Africa: Human Rights Defenders,Tue, 17 Nov 1998

Africa: Human Rights Defenders,Tue, 17 Nov 1998

Africa: Human Rights Defenders Date distributed (ymd): 981117 Document reposted by APIC

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Region: Continent-Wide Issue Areas: +political/rights+ Summary Contents: This posting contains a press release and conference statement from Amnesty International on the 2-4 November All-Africa Human Rights Defenders Congress in Johannesburg.

For more information:

Press Releases from Amnesty International on Africa are archived at:

Amnesty International publications on Africa

The African Human Rights Resource Center ( has links to key African documents on human rights and other organizational resources.

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[Correction: In the second part of the posting of a speech by Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, on November 11, the word "not" was omitted, altering the meaning of a sentence. The sentence should read "Today, the two countries seem determined to impose a weak regime in Kinshasa, one that would not question their control over the eastern part of the country .."]

AI INDEX: AFR 01/07/98 News Service 213/98 02 NOVEMBER 1998

African human rights defenders under attack


Fifty years on from the adoption by the United Nations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Africans from all over the continent continue to be killed, tortured and imprisoned for defending their rights, according to delegates to the first ever All-Africa Human Rights Defenders Congress, which is taking place in South Africa from 2-4 November.

Around 100 grassroots activists from some 44 African countries are participating in the conference, which is the culmination of regional workshops in North, East, West, Central and Southern Africa, all organized by Amnesty International as part of a year-long campaign to mark the 50th anniversary of the UDHR.

The conference was officially inaugurated by Jacob Selebi, Director General of the South African Department of Foreign Affairs and Pierre Sane, Amnesty International Secretary General.

In his opening remarks Mr. Sane said: "African leaders have pledged to uphold and promote the basic human rights of their citizens contained in the UDHR. However, the reality behind this rhetoric is that they have failed to live up to their promises."

In fact, as many of the delegates to this conference can personally testify, throughout the continent, far from upholding these rights, governments are doing everything they can to deny them to their citizens and torturing, killing and jailing those brave individuals who try to hold the authorities to account.

"Faced with such attacks, it is the duty of the international community to provide protection to human rights defenders. For without their courage and vision, there is no future for human rights in Africa," Mr. Sane added.

Workshops taking place during the conference will focus on the threats faced by human rights defenders in Africa, in particular the dangers faced by women's rights activists; the role of journalists as promoters of human rights; and setting up an Africa-wide network of human rights defenders to monitor abuses and devise mechanisms for the protection of defenders.

In many of the countries represented, the state has either absolved responsibility for protecting human rights or is responsible for violations itself. In others, a collapsing state has seen human rights as the first casualty. Human rights defenders have assumed the central role the government can't or won't play and as a result are often targeted for gross abuses themselves.

The defenders participating in the conferences come from many different professions -- including non-governmental organization (NGO) workers, journalists, lawyers, development field workers, women's activists and trade unionists. They described the threats they face daily and how they handle harassment from phone tapping to infiltration, arrest, torture and assassination.

In Tunisia, NGOs including the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATDF) have had their office under police surveillance, their members and leaders imprisoned, interrogated, followed and harassed by police, their meetings and other activities banned or disrupted, their mail confiscated and their telephones tapped. The government has also instigated public sleaze campaigns against some prominent defenders and jailed others on trumped-up charges.

Conference participant Pius Njawe, director of the newspaper Le Messager, the oldest independent newspaper in Cameroon, has been detained as a prisoner of conscience on several occasions. He was most recently arrested in December 1997 following an article which questioned President Paul Biya's state of health. While serving a one-year prison sentence, in extremely harsh conditions, Pius Njawe was granted presidential clemency and released on 12 October 1998.

Since the start of the armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo this August, the situation for human rights defenders has become bleak. On 6 August 1998, Jacques Semurongo, a leading member of the human rights organization Heritiers de la Justice, was reportedly shot dead by members of the armed opposition. Other human rights defenders have been forced to flee the country. In Rwanda, human rights defenders face intimidation and harassment - ranging from threats and public criticisms to arrests, attacks and killings - which have ensured that few dare to publicly denounce violations. Independent journalists, lawyers, religious officials and those perceived as political opponents are all at risk.

