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Africa: Economy and Human Rights, 2
Jun 1, 2009 (090601)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"There is still an enormous gap between the rhetoric of African
governments, which claim to protect and respect human rights, and
the daily reality where human rights violations remain the norm.
... So many people are living in utter destitution; so few of them
have any chance to free themselves from poverty. Their dire
situation is exacerbated by the failure of governments in the
Africa region to provide basic social services, ensure respect for
the rule of law, address corruption and be accountable to their
people." - Amnesty International, 2009 annual report
Amnesty International's report, released in late May, covers
economic, social, and cultural rights as well as civil and
political rights, stressing the ways in which the global economic
recession has exacerbated previously existing patterns of human
rights violations. As noted in the launch speech by Amnesty
Secretary-General Irene Khan, this marks a new level of emphasis on
economic rights for the organization, and is the basis of Amnesty's
new global campaign "Demand Dignity." Khan called on world leaders
to recognize that it's not just the economy, to put human rights
at the center of economic rescue plans, and to fix their own
appalling human rights records.
For Khan's speech, and excerpts from the foreword to the report,
see another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today
(http://www.africafocus.org/docs09/hr0906a.php). This AfricaFocus
Bulletin contains the regional overview for sub-Saharan Africa.
For regional overviews and links to specific Africa country pages,
see http://report2009.amnesty.org/en/regions/africa and
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Africa: The State of Africa's Human Rights
28 May 2009
The regional overview for Africa of Amnesty International's 2009
report on "The State of the World's Human Rights":
[The full report and additional briefing materials are available at
As in many countries across Africa, Guinea's population was hit
hard by rising food and commodity prices during the year.
Demonstrations erupted and the authorities believed that Karamba
Dram‚ was one of the organizers of the protests. So they killed
The food crisis, which marked 2008 in Africa, had a
disproportionate impact on vulnerable population groups, especially
those already living in poverty. Across the Africa region, people
demonstrated against the desperate social and economic situation
and the sharp rise in living costs. While some demonstrations
turned violent, leading to the destruction of private and public
property, the authorities often repressed protests using excessive
force. Security forces injured and killed numerous people who were
claiming their right to an adequate standard of living, including
the right to food. Protesters were arbitrarily arrested and
detained. Some were ill-treated in detention or sentenced to prison
terms after unfair trials. Most of the time, no investigations were
carried out to identify those among the security forces responsible
for the human rights violations committed while responding to the
Millions across the region continued to be deprived of their basic
needs in spite of the sustained economic growth in many countries
in Africa during past years. People faced enormous challenges in
securing a daily livelihood, often aggravated by marginalization or
political repression, attempts to muffle their voices and render
Despite such repression, demonstrators against the dire social and
economic situation and the sharp rise in living costs took to the
streets in numerous countries, including Benin, Burkina Faso,
Cameroon, C“te d'Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Mozambique, Senegal, Somalia
The demonstrations, sometimes violent themselves, were usually met
with yet more violence by the state. In late February security
forces in Cameroon killed up to 100 people in response to violent
protests in various towns against the escalating cost of living and
low wages. Some of those killed were apparently shot in the head at
close range. In Mozambique, the police killed three people and
injured 30 others in February when live ammunition was used against
people protesting against an increase in transport costs.
In Mali, marches were organized against the rise in the price of
basic commodities and against plans to privatize the supply of
water in Lere, in the north-west of the country. At least six
people were injured in November, one of whom died later in
hospital, when security forces shot at the demonstrators. In
Burkina Faso, security forces arrested several hundred people,
after demonstrations against rising living costs in Ouagadougou and
Bobo-Dioulasso erupted into violence. At least 80 of those arrested
were sentenced to prison terms without having had access to a
In Zimbabwe, hundreds of activists protesting against the dramatic
decline in the economy and social infrastructure were arrested and
detained without charge. Many protests were broken up by the
police, often using excessive force. The government continued to
manipulate access to food for political motives even though by the
end of the year the UN estimated that about five million people
were in need of food aid. Thousands of people, mostly in rural
areas, became displaced as a result of the state-sponsored
political violence and no longer had access to their food stocks,
land or other forms of livelihood.
Thousands of people continued to migrate to other countries hoping
to improve their families' lives. Many, in desperation, took to the
sea, putting their lives in the hands of ruthless traffickers.
Hundreds of people leaving the Horn of Africa across the Gulf of
Aden, in an attempt to reach Yemen, died during the journey. In
Mauritania, hundreds of migrants, believed to be heading to Europe,
were arbitrarily arrested and detained in the country. Many were
detained in inhuman conditions and ill-treated before being
expelled, frequently not to their countries of origin and without
being able to challenge the expulsion decision.
