Accra, Ghana
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) is an independent non-governmental organisation created to ensure the practical realisation of human rights in the countries of the Commonwealth. We push for an adherence to the Commonwealth's Harare Principles and the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. CHRI was established in 1987 after several Commonwealth countries voiced their concern about a lack of focus on Human rights within the Commonwealth organization. CHRI currently has three offices; in Delhi, London and Accra. The Africa office was opened in Accra in 2001 and is at the forefront of the fight to uphold basic human freedoms in the region. We work in three main areas of human rights: Human Rights Advocacy; Access to justice and The Right to Information.

Friday 29 April 2011

African Commonwealth Human Rights Weekly Update (23/04 - 29/04/2011)


Wednesday 27/04: Freedom of Expression: The British High Commissioner, Mr Cochrane-Dyet has been expelled from Malawi after he described President Bingu wa Mutharika as "becoming ever more autocratic and intolerant of criticism" in a leaked cable.

Since its election in 2004, the government of Bingu wa Mutharika has been criticised for harassing opposition and human rights campaigners. Mr Cochrane-Dyet said that civil society organisers were scared to campaign after receiving threatening phone calls.

Malawi has been party International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights since 1993 which guarantees the right to hold opinions without interference the right to freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly .


Tuesday 26/04: Protest: A Commission of Inquiry set up by the Mozambican Interior Ministry to investigate the brutal attack by members of the riot police on unarmed security guards who were demonstrating against their employer, Group Four Securicor (G4S) on the 6th of April, has reached the preliminary conclusion that they "acted in bad faith in the use of excessive force”.
Riot police were filmed repeatedly beating unarmed protesters with truncheons. The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials states that "Law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force". This basic principle was not adhered to by Mozambican riot police.   See the video below...

Sierra Leone

Wednesday 27/04: Celebration of Independence: Sierra Leone Marked its 50th anniversary of independence from Britain. The president Koroma called on Sierra Leone to draw upon the lessons of the past.

Nine years ago the Country emerged from an eleven year civil war that killed 50,000 people. Since the end of the war Sierra has shown tentative signs that it is beginning to turn a corner. It has been particularly encouraging that the 2007 elections have been conducted in a free and fair manner. Former president Kabbah stepped down after serving a maximum two terms and Koroma successfully defeated the incumbent Vice President Solomon Berewa. Sierra Leone is due to go for presidential elections again in 2012.


Thursday  28/04: Arbitrary Arrest: For the third week running Kizza Besigye was detained by the police for attempting another walk to work protest. Beigye is being denied his freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly.

Royal Wedding List – will the Commonwealth live happily ever after?

Everyone loves a wedding, especially a royal one. The BBC estimate that 2 billion people from across the world will tune in today to watch Prince William and Kate Middleton exchange vows at Westminster Abbey. Yet the guest list for the wedding is causing a controversy.  Obama didn’t make the guest list yet every head of state of the Commonwealth’s 54 members received a special invite. Leaders from even tiny islands like St Lucia and Montserrat will wine and dine with the world’s elite. But what really is the point of the Commonwealth beyond adding exotic costumes and colour to the pomp and circumstance?

It’s a question that I frequently asked myself when I decided to uproot from the UK and take up a position with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in Accra. In all honesty, I didn’t know a great deal about the association except that it was made up of former members of the British Empire and I also knew that it held an athletics tournament every four years. Now… months later conversations with Ghanaian friends convince me that little is still known about this still functioning international association of 54 countries – 19 of them in Africa. Certainly the nearly 2 billion people of the Commonwealth, the majority of them living on less than $2 a day have no clue about the glamorous wedding or the glittering invitation list.

