Category: United Nations System and Human Rights Council

SAHRDN and CDD condemn the bombings of Canal de Moçambique premises and the continued attacks on press freedoms in Mozambique

August 24, 2020

Maputo and Johannesburg

The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) and the Center for Democracy and Development – Mozambique (CDD) strongly condemn the petrol-bombing of the Canal de Moçambique offices in Maputo, Mozambique.  Canal de Moçambique, https://canal.co.mz/ is one of the most credible, public interest  independent media outlet in Mozambique. This attack is a serious blow to the already dire situation of press freedom in Mozambique, which according to the 2020 World Press Freedom Index is lowly ranked at 104 out of 180 countries.  SAHRDN and CDD calls on the authorities in Mozambique to protect press freedoms and to swiftly conduct an independent, credible and robust  investigation into this attack.

According to preliminary reports from a credible source, it is reported that on August 23, 2020, at around 20:00 hours (CAT), yet to be identified individuals broke into Canal de Moçambique newspaper facilities, poured fuel on all the furniture and computers and set off a homemade bomb. All the equipment and other accessories in the building were reduced to ashes. Canal de Moçambique has been highly critical of and exposed a raft of systemic corruption cases linked to the government of Mozambique.

In 2019, MISA-Mozambique reported that “a Maputo court acquitted the editor of the weekly paper “Canal de Mocambique”, Matias Guente, who had been accused of libel because of a caricature of one of the directors of the Bank of Mozambique, Joana Matsombe, which the paper had published”.

“Democracy dies in darkness, and Canal de Moçambique has been a consistent guiding light in promoting accountable governance and is only being targeted for speaking truth to power, and for holding those in power to account. We demand that the Government of Maputo carry-out an in-depth investigation into this bombing and more importantly, that it upholds its own constitution and respect regional and international human rights laws and treaties, which regards media freedoms as the oxygen for a democratic society”

Professor Adriano Nuvunga, who is the Executive Director for CDD-Mozambique

SAHRDN and CDD urges the government of Mozambique to lead by example in its official capacity as the new SADC chairperson and respect the fundamental right to seek and disseminate information through an independent press, which is under attack in Mozambique and in the SADC region especially during this COVID-19 period.

_______________________________

ProtectCivicSpace

RespectFreedoms

For more information please contact Washington Katema, Regional Programmes Manager at wkatema@southernafricadefenders.africa or +27 73 620 2608

Southern Africa Human Rights Round-up

The Southern Africa Human Rights Roundup is a weekly column aimed at highlighting important human rights news in southern Africa. It integrates efforts of human rights defenders and facilitates evidence-based engagement with key stakeholders and institutions on the human rights situation across the region.

Zambia recorded its first two cases of the Covid-19 virus on 18 March 2020. At first, the virus appeared to be contained but gradually, as the number of local transmission cases increased, the virus increased exponentially. According to the latest official statistics, Zambia has recorded a total of 10,372 cases of Covid-19 (by 21 August) with the official number of Covid-19 related deaths at 274.

Zambia is hitting the peak of the pandemic.  Yet the government has announced that there will be no lockdown, so as to avoid curtailing the means of survival for ordinary Zambians. This is because the majority of Zambians live from hand-to-mouth, a situation now made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic.

So far, we have been very lucky. We are not seeing apocalyptic numbers of deaths and our health facilities are just about coping with the numbers of the sick. Only a few months ago, in May, President Edgar Lungu announced that the government was advising citizens to follow the health guidelines laid down. He talked about “transitioning to a new normal”. But effectively our “new normal” meant each man for himself and God for us all.

Whilst the jury is out on whether the official figures tally with the actual numbers, it appears that the pandemic in Zambia is being managed reasonably well. Despite a shortage of protective clothing and testing kits, the health facilities are generally adequate.

