Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page


Human Rights Developments

Africa in the news headlines was a continent of collapsed states, internal armed conflicts, communal violence and flagging democracies. The grim news often obscured some of the hopeful developments in countries where peace was being restored or where, despite continuing problems, popular mobilization and political reform resulted in greater freedom than in the past to take part in civic life. Furthermore, a resilient group of human rights activists in virtually every country continued to challenge government abuses, often at great personal risk.

The independent media continued to operate notwithstanding numerous government efforts to restrict freedom of expression. In 1996, newspaper editors and journalists in countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, and Zambia continued to suffer arson attacks on their premises or criminal charges brought against them for articles critical of the government.

The efforts of local nongovernmental organizations to exercise their rights and to expand the space for civil society to function were not, however, sufficiently reinforced or reflected at the international level. With the possible exception of Burundi, the international community either watched Africa=s major human rights crises silently or stopped short of investing the political and financial commitment necessary to promote a strong human rights policy. This was all the more disheartening given that civilians were the primary casualties of political oppression and upheaval, and Africa accounted for the world=s largest refugee and internally displaced population.

Some of the most serious human rights violations occurred as fighting continued or resumed in countries such as Burundi, Liberia, Somalia, and Sudan. These countries reflected the character of war in today=s worldCinternal conflicts exacerbated by ethnic or religious antagonismsCwith civilians constituting the bulk of the casualties. Increasingly, the massive refugee populations which flooded into neighboring countries led to tensions with local populations and heightened insecurity within the region due to cross-border raids by combatants. The mobilization of exile armies among the refugee millions was further fueled by increased weapons flows to the area.

No conflict epitomized this phenomenon more than the growing morass in the Great Lakes region which demonstrated the inextricable links between the struggles for political control in Rwanda, Burundi and Zaire, violence against civilians, and large numbers of refugees and displaced persons. By the year=s end, the chaos in eastern Zaire became the latest humanitarian catastrophe in the region. Two years after the genocide which killed between 500,000 to one million Rwandans, mostly Tutsis, and the defeat of the Hutu government responsible for the massacres, close to 2 million Rwandan refugees remained exiled in Zaire and Tanzania, still controlled by the Hutu extremist authorities. The refugees= reluctance to return home was reinforced by the largely Tutsi-led Rwandan government=s continued imprisonment of some 83,000 persons accused of genocide and the inordinate delay in the start of trials. Members of the former military and militia used the refugee camps as bases from which to launch a growing number of incursions this year, increasingly targeting survivors of or witnesses of the genocide and local officials. Rwandan military authorities responded with operations that killed hundreds of mostly Hutu civilians.

The crisis was worsened by Zaire=s attempt, with the support of the regrouped Rwandan forces loyal to the former government, to expel Zairian citizens of Tutsi origin from the Masisi area in North Kivu to Rwanda. In a complex chain of violence, people of Hutu origin attacked Tutsi, and in other places attacked or were attacked by Zairians of different ethnic background, forcing these Zairian Tutsi to flee to Rwanda. By October, another group of Zairian Tutsis in South Kivu, known as Banyamulenge, who were threatened and attacked by Zairian military and civilians, took up arms and, with the apparent support of the Rwandan government, attacked the Zairian military and Rwandan and Burundian refugees and dispersed most of the refugee camps. The insecurity in the area forced international humanitarian agencies to withdraw from the area in October. Meanwhile, the conflict in Burundi also continued to spiral downward, as contenders in what became an open civil war attacked unarmed civilians on ethnic grounds as the Tutsi-led government and the armed Hutu opposition groups fought to consolidate their bases of support. That violence spawned further waves of refugees and internally displaced persons.

