Your Excellencies, Honorable Chairperson, Honorable Commissioners, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We welcome this opportunity to address the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission) during its 69th session on the state of human rights in Africa, especially considering the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. We congratulate the newly elected bureau and look forward to our continued collaboration.
HRW acknowledges the efforts by many African governments to secure vaccines for their citizens, but the Covid-19 pandemic has also exposed glaring economic inequalities and African governments’ weak social protection systems and failure to fulfill peoples’ rights to social security and an adequate standard of living.
In Kenya, we published a full-length report documenting rampant irregularities, cronyism, and nepotism in a government cash transfer program that was intended to serve as a lifeline for the most economically vulnerable households during the pandemic. In another report, we documented how the failure by Kenyan authorities to ensure services to prevent gender-based violence and provide assistance to survivors under its Covid-19 response measures facilitated an increase in sexual and other violence against women and girls.
We also published a full-length report on the economic impact of Covid-19 in Lagos, Nigeria. Despite the profound hardship imposed by rising food prices, a five-week lockdown, and an economic downturn, the report found that government assistance – in the absence of a social safety net – reached only a fraction of the urban poor population in need of relief.
Other humanitarian and human rights challenges persisted despite the pandemic, including military coups, abuses by government forces and armed Islamist groups in the context of counterterrorism, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance of government critics, government crackdowns on freedom of expression and association, state-sponsored election-related violence, and government abuses against gender and sexual minority groups.
In Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, we documented a dramatic spike in killings perpetrated by Islamist armed groups and state security forces in the Sahel’s increasingly volatile security environment, which now threatens littoral West Africa.
In Burundi, we called for the immediate release of Tony Germain Nkina, a lawyer who was arbitrarily imprisoned on sham charges, most likely due to his affiliation with one of Burundi’s leading human rights groups.
In Cameroon, HRW has continued its coverage of the crisis in the Anglophone regions by documenting ongoing abuses perpetrated by both government forces and armed separatist groups.
In Ethiopia, HRW documented how the Ethiopian government’s blocking of aid and essential services, with health facilities in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region destroyed, is preventing survivors of sexual violence from obtaining essential post-rape care. We also reported on the increase in ethnic profiling, arbitrary arrests, and enforced disappearances of scores of Tigrayans in Addis Ababa.
HRW takes the opportunity to welcome the Commission’s position of maintaining its independence in carrying out its current investigation into serious abuses that have occurred in the Tigray region, Ethiopia.
In Ghana, we documented the harsh socio-economic impacts on the 21 individuals who were unlawfully arrested during a paralegal training workshop about how to document and report human rights violations against LGBT people. We are also monitoring the parliamentary hearings on the Draft Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, 2021, which, if adopted, would proscribe and criminalize LGBT identities and any advocacy on LGBT issues.
In Mozambique, we documented grave abuses in Cabo Delgado province, where government forces are fighting an Islamic State (IS) linked group. Since June 2021, HRW has reported on the use of child soldiers by an IS linked group, alleged aid-for-sex, and movement restrictions imposed on civilians and humanitarians in the country’s northern province.
In Rwanda, we documented shrinking civic space for journalists and critics of the government.
In Senegal, we condemned a set of two counterterrorism laws that could punish political speech and peaceful protest, target union leaders, and recklessly expand police surveillance powers.
In Sudan, we are closely monitoring the aftermath of the October 25 military takeover and have published numerous news releases documenting and condemning arbitrary arrests and the repression of peaceful protests.
In Uganda, we called on the government to end its harassment of civil society groups.
HRW acknowledges that despite a difficult humanitarian, human rights, and political environment with significant budgetary constraints, landmark legal innovations have continued to emerge. In the past year, the ACHPR issued a General Comment on the right to property during separation, divorce, or annulment of marriage; guidelines on the right to water in Africa; statements condemning and making recommendations regarding humanitarian and human rights crises; and multiple resolutions on rights-based responses to the pandemic.
We call on the African Commission to urge all States across Africa, notably Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republique, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda to:
- Ensure that Covid-19 and other emergency or crises response social protection measures include a strong focus on protecting women and girls against sexual and gender-based violence.
- Initiate prompt, independent, and impartial investigations into allegations of human rights violations, including destruction of property, extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, and other abuses committed by members of the security forces.
- Ensure respect and protection for the right to regular, free, fair, and credible elections, as well as the right to peaceful protest and assembly, and ensure urgent review and implementation of judicial and security sector reforms. In 2014, the Peace and Security Council’s called for “a zero tolerance for states” policies and actions that may lead to a resort to unconstitutional means to overthrow oppressive systems. Despite the clarity provided by the council, in practice the AU often reduces democracy to holding elections and selective respect for term limits. The AU political organs are often silent about governments’ human rights abuses, including corruption, governments inertia in fighting poverty, inequality, and infringements on the rule of law and fair electoral governance.
All AU members should:
- Ratify the African charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance
- Be more responsive at tackling human rights problems that lead to military and other kinds of takeovers, as this will yield better and longer-term results for peace and stability on the continent.
- Initiate rights respecting counterterrorism responses, as abuses by state forces in the name of security undermine the rights of victims and their families and fill the ranks of abusive non-state actor groups.
- Move forward with the implementation of accountability mechanisms, including the establishment of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, and those agreed upon in the context of long-standing conflicts, intercommunal violence, and mass atrocities, to ensure perpetrators are fairly held to account.
- Finally, The ACHPR and AU member states and policy organs should collaborate and coordinate on human rights-respecting and -protecting responses, including on the Tigray conflict and military coups. AU member states should utilize the applicable AU legal instruments at their disposal to center people, human rights, and democracy on the continent.