Southern Africa Year in Review 2009

Waiting in line to vote. Amnesty International.

Waiting in line to vote. ©Amnesty International

As 2009 winds down, here’s a wrap up of the year’s highlights from the southern Africa region. From elections, to assassinations, to elections, to awards ,to elections, to boycotts, to elections, to what was all in all a fairly smooth year compared to what might have been, here are a few notes about human rights conditions in the 12 countries we monitor for Amnesty International USA.

Angola was supposed to hold presidential elections this year but didn’t. Current (and for the last 30 years) president, dos Santos, said constitutional reform must come first and this will take another two years.  Constitutional reform=good. Using it as an excuse to delay democratic elections=bad.

Forced evictions continued in 2009 in Angola. Amnesty International continues to call for an end to illegal evictions and for just compensation for forcibly displaced persons in Angola.

On a positive note, Prisoner of Conscience Fernando Lelo was released this year. Lelo is a journalist imprisoned for criticizing above noted president. However, those who were tried and convicted with him remain incarcerated. Lelo directly credited Amnesty activists for their efforts on his behalf. Pat yourselves on the back for a job well done!

Botswana held elections this year. Khama was elected to a new term, after finishing out the term of his predecessor. Major concerns in Botswana continue to be media restrictions, repression of labor unions, displacement of indigenous persons and high HIV infection rates. But Khama does his fair share of criticizing regional leaders and tweaking the nose of Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe. He mailed a congratulatory letter to the ladies of Women of Zimbabwe Arise following their win of the RFK Human Rights Award this year.

Guinea Bissau

Mysterious Death of Young Iranian Doctor Raises Questions About Official Account

Dr. Ramin PourandarjaniWhen the father of Dr. Ramin Pourandarjani was contacted by Iranian authorities, telling him that his 26-year-old son had broken his leg in an accident, and that his permission was needed for an operation, the concerned father rushed to Tehran.  Upon his arrival he discovered that his son was in fact dead. The government has claimed that the young doctor committed suicide, even that a note had been found near his body suggesting that he had been suffering from depression. But Reza-Qoli Pourandarjani insists that he talked to his son the night before his death and that he had been in good spirits.

The mysterious circumstances around Dr. Pourandarjani’s death have raised questions about the authorities’ account. Dr. Pourandarjani, whose body was found on November 10 in a room at Tehran Police Headquarters, had been doing his required military service by tending to those held in the notorious Kahrizak Detention Center, which was used to detain large numbers of people arrested during the unrest following the June 12 Iranian presidential elections.

There were persistent reports of widespread and brutal torture of detainees at Kahrizak. At least three people were tortured to death there, including Mohsen Rouhalamini, the son of a top aide to presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaei, who reportedly died of cardiac arrest and bleeding in his lungs two weeks after he was detained on 9 July; according to some reports, his body bore the marks of severe torture, including disfiguring facial injuries. The Iranian authorities were not able to ignore the reports of torture, and on July 29, the Kahrizak facility was closed by order of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Officials admitted that abuses had taken place and announced that a special parliamentary committee would be investigating.

Dr. Pourandarjani attended the detainees who suffered from torture and ill-treatment including, reportedly, Mohsen Rouhalamini. He was interviewed by the parliamentary committee charged with investigating allegations of abuses. Before his death he reportedly received threats to prevent him from revealing the abuses he had witnessed at Kahrizak. He had also reportedly been forced to say that one detainee had died of meningitis and not of torture. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Mozambique Rocks the Vote

Mozambique goes to the polls tomorrow in its fourth general election since independence from Portugal in 1975. Parliamentary control and the Presidency are up for grabs. Election observors from the African Union, the Commonwealth and the Southern African Development Community have arrived to monitor the elections. Which is good, because so far things have been a bit bumpy.

President Armando Guebuza of the governing Frelimo party is being challenged by Afonso Dhlakama, leader of Renamo, and Daviz Simango, mayor of Beira city and founder of the Mozambican Democratic Movement. Seventeen parties and two coalitions are meanwhile in the running for seats in the Mozambican parliament and, for the first time, provincial assemblies.

So far, there have been several incidents of violence between supporters of Frelimo and Renamo, resulting in harm to persons and property. Several people have been hospitalized or forced to seek medical attention while offices have been vandalized and property stolen. Violence is often a serious issue in Mozambique; Amnesty International has documented many incidents of extra-judicial killings by the police with few prosecutions of the perpetrators and no justice for the victims or their families.

Mozambique has recently been praised by the International Monetary Fund for its economic policies and last month President Guebuza chaired the World Climate Conference, taking a strong stand on the need for new environmental policies to address climate change. Emerging in 1992 from a devastating civil war, Mozambique is now poised to take strong strides in the region and become a leader on climate change, tourism and economic development (despite the nation’s current continuing desperate poverty). Let’s hope a free and fair election unmarred by further violence or human rights violations speeds Mozambique further along this path.