Africa: U.S. Human Rights Report, 2/11/97

Africa: U.S. Human Rights Report, 2/11/97

Africa: US Human Rights Report
Date distributed (ymd): 970211
Document Reposted by APIC
The U.S. State Department released its 1966 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1996 on January 30. Particularly highlighted among the African country reports by its length and strong language was the report on Nigeria. The full texts of all reports are available on the Department of State's web site. Below are a brief excerpt from an interview with Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck, the portion of the preface describing rights reviewed in the reports, and the opening section of the report on Nigeria. There follows a listing of all the African country reports, with file sizes and URLs for retrieving them on the Web or by e-mail.

The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices cover internationally recognized individual, civil, political, and worker rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These rights include freedom from torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; from prolonged detention without charges; from disappearance due to abduction or clandestine detention; and from other flagrant violations of the right to life, liberty, and the security of the person.

Universal human rights aim to incorporate respect for human dignity into the processes of government and law. All people have the inalienable right to change their government by peaceful means and to enjoy basic freedoms, such as freedom of expression, association, assembly, movement, and religion, without discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or sex. The right to join a free trade union is a necessary condition of a free society and economy. Thus the reports assess key internationally recognized worker rights, including the right of association; the right to organize and bargain collectively; prohibition of forced or compulsory labor; minimum age for employment of children; and acceptable work conditions.


The following interview with John Shattuck, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, took place in Washington, February 3, 1997. USIA staff writer Rick Marshall conducted the interview.

Q: Could you give a brief overview of the human rights situation in Africa?

SHATTUCK: Nigeria is certainly on the negative side. The Abacha regime oppresses its opponents; there's a great deal of arbitrary detention and torture toward its opponents. In the Sudan there's been persecution, enslavement of Christians in the south and a total lack of democracy. In Niger, a military regime suspended a presidential election it was in the process of losing. Mauritania has some continuing vestiges and de facto forms of slavery. In Burundi, of course, there continue to be massacres.

On the plus side, Rwanda, toward the end of the year, began to move forward with the return of the refugees from Zaire. Ghana conducted a successful free and fair presidential election. In Liberia, they're beginning to see the disarmament of the warring factions. Mali is continuing down the path of democratic constitutional government. Sierra Leone held free and fair presidential elections and signed a cease-fire agreement between the government and the rebels. And, of course, most dramatically, South Africa continues further progress with reconciliation and the work of the Truth and Justice Commission.



General Sani Abacha, who seized power in a palace coup in November 1993, remained Head of State throughout 1996. Under Abacha, the main decisionmaking organ is the exclusively military Provisional Ruling Council (PRC), which rules by decree. The PRC oversees the 32-member Federal Executive Council composed of military officers and civilians. Pending the promulgation of the Constitution written by the Constitutional Conference in 1995 and subsequently approved by the Head of State, the Government observes some provisions of the 1979 and 1989 Constitutions. The decree suspending the 1979 Constitution was not repealed and the 1989 Constitutions has not been implemented. In 1995 Abacha announced a transition timetable which purports to return the country to democratically elected civilian government by October 1, 1998.

The Government continued to enforce its arbitrary authority through the Federal Security System (the military, the state security service, and the national police) and through decrees blocking action by the opposition in the courts. All branches of the security forces committed serious human rights abuses.

Most of the 100 million population is rural, engaging in small-scale agriculture. Nigeria depends on oil exports for over 90 percent of its foreign exchange earnings. The economy was estimated to have grown at a higher rate than the 2.2 percent of 1995 and the 1.0 percent of 1994, but at little or no margin above the population growth rate so that gross domestic product per capita did not change appreciably. Even that growth is deceptive, however, since much of it came from the petroleum sector with limited effect on the rest of the economy. The general level of economic activity continues to be depressed with factory capacity utilization remaining in the 30 percent range and many major companies reporting lower profits and expanding inventories. Endemic corruption further hindered the functioning of the economy. The Government has instituted liberalizing economic reforms through its "guided deregulation" program, e.g., investment and foreign exchange rules; but its controls over the economy remain extensive, including government-mandated, below-market fuel prices. There is a continued lack of transparency in government transactions.

