Feminism and the Kenyan TJRC (Part 2)

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Women singing at the launch of the TJRC public hearings in Garissa (April 2011)               (Kenyan TJRC)

Addressing the first feminist critique – the failure to address systemic and structural violence that tends to affect women disproportionately – was easier for us to address compared to other truth commissions given our broad mandate and, in particular, the requirement that we investigate violations of socioeconomic rights. To better analyze systemic and structural issues, including those related to socio-economic rights, we needed to address effectively the second critique – the failure to encourage active participation of women, a failure that had already been experienced by the Mutua Task Force.

 

In addition to dedicating specific parts of our statement-taking form to capturing the experience of women; training our statement takers on gender sensitivity, and ensuring a high percentage of female statement takers (43 percent), we also conducted thirty-nine of what we called women’s hearings in each of the places where we held public hearings. Our challenge was not just to encourage women to participate and speak to the Commission, but also to elicit testimony about violations and related issues experienced by them. The experience of previous truth commissions suggests that women who are willing to speak about past violations tend to speak as witnesses and observers concerning incidents that happened to others, usually the male members of their family. The characterization of such testimony as indirect is itself problematic, as it tends to de-emphasize the secondary effects of violations on family members and community members and more fundamentally emphasize the individualistic, rather than community-oriented, aspect of violations. While women may testify about what happened to others in their family or community because they are reluctant to testify about themselves, they may also focus on violations directly experienced by their family and community members because they see themselves as part of those larger social entities and, thus, are more likely than men to see such violations of “others” as affecting them, their families, and their communities directly. Nevertheless, we were concerned that some women might feel reluctant to share their own direct experiences of violations out of fear rather than because they adopted a more holistic approach to violations and their effects.

In addition to holding women’s hearings in each place where we held public hearings, we often had a prominent woman activist from each community testify about the experience of women generally in that community. We were able to do this in part because of the strong working relationship we had developed with Maendeleo ya Wanawake, the largest women’s membership organization in Kenya. We were thus able to explore at the local level some of the broader systemic, institutional, and cultural issues faced by women. To further broaden this analysis, we devoted one of our national thematic hearings to women. The purpose of the thematic hearing was to supplement the individual stories we had heard in the field – both from witnesses as well as local activists – with a more national and even international perspective on the broader systemic issues facing women in Kenya. Continue reading

Feminism and the Kenyan TJRC (Part 1)

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Commissioners Tecla Namachanja and Margaret Shava at the launch of public hearings in Garissa (April 2011)       (Kenyan TJRC)

In 2004 a task force chaired by Professor Makau Mutua travelled throughout Kenya to determine whether a truth commission should be established to address historical injustices.  In their report, the task force observed that while their provincial hearings were “on the whole” well attended, the number of women participating in the hearings was “low.” The experience of the Mutua task force mirrored that of truth commissions generally. Female participation in truth commission processes worldwide has been low, leading more recent truth commissions to create special units to encourage the participation of more women. Kimberly Theidon discusses attempts to incorporate a greater gender sensitivity to transitional justice processes, focusing in particular on Peru.

 

Christine Bell and Catherine O’Rourke pose three sets of questions as part of a feminist critique of transitional justice generally.  First, where are women (both representation and participation in transitional justice design and process)? Second, Where is gender (where are the voices and experiences of women with respect to conflict, human rights violations and justice)? Third, where is feminism (referring to the feminist critique of justice and its applicability to transitional justice)?

Feminist critiques of truth commissions tend to focus on two issues. First, truth commissions ignore or do not devote sufficient attention to systemic, structural, and institutional violence that tends to affect women disproportionately. Second, truth commissions are not designed to encourage the participation of women, and thus perpetuate the silencing of women in those societies.

