Obama: No Impunity For African Rights Abusers

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It will require unprecedented cooperation and resolve from the international community and Africans to not only stand up to these leaders but equally hold them accountable to for their brutal actions. There is a need to strengthen the idea that when human beings are systematically abused, international peace and security are inherently threatened.

[Global: On Human Rights]

In his song “Prisoner,” the African Reggae legend, Lucky Dube says:

"I asked the Policeman and said how long must I pay for my freedom?
“He said to me: ‘son they won't build no schools anymore, they won't build no hospitals all they build will be prison’".


In many African countries, Africans are being held hostage by their own governments. How much must Africans pay for the freedom and the right to choose their own leaders? How much must they pay for bruising the egos of their “liberators”, when they agitate for full participation in the way their government is run? How long must they continue to wallow under brutality, poverty, disease, corruption, incompetence and mismanagement?

The massacre of civilian protesters by the military junta in Guinea has created another potential flashpoint in Africa. More than 150 unarmed people were shot and killed; another 1,300 were wounded, when more than 50,000 demonstrators gathered at the main stadium in the capital Conakry, to protest reports that the head of the regime, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, had reneged on an agreement to stand down and pave the way for free and fair elections. 

Military commanders claimed the victims were crushed to death in a stampede, when the protesters tried to flee the stadium; as if it would lessen their culpability. Yet,  eyewitnesses also say that troops killed scores by firing live rounds into the crowd. “Soldiers were firing at people and those who tried to get out were caught and finished off with bayonets,” Souleymane Bah, a Guinean human rights activist, said.

Human Rights Watch also reported that some soldiers bayoneted citizens and raped women in the streets. 

The Catastrophic event in Guinea comes after another bloody confrontation between civilians and another military regime, in Uganda, where over 30 people were killed in skirmishes with pro-Buganda Kingdom demonstrators. The Uganda government was quick to label the protestors as a “mob of hooligans” whose sole purpose was to loot and destroy properties. The security services also quickly linked the rioters to shadowy subversive activities against the regime.

The initial reaction of the international community to the Guinea and Uganda outrage was pathetic to say the least, with the United States issuing a mere statement in both cases and comments; and in the case of Uganda, remarks by a State Department official, downplaying the crackdown,  to some newspapers including The Black Star News.

Later, as the outrage and brutality became clear, the U.S. sent a top level official to tell the Guinea ruler that he was being held responsible for the killings and not to run in elections next year.

Those who watched Barack Obama take office on 20 January will remember that in his inaugural address to the world, President Obama rejected as “false” the choice between safety and respect for human rights. 

Then in his Ghana speech recently, Obama called on Africans to resist oppression and stand up for democratic principles if they are to rid the continent of dictatorships that want to use brutality to cling to power.

But now that Africans are doing it, Obama is conspicuously silent. Africans want peaceful change but dictators will use any means at their disposal, even deadly force, to crush opponents. 

International law applies the principles of necessity and proportionality to the suppression of riots as it does to other actions by law enforcement personnel; but Guinea and Uganda’s choice to use live bullets went far and beyond what was deemed “reasonable and proportionate”.  

Time and again security operatives in these countries have often used excessive force against demonstrators, even where they have been notified in advance. The “police” responses to the recent unrests are the culmination of entrenched patterns of serious human rights violations by law enforcement officials.

Conditions warranting protests will continue to exist in countries like Uganda, Guinea, Kenya, Congo, Zimbabwe, Sudan, and many more as long as autocratic rulers continue to subject their countries to undemocratic and tyrannical rule, rather than deal with the issue that compel protests.

These African countries prone to violent protests are governed by leaders who are non-committal to democratic values and have no regard to international protocol ratified by their countries, thereby closing out any avenues and spaces for peaceful and orderly politics.

It will require unprecedented cooperation and resolve from the international community and Africans to not only stand up to these leaders but equally hold them accountable to for their brutal actions. There is a need to strengthen the idea that when human beings are systematically abused, international peace and security are inherently threatened. 

The advancement of human rights and democracy is necessary for global stability and can be achieved only through the local, often heroic, efforts of individuals who speak out against injustice and oppression -- endeavors the United States and the international community should lead, not impede. 

The global community and particularly President Obama should spare no effort to help societies in distress. More needs to be done to strengthen their voices and help to protect them in a collective, undeniable commitment to create the world of peace and freedom that many of us in the west enjoy and others elsewhere desire.

Human rights are inalienable entitlements; they constitute the ground-rules for human development. As such, the ‘dignity and worth’ of the human person is to be regarded as both a means and an end of development. The human rights framework reflects the crucial interdependence of civil and political rights, and no matter what the circumstances, one human life lost to that pursuit is a life too many.

 

The Leaderships in Guinea and Uganda must therefore be held accountable for their actions before the International Courts of Justice.
 
Olara is a human rights advocate. 
olarasamuel@hotmail.com

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