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Human Rights Watch World Report 1998


Human Rights Developments

African Solutions to African Problems

The year 1997 saw a major political realignment of the African continent, with the sudden collapse of the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire before the troops of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL), led by Laurent Kabila. The installation of Kabila as head of state of the renamed Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) brought to international attention a political trend underway since the late 1980s. Kabila joined President Museveni of Uganda and the rulers of Rwanda, Ethiopia and Eritrea as the newest representative of a "new generation" of African leaders. Kabila's conquest, with its dependence on assistance from neighboring states, also demonstrated that some African rulers were shedding old rules regarding the inviolability of territorial integrity and "non-interference" in the internal affairs of other states.

While in many cases the new rulers had replaced governments distinguished primarily by the extreme repression they had inflicted on their own populations-in Rwanda a government guilty of genocide-the slogan of "African solutions to African problems" seemed designed also to disguise a rejection of the interdependence of human rights in some domains, and a refusal to permit autonomous monitoring of those rights in others.

Old Wine in New Bottles: The Emerging Political Systems in East and Central Africa

In Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda, the parts of southern Sudan controlled by the rebel Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army (SPLA), and in the DRC, leaders claimed that the interests of stability required and justified the restriction of political rights.

In this view, most African states were not ready for multiparty democracy and would become so only after the development of a thriving economy and an established middle class. The political systems the new leaders advocated were characterized by restrictive legal structures that undercut core democratic values of freedom of association and speech. Opposition parties, civil society, and the media were permitted to exist, but only to the extent that they agreed not to challenge the party in power. Despite claims to the contrary, the ideology appeared to be a reinstatement of one-party rule, with the one difference that countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda, not only tolerated but actively encouraged private enterprise.

In Uganda during 1997 Museveni's National Resistance Movement (NRM), in power since 1986, continued to implement its "no-party" political system, and placed increasingly severe restrictions on the activities of political parties. The 1995 constitution had already restricted the functioning of political parties by prohibiting a wide range of political activities. A bill that was under consideration as of this writing, the Political Party Bill of 1997, would further regulate the activities of political parties.

The Ethiopian government did not tolerate party politics, cracked down on critical reporting in the media, and aggressively sought to subdue labor and professional associations and other emerging civil society organizations.

In Eritrea, the governing People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) was the sole party operating in the country. Eritrean officials were on record dampening expectations of an early introduction of a multiparty system. Severe restrictions on civil society and core freedoms including freedom of expression persisted in 1997.

In Rwanda, increasingly tight control by the military made clear how far the government had moved from the apparently civilian coalition established after the victory of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA). The RPA clearly dominated the new Rwandan government, prevented public activities by opposition political parties, and discouraged the development of civil society.

In the DRC, once installed in Kinshasa, the new government did not encourage much hope of a departure from the practices of its predecessor. It disbanded peaceful marches and imposed stifling restrictions on the broadcast media.

Kenya, Burundi, Sudan and possibly Tanzania, were the only holdouts against the general pattern of the emerging system in east and central Africa. Yet the government of Daniel arap Moi in Kenya, despite a formal commitment to a multiparty system, displayed almost as much intolerance of political opposition as the "new" leaders in neighboring countries. The Kenyan government met the clamor for greater political freedom with police repression.

The military government of Burundi continued to curb political activity in 1997. Although the National Assembly and political parties were tolerated and recommenced their activities in late 1996, they functioned under severe impediments.

Sudan's National Islamic Front (NIF) used the power and structures of the state to consolidate its hegemony. The government continued its enforcement of severe restrictions on fundamental rights.

Forced Migration and Abuses of Civilians in Armed Conflict

One of the most overt manifestations of the new distribution of power in central Africa, and of the willingness of African leaders to step in to "solve" African problems, was the forced return of Rwandan refugees from Zaire, Tanzania, and Burundi beginning in late 1996. These vast population movements created a humanitarian and security crisis of mammoth proportions on the continent, already host to the largest number of refugees and displaced persons in the world.

During the campaign to overthrow the Mobutu government, the ADFL attacked refugee camps established in eastern Zaire. Some of those driven out of the camps were participants in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda; others were innocent, victims of developments beyond their control. The ADFL forces, often led by Rwandans, hunted down those in flight, killing many thousands of civilians as well as armed elements and preventing humanitarian agencies from delivering the food, water and medicine needed to keep the remainder alive. Mobutu's Zairian Armed Forces (Forces Armées Zairoises, FAZ), Rwandan interahamwe militia, and mercenaries also committed gross violations of international humanitarian law. Following the installation of Kabila's government, ADFL forces continued to use excessive force against civilians, in an attempt to put down rebellions in the eastern part of the country.

The events in Zaire had been preceded by less brutal but no less serious violations of international refugee law in other countries hosting Rwandan refugees. In late 1996, the Tanzanian government had given an ultimatum for approximately 600,000 Rwandans to leave by December 31, 1996. The Tanzanian authorities used teargas and batons to push refugees over the border. A similar forced repatriation of approximately 80,000 Rwandan refugees had taken place from Burundi in October and November 1996.

