Regional Overview - Africa

The signing of several peace agreements in 2005 resulted in a decline in armed conflict across the region. However, grave human rights violations, including killings, rape and other forms of sexual violence, characterized continuing conflicts in Burundi, Chad, CF4te d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Sudan. Many places faced political instability and a serious risk of further conflict and violence. Refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in camps and urban areas had inadequate access to basic needs assistance and were exposed to serious human rights abuses. Impunity for human rights violations remained widespread, despite some international and regional efforts to bring suspected perpetrators to account. Human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents continued to face harassment, assault and unlawful detention for denouncing human rights violations or criticizing their governments.

Millions of men, women and children remained impoverished and deprived of clean water, adequate housing, food, education and primary health care. This situation was exacerbated by widespread and systemic corruption and the apparent indifference of governments to providing their citizens with the most basic economic and social rights. Across the region, hundreds of thousands of families were forcibly evicted from their homes, further violating their fundamental human rights.

The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa entered into force during the year, but continuing violations of women’s human rights, including female genital mutilation (FGM), domestic violence, rape, trafficking and sexual violence during conflicts, made the development nominal rather than substantive.

A series of important regional initiatives, including the Pan-African Parliament, the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council and the African Peer Review Mechanism, became fully operational, although their overall impact on respect for human rights was difficult to measure. The AU Assembly continued to make efforts to address human rights problems in the region, but its failure to respond firmly to the human rights crisis in Zimbabwe illustrated the need for the AU to apply its human rights principles consistently.

Armed conflict

Governments and armed opposition groups continued to abuse human rights and international humanitarian law in Sudan (particularly in Darfur), northern Uganda, Chad, CF4te d’Ivoire and the DRC, resulting in unlawful killings, rape and other torture, population displacements and other grave human rights violations. In Darfur, civilians were killed and injured by government troops, which sometimes bombed villages from the air, and by government-allied nomadic militias known as the Janjawid. Women were raped and some were abducted and held as sexual slaves. Many had fled conflict and extreme deprivation in the south and other parts of Darfur.

Civilians continued to be the victims of the 19-year conflict in northern Uganda. Despite peace talks, attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army increased towards the end of 2005, and some dissident militias remained active and clashed from time to time. More than 3 million IDPs and half a million refugees were expected to return to the south.

In Burundi, armed conflict continued throughout 2005 between one armed group, the PALIPEHUTU-FNL, and government forces in the provinces of Bujumbura rural and Bubanza, despite the presence of UN peacekeeping soldiers. More than 120,000 people, most of them women and children, remained internally displaced and in exile at the end of 2005.

No progress was made in demobilizing an estimated 50,000 combatants under the peace process in CF4te d’Ivoire. The main obstacle to progress appeared to be a lack of trust between the government and the leadership of the New Forces (Forces nouvelles), a coalition of former armed groups. Child soldiers were used by all parties to the conflicts in CF4te d’Ivoire and the DRC.

In October, Eritrea banned UN helicopter flights and other travel to UN monitors, further restricting the multinational UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, whose 2,800 personnel administered a buffer zone along the border. Both sides had rearmed since 2000 and deployed troops near the border in late 2005. The UN Security Council called on Ethiopia to implement the International Boundary Commission’s judgment regarding the border areas, particularly its allocation to Eritrea of Badme town, the flash point of war in 1998, but no progress was made on this during 2005.

Illegal exploitation of natural resources continued in the DRC, Liberia and Sudan. In Liberia, former combatants occupied rubber plantations and tapped rubber, claiming it was their only means of survival. They were reportedly responsible for killings and torture, including rape, of civilians.

There was encouraging progress in peacemaking in some conflicts. In Senegal, for example, the 2004 peace agreement that ended two decades of conflict in the southern Casamance region of the country held throughout 2005.

Impunity and justice

Despite widespread and systematic violations of human rights, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, most perpetrators were not held to account. Although investigations were opened in a few cases, the justice systems in many countries continued to suffer from systemic corruption, lack of resources and inadequate training for personnel. Despite encouraging judicial pronouncements in some countries, there was little progress in creating an adequate mechanism for prosecution before domestic courts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The AU tended to downplay the issue of accountability in the implementation of its mandate.

In Senegal, despite publicly expressed commitments by the authorities, no steps were taken to end impunity for perpetrators of human rights abuses. In January, parliament passed a law that provided an amnesty for “politically motivated” offences committed between 1983 and 2004. Senegal did not respond positively to the extradition request and international arrest warrant issued by a Belgian judge and charging Chad’s former President HissE8ne HabrE9 with gross human rights violations committed during his 1982-90 rule. HissE8ne HabrE9 moved to Senegal after he was ousted from power in 1990. In November, the Dakar Appeal Court declared itself “not competent” to rule whether to issue an extradition order in the case. A few days later, the authorities stated that the AU should indicate who had jurisdiction to rule on the case and declared that HissE8ne HabrE9 would remain in Senegal pending the AU’s decision.

There were some limited steps at the international or regional level to address impunity. In January, a UN-appointed commission of inquiry reported that war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed in Darfur, and that the Sudanese justice system was unable and unwilling to address the situation. In March, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1593, referring the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The resolution required Sudan and all other parties to the conflict to co-operate fully with the Court. However, as a result of US pressure, a provision was inserted in the resolution to exempt nationals of states not party to the Rome Statute of the ICC (other than Sudan) from the jurisdiction of the ICC. The ICC began investigations, but by the end of 2005 had not been granted access to Sudan.

In January, the Ugandan government formally asked the ICC to investigate and prosecute war crimes and other serious human rights abuses that had occurred during the armed conflict in the north of the country. In October, the ICC issued arrest warrants for five senior leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Uganda since July 2002.

Two years after the Prosecutor of the ICC announced that the Court would look into the hundreds of thousands of crimes committed in the DRC since July 2002, investigations had yet to result in any international arrest warrants. The likelihood that only a handful of suspected perpetrators would be prosecuted underlined the necessity for comprehensive action by the DRC government to reform the national justice system and end impunity.

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor continued to enjoy impunity in Nigeria despite international pressure for Nigeria to surrender him to the Special Court for Sierra Leone to face charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international law. In July, the leadership of the Mano River Union countries (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) publicly stated that some of Charles Taylor’s activities in Nigeria breached the terms of his asylum.

Trials of prominent genocide suspects continued before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, which held 60 detainees at the end of 2005. Five trials involving 20 defendants continued from previous years, and five new trials involving seven defendants began in 2005. Two judgments were given: one defendant received a six-year prison sentence and another received life imprisonment. One suspect surrendered himself to the ICTR and was later transferred to The Hague for detention pending his trial on charges of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and complicity in genocide. Another suspect was arrested in Gabon. He was charged with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, and persecution as a crime against humanity.

A report by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) of a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe in 2002, which was officially made public in February 2005, concluded that human rights violations had occurred in Zimbabwe. The ACHPR made several recommendations, but by the end of the year almost nothing had been done to implement them. Zimbabwean government ministers and officials made disparaging comments about the report and the ACHPR. In December, the ACHPR adopted a resolution on Zimbabwe condemning violations of human rights. The ACHPR did not, however, make public the report of its July 2004 mission to Sudan.

Violence against women

Women remained without adequate protection in law and practice, and continued to face violence and discrimination. Women were raped and subjected to other forms of sexual violence by government agents as well as partners, employers and others. In some communities, FGM and forced marriages were still the norm. In Cameroon, approximately 20 per cent of women and girls were reported to have been subjected to FGM, which was still legal. Provisions also remained in the Penal Code that exempted a suspected rapist from judicial proceedings if he marries the victim, effectively protecting the perpetrator while subjecting the victim to further abuse.

Hundreds of thousands of women were believed to have been raped by government forces and armed political groups in conflict. In eastern DRC, rape was sometimes committed in front of the victim’s children, family or community. In some cases, the girl or woman was killed or deliberately wounded. Few rape survivors had access to appropriate medical care. In Togo, security forces and militia groups allegedly raped women suspected of supporting the opposition.

Legislative reform to increase respect for women’s human rights began or was completed in some countries. In Ghana, civil society organizations discussed reform of abortion legislation and the absence of laws prohibiting marital rape, and some members of parliament advocated tougher sentences for rape and sexual assaults against women. In Liberia, a law on rape was passed that had a broader definition of rape. However, it initially included the death penalty among the punishments for perpetrators, despite Liberia's commitment to abolish the death penalty. The Kenyan parliament agreed to discuss a proposed Sexual Offences Bill and discussed a draft law on rape, sponsored by women’s groups. The draft law proposed broadening the definition of rape and denying bail to anyone charged with raping a minor.

