Amnesty International’s annual human rights report this week warns that abuses in the southern African region continued unabated in 1998, and “those responsible for these abuses were rarely brought to justice.”
Casey Kelso, Amnesty’s director of media relations, told IRIN on Thursday that four major trends emerged in southern Africa last year, the first being issues surrounding the quality of policing. He said that there had been “a number of cases where political killings were traced back to the police.”
In Zambia, Amnesty alleged that torture and ill-treatment by the police remained widespread. According to the report, between June 1997 and May 1998 the Permanent Human Rights Commission received information about 73 cases of torture, ill-treatment and unlawful detention,”including 17 deaths apparently at the hands of the police.” However, Amnesty acknowledged there had been an increase in the number of police officers prosecuted for abuse.
A second trend, Kelso pointed out, was the concern over the quality of the justice system and the surrounding debate over the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. Kelso said that the effectiveness of the justice system was “linked to the professionalism of the police service.”
The small mountain kingdom of Lesotho also came under the spotlight of the report, especially over the treatment of security officials involved in the political upheaval in September last year.
“In October, 33 soldiers were arrested in connection with the September mutiny and detained without charge,” said the report. It added that the men were held in cells which lacked adequate sanitation facilities. The report also noted the excessive use of force against striking workers and protesters by the government, and expressed concern about the detention and mistreatment of trade unionists.
Another trend which emerged was what Kelso described as “identity based discrimination.” He said that this was especially related to gay and lesbian communities in the region.
In March this year, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed its concern over Zimbabwe’s discriminations against homosexuals. The Amnesty report said that in April President Robert Mugabe had attacked the World Council of Churches for allowing homosexuals to attend their general assembly in Harare, and in May said that the Zimbabwean constitution guaranteed freedom, “except for gays.”
The final trend according to Kelso was the domestic effects that the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was having on countries like Zimbabwe and Namibia.
He said that in these two countries the war had brought about a greater clamp down on freedom of expression: “Whenever there were any criticisms or questioning about Zimbabwe and Namibian involvement in the DRC, the response from the state was increased repression.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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