Almost every country in the world is experiencing a narrowing of peoples’ rights and freedoms because of government restrictions imposed in the name of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. But will these governments willingly give up their new powers as the contagion eases? And if not, where should the people of a state look for help, if their own courts uphold these infringements of fundamental rights? In Africa, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights would be the court to adjudicate serious rights issues like these. But the question is whether, come the end of the pandemic, the court will be in a position to help. Very few of the 55 members of the African Union have fully signed up to the court in the sense of allowing individuals and NGOs to bring cases of human rights violations for adjudication by that forum. And those numbers have dropped in the past few months, weakening the court further. The case of Malawi human rights activist Charles Kajoloweka should, however, persuade people of the need to protect the African Court from any further withdrawals – and of the need to lobby for more countries to submit to its jurisdiction.
Whenever a judgment announces that it is dealing with ‘novel questions of law’, readers need to pay close attention. This is just such a case. It concerns Kenya’s Teachers Service Commission, a body that had employed a teacher who sexually abused some students. Was the TSC vicariously liable for those acts? Had the TSC failed in its constitutional and statutory duty to protect the two children named in the case as WJ and LN, as well as other children, from the teacher’s depredations? – Unusually, these questions were considered by four women judges. One, Judge Mumbi Ngugi, heard the original case in the high court. Then three more women presided when the case was considered on appeal.
Many decades after they were detained and tortured, two prominent Kenyan activists who campaigned for multi-party democracy and human rights have been awarded posthumous compensation related to their detention and torture under previous repressive governments. The court that awarded compensation to them also made formal declarations that the fundamental freedoms of the two, Charles Rubia and John Serony, had been violated, as had their right not to be subject to torture and other unlawful abuse. Though it had been many years since the two were detained and tortured, the presiding judge said it was ‘not too late to peer into the past and correct injustices that may have occurred in our history.’
In a case that has moved readers worldwide and that sparked a judge to comment on the rights of a dying person even during the COVID-19 pandemic, a court has ordered that a terminally ill Nigerian woman living in the UK be allowed to leave the care home where she had been staying, to spend her last days with her extended family. In her decision on the case, UK Judge Nathalie Lieven commented that the woman had ‘something between a few weeks and 3 – 6 months to live’ and that the question was whether she should be able to spend those last days with her family. ‘The ability to die with one’s family and loves ones seem to me to be one of the most fundamental parts of any right to private or family life,’ the judge wrote.
Justice Augustino Ramadhani, who died this week at the Aga Khan Hospital in Dar es Salaam, had been the Chief Justice of both Zanzibar and of the United Republic of Tanzania. He had also served as a judge on the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights from 2010 to 2016, and for the last two years of his term had been President of that court. That was not his only appointment to a regional court, however, and he had served as a judge on the East African Court of Justice from 2001 to 2007.
Among those offering tributes to Justice Augustino Ramadhani were his colleagues at the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights where he had served from 2010 to 2016, and the Chief Justice of Uganda, Bart Katureebe. Justice Katureebe said he had learnt with ‘deep sorrow’ of the death of his former colleague in Tanzania, and he conveyed the condolences of himself and of Uganda ‘for this unfortunate loss of a distinguished personality.’