African Colloquium: Overcoming Barriers to Safe Abortion, Jan. 16-17, 2020, University of Pretoria

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Colloquium on Overcoming Barriers to Safe Abortion in the African Region, 16-17 January 2020 at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa. Details, funding, topics, and Call for Abstracts

The Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa, will host a colloquium on #SafeAbortion and realising women’s human rights from 16 to 17 January 2020. The colloquium is about developing responses to the persistence of unsafe abortion in the African region. The Centre invites abstracts on overcoming barriers to safe abortion in the #African region. The focus is two-fold: critically exploring laws, policies and practices that serve as barriers to access to safe abortion; and suggesting reforms to overcome the barriers in consonance with women’s human rights. The colloquium seeks to bring together scholars, practitioners and researchers from the African region and beyond working on various aspects of abortion.

Abstracts must be sent by email to

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The perpetual endeavour: Gender-mainstreaming and sustainable development in Kenya

Author: Juliet Nyamao
Human Rights Attorney, Kenyan Bar

According to Amnesty International’s Africa 2017/2018 report, women disproportionately bear the brunt of poverty. Persistent discrimination, marginalisation and abuse of women and girls, have systematically become institutionalised by unjust laws. Although the Constitution of Kenya guarantees equal rights and freedoms for both men and women, long-standing gender inequalities have significantly impeded the overall contribution of women and girls in achieving Kenya’s sustainable development agenda.

Women have not only been subjected to the worst forms of human rights violations, but they have also been consistently denied their right to active participation in the country’s growth and development, simply because of their gender. Women’s lack of socio-economic independence, as well as a prejudiced Kenyan society, both highlight gross violations of their inherent human rights including equal protection of the law. Addressing the longstanding gender inequalities and promoting women’s economic empowerment would be pivotal in accelerating achievements of the sustainable development goals in Kenya, and globally.

Kenya has one of the world’s highest rates of population growth, with half of its population living below the national poverty line. Consequently, many Kenyans lack access to quality education, health services, food, water and other important social services. After the promulgation of Kenya’s Constitution in 2010, women were determined to take up political and other leadership roles like their male counterparts. During the August 2017 general elections, many women aspirants vied for various political positions. This resulted in an increase in women’s representation in parliament, from 16 to 22 following the 2012 and 2017 general elections, respectively. Despite this milestone, women aspirants and politicians continue to face constant criticisms, hate speech and gender-based violent attacks from members of the public. The electioneering period is among the worst times for women in Kenya. Violence has been used to deter many women from seeking political and other leadership positions, as well as exercising their voting rights. Despite the milestones so far achieved, Kenyan women’s representation in leadership and politics falls short of the global average.

A 2011 International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)/Bardall study on violence against women in elections established that women and men encounter electoral violence divergently, with women experiencing more than twice as much violence as their male counterparts. Thwarting women’s political participation greatly undermines their social, civil and political rights as enshrined in the Constitution as well as international conventions on women’s rights. Violence against women in politics also threatens to perpetuate gender inequality and human rights violations. Therefore, it is in the interests of the State to adequately take measures to address violence against women in politics and leadership positions to accelerate gender equality and the political empowerment of women.

Women make up a greater percentage of the workforce in the agricultural sector as well as other informal employment sectors.  However, majority do not have access and control over land and other properties.  Gender inequality in access and control of land and property is rampant owing to discriminatory inheritance and succession practices, disproportionate access to land and unfair land and property rights reforms.  Despite legislative reforms bestowing women the same rights as men in ownership of land and property, women are disproportionately disadvantaged due to the persistent discriminatory customary practices that are patriarchal in nature. Although, women are the pillar of agriculture in Kenya, which is a great source of income, for the most part, land is left to the male members of the family to inherit or own. These unjust customary laws and practices contribute to persistent gender inequality and give poverty a predominantly female face, since many women are dependent on men for financial support.  Insignificant proportion of women in Kenya have registered titles to land. Similarly, women have access to less than 10% of available credit, and less than 1% of agricultural credit. To improve the gender inequality, action must be taken to accelerate women’s access to resources by addressing persistent barriers that hinder realization of their land and property rights. Increasing women’s access to credit facilities, will likely  improve food security and alleviate poverty. Economically empowered women actively participate in decision making, which is significant in addressing the diverse growth and developmental challenges that have rocked Kenya and the African continent at large.

Nevertheless,  Kenya  has made great strides in improving the status of women and girls. The 2016 report of the African Human Development Index, ranked Kenya 18th in Africa, and 145th globally, in enhancing gender equality. The report highlighted that sub-Saharan Africa was losing an average of $95 billion a year due to gender inequality.  Kenya was also recognised at the Assembly for Women Conference in 2016 for prioritising girl child education and women’s political participation as drivers of change.  Implementation of gender equality laws, however, still remains a challenge. Although the government of Kenya has passed land laws to protect inheritance rights and eradicate customary practices that impede women’s access to property, many women continue encountering challenges to accessing the legal justice system for enforcement of these rights. It will require substantial effort and political will to ensure existing laws are applied entirely in all the counties in the country.

The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets gender equality as one of the most crucial goals that countries must aim to achieve. Kenya must commit to take positive measures to ensure indiscriminate and effective access to resources and services. Promoting women empowerment is also an ideal model of addressing gender inequality. For Kenya to achieve the 5th Sustainable Development Goal, the government, civil society organisations, development partners, women leaders and other stakeholders must collaborate to protect women from discrimination, eradicate persistent discriminatory practices that hinder the realisation of women’s human rights, and ensure women’s equal protection under the law. Additionally, Kenya must formulate gender-mainstreaming policies to correct the historical gender inequalities and accelerate sustainable development goals spearheaded by women.