In Rwanda, meanwhile, government soldiers and rebel forces engaged in large-scale massacres of civilians and other abuses. In Burundi, both government forces and various guerrilla movements massacred civilians identified by their ethnicity in efforts to establish control over different regions. The government forced hundreds of thousands of civilians into regroupment camps where they were abused by soldiers and often suffered from lack of food and medicine.

The refugee crisis facing Africa was not limited to the Great Lakes region. Violence in the coastal provinces of Kenya displaced an estimated 100,000. Some four million displaced persons in Sudan, the largest such population in the world, continued to suffer from the government's efforts to hamper or seriously delay assistance from the large U.N. relief operation. Three major rebel forces, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), the West Nile Bank Front (WNBF), and its off-shoot the Ugandan National Rescue Front II (UNRF II) that challenged the Uganda People's Defense Forces (UPDF), the government army, were all responsible for serious abuses of human rights. The LRA, in particular, regularly abducted children. An estimated 240,000 civilians were displaced by the fighting between the LRA and government troops. The Uganda government encouraged civilians to leave their homesteads and move into "protected camps" in close proximity to military bases but where conditions were poor. In western Uganda, a similar humanitarian crisis was developing because of the fighting between the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and the UPDF.

In the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), previously a relatively stable contrast to Zaire/Congo-Kinshasa, presidential elections scheduled for July were postponed as the country sank into a full-scale civil war between the forces of President Pascal Lissouba and those fighting on behalf of ex-President Denis Sassou-Nguesso. Sassou-Nguesso's fighters captured the capital, Brazzaville, on October 16, with Angolan government assistance. An estimated 3,000 civilians were killed by the fighting and thousands more fled the capital; approximately 33,000 of them crossing the Congo river to Kinshasa.

In Sierra Leone, a civilian government elected in 1996 was overthrown on May 25, 1997 by soldiers in alliance with the Rebel United Front (RUF), a brutal rebel force that had waged a six-year war against successive governments. Hundreds of civilians were killed in indiscriminate shelling and almost 40,000 refugees fled to neighboring Liberia or Guinea, leaving behind those who would face soaring food prices and starvation. Meanwhile, despite the end of the Liberian civil war, almost 500,000 Liberian refugees remained in neighboring countries. During 1997 there were also increased clashes between Senegalese government army troops and the Movement of the Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), a rebel group advocating independence for the Casamance region of southern Senegal. Hundreds of civilians lost their lives in this conflict.

Once again, the dismal plight of Angola's people, precariously caught between war and peace, blighted the southern African region's hopes for progress. Some 300,000 Angolan refugees remained in neighboring countries, although several thousand returned to Angola independently. An estimated million or more people displaced people inside Angola were also unable or unwilling to return to their homes because of insecurity.

Weapons flows continued to both the Angolan government and the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) despite the peace accord. In the Great Lakes region too, as in Sudan, proliferation of weapons encouraged human rights abuses.

Progress and Setbacks in Democratization

Despite the dispiriting news from the countries that captured the headlines during 1997, many African countries continued to make progress, however hesitant, toward the establishment or consolidation of democratic governments. A score of countries were headed by leaders that had been chosen in elections judged by international observers to have been free and fair. Nevertheless it was evident that much improvement was still needed.

In West Africa, flawed-some would say rigged-elections, inadequate electoral preparations, boycotts, and widespread election-related violence were the hallmarks of presidential, parliamentary, and municipal elections in Cameroon, Gabon, and Togo during the year.

In Cameroon, in the run up to both presidential and parliamentary elections, repeated affirmations by President Paul Biya of commitment to "democracy building" were belied by his government's conduct. In the absence of an independent electoral commission to oversee the process, the government harassed opposition party members, intimidated voters, restricted movement in the opposition stronghold of John Fru Ndi's Social Democratic Front, banned opposition campaigning in one district, and engaged in questionable voter-registration and ballot-counting practices which disenfranchised many and provided multiple registration to others. At the same time, the government engaged in a campaign against the independent press, harassing and arresting journalists for criticizing government officials, policies and practices, and shutting down newspapers at will, sometimes seizing editions at newsstands. Cameroon's three main parties boycotted the presidential polls.

In neighboring Gabon, political tension escalated amidst disorganization and mismanagement during the run up to staggered parliamentary polls held in December 1996 and January and February 1997. Allegations of electoral fraud dominated the process. Similarly, in Togo, controversy related to electoral fraud and blatant political manipulation dominated the news headlines relating to elections.

Legislative elections in Burkina Faso, however, were comparatively free of allegations of mismanagement and fraud, even though the ruling CDP-headed by President Blaise Campaore-took over 90 percent of the seats. The government reexamined two bills which had already been approved, concerning the structure of the national electoral commission and the electoral code, due to demands from the political opposition and civil society.

In Mali too, though April elections for the National Assembly were marred by poor organization and widespread confusion at polling stations, several factors helped redeem Mali's tarnished democratic credentials. First, the elections were supervised by an independent electoral commission composed of ten government representatives, ten members of civil society, seven members of the opposition and seven from the ruling party. Second, the results were annulled by a Constitutional Court that found the irregularities to be technical, rather than manipulative, in nature. The government respected the Constitutional Court decision, and fresh elections were held (which were easily won by the ruling party). Additionally, Mali boasted a free press.

