Africa Rights Watch

Indigenous Namibians Fight for Rights to Ancestral Land

By: Katherine Davis

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

WINDHOEK, Namibia – In 2015, eight members of the Hai//om brought a class action suit against Namibia’s government and other interested parties, seeking to gain rights in Etosha National Park, their former homeland. In November 2019, the Namibian High Court dismissed the case after Hai//om chief, David // Khamuxab withdrew his support. The Hai//om await an appeal date for the Supreme Court; however, Peter Watson, legal counsel for the Hai//om, announced that his team is prepared to take the case to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

A Hai//om woman and children outside of their homes in the Oshikoto Region. Photo Courtesy of the Legal Assistance Centre and the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia.

The Hai//om occupied Etosha until 1954, when they were forced to leave their homes and move off of the property. This move forced them to become farm-laborers on the borders of Etosha, working for the white-owned commercial agricultural sector. Now, the Hai//om want to have a share in Etosha’s profits and the right to determine the use of the land as guaranteed to them in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

It is not the Hai//om’s intent to take this land away from the people of Namibia, tourists, and others. Their main goal is to promote and preserve the Hai//om culture, knowledge, and language. “If we win this case, we do not want to get rid of Etosha,” said Nicodemus Hawaseb, one of the eight applicants, in an interview with Reuters, “[w]e just want to be included in it. We want to showcase our culture to the world.”

Namibia’s government claims to be working diligently with the Hai//om in granting tourism rights, so that the indigenous communities can benefit financially from the park. However, the government refuses to label the park as ancestral land. In a phone interview with Reuters, the head of Namibia’s Wildlife and National Parks directorate, Colgar Sikopo, explained, “If we do this, then everyone else will want to claim a park of the park.”

For further information, please see:

Kim Harrisberg – Indigenous Namibians Fight for Ancestral Land in National Park – 13 Apr. 2020

Legal Assistance Centre – Constitutional Rights & Human Rights: Litigation – 2020

Xoms | Omis Project – History of the Hai||om – 2020

Werner Menges – Hai||om sue for Rights Over Etosha – 19 Oct. 2015

Ute Dieckmann, et. al. – Scraping the Pot: San in Namibia Two Decades After Independence – 2014

Cameroonian Government Accused of Additional Human Rights Violations

By: Katherine Davis

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

YAOUNDE, Cameroon – On March 30, 2020, Human Rights Watch (HRW) raised concerns about human rights violations in Cameroon in a shadow report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). The report highlights violations of arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, and other ill treatments; the right to life, the right to equal protection under the law, and violations of freedom of speech and assembly, all of which were not included in the 6th Periodic Report of Cameroon (“the Report”). HRW urges the ACHPR to consider these violations during its 66th Ordinary Session for the discussion of the Report.

Cameroon Renaissance Movement members march in protest of arbitrary arrests. Photo Courtesy of Joel Kouam, BBC News, Pidgin.

In early 2019, Cameroonian security forces arrested hundreds of members of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement, including their leader, Maurice Kamto, his closest advisors, and hundreds who joined in protest. These individuals were denied access to their attorneys and then charged “with a number of offenses including hostility against the homeland, threats to public order and rebellion.”

HRW says the Report makes no mention of these arbitrary arrests and detentions or of the violent dispersals of demonstrators. According to the shadow report, “the government of Cameroon failed to uphold those freedoms for opposition members arrested during and following peaceful demonstrations.”

In addition to the depravation of basic legal rights, HRW has also notes various human rights violations by the government of Cameroon. Since late 2016, security forces have been killing civilians, burning dozens of homes and villages, and torturing and detaining individuals to extract confessions regarding opposition forces. None of which was reported to the ACHPR by the Cameroonian government, according to HRW.

“Cameroon has submitted 6 reports in the last 18 years. Cameroon’s 6th period report fails to provide any comprehensive account of efforts to mitigate further abuses by security forces against civilians and to ensure that military operations are conducted with respect for human rights,” writes HRW.

HRW urges the government of Cameroon to promptly investigate these allegations, to develop and implement safeguards in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and to provide appropriate medical care to victims of torture. They also strongly encourage ACPHR to consider the absence of these violations in their upcoming discussions during the 66th Ordinary session.

Originally scheduled to begin on April 22, ACHPR’s 66th Ordinary Session has been tentatively rescheduled for May/June 2020 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. As of April 11, 2020, the ACHPR has not commented on HRW’s allegations.

For further information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Shadow Report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Response to the 6th Periodic Report of Cameroon – 30 Mar. 2020

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Cameroon: 4th – 6th Periodic Report, 2015 – 2019 – 3 Jan. 2020

BBC News, Pidgin – Opposition say Cameroon Police Arrest About 100 Party Mimbas wey March – 2 Jun. 2019

The Guardian – Hundreds of Opposition Members Arrested in Cameroon – 4 Jun. 2019

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Press Statement of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the postponement of the 66th Ordinary Session in light of the global Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic – 17 Mar. 2020

Depreciating Human Rights Conditions in Zimbabwe

By: Eronmwon Joyce Irogue

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Since the reelection of Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa in July 2018, human rights conditions in the country have deteriorated. In September 2019, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association fact-finding mission discovered a “serious deterioration of the political, economic and social environment.” Even after supposed legal reforms, Zimbabwe continues undeterred on its path of human rights violations.

On March 4, 2020, the United States extended its restriction on several senior Zimbabwean government officials for another year. The United States referenced the extant human rights oppression by the government against critics as one of its reasons and urged for a more tenable reform. This extension occurred one month after the European Union commented on the “deteriorating humanitarian crisis” in Zimbabwe.

