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UK's Ambassador to the EU Political and Security Committee Julian Braithwaite Image: UNITED NATIONS The United Kingdom has expressed concern over “continued restrictions to civil and political rights and media freedom” in Rwanda. UK's ambassador to the EU Political and Security Committee Julian Braithwaite made the statement on Rwanda at the 37th Session of Universal Periodic Review. “As a member of the Commonwealth, and future Chair-in-Office, we urge Rwanda to model Commonwealth values of democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights,” said the statement dated January 25. But the UK welcomed Rwanda’s “strong record” on economic and social rights, and promotion of gender equality. As a member of the Commonwealth, and future Chair-in-Office, we urge Rwanda to model Commonwealth values of democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights United Kingdom In human rights realm, however, the UK recommended that Rwanda conducts transparent, credible and independent investigations into allegations of extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and torture and brings perpetrators to justice. It also called on the Paul Kagame government to protect and enable journalists to work freely, without fear of retribution, and ensure state authorities comply with the Access to Information law. Braithwaite also recommended screening, identifying and providing support to trafficking victims, including those held in government transit centres. However, Rwanda’s delegation led by Justice Minister and Attorney General Johnston Busingye denied the claims in a lengthy statement virtually. Busingye denied existence of illegal detention facilities, dismissed allegations the opposition and critical media were being deliberately targeted. He also denied the government of Rwanda is involved in forced disappearances. “There are no prosecutions that target persons simply because they are politicians or journalists or human rights defenders, and the so-called political trials do not exist, nor are trials against journalists or human rights defenders just for being journalists or human rights defenders,” the AG said. The US also said despite Rwanda’s progress in increasing gender equality and access to education, it was concerned about limited civic and political space. "This is specifically unduly burdensome permitting requirements which inhibit the right of peaceful assembly," US State Department said in a statement. The US recommended promotion for the right to freedom of expression by ending detentions and harassment of members of the media and civil society for their reporting, among other proposals highlighted by Human Rights World Report 2021 accused the Rwandan Patriotic Front of targeting those perceived as a threat to the government last year. “Several high-profile government critics were arrested or threatened. Authorities failed to conduct credible investigations into the suspicious death in police custody of well-known singer and activist Kizito Mihigo, in February,” the report said. Human Rights Watch particularly noted that arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities continued unabated. “Fair trial standards were routinely flouted in many sensitive political cases, in which security-related charges are often used to prosecute prominent government critics,” they said. State interference and intimidation have forced many civil society actors and journalists to stop working on sensitive political or human rights issues. President Kagame has in the past hit back at critics of human rights, saying their accusations are motivated by historical guilt. By Elidu Kibii, The Star
Burundi's President Evariste Ndayishimiye. Photo Tchandrou Nitanga/AFP Burundi's media have faced a serious crackdown and harassment by the authorities since a 2015 crisis when the government of former president Pierre Pierre Nzurunziza provoked the destruction and shut down of several radio and TV stations and forced over 100 journalists in to exile. Some of the most worrying bans were of the BBC, which has operated in the country without a license since 2019, and Voice of America, which was barred from broadcasting in the local language. In this context, media freedom was one of the most important issues in the presidential election in April 2020. Journalists have suffered increasing attacks and were banned from attending official press conferences on Covid-19 in the Ministry of Health. The coming to power of Ndayishimiye in May 2020 has brought some change in the relationship between the government and media after he asked the media regulator “to sit down with banned media and find solutions to these disputes so that we can put an end to them once and for all." In December 2020 the president ordered the release of four journalists imprisoned for a year on baseless charges and offered them a presidential pardon. IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger, said: “We welcome the recent steps taken by Burundi’s government towards a better respect of media freedom and freedom of information in the country. However, we don't take words as actions and urge the Burundi media regulator to immediately lift all the bans imposed on independent and international media and ensure journalists and media can work free from threats, harassment and measures aimed at silencing them". - International Federation of Journalists
Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission Moussa Faki. Photo Ludovic Marin/AFP The head of the African Union on Tuesday urged Kenya and Somalia to exercise restraint, and de-escalate tensions along their borders. "I'm following the tensions on the Kenya-Somalia border with concern, and urge the two neighbors to exercise restraint and engage in dialogue in conformity with the IGAD-led process," Moussa Faki Mahamat said in a statement. "Peace on the Kenya-Somalia border is vital to regional stability,” Faki said, referring to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an eight-country trade bloc in Africa. Somalia has accused Kenya of supporting armed fighters who engaged Somali forces on Monday, a fight that claimed 11 lives. The Information Ministry in Somalia said Kenya-backed bandits were attempting to smuggle weapons into Somalia through the porous border. Kenya, however, has distanced itself from the allegations and said it wants the conflict to end. - By Rédaction Africanews with Anadolu, Africanews