The demand for an independent electoral body was a focus of political controversy during the year in Senegal. Finally, President Diouf agreed to the creation of a National Electoral Observatory. While the Observatory would include opposition representatives, it would, however, have a purely supervisory mandate. Elections would continue to be organized by the Ministry of Interior.

For Liberia, 1997 was the year its brutal seven-year war ended, through an election on July 19 that swept former faction leader Charles Taylor and his party into power with 75 percent of the vote. International observers judged the poll to be free and fair. Following his victory, President Taylor stated that he would head a government that respected human rights. Liberian and international observers were encouraged but skeptical of this claim, given Taylor's reputation as a warlord.

Nigeria remained the most significant country not at war to fail to join the trend to democratization of the continent. Gen. Sani Abacha continued to implement a "transition program" supposedly to lead to free and fair elections, but blatant manipulation of the process deprived it of all credibility. The rule of law edged closer to collapse, as the government ignored court orders and arbitrarily detained opposition members, human rights activists and journalists.

Southern Africa: Hope for the Future

Many of the most positive developments on the continent during 1997 came from Southern Africa, as the region benefited from South Africa's continuing transformation to a democratic state and its generally positive engagementwith its neighbors. In South Africa itself, so much had changed that it was easy to forget how recently South Africa had ceased to be under the yoke of apartheid. Despite clouds on the horizon-notably the threat of violent crime and repressive response, but also the failure of the government to deliver on many of its pre-election promises-the progress was impressive. As regards its external policy, however, South Africa seemed to vacillate between real support for human rights principles-as in its leading position within the international movement to ban landmines-and short-sighted "realism" based only on building geopolitical alliances-as in its decision to resume arms supplies to Rwanda, despite good evidence of abuses committed against its own citizens by the Rwandan government.

The change of government in South Africa influenced developments in its closest neighbors, as political landscapes continued to adjust to new regional geopolitical realities. Throughout 1997, Swaziland remained in the throes of a constitutional crisis, as one of the world's last remaining absolute monarchies fiercely resisted domestic and international pressure-including pressure from the South Africa government and labor movement-for a transition towards a constitutional monarchy. Lesotho, too, theoretically a constitutional monarchy with a multiparty system for some years, was gripped by a constitutional crisis for much of 1997. On the whole, the omens were good that neither country could resist the subregional trend to genuine democratization and accountable government much longer.

In Botswana, long one of the most politically and economically stable African countries, a tradition of democratic government strengthened during 1997, as the opposition to the ruling party became more lively and coherent. Following a referendum, the country amended its constitution to lower the voting age, to create an independent electoral commission that would have multiparty representation, and to limit future presidents to two terms of office. In Namibia, by contrast, rumors persisted of plans to amend the country's constitution to allow President Sam Nujoma to run for the presidency for a third term on the grounds that he was still a "young man."

In Malawi and Mozambique, both countries with terrible legacies to overcome, 1997 saw continuing progress in the consolidation of democracy. Despite three decades of repressive rule by former president Kamuzu Banda, hardly good training for consensus and coalition building, the government of President Bakili Muluzi in Malawi made steady progress, even without a parliamentary majority. And in Mozambique, human rights practices continued to improve, although political and legal institutions remained fragile and the economy one of the poorest in the world.

It was a turbulent year in politics in Zimbabwe. Although President Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union won elections easily, his government faced popular protest at a level not seen before. Impoverished veterans of the liberation war, outraged that apparently healthy cabinet ministers were drawing generous disability pensions, demonstrated in Harare. Other civil society groups maintained vigorous criticism of the government. Zimbabwe's Supreme Court demonstrated its independence by striking down legislation that gave the ruling party sole access to large sums of state money. In response to criticism from human rights groups, the government proposed new legislation to replace the draconian Law and Order (Maintenance) Act. However, the new bill would retain several of the restrictive aspects of the latter. Restrictions on fundamental rights remained in practice in place, and in many respects Zimbabwe remained a one-party state.

The performance of Zambia, once regarded as one of the brightest hopes for democratization in Africa, was the most disappointing in the region. Discredited and facing near bankruptcy, the Chiluba government made superficial improvements regarding its human rights record during 1997, with a view to addressing this obstacle to aid flows being resumed.


The events of the year once again demonstrated the importance of ensuring that those responsible for past abuses of human rights be made accountable, if a transition program is to be successful. In this context, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission continued to attract international attention as one of the most original and positive efforts in Africa and in the world to ensure accountability during a transition process.

In Liberia, however, international efforts to negotiate peace dispensed with accountability in an effort to find a political solution; the peace accord that ultimately led to the installation of the Taylor government granted a "general amnesty to all persons and parties involved in the Liberian civil conflict in the course of actual engagements."

Where trials of former rulers did take place, often after total victory in war-or even total victory in elections-they were often stalled by lack of court resources or lack of evidence. In Ethiopia, the trial of the seventy-two top-ranking officials of the former military government of the Derg were still pending by the last quarter of 1997. Malawi's Supreme Court in July dismissed an appeal by the government against the acquittal of former dictator Kamuzu Banda on murder charges, finding that the government's appeal was "a hopeless case."

