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Wars and human rights violations continue in Africa, but peoples are rising …

Amnesty International released its annual report on human rights in Africa on April 8, 2020. The result: the continent “is far from over with the vicious cycle of armed conflict and violence”.

At first glance, the human rights situation on the continent is not very bright … In 2019, “intractable armed conflict continued and new forms of violence committed by non-state actors have led to killings, torture, kidnappings, sexual violence and mass displacement, including crimes under international law, in several sub-Saharan African countries “, writes the NGO Amnesty International (AI) in its report entitled Human rights in Africa, retrospective 2019. However, in the middle of this dark picture, there appear some (rare and shy) glimmers of hope.

As always, civilians are the first affected. In the DRC, violence has killed more than 2,000 civilians and led to the forced displacement of at least one million people in 2019, reports Amnesty. About 100 armed groups are active in the east of the country. That same year, in the Sahel, jihadist violence, often intertwined with inter-community conflicts, left 4,000 dead (UN figure) in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, recalls franceinfo Afrique. In countries like Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, armed groups have attacked populations that the authorities have not protected, the NGO says.

In Somalia, where residents continue to be attacked by Shebab groups and which has become “apparently the bridgehead of the American presence on the continent”, The government and its foreign allies only take “no sufficient precautions”. It seems that American drone fire continues to kill people who have nothing to do with the violence.

In Mozambique, “the attacks, attributed to a mysterious Islamist group, have intensified since the beginning of the year” 2020 in the predominantly Muslim region of Cabo Delgado (north), observe West France. “They kill us but we don't know what they want”, explains a resident quoted by the French daily newspaper. Since the violence began in 2017, some 700 people have been killed in this region potentially rich in gas but largely forgotten by the economic development of the 2000s.

Victims of a car bomb attack, which left dozens dead, are brought to hospital in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, on December 28, 2019. (ABDIRAZAK HUSSEIN FARAH / AFP)

In some cases, such as in Mali, violence against civilians may be the work of so-called “vigilante groups”, apparently created by local communities. In 2019, several hundred people were killed during intercommunity massacres. “In central Mali, (this violence) multiply (…) between Peuls, traditionally breeders (…), and the Bambara and Dogon ethnic groups, practicing mainly agriculture “Franceinfo Afrique recalled in August 2018. Malian security forces are accused of having responded by committing multiple human rights violations, including torture.

At Darfur, militias, accused of being allies of the Sudanese government, “engaged in unlawful killings, sexual violence, systematic looting and forced displacement “, recalls the NGO.

The vicious cycle of violence and repression is rife in many states. In Ethiopia, the army is accused of abuse in the suppression of demonstrations in the Oromia region (west and south). Demonstrations that have left dozens dead since 2019.

In the English-speaking regions of Cameroon, armed separatist groups continue to commit atrocities: killings, mutilations, kidnappings, etc. They also destroyed several health centers, reports AI. The military responded with extrajudicial killings and house fires. Entire villages were reportedly burnt down by security forces.

But the authorities do not just crack down on armed groups. Amnesty has observed “a general crackdown on dissent, which has resulted, among other things, in the violent dispersal of peaceful protests and attacks against the media”, human rights activists and political opponents. So, “in more than 20 countries people have been deprived of the right to peaceful protest (…). In two-thirds of the countries studied, governments have severely restricted freedom of expression, with some particularly targeting journalists, bloggers, civil society organizations and the opposition political, especially in an electoral context.

In Zimbabwe, at least 22 activists and opponents have been charged with their alleged role in organizing protests against the fuel price hike decided in January 2019. The security forces then engaged in violent repression. Which left at least 15 people dead and dozens injured.

All means are good. In Uganda, authorities use a law on the misuse of computers to harass, intimidate and punish certain opponents. A feminist academic was thus imprisoned for cyber harassment after criticizing the president on Facebook. In Kampala, we are also very active in preventing same-sex relationships. In October 2019, the authorities intended to strengthen the measures, already very repressive, against the homosexual relations tried “against nature”. Name of the bill: “Kill the gays “, “Kill homosexuals”

Zimbabwean soldiers in Bulawayo (southwest), the country's second city, on January 17, 2019
Zimbabwean soldiers in Bulawayo (southwest), the country's second city, on January 17, 2019 (ZINYANGE AUNTONY / AFP)

In the midst of this ocean of violence and intolerance, a few lights emerge here and there. In Ghana, for example, the parliament passed a law allowing residents to obtain information from all public institutions and certain private organizations. In Sudan, the transitional government established a commission in October 2019 to investigate the most serious violations committed in Khartoum on June 3 during repression of a demonstration. Which left 120 dead.

Beyond that, AI notes that demonstrators throughout sub-Saharan Africa have defied the guns and blows to defend their rights in the face of ongoing conflicts and repression. “In 2019, we saw the incredible power of the people expressed in large-scale protests across sub-Saharan Africa. From Sudan to Zimbabwe”, of DRC “in Guinea, people braved brutal repression to defend their rights”, comments Deprose Muchena, director of the East and Southern Africa program at Amnesty International.

Furthermore, the attitude of the authorities can vary considerably from one neighboring country to another. What can give hope for an evolution where rights are violated … “To be homosexual in Nigeria is to face the death penalty, while in neighboring Niger, people of the same sex can live in peace under the law”, notes the site of France Inter. Africa, land of contrasts …

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