The Commonwealth was initially created as an attempt to preserve the links between Britain and its former colonies. However once the Commonwealth moved from being a ‘whites only’ club to including members of the ‘new Commonwealth’ like Ghana, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), India and Nigeria it needed to articulate common fundamental principles which in the absence of geographic cohesion like the EU or a common purpose like NATO would allow it to hang together. Repeated solemn declarations reaffirming the centrality of human rights and democracy seemed to place upholding human rights at the pivot around which it would function. Indeed its vociferous lead in fighting apartheid were a unifying mission that provided the Commonwealth its hay day and expulsion of overt military dictatorships like Nigeria, Fiji and Pakistan gave it teeth. Unfortunately today the Commonwealth has stopped playing the role which it carved out for itself. Many of the Commonwealth heads of state who will be attending Friday’s wedding are overseeing regimes with dismal human rights records. For instance King Mswati III of Swaziland, an autocratic king of a country with no political parties, will fly out to the UK from southern Africa having just suppressed one of the country’s largest peaceful pro-democracy marches.

It is true that the Commonwealth has continued to promote democracy in its member states by providing electoral observers and advisors, as it did most recently in Nigeria. It also true that it continues to hold workshops on human rights and the best ways to implement them. Only last week, Mauritius hosted six other African members of the Commonwealth, including Ghana who met to discuss how to implement the recommendations they received from the UN when under periodic review in 2008 and 2009. The real problem is that the Commonwealth seems unwilling and unable to punish wayward members who show blatant disregard for international human rights law. Whilst in the past minority governed South Africa was excluded and Nigeria was suspended in 1995 after the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa, today an autocratic regime and police repression in Swaziland goes on without comment.

As happened in North Africa, protests in Swaziland began about rising food prices and falling wages. However, with time attitudes have hardened and calls for political reform have been made. Journalists currently seem to lump protests in repressive countries together. Many who haven’t been to Swaziland, a small mountainous kingdom surrounded by South Africa on three sides and Mozambique to the east, want to group it with the “Arabian Spring”; a long serving incumbent, repressive police and an impoverished youth. The situation in Swaziland is different. The majority of the protesters are not pushing for an overthrow of the king, rather an end to the 38 years of autocratic rule and a return to constitutional democracy. The Swazi government mandated a ten percent cut in civil service salaries as the King was granted an extra $6 million in his annual allowance, yet King Mswati is still largely popular. Although 70% of the population live on less than 1 dollar a day many Swazis still speak warmly of King Mswati’s stabilising influence and his role in upholding Swazi culture. On my last visit, street traders in Manzini and Mbabane still did a brisk trade in fabric adorned with King Mswati’s face.  
On the 18th of April, the 38th anniversary of the banning of political parties by King Mswati’s father King Sobuzha II protests took place. Students, trade unionists and members of banned political party’s took to the streets of Manzini to call for the resignation of the current government and a return to party politics. The King responded by declaring the demonstration illegal and ordering the police were to break up the protesters with water cannons and a spate of arbitrary arrests. Civil rights protesters allege that they are coming under increasing pressure from the country’s security apparatus and Mcolisi Ngcamphalala, of the Swaziland Youth Congress said he was held and tortured by police for 24 hours.
Swaziland is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which guarantees the right to hold opinions without interference the right to freedom of expression, the right to peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of expression. It also committed itself to the Commonwealth’s Harare Declaration which guaranteed human rights and the right for people to frame the society in which he or she lives. These rights are being systematically denied by Mswati and the Commonwealth has a duty to bring Swaziland back into line.
However instead of condemnation the Commonwealth has at best remained silent, at worst it has been cozying up to King Mswati. Queen Elizabeth II as the formal head of The Commonwealth will welcome King Mswati to the royal wedding, whilst Kamalesh Sharma the current Secretary General has failed to mention the situation in Swaziland, despite last week being less than 100 kilometres away in neighbouring Mozambique. It is perhaps more embarrassing that Sharma’s predecessor, Don McKinnon, accepted an award from King Mswati for his work on the 2005 constitution which still left 1.2 million Swazis with no political parties or genuine democratic choice.
If the Commonwealth is to remain relevant and understood it must begin to practice what it preaches. If it is truly committed to human rights and democracy it must insist on member states like Swaziland acting as if the standards the Commonwealth has given itself really matter.  Otherwise it will remain an ghostly remnant of some half forgotten dream of what might have been in people’s minds only coming to prominence at British royal weddings and at the next Commonwealth games.
Henry Wilkinson, Human Rights Advocacy, CHRI Africa Office
This is article was published in The Ghanian Times, 29/04/11 (p.8) visit www.newtimes.com.gh/ and The Chronicle, (p.14.) 29/04/11 visit www.ghanaian-chronicle.com

