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Updated: 4 months 4 days ago

Interview: Inside What Was Ethiopia’s Jail Ogaden

Thu, 11/07/2019 - 11:03

Several months later, in August 2018, the Somali Region’s president at the time, Abdi Illey – was arrested. As president of the Somali region, he was ultimately responsible for regional security forces in the region. He was replaced by Mustafa Omar, a long-time activist and UN worker. Mustafa’s appointment as president heralded in a new era of human rights reform and hope in the Somali Region, and one of the first steps as president was to shut down the notorious Jail Ogaden. Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher Felix Horne speaks to Audrey Wabwire about his recent visit to the Somali Region and the now-empty prison, and the Somali region’s path towards healing.

Why did you go to Jail Ogaden?

For years, Human Rights Watch had received reports about torture, rape, and massacres in the Somali Region. One of the commonalities in the stories we heard was that many of those who were arbitrarily arrested and tortured ended up in Jail Ogaden. So, we decided to focus a major research project on documenting abuses in Jail Ogaden. When our report was released in July 2018, our research findings about the suffering in the jail were part of a chain of events that led to the closure of the prison, the release of all its political prisoners, and other positive changes in the Somali Region.

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Front gate of Jail Ogaden, May 2019. 

© 2019 Felix Horne/Human Rights Watch

Now, after years of being not permitted to enter Ethiopia to conduct research, Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups can visit, although acquiring visas remains a challenge. During one of my first trips back to the country, I wanted to get to the Somali Region, visit Jail Ogaden, and see firsthand the prospects for justice and accountability and how the former political prisoners are trying to heal from past abuses.

What did you see at the prison?

Walking through the front gate of the prison was one of those moments exemplifying the changes we’ve seen in Ethiopia – a year ago, this would have been impossible. It was very emotional for me, as the faces of torture victims rushed through my mind. I kept replaying the stories they told me as I walked around the jail. It was quite something seeing this jail closed and empty, even as the evidence of its terrifying past could be seen all around.

The rooms were much brighter than I expected. I was told that, when the jail was still open, prisoners were told to decorate the rooms with colored scraps of paper to make it look like they were “happy” ahead of visits by dignitaries, including Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission. I saw a lot of these scraps of paper still hanging on the ceilings. I also saw lots of graffiti on the walls with prisoners’ names and dates. Much potential evidence was strewn about. There were prisoners’ diaries and wardens’ logs just lying on the ground. Goats were walking around, grazing on grass and whatever else they could find.

I went to Room 8. Many former prisoners had told me how this room was specially set aside for torture and solitary confinement. It’s a small dark musty room with a damp air. It was chilling being in there and thinking about all the stories I had heard.

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View of Jail Ogaden from one of the guard towers looking east, May 2019.

© 2019 Felix Horne/Human Rights Watch

Many people we interviewed spoke of a place in the jail where people were buried. When I went to that area, I saw lots of bones; some were definitely animal bones, but there were all kinds of bones there and I wondered whether the remains of former prisoners could have been there as well.

What happened to those running Jail Ogaden who oversaw the torture?

Some of those responsible for the abuses at Jail Ogaden are now in prison and facing justice. Others are on the run. When I was in the Somali Region last month, I interviewed Shamaahiye Sheikh Farah, commonly known as “Shamaahiye,” one of the former prison heads of Jail Ogaden and a colonel in the abusive Liyu police. I met Shamaahiye at another prison in Jijiga, capital of the Somali region, where he has been held since late 2018. He was tried and convicted of involvement in the deaths of several Jail Ogaden prisoners. He is now appealing his conviction and 18-year-prison sentence for his actions in Jail Ogaden.

It was quite emotional for me to remember all the victims describing the torture they endured, and then to see Shamaahiye in prison and in court. There’s a sense of justice. But disappointingly, media and civil society actors were not present at the court proceedings, and many people do not know about these arrests or proceedings. With many victims unaware that these trials are ongoing, it is a missed opportunity for their healing and reconciliation.

How did you conduct the research on Jail Ogaden given that Ethiopia would not permit access?

Between 2016 and 2018, we conducted interviews in ten countries with over 70 victims, perpetrators, and witnesses of torture and other abuses in Jail Ogaden, many of whom had fled Ethiopia after leaving Jail Ogaden. One of the things that sets this prison apart is that some of the torture was carried out in front of other prisoners, so there are many hundreds of witnesses for some of the torture, making it relatively easy to corroborate the incidents we investigated. We also obtained 25 hours of video footage from a 2011 Somali Regional government assessment of prison guard performance in the jail where prison guards described what they have done.

July 4, 2018 Video Video: Torture in Somali Region Prison in Ethiopia

Prison officials and security forces have arbitrarily detained and tortured prisoners for years in the notorious regional prison known as Jail Ogaden. Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, should urgently order investigations into the horrific situation, and the government should ensure regional security forces and officials are held accountable.

We used satellite imagery to help interviewees identify different areas, such as where food was cooked or where women were held. This allowed me to visualize dimensions, what the prison looked like, and the general layout without actually being able to visit.

Jail Ogaden is now closed and there’s been some progress towards accountability for past crimes, but what’s next for the Somali Region?

It’s a good question. The Somali Region is trying to come to terms with its abusive past and is asking all the right questions about how to have meaningful accountability and justice on the one hand, with the need for reconciliation and healing on the other.

There’s are also the formidable challenge of reforming the security forces and rebuilding institutions like the judiciary that for years were suppressed or subject to politicized appointments. Positive steps have been taken in reforming the abusive Liyu police, although it’s still early days yet. The government’s commitment to these initiatives is commendable.

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Report author with survivors of Jail Ogaden who were released in the days following HRW’s July 2018 report on Jail Ogaden.

© 2019 Felix Horne/Human Rights Watch

There also hundreds of thousands of conflict-related IDPs in the region, primarily those who fled clashes in 2017 and 2018 along the border between the Somali Oromia regions. Some fled because Oromo mobs burned their houses, or their family members were slaughtered by these mobs, sometimes with the collaboration of regional or local security forces. They cannot just return home.

In some parts of the country, the federal government is pressuring IDPs to return home. IDPs we spoke to in the Somali Region were quite clear that they did not want to return to their former homes in Oromia because they still feel unsafe, and they believe those responsible for the atrocities they fled are still walking freely. With over one million IDPs in the region due to the ongoing drought, and forecasts of more droughts, the humanitarian challenges in the region remain daunting.

And Jijiga and surrounding areas are still recovering from the awful violence of August 2018 when Somali youth loyal to then president Abdi Illey targeted non-Somalis. Churches were burned, non-Somalis were driven out of Jijiga, and at least 15 civilians, likely more, were killed. Many have returned to Jijiga but not all.

Federal, regional, and local elections are scheduled for May 2020, and while it’s not yet clear what role the Somali Region’s opposition Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) might play in elections, it is an obvious milestone for the Somali Region’s reform trajectory. ONLF was previously considered a terrorist organization by the federal government, but following a peace agreement in October 2018, they were removed from that list, have been largely disarmed, and have been welcomed back into the Somali Region where they operate freely.

So, the Somali Region government has taken a number of steps to improve the protection of rights and justice, but considerable challenges remain.

Categories: Africa

Resignation Confirms Fears of Delay in Guinea Stadium Massacre Trial

Sat, 01/06/2019 - 18:18
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In Guinea’s capital, Conakry, family members cry after identifying the body of a relative killed on September 28, 2009, when security forces fired on opposition supporters as they marched to and later held a rally in the September 28 Stadium. The body of their relative was one of 57 dead displayed at the Grand Fayçal Mosque on October 2, 2009.

© 2009 Reuters

The resignation of Guinea’s Justice Minister Cheick Sako – who oversaw significant progress in the investigation in Guinea’s devastating 2009 stadium massacre – should not end hope of bringing those responsible to justice.

On September 28, 2009, several hundred members of Guinea’s security forces opened fire on tens of thousands of opposition supporters in a stadium in the capital, Conakry. At least 150 people died and dozens of women were raped.

Efforts to deliver justice for one of Guinea’s worst episodes of political violence is a litmus test of President Alpha Conde’s willingness to end impunity for the security forces, demonstrate the independence of the judiciary, and improve the rule of law. 

The years after Sako’s appointment in 2014 saw several steps forward in the case. In July 2015, a panel of Guinean judges charged Moussa Dadis Camara, the former leader of the junta ruling Guinea at the time of the massacre and commander-in-chief of the security forces responsible for the killings. In November 2017, the judges closed their investigation, having charged more than 14 suspects, including several high-ranking security officials in President Condé’s current administration

In April 2018, Sako appointed a steering committee to organize the trial. But the steering committee, initially supposed to meet once a week, has met only sporadically and has not yet set a trial date.

In a May 20 resignation letter made public earlier this week, Sako stated his opposition to a potential revision to Guinea’s constitution, which many believe Condé will announce to remove barriers to a third term in office. Guinean human rights groups worry that with Sako gone, any remaining momentum for the trial will be lost.

Guinea’s justice system should operate independently of politics, however complicated they become. Asking the steering committee to set a date for the trial would be a way for Sako’s successor, currently interim minister Mohammed Lamine Fofana, to show he is committed to a credible, independent judicial system and that he stands ready to advance Guinea’s crucial fight against impunity.

Categories: Africa

Central African Republic: Don’t Reward Warlords

Thu, 25/04/2019 - 04:27
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From left to right: Sidiki Abass, Mahamat Al Khatim, and Ali Darassa.

© Human Rights Watch; © Edouard Dropsy for Human Rights Watch; © 2016 CNC

(Nairobi) – Prosecutors in the Central African Republic should investigate militia leaders recently awarded government positions.

On March 24, a presidential decree named the armed groups leaders Ali Darassa, leader of the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (Unité pour la paix en Centrafrique, UPC), Mahamat Al Khatim, leader of the Central African Patriotic Movement (Mouvement patriotique pour la Centrafrique, MPC), and Sidiki Abass (also known as Bi Sidi Souleymane), commander of a group called Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation, or 3R, as special military advisers to the prime minister’s office. All three have led armed groups responsible for widespread atrocities in recent years, including war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. These posts were granted as a concession to the armed groups under a peace accord signed in February 2019 in Khartoum, Sudan.

“Ali Darassa’s appointment as a military adviser for the area where his men may have committed war crimes should not be used to give him immunity from investigation into the UPC’s abuses,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Against this backdrop, senior United Nations and African Union officials should make clear to all the victims of UPC abuses that there can be no lasting peace without justice for those heinous crimes.”

On April 15, in Bambari, Darassa participated in a ceremony presenting future members of special mixed units. The units will incorporate both national military and rebel fighters. This ceremony was attended by the UN Under-Secretary General of Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix; the AU’s Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smaïl Chergui; and the country’s prime minister, Firmin Ngrebada. Human Rights Watch has documented serious abuses by the UPC since 2014, when the group took control of the town of Bambari, in the center of the country, including targeted killings of civilians, extrajudicial executions, attacks on displacement camps, and rape.

Percée remarquable dans la mise en oeuvre de l'accord de paix en #RCA avec cette visite conjointe #UA -#UN et Premier Ministre à Bambari et premieres retrouvailles des FACA,anti balaka et UPC dans cadre Unités Mixtes de Securité. pic.twitter.com/GuUwr24m7v

— Amb. Smail Chergui (@AU_Chergui) April 15, 2019

Fighters under Al Khatim’s command have committed war crimes, including attacks on civilians, since 2015 when his group, which controls territory in the center of the country, was created. He was named military adviser for special mixed units in the center north zone.

Abass’s 3R group has killed civilians, raped, and caused large-scale displacement in the northwest zone since 2015. Abass was named military adviser to special mixed units in the northwest zone.

The appointments were made in line with a peace accord, negotiated by the AU during 18 months of talks with 14 armed groups and the central government, often while the groups continued their brutal attacks on civilians. The accord seeks to “definitively eliminate” the causes of the conflict and promote national reconciliation and calls for some fighters from armed groups to be incorporated into “special mixed security units,” which would also include members of the country’s national security forces. Armed group leaders promised to end “all hostilities and forms of violence.”

The accord is vague on steps needed to ensure post-conflict justice and does not mention specific judicial processes, or recent efforts to promote justice in the country, though it recognizes the role impunity has played in entrenching violence. The Special Criminal Court, a new court in the domestic system mandated to try war crimes and crimes against humanity, was established in recognition of the cycles of impunity that have driven conflict in the country and formally began operations in 2018. The court has significant support from the UN, including the international peacekeeping force on the ground since September 2014, known as MINUSCA.

