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Southern African NGOs Press SADC Leaders on Human Rights Guarantees


Activists voiced concern about what they said was harassment and even killings of human rights defenders, denial of the right of citizens to take part in political processes, and violence against women, children and others

Non-governmental organizations in Southern Africa are stepping up pressure on regional leaders meeting in summit next week in Angola to take a firmer stance on the protection of human rights in countries such as Malawi, Swaziland, Angola and Zimbabwe.

Civic groups, after discussions in Johannesburg this week, have issued a collective communique ahead of the Southern African Development Community summit, expressing concern about deteriorating conditions in those nations and the Democratic Republic of Congo where they say the democratic space for NGOs is contracting.

Activists in their statement voiced concern about what they said was harassment and even killings of human rights defenders, denial of the right of citizens to take part in political processes, and violence against women, children and others.

"We note with deep concern the deteriorating political situation in the Democratic
Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe," the groups said.

Charging a lack of urgency on the part of SADC and the African Union to address the evolving political situation in the region's problematic countries, the NGOs urged SADC leaders on to "recognize the DRC, Malawi, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Madagascar as problem cases that require [their] urgent attention" in light of the "precarious political situation and deteriorating human rights [conditions[ in these countries."

For perspective on rights issues in Southern Africa, VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira turned to Karen Alexander, political governance program manager with the Institute for Democracy in Africa, and conflict resolution expert Martha Mtisi, both in South Africa.

Alexander said most governments in the region are deeply entrenched, so SADC has lagged behind some other African regions in guaranteeing human rights. Mtisi said civil society must keep pressure on SADC heads of state regarding rights issues.

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