Women and Justice: Keywords

International Case Law

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 Ms. Safiya Hussaini and others, arguing that Nigeria's Islamic Sharia courts had violated their rights to a fair trial and due process. Safiya Hussaini, a nursing mother, was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. Ms. Hussaini was tried under Sharia law, according to which adultery is punishable by death. The petitioners also included Amina Lawal, a woman sentenced to similar punishment for adultery, and Bariya Magazu, 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 Ms. Hussaini 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the court ruled on admissibility of the complaint, the complainant moved for withdrawal of the complaint, and it was withdrawn from the Commission.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.



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).