Category Archives: Africa

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

A Push to Aid American Couple Held in Child’s Death in Qatar

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Professor Justin Brooks
Director, California Innocence Project
California Western School of Law
225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101

Spotlight on Innocence Project South Africa


Cape Town -South Africans who have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit may now be able to prove their innocence through a new project which relies on DNA testing.

In the US the Innocence Project has already helped scores of people, including some on death row, to be exonerated through the help of DNA technology. Now the Innocence Project South Africa will strive to do the same.

“It is far more important to release somebody from jail who isn’t guilty than to be putting people behind bars who are guilty,” said Professor Sean Davison, head of the forensic DNA laboratory at UWC.

“It’s a shocking crime against humanity to keep someone in jail who shouldn’t be.”

Davison is the co-founder of this project with Dr Andra le Roux, a lawyer based at Stellenbosch University.

He said that to date more than 300 people in the US had been exonerated through DNA technology. In more than half of the cases, the true perpetrator was identified.

“There have been so many cases of absolute innocence. By logic we deduced that there would be similar cases in South Africa. In fact, there will probably be more because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system.”

The project would look at cases where DNA had not been tested or where the DNA technology used at the time was inferior to current technology.

“The lab at UWC specialises in looking at highly degraded DNA, which could well be the case for DNA which has been stored for up to 15 years and may have been exposed to environmental damage before then.”

The project recently registered with the Innocence Network, the international umbrella body, and has already started getting applications from prisoners.

Davison said applications would be reviewed by a committee. Should they pass the initial screening, they would be asked to fill out a questionnaire providing further details.

“There then needs to be a search for biological evidence. We will need to obtain the detailed case docket and all the evidence related to the crime will have to be investigated.”

The team would have to work closely with the police, with whom meetings had already been held.

Flyers would be distributed in prisons to make inmates aware of the project.

Davison said that in the US the exonerations had exposed weaknesses in the criminal justice system such as false witness testimony, false confessions, and erroneous forensic science. But cases where biological evidence had been used to exonerate people were just the tip of the iceberg – many other innocent people would remain in jail because there was no biological evidence.

The project would rely on donor funding and prisoners would be helped on a pro bono basis.

Davison’s colleague, Professor Eugenia D’ Amato, said a prototype rape kit, developed by the UWC forensic DNA laboratory, was expected to be made available next year and would help to determine how many people were involved in cases in which a victim had been raped multiple times, and would help to exonerate the innocent.



Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

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Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…


Law Review Issue on Wrongful Convictions Around the Globe Now in Print…


At long last, the University of Cincinnati Law Review symposium issue stemming from the 2011 International Innocence Conference in Cincinnati is finally in print.  The edition contains articles discussing and summarizing the causes and extent of wrongful conviction in countries across the globe.  You can find the entire volume here.  Congrats to all involved on completing this important work.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Kenya scarred by wrongful convictions (and the government’s refusal to acknowledge them)
  • Was the Stanley Wrice wrongful conviction hearing in Illinois subverted by politics?
  • RIP exoneree Forest Shomberg, found dead in Wisconsin of apparent drug overdose
  • The Alaska Supreme Court is considering proposed rule changes that would require lawyers in the state to disclose evidence that suggests a person has been wrongly accused or convicted of a crime.  Alaska state prosecutors and defense lawyers are currently not required to turn over exculpatory evidence – facts that point toward a defendant’s innocence.  For the past four years, the Alaska Bar Association has called on the court system to add rules to the Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct, which govern lawyers across the state. The American Bar Association has promoted similar state-level rules around the country.  “This is designed to encourage lawyers to think about the consequences of not doing anything,” said Steve Van Goor, counsel for the Alaska Bar Association. “When you’re in a position to report evidence and don’t, an innocent person sits in prison.”
  • Clerk fired for helping wrongfully convicted man said she would do the same thing all over again
  • New newsletter of Innocence Network UK available here

High Hopes for South African DNA Database


Yesterday, (August 15th 2013), the South African Parliament passed a bill, permitting the creation of a DNA database for South African police. The Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill, permits the taking of DNA from suspects during criminal investigations. While the cost of the DNA database and associated costs have been queried and concerns abound about whether the nation can afford the cost it is hoped that the human rights/ civil liberties concerns that have delayed the passing of the bill, have been addressed (e.g. see:  Costing queried as DNA bill gets the nod).

