Amnesty International‘s secretary general on Friday called for new “enlightened” political leadership in Africa, lamenting shrinking civil liberties in Mali, Senegal and elsewhere on the continent.
Speaking to reporters in the Senegalese capital Dakar after visiting both countries, Agnes Callamard spoke of worrying reports of abuses in Mali and urged more transparency in probes into protester deaths in Senegal.
She said West African nations were experiencing a reduction in the scope of individual freedoms, with activists being prosecuted, security forces using excessive force against protesters, and journalists under pressure throughout the region.
“In this context, in which human values are being flouted, we need real leaders, we need authentic leadership, we need people who stand out from this,” Callamard said.
“I would hope that perhaps these leaders could emerge or be found in Africa,” she said, adding former South African president and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela was such an example.
“The world needs enlightened leadership from African leaders. We find it at the level of civil society, now we should also find it at the level of political leadership”, she said.
In Mali, she denounced ill will on the part of the ruling junta.
“Amnesty International and others have noted an increase in violence against civilians since the beginning of the year, an increase that is not at all recognized by the authorities,” she added.
Yet “that denial cannot help”, she said.
She cited “extremely worrying” reports of enforced disappearances and urged investigations into crimes allegedly committed by armed forces against civilians.
But, she said, there had been “progress” on the legal and administrative framework towards fighting impunity.
In Senegal, she called for greater transparency in investigating the violent protests of March 2021 and June this year, in which civilians were killed.
In March 2021, she said 14 people died in protests following the arrest of the opposition politician Ousmane Sonko on rape charges.
In June, protests in the run-up to parliamentary elections again turned violent.
Authorities “claim a willingness to apologize… but for Amnesty the truth about the wrongs (committed) and justice for the families of the victims cannot be compromised,” Callamard said.
“Impunity for the excessive use of force by the security forces must end.”