Africa Rights Watch

Freedom of Assembly and Expression Threatened in Senegal as Protesters are Beaten and Killed in Response to the Arrest of Prominent Opposition Leader, Ousmane Sonko

By: Chiara Carni

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

DAKAR, Senegal –  Protests arose on March 3, 2021, after the arrest of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko over rape allegations. Ousmane Sonko has denied the rape accusations and believes that his arrest was a political move called for by President Macky Sall and Sall’s government. Subsequently, Senegalese activists called for protests over a three-day period to combat the arrest of the opposition leader. “The Movement for the Defense of Democracy (M2D), a coalition of groups demanding change in the West African nation, announced the decision in a press conference.”  The press conference also demanded the release of political prisoners held by President Sall and his government.

Protesters shout slogans near the Justice Palace of Dakar, Senegal. Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

Following his arrest, Ousmane Sonko was charged with disturbing public order and participating in an unauthorized demonstration while he was on his way to court to respond to the rape accusation. According to Amnesty International, the protests in Senegal have already led to the deaths of at least eight individuals, some of them caused by excessive use of force and firearms by government security forces. Additionally, approximately 235 people were injured during the protests on March 5th in Dakar, and around 100 people have been arrested since March 3rd.  

Security forces fired tear gas and live bullets to disperse protesters. Ida Sawyer, the deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said “the recent deaths and injuries of protesters should be credibly investigated, and security force members” should be held responsible for unlawful or excessive use of force. Additionally, Human Rights Watch reported nationwide internet disruptions throughout “the day on March 5, making it difficult for national and international journalists, human rights activists,” and others to communicate, gather information, or report on current events.

Senegalese citizens and human rights activists are concerned with the lack of protection afforded to them by the Senegalese Constitution to protect their right of freedom of assembly and expression, and uphold the prohibition of the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials. The United Nations Human Rights Council has previously condemned internet shutdowns by governments and stated that human rights apply offline and online.  

President Sall addressed the nation on March 8th, calling for “calm.” He offered his condolences to the families affected by the protests but failed to mention any investigation into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the protestors.

The Movement to Defend Democracy called for a national day of mourning on March 12th and for more demonstrations to occur on March 13th. Ida Sawyer told Human Rights Watch that “instead of cracking down on peaceful protesters, the authorities should work to address their concerns, including by advancing democratic governance and the rule of law and protecting basic economic rights for everyone.”

While it is unclear whether the national internet shortages will continue, it appears evident that the Senegalese citizens do not plan to stop the protests, citing issues including a general deterioration of the economy related to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the increasing lack of jobs for its citizens and youth in particular.

For further information, please see:

Africa Times – At least 4 dead as Senegal’s opposition calls for new protests – 6 Mar. 2021

Amnesty International – Senegal: Restraint needed as country-wide protests planned after eight died last week – 8 Mar. 2021

Human Rights Watch – Senegal: Respect Free Expression, Assembly – 12 Mar. 2021


Disappearance of Ugandan Opposition Party Members Plague the Nation After Recent Presidential Election

By: Alexandra Casey Douglass

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Managing Editor of the Journal

KAMPALA, Uganda – Following Uganda’s Presidential election on January 14, 2021, President Yoweri Museveni was announced as the official victor, earning fifty-eight percent of the vote. Museveni took power by force in 1986 and has since been elected six times. Museveni’s opposition Bobi Wine, leader of the National Unity Platform, has challenged the vote as fraudulent and filed a petition with Uganda’s highest court contesting Museveni’s victory.

Bobi Wine addressing the media in Kampala, Ugananda. Photo Courtesy of VOA News.

On February 15, 2021, Wine released a list of over 300 members of the National Unity Platform who have allegedly been abducted by State agents in Uganda. These individuals disappeared before the January election and majority remain missing. National Unity Party members have also reported illegal detentions during and after the election. President Yoweri Museveni has called the abduction reports false and claims that his forces conducted lawful arrests and only “killed a few” people he described as terrorists during the election. Local Ugandan newspapers are dominated with accounts of armed security personnel in unlicensed vans grabbing victims from the streets.

