Latest Articles

Pioneering legal victory for childhood statelessness fight

The staggering size of Southern Africa’s childhood statelessness problem is mostly hidden, even though an estimated 12 million children under five years old aren’t registered at birth. Tebogo Khoza was one of them, and the impact on his life has been devastating. But Khoza is one of the lucky ones: after many years of fruitless effort, stymied by official bloody-mindedness, he found lawyers to help him. Now, after a landmark case, a court has ordered that he be given the documentation he needs – and his life as a full member of the community can begin at last.

Major citizenship strides for stateless in Kenya, Tanzania, Republic of Congo

As the UNHCR marks another year of working towards a world where every person has a nationality and all the rights that go along with it, important results have been reported during 2023 so far. Here we take a look at three of the top achievements in Africa, as listed by the UN’s refugee agency. The agency is behind a 10 year programme, aimed at ending statelessness in every part of the world.

Did Malawi’s ‘hyena’ have a fair trial – or was he ‘taking a hit’ for embarrassing local cultural practices?

The story of Eric Aniva and his extraordinary occupation made world headlines after a BBC interview in July 2016. He said he was a ‘hyena’, someone whose job, in the culture of southern Malawi, involved having sex with girls at puberty and with new widows, as a ritual sexual cleansing. Soon after that interview was published, and in the wake of a public outcry in Malawi and elsewhere, he was arrested, charged, convicted and then sentenced to two years hard labour. But now a senior legal academic is questioning whether Aniva had a fair trial, or whether he simply took a hit for local cultural practices that embarrass Malawi.

Namibia’s Fishrot scandal: fishing crew sue over non-payment for court-ordered dismissal compensation

Until recently, the public story of Namibia’s massive corruption scandal, nicknamed ‘Fishrot’, has focused on legal action brought against the big-name role-players. The scam involves a major Icelandic company as well as top Namibians, in a sleazy operation featuring kickbacks paid for procuring fishing quotas in Namibian waters. With prominent politicians including two former Namibian cabinet members, along with wealthy business people among the accused, the vulnerable victims of one aspect of the scandal were often overlooked. But now they are fighting back. One group of men who worked on a fishing vessel that was part of the scandal were suddenly dismissed from their jobs at the end of 2018. When they challenged their dismissal before the labour commissioner, they won an award declaring that they were unlawfully sacked and ordering that they be paid compensation. Despite many efforts, however, they have never been paid. Now they are headed to court with a personal claim against an Icelandic official allegedly involved in the scandal, and against one of the companies similarly impugned.

Recusal in high court matter follows letter, ‘vitriolic outbursts’, ‘intensive negative energy’

The question of when judges should recuse themselves is a fraught one in many jurisdictions. In a new decision from the high court in Mombasa a judge has decided to recuse himself after a letter of complaint was delivered to his chambers. The judge even comments that the applicant in the case appeared to be ‘stalking’ him and had sent yet another letter. Yet despite these inappropriate actions by one of the parties, the judge felt he had to stand down. It’s the kind of situation where readers could well wonder what they would have done in the circumstances.

Top court gives strong support to ‘wellness’ programmes and prioritising mental health in Zambia

Zambia’s top court has strongly urged the government to make support for mental health a priority. In a case brought by disability activists, testing whether the country’s legal regime for people with mental illness was constitutional, the judges found that though the provisions of Zambia’s legislation challenged in the case were constitutional, other aspects weren’t adequate. The judges said the government should provide the same care and treatment to patients with mental illness as it does in relation to people suffering from other kinds of sickness. But this was not the case, and Zambia’s public mental health institutions provided ‘very poor medical services’. ‘This must change,’ the court said.

Mauritius supreme court upholds gay rights, sets aside ‘discriminatory’ penal code provision

The supreme court of Mauritius has delivered a landmark judgment that effectively decriminalizes gay sex. The judges declared that a section of the island state’s penal code is unconstitutional in that it violates the right of gay men not to be discriminated against. Their decision has been widely welcomed, particularly since it comes at a time when many East African states are promulgating extraordinarily harsh legislative measures against gay people, some even proposing the death penalty for certain related ‘crimes’.

Tanzania’s high court continues ‘hands off’ approach to parliament, despite ‘inadequate’ timetable

Three judges of Tanzania’s high court have dismissed a petition to set aside an agreement between that country and Dubai over management of Tanzania’s ports. It’s a dispute that has strongly divided people in Tanzania, and the country’s authorities have detained or threatened at least 22 people who criticised the national assembly’s ratification of the plan, with a lawyer among three people now threatened with prosecution for treason, a crime that carries the death penalty. A second petition against the port management deal, based on similar grounds to the first, but brought by other parties, was struck out by the court last week on the basis that the matter had now been decided.

Zambian human rights lawyers support chief justice: ‘constitutional rights also apply to gay people’

A growing number of human rights lawyers in Zambia have come out in support of their country’s chief justice, Mumba Malila. He has caused consternation in some quarters because of his recent remarks, in response to a question on a public occasion, that gay people do not lose their humanity because of their sexuality. The lawyers say that the CJ was stating the current position on constitutional rights in Zambia, and that this is the basis on which ‘rights are celebrated and enjoyed everywhere else in the world.’

Appeals against inquiry findings by judges inquiring into Sierra Leone’s rampant corruption

Two recent judgments from Sierra Leone, delivered on the same day, though they produced different outcomes, remind readers of the role played by judges in that country who headed inquiries into allegations of corruption. The current appeals were brought by top officials who complained about the findings made against them by the judges who headed two inquiries. One inquiry dated from 2018 under Justice Bankole Thompson, and the other, set up in the same year, was presided over by Justice Biobele Georgewill from Nigeria as the chair and sole commissioner. Both had to examine the assets of top state officials from Sierra Leone between 2007 and 2018 to see whether these assets were acquired lawfully and whether the officials had a standard of living that was ‘commensurate to their official emoluments’. This was part of a major effort at the time to deal with corruption in Sierra Leone, a country that has consistently been listed as one of the most corrupt in the world.