While the Great Lakes region received more attention, other major refugee situations elsewhere on the continent also blurred the distinction between refugee populations and encamped armed opposition groups, as well as the spill-over of the conflict in cross-border raids. The thirteen year-old conflict in Sudan between the Muslim Arabic-speaking north and marginalized Sudanese peoples, led by mostly non-Muslim black African southerners, continued to have an impact on bordering countries. Because Sudan is the largest country, geographically, in Africa and borders on ten countries, its regional armed conflicts have spawned refugee flows to several neighboring countries, often accompanied by Sudanese rebels. Similarly, refugees and preexisting rebel groups in neighboring countries have taken refuge in Sudan. In 1996, governments of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda accused the Sudan government of supporting rebel movements in these three countries, and the Sudan government in turn accused all three of helping the rebel Sudan People=s Liberation Movement/Army. Since independence charges that one government used another=s rebels as proxies to destabilize another were made by governments of all stripes in the Horn of Africa. The alleged interference was along political lines more often than religious or ethnic linesCfor instance, Sudan=s Islamic government was alleged to assist non-Muslim groups, such as the nominally Christian Lord=s Resistance Army in Uganda. Nevertheless, ethnic animosity was exacerbated since the rebel groups usually had an ethnic origin or appeal.

A booming arms trade continued to profit from and fuel the conflicts in AfricaCoften supported by governments who sought to advance their geostrategic interests by supplying weapons to certain factions. In the Great Lakes region, military shipments continued to flow to the defeated Rwandan government=s forces in eastern Zaire with the complicity of Zairian authorities. In Angola, arms shipments persisted to both the government and the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) forces in clear violation of an international arms embargo.

In countries undergoing the fragile transition from war to peace, the critical need for human rights concerns to be centrally integrated into the peace process was underscored by the setbacks caused to the peace. In Angola, serious violations of the cease-fire continued, and other violations including the restriction on freedom of movement, abduction of civilians and the intimidation of journalists created grave concerns as to whether the peace process would hold. In Liberia, the absence of any mechanism in the peace accord to hold combatants accountable for rights violations was one of the reasons which allowed the factions to renew fighting with impunity in April and May.

In countries that were undergoing democratization, the news was good and bad. South Africa continued to hold out hope for Africa=s ability to institute democratic governance. Significant reforms continued to be implemented to address past inequalities and to introduce a culture of respect for human rights. Following the approval of a draft final constitution by the constitutional assembly in May, the constitutional court endorsed the bill of rights but objected to some other provisions of the draft constitution. The constitutional assembly reconvened in September and adopted an amended draft on October 11 subject to further certification by the constitutional court on November 18. Malawi=s democratic transition remained on course despite difficulties experienced in coalition-based governance. The breakdown of the coalition between the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) created uncertainty regarding the ability of President Bakili Muluzi to govern for the duration of his five-year term. Nonetheless, Malawi continued to enjoy a vastly improved climate for civil and political rights. Against the background of setbacks for democratic transition in such countries as Niger, Chad, and Gambia, two countries stood out as beacons of hope for successful democratic change and consolidation: Mali and Benin. Years after the end of the repressive Derg in Ethiopia, political debate and institution building gradually increased under the coalition government, and while grave rights problems remained, there were efforts to develop a high-level human rights commission and ombudsman, and the independent press continuedCdespite government crackdownsCto be outspoken. In Eritrea, the draft of a permanent constitution providing for guarantees of fundamental human rights was finalized in July. The post-independence period continued, however, to be marked by minimal political progress. High-ranking officials insisted that multipartyism was not to be expected in the country for another decade at least. Conscientious objectors had their citizenship officially revoked, while nonviolent opposition groups could only function in exile.

A number of other governments, which professed to be democratizing following the introduction of multipartyism in the early 1990s, had not introduced the institutional reform essential to effective change and misused state institutions to partisan ends. The governments of Kenya, Zaire and Zambia, in the run-ups to their next multiparty elections, resorted to harassment of the political opposition, intimidation of the independent press, and blatant manipulation of the electoral process and the judiciary, in order to retain power. In Nigeria, a January 1996 military decree formalizing the country=s second Atransition program@ to civilian rule under the new military leadership showed little promise, particularly since decrees suspending constitutional rights, allowing detention without charge or trial and criminalizing criticism of the government remained in force.

The manipulation of ethnicity to further political ends was an ever-present factor on a continent with hundreds of ethnic groups often randomly divided by national boundaries placed during the colonial period. In many conflicts, such as those in Liberia, Burundi, Zaire, ethnicity was used by leaders who manipulated and exploited these differences and have erroneously portrayed the ensuing tensions as inevitable and intractable tribal conflicts. This year, the Zairian government capitalized on the Rwandan refugee crisis to Acleanse@ the country of certain groups of its citizens by denationalizing them on the basis of their ethnicity. The manipulation of ethnicity was also evident in multi-party states such as Kenya and Zambia, where state-sponsored attacks were directed against ethnic groups perceived to be opposition supporters.

