Originally from Ghana, Johannes Buabeng-Baidoo later moved to South Africa and is now a lecturer in human rights law at the University of the Gambia. He is an enthusiast about human rights, works closely with his students to help them understand the African human rights system and wants them to become ready to make sharp arguments in court. In this interview Johannes explains what role the African Human Rights Case Law Analyser plays in that and how he and his students use information that they did not have access to before.
When did you first start using the African human rights case law analyser? How did you find out about it?
Last year when I was preparing my students for the African Moot it all started. First I was using the Compendium of Key Human Rights Instruments of the African Union. I was going through it, everything was there, but one of the challenges I found was that it was difficult to link the cases together. I realised that when I asked my students to look for all the cases about Article 9 ‘Access to information’. They couldn’t do it, they got one or two cases, but not the others.
So I decided to google one of the cases’ headings and it took me to the case law analyser website. The amount of information I received, just by typing in the name of one case! It showed me the different articles that have been dealt with in that case and also linked those articles to other cases where they have been dealt with. It was amazing.
What was your role in the moot court?
I was the faculty representative coach and supervisor for the African Moot. My task was to do research and advise the students on cases that they can use to support their arguments. The case law analyser became a really good resource for that.
The library here in the University of the Gambia is scanty. It is just one small room and the amount of books is limited. For us, it was a very good opportunity to get access to information that we usually could not get. I think it is not only the Gambia that has that problem when it comes to access to information about the African human rights system.
It’s uplifting to hear that it was of such good use for you. Did you tell others about the caselaw analyser as well?
During the Moot Court competition last October, there were students from Malawi who never had heard about any case from the African human rights system. They came to me and asked if I could help with their arguments, but I told them ‘No, it is a competition, I can’t', but I recommended they can take a look at the case law analyser. They came back the next day – and their arguments were completely transformed! They had African human rights case law in their argument and they were quoting the Centre for Human Rights Minority Rights Group International on behalf of the Endorois Welfare Council v Kenya and the Majuru v Zimbabwe case!
Wow, this is fantastic! Hopefully, this will make a difference in the future when they will be lawyers.
The case law analyser is the future for anyone who wants to do research on the African human rights system. It’s so simple that you can simply click and find all the cases that you need, not just one case, but all cases and articles linked together.
If you pick up a companion on the African human rights system, there will only be the cases that have been decided and the merits of these cases. With the case law analyser you can come across a case that you have never heard of before. It will tell you this case was taken to the Commission, it went through the procedural stage, but then the case was not admitted and never went to merit. And it will give you the reason why. For example, the case was inadmissible, because exhaustion of local remedies were not complied with. Or the judge found insulting or abusive language.
Why are these cases interesting?
Knowing them becomes really helpful when it comes to making arguments. It’s that you don’t only have cases that have been decided by the Commission or cases that the Commission finally gave a decision on merits, but also cases that were not successful and you see why they were not successful. We got this from the case law analyser, we couldn’t find that anywhere else.
I think there will not be anyone who gets hold of the case law analyser and not be in love with it. If you are a serious researcher, it saves you a lot of time. When writing a thesis or going to a competition, research is one of the time-consuming aspects of it. The case law analyser saves you this precious time.
Thank you for the kind words. As we are now working on improving the case law analyser, we would like to know, are there elements you are not so happy with? Or that you wish would be better?
To say there is something I am not happy with would not be right. I think what would really be the golden scenario is to have access to cases not only from the African human rights system, but the other regional human rights systems as well. You mentioned that you are working on linking them together, I think that would almost be the dream for every researcher. With one click on a button, you will access, for example, all decisions on the right of access to information. You will be able to compare the different regional systems and the decisions the courts adopted. That would be a dream come true, at least for me.
Is there anything else you would be looking for?
One difficulty as a human rights lecturer I always had is having to explain to my students the different bodies within the UN system, the difference between the charter-based and the treaty-based system. They all have a different role to play in the promotion of human rights, but access to information of who does what is not always that simple and it also is not easy to link one case to the other.
