Posts Tagged ‘Arnold Tsunga’

Human rights lawyer Christof Heyns dies unexpectedly: tributes pour in

March 30, 2021

On 28 March 2021, respected human rights lawyer Professor Christof Heyns passed away, unexpectedly, aged 62.  

Most recently, Professor Heyns was the was the Director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa at the University of Pretoria, and had also served as United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions from 2010 to 2016. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/dfa7df54-3cb2-465c-9655-d139b5486591.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/30/christof-heyns-discusses-new-un-comment-on-right-of-peaceful-assembly/

His friends and colleagues pay tribute to a giant of global human rights: 

The Centre for Human Rights CHR, in its tribute, called him their “founding father, a trail-blazer, and a constant source of inspiration and encouragement. He was our dynamic initiator-in-chief. He played a pioneering role in positioning the Centre as a pan-African centre of excellence. Constantly brimming with new ideas and grand schemes, plans and projects, he propelled the Centre into new directions and challenged it to explore different dimensions.  “To Christof, if something could be conceived, it could be achieved.”

On Monday, the CHR created a memorial page on Facebook in his memory which, within hours, contained hundreds of entries from all over the world. The reactions registered on Facebook, on WhatsApp groups and emails speak volumes about how highly Heyns the man, the mentor, the “rock star” and the lawyer was regarded.

Arnold Tsunga, chairperson of the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network

“The sudden demise of Professor Christof Heyns is a real tragedy to us as a community of human rights activists in southern Africa. As a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee his contribution to production of General Comment Number 37 on the right to peaceful assembly is invaluable at a time when we are experiencing democratic regression and authoritarian consolidation globally. He is irreplaceable and shall be sorely missed. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”

Raenette Taljaard, former politician and independent analyst

“Prof Christof Heyns was one of South Africa and the world’s great thought leaders and moral authorities on human rights. Beyond his contribution to academia, his work as a UN Special Rapporteur stands as a towering tribute to the right to life in a world where algorithms and lethal autonomous weapons can make life and death decisions that are core to who we are as humanity. His work will live on in the many principled human rights fighters and public intellectuals that have had the privilege to encounter him and to be mentored by him. He will be greatly missed.”

Jason Brickhill, human rights lawyer and former director of the Constitutional Litigation Unit at the Legal Resources Centre 

“So very shocked and sad to hear that Christof Heyns has passed on. Such a gentle, wise and self-deprecating soul. I was lucky to be taught by him (about the African regional human rights system) and he supervised my master’s dissertation just over a decade ago.  “He did so much to advance human rights in very real, meaningful ways, especially with his work on the African regional system (he was a true pan-Africanist!) and on the right to life at the UN.  “He shared with me and other classmates his ‘struggle approach’ to human rights, which is still the foundation for how I think about the law’s role in the world. We will remember you, Christof, and carry with us the ideas that you shared.”

Faranaaz Veriava, head of the Basic Education Rights programme at SECTION27

“Around 1995 I was young and green in my first job, working in the Idasa Pretoria office. Ivor Jenkins, our director, talked me into meeting with a Moroccan delegation visiting the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria to discuss human rights law. Prof Christof Heyns hosted the delegation. I was probably terrible in that meeting but Prof Heyns was warm and encouraging and I became very interested in the work of the Centre. The next year I registered in the LLM programme at the centre which was a pioneering programme at the time for students all over Africa interested in human rights law. Later I would teach annually in that same programme. Much later, complete my doctorate through the UP law school and then teach at the law school myself. If Ivor Jenkins had not thrown me in at the deep end that day, I wonder if I would have any history with UP – a historically Afrikaans university – and that is now such a positive part of my life. RIP Prof Heyns, a warm and inspiring man and pioneer in human rights law.”

Alice Brown, former resident coordinator, Ford Foundation

“What sad news. I met Christof in the late 1980s through my work with the Ford Foundation. Christof was an innovative human rights academic who was a trailblazer for a number of important rights-focused training programs. In addition, in all my interactions with him over the years, I found him to be a very decent human being.”