Activists and victims have expressed deep concern that the agreement will be used to sideline justice for past crimes.

In 2014, the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened investigations into crimes committed in the Central African Republic since August 2012. The court arrested two leaders of the anti-balaka militias that were parties to the conflict, Alfred Yékatom and Patrice Edouard Ngaissona, in late 2018.

The current crisis began in late 2012, when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President François Bozizé and seized power through a campaign of violence and terror. In response, anti-balaka groups were formed and began carrying out reprisal attacks on Muslim civilians in mid-2013.

Victims of crimes committed by the UPC, MPC, and 3R have expressed anger and frustration to Human Rights Watch since the new posts were announced.

“How could the government and the international community dare to nominate and install this man as an official?” a 30-year-old survivor of a rape by a UPC fighter told Human Rights Watch. “How could they promote and validate someone whose men killed, raped, burned villages, and tortured the population? I have lost the strength and hope to try to seek justice because Darassa is now charged by the state with my security.”

A 45-year old man from Ngakobo, an area that has seen repeated UPC attacks on civilians at a displacement camp, told Human Rights Watch that UPC fighters had threatened civilians in the Boykotta area in the last two weeks. “We were always told Darassa would face justice, but now the person whose men killed us is charged with our security?” he said. “It is not logical.”

In February 2017, Darassa and the UPC left Bambari in response to a MINUSCA request. UPC fighters are alleged to have shot at UN peacekeepers in 2015, which may constitute a war crime under international law. Fighting broke out between peacekeepers and UPC fighters in January 2019, when UPC fighters killed two policemen outside of Bambari ahead of a visit by the country’s president. The fighting resulted in a UN attack on a large UPC base at Bokolobo, 60 kilometers south of Bambari.

On April 19, the Central African government and MINUSCA issued a news release stating that although Darassa is a special adviser, he has not been given an official security role for the town of Bambari. The news release also states that the mixed units, when operational, will be under the command of the national army.

MPC fighters participated in an egregious attack in October 2016, when they killed at least 37 civilians, wounded 57, and forced thousands to flee a camp for displaced people in Kaga-Bandoro, where some 7,000 people were living, after being displaced by fighting in the region. Fighters destroyed at least 175 homes in the neighborhoods around the displacement camp and destroyed at least 435 huts in the camp itself.

In 2016, Human Rights Watch documented the killing of scores of civilians and received reports that 3R fighters raped at least 23 women and girls in Koui sub-prefectures in Ouham Pendé province. Attacks on civilians and nongovernmental organizations continued into at least 2017.

The installation of Darassa in his official capacity in Bambari and the appointments of Al Khatim and Sidiki is difficult to reconcile with the principles of the Bangui Forum, the conclusions of national consultations held in May 2015, Human Rights Watch said. Its declaration states that “no amnesty” would be tolerated for those responsible for and acting as accomplices in international crimes. The forum brought together more than 800 representatives of community and other nongovernmental organizations, political parties, and armed groups from across the country. It recognized that the lack of justice in the Central African Republic since 2003 was one of the main causes of successive crises.

“The Bangui Forum made it clear that the way forward for peace in the Central African Republic is to say no to impunity, and that should be respected,” Mudge said. “These militia leaders should be investigated with the intent to prosecute based on the evidence, and the national government, the UN, and the AU should strongly support efforts to hold key figures responsible for these crimes to account and make justice a reality for victims.”

Categories: Africa

Thousands Missing in Mozambique Following Cyclone Idai

Wed, 03/04/2019 - 18:06
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Residents of Buzi District, in Sofala province, Mozambique, wait on rooftops for rescue teams after Cyclone Idai, March 19, 2019.

© 2019 INGC

Strong winds, heavy rains, and massive flooding caused by Cyclone Idai two weeks ago have left a trail of destruction in central Mozambique, on a scale that won’t be known until the rain waters recede. But it’s already known that since March 18, when the cyclone made landfall, more than 500 people have died and at least 1400 more are being treated for cholera.

As the authorities and the United Nations, Red Cross, and other humanitarian agencies struggle to accommodate more than 146,000 displaced people, a new problem has emerged: thousands of people are missing. Many people in accommodation centers told the media of losing relatives as they fled the rising flood waters. One woman explained that she couldn’t find her husband, her mother, and her six siblings. An 8-year-old girl told local television that the last time she saw her parents and two siblings was when they left her on a rooftop from which she was later rescued.

Many of the missing may have found shelter in one of 155 displaced persons sites across Sofala, Manica, Zambezia, and Tete provinces. Others could have returned to their villages when the rain stopped.

The Red Cross, which has experience finding people missing in connection with conflicts, natural disasters, and migration, has set up a website to help people in affected areas of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. But more will be needed to be done to track down the thousands of people who remain unaccounted for.

The UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement provide that governments should “endeavor to establish the fate and whereabouts” of people reported missing and cooperate with international agencies involved in this task. The authorities also need to inform relatives “on the progress of the investigation and notify them of any result.”  

The Mozambican government should urgently establish a national database of missing people to help families identify and locate their relatives. And they should move swiftly and effectively to engage with survivors, community leaders, and international partners to ensure that these vital family links are restored.

Categories: Africa

Another Mysterious Opposition Death in Rwanda

Wed, 13/03/2019 - 04:01
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Anselme Mutuyimana. 

© FDU Handout

The death of an assistant to Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire last weekend has sent a chill through those who still dare to challenge the status quo in Rwanda. Investigations by authorities into the death of Anselme Mutuyimana, who had only been released from prison six months ago, should be independent and transparent.

According to a statement from Ingabire’s party, the unregistered FDU-Inkingi, Mutuyimana’s body was found in a forest in northwestern Rwanda showing signs of strangulation. The Rwanda Investigation Bureau told Reuters that it has opened an investigation.

Mutuyimana’s death is the latest in a long line of murders, disappearances, politically motivated arrests, and unlawful detentions in Rwanda, especially of suspected government opponents, including those from the FDU-Inkingi.

Mutuyimana was first arrested in 2012 and accused of holding an illegal meeting in a bar. In January 2014, he was convicted of inciting insurrection, alongside the FDU-Inkingi’s Secretary-General, Sylvain Sibomana. Mutuyimana was released in August 2018, while Sibomana continues to serve his sentence.

Ingabire was sentenced to 15 years for inciting insurrection, after she tried to contest the 2010 presidential elections. She served six years before her release in September 2018, when President Paul Kagame pardoned more than 2,000 prisoners.

And the list continues.

In October 2018, the deputy leader of the FDU-Inkingi, Boniface Twagirimana, “disappeared” from his prison cell in Mpanga, southern Rwanda. He had been charged alongside several other party members with state security offenses, as part of a larger crackdown on free speech after elections in 2017.

And in March 2016, political activist and FDU-Inkingi member Illuminée Iragena went missing, most likely forcibly disappeared in unacknowledged government detention.

Both Iragena and Twagirimana are feared dead.  

The reality seems to be that opposing the government in Rwanda remains a dangerous undertaking.  

Categories: Africa

In Memory of Medi Ssengooba

Thu, 03/01/2019 - 14:03
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Dr Akwasi Osei, CEO of Ghana’s Mental Health Authority, Medi Ssengooba, and Shantha Rau Barriga.

© Private

With great sadness we share the news that Medi Ssengooba, a dear friend, partner, and colleague at Human Rights Watch, passed away last week after a short illness.

Medi was a strong advocate, a sharp lawyer, and a kind and gentle man who shattered the notion that disability meant inability. He joined Human Rights Watch as the 2011-2012 Finburg Fellow and led a team investigating and writing a seminal report, “Like A Death Sentence,” on shackling and other abuses against people with psychosocial disabilities in Ghana. During our research mission together to Ghana, Medi and his wheelchair had to be carried over the rocky terrain to reach the gates of the prayer camp where people were held in chains, but he was determined to get in and document their stories. The 2012 report and related video, featuring Medi, prompted Ghanaian officials to adopt many of its recommendations.

Medi went on to work for the Disability Rights Fund, managing their grants to Ghana, so we continued to work together to push for change. In a meeting with Medi in April 2017, the chief executive of Ghana’s Mental Health Authority, Dr. Akwasi Osei, agreed to ban shackling and to release people in chains from key prayer camps that we had identified, a promise fulfilled later that year.

He also changed the environment closer to home, persuading Human Rights Watch to install remote-controlled doors more usable to someone in a wheelchair, and advised us on how to renovate our New York office to make it more accessible. Life in New York City can be particularly challenging when you’re in a wheelchair, but Medi faced it all with unshakable good humor.

Medi persevered throughout his life. He was one of the first people with disabilities to graduate from Makerere Law School in Uganda and went on to get his LLM from American University in Washington, DC, with a fellowship from the Ford Foundation. He also co-founded the legal aid organization, Legal Action for Persons with Disabilities (LAPD), in Uganda.

Medi touched many colleagues with his optimism, warmth and kindness.

Our thoughts go out to Medi’s family, the disability community (particularly in his native Uganda), and the many who had the privilege of calling him a friend.

Categories: Africa

Living Longer, Locked Away: Helping Older People Stay Connected, and at Home

Sat, 15/12/2018 - 13:34
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Corridor in a care facility for older people. 

© Flickr

This month we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To mark the occasion, we have asked Human Rights Watch experts to reflect on some of the key human rights challenges in their area of specialty.

We are living longer than ever. Experts estimate that over one-third of all babies born in wealthy countries in 2012 will live to celebrate their 100th birthday. Life expectancy in every region is increasing. The United Nations calculates that in Asia, where most older people in the world live, nearly 30 years have been added to life expectancy over the past few decades. Africa is projected to experience the same by 2050.

Such a societal shift forces us to consider what it means to live an independent, dignified life as an older person. Should our enjoyment of fundamental human rights diminish with age?  The answer is, “no.”

Older people have the right to live independently in their communities on an equal basis with everyone else, with support if necessary. But right now, ageism, or discrimination against people based on their age, persists across societies and often drives policy decisions that undermine human rights.

For example, older people in many parts of the world are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to where and how to live when they experience physical, emotional, or mental changes that can come with aging: move into an institution or forgo crucial supports at home.

Living in an institution like a nursing facility can have serious repercussions beyond the fluorescent lighting, “privacy” curtains that separate people in the same rooms, and the grim cinderblock walls common to so many. It can risk our human rights to liberty; to informed consent and health; to family and private life; and sometimes even our right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment. It can jeopardize the freedom and independence that make up who each of us are.

In 2018, for example, Human Rights Watch documented how 179,000 older people living in nursing facilities in the United States, mostly those with dementia, receive dangerous drugs that nearly double their risk of death in a matter of weeks—without their informed consent, or sometimes even their knowledge. In Australia, a Royal Commission of Inquiry into aged care was announced in September 2018, amid deeply troubling media reports about physical and psychological abuse and neglect in nursing facilities. In Argentina, research in 2017 by academics specializing in social protection for older people found that families can force their older relatives into unregulated facilities without their consent.

Being literally locked away from the rest of the world makes older people more vulnerable to being overmedicated and having other rights violated.

The risks associated with institutions are increasingly recognized. In its 1999 decision, Olmstead v LC, the US Supreme Court recognized the right of people with disabilities to live in the least restrictive setting, and that when a person needs some support, living in a facility “severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals” and is a form of discrimination when it is unjustified. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which entered into force in 2008, and is ratified by 162 countries, requires that states parties guarantee the right to live in the community.

Countries that currently rely heavily on nursing facilities to deliver services to older people should move to ensure older people can also in practice, and in a meaningful way, exercise their right to live at home, with support as necessary. For those countries that have yet to develop services and support systems for older people, the rights-respecting path forward should be to focus on community services from the outset. Getting older shouldn’t mean giving up our dignity, safety, and independence.

Categories: Africa

Making Ethiopia’s Electoral Board Independent

Sat, 24/11/2018 - 01:02
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Birtukan Mideksa, a former judge and leading opposition figure, named head of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE). 

@PMEthiopia/Twitter

There was good news from Ethiopia as former opposition leader, lawyer and judge Birtukan Midekssa was named head of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE). Following years of almost completely closed political space, Ethiopia’s government continues to institute an important series of reforms. The appointment of a highly respected – and crucially, independent – new elections chair is another step in the right direction.

