Amnesty International (AI) 2018 Report Cites West African Countries

AI 2017-2018 Report

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.”

West Africa Regional Map
West Africa Regional Map

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.

Sierra Leone:

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.”

Sierra Leone President Mr. Ernest Bai Koroma
Sierra Leone President Mr. Ernest Bai Koroma

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.

Guinea:

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.

Guinean Pres Alpha Condé
Guinean Pres Alpha Condé

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.

Liberia:

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.

Liberia President George M. Weah
Liberia President George M. Weah

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.

Cote d’Ivoire

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.”

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara
Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara

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.

Gambia:

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).

Gambia President Adama Barrow
Gambia President Adama Barrow

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.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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 

 

Nigeria: UK Court Deals A Blow To Oil Spill Victims And Corporate Accountability

Amnesty International (AI) says, responding to a Court of Appeals judgment that two Niger Delta communities cannot have their case against oil giant Shell heard in the UK because the parent company cannot be held liable for the actions of its Nigerian subsidiary.

Shell_logoAccording to a statement quoting  Joe Westby, Amnesty International’s Campaigner on Business and Human Rights, “With this ruling the court has struck a blow not only to the Ogale and Bille communities, who live everyday with the devastating consequences of Shell oil spills, but with victims of corporate human rights abuses all over the world. This ruling sets a dangerous precedent and will make it more difficult to hold UK companies to account.

“The idea that powerful multinationals are not responsible for the conduct of their subsidiaries overseas has allowed Shell to evade accountability for a raft of shocking human rights abuses spanning decades. This is a textbook example of the almost insurmountable obstacles to justice faced by people who take on powerful multinationals.

Map of Nigeria
Map of Nigeria

“Internal Shell documents show that the company’s headquarters have known full well for decades about the massive oil pollution caused by their operations in Nigeria, and have chosen not to stop it. If Shell cannot be held to account for such well-documented abuses, what hope is there of bringing other companies to justice?

“The communities will now be taking their fight for justice to the Supreme Court – this could be their last chance to see their environment restored.”

Background

Shell Protests - NigeriaThe Ogale and Bille communities brought two separate legal claims against both Royal Dutch Shell plc (RDS) and its 100% owned Nigerian subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) in 2016.

Today’s decision rejected the communities’ appeal against a January 2017 ruling that RDS could not be held liable for the actions of SPDC. In a split decision, a panel of three judges ruled that the claim could not proceed.

Amnesty International

UN Committee Tells Cameroon To End Torture By Security Forces In The Fight Against Boko Haram

Cameroon must act swiftly on the recommendations published Wednesday by the UN Committee against Torture and put an end to the widespread use of torture by security forces fighting Boko Haram, Amnesty International said.

Amnesty International
Amnesty International

The Committee expressed deep concerns about the use of secret torture chambers documented by Amnesty International in July, and its failure to clarify whether investigations were being carried into these allegations, as well as other reports of killings of civilians and enforced disappearances.

“With the Committee against Torture now also demanding an end to the use of torture in Cameroon, it is becoming impossible for the world to ignore the widespread practice of torture in the country,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International’s Lake Chad researcher.

“The clamour for justice is growing and Cameroonian authorities should respond by taking these reports of torture far more seriously and launching an independent and efficient investigation into these horrific practices.”

Based on submissions from organisations including Amnesty International, the UN Committee noted that large numbers of people from Cameroon’s Far North region are likely to have been held incommunicado and tortured by members of the military and the intelligence services in at least 20 illegal detention facilities between 2013 and 2017.

The Committee also raised concerns that this torture took place with the likely knowledge of senior BIR and intelligence officers at one military base, and that dozens of people may have died following torture and inhuman conditions of detention.

CAT-UN
CAT-UN

In its recommendations the Committee called on Cameroon to publish a declaration from the highest state level affirming an absolute prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment and put an end to the practice of incommunicado detention.

It also called for effective, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of torture, incommunicado detention and death in custody, and for alleged perpetrators and accomplices of such acts, including those in command responsibility, be prosecuted and sentenced in proportion to the seriousness of the offences.

Elsewhere in its concluding observations, the UN Committee also echoed concerns raised by Amnesty International and others in relation to human rights violations committed in the Anglophone regions of the country, including by demanding an investigation into the deaths of at least 20 people killed in October in clashes between the security forces and protestors.

Paul Biya
Cameroon President Paul Biya

The Committee criticized the failure of Cameroon to provide information on the number of people still detained following protests in the regions, or whether investigations had been launched into the excessive use of force.

UN experts also noted their concerns that journalists such as RFI correspondent Ahmed Abba had been charged under counter-terrorism laws, and that some had been subjected to torture while in detention. The Committee also criticized the regular use of military courts in trials of civilians.

“The UN’s anti-torture experts have recognised that there is a major problem in Cameroon, and their warnings should be heeded. There should be no tolerance of human rights violations like torture, and we hope that the Cameroonian authorities and international community will respond to this report with the seriousness it deserves,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi.

West African Journal Magazine

 

Amnesty International Statement On Ogoni Land Murder in Nigeria

Oil giant Shell has a case to answer for its role in human rights violations including murder, rape and torture committed by the Nigerian military government in the 1990s.

Shell_logo
Shell Logo

The victims were the Ogoni people, whose land has been devastated by pollution from Shell’s operations. When the Ogonis organized in peaceful protest, the Nigerian government unleashed a campaign of appalling violence against them.

