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Your Excellencies, Honorable Chairperson, Honorable Commissioners, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Human Rights Watch welcomes this opportunity to engage with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission) during its 79th session.

Human Rights Watch research has documented the persistence of severe and systematic violations of international humanitarian law by governments and non-state armed groups across several conflicts, where impunity remains a key driver for many atrocities.

The devastating war in Sudan has now continued for over a year. The Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and their allies have systematically violated the laws of war, repeatedly attacking civilians and committing sexual violence, among other abuses, contributing to one of the worst displacement and food security crises in the world. RSF forces and allied forces have committed crimes against humanity and widespread war crimes in the context of an ethnic cleansing campaign against the largely non-Arab ethnic Massalit communities in West Darfur. The African Commission has paid close attention to the war in Sudan and adopted several resolutions to monitor ongoing violations and sought the cooperation of both the SAF and RSF to enforce its calls and recommendations. The Commission should also seek to collaborate with the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Sudan as well as with Sudanese human rights organizations to support existing investigation initiatives to ensure accountability for crimes committed.

We remain extremely worried by the human rights landscape across countries in the Sahel, particularly in Burkina Faso and Mali, where many civilians are trapped between rival Islamist armed groups expanding their control through widespread abuses, and national armed forces and their allies carrying out abusive counter-insurgency operations. Islamist armed groups have been responsible for countless war crimes, including summary killings, sieges on populations, and looting.  At the same time, national armies and their allies have responded by committing further war crimes, including mass killings of civilians deemed to be supporting armed groups. In Burkina Faso, we have documented widespread attacks on civilian populations that may amount to crimes against humanity. The military juntas have posed a further threat to human rights by their continued efforts to eliminate national and international scrutiny into their rights records, including measures that restrict fundamental freedoms that are used to crack down on peaceful dissent. The African Commission should provide Malian and Burkinabè authorities with support to ensure that any national investigation into abuses is impartial and independent. Additionally, the Commission should closely collaborate with the UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights to bolster the Commission's ability to recommend counterinsurgency policies consistent with international human rights standards and provide appropriate assistance to states and civil society groups across Africa.

We also remain deeply concerned about worsening human rights abuses in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo with the ongoing armed conflict involving the Rwanda-backed M23 armed group and other non-state armed groups, continuing violence in and around the western province of Mai-Ndombe, and rising hate speech and incitement to violence. The M23 has committed gross atrocities against civilians as it gained control over large swathes of territory, worsening an already dire humanitarian and displacement crisis by forcing thousands to flee. The Congolese national army fought M23 fighters alongside a coalition of militias whose leaders have also been implicated in wartime abuse. The anticipated withdrawal of MONUSCO requested by the government will only limit monitoring capacities in a conflict where impunity remains a key driver of atrocities. And beyond the conflict-related abuses, severe abuse targeting marginalized communities and attacks on civic space remain a cause of concern.

Human Rights Watch would like to thank the Commission for ensuring a vital mandate in favor of human rights across the African continent, for the attention given to our statement, and we look forward to our continued collaboration on these important issues.

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