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Volume 12 Number 2
New Delhi, Summer 2005

Around the Commonwealth

- Compiled by Vaishali Mishra
Media & Communication Officer, CHRI


Government acquits military police captain of arbitrary torture charges

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) has raised serious concerns with the government of Cameroon regarding its respect for the due process of law following the acquittal of a military police captain on charges of arbitrary arrest and torture of a member of the Mbororo pastoralist community. The rights group has complained directly to the government about the actions of a military tribunal and called for an independent appeal hearing, highlighting a list of judicial irregularities, which cast doubts over the validity of the acquittal.


HIV/AIDS policy will protect workers

The government of Nigeria has released its National workplace policy on HIV/AIDS, which aims to protect people with the virus from any form of discrimination and stigmatisation, particularly in the workplace. The policy will promote and protect the rights and dignity of affected workers, provide them with access to HIV/AIDS information and services, manage and integrate impact of the virus within the workplace and eliminate and reduce stigma and discrimination.


Ghanaian Government Releases
Truth Commission Report  

The government of Ghana released the final report of the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) on 22 April 2005 which was appointed in May 2002 to investigate past human rights abuses in the country. The report recommends reparations for victims and institutional reforms, and exposes some of the causes for the collapse of democracy in Ghana.  

Over the course of 18 months of hearings, the NRC heard testimonies from more than 2000 victims, selected from over 4000 written submissions. Some 79 perpetrators also testified. Victims reported a wide range of violations dating back to Ghana’s independence in 1957, including abductions, beatings, detentions, execution-style killings, sexual abuse, torture, and seizure of property. The Commission offered the first opportunity for Ghanaians to publicly relate their experiences of abuse, uncover the truth about the past, and seek redress.  

Although Ghana is today considered to be a comparatively peaceful and democratic country, its post-independence history has been marred by authoritarian and military rule, with accompanying human rights abuses. Violations intensified under the four military regimes that ruled Ghana intermittently for more than 22 of the 27 years between 1966 and 1993. The Commission was mandated to focus its investigation on human rights violations that took place between 1957 and 1993, particularly on the periods of military rule


Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone: “Draconian” Law Used To Muzzle Critics

In Sierra Leone, where journalists can be jailed for libeling public officials, the Public Order Act has become a convenient tool for silencing critics. Just ask Paul Kamara, Sydney Pratt and Dennis Jones. All three journalists have been imprisoned on charges of “seditious libel” after writing articles about alleged government corruption.

The move has provoked outrage from the International Press Institute (IPI), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF), who are urging authorities to immediately release the journalists and drop the criminal charges against them. The IFEX members say press offences should be decriminalised and treated under civil law.

Pratt and Jones, who work for the weekly newspaper “Trumpet”, were arrested in Freetown on 24 May 2005 after publishing an article headlined “Kabbah Mad over Carew Bribe Scandal.” It cited an unnamed source who claimed that President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was angered by earlier allegations that two senior cabinet ministers had accepted bribes.

Kamara, the editor and publisher of the newspaper “For Di People”, is serving two concurrent two-year prison sentences for articles that were critical of the president. He was sentenced in October 2004. The charges stem from articles Kamara wrote in October 2003 which detailed a 1967 commission of inquiry linking Kabbah to fraud allegations.

Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established by the UN to document human rights abuses, has called on the government to repeal laws criminalizing seditious and defamatory libel and has recommended a moratorium on prosecutions under those laws. According to the commission’s statute, the government is required to implement its recommendations faithfully and in a timely manner.

The Solomon Islands

During the five year conflict (1998-2003) driven by long-standing resentment of the rapid centralisation of economic development around the nation’s capital, Honiara on the nation’s largest island of Guadalcanal, hundreds of women and girls were raped and tortured. Many of these crimes remain unresolved, and those responsible for violence against women – whether police, members of armed groups, or private individuals – have rarely been brought to justice.

Of 55 women interviewed by Amnesty International, 19 were raped by forces occupying or raiding their village on the Weathercost. Even though now the conflict is over, violence against women continues unabated. Nearly 200 rapes were reported in the first six months of 2004.

The Human Security Centre launces free e-resources

The Human Security Centre at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia, Canada, has launched three free e-resources: the Human Security Gateway, Human Security Research and Human Security News.

These e-resources were developed with the aim of making human security-related research more accessible to the policy and research communities, the media, educators and the interested public. The Human Security Gateway is a searchable online database of human security-related resources including reports, journal articles, news items and fact sheets. For further information visit:

World Press Freedom Day

The third day of the month of May 2005 was celebrated as the World Press Freedom Day. The day marks the crucial role a free press plays in strengthening democracies and fostering development.

Celebrated each year since 1993, when it was proclaimed by the United Nations, the day is an occasion to pay tribute to journalists who have been killed because of their work and to promote the importance of protecting the right to freedom of expression.

International Day for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

On 21 March 2005, the International Day for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was marked with warnings that the virus of racism is on the march around the world and urgent calls for a global assault on the scourge, and with new proposals to strengthen human rights and panel sessions on overcoming hate crimes. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, noting the persistence of discrimination in our culture despite all the efforts to get rid of it, referred to his report submitted on the same day which proposed a new Human Rights Council and better means to combat genocide, ethnic cleansing and other such crimes against humanity. The High Commissioner for Human Right, Louise Arbour said in her speech to the panel on effective practices to overcome hate crimes in Geneva that we must combat all forms of intolerance by celebrating diversity and differences.


The Law of Succession discriminates against women

The law of succession in Kenya has come under tremendous criticism from all quarters including the judiciary. “Most tribes do not recognise daughters and should a widow remarry, her interests in the late husband’s property would cease,” said Kenyan High Court Judge Vitalis Juma.

Any land under the Land Act that does not lie under a municipality is termed as agricultural land, in which case, ownership is decided under customary law. Customary law on inheritance of agricultural land and livestock can however be side stepped by writing a law.

South Africa

Top judges unite against bid to control judiciary

South Africa’s top judges have united in opposition to a government move to change the Constitution and do away with the judiciary’s right to administer its own affairs.

A report in one of the leading news dailies the Sunday Times says the judges, including outgoing Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson and his replacement, Judge Pius Langa, made their opposition known at a two-day meeting attended by Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla and her deputy, Johnny de Lange, to discuss proposed new laws.

The amendment would pave the way for the government to implement several controversial laws thereby allowing it to ‘educate’ and ‘discipline’ judges. It says that while the Chief Justice is the head of the ‘judicial function’, the Minister of Justice will exercise final administrative power over all courts.

“The government should take heed of the fact that judges arguing for independence were not white right-wingers but former anti-apartheid activists,” said Judge Mohammed Navsa, Supreme Court of Appeal.


CHRI Newsletter, Summer 2005

Editors: Vaishali Mishra & Clare Doube, CHRI;
Print: Anshu Tejpal,
CHRI; Web Developer: Swayam Mohanty, CHRI.
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to all contributors

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The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) is an independent international NGO mandated to ensure the practical realisation of human rights in the Commonwealth.