The issue of accountability for past abuses remained a critical issue for the rule of law and lasting reconciliation in countries moving towards restoring peace. In South Africa, the National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation was empowered to investigate and document human rights violations between 1960 and 1993, to recommend reparations for the victims, and to grant amnesty to perpetrators in return for full disclosure of the acts they had committed. It began its hearings in April. In Malawi on December 23, 1995, the high court found ex-President Banda and his leading henchmen not guilty on charges of murders of three Malawi cabinet ministers and a member of parliament in 1984. The trials of seventy-three top-ranking officials of the Derg charged with committing genocide and war crimes continued since their opening in mid-December 1994. Twenty-eight of the defendants were being tried in absentia: Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, who headed the Derg, was in comfortable asylum in Zimbabwe. Hopes for prosecutions to commence inside Rwanda, where more than 80,000 people were held on suspicion of genocide in grossly overcrowded and inhumane conditions, were frustrated for the second year by a lack of political will to proceed with trials and an impotent judiciary. In September the passage of a genocide law which legislated procedures and penalties for the trial of genocide crimes removed one of the obstacles towards the resumption of the judicial system.

The Right to Monitor

A local human rights movement existed in virtually every African country. Although often nascent, and frequently under attack, this nongovernmental sector was critical to the creation of a broader rights constituency within Africa and a hope for lasting change. While many of these groups needed to further clarify their role and develop their capacity, local human rights organizations had become an important force on the continent, and inter-African links had also begun to develop. In countries such as Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zaire and Zambia, human rights organizations continued to be a growing force in curtailing government abuse and calling for accountability. These organizations, among other things, publicized government abuses; educated the public about their rights; provided legal and other assistance to victims of human rights abuses; and conducted advocacy work within their country and in regional and international fora for greater respect of rights by their governments.

An unfortunate testimony to the effectiveness of these groups were the steps that governments or warring factions often resorted to in order to silence these monitors. Human rights activists on the African continent took enormous risks in order to carry out their work. In 1996, human rights activists continued to face harassment, imprisonment, torture and even death in many countries. Repression also took the form of blocking or rescinding legal registration, banning the maintenance of a bank account or the receipt of foreign donations, and vilification in the official press. The Sudanese Human Rights Organization continued to function outside the country since it was banned after the 1989 coup. When fighting broke out in Monrovia, Liberia in April, many leading human rights activists were targeted by the warring factions and were forced to go into hiding or leave the country. Nigeria=s thriving human rights community continued to persevere, despite the execution of nine Ogoni activists at the end of 1995. During 1996, a number of leading activists were detained, others were prevented from traveling abroad to attend meetings of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights or other meetings, and some had their passports confiscated.

The Role of the International Community

The political will for international involvement in supporting human rights and humanitarian initiatives in Africa continued to diminish, prompted by recollections of failed U.N. peacekeeping operations and diminished geopolitical interests in post-Cold War Africa. This disengagement was coupled with growing calls for greater regional involvement in seeking solutions to Africa=s problems. Even where the wider international community remained engaged, international efforts often failed to integrate vigorous observation of human rights practices into its approach. Policy initiatives by the U.N., the OAU, the E.U., and the major powers frequently overlooked or compromised human rights concerns in the hope of hastening an end to a political crisis.

Talk continued about the need to create early warning systems to identify and prevent potential crises on the African continent, recognizing that preventative action was more desirable than massive humanitarian aid following a crisis. Yet, the case of Burundi starkly illustrated the futility of early warning systems if not accompanied by the political will to take meaningful steps to avert a looming disaster. The creation of the mandate of a special rapporteur on human rights in Burundi and the recommendations of the U.N. International Commission on Burundi were not followed by concerted action to influence the human rights emergency they observed.

