Africa Rights Watch

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

South Sudanese Practice of Juvenile Death Sentences Condemned by Human Rights Actors

By: Jordan Broadbent

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

JUBA, South Sudan — On February 14, 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights issued a plea for the President of South Sudan to stop using the death penalty against juveniles.

Since South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011, President H.E. Salva Kiir Mayardit has ruled South Sudan with an iron fist. His rule has raised several concerns of the human right to life. After gaining independence, the South Sudanese government began to increasingly use the death penalty and citizens who were children at the time they committed a crime were not exempted from the death penalty.

While not prohibited under international law, it is illegal to issue the death penalty to someone under the accepted age of adulthood – 18 years old – at the time that person committed the crime. Issuing the death penalty to children is rare, and only a handful of countries still continue this practice. In this region, South Sudan and Somalia are the only countries that still issue the death penalty to children. 

Since independence 140 death sentences have been issued, including citizens who were children at the time of the crime. One, a 17-year-old boy was just 15 at the time of an accident which ended up killing another person. The boy was not afforded a lawyer at the time of his trial and he was sentenced to death by hanging, he is currently waiting for his appeal on death row.

According to the South Sudan Criminal Code, the designated method of execution is death by hanging. Prior to execution, both the President and the Supreme Court must approve of the sentence. This requirement implicates the President for the increase of death penalty sentences to those under 18 years old.  This violates the government’s obligations under Article 37(a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which South Sudan is a party. The Convention outlaws both the death penalty and life imprisonment for those who committed crimes while under the age of 18.  The President has denied there has ever been an execution of someone under 18 sentenced in South Sudan.

Amnesty International along with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights have issued statements condemning South Sudan.

For further information, please see:

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Appeal to the President of South Sudan to end the Death Penalty against children- 14 Feb. 2019

CNN- Child on Death Row in South Sudan as State executions escalate – 7 Dec. 2018

Amnesty International – South Sudan execution spree targets even children and nursing women –  7 Dec. 2018

International Bar Association – The Death Penalty under International law – May 2009

African Court on Human And People’s Rights Strikes down Mali’s Family Code

By: Jordan Broadbent

Impunity Watch Staff Writer 

BAMAKO, Mali — In March 2018, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights issued a ruling striking down Mali’s Family Code affirming their commitment to advancing women’s rights. 

Judges for the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Photo Courtesy of AfCHPR on Flickr.

The Association for the Advancement and Defense of Women’s Rights, a Malian organization dedication to the fight for equal rights, along with the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa, brought the Mali government to court over the implementation of the Family Code. The Applicants stated that the Code violated the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Mali became a party in 1986.

The Family Code implemented several harsh laws including lowering the minimum age of marriage to 16 for females, or 15 with the consent of their fathers. The law does not require ministers to obtain consent from both parties, rather just the husband. Nor do both parties need to be present at the ceremony for the marriage to take place. Additionally, the Family Code implemented harsh inheritance laws where women could only receive half of the inheritance men in their family could receive. The applications claimed that implementations of these laws would violate Mali’s obligation under the Maputo Protocol, which lays out fundamental rights for women.

The Maputo Protocol states that the age of marriage for both genders is 18, requires consent for marriage, and mandates equal inheritance laws for both genders in countries which have ratified the Protocol.

Mali argued that the Family Code reflected the social and religious reality within the country and that the flexibility within the law respects religious rules throughout the region. The Court rejected both of these arguments.

The Court adopted the Applicants stance that the Family Code policies laid out above violate Mali’s responsibility under the Charter and thus, struck down the code. The Court’s ruling marks the first time the Court has found that a country’s statute constituted a violation of the Protocol on the Rights of Women, a major win for women’s equality in Africa.

However, the Court also reached into a country in a major way because the legislation at issue concerned a country’s social and cultural practices. This demonstrates the Court’s willingness to construe a country’s social practices in order to uphold human rights.

Since this decision, there has been little action by the Mali government to implement this ruling. The Islamic community within Mali has called to keep these laws intact, despite the Court’s ruling. Their statement stated that the Muslim community will “take any action to save the country from danger.” The government’s reluctance to overturn the Family Code in compliance with the Court’s ruling could stem from the current climate within the country.

For further information, please see:

Cambridge Core – APDF & IHRDA vs. Republic of Mali – 2 Jan. 2019

EJIL: Talk – African Court on Human and People’s Rights Delivers Landmark Ruling on Women’s Rights and the Rights of the Child in Mali – 27 July 2018

International Justice Resource Center – African Court Finds Mali’s Family Laws Violates Human Rights Obligations – 29 May 2018

African Court on Human And Peoples’ Rights – Judgement – 11 May 2018

 

African Court Orders Return of Mau Forest Land to Ogiek People

By: Jordan Broadbent

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

NAIROBI, Kenya — On July 4, 2019, the Kenyan government and the Ogiek people submitted arguments to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights for the compensation paid to the Ogiek people for violations of their rights and interference with their land.

Ogiek women in Kenya. Photo Courtesy of Minority Rights Group International.

On May 26, 2017, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights ordered the Kenyan Government to return ownership of the Mau Forest lands back to the Ogiek people. The Ogiek are an indigenous tribe that have inhabited roughly 500 square miles of the Mau Forest in Kenya for centuries. The Ogiek people consider the land their ancestral ground, and have battled for centuries with colonizers, and now the Kenyan government, to maintain control of their homeland.

In recent years, the Kenyan government has attempted to evict the Ogiek people and remove them from their land. Under the guise of environmental protection, the Forest Act brought the control, use, and regulation of forest and forest areas under the control of the central government. The Kenyan government has used a two-pronged approach in order to remove the Ogiek people from this land. Using the Forest Act as support, the government first claimed that the Ogiek actually moved from the land, constituting a forfeiture of their land, ancestral or not. The second argument laid in an environmental issue, that the area is a water catchment zone and the Act gives the government power to take control of the land to protect the water catchments. The Kenyan government issued a 30-day eviction notice and allowed logging companies into the Mau Forest.

The Ogiek people brought the Kenyan government before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights after a 15-year fight through the Kenyan Courts with the concern that the government’s actions endangered their community and culture. The Ogiek advocated for the Court to halt the eviction, recognize their legal rights to the land, and order the government to compensate the Ogiek people. The Provisional order declared the Kenyan Government to immediately reinstate all land transaction restrictions in the Mau Forest and report back to the Court in 15 days. On May 26, 2017 the Court ruled that the Kenyan government violated 7 sections of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right and that the land was ancestral and belonged to the Ogiek, giving the indigenous people a historic win.

The victory signifies an important case for indigenous people in Africa. The Court overturned a government’s actions and ordered compensation to be paid to a group of the 20,000 individuals that make up the Ogiek. Ogiek were at risk of becoming “conservation refugees,” a term used for indigenous people who are forced off their land via conservation methods. This case marks a turning point to fight for the rights of indigenous groups to remain on their land.

In Kenya, the wait remains for the government to take tangible steps in restoring the Ogiek to their land.

For further information, please see:

African Court – African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights Order 006/2012 – 4 July 2019

Minority Rights Group International – Two Years on, Kenya has yet to implement judgement in Ogiek case – 5 June 2019

Ogiek.org – Ogiek People – 2004