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May 10, 2017

60th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human & Peoples’ Rights

Niamey, Niger

Agenda Item 3: Human Rights Situation in Africa


Madame Chairperson, Commissioners and Heads of Government Delegations:                                                                                                  

Human Rights Watch welcomes this opportunity to address the African Commission under this Agenda Item. First, we commend the African Commission for adopting Guidelines for the Policing of Assemblies by Law Enforcement Officers and the General Comment on the Right to Redress for Victims of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment during the 21st Extra-Ordinary session. Human Rights Watch is of the view that such norm development provides essential guidance to states parties.

Madame Chairperson, the general human rights situation in much of Africa remains worrying, but for the purposes of this statement, Human Rights Watch will focus on urgent human rights concerns in Uganda and Zimbabwe.


We remain deeply concerned by unaddressed killings by the Ugandan military and police during joint operations in Kasese, western Uganda on November 26-27, 2016.  On the bloodiest day, scores of people, including at least 15 children, were killed during a military assault on the palace compound of the region’s cultural institution. Human Rights Watch found the death toll to be at least 55 people, including at least 14 police, killed on November 26, and more than 100 people during the attack on the palace compound on November 27. The killings warrant an independent, impartial fact-finding mission with international expertise. The government has arrested and charged more than 180 people, including the cultural institution’s king, known as the Omusinga, with murder, treason, and terrorism, among other charges for the killing of the members of the security forces. But none of the 180 are members of the police or military and no one has been charged for the killing of civilians, including children.

  • The African Commission and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child are urged to undertake a joint investigative mission to Uganda and support a broader independent and impartial investigation.
  • We further respectfully urge the Commission to maintain a strong demand for accountability, including calling for an independent and impartial investigation with support from international experts. If given unfettered access to witnesses and forensic evidence, independent experts with a fact-finding mission could determine if the massacre on November 27 should be characterized as a crime against humanity.


Madame Chairperson, Human Rights Watch published a report in January 2017 documenting violations of property and inheritance rights of widows in Zimbabwe. The report focuses on abuses related to property-grabbing from widows, predominantly older women. Based on interviews with widows from all 10 provinces of Zimbabwe we know that many older women have few other economic options when their property is stolen by in-laws when their husbands die.

In 2013, Zimbabwe adopted a new constitution that provides for equal rights for women, including for inheritance and property. In practice, however, existing laws only apply to widows in officially registered marriages. Estimates are that most marriages in Zimbabwe are conducted under customary law and are not registered, so, in effect, these laws afford no protection from property-grabbing relatives. Many widows told Human Rights Watch that they face insurmountable obstacles defending their property or taking legal steps to reclaim it. Once in court, widows said they were at a disadvantage without an official record of their marriage if it was a customary union. According to the 2012 census, Zimbabwe is home to about 587,000 widows, and most women 60 and over are widowed. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that at least 70 percent of women in rural areas are in unregistered customary unions and are living under customary law.

Madame Chairperson, with the rapid growth of older populations worldwide, there is an increasing need to understand how discrimination, ageism, neglect, and abuse affect older people and what steps governments should take to protect their rights. By 2050, an estimated two billion people – almost a quarter of the world’s population – will be over age 60. The majority will be women. We respectfully request the African Commission to urge the government of Zimbabwe to:

  • Introduce a system that ensures all existing and new marriages, including customary unions, are officially registered.
  • Allow the posthumous recognition of marriages and customary unions.  
  • Engage in public awareness campaigns to end unlawful property-grabbing and inform widows of their inheritance rights.
  • Ensure widows have meaningful access to legal remedies to protect their rights to property and other related rights in cases of unlawful property or inheritance grabbing.

Thank you 

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