Human Rights Flashpoint – August 18, 2009

AFGHANISTAN – Election violence and a nod to “warlord politics”

The world is looking to Afghanistan this week, where Presidential and Provincial Council elections will be held on August 20th. The Taliban are threatening to attack polling stations in the country’s unstable southern province. The government estimates that about 14 percent of the country’s polling centers are considered too dangerous for people to vote. Moreover, the risk of violence will increase should no presidential candidate reach more than 50 percent of the vote, leading to a mandatory run-off between the top two contenders. Nevertheless, US government officials are optimistic, stating that the Taliban have failed to derail the elections. In other developments, both government officials and the Taliban have been increasing pressure and threats against journalists in the country and limiting independent and critical reporting.

In what the Christian Science Monitor calls a nod to ‘warlord politics’, suspected war criminal General Dostum returned to Afghanistan this week. Addressing the thousands of people who welcomed him home, he boasted that he is too popular to be persecuted: “If you mess with Dostum, you mess with a million people.” His return has shown the failure of the Afghan government and its international supporters to demonstrate that the rule of law is respected in Afghanistan.

Must Reads

Overheard

We hope that, from top to bottom, every effort will be taken to make election day secure, to eliminate fraud, and to address any complaints fairly and quickly. It will be several days before we have preliminary results and we hope initial reports will refrain from speculation until results are announced. Final results could take several weeks. We call on candidates and their supporters to behave responsibly before and after the elections – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

We have made clear to the Government of Afghanistan our serious concerns regarding the return of Mr. Dostum and any prospective role in today’s Afghanistan. And I think that President Obama had earlier, based on an earlier story, had asked that the national security team gather further information on his background, including concerns that he might have been involved in the deaths of a significant number of Taliban prisoners of war a few years ago, and that the team is continuing to gather that information – Philip J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs

A ferocious offensive by the Taliban [was] designed to try to kill the elections. Their goal is to prevent the elections and they have failed in that – Richard Holbrooke, US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC – Humanitarian situation deteriorates

Ongoing ethnic conflict in northeastern Central African Republic (CAR) and recurring attacks by the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the southeast part of CAR have created overwhelming humanitarian needs throughout the country. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that thousands of internally displaced people have been left without food, protection or shelter.

The country is the second poorest in the world after Sierra Leone and has long been unstable. Although five of the rebel groups signed peace treaties with the government in late 2008, the security situation has been deteriorating since the beginning of the year, causing about 18,000 people to flee to Chad and many more losing their homes during attacks. Children are particularly at risk in CAR, with almost 700,000 children under five living below acceptable standards, according to UNICEF.

Meanwhile, CAR Communications Minister Cyriaque Gonda announced on Monday that the government has set up a three-year timetable to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 former rebels. However, upcoming elections in 2010 and the formation of a new rebel group in 2009 in the northeast of the country are likely to lead to increasing insecurity and tension in CAR.

Must Reads

Overheard

The situation is still very volatile and the displaced population remains traumatized […] Fear is very evident amongst the people who had to repeatedly leave their villages and watch their homes and livelihoods being looted, burnt and destroyed – Catherine Bragg, UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs

These children’s lives, their ability to learn, to earn, and to lead productive lives is being stunted by this tragic crisis – Jeremy Hopkins, acting representative of UNICEF in CAR

Coming This Week

  • August 18: U.S. President Barack Obama meets Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Washington, DC
  • August 18: Secretary Clinton meets with Colombian Foreign Minister Bermudez
  • August 20: Presidential and Provincial Council Elections in Afghanistan
  • August 17-24: US Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration travels to Sudan (Juba, Makalal), Ethiopia and Egypt

Juliette Rousselot contributed to this post.

Human Rights Flashpoints is a weekly column about countries at risk of escalating human rights violations and is brought to you by AIUSA’s Crisis Prevention and Response team.

Angola, Meet Secretary Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Angola today on the latest stop of her seven nation tour. Our Country Specialist Jen Ziemke contributed these comments regarding issues Secretary Clinton will hopefully address in her meetings with President dos Santos.

Since 2001, Amnesty International has documented thousands of families forcibly evicted from various neighborhoods in the Angolan capital of Luanda in order to make room for public and private housing projects. These forced evictions were typically carried out without due process of law, including prior notification or consultation and the ability to dispute the evictions in a court of law. Nearly all of the evictions were accompanied by excessive use of force. Officials specifically targeted poor families who had little access to the means of securing their tenure. Angola is a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and should honor its obligations to ensure its citizen’s rights to an adequate standard of living are protected.