The NEBE, like many of Ethiopia’s supposedly independent institutions has been regularly criticized for being controlled by the ruling coalition and political interference in party and candidate registration has been a long-standing problem.

Birtukan understands all too well the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s (EPRDF)  stifling political control. Following the 2005 elections, she was sentenced to life imprisonment on politically motivated charges. After receiving a pardon in 2007, she founded and became the chair of the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party. But in 2008, she was again detained and only released after the 2010 elections, when the EPRDF won 99.6% of parliamentary seats. Birtukan had been living in exile ever since.

Birtukan’s nomination is also another win for women’s rights in Ethiopia, following a number of appointments of women to senior government positions, including Sahle-Work Zewde to the post of President and Meaza Ashenafi to head the Supreme Court. Dr Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s prime minister who came to power in April, has now achieved gender parity in his cabinet, which used to be made up almost exclusively of male party loyalists.

But Birtukan has her work cut out for her. While there have been many positive reforms since Dr Abiy took power, Ethiopia still faces enormous challenges. The last seven months have seen a rise in violence and ethnic tensions in many parts of the country, contributing to the displacement of some 1.4 million people  from their homes between January and June. This is compounded by a growing breakdown in law and order and increasing flows of firearms. Birtukan will oversee crucial and potentially volatile local elections scheduled for 2019 and national elections scheduled for 2020.

Creating an environment where Ethiopians have faith in the electoral process and in institutions like the electoral board is critical, and Birtukan’s appointment is a step towards creating that reality. But whether much needed reforms to electoral laws will be made and she will be given the tools to create a more inclusive elections system will be another test of the government’s true commitment to reform.

Categories: Africa

Mausi Segun

Thu, 26/10/2017 - 01:04

Mausi Segun, executive director of Human Right Watch's Africa Division, oversees the work of the division in approximately 30 countries. Segun joined Human Rights Watch in September 2013 as the senior researcher for Nigeria. Segun has conducted field investigations to several parts of northern Nigeria, authored extended press releases and dispatches on the cycles of violence in north central Nigeria, the humanitarian crises, the abduction of girls and women and the violations committed by both sides in the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast. She has written pieces and opinions for the New York Times, The Independent UK, Sunday Independent SA, and Salon and has been quoted in the Huffington Post, Washington Post and other major news media.

Before Human Rights Watch, she worked with Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission where, as southwest zonal coordinator, she worked tirelessly to document and promote human rights in six southwest states.

Prior to joining the Commission, she worked as a senior legal officer with the federal ministry of justice.

She has written countless papers on various rights and governance issues.

Mausi has a bachelor of law degree from Obafemi Awolowo University Nigeria, and a Masters in Human Rights Law from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Categories: Africa

'Every Year, I Give Birth': Why War is Driving a Contraception Crisis in Sudan

Sun, 28/05/2017 - 11:25

Under a huge baobab tree in Sudan’s Nuba mountains, I met Sebila, a 27-year-old mother of three. In March last year, her village had been attacked by Sudanese ground troops and bombed by government war planes. The assault forced Sebila and many other villagers to flee deeper into rebel-held territory.

She was just back in the village for the day with her children, two toddlers in tow and carrying a baby, to dig up sorghum she had buried. Sebila said food here is scarcer than it has been for years, because of poor rains and conflict fighting. “It’s exhausting, trying to feed them all [my family],” Sebila said of her children.

Aid obstruction in the rebel-held territories of Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile has been in force for nearly six years, and has had a devastating impact on the communities here. For Sebila – and all the women living across these territories – it has meant no access to contraception. “Every year, I give birth,” she told me. “It would be better if I could space it [out].” But Sebila cannot space her babies out, or have any control of her body. Like all women living in rebel-held territory here, she has zero access to contraception.

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 In the Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan, access to family planning and maternal healthcare is severely limited by blocks on humanitarian supplies.

© Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

It has also meant a severe lack of maternal healthcare. There is no local midwife, and Sebila lives five hours’ drive from a hospital, in a region where cars are a rare luxury. Women told me of waiting hours for transport while in obstructed labour, or being held propped up, bleeding and falling in and out of consciousness, between two men on the back of a motorcycle to reach a hospital. Multiple and closely-spaced births can carry serious health risks for both mother and infant, and can be life-threatening without proper treatment.

Yet there is no coordinated international aid effort under way in the Nuba mountains. Funds are in place, but both the government and the rebel group are preventing supplies getting in. The conflict has left already-stretched health services in the region in a pitiful state. Most facilities are little more than a table with some basic medicines, and there are only five doctors and one blood bank for perhaps close to a million people.

Despite many rounds of peace talks since fighting began in 2011, the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North have failed to agree on how to allow aid – needs-based and impartially delivered – into the affected areas. Instead they are still arguing about whether aid can come through a third country, or, as the government insists, only from inside Sudan. Some aid groups have found ways to provide occasional help, unauthorised by the government but supported by the rebels, but this is no substitute for the large-scale effort needed. 

This has very serious consequences for reproductive health. None of the women I met in the Nuba mountains had any access to family planning. One clinic provides a three-month injectable contraception, but local rebel regulations require women to get their husband’s permission first. Despite evidence that gonorrhoea and syphilis are on the rise and hepatitis B common, condoms are scarce. Most of the women I met had never seen a condom, let alone any other form of contraception.

It is also feared that the number of women and girls dying in childbirth in the rebel-held areas of Southern Kordofan – already much higher than other states in Sudan – is rising yet further. And two major aid efforts, including a UN polio vaccination campaign for children, have failed.

Sudan has a long history of aid obstruction going back to the start of the conflict: denying travel permits; rejecting visas; blocking work permits; and expelling aid workers. Meanwhile, citing mistrust of the government, the rebels have still not agreed to an offer by the US to provide aid via Khartoum, and have instead called for yet more negotiations. 

Although aid saves lives, and warring parties in conflict have an obligation to allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians, preventing it from reaching people is rarely punished. The UN security council briefly threatened punitive action against Sudan in 2012, but never acted. The health crisis unfolding in the Nuba mountains should prompt a change of tack. The UN security council, the African Union and the EU should investigate and consider travel bans and asset freezes on rebel and government leaders found to have deliberately blocked such deliveries. 

International aid is often a lifeline to civilians trapped in conflict. And it would help women like Sebila to access contraception, avoid risky childbirth, and feed their children.

Categories: Africa

Military Might Alone Won’t Pull Mali From Quagmire

Sat, 20/05/2017 - 23:20

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French soldiers from Operation Barkhane stand outside their armored personnel carrier during a sandstorm in Inat, Mali, May 26, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters “The jihadists are the law now,” an elder from central Mali told me. “The very day the French-supported operation finished, the Islamists were back in the villages,” confided another villager last week, referring to a military operation near the Mali-Burkina Faso border in April.

The endurance of the jihadist recruitment success and their appeal to many villagers suggests that military operations on their own will not be sufficient to defeat the threat. President Emmanuel Macron should keep this in mind when he visits the country this Friday.

Hailed as a military success, the 2013 French-led military intervention in northern Mali ended the region’s occupation by ethnic Tuareg separatists and armed Islamists linked to Al-Qaeda. But since 2015, attacks against Malian forces and abuses by Al-Qaeda-linked groups have moved southward to Mali’s previously stable central regions and, last year, spread into neighboring Burkina Faso.

Since 2015, I’ve interviewed scores of witnesses and victims to abuses in central Mali. They described how, in recent months, groups of up to 50 Islamist fighters closed down schools, banned women from riding on motorcycles driven by men other than their husbands, and imposed their version of Sharia (Islamic law). “We used to spend days celebrating a marriage or baptism, dancing and singing together,” one man said. “Not anymore.”

Men accused of being informants for the Malian government often turn up dead. Since 2015, Islamists have executed at least 40 men in their custody, including village chiefs and local officials. Some were murdered in front of their families. Several people said they felt pressured to send one of their sons to join the Islamists.

However, an equal number of villagers told me they welcomed the presence of the Islamist groups in central Mali; they saw them as a benevolent alternative to a state they associate with predatory and abusive governance. Many seethed as they described Malian army abuses during counterterrorism operations, including arbitrary arrests, torture, and executions.

Since late 2016, I have documented the alleged extrajudicial killing by soldiers of 12 detainees, the most recent in early May, and the forced disappearance of several others. Villagers described how soldiers detained and executed three family members in January. “We heard gunshots in the distance,” one witness said. “I followed the tracks of the army truck and found our people in a shallow grave.” This week, I received a desperate email from the brother of a man forced into a white pickup by men in uniform on February 3. “We have heard nothing; we have searched everywhere,” he said.

While the behavior of the state security services has improved in recent years, Malian authorities have made no meaningful  effort to investigate those implicated in violations. The jihadists speak a lot about corruption… how the authorities steal, torture and do bad things to us. Honestly, they don’t need to try very hard to recruit the youth.

Villagers said the Islamists are recruiting by exploiting frustrations over poverty, abusive security services, rampant banditry, local Peuhl clan rivalries, and, especially, corruption.

“The jihadists speak a lot about corruption… how the authorities steal, torture and do bad things to us,” one elder said. “Honestly, they don’t need to try very hard to recruit the youth…”

Villagers also said the Islamists are increasingly filling the governance vacuum. They welcomed Islamist efforts to investigate and punish livestock thieves, including by executions. Others praised Sharia rulings in favor of victims of domestic violence or spousal abandonment. Elders from both the sedentary Bambara and pastoral Peuhl communities credited the Islamists’ efforts in late 2016 to resolve deadly land disputes. This meaningfully reduced communal violence in some regions, they said.

“We are fed up with paying bribes every time you meet a man in uniform or government official,” one villager said. “The Islamists get all this done without asking for taxes, money, or one of our cows.”

It was corruption, poor governance, and abusive security force conduct that significantly contributed  to Mali’s spectacular collapse in 2012. The burden to resolve this situation lies first and foremost with the Malian government. But the French strategy in Mali and the wider Sahel won’t succeed without helping Mali to address the issues underlying decades of insecurity and the growing support for abusive armed Islamist groups. Military operations, including those supported by the French, are not enough to pull Mali from this deepening quagmire.

When President Macron visits Mali on Friday, he should urge the government to professionalize the security forces and hold them accountable, to support the chronically neglected judiciary, and to take concrete action against rampant corruption. Strengthening Mali’s weak rule of law institutions is complicated work, but no counterterrorism strategy can succeed without it.

Categories: Africa

European Parliament Demands Investigation Into Ethiopia Killings

Sat, 20/05/2017 - 23:20
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Demonstrators chant slogans while flashing the Oromo protest gesture during Irreecha, the thanksgiving festival of the Oromo people, in Bishoftu town, Oromia region, Ethiopia, October 2, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

Today, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for a United Nations-led independent investigation into the killing of protesters in Ethiopia. Between November 2015 and October 2016, Ethiopian security forces killed hundreds of protesters, and detained tens of thousands. An overly restrictive state of emergency has been in place for the past seven months, and tens of thousands more people have been detained under it. Today’s resolution echoes a previous European Union parliamentary resolution, resolutions by other countries, and last month’s request by the UN’s top human rights chief for access to investigate the abuses.

Ethiopia’s government has always rejected outside scrutiny of its horrific rights record, insisting that it can investigate itself. Yet it has conspicuously failed to do so. Past investigations by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have not met basic standards of impartiality, including its June 2016 report into abuses during the protests’ first six months. In April 2017, the EHRC acknowledged that 669 people were killed in an oral report to parliament, but found that security forces had used excessive force in just a few situations. This stands in stark contrast to what Human Rights Watch and other organizations have found, drawing on evidence that includes a wealth of video and photographic material. The EHRC hasn’t publicly released a version of their findings, so it’s impossible to assess their methodology or learn how they reached their conclusions.

International experts having access to areas where protests occurred and to people still in detention are important first steps towards meaningful investigations. But there are other obstacles too, like victims and witnesses being too afraid to speak out about government abuses. Thousands of Ethiopians have fled the country since the protests, seeking asylum in bordering countries. They too should be part of investigations into what happened, from locations where they may be more free to speak without fear.

Today’s resolution specifically calls on Federica Mogherini, the EU’s top diplomat, to “mobilise EU Member States” to urgently pursue the setting up of the UN-led international inquiry, and they can take the first step towards this at the upcoming Human Rights Council session next month in Geneva.