Thuli Madonsela, former Public Protector, current law trust chair in social justice, University of Stellenbosch

“What a sad occasion. He was such a mensch, resolutely devoted to developing leaders to advance democracy and human rights in this continent. “The news of the passing of Christof Heyns hit me like a ton of bricks. I have known Christof for all my grown-up life.  “A quintessential professional, Christoff invested a lot in developing leaders that are anchored in a sound knowledge and values system regarding human rights and democracy. He was passionate about the African continent and building scholarship in the continent on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.  “The country, the continent and the entire world is poorer because of Christof Heyns’ untimely passing, yet richer because of the legacy he leaves behind. It is said leaders do not die, they multiply. Christof leaves pieces of himself among the many scholars he nurtured and policymakers he touched. May his great soul Rest In Peace.” Christof Heyns and the Outlaws — the rock and roll band of the Faculty of Law at the University of Pretoria. Formed in 2007, they always played at the annual Faculty Festival. (Photo: Yolanda Booyzen)

Bongani Majola, Chairperson of the SA Human Rights Commission

“We deeply mourn the untimely passing of Prof Christof Heyns, a giant in the promotion of human rights. Empowering young people has always been his passion. I first met him in the late 1980s/early 1990s when he and I ran a project that sought to open opportunities for final-year law students from the then historically black universities to find placements in commercial law firms. At the time, it was hard for many black law graduates to be admitted to articles of clerkship and even harder – almost impossible to get placed in commercial law firms. 

“Another empowerment project that Christof Heyns employed significantly to empower the youth was the moot court competitions that he and his colleagues took beyond the borders of South Africa, the borders of SADC and beyond the boundaries of the African continent. Recently, he had taken the promotion of human rights to schools in the basic education environment, a project that he passed on to the South African Human Rights Commission once it had taken a firm hold among basic education schools. 

“He was a visionary who believed in investing in the youth in order to build a strong human rights culture. The country has lost a true human rights activist. He will be sorely missed.”

Edwin Cameron, former Constitutional Court judge

Really terribly shocked and saddened by Christof’s sudden death yesterday. He was a meticulous, conscientious, persistent, courageous fighter for justice and human rights.

Rose Hanzi, director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

“Very very sad. Prof Heyns raised the African continent high with his contributions at the ACHPR [African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights] and UN.”

Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International 

“So saddened to learn of the death of Prof Christof Heyns. Many of you may know him. He was my teacher and I suspect a few others on this group. What a dedicated Human Rights Activist he was. Beyond teaching, he will be remembered for drafting the General Comment on Freedom of Assembly … he was until his death after a heart attack while hiking a member of the HRC. MHSRIP”

Steven LB Jensen, Danish Institute for Human Rights

“Oh no, this is so sad and shocking news. I met him twice – first in Lund for a two-hour conversation just the two of us and again at the Danish Institute for a meeting on collaborations between our institutions. He was a wonderful person and so easy to engage with. He will be sorely missed by many all around the world.” DM/MC

From Amnesty International staff:

Dr. Agnès Callamard, the new Secretary General of Amnesty International, said: “Christof Heyns was a brilliant human rights lawyer and thinker, gentle person…He leaves behind such an extraordinary legacy.” 

Shenilla Mohamed, Executive Director of Amnesty International South Africa, said: “A mighty baobab has fallen! The untimely death of renowned human rights law expert, Professor Christof Heyns, is a devastating loss. In Africa the Baobab Tree is considered a symbol of power, longevity, presence, strength and grace. Professor Heyns was a baobab in the human rights world. A giant in his field, he fought hard for a just world. As Director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa, he was involved in a number of critical initiatives. His contributions included: Chair of the UN independent investigation on Burundi, leading on the drafting of UN human rights guidelines on peaceful assembly and the use of less lethal weapons. He also served as the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions. Hamba Kahle Professor Heyns, Ke a Leboga, Enkosi, Ngiyabonga, Thank you for your service to humanity. You have left indelible footprints and we salute you!”

Sam Dubberley, Amnesty International’s Head of Crisis Evidence Lab, said: “Christof’s support for establishing a hub of Amnesty’s Digital Verification Corps at the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria was unequivocal. He gave time, advice and space for this project to emerge, and welcomed the Amnesty team on every visit to Pretoria despite his always frantic schedule. Christof made everyone feel valued, and was a source of energy and sage advice. How he will be missed.” 

Netsanet Belay, Research and Advocacy Director of Amnesty International, said: “Words fail me to express the profound sense of loss with the sudden passing of Professor Heyns. Like many, I had the privilege of working with him and benefited much from his wisdom, mentorship and guidance. He was a rare breed, one of Africa’s great legal minds, a passionate human rights defender and a kind, passionate, humble person. He nurtured and cultivated a cadre of human rights experts and activists in Africa, including by transforming the human rights centre at the University of Pretoria into a world class institution that produced Africa’s leading human rights scholars and practitioners. His publications on various human rights issues in leading academic journals are testament to his brilliance, wisdom and dedication. He was a true pan-Africanist, as exemplified in his work to champion and strengthen the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. His passing is also a great loss to Amnesty International. As [recently] as last week we were working with Professor Heyns on the draft report by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the use of force by law enforcement officials in Africa. We shall strive to ensure his last vision [is seen] to fruition. Rest in peace dear brother!”

