Women and Justice: Jurisdiction

International Case Law

Sudan Human Rights Organisation & Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) v. Sudan African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (2009)

Sexual violence and rape

In 2003 an armed group known as the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army issued a political declaration and clashed with respondent State’s armed forces. The Respondent State engaged in a succession of human rights violations against suspected insurgents, including the rape of women and girls. The respondent state denied several of the allegations, argued that local remedies were not exhausted, and submitted that the claims had already been settled by other international mechanisms. The Commission noted that “cases of sexual and gender based violence against women and girls in and outside IDP camps have been a common feature of the Darfur conflict. The right to liberty and security of the person, for women and girls, and other victims of the Darfur conflict has remained an illusion.” The Commission held that the respondent State violated Articles 1, 4, 5, 6, 7(1), 12(1) and (2), 14, 16, 18(1) and 22 of the African Charter. The Commission recommended that the State take all necessary and urgent measures to ensure protection of victims of human rights violations in the Darfur region, including: conducting effective official investigations into abuses committed by members of military forces, undertake major reforms of its legislative and judicial framework, take steps to prosecute those responsible for human rights violations, and take measures to ensure that victims of human rights abuses are given effective remedies.

INTERIGHTS and EIPR (on behalf of Sabbah and Others) v. Egypt African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (2012)

Custodial violence

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights found that three men convicted in the 2004 and 2005 bombings on Egyptian resort towns were tortured and denied a fair trial before being sentenced to death by Egypt’s Supreme Emergency State Security Courts, violating the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Commission ruled that Egypt should repeal the death sentences, immediately release the men, and provide them compensation. Additionally, the Commission found that Egypt’s state security courts were not independent and were unable to meet international fair trial standards. This ruling establishes a requirement for African states to prevent torture. It also makes clear that judicial proceedings must take place in a fair, independent court in order to uphold human rights, and that the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ right will actively enforce these standards.

Interights (on behalf of Husaini and Others) v. Nigeria African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (2005)

Custodial violence, Gender discrimination, Gender-based violence in general, Harmful traditional practices

Interights, an international human rights organization, filed a complaint before the Commission on behalf of several complainants, arguing that Nigeria's Islamic Sharia courts had violated their rights to a fair trial and due process. The main complainant, S.H., a nursing mother, was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. She was tried under Sharia law, according to which adultery is punishable by death. The petitioners also included A.L., a woman sentenced to similar punishment for adultery, and B.M., an unmarried woman who received 100 lashes as punishment for zina (voluntary premarital sexual intercourse). In response to the complaint, the Chairman of the African Commission sent an urgent appeal to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, urging him to suspend further implementation of the Sharia penal statutes and convictions under those laws pending the outcome of the complaints before the Commission. In response to the Chairman's urgent appeal, the Secretary General of the African Union formally brought the matter to President Obasanjo. The President's Chief of Staff wrote to the Chairman of the African Commission that while the federal government could not suspend the operation of Sharia law, the administration would ensure that the "right to life and human dignity" of S.H. and the others would be adequately protected. Before the court ruled on admissibility of the complaint, the complainant moved for withdrawal of the complaint, and it was withdrawn from the Commission.

Doebbler v. Sudan African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (2003)

Custodial violence, Gender discrimination, Gender-based violence in general

Eight female students of the Nubia Association of Ahilia University were arrested for engaging in immoral activities that violated the public order, in contravention of Sudan's Criminal Code, which incorporates Islamic Sharia law. The immoral activities the women committed consisted of "girls kissing, wearing trousers, dancing with men, crossing legs with men, sitting with boys, and sitting and talking with boys." The women were punished with fines and between 25 and 40 lashes. The lashing took place in public by use of a wire and plastic whip. The wire and plastic whip were unclean, the lashing was not under the supervision of a doctor, and the women were bareback in public while they were lashed. The complaint asserted that the punishment violated Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which guarantees the right of individuals to human dignity and prohibits cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment. The Commission found that the lashing violated article 5 of the African Charter. It requested that Sudan abolish the punishment of lashing and compensate the women for their injuries.

Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum v. Zimbabwe African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (2006)

Sexual violence and rape

Violence erupted in Zimbabwe between the constitutional referendum of 2000 and the parliamentary elections. Supporters of ZANU (PF) engaged in various human rights violations including the rape of women and girls. The respondent state claimed that it could not be held accountable because those committing the crimes were non-state actors and the actions were not encouraged by any government policy. The Commission determined that "[a] state can be held complicit where it fails systematically to provide protection of violations from private actors who deprive any person of his/her human rights." However, the Commission found that the complainant had the burden of "establishing that the state condones a pattern of abuse through pervasive non-action." Here, the Commission found that Zimbabwe violated the victims' rights to judicial protection and to have their case heard under articles 1 and 7(1), respectively, of the African Charter. It explained that the the state had adopted Clemency Order 1 of 2000 (which permits those who have committed politically motivated crimes to be exonerated, with the exception of murder, rape, and other similar crimes) and that Zimbabwe did not "demonstrate due diligence" in providing justice for the victims of the violent crimes. The Commission requested that Zimbabwe investigate the reported crimes, bring those who committed the crimes to justice, and provide victims with adequate compensation. This case is important because it establishes that a state can be held accountable for the human rights violations of private actors. Under this case, if the state does not address mass rape with "due diligence," then the state itself can be held accountable.

Democratic Republic of Congo v. Republics of Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (2003)

Sexual violence and rape, Gender violence in conflict

The armed forces of Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda engaged in systematic violence against the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (the DRC). As part of that violence, approximately 2,000 HIV-positive Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers raped Congolese women and young girls in order to spread AIDS to the Congolese population. The DRC brought the complaint asserting, among other things, that the mass rape and deliberate infection of women and girls with HIV constituted a violation of human rights under the African Charter. The respondents did not deny the occurrence of mass rape and infection, but responded that "there is never group responsibility for violations" like rape. The Commission noted that the mass rape of women and girls as a tool of systematic violence violated article 76 of the first Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which provides that "[w]omen shall be the object of special respect and shall be protected in particular against rape, forced prostitution and any other forms of indecent assault" and also "offend[ed] the African Charter and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women." It therefore held that this offense violated articles 60 and 61 of the African Charter, which enable the African Commission to draw inspiration from international law on human and peoples' rights and take into consideration general principles of law, such as the humanitarian law principles contained in the Geneva Conventions. The Commission urged the respondent states to abide by their obligations under the African Charter and other applicable international and regional law and immediately withdraw their armed forces from the DRC. The Commission also requested that adequate reparations be paid to the DRC for and on behalf of the victims of the human rights violations.

African Institute for Human Rights and Development (on behalf of Sierra Leonean Refugees in Guinea) v. Republic of Guinea African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (2004)

Custodial violence, Gender violence in conflict, International law, Sexual violence and rape

In a radio speech, President Lasana Conté of Guinea called on the citizens and armed forces of Guinea to engage in mass discrimination against Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea. This allegedly resulted in numerous human rights violations against the refugees, including the widespread rape of Sierra Leonean women in Guinea. According to the complaint, Sierra Leonean women were raped as a way to "punish them for being so-called rebels." The soldiers and civilians used weapons to intimidate and threaten the women. The women were of various ages and were raped in such places such as homes, prisons, and refugee camps. The Commission expressed understanding for countries such as Guinea that take on refugees from war-torn nations, and noted that such countries may be justified in taking some measures to ensure the security of their citizens. However, based on eyewitness testimony and other evidence, the Commission determined that the situation in Guinea at the time of President Lasana Conté's speech led to violations of the refugees' human rights under the African Charter. It requested that a Joint Commission of the Sierra Leonean and Guinean governments be formed to determine the extent of the losses and how to compensate the victims.

Malawi African Association and Others v. Mauritania African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (2000)

Sexual violence and rape

Between 1986 and 1992 violence escalated between the northern Mauritanian population and the southern black ethnic groups. The Northern Mauritanian population's military raided the south, detained hundreds of individuals, imposed curfews, and inflicted various forms of violence and intimidation. The complaint notes that men from the southern black ethnic groups were subjected to forms of torture and humiliation (such as the "jaguar" where a "victim's wrists are tied to his feet . . . [,] then [he] is suspended from a bar and kept upside down, sometimes over a fire, and is beaten on the soles of his feet") while the women were "simply raped." The Commission determined that the mass rape and other forms of violence violated the African Charter, in particular Article 6. Article 6 states that "every individual shall have the right to liberty and to the security of his person. No one may be deprived of his freedom except for reasons and conditions previously laid down by law." The Commission requested that the respondent state compensate the victims of the violations and carry out an assessment of the "deep-rooted causes" of the "degrading practices" (it did not specify whether it considered these practices to include rape).