It’s hoped that implementing today’s timely resolution can help address the pervasive culture of impunity in Ethiopia. The resolution also reiterates the EU’s recognition of the importance of justice to ensure Ethiopia’s long-term stability. To the many victims of Ethiopia’s brutality, a UN-led inquiry could at least begin to answer pleas for justice that too often have gone unheard.

Categories: Africa

Saving the Lives of Women Raped in War

Mon, 15/05/2017 - 23:18
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A sign emphasizing the importance of healthcare and protection for survivors of sexual violence at a hospital in Kaga Bandoro, Central African Republic. 

© 2016 Human Rights Watch

At today’s United Nations Security Council debate, member states will discuss the secretary-general’s annual report on sexual violence in conflict. In this year’s annual report, the secretary-general recognizes sexual and reproductive health care as “lifesaving interventions.” Indeed, they are.

Writing about the Central African Republic, the secretary-general noted, “A large number of rape victims resort to unsafe abortion, which is the leading cause of maternal mortality.” During research on sexual violence by armed groups in the current conflict, Central African doctors repeatedly told me the same thing – that harm from self-induced or underground abortions now accounts for more deaths than, for example, childbirth-related hemorrhages.

Abortion is legal for rape victims in the Central African Republic but, as in many countries, that doesn’t mean it is readily available. Confusion about when abortion is legal deters some doctors from performing the procedure. Poor access to post-rape medical care – due to lack of services, fear of stigma, and insecurity, among other factors – prevents many women and girls from getting critical treatment that can prevent unwanted pregnancy and HIV transmission if administered quickly.

A 50-year-old survivor told me how, in 2014, she explained to medical staff at a displacement camp that members of an armed group had raped her and her two daughters. “They said, ‘We don’t have injections to stop diseases in the body,” she recalled. “They only gave [us] medicine for malaria.”

Survivors who become pregnant from rape report facing additional stigma, emotional distress, and economic strain. A 23-year-old survivor told me that, realizing she was pregnant after escaping from sexual slavery by an armed group, “I said to myself, if I had medicine I would abort the pregnancy. But since I don’t have anything, I have to stay like this until I give birth.” She said she struggles to support her daughter, then around 12 months old, both financially and emotionally.

At today’s meeting, states should urgently heed the secretary-general’s call and commit to ensuring that all women – including but not limited to those who become pregnant from rape – can get comprehensive post-rape medical care, including information about and access to safe abortion. States should also ensure psychosocial and socioeconomic support and legal aid for survivors, to help them rebuild their lives.

Rape in conflict can have deadly consequences, but the harm can be mitigated. Prioritizing access to services – including safe abortion – should be one of the first things governments do to help women and girls survive. 

Categories: Africa

Central African Republic: Ugandan Troops Harm Women, Girls

Mon, 15/05/2017 - 23:18

(Nairobi) – Ugandan soldiers in the Central African Republic have sexually exploited or abused at least 13 women and girls since 2015, including at least one rape, and threatened some victims to remain silent, Human Rights Watch said today. The Ugandan military has been deployed in the country since 2009 as a part of the African Union’s Regional Task Force to eliminate the Uganda rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), but recently announced it is withdrawing its troops.

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“Karin,” a 15-year-old girl in Obo who was eight months pregnant at the time of photo. She told Human Rights Watch that a Ugandan soldier paid her up to 5,000 CFA (approximately $8.30 USD) to be his local “wife.”

©2017 Lewis Mudge/Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch interviewed a total of 13 women and 3 girls in early 2017, who described exploitation or abuse since 2010 by Ugandan soldiers in the southeastern town of Obo, where Ugandan forces were based, and heard credible accounts of other cases. Two of the women were girls when the exploitation or abuse took place. Two women and one girl said that soldiers threatened reprisals if they told Ugandan and United Nations investigators about the abuse.

“As counter-LRA operations wind down, Uganda’s military should not ignore allegations of sexual exploitation and rape by its soldiers in the Central African Republic,” said Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Ugandan and African Union authorities should conduct proper investigations, punish those responsible, and make sure that the women and girls who were sexually abused or exploited get the services they need.”

Fifteen of the women and girls interviewed said they became pregnant, but in each case the soldier who fathered the child left the country and has not provided any support.

The 16 cases documented by Human Rights Watch clearly under-represent the full extent of sexual exploitation and abuse by the Ugandan forces, not only because sexual violence is generally underreported, but also because others, including the UN and local health workers, have documented other cases, Human Rights Watch said. In the Central African Republic, women and girls often do not report sexual violence or exploitation due to shame, stigma, or fear of retaliation.

In 2016, the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights reported 14 cases of rape by Ugandan forces in the country, including cases involving victims who were children at the time. Four of these cases are among those Human Rights Watch documented.

Launch Gallery

According to an internal UN report from 2016 obtained by Human Rights Watch, UN investigators in Obo registered 18 cases of sexual violence or harassment by Ugandan soldiers against women and girls who were afraid to give details out of fear of reprisals. The report states that investigators also obtained information about 44 women and girls with children fathered by Ugandan soldiers; the UN team interviewed 12 of them, all girls.

In January 2017, the BBC reported cases of rape by Ugandan soldiers in the Central African Republic, including of a 12-year-old girl who gave birth. The Ugandan military said at the time that it conducted an investigation in Obo and found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Human Rights Watch submitted a series of questions about the allegations to the Ugandan Ministry of Defence and Veterans Affairs on April 20, including about any investigations or disciplinary action, but the ministry has not replied.

Several women and girls told Human Rights Watch that Ugandan military investigators had interviewed them over the past year, but that there was no follow-up and they had no information about the investigation.

Two local organizations, one religious leader, and one journalist in Obo also told Human Rights Watch that Ugandan forces had warned them not to report cases of sexual exploitation and abuse.

The rape survivor interviewed by Human Rights Watch, 15-year-old “Marie,” said a Ugandan soldier assaulted her in January 2016, while she was working in the fields near the Ugandan base at the Obo airstrip. “The man was alone… I could not understand what he was saying,” she said. “He pushed me to the ground [and he raped me]. Afterward, there was real pain.”

“Marie” became pregnant from the rape and gave birth to a child in November 2016.

Fifteen of the women and girls interviewed said they had sex with Ugandan military personnel in exchange for food or money because the ongoing conflict and their displacement had left them desperate. Several said the Ugandan soldiers offered them food and money to be their “local wives,” which entailed having sex and doing domestic work. Fourteen of these women and girls had a child fathered by a Ugandan soldier. All of them said they received no support from the soldier and most said their social and economic situation worsened after the child was born.

Rape; sex in exchange for money, goods, or services; and sex with anyone under 18 by African Union (AU) military, police, or civilians qualify as sexual exploitation and abuse, and are prohibited by the AU. The AU states a zero-tolerance policy for sexual exploitation and abuse.

The women and girls, healthcare workers, and local officials Human Rights Watch interviewed in Obo said that Ugandan soldiers paying for sex was no secret in the community, and women and girls frequently visited the military base by the air strip. “I could spend the night in the base, there were no problems,” said “Karin,” a 15-year-old girl who became pregnant in 2016 by a Ugandan soldier.

On April 19, 2017, the Ugandan Defense Ministry announced its withdrawal from the Central African Republic, saying, “the mission to neutralize the LRA has now been successfully achieved.” Ugandan forces could join the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, MINUSCA, to continue operations against the LRA, the ministry added.

MINUSCA should not consider accepting any Ugandan troops for the UN mission until allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse have been credibly investigated and abusers held to account, Human Rights Watch said.

While in Obo, Ugandan forces received logistical and intelligence assistance from the United States. The US government should condition future support for the Ugandan military on Uganda promptly and thoroughly investigating the allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in the Central African Republic and punishing the abusers, among other concerns, Human Rights Watch said.

The Ugandan and AU authorities should prioritize the security and well-being of survivors in its response to sexual exploitation and abuse, Human Rights Watch said. That should include assuring survivor’s safety, maintaining confidentiality to reduce the risk of stigmatization, minimizing repeated trauma due to multiple interviews, ensuring timely access to medical and mental health, or psychosocial, care, and providing socioeconomic support to survivors abandoned with children fathered by Ugandan military personnel.

AU forces in the Central African Republic have committed other serious crimes with impunity in recent years. In June 2016, Human Rights Watch published information on the murder of at least 18 people, including women and children, by peacekeepers from the Republic of Congo. At the time, the Congolese peacekeepers were under the command of the AU mission in the Central African Republic, known as MISCA. The AU prepared an internal report on the killings but has not released the findings.

“Both AU and troop-contributing countries should demonstrate full commitment to punish sexual exploitation and abuse in deployment areas,” Mudge said. “They need to enforce the zero-tolerance policy and prevent abuse of the people these missions are meant to protect.”

The Effort Against the LRA
In 2011, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council authorized the Regional Cooperation Initiative for the Elimination of the LRA (RCI-LRA), which included as the military component the Regional Task Force (RTF). The RTF drew its operational forces largely from the Ugandan army. Approximately 1,500 Ugandan military forces were deployed to the Central African Republic.

The US announced in October 2011 that it would send 100 US Special Forces personnel as military advisers to the Ugandan army and other armed forces in the region to assist in apprehending LRA leaders. In recent years, and as LRA groups have moved, nearly all of the US military advisers and Ugandan army soldiers involved have been based in the southeast, with a headquarters in Obo.

Both Ugandan and US forces have announced they will withdraw from the mission in the upcoming months.

Sexual Exploitation and Rape
Human Rights Watch documented one case of rape of a girl (15 years old), and 15 cases of sexual exploitation by Ugandan military forces, including of two girls (15 and 17 years old), and two who were girls at the time the exploitation took place.

Thirteen of the cases occurred after 2015, with the most recent in late 2016. Fifteen of the 16 subsequently gave birth, including two who were 17 when they became pregnant.

“Marie,” the 15-year-old rape survivor, told Human Rights Watch that her attacker was a soldier based in Obo. “He was a young man,” she said. “This soldier raped me and now it is difficult to think about what happened. It was not good and I think about it a lot.”

“Marie” received some medical care after the attack but no information about getting an abortion after she learned she was pregnant (see below). She gave birth to the child in November 2016.

Among the cases investigated by the UN, according to an internal report Human Rights Watch reviewed, one was of a 13-year-old girl who was “raped two times by UPDF [Ugandan military] soldiers in Obo, first in August 2015 and the second time on May 20, 2016.”

A 25-year-old woman, “Blandine,” said she felt she had no choice but to be a Ugandan “wife” because a soldier gave her between 3,000 CFA and 5,000 CFA per week (approximately US$5 to $8.30) in return. “I needed the money,” she said. “I am a farmer and I am poor. I only went to school for a few years… With that money I would buy food and I would do small business.”

A 28-year-old woman, “Margaret,” said she was also not able to refuse money from a Ugandan soldier. “He would give me 1,000 CFA (approximately US$1.60) or some small food after sex. It would be a sachet of corn meal or maybe cabbage or tomatoes,” she said. “I started this relationship with [him] because I needed this small amount of money he gave me, that is all.”

“Francine,” 23, said she had sex with a Ugandan soldier for two to three months in 2015 because he gave her food and money. “He was looking for a woman that he could have sex with but he did not want too many [women] for fear of contracting AIDS,” she said. “He said he would give me 10,000 CFA (approximately US$16.70) to be his wife.”

“Francine” stressed how common the exploitation was in town. “All the Ugandans do this,” she said. “They don’t need to hide it because it is completely normal.”

Exploited and Abandoned
Seven women and one girl said they knew the name of the Ugandan soldier who had paid them for sex, but the others did not. None of the 15 who had a child as a result of the exploitation knew how to contact the soldier who had abandoned them.

“Claire,” 25, said that when she was six months pregnant, the Ugandan soldier who had impregnated her told her he was leaving the following day. “He refused to give me his number in Uganda,” she said. “When I insisted he said, ‘What for? You are just going to call and bother me.’”

“Margaret” said that the Ugandan father of her child, born in early 2015, refused to give her his phone number in Uganda. “No, the child is my gift to you,” she said he told her. “It will be a souvenir to remember me by.”

Six women and girls said Ugandan military personnel had promised to take them to Uganda for a better life in exchange for acting as a soldier’s “wife.”

A 25-year-old mother of a child from a Ugandan soldier, “Claude,” said a Ugandan soldier convinced her to become his “wife” in 2014. “He said he would marry me and take me to Uganda if I accepted to be his ‘wife,’” she said. “He said he would give me what I wanted and needed as his ‘wife,’ so I accepted.”

