14:15 - 14:45
Human Rights Reporting, Surveillance and Censorship in the "War on Terror" in Africa

Short thesis

This session analyses links between human rights reporting, surveillance, censorship, and the 'War on Terror' as the U.S. military expands across Africa. The U.S.'s 'network centric warfare' strategy, 'collect it all' approach, and 'cooperation' with African states with histories of surveillance and political repression, impact human rights reporting in the public interest. Yet, there are tools and tactics human rights researchers and also journalists can use to circumvent surveillance and censorship, while increasing our own security.


Human rights investigative reporting in the Horn of Africa is being curtailed in the name of counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism objectives of the United States military and regional allies. Case examples will focus on Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti--host to USAFRICOM’s ‘permanent’ base in Africa, second largest predator drone base outside of Afghanistan, and hub of intelligence operations for 'network centric warfare' guiding drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia.

Kenya: This case considers examples of repression of investigative journalism on the involvement of U.S. military in counter-terrorism training and operations in Kenya. Journalists, who have reported on the Westgate mall terrorist attack, and on Kenyan police extrajudicial killings, have been retaliated against.  Kenyan media houses have allegedly warned journalists not to report on the 'War on Terror' and its links with human rights violations. Journalists are being surveilled and threatened.

Ethiopia and Djibouti: Human rights researchers have been denied access in Ethiopian refugee camps following initial documentation of cross-border sex trafficking of refugee women and girls with alleged involvement of American and Saudi men in Djibouti, and organized criminals across a 5-7 country ‘chain of profit’. A human rights researcher who worked in Ethiopia was surveilled, with key findings of research with Somali refugees censored. James Clapper, U.S. Director of National Intelligence, has publicly acknowledged, 'Trafficking in persons is a national security issue. There are links to terrorism, corruption and crime'. The U.S. Department of Defense recently also was quoted, 'We have seen problems in human trafficking in overseas contracting, both labor and sex trafficking'. Still, USAFRICOM recently denied allegations of sex trafficking in Djibouti, where there has been a black hole of human rights reporting on this issue, particularly where it concerns trafficked children.

Finally, there are tools and tactics to circumvent surveillance and censorship, and increase security in human rights investigations holding powerful state actors and adversaries to account.