Angola + 8 more

Southern Africa: Regional human rights report

JOHANNESBURG, 2 March (IRIN) - In a detailed annual review of human rights practices in Southern Africa during the past year, the US Department of State has cited abuses ranging from torture and harsh or life-threatening prison conditions to extra-judicial killings and widespread discrimination against women.
Abuse of women and children was also high on the list of violations in nations across the region.

Although the report did not rank or compare the level of violations in one country against another, it was clear that Angola, which has been wracked by civil war for a quarter of a century since independence from Portugal in 1975, showed one of the poorest records. Botswana, the oldest independent democracy, maintained perhaps the best record, while South Africa, still shaking off the mantle of apartheid, clearly had to do more to combat racism, vigilante justice and police brutality.

A summary of the key findings of the report is carried below. It can be viewed in full on:


The Department of State said both the government and the UNITA rebel movement were guilty of widespread abuses.

"The government's human rights record continued to be poor, and it continued to commit numerous serious abuses. Citizens have no effective means to change their government," it said. "Members of the security forces committed numerous extra-judicial killings, were responsible for disappearances, and tortured, beat, raped and otherwise abused persons."

The government was unable to pay the salaries of the majority of its security service personnel. Poor discipline and poor working conditions of the police force made it the worst offender; military units generally have better discipline and a more effective chain of command. Other than those personnel assigned to elite units, the government took no effective action to prevent security personnel from supplementing their incomes through the extortion of the civilian population.

It described prison conditions in Angola as life threatening because of inadequate food, medicine and sanitary conditions. It said the government routinely used arbitrary arrest and detention, and lengthy pre-trial detention. It was also "unable or unwilling" to punish those in the security services who were responsible for abuses. The judiciary, subject to executive influence, only functions in parts of the country, and does not ensure due process. It said the government infringed on individual privacy rights and forcibly recruited military-age males. At times, the authorities also restricted freedom of speech and of the press, and intimidated journalists into practicing self-censorship.

It said the UNITA rebels were also responsible for "numerous, serious abuses", such as killings, disappearances, torture, or rape. UNITA military units reportedly pillaged rural areas, depopulated large parts of the country, killed traditional leaders, and eliminated all opposition, real or potential. UNITA tightly restricted freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, and movement. The sexual abuse of women conscripted to work as porters was reportedly common in UNITA areas," it said.


It said Zimbabwe's human rights record worsened significantly last year. It cited incidents of police killings, torture and beatings of detainees.

Prison conditions remained harsh, and a high incidence of HIV/AIDS were widely acknowledged to have contributed to a large number of deaths in prison, it said. The report said there were no current statistics on deaths in Zimbabwe's prisons.

It also said the government officials had repeatedly refused to implement court decisions. In one case last year, after three Supreme Court judges called on President Robert Mugabe to require executive branch officials to obey the law, the president publicly suggested that they resign. Infringements on citizens' privacy continued. The government intensified its restrictions on press freedom, enforcing restrictive laws against journalists, detaining, torturing and intimidating journalists, and monopolising domestic radio broadcasting.

"The government restricted freedom of assembly. Security forces repeatedly used force to disperse non-violent public meetings and demonstrations," it said. There were no reports of political killings, or politically motivated disappearances of detainees.


The government generally respected the human rights of citizens in Namibia and the freedom of the press, while prison conditions, though sometimes harsh, were not life threatening and the government has taken steps to improve conditions and reduce overcrowding.

"However, there were serious problems in several areas," the report said. Members of the security forces committed several extra-judicial killings. The government did not account for the whereabouts of some persons detained by the security forces, while detainees held in the tense northeast Caprivi Strip were beaten. "Security forces beat citizens and Angolan refugees during security operations in both Kavango and Caprivi that were the result of fighting between Angola government troops and UNITA forces along the border with Angola," it said.


The human rights record of the Zambian government was described as "generally poor". Although the Government took steps to address some human rights problems, serious abuses continued in several areas.

The police committed extra-judicial killings, and police officers routinely beat and otherwise abused criminal suspects and detainees. A lack of professionalism and discipline in the police force remains a serious problem and officers who commit such abuses do so with impunity, the report said.

It described prison conditions as harsh and life threatening. Arbitrary arrests, prolonged detention, and long delays in trials remain problems. Police infringed on citizens' privacy rights. On at least one occasion, the government infringed on freedom of the press, and it continued to control two of the country's three daily newspapers, contrary to its 1991 campaign promise to privatise government-owned mass media.

