Guinea-Bissau + 4 more

IRIN Update 617 of events in West Africa

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
for West Africa
Tel: +225 21 73 54
Fax: +225 21 63 35

LIBERIA: Human rights activist detained by security forces

The director of a child rights advocacy group in Monrovia was detained on Wednesday by the security forces and charged with sedition, the National Coordinator of the National Human Rights Centre (NHRC) of Liberia told IRIN on Thursday.

The director of FOCUS, James Torh, was charged following seditious remarks he allegedly made at a secondary school in Monrovia earlier this month, NCRC coordinator Jappah Nah said.

According to Nah, who visited him in police custody, Torh denied making any seditious statements.

The NHRC, an umbrella group of eight human rights organisations including FOCUS, is "watching the process carefully," Nah said. He added that he hoped Torh would be released in the next couple of days and the due processes of the law would be fulfilled.

SIERRA LEONE: MSF hostages freed

Two volunteers of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) seized over a week ago by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in eastern Sierra Leone have been freed unharmed, an MSF source in Freetown told IRIN on Thursday.

"They were released this morning, are quite well and are on their way back to Freetown via Daru," Jean Cabrol, manager of MSF's emergency unit, said. The two men, a Belgian and a German, have been running a health project in Kailahun District. They had been held since last Tuesday.

RUF field commander, Sam Bockarie, who has his base in Buedu in Kailahun District, said through a spokesman last week that the two had been taken to focus the attention of the international community on his dissatisfaction with the disarmament and demobilisation programme.

"We don't know why they were released but we are very happy," Cabrol said.

SIERRA LEONE: Slow donor response to DDR, says Saferworld

Barely half the US $50 million required to sustain the work of an ongoing Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme in Sierra Leone has been donated so far and the response from the EU as a whole has been "poor," Saferworld, a London-based research group, said this week.

"All European governments should support this crucial work," Saferworld said in the 16th issue of its arms bulletin, issued on 15 December.

It cited the 1997 EU programme on illicit trafficking, the 1998 EU Joint Action on Small Arms and the 1999 EU Development Council Resolution as all providing the framework within which EU support could be given.

Governments which have shown support for Sierra Leone's DDR programme include the United Kingdom, Norway and Canada, according to Saferworld, an independent group that alerts governments and educates the public on the need for more effective approaches to tackling and preventing armed conflicts worldwide.

NIGERIA: Kano parliament postpones debate on Shari'a

Kano State's lawmakers on Wednesday adjourned a debate on the proposed introduction of Shari'a law, which has been arousing increasing opposition from Christian and secular groups in the country.

News reports said the debate, expected to resume in January, was adjourned because of the death of a relative of Alhaji Ado Bayero, the Emir of the ancient city.

A member of the house, who asked not to be named, told reporters that Kano State Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso and other officials wanted to "calm things down" after minority Christian leaders in Kano expressed concern at the plans to impose the Shari'a.

The bill was endorsed last week by a joint meeting of Governor Kwankwaso, assembly members, Alhaji Bayero and Islamic leaders, 'The Guardian' said. Its third and final reading had been planned for Tuesday.

In October, Zamfara became the first Nigerian state to introduce the Shari'a. In addition to Kano, two other northern states, Sokoto and Yobe, have also taken steps to introduce Islamic law.

NIGERIA: Women's rights NGOs condemn religious fundamentalism

Women in Nigeria have said they oppose attempts by some states to introduce laws purporting to be "Islamic" or "Christian".

Baobab for Women's Human Rights and 13 other local rights groups who met in November decried the introduction of Shari'a in Zamfara State and threats to apply Christian laws in the south-eastern state of Cross River.

"These moves to restrictive laws in the name of religion are completely unconstitutional and their provisions violate our rights," the coalition of women said.

In a statement on 2 November, they said the ban on women using the same public transport as men in Zamfara was a "denial of women's rights to movement and, as a consequence, women's rights to freedom of association".

Their concern was supported by women from Muslim countries who met in Nigeria and discussed the "Islamisation of Zamfara State".

They said the restrictions in Zamfara would hurt poor women more because they could ill-afford private transport. The group also said violating women's rights by introducing the Shari'a would not end prostitution, gambling and other social vices.

The NGOs said they were shocked that those responsible for ensuring that constitutional rights were guarded had not done anything to protect these rights.

"We call on the president, state governors, and federal and state ministers or commissioners of justice and attorneys general to speak out and take action against these unconstitutional acts," Ayesha Imam, BAOBAB's executive director, said.

SENEGAL: Polio vaccination campaign exceeds target

Senegal attained 106-percent coverage for children 0-5 years old in the second round of a polio vaccination campaign that ended on 4 December, a source at the World Health Organisation office in Dakar told IRIN on Thursday.

He said some 1.9 million children were vaccinated against polio and with vitamin A, more than the 1.8 million who had been targeted.

The same number of children were targeted in the first round, from 4-5 November, when 1.94 million were vaccinated.

An evaluation of the nationwide vaccination programme is now underway, the source said.

GUINEA-BISSAU: Presidential runoff set for 16 January

The second round of Guinea-Bissau's presidential elections has been set for 16 January, a humanitarian source told IRIN on Thursday. The date was announced on Wednesday by the head of the country's election commission, Higino Cardoso, the source said.

According to the source, campaigning will start officially on 30 December and will end on 15 January.

The second round will pit Kumba Yala of the Partido de Renovacao Social (PRS) against interim President Malam Bacai Sanha of the Partido Africano da Independencia da Guine e Cabo Verde (PAIGC - which ruled the country since independence in 1974).

In the first round, held on 28 November, Yala won just under 39 percent of the vote against just over 23 percent for Sanha.

Abidjan, 16 December 1999; 17:59 GMT


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