However, as with many countries across the globe, the pandemic has also created an opportunity for political expediency that has had a detrimental effect on the human rights situation in the country. This is in the context of the fact that Zambia will be going to the polls to elect a new government in 2021.

All roads lead to 2021 and as a result political expediency has been the order of the day. For example, the Government has introduced two statutory instruments under the Public Health Act in order to manage the pandemic. Both are thin on the details as to how the health regulations will be enforced.

Just a few days ago the police spokesperson, Esther Mwata Katongo announced that the police would start arresting and fining people the equivalent of $US39 for not wearing masks in public. The police did start making arrests accordingly, but the Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo rescinded the decision days later as it became apparent that there was no legal backing for the move in the health regulations. 

In terms of human rights, probably Zambia’s most well-known Covid-19 victim is Prime Television, a popular independent television station that had its broadcasting licence revoked following its refusal to broadcast government adverts and programmes on the Covid-19 pandemic for free in the midst of the economic crisis facing the country. The current Zambian government already has a history of clamping down on media freedoms following the closure of the largest independent newspaper in Zambia, The Post in 2017, and various other radio stations that have been critical of the government. The official reason given for closing the television station was that its broadcasting licence had expired.

Another casualty has been the restrictions on freedom of assembly. Public gatherings in Zambia are governed by the Public Order Act, a notorious piece of legislation whose constitutionality has been challenged several times on the basis that its provisions are arbitrary and not necessary in a democratic state. To adhere to the provisions of the Public Order Act, Zambians now have to get authority from the Ministry of Health or the Local Authority to hold public gatherings of more than five people.

These restrictions are being selectively applied. Government officials and individuals considered close to the ruling party freely hold rallies and large public gatherings without the appearance of any health and safety regulations being adhered to. Zambians have been told that government officials cannot be blamed for people following them around. This has led to many Zambians either resenting any restrictions placed on them or believing that the pandemic is a hoax.

However, when it comes to dissenting voices such as opposition political parties, the restrictions are applied with efficient (and sometimes inefficient) responses. A group of youth protestors attempted to hold a public protest on the socio-economic challenges faced by Zambian youth on 22nd June 2020. The police came out fully armed in riot gear and roamed around the streets in armoured vehicles in an attempt to intimidate the protestors into stopping their protest.

However, the quick-thinking youth took their protest to the bush and beamed it live to an audience of around 300,000 people on their social media platforms. In June there were reports of police arresting opposition members for attempting to hold intra-party elections.

As always, the hardest hit by any crisis are the poor and vulnerable. As with most countries, we are grappling with how to send our children back to school.

Like countries all over the world, our ailing economy has been further crippled by the loss of business and resulting unemployment or underemployment. The government has partnered with donors to provide social protection to the most vulnerable but with 58% of the Zambian population of around 17 million living below the poverty line according to 2015 World Bank figures, resources are stretched. There has been little done to ensure that the rights most affected by the pandemic are still protected, promoted and fulfilled and this is impacting on the overall effectiveness of the government’s response to the pandemic.

Ultimately, whilst the Covid-19 pandemic has been a universal crisis, Zambia’s is a crisis of leadership. Our government needs to put the interests of the country above partisan interests and unite the country regardless of the upcoming general elections. We need to take a human rights-based approach to tackling the pandemic specifically and to tackling governance issues generally.

Our “new normal” should leave no one behind. 

Linda Kasonde is a lawyer and human rights activist heading Chapter One Foundation, a civil society organisation that promotes and protects human rights and the rule of law. She is also an Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellow.

South Africa: SAHRDN and ICJ call on authorities to end continued intimidation, harassment of residents of Happiness Village

The ICJ and the South African Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) have written to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, and the Chairperson of African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

They have detailed the continued intimidation and harassment of the residents of Happiness village by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

“We have written to the Special Rapporteurs because the SANDF is unrelenting in its abuse of the resident’s despite the best efforts of their legal representatives and repeated court orders,”

ICJ Legal Adviser in South Africa Tim Fish Hodgson.