For example, the human rights committee has given a decision in 2008 that is similar to another decision from 2004. Now, you have to go through the whole database before you are able to get all of that and make sense of it, and that is too time-consuming. If this all would be linked in the case law analyser, I think we will all be living in heaven. Students will be able to much better understand how the UN human rights system works and how the different decisions from different bodies are linked in one case.
This is a direction we are heading in. We started working on the Inter-American system with CEJIL and for the UN system we have a partner already with CCPR Centre.
To link it with the UN system really makes sense. Let’s take a different perspective, that of a professor who was doing research in the 1950s. The amount of time he would spent to get all this information and the amount of money spent on traveling to libraries around the world!
Today it’s different. You can sit in your bedroom and theoretically have the whole human rights library on your laptop at one time. The case law analyser is an important part of crossing out the theoretically and making it a reality.
The suggestions you made all point towards integrating case law from all over the world. Are there technical features that you would find useful in the case law analyser that should be build?
It would be great that if you could click on an article in a case to receive a list of other cases in which this article has been dealt with. So that when you click on them, they would open in a new tab. This way it will be easier to compare the case law on a particular article.
This is a great idea, we’ll definitely look into it. Do you have other suggestions?
We have a competition coming up in Washington with the University of the Gambia, where I will be going with my students in May. That will give my students an opportunity to use the case law analyser again. In September, the African Moot Court is coming up again and this will also be an occasion for my students to use it. I have also given them an assignment where they should use it.
I will be happy to ask my students for feedback, what they liked and if they have ideas for improvements and can send them to you.
Thank you! We are curious to hear about their experience and look forward to their suggestions. The case law analyser should be easy and useful to them, and therefore we welcome their views to make sure it really is.
We are also thinking to include a compliance layer in the case law analyser for the Inter-American system. A tool through which you can see, if and to what extent states comply with the decisions of the Commission and Court. What is your opinion on this? Would this be something you would be interested in having for the African system as well?
I remember the first few days when I started lecturing human rights. One of the biggest challenges I faced was that students didn’t have any hopes in human rights, because they said ‘States don’t really comply with any of the decisions, it’s a waste of time’. It would be a good database for them and us all to know, to see which decisions a state has complied with and not speak on the basis of assumptions.
Because usually that is what we do, speaking on the basis of assumptions. We just don’t know easily, if the Nigerian government has complied with the ruling in the SERAC case and to what extent. If we had a database to tell us the Nigerian government has taken measures on steps 1,2 and 3, but not 4, 5 and 6 – that would be revolutionary for human rights research and teaching!
In the Inter-American system it is possible to do this, as the remedies are often clearly spelled out. In the African system it appears to be not so straight forward. Do you think this is a challenge that could be overcome?
The decisions of the African Commission in the past have only highlighted the obligations and articles a state has violated, not clearly indicating what the state must do. That has been the practice for a long time. So it is a challenge to measure compliance.
But I think it was the SERAP case that for the first time the Commission actually gave a decision where it called on the state to do 1, 2, 3, 4. The Commission is now more forward-thinking and asks for concrete remedies from the state when it is possible in its mandate.
I think a database like this, at least for the Commission, would also be an extra pressure on them to adopt decisions that are more detailed. Decisions that could be measured.
In this interview we have spoken a lot about your work as a lecturer, about what can make your work easier and help students to understand human rights. On a final note, what personally drives you? Why do you work in human rights?
Nelson Mandela once said when he was called to face charges of treason:
During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. ‘
I believe and cherish the ideal of a free and democratic Africa and in this manner strongly believe that “the law” plays a central role in the realisation of this dream.
For human rights, I build on what Nelson Mandela did. Respect for human rights and the effective implementation of the rights enshrined in the African Charter and other International and Domestic Constitutions I believe are the catalyst for the realisation of a democratic and free Africa, in which all Africans live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. This ideal inspired me to study law and to get involved in human rights in particular.
The African Human Rights Case Law Analyser is a joint project between IHRDA and HURIDOCS. This year we are together working on improving the database, with IHRDA focussing on the content, that is, making sure all decisions from more African regional bodies are available, tagged with meaningful key words in a coherent way and HURIDOCS focussing on improving the technology. We are both dedicated to making the best and most comprehensive case law analyser possible and welcome all feedback to ensure it will happen.