The African Court on Human and People’s Rights Faces Resistance Against Authority

By: Hannah Gavin

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

ARUSHA, Tanzania – The African Court on Human and People’s Rights has been facing difficulty in recent months as nations have growingly been unwilling to co-operate with the court.

Logo of the Coalition for an Effective African Court of Human and People’s Rights. Photo courtesy of the Coalition.

The nations of Benin, Côte d’Ivoire and Tanzania all recently withdrew the right of individuals and NGOs to file cases with the court directly. These nations join several other African nations that have either revoked the right for individuals to file or are not complying with the court’s decisions. The reasons for the revocations are due to decisions by the court that these nations view as too harsh and unfavorable. The International Director for Research and Policy from Amnesty International discussed the matter by stating, “The decision by countries to hit back at the court for decisions they disagreed with is extremely worrying. African states must refrain from using political muscle against institutions whose very purpose is to ensure justice is available to everyone, regardless of their government’s politics.”

In addition to nations outright denying the court’s decisions, many have also opted to ignore its obligations. The court requires that nations submit periodic reports so that they may keep track of potential arising violations. Only six of the thirty nations had submitted reports. An additional six nations had never submitted a single report. These actions already presented many concerns to human rights before the COVID-19 pandemic, since the pandemic these have become grave threats. Many countries have used excessive force, arrests, and strict restrictions to curb the effects of the virus. Specifically, people who were already of limited resources are being hit especially hard.

Some of those that are historically underprivileged include the elderly and those with disabilities. These at-risk groups are often targets of human rights violations. To combat this, two protocols dictating rights for these marginalized groups were adopted by the African Union. However, several years after their adoption, the protocols have yet to be ratified.

These restrictions have raised alarms for the African and international communities, as going against the implicit purpose of the court. By restricting access to fair proceedings, individuals who are victims of these crimes may be unable to seek help. More egregiously, nations that perpetrate such abuses will be left with citizens struggling to find legal support. Many diverse nations make up the African continent, without the assistance of the court to regulate severe human rights abuses, many nations risk slipping from democratic societies into despotisms.

For further information, please see:

Amnesty International – Africa: Regional human rights bodies struggle to uphold rights amid political headwinds – 21 Oct. 2020

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – African Court Coalition Discussions: States Withdrawals from Article 34(6) of the African Court Protocol – 1 May 2020

The Prosecutor v. Ali Muhammad

By: Jamie McLennan 

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

THE HAUGE, Netherlands – Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman was transferred to the International Criminal Court’s custody on June 9th, 2020, after voluntarily surrendering himself in the Central African Republic. Ali Muhammad is the alleged leader of the Janjaweed, a militia civilian group in Africa.

Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman at the ICC on October 8, 2020. Photo Courtesy of the ICC.

The first arrest warrant against him lists fifty criminal counts of alleged attacks against civilians in the towns of Kodoom, Bindisi, Mukjar and Arawala between August 2003 and March 2004. The alleged crimes include twenty-two counts of crimes against humanity, murder, forcible transfer of population, imprisonment, rape, torture, persecution and inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury. The list continues with a total of fifty-three counts for his individual criminal responsibility for crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Sudan.

The ICC will not hear a case without the accused individual in custody and present at the hearings. At the time of arrest, there were 27 international warrants for Ali Muhammad that spanned from April 2007 to June 2020. After Ali Muhammad was placed in custody, the initial hearing was scheduled to take place on December 7th, 2020. However, the confirmation of charges has been delayed until February 22nd, 2021. The court reviewed each party’s stance, taking into account the fairness and efficiency of the court’s proceedings, the rights of the suspects and victims, and the overall safety and security of the proceedings moving forward. The prosecutor requested an extended timeline to collect more evidence against Ali Muhammad. After much consideration, the court determined that there should be a later date for the confirmation of charges and later deadlines for the disclosure of evidence by the prosecutor.

The purpose of the confirmation of charges hearing is for the court to evaluate the evidence of the crimes to establish if there are substantial grounds to believe that the accused individual committed the alleged crimes. If the court believes that the evidence is sufficient, the case will then be transferred to the Trial Chamber, where the proceedings will move to the trial phase. Due to COVID-19, the ICC is using a web streaming service to broadcast all hearings with a thirty-minute delay for any private information that may need to be redacted.

For further information, please see:

International Criminal Court- Decision on the Prosecutor’s Request for Postponement- 2 Nov. 2020

International Criminal Court- Press Release- 2 Nov. 2020

International Criminal Court- Redacted First Warrant of Arrest- 27 April 2020

International Criminal Court- Redacted Second Warrant of Arrest- 11 June 2020

The Effectiveness of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights is Dwindling as African Governments Pull Away From It

By: Thomas Harrington

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Lead News Editors 

ARUSHA, Tanzania – Amnesty International released a report in October 2020 called: The State of African Regional Human Rights Bodies and Mechanisms 2019-2020 (Report), regarding African Human Rights entities. The Report contains troubling information about the declining effectiveness of human rights organizations in Africa.

