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Urgent Interventions

Joint Statement on the human rights situation in North Africa and Sudan at the 48th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Joint Oral Intervention, Item 4 – Human RightsSituation in Africa
48th ordinary session of the AfricanCommission for Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)
11 November 2010

Thank you MadameChairperson, TheCairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the International Federationfor Human Rights (FIDH), la Collectif des Familles des Disparus en Algerie (CFDA),and the World Organization against Torture (OMCT), are deeply concerned aboutthe grave human rights violations that have continued to take place on aregular basis in North Africa since the last session of the African Commissionfor Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). In particular, the past few months havebeen dire for Human Rights Defenders, activists, and civil society in Sudan, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. We denounce the escalationin violations of the Rights to Freedom of Expression, Opinion, and Assembly asenshrined in articles 9, 10, and 11 of the African Charter, as well as in theICCPR and other international legal instruments. Egypt has failed to demonstrate anyreal commitment to improving the state of Human Rights in the country. On thecontrary, in May Egypt broke the promise it had madeto the international community and to its own citizens, when it renewed theEmergency Law, in place almost continuously since 1967, for another 2 years. Egypt continues to use theprotracted Emergency Law as a tool to harass, detain, silence, intimidate, andtorture members of its civil society and stifle dissenting opinion. InSeptember, three activists, amongst them a researcher at CIHRS, were forciblydisappeared by unidentified security agencies and interrogated under harshconditions before being released. Weare also deeply concerned about the increase in the use of violence to preventpeaceful protests and gatherings in Egypt. On the 21st ofSeptember, peaceful demonstrations in Cairo and Alexandria in opposition to thesuspected succession of President Mubarak’s son were met with brutality. Thepolice and security forces were quick to act in cordoning off crowds, detainingactivists, and using physical force and batons to beat, restrain and limit themovement of demonstrators. Journalists and people walking by, were amongstthose targeted, attacked, and harassed by riot police and security. Inaddition, the pressure placed on NGOs has also increased to such an extent thatseveral NGOs having been unable to carry out their work as a consequence ofharassment by the government. The government has launched a hostile campaignagainst the Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS), whose officeswere subjected to surprise inspections, without anyprior notice by the Commission of the Ministry of Social Solidarity in April. The campaignagainst CTUWS has only escalated in response to their participation in the 99thsession of the International Labor Association (ILO) in June. InSudan, the situation has continuedto deteriorate since the elections and is particularly concerning for humanrights defenders and journalists. Mr. Abdelrahman Al-Gasim, a prominent humanrights defender from Darfur, was supposed to be here today, before this House, to speakto you about the human rights situation in his country, as he has done severaltimes before during his frequent engagement with the Commission. However, onSaturday night, October 30th, Mr. Al-Gasim was arrested along with 5other human rights defenders. His whereabouts remain unknown, and no officialcharges have been brought against him. Were Mr. Al-Gasim not forciblydisappeared and arbitrarily detained by the government of Sudan, he would be here to speakabout the continuing crackdown on Freedom of Expression and Association in thecountry. The 2010 National Security Act and 1991 Criminal Acthave been used to undermine journalistic freedom of expression. Both partisan and non-partisannewspapers have suffered severe blows under the policy of pre-censorship,whereby editors are intimidated into silence. Journalists have been tried inunfair trials as a consequence of their writings, and there has been a returnto the practice of blocking websites. Media freedoms have been curtailed alsoin the South. The situation is particularly dire forthose who express dissenting political opinion. Shortly after the arrest ofPopular Congress Party leader Hassan Al Turabi, who was held without charge bythe National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) from May 15 - June 30, 4staff members of party-affiliated newspaper RaiAl Shaabwere arrested and held incommunicado. At leasttwo of the journalists were tortured during detention, including through theuse of electric shocks. Under unfair trials, three of the four journalists weresentenced for prison terms of 2 and 5 years on vague charges of “underminingthe constitutional system” and “publishing false news.” This is merely oneexample of the many violations in post-election Sudan,which warns of more to come as the 2011 referendum approaches. Wecontinue to be concerned about the lack of tolerance for dissenting voices in Libya,where spaces for civil society, independent media, and freedom of assemblyremain extremely limited. Repressive legislation outlawing any form ofindependent thought or group activity remains in force, and the red line fortolerance is drawn at any criticism of the Colonel Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi or thecurrent political system. Thepeaceful exercise of freedom of expression and association remains largelycriminalized, individuals who criticize the authorities or seek to organizeanti-government protests have faced reprisals, and the government still doesnot permit the establishment of independent human rights organizations. In Algeria,the authorities haverecently revealed they would stop at nothing to supressFreedom of Expression and Association. In an attempt to silence the voices ofthe families of victims of enforced disappearances, the authorities usedviolence to break up two consecutive weekly peaceful demonstrations in August.The families of the disappeared have been participating in these peacefuldemonstrations for over 10 years to demand answers from the government aboutthe fate of the more than 8000 that were disappeared by the Algerian securityforces between 1992 and this date. On the 4th of August theauthorities denied the families of victims the right to demonsrate, strippingthem not only of their right to truth, but even the ability to seek it. A demonstration took place on the 11th of August where many humanrights defenders, activists, and ordinary citizens, gathered in solidarity withthe families. The security forces suppressed demonstrators including mothersand old grandmothers of victims. Lawyers and human rights defenders were alsoassaulted. The police arrested four demonstrators, among them members of theAlgerian Association for the defense of Human Rights and an 82 year old man. Authorities in Algeria alsocontinued to monopolize both the visual and the auditory media, and have beenviolent in their rejection of new independent media. In May, the securityforces prevented the organization of a peaceful gathering to demand the liftingof censorship on the public media and to allow Algerians to create andbroadcast media that is able to represent and reflect the social and politicaldiversity in the country. The security forces arrested 14 people carryingbanners and interrogated them at a police station before releasing them.
Tunisia continues to have all the features of a policestate, and this July a law was passed further enhancing the system ofrepression by the state.The Tunisiancabinet passed an amendment to article 61 of the Tunisian Penal Codecriminalizing “any persons who shall, directly or indirectly, have contactswith agents of a foreign country, foreign institution or organization in orderto encourage them to affect the vital interests of Tunisiaand its economic security.” This law could have serious effects on the abilityof human rights defenders to carry out their work and posesa real risk toanyone who is critical of the authorities or speaks upon human rights.It is notpossible in Tunisiato set up independent human rights associations without risk of harassment.Activists can be tried and imprisoned on trumped up charges, and it is notuncommon for family and friends to be harassed as well. Whilst there are over9000 official Civil Society organizations in Tunisia, only a few are fullyindependent, and none can operate without government interference, from closesurveillance, office raids and smear campaigns; to direct attacks and deaththreats. Not only do theseviolations continue unabated in North Africa, but they continue within theframework of widespread and total impunity. Such a climate offers meager hopesfor accountability, progress, or adequate compensation to victims. We call onthe African Commission to address the state of Human Rigths in this sub-regionthrough a resolution, and we urge the Special Rapporteur on Human RightsDefenders, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, and the SpecialRapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention, to undertake fact findingmissions to these countries as a first step towards addressing the tools ofrepression used to strangle the civil societies and citizens of North Africa. ***
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