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Human Rights Developments

Human rights in Africa in 1992 were dominated by the twin themes of democratization and the descent into chaos and humanitarian disaster. Other concerns, such as the conduct of civil wars, arrest and detention, and accountability for past abuses, also persisted.

The cataclysm that has overwhelmed Somalia in 1992 has been called the most severe humanitarian disaster in the world today. The 21-year rule of former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, who was driven from power in 1991, left the country with neither the institutions of civil society, nor intact structures of traditional governance and conflict resolution. After Barre's departure, the values he promoted-greed, clan loyalty and militarism-have rent the country. Two decades of grievances are being settled with the huge armory provided by both superpowers. The result has been an extraordinarily brutal civil war fought on the streets of Mogadishu and other towns, killing tens of thousands of civilians, and a famine of unparalleled severity, striking the disadvantaged farming communities of southern Somalia and killing at least 100,000. The war and famine feed on each other in a spiral of violence and deprivation: conflict is the main cause of the famine, while the need for food is an important motive for fighting. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Somalis have fled to Kenya, Ethiopia, Yemen and elsewhere, where they, too, have been subject to cruelty and neglect.

In this picture of apparent hopelessness, the chief ray of hope has been the dedication of ordinary Somalis who have struggled to tend the wounded, provide relief, and resolve the conflict. Their contribution, often unseen by the outside world, has been a critical element in the effort to relieve suffering and achieve respect for human rights in Somalia. It is on their efforts that a future Somalia must be built.

The Somali disaster has drawn attention to the negligence of the international community, notably the United Nations, in failing to prevent a foreseeable tragedy. With one notable exception through the end of November, U.N. diplomatic and humanitarian interventions were late, inept, and done more with an eye to publicity than to resolving the problems. The exception was Ambassador Mohamed Sahnoun, special envoy of U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who displayed extraordinary diplomatic skills and a refreshing willingness to criticize his own organization, but who was forced in late October to resign, precisely because his honesty had offended his superiors in New York. Sahnoun's commitment and professionalism were matched by the efforts of a few voluntary agencies, above all the International Committee of the Red Cross (icrc), which spent up to half its worldwide budget on Somalia. Rarely in the history of humanitarian assistance can an entire country have owed so much to a single voluntary agency as Somalia owes to the icrc.

Central authority in a number of other African countries was on the brink of disintegration in 1992. Parts of Mozambique had been reduced to that condition in the 1980s, and in 1992, despite the long-awaited peace accord between the government and the renamo rebels, the disappearance of any form of effective government throughout most rural areas of the country has appeared to draw closer by the month. The severe drought of 1991-1992 undermined the unified command of both armies, as soldiers turned to looting and pillaging to provide for themselves. Relief agencies are already describing Mozambique as "the next Somalia."

Meanwhile, Liberia, having been brought back from the brink in 1990 through the intervention of a coalition of west African states, was plunged into civil war once more. Much of southern Sudan came to resemble Somalia as the Sudan People's Liberation Army fragmented, and severe famine loomed once more.

One of the most tragic cases has been Angola, where the hopes for democratization were dashed in an explosion of violence. At the end of September, Angolans went to the polls in their first ever free elections, 16 months after a peace accord between the government of President Eduardo Dos Santos and the rebel unita movement, led by Jonas Savimbi. U.N. monitors pronounced themselves satisfied with the fairness of the elections, but when it became clear that Savimbi had lost, he denounced the elections and returned to warfare. Both the government and unita began targeting each other's civilian supporters and summarily killing them.

Throughout the continent, countries have moved unsteadily down the path of democratization, while repressive rulers have used violence in an effort to destabilize democratic transitions. In Kenya, President Daniel arap Moi is implicated in provoking rural violence in an effort to fulfil his own prophecy that multiparty democracy will be a recipe for ethnic conflict. Zaire's President Mobutu Sese Seko has similarly sought to undermine the democratic transition with military rampages in rural areas. The hopes for democracy in Togo have faded as factions of the armed forces under the control of President Gnassingbé Eyadema have initiated violent attacks against its opponents.

