Protests in Sudan Intensify

By: Dan Krupinsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KHARTOUM, Sudan – Protests against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, representing the largest protests in the capital in years, are one of the most serious challenges yet to the president’s authority during his 24-years in office.

Anti-government protesters chant during a demonstration on Sunday. (Photograph: Khalil Hamra/AP)

In the latest wave of protests that have persisted for over a week, national security forces fired tear gas in an attempt to break up a demonstration held inside a women’s university in the capital on Monday.

The Associated Press is reporting that two students, speaking only on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, told them in a phone call that hundreds of students were clapping and chanting in opposition of al-Bashir, until the building was inundated with tear gas.

“I saw students falling, fainting from the heavy gas. Ambulances rushed to the university,” said one of the students.

Protests, many of them deadly, have taken over several Sudanese cities since last Sunday, when the government lifted subsidies on gasoline, which resulted in a price increase that was almost doubled the price, and is expected to have a similar effect on other goods.

According to international rights groups, at least 50 protesters have been killed by government forces. Doctors and activists put the death toll higher, claiming that over 100 people have died so far. The government has acknowledged 33 deaths, including police officers.

“The protests will continue and will reach a general strike. This is our aim,” said Ghazi al-Sanhouri, a nephew of the dead protester, to The Guardian. “We will keep uncovering the regime’s brutal tactics in suppressing the protests by killings and atrocities.”

Additionally, journalists say that a media blackout has been imposed on them by the government, banning them from covering the actions.

“The government feels that its own existence is endangered and the press is playing a role in influencing public opinion…they want papers to turn into official gazettes that reflect only [the government’s] point of view with no criticism or negative feedback,” said Diaa Eddin Belal, editor-in-chief of al-Sudani newspaper, to The Guardian.

The government said on Sunday that it would give out payments to families in need, raise the minimum wage and boost public sector salaries, in an effort to please the frustrated and increasingly violent and irritable public.

Schools have been closed since for almost a week after high school students led protests against al-Bashir in different parts of the capital, and are expected to stay closed until late in October.

For further information, please see:

ABC News – Sudan Security Fires Gas at University Protest – 3o September 2013

Al-Jazeera – Sudan defends crackdown amid more protests – 1 October 2013

The Guardian – Sudan protesters call for president Omar al-Bashir to step down – 30 September 2013

New York Times – Sudan Erupts in Deadly Protests as Gas Prices Rise – 26 September 2013

Judges Uphold 50-Year Sentence for Charles Taylor

By: Dan Krupinsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone denied the appeal of former Liberian president Charles Taylor on Thursday, confirming his 50-year sentence for war crimes.

Judges found no reason to overturn or reduce the 50-year sentence for Taylor.
Original Chief Prosecutor David Crane (center), with his successor, Sir Desmond DeSilva (left) and current Prosecutor Brenda Hollis (right) at Taylor’s appeal.

Taylor was found guilty of 11 counts of war crimes, including murder, rape, torture and the enslavement of child soldiers, on April 26, 2012. The atrocities in Sierra Leone were carried out by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a guerrilla army. Taylor supplied them with guns, training and recruits in return for diamonds, actions that the Court determined amounted to “aiding and abetting” the crimes.

In addition to aiding and abetting, Taylor also planed some of the attacks carried out by the guerrillas.

“Their primary purpose was to spread terror. Brutal violence was purposefully unleashed against civilians with the purpose of making them afraid, afraid that there would be more violence if they continued to resist,” said Presiding Judge George Gelaga King.

Taylor is the first head of state to be convicted of war crimes by an international court since the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders after World War Two.

“This verdict shows no person, no matter how powerful, is above the law,” said the court’s prosecutor, Brenda Hollis.

The reaction in Sierra Leone was understandably positive.

“It’s a victory for me against tyranny,” said Edward Conteh, whose hand was cut off by rebels, according to Reuters. “I’m happy Charles Taylor is behind bars for 50 years because I’m a victim of the war.”

The ruling means that Taylor, 65, will more than likely spend the rest of his life in a high security prison cell. A final decision will be made next week on where we will serve his sentence, but the UK is currently the only country that has publicly offered to accommodate him.

“The sentence is fair in the light of the totality of the crimes committed,” said Judge King. “The defense failed to demonstrate any discernible errors in the trial chamber’s sentencing.”

Taylor’s lead defense attorney, Morris Anyah, said Taylor took the verdict with great stoicism and also added that Taylor would not have been convicted if he had had a powerful ally.

“If Charles Taylor had had a friend among the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, this case would not have had the traction it has had,” he said.

Thursday’s ruling is the final judgment at the court, which indicted 13 of the main facilitators of the violence in Sierra Leone. Two died before trial and one more remains unaccounted for and possibly dead. Another died before hearing a verdict. All of the others were tried and convicted.

For further information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Judges uphold Charles Taylor’s jail sentence – 26 September 2013

The Guardian – Charles Taylor’s 50-year sentence upheld at war crimes tribunal – 26 September 2013

Reuters – Liberia’s Charles Taylor loses appeal against war crimes conviction – 26 September 2013

The Telegraph – Charles Taylor to spend rest of life in British jail for Sierra Leone war crimes – 26 September 2013

 

Mall Seige Over, Mourning Period Declared by Kenyan President

By: Dan Krupinsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya – The four-day siege at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall is finally over, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced on Tuesday.