The African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights after Benin withdraws its commitment to Article 34(6). Photo Courtesy of International Justice Resource Center.

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) was one of the organizations specifically written about by Amnesty International. This is the second year that Amnesty International has written the report, and the concern for the AfCHPR has only continued to grow.

The main issue facing AfCHPR is that some African governments aren’t respecting it or it’s decisions. In fact, as a result of its decisions, four African countries have withdrawn a large part of the AfCHPR’s jurisdiction. Under Article 34(6) of the African Court Protocol, countries that have committed to the article are bound by the AfCHPR agreed to allow individuals and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to file cases in the AfCHPR after they have exhausted all possible legal means within their country. Article 34(6) essentially allows parties that are not African governments to file their cases in the AfCHPR if they cannot get adequate assistance through their own country’s legal process.  

Rwanda became the first country to withdraw its commitment to Article 34(6) back in 2016. The AfCHPR was set to hear a claim by Victoire Ingabire, a Rwandan opposition politician who was imprisoned for genocide denial by the Rwandan government. The Rwandan government claimed their withdrawal was to “prevent exploitation of the individual complaint procedure by criminals, particularly individuals who took part in the 1994 genocide and have subsequently fled the country.”

In the last two years, three other countries have followed suit and withdrawn their commitment to Article 34(6) of the African Court Protocol. The AfCHPR home country of Tanzania announced its intention to withdraw its commitment to Article 34(6) back in November 2019. Most of the cases that the AfCHPR has decided have been against Tanzania and most of its pending cases are also against the home country. Tanzania claimed that its withdrawal was due to the AfCHPR accepting cases from claimants that haven’t exhausted their legal remedies, however, no particular case was pointed to and there seems to be no evidence of it.

In 2020, Benin and Côte d’Ivoire both announced their intentions to withdraw their commitments to Article 34(6). These announcements came after the AfCHPR had ordered that both states take measures to prevent “the exclusion of opposition candidates from upcoming elections, although Benin authorities indicated Benin had communicated its withdrawal on March 16, 2020.” 

With those four countries backing away from the AfCHPR jurisdiction leaving only eleven African nations bound by Article 34(6), the Court seems to be losing effectiveness at an exponential rate. These issues along with reduced decisions and the impact of Covid-19 on its meeting time have led to a drop in importance for the AfCHPR. Governments are not respecting the Court’s decisions and the Court appears to be getting quieter.

For further information, please see:

Amnesty International – The State of African Regional Human Rights Bodies and Mechanisms – Oct. 2020

Amnesty International – Regional Human Rights Bodies Struggle to Uphold Rights Amid Political Headwinds in Africa – 20 Oct. 2020

International Justice Resource Center – Benin and Côte d’Ivoire to Withdraw Individual Access to African Court – 6 May. 2020

International Justice Resource Center – Rwanda Withdraws Access to African Court for Individuals and NGOs -14 Mar. 2016

Police Brutality Protests in Nigeria: The Lekki Massacre

By: Alexis Eka

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

LAGOS, Nigeria – Following the breakout of protests in Nigeria on October 8, 2020, violent protests occurred at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020. The protests in support of the #EndSars Movement resulted in several injuries and at least 56 deaths of Nigerian citizens.

Lekki Toll Gate Part-Destroyed On Night of Protest. Photo Courtesy of BBC.

Protestors have been peacefully demonstrating in the streets of Lagos, demanding an end to the police brutality, extrajudicial executions, and extortion by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), the unit of the Nigerian police force that oversees violent crimes.

On October 20, 2020, several peaceful demonstrators were shot when the Nigerian army opened fire on Nigerian citizens at the Lekki Toll Gate. An investigation led by Amnesty International confirmed that the Nigerian army and police have also been found responsible for the deaths of these Nigerian citizens.

The timeline suggests that on the evening of Tuesday, October 20, 2020, army tanks left the Bonny Camp military base and drove on the Lekki-Epe Expressway for approximately seven minutes. They continued toward the Lekki Toll Gate at 18:29 local time. At around 18:45, the Nigerian military opened fire on the protestors. Moments before the Lekki massacre, video footage captured peaceful protestors gathered together at the Lekki Toll Gate. The protestors were seen dancing, singing, and styling their hair. Many of the hair stylists inscribed the words #EndSars on their heads, while speeches were made from a platform at the front of the Lekki Toll Gate.

After the continuous stream of violence that occurred that night, there were several bullet casings found in the streets of Lagos, and the Lekki Toll Gate was destroyed. Members of the Lagos State Judicial panel investigated the allegations of excessive force and visited the Lekki Gate Toll bridge to gain insight into the events that transpired on that evening. The panel was led on a tour by the head of Lekki Concessions Centre, the group that supervises and runs the gate.

