Sub-Saharan Africa: Scourge of conflict continues to cause suffering amid double standards and failure of leadership.
• Amnesty International’s Annual Report for 2022 highlights double standards throughout the world on human rights and the failure of the international community to unite around consistently applied human rights and universal values to protect rights
• Women’s rights as well as freedom to protest are threatened as states fail to protect and respect rights at home
• As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 75, Amnesty International insists that a rules-based international system must be founded on human rights and applied to everyone, everywhere
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 generated a global energy and food crisis, which hit Africa hard, and sought to further disrupt weak multilateral and regional systems meant to protect human rights on the continent. It also laid bare the inconsistent responses to crises around the world. While Western states as well as some African states reacted forcefully to the Kremlin’s aggression in Ukraine, they were muted in response to grave violations being committed in African countries including Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Mali and Mozambique, Amnesty International said as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world.
Amnesty International Report 2022/23: The State of the World’s Human Rights found double standards and inadequate responses to human rights abuses fuelled impunity and instability. It also showed that recovery efforts from the Covid-19 pandemic were hindered by conflicts, economic shocks arising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and extreme weather conditions, exacerbated by climate change. Consequently, the rights of millions of people to food, health and an adequate standard of living were seriously undermined across the African continent.
The report also highlights the failure of global and regional institutions, including the UN Security Council and African Union, to respond adequately to crimes committed under international law in countries like China, Myanmar and Yemen, as well as on the African continent, including in Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and South Sudan.
“While the international community’s attention shifted to Ukraine, Africa continued to suffer from the scourge of conflict, which continued to cause suffering and mass displacements of people in countries such as Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Mali, Mozambique and South Sudan,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Director for West and Central Africa. “Africa was already facing a long, slow recovery from Covid-19 but the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine has resulted in a spike in global oil prices, which has driven the cost of commodities higher, making it difficult for ordinary people to afford food and basic necessities. Many people are barely surviving in fragile economies such as Zimbabwe, Liberia and South Sudan and this has compromised people’s socio-economic rights.”
Shameless failure of leadership paves way for further abuses
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine triggered one of Europe’s worst humanitarian and human rights emergencies in recent history, exposing what has been a reality for many in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Mozambique, and the Sahel, and the terrible failure of leadership to resolve these conflicts.
Despite widespread conflict across West, Central, East and Southern Africa, limited progress was made towards ensuring victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparation and accountability for grave violations and abuses of human rights that may amount to crimes under international law.
In 2022, the African Union celebrated the 20th anniversary of its founding and establishment. It was a year in which the continental body was expected to double down on its responses to crises and the fight against impunity; to rededicate itself to its ambitious goal of ‘silencing the guns’ and ridding the continent of the scourge of conflict by 2030. Instead, the African Union’s response to grave violations and abuses of human rights committed in conflicts across the region was either absent or timid at best.
In South Sudan, victims of crimes under international law continued to wait, for the seventh year in a row, for the African Union to decisively act and establish the Hybrid Court for South Sudan. 2022 marked seven years since a peace agreement mandated the African Union to establish the Hybrid Court for South Sudan and nine years since the country descended into conflict.
In Ethiopia, the African Union successfully mediated the signing of a peace agreement in response to the two-year brutal conflict in the northern region. However, it remained eerily silent as the Ethiopian government continued to discredit and deny access to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Commission of Inquiry on the Situation in the Tigray Region. At the same time, the peace agreement mediated by the African Union overlooked rampant impunity in the country and failed to offer a clear roadmap on how to ensure accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
While the African Union mediation efforts resulted in cessation of hostilities agreements in countries such as Ethiopia, many other conflicts continued largely unabated. Emboldened by a lack of attention or decisive action from the African Union and the United Nations, armed groups and government forces alike continued to target civilians in conflicts around the continent, leaving a trail of death and destruction.
In Burkina Faso, armed groups, the Islamic State in the Sahel (ISS) and the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM), targeted towns and cities, killing people in attacks and violating humanitarian law. In Djibo town, more than 300,000 residents were affected when GSIM destroyed water infrastructure. At least 80 people, mostly civilians, were killed when ISS fighters attacked Seytenga town in June 2022, reportedly going from house to house killing men.
In Mali, members of the GSIM attacked three villages in Bankass Cercle, killing at least 130 people in May 2022. In Moura town, several dozen people were summarily executed by Malian soldiers and their allies in March. The same forces killed 50 civilians in Hombori in April 2022.
In Cameroon, armed separatist groups in the Northwest and Southwest regions targeted people, healthcare facilities and schools. Armed groups in the Far North region similarly raided villages, killing and abducting dozens of civilians. In the Central African Republic, at least 100 civilians were killed by armed groups and government forces between February and March 2022.
Attacks on civilians also intensified in eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where armed groups killed more than 1,800 civilians. In Nord-Kivu, fighting between the Congolese army and M23 rebels forced more than 200,000 people to flee their homes. Data collected by the UN showed that at least 250 internally displaced people were killed during the year as a result of deliberate attacks against their camps in the east, with 180 killed in Ituri alone.