About the Author:
Juliet Nyamao is a Human Rights Attorney admitted to the Kenyan Bar. She received her LLB from Moi University School of Law (Kenya) and LLM from Georgetown University Law Centre (USA). Juliet completed her fellowship in Leadership and Advocacy for Women in Africa at Georgetown University Law Center. She is currently a fellow at the American Bar Association-USA.

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#IAmToufah makes the message clear: We are not going to wish the rape crisis away

Author: Satang Nabaneh
Project Officer, Women Rights Unit, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

In dealing with past human rights abuses and upholding standards of respect for human rights, The Gambia’s transition from an abusive regime to democracy must also entail justice for victims of gender-based violence. Consequently, the most illustrative example of addressing sexual violence being part of the democratisation of society happened last month when 23-year-old former beauty queen, Fatou ‘Toufah’ Jallow accused former President Jammeh of rape.

Toufah detailed her story from the starting point of winning the state-sponsored beauty pageant in 2014 when she was 18 years old. Over the next few months, Jammeh lavished her with cash gifts and other favors including installation of running water in her family house. She was offered a position as a “protocol girl,” to work at the State House, which she declined. She also turned down his marriage proposal. During a pre-Ramadan Quran recital at State House, Jammeh locked her in a room and told her: “There’s no woman that I want that I cannot have.” She said that he then hit and taunted her, injected her with a liquid, and raped her. Days later, she fled to neighboring Senegal.

Fatoumatta Sandeng, the spokesperson of the  “Campaign to Bring Yahya Jammeh and his Accomplices to Justice”  (#Jammeh2Justice campaign), and daughter of Solo Sandeng, whose murder in custody in 2016 led to a rallying call against Jammeh was also confined to a hotel in his home village Kanilai for several days. She was a well-known band singer and had caught Jammeh’s eye when she performed on TV. She was released unharmed due to Jammeh having to attend a funeral.

These public allegations against Jammeh, of coercing and forcing young women to have sex with him, form part of a core focus of spotlighting the issue of rape and other sexual crimes during his rule from July 1994 to January 2017, in efforts to prosecute him. The Gambia Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, which is currently establishing the nature, causes and extent of violations and abuses of human rights committed during the period July 1994 to January 2017 will be a vital platform to establish the systemic abuse of young women by Jammeh.

The Creation of a Movement

Following the public rape allegations against Jammeh, The Gambia’s #MeToo has been triggered. The overdue public reckoning of sexual violence led to the social media hashtag #IAmToufah.  Women, both in and outside the country, shared their own experiences of sexual assault leading to other hashtags such as #SurvivingMelville. This widespread response highly accentuates the demand for accountability and justice. The Women’s Act 2010 defines violence against women to mean:

all acts perpetrated against women which cause or could cause them physical, mental and emotional, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, including the threat to take such acts, or to undertake the imposition of arbitrary restrictions on or deprivation of fundamental freedoms in private or public life, in peace time and during situations of armed conflicts or of wars.

The #IAmToufah movement displays the incredible strength and courage of women and girls to talk about sexual violence. However, the public debate about sexual assault quickly led to denunciation by rape apologists of the “so-called victims” as “liars and people to be blamed, not the rapist”. The urge to brand the victim as a willing collaborator is unfortunate but not bewildering, especially given the Gambian context. What the harsh judgment and victim blaming show is society’s complicity in silencing and stigmatising victims of gender-based violence, including rape.

The Movement’s Oppressors

Ironically enough, some of the fiercest denialists are actually women/young women. This conformity to societal expectations is illustrative of the way systematic domination renders these women incapable of understanding their participation in and reinforcement of their own oppression.

The denialist attitudes held by people in The Gambia reflects the national rhetoric on rape, contested understanding of ‘consent’ and the patriarchal nature of the society. Rape should be understood not just in terms of the harm that individual victims suffer, but as a pillar of patriarchy: a central part of many cultures in The Gambia. Patriarchy is “the systematic, structural, unjustified domination of women by men. It consists of those institutions, behaviours, ideologies, and belief systems that maintain, justify and legitimate male gender privilege and power.” (Braam & Hessini 2004). Rape is not just about sexual desire; it becomes a way of discipling women when men believe there is a challenge to their masculinity or when women do not exercise their traditional female roles.

Photo credit: STS Pictures

Gender-based violence is one of the most pervasive forms of human rights violations perpetrated, mostly against women and girls. It is therefore appropriate that we demand for justice. According to the 2013 Gambia Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), 4.6% of people aged 15–59 had experienced sexual violence in the 12 months preceding the report.

On July 4, 2019, hundreds of women and men, boys and girls marched in solidarity demanding that government and society take concrete action to end gender-based violence in The Gambia. What was out there on the streets was a moving mass of action giving voice to rage. They carried placards with words that seethed.

“No means No”

“No more rape.”

“We are coming for you.”

This national discourse and reflection on the ongoing problem begs the question:

Why does the culture of rape continue?

The culture of impunity that has perpetuated our society for the past two decades serves as the foundation for the lack of justice for survivors of sexual violence. Although, The Gambia currently has a regulatory framework that addresses GBV including the Children’s Act 2005, Women’s Act 2010, Tourism Offences Act 2003 and Sexual Offences Act 2013, sexual violence remains unabated. While there is no national figure on the prevalence, we do know that sexual abuse is often commonplace for women and girls in The Gambia.

Reporting and much less, prosecution hardly takes place. Victims maybe afraid to report violence, especially if the person who has hurt them is more powerful or is in a position of trust and authority and could harm them again. Given the nature of Gambian society, victims are afraid of societal condemnation and stigma making them reluctant to report.