Through the investigation, a series of photos were taken and the Judicial panel investigated the room that housed the CCTV Footage from the evening. There were several holes in the windows leading the panel members to assume the holes were caused by bullets. Members of the panel found the bullet casings about one week after Amnesty International announced the shootings. However, the Nigerian police and the army have dismissed Amnesty International’s contentions claiming them to be fictitious and unfounded.

Leaders worldwide have spoken directly to President Muhammadu Buhari to end the violence in the streets of Lagos. Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign affairs, Dominic Raab, called for an end to the violence in Nigeria and demanded a series of wide-ranging reforms. Rabb stated, “The Nigerian government must urgently investigate reports of brutality at the hands of the security forces and hold those responsible to account.”

Representatives from the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (the Commission) have voiced sincere concern for the lethal force that has been used against protestors. News outlets including Amnesty International Nigeria, ActionAid Nigeria, and the Human Rights Watch have created a list of demands including an “urgent review and implementation of the various reports on police and security reform” and “the respect and protection for the rights to peaceful protest and assembly.” Like many, the Commission has called upon the Nigerian government to take proactive measures in the process of dismantling the SARS officers including withdrawing military forces and implementing measures for comprehensive reform of the Nigerian law enforcement.

For further information, please see:

African Commission on Human and People’s Rights Press statement on unlawful killings by security forces in Nigeria 22 Oct. 2020

Amnesty International Nigeria: The Lekki Toll Gate massacre – new investigative timeline 28 Oct. 2020

BBC NEWS Bullet Casings found at site of  #EndSars Protest 30 Oct. 2020

Human Rights Watch Nigeria: End Excessive Force Against Protesters 22 Oct. 2020

PRNewswire EndSARS Protest: Majority Condemns Killings and Offers Free Calls to Nigeria 22 Oct. 2020

Reuters Britain calls for an end to violence in Nigeria 21 Oct. 2020

ICC Prosecutor Files Response to Ntaganda Appeal

By: Andrew Kramer

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

THE HAGUE, The Netherlands – On April 14, 2020, the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) released the public redacted version of the Prosecutor’s response to Appellant’s brief in the case of The Prosecutor v. Bosco Ntaganda.  ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda presented the appellee’s brief.

Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda stands in the ICC courtroom during closing statements of his trial. Photo Courtesy of Reuters.

The Prosecutor’s brief addresses each of Ntaganda’s twelve grounds of appeal in turn.  Whereas Ntaganda attempted to downplay his involvement in crimes of sexual violence and slavery in grounds one through four, the Prosecutor asserted that Ntaganda played an essential role in the commission of these crimes throughout the period of the charges.  Furthermore, the Prosecutor asserted that Ntaganda himself killed and raped, participated in recruitment drives, and used children under 15 years of age as his personal escorts.  The Prosecutor maintained that the Trial Chamber assessed these factors correctly when arriving at Ntaganda’s 30-year prison sentence.  

In addressing Ntaganda’s argument in grounds seven through twelve, that the Trial Chamber failed to properly assess alleged mitigating factors, the Prosecutor asserts that the Ntaganda simply disagrees with the Court’s fair evaluation and rejection of these circumstances.  The Prosecutor stated that the Court correctly considered Ntaganda’s alleged acts of protecting civilians from attacks, saving the lives of enemy soldiers, and contributing to the reconciliation with the Lendu community, among others, however they did not carry enough weight to impact his sentence.  This difference of opinion does not indicate a failure to consider the circumstances properly.

As for grounds five and six, that the Court erred in applying some aggravating circumstances, the Prosecutor argued that Ntaganda misapplied the relevant provisions of the Rome Statute.  While Ntaganda asserted that the Court considered an improper aggravating circumstance in ground 5, the Prosecutor stated that the elements of the uncharged crime allow for it to be considered as an aggravating circumstance.  In ground 6, which Ntaganda accused the court of “double-counting” some factors the Prosecutor argued that Ntaganda failed to understand the “two-step” process the Court uses for sentencing established by article 78(3).

While grounds one through four and seven through twelve are likely based on matters which were at the discretion of the trial court, and therefore likely to be upheld on appeal, the arguments in grounds five and six present reasonably more nuanced legal issues. Particularly interesting is the Court’s “two-step” process for sentencing, in which the individual sentences for each crime is calculated before the appropriate joint sentence is determined.  While sentences are calculated two times using this process, aggravating factors are not “double-counted,” for each sentence.

No scheduling order has been released for the Appeals Hearing of Ntaganda.  Ntaganda also stated to be appealing the judgement of conviction in his notice of appeal, however no brief has been filed yet.

For further information, please see:

International Criminal Court – Prosecution Response to “Sentencing Appeal Brief” – 14 Apr. 2020

International Criminal Court – Case Information Sheet: The Prosecutor v. Bosco Ntaganda – 7 Nov. 2019