By Kevin J Kelley
Governments of East African countries continued last year to deny many basic freedoms to their citizens, Human Rights Watch said in its 2016 world report published on Wednesday.
The New York-based monitoring group offers a gloomy appraisal of human rights conditions throughout the region, with the exception of Tanzania, which is not among the 90 nations included in the global survey.
The “shocking low point” in East Africa last year was reached in Burundi, HRW finds. A government crackdown on free expression as part of “a political and human rights crisis” involved the closure of Burundi’s four most popular private radio stations and a suspension of the activities and bank accounts of 10 independent organisations, the report notes.
“But key regional powers, like Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya, also failed to make progress on core human rights issues, including torture and killings by their security forces,” said HRW Africa director Daniel Bekele.
The report also points to acute violations on the part of Al-Shabaab. HRW says the Somalia-based militants killed at least 226 unarmed people in Kenya between November 2014 and July of last year.
Al-Shabaab is further cited for its “indiscriminate attacks” in Somalia.
In addition, the country’s government “hasn’t been able to provide basic security for the civilian population in areas under its control,” the NGO states.
Killings and disappearances
The Kenyan government’s “longstanding pattern” of failing to respond to allegations of killings and enforced disappearances on the part of security forces “worsened in the wake of the April attack against students at Garissa University College which killed 148 people,” HRW adds.
The reported deterioration in respect for human rights in Kenya in 2015 is part of what HRW highlights as a global trend in which governments react to the reality or fear of terrorist violence by violating the rights of peaceful dissenters.
Intimidation and threats against journalists and activists increased in Uganda in the run-up to elections scheduled for next month, the report observes.
Rwanda is said to have maintained “tight control on dissenting views” in a year that saw President Kagame move to extend his 16-year-long grip on power.
Widespread violence in South Sudan was accompanied by abuse of fundamental rights of thousands of citizens, HRW notes.
Ethiopia’s May elections were peaceful, “but utterly non-competitive due to years of repression,” the report says. The ruling party swept all 547 seats in Parliament.
More recently, “scores were killed and injured” when Ethiopian authorities responded violently to protests in the Oromia region over threats of forced displacement from farmland, HRW says.