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Safeguarding the Independence of the Judiciary in Ghana

Ghana’s democracy and judicial independence is the envy of many in Africa, but all this may change if the recent events are anything to go by. 
The Accra High Court’s decision to free all 14 suspects who had been indicted for conspiracy to murder the late overlord of Dagbon, Ya Na Yakubu Andani, after His Lordship E. K. Ayebi ruled that the prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case; has sparked off discontent among some sections of the public and to some extent incensed by politicians.

Just after the delivery of the verdict, some elite in our society, who should not matter, and without reading the full judgement came out with statements to the effect that the bench was partisan or politically biased and that genuine justice could never be expected from such a bench. The president also referred to the decision as a ‘temporary setback’. Before long, there was a demonstration by the Andani youth seeking justice and the Court could not sit because the judges feared for their security and life.

Ghana seems to be on trial for the future of its democracy. Where a judge in the lawful execution of his or her duty is lambasted by politicians for having made a wrong decision; where the judiciary sees itself as being threatened by a possible backlash for lawful execution of its mandate; where courts cease to operate, even if for a day, because the judges feel that their security and well-being is threatened- are clear indications of flouting the principle of independence of the judiciary, which is a key tenet of democracy and which is distinctly enshrined in the 1992 Constitution of Ghana particularly under Chapter 8 of the Constitution.

The judicial arm of government is the ultimate interpreter of the law and at some point enforcer of human rights. In fact the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary recognises the fact that judges are charged with the ultimate decision over life, freedoms, rights, duties and property of citizens. In most cases, they will have to play the role of arbiter between the other arms of government, the legislature and the executive, in its role in interpreting the law and ensuring that justice is upheld.

Given the importance of the role played by the judiciary in any democracy, particularly in the peaceful resolution of conflicts, it is incumbent upon the State or Government to ensure that the independence of the judiciary is respected and observed by all.

Countries that lack independent judiciaries are least likely to be recognized as democracies. Where a judiciary is not independent, the course of justice is adversely affected, leading to a public lack of faith in the Courts- this will have great repercussions on the justice system of the country and the realization of human rights will be, but a myth.

The role of the judiciary is not to bow to the pressures of the public or the government of the day, but rather to dispense justice in an impartial manner, based on facts presented before them and in accordance with the law. In fact as part of the judicial oath, a judge swears to perform their functions without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. Where, then,  either party feels that the judge failed in this regard, there are steps to be followed still within the judicial system to set what may have gone wrong right, if indeed the judge erred in some respect or the other. That is why we have such processes as appeals and reviews.

The matter is not up to ‘politicians’ or members of the public to usurp the powers of the court and try to hijack the judicial process as seen in the behaviour of some citizens on our judicial system.

There are a number of cases waiting to be heard and decided upon by the Courts, most of these cases do affect people’s rights and freedoms, and where Court does not sit even for a day, it is the innocent that suffer;- persons who also are waiting for justice to be done, some have waited for decades ; for some it is a matter of life and death; for some it is their entire future; and without timely dispensation of justice- an injustice is being done to them. What this will likely lead to is lack of faith in the judiciary- this leads to increase in instances as mob justice and a total break down of law and order in the long run. IS THIS THE FUTURE WE ARE SHAPING FOR GHANA?

