Monday, November 22, 2010

Amnesty International: Raising human rights concerns to African Commission

Amnesty International welcomes this opportunity to address the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the state of the situation of human rights in Africa.

The chairperson,
African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
48th Ordinary Session
Banjul Gambia

Item 4: Oral statement by Amnesty International
Human rights situation in Africa

Chairperson, honourable commissioners,

Amnesty International welcomes this opportunity to address the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission) on the state of the situation of human rights in Africa.

On the death penalty, Amnesty International is concerned with the increase of death sentences passed since the beginning of the year in West Africa. In total, at least 64 death sentences were handed down in eight countries, including in countries were capital sentences were rare. Amnesty International has recorded, for example, 11 death sentences in Liberia, 13 in Gambia and 16 in Mauritania since the beginning of 2010. Retentionist countries have obligations to ensure that the death penalty is imposed only for the most serious crimes, to respect prohibitions under international law regarding its use and to fully respect all safeguards guaranteeing the protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty.

In Equatorial Guinea, former military officers Jose Abeso Nsue, Manuel Ndong Anseme, border guard Jacinto Micha Obiang and Alipio Ndong Asumu, a civilian, were executed on 21 August 2010 within an hour of being sentenced to death by a military court. They had been convicted of an attack against the head of state and government, treason and terrorism, in relation to an alleged attack on the presidential palace in February 2009. In prison they were held incommunicado and tortured and their trial did not meet international standards of fairness. The speed of their execution deprived them of their right to appeal to a higher court and of their right to seek clemency, in accordance with international law and the country's own law.

Amnesty International is also concerned that several states in Nigeria announced in April their intention to execute death row inmates to ease overcrowding. In Gambia, the scope of the death penalty was extended to drug-related crimes. Amnesty International welcomes the steps taken by the governments of Benin and Mali to abolish the death penalty but is concerned that the draft bill for abolition adopted by the Malian government in 2007 has not yet been examined by Parliament three years later.

Amnesty International accordingly calls on the African Commission to:

- Urge African Union member states which still use the death penalty to establish an immediate moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolishing the death penalty

- Urge African Union member states that are yet to do so to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and/or its Second Optional Protocol aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.

In Somalia, Amnesty International is concerned at the widespread violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, including war crimes, and the dire humanitarian situation that civilians face in southern and central Somalia. Civilians are at high risk of being killed and injured in indiscriminate attacks by all parties to the internal armed conflict, and as a result of a situation of generalised violence and collapse of the rule of law. In addition, certain categories of persons also face targeted attacks, including unlawful killings, torture and other ill treatment, abductions, death threats and harassment. In areas where there is currently no fighting, civilians bear the brunt of arbitrary and repressive rules, violating their human rights, enforced by armed Islamist groups. Conflict and associated human rights abuses continue to cause massive displacement in Somalia. According to UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), over 200,000 civilians were estimated to have fled their homes in Somalia between January and early September 2010, some 1.4 million are currently displaced within the country and 68,000 have been registered as newly arrived refugees in neighbouring countries in 2010. Given the difficulties of access to southern and central Somalia by independent observers, Amnesty International relies on information provided by local sources to document the situation, as well as accounts from Somali refugees who flee Somalia. Amnesty International interviewed hundreds of Somali refugees who had recently fled their country in March and June 2010 in Kenya.

Amnesty International accordingly calls on the African Commission to:

- Demand that grave abuses committed against civilians by all parties to the conflict are investigated and mapped by an independent and impartial Commission of Inquiry, or similar mechanism, which could also recommend the way forward to for accountability in Somalia

- Call for the setting-up an independent mechanism to investigate all allegations of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by personnel of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), including allegations of indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks, such as mortar firing or shelling in densely populated areas in Mogadishu

- Call on all AU member states to ensure that all Somalis fleeing conflict and persecution in southern and central Somalia are able to access refuge and protection on their soil and not to send back any Somali to south central Somalia, in line with the OAU refugee convention and the Eligibility Guidelines for Assessing the International Protection Needs of Asylum-Seekers from Somalia, updated by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in May 2010.

- Call on AU member states to find ways to provide durable solutions for Somali civil society activists, including easily accessible asylum procedures, resettlement and support to continue their work in light of the peculiar risk that this group of Somalis face.

Amnesty International would like to express its concerns over the situation of human rights in Sudan in the lead-up to the referendum on self-determination of south Sudan, scheduled to take place on 9 January 2011.

Restrictions on freedom of expression, including censorship and the arrests of journalists have significantly increased in the north of Sudan over the past two weeks, with the arrest and incommunicado detention of at least 11 activists and journalists by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). Newspapers continue to be closed down.

Amnesty International is particularly concerned over the powers granted to law enforcement agencies, such as the NISS, which continue to commit human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Upholding the right to freedom of expression remains vital during the referendum and in any future transition Sudan faces.