In Rwanda, military and administrative officials responded to the massive return of Rwandans from abroad by arresting many accused of genocide. They made these arrests often without legal authority. Against the negativebackdrop of increasing violence by both the government and the insurgents, the beginning of trials for genocide offered one sign of hope, even though the first trials failed to meet international standards in several respects.

Under a new team of administrators and prosecutor, the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda (ICTR), began to show signs of recovery from previous professional and administrative maladies.

It seemed self-evident that a year following the endorsement by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) summit of a "plan of action to end impunity in Africa," African leaders should support, facilitate and encourage the investigations of the large-scale slaughter of civilians in Congo. However, representatives of African states, meeting in Kinshasa at the invitation of OAU Chairman and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, expressed their support for Kabila in the face of accusations of mass killings. They denounced with "dismay the persistent unsubstantiated disinformation campaign against the Democratic Republic of Congo" and "condemned this campaign of vilification and the unjustified pressures being exerted on the Democratic Republic of the Congo." Rwanda, Uganda, and Angola were joined in their uncritical support for the new government by South African President Nelson Mandela, who referred to Kabila as "an outstanding figure, a dynamic leader" and appeared ready to accept Kabila's assurances that allegations of massacres were false.

In Zimbabwe, a report compiled by the Catholic Commission on Justice and Peace alleged that 3,000 innocent people had been murdered and many more made victims of gross atrocities when the government suppressed a 1980s rebellion in the Matabeleland region. Mugabe claimed that the reports about such abuses were only meant to cause trouble, and justified the actions of the army as having been committed during a time of war. In Namibia, the ruling South West African Peoples' Organization (SWAPO) still failed to provide a complete account of detainees who went missing during the period before independence.

Regional and subregional organizations

A notable feature of 1997 was the apparent invigoration of regional bodies in Africa including the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), which discussed a strengthening of its institutions; and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which intervened in Sierra Leone just as its Cease-fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) was winding down its operation in Liberia. An inter-African peacemaking-cum-peacekeeping force, the Mission de Suivi des Accords de Bangui (MISAB), with troops drawn from Mali, Senegal, Chad, and Gabon, was tasked to monitor the January 25 Bangui peace agreement in Central African Republic. Commanded by a Malian general and ex-President Amadou Toumani Touré of Mali, MASIB forcibly disarmed ex-mutineers and their civilian allies in support of President Ange-Félix Patassé. MISAB's mandate was extended to cover scheduled 1998 elections. Nevertheless, actions taken by these bodies responded to geopolitical considerations in which human rights considerations appeared largely absent.

SADC, the strongest subregional mechanism in Africa, benefited from the leadership of South Africa. In a September speech at the annual SADC summit, held in Blantyre, Malawi, President Nelson Mandela of South Africa implored his colleagues to think seriously about their commitment to democracy and human rights if the organization was to retain its credibility. Mandela strenuously argued that SADC's basic principles of respect for each member state's sovereignty and of non-interference in each other's national interest could not blunt its common concern for democracy and human rights. Mandela went on: "The right of citizens to participate unhindered in political activities in the country of their birthright is a non-negotiable basic principle to which we all subscribe. We, collectively, cannot remain silent when political or civil movements are harassed and suppressed through harsh state action." He then posed what he termed difficult questions that had nonetheless to be addressed by SADC. These included: "Can we continue to give comfort to member states whose actions go so diametrically against the values and principles we hold so dear and for which we struggled for so long and so hard?"

Yet despite the robust principled fervor in Mandela's speech, the same SADC summit went on to admit the Democratic Republic of Congo to membership despite the international outcry over the large-scale massacres of civilians and Congo's blockage of international efforts to investigate them.

Within ECOWAS, Nigeria overshadowed its smaller and less powerful neighbors; yet the ECOWAS states also showed themselves for perhaps the first time prepared to resist Nigeria's adventurism. When Nigeria asked for retrospective endorsement for its armed intervention in Sierra Leone, ECOWAS states mandated it only to maintain a blockade designed to drive out the coup leaders, and not to engage in further offensive military action. While ECOWAS condemned the military coup in Sierra Leone, with Nigeria the chair of the body, there was no possibility of similar condemnation of the military regime in Nigeria itself, still less of a call for sanctions.

The Right to Monitor

The rapid growth of indigenous human rights organizations continued, although the democratic space that was available for domestic and international groups to monitor respect for human rights in Africa varied widely. A few governments, including South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius and Mali, showed a genuine commitment to pluralism and in these countries civil society flourished. In other countries, such as Mozambique, while civil society was still comparatively weak, private monitoring groups expanded their scope significantly. Elsewhere, for example in Kenya or Zambia, sophisticated local monitoring groups resisted government attempts to close down their activities. In certain historically closed societies, such as Mauritania, human rights groups made progress in carving out space for themselves even though serious government restrictions on such activity remained in place. But in several countries including, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Rwanda, governments refused to permit autonomous monitoring.