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos previously scheduled presidential elections for late 2009, but recent reports indicate these elections will be delayed again until at least 2010. Secretary Clinton must ensure that the US will be carefully monitoring the upcoming election process and demand that the elections to be held as soon as possible. Furthermore, President dos Santos must give all candidates and eligible parties equal access to media and campaigning and organizational resources, without fear of intimidation.

Whenever they take place, the elections will be the first presidential elections since 1992′s failed attempt that led to escalating violence and a resumption of civil war. The likelihood of violence is not as high as during that time, and it should be noted that in September 2008, legislative elections remained free from violence and were considered “generally credible.” Those elections, however, were marred by state-run media affording undue advantage to the incumbent party. Indeed the incumbent MPLA won over 80% of the vote.

Furthermore, reports that the freedom and security of human rights defenders, associations, and journalists is not being protected under the current leadership in Angola is of great concern. This is a good example of where Secretary Clinton can relay the message that, in order for the upcoming presidential elections to be considered valid in the eyes of the world, the treatment of journalists, advocates, student groups, human rights defenders and other members of civil society must improve.

The release of journalists like José Fernando Lelo from prison could also help bolster Angola’s human rights reputation. Lelo’s work is an example of a critical voice from civil society being silenced by the authorities. On September 19, 2008, Lelo was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment by a military court in Cabinda, Angola, after being convicted of crimes against the security of the state. Amnesty International believes his arrest and conviction were politically motivated, his trial unfair, and thereby we consider him a prisoner of conscience and call for is unconditional release from prison.

Humanitarian organizations operating in Angola also face uphill battles because their ability to operate is being infringed. In April 2008, the Director General of the Technical Unit for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, a government department, announced that the government would soon stop the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) “without a social impact”. In July he accused several NGOs of inciting violence and threatened to ban them: the Association for Justice, Peace and Democracy (Associação de Justiça, Paz e Democracia, AJPD); Mãos Livres; the Open Society Foundation (Fundação Open Society); and SOS-Habitat. These organizations have been doing critical work in the area of civil society, forced evictions, and human rights and should not be subject to government intimidation.

Secretary Clinton has the opportunity to help change Angola’s future by correcting its human rights past. We’ll be watching…

Clinton Arrives in South Africa

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in South Africa today for meetings with President Zuma and Foreign Minister Mashabane. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to answer the phone when Hills called to ask which issues she should be sure to broach in those discussions. Don’t laugh; it could totally happen in some alternate universe. But if she had asked my advice, this is what I would have said:

Secretary Clinton must encourage South Africa to meet the promises enshrined in its Constitution and acceptance of international human rights treaties by taking a stronger stand as a leader in promoting human rights in Africa. Recent violent protests over inadequate housing and social services in several South African provinces highlight the deep tension that remains regarding the promises made by the government following apartheid and the ability of the government to honor those commitments.

As host of the 2010 World Cup, South Africa is in a unique position to demonstrate its commitment to human rights on a global stage. As a way to exemplify this commitment, I would love to see Hills push South Africa to ratify the International Convenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, but that would probably be a little awkward since the US hasn’t ratified it either.

South Africa also must do more to protect its women and girls. A recent survey revealing one in four men admits to committing a rape showcases the epidemic nature of the crisis. Further, Amnesty International has reported that women in rural areas are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, domestic and sexual violence, lack of access to health care and inadequate police protection. Secretary Clinton should raise these issues with the South African government and promote the need to protect women from all forms of violence and discrimination.

South Africa also must do more to protect those who cross its borders. Immigrants were the focus during xenophobic attacks that occurred last year on a large scale in South Africa and continue on a lesser scale today, as people already displaced from their homelands are forced into camps with minimal protections. With the special visa for Zimbabwean’s delayed in Parliament and reports of serious violence occurring near the Musina border crossing, South Africa must make greater efforts to ensure the safety and humane treatment of all persons residing there.

Finally, South Africa’s role as regional powerhouse means not only honoring its commitments to its own citizens, but also taking the lead as a regional authority in urging its neighbors to honor democratic processes and human rights within their borders. As lead negotiator and guarantor, along with the other Southern African Development Community (SADC) member States, of the Zimbabwe power sharing agreement, South Africa has a responsibility to ensure that all processes in the agreement are honored, including a new constitution, an end to impunity and respect for political parties and human rights defenders to operate without harassment by state security forces.