(Johannesburg) – The governments of Southern Africa – Angola, South Africa and Zimbabwe – took few steps to improve human rights at home and across the region in 2014, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2015.
“South Africa’s relatively poor scorecard in protecting social and economic rights is a major concern,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Angola and Zimbabwe likewise have taken few measures to improve people’s lives while violating basic civil and political rights.”
In the past year, the Southern Africa region held largely free and democratic elections in Botswana, Mauritius, Mozambique, and Namibia. But political repression and suppression of dissent persists in Angola, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe. The regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) has not done enough to address human rights issues in these countries. In August, Zimbabwe took over as chair of SADC but has not used the regional body to advance human rights protections.
In the 656-page world report, its 25th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth urges governments to recognize that human rights offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges. The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price.
President José Eduardo dos Santos, in power for 35 years, has faced increasing criticism for rampant corruption, bad governance, and political repression. During 2012, the Angolan authorities intensified measures restricting freedom of expression, association, and assembly and once again delayed long overdue local elections.
The government targets outspoken journalists and activists with criminal defamation lawsuits, arbitrary arrests, unfair trials, intimidation, harassment, and surveillance. The police used excessive force and engaged in arbitrary arrests to stop peaceful anti-government protests and other peaceful gatherings. The government also stepped up violent mass actions to remove street traders, including pregnant women and women with children, in the capital, Luanda, and other cities.
South Africa’s inconsistent foreign policy on human rights once again came to the fore in 2014. While the country regularly supports and mediates an end to conflicts on the continent, it has proved reluctant at the United Nations Human Rights Council to protect victims’ rights, and at times made decisions contrary to its human rights principles. It plays an important role in advancing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people internationally, but has been inconsistent – for example, through its reticence to condemn publicly the introduction of anti-LGBT laws in Uganda, Nigeria, and Gambia.
The capacity and ability of South African Police Services to police riots in a rights-respecting manner raised serious concerns. In 2014, incidents of police violence were reported in Mothutlung in Brits, North West province, Relela in Kgapane, Limpopo province, and Bekkersdal in Gauteng province. Incidents of violence against foreign nationals and looting of foreign-owned shops highlighted the government’s inability to counter xenophobia or address the contributing causes.
The government of President Robert Mugabe ignored the rights provisions in the country’s new constitution, neither enacting laws to put the new constitution into effect nor amending existing laws to bring them in line with the constitution and regional and international human rights conventions. The police use outdated and abusive laws to violate basic rights such as freedom of expression and assembly and frequently harass activists, human rights defenders, and LGBT people. There has been no progress toward justice for human rights abuses and past political violence.
The government violated the rights of 20,000 people it displaced from Tokwe-Mukorsi dam in Masvingo province in February 2014. It failed to pay fair compensation or provide adequate land for resettlement and misused aid to pressure those displaced to accept relocation on land with questionable tenure, whose title is in dispute.
In the capital, Harare, where many people have little access to potable water and sanitation services, the government has not ensured the right to water, sanitation, and health.
“South Africa, Angola, and Zimbabwe should work through SADC to press for human rights improvements across the sub-region,” Bekele said. “SADC leadership should respond to the real needs of ordinary people, and vigorously implement regional and international human rights standards.”