July 30, 2009

Dear Secretary Clinton,

Human Rights Watch welcomes your upcoming visit to Africa beginning next week. As you promote economic opportunity and growth in your seven-nation trip, we urge you to also emphasize good governance, respect for human rights, and the rule of law. These are essential to providing the conditions favorable to economic progress in Africa as well as improved security for all Africans.

Human Rights Watch takes this opportunity to offer recommendations on several of the countries you will visit. We appreciate your attention to these important human rights concerns.

Kenya

In Kenya, the first stop on your trip, Human Rights Watch urges you to press government officials to seek accountability for the violence that was orchestrated following the December 2007 elections and to address the conduct of Kenyan security forces. As Kenya's close ally and partner, the US government has a key role to play in urging the Kenyan government to implement key reforms in the security sector and judicial system. Human Rights Watch was encouraged to hear Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson emphasize the importance of ending impunity in Kenya in his speech on July 22 at the National Endowment for Democracy. Human Rights Watch is concerned that without immediate action on these issues, the country will fall victim to a rise in vigilante activities, deepening ethnic divisions, and the risk of broader violence. Kenya's ongoing failure to address impunity should be viewed as an urgent threat to both national and regional stability and as an impediment to economic development and growth.

Only today, Kenya's leaders once again avoided tackling these crucial political problems. The cabinet reneged on its commitment to implement the recommendations of the Waki Commission on post-election violence, having earlier told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that it would either establish a special tribunal to deal with suspects or refer cases to the ICC. The cabinet now claims that existing mechanisms can deliver justice, precisely the outcome that the Waki Commission tried to avoid. Given that senior politicians and government officials stand accused of grave crimes, all sides acknowledge that existing mechanisms are not sufficiently independent for the task.

Your visit is a timely opportunity to deliver clear and unambiguous messages to senior government officials. We ask you to:

  • Urge Kenya to return to the principles of the Waki Commission recommendations, accept that existing judicial mechanisms are not independent, and either promptly enact appropriate legislation for the establishment of a special tribunal on the election-related violence or refer cases to the ICC.
  • Press President Mwai Kibaki to replace Attorney General Amos Wako and Police Commissioner Mohammed Hussein Ali, two individuals who have become important symbols of the government's failure to hold accountable government officials implicated in serious human rights violations. This move, as recommended by UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston in his June report to the UN Human Rights Council, would help instill public confidence in the government's respect for the rule of law.
  • Publicly state that the US may consider the imposition of targeted sanctions, including travel bans, against those deemed most responsible for serious human rights violations.
  • Remind the Kenyan government, as a matter of regional security, to rapidly fulfill its February 2009 pledge to provide more land to help relieve congestion in three chronically overcrowded camps for Somali refugees near Dadaab in northeastern Kenya. The camps, built for 90,000 people, now house 275,000.

Somalia

When you meet with Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the president of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG), we ask you to press him to support the establishment of a commission of inquiry into serious crimes by all the warring parties in Somalia. Somalia's crisis - long one of the most acute on the continent in terms of scale, gravity, and impact on civilians - continues to worsen, displacing hundreds of thousands of Somali civilians within Somalia and into Kenya and other neighboring states. Every party to the Somali conflict has regularly committed serious violations of the laws of war and other abuses, and the absence of accountability has fueled a downward spiral of bloodshed and abuse. While efforts to bolster security are a necessary and justifiable priority, governments promoting them need to recognize that deeply entrenched patterns of impunity for serious abuses have been a primary cause of violence and instability in Somalia.

Given the long history of external interventions exacerbating Somalia's conflict, recent reports that the US government is supplying weapons and financial assistance to the TFG - apparently without the monitoring mechanisms needed to ensure that such assistance is not misused - are also of great concern to Human Rights Watch. We thus ask you to:

  • Support the establishment of a commission of inquiry into human rights abuses in Somalia.
  • Ensure that all training and material assistance to TFG security forces is accompanied by adequate vetting of personnel and the creation of mechanisms to respond to serious abuses when they occur.