Kenyan soldiers move into position outside of the mall. (Courtesy: Reuters)

In an address to the nation, Kenyatta said that five terrorists were killed, while 11 others believed to have been connected to the attack have been taken into custody. 61 civilians and six soldiers are also among the dead, according to Kenyatta, but more bodies, including possibly those of additional terrorists, may be buried in rubble, after three stories of the mall collapsed during the attack. The Red Cross put the death total at 62, and said that 65 people are still unaccounted for.

Kenyatta praised the people of his nation for their united stance and support during the siege.

“Fellow Kenyans, we have been badly hurt and feel great pain and loss, but we have been brave, united and strong.  Kenya has stared down evil and triumphed,” he said.

Somalia’s al-Shabab militant group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that it was payback for Kenya’s military operations in Southern Somalia.

According to witnesses, the attackers questioned many of the civilians about their religious beliefs, and allowed Muslims to go free.

Remarkably, reports have circulated that a four-year old British boy was spared after he confronted a gunman and told him that he was a ‘very bad man’ as he protected his six-year old sister and mother, who had been shot in the leg.

The gunman then reportedly handed the children candy bars, and said “Please forgive me. We are not monsters.”

While most of the gunmen reportedly spoke English, Kenyatta would not confirm reports that some of the attackers were from outside the region, and possibly Westerners.

“Intelligence reports had suggested that a British woman and two or three American citizens may have been involved in the attack,” he said.  “We cannot confirm the details at present, but forensic experts are working to ascertain the nationalities of the terrorists.”

Reports of the potential involvement of a British woman have caused many to wonder it could be Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of one of the bombers responsible for the London subway attacks in 2005. She has been dubbed “white widow” by the British press.

Lewthwaite is wanted for planning other attacks in Kenya, and has been linked to terrorist groups in the country.

Kenyatta declared that the attackers will be held fully accountable for the “mindless destruction, deaths, pain, loss and suffering we have all undergone as a national family.”

“These cowards will meet justice as will their accomplices and patrons wherever they are,” he vowed, pledging to work with allies in fighting terrorism.

Kenya will officially have a three-day mourning period.


For further information, please see:

All Africa – Kenya: Govt Says Army in Control of Besieged Mall, All Hostages Free – 24 September 2013

CNN – Attackers defeated in mall siege, Kenya’s president says – 24 September 2013

Daily Mail – Astonishing Moment: British boy, four, confronted Kenyan mall gunman – 23 September 2013

Voice of America – Kenyan President Declares Mall Siege Over – 24 September 2013

Washington Post – Kenyan president says siege of Nairobi mall is over, declares mourning period for the dead – 24 September 2013

ICC Judge Warns Media After Attempt to Expose Witness Indentity in Ruto Trial

By: Dan Krupinsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a stern warning to the media on Wednesday, after the identity of a witness in Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto’s trial was apparently exposed on social media.

William Ruto in court at the ICC. (Courtesy: ICC-CPI on Flickr, Human IPO)

The woman, who was to be known only as Witness 536 for her protection, took the stand on Tuesday as the first witness for the prosecution in the trial of Ruto, accused of crimes against humanity. She testified about an attack in January 2008 by a mob on a church in Kenya’s Rift Valley region, which she and her children survived. The incident left at least 28 people dead.

Because of safety concerns, she testified from behind a curtain, and her image was pixilated and voice distorted on the court video.

However, after her testimony on Tuesday, which was broadcast live on Kenyan TV, speculation began about her true identity on Twitter and other Internet sites. By Wednesday, numerous Twitter posts had supposedly identified her, and one Kenyan blogger and the website of a tabloid newspaper published photographs supposedly of the witness.

The woman in the photograph was identified by name, but the name attributed to her was different than the actual name of the woman in the photograph. So, while the woman in the photograph is not Witness 536, it is still unclear if the reported name of the woman is accurate. But the woman whose photograph is being circulated has asked for police protection.

“The photograph is mine but I have nothing to do with the ICC cases. I am not a witness in any case,” the woman said.  “Some began condemning me for going to The Hague to testify even without asking me whether it was true I had gone to testify. I am in shock.”

The woman in the photograph was one of the survivors of the attack on the church, which is likely why she was mistakenly believed to be the witness.

On Wednesday, Presiding judge Eboe Osuji issued a warning to the media that anyone who acts to expose the identities of witnesses in the case will be held in contempt of court, and may face prosecution.

“Let me warn everybody: bloggers, journalists or anyone else intimidating witnesses, that you will be investigated and prosecuted,” Osuji said.

“Revelation of identity of a witness protected by the court is an offense and considered as contempt of court.”

The possibility that the protected identity of a witness has been uncovered after only one day of testimony will undoubtedly make an already difficult case for prosecutors even harder.

