Interactive map: Human rights issues in Africa

The government’s inability to deal with the root causes of attacks on foreigners and foreign-owned businesses, and the police’s inability to deal with protests in a manner that respects human rights are two areas of concern highlighted by Human Rights Watch in its latest World Report 2015.

The violence and looting of foreigners’ shops should not be dismissed as criminality, said Dewa Mavhinga, HRW’s senior researcher for Zimbabwe and Southern Africa, at the media launch of the report in Johannesburg on Thursday.

The government needs to address the root causes of xenophobia and hold people accountable, he said. It also needs to understand the challenges and equip key institutions, especially the police, to deal with crimes that relate to xenophobia.

The HRW 2015 report states that the police “lack proper equipment and training to quell riots and this often leads to the use of excessive and disproportionate force”. The service delivery protests in Mothutlung near Brits and Bekkersdal in 2014 are used as examples.

At the media briefing Mavhinga said that South Africa could use its political influence and economic clout more to promote human rights in Africa.

Speaking about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights on the continent, particularly the effects of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda, Graeme Reid, the director of the LGBT programme, said: “South Africa’s quiet diplomacy does not need to be so quiet that no one can hear it.”

Human rights violations have played a major role in many of the world’s crises, said Kenneth Roth, HRW’s executive director, in the introductory essay to the report. “Protecting human rights and ensuring democratic accountability are key to resolving them.”

In too many countries, including Kenya, Egypt and China, governments and security forces have responded to real or perceived terrorism threats with abusive policies that ultimately fuel crises, the report states.

The rise of the extremist group Islamic State is an example, so too is the conflict in Nigeria where the government has often responded “in an abusive manner” to the horrific attacks on civilians by Boko Haram.

The map below summarises HRW’s assessment of human rights issues in 25 African countries covered in its World Report 2015, plus Malawi, Zambia and Swaziland, which were not in the report, but HRW wrote about them in a 2014 article entitled SADC: Address members’ rights issues.

Click on a country to view its human rights issue

“We do not have the resources to cover all the countries in Africa, and there are numerous countries omitted from the volume which have worrying human rights records,” said Leslie Lefkow, the deputy director of HRW’s Africa division, in an email response to questions.

HRW also does not rank countries by their human rights records, said Lefkow. “Some countries that might fare well on certain human rights indicators but are deplorable on others,” she wrote.

“But some of the key themes we see across a number of countries on the continent include appalling abuses by security forces, lack of accountability, and increasingly, increased restrictions on independent civil society and media.”