Wine suggested that Museveni was responsible for the abductions Tweeting, “Like all tyrants, he pushed the narrative that all is well, with hundreds of mothers, fathers and siblings in tears over missing loved ones.” United States Ambassador, Natalie E. Brown, cited “deep and continuing concern about the extrajudicial detention of opposition political party members, the reported disappearance of several opposition supporters and continued restrictions” on the work of the National Unity Party.

The National Unity Party petitioned the U.N. Human Rights Office to address these alleged human rights violations and state-inspired abductions. While Wine was in the U.N. Rights office in Kampala presenting his petition against the abduction of his supporters, members of the Ugandan army attacked and beat four journalists who were waiting outside. One reporter said, “We were standing outside the UN offices waiting for Bobi Wine to come out and address us when policemen and soldiers started beating everyone they came across. They beat me several times as I fled.”

In late February, the United Nations called for an investigation into Wine’s allegations as well as an investigation into the Ugandan military’s use of excessive force against journalists covering Wine. The Ugandan military has since sentenced seven soldiers to 90 days in jail for their actions in that attack. That said, little has been done to address the mass abductions of National Unity Party members leaving hundreds of Ugandan families reeling.

For further information, please see:

ABC News – Uganda’s Bobi Wine arrested while protesting in the capital – 15 Mar. 2021

Anadolu Agency – Uganda: Police clobber 4 journalists, 3 lawmakers – 17 Feb. 2021

New York Times – The West’s Patience With Uganda’s Strongman Wanes After a Bloody Election – 4 Feb. 2021

Reuters – Uganda military sentences soldiers up to three months in jail over journalist assault – 18 Feb. 2021

U.S. News – Allegations of Abductions Grip Uganda After Tense Elections – 15 Feb. 2021

U.S. News – UN Urges Uganda to Probe Reporters’ Beating at Rights Office – 17 Feb. 2021

VOA news – Uganda Opposition Part Petitions UN Human Rights Office Over Violations – 17 Feb. 2021

African Court Weighs in on Right to Fair Trial Claims in Three Cases from Tanzania

By: Christian González

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

ARUSHA, Tanzania – On February 26, 2021, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Court) made three decisions regarding claims of violations to the right to a fair trial, all coming out of Tanzania. The Court found such a violation in two of the cases but did not find a violation in the third.

The judges of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights seated in front of the Court’s location in Arusha, Tanzania. Photo courtesy of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Charter) is what gives the Court jurisdiction over matters appealed on from member states of the Organization of African Unity. It also establishes norms regarding civil and political rights of individuals within member states. In particular, Article 7 of the Charter grants individuals the right to a fair trial. This includes the “right to appeal… against acts violating his fundamental rights,” the “right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty,” the “right to be defended by counsel of his choice,” and the “right to be tried within a reasonable amount of time by an impartial court or tribunal.”

The first case, Zanzibar v. Tanzania, involved the appeal of a man convicted of rape and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The petitioner, a Mr. Mussa Zanzibar, argued that the District Court in Chota made three errors that violated his right to a fair trial: 1) that the District Court convicted him based on the testimony of a single witness whom the court did not satisfy was telling the truth, 2) that the District Court failed to resolve contradictions and inconsistencies in the prosecution’s evidence, and 3) that the District Court failed to warn itself that there needs to be evidence to satisfy the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction.

Even though the petitioner did not specifically cite a violation of Article 7 of the Charter, the Court found that he did substantially implicate the same right Article 7 concerns itself with. The Court dismissed Mr. Zanzibar’s claims regarding the District Court’s partial assessment of the evidence because it did not find a basis for interfering with a municipal court’s findings. The Court did, however, find that there was still a violation of Article 7 due to the fact that the District Court did not offer free legal assistance to Mr. Zanzibar. While the Charter does not specify a right to free counsel, the Court looked to its past interpretations of the Charter in which it held that “the right to defense includes the right to be provided with free legal assistance,” even if the petitioner did not request such legal assistance, as was the situation in the present case.

