2021 saw greater instability and abuses in Africa; AU inaction – Amnesty International


Human rights abuses in the conflicts in Africa continued unabated in 2021 partly because of the inaction of the African Union Peace and Security Council, Amnesty International maintains, stating that its failure to act on atrocities was most evident in conflicts in Ethiopia and Mozambique.

Despite harrowing accounts of human rights violations that continuously emerged from the conflicts in the two countries, the Peace and Security Council remained disturbingly silent, Amnesty said in a news release accompanying its latest annual report for 2021/22 entitled ‘The State of the World’s Human Rights’.

New and unresolved conflicts erupted or persisted in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Central African Republic, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Mozambique, with warring parties violating international human rights and humanitarian law. In their wake, civilians were made collateral damage, millions were displaced, thousands killed, hundreds subjected to sexual violence, and already fragile healthcare and economic systems were brought to the brink, Amnesty International said.

In the conflict in northern Ethiopia, the Ethiopian government forces alongside the Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF), and the Amhara police and militia continued to fight against the Tigrayan forces in a conflict that started in November 2020, affecting millions. During the conflict, members of the EDF, as well as Ethiopian security forces and militia, committed serious human rights violations, including sexual violence against women, unlawful killings, and forced displacement. Tigrayan forces also were responsible for serious violations, including unlawful killings, rape and other sexual violence constituting crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Humanitarian aid was denied to millions of people in Tigray, resulting in many facing life-threatening conditions. Detainees in West Tigray were subjected to torture, extrajudicial execution, starvation, and denial of medical care, Amnesty said.

In Mozambique, civilians continued to be caught between three armed forces in the conflict in Cabo Delgado, in which more than 3 000 people have died since the conflict began in October 2017. Nearly 1 million people (primarily women, children and older people) were internally displaced as a result of the war.

In the Central African Republic, unlawful attacks, including killings and other violations and abuses of international humanitarian and human rights law, some of which amount to war crimes, were committed by all parties to the conflict. According to the UN, members of the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) attacked and looted health centres in Mbomou prefecture in January.

In Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, hundreds of civilians were killed by various armed groups.

Governments hiding behind security and Covid-19 to stifle dissent

Global trends to stifle independent and critical voices gathered steam in 2021 across Sub-Saharan Africa as governments deployed a widening gamut of tools and tactics, Amnesty International said. Measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 provided additional pretext for the repression of peaceful dissent across the region, with the first instinct of many governments to ban peaceful protests, citing health and safety concerns, including in Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Lesotho and Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile, in countries like Eswatini and South Sudan, organizers were arrested, and the internet disrupted to derail planned protests. Security forces used excessive force to break up peaceful protests of hundreds or thousands of people who defied bans. In over 12 countries, including Angola, Benin, Senegal, Chad, Eswatini, Guinea, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Sudan, many people died when security forces fired live ammunition. In Eswatini, the violent dispersal of pro-democracy protests resulted in 80 deaths and more than 200 injuries over five months. In Sudan, at least 53 people died when security forces used live ammunition to disperse protests against the October military coup.

In Chad, at least 700 people protesting against the electoral process and later against the establishment of the transitional government were arrested. In DRC, three activists arrested in North Kivu for organizing a peaceful sit-in to protest mismanagement in a local healthcare administration remained in detention. In Eswatini, at least 1,000 pro-democracy protesters, including 38 children, were arbitrarily arrested.

Nevertheless, 2021 was not all doom and gloom, Amnesty said, as some key human rights wins were recorded across Sub-Saharan Africa after persistent campaigning for freedoms.

Following months of relentless pro-democracy protests by the people of Eswatini, King Mswati conceded to calls for dialogue to negotiate the future of the country with pro-democracy protesters. This offers new hope for a country where political reforms were not up for negotiations with the monarch.

In Sudan, people’s power was in full display when civilians took to the streets in October to reject a military takeover of power by soldiers and reversals of human rights gains during the transitional period.

In Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea, dozens of members or sympathizers of opposition parties as well as members of civil society organizations who were arbitrary arrested for having simply exercised their freedoms of expression or peaceful assembly were released.