Brussels - Oil is sheltering major African states from international criticism on human rights with foreign nations reliant on crude reluctant to speak out, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its annual report on Monday.
Nigeria, Angola and Equatorial Guinea are particularly well insulated from global rebuke because of their oil reserves, the report said, also singling out progressive states such as South Africa for turning a blind eye to abuses.
The HRW study, titled "World Report 2011", said that although "perpetrators of all classes of human rights violations enjoyed near-total impunity" in Nigeria, the international community had failed to apply significant pressure.
"Because of Nigeria's role as a regional power, leading oil exporter, and major contributor of troops to United Nations peacekeeping missions, foreign governments - including the United States and the United Kingdom - have been reluctant to publicly criticise Nigeria's human rights record," HRW said.
Angola, which vies with Nigeria for the title of Africa's top oil producer, received a similarly stark judgment. Its oil wealth "greatly limited leverage of other governments" to push for human rights protections, said HRW.
"Trade partners remain reluctant to criticise the government, to protect their economic interests," the report said, noting that Angola is China's second most important source of oil and biggest commercial partner in Africa.
Equatorial Guinea, meanwhile, "remains mired in corruption, poverty and repression" under the leadership of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the country's president for 30 years.
"Vast oil revenues fund lavish lifestyles for the small elite," the report said, noting that the United States is Equatorial Guinea's main trading partner and US companies dominate the country's oil sector.
"The government regularly engages in torture and arbitrary detention," it added, noting that the sole foreign correspondent in the country, an Agence France-Presse (AFP) reporter, was held for several hours when he attempted to cover the arrival of foreign dignitaries in Malabo, the capital, in April 2010.
The rights monitor said that South Africa's stable democracy, government and democratic institutions had not yet seen it become a strong global rights leader, and at home it appeared to be trying to limit freedom of expression.
"South Africa's government has refrained in recent years from condemning abuses in China, Sri Lanka, Iran, Burma, Sudan and the Congo, dashing hopes that it would be a reliable partner in promoting human rights," the report said.