Amnesty International's annual report says conflict and insecurity have afflicted the lives of countless people across Africa. DW spoke to Amnesty's Africa Director for Research and Advocacy Netsanet Belay.
DW: The 2014/2015 State of World Human Rights report calls the global response to human rights shameful and ineffective but it also refers to the remarkable achievements of many states in pursuing the UN's Millennium Development Goals. So what are the key issues affecting African countries in this year's report?
Netsanet Belay: Africa is seeing deepening violent conflicts in several countries. Its impact on peoples' rights, lives, safety and security is unprecedented. 2014 was the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. The African Union committed itself to ending conflicts by 2020 but what we are seeing is a gross violation of international humanitarian law and human rights in the context of conflicts in Africa. We've seen a persistent pattern of war crimes being committed. Thousands of civilians have died as a result of these conflicts, millions are facing displacement and other forms of abuse including sexual violence and abductions. So that is one key challenge that Africa was facing last year. And given that most of the underlying causes have not been addressed, our projection is that the likelihood of violent armed conflict in Africa escalating even further seems evident.
Exactly how have these conflicts affected human rights in Africa?
In almost all cases, the conflicts are marred by gross violations of human rights laws. Civilians have been subjected to indiscriminate attacks by conflicting parties. We're not only talking about acts by armed radical groups like al-Shabab and Boko Haram, but the response of government forces to conflict has been equally brutal. We have seen this in Nigeria. In cases like South Sudan and the Central African Republic, we have seen how civilians have fallen victim in the cycle of violence.
What about freedom of expression?
We have seen the restriction of the freedom of expression and free assembly in far too many places in Africa. Some of them include those countries that have a consistent record of restricting fundamental freedoms, like Eritrea, Ethiopia or Burundi. We've also seen new legislations introduced in the name of counter-terrorism. These measures are being used to suppress dissent and affects journalists and activists. We've seen this in Ethiopia and Gambia. In countries like Angola, Burundi and Gambia, we've also seen the violent crackdown on peaceful protestors.
One group that has frequently been subjected to human rights violations is sexual minorities. Has there been any improvement in this?
Indeed, we believe that 2014 has seen a couple of landmarks in that area. In May, the African Commission of Human and Peoples' Rights passed a resolution calling for the protection of the rights of all individuals irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We've also seen some progressive judicial decisions coming in from countries like Uganda, where the infamous anti-homosexuality bill was struck down by a court. We saw a similar ruling in Botswana – a high court overturned a refusal by the Department of Labor and Home Affairs to register an organization representing the LGBTI community. So these are small signs of hope that we've seen in the last year.
However we continue to observe worrying signs, attacks and the discrimination of the LGBTI community in Africa. Some countries have introduced regressive legislation, such as Gambia, which has introduced new crimes like "aggravated homosexuality", as they call it, subjecting people to long sentences and including punishments like the death penalty. A similar legislation was introduced in Chad. People are also seeing harassment by the police, various forms of discrimination by the state and continuing failure by governments to protect citizens.
What do you think should be done to address the violations of human rights?
One of our specific demands calls on the UN Security Council members to renounce their veto right in situations of mass atrocities like genocide and crimes against humanity. We believe a similar robust response is needed on the part of regional bodies such as the African Union Peace and Security Council. Secondly we are calling on governments to stop paying lip service and take action to assist those fleeing conflict and persecution.
Netsanet Belay is Amnesty International's Africa Research and Advocacy Director.