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The Work of Human Rights Watch
The work of Human Rights Watch continued to be guided by a key strategic goal: a balance between responding to tragedy and crisis on the one hand, and recognition and encouragement of positive developments on the other. While our brief continued to cover all of Africa south of the Sahara and strove to expand our monitoring of francophone countries, a nucleus of countries of countries constituted the focus of intensive research and advocacy: Angola, Burundi, Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Additionally, the Africa division undertook cross-country thematic research on arms flows, national human rights commissions, and refugees and the internally displaced.

Human Rights Watch sought to intensify its engagement and prolonged interaction with local NGOs and collaborative activities. Our objective continued to be the transformation of the perceived hierarchical relationships of local and international NGOs into relationships of interdependence characterized by commitment, solidarity, mutuality, and harmonization of strategies. From our perspective, a key strategic goal was the expansion of access by local NGOs to expertise, know-how and discipline in human rights work that was available internationally, thereby increasing the influence of the human rights movement in Africa. To this end and at the request of the secretariat of the network of NGOs in east and central Africa, Human Rigths Watch led sessions on advocacy strategies and building linkages between human rights groups at a regional conference in Harare, attended by major human rights NGOs in the sub-region. In country-specific situations such as in Sierra Leone, we strengthened our collaboration with human rights NGOs, exchanging information, developing joint advocacy strategies, and supplying them with materials for human rights education. In addition to our training and assistance in the field, Human Rights Watch also sought to provide protection for human rights activists from central and west Africa who were forced to flee their home countries, including by facilitating emergency evacuation and rallying international support for those in danger.

We fielded investigative missions to Angola, Congo, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia and continued to maintain a field monitoring office in Kigali, Rwanda. A researcher representing Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues in Rwanda monitored genocide trials throughout the year and engaged in joint investigations with colleagues from Rwandan human rights organizations. The division also collaborated with the Arms, Children’s Rights, and Women’s Rights divisions in their field missions to Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. The mission to Kenya was jointly undertaken by Amnesty International and Article 19 to send a strong message to the government and the international community that human rights concerns ought to remain central to the reform process promised by the government. A field investigation in Zambia was conducted jointly with the Zambia-based AFRONET with reference to the plight of Angolan refugees.

Human Rights Watch published a variety of reports touching upon a number of policy issues. We seized the rare opportunity of President Clinton’s visit to Africa the longest and most extensive trip to Africa by any U.S. president and published a report that highlighted U.S. policy in the run up to his departure. Given the spurts of high-level attention devoted to Africa by the Clinton administration, it was especially important to ensure that U.S. policy not focus exclusively on security and economics, to the exclusion of human rights concerns. Concerned that protection of noncombatants, refugees, and the internally displaced continued to be under severe attack in all parts of Africa, Human Rights Watch published reports on Burundi, Sierra Leone, and South Africa to arouse international awareness on various aspects of the issue. The Burundi report detailed the killings of civilians and their forcible displacement by both the military and rebel forces. The South Africa report, based on two years of research and extensiveinterviews, documented a wide range of abuses against these groups and included detailed recommendations to end these abuses. Building on that report, Human Rights Watch welcomed the completion of South Africa’s draft White Paper on Refugee Policy and the simultaneous release of the Draft Refugee Bill (1998) and made a submission to the Green Paper Task Force. Our Green Paper submission set out in detail South Africa’s obligations pertaining to asylum seekers, refugees, and undocumented migrants under international law, and raised some concerns which Human Rights Watch had with the refugee determination regime then in place in South Africa. Finally, we remained active in advocating for aid conditionalities at the World Bank Consultative Group (CG) meetings for Zambia. In May Human Rights Watch launched a report at the CG meeting in Paris to encourage donors to continue to condition balance of payments support to improvements in human rights practices. The report documented serious abuses committed by the Zambian government, such as police brutality and the torture of detainees.

We devoted significant resources toward advocacy efforts during the year, especially targeting the U.S. government. Our primary focuses were the crises in the Great Lakes, particularly Rwanda and Congo, and Nigeria. We played a major role in providing information and analysis about a range of human rights abuses, from restrictions on freedom of expression to crimes against humanity, that continued to be perpetrated in the region. Human Rights Watch’s information formed the basis of policy recommendations that set forth reasonable benchmarks to guide donors’ aid programs to these countries as well as clear recommendations to the governments in question. Our focus on the need for accountability for human rights abuses in order to stop the cycles of violence in the region included a stress on the need for justice at the national and international level. With information on violations by government and rebel forces, Human Rights Watch sought to work with local human rights activists to compel all parties to these conflicts to adhere to internationally recognized human rights standards.

