African News

AU called to order

As state parties assemble in Addis
The African Union (AU) has again come under pressure to act and improve human right situations on the continent. Ahead of its forthcoming heads of states summit, the continental body has been sent a letter by Human Right Watch, urging it to assume its responsibility and protect its citizens from growing human rights violations perpetuated by its member states. This, according to the watchdog, is fundamental to ensuring an end to ongoing crises on the continent. The AU Summit to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, will last from January 25 to February 4, 2010. Ironically, the host country, Ethiopia, the seat of the pan-African body, happens to be at the top of the list of countries that display total disregard for fundamentals of human rights, with indiscriminate arrest and detention of political opponents by the authorities. “African heads of state declared 2010 the ‘Year of Peace and Security in Africa’ for compelling reasons,” Mr Aloys Habimana, deputy Africa Director of Human Rights Watch, said in the letter addressed to the heads of states. “Now they need to act by coming up with long-term solutions for armed conflicts and stronger measures to protect civilians and ensure justice for victims of atrocities.” The watchdog singled out Sudan and Somalia, where lawlessness has been the order of the day, and called on the continent’s leaders to pursue a line of action that will seek accountability for victims of serious human rights violations throughout the continent, with the ultimate goal of protecting civilians from further abuse. The letter drew attention to the ‘‘volatile’’ situation in Sudan in the run up to general elections scheduled for April later this year. It specifically accused Khartoum of inducing a climate of fear and oppression as a way of influencing the result of the elections, rendering it far from being ‘‘free, fair, or transparent, as required by the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.’’ Human Rights Watch said that indicted war criminal, Sudanese leader, Omar al-Bashir, should have been at The Hague defending himself in the face of accusation by the International Criminal Court, instead of running for re-election. ‘‘Mogadishu remains a war zone, with an ever-worsening humanitarian crisis throughout the country,’’ the watchdog said, denouncing the highly feared Somali islamist group, Al Shabaab, for its utter disregard for the rights of women. It called for a commission of inquiry to redress the situation in the war-torn country. “The AU has a tremendous opportunity to further the cause of justice on the African continent,” Habimana said. “Only by taking steps to ensure accountability for human rights violations can African states contribute effectively to justice, lasting peace, and long-term stability.”

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