Other protracted conflicts in Africa received much less international attention generally, and little or no emphasis was placed on human rights. Since the departure of the international intervention force from Somalia, which never made human rights a priority, no international attention focused on the human rights concerns of Somalis, despite continuing violations and low-level conflict. In Sudan, the civil war underway since 1983 against the rebel Sudan People=s Liberation Army (SPLA) continued with serious violations of human rights on both sides. However, while the U.N. Commission on Human Rights condemned Sudan=s human rights record for the fourth consecutive year and renewed the mandate of the special rapporteur, the government was able to block the distribution of emergency relief to certain locations of strategic value to the SPLA and the deployment of human rights monitors on Sudan=s borders was stalled. Even in Liberia, which had a regional peacekeeping force and a U.N. observer team, the peacekeepers did nothing to protect civilians or to stop the fighting when a fresh outbreak of fighting erupted in April.

For many international donors who had previously taken a strong human rights position against autocratic one party states, the introduction of a multiparty system became the benchmark to discontinue pressure for change in a number of transitional democracies. There was a lack of sustained attention to human rights concerns in countries in transition such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Zaire, and Zambia as leaders consolidated power in systems that were multiparty in name, while suppressing the freedoms of expression, association and other fundamental rights without which political participation is a dead letter.

Regional Organizations

The gradual disengagement by the wider international community was accompanied by calls for African organizations to play a greater role in conflict resolution. While there was still a willingness to countenance intervention for humanitarian reasons, the major powers were reluctant to commit their troops. There was a readiness on the part of some African governments to respond to this challenge, although Africa=s regional institutions remained weak and attempts to date were disappointing. One such example was the West African peacekeeping force ECOMOG (the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group) deployed in Liberia since 1990. When fighting between the factions erupted in Monrovia in April 1996, the regional peacekeepers displayed an astonishing reluctance to intervene to stop the fighting or the looting, or to protect civilians. Some ECOMOG soldiers even participated in the looting and took sides in the fighting.

Nonetheless, an encouraging development during this year was the emergence of new initiatives, however limited, by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to respond to regional human rights crises. In December 1995, the African Commission on Human and Peoples= Rights, a substructure of the OAU, held its second extraordinary session (the first extraordinary session to consider a country situation), in response to the execution in Nigeria of nine minority rights activists, including internationally known author Ken Saro-Wiwa. The commission expressed its Aserious concern on the situation of human rights in Nigeria@ and resolved to send a fact-finding mission to Nigeria to dialogue with Nigerian authorities. The Nigerian military government, however, rejected the proposed dates in February for the mission to take place, and no new dates had been agreed by the end of the year. Disappointingly, the commission did not follow up on the initiative of the extraordinary session to make any detailed statement on Nigeria. Other fact-finding missions the African Commission agreed to send to Rwanda, Chad, Zaire and Sudan never materialized. At its nineteenth ordinary meeting in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in March, the African Commission adopted a APlan of Action Against Impunity in Africa,@ including commitments to strengthening national judicial systems and the establishment of an African court. At its sixty-fourth regular session in Yaounde, Cameroon in July, the OAU Council of Ministers endorsed the plan. The OAU also passed a summit resolution on Liberia on the possible establishment of a war crimes tribunal for Liberia.

Subregional groups on the continent, while still nascent, also showed some initiative this year in addressing issues with human rights implications. In particular, the political developments in South Africa had a positive impact on regional stability and on bids to strengthen the rule of law in the region. In August, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) launched its organ on politics, defense and security whose mandate included human rights issues. Furthermore, the Southern African region began as a group to call on their neighbors to improve respect for the rule of law. Following an attempted coup by the king of Lesotho, SADC pushed for the restoration of civilian rule there. The same approach was adopted in Swaziland to pressure the king there to move towards a more constitutional form of government.

A subregional response by Eastern and Central African states to the crisis in Burundi and Zaire also represented possible movement towards a more institutionalized response to regional crises. In June, at a subregional meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, East and Central African leaders resolved to create an African Intervention Force to be deployed in Burundi. The plan was never implemented in part because the authorities in Burundi revoked their prior agreement to the arrangement and later events overtook the plan following the military coup in July. After the coup, East and Central African leaders imposed economic sanctions on Burundi to foster a quick return to civilian rule and a peaceful settlement of its internal crisis, and the OAU endorsed the decision to impose sanctions. Following the outbreak of violence in eastern Zaire, regional leaders met in Nairobi, Kenya on November 5 to seek regional solutions to the crisis.

