It's no secret that many African countries have oppressive laws and limits on freedom of expression and association, and Human Rights Watch has asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to stand up against those laws today in an open letter published as she begins an 11-day tour of the continent.
“While some of the countries on Secretary Clinton’s agenda engage in serious human rights violations, others have made notable progress in promoting transparency and accountability,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, who authored the letter. “Human rights protection is essential to good governance and development.”
The letter is broken up into sections by country, addressing specific problems Bekele lays out, such as forced begging in Senegal, investigations in to election-time violence in Kenya, the controversial "Secrecy Bill" in South Africa, and political detainees in South Sudan, as well as other issues.
For her part, upon landing in Senegal yesterday, Clinton spoke on the dangers of outdated autocratic African regimes during a speech at Dakar's University of Cheikh Anta Diop.
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"The old ways of governing are no longer acceptable. It is time for leaders to accept accountability, treat their people with dignity, respect their rights, and deliver economic opportunity. And if they will not, then it is time for them to go," she said, praising Senegal's (mostly) functional democracy.
Human Rights Watch has asked Clinton to publicly support the trial of alleged war criminal Hissène Habré, the former dictator of Chad, who awaits trial in Senegal, where he fled in 1990. The Senegalese government has stalled for years on this issue, says HRW, but there is movement that Clinton can push forward.
"Your letter to [Senegal's] President Wade last September and your June report to Congress calling on Senegal to take 'concrete steps' to bring Habré to justice both helped catalyze action. Habré’s trial, if conducted fairly and expeditiously, will be a significant milestone in the fight against impunity in Africa," said Bekele's letter.
Some hope Clinton will encourage government transparency and she is expected to caution leaders in South Sudan about the dangers of corruption, a message many African leaders could take to heart.
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"While the visit to South Sudan will affirm the US's support for this new nation, it also gives Secretary Clinton an opportunity to speak on the need for the country to focus on improving governance. The secretary is likely to point out the dangers of corruption to progress in that country," said the Brookings Institution, which called democracy, human rights and transparency top priorities for Clinton's trip.
Clinton will continue her trip through the rest of this week and next, making stops in South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi and South Africa. This is expected to be her last trip to Africa before she resigns her position at the end of President Obama's first term.
For more of GlobalPost's coverage of human rights in Africa and freedom of expression, check out our Special Report "The Rainbow Struggle: A Global Battle Over Gay Rights."