Rival armed forces are being created and 500,000 flee their homes.
BACKGROUND ON AFRICA
Africa, home to one billion, is the globe’s poorest continent. In sub-Saharan Africa the average person lives on just 70 cents a day. This systemic poverty acts as an incubator for additional problems that grow and multiply atop each other: chronic instability, dictatorships and widespread, seemingly incorrigible corruption. Even in stable areas these forces side-rail human rights; South Africa, a figurehead of human rights triumphs in its post-apartheid era, has recently seen an influx of attacks on immigrants, provoked by severe competition over jobs and resources. 62 migrants were killed across major cities in 2008, 50,000 more, displaced.
Human rights statistics in the countries that are in actual internal or external war are staggering. The continent bears witness to some of the largest and continuing human rights violations in history. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has displaced over 2 million people who are then shuffled into refugee camps at best, or at worst living precariously and unprotected in warzones. 5.4 million have died in the decade-long conflict that set off regional wars, bleeding out into neighboring countries. And the DRC, in the heart of Africa is often referred to as the linchpin of the continent. UN peacekeeping missions have largely proved to be ineffectual.
Other areas like Somalia lay in constant turmoil; security is fleeting and the rule of law, nonexistent. Human rights have little chance of being protected by a government that doesn’t exist. Yet Africa, perhaps appropriately, is the site of nascent systems of international criminal law prosecuting leaders who abuse rights while they hide behind principles of sovereignty. Rights activists hope that the first international criminal trials on the continent can break through the assumed immunity for war crimes. For example, the International Criminal Court has issued the first arrest warrant for a sitting president, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan for the systemic rape, mass killing and displacement in Darfur.
There are signs that increased attention to the region, persistent human rights monitoring tools and new international courts can shift the balance of power away from those who expect impunity for crimes and toward public demands that rights be protected.