“Rebecca,” 22, said she agreed to be a Ugandan soldier’s “wife” when she was 17. “He fooled me and he said he would take me to Uganda as his own wife – I believed him,” she said. “I was young and stupid. We were together for a year. Sometimes he would come to the house, sometimes I would go to the base.” “Rebecca” had a child with the soldier when she was still 17.

A 21-year-old woman, “Alphonsine,” said a Ugandan soldier promised her money, food, and a home in Uganda. Over the course of five years, they had two children together. He abandoned her and the children in November 2015, when he returned to Uganda. “I think about my situation and how I was fooled,” she said. “Now it is very difficult for me to find money for food and soap.”

30-year-old “Jeanette,” who had a child from a Ugandan soldier in 2015, said she had sex with him because she needed money and food. “Now I need more money and food because I have to feed and clothe this child, too,” she said.

Services for Survivors
Most of the women and girls interviewed had not been able to get medical or mental health care.

“Marie,” the rape survivor, was able to access some critical post-rape medical care in the days after she was attacked. She was tested for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, but no one provided her with information about access to abortion after it was established she was pregnant.

Eight women said the Ugandan soldier with whom they had sex gave them money, ranging from 1,000 CFA to 30,000 CFA (approximately US$1.60 to $50), for medical care during their pregnancy. But all of them said it was not sufficient for the multiple check-ups required, and they either had to find the money elsewhere or forgo appointments.

None had any psychosocial support to deal with the trauma, despite the presence of at least one international organization that offers this service. The women and girls interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they were not aware this service existed.

None had received social or economic support from the AU or other agencies. Several spoke of stigma in their communities associated with having a “Ugandan baby.” This stigma could lead to greater socioeconomic needs. “People in the neighborhood call my child ‘the Ugandan,’” said Rebecca. “The other kids make fun of her and tell her I am the abandoned wife of a Ugandan.”

Ugandan Investigations

Ugandan military investigators interviewed several survivors over the past year, but the survivors said they had not had any communication with the investigators after the interviews and were unaware of other follow up. The women and girls said they had no means to contact the investigators.

Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the Ugandan Defense Ministry on April 20, 2017, asking, among other questions, what steps the ministry had taken to investigate the allegations. The ministry has not replied.

A Ugandan military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Richard Karemire, told the BBC in January that military investigators had visited Obo but found no evidence of wrongdoing. “A team went on the ground and did a very good investigation and they never found anything really to implicate any UPDF [Ugandan military] individual for having perpetrated such crimes,” he said.

Threats to Stay Silent

Two women and one girl who were sexually exploited said that Ugandan soldiers had warned them not to speak to any investigators looking into sexual exploitation and abuse. “Claire” said that Ugandan soldiers approached her in 2016, before Ugandan investigators arrived in Obo. “The soldiers came to my house and told me to say the child was a Central African,” she said. “They told me, ‘Don’t say the boy is a Ugandan or it will make problems for you. It will be bad.’ I said, ‘How can it get worse? I have been abandoned with nothing anyway.’”

“Karin,” the 15-year-old girl who was sexually exploited and left pregnant, said Ugandan soldiers warned her not to speak with Ugandan investigators. She decided to speak to the investigators anyway because she had already been abandoned while pregnant and felt she had nothing to lose.

The internal UN report Human Rights Watch obtained says that UN investigators in Obo registered 18 cases of sexual violence or sexual harassment by Ugandan soldiers against women and girls who were too fearful of reprisals by Ugandan soldiers to give details about their cases. Two local organizations, a religious leader, and one journalist in Obo also said Ugandan forces had warned them not to report sexual exploitation and abuse. The religious leader said: “The Ugandans are here to protect us, but they can also threaten us. They know that they are not meant to [have sex with people in the community] and they do not want people talking to journalists about it.”

The Central African Republic is not the only country where Ugandan soldiers have raped and exploited women and girls while on an AU mission. In 2014, Human Rights Watch documented that Ugandan and Burundian military personnel from the AU mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, had exploited and abused women, including raping women who were seeking water or medical assistance on AMISOM bases. Some women said they did not report the abuse because they feared reprisals from their attackers. Human Rights Watch has previously raised concerns with the Ugandan Defense Ministry regarding similar allegations against Ugandan troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2011.

AU Policy on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse
The UN defines exploitation as “any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another.” The UN considers “sexual abuse” to mean the actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions.

In September 2014, Human Rights Watch reported on 21 acts of rape or sexual exploitation by Ugandan and Burundian military personal with the AU mission in Somalia, AMISOM. Following this report, the AU sent an independent investigation team to Somalia. A recommendation in its final report called for the AU Commission to establish an Office of Internal Oversight Services with similar responsibilities to an independent UN office that investigates, submits reports, and recommends action on alleged abuses by UN peacekeepers. The UN policy on peacekeepers’ conduct prohibits engaging in any sexual relations with members of the local community. The AU should establish a permanent and adequately trained and resourced independent investigative body to investigate allegations of misconduct and abuses, including sexual exploitation and abuse, Human Rights Watch said.

Despite allegations made in the past, the AU does not have a comprehensive conduct and discipline policy for AU peacekeepers or soldiers who commit sexual exploitation and abuse. It is working on a policy framework that will include prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse, how to respond to reports of other types of offenses, and a whistleblower policy. It is unclear if the policy will result in establishing an independent investigative mechanism, along the lines of the UN agency as recommended in the report from Somalia.

The UN considers rape; sex in exchange for money, goods, or services; and sex with anyone under 18 by UN military, police, or civilians to be sexual exploitation and abuse, which are prohibited by the UN. The UN professes a zero-tolerance policy for sexual exploitation and abuse. There have been numerous allegations of such abuse against UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, including in cases documented by Human Rights Watch in February 2016.

The United Nations Secretary-General’s 2003 Bulletin on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse states that exploitation involves situations in which women and girls are vulnerable and a differential power relationship exists.

Other Abuses by AU Peacekeepers in the Central African Republic
Human Rights Watch has reported on other serious crimes by troops operating as AU peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. In June 2014, Human Rights Watch published information on the killing of at least 11 people, including women and children, in Boali in March 2014, and the death by torture of two others in Bossangoa in December 2013.

In June 2016, Human Rights Watch published another report on the killings in Boali, highlighting the discovery of a mass grave containing the remains of 12 people who were identified as having been detained by the peacekeepers in March 2014, as well as two prisoners executed in Mambéré in February 2014.

The killings in Boali, Bossangoa, and Mambéré were by peacekeepers from the Republic of Congo under command of the AU mission, known by its French acronym, MISCA.

Following the exhumation of the mass grave at Boali, Human Rights Watch wrote to President Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo and to the AU urging credible investigations to bring those responsible to justice. Human Rights Watch never received a reply.

In 2015, staff at the AU embassy in the Central African Republic told Human Rights Watch of an AU report into the murders at Boali. Despite official requests in 2015, 2016, and 2017, Human Rights Watch was never shown the report nor been told of its contents. 

Categories: Africa

Human Rights Watch Submission to 60th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Fri, 12/05/2017 - 23:17

May 10, 2017

60th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human & Peoples’ Rights

Niamey, Niger

Agenda Item 3: Human Rights Situation in Africa

 

Madame Chairperson, Commissioners and Heads of Government Delegations:                                                                                                  

Human Rights Watch welcomes this opportunity to address the African Commission under this Agenda Item. First, we commend the African Commission for adopting Guidelines for the Policing of Assemblies by Law Enforcement Officers and the General Comment on the Right to Redress for Victims of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment during the 21st Extra-Ordinary session. Human Rights Watch is of the view that such norm development provides essential guidance to states parties.

Madame Chairperson, the general human rights situation in much of Africa remains worrying, but for the purposes of this statement, Human Rights Watch will focus on urgent human rights concerns in Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Uganda

We remain deeply concerned by unaddressed killings by the Ugandan military and police during joint operations in Kasese, western Uganda on November 26-27, 2016.  On the bloodiest day, scores of people, including at least 15 children, were killed during a military assault on the palace compound of the region’s cultural institution. Human Rights Watch found the death toll to be at least 55 people, including at least 14 police, killed on November 26, and more than 100 people during the attack on the palace compound on November 27. The killings warrant an independent, impartial fact-finding mission with international expertise. The government has arrested and charged more than 180 people, including the cultural institution’s king, known as the Omusinga, with murder, treason, and terrorism, among other charges for the killing of the members of the security forces. But none of the 180 are members of the police or military and no one has been charged for the killing of civilians, including children.

  • The African Commission and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child are urged to undertake a joint investigative mission to Uganda and support a broader independent and impartial investigation.
  • We further respectfully urge the Commission to maintain a strong demand for accountability, including calling for an independent and impartial investigation with support from international experts. If given unfettered access to witnesses and forensic evidence, independent experts with a fact-finding mission could determine if the massacre on November 27 should be characterized as a crime against humanity.

Zimbabwe

Madame Chairperson, Human Rights Watch published a report in January 2017 documenting violations of property and inheritance rights of widows in Zimbabwe. The report focuses on abuses related to property-grabbing from widows, predominantly older women. Based on interviews with widows from all 10 provinces of Zimbabwe we know that many older women have few other economic options when their property is stolen by in-laws when their husbands die.

In 2013, Zimbabwe adopted a new constitution that provides for equal rights for women, including for inheritance and property. In practice, however, existing laws only apply to widows in officially registered marriages. Estimates are that most marriages in Zimbabwe are conducted under customary law and are not registered, so, in effect, these laws afford no protection from property-grabbing relatives. Many widows told Human Rights Watch that they face insurmountable obstacles defending their property or taking legal steps to reclaim it. Once in court, widows said they were at a disadvantage without an official record of their marriage if it was a customary union. According to the 2012 census, Zimbabwe is home to about 587,000 widows, and most women 60 and over are widowed. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that at least 70 percent of women in rural areas are in unregistered customary unions and are living under customary law.

Madame Chairperson, with the rapid growth of older populations worldwide, there is an increasing need to understand how discrimination, ageism, neglect, and abuse affect older people and what steps governments should take to protect their rights. By 2050, an estimated two billion people – almost a quarter of the world’s population – will be over age 60. The majority will be women. We respectfully request the African Commission to urge the government of Zimbabwe to:

  • Introduce a system that ensures all existing and new marriages, including customary unions, are officially registered.
  • Allow the posthumous recognition of marriages and customary unions.  
  • Engage in public awareness campaigns to end unlawful property-grabbing and inform widows of their inheritance rights.
  • Ensure widows have meaningful access to legal remedies to protect their rights to property and other related rights in cases of unlawful property or inheritance grabbing.

Thank you 

Categories: Africa

South Africa Needs a Global Reminder About Education Obligations

Fri, 12/05/2017 - 23:17

More than 600,000 children with disabilities are out of school in South Africa. In a country that has claimed to have achieved universal basic education, children with disabilities experience systemic barriers and discrimination on a daily basis. These children are not guaranteed a quality education on an equal basis with children without disabilities.

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Drawing of a female student holding a placard that says “I want to learn” found in Boitumelo Special School in Kimberley, South Africa.

© 2015 Boitumelo Special School

Unequal access is one of the most evident forms of discrimination. Children with disabilities continue to pay school fees and costs that children without disabilities do not pay, or are asked to pay for services so they can go to school. Many parents cannot afford to send children to school, so many stay at home. Others are turned down by schools that do not want to enroll children with disabilities.

Although the government has recently devoted more attention to inclusive education, it has a long way to go to implement its inclusive education policy. A strong, global reminder that South Africa must to do its utmost to ensure children with disabilities have a right to education would have ripple effects at home.

There’s an opportunity to do just that on May 10, when the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva reviews South Africa’s human rights record.

One of the most positive contributions UN member states could make for South Africa’s children would be to press the government on why children with disabilities have not been guaranteed free and compulsory education on an equal basis with children without disabilities. They could also ask the government for a specific timeline to adopt a national plan to make education free, in line with its international obligations, and also ask how it will enforce it so that all children can go to school on an equal basis.

Categories: Africa

Human Rights Watch Submission to the Universal Periodic Review of South Africa

Sun, 07/05/2017 - 11:08

Despite making commitments to act on recommendations from its second UPR cycle, South Africa has struggled to stop attacks on the businesses and homes of refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants, denying that such attacks were motivated by xenophobia or other forms of intolerance. The government has also failed to realize the right to education for an estimated half-a-million children with disabilities.