Claims by ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of witness intimidation were already being investigated. Because of the controversial nature of the case, many potential witnesses were already scared to come forth. Four witnesses withdrew just before the trial began, with several more following before the prosecution even began its case.

For more on the charges and accusations, please read earlier reports from Impunity Watch.


For further information, please see:

All Africa – ICC Judge Warns Against Exposing Ruto Trial Witnesses – 18 September 2013

BBC – William Ruto trial: Kenyan’s fears over witness claims – 19 September 2013

Human IPO – ICC judge warns Kenyan media and bloggers against exposing Ruto trial witnesses – 19 September 2013

News24 – ICC warns journos after Kenya witness ‘outed’ – 19 September 2013

News Observer – Branded an ICC witness, Kenya woman fears for life – 19 September 2013

UPI – ICC judge: Witnesses names to be kept out of media – 19 September 2013

 

First Witness Testifies in Trial of Kenyan Deputy President Accused of Crimes Against Humanity

By: Dan Krupinsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The prosecution in the trial of Kenyan deputy president William Ruto at the International Criminal Court (ICC) called its first witness on Tuesday, a woman known only as Witness 536.

Witness 536 broke down during her testimony, describing an attack in January 2008 by a mob on a church in Kenya’s Rift Valley region. According to her, thousands of youths armed with machetes and sticks surrounded the church, which had become a place of refuge from attacks that were occurring in the area, and set the building on fire with people trapped inside. At least 28 people were killed in the incident, with some estimates putting the fatality count at 35.

William Ruto waits for the beginning of his trail in the ICC courtroom. (Courtesy: Reuters)

The church was completely full of women and children from the Kikuyu ethnic group, she said. Members of the rival Kalenjin tribe approached from two sides, singing.

“They were painted with white clay…some had matches, axes and sticks…they were singing,” said the witness, describing the mob. “We were all trying to find a way to escape. I was carrying my small child with me. The church was set alight.”

The mob used bicycles to block a main exit, while other members of the mob guarded other exits to prevent escape.

“When somebody tried to leave the church, they would grab the person and push them back inside,” said the witness. “I went mad.”

In court documents, the prosecution also claims that others who tried to flee were hacked to death.

The court rules that Witness 536’s identity will be kept secret, for her own protection. She is testifying from behind a curtain, and her image is pixilated and voice distorted on the court video. Ruto, present in the courtroom, cannot see her.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has voiced complaints of interference and threats against witnesses. In addition to four witnesses who withdrew just before the trail, several more have withdrawn in recent days.

Bensouda announced that accusations of witnesses being bribed to withdraw their testimony are being investigated, warning of tough penalties.

Some witnesses say they were under family and community pressure, according to Kenyan media reports, as the trial is severely embarrassing for Kenya’s government.

Ruto and his co-defendant, radio executive Joshua Arap Sang, face charges of crimes against humanity in connection with their alleged in a swarm of ethnic violence that followed Kenya’s 2007 election, where more than 1,100 people were killed. For more on the charges and accusation, please read earlier reports from Impunity Watch.

 

For further information, please see:

ABC News – Kenya’s William Ruto trial: ‘Baying mob trapped hundreds’ in Kiambaa church fire massacre – 17 September 2013

BBC – Kenya’s William Ruto trial: ‘Church victim’ testifies at ICC – 17 September 2013

Los Angeles Times – First witness testifies in Hague trial of Kenya’s deputy president – 17 September 2013

Voice of America – First Witness Called in Ruto ICC Trial – 17 September 2013

Trial of Kenyan Deputy President Charged With Crimes Against Humanity Begins

By: Dan Krupinsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The trial of Kenya’s deputy president, William Ruto, began earlier this week, marking the first time that a serving government official has stood trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Ruto faces charges of crimes against humanity, stemming from the aftermath of the 2007 Kenyan presidential election, when more than 1,100 people died. On Tuesday, he plead not guilty to all charges against him. Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, will be tried on the same charges in November.

William Ruto sits in the courtroom, awaiting the start of his trial. (Photograph: Michael Kooren/AP)

Specifically, Ruto and Kenyatta are charged with murder, deportation and persecution of political opponents in the Rift Valley region in late 2007 and early 2008, following the disputed election.

Kenyatta and Ruto, who teamed up to win the most recent election, were political rivals at the time, with Kenyatta being a prominent member of the Kikuyu ethnic group while Ruto was a leader of the Kalenjin group.

Following the election, ethnic clashes across the nation resulted in the deaths of over 1,100 people and the displacement of some 600,000 more, and were said to be the work of Ruto and his co-defendant, Joshua arap Sang, an influential radio executive.

“The crimes of which Mr. Ruto and Mr. Sang are charged were not just random and spontaneous acts of brutality,” said the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, in court. “This was a carefully planned and executed plan of violence. Ruto’s ultimate goal was to seize political power for himself and his party in the event he could not do so via the ballot box.”

Ruto is accused of arming and organizing the attackers, while Sang’s role, according to the prosecution, was fostering hatred against Kikuyu tribe members through his radio show and broadcasting coded instructions about where to attack.

“It is difficult to imagine the suffering or the terror of the men, women and children who were burned alive, hacked to death or chased from their homes by armed youths,” Bensouda said.