Throughout 1998, Human Rights Watch assisted efforts to establish responsibilities for the Rwandan genocide and to bring its perpetrators to justice. Following the 1997 publication of an extensive report by the Belgian Senate on the Belgian role in the genocide, in the U.S. Congress the International Relations and Human Rights Subcommittee of the House Committee on International Relations held a hearing in May to examine the conduct of the U.S. administration in this catastrophe. The director of our Rwandan project was among the witnesses appearing before both the Belgian and U.S. hearings. The French National Assembly also opened an inquiry into the part played by France, other foreign governments, and the United Nations in the genocide, to which our Rwanda director also provided expert testimony.

In September, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda handed down the first conviction for genocide resulting from trial in an international court. The director of our Rwanda project served as an expert witness in this trial to establish that genocide had in fact taken place. Shattered Lives , a report by Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues on rape during the Rwandan genocide, served as basis for a brief to the court asking that rape be included in the charges against the accused, a former local government official named Jean-Paul Akayesu. The charges were thus amended and among the nine charges of which the accused was found guilty was that of rape used as an instrument of genocide. Our Rwanda project director was also summoned to appear as witness in the trial of a Rwandan official on charges of genocide being conducted in a Swiss military court.

On Nigeria, we worked closely with U.S. congressional offices and other NGOs to press for new legislation to ensure that existing sanctions would remain in place until certain key human rights benchmarks had been met. After the death of General Abacha and the announcement of a new transition program in Nigeria, we were instrumental in ensuring that the human rights benchmarks remained central to the policy debate.

We were called to testify before U.S. congressional committees on four occasions, dealing with the situation in Congo, the ongoing crisis in the Great Lakes, the Rwandan genocide, and Sudan. The organization held numerous briefings for congressional staff about our research and about the implications of U.S. policy for human rights. These analyses were also presented to administration officials on numerous occasions, in official roundtables held before and after the Clinton trip and in a series of meetings held with officials of the State Department, the National Security Council, and the Pentagon throughout the year.

In regular meetings, briefings, and submissions, we were also active in advocating for human rights within the U.N., OAU, E.U., and Non-Aligned Movement. We continuously expressed our concerns to the Security Council and the secretary-general regarding the United Nations investigations into massacres in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Dissatisfied by the stonewalling by the Congo government, Human Rights Watch called on the secretary-general to withdraw the SIGIT team from Congo and urged him to instruct the team to continue its investigation from outside the country. We remained active in pressing the E.U. and the Commonwealth to focus on human rights issues especially those with a bearing on Nigeria. In May we raised human rights issues at the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Heads of Government Summit in Burkina Faso and in August at the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) summit in Durban.

In a submission to the 24th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in October, the organization challenged the commission to take the lead in the promotion and protection of human rights and to take the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration as an opportunity to consider ways to increase its own effectiveness. Specifically, we renewed our call that the commission consider the following steps: the adoption of a more restrictive interpretation of Article 59 of the African Charter, which provides for confidentiality of the commission’s proceedings; the development of a written record of proceedings at each session; the taking of steps to avoid bias or the appearance of bias among those commissioners who also hold government posts; and the appointment of expert rapporteurs other than the commissioners themselves. Noting that African states had played a strong role at the July 1998 Diplomatic Conference in Rome leading to the adoption of a treaty for the establishment of a permanent international criminal court (ICC), Human Rights Watch urged the commission to aggressively use its good offices to contribute to a worldwide effort aiming at early entry into force of the treaty. In particular, we requested the commission to write to all member states of the OAU that had not already ratified the treaty urging them to do so at the earliest opportunity.

Based on research and findings in our previous reports on South Africa, and on our work in other countries around the world, the organization made a submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with recommendations that focused both on the manner in which the TRC and the government should handle past abuses and on the steps that should be taken to ensure such abuses could not be repeated in future. Human Rights Watch suggested that the TRC designate a government structure responsible for ensuring that its final recommendations were fulfilled.

For a listing of relevant reports and missions, see the Appendix on Missions. Partial listings also follow each country chapter.




The Democratic Republic of Congo







Sierra Leone

South Africa





Stop the Use of Child Soldiers

Abduction and Enslavement of Ugandan Children

Human Rights Causes of the Famine in Sudan


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Human RIghts Watch