“A community leader was placed under house arrest guarded by four soldiers for seven days. Another resident was subjected to a punishment by which was told to lie flat on the ground and ‘pray to his God’ for simply leaving his home. Others have been assaulted. The SANDF deliberately conducts military exercises near the residents’ homes late at night to scare and intimidate them. All this with utter disregard for the law and in direct violation of a number of court judgments and orders”,

added Tim Fish Hodgson.

The residents, who were forcibly and violently evicted from Marievale military base beginning in 2017, have repeatedly been granted court orders by the High Court declaring such evictions unlawful and directing the SANDF to refrain from harassing, threatening and intimidating the residents and not to restrict their movement.

Despite this, and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, further evictions and constant harassment and intimidation continues unabated and has intensified to a point that the residents describe the SANDF as having “laid siege” to their homes in Happiness Village which is adjacent to Marievale military base.

Soldiers now police checkpoints, preventing visitors from entering the area and even journalists have been prevented from entering Happiness Village. The residents’ legal representatives were only allowed to visit a single community representative under armed military guard.

As the letter reveals, the SANDF’s actions amount to violations of the residents’ right to adequate housing protection in terms of the South African Constitution, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The intimidation, harassment, humiliation and assault of the residents’ amount to violations of the residents’ rights to liberty and security of person and may also amount to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment in violation of the South African Constitution and international human rights law.

They seem to be geared at making the resident’s lives intolerable in order to secure evictions “through the backdoor”, which is explicitly prohibited in South African law.

The residents, represented by Lawyers for Human Rights, will once again be in urgent court on July 31 seeking an interdict to prevent further harassment, intimidation and restrictions on their movement by the SANDF. The legal representatives of the SANDF have indicated that they intend to oppose their application.

The SAHRDN and ICJ has therefore implored the Special Rapporteurs to:


1. Call on the SANDF, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans and on the Ekurhuleni Municipality to desist from any further evictions, relocation, intimidation, harassment, humiliation, and assault of the Marievale community residents;
2. Call on the SANDF, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans and the Ekurhuleni Municipality to immediately lift and ensure the non-recurrence of restrictions on the movement on Happiness Village residents;
3. Call on the President of South Africa, as the Commander in Chief of the SANDF, to take appropriate action to ensure that the human rights violations that the residents of Marievale have suffered at the hands of the SANDF on a continuous basis since 2017 be investigated, and that appropriate action be taken to ensure access to justice and effective remedies for the residents; and
4. Call on the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans to ensure the accountability of the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans for the human rights violations to which the SANDF has subjected the residents on a continuous basis since 2017.

Contact

Simphiwe Sidu (SAHRDN Legal Adviser) t: +2776 675 8168; e: ssidu@southernafricadefenders.africa

Extend the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea

05 May 2020

Excellencies,

At the 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council (24 June-12 July 2019), the Council extended a hand to the Eritrean Government. While renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the coun­try, it signalled its willingness to offer Eritrea a constructive way forward, in particular by shifting the resolution from agenda item 4 to item 2.

While welcoming the adoption of Council resolution 41/1, and in particular the renewal of the mandate, many non-governmental orga­ni­sations cautioned that any shifts in the Council’s ap­proach should reflect corresponding changes in the human rights situation on the ground.

Regrettably, one year later, we, the undersigned non-governmental orga­ni­sations, recall that the concerns expressed in a joint letter[1] published last year remain va­lid, for the reasons set out below. Ahead of the 44th session of the Coun­cil (currently scheduled to begin in June 2020[2]), we urge you to support the adop­­tion of a resolution extending the mandate of the Special Rappor­teur on the human rights si­tu­ation in Eritrea.

