Ethiopia State of Emergency Grants Broad Power to Government

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Ethiopian troops monitor protesting crowd. Photo courtesy of CNBC.

ADDIA ADABA, Ethiopia – Ethiopia is currently in a state of emergency following the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. According to Human Rights Watch, Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa announced the restriction, which brings concerns of potential government abuse,

“On February 17, 2018, following Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s resignation, Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa announced a countrywide six-month state of emergency. The Directive of the State of Emergency contains overly broad restrictions and vague language that will facilitate government abuses.”

This is the latest state of emergency following a subsequent period that lasted for a year beginning in 2017.

“During Ethiopia’s previous countrywide state of emergency, from October 2016 until August 2017, security forces arrested more than 20,000 people and committed widespread rights violations.”

Al Jazeera elaborates further on the nature of the previous state of emergency and continued unrest;

“In August 2017, Ethiopia lifted a 10-month state of emergency imposed after hundreds of people were killed in anti-government protests demanding wider political freedoms. The country’s Oromo and Amhara people – who make up about 61 percent of the population – have staged mass demonstrations since 2015 demanding greater political inclusion and an end to human rights abuses. The protests have continued this month, with many people expressing frustration over a perceived slow government release of political prisoners.”

The fear is that the state of emergency gives the government broad authority to quell the rights of its citizens. The United Nations has cautioned against the potential for human rights violations under the state of emergency.

“The United Nations also takes note of the recent declaration of a state of emergency and stresses the importance of avoiding actions that would infringe on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of citizens, the peace, security and stability of the country, or impact on the delivery of humanitarian assistance.”

CNBC explains the nature and aim of the state of emergency;

“A six-month long state of emergency was imposed by the government the next day, with the intention of quelling civil unrest. The state of emergency prohibits, among other things, the distribution of potentially sensitive material and unauthorized demonstrations or meetings.”

The state of emergency is aimed to bring the civil unrest to an end by controlling the methods by which it came about. The underlying factors that contributed to the unrest are political and economic,

“The factors that have driven the protests — namely the ethnic federal system, the influence of the military and intelligence services, and the interplay between the political elites and the business sector.”

Ethiopia is essentially run by one party that is made up of many coalitions. Desalegn’s party, the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement, is one of the weaker parties who has faced challenges from other coalitions,

“Tension has been bristling between the powerful Tigray People’s Liberation front, which represents just 6 percent of Ethiopians, and its counterparts representing the Amhara and Oromo ethnic groups.”

The interest in the outcome of Ethiopia’s political future is tied to an economic interest by China.

“Ethiopia is a key partner of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive infrastructure spending push to resurrect ancient trading routes centred on China. This is partly because of its strategic location neighboring the tiny port state Djibouti, at which China has a naval base. A maritime presence in the region enables access to European markets via the Suez Canal. Ethiopia is also attractive because of its low cost labor, transport links and a vast consumer market — with its population of over 100 million making it Africa’s second largest.”

The selection of the next Prime Minster will be closely watched given Ethiopia’s rapid economic growth. Whoever is chosen, however, will be a complicated matter that involves many ethnic considerations and balance,

“As leading Ethiopian commentators speculate as to who might fill the leadership position, much hangs in the balance.  The challenge is multifold.  The Government must appoint a leader whom a dissatisfied population will accept.  It is an appointment which must offer other ethnicities than the dominant Tigrayan leadership .  This is also important given the current Tigrayan-heavy cabinet and security apparatus… Notwithstanding the significant role Tigrayans played in overthrowing the former military dictator and spear-heading the development of the EPRDF, Tigray represents only 6 percent of the population.   It must demonstrate to the public that its declared state of emergency will not result in a heavy-handed approach to security which undermines the constitutional right to express freely and peacefully.  It must press on with reforms and initiate the neutrally-chaired national political dialogue process which it has mooted.   Most importantly, it must abandon the tired, hidebound ideological construct of the 1990s which has little place in a more democratic and inclusive playing field.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — “Ethiopia’s state of emergency to last six months” — 18 February 2018

CNBC — “Chinese investment hotspot and a state of emergency: What’s going on in Ethiopia” — 23 February 2018

Human Rights Watch — “Ethiopia: New State of Emergency Risks Renewed Abuses” — 23 February 2018

The London Economic — “Ethiopia in peril: Africa’s development jewel faces crisis” — 23 February 2018

UN News — “Ethiopia: UN welcomes steps towards governance reforms and increased political participation” — 23 February 2018

Human Rights in South Africa after Jacob Zuma

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Newly elected President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photo courtesy of NPR/ Associated Press.