Rather than blame a case gone bad on the judge, the State which is the prosecuting arm should focus on what went wrong in its processes. How was the matter investigated? Was there enough evidence for prosecution to prove his case? How were the exhibits handled? Was the chain of evidence properly laid before the Court?

If the investigators and prosecutors did a commendable job and the judge failed to properly assess the evidence, then the proper course is to appeal. Even an error by a single judge is no excuse to attack or blame the entire judiciary.

This is the time to pass our test as a country to safeguarding the independence of the judiciary, yes, it is paramount for our democracy but the current trends in Ghana are a big blight on the country’s image. Ghana, the yardstick of Africa over the respect for the rule of Law and the indecency of the judiciary cannot be allow to go back; we all own it a duty to protect this great shining goodwill, no matter ones political colour or affiliations.  

Caroline Nalule
Regional Coordinator
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Africa Office
This is an unedited version of the article “Safeguarding the Independence of the Judiciary in Ghana” written by Caroline Nalule and published in the Ghanaian newspaper, The Daily Guide (19th of April 2011, p.4.)

Monday 25 April 2011

African Commonwealth Human Rights Weekly Update (16/04 - 22/04/2011)


Monday 18/04: Universal Periodic Review: Mauritius hosted a two-day seminar on the Universal Periodic Review. The event was attended by representatives of the seven African Commonwealth countries who are up for periodic review in the coming two tears (Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia). The seminar aimed to strengthen the ability of the states to implement the recommendations they received from the UN Human Rights Council when they were last under review in 2008 and 2009.

The UPR sets out to review the human rights situation in all 192 UN member states every four years. In the process each national government reports to the UN Human Rights Council on the activities they have undertaken to uphold human rights. After consideration of the report, the UNHCR draws up a list of suggestions which are then discussed with the national government to bring together an action plan for the next four years.


Monday 18/04: Election Results: As it had done in the National Assembly Elections, The Commonwealth declared itself happy with the conduct of the Nigerian presidential elections. Speaking for the Commonwealth Observer Group, former Botswana President Festus Mogae said, "The April 2011 elections marked a genuine celebration of democracy in Africa’s most populous country and a key member of the Commonwealth...Previously held notions that Nigeria can only hold flawed elections are now being discarded and this country can now shake off that stigma and redeem its image.”

Meanwhile, areas in the north of the country witnessed some of the worst post electoral violence in recent memory. The Civil Rights Congress claim that more than 500 people have died since the presidential elections on Saturday the 16th of April. The violence came after it became clear that Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian, had defeated a Muslim candidate from the mostly Islamic north.


Friday 22/04: Arbitrary Arrests: Kizza Besigye, the leader of the Forum for Democratic change, Uganda’s principle opposition party, spent Easter in jail after being arrested for the third time. He was held by Ugandan police for holding another walk to work-protest in Kampala. Besigye was charged for unlawful assembly and will appear in country on the 27th of April.

In the town of Masaka one child was killed and two protesters injured by bullets during protests on Thursday. These two incidents are part of ongoing unrest about rising prices and police handling of protests.

Since the conclusion of the February 2011 general elections, the Ugandan police have maintained a blanket ban against all forms of public assemblies and demonstrations. This ban has been imposed on the pretext of ensuring public security. This blanket ban is in violation to the right to freedom of expression guaranteed in Uganda’s Constitution and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Friday 15 April 2011

African Commonwealth Human Rights Weekly Update (09/04 - 15/04/2011)