South Africa

We understand that while in South Africa, you will urge the new government to play a more active foreign policy role in Africa. We heartily concur with this recommendation, particularly with respect to Zimbabwe, where the South African government should monitor closely the progress of all parties in carrying out their commitments under the Global Political Agreement (GPA).

Based on our research, Human Rights Watch remains skeptical about the extent to which the GPA has contributed to any real improvements in governance. The few changes we have observed have been superficial, at best. In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe's political party, ZANU-PF, retains control of the security establishment and uses it to undermine the rule of law and commit abuses with impunity.

The US government and members of the European Union should maintain sanctions on Zimbabwe until there is evidence of irreversible change and a clear program of institutional reform in the country. These sanctions are aimed at those most responsible for Zimbabwe's abusive human rights environment and those who have profited personally from the country's economic collapse.

To that end, we ask you to press South Africa to:

  • Urge President Mugabe and ZANU-PF to commit to and institute genuine political reforms.
  • Condition the removal of sanctions with Zimbabwe's compliance with the GPA.
  • Encourage Zimbabwe to implement the recommendations of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme and end abuses connected to diamond mining in Marange.
  • Honor its own April 3 commitment to not deport Zimbabwean migrants and asylum seekers and to grant temporary status permits, including work rights, to ensure that the estimated 1.5 million Zimbabweans in South Africa - who are still escaping the effects of the economic meltdown in Zimbabwe - are able to look after themselves and their families back home.

Angola

Human Rights Watch asks you to strongly encourage the Angolan government to rein in its armed forces and to ensure that they abide by international human rights and humanitarian law in Cabinda, Angola's oil-rich enclave, where for 30 years there has been a separatist insurgency. In a June 2009 report, Human Rights Watch found that the Angolan armed forces were arbitrarily detaining people in Cabinda accused on flimsy grounds of affiliation with the insurgency and torturing individuals in custody before presenting them to judicial authorities.

Human Rights Watch is currently completing an investigation of abuses by the Angolan armed forces against refugees and asylum seekers, most of them Congolese, during a mass expulsion of migrants from Angola's diamond-rich areas. Refugees told Human Rights Watch that Angolan army soldiers unlawfully detained them and pillaged their houses in Lunda Norte, near the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some women refugees in this area claimed they were gang-raped in their houses by Angolan army soldiers during the operation.

We ask you to:

  • Urge the Angolan government to take all necessary measures to ensure that the military and intelligence services abide by international human rights and humanitarian law.
  • Ensure that the Angolan government appropriately disciplines or prosecutes military and intelligence officers who commit torture and other serious human rights violations.
  • Advocate for transparency and good governance in Angola's use of oil and diamond revenue, particularly in the areas of education and health.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Your visit to the DRC provides an excellent opportunity to focus a spotlight on the prevalence of sexual violence in the eastern Congo. Despite improved relations between Congo and Rwanda, the situation in eastern Congo has become increasingly catastrophic for the civilian population, especially for women and girls. Since the launch of military operations in December 2008 against the Rwandan Hutu militia, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and the Ugandan armed group the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), rebel forces and Congolese army troops altogether have killed more than 1,500 civilians and raped thousands of women and girls. More than a million people have fled for their lives from these conflict areas, adding to the tens of thousands of others displaced from earlier waves of violence.

Much has been done recently to raise awareness of the use of rape as a weapon of war in Congo, where, since 1998, tens of thousands of women and girls have been raped. Despite such efforts, the prevalence of rape is not decreasing. In nearly all the health centers, hospitals, and rape counseling centers visited by Human Rights Watch in nine frontline locations since January, rape cases had doubled or tripled since the recent resumption of military operations. While all sides continue to use rape and other sexual violence as a weapon of war, soldiers from the Congolese army have perpetrated the majority of rapes.

Military operations, supported by UN peacekeepers, against the foreign rebel groups are not adequately taking into account protection of the civilian population, including women and girls most at risk, and insufficient pressure has been exerted on the Congolese army to stop abuses or punish those responsible. To date, no generals have been prosecuted for crimes of sexual violence. In early July 2009, the government publicly proclaimed a policy of "zero tolerance" for human rights violations by the army. While a step in the right direction, making such a policy a reality will require investigation and prosecution of senior army officials allegedly involved or complicit in sexual crimes.

