From Our Partners: A Call to President Obama to Support African Civil Society During Sub-Saharan Visit

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White House photo of President Obama for U.S.-Africa summit coverage

In a letter endorsed by over 50 CSOs from around the world and delivered by our partners Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Front Line Defenders, Open Society Foundations, and World Movement for Democracy, Independent groups have welcomed the official visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to Sub-Saharan Africa scheduled for this month of July 2015.

They have further called on the President to publicly meet with pro-democracy and human rights activists in the region during the trip.

The letter, dated July 14th, 2015, further highlights specific human rights concerns in Kenya and Ethiopia since they are the countries he will be making stopovers.

This official visit comes at the backdrop of overt attempts by the government of Uganda to hastily pass the repressive Non-Governmental Organisations Bill, 2015 amidst sustained calls for amendments of 74% of the Bill by the NGO sector and other members of the public.

This NGO Bill, 2015 represents yet another proliferation of repressive laws into Uganda’s legal framework ahead of the 2016 general elections. The freedom of assembly as guaranteed under the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda continues to come under increased attack as the police moves to enforce the draconian Public Order Management Act. “Police have used violence more and more frequently against opposition protesters, going as far as breaking up public meetings and arresting and intimidating pro-democracy activists,” said Nicholas Opiyo, Executive Director and Lead Attorney for the Legal Charity Chapter Four Uganda.

“President Obama’s upcoming visit to Sub-Saharan Africa is an opportunity to stand in solidarity with the brave activists who have risked their lives for the protection of human rights,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “[T]he United States government must demonstrate that it stands on the side of the good and the just and that respect for human dignity remains at the core of its foreign policy.”

“His trip will build on the success of the August 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit and continue our efforts to work with countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya, to accelerate economic growth, strengthen democratic institutions, and improve security,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

In a forum that will coincide with President Obama’s visit to Kenya, several independent groups are scheduled to host a two-day human rights event to, “raise attention about the evident crackdown on civil society groups in the region, including issues related to shrinking civic space, repressive anti-NGO laws, and the declining respect for basic liberties.”

“The longstanding crackdown on human rights groups and journalists in Ethiopia and the use of so-called “anti-terror” laws to stifle the legitimate work of civil society actors in both Kenya and Ethiopia underscore their overall failure to adhere to democratic principles and international human rights standards,” read the letter to the President in part.

It should be noted that Uganda recently hurriedly passed its repressive Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill, 2015 amidst controversy as opposition members of Parliament stormed out of the house.

Click here to download the letter to President Obama in PDF