New hope for human rights litigation in Mozambique

For those who believe that courts in Portuguese-speaking Africa have not taken human rights seriously, a recent decision of the Administrative Court of Mozambique (Tribunal Administrativo) should give them pause for thought. In a landmark decision, the Court ordered the state to pay compensation to the family of a boy killed during the food riots in Maputo in 2010 – for violation of his human rights.

Richard Lee's picture

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Strategic communications for WWF

August 1st, 2012

For those who believe that courts in Portuguese-speaking Africa have not taken human rights seriously, a recent decision of the Administrative Court of Mozambique (Tribunal Administrativo) should give them pause for thought. In a landmark decision, the Court ordered the state to pay compensation to the family of a boy killed during the food riots in Maputo in 2010 – for violation of his human rights.

In an unprecedented ruling, the Court ordered the state to pay MT500,000 (approximately USD 18.500) to the parents of 11-year-old Elias Rute Muianga, who died after being hit by a apolice bullet while returning home from school.

The decision gives human rights defenders real hope for future success – and for the future of human rights in the country.

Firstly, the decision resolves one of the major challenges affecting human rights litigation in Mozambique – the fact that domestic law does not clearly indicate which court is responsible for dealing with human rights matters. This judgment makes it clear that the administrative court has jurisdiction over human rights matters and a legal mandate to advance the protection of these rights.

And secondly, the ruling by the administrative court illustrates that the barriers to accessing the Constitutional Council should not prevent Mozambicans from proceeding with human rights litigation. Access to the Council (Conselho Constitutional) is extremely limited. It can only be accessed by the President and the Attorney General or by 2/3rds of the members of parliament or at least 2000 citizens instituting the same action.

Needless to say, the decision has been welcomed by many organisations working in the field of human rights, who point excitedly to the lessons learned.

In particular, the ruling shows that the state is accountable for human rights violations perpetrated by state actors and that it must pay compensation for these violations. This can only help to ensure greater accountability within state departments – and a wider acceptance of the state’s role in protecting human rights.

Activists and human rights defenders – and society as a whole – must now take it upon themselves to launch more human rights cases in the Administrative Court to force the state to publicly accept responsibility for other abuses carried out by its agents.

Obviously, this ruling will not drastically change the human rights situation in Mozambique overnight. There are still many practical and legal challenges. But it has opened up an avenue for human rights litigation – and paved the way for other people to seek some redress for human rights violations perpetrated by state agents.

 

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