The state is deemed to condone or perpetuate violence when it does not effectively implement laws that protect women and girls from violence, effectively allowing impunity. When the state does not hold perpetrators accountable, it sends a signal that male violence as a mechanism of control over women is acceptable, thereby leading to normalisation of the violence.

The socio-cultural system serves as the foundation that entrenches and perpetuates these sexual crimes. There is a general social acceptance of violence and perpetuation of inequality. The Gambia is a deeply patriarchal society, which creates unequal power relationships between men and women and maintains gender stereotypes. Gender stereotype is defined as “a generalised view or preconception about attributes, or characteristics that are or ought to be possessed by women and men or the roles that are or should be performed by men and women.(Cook and Cusack, 2010, p.9). Rape is part of the patriarchal system in the Gambia that promotes low status of women. Whilst women constitute more than half of the Gambian population, society does not equally value women and girls. As noted elsewhere “[a]t the heart of gender inequality lies unequal power relations between women and men in our societies, where men control and dominate over women’s lives.”

What will it take to address the issue?

While we have laws and policies in place, it is vital that we ensure effective. enforcement mechanisms are in place. This would include the strengthening of the justice system and the police to deal with cases expediently as victims need to be provided with just and effective remedies. Perpetrators of all forms of sexual violence should be prosecuted and punished.

In addition to the provisions in the above mentioned laws, the new Gambian constitution must constitutionalise the prohibition of violence against women and girls in both the private and public spheres). Constitutions serve as important frameworks for articulating a State’s condemnation of violence against women in line with international standards. The inclusion of such a constitutional protection will be premised on the basis that gender-based violence violates the fundamental rights of women and limits their opportunities and choices. The state is also obligated to prevent women’s rights violation by state (such as the police or military) and non-state actors (such as spouse, partner or employer) for the attainable of equality in all spheres.

Equally important, civil society organisations need to collectivise efforts and continue to challenge attitudes and stereotypes that engender GBV and perpetuate the subordination of women and the unequal distribution of power between women and men. Assertions of culture and religion cannot be continually used to justify violations of women’s rights.

What the #IAmToufah brings to the table is not just a viewing of women and girls as victims of violence but spotlighting the abusers who must be named, shamed and brought to face justice. #TimeIsUp as Gambia makes the choice by taking a stance to not tolerate, condone or excuse sexual violence committed against women and girls. It is time we stop finding excuses for rapists. Rape is never acceptable, and perpetrators will not go unpunished!

This article is republished from Impakter. Read the original article.

About the Author:
Satang Nabaneh is a Gambian feminist, human rights defender and researcher. She is currently a Doctoral Candidate and Project Officer, Women Rights Unit, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. Her research interests include a broad range of issues related to human rights, democracy and constitutionalism.

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Embracing teenage sexuality: Let’s rethink the age of consent in Kenya

Author: William Aseka
Human Rights Lawyer

When the Court of Appeal in Eliud Waweru Wambui v Republic Criminal Appeal No 102 of 2016, raised the issue of reducing the age of consent for adolescent, there was panic in the whole country. Everyone including leading renowned children rights advocates rejected this idea even without reading the judgment of the court. The judges in this case stated it is rather immature for adults to think that ‘teenagers and maturing adults, do not engage in, and often seek sexual activity with their eyes fully open’. The judges were of the opinion that even though teenagers might not have attained the age of majority, they may have ‘reached the age of discretion’. However, before this case, the High Court in CKW v Attorney General & Director of Public Prosecution stated that the offense of defilement under the Section 8 of the Sexual Offences Act is for the best interest of the child. In CKW case, unlike the Eliud Waweru the accused was a teenager like the victim. In fact, at the time of the offense occurring, both parties were sixteen years of age. The stark reality is that a consensual sexual relationship between two 16-year-olds is a criminal offense in Kenya. These draconian and puritanical laws are largely the product of a conservative political culture that has transformed the fight against child molestation into a full-blown war on teenage sexuality. We now live in a moral milieu so toxic and muddled that we lump together as “sex offenders” teenagers who send nude photos to each other with clergymen who rape toddlers. A first step toward reversing this madness — and actually protecting the health and safety of teenagers — would be to revise the age of consent downward to a threshold in accordance with those of other nations.

Different countries have reduced the age of consent. For instance, Great Britain, after considerable national debate, chose 16 at its magic number in 2003, although a minority of liberal Britons, led by gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, continue to push for a cut-off at 14 years. In 2008, Canada has also settled upon 16. French law sets the age of majority, in matters of romance, at 15. Other countries like Belgium (16), Denmark (15), Germany (14-16), Greece (15), Holland (16), Italy (14), Norway (16) and Sweden (15). Similarly, different African countries have lowered the age of consent. Nigeria at 11 is lowest, while countries like Ghana (16), Zambia (16), Zimbabwe (16), Comoros (13), Burkina Faso (13) Alegria (16), Guinea Bissau (16), and South Africa (16) have a lowered the age of consent. In fact, out of 54 African countries, only 23 have 18 years as age of consent. The list is not exhaustive, but importantly, the idea of lowering age of consent is not a western idea as majority of Kenyans are made to believe. In addition, it is not a way to allow pedophiles to thrive, rather it is a way of embracing teenage sexuality.

The average of first sexual intercourse remains well below 18 in Kenya. A recent report revealed that there were over 8300 adolescent pregnancies in Makueni in 2018 alone. Furthermore, media reports during last year’s national exams indicated that majority of female students sat their exams while pregnant. Additionally, when it comes to older teens, it is not at all clear why safe sexual relationships should be deterred. If a 16-year-old can enjoy sex responsibly — using birth control, taking measures to prevent the spread of disease — and he or she wishes to add sexual pleasure to the rich tapestry of adolescent life, why shouldn’t we encourage that individual to do so?