Even after the Kenyan parliament voted last week to withdraw from the court, Ruto appeared voluntarily for the start of the trial, and continues to cooperate.

Ruto’s principal defense counsel, Karim Kahn, asserts that the charges against Ruto “[will] be shown to be patently false.”

“One cannot escape the reality that this investigation has been exceptionally deficient,” he said.

The legitimacy of the case is already being called somewhat into question, as prosecutors claim that witnesses have been afraid to testify, recanted their testimony after accepting money and in some cases, even killed.

The trial will resume Tuesday, September 17, when the prosecution will start presenting witnesses in a first session, which ends October 4. The second session is scheduled from October 14 to November 1.

 

For further information, please see:

All Africa – First Prosecution Witness to Testify Tuesday – 12 September 2013

BBC – Kenya’s William Ruto formed an army for war, ICC hears – 10 September 2013

The Guardian – Kenya’s deputy president William Ruto denies murder at ICC – 11 September 2013

New York Times – Deputy President of Kenya Goes on Trial in The Hague – 10 September 2013

ICC Decision on the Confirmation of Charges

 

 

At Least 60 Killed in Central African Republic Clashes

By: Dan Krupinsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

BANGUI, Central African Republic – As violence continues to plague the Central African Republic, officials announced early in the week that fighters believed to be loyal to ousted President Francois Bozize killed dozens of people and displaced tens of thousands over the weekend.

CAR has been unstable since independence in 1960 (Courtesy: BBC)

The fighting was in the western region of the country, an area that has been the site of several massacres in the past few month, allegedly carried out by the Seleka coalition of fighters, who ousted Bozize in March. Since that time, Seleka leader Michel Djotodia was sworn in as president, vowing to return the country to democracy by organizing elections within a year and a half.

“The international community should keep a watchful eye on what is happening in this country, as we have just made a policy shift to pave the way for elections,” said presidential spokesman Guy Simplice Kodegue.

Kodegue put the death toll at 60, some estimates say that as many as 73 people were killed. According to the official government statement, a column of army soliders, with the support of Seleka fighters, were dispatched to the western region from Bangui to stop the assailants, who are accused of abusing civilians in the town of Bossangoa, which is located near Bozize’s home village.

According to Orongaye Rigobert, a community leader in Bossangoa, the pro-Bozize fighters had destroyed bridges used to access the town from Bangui in a bid to halt the army’s advance.

The clashes caused about 80 percent of the town’s population, some 30,000 people, to flee into the forest.

The latest fighting comes on the heels of a UN warning that the country is on the brink of collapse.

Another spokesman for the government accused Bozize of coordinating the most recent attacks, asking the international community for assistance in halting the violence and restoring order.

“It is an attempt by Bozize and his supporters to take power,” said Crepin Mboli-Goumba. “Six towns have been taken. This shows Seleka does not control the situation so we call on the international community to mobilize (peacekeepers) so they can intervene.”

According to recent estimates by UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, who recently visited the country, about one third of the country’s 4.6 million people need assistance with food, shelter, healthcare or water.

Since coming to power, Seleka fighters have been accused by aid workers of looting the healthcare system, as well as civilians.

If the accusations are true, it would be the first large-scale operation launched by the former President’s forces since his overthrow in March.

 

For further information, please see:

All Africa – New Fighting Reported As Security Continues to Deteriorate – 10 September 2013

BBC – Central African Republic says scores killed in new clashes – 9 September 2013

Reuters – Death toll rises in battles in Central African Republic – 9 September 2013

Washington Post – Official: 60 killed in attacks in home region of deposed Central African Republic leader – 9 September 2013

 

 

 

 

 

Millions Face Food Shortage in Zimbabwe

By: Dan Krupinsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

HARARE, Zimbabwe – The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday that Zimbabwe, following a drought and poor harvest, faces its worst food shortage in four years.

According to the agency, they will work with the government and other international aid organizations to provide food assistance to a portion of the nation’s 13 million people from October until March and April of 2014, when the next crop harvest will occur.

An estimated 2.2 million people, which is one fourth of the rural population of Zimbabwe, are expected to need food assistance in the time before the harvest period next year.

Food sits, ready for distribution to those in need. (Photo: WFP/R. Lee)

“Many districts, particularly in the south, harvested very little and people are already trying to stretch out their dwindling food stocks,” said WFP Country Director Sory Ouane. “WFP is working closely with the Government and partners to respond to the looming food crisis and will start food and cash distributions to the most vulnerable in October.”

Food prices in Zimbabwe are up by as much as 15% in some cases, and as the availability of foods like grain and cererals becomes even more scarce, the already inflated prices will rise even more.

The rising prices create obvious hardships for the citizens, especially in a country where the unemployment rate is as high as 70%, according to some estimates.

Erratic rains and the rising cost of harvesting goods, such as fertilizers, are just a couple of the numerous factors contributing to the crisis.

Critics blame President Robert Megabe’s policies for an economic crisis lasting over a decade and peaking in 2009, perhaps most notably land grabs of white-owned farms by the government for redistribution to blacks with no land. Magabe maintains that he was correcting ownership imbalances created by colonialism, but over the last 15 years, Zimbabwe has turned from a country that was self-sufficient into one desperately in need of help.

