US criticises human rights record in East Africa
The US government has criticised countries in the East African region for their continued human rights violations and political oppression in its annual report on human rights practices around the world.
The US state department’s 2012 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices accuses Ethiopia of continuing to severely suppress freedoms of expression, assembly and association, as well as interfering in religion.
The report further accused authorities in Ethiopia – a key US ally in the war on terror – of using 2009’s controversial anti-terrorism proclamation as a pretext to punish critical journalists, activists and political opponents.
It also highlighted a widespread “villagization” program being carried out in different regions that is forcing tens of thousands of indigenous people off their ancestral lands.
Arbitrary killings, torture, harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, mistreatment and brutality by prison guards were also among other human rights problems highlighted.
The report alleges that Ethiopian authorities have failed to hold government and security officials accountable for human rights abuses and other crimes committed against civilians.
There are an estimated 400 political prisoners in Ethiopia. The US department said the exact figures are not known because Addis Ababa refused international human rights organisations access to the country’s prison facilities.
With regard to the reclusive nation of Eritrea, the report revealed growing practices of unlawful killings by security forces, torture, harsh prison conditions and incommunicado detention, which according to the department sometimes results in death.
The report found that authorities there arrest persons suspected of loyalty to Ethiopia and imprison them under the charge of treason which carries a possible death penalty sentence.
The government also continues to force citizens to serve for an indefinite period in the country’s national military service program.
According to the report, nationals arriving in Asmara are sometimes detained for lengthy period often without charge, with those identifiably of Eritrean descent or holding dual citizenship particularly targeted.
The report found the government continues to severely restrict civil liberties, including the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association and religion.
Other abuses included politically motivated disappearances; arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as torture and beatings against army deserters or persons attempting to flee the country
Travel restrictions for non-citizens also remain in effect, with the government requiring citizens to notify local authorities prior to relocation.
The report further claimed that Eritrean authorities censored or cancelled films and other cultural activities organised by foreign embassies, and in some instances questioned their employees.
“The government sometimes denied passports or exit visas to students and faculty who wanted to study or do research abroad”, the report states.
The secretive Red Sea nation also restricts basic rights of freedom of expression and continues to ban private broadcast media.
In war-torn Somalia the report revealed the presence of continued and severe human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings and assassinations of journalists.
Discrimination and violence against women and girls, including rape and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) remains a major concern.
Other significant human rights abuses included harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary and politically motivated arrest and detention; human trafficking; forced and child labour, as well as the conscription and use of child soldiers.
The report found there has been little progress made towards prosecuting and punishing officials responsible for abuses, particularly military and police officials, adding that in general impunity remained the norm.
The killing of many government officials and clan elders by unknown assailants was another concern mentioned in the report.