The purpose of “age of consent” statutes is presumably to prevent the exploitation of children who are not yet mature enough to make wise decisions or who do not understand the implications and consequences of sex. Of course, one could apply that same reasoning to many other potentially-corrupting activities — attending church or synagogue, for example. Yet, nobody argues we should shield children from religion until they reach 18 and are thus old enough to understand the implications and consequences of religious practice. Another justification for age-of-consent laws is that the sort of adults who prey upon young children sexually are also likely to harm them in other ways, including violently — to cover up their deeds, if for no other reason. These concerns for the safety and welfare of minors justify legal regulation, but only up to a point. A sixteen year old who asks a seventeen year old on a date poses little threat to commonweal — even if that date ends in bed. Statutes criminalising such behavior are far more likely to harm teenagers than to help them — whether by denying them access to necessary information, deterring them from sharing their experiences with teachers and counselors for fear that they or their partners will be reported to authorities, or driving them to have sex in parked cars and dark alleys rather than safe, warm bedrooms.

The Christian right and its political allies have similarly co-opted efforts to crack down on child pornography as part of their drive to suppress teenage sexuality.  Child pornography statutes, which were initially designed to prevent predators from exploiting children, are now increasingly being used to prosecute or intimidate teenagers who receive sexually explicit photos of their boyfriends or girlfriends. The problem is not with these teenagers. The problem is with the statutes.  While sexual images of 16- and 17 year old may of course be used inappropriately — as may those of adults, for that matter — the individuals who should be punished are those offenders who misuse these images, not the teenagers who take them or the romantic partners who savor them. Exploitation is wrong. Neither sex nor nudity are inherently wrong or inherently exploitative. Alas, we appear to have forgotten how to tell the difference.

Teenagers are smart.  They understand that sex can be pleasurable and that it can enhance the intimacy of their relationships. Telling them otherwise — by insisting, for example, that “sex is for adults only” — defies their lived reality. We should instead be emphasising safe sex practices, open communication, and gender equality. We should not tolerate, for example, any double standard that winks at teenage boys for having multiple partners but disparages girls who do so. We should take a warning from the old joke: What do you call teenagers who receive abstinence-only sex education? Answer:  Mothers and fathers. I look forward to the day when those adults who preach an anti-sex philosophy to teenagers become as unpopular as the teens who embrace it.

That is not to say that some teenagers won’t choose to remain celibate. I cannot imagine why they would, but I respect their right to do so. However, those 16- and 17-year-olds who want to indulge in one of life’s great pleasures should not have to worry about the long arm of the law coming after them or their partners. Even more important, our society needs an open debate on this question. For far too long, those progressive voices who would bring common sense to the issues of teenage sexuality have been afraid to speak out for fear of being branded sympathetic to pedophiles and sex predators. The reality is that a reasonably lower age of consent, and a frank national discussion of adolescent sexuality, would serve the interests of the very minors that current laws are supposedly trying to protect. Pro-sex is Pro-safety. Conservative parents are certainly entitled to encourage their teenage daughters to keep their legs crossed, much as they may tell their sons that masturbation causes blindness. What they do not have a right to do is to lock the rest of our society in a chastity belt by fighting a war on sexuality under the specious guise of protecting teens from themselves.

About the Author:

William Aseka is a human rights lawyer with a keen interest in minority rights.

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UToronto Law seeks Director, International Human Rights Program

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Apply before July 20, 2019 at 3:59 a.m. EST.
Director, International Human Rights Program (Job #1902704)
Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, Canada
Official Job Details and application info online here.

About IHRP:

The International Human Rights Program enhances the legal protection of existing and emerging international human rights obligations through advocacy, knowledge-exchange, and capacity-building initiatives that provide experiential learning opportunities for students, and legal expertise to civil society, through the following programs and initiatives:

The Director of the International Human Rights Program (“IHRP”) provides clinical, educational, and administrative leadership and support to the IHRP. The Director is the primary contact and responsible for all matters related to the IHRP.  The Director oversees all of the IHRP’s advocacy initiatives, including the clinic, working groups, speaker series, Rights Review magazine, internships, and the mentorship program.  …

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Uganda’s blasphemy law is unconstitutional

Author: Nimrod Muhumuza
Lawyer and LLD candidate, Dullah Omar Institute, University of Western Cape

Laws prohibiting blasphemy are astonishingly widespread worldwide with many countries criminalising conduct deemed blasphemous with disparate punishments ranging from prison sentences to lashings or the death penalty. A comprehensive report prepared by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom found that 71 countries prohibit views deemed blasphemous. These laws have dire consequences for those who find themselves on their wrong side as the most recent and much publicised case of Asia Bibi in Pakistan has demonstrated.

South of the Sahara, the report found that only four countries criminalise blasphemy. Uganda did not make that list. This is despite the provisions of Chapter III, sections 118-122 of the Penal Code Act. Sections 118-121 proscribe conduct that involves the destruction or damage or defilement of any place of worship with the intent of insulting the religion; disturbing religious assemblies, trespassing on burial places hindering burial of a dead body. The utility and legality of these provisions is not inherently the protection of religions and religious ideas and their constitutional validity will not be canvassed at this point.

Section 122 will be the focus of this discussion. The provision criminalises writing or uttering words with the intent to wound religious feelings. The full text of the provision states that ‘any person who with deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any other person, writes any word, or any person who, with the like intention, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of any other person or makes any gesture or places any object in the sight of any other person, commits a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for one year.’ It is my argument that this provision is constitutionally invalid for contravening the key tenets of the principle of legality, and freedom of speech.

