higher grades by learners. In this opinion piece, I examine the state of education in the Eastern Cape, and the failure by the South Africa government to meet its constitutional and international obligations to provide basic education.

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Multinationals and land grabbing in Uganda: A business human rights perspective

samuel_matsikoAuthor: Samuel Matsiko
Lawyer, International Justice Mission, USA

On 11 May 2012 the Committee on World Food Security endorsed the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security to promote secure tenure rights and equitable access to land. These Guidelines offer a framework through which multinational investors may acquire and manage land without affecting the rights of local communities. However, this remains on paper while in practice the narrative is different.

In Uganda, land grabbing involves large scale land acquisitions by multinational and domestic investors either through buying or leasing large pieces of land. A study by the National Association of Professional Environments indicates that communities in the oil rich region of Bulisa in western Uganda, Kalangala Island in the Lake Victoria region, Mabira forest in the central region, and Luwunga forest reserve in Kiboga district have been affected or are yet to be affected by the land grabbing phenomenon.

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Does the new Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill fill the gaps?

Author: Maya Perez Aronsson
Intern, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

South Africa has some of the most progressive legislation on gender equality in the world yet there is a lack of de facto equality in this country. A new Bill has been put forth to further promote women empowerment and gender equality – will this be the solution?

In September 2012 the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities presented the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill (the Equality Bill). The purpose of the new Bill is to establish a legislative framework for the empowerment of women and to provide an obligation to adopt and implement gender mainstreaming. The Bill includes detailed provisions regarding these issues such as encouraging the recognition of the economic value of the roles of women in various sectors of life, and the achievement of at least 50 % representation and participation of women in decision-making structures in all entities.

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Using human rights to combat unsafe abortion: What needs to be done?

Charles NgwenyaAuthor: Charles Ngwena
Professor of  Law, University of the Free State, South Africa

The latest global and regional estimates of the incidence of unsafe abortion and associated mortality bring no comfort to the African region. What is disconcerting about the estimates is not only that unsafe abortion continues to account for 13 per cent of maternal mortality, but also that, from a regional perspective, Africa’s share of unsafe abortion-related maternal mortality remains quite disproportionate. Africa stands out as the region least positioned to meet the Millennium Development Goal to reduce maternal mortality by three-quarters by 2015.

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