According to a report by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee, this shortage would constitute the highest level of hunger since early 2009, when more than half of the population required food support.

To combat the problem, WFP and its international aid partners will provide regionally-available cereals as well as imported vegetable oil and pulses. Cash transfers will be used in selected areas to afford people flexibility and help support local markets. The distributions will increase gradually from October until the new harvest period in March of next year.

 

For further information, please see:

All Africa – Zimbabwe: Hunger Looms in Rural Zimbabwe – 3 September 2013

News 24 – Hunger on rise in Zimbabwe – 3 September 2013

Reuters – U.N. agency says 2.2 million Zimbabweans face food shortages – 3 September 2013

UN News Centre – Over 2 million people in Zimbabwe to require food assistance, warns UN agency – 3 September 2013

Despite Rescue, Child Soldiers Still Being Recruited in DRC

By: Dan Krupinsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo – Numerous armed groups in North Kivu in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are still using over 2,000 children as soldiers, while the United Nations Children’s Fund continues its efforts to remove them from the battlefields and return them to their homes.

Soldiers of the U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo are pictured near Goma.

UNICEF’s demobilization and reintegration program had about 1,700 child soldiers between January and July. After that period, UNICEF condemned the disturbing increase of child victims that they have seen and have been reported for the duration of the conflict in North Kivu, which broke out in May of 2012 between Congolese armed forced and M23 rebels.

The use of child soldiers is prevalent in various regions across the entire nation. The UN mission in Africa recently announced the rescue of numerous child soldiers from the Mayi Mayi Bakata Katanga armed group in the southeastern Katanga province.

While some of the children were as old as 17, others were as young as 8.  The 82 children were all reportedly recruited within the past 6 months.

Forty of the rescued children were reunited with their families immediately. The rest are currently receiving interim care while attempts to get them back with their families are made.

“We are extremely concerned by continued reports of active recruitment by Mayi Mayi Bakata Katanga and other armed groups in eastern DRC,” said United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) chief Martin Kobler in a statement. “Children face unacceptable risks when they are recruited for military purposes. The recruitment of children, particularly those under 15 years of age, could constitute a war crime and those responsible must be held to account.”

According to the statement from MONUSCO, 163 children, including 22 girls, have been rescued from Mavi Mavi Bakata Katanga alone, since the beginning of the year. The rescues have been a combination of MONUSCO and child protection workers.

A MONUSCO peacekeeping force of nearly 20,000 troops is currently deployed in the DRC.

In late October of 2012, the government of the DRC and the United Nations signed an Action Plan, officially committing to end the recruitment and use of children by Congolese armed forced and security services.

The eastern part of the country, rich in minerals, has long been a site of violence and political and ethnic conflict. According to the United Nations, there are about 2.6 million internally displaced people and 6.4 million people overall in need of food an emergency aid.

 

For further information, please see:

All Africa – Congo-Kinshasa: DR Congo Armed Groups Increase Child Recruitment – 29 August 2013

Al-Jazeera – 82 child soldiers rescued in DR Congo: UN – 17 August 2013

CNN – 82 child soldiers saved in Democratic Republic of Congo – 17 August 2013

Child Soldiers International – Democratic Republic of Congo

 

 

 

Alleged Human Rights Violations Lead to Detainment of South Sudanese General

By Dan Krupinsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

JUBA, South Sudan – The commander in charge of troops in the Jonglei state in South Sudan was detained by the nation’s army officials in the wake of allegations that soldiers under his command committed human rights abuses, including the killing of civilians.

General James Otong has not been formally charged, and army spokesman Philip Aguer said he will not be until the investigation into the alleged killings and human rights violations by the troops is complete. The general has been relieved of his command, however.

“Because of some allegations that some civilians have been killed, some properties were destroyed and looting took place…the commander of the area has to answer,” Aguer said.

A house in Pibor County burns after attacks from cattle raiders in July. (Courtesy of AFP)

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir ordered army officials to arrest, charge and bring to trial any soldiers accused of committing human rights abuses in Jonglei State, in a speech last month.

According to Aguer, to this point he has received information on only one event, which occurred in late July. According to reports, two soldiers opened fire on four civilians that were walking to Pibor town. Two women were killed in the shooting, and the soldier accused of perpetrating the attack were immediately detained.

Despite only having specific reports of one incident at this time, Aguer added that the army is prepared to investigate any additional reports of human rights violations, such as civilians being shot by soldiers or property being looted.

The Jongle state has been a site of constant conflict over the past year, with ongoing clashes between the army and rebels led by their leader David Yau Yau, as well as interethnic clashes. More than 300 people died in clashes last month in Jonglei when thousands of fighters from the Lou Nuer ethnic group raided towns and villages belonging to members of the Murle group. Aguer would not say how many soldiers are deployed in the area.

Soldiers and other gunmen looted UN and aid agency stores in Pibor, including a key hospital, in May.

The fighting is having an indirect effect on the Sudanese people, as well.

