It has been a busy couple of months for one of the lesser-known – but critically important – courts in Arusha, Tanzania. Arusha houses a number of significant judicial bodies apart from the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights. Among these is a United Nations tribunal: the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, Rwanda (IR-MCT). In a momentous ongoing case, a former Rwandan minister of planning, Augustin Ngirabatware, already convicted on several genocide-related charges, asked that the IR-MCT appeal chamber consider his claim that he had acquired sensational new evidence. This evidence was that four key witnesses who testified against him had recanted and now claimed they had not told the truth during his trial. At special hearings in September and October, the IR-MCT in Arusha considered Ngirabatware’s claims and related matters. The outcome, however, did him no good at all.
Tension is high between the judiciary and the government in a number of African countries at the moment. But so far only one – Kenya – has seen the Chief Justice come out with a full public statement exploring these problems. The statement, read by CJ David Maraga to a number of media houses, has been added toYouTube, and can now be accessed by anyone interested in the situation. Most of the CJ’s complaints related to the massive cuts to the budget of the judiciary and the impact of those cuts. He also pointed out the contemptuous ways in which he and other judges were treated by the government.
Customary law, at its best, is said to ensure that orphans and widows are cared for. But this is not always the case. That, at least, has been the experience of an elderly widow in Eswatini. Though she married into a royal household, when her husband died her circumstances became dire. She found her brother-in-law had his eye on her late husband’s property and he would not even allow her to construct a new outside toilet for her homestead. Now, however, three judges of Eswatini’s supreme court have granted her an interim interdict against her brother-in-law. Pending the resolution of their dispute by the traditional authorities, the brother-in-law must allow her to build the toilet and must restore possession of a field she was given on her marriage. He must also re-fence the field after he had his staff tear down the barbed wire fence that she was installing to protect herself.
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Everyone who attended the Jifa training course on environmental law earlier this year will remember Judge Brian Preston. Chief judge of the New South Wales land and environment court, he had remarkable insights into the subject of environmental law and the role of the courts in making environmental rights real. But now the NSW government is taking on a major decision he gave earlier this year in which he cited climate change, among other issues, for turning down a planned coal mine. In reaction, the NSW government has decided to introduce a new law saying that greenhouse gas emissions can’t be considered by the courts in deciding whether to approve mines.