Africa Rights Watch

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

Separatist Movement In Cameroon has International Consequences

By: Jordan Broadbent

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

YAOUNDE, Cameroon —  On November 1, 2019, Cameroon language barriers and crackdowns incited violence and human rights abuses that have captured international attention. 

Map depicting the Anglophone region in Cameroon. Photo Courtesy of the Washington Post.

Cameroon, a former French colony, is divided between 80% French speakers and 20% English speakers and for decades the two lived in relative peace. However, since 2017 that peace has been disturbed. Along the Nigerian border an armed group of armed English-speaking separatists have demanded independence from Cameroon to form Ambazonia, an English-speaking country. The separatists claim that the Cameroon government has killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in a series of raids. They further claim that government troops came in to the area, burned down a village, killed hundreds of people and have displaced hundreds of others in an attempt to keep the anglophones under their control.

The UN embassy in Cameroon stated that in a series of raids in February and March 2019 the Cameroon government started to disappear several leaders in the separatists’ movement. The Cameroon government has claimed that these separatist groups have terrorized civilians and disrupted peace in the country that has sparked a government crackdown. The government has denied the claims of killing civilians and burning down villages, stating instead that the troops are stationed in the west to protect Cameroonians.

The United Nations and Amnesty International warned Cameroon that this military crackdown would lead to unrest. Since the warning, tens of thousands of refugees have fled to Nigeria to avoid the violence that is erupting in western Cameroon. The African Union has pleaded with both parties to end the violence as the influx of refugees continues to grow.

Cameroon is an ally of the United States and a key player in the fight against Boko Haram, a terrorist organization in western Africa. The United States Department of Defense issued a warning to Cameroon that the destabilization of the country could hurt the fight against the terrorist group.

The United States Department of Defense and State Department have worked with both groups in an attempt to end the violence in the region. Cameroon’s failure to make an attempt to stop the perceived human rights violations sparked reactions from the United States. As recently as at November 1, 2019, President Trump announced he will will remove Cameroon from a trade program that allows several African countries to trade duty free with the United States, citing human rights violations. If Cameroon does not take measures to change the current situation, Cameroon will be removed from the program on January 1, 2020. The Cameroon government has yet to respond to President Trump’s announcement. 

For further information, please see:

Washington Post- Trump Ends Trade Benefits for Cameroon over “persistent  human rights violations” – 1 Nov. 2019

Committee to Protect Justice – African Union Must Act on Cameroons Human Rights Violation – 29 Oct. 2019

Washington Post-Divided by Language – 5 Feb. 2019

UN Experts to Travel to Gambia Amid Increase in Human Trafficking Issues

By: Jordan Broadbent

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

BANJUL, Gambia — On June 20,2019, the Trafficking in Persons Report prepared by the U.S. Department of State ranked Gambia a Tier 3 country prompting the United Nations to send in experts to assess the situation.

Secretary of State Pompeo. Photo Courtesy of AP.

Tier 3 countries are those that do not comply with the minimum standards set by the U.S. Department of States’ Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and are not making significant efforts to meet those standards. The United States monitoring and ranking systems are internationally accepted.

Gambia was ranked Tier 3 after the publication of a five year long report that focuses on the use of Gambia as a central hub for human trafficking. Women and girls are trafficked through Gambia for the purposes of child marriages and sex trafficking and young boys are sold and trafficked through the country to be sold in to forced labor. The report shows that the number of people being trafficked through the country has increased in recent years.

Gambia’s capitol, Banjul, was highlighted in the report as a hotbed for child trafficking. The State Department’s study reported that tourists came to Banjul from all over the world to find child sex tourism rings.

Despite being continually criticized for the high rates of sex and human trafficking, the Gambian government has taken only modest steps in remedying the issue. In 2010, Gambia’s legislative body passed the Trafficking Persons Act which instituted a sentence ranging from 50 years to life in prison in addition to a fine as punishment to anyone found guilty of human trafficking. However, the Gambian government has failed to prosecute a single person for human trafficking in the past two years. The Gambian government has also failed to investigate child sex tourism, failed to identify and assist trafficking victims, and has not raised awareness on the issue on a national level for the past five years.

Due to the governments lack of action on the issue, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights sent a special reporter to Gambia to monitor the issue. The Special Reporter will issue a report at the end of the visit at the state of Gambia’s government actions on human trafficking and child sex tourism within the country. The report will be published at the end of October.

For further information, please see:

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commission- Sale and Sexual Exploitations of Children: UN Export Visits Gambia- 18 Oct. 2019

U.S. Department of State – 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report-  20 June 2019

United States Embassy in Gambia- Press Release: Trafficking in Persons Report 2019- 20 June 2019

Refworld – 2018 trafficking in Persons Report in Gambia- 28 June 2018

African Commission Finds Cameroon Violated Rights of Broadcasting Company

By: Jordan Broadbent

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

YAOUNDE, Cameroon —  On September 18, 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights found that Cameroon violated the freedom of expression, freedom of non-discrimination, and property rights when it failed to create an independent licensing authority for a broadcasting company.

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Session. Photo Courtesy of International Justice Resource Center.