According to Doctors Without Borders, many of those who fled in July due to the fighting are “still hiding in fear in the bush” around Pibor.

The recent heavy rains in the remote, impoverished area have only added to the hardships of the tens of thousands already displaced by the regional conflict.

“As the rains intensify and the living conditions become ever more precarious, the situation in Pibor county remains critical,” according to a statement by Doctors Without Borders.

 

For further information, please see:

Blouin News – South Sudan arrests general following U.S. pressure – 21 August 2013

FOX News – South Sudan arrests general for rights violations – 20 August 2013

New York Times – South Sudan: Commander Arrested – 20 August 2013

Voice of America – S. Sudan General Detained, Soldiers Probed over Alleged Pibor Abuses – 21 August 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doctors Without Borders Leaves Somalia, Citing Violence

By Dan Krupinsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

MOGADISHU, Somalia – Frequent attacks on its staff have caused Doctors Without Borders to withdraw from Somalia, after more than two decades of humanitarian service in the country.

A Somali boy is vaccinated (Photo courtesy of Dai Kurokawa/European Pressphoto Agency)

Since the group, known internationally by its French acronym MSF, began providing basic and emergency healthcare to millions across the nation in 1991, 16 people working for the group have been killed and dozens more attacked.

Two workers were shot and killed in December 2011 by a Somali employee who learned that his contract was not going to be renewed. The shooter was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison, but after serving only three months, was released.

In a statement, the group accused the civilian leaders of the nation of supporting the violent actions, denouncing “extreme attacks on its staff in an environment where armed groups and civilian leaders increasingly support, tolerate, or condone the killing, assaulting, and abducting of humanitarian aid workers.”

Dr. Unni Karunakara, the group’s international president, cited the realization of active support and approval for the attacks as the “final straw.”

“In choosing to kill, attack, and abduct humanitarian aid workers, these armed groups, and the civilian authorities who tolerate their actions, have sealed the fate of countless lives in Somalia,” said Dr. Karunakara.

“Respect for humanitarian principles, always fragile in conflict zones, no longer exists in Somalia today.”

Somalia, without effective government for most of MSF’s tenure in the country, was thought to be headed towards more stability when the first parliament in over two decades took office in 2012. But working conditions for MSF have not improved, prompting the group to pull out of a country for only the second time in its history, after the death of five workers at the hands of the Taliban caused the group to pull out of Afghanistan in 2004.

The decision to pull out leaves hundreds of thousands of Somalis with no healthcare services at all.

Just last year, MSF delivered more than 7,000 babies, treated more than 30,000 malnourished children and vaccinated 60,000. Additionally, they operated the only pediatric clinic in Mogadishu and in some cities were the only establishments for women to get C-sections.

According to the New York Times, a Mogadishu hospital employee called the group’s pullout “disastrous,” although also added that they pledged to continue supporting the hospital for an additional three months.

The Somali government offered no comment on the move, other than to say that it will be discussed in a cabinet meeting on Thursday.

 

For further information, please see:

ABC News – Doctors Without Borders Pulls out of Somalia – 14 August 2013

All Africa – Somalia: Doctors Without Borders to End Mission in Somalia After 22 Years – 14 August 2013

CNN – Doctors Without Borders to pull out of Somalia over attacks on staff – 14 August 2013

New York Times – Doctors Without Borders to Pull Out of Somalia – 14 August 2013

NPR – Violence Causes Doctors Without Borders To Exit Somalia – 14 August 2013

 

Following Coup, Violence in Central African Republic Escalates

By Dan Krupinsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

BANGUI, Central African Republic  The Central African Republic (CAR) remains in turmoil, months after rebels seized the capital Bangi and inserted themselves into power.

In the months since the Seleka rebel forces overtook the government, and Michael Djotodia named himself interim president, there have been accusations by Human Rights Watch and others of serious crimes, including summary executions and rape.

 

Seleka rebels patrol the streets in Bangui (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

With reports of human rights violations remaining a common occurrence, a group of United Nations independent experts recently described the rule of law as “almost non-existent.”

“We are seriously concerned over reported acts of killings, torture, arbitrary detention, gender-based violence, enforced disappearances, ‘mob justice’ and the pervasive climate of insecurity and the absence of the rule of law which have prevailed in the country in the last five months,” the human rights experts said, calling for authorities to take steps to end to the human rights violations and bring the perpetrators to justice.

The International Federation for Human Rights estimates that the rebels have killed more than 400 people since taking power. Locals accuse the Selekas of murdering 15 people last month, after it was discovered that the mini-bus they were riding on contained t-shirts supportive of deposed president Francois Bozize.

Seven bodies, which showed signs of torture, were recovered from the Ubangi River.

Nicolas Tiangage, formerly a human rights lawyer and now inserted by the rebels as the Prime Minister to act as an emissary to the outside world, told The New York Times, “It’s anarchy, a non-state. Looting, arson, rape, massacres of the civilian population – they are sowing terrorism.”

The UN estimates that since December of 2012, 1.2 million people in the CAR have been cut off from what are described as “essential services,” with 37,000 people fleeing the country.

