Amnesty International (New York)

13 May 2011

Africa: Amnesty Reports on Sub-Saharan Africa's Human Rights Record

The first video, featuring Amnesty International secretary-general, Salil Shetty, addresses the global state of human rights in 2011. The second ... ( Resource: Amnesty International Report 2011


A number of countries in Africa celebrated the 50th anniversary of their independence during the year while others prepared to do so soon.

Despite the celebrations, the hopes and aspirations of many people in Africa remained unfulfilled, because their human rights were not respected and protected.

The devastation caused can be seen in the hardship, repression and violence endured by people across the continent, such as those living in informal settlements in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, those languishing unfairly in prison in Angola despite the repeal of the law under which they were charged, the women and girls denied access to sexual and reproductive rights in Burkina Faso, and the millions of people who are still fleeing from armed conflict and poverty.


During the past decade a number of long-standing civil wars have ended but other conflicts still continue to wreak havoc.

The armed conflict in Darfur, Sudan, intensified throughout the year, resulting in tens of thousands of newly displaced people, some of whom crossed into neighbouring Chad. Civilians were directly targeted in some attacks by armed groups and by government forces. Parts of Darfur remained inaccessible to humanitarian organizations and the joint UN-African Union (AU) mission in Darfur (UNAMID). Humanitarian workers and UNAMID staff were frequently abducted in Darfur, following a pattern similar to that seen in eastern Chad in recent years. Various mediation efforts during the year produced no tangible results. Repression by the Sudanese authorities continued in Darfur, with people being arbitrarily arrested, ill-treated and kept in detention without charge, primarily by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). On a more positive note, preparations for the referendum on the secession of south Sudan did not lead to an increase in violence.

The relationship between Chad and Sudan improved, easing tensions between the two countries. A joint border patrol was set up, both countries promised not to support armed opposition groups in each other's country and there were reciprocal visits by the Heads of State.

Even though Chad is a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), it failed to arrest President Omar Al Bashir during his visit to Chad in July, despite the ICC arrest warrant against him on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Kenya also failed to arrest President Al Bashir during his visit in August. Sudan continued to refuse to collaborate with the ICC over other outstanding arrest warrants. In July the AU Assembly reiterated its decision not to co-operate with the ICC over the arrest and surrender of President Al Bashir.

Chad called for the withdrawal of the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) and the UN Security Council meekly complied, despite the potential negative impact on the protection of hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced in eastern Chad. The displaced and refugees in eastern Chad remained at risk of human rights abuses, including violence against women and the recruitment and use of children by the Chadian armed forces and armed groups. Large parts of the Central African Republic remained under the control of armed groups and were affected by violence, including attacks against civilians by the Uganda-based Lord's Resistance Army. Tens of thousands of people remained displaced and sexual violence remained prevalent.

In Somalia, the armed conflict between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), supported by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and armed Islamist groups continued unabated, especially in Mogadishu. Hundreds of thousands of people were newly displaced and access for emergency humanitarian assistance was severely restricted because of insecurity, restrictions on humanitarian aid and because humanitarian workers were targeted by armed Islamist groups. The parties to the conflict did not take the necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties during military confrontations and in some instances civilians were directly targeted. Children were forcibly recruited and used by the parties to the conflict. The international community remained more preoccupied with the problem of piracy off the Somali coast than with the plight of the civilian population. Military assistance to the TFG by various states, including the USA, without adequate safeguards may even have exacerbated the human rights and humanitarian situation. There was no strong impetus from the international community to hold those responsible for war crimes to account.

The conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) resulted in numerous violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. In Walikale, North Kivu, more than 300 people were raped in just four days by members of armed groups during a series of attacks against villages. Neither the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) nor the UN peace-keeping mission in the DRC (MONUC) intervened, even though they were stationed close by. The Congolese armed forces were also responsible for numerous human rights violations in the area. Hardly anyone was held to account for serious human rights violations, including rape and other forms of sexual violence. The Congolese authorities continued to refuse to hand over Bosco Ntaganda, a senior officer in the FARDC, to the ICC in spite of an arrest warrant against him for recruiting and using child soldiers.

