Memorandum for the African Union-European Union Dialogue on Human Rights

November 20, 2013
On 19 November Human Rights Watch published a lengthy Memorandum on priorities it wants the African Union & the European Union to address in their upcoming Dialogue on Human Rights. In view of its length I give only


the headings and a reference to the full document, except of course for the section specifically dealing with Human Rights Defenders.
Introduction The African Union-European Union Dialogue on Human Rights provides an important opportunity to highlight crucial human rights developments in both Africa and Europe. Progress is being made on a range of human rights issues in an array of countries, but daunting challenges remain. Human Rights Watch is concerned by some of the negative trends, particularly in Africa regarding the respect for human rights defenders and violations of the rights to freedom of association, expression, and peaceful assembly, and in the EU in relation to the rights of migrant and asylum seekers, and discrimination and intolerance towards migrants and minorities. This memorandum summarizes key thematic concerns, provides links to specific country information where relevant, and urges African and European member states to implement recommendations that would help address ongoing human rights violations that threaten the lives and well-being of citizens across the continent, as well as the sustainable development of numerous countries.

Threats to Freedom of Expression, Association and Peaceful Assembly in Africa
Human rights defenders—whether individuals, groups, lawyers, or journalists—are fundamental to ensuring the ability of all people to know, understand, and enjoy their rights. They also play a key role in exposing as well as assisting those seeking redress for human rights violations. A vibrant civil society and independent media is also critical for the conduct of free and fair elections in line with international standards. Furthermore, recent events in North Africa and the Arab world demonstrate how public access to communications and Internet technology and the increasing use of social media have amplified both the appetite for information as well as the ability of individuals from all segments of society to organize and respond to developments that affect their lives and interests.

Yet these exciting trends have also provoked a backlash in a number of countries, particularly those governed by longstanding, often authoritarian leaders and ruling parties who fear and suppress independent criticism, political opposition, and peaceful public dissent. As briefly described below, the backlash has assumed a number of forms including: threats, harassment, arbitrary detention, and prosecution of human rights defenders; censorship of independent media and nongovernmental voices; the promulgation and use of laws that violate fundamental rights to freedom of expression and association; and unlawful state efforts to undermine, bar or crack down on peaceful protests.

  Harassment and Prosecution of Human Rights Defenders
Harassment, threats, arbitrary detentions, and politically motivated prosecutions of human rights defenders, including journalists, human rights activists, anti-corruption campaigners, and others, have become an alarming, regular feature of too many countries in Africa.

Eritrea presents an extreme case where no independent civil society or media is permitted to operate, but other countries have shown an increasingly repressive tendency or created a hostile environment in which activists and media self-censor due to fear of heavy-handed repercussions.

In countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola, journalists and human rights defenders have been the target of threats and physical attacks from state agents. In others, such as in Kenya and Somalia, unidentified assailants who may or may not be affiliated with the state are responsible for numerous acts of violence, including killings. In other countries, such as Ethiopia, Sudan, and South Sudan, abuses usually take the form of harassment, arbitrary detentions, and prosecutions.

Many countries have used a combination of direct threats and oppressive laws and state policies to undermine human rights defenders. Rwanda’s domestic human rights movement has been almost destroyed by state intimidation, personal threats, infiltration, and administrative obstacles. In Burundi the government has often responded to the work of human rights activists and journalists by labelling them mouthpieces of the opposition. Ethiopia’s independent human rights groups have been forced to either stop working on human rights issues or dramatically curtail their activities due to increasingly repressive laws on association and restrictions on foreign funding. Equatorial Guinea also imposes excessive restrictions on the registration and operation of nongovernmental groups, and has no legally registered independent human rights groups.Sudan has shut down human rights and democracy organizations without cause, imposed burdensome registration requirements, and has used its repressive national security apparatus to monitor civil society groups and target individual activists for arrest and detention.

Harassment and arrests of human rights defenders by state security forces frequently increases in the lead-up or aftermath of national elections, as occurred in Zimbabwe in 2013. In Uganda, threats to civil society activists and the media have been linked to reporting on sensitive issues like corruption, oil, land or President Yoweri Museveni’s eventual succession. The Ugandan government’s raidson the Daily Monitor, a leading newspaper, and other media in May 2013 was a clear example of the severity of politically motivated attacks against the media. Uganda’s ruling party uses a wide range of tactics to stifle critical reporting, from occasional physical violence to threats, harassment, bureaucratic interference, and trumped-up criminal charges against journalists. This was particularly apparent during political unrest in September 2009 and prior to the February 2011 elections.

In certain countries, such as Cameroon and Uganda, activists working on the rights of vulnerable minorities—such as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI)—have had workshops shut down and faced particular threats. In Zambia a HIV/AIDS activist is currently on trial simply for suggesting in a TV interview that decriminalizing same-sex conduct would help facilitate HIV outreach to sexual minorities. In Nigeria and Uganda bills are being considered that would criminalize public support for LGBTI rights.
Human Rights Watch urges AU and EU representatives participating in the human rights dialogue to call for and support:

Thorough investigations of any cases of harassment, threats, or violence against human rights defenders and other civil society activists, and violations of their rights to free expression, association and assembly. Those responsible for such abuses should be held accountable, regardless of position or rank.

  •   Abusive Laws Regulating the Media and Civil Society
  •   Crackdowns on Peaceful Protests

Africa and International Justice

The Rights of Asylum Seekers and Migrants in the EU

  Deaths at Sea

  Access to Asylum

Discrimination and Intolerance in the EU

Human Rights Enforcement in the EU

Children and Armed Conflict

Women’s Human Rights

  Child Marriage

  Domestic Workers’ Rights

  Gender-Based Violence during Armed Conflict

Rights of Persons with Disabilities


Memorandum on Priorities for the African Union-European Union Dialogue on Human Rights | Human Rights Watch.


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