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Amnesty International Gives Africa's Rights Record Mixed Review


Amnesty International marks the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with a report finding, among other things, that, despite decolonization, Africa has not seen many promises of the charter realized. From London Tendai Maphosa has more in this report from London.

More than 30 sub-Saharan countries are included in this year's Amnesty International annual report. And, once again the 2007 human rights report card for the continent is disappointing. Armed conflicts continued to fester in places such as Darfur, Somalia and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Governments acted with impunity in Angola, Eritrea, Mozambique and Zimbabwe and Kenya descended into post-election violence. But while the report is a catalog of broken promises by Africa's leaders, Amnesty International's Africa Programming director Erwin van der Borght says there is a glimmer of hope.

"We really have the impression that increasingly activists and human rights defenders in general come up for their rights, demand accountability to their leaders, demand justice and it's a strong voice which is coming up in Africa which is very encouraging and we hope that stronger calls for accountability and justice and human rights will also put pressure on their governments to fulfill those rights and to keep their promises," he said.

The report also lauds African countries that have abolished the death penalty. It notes that, while executions continued in some countries, their number has declined.

Overall, the report notes that, in addition to gross human rights abuses in armed conflicts, economic and social rights remained an illusion for millions of Africans in 2007. Women, besides facing rape in conflict situations, endured widespread discrimination and systematic human rights abuses.

Even South Africa, seen by many as one of the beacons of hope on the continent is criticized for an array of human rights abuses, including heavy-handed police response to public protests and torture of suspects in custody and poor conditions in prisons

Amnesty's van der Borght says the war on terror has also had a negative impact on human rights in parts of Africa.

"Unfortunately the so-called war on terror launched by the United States is also increasingly being felt in Africa and particularly in the Horn of Africa," he said. "For example in Somalia early 2007 we saw a number of people who fled Somalia were arrested in Kenya, transferred via Somalia to Ethiopia where they were kept in detention. Some of them have been released since but also a number remain in prison because they were accused or suspected of having links with Islamic armed opposition groups in Somalia or even with al-Qaida networks."

Van der Borght dismisses as "a very weak argument" the excuse used by some African leaders that the definitions of human rights have been imposed on them by the West. He says the African Charter and institutions, such as the African Commission on Human Rights, guarantee the same rights as do international human rights documents.

Amnesty's Secretary-General Irene Khan says it is time for governments to deliver the promises contained in the Universal Declaration of Human rights.

"The Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not need to be renegotiated, rewritten or scrapped, it needs to be respected. At 60 it is not up for retirement but for renewed commitment," she said.

Governments, Khan added, cannot continue denying citizens basic rights, such as freedom of expression, assembly and association and attack political activists and human rights defenders, as more people are becoming aware of these rights and prepared to demand them.

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