Section 122 and the principle of legality

The principle of legality is guaranteed by article 28(12) of the 1995 Constitution. ‘Except for contempt of court, no person shall be convicted of a criminal offence unless the offence is defined and the penalty for it prescribed by law.’ The principle of legality requires that the law have a clear definition before punishment. Lawyers might recognise this requirement as the need to articulate the ingredients of an offence. Legality requires that a citizen should be able to know in advance, with sufficient clarity, which conduct is prohibited and the legal consequences that will flow from a particular course of action. The law must indicate with reasonable certainty to those who are bound by it what is required of them so that they regulate their conduct accordingly. A vague law, as the Supreme Court stated in Penal Code Act, is a violation of due process of law.

Section 122 is embarrassingly and glaringly imprecise so much so that the publication or circulation of this piece might constitute an offence under the provision. The determination of whether a crime has been committed under the provision depends on the subjective feelings of the audience to whom any word, sound or gesture may or may not be directed. In other words, a prospective suspect’s fate depends on the feelings and sensibilities of another individual. The absurdity of the provision is compounded by the fact that the law criminalises conduct made with the intention of wounding religious feelings ‘in the hearing or sight of any other person.’ So, non-believers gathered in a public place discussing or debating the non-existence of god with a theist can be prosecuted if a cleric, who is not part of their discussion and is within hearing distance of the discussion, dislikes the premise of the debate if there is proof that what is said is intended to hurt religious feelings. It is inconceivable how such a debate might take place without intentionally causing slight to ‘religious feelings.’ One might even wonder what the law means by ‘religious feelings’ since this phrase is not defined either.

Vague laws, such as section 122, may trap the innocent by not providing fair warning. A vague law impermissibly delegates basic policy matters to policemen, judges, juries for resolution on an ad-hoc basis with the attendant danger of arbitrary and discriminatory application. However, even if the prescription of what constitutes an offence under the provision was precise and clear enough, would it survive interdiction by the right to freedom of expression provided for in the Constitution?

Section 122 and the right to freedom of expression

The Uganda Supreme Court has defined freedom of expression as the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference. This extends to holding, receiving and imparting all forms of opinions, ideas and information and is not confined to categories such as correct opinions, sound ideas or truthful information. Subject to the general limitation clause under article 43, a person’s expression or statement is not precluded from constitutional protection simply because it is thought by another or others to be false, erroneous, controversial or unpleasant. ‘Indeed,’ the Court expounds, ‘the protection is most relevant and required when a person’s views are opposed or objected by society or any part therefore as “false” or “wrong.”

It is irrelevant, for purposes of this discussion, what the British, who drafted our Penal Code in 1950, have done with their blasphemy law because in 1995 we debated and promulgated our Constitution that protects free speech. A law enacted in 1950 must therefore be able to pass constitutional muster. Section 122 does not. It irrationally infringes on the right to freedom of expression for the stated purpose of avoiding wounded feelings. A democratic society protects the right to freedom of expression because of the benefit it derives from the free exchange of ideas and critique of established and conventional wisdom.

Incitement to violence and hatred

Invalidating blasphemy laws is not a clarion call to incite violence and hatred towards religious people. There is a very fine line between laws that protect the infliction of violence on individuals and those that protect ideas from scrutiny. Every individual is guaranteed the right to inviolability of their person/body. However, ideas, religious or otherwise, deserve no such respect. It is disingenuous for one to argue that blasphemy laws help protect religious individuals from being subjected to wanton violence for their beliefs. If anything, in Uganda, we have seen the opposite: self-righteous indignation by members of certain religious groups towards different (usually so-called traditional) belief systems has occasionally manifested itself through violence and destruction of property.

No idea is sacred

Blasphemy laws create the illusion that some ideas and individuals associated with those ideas are beyond criticism and critique. They engender and create a society that believes in absolutes; the infallibility of one’s belief systems which then leads to the rejection of compromise and indifference if not opposition to alternative opinions. The century-old tensions between the various belief systems in this country attest to this. Blasphemy restrictions are an attempt to create religious conformity and forcibly silence criticism of dominant religious ideas especially when those ideas support and are supported by political power. This is antithetical to the religious plurality that characterises Ugandan society. In a country whose populace subscribes to at least 10 (non)religious ideals, blasphemy laws are an unnecessary restriction on the need to have difficult conversations about the positive and negative role religion plays in our lives.

Even if no one, to my knowledge, has been convicted of the offence of blasphemy (I would wager that the law was enacted at the height and peak of religious tensions in the colonial period to ease and appease those at the fore of these conflicts), the State cannot protect ideas for the sole reason that they are religious. In any event, the absence of any prosecution and conviction should count towards scrapping the law.

The late Justice Mulenga could not have put it better when he wrote that ‘if there’s any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought – not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought we hate. Thus the guarantee of freedom of expression serves to preclude the majority’s perception of truth or public interest from smothering the minority’s perception. The import of freedom of expression is to avoid the greater danger of smothering alternative views of fact or opinion.’

About the Author:
Nimrod Muhumuza is a lawyer and LLD candidate at the Dullah Omar Institute, University of Western Cape

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Effectiveness of intervention measures to address female genital mutilation in Ethiopia: A discussion

Author: Henok Ashagrey
Legal Researcher at the Secretariat of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child

Despite certain signs of progress, interventions to address harmful practices in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (Ethiopia) are still ineffective. To be effective, these interventions require more inclusivity, stronger cooperation between levels of government, and a focus on changing societal values.