The drafters of the Kenyan legislation establishing the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission were sensitive to these critiques, requiring that there be gender balance among the commissioners (we began with five male and four female commissioners); requiring that the chair and vice chair be of opposite gender; including sexual- and gender-based violence in the violations we were to investigate, and suggesting that we put into place special mechanisms and procedures to address the experiences of women. During most of our operational period, our CEO was a woman; and during the fourteen months when we conducted most of our external activities (statement taking, public hearings, investigations, and other outreach activities), our acting chair was a woman – in fact Tecla Namachanja Wanjala was the first woman to serve as the chair of a truth commission. Continue reading

Kenyan court knocks down criminal defamation, safeguards freedom of expression

Efforts to create more space for free expression in Africa have been strengthened by the Kenyan Judiciary. In the case of Jacqueline Okuta & Anor vs. AG & Others, the High Court of Kenya on 6 of February 2017 annulled section 194 of the Penal Code that provides for the offence of criminal defamation. This decision is significant in safeguarding the fundamental rights of Kenyans, particularly in light of the forthcoming general elections. It curtails the misuse of criminal law provisions by political figures to curtail speech they consider unfavorable. Journalists especially have been victims of criminal defamation sanctions for exposing corruption and unlawful activities of public officials.

The harmful and undesirable consequences of criminalizing defamation, viz. the chilling possibilities of arrest, detention and two years’ imprisonment, are manifestly excessive in their effect and unjustifiable in a modern democratic society”, Judge Mativo of the High Court of Kenya pronounced in his judgment.

The Judge noted that upon promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya in 2010, it was expected that certain provisions in Kenya’s existing laws were to be amended to align them to the letter and spirit of the Constitution. However, seven years later, this expectation had not been met. Relying on regional and international standards on freedom of expression, the Court concluded that criminal defamation is unconstitutional, reasoning that “the chilling effect of criminalizing defamation is exacerbated by the maximum punishment of two years’ imprisonment imposable for any contravention which is clearly excessive and patently disproportionate for the purpose of suppressing objectionable or opprobrious statements. The Court further held that imprisonment as a sanction was not “reasonably justifiable in a democratic society” and that the availability of civil remedies afforded sufficient redress for injury to one’s reputation.

Criminal defamation continues to prominently feature in Penal Codes of African countries especially in East Africa. The High Court of Kenya is the first court in the region to declare that criminal defamation violates the right to freedom of expression.

The case in Kenya arose from the indictment of two petitioners, Jacqueline Okuta and Jackson Njeru, who were each charged with criminal defamation for allegedly publishing defamatory statements on their Facebook account “Buyer beware-Kenya.” The case complaint was based on a post in which the complainants were pictured and named as being wanted for illegal possession and handling of property, and misuse of a telecommunication device. The petitioners then sought to challenge section 194 of the Penal Code before the Constitutional and Human Rights division of the High Court, arguing that the provision was unconstitutional and violated the right to freedom of expression.

A key question is what impact the decision from Kenya’s High Court will have in East Africa, and possibly in the wider African region. The judgment follows and references the landmark decision of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in the case of Lohé Issa Konaté v. Burkina Faso, but goes further than that Court’s finding that criminal defamation laws should only be used as a last resort when there is a serious threat to the enjoyment of other human rights in exceptional circumstances such as hate speech and incitement. It does so by finding that “any continued enforcement of criminal defamation laws by the government would be a violation of the fundamental and constitutionally guaranteed right to the freedom of expression.”

This corresponds with the minority dissenting opinion in the African Court case, in which 4 of the 10-judge bench found that the “’State’s duty to enforce collective security, morality and common interest’ cannot justify the criminalization of expression of speech by way of criminal defamation laws of any kind, whether punishable by incarceration or not. Access to civil action, civil sanctions together with specifically defined crimes for safeguarding national security, public peace and the common interest should be sufficient.”

The Kenyan case highlights the potential of strategic litigation as an effective tool in bringing about social change where lobbying efforts have failed. It reinforces the efforts of other national courts in Africa like Zimbabwe that have decriminalized defamation twice, once under its previous and once under its current constitution. Other countries in the region, such as Ghana, abolished criminal defamation laws through law reform. This is in line with the continental campaign to decriminalize defamation by the African Union Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Efforts to do the same in East Africa have so far been without result, especially where countries like Uganda previously upheld the constitutionality of criminal defamation laws on grounds that they are “relevant” in protecting reputation.

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Journalist Ronald Ssembuusi (middle) leaving court with lawyer Catherine Anite (left). Photo courtesy of HRNJ-Uganda.