PRETORIA, South Africa — The resignation of South African President Jacob Zuma comes with a call for a renewed focus on human rights in South Africa. As Amnesty International reports,

“Under his leadership, we’ve seen a failure to ensure access to justice for victims of a range of human rights violations. For example, almost six years after 34 striking mineworkers in Marikana were killed by police, there has been no justice for victims or their families.”

Zuma assumed the presidency in 2009, and was re-elected for a subsequent five-year term that began in May of 2014. The incident at Marikana began as a protest, but turned violent when police forces clashed with protesters,

“At Marikana, 3,000 rock drill operators at the mine stopped work as they tried to force an increase in their wages, from ZAR5, 400 ($648) a month to ZAR12, 500 ($1,500) a month. Tensions increased over the following days, with AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa declaring the members were prepared to “die here” if necessary. The stand-off later escalated into violence, leaving 34 dead, 78 injured and 259 arrested on various charges, according to South Africa National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega.”

Marikana is one example of the challenges that newly elected President Cyril Ramaphosa will face. Mr. Ramaphosa seems to acknowledge the problems that his administration will have to tackle early on in his tenure,

“We are determined to build a society defined by decency and integrity, that does not tolerate the plunder of public resources, nor the theft by corporate criminals of the hard-earned savings of ordinary people.”

While Mr. Ramaphosa’s energy is a welcomed change for some, others are not persuaded,

“The leader of the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters party (EFF), Julius Malema, said he welcomed the commitments to shrink the cabinet and take back land. “He (Ramaphosa) has a lot of ideas but no plan of how to go about it, but let’s give the benefit of doubt,” Malema said.”

Mr. Ramaphosa also has a questionable history as a member of many corporate boards — among which include a mining company,

“In 2012, as a board member of the mining firm Lonmin, he urged police to intervene and stop an illegal strike after 10 miners were killed. Emails revealed he called the strike “dastardly criminal. The next day, police shot and killed 34 miners. Dozens more were injured in what amounts to the deadliest act of violence in post-apartheid South Africa. Ramaphosa long has claimed innocence; that he was using his political connections with the minister of police to stop the violence from spreading. An investigating commission cleared Ramaphosa of wrongdoing, but to opponents, such as the upstart Economic Freedom Fighters, a leftist political party, Ramaphosa had sold out. The union organizer sided with management.”

Only time will reflect the urgency of human rights in South Africa under Mr. Ramaphosa’s regime.

For more information, please see:

Reuters — “South Africa’s Ramaphosa hails ‘new dawn’, warns of tough decisions” — 16 February 2018

NPR — “South Africa Elects Cyril Ramaphosa As Its New President” — 15 February 2018

Amnesty International — “South Africa: Post-Zuma government must ensure access to justice for victims of human rights violations” — 12 February 2018

K24TV Kenya — “South African Miners Shot Dead” — 12 August 2012

CNN — “What’s behind South Africa’s mine violence?” — 14 September 2012

Ugandan Human Rights Group Looks to Regroup After Violent Break-In

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Ugandan activists protest violence against NGOs. Photo courtesy of HURINET/Human Rights Watch.

KAMPALA, Uganda – A human rights group focused on marginalized group representation was recently the target of a break-in that left two security guards injured.  Anthony Mutimba, Deputy Executive, is unclear as to the motive of the attack, but thinks it may be linked to an earlier attack in May 2016:

“We suspect the attempted robbery is closely linked to the first attack where the thieves broke into the executive director’s office to steal some documents.”

Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) promotes the rights of groups that include the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. Sex workers are also a focus of HRAPF’s efforts in the country. Human Rights Watch reports that this instance of violence was not the first time that the group was the victim of a violent break-in:

“The break-in continues a string of burglaries and attacks on the offices of independent nongovernmental groups in Uganda, including a previous attack on HRAPF in May 2016, in which a security guard was beaten to death and documents were stolen. The Uganda police neither identified nor arrested suspects in that attack.”