Rasha Abdul-Rahim, Director of Amnesty Tech, said: “It was devastating to hear of the passing of Professor Heyns. All my thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. Not only was Christof a renowned human rights expert, he was fiercely justice-focused and an absolute joy and pleasure to work with. Christof wrote the seminal Human Rights Council report that put the human rights risks of autonomous weapons systems on the agenda. He was always extremely generous with his expertise and time. This is a huge loss for the human rights movement, and we will miss him deeply.” 

Avner Gidron, Senior Policy Adviser on Amnesty International’s Law and Policy Programme, said: “I worked most closely with Professor Heyns on The Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death in 2016. It’s a practical tool for human rights defenders and advocates around the world seeking accountability for unlawful killings; and it is now a small, but important, part of Christof’s vast legacy. As well as his importance as a brilliant legal mind, scholar and activist, I will remember Christof for actually embodying human rights values: being an incredibly warm, generous and considerate human being. His death is a tremendous loss for the human rights movement, and an unimaginable tragedy for his family and friends.”

Simon Crowther, legal advisor at Amnesty International, said: “Christof was a legal giant who approached his work with kindness, humility, humour and immense intelligence. He will be greatly missed.” 

Anja Bienert, Senior Programme Officer at Amnesty International Netherlands, said: “I first met Christof in 2013 and immediately felt connected to him: his sharp mind, the careful and perfectly articulated thoughts on the many pressing human rights issues, but more importantly, his warm and welcoming personality, with whom it was a pleasure to discuss. Since then, he was an ongoing source of inspiration to me and a great ally in the fight for greater protection of human rights. He constantly strove not just to write excellent publications, but to have a real impact for the respect of human rights across the world. We will miss him incredibly. It will be our mission to uphold his great legacy in the field of human rights.”

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/03/christof-heyns-tribute/

Action for the #IBelong Campaign in South Africa

November 13, 2020

A group of eminent personalities in South Africa, among whom Arnold Tsunga, Chairperson of the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network have addressed an open letter to the nation saying “Every child needs a birth certificate“:

Dear South Africans,

More than a million children are born in our country each year and are issued birth certificates.  But estimates are that another 100 000 children are not registered at birth in South Africa, setting them up for a lifetime of exclusion, disadvantage, and de facto statelessness.  

Our progressive constitution provides the right to a name and nationality from birth for every child. It also ensures the right to primary education, to healthcare and other social services, to protection from exploitation and abuse — among numerous other important human rights.  A birth certificate is key to a nationality, identity, and to the opportunities and obligations that will be part of what it means to be South African for the rest of their lives.  We can take pride in these provisions for our children, and the steps and progress made by our leaders to put them in place. 

Without a birth certificate, a child is at risk of being stateless, which means no country will recognize him/her as a citizen. Often, such children are excluded from accessing the fundamental rights and opportunities we take for granted, and stateless children may be joining a long line of family members before them.  Because their parents and grandparents lacked identity documents, they are unable to prove their child’s right to a birth certificate, and with it, a nationality. 

As supporters of UNHCR’s #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness, we call on our leaders and communities to remove barriers for these children.  Let us streamline and simplify birth registration processes.  Let us make sure that cost or distance from civil registration centres are not factors that condemn a child to be marginalised, and ultimately stateless.

Let us make sure that all parents understand their children’s rights and are supported to complete the steps needed to register their birth, regardless of their documentation status.

Let us ensure that safeguards against statelessness are in place to protect orphans and children found abandoned in South Africa.  Above all, let’s fulfil the promise to all children throughout this country that is laid out in our constitution.

South Africa’s future prospects lie with its children, and how well we prepare them for tomorrow.  By making sure that every child’s birth is registered, we can give them the best start in life: to seek health care, to be educated, to work legally, to pursue justice under the law, to vote, to marry, to provide for a family, and one day to register the birth of their own child. 

By doing so, we make it possible for them to play for their national sports team, to lead a municipality, a congregation, or a nation.  To become scientists, artists, writers, teachers, journalists or performers, with the potential to influence thought, or to shape our country’s history for the better, and ultimately that of our continent and the world.

