20 January 2013

Africa: Letter to the Chairperson of the African Union


January 18, 2013

H.E. Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini - Zuma

Chairperson, African Union Commission

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Your Excellency,

We write in advance of the 20th Ordinary Summit of the African Union in Addis Ababa, which this year takes place under the theme of "Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance." The summit presents an important opportunity for AU members to strengthen promotion of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law on the continent. Many of the country situations and issues on the summit agenda have a critical human rights dimension that Human Rights Watch would like to bring to your attention.


The current deployment of the African Union/United Nations-supported international military force in Mali raises concerns about the possible human rights challenges such a force could encounter if it is not accompanied by the proper safeguards for civilian protection and human rights monitoring capability. This concern is heightened by Human Rights Watch's research into patterns of abuse perpetrated not only by the Malian security forces but also by the armed forces of countries that potentially will take part in the operation. These concerns are ever more urgent given the recent resumptions of hostilities in Mali.

The AU has a crucial role to play in ensuring that the intervention in Mali does not contribute to further human rights violations in an already insecure environment.

As the international military force will be composed of troops from member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other parts of the continent, the AU should take strong measures to mitigate the risk of further human rights abuses by all sides to the conflict.

Populations in the north of Mali have already suffered serious abuses from combatants on all sides: armed Islamist groups have enforced their interpretation of Sharia law through beatings, amputations, killings, and the destruction of religious landmarks.

Separatist Tuareg rebels were responsible for numerous cases of sexual abuse and widespread pillage. Malian soldiers have arbitrarily detained and in many cases tortured and summarily executed alleged rebel collaborators and members of rival military units. All warring factions in the north have committed extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and looting, and have recruited and used child soldiers.

An international force is conducting operations alongside a weak, fractured and undisciplined Malian army, which contains units and officers implicated in serious abuses.

One such example is the Malian government's recent appointment of coup leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo as the head of the army reform committee, despite the alleged implication of forces under his command in extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention. This poses a particular threat to respect for international human rights and humanitarian law in the context of an AU/UN-supported intervention, as Captain Sanogo appears to be the presumptive interlocutor for the AU/UN-backed force.

Minimizing harm to civilians should be a priority during military operations by all forces. ECOWAS forces should act in full accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law, and with a clear mandate to protect civilians and to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The AU should act to ensure that all credible allegations of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by all parties, including the international force, are promptly, thoroughly, and impartially investigated in accordance with international standards.

In the event the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court decides, according to the Rome Statute, to open an investigation into crimes committed in Mali, the AU should ensure that the international force fully cooperates with the Court, including locating witnesses and evidence; effectively safeguarding witnesses, intermediaries, and all others connected with the investigation; and immediately arresting and promptly turning over persons named in any arrest warrants.


Human Rights Watch calls on AU member states to ensure that respect for international human rights and humanitarian law form a central part of their considerations on the situation in Sudan.

Since the independence of South Sudan in 2011, the human rights and humanitarian situation in Sudan has deteriorated, particularly in the conflict-affected areas of Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur. The situation is becoming more and more urgent.

The fighting between SPLA-North and Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states has been ongoing since mid-2011, and has affected nearly one million people, forcibly displacing hundreds of thousands from both states.

The SAF have continued indiscriminate aerial bombardments in populated areas of both states, in violation of international humanitarian law, while SAF and government-affiliated militia are responsible for other serious abuses against civilians in both states, such as ground attacks on villages, 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.

Sudan has continued to block humanitarian aid groups from accessing areas outside government-controlled towns where civilians are in dire need of food aid. Under the tripartite agreement initiated by the UN, AU and League of Arab States, a memorandum of understanding to deliver humanitarian aid to the two states was signed by Sudan and the SPLM-N in August, but the agreement expired in early November without its measures being implemented.

In Darfur, armed conflict involving government forces and militias versus rebel groups continues, in addition to inter-ethnic clashes over resources. Darfur remains heavily militarized and under a state of emergency.

On 2 November 2012, 13 civilians were killed in an attack on Sigili village in North Darfur. In early August 2012, a militia group attacked Kassab camp for internally displaced persons in North Darfur, looting homes and markets, killing several civilians and forcing the entire population of the camp - some 25,000 people according to UN statements - to flee. Government-aligned militia attacks on villagers near Hashaba in killed hundreds in September and October, according to media reports.

AU/UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) peacekeepers have repeatedly come under attack. On 17 October 2012, a UNAMID peacekeeper was killed and three others were wounded in an ambush by unidentified assailants on their convoy to the site of attacks on civilians in Hashaba, in North Darfur. In a similar incident two weeks earlier in West Darfur, four peacekeepers were killed and eight wounded.

The government of Sudan continues to restrict the movement of the AU/UN peacekeeping mission and nongovernmental organizations, preventing access to large parts of the region.