National Human Rights Commissions

Almost as striking as the growth in nongovernmental organizations in Africa has been the trend to establish national human rights commissions, government-funded but nominally independent. Countries where national commissions functioned during 1997 included Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Malawi, Zambia, and South Africa. Emerging from electoral success in July, President Charles Taylor joined this trend by announcing plans for the creation of a commission on human rights, though as of this writing, its terms of reference were still being drafted. In Rwanda, as well, the national assembly was working on legislation to establish a human rights commission.

The challenge that faced these national commissions was whether their actions would help to improve government respect for human rights in practice and bring relief to victims of abuse. Human rights commissions were generally timid and shied away from thorough investigations. Often mandates were tightly limited and jurisdictions narrow. Commissioners were often closely associated with the appointing authorities.

Questions affecting their significance included the following: Would the commissions possess real investigatory power? Could the commissions institute real and serious investigations? Would the commissions go beyond perfunctory investigations and pursue agendas that encompass issues of national importance? Did the commissions have the requisite budget and infrastructure? Did the commissions have the independence required to investigate the government's actions and make public their findings? Ultimately, the real test of the national human rights commissions in Africa would be in their actions.

South Africa's Human Rights Commission, showed the greatest signs of taking an active part in criticizing the government and actively pressing human rights concerns. In October it issued its first subpoena against a government department.

The activities of Ghana's Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice also generated wide publicity and demonstrated how such bodies, even when initially apparently created by a government in the belief that they would take no action, can nevertheless develop lives of their own.

But less independent commissions in Zambia, Kenya and Nigeria boded ill for their possibilities of robust defense of human rights in the future.

The Role of the International Community

Human rights crises in Africa loomed large on the international landscape during 1997. Though even in the most difficult situations the means to act , were available, the conviction needed to take firm action to protect human rights was often lacking. Responses to Africa's problems continued to be fire brigade and bandaging operations that at most, only achieved short term and often cosmetic improvements. Many responses caused, or had potential for causing, more harm than good.

Perhaps of most concern was the forgiving attitude to violations committed by the new brand of leadership that championed the mantra "African solutions to African problems." These leaders were for the most part young, dynamic, educated, articulate, and extremely media savvy. The curious blend of idealism and ruthlessness, principle and pragmatism fascinated Western policy makers and the media. The erosion of human rights standards was adroitly explained away by the leadership as being the necessary cost of getting these countries on track after many years of political mismanagement. Further, in select cases, their geostrategic alliances, especially with Washington, rendered them significantly immune to international pressure. The ability of some of these governments to show economic success made them particularly attractive and acceptable to the major Western donors.

The international community was quick to overlook or excuse repressive tendencies by these "soldier princes" on the grounds that, compared to the past, they had brought improvements such as greater political stability, economicprosperity, and democratization. This comparative approach to human rights set a disturbing pattern which allowed for some African states to be held to a different, and lesser, set of human rights standards.

The international role with regard to over a million Rwandans that fled to the DRC in 1994 typified the international failure of leadership. The international community preferred to pay the high cost of upkeep for the camps, U.S.$ 1 million a day at one point, to the costs-financial, military and political-of separating genuine refugees from the military and others who had no right to this status.

When the ADFL attacked the camps, the international community once more addressed simply the humanitarian issues of facilitating repatriation and delivery of aid. Having decided against armed intervention, the international community was reduced to repeatedly deploring the ADFL attacks against refugees and obstruction of humanitarian assistance. In the face of reports of large-scale atrocities, they engaged in public protestations and private diplomacy, all which seemed equally ineffective. Even after the United Nations special rapporteur on Zaire, Roberto Garretón, presented evidence that massacres had occurred in his April 2, 1997 report to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the U.N. made no intervention that might have averted subsequent slaughter. All along it seemed that the international community acted as if focus and firmness in demanding justice was an obstacle to stability and prosperity for the region, rather than its precondition.

Moreover, by sitting mute on the sidelines, the international community became an unwilling accessory to a radical erosion of one of the great humanitarian postulates which had come to be a major plank in international relations since World War II: the right to non-refoulement, that nobody should be coerced to return to a homeland where he or she had reason to fear abuse. By remaining silent and by participating in the forced return of Rwandan refugees from what was then Zaire and Tanzania, the international community had shamefully abandoned its responsibility to protect refugees.

United Nations

The turbulent events in the Great Lakes region forced the U.N.'s structures to focus on conflict resolution and management. In September 1997, the U.N. Security Council held a ministerial meeting to consider the need for concerted international efforts to promote peace and security in Africa. The council asked the secretary-general to produce a report by February 1998 containing concrete recommendations regarding the sources of conflict in Africa, ways to prevent and address these conflicts, and how to lay the foundation for durable peace and economic growth.

For his part, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated that he believed Africa was entering a "new wave of progress," based on peace, democracy, human rights, and sustainable development-the "pillars of good governance." He noted a "new consensus that the primary responsibility for the solution of Africa's problems rests with Africans themselves."

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) appeared unable, and in some cases unwilling, to fully address the complexities of the refugee crises that unfolded in the Great Lakes region. The waning support by African governments and the international community for protection of refugee rights, the unchecked militarization within and attacks on refugee camps, threats to UNHCR staff, and increased weapons flows further obstructed the ability of UNHCR to provide safety and assistance to refugees.