Amnesty International asks the African Commission to:

- Request the Sudanese authorities to immediately stop the arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and other ill treatment, particularly by the NISS, and to ensure that those responsible for human rights violations are held accountable in the lead-up to, during and following the referendum

- Urge the Government of Unity and the Government of Southern Sudan to remove all restrictions on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly and to allow journalists and activists to peacefully continue their work and express their opinions.

Amnesty International would also like to express its profound concern at the recent decision of the African Commission to deny observer status to the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), a non-governmental human rights organization (NGO) whose member groups come from 11 countries on the continent. The African Commission denied the coalition's application without explanation in an unprecedented summary decision dated 20 May 2010 and sent to CAL on 25 October 2010.

The African Commission's resolution on observer status notes ‘the need to strengthen [the Commission's] co-operation and partnership with NGOs working the field of human rights’ and recalls a resolution that notes ‘the contribution made by African NGOs to the promotion and protection of human rights in Africa’. Consistent with these values, the African Commission should seek the participation of the broadest possible range of African human rights organisations.

The African Commission's decisions should also uphold the principles of fairness and transparency. If the African Commission applies criteria to applications for observer status that are additional to those set out in its resolution, it should make those additional criteria public. Where the African Commission believes that the applicant does not fulfil the established criteria for observer status, it should notify the organisation that it intends to deny observer status, provide reasons for its intent to do so and afford the organisation in question an opportunity to respond to the concerns it has identified.

News Headline

Inside Liberia with Bernard Gbayee Goah

Everyone is a genius

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – A Einstein

Drawing the line in Liberia

Crimes sponsored, committed, or masterminded by handful of individuals cannot be blamed upon an entire nationality. In this case, Liberians! The need for post-war justice is a step toward lasting peace, stability and prosperity for Liberia. Liberia needs a war crimes tribunal or some credible legal forum that is capable of dealing with atrocities perpetrated against defenseless men, women and children during the country's brutal war. Without justice, peace shall remain elusive and investment in Liberia will not produce the intended results. - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Men with unhealthy characters should not champion any noble cause

They pretend to advocate the cause of the people when their deeds in the dark mirror nothing else but EVIL!!
When evil and corrupt men try to champion a cause that is so noble … such cause, how noble it may be, becomes meaningless in the eyes of the people - Bernard Gbayee Goah.

If Liberia must move forward ...

If Liberia must move forward in order to claim its place as a civilized nation amongst world community of nations, come 2017 elections, Liberians must critically review the events of the past with honesty and objectivity. They must make a new commitment to seek lasting solutions. The track records of those who are presenting themselves as candidates for the position of "President of the Republic of Liberia" must be well examined. Liberians must be fair to themselves because results from the 2011 elections will determine the future of Liberia’s unborn generations to come - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's greatest problem!

While it is true that an individual may be held responsible for corruption and mismanagement of funds in government, the lack of proper system to work with may as well impede the process of ethical, managerial, and financial accountability - Bernard Gbayee Goah

What do I think should be done?

The situation in Liberia is Compound Complex and cannot be fixed unless the entire system of government is reinvented.
Liberia needs a workable but uncompromising system that will make the country an asylum free from abuse, and other forms of corruption.
Any attempt to institute the system mentioned above in the absence of rule of law is meaningless, and more detrimental to Liberia as a whole - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's Natural Resources
Besides land water and few other resources, most of Liberia’s dependable natural resources are not infinite, they are finite and therefore can be depleted.
Liberia’s gold, diamond, and other natural resources will not always be an available source of revenue generation for its people and its government. The need to invent a system in government that focuses on an alternative income generation method cannot be over emphasized at this point - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia needs a proper system
If Liberians refuse to erect a proper system in place that promotes the minimization of corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government institutions, and individuals, there will come a time when the value of the entire country will be seen as a large valueless land suited on the west coast of Africa with some polluted bodies of waters and nothing else. To have no system in place in any country is to have no respect for rule of law. To have no respect for rule of law is to believe in lawlessness. And where there is lawlessness, there is always corruption - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Solving problems in the absence of war talks

As political instability continues to increase in Africa, it has become abundantly clear that military intervention as a primary remedy to peace is not a durable solution. Such intervention only increases insecurity and massive economic hardship. An existing example which could be a valuable lesson for Liberia is Great Britain, and the US war on terror for the purpose of global security. The use of arms whether in peace keeping, occupation, or invasion as a primary means of solving problem has yield only little results. Military intervention by any country as the only solution to problem solving will result into massive military spending, economic hardship, more fear, and animosity as well as increase insecurity. The alternative is learning how to solve problems in the absence of war talks. The objective of such alternative must be to provide real sustainable human security which cannot be achieved through military arm intervention, or aggression. In order to achieve results that will make the peaceful coexistence of all mankind possible, there must be a common ground for the stories of all sides to be heard. I believe there are always three sides to every story: Their side of the story, Our side of the story, and The truthBernard Gbayee Goah


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