There are high hopes that in South  Africa, a country beset with a massive crime problem, with corruption rife within a highly dysfunctional justice system, will assist with criminal detection.


The DNA bill was supported by a very high profile (and successful) campaign by families of crime victims – you can see their work and campaign successes in their very professional website: ‘The DNA Project’.


As yet, even with the wide media coverage, there has been no mention of the use of DNA to exonerate innocent prisoners, of whom there would be expected to be many. The emphasis so far is all on the detection of offenders – although we know that the diligent use of DNA at an early stage in criminal investigations can be an effective tool in the prevention of wrongful convictions. However, it is hoped that with the establishment, and investment in a DNA database, South Africa may be able to take action on miscarriages of justice.

Further north, in Kenya, there has been a recent call to recognise the potential for miscarriages of justice, and take action to give greater rights of appeal and for the judicial system to acknowledge the possibility of miscarriages of justice, albeit the country is yet to publicise any: Kenya scarred by miscarriage of justicePerhaps there is cause for cautious optimism that the ‘innocence movement’ may be spreading to the African continent.

Wrongful Convictions and South Africa…

From news source:

Johannesburg – Convicted murderer Fusi Mofokeng didn’t kill anyone. Yet he was arrested in 1992, imprisoned for 19 years and today continues to struggle with parole restrictions on his personal freedom as he fights to clear his name.

Investigative journalists with the Wits Justice Project have campaigned for Mofokeng’s exoneration for years, along with lawyers who are working pro bono on his case.

Over time, appeals failed, a proposal for presidential pardon was denied and transcripts disappeared. Now Mofokeng’s advocates are considering taking his case to the Constitutional Court in a bid to wipe his record clean.

The difficulty, his sponsors say, is that the state isn’t willing to admit to having wrongfully detained a man for nearly two decades. It doesn’t help that there is no recourse in the criminal justice system for the wrongfully convicted seeking exoneration.

Mofokeng’s life changed on April 2, 1992, when he was arrested for hosting Mofokeng’s brother-in-law and seven other men at his house. The guests were members of the ANC’s self-defence units (SDU), and they were passing through Free State to assist the ANC cause in KwaZulu-Natal.

The day after the men stayed with Mofokeng, they were caught in a shootout with police in Bethlehem. One officer was killed and another was critically injured. Later, police arrived to arrest Mofokeng, his brother-in-law and Tshokolo Mokoena, who had also coincidentally visited Mofokeng on the same day.

wrongful convictionsFusi Mofokeng (left) and Tshokolo Mokoena were in prison for 19 years for crimes they didnt commit. Picture: Paballo Thekiso

On March 5, 1993, when Mofokeng was sentenced to life and 18 years imprisonment, the State’s rationale was that he was guilty of murder by association. Under the common purpose doctrine, Free State civilians Mofokeng Continue reading

International Expansion of the Innocence Movement in 2012

The purpose of this post is to briefly summarize organized innocence activity around the world during 2012 (If I have left items out, please let me know so I can supplement this post).  The calendar year 2012 undoubtedly saw the largest expansion of organized innocence work in history.  Well-attended innocence conferences were held in 5 different continents.  Organizations designed to free the innocent operated in every inhabited continent, and new projects launched in various Latin American countries, France, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Israel, and Taiwan, among others.  Here is a brief summary:

  • The Innocence Network, which currently consists of more than 60 member projects in the U.S., UK, Canada, the Netherlands, and Australia, issued its 2012 report, which lists the members and summarizes the 22 exonerations  its members obtained in the calendar year.  Major conferences on the subject were held in Australia, the UK and the U.S.
  • A network of organizations fighting for the innocent was launched in Latin America, Red Inocente (website here).  Red Inocente held its first annual conference in July, which was attended by more than 70 representatives from various Latin American countries.  Presentations were made about innocence efforts underway in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Puerto Rico.  Details of conference here.  The second annual conference will be held in 2013 in Buenos Aires.  Red Inocente has already seen its first exoneration, which occurred this year in Argentina.
  • In Europe, the UK has had a rich history of innocence work for decades, most recently spearheaded by the Innocence Network UK, and many other university-based groups not part of INUK.  This past year has seen innocence organizations launch in the Netherlands and in Lyon, France.  The Innocence Law Clinic in Warsaw, Poland, successfully continued its operations, which have been ongoing since 1999, and the Supreme Court of Poland held a lecture on the international expansion of the Innocence Movement, sponsored by the Helsinki Foundation.  Also in Poland, a conference was held in Krakow on on the topic of wrongful convictions, attended by judges and prosecutors from across the country.  In the Czech Republic, lectures on wrongful convictions were held at 2 major law schools, summarized in this news clip.  Interest in starting an innocent project is budding in Italy, with representatives from a major law school there planning to attend the 2013 Innocence Conference and to shadow the Ohio Innocence Project this summer.
  • In Africa, the highly-organized Wits Justice Project in South Africa continued its operations with many successes; and a new Innocence Project South Africa launched
  • The Israeli Wrongful Convictions Clinic launched
  • In Asia, projects launched with much acclaim in Taiwan and the Philippines.  China held its first major conference on the topic of wrongful conviction, attended by hundreds of judges, prosecutors, professors and defense attorneys.  Two books on wrongful convictions, False Justice and Illustrated Truth, were translated and published in China.

Update with the Wits Justice Project in South Africa…


I am cutting and pasting below an email from the Wits Justice Project in South Africa.  I had the pleasure of visiting these folks about 2 years ago.  They are a first-class organization.

The Wits Justice Project team – Nooshin, Carolyn, Gift, Grethe, Robyn, Ruth and Tshepang – would like to thank you for your support and encouragement in 2012 and wish you a restful and safe holiday and festive season and a very successful 2013.

We have had a tremendously exciting year and would like to share some of the highlights with you:

a. Journalism

  • WJP won the Webber Wentzel Legal Journalist of the Year award for the second year in a row. Senior journalist, Ruth Hopkins, won first prize and our other senior journalist, Carolyn Raphaely, was first runner-up for her articles on torture. Carolyn won this prestigious award last year, in 2011.

The articles for which Ruth won her award were in two categories. The first looks at the scourge of TB in our prisons and how it has affected both the inmates and their families.

1. “Sisters probe TB scourge in prison” appeared in the Mail & Guardian and

2. “SA prisons: hotbed for spread of TB inside and outside” which appeared in the Saturday Star.

The second category was the systemic failures which cause unreasonable delays in finalizing cases.

1. “Incarcerated since 2007 – but trial hasn’t progressed” which appeared in The Star, show the consequences of court delays,

2. “Who is watching the lawyers?” (with Grethe Koen) which appeared in the Saturday Star.

b. Advocacy

  • WJP project coordinator, Nooshin, was asked to speak at various conferences on issues affecting remand detainees and other matters affecting the criminal justice system . This included the “Helen Suzman Foundation Quarterly Roundtable on Remand Continue reading

Nigeria: The Shame of a Nation!

The recent barbaric, brutal and gruesome ‘murder’ of 4 University of Port Harcourt students in Nigeria has left majority of Nigerians in shock and dismay. Attached is a video excerpt of the incident. Readers’ discretion is strongly advised, as some of the actions therein are very upsetting, and in some cases too gruesome.  

The incident has been roundly condemned, but it brings to the fore, the nagging questions of: the quality of justice; the level of trust and (dis)belief in the justice system; what the police should be doing and how communities should collectively deal with such outbursts of irrational emotions. As one commentator rightly stated, the genocide in Rwanda started with such piecemeal actions, before it spiralled into a national conflagration.

 The blame must be laid squarely at the door steps of the police. The incident lasted for hours. Where was the police? Agreed the actions of the mob – very few of them if you watch the video clip -were evilly motivated, the intervention of the police would have saved the lives of the students. I don’t buy into the idea of lack of equipment, logistics et al, this was a clear case of a vengenful group of people prepared to take the law into their own hands.

The response of the police was not only shoddy, it was unprofessional, but typical. It shows why the average Nigerian remain lukewarm, unfriendly and hostile to the police. That said, it does not excuse the stone age response of the mob, resorting to jungle justice or self help. Nigerians are increasingly resorting to self-help. I blogged recently about this growing and strange phenomenon. Read here    

We can only hope that this incident will be investigated by the authorities and they should get to the bottom of the immediate and remote causes of the Port Harcourt incident. A larger remit of the enquiry should seek to understand why Nigerians look down and undermine the police; the nature of the Nigerian police as an institution, its structure and effectiveness. And of course, a conversation about the latest weasel words – the desireability of state or community police. Above all, the perpetrators must be found and made an example of!