UNHCR initially remained silent in the face of the forced repatriation of Rwandan refugees in late 1996, but became more vocal toward the end of 1997 as criticism mounted against the agency for its retreat from protection. Only after the bulk of Rwandan refugees remaining in Zaire/Congo had been slaughtered or subjected to extreme hardship did UNHCR begin to protest more strongly. For instance, in September, UNHCR strongly protested the forced repatriation of some 800 Rwandan and Burundian refugees (some 550 of whom were women and children) from Kisangani in the DRC who to Rwandan by the Kabila government.

The silence of UNHCR this year was made worse by the realization that the Rwandan refugee crisis might have been mitigated had greater efforts been taken by UNHCR, with the assistance of the international community, to exclude human rights violators and military elements from the refugee population at the outset. Following the clearing of the camps in the DRC, UNHCR initiated this kind of exclusion in the Central African Republic, Gabon and Malawi. For the Rwandan refugees, it was a case of too little, too late, but these were nonetheless commendable initiatives that should be strengthened for the future.

U.N. assistance and protection for the internally displaced remained disjointed and unfocused. Due to the lack of a U.N. agency with an exclusive mandate to the deal with the internally displaced, U.N. programs continued to be run on an ad hoc basis with varying degrees of success. Recognizing this limitation, the U.N. administrative reforms unveiled by the secretary-general in July, specifically stated that the U.N. needed to improve its programs for the internally displaced. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) played a larger role in reintegration programsfor the internally displaced, although its programs continued to dodge the protection and human rights needs of the displaced. Although efforts to address this fundamental omission were underway at UNDP, they remained at the initial stages of policy formulation.

In Rwanda, the U.N. human rights field office restricted its representatives to the capital and other secure regions after five of its employees were killed in an ambush. Only in mid-year did it resume vigorous reporting on military massacres of civilians and the killing of detainees by the authorities. By skillful negotiation, Rwanda succeeded in replacing a U.N. special rapporteur with a far less powerful special envoy. Moreover, immediately after the U.N. human rights field office published reports on military massacres of civilians and other abuses, the Rwandan government intensified its campaign to end the operation of the field office. Burundi excluded altogether the special rapporteur named to monitor its compliance with human rights standards.

Despite a major lobbying effort by the Nigerian government, however, the 1997 session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights resolved to appoint a special rapporteur on Nigeria. In a notable departure from the African solidarity that characterized much voting at the U.N., South Africa and Uganda voted for the resolution, while the other African countries on the commission abstained.

The U.N. was weak on rights issues in Angola. Although it maintained a Human Rights Unit there, with monitors deployed in most provinces, it achieved little, except holding a series of high profile workshops on rights and submitting reports for U.N. Special Representative Maitre Alioune Blondin Beye's submissions to the Security Council. Beye's insistence that robustly exposing rights abuses would undermine the peace process contributed to making the U.N.'s human rights efforts impotent.

The Commonwealth

The Commonwealth undertook some initiatives in the human rights field, with most activity related to human rights focused on Africa. A Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), held a number of meetings during the year to review developments in the Gambia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, the countries most blatantly in violation of the Harare Commonwealth Declaration of 1991, which commits member states to respect human rights and democracy. At the end of October, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) decided to maintain Nigeria's suspension from the organization. Nigeria was warned that it faced expulsion if it failed to bring in a democratic system by October 1998. Additionally, the same meeting decided that pending the restoration of the elected government, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council regime in Sierra Leone would remain suspended from the Commonwealth.

Aid and Human Rights: The European Union and World Bank

The approach of the European Commission and the World Bank, both major donors to Africa, was narrow and focused on economic considerations at the expense of human rights. Under Article 5 of the Lomé Convention, governing access by African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries to European Union (E.U.) markets, respect for human rights and democratic principles was an "essential element" for those states to receive development aid from the European Union through the European Commission.

Under the leadership of James Wolfensohn, the World Bank sought during 1997 to improve its record in fighting African poverty and to assure its status as the flagship of the international development agencies. But questions still abounded whether the World Bank was not wittingly or unwittingly propping up undemocratic regimes in Africa. Mr Wolfensohn claimed that under his leadership the Bank had begun to reach out to human rights groups. The Bank's 1997 World Development Report, laid special emphasis on the need for upgrading the effectiveness of the state as a prerequisite for economic development and improved social welfare. But apart from highlighting the need for investment-friendly legal systems, the Bank in its report appeared to have deliberately factored democracy and human rights out of its formula for resolving Africa's crisis of governance.

The narrow, economics-based approach was demonstrated in the decision of the European Commission and World Bank to concentrate most of their economic assistance efforts on three countries in Africa: Mozambique, Ethiopia, and the Ivory Coast. All three countries were certainly in need of such assistance, but an equivalent focus was not placed on support for initiatives to improve respect for human rights either in those countries or elsewhere. Moreover, at the July 11-12 Consultative group meeting on Zambia, the Bank had strenuously but ultimately unsuccessfully sought, in the face of objections of bilateral donors, to downplay the issue of good governance.


