Case Note: Robert John Penessis v United Republic of Tanzania (Judgement) (African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, App No.013/2015, 28 November 2019)
Source: Statelessness and Citizenship Review
By Bronwen Manby and Clement Bernardo Mubanga
Statelessness and Citizenship Review, 2(1), 172–178
Robert John Penessis v United Republic of Tanzania (Judgement) (‘Penessis’) is the second case decided by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (‘African Court’) that considers the right to a nationality. The judgment builds on the African Court’s decision in Anudo Ochieng Anudo v Tanzania (‘Anudo’), as well as the existing jurisprudence from the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (‘African Commission’), and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. The African Court ruled that Tanzania had arbitrarily deprived the applicant of his nationality and curtailed his rights of liberty and freedom of movement.
Tanzania was among the few African states that have made a declaration provided for under art 34(6) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which establishes the African Court’s competence to directly receive petitions from individuals. The government has, however, since withdrawn this declaration.
The African Court has jurisdiction to interpret any human rights obligations binding on the state, and in Penessis thus draws on the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (‘African Charter’), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (‘UDHR’).
The African Court affirmed that the UDHRis part of customary international law, in particular art 15 on the right to a nationality. The judgment cements the holding that where a person has been issued documents recognising nationality, the burden of proof is incumbent upon the State to prove that he was not a national. Finally, adding to the findings in Anudo, the African Court drew on African Commission jurisprudence to confirm that the protection of ‘legal status’ in art 5 of the African Charter includes the right to a nationality.