Human rights violations have allegedly been committed by the Zimbabwean security forces. Specifically, they have used force against peaceful protesters. In August 2018, the security forces used deadly force against post-election protesters where 6 people died and thirty-five were injured. In mid-January 2019, the security forces used brutal force against protesters of the President. There, seventeen people died, seventeen women were raped, eighty-one people were injured, and over a thousand protesters were arrested. After the incident, the government shut down social media and the internet on January 15 and only restored social media and internet access on January 21 after a ruling by the Harare High Court. The Zimbabwean government relies on the authority on “subverting a constitutional government” contained in Section 22, Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act to punish individuals suspected of organizing protests.

Zimbabwe remains a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The ability of the human rights conditions in Zimbabwe to continue to deteriorate despite the country’s status as a signatory indicates that these instruments may lack importance in the region. Increased awareness and compliance with these human rights covenants is required if there is to be growth and stability in Zimbabwe and likewise in other African countries. As is apparent from the reports, continuous human rights violations contribute to both economic and political setbacks.

For further information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Rampaging Rights Violations Despite Lukewarm Reform – 20 Mar. 2020

Human Rights Watch – World Report 2020

Human Rights Watch – UN Expert “Shocked” By Abuses In Zimbabwe – 27 Sept. 2019

African Commission Seeks Justice in South Sudan Despite Non-Cooperation by State Government

By: Eronmwon Joyce Irogue

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

JUBA, South Sudan – The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (“ACHPR”) expressed its fears concerning the “non-implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan of September 2018” in a press statement released in February 2020. The war crimes court of South Sudan was established through the 2015 and 2018 peace deals with the goal of bringing violators to justice and providing retribution for victims of the atrocities committed during the South Sudan Civil War. This court is now threatened by the South Sudan government’s use of “US-based lobbyists” to prevent the court’s creation.  

South Sudanese soldier walks past group of women. Photo Courtesy of Reuters/Siegfried Modola.

Many human rights violations have occurred in South Sudan, but they peaked in 2013 during the armed conflict between President Salva Kirr Mayardit’s forces and opposition forces led by former Vice President Riek Machar. In 2014, South Sudanese Civil Organizations wrote an open letter to ACHPR to address the incessant violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Sudan, urging ACHPR to issue a resolution and establish a Commission of Inquiry.

In 2018, the Commissioner Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in South Sudan sent a Letter of Concern to the President of South Sudan. The letter highlighted the increase in violations of women’s right to security and cited the more than 150 women who have been attacked and raped in the Northern region of South Sudan between November and December 2018. This demonstrates the continuing high rate of human rights violations in South Sudan despite the civil war having ended.

The ACHPR is substantially limited in South Sudan because it is the only African Union country which does not permit the ACHPR to hear cases. Due to this arrangement, human rights violations, especially those perpetrated against women, will continue unless the South Sudanese government stops delaying the creation of the war crimes court and recognizes the importance of the brokered peace deal. This will be the first step in the right direction for South Sudan and Africa.

For further information, please see:

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Press Statement on the Human and Peoples’ Rights Situation in South Sudan – 21 Feb. 2020

Human Rights Watch – South Sudan Cynical Bid to Block War Crimes Court – 30 Apr. 2019

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Letter of Concern to The Republic of South Sudan – 28 Dec. 2018

Human Rights Watch – Open letter To The Members of The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights From South Sudanese Civil Society Organizations – 7 Mar. 2014

Open Society Justice Initiative – African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – June 2013

Barred Access to African Court For Tanzanian Citizens and NGOs

By: Eronmwon Joyce Irogue

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

ARUSHA, Tanzania – In early December 2019, the Tanzanian government announced its withdrawal for the right of individuals to directly institute an action at the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Ironically, this Court is a regional human rights court is permanently located in Arusha, Tanzania.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli. Photo Courtesy of DW.

This new development may not be shocking due to the lingering incidence of human rights abuses prevalent under the tenure of President John Magufuli. However, this current occurrence deprives Tanzanian citizens of their right to seek justice before the court on issues of human rights. The timing of the withdrawal of the right to file cases at the Court amplified the fears of both human rights organizations and Tanzanian citizens concerning the dilapidating state of human rights in Tanzania.

The African Court is a regional court established by the African Union to address legal issues such as the protection of the rights for citizens in signatory states. Signatory states are bound by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Since the Court is located in Tanzania, NGOs and individuals have sought recourse in the Court for human rights violations. In cases brought against the Tanzanian government, the Court has often ruled against the government, causing the decision for the withdrawal. The Tanzanian government has sought to prevent the condemnation of the human rights violations of President Magufuli’s regime such as violations of freedom.

In preventing individuals from bringing cases before the Court, the president has breached the Optional Declaration which was signed to give the protected citizens the right which the Tanzanian government now violates.  The request to withdraw undermines the Court’s authority and legitimacy as the enforcer of international law on the African continent. This decision may signal to other states which have signed the Optional Declaration to withdraw and disregard human rights violations without the possibility of regional redress for their citizens. This action puts the region one more step behind amongst its counterparts in other parts of the world.

For further information, please see:

Fair Planet – Tanzania Bars Citizens From Seeking Justice at the African Court – 8 Jan. 2020

Anadolu Agency – US bans Tanzanian politician over human rights abuse – 2 Jan. 2020

DW – Africa’s rights court suffer setback as Tanzania blocks cases – 12 June 2019

Human Rights Watch – Tanzania – 2018