In 2002, Cameroon Radio Freedom FM, a current affairs radio station, applied for a broadcasting license and never received a conformation of this application, despite statutory deadlines. The station broadcasted anyway and was brought to court on charges of broadcasting without a license. In 2003, the Minister of Communication ordered the equipment of the station to be forcefully confiscated.

In 2004, the Open Society Justice Initiative took on the case on behalf of the radio station. After negotiations in 2005, the two parties reached an agreement where the government agreed to turn over the equipment and provide a license to the station. However, after a year the government reneged on the agreement by failing to grant a broadcasting license or a provisional authorization. In 2007, the Open Society Justice Initiative requested a reopening of communication procedure and a full review of the case by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. It also asked the Commission to have Cameroon grant a provisional order allowing the station to broadcast while the complaint was pending.

The petitioners argued that there were three different violations of human rights. They first argued for freedom of expression. The initial claim states that Cameroon has a state-run monopoly over broadcasting in direct violation of Article 9 for the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights. Their second claim states that the state deprived the station of their right to property under Article 14 of the Charter by taking the equipment. Lastly, they argue that the state violated Article 2 of the Charter, which states one’s right of freedom of expression “without discrimination of political or other opinion,” by refusing to grant the license.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights declared that such an arbitrary denial lead to a restraint of legitimate communication, drawing on the Declaration of Principles on Freedom and Expression in Africa. Under the Human Rights Committee General Comment number 34 the Commission stated that an independent regulatory body must be in place and that Cameroon violated this by failing to have an independent organization that oversaw issues of freedom of expression.

The Commission found that the government violated the radio station’s right to property and ordered the government to pay for the property taken, the rent of the station, the cost of installing the equipment, legal fees, and loss of earnings since 2003. The state has also been ordered to pay for the moral damages against the former owner of the station.

Cameroon will have 180 days to comply with the Commission’s ruling.

For further information, please see:

International Justice Resource Center – Africa Commission Finds Violations in Cameroon’s Denial of Broadcasting License –  26 Sept. 2019

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Open Society Justice Initiative (on behalf of Pius Njawe Noumeni) v. the Republic of Cameroon – 18 Sept. 2019

Open Society Justice Initiative – Freedom FM v. Cameroon – Nov. 2016

Egyptian Authorities Crackdown on Anti-Government Protestors

By: Alexandra Casey

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

CAIRO, Egypt — On September 20, 2019, anti-government protests were held in several Egyptian cities, violating the country’s ban on protesting without a permit. Protesters called on President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to step down following allegations of government corruption. Egyptian authorities have since detained more than 2,000 people in a government crackdown. This response is significant even in a regime that has long targeted dissenters.

Protestors in Cairo, Egypt. Photo Courtesy of NPR.

According to Amnesty International, authorities have arrested everyone from street protestors to prominent government critics and have accused detainees of breaking the country’s broad anti-terrorism laws, spreading fake news, protesting without a license, and joining an illegal organization. Many of the arrests appear to have no connection to the recent protests. After September 20, al-Sisi moved swiftly to rally support. He organized state backed demonstrations praising his current rule and had authorities set up check points to search all cell phones for signs of government criticism.

Prominent journalist and activist, Esraa Abdelfattah, was reportedly arrested by plain-clothes officers and beaten after refusing to unlock her cell phone. Aaron Boehm, a U.S. citizen who had recently arrived in Egypt for a University of Edinburgh study abroad program, was also detained after police officers stopped him in the street and searched his phone. Upon discovering that Boehm sent articles to his friends about the protests, he was put in a vehicle, blindfolded for about 16 hours and interrogated by authorities. While Boehm did not suffer physical abuse, he reported seeing signs of violence against detainees.

The sheer volume of arrests following the September 20 protests combined with al-Sisi’s meager gestures towards addressing citizens’ economic grievances suggest that while Egypt appears stable, unrest may lie just below the surface. Analysts say that al-Sisi’s promise to reinstate subsidies for staples such as rice and pasta will do little to rectify citizens’ disapproval.

Mass arrests have resulted in overcrowding of detention centers, and allegations of torture and ill treatment in detention centers has received attention from the United Nations Human Rights Office. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has also expressed concerns about significant due process violations.

In a statement to press, OHCHR spokesperson, Ravina Shamdasani, reminded the Egyptian government that “under international law people have a right to protest peacefully, and a right to express their opinions, including on social media. They should never be arrested, detained – let alone charged with serious offences such as terrorism – simply for exercising those rights.”

Shamdasani called for immediate release of those who have been arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights and prompt, effective investigation into the allegations of torture and mistreatment.

For further information, please see:

Reuters – U.N. rights office urges Egypt to free blogger, lawyer, journalist – 18 Oct. 2019

UN News – UN human rights office urges Egypt to immediately release detained protestors – 18 Oct. 2019

NPR – Major Crackdown In Egypt Sweeps Up Activists, Children and At Least 1 U.S. Citizen – 12 Oct. 2019

NY Times – Egypt’s Harsh Crackdown Quashes Protest Movement – 4 Oct. 2019

Reuters – More than 1,100 detained in Egypt after protests: rights monitors – 25 Sept. 2019