Harmful practices are a principal factor in the violations of women’s rights in Ethiopia. For example, in the North Shewa rural region in the North of Ethiopia, where I come from, harmful practices against women and girls, particularly female genital mutilation (FGM), are accepted as valid cultural practice. The practitioners of FGM justify their acts on religious and cultural grounds.

As part of its measures to address the practice, the Ethiopian government has taken legislative actions. Even though the 1995 Constitution of Ethiopia does not directly address FGM, it contains many provisions relevant to FGM:  Article 16 extend protections to all citizens against ‘bodily harm’; Article 18(1) provides that ‘everyone has the right to protection against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’; Article 25 guarantees the ‘right to equality’; Article 35 addresses the ‘rights of women’, more specifically article 35(4) asserts ‘the state shall enforce the right of women to eliminate the influences of harmful customs,’ and prohibits laws, customs and practices that oppress or cause bodily or mental harm to women; and article 36 guarantees the rights of children and stipulates that every action relating to a child or children has to take into account their best interests as a primary consideration. In line with these constitutional stipulations, articles 565 and 566 of the 2004 Criminal Code of Ethiopia (the CC) criminalize the performance and procurement of FGM without however providing a precise definition of it, and set out punishments for the practice. While article 565 of CC stipulates that FGM on a woman of any age is sanction by incarceration for not less than three months or a fine of not less than 500 Birr (about 18 US$), article 566 (1) proclaims that infibulating the genitalia of a woman, which is the most severe type of FGM, is punishable by incarceration of three to five years. Article 566(2) further aggravates the sanction where infibulating the genitalia of a woman causes injury to body or health; results an imprisonment for a period of five to ten years.  Again, articles 569 and 570 of the CC address the procurement of, and aiding, FGM by declaring it a crime for any person, including parents, to participate or incite someone to contravene the provisions proscribing FGM; backed by imprisonment for a period not exceeding three months or a fine not exceeding 500 Birr. They also criminalise any movement that promotes FGM; imposes imprisonment for a period of not less than three months or a fine of not less than 500 Birr, or both.

However, the CC has some gaps in dealing with FGM effectively and efficiently. Firstly, it does not punish a failure to report FGM unless, as per the cumulative reading of articles 443, 568 and 514 of the CC, the victim has contracted a disease which can cause grave injury or death. Secondly, the CC does not safeguard uncut women and girls from disparaging language or segregation from community; the laws of Kenya and Uganda for instance declare such acts as offences. Thirdly, FGM performed in a medical setting is not precisely addressed in the CC though, given the inclusive nature of articles 561–570, one can argue that the provisions in the CC should be interpreted to cover all medical practitioners who do FGM. Fourthly, as the fines set out in the CC are not updated to take into account unprecedented inflation since 2004, their punitive and deterrence role is very meager.

From a policy angle, Ethiopia’s national Ministry of Women, Children and Youth’s Affairs as well as regional equivalents and multi-stakeholder committees composed of social affairs, education, and justice departments were also established to tackle harmful practices. These bodies are, however, largely dysfunctional as a result of budgetary and accountability issues.

Complementing executive and legislative action, the Ethiopian courts have become more aggressive in investigating and rendering decisions regarding violence against women. Unfortunately, as Thomson Reuters Foundation noted in 2018, implementation of the law on FGM appears weak and few cases reach court. For instance, in 2016, only one conviction was recorded. Consequently, FGM continues unchecked in the country proving the ineffectiveness of the various measures.

In my opinion, the following three factors are the principal reasons for this failure.

First, the policy-making processes is not participatory. The federal government utilizes a top-down approach to policy-making, without consulting local communities and their leaders. Also, apart from certain attempts at the national level, the role of religious institutions to effectively deal with FGM is not emphasized enough at the grassroots.

Second, the restrictions placed by the recently repealed Charities and Societies Proclamation on foreign NGOs and locals that generate more than 10% of the funding from foreign sources to keep them from engaging in human rights activities hampered the efforts. Only Ethiopian Charities and Societies, which are facing myriad challenges with regard to financial sustainability, that in turn reduce their ability to gather data and share knowledge in the work to end FGM, could engage in human rights activities, including work to promote gender equality. However, this restriction has been lifted following the introduction of the new Charities and Societies proclamation, which was adopted by the House of Peoples Representatives on February 5, 2019, that guarantees the right of all organizations, including foreign and foreign funded NGOs, to engage in any lawful activity, including advocacy and human rights work.

Third, the measures are often aimed at forceful eradication of FGM without an accompanying social education program to ensure a societal change and shift in values.

Accordingly, to ensure effectiveness of the measures against FGM, the government should focus on creating awareness and social mobilization through local officials. The projects should be participatory and linked to local initiatives, and comprise laymen and boys as well as traditional and spiritual leaders. Moreover, the effort has to be included the wider social attitudes towards gender with emphasis on gender roles and inequality. Last but not list, the CC should be revised to: provide a vivid definition of FGM, which addresses all types of FGM; specifically addresses medicalised FGM; explicitly sanction and provides the punishment for failure to report FGM; protect uncut women and girls from disparaging language and discrimination; and increase the fines provided under the CC to cope up with the unprecedented inflation since 2004.


United States Department of State • Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor: Executive summary of Ethiopia 2016 human right report, 2016 avalable at

Thomson Reuters Foundation Ethiopia: the law and FGM,  2018 available at

About the Author:
Henok Ashagrey  is a Legal Researcher at the Secretariat of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and a Law Lecturer at Dilla University. He holds an LLM in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa from the University of Pretoria.