Many transitions to democracy have been blatantly manipulated. In Nigeria, the military government of President Ibrahim Babangida has repeatedly interfered in the much-extended transition to civilian rule, undermining the vitality of the civil institutions that are so essential to a functioning democracy and doing his utmost to predetermine the outcome of elections. In mid-November, Babangida again postponed the hand-over to a civilian president for a further eight months, raising fears that popular resentments would turn violent, as they have in the past. In Cameroon, President Paul Biya won a general election amid widespread accusations of fraud, and immediately launched a crackdown on the opposition. A similar manipulation of the transition process in Ghana culminated on November 3 when Flight-Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings was returned as elected president. The incumbent government in Mauritania was returned in an election in January marred by widespread fraud and disenfranchisement of oppositionsupporters. The hopes for a rapid establishment of peace and democracy in Ethiopia faded with widespread ethnic and organizational violence, and deeply flawed regional elections.

A similar process has been at work in South Africa, where violence (in the townships, rural areas and nominally independent homelands) has become the single greatest threat to the prospect of a peaceful transition to majority rule. More than 2,000 were killed, as further evidence emerged of the government's role in stoking the conflicts.

In all these countries, former rulers have sought to protect themselves by evading accountability for past abuses. Amnesties in South Africa and Ghana have allowed those guilty of gross abuses to remain in government and the security forces. In Mauritania, the government continued to deny any responsibility for its direct involvement in human rights abuses. In countries where there has been real change, such as Zambia and Ethiopia, political priorities have interfered with the fair treatment of members of the former regime. In Zambia, bitterness against former President Kaunda has led to vengeful stripping of his civil rights. In Ethiopia, preoccupation with other pressing political concerns has led to a neglect of the need to bring members of the former regime to trial.

The pitfalls of pluralism have not deterred democracy advocates in Africa's remaining one-party states. After prolonged debate, Tanzania moved toward multiparty democracy in 1992. On October 18, Life-President Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi finally agreed to allow his people the choice of a multiparty system. Tragically, two days later, Orton Chirwa, a long-serving political prisoner, died in detention. Meanwhile, his wife, Vera, remains in prison, and democracy advocates are being harassed and arrested.

The government of Sudan stands out as one that has failed to make even cosmetic concessions to democratic reform. Wedded to a fundamentalist ideology, the ruling Muslim Brothers have dismantled all institutions of civil society, and have arbitrarily arrested and tortured dissidents. Determined to reshape the country in the image of an Islamic state, the government is engaging in several programs of massive forced relocation and "ethnic cleansing," and has mounted the largest offensive yet in the war in the south, halting almost all emergency relief operations to the civilian population. Sudan faces a humanitarian and human rights disaster on a horrifying scale in 1993.

The events of 1992 served to underline the intimate links between human rights and famine. The humanitarian disasters in Sudan, Somalia and Mozambique all sprang from extraordinarily abusive wars; only in the last case has the weather also played a role. The southern African drought, hailed as the precursor of the worst famine this century, is also closely intertwined with human rights abuses. In each southern African country, a specific set of governmental actions has been instrumental in reducing sections of the population to imminent famine.

Zimbabwe is the clearest example. In 1990-1991, the Zimbabwe government exported its strategic grain reserves, leaving it with nothing when drought struck in 1991-1992. This policyreversal-which would have been deeply unpopular-was not subjected to public debate because journalists were prevented from raising it. Mozambican refugees in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and South Africa were also subject to abuses that exposed them to starvation. In particular the South African government's refusal to recognize their refugee status (it is not signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention) meant that refugees were subject to forced labor at wages below subsistence levels and refoulement (forced return) to drought-stricken areas of Mozambique.

The Right to Monitor

In 1992, human rights advocates in Africa were freer than ever before to obtain and publicize information about human rights violations, and to organize to pressure governments to rectify abuses. However, throughout the continent, the institutions of civil society that are the key to the protection of human rights remain fragile. In some countries, such as Sudan and Malawi, conventional repression has been the norm. In others, such as Ethiopia and Mozambique, the legal framework for a free press and independent human rights organizations now exists, but a combination of factors, including a legacy of fear instilled by decades of repressive government, have prevented the emergence of truly effective human rights advocacy. In many countries, a lack of resources and the temptations of political involvement in democratic experiments have hampered human rights advocacy, as have the challenges presented by monitoring issues relating to rural violence and famine.

