IN their recently released annual report, AMNESTY International have called 2014 a “devastating year” for those seeking to stand up for human rights and for those caught up in the suffering of war zones. The report was particularly critical of governments that it claims paid lip service to the importance of protecting civilians, “and yet the world’s politicians have miserably failed to protect those in greatest need.”
Documenting the state of human rights in 160 countries and territories, the report has unveiled a shocking library of human rights atrocities that took place in 2014 - yet several of them did not get fitting coverage, or were ignored.
Here we look at some of the lesser known country examples of challenges to human rights, as documented by Amnesty.
As African cities expanded at an unprecedented pace, forced evictions have also been on the rise to make space for development or due to a lack of secure tenure. This leaves people without their livelihoods and possessions, and drives many of them deeper into poverty. In Angola, at least 4,000 families were forcibly evicted in Luanda province. Of these, at least 700 of these families were left without adequate housing.
For the 600 families that had their homes demolished, and were forcibly evicted from the Areia Branca neighbourhood of Luanda, it is believed they were evicted to make way for construction of a hotel. Armed police, including riot police and a canine brigade, reportedly beat those being evicted. Most of the residents had lived in the area for six to 10 years and some reported that they had legal title to the land.
Targeting of civilians
In Nigeria, violent attacks by the armed group Boko Haram against government and civilian targets escalated. It burst onto the world’s front pages with the abduction, by Boko Haram, of 276 schoolgirls in the town of Chibok, one of countless crimes committed by the group. What was less publicised however, were horrific crimes committed by Nigerian security forces and those working with them against people believed to be members or supporters of Boko Haram.
The report states that Nigerian security forces repeatedly carried out extrajudicial executions, often following the “screening” of suspects, some of which were recorded on video, revealed by Amnesty International in August; bodies of the murdered victims were tossed into a mass grave.
In the Central African Republic, by the end of 2014, anti-Balaka and Séléka groups lacked co-ordination, leading to the creation of various other groups among them. Fresh violence rocked the capital, Bangui, in October. The mostly Muslim Séléka forces clashed with the mainly Christian and animist anti-Balaka militia. All sides systematically targeted civilians believed to support the other-sides’ fighters.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in January, the government launched a military operation against the armed group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in Beni territory, North Kivu province. While “Operation Sokola 1” (“Operation Clean-up” in Lingala) forced the ADF rebels from their forest base, they regrouped and in October launched a series of attacks, killing and kidnapping civilians. This cost thousands of lives and forced more than a million people to flee their homes. The increased violence was also marked by killings and mass rapes by both government security forces and armed groups.
Civil society crackdown
In Egypt, NGOs saw a severe crackdown, with use of the Mubarak-era Law on Associations (Law 84 of 2002), to send a strong message that the government will not tolerate any dissent. Human rights organisations faced threats of closure and criminal prosecution, forcing many activists to scale down their work or leave the country. In September, the government amended the Penal Code to prohibit the funding of acts harmful to Egypt’s national interest, territorial integrity or public peace.
The government also proposed a new Law on Associations that, if enacted, would give the authorities additional powers to deny NGOs legal registration and curtail their activities and funding. In November, Egypt’s Cabinet approved draft legislation which, if passed, would give the authorities sweeping powers to classify organisations as terrorist entities.
Shrinking of political space
In Eritrea, no political opposition parties, independent media or civil society organisations were allowed to operate, and thousands of prisoners of conscience and political prisoners continued to be held in arbitrary detention - held in incommunicado detention for various reasons which include criticising government policy or practice.
In Burundi, critical voices, including opposition members, civil society activists, lawyers and journalists, were restricted as the 2015 elections approached. This saw authorities refuse to grant opposition groups, the press, the Burundian Bar Association and civil society organisations authorisation to hold legitimate meetings and peaceful demonstrations. Freedom of assembly and association was curtailed, with meetings and marches were also regularly prohibited.
AU human rights violations
In 2014 there were allegations of complicity by AU peacekeeping missions in serious human rights violations. As was the case with the AU-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA), specifically its Chadian contingent. Amnesty reports that the Chadian national army (ANT) members and those of the Chadian contingent of MISCA were involved in serious human rights violations. In some instances MISCA forces failed to protect civilians, while in others members of its contingents allegedly committed serious human rights violations with impunity. For example, on 18 February, Chadian troops were responsible for killing at least eight people including children, when they indiscriminately opened fire on a crowd in Damara and at the PK12 neighbourhood of Bangui. Such allegations forced the mission to withdraw from CAR.
Abuses by armed groups
Abuses by armed groups included unlawful killings, abductions, torture and indiscriminate attacks. In Somalia, al-Shabaab factions tortured and unlawfully killed people they accused of spying or not conforming to their strict interpretation of Islamic law. They killed people in public - including by stoning - and carried out amputations and floggings. The report went on to state that during Ramadan in July, recorded assassination attempts reached their highest level since al-Shabaab lost control of most parts of Mogadishu in 2010.
Excessive force at demonstrations
In Togo, anti-government demonstrations that took place in 2014 over electoral reform and media restrictions were often met by excessive force. In most cases, the authorities failed to investigate excessive use of force and no one was held accountable. In April 2013, two students were killed when security forces shot live bullets at a crowd of protesters in the northern town of Dapaong.
One of the victims, Anselme Sindare Gouyano, was 12 years old. The government announced that those responsible would be brought to justice, but by the end of 2014 no investigations or prosecutions had been started. Journalists were also at risk, injured by police officers while covering protests and were targeted with tear gas and bullets.
Freedom of Expression
Amnesty reported that in Sudan, freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly continued to be severely curtailed despite the government’s expressed commitments to begin a national dialogue to achieve peace and protect constitutional rights.
The report states that, in fact, the authorities increased restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and assembly throughout the country, in what appeared to be a concerted effort to shut down independent dialogue. The government continued to use the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) and other security forces to arbitrarily detain perceived opponents of the ruling National Congress Party, to censor media and to shut down public forums and protests.
Meanwhile next door, South Sudan’s National Security Service (NSS) seized and shut down newspapers, and harassed, intimidated and unlawfully detained journalists, in a clampdown that restricted freedom of expression. A National Security Service Bill granting the NSS broad powers, including to arrest and detain without adequate provisions for independent oversight or safeguards against abuse, was passed by parliament and is awaiting presidential assent.
Impunity - failure to ensure justice
In Kenya, efforts to ensure accountability for international crimes, including crimes against humanity, committed during the 2007/2008 post-election violence in Kenya remained inadequate. At the ICC, the trial of Deputy President Samoei Ruto and Joshua Arap Sang continued, although undermined by allegations of witness intimidation and bribery. The Trial Chamber issued summonses to nine prosecution witnesses who no longer wished to appear voluntarily. By the end of the year, three of the nine witnesses had testified via video-link from an undisclosed location in Nairobi.
Meanwhile, charges against President Uhuru Kenyatta were withdrawn following the rejection of a petition filed by the ICC Prosecutor for a finding of non-co-operation by the Kenyan government. According to the report, at the national level, there was no progress in ensuring accountability for serious human rights violations committed during the post-election violence.
Discrimination and marginalisation
In Cameroon, thousands of refugees from CAR and Nigeria were living in dire conditions in crowded camps in border areas after fleeing from armed groups. The report states that at the end of the year there were around 40,000 refugees from Nigeria and some 238,517 from the CAR in the country. At least 130,000 refugees from the CAR crossed into Cameroon following violence that erupted in the CAR between the Séléka and Anti-balaka armed groups in December 2013. Conditions were difficult in the camps and attacks on camps by unidentified armed groups were reported.