The African Court on Human and People’s Rights Finds Tanzania’s Mandatory Death Penalty for Murder to be Against the Charter of the United Nations

By: Penelope Boettiger
Impunity News Staff Writer

TANZANIA – On December 1, 2022 the African Court on Human and People’s Rights (ACtHPR) released its judgment regarding alleged violations in Tanzania of the right to life, the right to a fair trial, the right to be tried without undue delay, the right to effective representation, the right to dignity and to be free from cruel inhuman or degrading treatment following Defendant spending more than six years in pre-trial detention and held in twelve years (and counting) on death row following a mandatory death row sentence. In Marthine Christian Msuguri v. United Republic of Tanzania the Court found in favor of Defendant in all but his effective counsel claim, which was dismissed.

In Tanzania, the death penalty is, per penal code, imposed by hanging. Photo courtesy of BBC News

Concerning his right to life violation, which is protected under Article 4 of the Charter of the United Nations, of which Tanzania is a signatory, the Court found the mandatory death penalty under Article 197 of the Tanzanian Penal Code for the crime of murder violates the right to fair trial and violates the required individualized sentencing which takes into account circumstances of the crime and the Defendant as possible mitigating factors. Ignoring questions of insanity and generalized mental health status in particular violate the required judicial sentencing discretion.

Defendant was held in pre-trial detention for over six years before his trial, which violates his right to be tried without undue delay. The case at hand was not a complex case, did not require a great deal of investigation, and Defendant in no way contributed to the delay. With no explanation for such extensive delays, the Court found Defendant’s rights under Article 7(1)(d) of the Charter were violated. Regarding Defendant’s contention of degrading treatment, the Court found such delays, with the death penalty a likely outcome, would plainly result in the psychological suffering that in and of itself is inhuman and degrading under Article 5 of the Charter. Similarly, the length of his detention – more than twelve years to date – following being sentenced to death also violates this right. This psychological harm is compounded by the certainty of the death penalty in a situation where the mandatory death penalty is not legally in line with the Charter.

The Court here awarded pecuniary damages, reiterated its order to repeal the mandatory death sentence, for which it had been ordered in at least three previous cases. The Court also required the sentence be vacated and reconsidered under a process which does not impose the mandatory death sentence.

In Tanzania there are two offenses which carry mandatory death sentences: murder and treason. Under section 197 of the Penal Code, any non-pregnant person over 18 “shall be sentenced to death.” While the death penalty has been carried out in Tanzania since 1994, making it what is termed an “abolitionist in practice,” new death sentences continue to be handed down. Currently there are approximately 500 people on death row in Tanzania, thereby de facto violating the rights outlined above in Msuguri. The abolishment of not only the mandatory death penalty for murder, but for the death penalty at all, continues to rise in the African continent with Equatorial Guinea poised to be the latest to remove the death penalty from its criminal code at the end of this year. While the President of Tanzania commuted the death penalty for 256 inmates on death row in 2020, sparking international human rights hope that they too would be moving away from the psychological torture associated with indefinite time on death row, this has not panned out. In fact, in 2019 the High Court of Tanzania upheld the death penalty, so while in Msuguri mandatory death sentence and conditions surrounding it were found to be contrary to the Charter and violative of human rights, for now the death penalty and the mandatory death penalty for murder stand. The world waits to see how Tanzania will respond to the ACtHPR’s decision and what, if any, changes to its penal code Tanzania will make.

U.S. Department of State – Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Tanzania – 2020

Leonard Shaidi – The Death Penalty in Tanzania: Law and Practice – 2019

ACtHPR – The Matter of Marthine Christian Msuguri v. United Republic of Tanzania – 1 Dec. 2022

Daily News – Legal experts advise on abolition of death penalty – 17 Sept. 2022

The Death Penalty Project – The Conversation: ‘Why has Kenya not abolished the death penalty? Habit and inertia’ – 21 Sept. 2022

Anadolu Agency – Tanzania commutes death sentences of 256 convicts – 12 Sept. 2022

Anti-Gay Rhetoric Fueling Ukraine Invasion, or is the Ukraine Invasion Fueling Anti-Gay Rhetoric

By: Alessa Rodriguez

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

RUSSIA – The European Court for Human Rights recently found that those who wanted to sue in their court for a discriminatory ban on holding LGBT public assemblies against Russia would have no redress for the alleged violation and ultimately their applications are denied. Article 11 of the Convention finds that everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and that no restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights. The only restrictions would be under the realm of national security, public safety, prevention of disorder or crime, protection of health and morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms for others.

LGBTQ march May 2013. Picture Courtesy of Foreign Policy/Getty Images

Even more recently, Russian lawmakers have approved a bill that expands restrictions on activities seen as promoting gay rights. There was previously a ban of “gay propaganda” against minors, this now expands it to those that reach the age of majority. The bill outlaws ads, media and online resources, films, and theater productions that contain the “propaganda”. Violations are punishable by fines and can lead to expulsion from Russia. This bill will move into the upper chamber, expected to approve it, and then to Putin who is also expected to approve this.