Attacks of this nature are nothing new for human rights organizations operating in Uganda. According to The Observer, many groups have been subjected to acts of violence with no response from the police force:

“Organisations such as the Uganda Land Alliance, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, the Legal Aid Service Providers Network, Akina Mama Wa Afrika and the Anti-Corruption Coalition have suffered break-ins in similar fashion and, despite timely reports to the police on all occasions, investigations have been unsatisfactory and the follow up insufficient.”

The lack of arrests or suspect identification, while tertiary to the violence, is a cause for concern by human rights groups in Uganda.  Maria Burnett, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, opines that the problem starts and ends with the police force:

“The lack of accountability for attacks on non-governmental organizations has apparently led to an atmosphere in which attackers felt free to kill a security guard, in order to accomplish their aims… The Uganda Police Force needs to live up to its obligation to actively investigate these cases and bring those responsible to justice.”

The lack of police intervention is asserted under the backdrop of the tenuous nature of LGBT rights in Uganda generally.  In fact, The Guardian has classified Uganda as one of the most difficult countries to be gay or transgender.

For more information, please see:

The Observer — “Angry human rights workers camp at Old Kampala police’ — 12 February 2018

Daily Monitor — “Suspected thugs break into offices of rights activists, injure two guards” — 9 February 2018

Human Rights Watch — ‘Uganda: Human Rights Group Targeted in Violent Break-In’ — 9 February 2018

The Guardian — “Where are the most difficult places in the world to be gay or transgender?” — 1 March 2017

Erasing 76 Crimes — “Appeal to Uganda: Stop break-ins that target advocates” — 15 June 2016
Human Rights Watch — ‘Uganda: Investigate Break-ins at Groups’ Offices’ — 13 June 2016

World Health Organization Reverses Decision on Mugabe Appointment

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe addresses crowd. Photo courtesy of The Citizen/ ANA.

HARARE, Zimbabwe  — The World Health Organization has reversed its position on Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. Amid harsh criticism, WHO has decided to rescind Mugabe’s role as a “goodwill ambassador” to the organization, according to General Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,

“I have listened carefully to all who have expressed their concerns, and heard the different issues that they have raised…I have also consulted with the government of Zimbabwe and we have concluded that this decision is in the best interests of the World Health Organization. I thank everyone who has voiced their concerns and shared their thoughts.”

The announcement from General Director Ghebreyesus comes amid mounting pressure and public outcry from leaders all throughout the world such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who referred to the appointment as “absolutely unacceptable, absolutely inconceivable” and equated the appointment to a bad April fool’s joke. Hillel Neur, Director of UN Watch, saw the appointment as an offensive display to the very core of international human rights.

“The government of Robert Mugabe has brutalized human rights activists, crushed democracy dissidents, and turned the breadbasket of Africa — and its health system — into a basket-case. The notion that the U.N. should now spin this country as a great supporter of health is, frankly, sickening,” UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said in the statement. “Amid reports of ongoing human rights abuses, the tyrant of Zimbabwe is the last person who should be legitimized by a U.N. position of any kind.”

The position in question was of an ambassador-related appointment to an initiative to combat NCD (non-communicable diseases) in Africa. The position was more honorary and advisory in nature as opposed to carrying out responsibilities with WHO.

“The heads of U.N. agencies and the U.N. secretary-general typically choose celebrities and other prominent people as ambassadors to draw attention to global issues of concern, such as refugees (Angelina Jolie) and education (Malala Yousafzai). The choices are not subject to approval. The ambassadors hold little actual power. They also can be fired.”

Despite the customary nature of the appointment, critics still took issue from the implications of the position.

“Mugabe, 93, one of the longest serving leaders in the world, seems a particularly unusual appointment for goodwill ambassador, given his high profile as the leader of a government with a poor record of democratic freedoms.” Critics also lamented the appointment for Mugabe’s prowess in health-related matters, stating in part that “the idea that Mugabe was appointed because of his contributions to public health given the collapse of Zimbabwe’s healthcare system under his watch, along with the country’s economy in recent years.”

The health care system in Zimbabwe stands on shaky ground, with many calling for reforms to address widespread problems in the system.

“In Zimbabwe, medicines are often in short supply, while the elite ‑ Mugabe included ‑ have to fly to other countries to access better health facilities. Over the years, health workers have always petitioned the government to improve their working conditions and salaries. Doctors in the country have also been at loggerheads with their employers, going on strike several times after accusing government of failing to meet their concerns. The doctors accused the health and child care ministry of a “lipstick approach” to their issues, saying the health sector was “pregnant with a multitude of problems emanating from gross negligence and lack of will to implement logical decisions”

Aside from health care, some claim that Mugabe’s actions have created problems that are directly attributable to his leadership.

“Zimbabwe was once was known as the region’s prosperous breadbasket. But in 2008, the charity Physicians for Human Rights released a report documenting failures in the southern African nation’s health system, saying Mr Mugabe’s policies had led to a man-made crisis.”

For more information, please see:

ABC News — ‘World Health Organization rescinds Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s ‘goodwill ambassador’ appointment amid scathing criticism’ — 22 October 2017

Independent — ‘World Health Organisation rescinds appointing of Robert Mugabe as goodwill ambassador’ — 22 October 2017

Reuters — ‘Mugabe removed as WHO goodwill envoy after outrage’ — 22 October 2017

The Citizen — ‘WHO rescinds Mugabe goodwill ambassador role’ — 22 October 2017

The Inquirer — ‘World Health Organization revokes appointment of Mugabe’ — 22 October 2017

Quartz — ‘It’s not so surprising WHO’s new director tried to make Robert Mugabe a goodwill ambassador’ — 22 October 2017

The Washington Post — ‘The Latest: Canada PM 1st thought Mugabe post was bad joke’ — 21 October 2017  

Tanzania Expels Lawyer’s Amid Homosexual Crackdown

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Tanzania has seen a recent crackdown against homosexual activity. Photo courtesy of BBC News.

DADOMA, Tanzania  — Sibongile Ndashe, a South African attorney, among others were deported from Tanzania on accusations of promoting homosexuality. According to BBC News, They were among 13 people arrested on 17 October for taking part in a meeting to discuss challenging a law stopping private health clinics from providing HIV and Aids services.”

Prior to the deportation, Ndashe and her colleagues were held for a period of 10 days for the charges against them. The basis for the arrest is in question as Ndashe claims that she and her colleagues were held hostage and she plans to file suit as the meeting did not involve homosexuality. According to News24.

“She said the South African police tried to get information on their arrest but the Tanzanians refused to divulge anything. Ndashe was in the east African country along with other lawyers to facilitate a workshop on challenging the Tanzanian government’s closure of HIV centers. They were arrested at the Peacock Hotel in the country’s capital Dar es Salaam more than a week ago.”

Homosexuality is currently a crime in Tanzania and is “punishable by up to 30 years in jail.” In a September 2017 speech, Deputy Health Minister Hamisi Kingwangalla vowed to “fight with all our strength against groups supporting homosexuality in our country.”

Homosexuality continues to be a subject of heated confrontation in Tanzania. The issue is not only related to those who identify homosexuals, but also has crossover with combating Aids in the country. In fact, Kingwangalla has been outspoken against aids clinics, who are trying to reduce the spread of the infection.

“Dr Kingwangalla’s outspoken comments on Twitter follow the health ministry’s move last week to suspend the activities of 40 drop-in HIV/Aids clinics, accusing non-governmental organizations of using them to promote gay sex.”

Despite the recent public condemnation of homosexuality in Tanzania, the level of tolerance is somewhat higher as opposed to other African countries.

Despite the ban on homosexuality, Tanzania was until recently somewhat more tolerant towards gay people than many other African countries, but a rise in anti-gay rhetoric by the government has led to a spike in discrimination, correspondents say.

For more information, please see:

BBC News — ‘Tanzania deports lawyers accused of promoting homosexuality’ — 28 October 2017

News24 — ‘We were held hostage at a Tanzanian police station – SA Human Rights lawyer’ — 28 October 2017

AllAfrica — ‘Tanzania Deports South African Human Rights Lawyer and 2 Others’ — 27 October 2017

BBC News — ‘Zanzibar arrests 20 over homosexuality’ — 16 September 2017

BBC News — ‘Tanzania threat to list gay people’ — 20 February 2017

Children Trafficked from Uganda “Adopted” in U.S.

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. – The Davis family wanted to add to their family by adopting a child. After being in contact with Debra Parris of The European Adoption Consultants (EAC), Jessica and Adam Davis were told about a little girl named Mata. EAC said that Mata’s father was deceased and that her mother was severely neglecting her. The EAC informed the Davis family they had to decide quickly if they wanted to adopted Mata and so they quickly adopted her.

Mata and the Davises after they “adopted” her. Photo Courtesy of Jessica Davis.

As Mata’s English improved, the Davis’s learned more about Mata’s mother. The way Mata spoke of her mother did not reflect what the Davis’s were told. Jessica Davis then became suspicious. After a skype call between Mata and her mother, Jessica’s suspicions were confirmed. During the skype conversation, Mata’s mother revealed it was not her intention to give up Mata for good.

Instead, Mata’s mother explained how she was tricked into giving Mata up. Mata’s mother had been told that Mata would be given a great educational opportunity if she was sent away. Her mother was also told that Mata would one day return and that her mother would always be a part of her life. Mata’s mother unknowingly signed away her parental rights when she thought her daughter was being given a once in a life time experience.

When Jessica and Adam realized the information they had been told by the EAC was not true, they realized they had to reunite Mata with her mother. Jessica Davis contacted the U.S. State Department for guidance on how to proceed with the situation. The State Department told Jessica, “you can just keep her if you want.” She responded with, “I didn’t purchase her at Walmart.” Jessica was fearful that if the government notified EAC, something would happen to Mata’s mother. After a three-year journey, and $65,000, Mata was returned to her mother.

Mata reuniting with her mother and siblings after the Davis family brought her back to Uganda. Photo Courtesy of Keren Riley.

The Davis’s were crushed by this experience. They wanted to adopt a child as it was in line with their religious beliefs. Adam said, “We unwittingly placed an order for a child. The only trauma this poor kid ever experienced was because we essentially placed an order for a child.” The Davis’s had filed paperwork to vacate Mata’s adoption and the Ugandan government gave Mata’s mother her parental rights back. Jessica and Adam both believe that other Ugandan children like Mata are being trafficked without the American families who were “adopting” them being aware.

CNN investigated these claims and found that children were being taken from their homes in Uganda. Their mothers were being promised the same thing Mata’s mother was being promised, an educational opportunity for their children. The children were then placed in orphanages and sold for as much as $15,000. CNN also discovered that multiple families had been tricked by EAC. EAC was an adoption agency started by Margaret Cole. Cole started the adoption agency after she lost her child to SIDS.

EAC has been responsible for placing more than 2,000 children from overseas in homes across America since 1991. The agency continued to grow and handled adoptions from countries around the globe. CNN states, “tax records from 2000 to 2015 show that EAC reported more than $76.1 million in revenue and more than $76.3 million in expenses over that period.” In 2004, several families raised questions about their adoptions through EAC in story for Cleveland Magazine. Cole claimed back then that she had a “radar” for the shady businesses involved in adoptions but now stories like the Davis’s shows that this clearly is not the case. CNN has also been unable to locate Cole to receive commentary on CNN’s investigation.

EAC has been shut down by the State Department for 3 years. Since the shut down, the FBI has raided the building and taken away materials. The Ohio attorney general’s office filed suit in June to have the adoption agency ended for good. The EAC “failed to adequately supervise its providers in foreign countries to ensure” that they didn’t engage in the “sale, abduction, exploitation or trafficking of children,” according to the State Department. The Ugandan government shut down the orphanage that Mata had been placed in. In a letter to CNN, they said the orphanage had been closed for “trafficking of children,” “operating the children’s home illegally” and “processing guardianship orders fraudulently.”

The EAC building in Ohio has been abandoned since the agency has been debarred. Photo Courtesy of CNN.

A study done by the Ugandan government and sponsored by UNICEF in 2015 revealed that Ugandan parents were being deceived and bribed with financial incentives and orphanages were often complicit. The orphanages did not always verify information about children’s histories before putting them in the orphanage.

Mata’s story is similar to that of Violah. At 7-years-old, she was adopted by Stacey and Shawn Wells. Like the Davis’s, the Wells were coerced into making a decision quickly on whether or not they would adopt Violah. They paid EAC about $15,000 for the adoption. Violah lived with the Wells family for a year and during that time, they too saw inconsistencies with the adoption agencies story. They were told that Violah had been abandoned. But the longer Violah was with them, the more they learned how her mother took her to church and cooked dinner with her.

Violah also spoke about the day that she and her sister were taken away from their mother. After hearing Violah’s story, Shawn went on a Facebook page for the group Reunite. The page shared a post about a mother whose children were taken away from her against her will. Stacey knew that the woman in the post was Violah’s mother. The Wells thought they were adopting an orphan, but instead, Stacey says, “she was made an orphan.”

The Wells wanted to reunite Violah with her mother like the Davis’s reunited Mata with her mother. Stacey and Shawn reached out to Reunite’s Riley who told the Wells that Violah’s mother was lied to. She had been told Violah would get an education in America. It’s the same lie the traffickers told Mata’s mother. Violah’s mother had four children taken from her and she has only been reunited with two of them.

Violah and her mother are reunited in Uganda and embrace with each other and Stacey Wells. Photo Courtesy of Stacey Wells.

Violah and Mata are from the same village in Uganda. They have become friends since their return home. Mata’s mother said she was “very, very, very happy” that Mata has been returned to her. Violah’s mother also said she was “very happy and very grateful.” Now that the girls have been reunited with their mothers, they have kept in touch with the Davis and Wells families. The girls have blossomed since returning home.

Violah and Mata have become fast friends since returning to their mothers in Uganda. Photo Courtesy of Jessica Davis.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Kids For Sale: ‘My Mom Was Tricked’ – 13 October 2017

Ugandan Government – Information About God’s Mercy Children’s Home – 28 July 2017

Court of Common Pleas, Cuyahoga County, Ohio – EAC Lawsuit – 1 June 2017

Cleveland Magazine – Families In Crisis: When Foreign Adoption Goes Wrong – 2 March 2004

Zimbabwe’s New Cyber Security Ministry Poses Questions for Civil Liberties

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Many have joked about newly appointed Cybersecurity Minster Patrick Chinamasa, but others are fearful of what his role will entail. Photo courtesy of Twitter.

HARARE, Zimbabwe  — Cybersecurity is apparently an issue of priority for President Robert Mugabe. The timing could not be more interesting as the newly created Ministry of Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation, led by Patrick Chinamasa, comes shortly before presidential elections.  If President Mugabe has learned one thing from the pervasiveness of social media, it is how it can give shape and energy to a civil movement.

This time last year, social media was used in Zimbabwe in a way that it had never been utilized before,

“Zimbabwe’s government has been uneasy about social media after pastor Evan Mawararire spearheaded the #ThisFlag movement last year…Using platforms like Twitter and Facebook it organized a stay-at-home demonstration, the biggest anti-government protest in a decade.”

The #ThisFlag movement involved the use of social media platforms to stage a stay-at-home protest against prolonged economic conditions. The leader of the movement, Pastor Evan Mawararire, used a cameo picture of Captain America in Zimbabwe flag colors to call on fellow citizens to wear their flags in protest. The pastor was hailed as a hero and was able to draw substantial attention to the issues he was protesting against without the use of violence.

#ThisFlag was an example of how social media for protests is becoming an effective means of protest to sub-saharan Africa.  This should come as no surprise since in Zimbabwe alone, internet usage has grown from a mere 0.3% to 46% in the past 16 years.  One out of every two Zimbabweans are accessing the internet. While internet access has accelerated in Zimbabwe over the last couple of decades, governments all over Africa have devised ways to prevent its citizens from reaching the internet,

“Governments don’t have the physical or technical ability to block sites, phones or texts themselves, explains Thecla Mbongue, analyst for trend forecasters Ovum. They issue an order to the companies who do have that power. Congo-Brazzaville’s government issued an order to the country’s mobile phone operators such as Airtel and MTN. This effectively blocks the internet because very few Congolese use fixed lines to access the web.”

In addition, recent events all over the world ranging from the major hacks of Equifax and HBO have made governments more sensitive to the vulnerabilities that cyber hacking naturally exposes. Cyber security is now more important than ever, but some are skeptical as to what this importance will mean with the balancing of civil liberties.

There are many civil liberties advocates in Zimbabwe who see the new ministry, which is the first in much of the world, as a way to threaten, silence or even arrest those who use social media to speak out against the government,

“One communications rights group, the Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute for Southern Africa (Misa), says this new scrutiny of social media goes against the spirit of the constitution and freedom of expression. Going a step further, Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says the government’s new cyber threat ministry is a means for government to spy on its people…MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai also believes that the ministry has been created to curb free speech in time for the 2018 polls… Meanwhile on social media, ominous warnings have begun circulating… One is from a “Mr Chaipa”, urging Zimbabweans only to share content on social media that they would be able to defend in court… Mr Chaipa said it was easy for the government to monitor online messages, and gave a list of online activities that could be classified as criminal offenses.”

There are clearly many groups in Zimbabwe that feel that this new ministry is the precursor to civil rights restrictions and violations. A new cybersecurity bill, which has also drawn the ire of the international human rights groups, further complicates the cybersecurity landscape in Zimbabwe,

“While Mugabe and the government describe the new ministry as “protective” i.e. acting in a defensive role, there are worries it is really aimed at attacking, like controlling social media use locally. This all comes as Zimbabwe finalizes a Computer and Cyber Crimes Bill that has already attracted criticism from human rights and freedom of expression campaign groups.”

The Zimbabwe government, however, assures that the worries are misplaced and civil liberties will not suffer under the new ministry,

“The Zimbabwean government has said new legislation will not stifle freedom of expression and will protect the public from new threats such as revenge pornography and cyber attacks. Presidential spokesperson Mr Charamba says Zimbabwe will look closely at how other nations have dealt with the threat of cybercrime – including Russia, China, and South Korea who have faced similar challenges.”

For more information, please see:

Bloomberg — ‘Executive Profile Patrick Anthony Chinamasa M.P.’ — 26 October 2017

Reuters — ‘Equifax, reeling from hack, still has no earnings report date’ — 25 October 2017

BBC News — ‘Why Zimbabwe has a Minister of WhatsApp’ — 24 October 2017

Quartz — ‘Zimbabwe has a new “minister of WhatsApp” whose first job seems to be to stop WhatsApp’ — 14 October 2017

Wired — ‘Breaking Down HBO’s Brutal Month of Hacks’ — 18 August 2017

BBC News — ‘Zimbabwe’s pastor hero: #ThisFlag preacher’ — 16 July 2016
BBC News — ‘How African governments block social media’ — 25 April 2016

Report Reveals Police Abuse in Kenyan Elections

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Kenyan protestor witnesses police violence. Photo courtesy of Thomas Mukoya.

NAIROBI, Kenya  – A new report released on October 15, 2017 details numerous instances of  violence by the Kenyan police directed towards election protesters.  The report is comprised of the joint efforts of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Some of the notable highlights from the report are how many people have died or have been injured by the police,

“At least 33 people were killed in Nairobi alone, most of them as a result of action by the police …Twenty-three, including children, appear to have been shot or beaten to death by police. Others were killed by tear gas and pepper spray fired at close range or trampled by fleeing crowds, and two died of trauma from shock. Two others were stoned by mobs…the national death toll could be as high as 67.”

The type of violence varied greatly, “Hundreds of residents have suffered severe injuries including gunshot wounds, debilitating injuries such as broken bones and extensive bruising as a result of the police violence.”

Violence has continued to grip the country since the results of the election were invalidated by the Kenya Supreme Court. The election was supposed to take place on October 26, 2017, but the likelihood of that action is now in question given the withdrawal of the challenger, Raila Odinga.

The report interviewed 100 plus people in its investigation. Protestors were not the only group who faced pressure from police forces. Journalists and reporters who were following the demonstrations faced instances of pressure from police,

“Police in these neighborhoods also tried to prevent journalists and human rights activists from reporting the violations, the two organizations found. In one case, in Kibera, a police officer smashed a foreign journalist’s camera when he tried to photograph police beating a youth leader. Police also beat up a local activist and smashed his camera when he tried to film them in Mathare.”