Although the government and one rebel group, the Liberation and Justice Movement, have begun to implement some parts of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur, such as establishing the Darfur Regional Authority, the government has done little to address human rights violations, including cases of arbitrary arrest and sexual and gender-based violence.

Across Sudan, the government has also used excessive force, mass arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture to crackdown on protests. In June and July, security forces violently dispersed protests in Khartoum and other towns across Sudan, detaining hundreds of protesters and civil society leaders, some for weeks or months.

National security forces subjected many to ill-treatment and torture. In August, government forces violently dispersed student-led protests in Nyala, South Darfur, reportedly killing at least 12 protesters, 10 of whom were under the age of 18.

Finally, we are concerned that Sudan continues to stifle the media and civil society. In November and December 2012 the government closed four nongovernmental organizations that work to promote peace, diversity and democracy, accusing them of undermining national security.

An urgent response is required to resolve the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Sudan.

The AU should treat the situation in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states as a matter of urgency under article 58(3) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, given that "serious or massive human rights violations" are involved and present "the danger of irreparable harm or requires urgent action to avoid irreparable damage."

The AU should urge the government of Sudan to immediately cease indiscriminate aerial bombardments and other violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states and to grant immediate and unfettered access to humanitarian agencies in the conflict-affected areas, in compliance with its obligations under the African Charter and other international law, including applicable humanitarian law, and guiding principles of emergency humanitarian assistance.

On Darfur, the AU should also reiterate its grave concern over the human rights and humanitarian situation, particularly threats to UNAMID peacekeepers and restriction of their access to large parts of Darfur.

Finally, we urge AU member states also to condemn Sudan's violent suppression of peaceful protests, arbitrary arrests and detention of protesters, as well as the increasing repression of critics of the government.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo remains a very serious cause for concern. Over the past nine months, Human Rights Watch has documented widespread war crimes by M23 rebels in eastern Congo, including deliberate killings of civilians, summary executions, rapes and recruitment of children.

Human Rights Watch has also documented significant military support to the M23 from neighboring Rwanda: Rwandan military officials have planned and commanded M23 military operations; supplied weapons, ammunition, uniforms and other equipment; and recruited at least 600 young men and boys in Rwanda to join the rebellion in Congo. Several hundred Rwandan army troops were sent to Congo to support the M23 in its military operations, including the offensive which resulted in the M23 seizing parts of the city of Goma and neighboring villages in November 2012.

Human Rights Watch urges the African Union to publicly press the Rwandan government to stop support for abusive rebel groups such as the M23 and insist that M23 commanders implicated in war crimes be arrested and prosecuted.

Talks between the M23 and the Congolese government, which began in December and resumed in January, appear to be faltering and so far, have made little progress. Without concerted regional and international action, a window of opportunity may be closing to help end the cycle of abuses in eastern Congo. Human Rights Watch encourages the African Union, in pursuing its current efforts to seek short-term and long-term solutions to the conflict, to place human rights and the protection of civilians at the heart of any agreement between the parties.

It should be recognized that impunity for war crimes on all sides has been one of the main factors fuelling abuses during the Congo's conflict, and that all governments have an obligation to promote respect for international humanitarian law, including the investigation and prosecution of alleged war crimes.

Thus the AU should not sanction any agreement which rewards or protects from prosecution M23 commanders or other individuals implicated in war crimes. These include Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by and should be promptly transferred to the International Criminal Court, and several other M23 leaders who are the object of sanctions by the UN Security Council.

As talks continue on the deployment of an African-led intervention brigade as part of the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, consideration should be given to mandating this force to support arrest operations against individuals sought on international and national warrants for war crimes and crimes and humanity committed in eastern Congo.

Human Rights Watch also urges the AU to welcome and support, as appropriate, the Congolese government's efforts to establish mixed Congolese and international chambers, or a mixed court, within Congo's justice system, to fairly try the most serious international crimes committed in Congo since 1990.


Human Rights Watch calls on AU member states to ensure that respect for international human rights and humanitarian law form a central part of their interaction with the new Somali authorities as well as in their engagement as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

The past year saw the end of the transitional authority and the establishment of a new government in Somalia, as well as significant military advances by AMISOM troops into territory held by the Islamist armed group Al-Shabaab. The human rights situation in Somalia nonetheless remains poor.

The state security forces have been implicated in serious violations of fundamental rights that contribute to the insecurity of the population. Human Rights Watch has documented killings of journalists in government-controlled areas and rape and severe restrictions on access to food and shelter of displaced persons.

Foreign forces including Kenyan forces under AMISOM command, as well as Ethiopian forces, have also committed abuses in south-central Somalia during military operations, including indiscriminate shelling.

