Africa

Ethiopia State of Emergency Grants Broad Power to Government

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Ethiopian troops monitor protesting crowd. Photo courtesy of CNBC.

ADDIA ADABA, Ethiopia – Ethiopia is currently in a state of emergency following the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. According to Human Rights Watch, Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa announced the restriction, which brings concerns of potential government abuse,

“On February 17, 2018, following Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s resignation, Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa announced a countrywide six-month state of emergency. The Directive of the State of Emergency contains overly broad restrictions and vague language that will facilitate government abuses.”

This is the latest state of emergency following a subsequent period that lasted for a year beginning in 2017.

“During Ethiopia’s previous countrywide state of emergency, from October 2016 until August 2017, security forces arrested more than 20,000 people and committed widespread rights violations.”

Al Jazeera elaborates further on the nature of the previous state of emergency and continued unrest;

“In August 2017, Ethiopia lifted a 10-month state of emergency imposed after hundreds of people were killed in anti-government protests demanding wider political freedoms. The country’s Oromo and Amhara people – who make up about 61 percent of the population – have staged mass demonstrations since 2015 demanding greater political inclusion and an end to human rights abuses. The protests have continued this month, with many people expressing frustration over a perceived slow government release of political prisoners.”

The fear is that the state of emergency gives the government broad authority to quell the rights of its citizens. The United Nations has cautioned against the potential for human rights violations under the state of emergency.

“The United Nations also takes note of the recent declaration of a state of emergency and stresses the importance of avoiding actions that would infringe on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of citizens, the peace, security and stability of the country, or impact on the delivery of humanitarian assistance.”

CNBC explains the nature and aim of the state of emergency;

“A six-month long state of emergency was imposed by the government the next day, with the intention of quelling civil unrest. The state of emergency prohibits, among other things, the distribution of potentially sensitive material and unauthorized demonstrations or meetings.”

The state of emergency is aimed to bring the civil unrest to an end by controlling the methods by which it came about. The underlying factors that contributed to the unrest are political and economic,

“The factors that have driven the protests — namely the ethnic federal system, the influence of the military and intelligence services, and the interplay between the political elites and the business sector.”

Ethiopia is essentially run by one party that is made up of many coalitions. Desalegn’s party, the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement, is one of the weaker parties who has faced challenges from other coalitions,

“Tension has been bristling between the powerful Tigray People’s Liberation front, which represents just 6 percent of Ethiopians, and its counterparts representing the Amhara and Oromo ethnic groups.”

The interest in the outcome of Ethiopia’s political future is tied to an economic interest by China.

“Ethiopia is a key partner of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive infrastructure spending push to resurrect ancient trading routes centred on China. This is partly because of its strategic location neighboring the tiny port state Djibouti, at which China has a naval base. A maritime presence in the region enables access to European markets via the Suez Canal. Ethiopia is also attractive because of its low cost labor, transport links and a vast consumer market — with its population of over 100 million making it Africa’s second largest.”

The selection of the next Prime Minster will be closely watched given Ethiopia’s rapid economic growth. Whoever is chosen, however, will be a complicated matter that involves many ethnic considerations and balance,

“As leading Ethiopian commentators speculate as to who might fill the leadership position, much hangs in the balance.  The challenge is multifold.  The Government must appoint a leader whom a dissatisfied population will accept.  It is an appointment which must offer other ethnicities than the dominant Tigrayan leadership .  This is also important given the current Tigrayan-heavy cabinet and security apparatus… Notwithstanding the significant role Tigrayans played in overthrowing the former military dictator and spear-heading the development of the EPRDF, Tigray represents only 6 percent of the population.   It must demonstrate to the public that its declared state of emergency will not result in a heavy-handed approach to security which undermines the constitutional right to express freely and peacefully.  It must press on with reforms and initiate the neutrally-chaired national political dialogue process which it has mooted.   Most importantly, it must abandon the tired, hidebound ideological construct of the 1990s which has little place in a more democratic and inclusive playing field.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — “Ethiopia’s state of emergency to last six months” — 18 February 2018

CNBC — “Chinese investment hotspot and a state of emergency: What’s going on in Ethiopia” — 23 February 2018

Human Rights Watch — “Ethiopia: New State of Emergency Risks Renewed Abuses” — 23 February 2018

The London Economic — “Ethiopia in peril: Africa’s development jewel faces crisis” — 23 February 2018

UN News — “Ethiopia: UN welcomes steps towards governance reforms and increased political participation” — 23 February 2018

Human Rights in South Africa after Jacob Zuma

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Newly elected President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photo courtesy of NPR/ Associated Press.