In Nigeria, some states introduced legislation on violence against women in the home, but the federal government did not review discriminatory laws or amend national law to comply with the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, which Nigeria had ratified. Despite the lack of official statistics, it was estimated that nearly two thirds of women in certain groups in Lagos State, for example, were victims of violence in the home. Discriminatory laws and practices, dismissive attitudes within the police, and an inaccessible justice system contributed to violence against women being widely tolerated and underreported.

Economic, social and cultural rights

Many governments engaged in practices that systematically denied people their rights to shelter, food, health and education. In Zimbabwe, hundreds of thousands of people were forcibly evicted and their homes demolished as part of Operation Murambatsvina (Restore Order). The operation was carried out against a backdrop of severe food shortages. The government repeatedly obstructed the humanitarian work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies, including attempts to provide shelter for the homeless. In Nigeria, thousands of people were made homeless without due process, compensation or the provision of alternative housing.

In Niger, serious food shortages were compounded by years of drought and an invasion of desert locusts in 2004, the worst in more than a decade, which wiped out much of the country’s cereal production. The UN estimated that famine put in danger the lives of over a quarter of Niger’s population. The famine had a knock-on effect in neighbouring Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria, all of which experienced rising prices or food shortages. Despite warnings of the impending famine, international donors failed to respond quickly. In Mozambique, over 800,000 people needed food aid as a result of prolonged drought.

High death rates from AIDS-related illnesses seriously affected economic and social development in many countries of the region. The southern Africa region continued to have the highest prevalence rate of HIV in the world and severe problems in access to care and treatment. Swaziland had the highest rate globally with 42.6 per cent, and more than three quarters of people known to need antiretroviral treatment were still not receiving it. In South Africa, new figures revealed that around 6 million people had been infected with HIV by 2004, with less than 20 per cent of them receiving antiretroviral drugs. In Mozambique, approximately 200,000 people were unable to access antiretroviral drugs and other treatment for HIV infection.

Death penalty

Prisoners remained under sentence of death in Burundi, Cameroon, DRC, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Somaliland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

In Uganda, the High Court in Kakamega freed four people who had been on death row since 1995 after a successful appeal against their death sentences. In a landmark judgment, the Constitutional Court of Uganda ruled in favour of ending laws that stipulate a mandatory death sentence. The Attorney General appealed against the ruling.

In the DRC, argument over abolition of the death penalty resurfaced during parliamentary debates on the new Constitution. An early draft of the Constitution proposed abolition, but a majority in the Senate and National Assembly rejected the change.

Human rights defenders

Across the region, governments remained hostile to human rights defenders, and many faced harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, and assault.

In the DRC, Pascal Kabungulu, Executive Secretary of the human rights organization Heirs of Justice, was shot dead by three armed men in July at his home in Bukavu, South-Kivu. An official commission of inquiry failed to report its findings, and no perpetrators had been brought to justice by the end of 2005. In Zimbabwe, numerous NGOs and individual human rights defenders were harassed and intimidated by the state. In Rwanda, several members of civil society, including staff of human rights organizations, were forced to flee the country for fear of being persecuted or arbitrarily arrested. Some previously outspoken human rights activists were intimidated into silence.

In Sudan, the government launched legal proceedings against one of the leading human rights groups in the country, the Sudan Organisation Against Torture, in an apparent attempt to silence it. Its members faced more than five years’ imprisonment. Prominent human rights activist Mudawi Ibrahim was arbitrarily arrested and detained without charge, including when he was trying to leave Sudan to receive an award in Ireland for human rights activism. He was later released.

In Somalia, Abdulqadir Yahya Ali, director of the Centre for Research and Dialogue, was assassinated in Mogadishu in July by unidentified assailants.

In Togo, a group of young people associated with the ruling party prevented the Togolese Human Rights League from holding a press conference. In Angola, LuEDs AraFAjo, coordinator of SOS-Habitat, a housing NGO, was briefly detained in June and November because of his activities to prevent forced evictions. The authorities in Cameroon continued to use criminal libel laws to imprison journalists in cases that appeared to be politically motivated.

In Equatorial Guinea, lawyer and human rights defender FabiE1n NsuE9 Nguema, a former prisoner of conscience, was accused of misconduct and arbitrarily suspended from the Bar Association for a year.

Many prisoners of conscience in Eritrea remained in indefinite and incommunicado detention, without charge or trial, and some were tortured or ill-treated. A new law in May imposed severe restrictions on NGOs. Human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience were also held in Ethiopia. In Mauritania, however, several NGOs were officially recognized for the first time.

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