Violent response to street protests in Africa | Africa | DW | 24.05.2012
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Violent response to street protests in Africa

Amnesty International's latest report lists human rights abuses across Africa. In many countries demonstrating for political change calls for great courage.

Anger at high food prices, exorbitant fuel costs and widespread corruption frequently triggered demonstrations in different African countries and cities and spurred people to take to the streets to fight for their rights. Across the continent Amnesty International recorded human rights violations during rallies and demonstrations held over the last twelve months.

On January 31 this year, the streets of the Senegalese capital Dakar were burning, following a brutal encounter between police officers and demonstrators. Only later in the day, did locals learn about the casualties from the media.

Riot police walk past street fires lit by protesters in Dakar, Senegal.

Demonstrations in Dakar,Senegal

Dakar was not an isolated case. In the past twelve months people in many cities across Africa protested against food prices, corruption and autocratic rule, Erwin van der Borght, Africa Director at Amnesty International, told DW.

The spark of the Arab Spring spread to sub-Saharan Africa, but with little success, van der Borght said.

“Demonstrations were often crushed with excessive police violence. Instead of responding to those demands for more freedom, better living conditions, demonstrations against poverty and positively acknowledge the problems, authorities clamped down on the demonstrations and the protests."

In Sudan, Angola, Zimbabwe and Senegal, protests were also quashed by security forcess. There were injuries and sometimes deaths on the side of demonstrators, Amnesty International noted.

"Political leadership in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa was more part of the problem rather than part of the solution," Amnesty's Africa Director said.

A typical violation of the right to demonstrate was also witnessed in Uganda. Presidential elections were held in February 2011 and the government banned all public protests.

But that was not a big deal, said members of the Activists for Change movement.

The Activists for Change alliance regards itself as a non violent platform whose aim is to dismantle authoritarianism and build democracy in Uganda. It mobilized the masses with a "Walk to Work" campaign, as a form of protest against the high costs of fuel and hyper inflation in the country.

Two Ugandan protestors burn tires to block the road

Demonstrations against high costs of food and fuel in Kampala

The government responded by unleashing the police against the demonstrators. Water canons were turned on protestors and numerous arrests were made.

The leader of the demonstrations was prominent opposition politician Kizza Besigye. On March 18, with one arm in plaster as a result of an assault by police forces, Besigye told a press briefing: “The state is afraid. It is not afraid of my walking, it is afraid of of its citizens."

Outstanding dispute

Another focus for Amnesty International is the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. What started out as a success story with the peaceful independence of South Sudan in July last year is fast becoming a humanitarian crisis.

The unresolved dispute over the oil-rich border region of Abyei has not only opened up conflicts in other states such as Blue Nile and South Kordofan, but has also caused ethnic clashes in South Sudan which escalated into killings and mass expulsions.

The problem, says Amnesty, is that there is a failure of leadership on both sides. Sudan and South Sudan failed to agree on the sharing of oil revenues or to resolve border disputes before the South became independent, van der Borght said.

Many rulers, much violence

In Mali, a sequence of events has shocked the entire country. Amnesty International speaks of the worst human rights violations in the country in 50 years.

Members of the Ugandan military police run towards protestorsin Kampala

Military police patrol the streets of Kampala

The power vaccum that followed the March 2012 coup, gave the Tuareg rebels and Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) time to declare the independent state of Azawad in northern Mali. This was followed by the establishment of a transitional government in the capital Bamako. Arbitrary arrests, unlawful killings, displacement and rape were committed by all parties, said van der Borght.

"It is difficult to foresee how this will evolve. We are still concerned that the military are still playing an important role in Bamako in terms of political leadership which may also lead further to human rights violations." he said.

Terror trend

The London-based human rights organisation sees a dangerous trend developing over the past year ,namely an increase in terrorist arracks by radical Islamic sect Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabab in Somalia and AQIM in Mali. The attacks are becoming more radical and are affecting an ever increasing number of civilians.

"In response to these acts of terrorism we are seeing increasing human rights violations such as arbitrary arrests of individuals they suspect to be involved in the terrorism. In Nigeria alone, hundreds of Boko Haram suspects have been arrested, " said Erwin van der Borght.

Captain Amadou Sanogo and iInterim President Dioncounda Traore

Mali's coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo and interim President Dioncounda Traore

In Mauritania and Nigeria, suspects often disappear and there is no documentary record of their arrest which is then denied by the authorities. Amnesty International's Africa Director regards this as a serious threat to all of sub-Saharan Africa.

Author: Stefanie Duckstein / im

Editor: Susan Houlton

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