Over the last six months, the human rights situation in the East and the Horn of Africa has continued to be closely linked to the conduct of national elections, with journalists particularly at the receiving end.
In an update on the human rights situation in the region during the Forum on the Participation of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the 49th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), Mr. Hassan Shire Sheikh said restrictions on civil and political rights identifies in this period ranged from the development and implementation of restrictive laws – to direct attacks on human rights defenders, including physical and verbal threats, legal and judicial harassment, increased surveillance, and targeted killings.
Mr. Shire Sheikh, who is the Coordinator of the Network of Human Rights Organisations in the sub-region, added that rights defenders and journalists working in conflict zones find themselves in dire conditions.
He said elections in Uganda and Djibouti, and the referendum in South Sudan has all been marked by the harassment of journalists, observers or political oppositions. In Uganda, journalists were subjected to physical attacks, intimidation, police grilling, criminal charges and legal challenges.
“At least ten journalists were attacked before, during and after the presidential, national and mayoral elections in Kampala,” he said.
“During the presidential and parliamentary elections on 18th February 2011, Julius Odeke, a newspaper journalist, was shot and injured in eastern Uganda, by security agents who were trying to confiscate his recordings of acts of violence.”
He said six other journalists were attacked during a scuffle at a polling station in Kampala on February 23, 2011.
Towards the polls held in Djibouti on April 8, he said the Government banned all demonstrations, and on February 9, the President of the Djiboutian League of Human Rights Jean-Paul Noel Abdi was arrested and detained after reporting on the detention of student protesters.
He was released on health grounds and his bail condition lifted, but what followed was the expulsion of an international election monitoring mission on March 2, 2011.
In Tanzania, he said two newspapers, Mwanahalist and Mwanachi received warning letters from the Information Ministry threatening to ban and deregister them if they continue portraying the country negatively and tarnishing its reputation.
In South Sudan, he said in December 2010 there were reports of arrests, harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders by non-state actors, especially journalists. Another worrying issue has been legal and judicial harassment to silence critics (journalists, rights defenders and opposition members) during the presidential elections in Rwanda, he said.
He noted that on February 4 this year two journalists, Editor Agnes Nkusi Uwimana and Deputy Editor Saidati Mukakibibi of the Kinyarwanda newspaper, Umurabyo were imprisoned for 17 and 7 years for criticizing President Paul Kagame in an opinion piece they wrote prior to the August 2010 presidential elections.
In Burundi, he said journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu has since been put on trial for an article he published online after the Kampala bombings in July 2010. The article questions the capacity of the Burundian security services to respond to a potential terrorist attack. While Kenyan human rights defender Al-Amin Kimathi remains in detention in Uganda on terrorism charges.
Mr. Shire said legislatives like the Charities and Societies Proclamation in Ethiopia, continue to hamper the work of rights defenders since 2009 and the murder of David Kato in January 2011 highlights again the grave dangers faced by sexual minorities in Africa.
Shire noted that the east and hone of Africa human rights body is calling on the ACHPR to: make the fight against impunity a key focus; take proactive role in ensuring the implementation of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance since elections continue to influence rights violations in Africa; establish a permanent international human rights monitoring and reporting for countries like Somalia and Sudan.
And also to publicly condemn the continuing harassment and discrimination of sex minorities, especially the murder of David Kato; AU member States to offer standing invitations to the Commission’s special mechanisms, notably the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Defenders.