The Gambia: At Last, Reprieve of Some Sorts

I blogged recently in a post entitled: Bloody August in The Gambia. Then, there were confirmed indications that The Gambia intended to proceed with further ‘executions’ of death row inmates. In Nigeria, an application was already lodged with the ECOWAS court to determine amongst others, the legality of the action itself and the proposed future plans to carry out further ‘executions’. This drew the ire of the international human rights community. The condemnation was almost total. Now, it appears a halt has been put to further executions being carried out. Read BBC News report here

Whilst this is cheering news of some sorts, reading between the lines of the news report, you get the sense that this has only been suspended, or put in abeyance because of the hue and cry that attended the earlier execution of the 9 death row inmates. For now, this is no more than a window of opportunity to unmask and lift the veil on the Gambia legal system to study the delivery and effectiveness of the justice sector and judicial administration; providing opportunity also for policy, legal and regulatory reforms.

Due legal process and respect for fundamental human rights, remains the surest safeguard to avoid miscarriages of justice; and the possibilities of the innocent being sent to the gallows for offenses they either did not commit, or the police did not properly investigate.

Police Corruption: a Global Issue.

When people talk about police corruption, it is easy to look to other nations, such as China, or countries on the African continent. Aren’t reporters always telling us that these places are awash with corruption? Yesterday, the UK heard that following a disaster at a sporting event 23 years ago in which 96 people died (not counting those that subsequently died of injuries or took their own lives in extreme distress), the police not only did not act appropriately at the time, they subsequently altered hundreds of police statements and conducted a major cover-up. They illegally accessed police files to try and smear the victims and put pressure on other emergency services to change their statements to absolve the police of any blame. It has taken 23 years to finally uncover this scandal, and may take many more, before we see any police officers prosecuted or disciplined for their actions. One wonders how many years it would have taken before any police officer would have blown the whistle…  Read more here…  Hillsborough disaster 

Today, we hear of reports that a police officer has admitted to 13 charges of misconduct in a public office, after he failed to investigate offences, and falsified reports, while working in a ‘gold standard’ sexual offences unit within the Metropolitan Police. The officer faked police reports, claimed to have interviewed suspects and witnesses, and failed to pass on forensic evidence over at least 4 years. This is just one of four investigations being undertaken into this one police unit. Read more here…  Former Met police officer admits failing to investigate rape cases

Of course, one does not have to look too far to confirm stereotypes that corruption within policing is rife in other countries… The Sowetan Daily reports on major corruption and criminal activity in their police forensic laboratories: ‘Corruption at forensic lab sabotages convictions’ but we should never forget to look at what is under our noses too. A similar story has recently emerged from a lab in Jamaica Plains, where a toxicologist is under investigation. 9 years of testing is being investigated, with the potential for numerous cases of drugs being mishandled and manipulated to ensure positive test results:

Black mark on the state drug lab

If the police and forensic scientists cannot be relied upon to tell the truth, the the whole criminal process is jeopardised.

Bloody August in The Gambia!

The Gambia is a small West African country. It was colonized by the British. You would naturally expect the people to be inheritors of the British common law traditions of justice, equity and fairness. Ironically, The Gambia is headquarters to several human rights, regional and continental organizations. The Gambia president’s disdain for the rule of law is legendary.

Torture, unlawful detention of journalists and extra-judicial killings has been the hallmark of his administration since taking over power in a 1994 coup. Even so, the execution of 9 death row inmates last month took the human rights record of The Gambia, and Jammeh’s presidency to an all time  low. Read report in the Nigerian guardian here.  This is in a country where common law principles and Islamic practises intertwine.

It is yet unclear the level of judicial transparency, fairness and justice that the ‘executed’ inmates were exposed to, or provided in the course of their trials. What is certain however, is that, The Gambian judiciary is not entirely as independent as it should be. We do not yet know the extent the inmates were granted due processes. If the recent application lodged with the ECOWAS court of justice on behalf of 2 Nigerians, being amongst  the remainder 48 inmates slated for execution, is anything to go by, then the appeal process in The Gambia leaves much to be desired.

