The scourge of conflict remained entrenched and showed little promise of abatement. However, there was limited progress across the region towards ensuring victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparation and accountability for grave violations and abuses of human rights that may amount to crimes under international law.
Almost all countries in the region contended with the devastating economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. Recovery efforts were hindered by conflicts, economic disruptions arising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and extreme weather conditions, which were exacerbated by climate change. Consequently, the rights of millions of people to food, health and an adequate standard of living were seriously undermined.
Authorities across the region deployed various tactics to silence peaceful dissent. Crackdowns on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly intensified as authorities used national security or Covid-19 as a pretext to ban, suppress or violently disperse protests. Human rights defenders, activists, journalists and opposition members faced intimidation and harassment, including arrests, detention and prosecution as authorities tightened their grip on the rights to freedom of expression and association.
The number of people fleeing conflict or climate crises continued to rise. Yet, international funding shortfalls left authorities barely equipped to adequately address refugees’ urgent basic needs.
The prevalence of violence against women across the region reflected the entrenched patterns of gender discrimination and other forms of inequality. In some countries, LGBTI people and people with albinism were not protected from discrimination and violence.
The high risk of environmental degradation or displacement of communities resulting from planned or existing mining or infrastructural projects persisted.
Unlawful attacks and killings
Armed groups and government forces alike targeted civilians, leaving a trail of death and destruction. In Burkina Faso, the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and the Islamic State in the Sahel (ISS) armed groups attacked towns and cities. In Djibo town, more than 300,000 residents were affected when GSIM destroyed water infrastructure. At least 80 people, mostly civilians, were killed when ISS fighters attacked Seytenga town in June; the assailants went from house to house killing men. In Cameroon, armed separatist groups in the Northwest and Southwest regions targeted people, healthcare facilities and schools; armed groups in the Far North region similarly raided villages, killing and abducting dozens of civilians. In the Central African Republic (CAR), at least 100 civilians were killed by armed groups and government forces between February and March. Attacks on civilians also intensified in eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where armed groups killed more than 1,800 civilians.
In Ethiopia, targeted attacks by government forces and armed groups on civilians in the Oromia, Benishangul-Gumuz, Amhara, Tigray and Gambela regions involved mass killings. In Mali, GSIM attacks on three villages in the Bankass Cercle in June, resulted in approximately 130 deaths, mostly civilians. In Mozambique, Al-Shabaab armed groups extended their attacks on civilians from Cabo Delgado to Niassa and Nampula provinces. In May, they beheaded 10 civilians during an attack on three villages in Cabo Delgado where they also abducted women and girls and looted and burned houses. In Nigeria attacks by Boko Haram, which had previously operated mainly in the north-east, spread to some states in north-central and north-western areas. Boko Haram, the Islamic State’s West African Province and unknown gunmen killed at least 6,907 people. In Somalia, Al-Shabaab was responsible for 76% of the 167 deaths and 261 injuries arising from attacks on civilians between February and May. In its deadliest attack, it killed more than 100 people in October in two bomb attacks targeting the Ministry of Education building and a busy market intersection in Mogadishu, the capital.
Civilians also bore the brunt of indiscriminate attacks. In Burkina Faso, French forces supporting the national army killed four civilians in February during an aerial strike on the armed group Ansaroul Islam. Dozens of civilians were killed in similar air strikes by Burkinabe armed forces in April and August. In CAR, 11 people were killed and 42 injured in 40 improvised explosive device-related incidents between January and October. Multiple airstrikes by government forces in Ethiopia, including one on a kindergarten, killed hundreds of civilians in the Tigrayan towns of Dedebit, Mekelle and Adi Daero. In Niger, an air strike by the Nigerian army in February killed seven children in Maradi region. The Niger army was also accused of unlawfully killing artisanal gold miners in Tamou in air strikes carried out in October.
Conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) remained pervasive, leaving survivors facing psychological and other health complications. In South Sudan, over 130 women and girls were raped or gang raped between February and May in the southern part of Unity State, in the context of the clashes between government forces with affiliated militias and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition. The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic documented 47 cases of CRSV in CAR between June and October. In DRC, at least six women were raped in May when the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo armed group attacked a gold mining village in Ituri province. The UN reported four CRSV incidents in Somalia between February and May. In Ethiopia, four survivors in Afar region said they were raped and abused by members of the Tigrayan forces.