In October, the UN released a report mapping gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the DRC between 1993 and 2003. The report contains a wide range of recommendations to strengthen the Congolese justice system and address impunity which will require follow-up and political support. Criticism of the report by countries including Rwanda and Uganda, named in the report as perpetrators of human rights violations, was disappointing and reflects unwillingness to hold those responsible to account.

Limited progress was made in other countries to ensure accountability for crimes under international law, primarily due to lack of political will. In Burundi, the agreed Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Special Tribunal had not yet been put in place by the end of the year.

In Liberia, most recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission were not implemented, including the call for an extraordinary criminal tribunal to investigate and prosecute crimes under international law committed during the civil war. In Senegal, President Abdoulaye Wade said in December that he was no longer interested in pursuing the investigation and prosecution of former President Hissan Habré from Chad, even though funding for the judicial process seemed to have been secured. This in blatant disregard of Senegal's obligations under international law and the request of the AU. In another setback, the Kenyan parliament passed in December a motion to request the government to withdraw from the Rome Statute after the Prosecutor of the ICC presented an application for six Kenyan citizens to appear before the Court.

Public security concerns

Human rights violations by security and law enforcement forces continued to plague the region. Extrajudicial executions, torture and other ill-treatment, and excessive use of force, sometimes resulting in unlawful killings, were among the human rights violations documented.

The situation in the Niger Delta deteriorated during the year with armed groups and gangs kidnapping oil workers and their relatives and attacking oil installations. The reaction from the Nigerian security forces often led to human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions and torture. Human rights violations also remained the norm while enforcing the law in other parts of Nigeria with numerous cases of unlawful killings, including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture and other ill-treatment.

Communal violence continued in Plateau State in Nigeria and led to hundreds of people being killed and thousands displaced.

Towards the end of the year a number of extrajudicial executions were reported in Burundi. The victims included people linked to the National Liberation Forces (FNL) opposition party. Although a judicial commission was established to investigate, no progress was made by the end of 2010.

In South Africa, numerous cases of torture and ill-treatment by police were reported, many of which were investigated by the Independent Complaints Directorate. Among the methods reported were beatings, electric shocks, suffocation and death threats. Human rights violations also occurred in Uganda after bomb attacks in July when at least 76 people were killed. Some people were arrested and kept in incommunicado detention; others were unlawfully transferred from Kenya to Uganda where they were detained.

In Mozambique, the police used live ammunition against people protesting against the high cost of living and killed at least 14 people. In Guinea, security forces shot with live ammunition at peaceful demonstrators. In Kenya, police killed seven men during a police operation in an informal settlement in Nairobi.

Deaths in custody, often after torture or other ill-treatment, occurred in a number of countries, such as in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, DRC, Eritrea, Ghana, Mauritania, South Africa and Swaziland.

Prison conditions remained grim in many countries, including in Angola, Benin, Burundi, Liberia, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Tanzania.

In spite of a trend towards the abolition of the death penalty in Africa, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan and Somalia executed people sentenced to death, often after unfair trials. There was also one reported execution in Botswana. Gabon abolished the death penalty in law in 2010.

Repression of dissent

Elections in various countries were marred by violence and an increase in human rights violations. In nearly all cases, the human rights violations were committed with total impunity.

Presidential and parliamentary elections in Sudan in April led to a clampdown on freedom of expression. Media outlets were closed down, pre-print censorship was temporarily re-instated and journalists were arrested, some of whom were tortured. Many of the human rights violations were committed by the NISS but the National Security Act, which came into force in February, ensured that agents of the NISS enjoyed immunity from prosecution for human rights violations.

Elections in May in Ethiopia also led to restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly. Opposition parties stated that numerous members and activists were harassed, beaten and arrested prior to the elections, including in the Oromia region.

In Burundi, several people arrested during investigations into a series of grenade attacks before the elections were tortured by the National Intelligence Service. Although the Burundian government publicly stated it would initiate an investigation, no progress was made by the end of the year in holding those responsible to account. The government temporarily banned meetings of political opposition parties.

