In advance of the 15th African Union Summit, scheduled for July 19-27, 2010 in Kampala, we are writing to draw your attention to a few of Africa's most pressing human rights concerns and to provide input into some of the discussions that may arise around the main themes of the summit - Maternal, Infant, and Child Health and Development in Africa - and other important points on the summit's agenda.
The AU summit could not come at a more critical moment. It takes place half-way through the year that the African Union has dedicated to peace and security in Africa, and that coincides with many African nations celebrating their silver jubilee of independence. This is also a season when millions of Africans from more than a dozen states have already gone, or are about to go, to the polls to elect their leaders, mirroring Africans' undiminished aspiration to democratic governance and the rule of law. The summit offers a unique opportunity for taking stock of the continent's progress and challenges, both in maternal and child health and also in the broad areas of peace and security, good governance, and human rights.
On Maternal and Child Health in Africa
Human Rights Watch welcomes the initiative by the African Union to center its deliberations during its 15th summit on the theme of maternal and child health in Africa, and to emphasize the message that health, including reproductive and maternal health, is a human right. We note with great satisfaction that strong regional legal protections exist to improve the health and welfare of African women and children, but there needs to be more action, benefiting vulnerable groups in particular.
In this respect, we urge AU member states to redouble their efforts to address maternal mortality and morbidity and HIV through evidence - and human rights-based approaches. HIV is a major cause of both maternal and child mortality, and lack of adequate resources and human rights violations, stigma, and discrimination have fueled ongoing epidemics. In particular, we urge AU member states to develop a strategy to improve conditions and access to health care for women and children in detention settings. Governments in Africa should also develop a strategy to improve access to palliative care, critical for addressing the suffering of adults and children with such medical conditions as cancer and AIDS.
We strongly support the initiative that came out of the Abuja Declaration to allocate 15 percent of government expenditures to the health sector, and recommend that the upcoming summit send a wake-up call for governments that are not yet in compliance with the initiative.
On Addressing Peace and Security Challenges in Africa
Human Rights Watch commends the AU for its ongoing efforts to address the massive peace and security challenges facing the continent. At the same time, we reiterate our call for stronger attention to issues such as civilian protection and impunity as a way both to act on the human rights dimensions of ongoing armed conflicts and ensure the sustainability of peacebuilding efforts.
Six months ahead of the referendum on southern self-determination, the key milestone of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that will determine the political future of Sudan, the situation in Darfur still deserves greater attention from AU member states.
Ongoing fighting and rights abuses across Darfur demonstrate that the war is far from over and that civilian protection needs to remain high on the African Union's agenda. Despite efforts to negotiate a new peace agreement in 2010, Sudanese government forces and allied militia continued to clash with rebel forces. Government forces used aerial bombing to target civilians and destroy civilian property in violation of international humanitarian law. Fighting among rebel factions and between rival ethnic groups has also contributed to the rise in violence. In May alone, 600 people in Darfur died as a result of various ongoing fighting, according to the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).
However, the full impact of the fighting on civilians is not known because both the Sudanese government and the rebels have blocked access to UNAMID and humanitarian agencies. Armed gangs and bandits have also attacked peacekeepers and humanitarian organizations with impunity.
As the United Nations Security Council considers the renewal of UNAMID's mandate, the 15th AU summit presents a genuine opportunity for African heads of state to press the mission to uphold the core of its mandate of protecting civilians and providing security for humanitarian operations. AU member states should also use their influence with the Sudanese government and rebel groups to grant full access to areas affected by conflict, so that UNAMID peacekeepers can fulfill these core aspects of their mandate. The AU should press the Sudanese authorities to investigate and prosecute those who have attacked peacekeepers and aid workers, or committed other serious abuses.
The summit offers a chance for African leaders to revisit the issue of accountability for serious crimes committed in Darfur in violation of international law, given the recommendations issued by the AU High-level Panel on Darfur in its November 2009 report (the Mbeki Panel Report). Arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes committed in Darfur remain outstanding for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, Ahmed Haroun, and Ali Kosheib, whose real name is Ali Mohammed Ali. In April, the ICC issued a finding of non-cooperation by the government of Sudan with respect to the execution of arrest warrants for Haroun and Kosheib, following some two years of obstruction by the Sudanese government. In July, the ICC issued a second warrant for al-Bashir, adding genocide to charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against him. Irrespective of the AU's views on the need for deferral of the case against al-Bashir, we believe it is important for the AU to signal its respect for the ICC's independent judicial process in assessing the charges against al-Bashir. Given the AU's commitment to justice for crimes committed in Darfur, including as reflected by the work of the Mbeki Panel, calls for cooperation by the government of Sudan with the ICC are merited as well. We believe the African Union should take appropriate measures to assess the lack of progress in enacting the Mbeki panel's recommendations and to expedite implementation of these proposals to achieve justice as a precursor to lasting peace and security in Sudan.
As for the referendum process, it is critical that the AU maintain neutrality on the outcome, and uphold the right to self-determination accorded to southerners under the CPA. It should press both parties (the NCP and the SPLM) to establish the referendum commission for Abyei, which has not been appointed because of disagreements over the definition of voter eligibility in that area. Both the Abyei and the southern referendum commissions will need substantial technical assistance and both should be carefully observed by international actors, including the AU.
Human Rights Watch also urges the AU to use its influence to press the Government of National Unity to enact the human rights related reforms in the CPA. This includes reforming the repressive National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), which is responsible for arbitrary arrests and detentions that Human Rights Watch documented before, during, and after the April 2010 elections. The Sudanese government continues to use the NISS to harass, intimidate, and arrest and detain activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and others without legal basis. In Southern Sudan, too, political oppression by the southern security forces persists in the lead-up to the referendum. The AU should also call on the southern government to end these violations and ensure accountability for abuses that occurred in the election context and in the lead-up to the referendum to ensure that the forthcoming vote is free, fair, and credible.
