In a major victory for human rights, the family of Collins Khosa and their neighbours have won a court application for orders against the security forces and their bosses. And they will no doubt be awarded significant damages when that part of the litigation is eventually heard. But they are not the only winners: everyone in South Africa has won because of this restatement by the courts that the government and the security forces will be held to account for how they behave – even during restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 – and that their behaviour will be measured against the standards of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
After a long and difficult battle with the relevant minister, Uganda’s law society has staved off attempts to subject members to double taxation. The government had included lawyers on a schedule of professions and businesses that had to apply for local licences to ‘trade’, though they are already taxed via practice certification processes. Judge Ssekaana Musa had to deal with similar challenges to the schedule from members of Uganda’s pharmaceutical association and organised members of the country’s forwarding and clearing business. In all three cases, he found the 2017 proposals would introduce a system that amounted to double taxation. This was impermissible and the minister’s actions were thus declared invalid. In an obiter note at the end of his judgment on the law society’s challenge, Judge Musa urged that the government consult with the law society to avoid ‘further litigation’.
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.’