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Watchdog Urges AU to Focus on Human Rights

A general view taken 31 Jan 2010 shows the opening of the three-day AU summit in Addis Ababa

A general view taken 31 Jan 2010 shows the opening of the three-day AU summit in Addis Ababa

A human-rights group is calling for African leaders, who are in Ethiopia for an annual African Union summit, to focus on the importance of human rights in some of Africa's most long-standing conflicts. Amnesty International says concrete steps need to be taken to protect human rights and humanitarian law in Somalia and Sudan.

Britain-based human-rights watchdog Amnesty International says African leaders must do more to make sure rights are upheld across their continent.

Amnesty International's special advisor on Africa, Noel Kututwa, says the humanitarian situation in Somalia is deteriorating, with thousands of civilians killed in 2009.

He says the African Union needs to make sure African countries do not play a part in Somalia's conflict.

"So we are calling on the African Union to ensure that its members respect firstly the arms embargo - that is very important because the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Somalia continues to escalate the conflict situation and escalate the violence," he said.

He says in Sudan human-rights abuses thrive in a climate of impunity. The United Nations has estimated that in 2009 more than 2,500 people were killed and 350,000 displaced.

Amnesty International says those responsible for human-rights abuses should be brought to justice.

Kututwa adds that humanitarian groups must be free to help the Sudanese population.

"They depend solely for their water, education, sanitation from these humanitarian organizations. Now by banning the operations of humanitarian organizations in Darfur, means that close to 200,000 people have been placed at risk because they cannot access these services," he added.

Kututwa says in recent years the African Union has played an increasingly important role in bringing justice to the continent.

Peacekeepers from South Africa, Ethiopia and Mozambique were deployed to Burundi in 2003, and African peacekeepers were sent to Sudan's Darfur region in 2004 - a force that was 7,000 strong by 2007. The African Union also has 5,000 troops stationed in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.

Kututwa says the African Union needs to use its power to do more in Somalia and Sudan.

"The African Union does have power and if there is sufficient political will within the organ, the African Union can have significant impact on the continent and can have significant impact in ending conflict and ensuring that human rights are respected in some of these countries," said Kututwa.

Sunday, the 53-member African Union elected Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika as its leader, replacing Libya's Moammar Gadhafi.