A challenge to Uganda’s criminal defamation laws is currently pending before the East African Court of Justice. The case, brought on behalf of the now-deceased Ugandan journalist Ronald Ssembuusi, argues that his conviction to a prison sentence of one year was in violation of Uganda’s obligations under the East African Community Treaty. The matter has garnered much interest from the international community, with not only the African Union and United Nations Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression having requested to make amicus submissions in the case, but also a coalition of 20 African and international NGOs. It will be interesting to see what impact the Kenyan judgment might have on the case. If the East African Court rules in favor of Ssembuusi, the judgment will positively impact all East African Community countries, which include Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda Burundi and South Sudan.

This post was co-authored by Catherine Anite, a human rights lawyer from Uganda and part of the legal team litigating the Ssembuusi case. Nani Jansen Reventlow was lead counsel on the Konaté case. This post has been cross-posted from Harvard’s Cyberlaw Clinic blog.

Two weeks in the life of the ICC

Headlines from the ICC in the last two weeks, including from the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) (20 – 28 November) and from the Bemba trial, highlight conflicting legitimacy concerns at the Court. For some, these developments demonstrate serious weaknesses in the ICC system, while others see them as a sign of the Court’s flexibility and move into a more mature phase of operation.

The most prominent news emanating from the ASP was the Kenyan Government’s partially successful attempts to change the ICC’s legal framework. Its efforts are linked to indictments against Kenya’s current President and Deputy President related to 2007 post-election violence. Due to its effective diplomatic maneuvers, Kenya secured a change to the Rules of Procedure and Evidence to reverse the requirement for accused to be present throughout the trial. Receiving majority support amongst the 122 states parties, the rules will be amended to allow an accused to request to be represented by counsel during parts of their trial or to be ‘virtually’ present via video link.

Kenya’s more radical proposal, to amend Article 27 of the Statute to remove immunity for sitting heads of state – a key ICC innovation, consistent with the fundamental principle that no one is above the law – was advanced too late for debate at the 2013 ASP. However, its win on the rule change, and political support from other African states, will undoubtedly strengthen Kenya’s resolve to pursue this issue at future meetings.

In the midst of these debates, on 24 November the Court announced that it had executed five arrest warrants in relation to the long running Bemba trial. Jean Pierre Bemba, former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is indicted for War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity in the Central African Republic. Those arrested included Bemba’s lead defence counsel, other defence team members and Bemba himself for crimes related to corruptly influencing witnesses and knowingly presenting false or forged evidence.

The 12th ASP was also notable for other developments. For the first time, the ASP included a victims plenary session.  The session addressed challenges in implementing the ICC’s victims provisions, especially given resource constraints, and the need to better respond to specific categories of victims, especially those of sexual and gender based crimes. Continue reading

The al-Shabaab Mall Attack and the Right of Self-Defence

Flag_of_Kenya.svgOn 21 September 2013, gunmen stormed Nairobi’s Westgate mall, randomly firing at people and taking hostages. The siege lasted four days. At least 67 people are known to have died and more than 200 were injured. Somalia-based Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack. On 24 September 2013, while declaring the end of the siege, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta promised full accountability for the attack.

After a four-day stand-off, security forces succeeded in ending the siege, killing five gunmen and apprehending several others. The question thus arises whether similar law enforcement action will suffice to ward off future attacks and address the overall threat al-Shabaab poses to Kenya and the region.

Based in Somalia, al-Shabaab is believed to have approximately 5000 fighters, with foreign jihadists reportedly traveling to the country to join the group. Despite having been forced out of most urban areas, al-Shabaab remains in control of most of southern and central Somalia. In February 2012, its leader, Ahmed Godane, pledged obedience to al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri. Moreover, the group has been recruiting US and European citizens.

It is thus reasonable to assume that law enforcement alone will not eradicate the danger al-Shabaab poses. The Kenyan government may consider using military force against the group in exercise of its right to self-defence. This would not be the first time Kenya took defensive action against al-Shabaab. In October 2011, the Kenyan military entered Somali territory to fight the militants. In a letter to the Security Council, the Kenyan Permanent Representative reported that “Kenya, (…), has, after the latest direct attacks on Kenyan territory and the accompanying loss of life and kidnappings of Kenyans and foreign nationals by the Al-Shabaab terrorists, decided to undertake remedial and pre-emptive action”. 

