Imagine you are an appeal judge in a country that permits abortion under certain conditions. One day, you hear the case of a young woman unable to give consent to a termination due to her permanent mental disability and behavioural problems. Doctors who assessed her were unanimous that an abortion would be in her best interests. Her adoptive mother however was strongly against the idea. The judge in the high court declared that the young woman lacked legal capacity to consent to an abortion, but that it would be lawful and in her best interests for doctors to terminate the pregnancy. As an appeal court judge, what would you say?
The ongoing drama involving open conflict between political and judicial leaders in Lesotho continued this week and there is no sign that anyone is about to relent. Three potentially explosive challenges have been brought to court over the last few days, one of them a late-night urgent application. Two are for appeal while one is to be heard in the high court. All of them involve the judiciary probing highly sensitive political and judicial issues and raise questions of judicial independence. And in the meantime, a court of appeal judgment that has now been reported, throws more light on the dispute between Lesotho’s beleaguered Prime Minister, Tom Thabane, and the president of the court of appeal, Kanenelo Mosito.
Every year, July 17 is marked as World Day for International Justice. This is the anniversary of the Rome Statute, the treaty creating the International Criminal Court. In 2010, when Uganda hosted the Rome Statute review conference, the parties decided that July 17 should be celebrated and it has been specially observed every year ever since. It is celebrated with events promoting international justice, not just the International Criminal Court, but also focusing on issues like crimes against humanity, crimes of violence against women and human trafficking.
To celebrate World Day for International Justice, and the 21st anniversary of the Rome Statute, we include in this edition the latest reports from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime: ‘Global report on Trafficking in Persons, 2018’ as well as the US State Department’s 2018 global report on trafficking.
The UN has just released its latest reports on human trafficking around the world. It shows that while most African countries now have proper laws in place, some countries do not use these laws and report no investigations and no prosecutions. One study quoted by the UN report estimated that 357 million children lived in conflict areas in 2016. Every one of them would have been at risk of exploitation by armed groups or other traffickers.
Three women judges of Zambia’s court of appeal have dismissed a young man’s appeal against his sentence of 30 years imprisonment with hard labour for violently raping his 12-year-old cousin three times. He maintained he took the girl as part of a Tonga custom in terms of which, as the judges put it in their decision, ‘one can abduct a woman ... have sexual intercourse with her and later formalize the marriage’. But though they dismissed his appeal against sentence, the judges did not take the opportunity to criticize the custom. They simply rejected this justification of his actions, because the trial record did not mention any agreement between the accused and the girl’s father for her to be abducted for the purposes of marriage. Why don’t judges speak out and condemn barbarities such as rape carried out in the name of custom and traditional marriage?