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Female genital mutilation/cutting in Africa: Legal and educational deterrence

reprohealthlaw blog

Congratulations to Satang Nabaneh of the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Human Rights, at the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, South Africa, and Adamson S. Muula, of the Africa Center of Excellence in Public Health and Herbal Medicine (ACEPHEM), Department of Public Health, College of Medicine, University of Malawi in Blantyre, whose article, recently published in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, suggests that female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM) can be progressively deterred in African countries, by legal and educational means, where there is a will to apply them:

Satang Nabaneh and Adamson S. Muula,Female genital mutilation/cutting in Africa: A complex legal and ethical landscape,”  InternationalJournal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 2019; 145: 253–257,  PDF at Wiley Online. Submitted text at SSRN.

Abstract:  While international and regional human rights instruments have recognized FGM/C as one of the most prevalent forms of violence against…

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Some rays of light on the plight of irregular migration within Africa

Author: Cristiano d’Orsi
Research Fellow and Lecturer at the South African Research Chair in International Law (SARCIL), University of Johannesburg

In 2018 alone, hundreds of witnesses confirmed more than 1 000 migrant deaths on the African continent. But researchers estimate that these numbers represent only a fraction of the overall number of deaths of people on the move in Africa.[1] According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), during the first three months of 2019, 98 migrants died in Africa (28 in North Africa and 70 in the Horn of Africa, mostly from drowning in the Red Sea whilst hoping to reach Saudi shores).[2] In 2018, the number of fatalities on the continent amounted to 1 401, mostly presumed to come from the Horn.[3]

Irregular migration in Africa occur mostly in Western Africa, Southern Africa and the Horn. The phenomenon also sees some Africans preferring to return home. In this sense, recently, more and more African migrants who ended up in Niger and experienced or heard of the dangers and difficulties of reaching Europe, have decided to return home. In 2018,  approximately 16 000 Africans decided to accept offers from the IOM to return them to their home countries.[4]

However, Niger still remains an important crossroad for trafficked and smuggled Africans. Given the financial cost of travelling through the Sahara and ultimately, to Europe, it is common for migrants to interrupt their trips in Niger, in order to earn some form of income. Nigerien cities such as Agadez and Dirkou have become stopover areas, where irregular migrants prepare for the continuation of their trips.  Yet, in many circumstances, it is not sufficient to consider Niger simply as a country of transit, having de facto become a country of destination for temporary migration flows.[5]

In 2015, the Nigerien government passed a law to counter the trafficking of migrants.[6] Added to the existing Ordinance on the Entry and Stay of Foreigners and the 2010 Ordinance on Combating Trafficking in Persons (2010-86),[7] this new law increases prison sentences and monetary fines for traffickers and allows for the confiscation of their vehicles. Theoretically, the law is drafted in a strong manner and targets both traffickers and smugglers, including bus companies that transport undocumented migrants.[8] To date, however, these laws and initiatives have been unable to stop large migratory flows passing through Niger. This is not to say that the local authorities have made no attempts at all to stop irregular migration but, at the moment, results seem not so positive.  For instance, although the 2015 Nigerien Law contains an entire chapter dedicated to the transport companies’ servicing of undocumented migrants, no investigations have been opened into the bus companies’ facilitation of irregular migration.[9]

On the other side, even recently, organisations linked to the European Union (EU), are adopting initiatives to contribute to strengthening the capacities of Nigerien authorities in better managing irregular migration, such as the initiative adopted by the organization MIEUX in order to raise awareness among young Africans of the dangers of migrating irregularly.[10] The African Union (AU) is also adopting initiatives with the aim of thwarting irregular migration in Sub-Saharan Africa, such as the AU-Horn of Africa Initiative on Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling (AU-HoAI), a forum for participating countries from the Horn of Africa region to exchange information, share experiences and deliberate on the status and counter measure approaches to human trafficking and migrant smuggling in that region.[11] In this sense, the meeting held in Maseru (Lesotho) in December 2018, served to try to foster a dialogue between the AU-HoAI on one side and the South African Development Community (SADC) on the other.[12] According to an IOM Report of September 2018, no more than 8% of migrants from the Horn try to reach the SADC region, primarily South Africa, with 51% of these individuals moving, in contrast, from, but also within, the Horn of Africa, followed by about 36% whose movements are towards the Gulf Cooperation Council countries on the eastern route, through Djibouti, Somaliland and Puntland.[13]

In the Horn, the EU is also trying to assist through an inter-regional forum on migration known as the Khartoum Process. It is a platform for cooperation among the countries along the migration route between the Horn of Africa and Europe[14] and is funded by the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF).[15] It is involved with several operations, with the regional project Better Migration Management (BMM) as one example. BMM’s objective is the improvement of the migration management in the region, whilst addressing the trafficking and smuggling of migrants within and from the Horn, through awareness, capacity building, policy harmonisations and protection.[16]

Trafficking and smuggling of persons remain huge plights in Africa. Several countries, such as Niger  and South Africa, are making efforts to provide domestic legal frameworks on this phenomenon in order to be able to more effectively fight the criminals. For instance, South Africa adopted the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act 7 of 2013[17] in the pursuit of this aim. In addition, many African countries are party to the Palermo Protocols,[18] which seeks to combat both the trafficking and the smuggling of persons.[19] Formal initiatives such the 2011 technical meeting on Enhancing Trafficking in Persons (TIPs) criminal investigation, prosecution and victim and witness protection among African and European countries within the framework of the Africa-EU Migration, Mobility and Employment Partnership (MME) did not achieve the desired results.[20] The Trafficking in Persons Report 2018, issued by the US Department of State highlights how the situation is of high concern in Africa detecting two special cases of Libya and Somalia. The report stresses that ‘information regarding trafficking in Somalia remains extremely difficult to obtain or verify. Trafficking routes within the country are particularly opaque’ (at 466).[21]

However, I am confident that with a major awareness of the problem, not only by government officials but, more importantly, by the potential victims of these crimes in Africa, the conditions of irregular migrants will constantly improve and I hope I will witness increasing numbers of situations in which African migrants will not die in the search of a better future.