Rwanda also clamped down on freedom of expression and association before elections in August. Opposition political parties were not allowed to register, political opponents were arrested and a number of media outlets were closed. Journalists fled the country. Broad and ill-defined laws on "genocide ideology" and "sectarianism" were used to unduly restrict freedom of expression. The killings of a prominent politician and a journalist, as well as grenade attacks in which a number of people were killed, contributed to tension and insecurity in the run-up to the elections.

Presidential elections in Guinea led to increased violence and human rights violations. The security forces used excessive force, including by firing indiscriminately at protesters with live ammunition. Dozens of people were arbitrarily arrested during the electoral period and often denied access to their relatives, medical care or legal representation.

In Côte d'Ivoire, the results of the presidential elections in December were not accepted by incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo. Security forces loyal to him were responsible for a number of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests. In spite of political pressure from the UN, the AU and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Laurent Gbagbo refused to leave office, leading to a political stalemate and fears of rising violence.

In numerous other countries the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly were not respected. Human rights defenders, journalists and members of the political opposition were at risk of harassment and intimidation, arbitrary arrest, torture or other ill-treatment, or unlawful killing.

Human rights defenders and activists were arbitrarily arrested and detained in Angola, the Central African Republic, Gambia, Niger and Zimbabwe, where in November the Supreme Court ruled that the 2008 arrest and detention of two members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) was wrongful and that their rights had been violated. The Court also ruled that the state had failed to protect the two human rights defenders from abuse. Human rights defenders received threats in Burundi and prominent human rights defender Floribert Chebeya was killed in the DRC. No progress was made in the investigation in Kenya into the killings of two human rights defenders in 2009, Oscar Kingara and Paul Oulu. In Ethiopia, the Charities and Societies Proclamation came into effect, imposing strict controls on civil society and severely hampering human rights work.

Peaceful demonstrations were banned - or participants arrested - in Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Swaziland and Togo.

Journalists were intimidated, threatened or arbitrarily arrested in Burundi, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, the DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Madagascar, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Political opponents were unlawfully or arbitrarily arrested in Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar, Niger and Togo. In Uganda, police officers and armed men disrupted an opposition rally and beat a number of participants.

In Eritrea, numerous activists, journalists, religious leaders, and others remained in detention, often incommunicado and at risk of ill-treatment.

In some countries, for example Somalia, armed groups such as al-Shabab were responsible for abuses against journalists and human rights defenders, including killings. Armed Islamist groups in Somalia were also responsible for stoning people to death and amputations. In various Sahel countries Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) abducted individuals and held them hostage, killing some of them.

People on the move

Migrants continued to be exposed to discrimination and other human rights violations. Angolan security forces expelled more than 12,000 Congolese nationals between September and the end of December. Dozens of women and some men were reportedly raped during the expulsion and many were subjected to other abuses, arriving naked and without their belongings. Migrants, most of whom came from other West African countries, were arbitrarily detained in Mauritania to prevent them from trying to travel to Europe. Refugees and migrants were physically attacked in various parts of South Africa in spite of increased efforts by the authorities to respond to incidents of violence. Zimbabweans were given a chance to regularize their situation in South Africa.

In July, about 1,700 Rwandan rejected asylum-seekers, together with some recognized refugees, were forcibly returned to Rwanda from Uganda in violation of international law. Tens of thousands of other Rwandan refugees faced losing their refugee status by the end of 2011, putting them at risk of forcible return, partly because of pressure by Rwanda on neighbouring states. Thousands of Burundian refugees remained at risk of forcible return from Tanzania. Two people who were forcibly returned from Germany to Eritrea in 2008 fled once again and were granted refugee status in Germany. They had been detained in inhumane conditions after their forced return to Eritrea. Eritrea continued to implement a "shoot to kill" policy for anyone caught attempting to flee across the border.

