ACHPR53: Overview of the human rights situation in the East and Horn of Africa (November 2012 – March 2013)

Report submitted to the 53rd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)

Banjul, The Gambia, April 2013

The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network welcomes the opportunity offered by the 53rd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) to highlight some of the current human rights issues in the East and Horn of Africa region for the period of November 2012 to March 2013. This report was prepared with the assistance of reports and information received by the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (the secretariat of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network) from our members and partners from the sub-region.

The past six months has been a period of transition in the East and Horn of Africa sub-region. The general elections in Kenya on 4th March were observed by accredited national, regional and international observers to be largely peaceful. The new president, Uhuru Kenyatta, was sworn in on 9th April, following two separate petitions at the Supreme Court of Kenya by the runner-up, Raila Odinga, and also by a coalition of Civil Society Organizations who called for the nullification of the election on the basis that the electoral process was marred by irregularities. The unanimous decision of the Supreme Court however concluded that the presidential elections were conducted in a free, fair, transparent and credible manner.

Both Kenyatta and the deputy president William Ruto are undergoing trial at the International Criminal Court, and have stated that they will continue to cooperate with the court while continuing to run the country. However, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, has expressed concerned about ICC witnesses being bribed and intimidated, leading to the withdrawal of charges in the case against Kenyatta’s co-accused, Francis Muthaura.

With far less coverage, Djibouti also held elections on 22nd February for its legislative assembly. Election observers from the African Union, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Conference and IGAD declared that the elections were transparent and acceptable, although opposition parties claimed numerous irregularities and intimidation. At least six protestors were killed in demonstrations against the election results that turned violent and a number of opposition figures were arrested.

Somalia continues to face serious human rights challenges as the State goes through a transition process following elections last year. Such challenges include sexual and gender based violence, the vulnerability and lack of adequate provisions for IDPs, and weaknesses in the justice system. Exercising freedom of expression is still a dangerous endeavour with 18 journalists killed in Somalia in 2012, with at least three more already killed in the first three months of this year. Despite ratifying the Charter in 1985, Somalia has never submitted a periodic report. EHAHRDP would like to encourage more engagement between Somalia and the Commission going forward.

EHAHRDP is also concerned by the entrenched situation of mass human rights violations in the context of the current conflict in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states in Sudan that has been ongoing since mid-2011. The Sudanese army and government-affiliated militia are responsible for serious and massive abuses against civilians in both states, such as indiscriminate bombings, forced displacement, destruction of grain and water sources that are critical to the survival of the population, arbitrary detention, and sexual violence against women and girls. Such abuses may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity and are creating a humanitarian crisis. It is urgent that the Commission take all actions within its power to hold those responsible to account.

EHAHRDP remains deeply concerned about continuing serious human rights violations in Eritrea, including extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detention, and forced national service for indefinite periods, coupled with the State’s lack of cooperation with regional and international human rights mechanisms. Ten years ago the Commission issued decisions on two communications regarding detained journalists and government officials, yet Eritrea continues to hold them incommunicado. Many are thought to have died in detention. We call on the Commission to take firm action to protect Eritrean citizens from further human rights abuse.

It is positive to note that South Sudan signed the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on 24th January 2013. The State should proceed promptly to its ratification and implementation. Rwanda should also be commended on its decision to allow individuals and NGOs to directly access the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, by depositing its declaration under the protocol in January.

In every country in the sub-region EHAHRDP has reported on harassment, intimidation, arrests, detention, attacks or killings of journalists during this period. They are on the front lines of human rights protection and as such both more at risk and more in need of protection themselves. The release of journalist Hassan Ruvakuki in Burundi after intense campaigning by civil society and fellow journalists was welcomed, but others remain in detention, including in Rwanda and Ethiopia. Human rights defenders more generally continued to face threats and attacks in recent months, with key organisations closed down in Sudan, for example.

Acts of reprisal or intimidation against individuals or groups on account of their engagement with this Commission have continued to be reported. Such attacks should be recognized as an attack on the Commission itself and we encourage the Commission to respond accordingly.

Recommendations:

In light of the updates and observations contained in this report, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project offers the following recommendations for actions by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights:

  • Continue to monitor the situation of human rights defenders and to establish a reporting mechanism to gather information and follow up on cases of reprisals against human rights defenders who cooperate with the Commission and its special mechanisms;
  • 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;
  • Call for an end to all practices, notably legal restrictions, which threaten the fundamental rights contained in the Charter, in particular the freedom of expression, and work of human rights defenders;
  • 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;
  • Recognise that the rights contained in the African Charter apply to all people without discrimination on any grounds, including sexual orientation and gender identity;
  • 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 periods, such as Somalia and South Sudan, including by urging states to invite visits from the Commission and to submit periodic reports;
  • Call on member States 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;
  • Encourage the African Union to endorse the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists or a similar plan.

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