Through birth registration, we have the opportunity to end one of the causes of statelessness forever.  Together, let’s do so.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/10/about-the-struggle-against-statelessness/

https://mg.co.za/special-reports/2020-11-13-every-child-needs-a-birth-certificate/

Peter Magombeyi, doctor in Zimbabwe, on the growing list of victims

September 18, 2019

 

 

 

 

On 18 September 2019 several outlets (here NewsDay Zimbabwe) reported that the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) has called on the government of Zimbabwe to guarantee the safety and security of Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association acting president Peter Magombeyi, who was allegedly abducted by suspected State security agents on Saturday night and to ensure his immediate release.

Magombeyi, who was abducted by three masked men from his Budiriro, Harare home at the weekend, had been leading an industrial job action by junior doctors nationwide over poor salaries and working conditions. “The SAHRDN further calls on authorities to curb the emerging pattern of abductions, enforced disappearances and torture of human rights defenders and legitimate political opponents,” said SAHRDN in a statement. The government has denied that its security agents were involved in the abduction and blamed a third force trying to tarnish the image of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government. Before Magombeyi’s abduction, he had reported to his lawyers a variety of threats he was receiving some via his mobile phone.

Since January 2019 when Zimbabweans protested against the worsening economic situation, thousands of people have been arbitrarily arrested and detained and scores of civil society activists, human rights defenders and legitimate political opponents have faced abductions and enforced disappearances. Unfortunately, some of them have died as a result of torture such as Blessing Toronga,” said the organisation chaired by prominent lawyer, Arnold Tsunga. The organisation accused the Zimbabwe Republic Police of failing to enforce the law and to hold those responsible for perpetrating attacks on human rights defenders accountable. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/26/zimbabwe-two-years-emmerson-mnangagwa-have-shown-little-difference-from-mugabe/.

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https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/abduction-human-rights-defender-peter-magombeyi

Pressure piles over missing doctor

https://allafrica.com/stories/201909180043.html

Jestina Mukoko’s 150.000 $ triumph in Zimbabwe: gives hope to all torture victims

October 8, 2018

In a rare case of triumph over impunity, the Zimbabwean High Court, on 27 September 2018, ordered the state to pay $150 000 to Jestina Mungareva Mukoko, a pro-democracy campaigner and Director of Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP). In a Deed of Settlement endorsed by the High Court, the defendants have been ordered to pay $100.000 to Jestina in respect of her claims while a further $50.000 will be paid as a contribution towards her legal costs (before 31 October 2018).

This exceptional decision was welcomed by many NGOs, including the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR).

My good friend and long-time Zimbabwean human rights defender Arnold Tsunga said the following: “I think it’s a very good resolution of the case. The damages are significant but the case was also quite serious including the torture meted out on Jestina that the damages seem to fit the case. In a way it’s a double benefit in that the abduction and torture resulted in criminal case against her collapsing and on top of that she gets paid. Hopefully the security sector have learnt a lesson. It is also good that the judiciary is getting stronger and confident to pronounce itself this way“. Especially the latter is an important outcome!

ackground Information (Jestina Mukoko Triumph: The Facts):
Jestina was abducted by some unidentified armed men from her home in Norton on 3 December 2008, and her whereabouts together with two ZPP employees Broderick Takawira and Pascal Gonzo, who were also abducted later in December 2008 remained unknown until December 24, 2008, when they first appeared before the Harare Magistrates Court, after weeks of being held incommunicado and being tortured. In court, Jestina and her colleagues and dozens of other pro-democracy campaigners were accused by government of plotting to topple Robert Mugabe’s administration through recruiting people to undergo military training in neighbouring Botswana. After her release from a torturous three months stay in prison, Mukoko with the assistance of her lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, a member of ZLHR, took legal action against the state.

In September 2009, the Supreme Court granted a permanent stay of prosecution in favour of Jestina due to the violation of several of her fundamental rights by state security agents as she had been subjected to torture and inhuman and degrading treatment including simulated drowning, being locked in a freezer and being subjected to physical assaults as her tormentors tried to make her confess to plotting to overthrow the administration of Zimbabwe’s former leader Robert Mugabe.

In 2017, the High Court ruled that those who had illegally arrested her could be held liable in their own individual capacities and the case culminated in lengthy protracted negotiations that have led to this outcome. During this time, Jestina was called different names such as ‘regime change agent, reactionary and other unprintable words in a bid to delegitimise her legitimate human rights activism. She was portrayed as a criminal, a tag which remains today but this settlement in the court vindicates her and her work in defending human rights.

