Monday, April 14, 2014

UK Human Rights Report Cites 7 African 'Countries of Concern'

In an annual report on human rights and democracy issued on April 10, the United Kingdom's Foreign & Commonwealth Office identified seven African countries on a list of 28 "countries of concern," explaining:
For this year’s report, we continued to use the criteria for inclusion that we published last year:

* the gravity of the human rights situation in the country, including both the severity of particular abuses and the range of human rights affected;
* whether a deterioration or improvement in the human rights situation in the country would have a wider impact in the region;
* whether the human rights situation in the country has an impact on wider UK interests; and
* whether we are able to influence the human rights situation there.
The seven African countries named are the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.

Concerns about the CAR included torture, conflict and protection of civilians, freedom of religion or belief, women’s rights, and children’s rights. The commentary on CAR begins:
The human rights situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) deteriorated greatly in the course of 2013 due to conflict and widespread abuses against civilians. Of principle concern were extrajudicial executions by security forces and insurgent groups; the widespread recruitment of child soldiers; sexual violence in the context of conflict; acts of collective punishment; torture; deprivation of livelihood; forced displacement; abuses targeted at religious groups; and sexual and gender-based violence. There has been almost complete impunity for these acts. Despite some progress in the ratification of human rights instruments and the establishment of human rights institutions, the state has for some years been unable to ensure the respect of rights throughout the country. The new authorities, from the Seleka rebel group, who acquired power through a coup d’├ętat in March 2013, have been unable or unwilling to enforce the respect for human rights, including by their own armed forces. A national commission of enquiry was set up in May to investigate cases of human rights abuses, but has made little progress. The CAR’s Universal Periodic Review took place at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on 25 October 2013. This focused primarily on how to establish greater security in CAR. Child soldiers, sexual violence and violence against women were common themes during member states’ interventions.
The FCO's concerns with regard to the DRC include elections, death penalty, torture, conflict and protection of civilians, women’s rights, and children’s rights. Its commentary begins:
Human rights abuses by all parties to the conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continued to be of concern in 2013. Armed rebel groups committed a number of summary executions and rapes, and were responsible for the forced recruitment of children. The Congolese army and police were also accused of human rights violations, including killings, rapes and ill treatment of detainees. The best way to improve the human rights situation in the DRC is through continued work to stabilise the region, reduce conflict and ensure that there is no culture of impunity in the aftermath of conflict. These are the conditions that led to many of the human rights abuses and violations taking place. The defeat of the armed rebel group M23 in 2013 was a major step, and provides an opportunity in 2014 to bring an end to the conflict in eastern DRC.
The extensive list of concerns for Eritrea includes elections, freedom of expression and assembly, human rights defenders, access to justice and the rule of law, death penalty, torture, conflict and protection of civilians, freedom of religion or belief, women’s rights, minority rights, children’s rights, and LGBT rights. The FCO's commentary begins:
The Eritrean government made no visible progress on key human rights concerns in 2013 and continued to violate its international obligations and domestic law, including in the areas of arbitrary and inhumane detention, indefinite national service, and lack of religious freedom, freedom of the media and freedom of speech. The government continued to cite “no war, no peace” with Ethiopia as justification for its failure to implement the 1997 constitution, which provides for democratic government and fundamental rights and freedoms.
Concerns with regard to Somalia include freedom of expression, access to justice and the rule of law, death penalty, conflict and protection of civilians, freedom of religion or belief, women’s rights, and children’s rights. The FCO's commentary on Somalia begins:
The human rights situation in Somalia has continued to be dominated by the ongoing armed conflict in the country. Civilians have been killed, wounded and displaced, with reports of violations and abuses committed by all sides to the conflict including by Al Shabaab (an Islamist insurgent group), government security forces, and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Populations under Al Shabaab control have suffered serious abuses including arbitrary justice, and harsh restrictions on basic rights. Although there has been political progress in Somalia during 2013, we also remain concerned at the numerous reports of sexual violence, targeted killings of journalists, and violations against children. Impunity for violations and abuses has remained a problem, often due to poor access to the fledgling official justice mechanisms and weak rule of law institutions. We are continuing to support the Federal Government of Somalia as they take forward their plans to rebuild government institutions and capacity.
The FCO's concerns about sub-Saharan Africa's newest independent state, South Sudan, include freedom of expression and assembly, human rights defenders, access to justice and the rule of law, death penalty, torture, conflict and protection of civilians, women’s rights, and children’s rights. It begins its commentary with these two paragraphs:
The human rights situation in South Sudan deteriorated during 2013, and is now of serious concern. Some progressive steps were taken, in particular ratification of a number of key international human rights instruments. However, the overall trajectory was distinctly negative.

The government has been slow to address many areas of concern, and has demonstrated what appears to be a more hardline attitude in some areas such as restrictions on freedom of expression and on civil society. The constitutional review process, which may have helped to secure inclusive discussion of, and legal safeguards for, certain rights, was beset by continued delays. South Sudan ended its moratorium on the death penalty. Numerous instances of human rights violations and abuses by national security forces and ethnically-biased militias, most often as part of inter-communal conflict, have led to mass civilian displacement, deaths and reports of rape and torture. The overall human rights situation, as well as compliance with international and humanitarian law, has been significantly worsened by the conflict which broke out on 15 December 2013, and has led to high numbers of civilian deaths, including reports of targeting on the basis of ethnicity, torture, and sexual violence.
Concerns about South Sudan's northern neighbor, Sudan, include elections, freedom of expression and assembly, access to justice and the rule of law, death penalty, torture, conflict and protection of civilians, freedom of religion or belief, women’s rights, children’s rights, and LGBT rights. The FCO's commentary on Sudan begins:
The human rights situation in Sudan deteriorated in 2013. Following his third visit to the country in June, the UN Independent Expert on human rights in Sudan stressed that major challenges needed to be addressed, although he acknowledged the government’s stated commitment to meet its human rights obligations. The context for the deterioration in human rights included the worsening humanitarian situation generated by increased tribal conflict and lawlessness in Darfur, and the deteriorating security situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Finally, with regard to Zimbabwe, the FCO's list of concerns includes elections, freedom of expression and assembly, human rights defenders, access to justice and the rule of law, death penalty, torture, freedom of religion or belief, and LGBT rights. Its commentary begins:
The human rights situation in Zimbabwe remained relatively stable throughout 2013, with a slight improvement on previous years. Zimbabwe Peace Project reported fewer than 5,000 cases of politically motivated human rights violations between January to November 2013. This compares to 5,096 in 2012, and 10,188 in 2011, 10,703 in 2010, 14,725 in 2009, and a peak of 23,755 cases recorded for 2008. Levels of politically motivated human rights violations have continued on a downward trajectory throughout the country.

However, serious concerns remain, including political violence, and harassment of political opposition, journalists, judges and human rights defenders (HRDs). Many international human rights indicators still rank Zimbabwe amongst the worst countries in the world in terms of civil liberties, political rights and press freedoms.
In addition to these seven African states, others among the 28 "countries of concern" cited by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office include Afghanistan, Fiji, Russia, Syria, and Yemen.