By Staff Reporter
Amnesty International (AI) says 2017 was a very bad year for human rights in Southern Africa as most government clumped down on dissenting voices.
AI has published a report titled: The State of the World’s Human Rights, which states, among other things, that people across the world faced a deepening human rights crisis fueled by growing intolerance of dissent and a rise in politics of hate and fear.
The report covers 159 countries, including 11 in Southern Africa.
In Southern Africa, the report warns that the space for human rights defenders, activists, journalists and opposition political parties was increasingly restricted.
And AI regional director for Southern Africa Debrose Muchena has warned that going forward it is becoming more dangerous to speak out.
“2017 was a terrible year for human rights in Southern Africa. We have witnessed widespread punishment of dissenting voices and politically-motivated attacks on peaceful protests, as well as growing inequalities and precarious access to social and economic rights. In 2018, we cannot take for granted that we will be free to gather together in protest or to criticize our governments. In fact, speaking out has become more dangerous. ,” Muchena warned.
“Whether it was Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe or Edgar Lungu of Zambia, leaders used the criminal justice system to silence human activists and their political opponents. But there are glimmers of hope. For example, the departure of Robert Mugabe from Zimbabwe’s political scene after 37 years in power in which he presided over the brutal repression of political opponents offers a new window of opportunity for the country and people claiming their rights.”
The report has further highlighted a serious clampdown on peaceful demonstrations in Zambia during the year.
“Signs of regression cited in the report include clampdowns on peaceful protests in Zambia, and attempts to roll back women’s rights to access sexual and reproductive health and rights in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Throughout SADC, there was ‘persecution through prosecution’ against human rights defenders and opposition leaders,” stated the report.
“Zambia’s main opposition leader, Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND), was jailed for four months on trumped up politically motivated charges and later released after the authorities realised that they could not sustain any criminal charge against him. Musician and activist Fumba Chama, also known as Pilato, left Zambia on 5 January after receiving threats over his new song Koswe Mumpoto (rat in the pot), which has been interpreted as criticising President Edgar Lungu and his ruling Patriotic Front (PF) ministers. He also faced harassment in 2017 for leading protests against corruption.”
And Amnesty International secretary general Salil Shetty said there was hope of a change in the situation, looking at the global increase in the number of protest movements.
“The indomitable spirit of human rights activists leading powerful movements reminds us that the thirst for equality, dignity and justice will never be extinguished. There is a palpable sense that protest movements are on the rise globally. If governments stand against such movements, they will erode their legitimacy,” said Shetty.
He said throughout Southern Africa, there were persistent worries about the rising levels of people living below the poverty line.
Shetty said in Madagascar, poverty was widespread as access to food, water, health care and education remained a privilege for the few.
“Across the world and in the SADC region, people are being forced to live an intolerable existence because they are being denied access to food, clean water, healthcare and shelter. If you take away these human rights, you breed despair with no limit or end. From Angola to Zambia, South Africa to Zimbabwe, we are witnessing the growth of a ferocious social discontent,” warned Shetty.
“If leaders fail to discern what is driving their people to protest, then this ultimately will be their own undoing. People have made it abundantly clear that they want human rights: the onus now is on governments to show that they are listening and responding.”