July 31, 2012

The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
United States Department of State
2201 C St, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Clinton,

In light of your forthcoming trip to Africa, we would like to bring to your attention some of our recent research findings and recommendations for many of the countries you will be visiting, including Senegal, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, and South Africa. We hope that you will take the opportunity during your visit to address these issues with your counterparts and speak publicly about these and other human rights concerns. We do not include below information on Malawi, but we would encourage you to praise the positive steps that President Joyce Banda has implemented since taking office.

Senegal

The Hissène Habré Case

Hissène Habré is accused of thousands of political killings and systematic torture when he ruled Chad, from 1982 to 1990, before fleeing to Senegal. After years of stalling by President Abdoulaye Wade, newly elected president Macky Sall has ordered that proceedings against Habré begin by the end of the year. On July 24, Senegal and the African Union (AU) announced a landmark agreement to create “Extraordinary African Chambers” with African judges in the Senegalese justice system and to begin pre-trial investigations in October.

The United States has been a key player in encouraging Senegal to bring Habré to justice. Your letter to President Wade last September and your June report to Congress calling on Senegal to take “concrete steps” to bring Habré to justice both helped catalyze action. Habré’s trial, if conducted fairly and expeditiously, will be a significant milestone in the fight against impunity in Africa.  We hope that you will therefore be publicly supportive of Senegal’s current efforts to try Habré domestically, and that the United States will join other international donors that have agreed to finance the trial by offering a substantial contribution. 

Forced Begging of Children

In a 2010 report, Human Rights Watch documented the system of exploitation and abuse of at least 50,000 boys known as talibés – the vast majority under age 12 and many as young as four – forced to beg on Senegal's streets for long hours under the guise of getting a Quranic education.  We documented widespread physical abuse, including severe beatings and several cases in which children had been chained or bound for failing to hand over to their Quranic teacher a required daily amount of money from begging. Many boys run away from these abusive residential schools and become almost permanent street children.

Senegal has the laws necessary to protect these boys from exploitation, in particular a 2005 law that criminalizes trafficking and forcing others into begging for personal financial gain. However, the previous government largely failed to take concrete steps to enforce the law, helping ensure that more boys would fall victim to abuse.

During your visit to Senegal, we hope that you will discuss with President Sall the importance of authorities applying the law against forced child begging and trafficking, as well as laws against physical violence toward children. In addition to prosecutions, it is essential that the Sall government take steps to regulate the Quranic education system, which, with a few exceptions, has been subject to almost no state oversight.

South Sudan

South Sudan, which on July 9 celebrated the one-year anniversary of its independence, faces significant human rights challenges. Human Rights Watch has recently called on the government of South Sudan to free all unlawfully detained prisoners, guarantee freedom of speech, and accelerate ratification of key international human rights treaties. In addition, we have urged that security forces be held to account for ongoing human rights abuses. The failure to pursue justice for serious crimes is a longstanding problem in South Sudan, a country with limited law enforcement capacity and a vast territory.  The improvement of the justice and prison systems in South Sudan is essential.

Human Rights Watch has reported extensively on indiscriminate bombings in civilian areas, killings, and other serious abuses by Sudanese armed forces in the border areas of Sudan and South Sudan. We ask that you emphasize in your meetings in Juba the critical importance of humanitarian access to Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

Uganda

Excessive Use of Force by Police and Military

Security forces’ unjustified use of lethal force remains a significant problem in Uganda. In protests in September 2009, at least 40 persons were killed, but there has been no meaningful attempt to investigate and prosecute those responsible. Again, in April 2011 during the "Walk to Work" demonstrations, military and police shot and killed nine people. The government has not conducted criminal investigations into the April killings and other state abuses, although there was one arrest for the killing of a child.

During your visit to Uganda, we ask you to raise the importance of accountability for the excessive use of force by police, military, and ad-hoc security units during the 2009 Kayunga protest and the 2011 "Walk to Work" demonstrations. We urge you to press the police and prosecutors to conduct credible investigations and bring charges against those found responsible, including commanders who ordered the use of live ammunition where there was no imminent lethal threat.

