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HRW Global Report Highlights ‘Politics of Fear’

  • Jill Craig

FILE - Paramedics help a student who was injured during an attack by Somalia's al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab gunmen at Garissa University College, Kenya, April 2, 2015.

FILE - Paramedics help a student who was injured during an attack by Somalia's al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab gunmen at Garissa University College, Kenya, April 2, 2015.

Human Rights Watch released its 2016 global report Wednesday, reviewing human rights practices in more than 90 countries from the end of 2014 through November 2015. For the organization’s Nairobi launch, Somalia and Kenya researchers gave remarks about their findings in those East African nations.

During the Nairobi launch of the 2016 Human Rights Watch global report, HRW Africa Director Daniel Bekele said poverty, unemployment, massive population growth, bad governance and weak institutions continued to set the stage for widespread human rights abuses.

But the "politics of fear" is the topic of this year’s report, and Bekele highlighted the increasing number of small to large-scale armored, violent conflicts in the region.

Bekele said extremists, including fundamentalist groups Boko Haram, al-Shabab and al-Qaida were responsible for much of the violence, committing senseless killings, horrible abuses and atrocities.

“What is an equally worrying trend is how much the security forces’ response to the security threat is increasingly downplayed and in some cases is probably totally abandoning human rights, and how much the security forces’ response that is riddled with abuses is actually contributing to a cycle of abuses.”

Tenuous security situation

Arguing that this tenuous security situation may be tied to the intensification of political repression in a number of African countries, Bekele said some governments were adopting what he called a “do-whatever-it-takes” mentality in restricting freedom of expression and association.

“We have seen a spike in attacks on journalists, human rights defenders and political opponents, and overall, sort of a very heavy crackdown on protesters as well,” he said.

Bekele also highlighted the concern that Western countries and authoritarian regimes seemed to be forming alliances in the face of these security threats.

“And Western countries that have traditionally been strong on promoting, protecting, and defending human rights have shown alliance with authoritarian regimes in clamping down on civil and political space,” he said.

Somali soldiers stand near the wreckage after a car bomb detonated in Mogadishu, Somalia, Dec. 19, 2015.

Somali soldiers stand near the wreckage after a car bomb detonated in Mogadishu, Somalia, Dec. 19, 2015.

Sexual, gender-based violence

HRW’s Somalia researcher Laetitia Bader said that Somalia developed some key policies in 2015 pertaining to sexual and gender-based violence and the country’s widespread internally displaced population, but that those policies have not been implemented, and therefore, there have been no real changes on the ground.

She also mentioned an uptick in fighting in the country, due to the ongoing military operation against al-Shabab, but also in the drive to establish federal states in Somalia.

“So who is able to get a seat at the negotiating table in Somalia in the creation of federalism has often been at significant consequence to civilians on the ground,” said Bader.

Uptick in attacks

Otsieno Namwaya, HRW’s Kenya researcher, highlighted an increase in al-Shabab attacks in Kenya, primarily on unarmed civilians.

“However, what has really worried us is the response of the Kenyan authorities to the attacks by the al-Shabab. The KDF, the Kenyan police, the regular police, and the anti-terror police and the GSU, a combination of all these units, have been implicated in a wide range of abuses at the coast, in northeastern Kenya and in Nairobi,” said Namwaya.

But in spite of these negative findings, HRW did cite some improvements on the continent, such as peaceful elections in Nigeria and Botswana, progress in the expansion of economies and socioeconomic services in some African countries, and an increased awareness of maternal mortality and child marriage as rights issues.

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