The deepening crisis in Mali in 2012 reflected many of the region’s deep-rooted problems. Across Africa, people’s lives and their ability to realize their rights continued to be hindered by conflict, ubiquitous poverty and abuses by security forces and armed groups. These highlighted the inherent weakness of regional and international human rights, peace and security mechanisms.
In January, in the context of long-running discontent in northern Mali over poverty, discrimination and the lack of progress on development, Tuareg and Islamist armed groups staged an uprising. This triggered a successful military coup in the capital Bamako in March, and resulted in the effective partition of Mali by April. For the rest of 2012, the north remained controlled by armed groups. Tuareg and Islamist groups committed numerous grave abuses, including the summary killing of captured soldiers, amputating people’s limbs, stoning some to death, and raping girls and women.
Meanwhile, Malian security forces carried out extrajudicial executions and indiscriminate shelling of Tuareg-controlled areas. Armed groups and government sponsored militias recruited child soldiers. More than 400,000 men, women and children fled their homes to seek safety.
Civilians also bore the brunt of human rights abuses by security forces and proliferating armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The precarious security situation deteriorated significantly as armed groups, including the March 23 Movement, strengthened their hold over areas of North Kivu province in the east of the country.
Meanwhile, tensions between South Sudan and Sudan mounted over oil, citizenship and demarcation of the border. The human rights situation remained dire as a result of ongoing conflict in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states. Fighting intensified in late 2012, resulting in heavy civilian casualties, a growing humanitarian crisis and the flight of over 200,000 people to nearby states. Mass protests were also staged against government austerity measures, triggering abuses by security forces.
Brutality by police and security forces was a common feature in several countries in the region. In Nigeria, the Islamist armed group Boko Haram killed more than 1,000 people in bombings and gun attacks. Nigeria’s security forces perpetrated serious human rights violations in their response – including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, house-burning and unlawful detention.
In August, the police authorities in South Africa deployed units armed with assault rifles and live ammunition to crush a strike at the LONMIN Marikana platinum mine in North West Province. Sixteen miners died at the scene and 14 others at another location where they had fled to escape police fire. There were indications that the majority had been shot while attempting to flee or surrender. Four other miners died later that day from their injuries. The striking miners had been involved in a wage dispute with LONMIN. The scale and visibility of the killings, as well as the growing unrest across the mining sector, caused a national crisis.
Human rights defenders, journalists and members of opposition groups faced intense repression: sentenced to lengthy prison terms such as in Ethiopia, or arbitrarily arrested, harassed and sent death threats, such as in the Gambia. In Côte d’Ivoire, attacks by unidentified armed combatants led to severe repression based on presumed ethnic or political affiliations.
The death penalty was imposed in several countries, but applied only in a very few – and in a worrying move, the Gambia executed its first prisoners for 30 years.
Women and girls continued to be particularly vulnerable to discrimination and gender-based violence – domestic violence was widespread as well as statesponsored and conflict-related violence. Rapes by soldiers and members of armed groups occurred in many conflict zones, including Mali, Chad, Sudan and the DRC. In Sudan some women protesters were reportedly subjected to “virginity tests”, and in many countries harmful traditional practices such as genital cutting continued.
Throughout Africa, widespread corruption and conflict continued to bring challenges as Africans prepared to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the African Union in 2013. But there were seeds of hope all across the region as people continued to use peaceful means to demand their right to dignity, social justice and human rights.