Africa

African Court Dismisses Unemployment Case Against Rwanda

By: Hannah Gabbard
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ARUSHA, Tanzania – On May 11, 2018, the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) dismissed Chrysanthe Rutabingwa’s claim against the government of Rwanda as invalid.

Spectators at the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights. Photo Courtesy of AfCHPR on Twitter.

In 2001, Rutabingwa was fired from his position as an Audit and Evaluations Expert at the Ministry of Finance for allegedly disclosing confidential documents. Rutabingwa claimed that his dismissal was unfair and unconstitutional. In particular, Rutabingwa claimed that the Republic of Rwanda, for failing to solve Rutabingwa’s unemployment, violated his right to equality and equal protection, right to be heard, right of access to public services, right to work in equitable conditions and right to equal pay, and right to enjoy favorable work conditions.

Rutabingwa appealed to AfCHPR on November 10, 2014 against the Republic of Rwanda. He sought reimbursement of salaries dating back to 2001, government provided housing, reinstatement of public service employment, and $1,000,000 U.S. dollars for damages and humiliation.

In Rwanda, Rutabingwa filed in a court of first instance. Following their judgement, the High Court dismissed Rutabingwa’s claim. Rutabingwa never appealed to Rwanda’s highest court, the Supreme Court. AfCHPR dismissed Rutabingwa’s case for failing to exhaust local remedies in Rwanda before appealing to AfCHPR in Tanzania.

AfCHPR has ruled on four cases against the Rwandan government. As Rwanda’s withdrawal from the declaration that provides the court with jurisdiction took effect in 2017, AfCHPR can only proceed with cases filed prior to 2017.

For further information, please see:

African Union – Chrysanthe Rutabingwa vs. Republic of Rwanda Order – 11 May 2018

African Union – Chrysanthe Rutabingwa vs. Republic of Rwanda Judgement – 11 May 2018

The East African – Rwanda government wins longstanding court feud with sacked employee – 16 May 2018

African Court and United Nations to Strengthen Relationship

By: Skylar Salim
Impunity Watch News, Africa

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — On February 9, 2019, an agreement was signed between the United Nations and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) at the 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of African States in Addis Ababa. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, and the president of the African court, Sylvain Oré, met and signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

Sylvain Oré and Michelle Bachelet at the signing the MoU at the African Union‘s 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of African State and Government. Photo courtesy of CaptialFM.

In September, 2018, ACHPR judges and UN human rights experts met to discuss the issue of the death penalty. This meeting in September drove the UN and the Court to negotiate and sign the MoU. The agreement is designed to strengthen the working relationship between the United Nations and the African Court. The African Court is an institution composed of judges from the African Union that meets four times a year.  The court works to enhance and protect human rights in Africa. Bachelet has noted that, “The Court is a critically important mechanism for the promotion and protection of peoples’ and human rights in Africa, and it is an invaluable partner in the region”. During the signing ceremony for the MoU, Oré stated, “The Court and the UN Office share common values on humanity, including the culture of promoting and protecting human rights.”

Through the agreement, the UN and the court will work toward supporting each other on international and regional levels. The agreement indicates that the institutions will work together when it comes to conceiving and implementing human rights standards in Africa, and what practices are best suited for regional courts such as the ACHPR. Possible activities discussed in the agreement include the UN increasing their knowledge of the practice and jurisprudence of the ACHPR, while the Court will work to understand the work done by the UN Treaty Bodies. Bachelet observed that, “[the UN] already had a good relationship with African human rights system as a whole.” She went on to note that, “however, with this agreement, we are taking it to another level. It will enable us to improve the synergies between the two organizations. The Court is a critically important mechanism for the promotion and protection of peoples’ and human rights in Africa, and it is an invaluable partner in the region.”

For further information, please see:

CapitalFMKenya — African Court Signs MoU with UN to Strengthen Relations — 11 February 2019

CNBC Africa — UN Human Rights Office and African Court on Human and People’s Rights Sign Cooperation Agreement — 11 February 2019

IPP Media — African Court and UN Rights Office Sign MoU to Strengthen Relations — 11 February 2019

African Court Upholds Tanzanian Court Sentence

By: Hannah Gabbard
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ARUSHA, Tanzania – On May 11, 2018, the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) unanimously ruled that the United Republic of Tanzania did not violate George Maili Kemboge’s right to equality or the right to enjoy the best attainable state of mental and physical health pursuant to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights. Photo Courtesy of AfCHPR.

In August 2006, Kemboge was convicted by the District Court of Tarime for the rape of a fifteen year old girl. He was sentenced to thirty years in prison, twelve cane strokes, and a fine of five hundred thousand Tanzania Shillings.

In 2013 the High Court of Tanzania upheld the sentence and the Court of Appeal of Tanzania affirmed in 2014. Kemboge filed an appeal with the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2016 alleging that his right to equal protection of the law and right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health had been violated. Kemboge appealed to the Court to quash the conviction and sentence and grant reparations.

On the merits, Kemboge argued that the Court of Appeal only considered procedural matters and did not consider the “interests of justice” and that equal protection of the law was violated. Kemboge presented three arguments he alleged the Court of Appeals did not consider. Here, the Court ruled that Kemboge’s allegation of a equal rights protection was dismissed because Kemboge did not demonstrate how the arguments were not properly raised before the lower courts.