Violence against women, including rape and domestic violence, remains very high. Although annual crime statistics for 2015 released by the South African Police Services showed that sexual offences decreased slightly by 3 percent, many gender activists and human rights groups expressed concerns about the continued under-reporting of rape and the failure of the government to introduced a national strategy to combat violence against women. 

 

Rights of Children and People with Disabilities

The South African government has yet to fulfil its obligation to guarantee the right to education for many children and young adults with disabilities, affecting an estimated half-a-million children. Despite the government’s international and domestic obligations, many children with disabilities do not have equal access to primary or secondary education and face multiple forms of discrimination and barriers when accessing schools. They are turned away from mainstream schools and referred to special schools by school officials or medical staff simply because they have a disability. The referrals system needlessly forces children to wait for up to four years at care centers or at home for placement in a special school. Children with disabilities who attend special schools pay school fees that children without disabilities do not, and many who attend mainstream schools are asked to pay for their own class assistants as a condition to stay in mainstream classes. Once in school, many children with disabilities do not have access to the same curriculum as children without disabilities. Many children are exposed to high levels of violence and abuse by teachers and students.

In 2001, the government adopted a national policy to provide inclusive education for all children with disabilities, but key aspects of the policy have not been implemented to-date. South Africa has not adopted legislation that guarantees the right to inclusive education for children with disabilities. The majority of the government’s limited budget for learners with disabilities is allocated to special, segregated schools rather than to inclusive education.

South Africa became the first country to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration at a global conference in Norway in May 2015. By joining the Declaration, it agreed to protect students and education in times of conflict, and to avoid using educational building for military purposes.

Recommendations:

  • Adopt new measures to guarantee quality inclusive education for all children, access to free and compulsory primary education and to secondary education, enforce people with disabilities’ right to access adult education, and ensure adequate resources are invested in inclusive education.
  • Implement the Guidelines on Protecting School from Military Use during Armed Conflict in its domestic military doctrine, practice and trainings.

 

Asylum seekers and foreign nationals

The situation of foreign nationals and asylum seekers in South Africa is precarious and remains an area of serious concern.

In April 2015, thousands of people looted foreign-owned shops and attacked non-South African nationals in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal province. The targets of the widespread violence were immigrants of African origin, mostly from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic, Mozambique, Malawi, and Somalia. Although the police arrested at least 22 people following the violence, the authorities neither thoroughly investigated nor successfully prosecuted those involved. No one was held to account for the attacks.  Authorities also failed to prosecute those who had incited the violence against foreign nationals.

Government officials denied the violence was motivated by xenophobia or other forms of intolerance and said it was a result of “pure acts of criminality.” The secretary general of the African National Congress (ANC) Gwede Mantashe told the media in April 2015 that he believed the solution to xenophobia is the establishment of refugee camps. Xenophobic violence in 2008 led to the deaths of over 60 people across the country.  

Recommendations:

  • Ensure that asylum seekers, refugees, and foreign nationals are protected from xenophobic violence throughout South Africa.
  • Ensure justice and accountability for xenophobic crimes.

Sexual orientation and gender identity

South Africa has a progressive constitution that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and protects the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development has taken significant steps to improve coordination between government and civil society in combatting violence (including rape and murder) against lesbians and transgender men. Despite the country’s progressive legislation on the rights of LGBT people, discrimination remains institutionalized in families, communities, and in the behaviour of some government officials, such as police, some health care workers, and educators.

Recommendations:

  • Require the police services, in collecting data on physical and sexual violence, to disaggregate the data by motive to track incidents of homophobic and trans-phobic violence;
  • Ensure the police and prosecution services have the requisite training to effectively identify crimes motivated by homo and trans phobia;
  • Work with the National Prosecuting Authority to ensure that cases of sexual and physical violence against women and transgender persons come to trial in a timely manner, and that prosecutors prioritize cases involving sexual offences.
     

 

 

Categories: Africa

Human Rights Benchmarks for Sudan

Sun, 07/05/2017 - 11:08
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Women and children displaced by attacks of the Sudanese government Rapid Support Forces outside caves in rebel-controlled territory in Jebel Marra, Darfur, March 2, 2014. 

© 2015 Adriane Ohanesian Summary

On January 13, 2017, US President Barack Obama issued a presidential executive order that suspended the United States’ comprehensive economic sanctions on Sudan in response to “sustained progress” on several fronts.

However, the order did not identify clear benchmarks for progress or explicitly require improvements to the human rights situation before making the suspension permanent. This is a remarkable oversight considering that human rights concerns were among the factors driving the imposition of sanctions for the last 20 years.

While there may be good reasons to suspend comprehensive economic sanctions, the decision to do so permanently or not should be measured, and reached only after due regard to Sudan’s respect for key and fundamental human rights obligations.  The executive order states that within six months, or by July 2017, the sanctions revocation becomes permanent if Sudan continues to show progress. Yet six months is not sufficient to determine Sudan’s progress on the criteria mentioned in the order, or on improvements to deeper human rights problems.

Sudan has for decades carried out massive and systemic violations of human rights and humanitarian law. After the current government seized power in a military coup in 1989, the US pursued a policy of isolation, in part in response to Sudan’s human rights violations. In 1997, it imposed broad economic sanctions, citing massive human rights abuses committed during the 22-year civil war in the South.  A decade later it imposed additional sanctions, including targeted ones against individuals, for atrocities in Darfur.

The human rights situation has not improved. Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and aligned forces, notably the newly created Rapid Support Forces, have continued to attack civilians in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile with utter impunity.  National security agents engage in entrenched patterns of repression, targeting civil society leaders, human rights activists, and students for harassment, arbitrary detentions, and torture; restricting civil society organizations and independent media; and using lethal force to disperse protesters, killing hundreds in broad daylight.

Given Sudan’s long, violent, and extensively documented record of abuses against civilians, any assessment of “progress” needs to include an assessment of human rights improvements too. US engagement with Sudan and further normalization of relations should be contingent on meaningful and lasting human rights improvements. These benchmarks for human rights improvements are necessarily broad and informed by international norms, and include:

  1. Respect for the right to life, including ending attacks on civilians and indiscriminate bombing;
  2. Steps toward accountability for the gravest crimes;
  3. Unimpeded humanitarian access to conflict-affected areas;
  4. Releasing arbitrarily held detainees;
  5. Ending excessive force against peaceful protesters;
  6. Greater respect for freedoms of assembly, association, and expression;
  7. Allowing human rights monitoring and cooperation with international institutions;
  8. Carrying out essential reforms to the National Security Act and other key legislation. 

Human Rights Watch believes the US government should: defer evaluation of Sudan’s progress to a later date, and continue to monitor the broader set of human rights benchmarks; revise and update its Sudan sanctions policy; enforce and impose additional individual targeted sanctions against those deemed responsible for serious abuses; consider new individual sanctions in light of evidence that has surfaced in recent years; and appoint a special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan,as under the two previous administrations.

I.   Background Civil Wars and Political Repression

Violence and political repression have marred much of the last three decades in Sudan.  After seizing power by military coup in 1989, the National Islamic Front (NIF) embarked on comprehensive purges of the judiciary, civil service, army, and security forces; banned all political parties, cultural, and social associations; and imposed a countrywide state of emergency.[1] Led by Hassan al-Turabi, the NIF espoused a strict Islamist ideology, and was known for highly repressive tactics, including torture and arbitrary detentions in secret, illegal security-run prisons knowns as “ghost houses.”[2]

Under this government, Sudan continued its extremely abusive civil war, ongoing since 1983, against Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) rebels in Southern Sudan and in the Nuba mountains region of Southern Kordofan.  Government forces and allied militia committed crimes on a massive scale during two decades of war, playing on ethnic divisions and pitting southerners against each other. More than 2 million civilians died, and more than 4 million were displaced internally and to neighboring countries.

By 2002, internationally-brokered peace talks, hosted by Kenya, led to several important agreements, including a ceasefire in the Nuba Mountains and agreement to cease attacking civilians, followed by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. The government and SPLM/A agreed to a six-year transitional period during which a national unity government would implement the peace deal. By 2011, southerners would vote in a referendum for or against independence.

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Fighters of the Sudanese Rapid Support Forces in captured vehicles celebrate a victory against the rebel Justice and Equality Movement, Goz Dango, South Darfur, April 28, 2015. 

© 2015 Reuters

The CPA did not address the crisis in Darfur, where starting in 2003 the Sudanese government and allied militias committed crimes against humanity and war crimes, including sexual violence, as part of its counterinsurgency campaign. The United Nations

estimates that at least 300,000 people were killed in attacks or died of conflict-induced starvation and disease, and more than 2 million people were forced to flee to refugee or internally displaced persons’ camps.[3] The government and rebel groups peace deals did not hold, and conflict between their forces continued alongside inter-communal fighting.

Meanwhile, the parties to the CPA made little progress implementing the agreement, especially pertaining to the arrangements for the border states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, and Abyei, the oil-rich region straddling the north-south divide. The delays fueled tensions and sparked clashes between northern and southern forces at Abyei in 2008: SAF soldiers killed civilians and extensively looted and destroyed homes in the town.[4] 

In Southern Kordofan in June 2011, fighting resumed between SAF and former SPLM rebels from the area, now known as SPLM/A-North, and spread to Blue Nile by September. In both states, government forces used abusive tactics, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee to other parts of Sudan or to refugee camps in South Sudan and Ethiopia.[5]

Following South Sudan’s independence, Sudan’s government stripped southerners of citizenship, and conflict-related abuses and political repression continued. Sudan has responded violently to growing civil unrest, often triggered by austerity measures amid worsening economic conditions. It has further empowered the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), and bolstered the army via the creation of the Rapid Support Forces, composed of former militia from Darfur, to conduct highly abusive operations.

International Isolation

Sudan’s international reputation deteriorated after the 1989 coup. NIF’s violent repression of dissent and brutal tactics in the long-running civil war, including abduction and slavery, earned wide condemnation. So did support for Islamic jihadist movements, known terrorists such as Osama bin Laden and Carlos the Jackal, its role in the failed 1995 assassination of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, and links to the Lord’s Resistance Army.[6]  During these years, the United States, United Nations, and European Union imposed various sanctions

1993: Clinton administration isolates the hardline government by vetoing international lending, puts Sudan on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

1994: EU follows, imposes arms embargo in response to civil war abuses.[7]  

1996: UN passes a resolution condemning Sudan for refusing to extradite a suspect in the attack on Mubarak, urges countries to limit interactions and entry to Sudanese officials. [8] US closes its embassy in Khartoum.

1997: US imposes a comprehensive economic embargo in response to “support for international terrorism, efforts to destabilize neighboring governments, and the prevalence of human rights violations including slavery and the denial of religious freedom.”[9] The embargo prohibits most business and financial transactions.