There is everything wrong with a system that produces such skewed outcomes, preceding the denial of basic rights of innocence, fair trial before an independent judiciary; rights of appeal and to legal representation; right to seek all legitimate avenues of redress when those avenues are yet to be exhausted. The Gambia is a member of the ECOWAS commission and is bound by the decisions of the ECOWAS court; even though with a very poor record of compliance with judgements of the court.

The application by the 2 Nigerians before the ECOWAS court will test the court’s jurisdictional capacity with respect to domestic criminal matters, as well as, the extent to which The Gambia government is prepared to flout and undermine the international community. Read report entitled: The Gambia sued over Execution of Nigerian

The international community is waiting and watching patiently as to the outcome of the threat to proceed with the ‘execution’ of the remainder inmates on death row.

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Lessons from Abroad: Reforming the Nigerian Police

In Nigeria, the police is vilified virtually by everybody that have had the ‘misfortune’ to come into contact with them. Much of this vilification, hinges on their lack of professionalism, indiscipline, corruption and bad policing strategies. The response of the police to this, has always been lack of resources, proper training, and the fact that they are also a mirror, reflecting the values – positive or negative – of the larger Nigerian society. The truth of the matter lies in-between both contentions.

The Police Service Commission is the apex Commission charged with the discipline, promotion and regulation of all police officers in Nigeria. They have the statutory responsibility of shaping the values, ethos as well as enforcing those good and bad conducts of the police. The Commission ironically is still obscured to many Nigerians, except of course during elections and electioneering campaigns, when they put out warning and information notices to appeal to Nigerians.

Reading the article by A. M. Blackmore entitled – Correcting Miscarriages of Justice you cannot but get the feeling that the Nigerian Police Service Commission needs to be re-jigged; in concert with the Office of the Federal Attorney General of the Federation. As identified by Blackmore in the said article, the usefulness of the outcomes of the Royal Commission in the New South Wales Police Service, cannot be over emphasised; same can be deployed to deal with the Nigerian situation. Of course, with necessary modifications to suit the Nigerian clime.

A top to bottom strategy will ensure proper reform is achieved, which can then be passsed down the line to the rank and file. The recurring cases of miscarriages of justice in Nigeria leaves much to be desired. Without prejudice to the numerous Commissions, Committees and ‘White Paper’, there is the urgent need to shake up the Nigerian police force. With the recent confirmation of the new Inspector General of Police, M.D. Abubakar, there is no better time than now, to start re-thinking alternative policing strategies that will deliver for the Nigerian people. Read report here

The root causes of miscarriages of justice and wrongful convictions in Nigeria, can be tackled in large part with a functional and professional police force.

Nigeria: Trading Justice for ‘Self Help’

Dispensing ‘jungle justice’ is a sign of the times in Nigeria. Truth be told, the Nigerian justice system is not only broken, it has completely failed, thence, the resort to self help. As BBC Andrew Walker’s report highlights, the activities of vigilante group who have completely taken over neigbouhood policing, is worrisome. It’s evidently the clearest indication yet, that it is everyman for himself and God for us all. The Hobbesian state. How did Nigeria get to this sorry state?

Ordinary people have completely lost faith in the police and the judicial system to help them seek justice. Despite the understandable constraints under which the police work, that is no excuse for bad policing, extortion of money, bribery and corruption, which seems to be the hallmark of how the ordinary Nigerian views the police and the outright failure to carry out their statutory duties. On the other hand, the ineffective judiciary is plagued with its own malaise of court delays, needless and endless adjournments, deliberate obfuscation of the court processes by lawyers who manipulate the rules of court with a view to ‘extorting’ money from clients, just to prolong cases unnecessarily – bad lawyering. And they find willing accomplices ‘sometimes’ from the bench. In the result, Nigerian citizens are left to their own mercies and fate. Do you really blame them when they now resort to jungle justice? Read Andrew Walker’s report here.

The Nigerian state must find a way to redress this. Most of the institutions connected with the administration of justice should be re-jigged, particularly, the police and judiciary. Leaving this essential reform to international development agencies like DfID, is surely, but a stop gap measure.  They can only compliment the efforts of  government, not as a substitute for government implementing reforms.

‘Self-help’ undermines justice, due process and human rights of victims – however justified the vigilantes are. The likelihood of lumping and lynching an innocent person, by a vigilante ‘mob’, in a situation where there are no defined rules, processes and procedures, is very high. Innocent people have been known to have been killed.