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African Countries Criticized in Human Rights Watch Report

A number of African countries have been cited for human rights violations in the latest Human Rights Watch report, including Kenya, Zimbabwe and Sudan. VOA's Cindy Saine reports from Washington.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch says countries claiming the mantle of democracy, including Kenya and Pakistan, should guarantee the rights that are central to it, including the rights to free expression, assembly and association, and free and fair elections.

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth has called for an investigation of events in Kenya, where post election violence has left more than 850 people dead and the opposition has accused President Mwai Kibaki of rigging the December 27 vote.

"We want to see investigation into the electoral fraud and, assuming that nobody can really figure out exactly who did what, a new election held within a year or two," he said. "And we also want to have accountability for this violence, so that people on both sides, in both the government and the Orange opposition don't get the message that they can get away with impunity with this kind of violence."

But the report also praised Kenya, saying the country's political climate has improved considerably since the 1990s. It also said Kenya has one of the most assertive, independent parliaments in Africa today.

Human Rights Watch had no such praise for Zimbabwe's rulers, saying that in 2007, the country descended further into political and economic chaos as President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party strengthened its hold on power.

Roth says there is great concern about upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe.

"The opposition there continues to face violence and all kinds of constraints imposed by Mugabe," he added. "And we are very fearful that the proposed elections for March will not be free and fair. There has to be quite a radical change in electoral conditions for this exercise to be meaningful."

The report says the arrest and brutal assault of more than 50 opposition and civil society activists during a prayer meeting last March marked another low point in the country's seven-year crisis.

Human Rights Watch says Sudan's government bears principal responsibility for five years of the Darfur crisis, and warns that civilians are still at great risk today as all sides ignore international humanitarian law. The report says grave human rights abuses are also fueling the worsening humanitarian crisis in Somalia and the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia. Roth called the situation there "a forgotten tragedy."

The report also cited atrocities in Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea and Libya.

Elsewhere in the world, the rights group cites gross violations in Colombia, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. It also criticized France, Pakistan, the United Kingdom and the United States for abuses in the war on terror.