German President Pushes Human Rights in Africa | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 17.03.2004
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German President Pushes Human Rights in Africa

On his last state visit as German president, Johannes Rau is calling on African leaders during an eight-day tour to promote human rights and to take multilateral action when those rights are violated.


Johannes Rau bids Auf Wiedersehen in Africa

President Johannes Rau on Wednesday continued his trek across the African continent by calling on leaders gathered in Nigeria to pay greater attention to human rights violations.

Speaking at a special session of the parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Rau said abuses of human rights in a country could no longer be viewed by the outside world as "domestic affairs" and that action must be taken at times. But such action should only be conducted with broad support from the international community, he warned.

Security today can't just be focused on the territory of one state, Rau said. With countries increasingly interlinked, there is no "believable alternative to policies of multilateralism," he said, pointing to the recent Iraq war and the earthquake catastrophe in Iran as examples.

Rau praised ECOWAS for its own multilateral success stories. Founded in 1975, the bloc has now grown to include 15 countries and 220 million people. Like the European Union, he said, ECOWAS has become much more than an economic block. Recently it has sent peacekeepers to stop regional conflicts in Liberia and the Ivory Coast.

An indirect critique of Islamic law

Without explicitly mentioning the fact that strict Islamic law is practiced in northern Nigeria, Rau did indirectly criticize the practice of Sharia law in his speech. "Freedom also means democratization and the guarantee of human rights, " and that requires decisive reforms of the justice system, he warned. Since 1999, at least 12 states in Nigeria have implemented Sharia law, which has been the subject of international criticism because of its draconian penal measures -- including the public stoning of women who engage in pre- or extra-marital sex.

Germany's president first arrived in Africa on Tuesday, when he was received by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in his official residence in the capital of Abuja.

Rau is holding talks with political leaders in Obasanjo's government as well as the country's senate and parliament as well as representatives of human rights organizations and churches. He will spend one day in Abuja and another in Kano in the country's northern Quran Belt. Between 50 and 60 million Muslims live in Nigeria, the largest concentration on the entire continent.

Germany sees in Nigeria an important partner for peacekeeping on the continent. As one of the most powerful African countries, it can play a pivotal role in brokering peace in crisis regions.

"It's one of the few countries in Africa with a profile in peacekeeping," Stefen Mair of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs told Deutsche Welle. "It also has the necessary capacities to do something and it has already (demonstrated) that in the past in Liberia and Sierra Leone."

Visiting the troops

Frigatte Bayern im Hafen von Dschibuti

The German Navy's largest frigate, the Bayern, at the Port of Djibouti.

After Nigeria, Rau will travel on Friday to the former German colony of Tanzania, home to the spectacular Serengeti Plain and Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain. There he will meet with German navy sailors stationed as part of the "Operation Enduring Freedom" deployment against international terrorism. A total of 250 German soldiers are stationed at the Horn of Africa. Together, they are guarding the sea lanes in Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden from terrorism in concert with troops from the United States, France, Italy, Great Britain and Spain.

"Tanzania has been one of Germany's longest and closest partners in development cooperation in Africa," Mair explained. "There's a big affinity among Tanzania's elite for Germany, and that's been the case for 30 or 40 years. It's one of (Germany's) most reliable and comfortable partners."

It's also one of the poorest countries in Africa, with very weak economic development. Nevertheless, it plays an extremely important role in the eastern Africa region which has not been overlooked by Berlin.

"It has a relatively low profile when it comes to foreign policy, but (Tanzania) plays an important role in regional stability," Mair said. "It's main contribution is that the country has taken on a large number of refugees from Rwanda and Burundi at a high cost. That's much to Tanzania's credit."

In all, Rau will spend four days in Tanzania, where he plans to meet with President Benjamin William Mkapa, visit the head of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the East African Community Secretariat and drop in on development projects in the country.

Having foregone a bid for a second term as president, Rau's next trip will be to the pension office when the 73-year-old goes into retirement in just a few weeks.

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