Africa: US Human Rights Report, 2/5/98

Africa: US Human Rights Report, 2/5/98

Africa: US Human Rights Report
Date distributed (ymd): 980205
Document reposted by APIC

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Region: Continent-Wide
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +gender/women+
+US Policy Focus+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains brief excerpts from the introduction and references to the location on the World Wide Web of the Africa country reports from the U.S. Department of State annual report on human rights practices.These annual reports are mandated by congressional legislation and prepared by the Department of State. The posting also contains a brief note on how to obtain these and other documents on the Web by e-mail.
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Excerpts from: U.S. Department of State, Overview to Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1997 Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.


I. The Universality of Basic Freedoms

In 1948, in the aftermath of the deadliest war in human history and in the first chill of a new Cold War, delegates to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights carefully crafted the language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights--the first international agreement on the rights of humankind. Working under the leadership of the head of the United States delegation, Eleanor Roosevelt, they came from all continents, representing a broad spectrum of cultures. The document proclaims the "inherent dignity and...equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family."

The enduring strength of the Declaration is its universality. Its core freedoms are the entitlement of all people, not just some groups or cultures. ...

On Human Rights Day, December 10, 1997, the international community began a year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration by the General Assembly of the United Nations without a single dissenting vote. In the following half century the Declaration's principles have entered the consciousness of people around the world, providing inspiration for laws, constitutions, and numerous efforts to safeguard basic liberties. They have provided a universal yardstick for measuring our progress and showing what remains to be done. ...

The universality of the Declaration's principles requires that we "expand the circle of full human dignity to all people," as First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton stated in her speech at the United Nations on Human Rights Day. Exceptions to the principle of universality threaten to undermine the human dignity of all. Repressive governments and their apologists always have rationalized why they should be exempted from the Declaration's principles. From the tortured explanations for apartheid in South Africa to appeals to the Burmese Government's slogan of "disciplined democracy," repressive governments have sought exceptions for themselves. A perennial argument is that people in a given society are not yet "ready" for democracy and human rights. ...

Some Western scholars have argued that advocates do more harm than good to press democracy and human rights at the wrong stage of socioeconomic development. Autocratic governments, so the argument goes, are insulated from interest group politics and have greater freedom to impose economic discipline on behalf of long-term development.

While some authoritarian governments may have maintained political stability and produced economic gain in the short run, this short-term stability has been purchased at the price of repression. These governments lack the ingredients for continued success: the open information and incentives for risk-taking produced by an open society, and the accountability that comes with political pluralism and democracy--which fosters transparency in the management of economic institutions. This involves the freedoms proclaimed in the Declaration, including political and economic pluralism, a free press, freedom of association, free and fair elections, and the rule of law.

The argument that economic development must precede democracy and human rights ignores evidence from recent history. The experiences of Poland, Costa Rica, the Philippines, and Botswana demonstrate that the roads to prosperity and democracy are one and the same. The evolution toward democracy is a complex process involving many factors, with no particular order or sequence of events that must be followed. International efforts to promote democratization and basic freedoms are best addressed to as many institutions of civil society as possible, including legislatures, judiciaries, executive agencies, local governments, trade unions, press and media, and NGOs. Of course, democracy cannot be imposed from the outside. It must find its own roots within any given society. But as we look around the world, we see those roots almost everywhere, even starting to develop under repressive conditions in places such as China, Nigeria, and Burma. ...

II. Year in Review

A. Repressive Governments

Strong authoritarian governments in many parts of the world kept themselves in power through the systematic abuse of the human rights of their citizens. The dismal scenario is all too familiar. ...

In Nigeria despite General Sani Abacha's announced timetable for transition to multiparty rule, there was no meaningful progress toward democracy. The March 15 elections were deeply flawed. In April the Government issued Decree Number 7, which allows for the removal at will of any elected official by the Head of State. Other elections were postponed. The winner of the annulled 1993 presidential election, Chief Moshood K.O. Abiola, remained in detention on charges of treason, as did other prominent politicians and pro-democracy activists. Abacha announced on November 17 that he would release some political detainees but at year's end he had not done so. Security forces continue to commit extrajudicial killings, use excessive force, torture, harass human rights and prodemocracy groups, and sexually abuse female suspects and prisoners. Prison conditions remain life threatening. Government tribunals operating outside the constitutional court system undermine the judicial process. Restrictions on freedoms of speech, the press, assembly, and association continue. ...

B. Countries in Conflict

Conflict posed an increasing threat to civilians in a number of countries in 1997. In the Great Lakes region of Africa Hutu insurgents in Rwanda, Burundi, and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DROC) have organized alliances that include the openly genocidal ex-FAR and Interahamwe, and the Burundian Palipehutu. The security-conscious governments in the region are sharing arms and intelligence. There are extremely serious abuses on all sides. In the DROC the human rights situation has remained extremely volatile, despite the departure of former President Mobutu. Many serious problems remain, especially allegations of civilian massacres during President Kabila's campaign to take power, which the U.N. has sought unsuccessfully to investigate.