PRETORIA, South Africa — The resignation of South African President Jacob Zuma comes with a call for a renewed focus on human rights in South Africa. As Amnesty International reports,

“Under his leadership, we’ve seen a failure to ensure access to justice for victims of a range of human rights violations. For example, almost six years after 34 striking mineworkers in Marikana were killed by police, there has been no justice for victims or their families.”

Zuma assumed the presidency in 2009, and was re-elected for a subsequent five-year term that began in May of 2014. The incident at Marikana began as a protest, but turned violent when police forces clashed with protesters,

“At Marikana, 3,000 rock drill operators at the mine stopped work as they tried to force an increase in their wages, from ZAR5, 400 ($648) a month to ZAR12, 500 ($1,500) a month. Tensions increased over the following days, with AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa declaring the members were prepared to “die here” if necessary. The stand-off later escalated into violence, leaving 34 dead, 78 injured and 259 arrested on various charges, according to South Africa National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega.”

Marikana is one example of the challenges that newly elected President Cyril Ramaphosa will face. Mr. Ramaphosa seems to acknowledge the problems that his administration will have to tackle early on in his tenure,

“We are determined to build a society defined by decency and integrity, that does not tolerate the plunder of public resources, nor the theft by corporate criminals of the hard-earned savings of ordinary people.”

While Mr. Ramaphosa’s energy is a welcomed change for some, others are not persuaded,

“The leader of the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters party (EFF), Julius Malema, said he welcomed the commitments to shrink the cabinet and take back land. “He (Ramaphosa) has a lot of ideas but no plan of how to go about it, but let’s give the benefit of doubt,” Malema said.”

Mr. Ramaphosa also has a questionable history as a member of many corporate boards — among which include a mining company,

“In 2012, as a board member of the mining firm Lonmin, he urged police to intervene and stop an illegal strike after 10 miners were killed. Emails revealed he called the strike “dastardly criminal. The next day, police shot and killed 34 miners. Dozens more were injured in what amounts to the deadliest act of violence in post-apartheid South Africa. Ramaphosa long has claimed innocence; that he was using his political connections with the minister of police to stop the violence from spreading. An investigating commission cleared Ramaphosa of wrongdoing, but to opponents, such as the upstart Economic Freedom Fighters, a leftist political party, Ramaphosa had sold out. The union organizer sided with management.”

Only time will reflect the urgency of human rights in South Africa under Mr. Ramaphosa’s regime.

For more information, please see:

Reuters — “South Africa’s Ramaphosa hails ‘new dawn’, warns of tough decisions” — 16 February 2018

NPR — “South Africa Elects Cyril Ramaphosa As Its New President” — 15 February 2018

Amnesty International — “South Africa: Post-Zuma government must ensure access to justice for victims of human rights violations” — 12 February 2018

K24TV Kenya — “South African Miners Shot Dead” — 12 August 2012

CNN — “What’s behind South Africa’s mine violence?” — 14 September 2012

Ugandan Human Rights Group Looks to Regroup After Violent Break-In

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Ugandan activists protest violence against NGOs. Photo courtesy of HURINET/Human Rights Watch.

KAMPALA, Uganda – A human rights group focused on marginalized group representation was recently the target of a break-in that left two security guards injured.  Anthony Mutimba, Deputy Executive, is unclear as to the motive of the attack, but thinks it may be linked to an earlier attack in May 2016:

“We suspect the attempted robbery is closely linked to the first attack where the thieves broke into the executive director’s office to steal some documents.”

Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) promotes the rights of groups that include the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. Sex workers are also a focus of HRAPF’s efforts in the country. Human Rights Watch reports that this instance of violence was not the first time that the group was the victim of a violent break-in:

“The break-in continues a string of burglaries and attacks on the offices of independent nongovernmental groups in Uganda, including a previous attack on HRAPF in May 2016, in which a security guard was beaten to death and documents were stolen. The Uganda police neither identified nor arrested suspects in that attack.”

