The international London based non-governmental organization dedicated to human rights advocacy worldwide has released its 2017-2018 State of the World’s Human Rights Report. Amnesty International (AI), in releasing its report, noted that, ” over the past year, leaders have pushed hate, fought against rights, ignored crimes against humanity, and blithely let inequality and suffering spin out of control. This provoked mass protests, showing that while our challenges may never be greater, the will to fight back is just as strong.”
Globally, AI affirmed that world leaders abandoned human rights but that although their report is shocking, people across the world have come together to stand and make their voices heard. Among the 159 countries covered in the report were countries in West African which include Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire and the Gambia.
According to AI, “Restrictions were imposed on the rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association. Hundreds of people died and thousands were left homeless following a mud-slide. Prison conditions fell far below international standards. Pregnant girls were excluded from school.”
A human rights campaigner Abdul Fatoma and several local journalists were either arrested or summoned for criticism of the Ernest Bai Koroma Government. Prison conditions in the West African country are below international standards and over-crowded. Pregnant girls are unable to return to mainstream, education and civil society groups have asked the government to resume access for them.
The death penalty continues to be handed down with the conviction of six police officers who were “…sentenced to death by firing squad for conspiracy and robbery with aggravation..”
A mud-slide disaster in the capital Freetown in August, 2017 killed over 400 people. There has been no formal investigation or report on the cause of the disaster and survivors are struggling to make ends meet.
The Sierra Leone government, during the reporting period, rejected over 100 recommendations of the Constitutional Review Commission which included the abolition of the death penalty. President Koroma is stepping down in March after two terms as President. The opposition led by a former military officer is hoping to succeed him while the President and the ruling party have hand picked a staunch ally of President Koroma to succeed him.
The international community has warned against campaign violence in the country in the lead up the elections in March.
In Guinea, “The security forces continued to use excessive force against demonstrators.Journalists, human rights defenders and others expressing dissent were arbitrarily arrested. Impunity was widespread. The right to adequate housing was not fulfilled,” AI says.
Freedom of Assembly and right to freedom of speech were curtailed by the government. 18 deaths were reported and dozens others injured by crackdown against demonstrations by the Alpha Conde government.Long delayed local elections were recently held and the government won a majority of the seats with the opposition crying foul.The country’s National Assembly adopted legislation which could effectively abolish the death penalty when it becomes law.
Security members accused of rights abuses were not held accountable, according to the report.
In Liberia, AI reports that, “Domestic violence, and sexual violence against women and girls remained widespread. Impunity for human rights violations persisted. Prison conditions did not meet international standards and individuals were frequently held in prolonged pre-trial detention.” The report cited Liberia for failing to implement the recommendations of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which was set up as part of the Accra Peace Conference to review human rights abuses and war crimes committed during the country’s civil war. To date, there has been no movement towards the setting up of a war crimes commission to criminally prosecute those identified as bearing the most responsibility for atrocities committed.
On Freedom of Expression, the report mentions the introduction of a bill in the National Legislature to de-criminalize libel offences by journalists. Women and girls continue to be subjected to sexual and domestic violence, genital mutilation practices, rape and childhood marraiges. Gay people in Liberia, the report said, continue to experience discrimination, harassment and threats.
The new Weah Administration which was inaugurated in January is under local and international pressure to address the implementation of the TRC recommendations, a declining economy, provision jobs for young people and basic amenities.
AI says, “Around 200 detainees, loyal to former President Laurent Gbagbo, awaited trial in connection with post-electoral violence in 2010 and 2011. Killings in the context of mutinies and clashes between demobilized soldiers and security forces were un-investigated. The rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly were restricted; some protests were prohibited. Simone Gbagbo, wife of former President Gbagbo, was acquitted of crimes against humanity and war crimes.The ICC tried Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé.”
Legislation to clamp down on free and critical expression which offended President Alassane Ouattarra and promoted ” fake news” was introduced and adopted. The government arrested and tried supporters of former President Laurent Gbagbo. They were accused of human rights violations while supporters of the current President faced no account for rights abuses.
Mutinees by security forces including demobilized soldiers led to the deaths of over 10 persons and scores of others were wounded during AI’S reporting period.
In the Gambia, which saw the democratic removal of long time dictator Yahya Jammeh, AI reports that, ” The new government committed to reforming several repressive laws and reforming the security forces. Steps were taken to begin a transitional justice process.” The Barrow Administration cancelled plans by the Jammeh government to withdrawn from the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Prisons in Gambia did not meet international standards, but the new administration has released scores of political prisoners held by the former government. Progress at loosening restrictive freedom of assembly laws lagged. Same sex marraige is still banned in the conservative West African nation and gay people are discriminated against.
Although Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) laws have been passed, the practice remains wide-spread in the Gambia.
Universal Human Rights Declaration
In citing the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, AI stated in its latest global report that, “… the year in which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 70, it is abundantly clear that none of us can take any of our human rights for granted. We certainly cannot take for granted that we will be free to gather together in protest or to criticize our governments. Neither can we take for granted that social security will be available when we are old or incapacitated; that our babies can grow up in cities with clean, breathable air; or that as young people we will leave school to find jobs that enable us to buy a home.
The battle for human rights is never decisively won in any place or at any point in time. The frontiers shift continually, so there can never be room for complacency.”
Although democratic changes are happening across Africa, the pace of keeping up with with the protection of the rights of ordinary citizens by government remains slow or declining instead.
By Emmanuel Abalo
West African Journal Magazine