Africa Rights Watch

Bandits Abduct Dozens of Students in Nigeria

By: Shane Kelly

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

KAGARA, Niger State, Nigeria – On February 17, 2021, gunmen wearing military uniforms stormed into a college in Niger state, abducting dozens of students and their teachers. One student was killed during the attack.

President Muhammadu Buhari. Photo Courtesy of the New York Times (Phill Magakoe/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images).

Attacking in “huge numbers,” gunmen stormed into the Government Science College in the town of Kagara, driving schoolboys and some teachers into the forest. At least one student was killed during the kidnapping, according to one of only a few of the students who managed to escape.

The exact identity of the group is unknown. They do not appear to have an official designation, but they are a criminal gang referred to locally simply as “bandits.” This group has become notorious in central and northwestern Nigeria for pillaging, raping, and kidnapping for ransom. Through aerial troops and communications with local informants, the state government has made contact with the bandits. As of February 19, 2021, negotiations are underway to secure the release of the students. The situation is ongoing.

The abductions follow a similar tragedy only two months ago when perhaps the same group abducted more than 300 schoolboys in Katsina. The kidnappers released the students two days later after receiving a ransom. Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the raid in December, though authorities deny the group’s involvement. These incidents, however, are eerie reminders of Boko Haram’s abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in Chibok in Borno state in 2014. More than a hundred of those students remain missing.

Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, has been under pressure as a result of the wave of crime by bandits in his country, and he faces accusations of apathy and inaction. As a result, he ratified the Safe Schools Declaration—an international initiative to implement and enforce policies to protect schools.

For further information, please see:

BBC – Nigeria’s Katsina School Abduction: Boko Haram Says it Took the Students – 15 Dec. 2020

Human Rights Watch – More Schoolchildren Abducted in Nigeria – 17 Feb. 2021

MSN – Negotiations Under Way in Nigeria to Free Abducted Children – 19 Feb. 2021

New York Times – Gunmen in Nigeria Attack School, Abducting Dozens and Killing a Student – 17 Feb. 2021

New York Times – In Town of Missing Girls, Sorrow, but Little Progress – 11 May 2014

Tunisian LGBTQ+ Community Faces Police Violence

By: Molly Graham

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

TUNIS, Tunisia – On October 6, 2020, hundreds of LGBTQ+ activists gathered in front of Tunisia’s Parliament to protest draft law Number 25/2015, which would severely limit criminal accountability for the use of force by police and armed forces. Ironically, police attacked and arbitrarily arrested many protesters.

Seif Ayadi, LGBTQ+ activist at protest on October 6, 2020. Photo Courtesy of Nawaat.

The proposed law would grant security forces legal immunity from prosecution for use of force. The stated purpose of the law is to enhance protection of armed forces, including military, internal security, and customs forces, as well as suppress attacks against institutions, facilities, and equipment that fall under their authorities. The bill would allow courts to enforce long prison sentences to people who reveal broadly defined “national security secrets.”

If passed, the proposed law would affirm security forces in their use of force, and therefore send a disturbing message to marginalized groups, many of whom are already vulnerable to police misconduct, that they will not be protected from police violence.  LGBTQ+ folks are particularly afraid that this law may pass.

Consider Ahmed El-Tounsi’s experience. El-Tounsi is a transgender Tunisian man and founder of OutCasts (transgender rights organization). On August 5th, 2020, he and other LGBTQ+ activists were walking near the French embassy, when police approached and asked them for identification. When officers noticed discrepancies between their identification and gender expression, a verbal altercation ensued. The verbal altercation quickly escalated into a physical assault. El-Tounsi and the others attempted to run away, but additional police officers arrived. The officers continued to beat the activists while encouraging bystanders to join in. 

El-Tounsi reported the officers shouted to bystanders, “Kill them!  They are sodomites!” Bystanders followed the activists into an alleyway and continued to beat them. The bystanders took their phones and deleted video evidence of the encounter. El-Tounsi commented, “It felt like our entire country beat us that day.”

El-Tounsi went to Habib Thameur Hospital but was denied treatment based on his gender expression. He then went to Charles Nicole Hospital, where administrative staff refused to help him, and referred him to a woman’s hospital, despite his self-identification as a man. Activists took El-Tounsi to Wassila Bourguiba Hospital, which specializes in women’s health, where they refused to treat him because El-Tounsi “[looked] like a man.”

Activists filed a complaint, seeking to hold police and embassy officers accountable. Several lawyers reported the request to review camera footage near the embassy was dismissed. This footage would show the officers’ role in the attack. The lawyers appealed, and are now awaiting a decision.

Avadi attacked and detained by Tunisian police. Photo Courtesy of Nawaat.

Seif Ayadi, a social worker at Damj, a Tunis LGBTQ+ rights group, was present at El-Tounsi’s attack in August and was also one of the activists beaten and detained at the protest in October. Ayadi has spoken out about the increasing police violence against LGBTQ+ people in Tunisia, as well as the overwhelming dangers of the proposed bill. Ayadi reported in 2020 that Damj provided legal support for LGBTQ+ people at police stations in 75 cases and responded to 98 requests for legal consultations. These statistics are five times higher than Damj recorded in 2019.