The second case, Zuberi v. Tanzania, involved the appeal of a man convicted of the rape of a ten-year-old girl and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The petitioner, a Mr. Mhina Zuberi, argued that the District Court of Muheza made three errors that violated his Article 7 rights: 1) that the District Court did not provide legal counsel to him, 2) that the District Court did not allow him to call for his own witnesses, and 3) that there were errors in the assessment of law and fact in the evidence.

The Court, like in the Zanzibar case, dismissed the claim of partial assessment of evidence. The Court also dismissed the claim of Mr. Zuberi not being able to call witnesses due to the lack of evidence. However, like in the Zanzibar case, the Court found that the District Court had deprived Mr. Zuberi of his right to be provided with free legal assistance.

The third case, Rutechura v. Tanzania, involved the appeal of a man convicted of a murder committed during the course of a burglary and sentenced to death by hanging. The petitioner, a Mr. Evodius Rutechura, argued that the High Court of Mwanza made three errors that violated his Article 7 rights: 1) that the High Court improperly dismissed his request for extension of time to file an application of review, 2) that the High Court failed to provide free legal assistance to him, and 3) that the High Court improperly assessed evidence against him.

The Court found there was no miscarriage of justice in the High Court’s denial of the time extension request, as the High Court followed its own rules in the dismissal. The Court also found that the High Court did provide Mr. Rutechura with free legal counsel. For this, the Court held that the right to have free legal assistance of one’s own choosing was not absolute, and that “the important consideration is whether the accused was given effective legal representation rather than whether he or she was allowed to be represented by a lawyer of their own choosing.” Lastly, the Court found that there was no showing that there was an improper assessment of evidence simply because the three eyewitnesses to the crime were related.

The Court granted reparations to the petitioners in the Zanzibar and Zuberi cases, each being awarded 300,000 Tanzanian Shillings (129.37 USD). The Court, however, dismissed both petitioners’ requests to be released from prison. The Court also dismissed Mr. Rutechura’s case on all claims.

For further information, please see:

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights – African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Jun. 1981

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Evodius Rutechura v. United Republic of Tanzania – 26 Feb. 2021

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Evodius Rutechura v. United Republic of Tanzania: Case Summary – 26 Feb. 2021

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Mhina Zuberi v. United Republic of Tanzania – 26 Feb. 2021

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Mhina Zuberi v. United Republic of Tanzania: Case Summary – 26 Feb. 2021

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Mussa Zanzibar v. United Republic of Tanzania – 26 Feb. 2021

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – Mussa Zanzibar v. United Republic of Tanzania: Case Summary – 26 Feb. 2021

International Criminal Court Convicts Dominic Ongwen of 61 Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes

By: William P. Hendon

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – On February 4, 2021, the International Criminal Court (ICC) found Dominic Ongwen guilty of 61 crimes against humanity, including four counts of rape, 4 counts of sexual slavery, 2 counts of forced pregnancy, and one count of forced marriage.  Ongwen was a leader of the Lord’s Salvation Army in Uganda.

Dominic Ongwen. Photo Courtesy of ICC.

The ICC had been looking for Ongwen for crimes committed in Uganda from July 2002 to December 2005. In December 2014, Ongwen gave himself up to the Central African Republic’s government who then turned him over to the ICC within ten days. Ongwen’s trial began December 6, 2016.

In 2010, the ICC issued the first warrant for a sex crime committed in furtherance of genocide. Critics say the lack of sex crime prosecutions is because the ICC’s prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, needed quick and easy cases to build the organization’s reputation. Others say the organization doesn’t prosecute sex crimes because of cultural stigmas and differences among peoples.

Acts of sexual violence have historically been brought under charges of war crimes or crimes against humanity. The ICC has expanded the definition of crimes against humanity to include crimes such as rape or forced pregnancy. Yet, the ICC has only indicted 44 people in its history. Sex crimes remain ignored and overlooked in favor of easier cases with easier evidence.

Seven witnesses testified at trial about their forced sexual encounters with Ongwen. Three of the women were Ongwen’s “wives.” One witness said, “When I started crying he asked me ‘between death and life, what do you choose?’” Another witness said, “I was only crying. I did not say anything nor refuse to sleep with him because I was fearful because he was commander and if I said anything or refused I would be killed.”

