Has international law afforded Africa peace and justice?

Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke. Image by Martin Rhodes

Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke. Image by Martin Rhodes

Chairing a discussion titled Transitional Justice at a Crossroads: Lessons from South Africa, Comparative Perspectives, and Ideas for the Future, Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke explained why it is necessary to integrate international law into domestic legislative processes.

Panelists included: Judge Sang-Hyun Song (President, International Criminal Court), Delphine Serumaga (Executive Director, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation), Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza SC (Advocate of the High Court of South Africa), Advocate Allan Ngari (Transnational Threats and International Crimes Division, Institute for Security Studies).

The panel discussion was held at Wits Great Hall on September 8th. The Wits Justice Project co-hosted the discussion, together with Wits University, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Pretoria, and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies.

Below are remarks from Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke…

Has international law afforded us in Africa peace and justice? The seductive answer is “no”. And yet the picture is chequered.

Our continent has produced not only the bad and ugly but also the good. A good starting point would be the criticism that the normative scheme of international law is “un-African”.

It is an unwarranted imposition of neoliberal and Eurocentric notions on a world order that is moved, not by law, but by unequal power relations between developed and under-developed nations. It is so that the realpolitik places power and the vital security and the commercial interests of nations ahead of the nicety ethics and international law norms of peace and justice.

But realpolitik cannot and should not oust the usefulness of an international order under the rule of law. Public international law developed because the world order could not countenance military aggression or wars.

Nor could it sit back as citizens of authoritarian state suffer internal war, insurgency or crimes against humanity. The atrocities of World War II led to a global recognition of the need to protect human life and welfare by holding states accountable to a universally accepted code.

International law encompasses humaneness, compassion, human dignity and conformity to the basic norms of collective unity. Its underlying norms are in harmony with the African principle of ubuntu.

International pressure has undoubtedly played a role in ending, or limiting, suffering and injustice in African states. Had it not been for the imposition of economic sanctions and an arms embargo by the UN Security Council on apartheid South Africa, President FW de Klerk’s decision to abandon apartheid in 1990 might have been fatally delayed.

The redirection and withdrawal of aid by foreign donors has arguably been the main driving force behind the speedy nullification of the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act by the Ugandan Supreme Court.

Last year, the international community succeeded in exerting pressure on Rwanda to end its military support of the M23 rebel group in eastern Congo. The loss of Rwanda’s support and the bolstered military capacity of UN peacekeeping troops in the area left the group with no choice but to end its protracted military insurgency in December of last year.

International law has played a role in maintaining peace and justice on the continent. Africans have been the primary beneficiaries of the emerging Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm.

Following its invocation in Kenya in 2007/08 and Côte d’Ivoire in 2011, the international community successfully intervened in both the Central African Republic and South Sudan last year to prevent the mass slaughter of civilians on religious and ethnic grounds.

Our own country, South Africa has intervened under the African Union security system in domestic insurgencies in the Central African Republic, Burundi and elsewhere on the continent to restore peace and stability.

Africa needs adequate space to accelerate social and economic development – to banish poverty, ignorance and ill-health as its people find their true potential. Peace, stability and justice are prerequisites for the second-coming. Our states and so too our judiciaries should look to the norms of international law to enrich our domestic settings.

Domestic courts on the continent will do well to look at international law obligations for guidance when giving meaning to their constitutions and municipal law.

In Glenister v President of the Republic of South Africa, our Court drew from the country’s international obligations in order to give flesh to the constitutional dictate to set up a dedicated and independent corruption fighting unit.

Many countries in Africa are emerging from dire conflicts. They are adopting new constitutions infused with international law principles and endorse international criminal justice. More and more African countries are trying to come to terms with a past characterised by external aggression, insurgency and sometimes pervasive ethnic conflict and violence.

We should revert to the indispensable notion of conflict resolution through mediation and reconciliation under law and justice. After all, human solidarity is deeply embedded in African traditions.

Of course, sometimes international law falters as it fails to bring peace and justice. The strictures of international law, combined with relentless international pressure, were eventually successful in persuading South Africa to withdraw from its illegal occupation of Namibia. But international law, while equally clear, has been less effective in relation to the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza (which Israel continues to occupy from outside, through its control of most of Gaza’s border crossings, its airspace and its offshore waters).

There can’t be peace and stability without justice, and there cannot be justice without the rule of law.

Read the edited versions of the address as they appeared in the witsLEADER publication and City Press.

