Presented at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, October 2013, by Hassan Shire, Chairperson, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
On behalf of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, I thank you for the opportunity to provide a brief update on the human rights situation in the East and Horn of Africa sub-region over the past six months, and would refer you to our report to the Commission for further details.
Regrettably, this period has been markedby renewed government clampdowns on fundamental human rights in most countries in the sub-region, alongside the targeting through various means of human rights defenders working on the front lines of human rights protection. In many countries regressive legislation was passed, curtailing citizens’ rights to free expression and peaceful assembly. Increasingly, administrative and bureaucratic obstacles were used by governments to disrupt the work of human rights defenders and journalists.
In Burundi, continued political tensions resulted in occasional outbreaks of political violence across the country, particularly among the youth wings of the political parties, in a worrying echo of the events surrounding the elections in 2010. Despite widespread outcry, a new law regulating the media was passed in June, with the very real potential to undermine Burundi’s free press. Two equally concerning laws on freedom of assembly and the regulation of NGOs are currently under consideration.
In Djibouti, the fallout from the February 2013 elections (in which the ruling Union for the Presidential Majority (UMP) retained its electoral majority) continued to result in the widespread targeting of journalists and political opponents, many of whom were jailed.
EHAHRDP remains deeply concerned about continuing serious human rights violations in Eritrea, and the government’s failure to engage with regional and international human rights mechanisms. We believe that more decisive action needs to be taken by the Commission and by the AU member states to push for the implementation of its important recommendations decisions on the situation in Eritrea, including the continuing incommunicado detention of journalists and politicians, as well as many thousands of other citizens.
Over the past six months, we have also seen the effect of continuing impunity for serious violations of international law in the sub-region.
In Sudan, the human rights situation deteriorated dramatically during the period. There were ongoing and egregious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Darfur, Northern and Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, with evidence of widespread indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilian populations. Spontaneous protests erupted across Sudan in late September 2013 following a rise in fuel prices, resulting in mass arrests, further closure and censorship of national newspapers, a total nationwide internet blackout, credible reports of at least 170 deaths at the hand of state security forces, and many hundreds of people (including journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders) arrested and detained by state security forces. We call on the Commission to publicly condemn these actions, and to take all actions within its power to hold those responsible to account.
In Kenya, the trial of Deputy President William Ruto before the International Criminal Court commenced in September. His trial and the upcoming trial of President Kenyatta have been marred by widespread reports of witness intimation, within a more general climate of intimidation and murder of human rights defenders in the country.
We are alsoseriously concerned by the Ugandan government’s clampdown on freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly during this period. In May 2013, the government closed several media houses and placed them under armed occupation for several days. Peaceful protests against the closures were violently dispersed by state security forces. To widespread national and international condemnation, Uganda’s parliament passed a new law governing freedom of assembly in August. To date, the government has not yet officially made public the content of the law passed.
In all countries in the sub-region, EHAHRDP has reported on the harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and journalists, and increasing attempts by state and non-state actors to undermine and disrupt the activities of civil society. These attacks take many forms: from the continuing spate of murders of journalists in Somalia, to the government-led takeover of the leading human rights NGO in Rwanda.
However, human rights defenders in the sub-region continue to seek out opportunities to engage with their governments to improve respect for human rights. In Somalia, for example, the Federal Government released its first ever Human Rights Roadmap in September 2013, aimed at improving the human rights situation in Somalia. Human rights defenders continue to engage in the hope of securing concrete improvements.
Consistently throughout, human rights defenders continue to place themselves on the front line of human rights protection in the region, often at intolerable risks to their own safety.
In conclusion, I would like to highlight some of thekey recommendations made in our report, and encourage the Commission to:
- Call on member States to ensure the protection of HRDs, notably by observing the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other human rights treaties to which most of these countries are signatory;
- 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” (as it did in resolution 87, 5th December 2005);
- Carry out a Commission of Inquiry into violations of the Charter and international humanitarian law in the regions of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile in Sudan;
- Take all necessary measures to follow up on decisions taken by the Commission on communications that remain unimplemented, so that victims’ may receive a remedy for the violations of their rights as contained in the Charter, especially requests for provisional measures;
- Encourage full engagement with the ACHPR by States in the sub-region, especially those in transition periods, such as Somalia and South Sudan, including by urging states to invite visits from the Commission and to submit periodic reports.
I thank you.