Friday 15/04: Elections: Campaigning for the presidential election has drawn to a close and the country will go to the ballot box tomorrow. Last Saturday Nigeria voted for its representatives in the Senate and the National Assembly. The President and leader of the PDP, Goodluck Jonathan appears to be under real pressure after his party lost several seats in the Asssembly. 
Despite rapid economic growth and oil revenues, Nigeria’s Human Development Index (an index which combines life expectancy at birth, access to education and gross national income per capita) is still incredibly low. In the 2008-2009 United Nations Development Program Report, Nigeria’s index was O.499, well behind Sudan, one of Africa’s most repressive regimes.
The 2007 elections were widely perceived to “a farce of rigging and intimidation”. However the initial omens for this year’s presidential elections look more promising. The parliamentary elections on the 6th were largely seen as “well conducted”, free and fair. Although 117 ballot boxes were reported stolen, elsewhere ballots were counted in public whilst the final result was thoroughly photographed. This is part of the newly introduced “open secret ballot system” that allows each voter to stand and watch the ballot box being opened.
Chair of the Commonwealth Electoral Observer Group, Festus Mogae stated, "We believe that an important step forward has been taken in Nigeria with the successful conduct of the National Assembly elections". (See the full Commonwealth Statement here)
Tuesday 12/04: Protests: Manzini witnessed some of the most determined protests against the Swazi government. Pro democracy leaders were detained by Swazi Poilce.
Monday 11/04: Elections:The Commonwealth Observer group released its final report on the 18th of February presidential and parliamentary elections. The Commonwealth noted that while the election campaign and the day of the election were generally calm, problems were reported with regard to the Electoral Commission’s poor management of the process, the lack of a level playing field and the ‘commercialisation of politics’. As a consequence the group found that the key benchmarks for democratic elections were not fully met.” (See the full Commonwealth statement here)
Thursday 14/04: Potests:  Walk to work protest were held in Kampala in protest of high prices and government spending. Police opened fire on the protesters, injuring the opposition leader Kizze Besigye. Several opposition politicians, including Besigye were arrested and later released on charges of inciting violence.

Thursday 14 April 2011

What are Human Rights and what is CHRI?

Welcome to the brand new blog for the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) in Africa. We hope you enjoy reading and discussing our posts as much as we enjoy writing them!

So what are Human Rights, what is CHRI, and what is the purpose of this blog?

Human Rights are set out in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The thirty articles of the UDHR establish the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of people. These rights include the right to life, food and shelter, freedom of expression, the right to not be arrested and detained without being charged and the right to privacy.

CHRI is an independent non-governmental organisation created to ensure the practical realisation of these basic rights in the countries of the Commonwealth. We have been operating since 1987 and have three offices in Delhi, London and Accra.

The Africa office was opened in Accra in 2001 and is at forefront of the fight to uphold basic human freedoms in the region. We work in three main areas of human rights: Human Rights Advocacy; Access to justice and The Right to Information.

Advocacy programme
is involved in bringing to light breaches of human rights in the African members of the Commonwealth and applying pressure for change. One of the biggest feats of the CHRI advocacy team was its involvement and investigation into the case of the extra-judicial disappearances and killings of approximately 50 Africans that took place in the Gambia in 2005. We are currently looking at elections in the region. For example The Gambia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana and Sierra Leone all have presidential elections in 2011/2012 and we hope to ensure that people are allowedto frame the society in which he or she lives”. This right is set out in the Commonwealth’s Harare Declaration.

Access to Justice Programme has been involved in monitoring the accessibility of justice to Ghanaians and other Africans nationals in terms of accessibility to the judicial system, especially the right to fair trials. CHRI has also endeavoured to ensure the availability of courts and the provision of legal aid to guarantee the right to fair trial. As part of this programme CHRI have held police workshops and set up Justice Centres.

Right to Information Programme
is the secretariat of the Coalition on the Right to Information. CHRI understands that the right to information is fundamental to the process of democracy and is working tirelessly to achieve the passing of the Right to Information Bill which would help to create a more transparent and accountable government in Ghana and beyond.

So what is the purpose of this blog?
This blog aims to provide an up-to-date civil society perspective of what is going on in the African members of the Commonwealth. It will be a forum for discussion on human rights and the pressing issues for Africans today. We want and need your involvement and comments to help make the Commonwealth a place where human freedoms are adhered to in letter and in spirit.


Welcome to the new home of CHRI Africa’s content!

Henry Wilkinson (Human Rights Advocacy Officer)