Currently, there is no legal recognition for transgender people. Many face systemic discrimination, especially when confronted by the incongruence between official identification documents and gender expression. Trans people are often arbitrarily arrested and experience abusive police protocols leading to prosecution. Tunisia should decriminalize same-sex conduct and protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination and police violence, rather than granting increased power to police.

For further information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – “Kill Them, They Are Sodomites” – 10 Dec. 2020

Human Rights Watch – Draft Law Could Return Tunisia to a Police State – 24 July 2017

Inkyfada – Draft Law Against Attacks on the Armed Forces: Protection or Immunity – 28 Apr. 2015

Nawaat – “They Choked Me, Kicked Me”: Cops Assault Protests Against Police Immunity Law – 10 Oct. 2020  

PinkNews – Trans man beaten by police and onlookers then refused medical treatment because of his gender: ‘Kill them, they are sodomites” – 11 Dec. 2020

Violence Amid the Central African Republic Elections Sparked Concern from the United Nations

By: Ann Ciancia

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Notes and Comments Editor

BANGUI, Central African Republic – The nation’s legislative and presidential elections took place on December 27th, 2020, where violence erupted in the proceeding days of the election. The Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) has forced over 55,000 civilians to flee their homes. Many people believe that the national government and the United Nations should get involved to protect the people of the Central African Republic from the escalating violence.

A woman voting in the Central African Republic Election. Photo Courtesy of the United Nations and Nektarios Markogiannis.

Over the last five years, the CPC has committed war crimes against the people of the Central African Republic. The CPC has caused violence throughout the nation by deliberately killing civilians, raping women and girls, and destroying property. The CPC is made up of six rebel groups, one group is awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court. The former president, François Bozizé, is believed to be behind this new violent coalition. Bozizé was president from 2003 until 2013, when he was forced out of office. He was not allowed to run in this year’s presidential election due to ineligibility on ‘moral grounds’ from UN sanctions and attempted to urge civilians not to vote.

Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the UN, urged all individuals of the Central African Republic “to refrain from any action, including violence, hate speech, and incitement to violence, that could threaten human lives and undermine the electoral process and national stability.” He urged politicians to resolve differences peacefully and respectfully.

Two days before the election, peacekeepers from the UN mission and national security forces were attacked and three peacekeepers were killed by gunmen in the central and southern Central African Republic. There has been a major increase in violence against humanitarian individuals, civilians, state authorities, and candidates.

There was concern that a majority of the 1.8 million registered voters in the Central African Republic would not be able to vote due to the violence by armed members of the CPC. More than fourteen percent of polling stations, or 800 out of 5,408 stations, were closed during the elections due to violent attacks. Many citizens believed the election should have been postponed, but the government and the UN mission had rejected a postponement.

Security forces, assisted by UN peacekeepers, and reinforcements from Rwanda and Russia were able to fend off attacks, but rebels of the coalition opened fire in areas where elections were taking place. Despite the severe violence, many civilians turned out for the elections. The rebel groups of the CPC were hostile towards President Faustin-Archange Touadera, who is seeking a second term.

Even though several thousands of people did not receive their voter cards, the election results were announced on January 4, 2021. President Touadera won his reelection by achieving a majority vote with than 53 percent. Out of the many citizens registered to vote, over 75 percent of people came out to vote during this election.

Although rebel groups have seized several small villages close to the capital, the people of the Central African Republic were vigilant in using their power to vote in the presidential and legislative elections. It will be beneficial if the government and the UN take more action to ensure safety from the violent rebels throughout the Central African Republic.

For further information, please see:

Aljazeera – CAR violence forced closure of 800 polling stations: Commission – 28 Dec. 2020

BBC – Central African Republic election held amid violence – 28 Dec. 2020

CNN – Central African Republic President Touadera wins re-election – 5 Jan. 2020

Human Rights Watch – Central African Republic: Rebel Violence Threatens Elections – 23 Dec. 2020           

Reuters – Central African Republic votes ‘massively’ amid sporadic rebel gunfire – 26 Dec. 2020

UN News – UN chief urges peaceful, credible elections in Central African Republic – 26 Dec. 2020

The United States Election Was Not the Only Election the World Was Watching

By: Alexis Eka

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania – Democracy in Tanzania is being threatened. John Magufuli, the president who began his term in 2015, has faced public backlash for his decisions that have eroded civil liberties. In January 2020, President Magufuli promised that elections scheduled for October 28, 2020 would be free and fair. However, it soon became clear that President Magufuli had other plans in mind.

A supporter of Tanzania’s ruling party holds sign during the official launch of the party’s campaign. Photo Courtesy of Ericky Boniphace via Getty Images.

President Magufuli restricted local organizations from monitoring voter turnouts and harassed his opponents, several local newspapers, and journalists for their disparaging coverage of him in his presidential capacity. The sub-Saharan African representative for the Committee of Protect Journalists, Muthoki Mumo, stated that since January 2020, the government has restricted at least six different social media sources including Twitter and WhatsApp, ranging from periods of one week to one year. The authorities also directed telecommunication companies to censor longer messages and voice services in the midst of reports that cellphone users were restricted from loading and sending messages featuring the names of Magufili’s opposing candidates.

