African nations debate trading freedom for security
by Feumba Samen
Posted 1/06/15, 02:40 pm
In response to the terrorism gripping parts of their continent, some African nations are adopting draconian anti-terror laws that are raising eyebrows in the West and eliciting denunciations from human rights advocates at home.
In early December, Cameroon’s National Assembly adopted a bill that mandates the death penalty for anyone “who, in a personal capacity, in complicity or coaction, commits any [terrorist] act or threat that is likely to cause death.” Those who “supply or use weapons and war materials, micro-organisms or other biological agents …; or takes a hostage” in order to fulfill terrorist objectives also would face the death penalty. Those who condone acts of terrorism will be subject to imprisonment and fines.
The section of the law causing the most debate is aimed at people accused of “disrupting the normal functioning of public services, the provision of essential services to the population, or creating a situation of crisis within populations.” According to opposition political leaders, human rights advocates, some church ministers, and trade unions, the law is “vague,” “fuzzy,” and “non-specific” on the definition of terrorism.
This lack of clarity in the definition of the law’s key component could lead to abuse, contribute to violations of human right,s and “stifle political dissent and/or existing opposition,” said Kah Walla, leader of the Cameroon People’s Party (CPP).
For many Cameroonians, the new anti-terror law is reminiscent of the abuses of the Ahmadou Ahidjo government in the 1960s. It repressed Cameroonian nationalists, who were fighting for both the political and economic independence of their country.
But despite opposition from some lawmakers, rights advocates, and even some media outlets, the bill passed without much popular outcry. Why? Because many Cameroonians believe their country is under threat.
Cameroon is surrounded. From Nigeria to the northwest, come threats by Boko Haram. Militants with the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta menace from the west. Central African Republic to the east harbors two militias—Seleka and Anti-Balaka. And to the north, Chad harbors its own armed groups. Instability in neighboring countries could lead tothe destabilization of Cameroon. Cameroonians fear foreign powers, especially France, which already has its army in CAR, Chad, and Gabon, might exploit the situation.
Aware that the deconstruction of a country is most often done in collaboration between external and internal forces, Cameroonians preferred to swallow the bitter pill of the anti-terrorism act. Supporters say it is not any more anti-democratic than anti-terror laws in other countries. But Cameroonians may ultimately decide that benchmark is too low, if they lose both their freedom and their security.
Court suspends controversial anti-terror laws in Kenya
NAIROBI, Kenya—The Kenyan High Court has suspended parts of the country’s new anti-terror laws that would have given sweeping powers to the president, police, and intelligence officials.
On Jan. 2, Judge George Odunga suspended eight sections of the Security Laws (Amendment) Act 2014 until a three-judge panel can rule on their constitutionality. He said they raise questions about the country’s Bill of Rights and human rights, and added they should be subjected to more scrutiny during a full court hearing.
The petition to suspend the laws was brought before the court by the opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy and the Kenya National Human Rights Commission, which wanted the entire act annulled.
The government argued the new laws do not violate any part of the constitution and the Bill of Rights and are necessary to fight terrorism.
The laws’ passage put the Kenyan government at odds with the U.S. government, which said protecting Kenya’s constitution and upholding human rights, democracy, and international obligations were among the most effective ways to bolster security.
The suspended clauses relate to the right to a fair trial, and the extension of the time a terrorism suspect can be held without charges, from 90 to 360 days. They also limit the number of refugees in the country. The laws give sweeping powers to security agencies to engage in covert operations, including tapping private communications without a court order.
One-time government anti-corruption crusader and human rights activist John Githongo said the anti-terror act is not good for the fight against terrorism: “The regime is acting as if it has no legitimate arrows in its quiver as it goes into this fight. Al Shabaab has won the first round by getting the Security Laws (Amendment) Act passed. Its leaders must be laughing watching us shoot ourselves in the foot.”
The government of Kenya has been under pressure to get tough on terrorism since 64 people were killed in two terrorist attacks in the northern part of the country.