/ 28 May 2003

Africa’s villains still act with impunity

Amnesty calls for an end to climate of impunity in Africa

The climate of impunity in Africa must be urgently addressed if widespread human rights abuses are to be stemmed, Amnesty International said on Wednesday in its annual report.

”In Africa, countless lives and livelihoods were destroyed in conflicts often encouraged and armed by outside powers, during which abuses were committed with impunity,” Amnesty said.

”The common thread through all these crises continued to be impunity,” said Amnesty in its round-up of human rights abuses throughout the world over the past year.

”As long as the political and military leaders benefit from the chaos they cause, the human rights of ordinary Africans will remain unprotected,” the report said.

Underlying the violence were struggles primarily for political and economic control of natural resources — and the principal victims were civilians, Amnesty said.

”While some progress was made towards resolving the conflict in Madagascar, peace talks on Somalia and Sudan failed to end widespread human rights abuses,” the study said.

Serious human rights abuses continued in Angola even after the end of a decades-long conflict and the disintegration of the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita), the main armed opposition group.

Although foreign troops have withdrawn from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the human rights situation remains ”bleak” especially in the east of the country, Amnesty said.

Ugandan forces, according to Amnesty, were responsible for killing unarmed civilians in Ugandan-controlled eastern DRC.

Opposition groups and government troops in the north and west of the Ivory Coast were perpetrating grave human rights abuses against civilians and combatants with little fear of punishment, the study said.

”At several sites, evidence of extrajudicial executions and summary killings were discovered but remained uninvestigated,” the report said.

”In an atmosphere of violent xenophobia, many foreign nationals, mainly from Burkina Faso, Liberia and Mali, had their homes destroyed or were killed in raids by government forces on poor neighbourhoods,” the report said.

In the DRC dozens of people were killed, hundreds of women were raped and thousands were displaced with impunity by perpetrators from the Central African Republic (CAR) and from neighbouring countries.

”In Burundi all parties to the conflict continued to commit war crimes and widespread human rights abuses on the civilian population with virtually no prospect of being held to account for their actions,” Amnesty said.

The group did report some good news in Sierra Leone where a UN-backed special court was successfully trying the worst war criminals and offenders of crimes against humanity.

Amnesty also hailed the release of prisoners of conscience in Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Liberia and Togo. But armed belligerents in the Ivory Coast, Burundi, the DRC and Liberia were still recruiting, at times forcefully, child combatants, it said.

It listed Angola, Cameroon, DRC, Eritrea, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritius, Togo and Zimbabwe as countries where there have been reports of secret detentions for long periods of time.

People were arbitrarily arrested and detained without charge or trial in 17 African countries and torture and ill-treatment was reported in a further 21, Amnesty said.

As for the death penalty, which Amnesty opposes, people were sentenced to death in 14 countries, and executions were carried out in Nigeria, Sudan and Uganda.

In summing up Amnesty called for greater popular participation in the peace processes and more emphasis on international judicial mechanisms to end the climate of impunity in the continent. – Sapa-AFP