In Zambia, the government continues to harass journalists. There are still up to 20 cases of government-sponsored criminal charges outstanding against The Post and other journalists.In September, charges of "conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace" were still outstanding against Masautso Phiri, a former editor of The Post. Police arrested him at an aborted November 1997 political rally in Kabwe photographing police ill-treating opposition party members.

In East Africa the picture is grim too. Kenyan human rights organizations have experienced fire-bombing of offices, death threats, arbitrary arrests of their members on false charges, torture, constant intimidation and harassment.

The conference is due to conclude on Wednesday with the adoption of a "Johannesburg Declaration" to protect and promote the work of African human rights defenders, which will be presented to the first world summit of human rights defenders in Paris this December.

This declaration is expected to include regional level plans to keep in touch and safeguard defenders at risk; and international level plans to lobby bodies such as the Organization of African Unity (OAU).

In particular, the conference is likely to end with a call on the OAU to show its commitment to improving Africa's human rights record by itself adopting a declaration similar to the UN Draft Declaration on Human Rights Defenders which is expected to be approved by the UN General Assembly this December.


News Service: 217/98 4 NOVEMBER 1998


We, Human rights defenders, that is, women and men on the front line of the struggle to protect and promote human rights and who include, lawyers, journalists, NGO workers, trade unionists, members of rural organisations, health workers, religious workers, development workers, students and relatives of victims, etc

Gathered at the All-Africa Human Rights Defenders Conference, Johannesburg, South Africa, from 2 to 4 November 1998

Recalling the regional and international standards already in existence for the protection and promotion of human rights in particular the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which on 10 December 1998 celebrates its 50th anniversary, and the draft Declaration for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders that guarantee fundamental rights and freedoms.

Observing the failure of most states and governments in Africa either to live up to the domestic and international obligations to which they have committed themselves in the protection and promotion of human rights, or to ratify and accede to relevant international human rights standards, and the failure of governments and armed groups involved in conflicts in Africa to adhere to international humanitarian law;

Acknowledging that Human Rights Defenders have as a result assumed a central role in the promotion and protection of each and every one of the human rights;

Observing moreover the particular risks run by human rights defenders in the context of armed conflict;

Deeply concerned that the increasing number and influence of human rights defenders has been accompanied by their own rights being violated;

Denouncing in particular the violations of human rights they face, including: extrajudicial execution, torture, rape and sexual assault, arbitrary arrest and detention, and unfair trials;

Denouncing moreover the extent of measures used by many states to silence human rights defenders, including censorship and seizure of publications, constant surveillance and intimidation, economic and professional harassment, bureaucratic obstacles to legalisation of their activities, denial of freedom of assembly and social ostracisation

[word missing] Declaration on the right and responsibility of individuals, groups and organs of society to promote and protect universally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms, due to be voted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1998

Affirm the right to continue such work in accordance with the international human rights standards

Considering all threats on human rights defenders as an attack on the work of human rights NGOs everywhere, the participants decide to organise themselves into networks to respond immediately, with all means at their disposition, to these fundamental violations of human rights

Undertake to train Africans, in particularly human rights defenders, to make best use of national, international and regional mechanisms established for the protection of human rights

Call upon all States to respect and ensure the respect of the right to freedom of action for human rights defenders

Urge all States to bring national legislation into accordance with international human rights standards and to ensure the independence of the judiciary and other mechanisms for the defence of human rights

Urge all States to adopt special measures to ensure the protection of women human rights defenders including the implementation of the Beijing Plan of Action

And call upon all States to facilitate the granting of asylum to human rights defenders at imminent risk of human rights violations

Moreover call upon the intergovernmental, international and regional organisations to intervene on behalf of human rights defenders and campaign to guarantee their safety

Urge that the United Nations and all its agencies give priority to consultations with human rights defenders in their work

Urge the United Nations Commission of Human Rights to establish the post of Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders and to ensure that the work of human rights defenders is included in the mandate of all United Nations mechanisms

Demand moreover that all bi-lateral and multi-lateral organs and authorities of economic cooperation ensure in their program the protection of human rights defenders

Demand finally that multinational companies ensure that their strategies and projects are not harmful to the freedom of action of human rights defenders

And call upon international public opinion, in particular the media, to join in the protection of human rights defenders and promoting their activities in defence of human rights for all.

Message-Id: <> Comments: Authenticated sender is <> From: Date: Tue, 17 Nov 1998 10:43:49 -0500 X-Distribution: Bulk Subject: Africa: Human Rights Defenders

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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