The pursuance of convictions of gender-based crimes against women and girls, under Article 7 of the Rome Statute, is pivotal for the ICC. The decision recognizes that biological females are affected by sex crimes differently than their biological male counterparts. It also allows for the organization to publicly announce that sex crimes are mainly gender-based. While this doesn’t mean to discredit other forms of sex crimes (namely, those committed against same-sex people and those committed against non-cisgender people), it is a step forward.

Ongwen was kidnapped by the LRA on his way to school as a boy. A psychiatrist at trial said Ongwen tried to escape the LRA with a few others; upon their capture, Ongwen was forced to skin another kidnappee alive. At trial, he said, “I’m one of the people against whom the LRA committed atrocities.”

For further information, please see:

BBC – Dominic Ongwen – from Child Abductee to LRA Rebel Commander – 4 Feb. 2021

BBC – LRA Commander Dominic Ongwen Appears Before ICC in The Hague – 26 Jan. 2015

ICC – Dominic Ongwen Declared Guilty of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Committed in Uganda – 4 Feb. 2021

ICC – Decision Scheduling a Hearing on Sentence and Setting the Related Procedural Calendar – 4 Feb. 2021

ICC – Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court – 1 July 2002

Modern Ghana — ICC Confirms 70 Charges Against Ugandan LRA Rebel Leader — 21 Jan. 2016

Ratification of African Court Protocol Symbolizes a New Hope for Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo

By: Chelsea Simpson

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Technical Director

ARUSHA, Tanzania – The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) ratified the African Court Protocol to the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights in an attempt to safeguard human rights.

Photo of protestors in Congo advocating for government officials to adhere to the constitution and peacefully conduct democratic elections. Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch, Congo.

On December 8, 2020, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) officially deposited its ratification instrument of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. This ratification is in support of the establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Its purpose is to promote and protect human rights and freedoms in Africa.

The move to ratify the protocol is a positive step in the right direction for safeguarding human rights in DRC. Human rights violations have been a major concern in the DRC for many years, and increasingly so in the past three years due to the long-delayed presidential, legislative, and provisional elections. The delayed elections led to substantial unrest in the DRC. Amnesty International reports that by December 2019 over one million Congolese were forcibly displaced as a result of election violence. The violence also resulted in the death of over 1,500 civilians and thousands more injured. A widespread critique is that these continued human rights abuses are perpetuated by a lack of accountability by the perpetrators. Accordingly, DRC’s ratification of this protocol gives positive hope towards a new future of human rights protections in DRC.

This picture captures the unrest following delayed presidential elections of the Democratic Republic Congo. Photo Courtesy of PLUStvAfrica.

Although the ratification of the protocol is a bold step in the right direction for human rights in DRC, there is still more DRC can do to safeguard the human rights of its citizens. Currently, 31 member states of the African Union have ratified the protocol. Only six of the 31 member states to the protocol have deposited the Declaration under Article 34(6) to allow NGOs and individuals access to the African Court directly. Those six member states are Burkina Faso, Gambia, Mali, Malawi, and Tunisia.

Under Article 34(6) of the victims of human rights violations would be allowed to fiercely bring their cases to the African Court in hope of attaining justice. The allowance of this access to justice is a possible solution towards ending the culture of impunity and accountability in DRC.

This step for DRC is one of the necessary many on the journey of human rights protections. Swift action should be taken to continue the protection of human rights in DRC. Although the ratification of the protocol proves a willingness to acknowledge an issue of adherence to human rights protocols, further attempts to end the culture of impunity through signing the 34(6) declaration should be taken.

For further information, please see:

African Court – Democratic Republic of Congo Ratifies the Protocol on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – 11 Dec. 2020

Amnesty International – The Democratic Republic of Congo 2019

BBC News – DR Congo Elections: Five Things to Know – 30 Dec. 2018

Jurist – DR Congo Ratifies Protocol Establishing African Court of Human Rights – 16 Dec. 2020  

The Citizen – DR Congo Now Ratifies African Court Protocol – 13 Dec. 2020