By Kebba Jeffang
Human Rights Watch (HRW), in presenting its report before the delegates of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), on Wednesday, 21st, April, 2015 in Banjul, raised concerns over the general human rights situation in Uganda, Nigeria and South Sudan.
In his presentation, Mr. Daniel Bekele, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, described the HR situation in Africa as ‘extremely worrying.’ He said his institution wishes to focus on pressing human rights concerns in Nigeria and Uganda as both of these countries are subjects of the Commission’s consideration at the 56th Ordinary Session and South Sudan as the overall human rights situation remains extremely worrying.
He said HRW is concerned about the ongoing obstructions to the rights of expression, assembly and association in Uganda, adding that several vague laws, implemented inconsistently and a seemingly sporadic manner, have raised serious questions about Uganda’s commitment to ensure basic rights are respected. He said the media and civil society face threats and arrest when their work confronts government failures on key issues.
“Investigation into human rights abuses and corruption scandals that have directly impacted human rights protections have either been weak or ad-hoc or subject to prolonged delay. The Public Order Management Law passed in August 2013 granted the police wide discretionary powers to permit or disallow public meetings. It has generally been implemented to undermine or obstruct Ugandans’ assembly rights when protesting against government action or inaction and has hampered the opposition’s ability to hold meetings with citizenry,” said Bekele.
The Human Right Watch Executive Director said the media and journalists in Uganda continue to face persistent threats in their daily operations. He said the radio managers and journalists report fear of reprisals if programmes are highly critical of the government. He said the government has deployed rhetoric and an array of tactics to intimidate and obstruct the work of NGOs on sensitive issues such as governance, human rights, land, oil etc.
On Nigeria, Mr. Bekele congratulated the federal state for conducting a peaceful and democratic election. However, he said the country has been challenged with frequent attacks on its innocent civilians by the Boko Haram insurgency. He said the new regime is expected to put this situation under control, while fully observing the full principles of human rights. He said according to the findings, since 2009, the terrorist group has killed at least 8, 000 people and more than one million people displaced. He said reported attacks have increased in the first quarter of 2015 with more than 1, 000 civilians killed.
“Denouncing Boko Haram crimes and standing with its victims is necessary but not a sufficient answer to the crisis. It also requires action to address the persistent lack of accountability for abuses committed by all sides to deter future abuses and work together towards justice for every victim. In response to Boko Haram attacks, Nigerian security forces have often use excessive force. Hundred men and boys have been rounded up, detained in inhumane conditions, and in some case physically abused because they were suspected of supporting Boko Haram. Some were extra-judicially executed while many others were forcibly disappeared and security forces have burnt down civilian homes. The new administration should immediately stop such abuses by security forces and ensure operations comply with human rights and humanitarian law,” said Bekele.
The HRW Executive Director, presenting on South Sudan’s human rights situation, informed the delegates that despite numerous peace deals between South Sudan’s president and the opposition group led by the former vice president Reik Machar, the brutal armed conflict marked by gruesome massacres, revenge killings often based on ethnicity and mass destruction and looting of civilians’ properties continues more than a year since the dispute begun in December last year.
“The AU Commission of inquiry on South Sudan submitted it’s much anticipated report in January, 2015 at the AU Peace and Security Council meeting in Addis Ababa but the council meeting at the head of state level decided to defer consideration and publication of the report for an undefined period of time,” said Mr. Daniel Bekele.
He called upon the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to urge the AU to immediately release the report instead of putting justice on the back burner in the hope of making progress on political deals with the parties to the conflict who have so far demonstrated little political will to commit to the number of peace deals they have signed.