July 26th 2017

World / East Africa

Authoritarian rulers put rights at risk in East Africa, says Amnesty

Across the region, people protesting to demand their rights were met with excessive force from security officers. In Ethiopia, more than 800 people were killed during months of protests against political exclusion and rising land grievances, especially in the Oromia region.

By David JagongoWednesday, 22 Feb 2017 16:53 EAT

With politics of demonization taking hold across the globe in 2016, East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes Region saw a rise in human rights violations, Amnesty International says. As the group released its annual assessment of human rights around the world today, the global human rights body said that demonization is resulting from growing authoritarianism and conflict.

"Leaders bent on clinging to power in many instances stirred up fear and turned communities against each other,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International's Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes. “They also set their troops on unarmed civilians and blamed their own failures and ineptitude on minorities, including refugees," she said.

The report, The State of the World's Human Rights, delivers a comprehensive analysis of the state of human rights around the world, covering 159 countries, including 11 in East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes. It highlights how refugees were shamefully scapegoated in Kenya, civilians targeted with chemical weapons in Sudan, protesters killed in cold blood in Ethiopia, opposition and youth activists jailed in Democratic Republic of Congo and thousands killed in South Sudan as the political conflict there took on ethnic dimensions.

"In several countries in the region, rulers ignored their own constitutions to stay in power, holding elections only in form and not substance. The resulting political instability and outbreaks of violence created a climate of fear, forcing people to flee across borders for refuge," Ms Wanyeki observed.

In Burundi, as justice continued to elude victims of human rights violations stemming from President Pierre Nkurunziza's refusal to leave power, security forces continued to carry out human rights violations including unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment, and arbitrary arrests. Meanwhile the government focused on withdrawing from the International Criminal Court, making Burundi the first African country to commence the process of withdrawal.

Eritrea remained one of the leading source countries of refugees as President Isaias Afewerki's government showed no sign of reducing its intolerance of dissent. A report by the UN Commission of Inquiry in June said crimes including murder, rape, torture and enslavement had been committed in a systematic and widespread manner in Eritrean detention facilities, military training camps and other locations. All this was meant to instill fear, deter opposition and ultimately control the Eritrean population.

But, in some cases, fleeing abroad brought little solace as governments abdicated their responsibilities and international obligations to protect refugees. Amnesty International's Annual Report documents how 36 countries globally violated international law by unlawfully sending refugees back to a country where their rights were at risk.  

In Kenya, the government announced plans to shut down Dadaab refugee camp and repatriate more than a quarter of a million (mostly Somali) refugees who live there, accusing them of posing a security risk. “Like the sword of Damocles, the order to shut Dadaab hung over refugees' heads for months until the High Court finally overturned it this month, but remains a classic example of governments pushing a toxic agenda and the collective scapegoating of people in need," said Muthoni Wanyeki.

Across the region, people protesting to demand their rights were met with excessive force from security officers. In Ethiopia, more than 800 people were killed during months of protests against political exclusion and rising land grievances, especially in the Oromia region.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, dozens were killed and others injured as security forces broke up multiple protests demanding that elections be held on time and that President Joseph Kabila stand down at the end of his second term.

In Uganda, police forcibly dispersed peaceful opposition gatherings, arbitrarily arrested opposition politicians including presidential candidates, and tortured and ill-treated opposition activists in the lead-up to general elections in February. 

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