The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest: New Film Captures Florida Prisoner’s Shocking Ordeal Behind Bars

In 1980, Mark DeFriest was sentenced to four years in prison for a minor crime (theft). After the passing of his father in 1979, he had a dispute with his stepmother and authorities over the will of his father. He took his father’s tools before they were probated, was later arrested and charged with stealing tools that were willed to him by his father. Thirty four years later, Mark is still in prison.

“They charged him with attempted murder. He was placed in solitary confinement; lived in total darkness in a small cell. He was not allowed to communicate. There were post orders and in the post orders, it states:
1) No clothes for prisoner
2) No mattress or sheets
3) No matches, cigarettes, etc.
4) Conversations limited to business only
Mr DeFriest was denied of all toiletries, he was deprived of toilet paper, soap, tissue, toothpaste, The water was turned off in his cell, he could not flush his toilet, he could not bathe or shower, he had to eat without utensils and in the dark.” -DeFriest’s lawyer, John Middleton, detailing how Mark was treated after discharging a gun against a prison wall.

Amy Goodman talks to the director of the film, Gabriel London.Visit DemocracyNow for more. Also visit DeFriest.com for updates.

Related Readings

Commission takes up Mark DeFriest case

DeFriest: Mental Illness Behind Bars

Will ‘Houdini of Prison’ Mark DeFriest Ever Escape Lockup?

Justice System: what’s making headlines?

Small Claims court opens its doors in Khayelitsha

Khayelitsha Community at the launch of Small Claims Court

“Khayelitsha Community at the launch of Small Claims Court.” Photo by Johnnie Issac

Launched on Friday (14 November 2014), the small claims court will assist people settle minor civil disputes for amounts of up to R15 000. The court was established in 2010, then became inactive, but has now been relaunched and will spare community members from traveling outside Khayelitsha to lodge their claims.

“The court will assist people dissatisfied with the quality of services they paid for and who want to reclaim money. The court will spare people from Khayelitsha having to travel to Wynberg to lodge their claims.

The relaunch was attended by government officials from the Department of Justice and Correctional Services, members of South African Police Service, the Legal Aid Board, City Council officials, members of the Khayelitsha community and several interest groups.”

[Lenasia] Land scammer to be sentenced

“A former City of Johannesburg employee is expected to be sentenced on Tuesday at the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court for his involvement in the illegal sale of state land in Lenasia.

Sifiso Handsome Litau resigned from his post during internal disciplinary proceedings where three witnesses who had bought land from him were giving evidence against him.

In July he was found guilty of illegally selling land in Lenasia Extension 13.”

Charles Manson gets license to wed 26-year-old he said he wouldn’t marry

“The 80-year-old inmate, convicted of conspiracy to commit multiple murders, has obtained a license to wed Afton Elaine Burton, 26, who as a teenager moved to California to be near him and has visited him for seven years.

According to records with the Kings County Clerk-Recorder, Manson and Burton applied for the marriage license Nov. 7.”



ConCourt to rule on mentally disabled accused

“At the centre of the matter are two people who were alleged to have committed crimes but were declared unfit to stand trial because they were not able to understand basic court proceedings.

One, a 35-year-old man with Down syndrome, was arrested and charged last year over the rape of an 11-year-old girl.

The other has a severe mental disability, and was arrested and charged with the murder of a 14-year-old girl in 2005 when he, too, was 14.

Neither of the criminal matters have been finalised.”

DR Congo:Police Operation Kills 51 Youth

“Police in the Democratic Republic of Congo summarily killed at least 51 youth and forcibly disappeared 33 others during an anti-crime campaign that began a year ago, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. “Operation Likofi,” which lasted from November 2013 to February 2014, targeted alleged gang members in Congo’s capital, Kinshasa …

Human Rights Watch conducted interviews in Kinshasa with 107 witnesses, family members of victims, police officers who participated in Operation Likofi, government officials, and others. Human Rights Watch also released new video footage and photographs, including of suspected kuluna who were killed during Operation Likofi and interviews with their relatives.”



Invitation: Justice for Breakfast – Khayelitsha meets Sophiatown

WJP and Wits School of Governance logoKhayelitsha meets Sophiatown:  Reflections on the complexities of policing in South Africa today

You are invited to join the University of the Witwatersrand’s Public Safety Programme and the Wits Justice Project for our regular roundtable debate series. Our lead discussant for this session is Amanda Dissel, Secretary to the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry and delegate in South Africa for the Geneva-based Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT).

This Justice for Breakfast Roundtable will consider the wider value of the findings of the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry for policing in South Africa. We would like to invite you to explore how these findings may be relevant to a wider policing, criminal justice and safety contexts.  Part of this discussion will highlight certain aspects of research conducted by the Wits Justice Project into police/community relations in Sophiatown. This work can be viewed online at www.sophiatowncritical.co.za.