As Eritrea has entered the second year of its Council membership term, its domestic human rights situation remains dire. A free and independent press continues to be ab­sent from the country and 16 journalists remain in de­tention without trial, many since 2001.[3] Impunity for past and on­going human rights vio­la­tions is widespread. Violations continue unabated, including arbitrary arrests and in­com­mu­ni­cado de­ten­­tion,[4] vio­lations of the rights to a fair trial, access to justice and due process, enforced disappearances, lack of infor­ma­tion on the fate or whe­re­abouts of dis­appeared persons, violations of women’s and girls’ rights, and severe res­tric­tions on the enjoyment of the rights to free­dom of ex­pres­sion, peaceful assem­bly, asso­cia­tion, and religion or belief. Secondary school students, some still chil­dren, continue to be conscripted in their thousands each year into the country’s abusive na­tional ser­vi­ce system.[5] In­de­finite national service, involving torture, sexual vio­len­ce and forced labour continues; thousands re­main in open-ended conscription, sometimes for as long as ten years or more, despite the 2018 peace accord with Ethiopia.[6]

In reso­lu­tion 38/15 (6 July 2018), the Council invited the Special Rapporteur to “assess and report on the situation of human rights and the engagement and cooperation of the Gov­ern­ment of Eri­trea with the Human Rights Council and its me­ch­a­nisms, as well as with the Office of the High Com­missioner [OHCHR], and, where feasible, to develop bench­marks for progress in improving the situ­a­tion of hu­man rights and a time-bound plan of action for their imple­men­t­ation.” The Council should ensure ade­quate follow-up by allowing the Special Rapporteur to pursue her work and OHCHR to deepen its en­gagement with the Eritrean Government.

As a Council member, Eritrea has an obligation to “uphold the highest stan­d­ards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and to “fully cooperate with the Council.” However, during the Council’s 43rd session, in February 2020, both the Special Rapporteur, Ms. Da­nie­la Kravetz, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Michelle Bachelet, reported that no concrete evidence of pro­gress in Eritrea’s human rights situation, including against the bench­marks, could be reported.[7]

By streamlining its approach and adopting resolution 41/1 under its item 2, the Council of­fered a way forward for human rights reform in Eritrea. In March 2019, Eritrea took an initial step by meeting with the Special Rapporteur in Geneva. More recently, in February 2020, a human rights dialogue took place between the Government and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in a more constructive spirit than during Eritrea’s 2019 review by the Hu­man Rights Com­mit­tee. Unfortunately, despite the window of opportunity provided by Eritrea’s CEDAW review and the Eritrean Ambassador indicating, at the Council’s 43rd session, that his country was committed to confidence-building measures and technical cooperation, Eritrea refuses to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, and recently launched yet another unwarranted attack on her and her mandate.[8] The Government continues to reject findings of ongoing grave violations, as well as calls for re­form, and human rights-based recom­men­dations, including in relation to the Covid-19 crisis.[9]  

The Council should urge Eritrea to make progress towards meet­ing its membership obligations and to engage with the UN human rights system constructively. It should not reward non-cooperation by, but rather maintain scrutiny of, one of its members. We believe that a technical rollover of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, under the same item, would contribute to this aim.

At its upcoming 44th session, the Council should adopt a resolution: (a) Extending the mandate of the Spe­cial Rap­porteur for a further year; (b) Urging Eritrea to cooperate fully with the Spe­cial Rap­por­teur by granting her access to the country, in accordance with its obligations as a Council member; (c) Calling on Eritrea to develop an implementation plan to meet the progress benchmarks, in consultation with the Special Rapporteur and OHCHR; (d) Requesting OH­CHR to present an oral update on Eritrea at the Council’s 46th session; and (e) Requesting the Special Rappor­teur to present an oral update at the Council’s 46th session in an interactive dia­lo­gue, and to present a report on the implementation of the mandate at the Council’s 47th ses­sion and to the General Assembly at its 76th session.

We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information as needed.

