Long Read: Removing the Obstacles to Freedom of Religion or Belief in Africa

Religion-related tensions continue to arise in many African countries. They come in varying forms and degrees of intensity, and can be intra-religious or occur between religious communities.

Religion is either instrumentalised as a rallying point or is the raison d’étre of armed non state actors seeking to enforce an extremist interpretation of their creed or to gain material advantage. It is used by individuals or political parties as a bridge to power and rallying point.  In addition, some governments view religion, or certain religious or non-religious groups, as threats, exercising control through excessive registration requirements or more forcible means. 

Every country on the African continent is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), with its expanded articulation of the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), and to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), where the right to change or refuse one’s religion or belief as an act of conscience can be inferred from Article 8. However, in parts of the continent, human rights in general, and FoRB in particular, are challenged by arguments about cultural relativism and frequent but erroneous assertions that they are a Western construct. 

Thus, despite being parties to international and regional treaties, many African countries either do not give legal effect to them, or create exemptions for their implementation. This has further exacerbated their already poor profile on human rights protection.

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Ruth Ngladar Pogu’s release is welcome, but the man with her is not her ‘husband’

On 8 August, the state governor of Nigeria’s Borno State confirmed that Ruth Ngladar Pogu, one of around 276 girls infamously abducted from their school in Chibok, was free.

Ms Ngladar is the 108th Chibok Girl to regain some form of freedom. Several are thought to have died whilst in captivity, with an estimated 111 reported to still be in the hands of the now amalgamated terrorist group.

Ms Ngladar had reportedly surrendered herself to the military alongside one of her captors and two children she had given birth to while in captivity at the end of July, and while her freedom after over seven years is good news, the challenges that lie ahead of her and her family remain extensive.

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Sudan City View

Beyond the headlines: Freedom of religion or belief and women’s rights in Sudan

The political shifts in Sudan from the authoritarian rule of Omar al Bashir to the transitional government (a mix of civilians and the military), has garnered many positive headlines. The welcome changes and relief that there is a reservoir of political will to address the root causes of the country’s conflicts have indeed been positive.

In particular, the pledges of reform, the recent announcement that the government will accede to the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the changing of some public order laws that infringed on the rights of women, especially women from marginalized communities, as well as the removal of apostasy have been warmly received.

However, beneath the headlines are simmering social hostilities which have already generated a series of violations that have not been sufficiently investigated or addressed. These violations threaten to undermine the positive steps taken so far, and both the transitional government and supporters of this new political arrangement in the international community need to note and address them.

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Call for Action to Address Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region from Women from Africa and of African Descent

As women from Africa or of African descent, we are marking the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict by signing this open letter in solidarity with the women and girls in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, who are being targeted in a campaign of sexual violence which the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict has described as being of “a level of cruelty beyond comprehension.”

During a disturbing briefing to the Nations (UN) Security Council in April, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Sir Mark Lowcock reported an unspecified agency operating in Tigray had estimated that 30% of all incidents against civilians involved sexual violence, which he confirmed is being used “as a weapon of war, as a means to humiliate, terrorize and traumatize an entire population today and into the next generation.” The perpetrators were identified as members of the “Ethiopian National Defence Forces, Eritrean Defence forces, Amhara Special Forces, and other irregular armed groups or aligned militia,” and nearly a quarter of the cases involved gang rape over an extended period of time.

Reports continue to emerge from Tigray of wives being raped in front of their husbands; mothers raped in front of their children and vice versa; family members forced to choose between raping female relatives or death, and of women themselves being forced to choose between rape or death. Several victims report their assailants boasted of “cleansing” their bloodline, while others arrive at medical facilities having suffered additional traumatic injuries to their reproductive organs inflicted by attackers to prevent them from bearing children. Researchers from Ghent University in Belgium have concluded this campaign of mass rape fits “a pattern that has been evident in previous genocidal actions, and [is] reminiscent of events in Bosnia and Rwanda.”

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‘Smoke and mirrors’ in post-revolution Sudan: Lessons from Egypt

This time two years ago, Sudan was in the midst of an unprecedented revolution. Citizens of all ethnicities, religious beliefs and walks of life across the whole country had come together to call for justice, democracy, human rights, and an end to nearly three decades of repression under President Omar al Bashir. An Islamist army officer, al Bashir had seized power from an elected government in 1989, and had enjoyed support from the Muslim Brotherhood movement both inside and outside the country.

After several months of consistent demonstrations which saw the Sudanese people overcome a repressive and heavy-handed response from the government and its security forces, it seemed as though their vision for an inclusive Sudan was finally within touching distance. President al Bashir was arrested in April 2019, and in August a transitional government was appointed to oversee the country’s progression towards democracy, with the transition period scheduled to end in 2022.

While these welcome developments were praised by many as ushering in a new era for Sudan, progress since then has been frustratingly slow.

Human rights violations, including violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), continue to occur on a regular basis, and there is still a need to ensure that justice is served for atrocity crimes committed under the previous regime, and indeed by members of the current government who are alleged to have been complicit in crackdowns on protesters, including the shocking massacre of demonstrators in Khartoum on 3 June 2019.

Continue reading “‘Smoke and mirrors’ in post-revolution Sudan: Lessons from Egypt”