58th Ordinary Session of the Africa Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Banjul, the Gambia
Item 4: Human Rights Situation in Africa
Statement by the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project
read by Pepe Onziema
Madame Chairperson, distinguished Commissioners, State Delegates, representatives of NHRIs and NGOs; all protocols respectfully observed.
On behalf of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, I would like to thank the Commission for this opportunity to raise some of the key human rights issues from the East and Horn of Africa in the past six months.
The past six months have seen heightened restrictions of civil and political freedoms during electoral periods in countries such as Uganda, Tanzania and Djibouti, as well as the grave and extremely worrying deterioration of on-going crises in Burundi and South Sudan. Increasingly, counter-terrorism laws are being misused to target the legitimate work of human rights defenders, including in Ethiopia and Kenya. NGO and Media Bills with broad and vague terminology have been adopted in South Sudan, Somalia and Uganda, facilitating judicial proceedings against independent human rights organisation and media outlets.
In Burundi, amidst the worsening political crisis, extra-judicial and arbitrary killings remain routine, as well as torture, rape, sexual violence and arbitrary arrests, and national and international human rights monitoring groups have reported the presence of several mass graves which have yet to be properly investigated.
In South Sudan, parties to the conflict have committed widespread and systematic human rights abuses, and yet the AU Commission has not taken any specific steps towards the creation of a hybrid court, which is essential to establishing sustainable peace in Africa’s youngest country. In Sudan, local monitoring groups continue to report civilian casualties, injuries, the destruction of crops and infrastructure, as well as mass forced displacement in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states as a result of government bombing campaigns in those areas.
Security forces in Ethiopia have used excessive force to disperse widespread demonstrations in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, resulting in at least 150 protesters and thousands of arbitrary arrests and detentions.
During this period Uganda conducted its fifth presidential elections, during which undue restrictions were placed on the right to peacefully assemble, and there were widespread reports of vote-rigging, voter intimidation and electoral malpractice. In Djibouti, the presidential campaign for the president’s fourth mandate began in October 2015, and resulted in quasi-daily human rights violations, including hundreds of arbitrary detentions and torture.
Despite shoot to kill orders along the border, the lack of basic civil liberties and forced life-long conscription in Eritrea forces an estimated 5,000 Eritreans continue to flee the country on a monthly basis.
In light of these updates and observations, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project recommends to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to:
- Urge the Burundian authorities to allow independent radios and human rights organisations to resume operations freely and to allow the African Union human rights monitors in Burundi freedom of movement and access to witnesses and victims;
- Call on the African Union to advance the process of establishing a Hybrid Court in South Sudan to deliver the first steps towards accountability and to seek to implement the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan’s recommendations;
- Carry out a Commission of Inquiry into serious human rights and humanitarian law violations in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile in Sudan, ensure that perpetrators are held to account without delay, and call on the Government of Sudan to grant immediate and unfettered access for humanitarian aid agencies to all populations in need;
- Call on the government of Ethiopia to cease the violent crackdown on the Oromo Protests, which has been unfolding since November 2015, and to authorise independent investigations into the human rights violations committed by security forces;
- Call on all member States who have not done so to deposit the declaration under article 34 (6) of the protocol of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to allow individuals and NGOs to directly submit their cases to the court, and condemn Rwanda’s decision to withdraw its declaration;
- Recognise that the rights contained in the African Charter apply to all people without discrimination on any grounds, including sexual orientation and gender identity;
- Call for an end to all practices, notably legal restrictions, which threaten fundamental rights contained in the Charter which are vital for the work of human rights defenders, in particular the freedom of expression, the freedoms of assembly and association;
- Reaffirm its support for the International Criminal Court, and again urge AU member states to “ensure that the perpetrators of crimes under international human rights law and international humanitarian law should not benefit from impunity”;
- Promote international criminal investigations into serious human rights violations committed in the region, where domestic remedies have failed;
- Encourage all members of the African Union to ratify and implement the provisions of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance;
- Encourage full engagement with the ACHPR by States in the sub-region, especially those in transition or conflict periods, such as Somalia and South Sudan, including by urging states to invite visits from the Commission and to submit periodic reports.