Human Rights in Africa: A General Overview

By: Macy Janine Pamaranglas – Art in Tanzania Intern

Introduction

The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights came into force on the 21st of October, 1986. It established a solid foundation and standards to promote and protect Africans’ human rights.

According to Article 2 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, “Every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, color, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or any status.”

African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (source)

Despite the efforts to improve the lives of the African people, the continent still suffers from increasing human rights violations. These human rights abuses include violating socio-economic and cultural rights, illicit killings, discrimination and harassment, suppression of dissent, environmental deterioration etc. Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 pandemic, Africa’s human rights situation worsened; thus, many people were obliged to halt their education and even forcibly lose their homes.

Here are some of the numerous human rights violations which have been occurring across the region:

Restriction of Expression:

Tiseke Kasambala, Chief of Party of Advancing Rights in Southern Africa Program at Freedom House, says that some African countries have been introducing cybercrime and cybersecurity laws; these aim “to prevent the type of organizing and mobilization of social movements, and civil society organizations on the ground”. Kasambala adds that it is not merely shutting down the internet, but it also involves preventing people from discussing and criticizing the State in the online space. Such shutdowns can be observed in southern African nations such as Lesotho. These cybercrime and cybersecurity laws were also under discussion in Malawi and Zimbabwe.

TechCabal (source)

In addition, internet disruptions occurred in countries like Eswatini, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda, and Zambia. As a matter of fact, on June 2021, the Nigerian government suspended Twitter after the latter “deleted a controversial tweet from President Buhari for violating its community rule”. On September 2021, the Tanzanian Ministry of Information, Culture, Arts and Sports suspended the operations of a privately owned media outlet called Raia Mwema, for a month. The Tanzanian government justified such action since Raia Mwema was constantly “publishing false information and deliberate incitement”.

Gender-Based Violence and Discrimination

Females still struggle to fulfil their rights as Africa remains subordinate to women and girls. Hence, issues such as child marriage, restricted access to sexual and reproductive health services, and discrimination against pregnant students are prominent in the region.

In South Africa, there was a significant increase in crime rates related to sexual offences, and there were at least “117 cases of femicide in the first half of the year”. For instance, a 23-year old female law student named Nosicelo Mtebeni, was killed, mutilated, and placed in a suitcase and in plastic bags by her partner. In Chad, a 15-year old girl was gang raped, and the cruel act was recorded and posted on social media.

The Conversation (source)

Furthermore, child marriage remains rampant in Africa. For example, a 4-year-old Namibian child was forced to marry a 25-year-old man when she was 2 years old. In Tanzania, pregnant girls were banned from attending school, and these girls were forced by the government to participate in a “parallel accelerated education program”, which is known to be an “alternative education pathway”. The problem with the latter is its inaccessibility in terms of distance and cost. Fortunately, the Tanzanian Ministry of Education officially declared on November 24, 2021, that adolescent mothers are now allowed to attend public schools.  

Abductions, Torture, and Evictions

The lives of human rights activists are prone to abduction, torture, and eviction in Africa. In the case of Zimbabwe, the government fails to hold security forces accountable for their serious human rights abuses, particularly during the “August 2018 post-election violence” and the “killings and molestations during the January 2019 protests”. In Rwanda, a YouTuber named, Yvonne Idamange, was sentenced a 15-year imprisonment as he condemned the State’s policies.

The New York Times (source)

Jon Temin, Director of the Africa Program at Freedom House, mentions their organization’s research on NGO legislation in Africa. Their studies have shown that over the last 15 years, 12 Sub-Saharan African nations “have adopted various versions of repressive NGO legislation”, and such legislation aims to limit NGOs’ ability to register and receive funding. For instance, in Togo, granting and renewing NGO licenses are suspended.

Violation of Refugee Rights

Refugees carry a great burden since not only are they forced to flee their lands, but they are also victims of threats, harassment, and arrests. Tanzania is one of the most important hosting countries for refugees. As of January 1, 2022, it has 246, 780 refugees who are originally from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to Human Rights Watch, Burundian refugees were being maltreated by Tanzanian security forces. Moreover, the latter forcibly returned Mozambican refugees to their conflict-ridden northern part of the country. Therefore, the UNHCR raised this concern by stating that Tanzania violated “the principle of non-refoulement under international standards and regional refugee law.”

The United Nations (source)

In South Africa, refugees were being discriminated particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Refugees were not provided with COVID-19 aid programs such as food packages during lockdowns.

Conclusion

Despite Africa’s commitment to promote and protect human rights, there still remain flaws in the government’s response. States should respect media freedom and freedom of expression, for they are human rights. Governments should allow human rights activists to speak for their fellow citizens since criticism is the start of positive change.

African governments must prioritize the well-being of women and children. Females should have equal rights to men regarding education, health, jobs etc. Additionally, victims of malicious gender-based crimes should be protected and given remedies to recover. Whereas perpetrators of the crime should be held responsible for their abusive actions.

Lastly, refugees should not be mistreated; instead, they have the right to be protected and taken care of, considering the unfortunate evacuations they need to execute.

In short, according to Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, “Human beings are inviolable. Every human being shall be entitled to respect for his life and the integrity of his person. No one may be arbitrarily deprived of this right.”

Sources

Africa Regional Overview Archives. Amnesty International. (n.d.). Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/africa/report-africa/

African Commission on human and peoples’ rights. African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Legalinstruments. (1981, June 27). Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://www.achpr.org/legalinstruments/detail?id=49

Brookings Institution. (2019, November 21). The state of human rights in Africa. YouTube. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1eA5KJRmKH8

Operational Data Portal. Country – Tanzania (United Republic of). (n.d.). Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://data.unhcr.org/en/country/tza

World Report 2022: Rights trends in Tanzania. Human Rights Watch. (2022, January 17). Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2022/country-chapters/tanzania-and-zanzibar#:~:text=In%202021%2C%20Human%20Rights%20Watch,province%20during%202020%20and%202021

Zenda, C. (n.d.). Human rights violations soar across Africa, report finds. FairPlanet. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://www.fairplanet.org/story/human-rights-violations-soar-across-africa-report-finds/

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