The previous restrictions from 2013 were seen as a way to redeem Putin’s image as a conservative and to distract from his persona. This time Putin is using the debate towards on LGBT issues to distract from his attacks on Ukraine. Deflecting the world issues at hand with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he is fearmongering and weaponizing religion as why the “gay propaganda” should be restricted. This political strategy is effectively ruining his public image globally as he is pushing to invade another country and take away queer people’s rights and freedoms. However, Putin’s accomplishments are being celebrated by citizens as 50% of the nation expresses support for “mobilization”, another term for his invasion of Ukraine.

The European Court of Human Rights should evaluate the expansion of Russia’s previous “anti-gay” laws as it effectively leaves queer Russians or queer people entering Russia with troubling consequences, as there may be proper redress for this issue.

For further information please see: 

AP News – Russian Duma gives LGBTQ “propaganda” bill final approval – 24 Nov. 2022

ECHR – Recent Decisions – Aleksandrov and others v. Russia – 20 Oct. 2022

The Washington Post – Europe – Russia advances bill to criminalize “promoting” LGBTQ relationships – 24 Nov. 2022

Wilson Center – The Russia File – To Avoid Answering Hard Questions at Home, Putin Will Keep Fighting in Ukraine – 14 Nov. 2022

European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) Ruled Italian Authorities Failed to Properly Assess Asylum Seeker’s Age Before Placing Him in Adult Migrant Center

By: D’Andre Gordon

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

Venice, Italy — On January 18, 2017, Mr. Ousainou Darboe filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). His complaint alleged Italy violated his procedural and substantive rights under Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), Article 8 (right to respect privacy and family life), and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Darboe recounted overcrowded conditions at an adult migrant facility he was placed in, Italian authorities’ failure to presume he was minor under domestic and international law, and having no effective remedies for his complaints.

A group of young, unaccompanied foreign minors in Italy. Photo curtesy of Open Migration.

Darboe arrived at Italian shores in a makeshift vessel where he declared he was a minor seeking international protection. Since Darboe declared he was a minor, Italian authorities were bound to follow specific procedural safeguards under domestic and international law. Italian authorities did not follow established protocols and placed Darboe in a facility for unaccompanied minors. Three months into his stay, the authorities transferred Darboe to an adult migrant facility, where he remained for over four months. At the adult migrant center, a local doctor performed a medical exam that involved taking X-Rays of Darboe’s left wrist and hand to determine his age. Based on the results, the doctor determined Darboe’s bone structure was consistent with that of an 18-year-old male.

Because Darboe initially declared he was minor, Italian authorities were compelled to treat him as such within the confines of established procedural safeguards. Darboe was entitled to receive information about his rights as an asylum seeker in a language and form he could understand. Italian authorities were also supposed to give Darboe the benefit of the doubt and refrain from conducting an age assessment using bone analysis due to its inaccuracies.

In the adult facility, attorneys met with Darboe and helped him file a Rule 39 request with the local court. His request was based on him being subjected to a medical exam without his consent and not receiving a copy of the findings from his medical exam. Further, no one let him know of any administrative or judicial findings on his age. As an interim measure, his attorneys asked the court to transfer Darboe to a facility for unaccompanied minors. The court granted Darboe’s request, and he was transferred to a facility for unaccompanied minors on February 18, 2017. On November 7, 2018, the court lifted the interim measure, and Darboe’s complaint to the European Court of Human Rights followed.

On July 21, 2022, the ECHR unanimously ruled Italian authorities violated Darboe’s rights under all three articles of the Convention. As such, the ECHR ordered Italy to pay monetary compensation to Darboe under Article 41. In the Court’s decision, the Court emphasized the importance of signatories to the Convention upholding their legal obligations under Article 3. Despite the unprecedented flow of asylum seekers and migrants into European States forming the external borders of the European Union, signatories to the Convention are not relieved of their responsibilities under Article 3. Moreover, states must do what is in the best interests of a child regardless of their immigration status. In Darboe’s case, he was denied the protections he was entitled to because of the amount of time he spent in an adult facility. Moreover, Darboe was not given a trained guardian who could support him through the asylum process. 


For further information, please see:

ECHR – Case of Darboe and Camara v. Italy – Application no. 5797/17 – 21 July 2022

ECHR – Judgment Darboe and Camara v. Italy – Italian authorities breached rights of asylum-seeker to be presumed and treated as a minor – 21 July 2022

ECHR – Rules of Court – 03 Oct. 2022

InfoMigrant – Human rights court: Italy guilty of violating rights of minor – 25 July 2022

Open Migration – The long wait of young unaccompanied migrants in Italy – 08 Feb. 2017

ICC Prosecutor Concludes the Investigation Phase in the Situation in Georgia

By: Leah Wilck

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – On December 16, 2022, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim A.A. Khan KC, released a statement concluding the investigation phase in the situation in Georgia. This comes 6 years after the Pre-Trial Chamber granted the Prosecutor’s request to begin investigating allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes by the Georgian armed forces, the South Ossetian forces, and the Russian armed forces during the 2008 international armed conflict.

Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan KC of the International Criminal Court. Photo courtesy of the International Criminal Court

In August of 2008, an international armed conflict broke out between Georgia and Russia over the region of South Ossetia. This conflict resulted in a reported 138,000 individuals displaced as well as hundreds of lives lost on both sides. The Office of the Prosecutor received information on behalf of 6,335 victims on the matter, leading to its decision to open an investigation. National authorities in Georgia and Russia had already taken domestic proceedings in conducting investigations, however, Georgia’s investigations were indefinitely suspended in March of this past year. Russian investigations are supposedly ongoing.

On June 30, 2022, the ICC delivered arrest warrants for three suspects based on reasonable grounds that they were responsible for war crimes including unlawful confinement, torture and inhuman treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, hostage taking, and unlawful transfer of civilians, in violation of the Rome Statute. As of now, the arrest warrants are out for Mr. Mikhail Mayramovich Mindzaev, Mr. Gamlet Guchmazov, and Mr. David Georgiyevich Sanakoev; however, all three are still at large.

In the press release, the Office of the Prosecutor stated that it is the belief of the office that another suspect, Mr. Vyacheslav Boris, who was the Major General in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and Deputy Commander of the Airborne Forces during these events, is now deceased. Furthermore, in the Press Release, Prosecutor Khan said, “I am not willing to continue to overpromise and underdeliver for survivors and the families of the victims. To achieve meaningful results, we must be robust in our analysis of how resources can be most effectively deployed to deliver the greatest impact for those affected by crimes falling within our jurisdiction globally.” While this is the first time in the 20 years since the ICC’s establishment that the Office has closed the investigation phase, Khan maintains work on the situation in Georgia is far from over, as is his work with other situations. Furthermore, he intends to continue to investigate and prosecute with the goal of promoting the core ideals of the ICC and the Rome statute.


For further information, please see: 

ICC – The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim A.A. Khan KC, announces conclusion of the investigation phase in the Situation in Georgia – 16 Dec. 2022

ICC – Situation in Georgia: ICC Pre-Trial Chamber delivers three arrest warrants – 30 Jun. 2022

ICC – ICC Prosecutor, Karim A.A. Khan QC, announces application for arrest warrants in the Situation in Georgia – 10 Mar. 2022

ICC – Georgia, Situation in Georgia, ICC-01/15, Investigation – ICC Concludes Investigation Phase into 2008 Conflict – 16 Dec. 2022

AP News – ICC prosecutor ends Georgia, Central African Republic probes – 16 Dec. 2022

ICC Appeals Chambers Unanimously Confirm Dominic Ongwen’s Conviction and Sentencing Decision Vindicating Over 4,095 Victims

By: Marie LeRoy

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

Strasbourg, FRANCE – The International Criminal Court (ICC) Appeals Chamber confirmed the Trial Chambers conviction of Dominic Ongwen for all 61 war crimes and crimes against humanity charged. The crimes confirmed included crimes such as murder, torture, “outrages upon personal dignity,” “sexual and gender-based crimes,” and the subjugation of children to hostilities. Mr. Ongwen was sentenced to twenty-five years of imprisonment.

Dominic Ongwen during the ICC Appeals Chamber hearing. Photo
curtesy of the International Criminal Court.

Ongwen’s confirmed crimes were committed in Northern Uganda between July 2002 and December 2005 during the time that Ongwen was a member, and Brigade Commander, of the Lord Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA rebelled against the government of Uganda and believed that anyone associated with the government of Uganda was their enemy. The LRA perceived the citizens of Northern Uganda, particularly the citizens living within “Internally Displaced Persons” camps, to be their enemy and, therefore, targeted them.

In confirming the Trial Chambers conviction, the ICC rejected the Defenses’ ninety grounds of appeal that were raised regarding the conviction and the additional eleven grounds of appeal that were raised regarding the sentencing. These attempted appeals included grounds for excluding criminal responsibility by way of mental disease or duress, violations to Ongwen’s right to fair trial, and challenges to the findings for Ongwen’s individual liability for crimes committed as an “indirect perpetrator” and as an “indirect co-perpetrator.”

This final confirmation at last ends the near decade long matter against Ongwen, liberating the 4,095 victims allowed to participate in this case and the innumerable more who have been touched by Ongwen’s crimes against humanity.

Reparations to victims are still being determined.


For further information, please see:

ICC – Case Information Sheet – The Prosecutor v. Dominic Ongwen – Dec. 2022

ICC — Ongwen Case – The Prosecutor v. Dominic Ongwen

ICC – Order for Submissions of Reparations – The Prosecutor v. Dominic Ongwen – 6 May 2021

ICC – Press Release – Ongwen Case – 15 Dec. 2022