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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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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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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Human rights are inherent to all, criminals or not – even in Kenya

Author: Humphrey Sipalla
Publications and Communications Officer at the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA)

The whole world watched with horror the events in Marikana, South Africa and even worse, the manner in which the police defended their actions ultimately including the arrest and charging of some of the striking mine workers.

South Africa is not alone in these twisted perceptions of the morality of state monopoly of violence. Kenya is witnessing the re-awakening of a state-centric oxymoronic violent morality. In the last few weeks, after a High Court decision declared illegal the proscription of the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), this separatist movement, misguidedly revived and threatened to disrupt national school leaving exams among other separatist acts. A police crackdown ensued, culminating on 15 October 2012 with the arrest of 38 persons at the house of the MRC Chairman, Omar Mwamnuadzi. Two people were killed, a gun and 15 rounds of ammunition recovered together with several petrol bombs, including one that was hurled at the officers conducting the raid.

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Reform needed in the laws of demonstrations in Africa

Author: Prof Christof Heyns
Professor of Human Rights Law; Co-director, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa at the University of Pretoria; United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

Many lives have recently been lost in Africa, as in other parts of the world, when demonstrations have turned fatally violent. This has been clearly seen inthe countries of the so-called Arab Spring, but numerous Sub-Saharan countries – Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Malawi and South Africa come to mind – have also experienced violent and indeed deadly marches.

These demonstrations reveal the need to bring the legal and policy regimes that govern such expressions of popular opinion into line with human rights standards.

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