Jestina Mukoko herself added the following piece on the Significance of my case” (which I reproduce almost in full as it is such a good lessons learnt):

..The patrimonial settlement cannot atone for the trauma and suffering that I suffered and went through at the hands of the state security agents who were ruthless, merciless and very evil. It will not make for lost time as my liberty and all other human rights accorded to me by virtue of my being human was unjustifiably curtailed nor will it provide solace for my traumatised family – my mother, son, brothers, sisters in law, extended family, friends and other peace loving citizens.

However, it is a victory for the rule of law, constitutionalism and a mortal blow to impunity. The High Court’s decision is proof that the justice system is still able to prove the involvement of the state and its representatives in gross human rights violations, and bring them to account, with justice being done for the victims like myself.

It sets a landmark precedent and shows that the state actors can be held accountable for their illegal conduct. It also sends a message to the overzealous enforcers of orders and in this case very illegal orders to violate a plethora of my rights that they will be held responsible for their actions and this can even be in their personal capacity.

I hope my story will inspire many other victims. To some extent, justice has now been done and this case will stand as an example in the continuing fight against impunity for state crimes and excesses.

My resort to litigation and the subsequent victory in court sends a strong signal that state sponsored crimes cannot go unpunished.

It is also an encouragement to human rights defenders that the dangers of their work will not be in vain. I hope this case will embolden younger activists to pursue social justice in the comfort that they can rely on this case to hold the state or anyone accountable who may threaten their liberties. It is also a vindication of the advocacy work done by all human rights activists and those who have invested in promoting and protecting human rights that even though the fruits of this cumbersome and often arduous journey may come late , they eventually come. This is a victory for everyone who has been in the trenches with me and who has walked this risky journey of human rights work.

I hope that this victory will set an example, particularly to the Zimbabwean authorities, who must now prosecute the perpetrators of abductions and enforced disappearances which is a heinous crime.

The High Court’s decision sends a clear signal to the Zimbabwean authorities, who must do everything in their power to guarantee victims access to impartial justice and to put an end to the endemic impunity that is enjoyed by torturers and the perpetrators of serious human rights violations.

This settlement comes at a time when the Commission of Inquiry into Post Election Violence set by President Emmerson Mnangagwa has started its work to establish the facts around the circumstances that led to the death of six people on 1 August 2018 in Harare after members of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces opened fire against protesters. It must be established whether the force used by members of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces was proportionate to the threat posed by unarmed protesters. It must also be established whether in doing so they overstepped their mandate and therefore should be held liable or the state vicariously liable. This case must form the basis for national rejection of all forms of impunity and the same principles must be followed by the Commission of Inquiry into Post Election Violence.

In conclusion, I, Jestina through the Zimbabwe Peace Project, which plays a critical role in documenting human rights abuses, will continue to join hands with other civil society organisations such as ZLHR to champion human rights in the post-Robert Mugabe era without fear or favour. The journey to full implementation of the Constitution and compliance with the supreme law of the land continues.

https://www.zoomzimbabwe.com/2018/10/05/high-court-awards-jestina-mukoko-150000-in-damages-for-state-torture/

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/03/08/zimbabwe-celebrates-by-arresting-2-women-per-day-over-the-last-two-years/

NGO convinces EU to pay particular attention to the situation of HRDs in Zimbabwe

April 11, 2013

Interesting example of how NGO pressure can have effect on the EU: last December, FIDH organised a round of advocacy with its Vice-President and Laureate of the MEA 2006, Arnold Tsunga, to convey to the European Union its concerns around the ongoing risks for human rights defenders in the context of political deadlock and pre-electoral period [“Zimbabwe: Ongoing risks for human rights defenders in the context of political deadlock and pre-electoral period”, report of the Observatory for the protection of human rights defenders published in November 2012.] FIDH’s objective was to gear up the EU’s attention to ensure early warning and appropriate reaction in case of human rights violations taking place in the electoral cycle staring with the upcoming referendum on the new Constitution before the holding of Presidential elections in the summer of this year. FIDH’s advocacy was reflected in the European Parliament’s prompt reaction to the arrest of Okay Machisa, National Executive Director of ZimRights, and two other ZimRights members Leo Chamahwinya, Dorcas Shereni through an urgent resolution adopted on 7 February, which also relays the Observatory report recommendations. In addition, the EU Delegation and Heads of Missions in Harare issued a Statement on 22 February to indicate the EU’s particular concern around the pattern of incidents of harassment against civil society organisations and to call on the authorities to demonstrate impartiality in their relation to civil society. logo FIDH_seul

via Zimbabwe : UE pays particular attention to the situation of … – FIDH.