Attacks of this nature are nothing new for human rights organizations operating in Uganda. According to The Observer, many groups have been subjected to acts of violence with no response from the police force:

“Organisations such as the Uganda Land Alliance, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, the Legal Aid Service Providers Network, Akina Mama Wa Afrika and the Anti-Corruption Coalition have suffered break-ins in similar fashion and, despite timely reports to the police on all occasions, investigations have been unsatisfactory and the follow up insufficient.”

The lack of arrests or suspect identification, while tertiary to the violence, is a cause for concern by human rights groups in Uganda.  Maria Burnett, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, opines that the problem starts and ends with the police force:

“The lack of accountability for attacks on non-governmental organizations has apparently led to an atmosphere in which attackers felt free to kill a security guard, in order to accomplish their aims… The Uganda Police Force needs to live up to its obligation to actively investigate these cases and bring those responsible to justice.”

The lack of police intervention is asserted under the backdrop of the tenuous nature of LGBT rights in Uganda generally.  In fact, The Guardian has classified Uganda as one of the most difficult countries to be gay or transgender.

For more information, please see:

The Observer — “Angry human rights workers camp at Old Kampala police’ — 12 February 2018

Daily Monitor — “Suspected thugs break into offices of rights activists, injure two guards” — 9 February 2018

Human Rights Watch — ‘Uganda: Human Rights Group Targeted in Violent Break-In’ — 9 February 2018

The Guardian — “Where are the most difficult places in the world to be gay or transgender?” — 1 March 2017

Erasing 76 Crimes — “Appeal to Uganda: Stop break-ins that target advocates” — 15 June 2016
Human Rights Watch — ‘Uganda: Investigate Break-ins at Groups’ Offices’ — 13 June 2016

World Health Organization Reverses Decision on Mugabe Appointment

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe addresses crowd. Photo courtesy of The Citizen/ ANA.

HARARE, Zimbabwe  — The World Health Organization has reversed its position on Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. Amid harsh criticism, WHO has decided to rescind Mugabe’s role as a “goodwill ambassador” to the organization, according to General Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,

“I have listened carefully to all who have expressed their concerns, and heard the different issues that they have raised…I have also consulted with the government of Zimbabwe and we have concluded that this decision is in the best interests of the World Health Organization. I thank everyone who has voiced their concerns and shared their thoughts.”

The announcement from General Director Ghebreyesus comes amid mounting pressure and public outcry from leaders all throughout the world such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who referred to the appointment as “absolutely unacceptable, absolutely inconceivable” and equated the appointment to a bad April fool’s joke. Hillel Neur, Director of UN Watch, saw the appointment as an offensive display to the very core of international human rights.

“The government of Robert Mugabe has brutalized human rights activists, crushed democracy dissidents, and turned the breadbasket of Africa — and its health system — into a basket-case. The notion that the U.N. should now spin this country as a great supporter of health is, frankly, sickening,” UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said in the statement. “Amid reports of ongoing human rights abuses, the tyrant of Zimbabwe is the last person who should be legitimized by a U.N. position of any kind.”

The position in question was of an ambassador-related appointment to an initiative to combat NCD (non-communicable diseases) in Africa. The position was more honorary and advisory in nature as opposed to carrying out responsibilities with WHO.

“The heads of U.N. agencies and the U.N. secretary-general typically choose celebrities and other prominent people as ambassadors to draw attention to global issues of concern, such as refugees (Angelina Jolie) and education (Malala Yousafzai). The choices are not subject to approval. The ambassadors hold little actual power. They also can be fired.”

Despite the customary nature of the appointment, critics still took issue from the implications of the position.

“Mugabe, 93, one of the longest serving leaders in the world, seems a particularly unusual appointment for goodwill ambassador, given his high profile as the leader of a government with a poor record of democratic freedoms.” Critics also lamented the appointment for Mugabe’s prowess in health-related matters, stating in part that “the idea that Mugabe was appointed because of his contributions to public health given the collapse of Zimbabwe’s healthcare system under his watch, along with the country’s economy in recent years.”

The health care system in Zimbabwe stands on shaky ground, with many calling for reforms to address widespread problems in the system.

