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MISA expresses concern over ACHPR case processing delays

(MISA/IFEX) - On 14 May 2009 MISA-Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) expressed serious concern over the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights' (ACHPR) delays in considering cases brought before the Commission.

In a joint statement with the International Centre on Legal Protection (Interights) and Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA), during the ongoing 45th Ordinary Session of the ACHPR in Banjul, The Gambia, ZLHR regional manager Kucaca Phulu, speaking on behalf of Zimbabwe groups, noted that in some instances it took between four and seven years for the Commission to consider pending cases.

"We appreciate the constraints faced by the Commission covering a vast continent of 53 diverse countries. However, the current delays are of serious concern. Victims of human rights violations wait too long for a decision from the Commission to validate their rights.

"Receiving a decision in his or her favour is an important aspect of redress for all who have suffered human rights violations. However, where the victim of human rights violations has to wait an extra six years for the Commission's decision, this aspect of the remedy is negated," he said.

Among the cases that have been pending without being finalised by the Commission for years is the joint communication filed by MISA-Zimbabwe, ZLHR and the Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe (IJAZ) challenging a number of sections of the repressive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).

MISA-Zimbabwe, ZLHR and IJAZ allege that provisions requiring registration and accreditation of the media sector by the state-appointed Media and Information Commission are inconsistent with Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression.

Other cases before the Commission include that of the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), publishers of the banned "Daily News" and "Daily News on Sunday"; Capital Radio; and that of journalist Andrew Meldrum.

Phulu said the Commission should maintain firm adherence to its demand for prompt responses in terms of the rules of procedure by both complainants and state parties and take appropriate action where this is not done.

He cited the case of communication 251/02 Lawyers for Human Rights vs Swaziland where the Commission exercised its power to make a decision when the Swazi government failed to file its submission. "This must be commended and we urge that a similar approach be taken in similar cases," he said.

He said the final draft of the revised rules of procedure should provide for the speedy hearing of communications and this could be expedited by allowing for the composition of a panel of three Commissioners to deal with admissibility decisions. He said there was also need for the appointment of a Commissioner to deal with urgent requests for provisional measures in the inter-session period of the ACHPR.

The process that cases taken to the ACHPR undergo is three-pronged and begins at the seizure stage, which entails presenting the matter before the Commission. At the seizure stage, there is a need to prove that the respondent state is a signatory to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, and that the state has violated provisions of the Charter.

The second stage is the admissibility stage. At this stage the ACHPR declares a case admissible where the applicant has proved that domestic remedies do not exist, have been exhausted or are not working. In Zimbabwe's three cases, all the matters went to Zimbabwe's highest court, the Supreme Court, signifying exhaustion of domestic remedies. The final stage is when all the involved parties argue the merits of the matters in question.

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