Rape Declared National Emergency in Sierra Leone

By: Skylar Salim
Impunity Watch News, Africa

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – On February 7, 2019,President Julius Maada Bio declared a national emergency regarding the prevalence of rape and sexual violence in Sierra Leone. He also told all public hospitals to provide free medical care to victims of sexual violence. This declaration grew from public outrage over a case that was never prosecuted involving the rape of a 5-year-old girl by her uncle in 2018, leading to her paralysis. The president noted that hundreds of cases are reported monthly, and “some of our families practice a culture of silence and indifference toward sexual violence, leaving victims even more traumatized.” Around 70% of the victims of this violence are under the age of 15. According to the United Nations, almost half of the women in Sierra Leone face violence, and 90% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have been victims of genital mutilation.

President Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone declares a national emergency over sexual violence and rape. Photo courtesy of Abderrahmane Mokhtari.

Bio stated that perpetrators of these crimes are getting younger and more violent, and that sex with minors will be made punishable by life in prison. Currently, perpetrators face a maximum of only 15 years in prison. This declaration came after activists, such as the group Hands Off Our Girls, and First Lady Fatima Bio had been campaigning for reform for months. Hands Off Our Girls is a group supported by the First Lady that works to stop sexual violence against women and child marriage in the country.

Police figures of reported cases of sexual and domestic violence have been rising, with 10,544 reported cases in 2015 to 12,029 reported cases in 2017. Activists have also stated that many cases never get reported, and that the actual number is much higher. During Sierra Leone’s civil war, which lasted from 1991 to 2002, rape and sexual violence against women and girls was widespread. Many women and girls were forced into sexual slavery, to be “bush wives,” during the conflict. A UN report presented after the conflict noted, “the failure to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for rape and other forms of gender-based violence has contributed to an environment of impunity that perpetuates violence against women.”

While the country made progress against sexual violence, a report by Save the Children notes that children were left vulnerable to sexual violence by the Ebola outbreak in 2014 as many of them were orphaned. The Rainbo Initiative, an organization that helps sexual violence survivors, notes that they were being overwhelmed by cases involving children every day. Vickie Remoe, a TV producer, has noted “politician will alone will not fix the problem. What we need in behavioral change… men need to learn to think differently about girls, and to act differently towards girls.

For further information, please see: 

AP – Sierra Leone President Declares Rape a National Emergency – 8 February 2019

CNN – Sierra Leone’s President Declares Rape a ‘National Emergency’ – 8 February 2019

NYT – Sierra Leone Declares National Emergency Over Rape of Young Girls – 8 February 2019

African Court Rules Mali Violated Maputo Protocol

By: Hannah Gabbard
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ARUSHA, Tanzania – On May 10, 2018, the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) decided the case between the Association Pour le Progrès et la Défense des Droits des Femmes Maliennes (APDF) and the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) against the Republic of Mali.

African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights. Photo Courtesy of AfCHPR.

Applicants APDF and IHRDA, human rights organizations in Africa, alleged that the Malian Family Code was inconsistent with AfCHPR’s Maputo Protocol.  Applicants alleged that the Family Code violated the minimum age of marriage for girls, the right to consent to marriage, the right to inheritance, and the obligation to eliminate traditional practices and undermine women and children’s rights. The Maputo Protocol is a legal instrument ratified by the court in 2005 that aims to promote women’s rights in Africa.

AfCHPR held that the Republic of Mali violated the Maputo Protocol, the African Charter on the rights and Welfare of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. AfCHPR ordered Mali to amend their Family Code to comply with these treaties. The court requested a report to be submitted to the court within two years of the judgement.

After the court announced its verdict, IHRDA Executive Director, Gaye Sowe said, “It is important for States to take measures to domestic international treaties they adhere to. Today’s decision is very important not only for the promotion of women’s rights in Mali and Africa, but especially for the visibility and effective use of the Maputo Protocol which so far has been underutilized by women’s rights actors and stakeholders in Africa.”

This case is the first application of the Maputo Protocol by the AfCHPR.

For further information, please see:

African Union – APDF & IHRDA v. Republic of Mali Case Summary – 11 May 2018

African Union – APDF & IHRDA v. Republic of Mali Judgement  – 11 May 2018

IHRDA – IHRDA, APDF obtain favourable judgment against Mali in first case before the African Court applying provisions of Maputo Protocol – 11 May 2018

American Society of International Law – African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights Rules Mali Violated the Maputo Protocol (May 11, 2018) – 16 May 2018

International Justice Resource Center – African Court Finds Mali’s Family Law Violates Human Rights Obligations – 29 May 2019


Central African Republic Concludes Peace Negotiations With Rebel Groups

By: Hannah Gabbard
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

BANGUI, Central African Republic – On February 2nd, the Central African Republic government and 14 armed groups signed a peace deal to end the conflict that began in 2013.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security Smail Chergui. Photo Courtesy of MINUSCA.