Blockades and restrictions on humanitarian access continued to be used as a method of war. In Burkina Faso, GSIM not only blocked access and commercial supplies to several cities in the north and east, but also attacked civilian supply convoys, even those escorted by the military. In eastern DRC, relentless attacks by armed groups, military operations, and deliberate movement restrictions imposed by both government forces and armed groups further hindered humanitarian access and prevented communities from accessing vital assistance. In Ethiopia, where restrictions on humanitarian aid deliveries to Tigray were imposed when the conflict began in November 2020, the government declared a humanitarian truce in March that allowed a significant increase in the number of aid convoys to the region but deliveries stopped completely in August, when fighting resumed. In November, following the signing of the cessation of hostilities (Pretoria) agreement, deliveries resumed.
In Mali, Katiba Serma fighters blockaded the road axis linking the towns of Boni, Douentza, Hombori and Gossi between May and September, forcing traders to rely on military escorts. In August, the armed group attacked and burned 19 goods trucks in Hombori.
Parties to armed conflicts must protect civilians by ending deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, and indiscriminate attacks. They must also facilitate the safe and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance for populations at risk.
Right to truth, justice and reparation
There was limited progress across the region in fighting impunity and ensuring the right to truth, justice and reparation for victims of crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations and abuses. In March, Chadian authorities surrendered Maxime Jeoffroy Eli Mokom Gawaka, an Anti-Balaka armed group leader, to the ICC to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in 2013 and 2014 in CAR. In May, Dutch authorities arrested a former army officer suspected of involvement in the massacre of the Tutsi in Mugina city, Rwanda, during the 1994 genocide. The trials of Ali Mohammed Ali, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur in Sudan, and Mahamat Said, alleged commander of the Seleka armed group in CAR, opened at the ICC in April and September, respectively. Other trials concerning crimes committed by members of armed groups in CAR opened at the Court of Assizes in Bangui, the capital, and at the Special Criminal Court. In South Sudan, a military tribunal in Yei convicted eight soldiers of rape committed in the context of the conflict. However, no progress was made in establishing the Hybrid Court for South Sudan.
Governments must bolster efforts to fight impunity by undertaking thorough, independent, impartial, effective and transparent investigations into crimes under international law and bringing suspected perpetrators to justice in fair trials in civilian courts.
Economic, social and cultural rights
Right to food
The Russian invasion of Ukraine interrupted wheat supplies that many African countries had depended on. Meanwhile rising fuel costs, another consequence of the war in Europe, caused considerable spikes in food prices which disproportionately affected those who were marginalized and most vulnerable to discrimination. Food insecurity worsened as drought in several African countries reached unprecedented levels.
Large segments of populations faced acute hunger and high levels of food insecurity, including in Angola, Burkina Faso, CAR, Chad, Kenya, Madagascar, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. In Angola, food insecurity in the Cunene, Huíla and Namibe provinces was among the worst in the world and in some of these areas, adults and children resorted to eating stalks of grass to survive. In Burkina Faso, OCHA estimated that by September, 4.9 million people were facing food insecurity, including many internally displaced people who had fled their homes due to the conflict.
Conflict and resulting displacement also heightened food insecurity in Niger affecting 4.4 million people (about 20% of the population). In CAR, 50% were food insecure, and in some areas, it was as high as 75%. Half of Somalia’s population similarly faced acute food insecurity and more than 3 million livestock, essential for pastoralists’ livelihoods, perished largely due to drought. Massive loss of livestock as a consequence of drought was also recorded in Angola.
Right to health
While the impact of Covid-19 receded, several countries experienced new disease outbreaks or epidemics, including an Ebola outbreak in Uganda, declared in September, which resulted in 56 deaths.
A measles epidemic in Congo’s Pointe-Noire department claimed the lives of 112 children; and in Zimbabwe more than 750 under-fives died when a measles outbreak in Mutasa district spread to other areas. In Cameroon, a cholera epidemic affected seven regions, resulting in 298 deaths. At the New Bell prison in Douala, at least 16 prisoners died during two cholera outbreaks at the prison, including Rodrigue Ndagueho Koufet, who had been arbitrarily detained since September 2020 for participating in a peaceful protest. In Malawi, a cholera epidemic affected 26 of its 28 districts and by 31 December, 576 deaths were reported.
In several countries, extreme weather conditions triggered disease outbreaks. In Nigeria, floods precipitated an outbreak of waterborne diseases, including cholera, which killed over 320 people in Yobe, Borno and Adamawa states. Severe drought in Somalia led to a surge in malnutrition cases, while suspected cholera and measles cases increased sharply compared with previous years, according to the WHO.