Crackdown on Civil Society

In the last two years, government officials at both the national and local levels have deployed an array of tactics to intimidate and obstruct the work of NGOs in certain sectors. Organizations focused on evidence-based research and advocacy on more controversial issues—transparency in the oil sector, compensation and reparations for land acquisitions and sales, political reform, and protection of human rights, including the rights of LGBT people—have decreasing room to maneuver. The methods used range from closing meetings and workshops, demanding apologies, and occasional physical violence, to threats, harassment, and heavy-handed bureaucratic interference to impede NGO registration and operations. Recent, increasing use of these tactics is obstructing the work and impact of the NGO sector and, more broadly, obstructs Ugandans’ rights to free expression, association, and assembly.

We encourage you to raise concerns over the restrictions of freedom of expression and association given the current threats to civil society in Uganda and call on the government to take concrete steps to foster an environment in which civil society can operate freely on a full range of subjects—including oil sector management, corruption, governance, land sales, and human rights, including the rights of LGBT people.

Regional Security: Rwanda and the DRC

The Ugandan government should urgently investigate reports that armed combatants in military uniform have crossed from Ugandan territory into neighboring eastern Democratic Republic of Congo at and near Bunagana in July 2012, allegedly to support the M23 rebellion led by ICC war crimes suspect Bosco Ntaganda. Human Rights Watch and a UN Group of Experts on Congo have independently documented the supply of recruits, arms and ammunition from the Rwandan military to the M23 rebels. Congolese civil society organizations reported last week that soldiers also came from Uganda into Congo to support the rebels’ latest offensive.

Uganda should ensure that there is no support, whether official or unofficial, from Uganda or which passes through Ugandan territory, in aid of Ntaganda or other M23 leaders responsible for serious human rights violations.

The United States sent a strong signal to the Rwandan government on July 21, condemning Rwandan support to the M23 rebels by cutting $200,000 of US military assistance to Rwanda. The US government should inform the Ugandan government that it could take similar action with respect to Uganda if there is clear evidence of support from Ugandan actors as well.

Kenya

Kenya’s general elections are slated for March 2013, yet few perpetrators have been brought to justice for the violence following the 2007 elections. The International Criminal Court has charged four high-profile suspects – including two presidential aspirants – with crimes against humanity for the post-election violence, but the Kenyan government has not upheld its promises to prosecute other cases. In the Mt. Elgon region, killings and enforced disappearances committed by the army and a militia group from 2006 to 2008 remain unpunished. Meanwhile, Kenya’s security forces are committing abuses against ethnic Somalis in North Eastern province. Judicial and police reforms currently underway provide some hope for accountability.

Human Rights Watch’s top advocacy priorities for Kenya include the creation of a special mechanism to prosecute those responsible for violence after the 2007 election. We also urge you to press for greater accountability by police and security forces, which, according to our field-based investigations, continue to commit torture, beatings, arbitrary arrests, and unauthorized searches of homes. 

South Africa

The controversial Protection of State Information Bill (the Secrecy Bill) remains a major concern in light of its restrictions on freedom of expression, press freedom, and democratic accountability.  Ever since the bill was introduced in March 2010, it has been subject to serious criticism as being inconsistent with South Africa’s constitution and human rights obligations. The bill has been amended over the past few years, but the draft version still omits a public interest defense. The absence of this clause means that journalists, whistleblowers, and others could be imprisoned for up to 25 years for leaking or sharing information deemed classified by the government and which exposes corruption, mismanagement, or malfeasance, even in the face of a compelling public interest.

We ask that you call on the government of South Africa to amend the Protection of State Information Bill to ensure that it conforms to international standards on freedom of expression, including by providing a public interest defense. 

Thank you, once again, for your attention to these concerns.

Sincerely,
Daniel Bekele
Executive Director
Africa Division