constitution

Indian widow’s plight ‘shocks conscience of the court’

In Africa, as in India, land rights, access to and ownership of land are a major concern. It is often the most poor and vulnerable that suffer the worst when these rights are not respected. And if you are an unlettered woman, on your own, you could find yourself and your rights disappearing altogether. Take the case of Vidya Devi who lives in India’s Himachal Pradesh state. More than half a century ago, the state took her land away from her for a road – but to this day she has been paid not a cent for it, even though the state was legally obliged to pay compensation.

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This is a story that could have come from almost anywhere in Africa. The fact that it concerns a woman in India shows how widespread the problem is: governments in many parts of the world are among those who trample on the rights of vulnerable especially elderly women.

Challenging culture of impunity in Kenya

Three former university professors have brought a claim in Kenya’s high court asking for restitution for human rights infringements. They seem to be part of a trend to end the culture of impunity in Kenya. The three had been detained and tortured under a previous government, and now, more than 30 years later, wanted recognition of what had happened, plus compensation for how their lives had been ruined by the unlawful action against them.

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The solemn opening remarks by Judges John Mativo and Pauline Nyamweya signaled the gravity of the decision they were about to give and the horrors the case would disclose: torture, unlawful abduction, years in illicit detention, lives wrecked, bodies broken.

Law is the “bloodline of every nation”, the judges said. “The end of law is justice. It gives justice meaning.” It was a shield or refuge from misery, oppression and injustice.

Court “stands tall”, rules that state violates evictees’ rights

The failure of Uganda’s Government to pass laws protecting people evicted from private and public land has come under the sharp eye of the high court. Following an application brought by a local human rights lawyer, the court has declared that failure to pass laws setting out proper procedures in the case of evictions violated the rights to life, dignity and property of those affected. Judge Musa Ssekaana ordered the government to report back within seven months on its progress towards such legislative guidelines.

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Hard to imagine in a country with a strong constitution that goes back almost 25 years, but Uganda has no legal provisions for the protection of some of its most vulnerable people: those evicted from private or public land.

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