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Intl Criminal Court to announce verdict on notorious Lord’s Resistance Army leader

It will be a crucial moment for international justice as well as for justice in Uganda when the International Criminal Court gives its verdict on 4 February 2021 in the case of Dominic Ongwen, a much-feared commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). It's so important that Human Rights Watch has prepared a special briefing explaining the background and significance of the case.

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Dominic Ongwen was abducted on his way to school when he was about 10 years old, and made to join the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). He underwent military training and became a commander in his own right. Among the other crimes that carry his name was a massacre by troops under his command that killed at least 345 civilians and abducted another 250 in the northern part of Congo.

Zim's top court clarifies bequeathed property dispute

After a decade of legal uncertainty, the supreme court of Zimbabwe has clarified a contentious problem relating to whether spouses are legally obliged to bequeath their property to each other. The courts have been divided over the issue for some time. Some have taken the view, now upheld by the supreme court, that a spouse, not married in community of property, has testamentary freedom. Others said that a will effectively disinheriting the other spouse was unlawful. Moreover, it had a disproportionate effect on women and would thus be unconstitutional.

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For the last 10 years, judges of Zimbabwe’s high court have been surprisingly divided about what you might think is a fairly straightforward question: does a spouse married out of community of property have the right, in making a will, to leave his or her property to someone who is not the other spouse?

Uganda’s security forces wait 24 hours before obeying court order to end opposition leader’s house arrest

Uganda’s high court has encouraged many with its ruling that opposition leader Bobi Wine should be freed from what has effectively been a period of house arrest, during which security forces outside his home refused to let anyone go in or out. Given the atmosphere of tension and fear in the country, there was keen public interest in how the court would handle a matter which so obviously involved crossing the government and acting independently.

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If there was any pressure on the court, it was not obvious.

Human rights 'upside' of the Trump years

Human Rights Watch has released its 2021 report on the state of the world in 2020. And though it is upfront about the hostility of former USA president, Donald Trump, to human rights at home and in the rest of the world, the organisation finds some unexpected reasons for optimism arising from this hostility. The report summarises the state of human rights in almost 100 countries across the world in 2020.

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How is it possible to find any good for the world coming out of the blatant hostility towards human rights shown by the Trump administration? You have to hand it to Human Rights Watch and its executive director, Kenneth Roth. They are nothing if not creatively optimistic.

International lawyers’ body announces its new president: Zimbabwean Sternford Moyo

The International Bar Association has announced Zimbabwean lawyer, Sternford Moyo, as the new president of the influential organisation. Harare-based Moyo is the chairman and senior partner at Scanlen and Holderness, a firm he joined in 1982 and where his particular specialties are mining, corporate and commercial law. He is the first lawyer from Africa to head the organisation.

A former president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe, Sternford Moyo is no stranger to the IBA. He has already held several senior roles in the organisation including that of council member, member of the IBA’s management board and of the advisory board. He has also chaired the African regional forum and been co-chair of the IBA’s Human Rights Institute.

Religious freedom the winner in Zim school flag salute dispute

Attempts to establish a compulsory daily ceremony for schoolchildren to salute the national flag have come unstuck in Zimbabwe. The education authorities intended the ceremony to ‘inculcate patriotism’ and other values, according to the justification their lawyers argued before the constitutional court. But not everyone was impresssed.

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When Zimbabwe’s schoolchildren get back to their books this year, Covid permitting, they will not have to recite a government-approved pledge, intended to inculcate patriotic feelings in the young.

Legal row over Kenya's acting Chief Justice

The appointment of a new Chief Justice for Kenya is turning into the nightmare that court-watchers had predicted – and the process still has a long way to go. Former CJ David Maraga officially stood down last week, having taken his outstanding leave from mid-December 2020. He leaves behind a number of unresolved conflicts between the judiciary on the one hand and the executive and legislature on the other.

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When Kenya’s immediate past Chief Justice, David Maraga, announced he was taking leave pending his retirement in January 2021, he added that the Deputy Chief Justice, Philomena Mwilu, would take over as Acting Chief Justice from the time of his departure until someone was appointed to succeed him.

Benin taken to task by African Court for Charter failures – not even constitutional court escapes censure

Seldom does Africa’s premier regional court find that laws or practices relating to a state’s court violate rights enshrined in the African Charter. But in a new decision, delivered by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the judges declared that Benin violated its obligation to guarantee the independence of the country’s constitutional court. The judges were equally clear that recent changes to the constitution should have involved far more consultation with the people.

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How much should you be compensated if your government made it impossible for you to stand as a candidate in elections? In one of its most recent decision, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights decided to award XYZ, a man from Benin who was prevented from standing as an election candidate, the token amount of one franc.

Diplomatic immunity defence in Kenya's maintenance case

The tragic story of young Harry Dunn, knocked over and killed last year allegedly by the wife of a member of the US diplomatic corps in the UK, was a reminder of the conundrums that can sometimes be caused by diplomatic immunity. She left the UK after the accident and the US government has refused her return, citing immunity. Now a poignant new case is being decided in Kenya, a case that raises just as complex a conflict between rights and immunity. It concerns a senior diplomat from Sierra Leone, stationed in Kenya.

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Quite properly, given that a child is involved, the two parties in this case aren’t identified. The judgment refers to them simply as AKK – the putative father – and SMM, the mother.