Within the Horn of Africa, the heads of member states of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought and DevelopmentCSudan, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and DjiboutiCsigned amendments to the charter of the organization in March, ten years after its foundation. The new charter brought about changes in the structure of the organization and expanded its mandate from the original concerns over food security and environmental conservation to broader issues, including conflict prevention and resolution in the subregion.

United Nations

Although U.N. involvement on the African continent remained extensive, its initiatives in Africa consistently downplayed the human rights role of its various mandates. Although U.N. reporting and monitoring of human rights abuses improvedCthrough human rights field operations such as the one in Rwanda and the reports of special rapporteurs in Sudan, Burundi and ZaireCinformation or recommendations contained in reports submitted to headquarters were frequently not integrated into the wider U.N. policy. The shortsightedness of this approach was revealed in the U.N. peacekeeping operations in Liberia and Angola as the warring factions continued to undermine the peace process with impunity.

The potential for effective U.N. action was highlighted by its positive contributions. The special rapporteurs for Sudan, Burundi and Zaire acted as vigorous advocates for human rights concerns to be integrated into U.N. work and their reports ensured that timely information was available for policy makers. The U.N. Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda, which showed more promise under new leadership in late 1995, improved its monitoring of human rights violations in Rwanda and its influence with the Rwandan government. Similarly, in Sudan, the United Nations Children=s Fund (UNICEF), won praise for its work in Operation Lifeline Sudan (Southern sector) in conducting field investigations of attacks affecting civilians, and extracting a commitment by the warring factions to commit to ground rules which complied with humanitarian law.

However, these individual successes remained isolated. The rhetoric on human rights was often not followed with the necessary resources to translate the recommendations into reality. This was most apparent in the U.N.=s policy towards Burundi. Despite extensive warnings about the need to take action to prevent further violence in Burundi and vigorous advocacy efforts by the U.N. special rapporteur, the U.N. remained reluctant to take meaningful next steps. In February, the special rapporteur called for the creation of an international tribunal, yet no action was taken to this end. Lip service continued to be paid to the need for human rights monitors to be deployed in Burundi. In April only five monitors were sent, and further funding pledged for more monitors in July did not result in any further appointments.

Important international efforts which held promise over a year ago appeared to have run into problems. The performance of the U.N. International Commission on Burundi, established in 1995 to investigate the 1993 assassination of President Ndadaye and the massacres that had ensued, was disappointing. The Security Council=s reluctance to make the findings of the International Commission=s report public and the commission=s failure to insist upon prosecutions and accountability for human rights violations diminished the commission=s potential effectiveness. When the report was released in August, after government sources selectively leaked favorable parts of it, its reporting of the situation appeared unbalanced as did its conclusions: these called for the creation of an international tribunal to deal with the Aacts of genocide@ attributed to the Hutu, while not calling for any similar examination of the ethnic slaughter of Hutus committed by the Tutsi-dominated army.

Similarly, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which was set up by the U.N. in 1994 to hold perpetrators of the genocide accountable, faced serious resource, staffing and logistical constraints. During the year, tribunal investigations continued to compile evidence to bring indictments against those accused of organizing the genocide. By November, the tribunal had indicted twenty-one persons in thirteen indictments, but only three were in the custody of the tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania. Zambia, Kenya, Belgium, Switzerland and the United States had arrested indicted persons and agreed to hand them over to the tribunal. The Rwanda tribunal continued to receive comparatively less attention than its counterpart for the former Yugoslavia, and adequate funding only became available in mid-1996. In addition to the financial and logistical difficulties, Rwanda tribunal investigations were initially undermined by the appointment of unqualified personnel, limited training, and faulty methodology and investigative procedures. These problems were magnified with regard to the investigation of gender-based crimes such as rape. As trials opened in September in Arusha, Tanzania, it became clear that the Rwanda tribunal had paid inadequate attention to the need for effective witness and victim protection, which is important in light of reported reprisals against those who agreed to testify.

