US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Angolan Foreign Minister Assunção dos Anjos address a press conference in Luanda.

© 2009 Reuters

(New York) - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should emphasize human rights on her seven-nation trip to Africa, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Clinton.

The 11-day trip, to begin on August 4, will take Clinton to Kenya, South Africa, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Liberia, and Cape Verde. While in Kenya, Clinton will also meet with the president of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government.

In the letter, Human Rights Watch called on Clinton to urge the power-sharing Kenyan government to hold accountable those responsible for human rights abuses committed in the aftermath of the December 2007 elections and to implement urgently needed reforms of Kenya's security and justice sectors.

"Kenyans are losing faith in their politicians," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The government's failure to ensure justice for the victims of the post-election violence threatens to undermine Kenya's stability and impede its economic development."

Clinton should encourage Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed to support the establishment of a commission of inquiry into serious crimes by all the warring parties in Somalia, home to one of the most acute human rights and humanitarian crises on the continent, Human Rights Watch said.

In South Africa, she should urge the new government of President Jacob Zuma to play a more proactive role on foreign policy matters on the continent, particularly in pressing for human rights reforms by its neighbor, Zimbabwe, where the army continues to commit abuses with impunity, including in the eastern diamond fields of Marange.

Clinton should call on the Angolan government to rein in its armed forces and ensure that they abide by international human rights and humanitarian law in Cabinda, Angola's oil-rich enclave, where Human Rights Watch has documented arbitrary detention and torture, and in Lunda Norte, a diamond-rich area on the Congolese border, where Human Rights Watch has recently found pillaging, arbitrary detention, and rape of refugees and asylum seekers in the process of the mass expulsions of migrants.

Human Rights Watch also called on Clinton, while in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to urge the prosecution of all military personnel, regardless of rank, who have committed serious human rights abuses, particularly sexual violence. In the past 11 years, tens of thousands of girls and women in eastern Congo have been raped. While some low-ranking soldiers have been prosecuted for such offenses, not one senior commander has been brought to account.

In Nigeria, Clinton should denounce corruption and mismanagement of natural resources, which deny Nigerians basic rights to the highest attainable standard of health and education, Human Rights Watch said.

And in Liberia, Clinton should stress the importance of fair, credible prosecutions for the most serious crimes committed during Liberia's armed conflicts, and urge the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to establish commissions that would promote reforms in key areas such as human rights, the rule of law, and land disputes, which were at the root of Liberia's conflicts.

"The US rightly wants to promote Africa as a place of great opportunity, but Africans will be unable to realize their potential if their human rights are denied," Gagnon said. "Secretary Clinton should make this connection clear."