Somalia remains mired in a tragic armed conflict whose complexities defy easy solution. All parties to the conflict continue to violate international humanitarian law, particularly in Mogadishu where violent clashes are commonplace. Indiscriminate attacks by all sides-internationally-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces, African Union (AMISOM) troops, and insurgent forces-continue to kill and wound civilians in violation of international humanitarian law, and cause major destruction in the capital.
Opposition forces including al-Shabaab have deliberately attacked civilians and have also used civilians as "shields" to fire mortars at TFG and AMISOM positions in Mogadishu. (Al-Shabaab has also claimed responsibility for the recent deadly attacks in Kampala.) The mortar attacks are so indiscriminate that they frequently destroy civilian homes but rarely strike military targets. Often AMISOM or TFG forces respond in kind, launching indiscriminate mortar strikes on the neighborhoods from which opposition fighters had fired and then fled-leaving civilians to face the onslaught. In addition, al-Shabaab fighters regularly subject civilians they see as linked or sympathetic to the TFG to death threats, targeted killings, and other abuses. Often civilians are targeted for such abuses on the flimsiest of suspicions.
International engagement in Somalia has often been counterproductive. International actors, including the AU, have been imbalanced and selective when it comes to analyzing and condemning abusive interventions in Somalia by other states in the region. This is reflected in the selective approach to the arms embargo on Somalia, where sanctions have been placed only on Eritrea for helping al-Shabaab procure weapons, while ignoring the many other states that are violating the embargo with respect to the TFG.
The impunity that prevails in Somalia is fuelled by all of the warring parties. In response to the war crimes and other serious violations of international law, Human Rights Watch has long recommended the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate abuses by all sides. We believe that the AU should take the first step in formally requesting such an inquiry and could indeed endorse this initiative at the summit. We believe that an independent and impartial commission of inquiry is essential to investigate and map serious crimes and recommend appropriate accountability mechanisms.
Finally, we would like to highlight one other feature of the Somali crisis. Tens of thousands of Somalis have fled the dire humanitarian situation and conflict in their country and are seeking refuge in Somalia's regional neighbors-and beyond. In many cases, these vulnerable refugees are not receiving adequate protection and assistance. We urge the AU to recognize the plight of these people and publicly call on regional governments, including Yemen, Ethiopia, and Kenya, to ensure that Somali refugees receive adequate protection and assistance. In particular the Kenyan government should take immediate steps to ensure that refugees are protected from police abuses and able to seek assistance in northern Kenya.
On Establishing a Liaison Office of the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the African Union
As we have always emphasized, AU summits should seek to advance justice for victims of human rights violations, in accordance with article 4 of the AU's Constitutive Act, which, among other things, calls for the rejection of impunity.
At the ICC review conference held recently in Kampala, many African states were represented at high levels, with attendance by presidents, ministers, and attorneys-general. States also actively participated in a stocktaking exercise on international justice and made pledges to provide support to the court, including by passing domestic legislation to implement the ICC's Rome Statute. States furthermore expressed their strong commitment to the ICC and concluded a letter to the AU commission calling for the establishment of an ICC liaison office at the African Union. We strongly encourage the African Union to endorse this initiative. An ICC liaison office in Addis Ababa would assist in exchange of information between the ICC and African Union, including clarifying misunderstandings that may arise.
Notably, while the July 2009 AU summit decision on the ICC called for non-cooperation with the ICC with regard to the arrest and surrender of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, this decision does not restrict other forms of cooperation or information exchange. In addition, we believe the establishment of a liaison office would be an important way for the African Union to demonstrate its commitment to rejecting impunity under its Constitutive Act.
On Strengthening the Democratic Process in Africa
In a year when various African states have held or are about to hold general elections, the summit has the opportunity to renew the African Union's commitment to the principles of democratic governance and the rule of law.
African representatives made clear in recent resolutions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights-particularly "Resolution 164 on the 2010 Elections in Africa," and "Resolution 166 on the Deteriorating Situation of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa"-that Africa needs to finally eradicate the "recurrent situation" of election-related violence and human rights violations. The summit enables African states to begin to put in place effective mechanisms to end the "continuous violations of the right to freedom of expression and access to information," which take multiple forms: "arbitrary arrests and detention, prosecution, kidnapping, imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, extra-judicial killings, disappearances, death threats, physical attacks and suspension of journalists and media practitioners, banning or destruction of media houses, and unlawful closure of newspapers that criticize the government."
It is Human Rights Watch's strong conviction that ensuring accountability for politically motivated violence and intimidation can give new momentum to democratic processes in Africa and curb civil unrest that may result from flawed electoral processes. Yet, from Zimbabwe to Ethiopia, through Uganda, Kenya, Sudan and many other African countries, prosecution of pro-ruling party officials for electoral violence and voter intimidation has rarely, if ever, materialized.
Finally, Human Rights Watch adds its voice to that of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in calling AU member states to expedite the ratification process of the "African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance" that they adopted at the January 2007 AU summit. More than three years later, only four countries have ratified the document - Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mauritania, and Sierra Leone - and one of them, Ethiopia, has just held deeply flawed elections. The upcoming summit might usefully examine what underpins such apparent lack of enthusiasm for the charter and the lack of credible enforcement mechanisms.
Human Rights Watch welcomes all the efforts made by the African Union and its member states to promote peace and security, good governance, and human rights on the continent. We look forward to our continuing dialogue on how best to raise Africa's profile in relation to those values.
Cc: Jean Ping, Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union
All African Union member states