Commonwealth of Nations

The Commonwealth of Nations, to which many African countries belong, including Mozambique as well as former British colonies, suspended Nigeria for a period of two years at its November 1995 heads of government meeting in Auckland, New Zealand, which took place at the time of the execution of Saro-Wiwa and the eight others. This was the first time such action had been taken against a member state. At the same time, the Commonwealth adopted the Millbrook Action Program on the 1991 Harare Commonwealth Declaration, which included a commitment to democratic governance. A Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) was appointed to consider the cases of Nigeria, the Gambia and Sierra Leone, the three African countries which were in violation of the declaration (elections in Sierra Leone later removed it from the list). In April CMAG recommended a series of sanctions against Nigeria, pending the restoration of civilian rule, but the implementation of these sanctions was suspended pending further dialogue with the government. In September, the Nigerian govenrment agreed to allow a CMAG fact-finding mission to visit the country, but refused to give guarantees that the members of the mission would be free to meet with whom they wanted.

European Union

The European Union is one of the most significant donors of humanitarian and development assistance to Africa. The European Development Fund has earmarked US$16.25 billion to Africa for the period 1996 to 2000. Additionally, the E.U. granted $218.71 million for development programs through NGOs and $23.75 million in support of democracy and human rights.

However, the E.U. failed to make full use of it leverage and did not play a comparably strong role in defense of human rights on the continent, often because individual member states opposed to strong positions were able to block E.U. action. In the case of Nigeria, E.U. member states agreed to impose certain legally binding sanctions in the wake of the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists. These sanctions include visa denials, a prospective arms embargo and suspension of all development cooperation with the Nigerian government. The E.U., however, failed to establish sufficient implementation procedures for the arms embargo and major European trading partners appeared opposed to further measures against the abusive regime.

In the Great Lakes region, the E.U. has been the primary contributor of humanitarian assistanceC$674.87 million since 1994, adding the contributions of individual member states the amount is $943.56 million. On the diplomatic front, the E.U. has appointed a special envoy to the region, and E.U. officials have on some occasions made strong statements emphasizing the need for respect for human rights. The E.U. also provided funds for projects such as the UN Human Rights Operation in Rwanda and an independent radio in Burundi. In general, however, the E.U. only has a lackluster record on the promotion of human rights in the Great Lakes region.

In April 1996, France broke with E.U. policy on Zaire and announced a resumption of its bilateral aid to the Mobutu government, which had been cut off by E.U. member states in 1991. The French decision, which came at the height of the expulsion of Tutsi from Zaire, was apparently not linked to any determination that human rights had improved in Zaire, although it indicated that human rights concerns were not high on the French policy agenda in Zaire.

United States

The administration sent a number of high-level delegations to Africa in 1996, including Secretary of State Warren Christopher, U.N. Ambassador Madeline Albright, the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, and National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, although Africa was not a high priority for U.S. policy. Even in those countries where the U.S. was more engaged, the administration was unable to forge a consensus and build a strong human rights policy. The main exception to this pattern involved the consistent U.S. attention to Burundi, which stemmed in part from the shame associated with the international failure to respond to the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The prime example of the lack of a clear policy involved Nigeria, where the U.S. expressed outrage over the execution of Saro-Wiwa and the eight other Ogonis and the continued dismal human rights situation. Yet after taking some steps such as extending pre-existing bans on military links and extending a visa ban, no further concrete measures were adopted, despite the fact that no improvements occurred in Nigeria. In the Great Lakes region, although considerable U.S. diplomatic activity centered on the Burundi crisis, similar attention was not paid to other countries in the region. In Rwanda, the U.S. failed to use its substantial leverage with the government to press for human rights improvements, especially in the area of the judicial system and military attacks on armed civilians. Zaire, too, represented a case where the U.S. muted human rights criticism in the interests of gaining President Mobutu=s cooperation in other regional issues. Even in countries that were engaged to some degree in a transition to democracy, like Kenya and Ethiopia, the U.S. refrained from vigorously protesting the narrowing political space in which civil society and dissenting voices could operate. And in Liberia, the closest that the U.S. ever had to a colony in Africa, the U.S. deferred for too long to the West Africans to attempt to resolve the devastating conflict.

In Burundi and Angola, the U.S. demonstrated that it was capable of formulating a more forceful policy. The U.S. invested political capital and played an important role, with varying degrees of success, in efforts at conflict resolution in both countries. In addition, the U.S. involvement in southern Africa provided an indication of the potential impact of sustained U.S. engagement.