The international community, including Human Rights Watch and African civil society groups, have called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to monitor the ongoing abuses and for investigations of the alleged crimes.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in late April that the situation is “under close scrutiny,” and that she “will not hesitate to prosecute those responsible” for the violence, according to AllAfrica.com.

Calls for increased criminal prosecution comes amongst reports that only 16 arrest warrants had been issued (as of July), and for primarily minor offenses, providing evidence that the crimes are being committed in near impunity.

The estimated growth of the Seleka forces from 5,000 fighters initially to over 20,000 suggest that the violence will only continue to escalate.

 

For further information, please see:

All Africa — Group of UN Experts Raise Alarm Over Lawlessness in Central African Republic — 6 August 2013

All Africa — In Recent CAR Coup, Echoes of Past Violence — 6 August 2013

New York Times — Violent and Chaotic, Central African Republic Lurches Toward a Crisis — 6 August 2013

Voice of America — Rights Group: CAR Rebels Committing War Crimes — 18 July 2013

Reuters — Central African Republic in chaos, abandoned: MSF — 6 July 2013

Brazil Follows Uruguay And Effectively Approves Gay Marriage

By Brendan Oliver Bergh
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BRASILIA, Brazil – 2013 has certainly been a telling time for same-sex relations. While some misguided Catholics appreciated that the Pope approved of same-sex unions, the real story comes from the approval of same-sex marriages in Latin America.  Authorities in Brazil have effectively legalized same-sex marriage, following Argentina and Uruguay in providing equal rights to couples.

Brazil’s National Council of Justice have issued a ruling allowing any couple in Brazil to seek a marriage without a judges consent. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Brazil’s National Council of Justice, a panel which oversees the legal system and headed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court announced a resolution on May 14, 2013, stating that notary publics who preform marriage ceremonies cannot refuse to preform same-sex ceremonies. Having been debating this issue after a 2011 Supreme Court ruling they announced that there was no reason for the government to wait for congress to pick up the slack and pass a law extending gay couples rights they already technically and legally have. After this ruling, if a notary public officer rejects the signing of a gay marriage, he could face sanctions. Same-sex civil unions have already been authorized in the country, and this would allow same-sex unions to be converted into marriages, allowing them the same protections that already benefit heterosexual marriages in the predominantly Roman-Catholic nation. From now on, couples in all 27 states will no longer need to petition a judge in order to receive a marriage license, and that includes Brazil’s estimated 60,000 gay couples.

The 2011 ruling recognized stable homosexual unions and that the Brazilian constitution granted them the rights. Chief Justice Barbosa, chief justice of the Supreme Court called it binding, and announced that the lower courts should follow it. However a strong religious faction in congress opposes same-sex marriage and has yet to approve any laws which would support same-sex marriage reform and regulations. Citing judicial activism, Marco Feliciano of the Social Christian Party stated “it’s something most Brazilians do not want” as well that the decisions was “unconstitutional.” Congressman Feliciano, an outspoken opponent of gay rights has called AIDS a “gay cancer.” A week later on May 22, the conservative party appealed the council’s decision to the Supreme Court.

Perhaps bowing down the Brazilian resolution. 4 days later French President Francois Hollande signed into law a bill authorizing marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.

For more information please see:

On Top Magazine – Conservative Leader In Brazil Challenge De Facto Gay Marriage Ruling – 22 May 2013

Telegraph – Brazil Judicial Decision Paves The Way For Same-Sex Marriage – 15 May 2013

New York Times – Brazilian Court Council Removes A Barrier To Same-Sex Marriage – 14 May 2013

BBC – Brazil Judicial Decision Paves Way For Gay Marriage – 14 May 2013

Standard Digital – Brazil Paves Way For Gay Marriage – 10 May 2013

U.S. Government Admits Drone Strikes Killed Four Citizens

By Mark O’Brien
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States — The Justice Department acknowledged for the first time this week that U.S. drone strikes have killed four American citizens in the Middle East since 2009.

In a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder (above) to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy on Wednesday, the Obama Administration acknowledged for the first time that U.S. drone strikes have killed four American citizens since 2009. (Photo Courtesy of USA Today)

The admission came Wednesday, the day before President Obama a new approach to the nation’s drone policy, in a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder to Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Based on generations-old legal principles and Supreme Court decisions handed down from WWII, as well as during the current conflict, it is clear and logical the United States Citizenship alone does not make such citizens immune from being targeted,” Holder wrote.

During counter-terrorism operations against al-Qaeda and other forces, the United States targeted and killed one American citizen—Anwar al-Awlaki—and acknowledged the deaths of three others as a result of U.S. drone attacks.  Those citizens—Samir Khan, an al-Qaeda propagandist; Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the son of Anwar al-Awlaki; and, Jude Kenan Mohammed—were killed around the same time but “were not specifically targeted.”

The letter described the older al-Awlaki as the planner of the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner in 2009, and it said he plaid a key role in a failed attempt to bomb cargo planes headed for the United States in 2010.

The letter was a response directed by President Obama to congressional inquiries into the “administration[‘s] use of lethal force against U.S. citizens.”  The White House said it “informed the relevant congressional oversight committees that it had approved the use of lethal force against al-Awlaki in February 2010—well over a year before the operation in question.”