We hope to develop an outcomes document that will reflect the complexities and point towards policy and research imperatives for academics, government departments, and members of civil society in the future.

Date: Thursday, 27 November 2014

Time: 08.00 – 10.30

Venue: Jacob’s Area, Albert and Bert Wessels Building, Wits Management Campus, 2 St David’s Place, Parktown

Please RSVP: Bongiwe Msweli on bongiwe.msweli@wits.ac.za | 011-717 3567


We’re Hiring: Wits Justice Projects seeks Intern to begin January 2015

WJPThe Wits Justice Project (WJP) is looking for an intern from January 2015.

Remuneration: Competitive monthly stipend
Education level: Degree
Job level: Intern
Type: 6-month contract with option to renew once
Commence: January 2015

Wits Justice Project:
The Wits Justice Project (WJP) is a project of the Journalism Department of the University of Witwatersrand. It aims to impact significantly on the lives of people by striving for changes in the criminal justice system.

Through the four arms of the project – journalism, advocacy, law and education – WJP strives to bring substantial changes to the law and its practice and the wider criminal justice system as a whole. It uses transparent activism to promote the foundational values enshrined in the South African Constitution and international and Human Rights law.
– A relevant degree from an accredited University
– A keen interest in human rights
– Contactable references and proof of previous work
– A good attitude towards administration, and ability to multi-task

– Proven ability to carry out journalistic research and investigations,
and to be able to produce from that compelling media products
– An understanding of the non-profit working environment and constraints
– Social Media and web site management experience

Job Description
– As an intern you will be required to:
– Produce regular social media including blogs, tweets, Facebook posts
– Investigate and research, identify and interview and produce journalist products (including written news stories, in-depth pieces, radio reports and photographs)
– Be willing to visit prisons, courts and police stations from time to time
– Be willing to interview inmates
– Evaluate and respond to correspondence from inmates
– Carry out various office administration including minute-taking, report-writing and other related tasks
– Be willing to assist with a variety of projects including organising events and seminars
– Work as a member of a small, hard-working, team which is passionate about human rights

Send a full CV and covering note by 1 December 2014 to
Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi
Project Coordinator
Tel: +27-11-717-4077
Fax: +27-86-765-6601


National and international criminal justice stories making news

Criminal Justice

Image taken from http://thadmyerslaw.com/

Charges Against Senzo Meyiwa Murder Accused Withdrawn

“The case against Zanokuhle Mbatha, the only man arrested in connection with the murder of soccer star Senzo Meyiwa has been withdrawn. The accused did not appear in the Boksburg Magistrates Court this morning as he was being protected from the media and public view.”

Cape cops in court for corruption

“Ten Western Cape police officials, based at the Parow police station in Cape Town, appeared in the Bellville District Court on Monday. The officials, who were arrested at the weekend, face eight charges of corruption each, with the amounts involved totalling in excess of R10 000. State advocate Max Orban, of the Bellville Specialised Commercial Crime Court, alleges that on various occasions last year, they falsely informed victims that drugs had been found on their business premises, and demanded the immediate payment of fines to avoid arrest.”

New witness expected in Dewani trail

“A new witness is expected to be called on Tuesday as the trial of British businessman Shrien Dewani continues in the Western Cape High Court. On Monday, the court heard from a hotel receptionist of how two important phone calls took place around an alleged plot to kill Dewani’s wife Anni Dewani.”

Four wrongfully convicted men, four very different outcomes

“According to the Innocence Project, it takes exonerees three years on average to receive any compensation after their release. More than a quarter get nothing. Among those who are paid, 81 percent get less than $50,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment. NewsHour spoke to a number of exonerated men from different states about their experiences reintegrating post-release. All of them, regardless of compensation, say they would pay anything to have the years they lost in prison back.”


And the Webber Wentzel Legal Journalist of the Year Award goes to….


WJP senior journalist, Ruth Hopkins.

Ruth Hopkins! A huge congratulations to our senior journalist for scooping this year’s Webber Wentzel Legal Journalist of the Year Award, in the print category. The Wits Justice Project has been awarded the prestigious Webber Wentzel Legal Journalist of the Year Award for the fourth time in a row.

“According to the judges, both articles were of an exceptionally high standard. Highlights of their assessment include the facts that the articles describe the applicable legal rules, illustrate systematic problems of the criminal justice system, and convey the magnitude of the problem relating to the incarceration of awaiting trial prisoners in South Africa.”

Read the award-winning pieces here and here.


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