Increasingly, the U.S. sought to deal with crises in Africa by encouraging African solutions to African problems. To this end, in September the U.S. launched an initiative to create an African Crisis Response Force (ACRF). Although the idea had been raised before, the impetus for the force was the Burundi crisis, and the clear indications that no U.N. force would be mounted quickly to deal with an even worse humanitarian disaster. The U.S. proposal envisioned a force of 5,000 to 10,000 troops to be on standby in their respective countries to play a humanitarian, rather then a peacekeeping, role. The administration was actively seeking support among European and African countries. Unfortunately, no human rights component to such a force was contemplated.

The U.S. provided some US$717 million in development assistance to sub-Saharan Africa during fiscal year 1996. In addition, it provided approximately $923 million in humanitarian aid, including food aid and refugee and emergency assistance.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Africa

Throughout 1996, Human Rights Watch/Africa continued its work of monitoring and documenting human rights abuses in about a dozen countries in Africa. An attempt was made to balance the work on humanitarian disastersCsuch as Burundi, Liberia and SudanCwithout neglecting to address the human rights abuses taking place in countries in which a transition to democracy had been pledged, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Zaire and Zambia. We also monitored countries emerging from recent conflict such as Angola and Mozambique, and worked in Rwanda in the aftermath of genocide. The reform process underway in South Africa allowed us to contribute in a different way, often commenting on or contributing to proposed legislative reform. Acknowledging the growing refugee and internally displaced populations on the continent, the division created a new researcher position to monitor the human rights issues arising from forced displacement. In 1996, Human Rights Watch/Africa sent missions to Angola, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The division also worked closely with Human Rights Watch=s Arms Project, Children=s Rights Project and Women=s Rights Project.

Human Rights Watch/Africa provided regular briefings, reports and documentation to governments and U.N. representatives, as well as nongovernmental and humanitarian organizations. We continued to actively monitor and seek to influence the policies of governments, in particular, those of Africa, Europe and the U.S. government, as well as the international financial institutions. We expanded our advocacy into the impact of multinational corporations operating in Africa, particularly oil companies operating in Nigeria. Similarly, we met with representatives of African governments in order to raise issues of concern in their own countries and elsewhere on the human rights front. We increased attention to the African Commission on Human and Peoples= Rights, attending meetings as observers and raising concerns with the commissioners. Through our reports, articles and frequent media interviews, we sought to sensitize broader public opinion internationally about human rights conditions in Africa.

Significant resources were committed to monitoring and advocacy on the situation in the Great Lakes region. We remained a key source of information on Burundi, among other things, providing information and documentation to the U.N. special rapporteur on Burundi and to the U.N. Commission of Investigation into the assassination of President Ndadaye and subsequent massacres. In support of the special rapporteur, we advocated an arms embargo on all sides to the conflict in February and pressed for the establishment of an international tribunal for Burundi. We wrote several letters to the U.N. Security Council on Burundi calling for an arms embargo, expressing concern over the proposal of a standby force, and urging for the creation of an International Criminal Tribunal for Burundi.

In collaboration with the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, Human Rights Watch/Africa continued to maintain a field office in Rwanda with a tripartite mission: documenting the genocide, monitoring the current situation in Rwanda and Burundi, and supporting local human rights monitors. The Rwanda-based project located, catalogued and translated more than a thousand pages of documents from the period of the genocide from prefectural and communal offices. Along with interviews with hundreds of witnesses, the documentary record served as the basis for ongoing analysis and reporting on the mechanics of the genocide, to be published in a forthcoming report. In monitoring the current situation, we published numerous press releases and met with Rwandan and international authorities to protest the abuses investigated. We also provided information and expertise to the International Tribunal for Rwanda and national judiciaries in Europe and North America for prosecution of former Rwandan officials implicated in the genocide and in related civil court cases. In collaboration with the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues and in conjunction with the Women=s Rights Project of Human Rights Watch, we conducted an in-depth investigation resulting in a book-length report entitled Shattered Lives: Sexual Violence During the Rwandan Genocide and its Aftermath in September. The report received extensive press coverage that prompted renewed attention to the lack of rape indictments before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the need for assistance to Rwandan women.