Several human rights organizations have been exempt from observing and publishing commentaries about the election. These groups include the Legal and Human Rights Center, a group that is tasked with coordinating non-governmental organizations that have traditionally overseen the Tanzania’s polls.

Numerous groups have made clear that police forces and governmental authorities have targeted them and accused them of hosting unauthorized meetings as well as conspiring against the president. These allegations have led to violence for individuals that have openly declared opposition to president Magufili. For example, authorities have created obstacles for opposing party members who have attempted to campaign in good faith. Many of these party members failed to obtain proper accreditation for their poll watchers who sought to help with the election. The United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres addressed Tanzania’s political leaders and their allies to “refrain from violence”.

As elections occurred on October 28, 2020, the presidential candidate for the opposing party, Tundu Lissu, stated that his agents were denied entrance to polling stations to cast their votes.  Lissu and his agents were detained by the police authorities after inducing street protests against the leaders in East Africa. Lissu sought refuge at the German ambassador’s residence in Dar es Salaam, claiming that his life was being threatened as a result of the contentious election. Lissu claims that telephone calls to the Dar es Salaam head of police Lazaro Mambosasa, remained unanswered. “I just want a safe passage out of the country, given the deterioration in the security situation for myself,” Lissu said. The police contend that Lissu was in safe conditions and that there were no threats or issues of election-related violence.

While political leaders from the opposing party have been scrutinized and arrested and with the current slow of social media outlets, many feared that the president’s win, will make the country inevitably lose. Dan Paget, a politics professor at the University of Aberdeen stated, “This is the election where any resemblance Tanzania bears to democracy probably ends”.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 29 million citizens voted at more than 80,000 polling stations in Tanzania as they sought to elect a new president, appoint new lawmakers, and local counselors. There is a common fear amongst Tanzanians that president Magufili’s re-election would be accompanied by harsh political and constitutional changes that include the dismissal of term limits as well as additional restrictions on civil liberties. Large protests could derail the progress made by Tanzanians in their search for economic stability, but the government and president Magufili continue to put pressure on the backs of those seeking and advocating for change.     

For further information, please see:

Bloomberg – Tanzania Opposition Leader Seeks Refuge with German Ambassador – 07 Nov. 2020 

NYTimes As Tanzania Votes, Many See Democracy Itself on the Ballot 29 Oct. 2020

The Economist Democracy is faltering in Tanzania and Ivory Coast 5 Oct. 2020  

The Economist President Magufuli is likely to win an unfair vote in Tanzania 22 Oct. 2020

The African Court on Human and People’s Rights Faces Resistance Against Authority

By: Hannah Gavin

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

ARUSHA, Tanzania – The African Court on Human and People’s Rights has been facing difficulty in recent months as nations have growingly been unwilling to co-operate with the court.

Logo of the Coalition for an Effective African Court of Human and People’s Rights. Photo courtesy of the Coalition.

The nations of Benin, Côte d’Ivoire and Tanzania all recently withdrew the right of individuals and NGOs to file cases with the court directly. These nations join several other African nations that have either revoked the right for individuals to file or are not complying with the court’s decisions. The reasons for the revocations are due to decisions by the court that these nations view as too harsh and unfavorable. The International Director for Research and Policy from Amnesty International discussed the matter by stating, “The decision by countries to hit back at the court for decisions they disagreed with is extremely worrying. African states must refrain from using political muscle against institutions whose very purpose is to ensure justice is available to everyone, regardless of their government’s politics.”

In addition to nations outright denying the court’s decisions, many have also opted to ignore its obligations. The court requires that nations submit periodic reports so that they may keep track of potential arising violations. Only six of the thirty nations had submitted reports. An additional six nations had never submitted a single report. These actions already presented many concerns to human rights before the COVID-19 pandemic, since the pandemic these have become grave threats. Many countries have used excessive force, arrests, and strict restrictions to curb the effects of the virus. Specifically, people who were already of limited resources are being hit especially hard.

Some of those that are historically underprivileged include the elderly and those with disabilities. These at-risk groups are often targets of human rights violations. To combat this, two protocols dictating rights for these marginalized groups were adopted by the African Union. However, several years after their adoption, the protocols have yet to be ratified.

These restrictions have raised alarms for the African and international communities, as going against the implicit purpose of the court. By restricting access to fair proceedings, individuals who are victims of these crimes may be unable to seek help. More egregiously, nations that perpetrate such abuses will be left with citizens struggling to find legal support. Many diverse nations make up the African continent, without the assistance of the court to regulate severe human rights abuses, many nations risk slipping from democratic societies into despotisms.

For further information, please see:

Amnesty International – Africa: Regional human rights bodies struggle to uphold rights amid political headwinds – 21 Oct. 2020

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – African Court Coalition Discussions: States Withdrawals from Article 34(6) of the African Court Protocol – 1 May 2020