Despite a raft of evidence linking Shell with the government’s actions, no company executive has ever been made to answer for its involvement.

The fact that Shell has never been held to account for this is an outrage, and one that sends a terrible message: if companies are rich and powerful enough, they can get away with anything.

So, for the first time, Amnesty International has brought together the available evidence to paint a damning picture of Shell’s role.

From 1990 onwards, Shell knew that its requests for the security forces to intervene in the Niger Delta were likely to result in human rights violations.

In 1990, Shell requested the assistance of a paramilitary police unit to deal with peaceful protesters at one of its facilities in Umuechem. The police attacked the village with guns and grenades, killing 80 people and torching 595 houses.

Despite this atrocity, Shell went back to the Nigerian government for help in dealing with community protests. A clear pattern began to emerge: over and over again, Shell asked the government to intervene, and these requests were soon followed by violence and death. For example:

A Shell memo shows that on 18 March 1993, Shell staff “pleaded” with the governor of Rivers State for a military guard while its contractors laid a pipeline.

On 30 April, the army responded to community protests against the new pipeline by shooting and wounding 11 villagers at Biara village.

Days later, on 4 May, Shell again asked the governor for “assistance”. That same day, troops opened fire on community protests at Nonwa village, killing one man.  Once again, a direct request from Shell led to human rights violations.

Then, a memo from 11 May 1993 shows that Shell managers met senior government and security officials in Abuja “to mobilise support at top government levels”. The head of the security service assured Shell that the Ogoni situation “would be over soon”.

Two months later, the military incited and participated in a new wave of armed attacks on Ogonis.

Ogoni land protest
Ogoni land Protest

Despite these violations, it was Shell’s policy to provide security forces with logistical support.

A 1995 statement from Shell Nigeria’s then-chair Brian Anderson explained that it was company policy at the time to provide the Nigerian government with logistical support – including the use of its boats, buses and helicopters.

Sometimes Shell’s assistance directly facilitated human rights violations. For example, in October 1993 the company provided the army’s transport to Korokoro village, when troops opened fire on protesters.

Shell had no qualms about repeatedly offering logistical support to security forces it knew were committing human rights violations.

Shell even paid money to a military unit responsible for violence.

In December 1993, shortly after a military coup, Shell wrote to the new military administrator of Rivers State, highlighting the economic consequences of protests and naming communities, including in Ogoniland, where protests had occurred.

One month later, the military administrator created the new Internal Security Task Force (ISTF), under the command of Major Paul Okuntimo.

The ISTF began carrying out human rights violations almost immediately. On 21 February 1994, soldiers under Major Okuntimo’s command shot at thousands of people who were peacefully demonstrating outside Shell’s main compound.

Then, on 3 March 1994, Shell paid Major Okuntimo and 25 of his men an “honorarium”. An internal Shell memo explained that the payment was a “show of gratitude and motivation for a sustained favourable disposition towards [Shell] in future assignments”.

Shortly afterwards, the ISTF began a campaign of brutal raids in Ogoniland – killing, raping and torturing villagers.

Shell knew all about these human rights violations.

Major Okuntimo boasted of these raids on television, and they were widely reported. In July that year, the Dutch ambassador told Shell that the army had killed some 800 Ogonis.

Shell also had insider knowledge. Company executives met regularly with top government officials, and discussed the government strategy for dealing with the Ogoni protests.

Shell raised the Ogoni and Ken Saro-Wiwa as a “problem”.

Map of Nigeria
Map of Nigeria

The Ogoni crisis culminated in the executions of the “Ogoni Nine” by the Nigerian state. Among them was Ken Saro-Wiwa, a famous writer and leader of protests by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP).

Evidence shows that, at the peak of the crackdown in Ogoniland, Shell provided encouragement and motivation to the military authorities to stop the MOSOP protests, and specifically named Ken Saro-Wiwa.

A memo describes how, at a meeting with President Sani Abacha on 30 April 1994, Brian Anderson raised “the problem of the Ogonis and Ken Saro-Wiwa”.

Anderson reported that he came away from the meeting with the sense that Abacha “will intervene with either the military or the police.”

Indeed, within a month Ken Saro-Wiwa and other MOSOP leaders had been arrested, unfairly accused of involvement in murder, and held without charge.

The men were tortured and ill-treated in detention, before being found guilty in a sham trial and executed on 10 November 1995. The detailed records show that Shell knew the trial would be unfair and Ken Saro-Wiwa found guilty; but there is no indication in the available evidence of Shell trying to persuade the Nigerian military government to follow a less violent path in Ogoniland.

Conclusion:

Shell’s conduct amounts to encouraging, and, at times, facilitating the horrific crimes and abuses committed by the Nigerian security forces in Ogoniland in the mid-1990s. The company, knowing that violence against local communities was almost certain to occur, asked for the security forces to deal with community protests. Shell provided logistical support to the army and police, repeatedly underlined to the Nigerian government how the country was financially dependent on oil, and even paid money to the security forces.

More Ogoni land Protestors in Nigeria
More Ogoni land Protestors in Nigeria

Shell has always strongly denied these allegations. But the evidence paints a shocking picture of a corporation putting its interests above all else. The key question is: if Shell had not acted as it did, and had not pushed the Nigerian military and government, would so many people have been beaten, tortured, raped and killed?

Amnesty International is calling on the authorities in Nigeria, and Shell’s home states, the Netherlands and the UK, to launch a criminal investigation into the company’s role in the human rights violations committed by the Nigerian security forces.

Amnesty International Statement