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In 2012, human rights defenders in Africa continued to face serious challenges to their security. Throughout the year, Front Line Defenders received reports of killings, death threats, physical attacks, abductions, arbitrary detention, judicial or other forms of harassment and police intimidation. Many governments increased repression against human rights defenders by introducing or maintaining legislation that substantially restricted their work. In countries affected by armed conflict, non-state actors also targeted human rights defenders.
The year was marked by the killing of two LGBTI rights defenders. In South Africa, Thapelo Makhutle was brutally killed on 9 June 2012. He was a member and volunteer of LEGBO, an advocacy group based in Northern Cape which provides support and training to rural LGBTI communities that face stigmatisation and harassment. No arrests have been made to date in connection with the killing. In Tanzania, the body of Maurice Mjomba, who worked with the Centre for Human Rights Promotion (CHRP), was found on 30 July in Dar es Salaam. The body showed signs of beating and strangulation.
18 journalists were murdered in Somalia, in most cases for their reporting of human rights abuses. Numerous physical attacks were reported in Burundi, Chad, DRC, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan. In the DRC, human rights defenders based in the conflict-torn Eastern region were the most vulnerable. In particular, women human rights defenders were physically assaulted, and some of them raped, while working in remote villages. The situation worsened even further with the advancement of the rebel movement M23 who captured the city of Goma in December. Meanwhile in Northern Mali, controlled by Islamic Jihadists intent on imposing sharia law and a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, human rights defenders were forced to practice self-censorship to avoid reprisal attacks.
HRDs focused on fighting corruption continued to face the threat of violent assault or prosecution. Cases were reported in Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, and South Sudan. In early July in South Sudan, an anti-corruption HRD was abandoned by unidentified kidnappers after being subjected to a three-day ordeal that included beatings and food deprivation. In Kenya, in November, an anti-corruption activist was assaulted and injured by two unidentified men. Before hitting him, one of the assailants demanded he drop a pending lawsuit alleging corruption in the procurement of election-related material.
Peaceful demonstrations were disrupted, often with violence, and human rights defenders involved in the protests were arrested in Cameroon, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. In Swaziland, in April, police forcibly disrupted events organized by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) and other civil society groups to commemorate the 1973 ban on political parties as they called for democratic reforms; fifteen trade union members were arrested. Ahead of the protests, the Swazi Government issued a notice of de-registration of TUCOSWA.
In Zimbabwe, women human rights defenders from Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) were arrested and detained for participating in demonstrations in January, June, July, September, October and November.
There were numerous instances of judicial harassment in Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritania, Sudan, The Gambia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. In Mauritania, prominent anti- slavery HRD Biram Dah Ould Abeid was detained for more than four months with six colleagues over allegations of “threatening state security” in connection with a protest against texts of Islamic scholars used to endorse slavery.
In Kenya, HRD and community organiser Phylis Omido was charged with incitement to violence and unlawful assembly after staging a peaceful demonstration against a local lead-processing plant reportedly responsible for lead-poisoning in the Mombasa area. She was eventually acquitted in November.
Human rights defenders throughout the region had their work undermined by acts of police interference and intimidation, including in DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. In Uganda, police in Fort Portal intensified their harassment against members of Twerwaneho Listeners Club (TLC) through a series of repeated summons to appear before the prosecutor, who warned them of possible criminal charges of incitement to violence and sectarianism in reaction to TLC’s advocacy work on illegal evictions. In the Northern region of Gulu, police raided a drop-in centre run by a women’s rights group in May without a search warrant. They confiscated computers, documents and other office materials and entered personal email accounts. Five members of the organisation, which also works on sex work, were subsequently charged with living on the earnings of prostitution.
In Zimbabwe, police launched a manhunt against members of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) and raided the organisation’s offices in August, claiming to be searching for illegal and offensive material, and arrested 44 members who were in a meeting at the time of the raid.
The space for independent civil society remained limited in Sudan, where HRDs were arbitrarily arrested and subjected to intimidation, ill-treatment and torture, in particular at the hands of the National Intelligence and Security Service. Civil society organisations were publicly accused of working for foreign interests and three organisations were closed down in December. The space for independent civil society is non-existent in Eritrea, where dozens of journalists and other dissenting voices remained in long-term imprisonment without charge. In August, reports emerged that three of the ten journalists arrested in a 2001 crackdown died in prison.
No significant progress was realised in the fight against impunity in relation to the killings of HRDs that occurred in recent years. Although the cases of those suspected of involvement in the killing of Floribert Chebeya (Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 2010 and of Ernest Manirumva (Burundi) in 2009 were both heard on appeal, there was no hope that the proceedings would in the end deliver justice; calls to investigate senior figures within both countries’ security services, who may have been involved in the killings, continued to be ignored.
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25 June 2007
- BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights (Nigeria)
- Campaign for Good Governance (Sierra Leone)
- The Botswana Centre for Human Rights
- Heritiers de la Justice (DRC)
- Institute for Democracy in South Africa
- La Voix des Sans-Voix pour les Droits de l'homme (VSV) (DRC)
- Ligue Burundaise dew Droits de l’Homme (ITEKA)
- Rencontre Africaine Pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme (RADDHO) (Senegal)
- Union InterAfricain des Droits de l’Homme (UIDH)
- Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
- Kenya National Commission on Human Rights