ODM leader Raila Odinga during a Sunday service at Sts. Joachim and Anne Catholic Church, Kayole on January 17, 2021. In Summary • This even as he fought off assertions by his critics that he does not believe in God. • The ODM boss urged the leaders to rally their flock behind the intended reforms, saying it is the only sure way the country's challenges will be resolved. ODM leader Raila Odinga has called on the church to lead the country to the promised land - Canaan - by supporting the Building Bridges Initiative reforms. This even as he fought off assertions by his critics that he does not believe in God. The former Prime Minister said the BBI is the sure route to deliver Kenyans to the promised land and called on the church to guide the nation towards that direction by backing the initiative. "I appeal to you to be the Moses and Joshua and lead Kenyans from the wilderness .... and get us to Canaan," Raila said during a meeting with religious leaders at Ufungamano House in Nairobi on Thursday. The ODM boss urged the leaders to rally their flock behind the intended reforms, saying it is the only sure way the country's challenges will be resolved. "I believe you will find no joy when your children go to school only to be told there are no jobs and only wheelbarrows are available," he said. He said BBI will solve the perennial chaos that has rocked the nation every election, curb corruption, resolve the problems of joblessness and restore our ethos. "The solution to corruption cannot be corruption. The solution to joblessness cannot be the wheelbarrow. BBI has nothing against the church," he said. "I believe the church will find no joy in burying their members every election year," he said. Raila reiterated that he is a God-fearing man contrary to claims by his political nemesis that he is not. "When I was in prison, the bible and the Quran provided by the prison chaplain and occasional letters from my wife are all I had," he said. "I had the King James Version in three languages. I also read the Quran from front to back and back again," he added. However, Raila challenged the church not be used as channels of money laundering. by JULIUS OTIENO AND ROLYN NJOROGE, The Star
In this file photo from 2016, Tanzania's President John Magufuli addresses a news conference during an official visit to Nairobi, Kenya. Photo Thomas Mukoya/Reuters Tanzanian President John Magufuli has claimed that vaccinations against COVID-19 are dangerous and instead urged Tanzanians to protect themselves from the deadly disease by using domestic measures including steam inhalation. Magufuli has long downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19, which has killed more than 2.1 million people worldwide. He has previously questioned the efficacy of imported COVID tests and urged people to pray to protect themselves from the coronavirus. The president has resisted imposing strict lockdowns to contain the virus and his government has faced criticism over its secrecy regarding the outbreak in the East African nation, which has not published official COVID-19 statistics for more than six months. “Vaccinations are dangerous. If white people were able to come up with vaccinations, a vaccination for AIDS would have been found, a vaccination for tuberculosis could have eliminated it by now; a Malaria vaccine would have been found; a vaccination for cancer would have been found by now,” Magufuli said in a speech on Wednesday in his hometown of Chato, northwest Tanzania. He also urged the health ministry to be cautious with vaccines developed abroad. The president offered no evidence to support his doubts about the safety of vaccinations, which are being administered across more than 50 countries, according to Our World in Data, after securing regulatory approval. A microbiologist who requested anonymity citing fear of government retaliation described the president’s statement as “dangerous” and said could help to reverse the country’s decades-long effort to eradicate preventable illnesses through vaccines. “The fight against COVID-19 needs informed public health measures. Denial, misinformation and inaction only puts Tanzanian citizens, especially the vulnerable ones, at unnecessary risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19,” the scientist told Al Jazeera. Magufuli’s warning comes a day after the Tanzania Catholic Church issued an alert over a surge in suspected COVID-19 infections in the country. In a letter addressed to church leaders, the president of the episcopal conference (TEC) warned of a possible new wave of infections. The TEC Secretary Father Charles Kitima told the media that the Catholic Church had noticed an unusually sharp increase in the number of funeral services being held. He said that usually, there would be one or two requiem masses per week in urban parishes, but that now they were conducting the masses daily. Since the apparent resurgence of cases in recent weeks, Magufuli has sent mixed messages to the public, at times urging people to follow expert advice but also mocking those who wear masks to slow the spread of the virus. Despite anecdotal evidence suggesting a potential resurgence of infections, there are no official figures to indicate how widespread it might be, as the health ministry stopped releasing regular updates on COVID statistics last April. Tanzania has reported 509 COVID-19 infections and 21 deaths in total, according to World Health Organization data. - Sammy Awami, Al Jazeera

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