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A Plea for Africa to Protect Human Rights Defenders

The Forty-first Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights opens Wednesday in the Ghanaian capital, Accra. The commission is charged by the African Union to protect and promote human and people’s rights on the continent. On the eve of the two-week long meeting, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network based in Kampala, Uganda, has submitted a report to the Commission on the state of human rights defenders in the sub-region.

Hassan Shire Sheikh is chairman of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network. He told VOA that the situation for human rights defenders in East and Horn of Africa is one of the gloomiest in the world.

"The Horn of Africa, when we are talking about in Sudan, in Eritrea, in Ethiopia, in Somalia, and now in Djibouti, the defenders who defend other people’s rights, their own rights are being violated most severely than the people they were originally defending. There has been disappearance, outside killing, long-term detention without trial. Journalists in Eritrea, Ethiopia, in Somalia, either they are languishing in prison in a long period of time, or they are being killed in a cold-bloody situation where the killer and the one who ordered it, it appears now will never ever be brought to justice,” he said.

In its report, the group said human rights violations in Somalia escalated considerably towards the end of 2006 when Ethiopian troops entered Somalia to drive Islamic Courts leaders out of the capital, Mogadishu.

Sheikh said both the Ethiopian and the Somali National Transitional governments are to blame for the rights violations in the sub-region.

“The responsibility of the human rights violations lies considerably with the transitional federal institution and the invading troops of Ethiopia. Why because as a human rights activist, we always put the government to take the shoulder of respecting the lives of its own citizens,” Shire Sheikh said.

He said by indiscriminately bombarding the city of Mogadishu with a population of two million, Ethiopian forces and the Somali Federal Transitional government violated established international laws.

The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network also criticized the Ugandan government’s treatment of the press. Sheikh said the Ugandan government could be better.

“What we are saying is that the management sometime of the crowd control becomes disproportionate and uncalled for, and that if it continues, we are afraid it could lead to a worst situation than we have now. What we want to see, and our members are always advocating is respect for the rule of law and allocating a clear direct line for peaceful demonstrations and applying a better mechanism to crowd control,” he said.

The group called on the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights to make security of its members a priority.

“We want the Commission to adopt a strong and clear resolution against those, whether they are state or non-state parties, who are perpetrating human rights violation against their own people. The purpose of the commission was to protect and promote the rights of the African people. We want the Commission to take that the pledge seriously when it comes to those who are violating the rights of their own people in the East and Horn of Africa,” Sheikh said.