1998: US-Sudan relations reach all-time low when, after Al-Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, US bombs Sudan’s al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant that it suspects of involvement with the alleged embassy bombers and chemical weapons.[10]

2001-2005:  Bush administration continues isolation policy, intensifies civil war mediation. Some groups lobby successfully for Western oil companies to divest in Sudan.[11] 

2003-2004: Darfur conflict begins in February 2003, continues despite African Union-brokered humanitarian ceasefire deals. By September 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell says US government believes a genocide has occurred.[12] UN appoints commission of inquiry; finds grave violations of international human rights, humanitarian law.[13]

2005: UN imposes arms embargo on Darfur and individual sanctions on several individuals believed responsible for atrocities.[14] In an unprecedented step, in March 2005 the Security Council refers the situation to the International Criminal Court. It brings charges including of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide against President al-Bashir, among others.[15]

2006: US imposes additional sanctions against individuals deemed responsible for crimes in Darfur.[16]

The EU still retains its arms embargo on Sudan and incorporates the UN’s sanctions on Darfur. Its member states implement these bilaterally, but are not precluded from doing business in Sudan.[17]  The African Union, like the UN, has played a key role in responding to Sudan’s crises through mediation, monitoring, and peacekeeping, but has not imposed sanctions.  Several of its member states, primarily Sudan’s neighbors, have had troubled relations with Sudan at various times. During its international isolation, Sudan pursued economic, political, and military trade with allies including Iran, Iraq, China, former Soviet republics, India, and Malaysia.[18]  

Shift Towards Engagement

In a significant about-face in 2015, Sudan expelled several Iranian groups from Khartoum and joined Saudi Arabia’s military operations in Yemen. The United Arab Emirates has provided large loans, and Saudi Arabian businesses have around US$15 million in investments in Sudan.[19] In 2016, Sudan severed diplomatic relations with Iran.[20]   

Sudan has persistently lobbied the US to roll back sanctions, which after renewed diplomatic talks in 2016 resulted in President Obama’s decision to reverse the two-decade policy of comprehensive economic sanctions in January 2017.[21] According to a US Treasury statement, the decision was “the result of sustained progress by the Government of Sudan on several fronts,” including “a marked reduction in offensive military activity, a pledge to maintain a cessation of hostilities in conflict areas in Sudan, steps toward improving humanitarian access throughout Sudan, and cooperation with the United States on counterterrorism and addressing regional conflicts.”[22]

At the same time, Sudan also embarked on new engagements with the EU, which launched a regional program for migration management in sub-Saharan Africa in 2014 via bilateral partnerships with African states and regional projects under the Khartoum Process.[23] In 2016, the EU announced €100 million (approximately $106 million) to Sudan in a “special support measure.”[24]

EU officials now refer publicly to Sudan as a “partner” nation and have highlighted debt relief as a key incentive to offer in exchange for further cooperation.[25] While additional funding has yet to be disbursed, civil society has criticized the EU project for de-prioritizing human rights in favor of meeting migration targets.[26] In recent months, it appears to have emboldened the government’s most abusive actors.[27]

II.      Missing Human Rights Benchmarks

Then-President Obama’s January 13, 2017 order states that permanent revocation of the economic sanctions is conditional on Sudan continuing to display “positive action” on several fronts, but the order lacks any benchmarks or guidance for how the State Department and other agencies should assess Sudan’s progress. Critically, it lacks reference to the need for human rights improvements. The following list of eight benchmarks suggest key areas for improvements and some steps Sudanese authorities could take in each, but is by no means exhaustive.

1. Respect for the Right to Life by Ending Attacks on Civilians and Indiscriminate Bombing

Sudan should cease all unlawful attacks on civilians, and permit independent monitoring and reporting by relevant agencies, including international human rights organizations and independent media.

Sudanese forces have a long record of committing serious violations of the laws of war -- war crimes -- and crimes against humanity during the civil war in southern Sudan, and in conflicts in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile. Government forces and allied militias have been responsible for killings, rape and sexual violence, and looting and destruction on a massive scale during ground operations. They have also bombed and shelled indiscriminately in civilian areas, especially in rebel-held territories, and targeted clinics and markets in bombing campaigns.

During government offensives in Darfur in 2014-2015, the Rapid Support Forces led massive attacks on hundreds of villages, burning and destroying homes, and committing serious abuses, including rape and killings that may be crimes against humanity.[28] Government forces also launched a major offensive with ground and air forces on Jebel Mara in 2016, destroying hundreds of villages and displacing up to 195,000 people.[29] Amnesty International reported on allegations of chemical weapons use during the offensive.[30]

In Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, attacks since 2011 have killed and maimed hundreds of civilians, damaged dozens of schools and clinics, and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes. In 2016 alone, the government dropped hundreds of bombs that killed at least 45 people in the Nuba mountains, including six children in Heiban on May 1.[31]

In June 2016, the government declared a unilateral ceasefire in Southern Kordofan, which it extended to the end of June 2017 and to all the conflicts. There has been a reduction in clashes and attacks on civilians. But in December 2016, local monitors reported new clashes and government bombing in Nuba Mountains, and in early 2017 media reported government and militia attacks on civilians in the Jebel Mara region of Darfur.[32]  

2. Steps toward Accountability for the Gravest Crimes

Sudan should take steps to cooperate with the ICC, including through the surrender of suspects, and make efforts to genuinely investigate and prosecute those responsible for human rights abuses in conflict and non-conflict settings.

To date, the government has failed to implement key recommendations from the Human Rights Council’s 2007 Group of Experts’ report on Darfur, and its Universal Periodic Reviews (UPRs).[33] Its efforts to prosecute crimes in Darfur and elsewhere have fallen short.[34]  Since 2011, the government has made no tangible progress in providing accountability for crimes committed in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, including the killing of peaceful protesters, ill-treatment and torture of detainees, and other serious abuses.

Sudan continues to refuse any form of cooperation with the only meaningful route at present to criminal accountability for grave crimes committed in Darfur, the International Criminal Court, which has brought charges against al-Bashir and six other individuals for atrocities in Darfur.[35] Suspects are charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur, and remain fugitives from the court.

 3. Allow Sustained, Unimpeded Humanitarian Access to All Conflict-Affected Areas

Sudan should grant sustained and unimpeded access to all conflict locations in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile and allow independent impartial humanitarian organizations to operate without arbitrary restrictions and onerous bureaucratic requirements. 

The Sudanese government has used a wide range of strategies to delay, limit, and deny access by humanitarian agencies to civilians in need of assistance during the civil war in the south, as well as in Darfur. These include flight bans; denials or massive delays in the processing of travel permits; limitations on the numbers of staff and expulsions of aid officials; and unnecessarily bureaucratic or arbitrary procedures for importing and transporting relief materials. In past decades, these policies have indirectly contributed to the deaths of tens of thousands of people from famine and diseases.[36]

In Darfur, access has been particularly difficult, especially to conflict-affected areas. In 2009, after the ICC announced charges against President al-Bashir, Sudan expelled 10 international aid groups working there and increased restrictions; authorities have since expelled or forced the departure of other humanitarian aid groups and staff and vowed to nationalize aid delivery.

In Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, Sudan’s government has obstructed access for organizations providing essential humanitarian assistance, including food and medical supplies. Many women and girls in the states have had extremely limited, if any, access to reproductive health care. Sudan has denied humanitarian organizations permission to access rebel-held areas from within Sudan. Both the government and the rebel SPLM-N have failed to agree on modalities for delivering impartial aid.[37]   

In December 2016, the government adopted new  regulations to ease movement by aid groups to non-conflict areas, but continues to restrict movement in conflict zones where humanitarian access counts the most.[38] It has allowed one aid organization to operate in government-controlled parts of Jebel Mara in Darfur, and allowed more UN officials in Kadugli and Damazin, but has not improved access to other key government and rebel areas where they have denied international humanitarian groups access.
 

4. Release Arbitrarily Held Detainees, and End Torture and Ill-Treatment

The National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) regularly detains activists, students, lawyers, doctors, community leaders, human rights defenders, and perceived government critics. It often holds detainees for long periods, without access to a lawyer or family visits.[39]   

Many NISS detention centers are in unmarked homes or offices, reminiscent of the “ghost houses” from the 1990s known for torture and ill-treatment. Detainees are beaten, abused,
and some tortured; some female activists have reported being sexually harassed in detention.[40] To date, no NISS officers have been held accountable for abusing detainees.

Sudanese authorities should release arbitrarily held detainees, including those held for their human rights work or perceived opposition to the government. They should issue clear instructions to national security officials to end all forms of ill-treatment and torture, and investigate any allegations that detainees were abused.  They should also allow independent monitors access to detainees in official and secret detention facilities so that improvements may be observed.

5. End Excessive Force against Peaceful Protesters

Sudanese forces continue to use excessive force—beatings, tear-gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition—to disperse peaceful protests over a range of social grievances. This has resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries in recent years. In September 2013 alone, more than 170 protesters were killed, mostly by bullets to the head or torso by men believed to be security forces.[41] In 2005, government forces killed 21 protesters in Port Sudan.

Sudan should introduce measures to ensure an end to the use of excessive force against peaceful protesters. Authorities should order security forces to use force only in accordance with UN guidelines and hold to account those responsible for abuse and killings of protesters through impartial investigations and prosecutions in line with international standards.

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Sudanese men at the funeral of Salah Sanhouri, 26, who was killed during protests by security forces on September 27, 2013, pray over his body. Protests over subsidy cuts on fuel and food have been taking place across Sudan since September 2013.

© 2013 AP Photo/Khalil Hamra

6. Respect for Freedoms of Association and Expression

Authorities restrict civil society by targeting activists who criticize the government or support international justice, and by leveling bogus charges of espionage and crimes against the state against them.[42] These practices should end immediately (as above). 

Sudan also controls civil society through bureaucratic restrictions and oversight, including interference by national security officers in organizations’ work. It has repeatedly blocked individuals’ participation in various international events, including Sudan’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2016 at the UN Human Rights Council.[43]  

Authorities have long restricted media via censorship, confiscations, and harassing, threatening, and detaining journalists. A key test of commitment to improving on these issues will be whether Sudan stops undue interference and harassment of civil society activists and groups, and NISS censorship of media and interference in editorial choices.

7. Allow Human Rights Monitoring, Cooperate with International Bodies and Institutions

A key test will be whether the government facilitates the African Union/UN Hybrid operation in Darfur -- UNAMID’s -- operations, in particular by granting human rights monitors’ access to conflict-affected areas, and responding positively to requests from other international organizations for access to Sudan.

Sudan has routinely denied UNAMID access to conflict-affected areas so they can effectuate their mandate to protect civilians and monitor human rights. It has denied visas to incoming staff, and closed the human rights section’s liaison office in Khartoum; al-Bashir has ordered the mission to adopt an exit strategy.

Authorities have also expelled other UN officials, including in 2016 the top UN humanitarian.[44]  The government also denied or delayed entry to UN special rapporteurs and diplomatic missions and denied entry to international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch. It has refused access for UNAMID or the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to follow up and on allegations by Amnesty International that chemical weapons were used in Darfur.

8. Legislative Reforms

Sudan should take steps to reform its most repressive laws. The National Security Act of 2010 allows national security agents to detain individuals for more than four-and-a-half months without judicial review, well beyond the international standard, which requires detainees be brought promptly before a judicial authority. Even in conflict or a state of emergency, ‘prompt’ should be no more than a matter of days.  A patchwork of immunities in various laws shields security forces from prosecution for human rights violations and all such immunities should be repealed. Immunity for the Rapid Support Forces is particularly problematic in light of their documented record of abuse, including sexual violence.[45]

Public order laws—which proscribe private matters such as clothing choice or keeping company with someone from the opposite sex, and carry penalties of fines and flogging— discriminate against females, particularly those from marginalized and non-Muslim communities, and should be reformed.[46] Penalties of lashing, stoning, and other forms of cruel and unusual punishment that international law prohibits should be repealed. 

Other laws restricting civil society and media freedoms should also be revised in line with international standards. Any new constitution should include full protections for human rights including explicitly women’s rights, and Sudan should ratify key international human rights treaties, including the Convention against Torture, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and the Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.

 

[1] Human Rights Watch, In the Name of God: Repression Continues in Northern Sudan, vol.6, no.9, November 1994, https://www.hrw.org/reports/1994/sudan/.

[2] Human Rights Watch, Behind the Red Line: Political Repression in Sudan, May 1996, https://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/1996/Sudan.htm

[3] “Darfur deaths ‘could be 300,000,’” BBC, April 23, 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7361979.stm

[4] Human Rights Watch, Sudan- Abandoning Abyei: Destruction and Displacement, May 2008, July 2008, https://www.hrw.org/report/2008/07/21/abandoning-abyei/destruction-and-d...

[5] Human Rights Watch, Under Siege: Indiscriminate Bombing and Abuse in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile States, December 2012, https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/12/11/under-siege/indiscriminate-bombing-and-abuses-sudans-southern-kordofan-and-blue 

[6] Human Rights Watch, “Foreign Corporate Complicity, Foreign Government Support,” in Sudan, Oil, and Human Rights (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2003), p. 510.

[7] “EU arms embargo on Sudan,” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, November 23, 2012, https://www.sipri.org/databases/embargoes/eu_arms_embargoes/sudan

[8] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1070 (1996), S/RES/1070 (1996), https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N96/214/20/PDF/N9621420.pd...

[9] United States Executive Order 13067—Blocking Sudanese Government Property and Prohibiting Transactions with Sudan, November 1997, https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Documents/13067.pdf

[10] Sudan called for a UN investigation into the bombing, which the US blocked. Robert O. Collins, A History of Modern Sudan, p. 239; Human Rights Watch, Sudan, Oil, and Human Rights, p. 637-8.