The rapid urbanization and prevailing poverty in many African
countries means that many people find themselves without adequate
housing, often living in slums. They are at risk of being forcibly
evicted by the authorities and while living in the slums frequently
have no access to basic facilities, such as water and sanitation.
In Lagos, Nigeria, numerous people were forcibly evicted without
due process and subsequently did not receive compensation or
alternative housing. In Chad, a presidential decree, issued during
the state of emergency early in 2008, ordered the demolition of
thousands of homes in the capital N'Djamena, as the authorities
considered they had been built on government land without
authorization. Tens of thousands of people became homeless and had
to seek alternative accommodation. In Kenya, hundreds of families
living close to the Nairobi River faced the threat of forced
evictions after the government announced that people living in
informal settlements close to the river needed to leave these
Prison conditions in many countries remained well below international
standards, often linked to overcrowding. As ever,
prisoners from poor families were worst affected as they often
lacked the resources to ensure their basic needs while in
Armed conflict and insecurity in several African countries forced
hundreds of thousands of people to flee from their homes, trying to
find international protection across borders or some form of
security within their own country. In some of the worst armed
conflicts still affecting the region, government forces and armed
groups completely disregarded the dignity and physical integrity of
the population. The civilian population was routinely the object of
attacks by parties to the conflict; rape and other forms of sexual
violence remained widespread; children were often recruited to take
part in hostilities; and humanitarian workers were targeted. Those
responsible for crimes under international law, committed in the
context of these armed conflicts, were hardly ever held to account.
The role of UN and regional peacekeeping missions in Africa
increased during 2008, but failed to make a significant impact in
terms of protecting the civilian population. This was partly, but
not entirely, the result of inadequate resources. The UN and
regional bodies, such as the African Union, made little progress in
resolving the armed conflicts in Sudan (Darfur), Chad, Somalia and
the Democratic Republic of the Congo (North Kivu).
The proliferation of small arms remained a significant contributing
factor to the continuation of armed conflicts and to widespread
human rights abuses. UN arms embargoes have not been effective.
The international community mobilized unprecedented resources to
combat piracy off the coast of Somalia and to protect its
It made no such efforts, however, to halt the flow of arms to
Somalia - despite a UN embargo. Nor did it act effectively to stop
the widespread violations of international humanitarian law by all
parties to the conflict; nor to hold those responsible for crimes
under international law accountable.
Hundreds of thousands of people were also newly displaced as a
result of the conflict in Somalia. Fighting in and around the
capital Mogadishu has led to 16,000 deaths, and undocumented
numbers of wounded, among the civilian population since January
2007. The Transitional Federal Government was not able to establish
its authority across south central Somalia and lost ground to armed
opposition groups. Humanitarian organizations had only limited
access to provide emergency assistance to an estimated 3.2 million
people in need. Aid workers, as well as journalists and human
rights defenders, were often targeted for political and criminal
The armed conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo
escalated again during the second half of 2008. Numerous human
rights abuses were committed by all the parties to the conflict,
including killings and abductions of civilians, rape and other
forms of sexual violence, and the recruitment and use of children
as armed fighters.
Hundreds of thousands of people fled the fighting.
The armed conflict in Darfur intensified throughout the year with
no political resolution in sight. Attacks against civilians
continued, as well as rape, looting and the destruction of
villages. Millions of people remained internally displaced and
humanitarian organizations often had no access to those in need
because of the overall insecurity and the attacks on humanitarian
convoys. As a result, thousands of people remained beyond the reach
of emergency aid. People lacked protection from violence, even in
internally displaced sites. In just one example in August, the
authorities surrounded Kalma camp in South Darfur, opened fire and
reportedly shelled the camp, killing 47 people.
The armed opposition group, Justice and Equality Movement (JEM),
launched an attack against Omdurman, on the outskirts of the
capital Khartoum in May. In the aftermath of the attack, the
Sudanese authorities persecuted people thought to be of Darfuri
origin. Hundreds of people were arbitrarily arrested and detained
- many were tortured or otherwise ill-treated. There were also
reports of extrajudicial executions.
Fighting also erupted in Abyei, South Sudan, between the Sudanese
Armed Forces and forces of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement
(SPLM), resulting in the destruction of the town, the displacement
of 50,000 people, and additional strains on the Comprehensive Peace
Agreement between North and South Sudan.