Right to housing
Forced evictions remained a grave concern in the region.
In southern Angola, the expropriation of communal grazing land for commercial ranching persisted. In October, the police burned 16 houses and personal belongings in a raid to evict the Mucubai community from their land in Ndamba area on the outskirts of Moçâmedes, Namibe Province, to facilitate a land transfer to a commercial rancher.
In Tanzania, authorities forcibly evicted Indigenous Maasai community members from their ancestral land in Loliondo division, Arusha region, to make way for a tourist operation. Prior to the evictions, authorities failed to carry out genuine consultations with the residents or give them adequate notice and compensation.
In urban centres and cities, forced evictions were concentrated in informal settlements. For example, in June the Greater Accra Regional Security Council in Ghana demolished hundreds of homes located on land belonging to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Frafraha in the capital Accra. Residents were given only 48 hours’ notice of eviction. In Nigeria, the Federal Capital Territory Administration and security agencies demolished around 100 structures in the Dubaidna Durumi 3 village in August. Security agents used tear gas, exposure to which caused two children to faint, and physically assaulted residents during the demolition. In Zambia, the Chingola municipal council demolished over 300 houses built on land surrounding the Kasompe Airstrip in Chingola District.
Governments must take immediate action to ensure that the rights to food, health and housing are guaranteed including through international cooperation and assistance where necessary. They must also ensure that perpetrators of human rights violations are held to account.
Repression of dissent
Freedom of assembly
Crackdowns on the right to freedom of assembly intensified as authorities used national security or the Covid-19 pandemic as pretexts to ban, suppress or violently disperse protests. Even so, the people’s determination to claim their right to protest was barely deterred. Large demonstrations relating to various issues, including spiking food prices, took place in cities and towns across the region.
The deaths of scores of protesters were reported and attributed to excessive use of force by security forces in Chad, DRC, Guinea, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan, among other countries. In Chad and Sierra Leone, where at least 50 and 27 protesters died in October and August, respectively, findings from official investigations into the killings were not available by the year’s end.
Arrests and detention of protesters remained widespread throughout the region, including scores in Kenya, Sierra Leone and South Sudan who had protested the rising cost of living. Sudanese security forces detained hundreds of protesters and forcibly disappeared many others as part of a broader clampdown on opposition to the 2021 military coup. In Guinea, Senegal and Uganda, authorities targeted opposition leaders or protest organizers. Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye was arrested and detained three times for protesting against inflation and the high cost of living. Six women who protested his detention were also arrested and charged with inciting violence and holding an illegal protest. In July, organizers and participants of a banned march in Guinea were prosecuted.
In several countries, including Chad, DRC, Guinea, Lesotho, Niger and Senegal, bans on demonstrations effectively curtailed the right to protest.
On a positive note, in March the ECOWAS Court of Justice held that a 2011 ministerial order in Senegal that prohibited demonstrations of a political nature in downtown Dakar (the capital) violates the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The court asked Senegalese authorities to repeal it.
Freedom of expression
Human rights defenders, activists, journalists and opposition members faced harassment, intimidation and threats simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression. In Nigeria, a court in Kano city sentenced two social media celebrities to a week’s detention, flogging and a fine for allegedly defaming the Kano state governor in a comedy sketch. In Senegal, an opposition leader and two activists were among those arrested and charged with defamation and dissemination of false news. In Sudan, a woman in Southern Kordofan was charged with multiple offences under the Cybercrimes Act, including publishing false information in connection with a social media post about child recruitment to the Sudan Armed Forces. Activist and author Kakwenza Rukirabashaija fled Uganda after he was detained in connection with Twitter posts that the police claimed were intended to disturb the peace of Lieutenant General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the president’s son. In Zambia, two men were sentenced to 24 months’ imprisonment with hard labour for insulting the president on TikTok.
Attacks on media freedom remained rife. Security forces raided media premises in Sudan and Uganda while authorities suspended or shut down media outlets in Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and Tanzania for publishing content deemed critical of or unfavourable to government. Many individual journalists across the region were also arrested and detained, if not routinely harassed and intimidated. In Ethiopia, authorities arrested at least 29 journalists and media workers, many of whom were not formally charged. In Eswatini, Zweli Martin Dlamini, editor of Swaziland News, was declared a terrorist under the anti-terrorism law. In Ghana, a radio host was sentenced to two weeks in prison and fined GHS 3,000 (around USD 377) for contempt of court after he published a video alleging that President Akufo-Addo conspired with judges to influence the 2020 presidential elections.
