Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to ensure that human rights concerns are a major focus of this week’s U.S. African Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C.
HRW says at least a dozen of the 50 African heads of state attending the event lead repressive governments that have imprisoned journalists, human rights defenders, and anti-corruption campaigners.
“The concern about not including human rights more prominently is that human rights issues are closely inter-woven with all of these goals,” says Leslie Lefkow is the deputy for Africa at Human Rights Watch in Amsterdam.
Lefkow said the main headlines of the summit highlight security and development goals, but these goals cannot be achieved without putting human rights in the forefront of discussions.
“You cannot really have sustainable development and stability and security without fundamental respect for human rights - the rule of law, strong institutions and dependent institutions,” explained Lefkow.
She said the Washington, D.C. summit is ignoring one of the key criteria to reaching many of the goals that it has set out to reach.
“Many, many people across the African continent were galvanized by President Obama’s speech in Accra, Ghana five years ago, when he said Africa needs strong institutions and not strong men,” said Lefkow. “The disappointment is that rhetoric has not translated into concrete policy changes by the U.S. government.”
The HRW deputy said as the summit is occurring, there is heightened concern in the human rights community that alarming human rights violations are sweeping across Africa.
“The hope is that President Obama himself and some of the events will focus on human rights a little bit more than their agendas suggest. But I think we are going to have to wait and see if that really happens in practice,” said Lefkow.