“In Zimbabwe, medicines are often in short supply, while the elite ‑ Mugabe included ‑ have to fly to other countries to access better health facilities. Over the years, health workers have always petitioned the government to improve their working conditions and salaries. Doctors in the country have also been at loggerheads with their employers, going on strike several times after accusing government of failing to meet their concerns. The doctors accused the health and child care ministry of a “lipstick approach” to their issues, saying the health sector was “pregnant with a multitude of problems emanating from gross negligence and lack of will to implement logical decisions”

Aside from health care, some claim that Mugabe’s actions have created problems that are directly attributable to his leadership.

“Zimbabwe was once was known as the region’s prosperous breadbasket. But in 2008, the charity Physicians for Human Rights released a report documenting failures in the southern African nation’s health system, saying Mr Mugabe’s policies had led to a man-made crisis.”

For more information, please see:

ABC News — ‘World Health Organization rescinds Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s ‘goodwill ambassador’ appointment amid scathing criticism’ — 22 October 2017

Independent — ‘World Health Organisation rescinds appointing of Robert Mugabe as goodwill ambassador’ — 22 October 2017

Reuters — ‘Mugabe removed as WHO goodwill envoy after outrage’ — 22 October 2017

The Citizen — ‘WHO rescinds Mugabe goodwill ambassador role’ — 22 October 2017

The Inquirer — ‘World Health Organization revokes appointment of Mugabe’ — 22 October 2017

Quartz — ‘It’s not so surprising WHO’s new director tried to make Robert Mugabe a goodwill ambassador’ — 22 October 2017

The Washington Post — ‘The Latest: Canada PM 1st thought Mugabe post was bad joke’ — 21 October 2017  

Tanzania Expels Lawyer’s Amid Homosexual Crackdown

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Tanzania has seen a recent crackdown against homosexual activity. Photo courtesy of BBC News.

DADOMA, Tanzania  — Sibongile Ndashe, a South African attorney, among others were deported from Tanzania on accusations of promoting homosexuality. According to BBC News, They were among 13 people arrested on 17 October for taking part in a meeting to discuss challenging a law stopping private health clinics from providing HIV and Aids services.”

Prior to the deportation, Ndashe and her colleagues were held for a period of 10 days for the charges against them. The basis for the arrest is in question as Ndashe claims that she and her colleagues were held hostage and she plans to file suit as the meeting did not involve homosexuality. According to News24.

“She said the South African police tried to get information on their arrest but the Tanzanians refused to divulge anything. Ndashe was in the east African country along with other lawyers to facilitate a workshop on challenging the Tanzanian government’s closure of HIV centers. They were arrested at the Peacock Hotel in the country’s capital Dar es Salaam more than a week ago.”

Homosexuality is currently a crime in Tanzania and is “punishable by up to 30 years in jail.” In a September 2017 speech, Deputy Health Minister Hamisi Kingwangalla vowed to “fight with all our strength against groups supporting homosexuality in our country.”

Homosexuality continues to be a subject of heated confrontation in Tanzania. The issue is not only related to those who identify homosexuals, but also has crossover with combating Aids in the country. In fact, Kingwangalla has been outspoken against aids clinics, who are trying to reduce the spread of the infection.

“Dr Kingwangalla’s outspoken comments on Twitter follow the health ministry’s move last week to suspend the activities of 40 drop-in HIV/Aids clinics, accusing non-governmental organizations of using them to promote gay sex.”

Despite the recent public condemnation of homosexuality in Tanzania, the level of tolerance is somewhat higher as opposed to other African countries.

Despite the ban on homosexuality, Tanzania was until recently somewhat more tolerant towards gay people than many other African countries, but a rise in anti-gay rhetoric by the government has led to a spike in discrimination, correspondents say.

For more information, please see:

BBC News — ‘Tanzania deports lawyers accused of promoting homosexuality’ — 28 October 2017

News24 — ‘We were held hostage at a Tanzanian police station – SA Human Rights lawyer’ — 28 October 2017

AllAfrica — ‘Tanzania Deports South African Human Rights Lawyer and 2 Others’ — 27 October 2017

BBC News — ‘Zanzibar arrests 20 over homosexuality’ — 16 September 2017

BBC News — ‘Tanzania threat to list gay people’ — 20 February 2017