Journalists and human rights defenders’ rights were repressed in Burundi, DRC, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Somalia and Zimbabwe. In Madagascar, 70-year-old environmental defender, Henri Rakotoarisoa, was stabbed to death in June. In Mozambique, suspected state agents broke into human rights lawyer João Nhampossa’s office and stole his computer, flash drives, mobile phones and various documents; and human rights defender Adriano Nuvunga received death threats.
Freedom of association
Authorities in the region tightened their grip on the right to freedom of association, impacting civil society organizations. For example, ahead of Angola’s general elections, the police prevented Omunga and the Association for the Development of Culture and Human Rights from holding a conference on peace building, while authorities in Burundi shut down a press conference in March. In Guinea, the transitional authorities dissolved the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution, a coalition of civil society organizations and political parties demanding the return to constitutional order.
Laws to stifle and control such organizations’ work were also enacted. In Niger, a decree was promulgated in February, requiring government approval for all NGO-initiated programmes and projects. Zimbabwe’s Private Voluntary Organization Amendment Bill, which contains provisions threatening the very existence of civil society organizations and their operations, was introduced in parliament.
Governments must end the harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders, journalists and activists, drop all charges against those facing prosecution, and immediately and unconditionally release anyone arbitrarily detained; and ensure media freedom is respected, including by allowing media outlets to operate independently.
Rights of internally displaced people, refugees and migrants
Increasing numbers of people fled their homes due to conflict or climate crises. An additional 600,000 people were internally displaced in DRC, bringing the total to nearly 6 million, the highest in Africa. As the conflict in Mozambique expanded, the number of displaced people rose to 1.5 million. Food and water insecurity, malnutrition, precarious health and inadequate housing marked their living conditions. In Somalia, more than 1.8 million people were displaced due to drought and conflict.
Uganda continued to host the largest refugee population in Africa with nearly 1.5 million refugees, almost 100,000 of whom arrived in 2022. Yet, only 45% of Uganda’s funding requirements were met as of November leaving authorities unable to adequately address refugees’ urgent needs like healthcare, water, sanitation and education. Sudan continued to receive new refugees from neighbouring countries – approximately 20,000 from South Sudan and 59,800 from Ethiopia. But severe international funding shortfalls forced the World Food Programme to cut refugees’ rations.
Migrants faced a unique set of violations and abuses. Thousands, including 14,000 between January and May, were violently expelled from Algeria to “Point Zero” on the border with Niger. In June, 10 migrants were found dead near the border with Libya. In Equatorial Guinea, dozens of irregular migrants were deported to their home countries without due process and without access to a lawyer.
Governments must take steps to ensure that refugees, migrants and internally displaced people are protected and given full access to humanitarian aid, including food, water and shelter; and immediately halt unlawful deportations and detentions of migrants and refugees and ensure their protection needs are met. The international community must address international funding shortfalls by providing long term sustainable and predictable funding to enable host countries to adequately address refugees’ urgent needs.
Discrimination and marginalization
Women’s and girls’ rights
The exclusion of pregnant girls from schools persisted in Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea. On the positive side, in September the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child found that Tanzania’s exclusion policy violated the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and recommended the policy be reviewed. In addition, 800 children, including pregnant girls and girls who had dropped out of school because of pregnancy, were reintegrated into schools in Sierra Leone.
Gender-based violence remained prevalent across the region. In South Africa, murders of women increased by 10.3%, with 989 women killed between July and September, while sexual offences and rape increased by 11% and 10.8%, respectively. In Eswatini, the brutal murder of a woman by her former partner led women’s rights organizations to intensify calls for a national emergency to be declared to combat gender-based violence. In Guinea, victims of rape continued to experience failures in prevention of and a lack of protection from such crimes as well as inadequate access to and availability of medical care, sexual and reproductive health services and care, psychological support, and legal and social support.
Several countries enacted progressive laws on gender equality. Congo’s parliament passed the “Mouébara law” on combating domestic and other violence against women. In Sierra Leone, the Customary Land Rights Act gave women an equal right to own and use family land; and an equality law included a provision stipulating that 30% of all positions in government be reserved for women. In Zimbabwe, legislation outlawing early and child marriage was introduced.