Tensions between Chad and Sudan rose again during 2008, especially
after an attack in early February by Chadian armed opposition
groups on N'Djamena. After two days of intense fighting, Chadian
government forces repelled the attack. Subsequently, the government
declared a state of emergency and arrested various members of the
opposition, one of whom has become a victim of enforced
disappearance. There were also reports of extrajudicial executions
immediately after the attack. An estimated 50,000 people fled the
violence in N'Djamena and sought refuge in neighbouring Cameroon.
Armed conflict was not the only source of widespread insecurity in
the region in 2008. Political violence following elections also
played its part in a number of countries. In Kenya, more than 1,000
people died as a result of politically motivated ethnic violence
and associated police killings after the elections on 30 December
2007. Hundreds of thousands of people fled their areas of origin
and some fled to neighbouring countries such as Uganda. In
Zimbabwe, at least 180 people were killed and thousands injured as
a result of state-sponsored political violence before and after the
second round of presidential elections. Many continued to flee to
neighbouring countries, particularly South Africa.
In both Kenya and Zimbabwe, the violence and insecurity not only
affected the people's physical security, but also their capacity to
earn a livelihood as thousands lost their homes, food supplies,
access to land and other sources of income. Hundreds of thousands
of people became dependent on humanitarian assistance for their
basic needs as a result of political violence.
Tens of thousands of people fleeing xenophobic attacks in South
Africa in May also became dependent on humanitarian assistance as
they had to flee from their homes and lost all their possessions.
Over 60 people were killed and more than 600 were injured after
people were beaten, sexually assaulted and killed in various
provinces, often by people living in the same community. These
xenophobic attacks against individuals, targeted because of their
perceived nationality, ethnicity or migrant status, were fuelled
partly by the deprivation in which many South Africans still live.
Official investigations failed to bring the perpetrators to
justice, or to clarify the causes of the violence.
Many groups in African societies continued to face discrimination
and exclusion from protection or the means to get redress for the
abuses they suffered. In Uganda, for example, victims of numerous
human rights abuses during the armed conflict in the north of the
country remained destitute and traumatized, often excluded from any
means of redress.
Across the Africa region, people suffered discrimination within
their families and communities because of their gender or their HIV
status, exacerbated by their poverty. In South Africa for example,
where 5.7 million people were living with HIV, poor rural women
continued to face barriers in accessing health services for HIV and
AIDS due to unmanageable distances from health facilities and
Stigma and gender-based discrimination, including violence, also
affected the women's ability to protect themselves against HIV
infection and to seek health care and support.
Women were also discriminated against in various societies under
customary laws and traditional practices. The customary laws of
certain ethnic groups in Namibia, for example, discriminate against
women and girls, specifically laws on marriage and inheritance.
In various countries, notably Tanzania, albino people were murdered
in what were believed to be ritual killings. Although the
government of Tanzania denounced the killings, nobody was
prosecuted in relation to them during 2008, even though a number of
people were arrested.
People were persecuted for their (perceived) sexual orientation in
countries including Cameroon, Gambia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal and
Uganda. In various countries, same-sex sexual relationships were a
In many African countries the judicial system lacks independence.
In addition, the justice system is often under-resourced, poorly
equipped and understaffed, leading to excessive delays in hearing
For those with little access to financial resources, negotiating
the criminal justice system can prove a nightmare.
In Nigeria, for example, those who are poor face numerous obstacles
to obtaining a fair trial within an acceptable period of time.
Although some efforts have been made to provide legal aid, it is
not nearly enough to grant legal representation for all who need it
but cannot afford to pay for a lawyer - even in cases carrying the
The more than 700 people living on death row in Nigeria in 2008 all
had one thing in common - they were poor.
However, in a landmark decision, the Community Court of Justice of
the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ordered the
government of Niger to pay reparations to a woman who had been held
in domestic and sexual slavery for a decade, on the basis that the
authorities had failed to implement existing laws against slavery.
Governments continued to restrict, without justification, the
rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
However, efforts by governments to control information were also
countered by increasingly vibrant civil societies, often working in
partnership with each other, and stronger independent media.
Legislation or other forms of regulation were frequently used to
restrict the work of civil society and the media. In Ethiopia, the
authorities prepared a draft bill that criminalizes human rights
activities and gives authorities an excessive level of control over
civil society organizations. In Swaziland, the new Suppression of
Terrorism Act, with its impermissibly broad definitions of
terrorism, had a chilling effect on the activities of civil society
organizations and infringed the rights of freedom of expression,
peaceful assembly and association. In Chad, a presidential decree
to limit press freedom remained in place even after the state of
emergency was lifted. In Sudan, censorship over privately owned
media outlets was reinforced. In Rwanda, the space for independent
media workers, including foreign journalists, remained restricted.
