Dear Honorable Commissioners,
Human Rights Watch would like to call upon the attention of the Commission to three critical human rights issues in Angola, Sudan and Ethiopia.
Freedom of expression remains severely restricted in Angola due to government pressure on independent media, self-censorship, and government repression. The Angolan government has pursued numerous criminal defamation lawsuits against outspoken journalists and activists, and has arrested and beaten journalists trying to report on human rights violations by security forces. The commission should be alert to efforts by the Angolan government to restrict access for independent media and civil society to the African Commission – as has occurred in the past – including at the SADC regional summit in 2011. Since 2011, Angolan authorities have responded to peaceful anti-government protests organized by youth groups and others in Luanda and elsewhere with excessive force, arbitrary arrests, unfair trials, harassment, and intimidation of participants, journalists, and observers. Protest organizers and participants have also been targeted, including occasionally with violent attacks and abduction by security agents. In November 2013, a leaked confidential Interior Ministry report revealed that António Alves Kamulingue and Isaías Cassule, two protest organizers who were forcibly disappeared in May 2012, had been kidnapped, tortured, and killed by the police and domestic intelligence service. The African Commission should call for prosecutions of those responsible for killings, enforced disappearances, and torture in Angola. The commission should also urge the Angolan government to immediately repeal the criminal defamation laws as a start to ending repression of the media.
The African Commission should also establish and send a fact-finding mission to Sudan to investigate the killings and injury of dozens of protesters last September, and the arbitrary detention of opposition party members, journalists, protesters, and activists. More than six months on, the Sudanese government has failed to credibly investigate, far less prosecute, the killings and related abuses. The protests erupted on September 23, 2013, in response to new economic austerity measures and price increases, and then spread to the capital, Khartoum, and other towns. Police and security forces responded to the protests with live ammunition and teargas, as well as assaults on participants and others with batons, to disperse the protests. As many as 170 people were killed. Police and security services detained more than 800 people in various locations, according to Sudanese groups monitoring the events. Many were released within days, often following summary trials resulting in floggings or fines. But others were held for weeks or months without charge or access to family or lawyers. Sudan’s National Security and Intelligence Service, with its sweeping powers of arrest and detention, has a long record of detaining government opponents and subjecting them to ill-treatment and torture. People who had been detained during the protests told Human Rights Watch that they had been beaten, verbally abused, deprived of sleep, and held for long periods in solitary confinement. Human Rights Watch has documented the Sudanese government forces’ involvement in the unlawful killing and wounding of protesters as well as of bystanders caught up in protests, and that intelligence service officials were responsible for arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture. Sudanese law enforcement officers continue to use excessive force to disperse protests, which, for example, led to the death of a Darfuri student in March 2014. The Sudanese government has contested the casualty numbers and denied that security forces were responsible for the September violence. Although the interior and justice ministers each announced the creation of investigative committees, the only findings made public focus on damage allegedly caused by protesters, rather than the deaths or allegations of unlawful arrests and mistreatment.
On April 25 and 26, 2014, Ethiopian police in uniform and civilian clothes conducted what appeared to be a coordinated operation of near-simultaneous arrests of nine bloggers and journalists. One of them from the bloggers group known as the “Zone9” bloggers is – Befekadu Hailu, who participated at the last session of the Commission session in Banjul, The Gambia.
The recent arrests signal, once again, that anyone who criticizes the Ethiopian government will be silenced.
The timing of this arrest just days before Ethiopia is scheduled to have its human rights record assessed at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review in Geneva on May 6, speaks volumes about Ethiopia’s government disregard for freedom of expression.
We call upon the Commission to urge the Ethiopian government to end arbitrary arrests, release all activists and journalists unjustly detained or convicted, and promptly amend draconian laws on freedom of association and terrorism that have frequently been used to justify arbitrary arrests and political prosecutions.
The African Commission should use the opportunity of this session to shine a spotlight on the ongoing abuses and repression in the three critical human rights concerns briefly explained above in Angola, Ethiopia and Sudan. In the face of government indifference to the plight of citizens, victims of abuses have few places to turn.