Sincerely,

  1. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
  2. AfricanDefenders (the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
  3. Amnesty International
  4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  5. Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)
  6. CIVICUS
  7. Civil Rights Defenders
  8. Committee to Protect Journalists
  9. CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
  10. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  11. Eritrean Law Society (ELS)
  12. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR)
  13. Geneva for Human Rights / Genève pour les Droits de l’Homme
  14. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  15. Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)
  16. Human Rights Watch
  17. International Service for Human Rights
  18. Network of Eritrean Women (NEW)
  19. Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa / Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC)  
  20. One Day Seyoum
  21. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  22. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
  23. West African Human Rights Defenders Network / Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (ROADDH/WAHRDN)
  24. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT

[1] DefendDefenders et al., “Eritrea: the UN should ensure continued scrutiny of the human rights situation,” 11 June 2019, https://defenddefenders.org/eritrea-the-un-should-ensure-continued-scrutiny-of-the-human-rights-situation/ (accessed on 16 April 2020).

[2] The exact dates of the session are likely to be affected by the Covid-19 situation, which led the Council to suspend its 43rd session on 13 March 2020.

[3] Committee to Protect Journalists, “2019 prison census: 16 Journalists Imprisoned in Eritrea,”  https://cpj.org/data/reports.php?status=Imprisoned&cc_fips%5B%5D=ER&start_year=2019&end_year=2019&group_by=location (accessed on 30 April 2020). Eritrea remains at the top of the CPJ’s most-censored countries, as per a 2019 report, “10 Most Censored Countries,” available at: https://cpj.org/reports/2019/09/10-most-censored-eritrea-north-korea-turkmenistan-journalist.php (accessed on 30 April 2020). 

[4] Amnesty International, “Human rights in Africa, Review of 2019,” 8 April 2020, Index: AFR 01/1352/2020, available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr01/1352/2020/en/ (accessed on 16 April 2020), p. 39.

[5] Human Rights Watch, “‘They Are Making Us into Slaves Not Educating us.’ How Indefinite Conscription Restricts Young People’s Rights, Access to Education in Eritrea,” 8 August 2019, https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/08/08/they-are-making-us-slaves-not-educating-us/how-indefinite-conscription-restricts; Human Rights Watch, “Statement to the European Parliament’s Committee on Development on the Human Rights Situation in Eritrea,” 18 February 2020, available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/02/19/statement-european-parliaments-committee-development-human-rights-situation-eritrea (accessed on 24 April 2020).

[6] Amnesty International, “Human rights in Africa, Review of 2019,” op. cit., p. 38.

[7] Interactive dialogue with the SR on Human Rights in Eritrea – 9th Meeting, 43rd Regular Session, Human Rights Council (webcast archive), 26 February 2020, http://webtv.un.org/search/id-sr-on-human-rights-in-eritrea-9th-meeting-43rd-regular-session-human-rights-council/6136241213001/?term=kravetz&sort=date; Presentation of High Commissioner/Secretary-General country reports & Item 2 General Debate – 10th Meeting, 43rd Regular Session, Human Rights Council (webcast archive), 27 February 2020, http://webtv.un.org/search/hcsg-country-reports-item2-general-debate-10th-meeting-43rd-regular-session-human-rights-council-/6136487778001/?term=eritrea&sort=date&page=2#player (accessed on 9 April 2020).

[8] Permanent Mission of the State of Eritrea to the United Nations, Geneva, “Harassment of Eritrea is Unconscionable,” 6 April 2020, http://www.shabait.com/news/local-news/30430-press-release (accessed on 23 April 2020).

[9] Amnesty International, “Eritrea: Show humanity and release prisoners of conscience amid COVID-19,” 3 April 2020, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/04/eritrea-show-humanity-and-release-prisoners-of-conscience-amid-covid19/; Human Rights Watch, “With COVID-19 Threat, Eritrea Should Release Political Detainees,” 2 April 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/02/covid-19-threat-eritrea-should-release-political-detainees# (accessed on 24 April 2020).