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Blair Visits West Africa

(New York) - Prime Minister Tony Blair’s trip to West Africa this week presents a major opportunity for the British government to affirm its commitment to human rights and to bring international attention to some of the most pressing issues on the continent.

In a letter sent to Blair that outlines key concerns in two of the countries he will be visiting, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, Human Rights Watch urged him to take advantage of this occasion by articulating how his government plans to integrate these concerns into its foreign policy.

“We are encouraged by Prime Minister Blair’s efforts to turn a spotlight on the continual crises that affect millions of Africans daily, especially at a time when many others in the international community have turned inward,” said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch. “He should use his visit to West Africa to take the lead in promoting transitions from societies characterized by violence and impunity to governments that are committed to the equal protection of human rights.”

Among its main concerns, Human Rights Watch emphasized the need to implement effective strategies in Nigeria for dealing with deadly violence related to recurring intercommunal conflict, vigilantism, and expected tension in the lead-up to elections in 2003. The Nigerian government’s role in both carrying out, and failing to prevent, massive violence should be addressed along with human rights violations committed by non-state actors. This is also true in Sierra Leone, where efforts to promote stability must focus on addressing the root causes of war by strengthening the rule of law and bringing perpetrators to justice.

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