On your visit to Congo, we urge you to:

  • Press for a new and comprehensive approach toward the FDLR, one that emphasizes protection of civilians, taking into custody those wanted for genocide, and a reformed disarmament and demobilization program, among other measures.
  • Push for accountability to ensure that those responsible for serious human rights abuses, including sexual violence, are prosecuted, regardless of rank.
  • Pledge financial and technical support for the creation of a vetting mechanism to remove abusive officers from the armed forces and for the establishment of a "mixed chamber," staffed by Congolese and international judges and prosecutors, to prosecute serious crimes according to international human rights and humanitarian law and to help overcome the weaknesses of the country's justice system.
  • Demand the arrest of Bosco Ntaganda, a general in the Congolese armed forces who is sought on an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court and who is currently playing a senior role in operations supported by UN peacekeepers. Condition future UN operational support on his removal.
  • Urge a clear and properly resourced international strategy to apprehend and bring to justice LRA commanders wanted by the ICC, plus others implicated in war crimes and crimes against humanity.
  • Pledge serious, high-level, and consistent diplomatic engagement by the US government to help find solutions to the armed conflicts in Congo and the Great Lakes region.

Nigeria

While in Nigeria, we ask you to speak publicly about how, despite Nigeria's tremendous oil wealth, endemic government corruption and mismanagement rob ordinary Nigerians of their basic rights to the highest attainable standard of health and education. President Umaru Yar'Adua of Nigeria, halfway through his presidential mandate, has undermined the country's foremost anti-corruption body, done little to rein in abusive security forces, failed to hold accountable those responsible for election violence and fraud, and taken no effective steps to address the root causes of the ongoing crisis in the Niger Delta or repeated outbreaks of deadly inter-communal violence, which in the past year alone have claimed hundreds of lives.

In a June 5, 2009 letter to President Yar'Adua marking his two years in office, Human Rights Watch proposed a 10-point human rights agenda of concrete steps the Yar'Adua administration should take to address Nigeria's pressing human rights concerns. We ask you to:

  • Raise the concerns contained in Human Rights Watch's 10-point agenda with Nigerian authorities.
  • Emphasize in your meetings the importance of holding government officials accountable for embezzling public funds or sponsoring political violence.
  • Urge improved oversight of state and local government expenditures.

Liberia

The government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has made tangible progress in addressing endemic corruption, creating the legislative framework for respect for human rights, and facilitating economic growth, but little headway in strengthening the rule of law. Frequent incidents of violent crime, mob and vigilante justice, and bloody land disputes continue to claim lives and expose the systemic weaknesses within the police, judiciary, and corrections sectors. Human Rights Watch is concerned about the Liberian government's failure to establish three key commissions that we believe could both reinforce respect for the rule of law and address issues that gave rise to Liberia's brutal armed conflicts: the Independent National Commission on Human Rights, the Law Reform Commission, and the Land Reform Commission.

Liberia's 14 years of armed conflict were characterized by the commission of widespread and systematic violations of human rights. The gravity of these abuses - massacres, mutilations, sexual violence, recruitment and use of children as soldiers - have been tragically illuminated during the public hearings conducted by Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). In June, the TRC released its final report which concluded that "reconciliation cannot be fully achieved without justice" and proposed the establishment of an "Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal for Liberia" to try the most serious offenders.

During your meetings with Liberian government officials, we urge you to:

  • Push for the prompt establishment of the three key commissions on human rights, law reform, and land reform.
  • Pledge international support to improve Liberia's weak justice system to ensure justice for crimes in violation of international human rights law.
  • Stress the importance of fair, credible prosecutions for the most serious crimes committed during Liberia's armed conflicts.
  • Commit to working with the Liberian government as they strategize on the best way forward to achieve both reconciliation and justice.
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We believe that promoting good governance, respect for human rights, and accountability in the areas suggested above will help achieve your stated goal of promoting Africa as a place of opportunity where Africans can realize their great potential.

We are pleased that the Obama administration has vowed to elevate Africa's importance in US foreign policy and we look forward to working with you on these important issues.

Sincerely,

Georgette Gagnon
Executive Director, Africa Division

CC:
Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa