Southern African governments targeted and clamped down on their political opposition, activists, and journalists in 2023, Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2024.
Southern Africa had historically faced problems such as political instability and issues related to freedoms of expression, association and equal participation.
In 2023, these concerns have been closely related to free and fair elections, abusive responses to political unrest and clamping down on civic spaces.
These actions had contributed to a steady decline in rights protection and guarantees in the region.
“The authorities should immediately address the escalating cases of abduction, arbitrary detentions, torture and killings of opposition political activists,” said Allan Ngari, Africa Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch.
Ngari noted that the lack of tolerance for political plurality and freedoms of expression and association indicated backsliding on citizen’s guarantees to human rights.
In the 740-page World Report 2024, its 34th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries.
In Zambia, it was noted that freedoms of assembly and association were under pressure in 2023.
It reports that authorities used the Public Order Act (POA) to disrupt opposition activities, including by refusing to authorize opposition meetings and rallies.
The Human Rights Watch 2024 report noted that despite pledges from President Haikande Hichilema to repeal the NGO Act No. 16 of 2009, his administration had not done so.
“The law unduly restricts the activities of nongovernmental organizations and civil society groups, including by placing them under the authority of a government-dominated NGO Registration Board,” it stated
In Mozambique, similar efforts by the authorities were defeated when Parliament members revised a draft law that conflated operations of non-governmental groups with counterterrorism financing and anti-money laundering measures.
“This included providing for excessive governmental scrutiny and shutting down organizations without recourse to judicial review,” it noted.
In Angola, security forces had for decades committed unlawful killings, used excessive force against protesters, and arbitrarily arrested and detained opposition activists.
In 2023, the report noted that they carried out more than a dozen unlawful killings and numerous other serious violations against political activists and peaceful protesters.
South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs published a White Paper on Citizenship, Immigration and Refugee Protection, which sought to overhaul its migration system, by reviewing or withdrawing from the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol with a view to accede to them with reservations.
“Vigilante groups, such as Operation Dudula (isiZulu word meaning “to push out”), have reportedly violently targeted and harassed foreign nationals,” it said.
In Malawi, refugees had also faced the brunt of government excesses.
The report said since May 2023, the Homeland Security Ministry had detained and forcibly relocated 902 refugees and asylum seekers, including children to Dzaleka refugee camp.
The Human Rights Watch Group recommended that authorities should do more to uphold and protect human rights, meet everyone’s basic needs, and strengthen the protection of all groups, including refugees and internally displaced.
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