The human rights issues of 2018 have spilled over into current events, particularly in two African nations, rights advocates said as they launched the annual Human Rights Watch Africa roundup Thursday in Johannesburg.
This year’s report was meant to be released in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, but was moved after a terror attack on a luxury hotel this week that left more than 20 people dead.
The report raises concerns about violence and suppression in several African nations, including Burundi, Mozambique and eSwatini, the former Swaziland.
But two countries — the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe, both of which had troubled elections in 2018 — stood out, experts said.
“We have received reports of serious human rights abuses, including beatings, abductions, torture and the involvement of ZANU-PF, the ruling ZANU-PF Party, groups beating up people in the high-density suburbs around Harare,” said Dewa Mavhinga, the rights’ group’s Southern Africa researcher.
Mavhinga said he’s disappointed to report that the new administration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, elected last year, has not brought improvement to Zimbabwe.
“Initially, in terms of pronouncements and talks by the new president, Mnangagwa, there were promises that things would improve, that the new dispensation would be respectful of human rights. But that has not been with the case, beginning with the post-election violence of the 1st of August, 2018,” he said. “And there has been no accountability for past abuses and also, the serious abuses of the last few days involving the state security forces have really undermined any efforts at improving human rights in Zimbabwe.”
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, rights officials say a chaotic, delayed election has raised fears of politically motivated human rights abuses. Carine Kaneza Nantulya, the group’s Africa advocacy director, pointed to a recent U.N. report alleging nearly 900 people were killed in rural eastern Congo.
“So, you have an environment where elections were held but marred with, obviously, violence, voter suppression, etc., that has just heightened the tensions within communities which were, obviously, tense before the election,” Nantulya said.
These two African nations, the rights experts said, share certain worrying characteristics: Free speech has been clamped down on; citizens are angry; and politics are bitter, divisive and increasingly authoritarian. And this, they cautioned, is a worrying global trend.