In 2013, Muslim Seleka rebel groups seized Central African Republic capital Bangui. Rebel groups and the government began fighting over control of lands with valuable resources such as gold and diamonds. Since 2013, the fighting targeted civilians, health facilities, schools, religious centers, and camps for internally displaced peoples. Thousands have been killed in the fighting in addition to the one million internally displaced and over one half million who have fled Central African Republic.

A UN report previously identified a high risk for genocide in the Central African Republic. As a result of the conflict, two Central African citizens have been sent to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to stand trial for war crimes. The ICC prosecutor has alleged crimes committed by both Muslim Seleka and Christian anti-balaka forces. These crimes include both war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The peace negotiations were organized by the UN and the African Union directed African Initiative for Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced that more than 63 percent of the country will require humanitarian assistance. UN Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix called on UN member states to assist with the implementation of the peace agreement.

For further information, please see:

BBC – Central African Republic agrees peace deal with rebel groups – 2 February 2019

New York Times – Central African Republic Armed Groups Reach Peace Deal – 2 February 2019

UN News – UN calls for support to implement Central Africa’s newly minted peace agreement – 2 February 2019

UN News – ‘Everyone must be on board’ for peace in Central African Republic: UN’s Lacroix – 10 January 2019


Hate Speech Complaint Filed at South African Human Rights Commission

By: Hannah Gabbard
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

CAPE TOWN, South Africa – Several groups have filed a complaint against the Black First Land First (BLF) group at the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) for hate speech.

Collapsed walkway at Hoërskool Driehoek. Photo Courtesy of Christa Eybers.

On Monday, February 4th, 2019 the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Freedom Front Plus (FFP) filed their complaint. They were later joined by the Congress for the People (COPE). All three groups have condemned the comments made by BLF spokesperson Lindsay Maasdorp after a walkway collapsed at the Hoërskool Driehoek school in Vanderbijlpark. This event resulted in the deaths of three students.

After the walkway collapsed, Maasdorp tweeted that the deaths of the students should be celebrated. Maasdorp also supported derogatory comments made on Facebook by other users. In response to Maasdorp’s tweets, COPE stated that the BLF’s intent is to “drive our country into a civil war.” Maasdorp has previously been criticized for his social media posts. 

SAHRC recently announced that they were going to hold the municipal government accountable for the walkway collapse. The Commission specifically stated that they would conduct a human rights audit for the school’s infrastructure.

For further information, please see:

Times Live – Human Rights Commission to take on govt over Hoërskool Driehoek deaths – 2 February 2019

EWN – DA, FFP to take BLF to SAHRC over comments on Hoërskool Driehoek tragedy – 2 February 2019

Times Live – BLF to be reported to Human Rights Commission over ‘racist’ Hoërskool Driehoek remarks – 3 February 2019

The Citizen – Cope charges BLF with ‘racist hate speech’ on Hoërskool Driehoek tragedy – 4 February 2019

Boko Haram Attack in Rann, Nigeria Displaces Thousands

By: Hannah Gabbard
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ABUJA, Nigeria – On January 14th, 2019 terrorist organization Boko Haram attacked Rann in northeast Nigeria. 76,000 civilians living in Rann were internally displaced due to the conflict with Boko Haram.

Burial procession after Boko Haram attack in Nigeria. Photo Courtesy of Audu Marte.

In the attack over 100 structures were destroyed or damaged by fires that burnt south and west parts of the city. Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International in Nigeria, stated that he believed the attack may constitute a war crime as civilians in the city were intentionally targeted.

Internally displaced civilians living in Rann were dependant on aid agencies for necessities such as food and health services. Since the attack the humanitarian services have no ability to reach those still living in Rann.

72 hours after the attack about 9,000 civilians moved towards the Cameroon border. Many arrived in Bodo, Cameroon, seven kilometers from Rann, where Medicins Sans Frontieres was available with health services. Cameroon authorities forced many refugees to return to Nigeria. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Nigeria has begun to appeal to Cameroon not to send refugees back to Nigeria.

Attacks by Boko Haram have increased as the Presidential election in February nears. Current Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is seeking a second term.

For further information, please see:

Premium Times – How Boko Haram attack destroyed Nigerian community, Rann – 20 January 2019

Channel NewsAsia – Boko Haram claims attack on northeast Nigerian town of Rann – 18 January 2019

Amnesty International – Nigeria: Satellite imagery shows charred remains of Rann after Boko Haram attack – 18 January 2019

Reuters – Tens of thousands cut off from aid in northeast Nigeria after attack – 18 January 2019

The Guardian – Thousands of Nigerian refugees fleeing Boko Haram forced back by Cameroon – 18 January 2019

Medicins Sans Frontieres – Thousands fleeing Rann attack seek refuge in Cameroon – 16 January 2018