The human rights record remained dismal. Throughout the year, General Abacha's Government relied regularly on arbitrary detention and harassment to silence its many critics. The winner of the annulled 1993 presidential election, Chief Moshood K.O. Abiola, remained in detention on charges of treason, and in June unidentified persons murdered Abiola's senior wife under mysterious circumstances. The Government's investigation to date has been perfunctory. Security forces committed extrajudicial killings and used excessive force to quell antigovernment protests as well as to combat a growing wave of violent crime, killing and wounding a number of persons, including innocent civilians. Police tortured and beat suspects and detainees, and prison conditions remained life threatening; many prisoners died in custody. Security services continued routine harassment of human rights and prodemocracy groups, including labor leaders, journalists, and student activists. The Government also infringed on citizens' right to privacy.

Citizens do not have the right to change their government by peaceful means. Despite the announced timetable for transitions from military to multiparty rule, there was little meaningful progress toward democracy. In the March 16 nonparty local elections, the Government disqualified many candidates and promulgated a decree allowing replacement without cause of elected officials by government-selected administrators, effectively nulifying the results. Local government elections on a party basis, originally scheduled for the fourth quarter of 1996, were postponed until 1997. The Government's reliance on tribunals, which operate outside the constitutional court system, and harsh decrees prohibiting judicial review seriously undermine the integrity of the judicial process and often result in legal proceedings that deny defendants due process, as in the 1995 cases of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others (who were executed) and former Head of State Olusegun Obasanjo (who was convicted by a secret military tribunal). Obasanjo, his erstwhile deputy and outspoken National Constitutional Conference delegate Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, and more than 20 others, remained in prison for their roles in an alleged March 1995 coup plot. The Government's frequent refusal to respect court rulings also undercuts the independence and integrity of the judicial process.

Other human rights problems included infringements on freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, travel, and workers rights, and violence and discrimination against women. There were many reports of sexual abuse of female prisoners. The regime established a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in June, but it was never taken seriously by nongovernmental human rights groups and by year's end had no discernible effect on the human rights climate.

(For full report see URL below)


The full Departmet of State report, as well as country-specific
chapters, can be found at

Reports on specific African countries are located either in the Africa section or the Middle East and North Africa section. The full URLs are given below for the convenience of those who might want to go directly to or retrieve specific chapters only.

North Africa

Algeria (57k):
Egypt (68k):
Libya (32k):
Morocco (44k):
Tunisia (47k):
Western Sahara (10k):

West Africa

Benin (26k):
Burkina Faso (25k):
Cape Verde (15k):
Cote D'Ivoire (39k):
Gambia (34k):
Ghana (43k):
Guinea (40k):
Guinea-Bissau (19k):
Liberia (47k):
Mali (22k):
Mauritania (52k):
Niger (33k):
Nigeria (79k):
Senegal (26k):
Sierra Leone (33k):
Togo (33k):

Central Africa

Burundi (38k):
Cameroon (52k):
Central African Republic (32k):
Chad (28k):
Congo (26k):
Equatorial Guinea (28k):
Gabon (23k):
Rwanda (25k):
Sao Tome and Principe (15k):
Zaire (45k):

Southern Africa

Angola (39k):
Botswana (27k):
Lesotho (20k):
Malawi (32k):
Mauritius (19k):
Mozambique (54k):
Namibia (31k):
South Africa (50k):
Swaziland (33k):
Tanzania (46k):
Zambia (39k):
Zimbabwe (51k):

East Africa

Comoros (17k):
Djibouti (31k):
Eritrea (23k):
Ethiopia (43k):
Kenya (70k):
Madagascar (28k):
Seychelles (22k):
Somalia (23k):
Sudan (53k):
Uganda (54k):


For those without access to the Web, files on the Web are available by e-mail using mail servers set up for the purpose. For example, to get the report on Somalia by e-mail, the following command can be sent to

To get the report on Kenya by e-mail, the following command can be sent to

get -t -u -a

Response time from these servers may vary. Do not include signatures or other text in the body of your message. More information on the Web by E-mail can be found in the APIC background paper "Africa on the Internet." For a copy send the message "send inet" to


From: Message-Id: <> Date: Tue, 11 Feb 1997 08:31:25 -0500 Subject: Africa: U.S. Human Rights Report

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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