Africa Rights Watch

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 People – 2004






Bosco Ntaganda Convicted: A Long-Awaited Victory by the ICC

By: Madison Kenyon

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

KINSHASA, Congo — On July 8, 2019, the International Criminal Court (ICC) found Bosco Ntaganda guilty. The Court convicted him of 13 counts of war crimes, including: murder and attempted murder, intentionally directing attacks against civilians, rape, sexual slavery, ordering the displacement of the civilian population, conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 years into an armed group and using them to participate actively in hostilities, intentionally directing attacks against protected objects, and destroying the adversary’s property; and five counts of crimes against humanity, including: murder and attempted murder, rape, sexual slavery, persecution, and forcible transfer and deportation. Ntaganda is only the fourth person to be convicted by the ICC and the first person to be convicted of sexual slavery.

Bosco Ntaganda in the International Criminal Court. Photo Courtesy of AP.

Ntaganda’s crimes date back to before 2003. These crimes specifically arise from his involvement with the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), of which he was the Deputy Chief of Staff and commander of operations. Despite the ICC’s prosecutor beginning her investigation on June 21, 2004, an arrest warrant was not issued until August 22, 2006. The first warrant charged Ntaganda with the war crime of recruiting and using child soldiers. The ICC did not issue a second arrest warrant until July 13, 2012, which was amended to include four additional counts of war crimes and three additional counts of crimes against humanity. The prosecutor later added more crimes.

Even with the addition of these charges to his arrest warrant, the investigative organization, Human Rights Watch, argued that additional charges should have been added for the alleged crimes he committed after 2003. Specifically, Human Rights Watch argued that he should be charged for his actions while he was military chief of staff of the National Congress for the Defense of the People, a military group located in the North Kivu Province in eastern Congo. While in this position, Human Rights Watch documented Ntaganda’s involvement in ethnic massacres, killings, rape, torture, and recruitment of child soldiers. Despite this documentation and the urge by Human Rights Watch, the court did not include these crimes.

In 2012, Ntaganda broke away from the National Congress for the Defense of the People and formed his own coalition, the March 23 Movement (also referred to as M23). During this time, he continued to live freely and visibly in front of the Congolese government. President Joseph Kabila refused to arrest him because he did not want to disrupt the peace of DR Congo. Thus, Ntaganda would have remained free if he had not turned himself over to the ICC on March 22, 2013. He surrendered because he feared the turmoil currently occurring within M23.

After the ICC brought Ntaganda into custody, the judicial process took six years to reach the July verdict due to extensive investigations by both parties, resulting in approximately 69,000 pages worth of evidence. The trial, which took place over the course of 248 hearings, included testimony from 80 witnesses and experts called by the prosecutor, and 19 witnesses called by the defense team. The court also authorized 2,129 victims to partake in the trial.

Although many are celebrating this judgment, this conviction sheds light on some flaws of the ICC. One flaw in particular is highlighted by the view that this conviction may have never occurred if Ntaganda did not surrender himself to the ICC. This situation could prompt the ICC and the international community to consider another means to bring war criminals within its jurisdiction. Solutions to these issues may expedite a path to justice as the court cannot start a trial without the defendant present.

For further information, please see: 

International Criminal Court – Case Information Sheet: Situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo – 8 July 2019 

BBC – DR Congo’s Bosco Ntaganda Convicted of War Crimes by ICC – 8 July 2019 

BBC – Bosco Ntaganda: The Congolese ‘Terminator’ – 8 July 2019

Human Rights Watch – Q&A: Bosco Ntaganda, DR Congo, and the ICC – 2 July 2019

What Have We Learned From the Rwandan Genocide?

The legacy of Rwanda’s genocide has some compelling messages about the impact of hate speech and why words matter.

By: Cora True-Frost

A memorial to the thousands who were killed in and around the Catholic church during the 1994 genocide is seen outside a church in Ntarama, Rwanda on Friday. Photo Courtesy of The Associated Press.

THIS FIRST WEEK OF April marks the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, a three-month long massacre during which Hutu militants killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus after the Hutu president was killed. The international community responded to the atrocities late, and then sought accountability after the genocide by establishing the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) to try those most responsible.

It is important that we remember the horror of the genocide and reflect on the mistakes made, in order to work toward a more peaceful future. One of the main takeaways from the ICTR’s atrocity trials is that words matter.

The world of the Rwandan genocide may to most people seem far removed from the United States. It does not to me. I am a law professor who grew up an Army brat, often abroad. I graduated high school in Nuremberg in the former West Germany – the site of the famous Nuremberg Tribunal held in the wake of the Holocaust. I know that words matter. Always mindful of the horrors of the Holocaust and the ways that democratic majorities can scapegoat and dehumanize minorities, my professional focus has been in constitutional and international law.

The law, and particularly international criminal trials, should teach us about past mistakes. The legacy of Rwanda’s genocide has some compelling messages for American people about the power of our words, and the danger of hate speech. Few of us are immune to the polarizing media coverage. Our leaders and media pundits use generalizations about cultures and fear-mongering to drive home support for policy in a very profound and impactful way. Creating hate as opposed to understanding will lead to repeat mistakes. This week in particular, we should heed the legacy of Rwanda’s genocide, reminding our nation of what can happen when we don’t identify and speak about the impact that fear has on our united psyche.

We Americans know words matter. We famously have strong free-speech protections. We are outliers in the international community for refusing to penalize hate speech. However, even those of us with the strongest commitments to free speech understand that speech can be dangerous and even constitute incitement.

Indeed, many terrorist prosecutions turn on speech acts. The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda recognized the power of speech to lead to violence when it upheld the convictions of key figures in the genocide: Hassan Ngeze, former editor of the Kangura newspaper; Ferdinand Nahimana, an historian and founder of Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM); and Jean-Bosco Baryagwiza, a Rwandan diplomat and executive committee chairman of RTLM. The print and broadcast media fomented and disseminated statements of broad hatred of the Tutsi ethnic group through aggressive and demeaning rhetoric, even labeling the opposition as “inyenzi” (cockroaches) and calling for their extermination.

Today, our leaders’ rhetoric is running too close to past mistakes. Words matter. America’s highest leaders’ refer to undocumented migrants alternately as “rapists,” “bad guys” or “criminals” who “infest” our country. We Americans must demand change in that practice, and heed the lesson of the Rwandan tribunal: that there is often a thin line between hate speech and hate crime.

Professor Susan Benesch’s work on dangerous speech can be helpful in discerning that line. We can regard with extra vigilance: speech by powerful speakers who have a high degree of influence over their audience; situations in which an audience has grievances and fears; speech that either explicitly or implicitly calls for violence; contexts that include past acts of violence, including a lack of efforts to confront or solve these acts of violence; and means of dissemination that may be the primary or sole news source for the relevant audience.

In our country, reported hate crimes have risen three years consecutively, including a 17 percent rise from 2017 to 2018, according to the FBI. Indeed, the FBI director cites white nationalism and violent extremism as threats to the U.S., even as our president says he “does not really see white nationalism as a threat.” Our increasingly polarized media leaves a chasm of understanding between us Americans.

To honor the lives unnecessarily lost in the Rwandan genocide, we Americans can, while embracing our culture of free speech and free media, ensure that we treat all people, whatever their nationality, as human beings deserving of respect.

C. Cora True-Frost is an associate professor at the Syracuse University College of Law and director of Impunity Watch.