[11] Human Rights Watch, Sudan, Oil, and Human Rights, p. 633

[12] “Powell declares genocide in Sudan,” BBC News, September 9, 2004, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/3641820.stm

[13] International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur, Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to the United Nations Secretary-General, September 18, 2004,  http://www.un.org/news/dh/sudan/com_inq_darfur.pdf

[14] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1556 (2004),  S/RES/1556 (2004), http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/Sudan%20SRES1556.pdf; United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1591 (2005), S/RES/1591 (2005), http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1591%20%282005%29

[15] “Security Council Refers Situation in Darfur, Sudan, to Prosecutor of International Criminal Court,” United Nations Security Council press release, March 31, 2005, SC/8351, http://www.un.org/press/en/2005/sc8351.doc.htm

[16] United States Executive Order 13400, Blocking Property of Persons in Connection with the Conflict in Sudan’s Darfur Region, April 26, 2006,  https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Documents/13400.pdf

[17] Guidance: Embargoes and sanctions on Sudan, UK Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and Foreign & Commonwealth Office, https://www.gov.uk/guidance/arms-embargo-on-sudan. The UK has aligned more closely with the US and Norway in the “Troika” group, while Germany and Italy have engaged more with Sudanese government, and France with the opposition, whose leaders often stay there.

[18] Lydia Polgreen, “China, in New Role, Presses Sudan on Darfur,” New York Times, February 23, 2008, (accessed April 21, 2017), http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/23/world/africa/23darfur.html (describing Chinese investment).

[19] “Engagement Beyond the Centre: An Inquiry Report on the Future of UK-Sudan Relations,” All Party Parliamentary Group for Sudan and South Sudan, February 2017, p.15

[20] Liz Sly, “Bahrain cuts ties with Tehran as crisis widens in Saudi-Iran split,” Washington Post, January 4, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/bahrain-cuts-ties-with-tehran-as-crisis-widens-in-saudi-iran-split/2016/01/04/145c8824-b271-11e5-8abc-d09392edc612_story.html?utm_term=.9bea5fe0d9a8

[21] United States Executive Order 13761, Recognizing Positive Actions by the Government of Sudan

and Providing for the Revocation of Certain Sudan-Related Sanctions, January 18, 2017,  https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/sudan_eo_01132017.pdf

[22] “Treasury to Issue General License to Authorize Transactions with Sudan,” US Treasury Department Office of Public Affairs news release, January 13, 2017,  https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/sudan_fact_sheet.pdf.

[23] The Khartoum Process, or the EU-Horn of Africa Migration Route Initiative, was launched in November 2014 as a forum for political dialog and cooperation between EU member states and several countries from the East and Horn region, including Sudan. See www.khartoumprocess.net

[24] European Union action document for the special support measure for Sudan, https://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/regions/africa/eu-emergency-trust-fund/horn-africa_en

[25] Joint Commission-EEAS non-paper on enhancing cooperation on migration, mobility and readmission in Sudan, ARES (2016) 1325584, March 16, 2016,  http://www.statewatch.org/news/2016/mar/eu-com-eeas-readmission-sudan-7203-16.pdf

[26] All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sudan and South Sudan, “Engagement Beyond the Centre: An Inquiry Report on the Future of UK-Sudan Relations,” February 21, 2017, p. 31-32.

[27] The head of the Rapid Support Forces, Brig. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, or “Hemeti,” has made public statements suggesting his forces’ operations, including border control and interdictions of migrants near the Libyan border, were done at the behest of the EU. Sudanese authorities have also continued to deport Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees. At the same time, agreements with Italy and Jordan led to the deportation of hundreds of Darfuris to Sudan in 2016. In March 2017, France said it would deport 27 Sudanese [failed] asylum-seekers back to Sudan.

[28] Human Rights Watch, Men With No Mercy: Rapid Support Forces Attacks against Civilians in Darfur, Sudan , September 2015, https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/09/09/men-no-mercy/rapid-support-forces-attacks-against-civilians-darfur-sudan

[29] Jehanne Henry, “Inaction on Darfur, Again,” Human Rights Watch dispatch, February 17, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/02/17/dispatches-inaction-darfur-again; Final report of the Panel of Experts on the Sudan established pursuant to resolution 1591 (2005), January 9, 2017, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?
symbol=S/2017/22

[30] Amnesty International, Scorched Earth, Poisoned Air: Sudanese Forces Ravage Jebel Mara, September 2017, http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/scorched-earth-poisoned-air-s...

[31] Human Rights Watch, World Report chapter 2016, Sudan chapter, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2016/country-chapters/sudan

[32] Shangil Tobaya, “Attacks cause new displacement from Darfur’s Jebel Marra,” Dabanga, Febrauary 9, 2017, https://www.dabangasudan.org/en/all-news/article/attacks-cause-new-displacement-from-darfur-s-jebel-marra; “Sudan Insider: More Violence in Darfur, More Ceasefires Breached,” Nuba Reports, January 31, 2017, https://nubareports.org/
sudan-insider-more-violence-in-darfur-more-ceasefires-breachednocache1/
; “Sudan Insider: SAF and SPLA-N Trade Ceasefire Breach Accusations,” February 28, 2016, https://nubareports.org/sudan-inside-saf-and-spla-n-trade-ceasefire-breach-accusations/

[33] Human Rights Watch, Ten Steps for Darfur: Indicators for Evaluating Progress in the HRC Group of Experts Process, September 24, 2007, https://www.hrw.org/report/2007/09/24/ten-steps-darfur/indicators-evalua... “Sudanese Government Should Investigate and Prosecute Those Responsible for Human Rights Violations,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 21, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/09/21/sudanese-government-should-investigate-and-prosecute-those-responsible-human-rights

[34] Human Rights Watch, Lack of Conviction: Special Criminal Court on the Events in Darfur, June 2006, https://www.hrw.org/report/2006/06/08/lack-conviction/special-criminal-court-events-darfur; “No Justice for Protester Killings,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 22, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/09/22/sudan-no-justice-protester-killings

[35] International Criminal Court investigation in Darfur, Sudan, https://www.icc-cpi.int/darfur#cases. One of those cases was closed when the judges did not confirm the charges against him and another has been dropped due to the death of the suspect. 

[36] Human Rights Watch, Darfur: Humanitarian Aid Under Siege, May 2006, https://www.hrw.org/report/2006/05/08/darfur-humanitarian-aid-under-siege; Human Rights Watch, Famine in Sudan, 1998: The Human Rights Causes, (New York: Human Rights Watch: February 1999).

[37] Human Rights Watch, Humanitarian Aid under Siege; Human Rights Watch, Sudan-No Control, No Choice: Obstructions to Reproductive Healthcare in Rebel-held Southern Kordofan, forthcoming.

[38] Ministry of Welfare and Social Security Humanitarian Aid Commission, amended directives, December 15, 2016, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[39] “Sudan: Urgent Concern for Rights Defender on Hunger Strike Over Unlawful Detention,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 14, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/14/sudan-urgent-concern-rights-defender-hunger-strike-over-unlawful-detention.

[40] Human Rights Watch, Good Girls Don’t Protest: Repression and Abuse of Women Human Rights Defenders, Activists, and Protesters in Sudan, May 2016, https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/03/23/good-girls-dont-protest/repression...

[41] Human Rights Watch, We Stood, They Opened Fire: Killings and Arrests by Sudan’s Security Forces during the September Protests, April 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/04/21/we-stood-they-opened-fire/killings...

[42] “Tracks-affiliated rights defenders sentenced,” African Center for Justice and Peace Studies statement, March 8, 2017, http://www.acjps.org/sudan-tracks-affiliated-rights-defenders-sentenced-fined-and-finally-released-after-ten-months-of-arbitrary-detentio/

[43] ”Sudan blocks civil society participation in UN-led human rights review,” joint NGO statement, March 31, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/03/31/sudan-blocks-civil-society-participation-un-led-human-rights-review

[44] “Humanitarian official effectively expelled from Sudan, says UN,” Guardian, May 23, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/23/un-humanitarian-official-effectively-expelled-sudan

[45] Human Rights Watch, Men With No Mercy

[46] See the discussion of public order laws in Human Rights Watch, Good Girls Don’t Protest

Categories: Africa

Senegal/Chad: Court Upholds Habré Conviction

Sat, 29/04/2017 - 23:01

(Nairobi) – The decision on April 27, 2017, by the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal to uphold the conviction of former Chadian President Hissène Habré vindicates the persistence of the victims’ struggle for justice and the fight against impunity in Africa, Human Rights Watch said today.

On May 30, 2016, the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese court system convicted Habré and sentenced him to life in prison for his role in torture, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré ruled Chad.

“For over 26 years, the many victims of Hissène Habré’s crimes fought courageously for justice to be done,” said Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “Today, their journey ends with the conviction of a once untouchable leader confirmed and his life sentenced upheld, giving hope to victims everywhere.”

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Hissene Habre

Habré’s trial, which began on July 20, 2015, was the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecuted the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes. It was also the first case on the principle of universal jurisdiction to proceed to trial in Africa. The principle allows countries to try a small number of very grave crimes in their domestic courts – regardless of where the crimes were committed or the nationality of the victims.

Habré fled to Senegal in 1990 after being deposed by the current Chadian president, Idriss Déby Itno. Although Habré was first arrested and indicted in Senegal in 2000, it took a long campaign by his victims before the Extraordinary African Chambers were inaugurated in February 2013 to prosecute international crimes committed in Chad during Habré’s rule.

Habré’s one-party rule was marked by widespread atrocities, including waves of ethnic cleansing. Files from Habré’s political police, the Direction de la Documentation et de la Sécurité (DDS), which were recovered by Human Rights Watch in 2001, reveal the names of 1,208 people who were killed or died in detention, and 12,321 victims of human rights violations.

Human Rights Watch extensively documented the Habré government’s responsibility for widespread political killings, systematic torture, and thousands of arbitrary arrests. Together with Chadian victims’ groups and rights activists, Human Rights Watch worked for over 15 years to advance justice for these crimes. The African Extraordinary Chamber’s decision on April 27 marks the culmination of these efforts.

Categories: Africa

Effort to Silence Ugandan Feminist Firebrand Speaks Volumes

Sat, 29/04/2017 - 23:01
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Ugandan prominent academic Stella Nyanzi (L) speaks with her lawyer during court appearance for criticising the wife of President Yoweri Museveni on social media, at Buganda Road Court, Kampala, Uganda April 10, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

“When you hear of my arrest, prepare your most comfortable clothes for you will soon be travelling to my village-home in Kalinga to bury me in the brown earth next to my father.  When you hear of my arrest, tell the judge assigned to my case that I forgive the injustice with which the trial will be tried…”

Ugandan academic and firebrand feminist critic Dr. Stella Nyanzi posted those words on her Facebook page on March 31. On April 7, after a talk at Kampala’s Rotary Club about her campaign to raise money to buy sanitary pads for schoolgirls, her words came true; 21 days later, she remains behind bars.

For her sexually explicit stories and pointed criticism of government – in a frank and often expletive-laden mix of English and Luganda – Nyanzi grew a significant following on social media. In a conservative country, she shocked many. But she drew popular support, arguing that President Yoweri Museveni and his wife, the minister of education, had broken election promises to provide sanitary pads to school girls. After 31 years in office, she argued, Museveni was “raping” the constitution by staying in power.  

In March, she was interrogated by police, and the government blocked her from traveling to attend an international conference on March 19. State agents arrested her after the Rotary event, and police charged her under Uganda’s Computer Misuse Act for referring to Museveni as a “pair of buttocks” on Facebook.

It would be funny, if it weren’t so tragic: the most flagrant attack on free expression in many years and a vengeful use of Uganda’s justice system to silence a government critic.

Nyanzi has been denied bail, spending the Easter holidays in prison. State attorneys argue she should undergo a psychiatric examination to determine if she has an “unsound mind” – a tactic to delegitimize her criticism. Prison officials have, at times, denied her access to her lawyers, to her three young children, and to her books and writing materials.

The court is to re-hear her bail application on May 10, but, if the psychiatric examination is ordered by court, she could still face detention in an institution – even without the criminal case.

Prosecutors should drop the charges against Nyanzi. All officials should expect criticism, even if it’s rudely worded. To criticize the president, to use vulgarity and metaphor to shock or inspire, are recognized rights.

If Nyanzi isn’t granted bail or faces a psychiatric examination, it will speak volumes, and we must respond just as loudly. 

Categories: Africa

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