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Crisis averted in the Kenyan judiciary – for now at least

Kenya’s deputy chief justice, Philomena Mwilu, has been under pressure since she was arrested and charged in connection with corruption and tax related offences in 2018. But that has only increased since former chief justice, David Maraga, left office to take leave, pending retirement, late last year. Early in January 2021, an application, ultimately unsuccessful, was made for her to be prevented from taking over as Acting Chief Justice. And last week, a different application was granted, on an interim basis, for a similar order.

Just a fortnight after one high court judge threw out an attempt to suspend Kenya’s Acting Chief Justice, Philomena Mwilu, another judge did exactly that – and more.

High court judge Patrick Otieno sent shockwaves through the judiciary and the legal profession when, on January 29, he granted several temporary orders against the beleaguered deputy chief justice, Judge Mwilu. She is also currently acting as chief justice pending the appointment of a new candidate to fill the post vacated by former CJ David Maraga last month.

UK hold on Chagos archipelago declared unlawful

Most inland countries would ignore decisions of the world’s maritime court, the International Tribune for the Law of the Sea (Itlos). But this decision is different. It sheds important light on one of the few places in the world still regarded by many (including the United Nations) as a colony that should be returned to its original people. This time the ‘colony’ is the Chagos Archipelago – a group of islands and atolls in the Indian Ocean. Mauritius says the islands are a part of its territory. But the UK denies this.

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Put simply, Mauritius wants the Chagos Archipelago back. Several thousand people from these islands were removed by the UK between 1968 and 1974 to make way for a UK and US military base. Now Mauritius says these people and their descendants want to go home, and Mauritius sees itself as the legitimate governing authority of the group of islands.

Making history, Intl Criminal Court convicts former Uganda militia leader of war crimes, crimes against humanity

Dominic Ongwen, a former commander with the Lord’s Resistance Army that terrorised areas of northern Uganda for decades, has been convicted by the International Criminal Court of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Sentence is yet to be passed.

Read the summary of the verdict

For days, the court itself and human rights organisations had previewed the awaited verdict that was to be given at the International Criminal Court in The Hague on Thursday 4 February 2021.

'Global jurist of the year': prestige award goes to Kenya’s Justice Mumbi Ngugi

One of the most prominent judges in Kenya has been given a major reward in recognition of her work in support of human rights. Judge Mumbi Ngugi, who sits on the anti-corruption and economic crimes division of the high court in Kenya, is also a world advocate for the rights of people with albinism at a time when, in certain parts of the world such as Kenya, people with albinism are targeted and sometimes even killed for ritual purposes.

Judge Mumbi Ngugi of Kenya's high court is a ‘role model’ for the law faculty of Northwestern University in the USA as well as for its students, ‘who aspire to be future Justice Ngugis’. That’s according to the Centre for International Human Rights (CIHR) at Northwestern University, the institution that is to award its annual prize to the Kenyan jurist.

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.

Read the briefing

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.

Read the report

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.