Despite these obstacles and setbacks, advocacy of human rights has continued to flourish, and the language of human rights has gained ever greater currency throughout the continent. The peace agreement that brought an end to the civil war in Rwanda included a provision for a human rights commission to investigate abuses during the war, and several national and international human rights organizations are collaborating in this initiative. There have been moves to set up independent human rights organizations in countries that have never had them before, such as Mozambique and Eritrea. Some established human rights organizations have broadened their vision to encompass neglected issues, such as rural violence, famine and abuses against women. Individual journalists, lawyers, church members and others have continued to campaign on behalf of human rights. Even in the darkest circumstances of Sudan, Bishop Paride Taban has been an outstanding advocate for peace and human rights in the south, while a number of courageous individuals, who must remain anonymous, maintain their clandestine monitoring in the north.

U.S. Policy

For the most part, there appeared to be a policy vacuum with respect to Africa in the U.S. administration. Since the end of the Cold War, the strategic value of African countries has dissipated, and only Nigeria, Angola and South Africa are significant trading partners. U.S.-African relations are no longer those of asuperpower trying to entice clients, but rather orphaned African governments desperately searching for a patron. Speaking on July 26, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen said that "the end of the cold war has changed the nature of U.S. foreign policy, allowing us to concentrate on social and economic development in Africa without the past preoccupation with strategic interests." However, with this change, the degree of concentration has waned considerably.

The policy of supporting democracy and "good governance" has in principle informed U.S. policy. The notion of "democratization" has thus been widely accepted by African rulers of all shades, despite-or perhaps because of-a notable lack of analysis as to what it actually consists of. There is a danger that this vagueness, combined with disillusion with electoral experiments in countries such as Angola and the perception of hopelessness in Somalia and Liberia, will encourage those in the incoming Clinton administration who prefer to ignore Africa altogether.

The Bush administration inherited some legacies from the Cold War era, such as support for President Mobutu in Zaire and Jonas Savimbi in Angola. In 1992, the appalling human rights records of both men, and their lack of strategic value, belatedly led to U.S. estrangement from these erstwhile allies. The U.S. was active in trying to persuade Savimbi to accept the verdict of the Angolan electorate and not return to fighting. However, in these countries-as in Liberia and Somalia-there has been no official acknowledgment that the current disasters spring in large part from unquestioned backing of abusive clients during the Cold War.

The Bush administration has vigorously opposed a number of abusive regimes in Africa. Partly due to the efforts of Ambassador Smith Hempstone, the U.S. has maintained its pressure on President Moi of Kenya to stick to his promises of holding elections. In a new development, it has exerted serious economic pressure on Malawi, while continuing to distance itself from Mauritania and condemning Sudan with exceptionally strong language.

South Africa was, once again, the country where U.S. interest was greatest. In 1992, the administration lifted most of the remaining sanctions against South Africa, taking an optimistic reading of President F.W. de Klerk's willingness and ability to pursue democratic reform. While these actions have undoubtedly encouraged de Klerk, and may have influenced the voters in the all-white referendum who overwhelmingly supported the transition to majority rule, they have continued to give insufficient attention to serious ongoing abuses. The administration belatedly began to give recognition to the mounting evidence of government complicity in the violence in South Africa and the lack of accountability for abuses by the police. Only after the Bisho massacre in September did the administration publicly address the disastrous human rights situation in the nominally independent homelands and the ultimate responsibility of the South African government for that state of affairs. The Bush administration's criticism of South Africa has consisted, again, of too little, too late.

For many countries, humanitarian imperatives should have dictated U.S. policy. Effective action would have required making greater use of the U.N. system. In Somalia, the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance responded generously to appeals by voluntary agencies and the icrc, but for much of 1992 there was no commensurate commitment from President Bush or the National Security Council. Only after the courageous visit of Senator Nancy Kassebaum to Mogadishu, on the eve of the Republican National Convention, and criticism by presidential candidate Bill Clinton, was an emergency operation belatedly launched. And not until late November did the administration propose using U.S. troops to provide needed security for the delivery of food.