On Thursday, President Obama announced a new approach to drone strikes in the future, tightening the rules of who can be targeted.

“In the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al-Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States,” Obama said at the National Defense University in Washington.

“Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states,” he said.  “This war, like all wars, must end.  That’s what history advises.  That’s what our democracy demands.”

The Administration said, moving forward, the U.S. military would be the lead authority for drone strikes instead of the Central Intelligence Agency.

For further information, please see:

Bloomberg Businessweek — Obama Sees Sunset on Sept. 11 War Powers in Drone Limits — 24 May 2013

CBS News — Attorney General Holder: Drones Killed 4 Americans Since 2009 — 22 May 2013

USA Today — Holder Says Four U.S. Citizens Killed in Drone Strikes — 22 May 2013

Voice of America — US Officially Acknowledges Drone Strike Killings — 22 May 2013

Police Shooting in Immigrant Neighborhood Sparks Sweden’s Worse Riots

By Madeline Schiesser
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Stockholm is burning, sparked by an incident of alleged police brutality twelve days ago.  According to the brother-in-law of the deceased 69 year-old male victim, the man returned home when he was accosted by a gang of youths, who he threatened with knife.  Later when police knocked on his apartment door, he mistook them for the gang and did not answer, prompting the police to break down the door.  The police in turn thought the woman inside the apartment, the man’s wife, was in danger, and shot the man.  Other reports indicate the man was still wielding the knife, and the police acted in self-defense.  The man, a resident of the primarily immigrant-dominated Husby neighborhood, had emigrated to Sweden from Portugal 30 years ago and married his Finnish wife.

(Photo Courtesy of The Local)

Since then, beginning Sunday evening five days ago, with the cry of “police brutality” the worst civil unrest in Sweden in modern times has erupted throughout the suburbs of Stockholm.  Rioters have particularly taken to burning cars as a sign of their contempt for the police, and more than 300 cars have met a toasty end.  A police station at one point was even set on fire, but the flames were quickly contained.  On one night, more than 200 people threw rocks at police.  On another night, firemen were called in to put out over 90 different blazes throughout the city.  Furthermore, shop windows have been smashed, and several police officers have been injured.

Local media also reported, however, that police officers used racist slurs, like “monkey” and “pig” while controlling the unrest.  Authorities say the claim is under investigation, although no formal reports of such an allegation have been filed.

Reza Al Bazi, 14, and his friend Sebastian Horniak, 15, said they witnessed the violence; Horniak said he saw police firing warning shots in the air and calling a woman a “monkey.”  “I got upset yesterday because I saw police attack innocent people, they beat a woman with a baton,” he said.

A small number of arrests were made each night, although generally those arrested were not from the area in which the arrests took place, leading to an increased belief that the rioters are in fact a smaller group that travel about to cause trouble.

Husby resident Marianne Farede, 26, spoke out angrily against the rioters: “It’s idiotic. They’re ruining things for the people that live here. We’re the ones that suffer. It’s our cars that are getting burned, it’s our money.  They’re just waiting for the smallest reason to take their frustration out on the police. I don’t know why they think police are their enemies? They aren’t their enemies. They’re doing their best to protect us.”

Although the death of the unnamed resident of Husby has been cited as the igniting force behind the riots, they represent a greater social tension.  Over the last century, Sweden has seen a swell in immigration, especially since WWII, and although its economy has done relatively well in light of the global financial crisis, Sweden has also seen the fastest growing rate of inequality of any Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country over the past 25 years.

Although many immigrants (15% Swedish population) come to Sweden due to its generous refugee policy, they struggle to learn the language and find employment despite numerous government programs.  For example, in Husby, where 80% of the 12,000 residents are immigrants, the overall unemployment rate was 8.8% in 2012, as compared to 3.3% in Stockholm as a whole.  Furthermore, a total of 12% in Husby received social benefits last year, compared to only 3.6% on average in Stockholm.

Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag emphasized that the actions of the rioters are not representative of the majority of immigrant youth.  “I’ve seen in the international media that this is a riot between young people in some parts of Stockholm and the society, but this is not true. It’s a small proportion. The majority of young people in Tensta, Husby, Rinkeby, they go to schools and they want to have opportunities in Sweden, and it’s important to tell that story,” he said.

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt further stressed the need to end the violence and return control of the besieged neighborhoods to their residents.  “This is not OK. We will not give in to violence.  We must all help out to regain calm. The residents of Husby need to get their neighborhood back,” he said.

For further information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Rioters Continue to Battle Police in Sweden – 24 May 2013

Independent – Stockholm Burning: Riots Grip Surburbs as Violent Trouble Spreads – 23 May 2013

The Local – Minister: Stockholm Riots ‘Not Youth Versus Society’ – 23 May 2013

The Local – Stockholm Riots Spread South on Fourth Night – 23 May 2013

Al Jazeera – Sweden Riots Continue after Police Shooting – 22 May 2013

The Local – Stockholm Riots: a View from the Street in Husby – 22 May 2013