After 9/11, the Security Council implicitly recognized that self-defence could be used against terrorist attacks. Since then, it is increasingly accepted that the right of self-defence, as enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter, can be invoked against non-state actors, as long as the customary law requirements of necessity and proportionality are met (see Chapter 10 of my book on this topic).

The question then arises whether the mall siege amounts to an armed attack, triggering the exercise of self-defence. The siege lasted four days, resulted in a high death toll, caused widespread injury and considerable property damage. Such attacks are generally accepted as reaching the threshold of armed attacks (see Chapter 3 of Tom Ruys’ book on this topic).

That consideration alone, however, is not enough to invoke the right of self-defence. The principle of necessity also requires that there is a sense of emergency (immediacy), which makes defensive use of force urgent and inevitable. If the threat can be neutralized through other means, the exercise of self-defence cannot be justified. Continue reading

Introducing Kinga Tibori-Szabó

KTSz-photo1It’s our great pleasure today to welcome Kinga Tibori-Szabó as an IntLawGrrls contributor.  Kinga is currently an associate legal officer for the Legal Representative of Victims at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  She has also worked for the Defense at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and taught international humanitarian law at Rijksuniversiteit Groningen in the Netherlands.

Kinga  has a Bachelor of Law degree from the Babes-Bolyai University (Romania), an LL.M from Utrecht University (Netherlands) and a PhD from the University of Amsterdam (Netherlands). Her doctoral monograph, Anticipatory Action in Self-Defence, was published by Springer/Asser Press in 2011 and was awarded the Lieber Prize of the American Society of International Law in 2012. She also earned an LL.M degree from New York University, which allowed her to become a member of the New York Bar in 2013.

Kinga’s fields of interest are the international law on the use of force, international humanitarian law and international criminal law.  Her introductory post today discusses the recent al-Shabaab attack in Kenya and the relevance of self-defense as a possible response. Heartfelt welcome!

 

ICC unseals two new arrest warrants

Yesterday, the ICC unsealed a third arrest warrant in the Ivory Coast situation, against Mr. Charles Ble Goude. The first two arrest warrants to be unsealed in the Ivory Coast situation  are arrest warrants against former President, Laurent Gbagbo (presently in ICC costudy) and against Simone Gbagbo (for whom the Ivoirian government hasapparently  issued a challenge to admissability, asking to try Ms. Gbagbo in Cote d’Ivoire).

The arrest warrant against Charles Ble Goude was issued as early as 21 December 2011, only a few months after the opening of investigations, for ‘indirect co-perpetration’ under Article 25(3)(a) for his alleged role in instructing and training the patriotic youth, who allegedly took part in post-election violence in Cote d’Ivoire, against anyone suspected of supporting Alassane Ouattara.

The arrest warrant was unsealed yesterday (1 October 2013) after news coverage quoted the Minister of Justice, Gnenema Mamadou Coulibaly who apparently reported such an arrest warrant existed.

The arrest warrant was issued by Judges Sylvia Fernandez de Gurmendi, Elizabeth Odio Benito and former ICC Judge Adrian Fuldord. Interestingly, in paragraph 16 of the arrest warrant the Pre-Trial Chamber states:

“16. Although the Chamber is satisfied that this substantial test (as proposed by the Prosecution), is made out, it is likely that this issue {i.e. Mr Blé Goudé’s suggested liability as an “indirect co-perpetrator” under Article 25(3)(a) of the Statute) may well need to be revisited in due course with the parties and participants.”

Mr Ble Goude is presently in custody in Cote d’Ivoire.

The ICC unsealed an additional arrest warrant today in the Kenya case against William Samoei and Joshua Arap Sang. The arrest warrant is against Mr. Walter Osapiri Barasa, issued on 2 August 2013 by Single Judge Cuno Tarfusser, for allegedly corrupting and attempting to corruptly influence witnesses.

One may recall at this point that the Prosecutor, Ms. Fatou Bensouda requested to withdraw her case against Francis Kirimi Muthaura mainly because of serious witnesses issues.