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HUMAN RIGHTS IN AFRICA
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 31, 1979
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Washington, D.C. The subcommittees met at 2 p.m., in room 2172, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Don Bonker (chairman of the Subcommitee on International Organizations) presiding.
Mr. BONKER. The subcommittees will come to order.
This is a joint hearing with the Subcommittee on Africa to evaluate human rights conditions in Africa and to review the process of how policies of the State Department and other executive branch agencies are formed. Clearly African countries have diverse cultural and social backgrounds and governments attach different priorities concerning how best to attain social, economic, and political betterment.
Despite this fact, African countries have jointly and individually expressed their commitment to respect human rights. This was affirmed most recently at the summit meeting of the OAU in Monrovia, Liberia. As a personal observation I want to relate that 2 years ago, I was in Ethiopia and what I saw there was clearly shocking. We observed bodies along various streets in the Ethiopian capital. They condoned those indiscriminate killings as a matter of Red Terror overcoming what they explained to me was White Terror. In other words, they didn't see that as a human rights question, but merely a matter of trying to put down a counterrevolution. Therefore, we are not dealing with an academic subject, we are examining a problem which continues to affect the lives of many Africans.
In today's hearing we are principally interested in finding out which countries in Africa are responsible for the more serious violations of human rights and what are the most important human rights problems in that continent. Furthermore, we would like to know what is the information base on which the State Department's human rights reports on Africa are prepared ? What steps are taken to assure that the reports are comprehensive and accurate? What steps are being taken to assure that we have objectivity in the preparation of those reports and what is the review process before the reports are sent to the Congress? Finally, we would like to assess how the U.S. human rights policy is working in Africa as human rights concerns quite obviously are balanced with other U.S. foreign policy objectives.
Before introducing today's witnesses I would like to note for the record and to applaud the recent initiatives of African nations to join together and establish their own mechanism for the resolution of their
human rights problems. This is a positive step that should be vigorously encouraged. I met recently with some African attorneys who have set up their own commission to establish human rights standards as well as a monitoring process for human rights conditions within the various African countries. Increasingly it is becoming clearer that this is one of the best ways of approaching human rights problems. That is, not to have the United States so arduously pointing a finger at another country or another continent, and accusing them of violations. Instead we are encouraging African leaders to establish their own means of dealing with human rights problems.
As witnesses today we have from the State Department Mr. Steve Cohen, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Rights and Security Assistance, Mr. Vincent McGee, acting chairman, Amnesty International, U.S.A., accompanied by Ms. Stephanie Grant, director of the Washington Office of Amnesty International, Dr. Warren Weinstein, vice president of the Coordinating Council for International Issues and Mr. Raymond Gastil, director of the Comparative Survey of Freedom, Freedom House.
I think that the procedure will be to have Mr. Cohen testify first and then we will have a panel for the other three witnesses.
As I mentioned at the outset this is a joint meeting, Steve Solarz, who is chairman of the Africa Subcommittee will join us shortly. We are pleased to have Representative Goodling with us who has no opening statement.
We welcome your testimony, Mr. Cohen. You may submit the prepared text for the record, or read through it all, whichever is your pleasure.
STATEMENT OF STEPHEN B. COHEN, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRE
TARY FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Mr. COHEN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I will submit the full text for the record and try to summarize in a few minutes what is in the full text.
It is a pleasure to appear before this joint session of the House Subcommittees on Africa and on International Organizations. I know that the Department has benefited a great deal from your own involvement and extensive interest in human rights issues. We hope to continue to work closely and cooperate fully with you and to have the benefit of your advice and your criticism.
My testimony today will deal with two subjects: First, the annual country reports on human rights practices and second, human rights in Africa. I want to note parenthetically that when I use the term Africa I mean sub-Saharan Africa.
First, the human rights reports. On January 31 of next year the Department of State will submit to the Congress its report on human rights practices in 155 countries around the world. It describes conditions with respect to three different categories of human rights:
One. The right to be free from governmental violation of the integrity of the person, such as arbitrary imprisonment, torture and summary execution;
Two. The right to enjoy civil and political liberties; freedom of thought, religion, assembly, speech, and the press; and
Three. The right to fulfillment of such vital needs as food, shelter, health care, and education.
Next year's report will include 40 countries that were previously not covered. Among them are six African countries—Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Namibia, Republic of South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. The Department will be reporting on these countries for the first time as a result of a recent amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 which expanded the coverage of the report.
Reporting on human rights conditions is not an exact science. It inevitably involves subjective judgments and, therefore, differences of opinion. Moreover, the quantity and quality of data may differ from country to country. We hope that, as we gain experience each year, the reports will provide fuller and more accurate information and, therefore, more useful aids to the Congress in its decisionmaking.
I would like to outline briefly the reporting process, from the gathering of raw materials to transmittal to the Congress. In assembling raw material our goal is to seek information from as many and as diverse a spectrum of sources as possible. The primary source of information is our embassies abroad. All U.S. Ambassadors have been instructed to report on human rights conditions in their host countries on a regular and detailed basis. We rely in addition on the published reports of nongovernmental organizations engaged in human rights activities, the reports of international organizations, findings of congressional committees such as your subcommittees, private citizens and other information in the public domain.
Because information is gathered from many sources, contradictions and inconsistencies sometimes arise. Charges of serious human rights abuses often elicit official denials. Official claims of significant progress may be challenged by private human rights groups. We try to check carefully the accuracy of critical information and the reliability of the source of it.
After materials are assembled, a first draft is usually prepared by the concerned country desk officer at the State Department in Washington largely based on the reports provided by our embassy abroad. The draft is then subject to a preliminary review by the Human Rights Bureau to insure the coverage is as complete and accurate as possible. After the draft is deemed sufficiently complete, it is forwarded for criticism and review by several other offices, including the Policy Planning Staff, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the Legal Advisor's Office, the Agency for International Development and the Congressional Relations Office. Each of these offices performs its own independent assessment of each report. The agreed draft is then reviewed by the NSC and by the Office of the Deputy Secretary of State.
At the same time the final reports are submitted to the Congress, copies are delivered by our embassies abroad to their host governments. The delivery of the reports to a host government often provides a useful occasion to conduct a constructive dialog on human rights matters.
I want next to make a few comments about the human rights reports we will be doing for Africa this year. I think as you read these reports it might be helpful to keep in mind three separate categories into which one might divide, for analytical purposes, the countries of Africa.
One category includes states with multiparty democracies such as Senegal, Gambia, and Botswana. Another category includes highly repressive governments that have violated rights of the integrity of the person on a massive scale, such as the Amin and Macias regimes in Uganda and Equatorial Guinea.
A final category, between the first two, includes the so-called one party states, and a majority of African countries fall into this category. They are distinguished from category one countries by the absence of more than one political party and from category two countries by the absence of massive violations of the rights of the integrity of the person. But among the so-called one party states there is considerable variation in actual conditions and that variation occurs along a number of different dimensions.
The press may be controlled, free, or allowed some leeway to criticize official policies within well understood limits.
Political prisoners may be held in significant numbers or virtually not at all. Or, because of a haphazardly functioning legal system, there may be no clear distinction between who is a political prisoner and who is not.
There may be considerable opportunity for people to participate in politics or such participation may be limited to a select few.
Prison conditions may be adequate or abysmal. And, if abysmal, it may be due to conscious malfeasance or it may be that the country is so poor that conditions of prisoners more or less resemble those of the general population.
In some "one party” states there may be an independent judiciary, while in others the executive may hold the power to hire, promote, and fire judges at will.
Depending on the mix of these factors, a one party state may be comparable to a multi-party democracy, it may be highly repressive or fall somewhere in between.
In the human rights reports we attempt to describe for each country, both in Africa and the world, human rights conditions along each of these dimensions.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to turn now to the subject of human rights conditions in sub-Saharan Africa. There is clearly evident today in Africa a new consciousness regarding human rights. A Western correspondent who covers Africa recently told me:
During the past year, human rights has really come home as an African issue. The Bokassa Affair crystallized African opinion and it was a turning point. Now the OAU is trying to grapple with the whole program.
While Africans have consistently focused on the problem of apartheid, they have now expanded their human rights focus to encompass the treatment of African people by their governments throughout Africa. During the 16th OÂU Conference at Monrovia this past July one participant stated:
We cannot talk about the denial of human rights in South Africa without ensuring that we ourselves are defensive of human rights.
This development takes place at a time when the United States has not only placed renewed emphasis generally on human rights in foreign policy but has also taken a clear position against apartheid and for the majority rule in Southern Africa. One African official recently told us that the U.S. policy was “useful” in “disturbing the