Africa: Clinton Should Urge Leaders to Address Abuse

(Washington, DC) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her trip to Africa should promote freedom of expression and association and encourage countries to address police and security force abuses, Human Rights Watch said in a public letter today. Secretary Clinton is scheduled to visit Senegal, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, and South Africa between July 31 and August 10, 2012.

“While some of the countries on Secretary Clinton’s agenda engage in serious human rights violations, others have made notable progress in promoting transparency and accountability,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Human rights protection is essential to good governance and development.”

In Uganda over the last two years, government officials have intensified their intimidation of non-governmental organizations working on controversial issues, such as transparency in the oil sector, compensation for land acquisition, and the rights of sexual minorities. These threats and occasional violence obstruct Ugandans’ rights to free expression, association, and assembly. The abuses should be halted and those responsible should be held accountable, Human Rights Watch said.

South Africa is considering passage of a Protection of State Information Bill, under which journalists, whistleblowers, and others could be imprisoned for up to 25 years for leaking or sharing information deemed classified by the government. The government of South Africa should amend the bill to include what is known as a public interest defense, Human Rights Watch said. Such a defense would allow the exposure of corruption, mismanagement, and malfeasance if there is a compelling public interest.

Accountability is an urgent need for Kenya, which has yet to make significant progress on prosecuting those responsible for post-election violence in 2007, and which now faces a new set of elections for March 2013. Continued widespread abuses by police and security forces, with near-complete impunity, are of deep concern in the light of Kenya’s forthcoming vote.

The failure to pursue justice for serious crimes is also a longstanding problem in South Sudan, a country with limited law enforcement capacity and a vast territory. The improvement of the justice and prison systems in South Sudan, which on July 9 celebrated the one-year anniversary of its independence, is essential.

Malawi has made notable progress since President Joyce Banda took office in April, Human Rights Watch said. She has threatened to arrest President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, if he tries to enter her country. She has suggested that Malawi should repeal laws criminalizing homosexuality, and she has worked to promote media freedom.

In another positive trend, the new president of Senegal, Macky Sall, after years of stalling by his predecessor, has ordered the start of proceedings against former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré by the end of the year. Habré, who is accused of responsibility for thousands of political killings and systematic torture when he ruled Chad, from 1982 to 1990, has been living in exile for more than 21 years but has yet to face justice there. Clinton should publicly support Senegal’s current efforts to prosecute Habré domestically and should join other international donors in offering a substantial contribution to help finance the trial, Human Rights Watch said.

“Advancing human rights is partly a matter of political will,” Bekele said. “Some African leaders have shown that they are capable of inspired rights-based leadership, and there is no legitimate reason that others can’t follow suit.”