In seeking to pressure the U.N. to incorporate a human rights component into its peacekeeping operations, and specifically into the plans for disarmament, demobilization, and repatriation, we continued to monitor peacekeeping operations in Liberia and Angola. In conjunction with Human Rights Watch=s Arms Project, we published in February ABetween War and Peace: Arms Trade and Human Rights Abuses since the Lusaka Protocol.@ The report attracted widespread press coverage and contributed to forcing the U.N. to admit that weapons flows continued unchecked to the country. In April we organized a conference in London on ASouthern Africa 2000: New Regional Dynamics@ in conjunction with a number of other organizations, the proceedings of which were published as a special edition of the human rights magazine, African Topics.

Human Rights Watch/Africa continued to monitor countries undergoing transition. In August and September, Human Rights Watch/Africa visited Kenya and Zambia respectively to examine the human rights record of these governments in the run-up to multi-party elections. We also met with U.S. and European policymakers to raise human rights concerns during the year. We continued to monitor the human rights position in South Africa, commenting on legislation relating to the new police complaints mechanism and on the proposed review of the Prevention of Family Violence Act. Throughout the year, we protested rights violations to the Nigerian military authorities and pressed the U.K. and U.S. governments as well as the E.U. institutions to take effective action to promote human rights in Nigeria. We assisted the U.N. special rapporteurs on the independence of judges and lawyers and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in their preparation for a mission to Nigeria. In September, we published a report APermanent Transition: Current Violations of Human Rights in Nigeria.@ Human Rights Watch called upon the U.N. to appoint a special rapporteur on Nigeria and to agree to a strong resolution condemning human rights developments in Nigeria.

Human Rights Watch/Africa closely monitored the human rights situation in the countries of the Horn of Africa and frequently consulted and exchanged views with local and international groups on the situation of human rights in the region. In June and July, we visited Ethiopia to investigate the progress of the trials of prisoners held for human rights crimes under the former government, as well as reports of continuing abuses in regions affected by insurgencies and harsh government restrictions of the freedoms of association and expression. We engaged in a constructive dialogue with the government on the urgent need for accountability for current as well as past abuses. We also called for the charging or release of the remaining 1,700 officials of the previous government who passed their fifth year in prison without charges or trial. In a visit to Eritrea in July, we familiarized ourselves with the constitutional developments and government restrictions on civil society. A 343-page report on Sudan was published in May entitled Behind the Red Line: Political Repression in Sudan, noting that political parties remained banned and freedom of the press, association, assembly and other basic civil rights were not permitted. We frequently commented on the issue of slavery in Sudan, urging the government to prosecute those responsible and to assist families to locate missing relatives. We also denounced the secret military trial of thirty-one persons, including some civilians, for an alleged February coup attempt. We criticized the UNHCR for not taking adequate steps to prevent boys in camps it supports from being conscripted by opposition groups. We also urged the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to establish three U.N. human rights monitors on the borders of Sudan.

Human Rights Watch/Africa closely monitored the situation of refugees and internally displaced populations in the Great Lakes region and in Kenya. In July, we published a report entitled AZaireCForced to Flee: Violence Against the Tutsis@ on violations against Zairians of pre-colonial Rwandan origin attacked and driven from North Kivu, Zaire. We traveled to Kenya in August in order to monitor the situation of the internally displaced population and to assess the success of a joint U.N. Development Program/Kenyan government resettlement program which ended in September 1995. We also traveled to the Somali refugee camps in north-eastern Kenya on a follow-up mission to document protection measures that had been put into place to prevent and assist rape victims. In a discussion paper which was distributed at the October UNHCR Executive Committee meeting, Human Rights Watch examined the implications of the UNHCR Guidelines on the Protection of Women, making recommendations based on the Kenya mission, for better integration of the guidelines into the agency=s protection activities worldwide.

In cooperation with the Arms Project of Human Rights Watch, we continued to work on the legacy of landmines in Africa, visiting Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe on this issue. Our lobbying contributed to the Angola government=s announcement in May that it was committed to work towards a ban on the stock-piling, transfer and use of anti-personnel mines.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page