/ 2 September 2005

Rasta lawyer to petition UN for right to dope

From Cape Town, to Jozi, to Banjul and now Geneva, there is no stopping Rastafari lawyer Gareth Prince in his cross-continental fight to be admitted as a practising attorney and for Rastafarians to be allowed to use cannabis.

Prince and his team are flying high in their legal battles and will now petition the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva after failing at the African Commission in the Gambian capital of Banjul.

His determination follows in the face of a ruling against him and in favour of the South African government.

Prince has taken the matter to the Cape High Court, and the South African Constitutional Court.

His lawyers, though, think he has one more ace up his sleeve.

Prince’s legal battles began when the Cape Law Society declined to admit him as an attorney because he had two criminal convictions relating to the possession of dagga. Before it would grant him a licence, the society required Prince to promise never to smoke dagga again .

He refused, saying the use of cannabis was central to his faith.

Prince asked the African commission to rule on ”an exemption for sacramental use of cannabis”.

He did not ask for the decriminalisation of cannabis, rather for ”a reasonable accommodation to manifest his beliefs in accordance with his Rastafari religion”.

The South African government successfully argued that ”any religious practices must be conducted within the framework of the law and must, if necessary, be adapted to comply with the law, as failure to do so will result in anarchy”.

The commission ruled that the South African government was better placed to appreciate what suited its citizens best.

Prince’s lawyers are now considering taking the matter to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors the legal instrument (the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR]) that governs, among other things, the right to religious freedom.

One snag is that individuals may only bring matters before that body if they are citizens of countries that are signatories to the instrument. Another hitch is that the instrument does not have retrospective effect. The ICCPR came into effect in 1999 but South Africa only became a signatory in 2002.

Prince’s lawyer, Professor Frans Viljoen of Pretoria University’s Centre for Human Rights, is hopeful. ”The cause of action arose before the ratification by South Africa. However, the Act still exists now, and still influences his position negatively, so I believe that one can and should take the matter further to the UN, where a more rights-friendly decision may be given,” said Viljoen.