On the flipside, the president of the Permanent Commission of the National Assembly in Madagascar rejected a proposed law that sought to modify the penal code to decriminalize abortion. In Nigeria, the National Assembly voted against five bills which aimed to promote gender equality, and only committed to reconsider three of the bills after women’s groups and civil society organizations protested. In Rwanda, parliament rejected a bill to allow the provision of contraceptives to people over 15.
LGBTI people’s rights
Harassment, arrests and prosecution of LGBTI people was common in many countries. After being assaulted by her neighbours and motorcycle taxi-drivers, a transgender woman in Benin was further beaten in a police station, stripped and photographed. She was released without charge after spending three days in detention, naked and deprived of food. In Zambia, members of the homophobic #BanNdevupaNdevu #BanHomosexuality movement held a protest and used WhatsApp to call for the killing of and other violence against people suspected of being gay. In Uganda, the official NGO Bureau ordered the closure of Sexual Minorities Uganda, an umbrella organization that operates to protect LGBTI people’s rights.
Several countries introduced or considered new measures to criminalize consensual same-sex relations. In Ghana, a bill to further criminalize LGBTI people remained pending in parliament. In Equatorial Guinea, draft legislation regulating LGBTI people’s rights was being prepared. In Senegal, however, the National Assembly rejected a proposed bill that would criminalize LGBTI people.
There was barely any protection of LGBTI people in national courts. In Nigeria, three gay men were sentenced to death by a sharia court in Ningi, Bauchi state. In Eswatini, the High Court upheld the Registrar of Companies’ refusal to register the Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities advocacy group as an organization. In Namibia, the High Court dismissed applications of spouses of Namibian citizens seeking to regularize their immigration status on the basis of same-sex marriages concluded outside the country. At the regional level, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights rejected the observer status applications of three organizations ostensibly because they worked on LGBTI people’s rights.
People with albinism
Mutilation and other violent attacks against people with albinism continued in parts of Eastern and Southern Africa, motivated by superstitious misconceptions about albinism. In Madagascar, the number of violent attacks doubled, with abductions of children with albinism reported in February and August, while the mutilated body of a six-year-old boy was found in the Berano community, Amboasary Atsimo district, in March. In Zambia, the vandalized grave of a 12-year-old boy whose hand had been chopped off was discovered in January in Mungwalala Village in Chama district, Eastern Province. In June, three men severed a 10-year-old boy’s forefinger in Mkushi district, Central Province.
Governments must take immediate action to protect people from discrimination and violence, including steps to protect women’s and girls’ rights to equality and non-discrimination, and to allow them to live free of gender-based violence, including by ensuring survivors’ comprehensive access to sexual, reproductive and other healthcare, psychological support, and legal and social support.
Climate crisis and environmental degradation
The region continued to bear the brunt of extreme weather conditions exacerbated by climate change. The Horn of Africa suffered its worst drought in 40 years while parts of Southern Africa experienced extreme rainfall. In Madagascar, six tropical storms and cyclones made landfall between January and April, killing more than 200 people. In South Africa’s Kwazulu-Natal province, local government’s poor spatial planning and infrastructure maintenance worsened the impact of floods which destroyed thousands of houses. In West Africa, Nigerian authorities failed to implement sufficient measures to mitigate the impact of floods which killed at least 500 people and affected more than 1.9 million people across 25 states. In Senegal, the rising sea level continued to cause erosion in fishing villages, including in Guet-Ndar in Saint-Louis, threatening livelihoods and forcing communities to further move inland.
The high risk of environmental degradation or displacement of communities as a result of planned or existing mining or infrastructural projects persisted in several countries. In Namibia, the High Court dismissed an urgent application made by several organizations to stop a Canadian mining company from continuing its exploration in the Kavango regions. Tanzania and Uganda continued to participate in plans to construct the 1,443km East African Crude Oil Pipeline which would pass through human settlements and wildlife areas, agricultural land and water sources.
Several countries initiated new measures to tackle climate crisis or address environmental degradation. Guinea’s prime minister instructed a bauxite mining company accused of serious pollution to comply with international pollution control standards. In Somalia, the federal government created the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change and appointed a special presidential envoy for drought response. South Africa’s climate change bill was tabled in parliament, but there were concerns that it did not go far enough in addressing climate crisis. In South Sudan, President Kiir reportedly ordered all dredging related activities in the country to be suspended, pending completion of assessments on the impact on surrounding communities and ecosystems.
Governments must take immediate measures to protect individuals and communities against the risks and impacts of climate change and extreme weather conditions, including by seeking international assistance and cooperation to take sufficient climate adaptation and mitigation measures.