Round-up: Obama in Africa, and Supreme Court on solitary confinement
3 August 2015
President Obama made a historic trip to Kenya this week, and called upon African states to abandon anti-gay discrimination (watch the full speech here). In a speech welcomed by Human Rights Campaign, he urged Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to stop treating people differently based on their sexuality, comparing the effects of this to racial segregation in early 20th century America.
President Kenyatta rebuffed the idea of legalising homosexuality in Kenya, stating “there are some things that we must admit we don’t share” and claimed gay rights are a “non-issue” in the minds of most Kenyans (a viewpoint supported by other leading Kenyan politicians).
Obama has also been criticised for visiting Ethiopia on the same trip – becoming the first sitting US President to do so. Ethiopia has a history of human rights abuses and a high corruption index (the ruling party won 100% of seats in a recent election), and Human Rights Watch argued that Obama’s visit would give the government a legitimacy which it “does not deserve”. Obama used the trip to encourage Ethiopia to ease their restrictions on free speech, among other issues.
- Nonhuman Rights Project: A New York judge has denied an attempt to have legal personhood recognised in chimpanzees, although admitting she thought that one day this might happen. NhRP argued that chimpanzees, as highly intelligent, autonomous animals, have a right not to be imprisoned against their will. Judge Jaffe was sympathetic to this argument (read the judgement here), but was ultimately bound by precedent. However, NhRP are appealing and claim a partial victory: Steven Wise, the lead attorney, argues the judgement shows “you don’t have to be a human being to be a ‘person’”.
- “As many as 20” experienced magistrates have resigned in protest over a reform whereby convicted offenders have to pay punitive charges of up to £1,200. The reform, introduced by the last chancellor Chris Grayling, was intended to help cover the costs of the criminal justice system by encouraging an early guilty plea; however it has been label “a farce”, as courts are imposing fines that they know will never be collected, as well as putting pressure on innocent people to plead guilty.
- Albie Sachs, a respected South African judge and anti-apartheid activist, has warned Britain against leaving the ECHR, citing a possible “domino effect”, for example encouraging South Africa to withdraw from the International Criminal Court.
- A United Nations report has suggested that Britain should ban parents from smacking their children; Education Secretary Nicky Morgan responded saying this is an area where “we don’t want to criminalise parents”.
- Human Rights Watch has demanded Turkmenistan to immediately release a journalist who has been “secretly detained for weeks”.
- The Court of Appeal has agreed that Detained Fast Track appeals are inherently unfair.
In the courts:
The two appellants are prisoners who had been kept in solitary confinement for unbroken periods of several months, despite the lawful maximum being 14 days at a time, and only if authorised by the Secretary of State. The Supreme Court unanimously concluded that these confinements had been conducted unlawfully, and that the system is procedurally unfair:
“The imposition of prolonged periods of solitary confinement on the basis of what are, in substance, secret and unchallengeable allegations is, or should be, unacceptable.” [Lord Reed]
Publiclawforeveryone calls this judgement a “progressive step” and has an in-depth analysis of the Carltona Doctrine (can a prison warden exercise some of the powers of a Secretary of State?). The case is also analysed by Frances Cook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform.
by Alex Wessely
- Justice Human Rights Conference, 12th October 2015 – see here for the full programme and application details.
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