Secondly, Kemboge alleged that his right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health was violated because he was not recognized as married to the victim. The Court ruled that state’s refusal to recognize an alleged marriage to the victim does not violate his right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health and therefore, dismissed the allegation.    

The Court did not find any violation of rights and dismissed Kemboge’s appeal for reparations.

For further information, please see:

African Union – The Matter of George Maili Kemboge v. the United Republic of Tanzania – 11 May 2018

African Governance Architecture – Press Release: African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to Render Six Judgements – 09 May 2018

African Union – Executive Summary of the Application – 3 November 2015

Rape Declared National Emergency in Sierra Leone

By: Skylar Salim
Impunity Watch News, Africa

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – On February 7, 2019,President Julius Maada Bio declared a national emergency regarding the prevalence of rape and sexual violence in Sierra Leone. He also told all public hospitals to provide free medical care to victims of sexual violence. This declaration grew from public outrage over a case that was never prosecuted involving the rape of a 5-year-old girl by her uncle in 2018, leading to her paralysis. The president noted that hundreds of cases are reported monthly, and “some of our families practice a culture of silence and indifference toward sexual violence, leaving victims even more traumatized.” Around 70% of the victims of this violence are under the age of 15. According to the United Nations, almost half of the women in Sierra Leone face violence, and 90% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have been victims of genital mutilation.

President Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone declares a national emergency over sexual violence and rape. Photo courtesy of Abderrahmane Mokhtari.

Bio stated that perpetrators of these crimes are getting younger and more violent, and that sex with minors will be made punishable by life in prison. Currently, perpetrators face a maximum of only 15 years in prison. This declaration came after activists, such as the group Hands Off Our Girls, and First Lady Fatima Bio had been campaigning for reform for months. Hands Off Our Girls is a group supported by the First Lady that works to stop sexual violence against women and child marriage in the country.

Police figures of reported cases of sexual and domestic violence have been rising, with 10,544 reported cases in 2015 to 12,029 reported cases in 2017. Activists have also stated that many cases never get reported, and that the actual number is much higher. During Sierra Leone’s civil war, which lasted from 1991 to 2002, rape and sexual violence against women and girls was widespread. Many women and girls were forced into sexual slavery, to be “bush wives,” during the conflict. A UN report presented after the conflict noted, “the failure to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for rape and other forms of gender-based violence has contributed to an environment of impunity that perpetuates violence against women.”

While the country made progress against sexual violence, a report by Save the Children notes that children were left vulnerable to sexual violence by the Ebola outbreak in 2014 as many of them were orphaned. The Rainbo Initiative, an organization that helps sexual violence survivors, notes that they were being overwhelmed by cases involving children every day. Vickie Remoe, a TV producer, has noted “politician will alone will not fix the problem. What we need in behavioral change… men need to learn to think differently about girls, and to act differently towards girls.

For further information, please see: 

AP – Sierra Leone President Declares Rape a National Emergency – 8 February 2019

CNN – Sierra Leone’s President Declares Rape a ‘National Emergency’ – 8 February 2019

NYT – Sierra Leone Declares National Emergency Over Rape of Young Girls – 8 February 2019

African Court Rules Mali Violated Maputo Protocol

By: Hannah Gabbard
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ARUSHA, Tanzania – On May 10, 2018, the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) decided the case between the Association Pour le Progrès et la Défense des Droits des Femmes Maliennes (APDF) and the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) against the Republic of Mali.

African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights. Photo Courtesy of AfCHPR.

Applicants APDF and IHRDA, human rights organizations in Africa, alleged that the Malian Family Code was inconsistent with AfCHPR’s Maputo Protocol.  Applicants alleged that the Family Code violated the minimum age of marriage for girls, the right to consent to marriage, the right to inheritance, and the obligation to eliminate traditional practices and undermine women and children’s rights. The Maputo Protocol is a legal instrument ratified by the court in 2005 that aims to promote women’s rights in Africa.

AfCHPR held that the Republic of Mali violated the Maputo Protocol, the African Charter on the rights and Welfare of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. AfCHPR ordered Mali to amend their Family Code to comply with these treaties. The court requested a report to be submitted to the court within two years of the judgement.

After the court announced its verdict, IHRDA Executive Director, Gaye Sowe said, “It is important for States to take measures to domestic international treaties they adhere to. Today’s decision is very important not only for the promotion of women’s rights in Mali and Africa, but especially for the visibility and effective use of the Maputo Protocol which so far has been underutilized by women’s rights actors and stakeholders in Africa.”

This case is the first application of the Maputo Protocol by the AfCHPR.

For further information, please see:

African Union – APDF & IHRDA v. Republic of Mali Case Summary – 11 May 2018

African Union – APDF & IHRDA v. Republic of Mali Judgement  – 11 May 2018

IHRDA – IHRDA, APDF obtain favourable judgment against Mali in first case before the African Court applying provisions of Maputo Protocol – 11 May 2018

American Society of International Law – African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights Rules Mali Violated the Maputo Protocol (May 11, 2018) – 16 May 2018

International Justice Resource Center – African Court Finds Mali’s Family Law Violates Human Rights Obligations – 29 May 2019