In rare instances, the Zambian government restricted citizens' right of peaceful assembly and association, and in a few instances limited freedom of movement. Human rights and civic organizations and political parties continued to complain of government harassment.


In Malawi, although the government generally respected human rights, the State Department reported incidents of extra-judicial killings, including deaths of detainees while in, or shortly after release from, police custody.

"The police are known to beat and otherwise abuse detainees and to use excessive force in handling criminal suspects," it said. Prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening and resulted in a large number of deaths. Arbitrary arrest and detention are common, and lengthy pre-trial detention is a serious problem. An inefficient and understaffed judicial system and limited resources called into question the ability of defendants to receive a timely, and in many cases, fair trial. Security forces at times infringed on citizens' privacy rights.

But it said the print media are generally able to report freely, while the constitutionally mandated Human Rights Commission (HRC) met for the first time in February last year.


In South Africa, it reported the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, but that problems still abound.

"Some members of the security forces committed human rights abuses, including killings due to use of excessive force, and there were deaths in police custody," it said.

In addition to killings by security forces, there were more than 200 political and extra-judicial killings, but although political violence remained a problem, it was reduced slightly last year from 1998 levels, in the troubled KwaZulu-Natal Province and countrywide.

"Prisons are seriously overcrowded. The judiciary is overburdened, and lengthy delays in trials and prolonged pre-trial detention are problems," it said, adding that juveniles aged between 14 and 18 accused of serious crimes were sometimes held in pre-trial detention with adult offenders.

It said xenophobia remained a growing problem. This included both violent attacks on foreigners, particularly refugees and asylum seekers, and racial attacks and other incidents among black and white farming communities in the countryside.


The Mozambique government's human rights record, although poor in many areas, showed some improvements last year, the report said. Police continued to commit numerous abuses, including extra-judicial killings, excessive use of force and torture.

"Police officers tortured and beat persons in custody, and abused prostitutes and street children," it said. Prison conditions remain "extremely harsh and life-threatening" resulting in many deaths.

Police also continued to use arbitrary arrest and detention, and lengthy pre-trial detention was common. Fair and expeditious trails were not possible due to an inefficient, understaffed, and under funded judiciary, which is dominated by the executive and subject to corruption.

Although the government generally respected freedom of the press, there were some limitations. Media outlets owned by the government and state enterprises largely reflected the views of factions within the ruling party. But the number and diversity of independent media increased, and their criticism of the government, its leaders, and their families largely is tolerated.


Although marginal improvements were reported for Swaziland, citizens of the tiny kingdom sandwiched between South Africa and Mozambique are still not able to change their government.

Police continued to torture and beat some suspects. The government, it said, generally failed to prosecute or otherwise discipline officers who committed abuses. Prison conditions improved with the opening of new facilities, but the government continued to use a non-bailable offence provision. The government infringed on citizen's privacy rights.

"The government continued to limit freedom of speech and of the press, restraints continued on news coverage by government-owned broadcast houses, and all media practiced some self-censorship, although journalists spoke out on key issues," the report said. "The government restricted freedom of assembly and association and retained prohibitions on political activity."


In landlocked Lesotho, a mountainous country surrounded by South Africa and almost entirely dependent on its sole neighbour for trade, finance, and employment, the government generally respected many of the human rights of its citizens. But the report said there were unconfirmed allegations of torture by security forces, and credible reports that the police, at times, used excessive force against detainees. Prison conditions are poor, and lengthy pre-trial detention is a problem. There are long delays in trials. There is also "an uneasy institutional rivalry" between elements of the police and the army.


In Botswana, where there were no cases of extra-judicial killings, political murders or disappearances, the report said the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. But the Sate Department said there were credible reports that the police sometimes beat or otherwise mistreated criminal suspects in order to obtain evidence or coerce confessions. The authorities took action in some cases against officials responsible for such abuses. "Prison conditions were poor and there were credible reports of torture and deaths under suspicious circumstances. In many instances, the judicial system did not provide timely fair trials due to a serious backlog of cases," the report said. The government began to relax its monopoly of domestic radio broadcasting but limited opposition access to state-owned radio broadcasts. At times the government held newly arrived refugees from neighbouring countries in local jails or special areas in prisons. However, the government ceased to detain in prison persons to whom it refused asylum, and instead lodged them in a refugee camp. Trade unions continued to face some legal restrictions, and the government did not always ensure that labour laws were observed in practice.


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