In Mozambique, an armed group calling itself Al-Shabaab committed war crimes by beheading civilians, abducting women and girls, and looting and burning villages in the north of the country. On 21 May 2022, they attacked Chicomo, Nguida and Nova Zambezia villages in Macomia district and burned houses, ransacked crops, beheaded 10 people and abducted women and girls.
“Longstanding impunity for human rights violations from Burkina Faso to Central African Republic, Ethiopia to Sudan and Mozambique to Cameroon has added fuel to the fire of conflicts and human rights violations in Africa. Both state and non-state actors cannot continue to violate human rights and international humanitarian law with impunity. There must be consequences for human rights violations,” said Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
“Parties to armed conflicts must protect civilians by ending deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, and indiscriminate attacks. They must also facilitate the safe and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance for populations at risk.”
Ruthless repression of dissent across the world
In 2022, authorities across the world deployed various tactics to silence peaceful dissent. In Africa, journalists, human rights defenders and political opposition also faced repression including in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Eswatini, Guinea, Mali, Mozambique, Senegal and Zimbabwe. Crackdowns on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly intensified as authorities used national security or Covid-19 as a pretext to ban, suppress or violently disperse protests. In Guinea, judicial proceedings have been launched against activists for protesting against transitional authorities, which have imposed a total ban on demonstrations since May.
The deaths of scores of protesters were reported and attributed to excessive use of force by security forces in Chad, DRC, Guinea, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan, among other countries.
In many countries, political opponents, activists, bloggers, journalists and human rights defenders were or remained arbitrarily detained in 2022 simply for exercising their freedom of expression. In Cameroon, more than 100 people from the Anglophone regions or supporters of the main opposition party are detained for expressing their opinion. In Zimbabwe, senior opposition leader Job Sikhala remains in detention after he was arrested in June 2022, even though he has not been convicted of any crime.
Media outlets were suspended or subjected to heavy fines, including in Mali, Togo and Senegal for disseminating or publishing information critical of the regimes.
Technology was weaponized against many, to silence, prevent public assembly or disinform.
In response to growing threats to the right to protest, Amnesty International launched a global campaign in 2022 to confront states’ intensifying efforts to erode the fundamental right to freedom of peaceful assembly. As part of this campaign the organization calls for the adoption of a Torture-Free Trade Treaty banning the production and trade in inherently abusive law enforcement equipment and controlling the trade in law enforcement equipment often used for torture or other ill-treatment.
Women bear brunt as states fail to protect and respect rights
Repression of dissent and inconsistent approaches to human rights also had a stark impact on women’s rights.
Pregnant girls continued to be excluded from schools in Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea. Gender-based violence remained prevalent across the region. In South Africa, murders of women increased by 10.3%, with 989 women killed between July and September 2022, while sexual offences and rape increased by 11% and 10.8%, respectively.
In many countries including Guinea, victims of rape continued to experience failures in prevention of and a lack of protection from such crimes. They often suffered from poor access to medical care, sexual and reproductive health services, psychological support, and legal and social support. But there were some positive developments as well. The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child found that Tanzania’s exclusion policy against pregnant girls in schools violated the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and recommended that the policy be reviewed.
In Zimbabwe, legislation outlawing early and child marriage was introduced.
In Sierra Leone, 800 children, including pregnant girls and girls who had dropped out of school because of pregnancy were reintegrated into schools.
Global action against threats to humanity woefully inadequate
The Russian invasion of Ukraine interrupted wheat supplies that many African countries depend on. Rising fuel costs, another consequence of the war in Europe, caused considerable spikes in food prices which hit the most marginalized groups the hardest.
Food insecurity worsened due to conflict and drought in several African countries, leaving many people facing acute hunger including in Angola, Burkina Faso, CAR, Chad, Kenya, Madagascar, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. In Angola, food insecurity in the Cunene, Huíla and Namibe provinces was among the worst in the world and in some of these areas, adults and children resorted to eating stalks of grass to survive.
Dysfunctional international institutions need fixing
It is vital that international institutions and systems that are meant to protect our rights are strengthened rather than undermined. The first step is for UN and African human rights mechanisms and systems, including the African Union and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, to be fully supported and funded, so that accountability and investigations can be pursued, and justice delivered.
Amnesty International is also calling for the UN’s key decision-making body, the Security Council, to be reformed to give a voice to countries and situations which have been traditionally ignored, especially in the global south.
“The international system needs serious reform to reflect the realities of today. We cannot allow the permanent members of the UN Security Council to continue wielding their veto power and abusing their privileges unchecked. The lack of transparency and efficiency in the Council’s decision-making process leaves the entire system wide open to manipulation, abuse and dysfunction,” Said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
But while self-serving governments fail to put our human rights first, the human rights movement shows we can still draw inspiration and hope from the people these states should have protected.
In South Sudan, Magai Matiop Ngong was released from prison, having been sentenced to death at the age of 15 in 2017. His release came after thousands of people around the world petitioned the authorities for his freedom.
“It is easy to feel hopeless in the face of atrocities and abuses but throughout the last year, people have shown we are not powerless,” said Agnès Callamard.
“Millions of people who have been systematically oppressed by patriarchy and racism took to the streets to demand a better tomorrow. They did so in previous years and they did so again in 2022. This should remind those in power that we will never be mere bystanders when they assault our dignity, equality and freedom.”