Since October 2011, Kenyan air and naval forces have indiscriminately bombed and shelled populated areas, killing and wounding civilians and livestock. On August 11, a naval strike on Kismayo resulted in the deaths of at least three civilians, including two boys. Ethiopian forces arbitrarily arrestedand detained and mistreated persons in their custody notably in Beletweyne and Baidoa.

Since AMISOM's deployment in Somalia in 2007, accountability for abuses by AMISOM forces has remained the prerogative of troop contributing countries, which have largely paid lip service to this key issue. The AU should ensure that accountability for abuses during military operations are made a priority.


Human Rights Watch appreciates the AU's willingness to deploy election observer teams to African countries holding elections. This year elections are slated to take place in Kenya in March, and possibly in Zimbabwe before the end of the year.

Human Rights Watch welcomes the deployment of a long-term election observer mission to monitor elections in Kenya. These are the first elections since violent elections that took place in 2007.

They are also the first under the new constitution adopted in 2010. Human Rights Watch has growing concerns about the possibility of election-related violence during these elections. We have documented incidents of ethnic, resource-based and politically motivated violence in the regions of Coast, Northern Kenyaand parts of Nairobi. Across the country, 400 people have been killed and over 200,000 people displaced in 2012 alone. This makes this round of pre-election violence one of the worst since 1992.

The AU should restate its support for the Kofi Annan Panel of Eminent African Personalities which negotiated the coalition government in 2008 and helped bring an end to the violence. With the possibility of post-election violence remaining high in 2013, the continued engagement of the panel is imperative. To this end the AU should consider extending the term of the panel beyond the elections.

The violence in 2007 and 2008 was partly blamed on the existence of organized gangs hired by politicians from different parties to cause violence. Kenya's coalition government committed itself to developing mechanisms of dealing with these gangs ahead of the 2013 elections, but this has not happened. Organized gangs in Central Kenya, Nyanza, Nairobi, Rift Valley and Coast regions continue to instigate violence and intimidate local communities. The AU should call on Kenya to come up with appropriate mechanisms to deal with organized gangs and militia groups.

Of great concern is the lack of justice for the victims of human rights abuses during the 2008 elections. Few perpetrators have been brought to justice for the violence that followed the elections. The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor has charged four high-profile suspects - including two potential candidates in the upcoming elections - with committing crimes against humanity during the post-election violence, but the Kenyan authorities have stalled in responding to requests from the ICC prosecutor for cooperation in bringing the cases before the court.

The Kenyan government has also not upheld its promises to prosecute other cases. This has left those who perpetrated violence during the 2007 elections free to carry out further acts of violence in 2013. The lack of justice has also hindered reconciliation efforts between communities that attacked each other during the 2007 elections. It is vital that the AU summit and individual member states send a strong message that grave abuses need to be investigated and their perpetrators fairly tried.

In Zimbabwe, Human Rights Watch has found that the contending parties, the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have focused on only one aspect of reforms-securing agreement on the necessary legal and administrative requirements for free and fair elections.

However, little attention has been paid to the implementation of the agreed reforms and to securing agreement and ensuring reforms on areas where agreement has not been reached. The unity government has neglected the enforcement of various agreements that would facilitate a rights-respecting environment and the holding of credible, free, and fair elections.

Oppressive laws that were in force in 2008, such as the Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, often abused by ZANU-PF-aligned sections of the police to punish opponents, remain on the statute books. Zimbabwe's highly partisan police force continues to harass and arbitrarily arrest civil society activists and members of the MDC under these laws. Those who dare to criticize Mugabe or peacefully protest against economic and political conditions in the streets can be arrested and beaten or tortured.

In light of the high possibility of violence in the buildup, during and after elections in the country, the AU should provide for early deployment and sufficient numbers of Southern African Development Community (SADC) and AU election observers to Zimbabwe and maintain such monitors for a sufficient period after elections to deter violence and intimidation.

The deployment of long-term AU observer missions to monitor elections on the continent sets an important precedent for averting situations of fraud and violence in the months and weeks leading up to elections.However, the AU's role in elections could be even more strategic, for example, by developing detailed contingency plans in case of significant violence or repression.

Such plans could also include a multi-layered country assessment component whereby the AU consults with the governments of "countries of concern" ahead of the planned elections, conducts an independent election and human rights needs assessment, and provides regular performance evaluations highlighting progress on such issues as legal and institutional reforms in the period leading up to the polls. This kind of approach could assist the AU to develop civilian protection plans and mobilize partners to help preempt and prevent repression and violence.

Human Rights Watch enjoys a positive, productive dialogue with the AU Commission and many AU member states. We look forward to continued dialogue with you and your officials and wish you a fruitful and successful summit.


Tiseke Kasambala,

Advocacy Director

Africa Division, Human Rights Watch

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