In what promised to be a significant shift, France's new socialist government announced plans to revise its policy toward Africa, apparently based on a less interventionist approach to the politics of France's former colonies in Africa. Theongoing reconsideration of French policy could lead Paris eventually to revise its defense and military assistance agreements with a number of these former African colonies. Nevertheless, enduring neo-colonial pacts between France and her ex-colonies continued in 1997 to imply strong political, economic and potentially military support, despite their records of human rights abuses. Yet French policy toward Africa was increasingly determined by economic interests, including the interests of large French oil companies such as Elf-Aquitaine.

These changes implied a desire to distance France from the record of backing human rights abusers like the late Mobutu of Zaire, and Habyarimana of Rwanda. Apart from the considerations of cost, the retreat was due to a generational change, with the younger French leaders intent on "normalizing" relations with Africa. Africa meant less and less to the French electorate, even if the politicians had wished to preserve the neo-colonial relationships. The new government seemed inclined to go further and faster to reduce the permanent French military presence in the region, a force of 80,000, from seven to five bases: in Senegal, Gabon, Chad, Ivory Coast, and Djibouti. Bases in Cameroon and the Central African Republic would close. The French government also downgraded its "cooperation" department (to the level of a junior ministry), as well as the post of minister for "francophonie"-or French cultural promotion.

During the 1990s, Angola, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda, none of which were francophone countries, emerged as major destinations of French exports. The civil war in Congo-Brazzaville suggested a new, more oblique, but no less self-interested involvement especially in potentially lucrative markets. In his fight to wrest power from ex-President Lissouba, Sassou Nguesso was reportedly supported by France in a bid to defend the interests of French oil giant Elf-Aquitaine in Congo-Brazzaville. The overall impact of France's policy review could be significant on the poorer and less lucrative francophone countries, as aid and investment flows declined. A withdrawal of aid and other commitments might spell increasing instability in French "clients" in the short-term. In the absence of automatic political, diplomatic and military protection, former clients would at the same time become less immune to domestic and international pressure to democratize and respect the rule of law and human rights.

United States

In financial year 1997, U.S. aid to Africa was somewhat reduced from the previous year, at just under U.S. $700 million. The focus of U.S. assistance began to change, with the bulk of U.S. assistance being channeled to countries deemed to be democratizing and achieving a better economic performance.

Two major U.S. initiatives for Africa were under development during 1997. Just before the June G7 Denver summit, the U.S. announced plans to promote a series of trade measures with Africa intended to encourage free-market reforms of the continent's most promising economies. The new trade initiative, which was prompted by a draft legislation, African Growth and Opportunity Act, would support sustainable economic development by increasing trade between the U.S. and Africa, rewarding economic reform and promoting good governance. While the draft legislation included specific human rights language about which countries would be eligible for the program, the administration had not set forth any specific human rights criteria, focusing instead on issues of governance.

Meanwhile, between July and September, U.S. Special Forces trained a battalion of troops in each of Uganda, Malawi, and Senegal to form part of the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI), an all-African military peacekeeping force suggested by the U.S.

The primary purpose of the ACRI was said to be to have African units ready for quick deployment to crisis zones, compatibly equipped and capable of working together. It was hoped such a force would stabilize conflict zones so humanitarian aid could be provided to civilians. Such deployments might require the use of force. Among the issues that remained to be resolved were: how the force would be equipped, what the command and control structure would be, how decisions on deployment should be made, and how the force would be linked to regional organizations such as the OAU and SADC. In October 1997, Department of State Special Coordinator for the ACRI Marshall MacCallie stated that ACRI training included "basic soldier skills, peacekeeping procedures, logistics management, human rights observance, and techniques of working with refugees, humanitarian organizations, and civilian authorities."

In what appeared to be a competing initiative, in mid-October, French Foreign Minister Hubert Verdine visited Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, home of the OAU, where he held meetings with OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim, and pledged U.S. $30 million in 1998 to help train and equip an African peacekeeping force.

In its bilateral relations with individual African states, the U.S. government adopted a selective approach, critical of the human rights practices of some states while remaining silent on major restrictions on core freedoms in others. For example, during 1997 the U.S. adopted a notably firm and public stand on human rights in Kenya. Ambassador Arlene Render took a strong stand on the Chiluba government in Zambia, calling for change and the implementation of democratic values.

In Nigeria, outgoing U.S. ambassador Walter Carrington was perhaps the most outspoken of the diplomaticrepresentatives resident in Lagos. This earned him both a farewell party given by human rights organizations, and the attention of the security forces in breaking up that party. The U.S. administration indicated that it was undertaking a review of Nigeria policy, but failed to adopt a strong line-even when British elections produced a government much more prepared to cooperate in international efforts to isolate the military government.

The United States adopted a different approach in its dealings with such countries as Uganda and Ethiopia. It turned a blind eye on restrictions on political rights while building special relationships with Uganda and Ethiopia with reference to the geostrategic issues of the Great Lakes area and the Horn. The U.S. continued to be supportive and upbeat about Museveni's economic reforms and rewarded Uganda generously for its cooperation with the IMF and the World Bank.