About the Author:
Dr Cristiano d’Orsi is a Research Fellow and Lecturer at the South African Research Chair in International Law (SARCIL), University of Johannesburg. He was previously a Research Fellow and Lecturer at the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria in South Africa. His expertise mainly deals with the legal protection of people ‘on the move’ (asylum-seekers, refugees, migrants, IDPs) in Africa. Another field of its interests includes the protection of the socio-economic rights. Cristiano holds a PhD in International Relations (International Law) from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva (Switzerland).

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Citizen media and the freedom of expression

Author: Adebayo Okeowo
Advocacy Coordinator, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

If you have ever found yourself whipping out your phone to film or photograph police officers brutally beating up peaceful protesters, and you subsequently share that video or picture on social media, you have just contributed to citizen media. You are also someone who can be referred to as a citizen journalist. This is just one of the several scenarios in which civilian witnesses are – knowingly or unknowingly – helping to document evidence of human rights violations.

Citizen media encapsulates videos, pictures or audio produced by non-professional journalists, especially using their mobile phone as a tool. Citizen media started gaining prominence when an increasing number of civilians became equipped with smartphones and had access to social media.

This development has revolutionised the chain of information gathering and dissemination in that the power is now in the hands of each civilian to share content independent of the traditional media. It has also redefined the field of human rights documentation and investigation and has become a tool feared by authoritarian regimes.

The act of citizen journalism is an exercise of the right to freedom of expression which is protected under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19(2) specifically states that:

“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”

The inclusion of the words ‘other media’ makes it possible to have citizen media covered by this treaty provision, even if it was never foreseen by the drafters of the ICCPR. In 2011, while enunciating the provisions of article 19, the Human Rights Committee made a remarkable statement:

“States parties should take account of the extent to which developments in information and communication technologies, such as internet and mobile based electronic information dissemination systems, have substantially changed communication practices around the world. There is now a global network for exchanging ideas and opinions that does not necessarily rely on the traditional mass media intermediaries. States parties should take all necessary steps to foster the independence of these new media and to ensure access of individuals thereto.”[1]

This general comment recognises both citizen media and social media and this is quite significant considering that both platforms did not exist back in 1966 when the ICCPR was adopted.

It is important to note that a key ingredient of article 19(2) will be the right to record. This should not be perceived as a new right but rather as an offshoot of the right to freedom of expression. It seems logical that one cannot be expected to have the right to disseminate or impart information if one cannot defend the right to document or record in the first place. The same way the right to life cannot be safeguarded without guaranteeing the right to quality, affordable and accessible healthcare is the same way the right to freedom of expression encapsulates the right to record. In their 2016 report to the UN Human Rights Council, special rapporteurs Maina Kiai and Christof Heyns affirmed that the right to record is derived from the right to seek and receive information which is protected under article 19(2) of the ICCPR. While there may be limitations on the right to record, as it is with most other rights, these limitations will usually exclude public servants, public property and other public spaces.

Protecting the right to record is critical to preserving the countless citizen videos and photographs depicting violations from around the world because they not only serve to inform, they are also useful pieces of evidence for subsequent criminal prosecution. Unfortunately, law enforcement officers have gained a reputation for intimidating, threatening or even assaulting civilian witnesses who record police malfeasance. Governments have also been known to hold a disdain for camera-wielding civilians because they expose their atrocities, and as a result countries like Spain have taken steps to ban the filming and photographing of police officers. In a law passed by the Spanish parliament aimed at gagging citizen media (The Citizens Security Law of 2015), individuals can be fined up to €30,000 for ‘disseminating photographs of police officers that are deemed to endanger them or their operations.’ Some have already been targeted using this law, including a woman who was fined €800 for posting on her facebook the picture she took of a police car parked in a spot reserved for persons with disability.

In the United States, the right to record has been litigated in court with a conclusion being reached that it is a right which falls within the ambit of 1st Amendment rights of the U.S. constitution, which covers rights such as free speech and free press. In the case of Simon Glik vs. John Cunniffe, the U.S. Court of Appeals held, inter-alia, that:

“Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting “the free discussion of governmental affairs”… a citizen’s right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.”

Also noteworthy in the court’s unanimous ruling is its statement rejecting the notion that a distinction needs to be drawn based on the fact that Simon Glik is not a reporter:

“…changes in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw. The proliferation of electronic devices with video-recording capability means that many of our images of current events come from bystanders with a ready cell phone or digital camera rather than a traditional film crew, and news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status.”

As progressive as the appeals court proved to be in upholding the significance of civilian journalists and citizen media, one is reminded that this is not the situation in many countries in Africa where we constantly see government suppression using tactics such as surveillance, internet shut downs and arrests in order to intimidate any citizen who attempts to exercise their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under international law. In 2018 for instance, Tanzania took it a step further and used legislation to impose restrictions on the dissemination of online content.

We must however continue to demand accountability and compliance from erring states until their laws and actions align with international standards.

[1] Human Rights Committee General Comment 34 (2011) para. 15.

About the Author:

Adebayo Okeowo is the Advocacy Coordinator at the Centre for Human Rights. This article is an excerpt from his PhD thesis focused on using citizen media to advance accountability for human rights violations.

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