The international community observes December 10 as Human Rights Day to celebrate the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)—the foundation of human rights law—on this day in 1948. This year’s slogan to celebrate Human Rights Day, “Human Rights 365,” aims to reemphasize that every day is Human Rights Day: every day and everywhere, people are entitled to human rights.
The MFWA would like to commemorate Human Rights Day by calling on the governments of West Africa—Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo—to continue to improve human rights, particularly the right to freedom of expression (enshrined in Article 19 of the UDHR) in their respective states.
“Human rights must be respected every single day—without exception,” said Anjali Manivannan, the MFWA Programme Officer for Free Expression Rights Monitoring and Campaigns. “While challenges ranging from humanitarian crises to post-conflict and political transitions exist, states must strive towards allowing each and every one of their citizens to enjoy their entitled human rights.”
Highlights of the many human rights-related challenges and developments faced by West Africa in 2014 include:
- The Ebola outbreak, which has significantly impacted Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Ebola has infected 17,145 people, of whom 6,070 have died. In responding to Ebola, governments have cracked down on free expression, also denying people their right to access to health information.
- Human rights violations committed by Boko Haram in north-eastern Nigeria, which have included the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls in April and bombings throughout the country. The government has arbitrarily detained journalists to stop the spread of information criticizing its inaction regarding Boko Haram.
- Two decades of impunity for gross human rights violations in The Gambia, which marked 20 years under the rule of President Yahya Jammeh on July 22, 2014. The Gambia has violated human rights prohibitions against extrajudicial killings, torture, and arbitrary arrests and detentions—to name a few—in addition to regularly violating the right to freedom of expression.
- Impunity for war crimes and other human rights violations committed by all sides during the 2012–2013 armed conflict in northern Mali. These human rights abuses included extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture by Malian soldiers as well as torture, sexual violence, and child soldier conscription by non-state actors. Inaccessibility to the north makes it difficult to assess the current human rights situation.
- Endemic slavery in Mauritania, which has the highest incidence of slavery in the world, despite the abolishment of slavery by presidential decree in 1981. Instead of taking serious steps to end slavery, the government has arrested anti-slavery human rights defenders in line with popular Mauritanian support for slave ownership.
- The resignation of President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso following demonstrations and riots in October. Popular protests, during which human rights violations occurred, caused Compaoré—who ruled for 27 years—to step down and flee to Côte d’Ivoire. Now, Burkina Faso is in a transition period, which may implicate human rights issues in the near future.
“Governmental impunity, which often results from corruption, weak judiciaries, and a lack of respect for the rule of law, remains an obstacle to human rights and development in West Africa,” noted Manivannan. “For West Africans to enjoy 365 days of human rights in 2015, states must do more than simply promote human rights and also provide victims with access to justice and effective remedies for human rights violations.”