The alarming brutality of the massacres and sexual violence against women in Algeria commanded the world's attention. At the end of the year, as many as 1,000 civilians were being killed each month. Civil war, as well as slavery and forced conscription of children continued in Sudan. The Government continued to use extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, and the harassment of suspected opponents to stay in power. Military forces summarily tried and punished civilians. ...

V. Women

Celebrations of the Universal Declaration's 50th Anniversary at the close of 1997 proclaimed the human rights progress of women worldwide while calling attention to the many obstacles that remain to be overcome. In 1997 women took action to increase and protect their human rights. The momentum of the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 continued to encourage governments to fulfill their commitments to take progressive actions to secure rights for women. The Conference's call to action motivated governments and NGOs to increase programs and activities focused on women's human rights.

Women's NGO's around the world led the way in 1997 by taking issues to their governments and to international organizations. Due to their strong advocacy, governments and international organizations, such as the U.N., have become more responsive. NGO's, governments and international organizations formed partnerships to explore women's issues and bring about change. ...

Women around the world continue to face enormous obstacles that prevent their participation in political and economic life. In large part due to governments' laws and practices, women are disproportionately poor, denied the right to privacy, discriminated against in employment opportunities outside the home, and forced into sexual slavery. Throughout 1997 many laws designed to protect the human rights of women remained unenforced. Continuing legal obstacles remain to women's fair and open ownership of land and inheritance rights. ...

Violence against women, both inside and outside the home, remains a widespread and entrenched violation of women's human rights around the world. Domestic violence continues to be a problem in virtually every country. The continued violent and harmful practice of female genital mutilation violates women's human rights with devastating physical health and psychological consequences. Increasing numbers of women and girls are trafficked and exploited for the purpose of prostitution, domestic servitude and forced labor. Women's voices often remain silenced. In short, despite the strides taken by women, governments, and international organizations in 1997, there is much work to be done to assure that women's human rights are respected throughout the world.

VI. Worker Rights

An international consensus exists, based on several key International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions, that certain worker rights constitute core labor standards. These include freedom of association--which is the foundation on which workers can form trade unions and defend their interests; the right to organize and bargain collectively; freedom from gender and other discrimination in employment; and freedom from forced and child labor.

Notwithstanding this consensus, free trade unions continued in 1997 to face harassment and repression in many countries. The ILO's annual review of worker rights complaints led it to adopt "special paragraphs" condemning violations by Burma, Iran, Morocco, Nigeria, Sudan, and Swaziland. ...

The ILO also expects to consider a new Convention in 1998 to eliminate the most intolerable forms of child labor. As the 1997 Country Reports make clear, the exploitation and abuse of society's youngest and most vulnerable members continues all too frequently around the globe. Public outrage over the use of unpaid or cheaply paid children to produce goods for export prompted a reaction by consumers in several developed countries, including boycotts and selective buying campaigns. In the United States, public reaction contributed to congressional enactment of the "Sanders Amendment," emphasizing an intent to bar goods made by forced or indentured child labor from entering the U.S. market. To accelerate international efforts to end child labor and move children out of harmful work situations and into education, a growing list of countries contributed to the ILO's International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor. ...

John Shattuck Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor January 30, 1998


The full Department 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.Each URL should be typed on one line in your browser.

North Africa

Algeria (60k):
Egypt (77k):
Libya (38k):
Morocco (59k):
Tunisia (56k):
Western Sahara (9k):

West Africa

Benin (27k):
Burkina Faso (29k):
Cape Verde (16k):
Cote D'Ivoire (40k):
Gambia (33k):
Ghana (56k):
Guinea (51k):
Guinea-Bissau (23k):
Liberia (57k):
Mali (31k):
Mauritania (62k):
Niger (40k):
Nigeria (105k):
Senegal (33k):
Sierra Leone (69k):
Togo (38 k):

Central Africa

Burundi (40k):
Cameroon (52k):
Central African Republic (37k):
Chad (33k):
Congo - Brazzaville (26k):
Congo - Kinshasa (51k):
Equatorial Guinea (34k):
Gabon (24k):
Rwanda (32k):
Sao Tome and Principe (13k):

Southern Africa

Angola (47k):
Botswana (27k):
Lesotho (30k):
Malawi (33k):
Mauritius (16k):
Mozambique (74k):
Namibia (35k):
South Africa (53k):
Swaziland (36k):
Tanzania (51k):
Zambia (41k):
Zimbabwe (54k):

East Africa

Comoros (15k):
Djibouti (34k):
Eritrea (26k):
Ethiopia (51k):
Kenya (87k):
Madagascar (27k):
Seychelles (20k):
Somalia (24k):
Sudan (52k):
Uganda (71k):


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 Rwanda by e-mail, the following command can be sent to


To get the report on Nigeria 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 by e- mail send the message "send inet" to get only the section on the Web by E-mail, send the following command to



From: Message-Id: <> Date: Thu, 5 Feb 1998 12:40:14 -0500 Subject: Africa: US Human Rights Report

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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