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Human Rights Watch 2013 Report: Hard Knocks For Nigeria, US, Syria, Egypt and 86 Others

Human Rights WatchHuman Rights Watch (HRW) released its on Tuesday, summarizing key human rights issues in more than 90 countries worldwide, drawing on events through November 2013.

HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth presented the New York-based groups findings, the 24th of its kind, at a press conference in Berlin.

One of its focal points was on Nigeria where Islamist insurgency sect, Boko Haram has been battling government soldiers over the past four years.

In Nigeria, “the four-year insurgency by Boko Haram, which seeks to end government corruption and impose Islamic Sharia law in northern Nigeria has killed more than 5,000 people.” And despite putative attempts to organize an amnesty programme for the militants, “Boko Haram continues to target government security agents, their collaborators, churches and mosques.”

In the same vein, the report added, government’s security agencies engaged in counter-atrocities with indiscriminate arrest, detention, torture and extra-judicial killing of those suspected to be members of the Islamist group and their supporters.

“This horrific rights abuses in the North by both the militant Islamist Boko Haram and the Nigerian security forces’ heavy-handed response to this violence dominated Nigeria’s human rights landscape in 2013.”

Another major crises in focus was the Syrian civil-war with HRW saying the international community was failing in its responsibility to protect civilians in Syria. Roth on Syria

In the 667-page report, HRW contrasted the handling of the conflict in Syria with the speedy reaction of the international community in Central African Republic, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Among other things, HRW accused Russia and China of using their vetos at the United Nations Security Council to shield the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from strong international action such as an arms embargo or referral to the International Criminal Court.

Abuse of democracy in Egypt.

The report also highlighted alleged abuses in struggling democracies, calling Egypt the “most glaring example of the abuse of majoritarianism in 2013.”

The report criticized the government of former President Mohammed Morsi, which it said ruled “in a manner that left secular and minority groups fearing exclusion in an Islamist-dominated government.”

The group also said that in the wake of Morsi’s military-backed ouster in July, the interim government of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had launched the “worst repression that Egypt has known in decades, including by killing hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood protesters.”

NSA in focus

Another major topic in the report concerned the revelations of mass surveillance by the United States made public by fugitive and former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden.

HRW said the US was setting a dangerous example for the world with its sweeping surveillance programs, DW.DE reports.

Roth slammed US President Barack Obama’s speech last Friday, in which he pledged surveillance reforms as not going far enough.

“All Obama has offered us is some vague assurance that people’s communications will be listened to only if there is a national security interest at stake, which is a pretty fuzzy broad standard,” he said at the press conference.

“In none of this has there been a recognition that non-Americans outside the United States have a right to the privacy of their communications,” he added.

In an interview with the AFP news agency, Roth said the group had chosen Berlin to present its annual report because Germany had been a flashpoint of global outrage over the NSA’s operations.

Snippets edited from the report showed the uncomplimentary human rights landscape in Nigeria, saying: “In May, President Goodluck Jonathan imposed a state of emergency, which was extended for another three months in November in the three states where Boko Haram is most active. The emergency failed to curb atrocities and to sufficiently protect civilians. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said that there was reason to believe Boko Haram had committed crimes against humanity.

“More than 400 people died in 2013 from violent inter-communal conflict in Nigeria’s Middle Belt states, and scores were rendered homeless from the clashes. Security forces throughout the country engaged in human rights abuses. There were few investigations or prosecutions of these crimes.

“Poverty and corruption continued to afflict the oil-rich Niger Delta, while the weakness of anti-corruption institutions, particularly Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in government inhibited the realization of social and economic rights and the fair and transparent functioning of the public and private sectors.

“The four-year insurgency by Boko Haram, which seeks to end government corruption and impose Islamic Sharia law in northern Nigeria has killed more than 5,000 people. Although the Nigerian government set up a committee to develop an amnesty framework for Boko Haram, the group continued to target government security agents, churches and mosques.

“On the contrary, government security forces were implicated in various human rights violations with regard to the Boko Haram insurgency. The large number of troops deployed to enforce the state of emergency engaged in the indiscriminate arrest, detention, torture and extra-judicial killing of those suspected to be supporters or members of the Islamist group.

“Security forces razed and burned homes and properties in communities thought to harbour Boko Haram fighters. In Baga, a town in Borno state, Nigerian troops destroyed more than 2,000 buildings and allegedly killed scores of people, apparently in retaliation for the killing of a soldier by Boko Haram. The authorities have yet to bring anyone to justice for these crimes.

“Since 2012, Boko Haram has burned more than 300 schools in the North and deprived more than 10,000 children of education. The government’s support for armed self-defence groups, mostly young men, to assist in the apprehension of Islamist insurgents, brought a new and alarming dimension to its anti-Boko Haram efforts. These young men called “Civilian Joint Task Force” themselves became targets of Boko Haram attacks.

“Episodes of inter-communal violence in the Middle Belt states of Plateau, Taraba, Benue and Nasarawa left more than 400 people dead and scores of houses destroyed. Federal and state authorities failed to hold accountable the perpetrators of these crimes and break the cycle of violence. In response, ethnic and religious groups in this region resorted to forming their own militias to deliver justice and security.

“The Nigerian police have also been involved in frequent human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, and extortion-related abuses. Worse, corruption in the police force remains a serious problem.

“Meanwhile, corruption cases against several dozen senior politicians, as well as oil marketers for their alleged role in a fraudulent fuel subsidy scheme, had still not been completed at time of writing, partly because of the inefficiency of EFCC.

“The federal government’s 2009 amnesty program—which saw some 26,000 militants, youth and gang members surrender weapons in exchange for amnesty and monthly cash stipends amounting to some US$400 million annually—have reduced attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta. But it has still not addressed the region’s underlying causes of violence and discontent, such as poverty, public sector corruption, environmental degradation from oil spills and impunity for politically sponsored violence.

“Widespread lead poisoning from artisanal gold mining in Zamfara State has killed at least 400 children since 2010. The release of funds in February by the federal government to clean up the environment allowed lead treatment programs to be expanded to reach an additional 1,500 children.

“Nigeria’s criminal and penal codes punish consensual homosexual conduct with up to 14 years in prison. Sharia penal codes in many northern states criminalize consensual homosexual conduct with caning, imprisonment or death by stoning.

“Civil society and the independent media openly criticize the government and its policies, allowing for robust public debate. Yet journalists are still subject to arrest and intimidation when reporting on issues implicating Nigeria’s political and economic elite. In August, the federal government arrested and charged the political editor and political reporter of Leadership newspaper, Tony Amokeodo and Chibuzor Ukaibe, respectively, for reporting on a story based on documents allegedly issued by the President. In September, Tukur Mamu, publisher of Desert Herald, was arrested and detained allegedly for publishing a book criticizing the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory.

In January, Ikechukwu Udendu, the editor of Anambra News, a monthly newspaper in southeastern Anambra state, was gunned down in Onitsha. In September, the mutilated body of Aisha Usman, a reporter with the news magazine Mahangar Arewa in Zaria, was found on a highway in Kaduna state. The causes of these deaths remained unknown at time of writing.”

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