Across the continent, millions of people remained displaced as a result of conflict and insecurity either within their own countries or as refugees. Kenya maintained its border closure with Somalia, hindering the assistance and protection of people fleeing from Somalia.

Housing - forced evictions

Millions of people in Africa living in slums and informal settlements were deprived of basic services, such as clean water, health care, education and effective policing. In many countries the authorities ignored their plight and excluded them from national plans and budgets.

Lack of access to water and sanitation often led to further abuses, including sexual violence, as seen in informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya.

There were mass forced evictions in several countries, including Angola, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria, often driving people deeper into poverty. In Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya and Zimbabwe thousands remained at risk of forced evictions. People who had been forcibly evicted in the past were often not given compensation or alternative accommodation and continued to live in destitution and with no security of tenure.

Maternal health

Progress was made in improving maternal health in Africa. Burkina Faso made commitments to lift all financial barriers to emergency obstetric care and access to family planning, but has now to live up to its promises. In Sierra Leone, a free health care service, abolishing user fees for pregnant women and children under five, was launched in April, but shortages of drugs and medical supplies led to problems as more women sought to use health facilities.

Other factors contributing to maternal mortality need to be urgently addressed in many countries, such as harmful traditional practices, discrimination against women, the lack of sexual and reproductive education and the absence of accountability mechanisms.

In July, the AU Assembly committed to a range of actions to reduce maternal mortality. These included spending 15 per cent of the public budget on health, launching a campaign to reduce maternal mortality, and a call for greater accountability in policy and financing decisions. The AU Commission was asked to set up a task force on maternal, newborn and child health to prepare and review reports on progress in the area of maternal and child health.


Violence and discrimination against women and girls continued to devastate their lives, restrict their opportunities and deprive them of their rights. In Sudan, the public order regime was used in the north to harass, arrest and ill-treat women and girls on the grounds of "indecent" or "immoral" dress or behaviour. Tens of thousands of cases of sexual violence were reported to the police in South Africa during the year. In Kenya, a survey indicated high levels of domestic violence, including marital rape, which is not a criminal offence under Kenyan law. In Liberia, the majority of reported rape cases involved girls under the age of 16. In many countries, women and girls subjected to sexual violence had no access to the police or justice system, were encouraged to reach out-of-court settlements, faced high medical costs and were ostracized by their communities. Women continued to be disproportionally affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, especially in southern Africa. Female genital mutilation continued to be practised inmany countries even when prohibited in law, for example in Tanzania.

Discrimination against people based on their perceived or real sexual orientation remained widespread. In Cameroon, people were prosecuted on suspicion of same-sex activities and subjected to ill-treatment. In Malawi, two people were convicted of "gross indecency" and "unnatural acts" and sentenced to 14 years with hard labour. They were pardoned a few weeks later. A newspaper in Uganda published the photos and names of individuals it stated were homosexuals and messages inciting violence.

The authorities failed to publicly denounce the newspaper, and a draconian anti-homosexuality bill remained pending in Parliament.

In Mauritania, the practice of slavery continued even though it is a criminal offence. Police did little to enforce the law and eight antislavery activists were arrested, reportedly ill-treated, and charged for bringing cases to the attention of the police.

Attacks against albino people continued in some countries. In Tanzania, the authorities' response remained inadequate, as they failed to investigate the attacks and past killings thoroughly, or to provide sufficient protection for activists campaigning for the rights of albino people.

During a visit to the Republic of Congo, the UN Special Rapporteur on indigenous people expressed concern about ongoing discrimination. In Eritrea, people continued to be persecuted and imprisoned on religious grounds; only members of permitted faiths were allowed to practise their religion.

The tide is turning

Amnesty International will shortly also celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Since the first Amnesty International reports were published in the mid-1960s, their geographic scope and the range of human rights issues covered have expanded greatly. Numerous other human rights organizations have been created in the past half century, some of them inspired by Amnesty International's campaigning. In many countries in Africa there is now a vibrant civil society, which, although often still repressed, can no longer be ignored by those in power. A lot still needs to be achieved, but the tide is turning.

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