In Lesotho, restrictive broadcasting regulations and the use of
criminal defamation, sedition and similar charges continued to take
their toll on individual media workers and infringed the right to
freedom of expression. In Kenya, parliament passed a media bill,
and in Uganda, the authorities were drafting legislation: both laws
would further restrict press freedom. In Niger, the government
imposed a media blackout on the conflict in the north of the
country and banned journalists from travelling there.
In numerous countries, including Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Equatorial
Guinea, Gambia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania and Togo,
media outlets were suspended because the authorities disap- proved
of their stories. Journalists were routinely arrested and sometimes
charged with criminal offences, purely for carrying out their work.
Political opponents of the government were arbitrarily arrested and
detained in Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Equatorial
Guinea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Mauritania, Republic of Congo, Swaziland
In some cases members of the political opposition were subjected to
enforced disappearance or unlawfully killed. In other countries the
space for political opposition, free speech and civil society was
non-existent, such as in Eritrea.
Human rights defenders remained at risk in various countries and
were often harassed and sometimes arrested for defending their
rights as well as the rights of others. Journalists and human
rights activists regularly had to flee their country because of
In Zimbabwe, numerous human rights activists, trade union
representatives and political opposition members were arrested.
Some were abducted and killed by government security forces as well
as non-state actors working on behalf of the authorities. In
Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad and Sudan, human rights
defenders were also arrested. In some cases those detained were
tortured or otherwise ill-treated. In a number of countries civil
society organizations were closed down, or threatened with closure,
by the authorities.
Unless governments address impunity in a serious manner the
widespread human rights violations across this region will
continue. At the moment, those who abuse others' rights can
continue to do so freely.
Occasionally, after large-scale human rights violations,
commissions of inquiry or other types of investigative panels are
set up, but they are often more to appease public opinion than to
establish the truth and identify those responsible.
In Chad, a national commission of inquiry into hundreds of killings
and other human rights violations in February 2008 published its
report in September - no action was taken by the government to
implement its recommendations. A commission of inquiry set up in
Guinea to investigate human rights violations committed in 2006 and
2007 did not conduct any investigations. In Liberia, the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission concluded its public hearings and its
findings were pending by the end of the year. The commission of
inquiry in Kenya, set up to investigate the post-election violence,
made its findings public in October. Even though the government
pledged to implement the recommendations in the report it had not,
by the end of the year, put in place a comprehensive plan of action
to do so.
Unfortunately, governments often use commissions of inquiry, or
truth and reconciliation commissions, as surrogates for judicial
inquiries, which are essential for establishing individual criminal
The International Criminal Court (ICC) continued to pursue a number
of cases from Africa. The application by the ICC Prosecutor for an
arrest warrant to be issued against President Omar Al Bashir of
Sudan for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide
triggered efforts to undermine the work of the ICC by various
states and regional bodies, including the African Union (AU). The
AU, the League of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic
Conference called on the UN Security Council to defer the case. On
the initiative of Rwanda, the AU adopted a decision criticizing
what it called the abuse of universal jurisdiction.
While the ICC continued to pursue a number of cases from Africa, it
can only prosecute a limited number of individuals. It is essential
that national jurisdictions also investigate and prosecute those
suspected of being responsible for crimes under international law,
including by exercising universal jurisdiction. Regrettably,
Senegal has only made limited progress in the case of former
Chadian President HissŠne Habr‚, indicating a lack of political
will to initiate serious investigations.
On a more positive note, the AU adopted the Protocol on the Statute
of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights in July. Once
operational, the Court could contribute to ending impunity in
Africa if AU member states agree to allow victims of human rights
violations to approach the Court directly for an effective remedy.
There is still an enormous gap between the rhetoric of African
governments, which claim to protect and respect human rights, and
the daily reality where human rights violations remain the norm.
In 2008, Africans deprived of their rights took to the streets.
Protests often became violent, with resentment fuelled by the
repressive attitudes of governments towards dissent and protest.
These protests are likely to continue.
So many people are living in utter destitution; so few of them have
any chance to free themselves from poverty. Their dire situation is
exacerbated by the failure of governments in the Africa region to
provide basic social services, ensure respect for the rule of law,
address corruption and be accountable to their people.
As the global economic outlook appears more and more gloomy, hope
lies in the continuing vitality of civil societies across the
region, and the determination of human rights defenders willing to
challenge entrenched interests despite the risks they face.
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