Throughout most of the year, the U.S. continued firm support for the government of Rwanda, despite the evident abuses by its military both at home and in the DRC. Embarrassed by publicity about U.S. military assistance to Rwanda, initially described as soft and humane and later revealed to include combat training, the U.S. in fact bore far greater responsibility for continuing political support for Kigali-support which helped shield its government from criticism. However, after initial weakness in the face of Kabila's objections to U.N. investigatory commission, the U.S. eventually said that it was insisting that it be permitted to carry out its mission in the DRC.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Africa

Throughout 1997, Human Rights Watch pressed African governments and the international community to meet their responsibilities regarding the promotion and protection of human rights in Africa. Against a background of a mixture of grim news and hopeful developments, the work of Human Rights Watch/Africa incorporated a key strategic consideration: a balance between tragedy and crisis on the one hand, and recognition and encouragement of positive developments and stemming the negative on the other. While our brief continued to cover all of Africa south of the Sahara , we made a core group of countries priorities for more intensive research and advocacy: Angola, Burundi, DRC, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Zaire, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. We monitored major human rights abuses, including the treatment of refugee and internally displaced populations from Burundi, DRC, Kenya, Liberia, and Rwanda ; the impact of landmines in southern Africa ; abuses perpetrated by foreign soldiers in internal conflicts in the DRC; the progress of transitions to democracy in the DRC, Liberia and Nigeria; as well as ongoing human rights violations in a wide range of countries.

Human Rights Watch/Africa fielded investigative missions to Burundi, the DRC, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, and Zambia and maintained an office in Rwanda for part of the year to closely monitor the crisis in the Great Lakes region. Human Rights Watch/Africa also collaborated with the Human Rights Watch Arms, Children's Rights and Women's Rights Projects in their missions to Ethiopia Eritria,, Kenya, Uganda, and southern Africa. In conjunction with the Arms Project, Human Rights Watch/Africa produced a comprehensive report on the impact of landmines in southern Africa as part of a largely successful campaign to ban antipersonnel landmines around the world. In August collaborative work with the Women's Rights Project brought about a follow-up report on domestic violence in South Africa. Joint work with the Children's Rights Project led to two investigative missions to Kenya and Uganda that generated two major reports and related advocacy activities on street children in Kenya and the abduction of children in northern Uganda.

Concerned that the international community was retreating from protection of refugees and internally displaced persons, Human Rights Watch/Africa devoted substantial resources to the monitoring of the situations of refugees and internally displaced persons, particularly in Burundi, the DRC, Kenya, Liberia, and Rwanda. We published a report that chronicled the violence perpetrated against civilians in eastern Zaire, a significant percentage of whom were refugees from Rwanda. In June, we published a seminal report on the failure of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to adequately protect internally displaced persons, using UNDP's program in Kenya as a case study, and offered recommendations for improvement. While the United Nations struggled to get its own investigation in the DRC underway, we uncovered evidence confirming reports of large-scale massacres. In a major report released in October, we documented civilian killings perpetrated by all sides during Zaire's civil war through testimonies and photographs, offering our evidence to the United Nations Investigative Team. Thousands of those slaughtered were Rwandan refugees previously resident in camps in eastern DRC. A report was also completed on the situation of Liberian refugees.

In regular briefings, reports and other documentation provided to African states and donors, both bilateral and multilateral, we strongly advocated the denial of economic assistance to abusive governments as a tool for promoting reform. In a report released in July, we strongly urged the World Bank Consultative Group Meeting on Zambia to keepinternational aid to Zambia conditioned on respect for human rights. We increased attention to the European Union (E.U.), Commonwealth and the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights(ACHPR) and local NGOs in sub-Saharan Africa. Through reports, letters and meetings we sought to influence the policies of the E.U. ( including its member states) and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), especially on Nigeria. At the October CHOGM biennial summit we released a major updating report on the deeply flawed transition program in Nigeria. We established a greater presence at the ACHPR through regular attendance at its meetings and written submissions to the commissioners that detailed our concerns on key human rights issues in Africa. Human Rights Watch/Africa remained involved in several networking efforts by human rights NGOs including the network associated with the ACHPR. We made the building of a more interactive and continuous relationship with African human rights activists a priority in our research and advocacy programs.

Human Rights Watch/Africa sought to encourage the international community, as well as national judiciaries, to hold human rights abusers accountable. In Rwanda, staff of a project of Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) assisted in organizing and training a team of Rwandan observers to monitor national trials of persons accused of genocide. The observers began publishing reports on the conduct of the trials. A group of human rights organizations prepared an amicus curaie brief for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to urge that charges of rape be included in some of the indictments of persons accused of genocide. The brief, based largely on research by Human Rights Watch and FIDH , resulted in the amendment of the indictment in the first case tried by the ICTR. A Human Rights Watch researcher served as expert witness in trials at the ICTR and also gave testimony twice before a Belgian Senate Commission investigating the role of Belgium in the Rwandan genocide.

Recognizing the pivotal role of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in the quest for the institutionalization of accountability in the region, Human Rights Watch/Africa also deepened its monitoring of the TRC . We expanded the pre-existing constructive dialogue with the TRC and remained a key source of comparative expertise and information relevant to matters in which the TRC was actively engaged.

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