The Role of the United Nations

Nineteen ninety-two could have been an auspicious year for Africa at the United Nations. The new Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, is an African with experience of diplomacy in the Horn of Africa. His appointment in March of Ambassador Mohamed Sahnoun as special envoy to Somalia appeared to confirm a level of commitment that was much needed, following the disastrous involvement of Assistant Secretary General James Jonah earlier in the year. However, as the year wore on, the hopes for the reforms needed to make the U.N. Secretariat truly effective began to fade. They received a severe, perhaps fatal setback with the forced resignation of Sahnoun in late October, after his public criticism of U.N. shortcomings on Somalia. This reaction indicated a return to the dark days of institutional self-protection, at the expense of humanitarian imperatives.

The creation of the post of Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs on March 1, and the appointment of Ambassador Jan Eliasson, also promised much for Africa. These hopes, too, were to be disappointed. Eliasson chose to define his mandate narrowly, excluding the possibility of addressing the human rights crises that give rise to most humanitarian disasters. A combination of indifferent staff, organizational sclerosis, and bureaucratic infighting also hampered the effectiveness of the new Department for Humanitarian Affairs. On his visits to Africa in April and September, Eliasson failed to achieve progress in either Sudan or Somalia.

The U.N.'s failure in Sudan is particularly revealing, as it gives the lie to the often-cited excuse that the U.N. is only as strong as its member nations, particularly those on the Security Council. Most of the major powers at the U.N., notably the European countries and the U.S., have condemned Sudan in extremely strong terms and used a variety of diplomatic and economic measures against the country. All were eager that the U.N. should follow suit. However, Secretary Eliasson preferred to follow the established pattern in dealing with Sudan through "quiet diplomacy," despite the accumulated evidence of the failure of this strategy over almost a decade.

The U.N. specialized agencies have continued to show a resistance to reform and a lack of accountability. Too manyoperations throughout the continent are plagued with slowness, overconcern with bureaucratic niceties, organizational jealousies, careerism and indifference to human suffering. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has continued to operate with an agenda set chiefly by media profile rather than humanitarian needs. The urgent need for reform has never been greater.

The Work of Africa Watch

Rakiya Omaar, Executive Director of Africa Watch since its creation in 1988, resigned from her position in 1992 to devote her full attention to the Somali crisis. In her four-and-a-half years as director of Africa Watch, she set the agenda and standards that have established Africa Watch's international reputation as a leading human rights organization dealing with Africa.

Africa Watch's major effort in 1992 concerned Somalia. There were two Africa Watch missions to the country, and an unprecedented level of advocacy. Between late July and late September, Africa Watch staff gave more than 80 radio and television interviews, in addition to providing numerous articles in the U.S. and international press. Africa Watch also testified on Somalia three times before the U.S. Congress. This work broke new ground in a number of ways. It included analysis of the close links between the armed conflict and the lack of food, and it included penetrating criticism of the negligence of the United Nations.

As in previous years, Africa Watch was active on Sudan, especially covering issues that were neglected by other human rights and humanitarian organizations, such as the relocations from Khartoum and the abuses against the Nuba. Again, the willingness of the U.N. to make unacceptable compromises with the Sudan government was a target of criticism.

Africa Watch produced a comprehensive account of human rights in Mozambique, entitled Conspicuous Destruction: War, Famine and the Reform Process in Mozambique. The report was published in July, just as the warring parties negotiated the terms of a cease-fire.

Africa Watch closely followed abuses relating to the transition to democracy in Nigeria as well as attacks against civil society. Similarly, Africa Watch analyzed efforts by the Mobutu government in Zaire to stop the democratization process, and documented the army's attack on peaceful demonstrators in February. Human rights abuses against democracy advocates in Mauritania, Cameroon and Togo were also monitored throughout the year. Africa Watch remained an important source of information on the deteriorating human rights situation in Liberia, especially after renewed warfare engulfed the country in October.

Africa Watch has also undertaken two investigations into the problem of land mines, one in northern Somalia and one in Angola. Africa Watch also investigated the links between human rights abuses and the creation of famine, and contributed a substantial chapter on this subject to the Human Rights Watch report Indivisible Human Rights, which was issued for the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Jakarta in September.

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