The report has been refuted by officials from the Kenyan police, citing instances of inaccuracy and embellishment with some of the claims according to spokesperson George Kinoti,

“The National Police Service attention has been drawn to a sensational report by Amnesty International alleging that 33 people were killed in the immediate post August poll period… We wish to refute the claims as totally misleading and based on falsehoods. We are studying the report and will issue a comprehensive report later.”

These allegations of violence at the hands of Kenyan police comes on the heels of other accusations of violence by the International Criminal Court over the past decade,

“The service had been indicted in the 2007-08 post-election violence, with its then commander Mohammed Ali facing crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC). In 2013, under the command of David Kimaiyo and his deputy Grace Kaindi, the police service operated independently, knowing its every move was being watched.”

These accusations over the years could be representative of a larger cultural problem of violence towards citizens as a means of policing.

For more information, please see:

The Standard — Police brutality rears ugly head again’ — 22 October 2017

AllAfrica — ‘Kenya: Police Deny Killing 33 in Nairobi During Anti-IEBC Demos’ — 16 October 2017

Human Rights Watch —‘Kill Those Criminals: Security Forces Violations in Kenya’s August 2017 Elections’ — 15 October 2017

Human Rights Watch — ‘Kenya: Police Killed, Beat Post-Election Protesters’ — 15 October 2017

Election of Congo to UNHRC met with Mixed Responses

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

United Nations Human Rights Council Meeting. Photo courtesy of Denis Balibouse.

GENEVA, Switzerland – The Democratic Republic of Congo was recently elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council on October 16, 2017 along with 15 other countries.  While Congo was elected by receiving the majority number of votes necessary for election, it received the least amount of votes (150) among the African countries that were in the running. The total amount of votes necessary to be elected to the council is 97. Only 4 African states were running for seats, which is the total allotment for the region. Louis Charbonneau, the Human Rights Watch UN Director, felt the outcome would have been different if the seats up for election had been contested, “[Congo] is fast becoming a pariah state. If there had been competition, it probably would have lost.”

Some of the sharpest criticisms came from Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the UN. Her rebukes questioned the message that was being sent to the rest of the world by electing Congo, who has a controversial history with human rights violations,

“The DR Congo, a country infamous for political suppression, violence against women and children, arbitrary arrest and detention, and unlawful killings and disappearances, has been elected to serve on what is supposed to be the world’s preeminent human rights body… Countries that aggressively violate human rights at home should not be in a position to guard the human rights of others.”

Additionally, Haley saw this move as a tactic that took away from the unified message the council wants to embody to effectively progress its charge as a body,

“We need a unified voice of moral clarity with backbone and integrity to call out abusive governments. This election has once again proven that the Human Rights Council, as presently constituted, is not that voice.”

Haley has even gone as far to suggest that the United States may consider exiting the council if decisions such as these continue to happen.

Congo has been riddled with accusations of human rights violations ranging from the use of child soldiers to allegations of mass killings. According to Deutsche Welle,

“Violence in eastern and central Congo has displaced 1.5 million in the last year and reopened fears of civil war. Conflict in 1996-2003 resulted in millions of deaths and created conditions in which dozens of armed groups emerged.”

Congo was elected to the UNHRC despite a campaign by several countries to keep it from gaining a seat,

“The United States, the United Kingdom and advocacy groups like the Washington-based Human Rights Watch called upon member nations to reject Congo’s candidacy, citing widespread reports that its president Joseph Kabila has used repression and violence to hold onto power after his two-term limit expired on Dec. 19, 2016.”

For more information, please see:

Dhaka Tribune — ‘DR Congo wins seat on UN rights council despite US opposition’ — 17 October 2017

MPN News — ‘Mass Graves Don’t Keep Congolese Off UN Human Rights Council’ — 17 October 2017

The Indian Express — ‘Congo elected to UN Human Rights Council; US criticises move’ — 17 October 2017

Deutsche Welle — ‘DR Congo controversially elected to UN Human Rights Council’ — 16 October 2017

Miami Herald — ‘UN elects Congo to Human Rights Council despite abuses’ — 16 October 2017

Sexual Abuse and Slavery Being Used as Weapons Says Human Rights Group

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Women and children face fears of sexual violence. Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

DAKAR, Senegal — A recent report by Human Rights watch released on October 5, 2017 details the horrific ordeals of the plight of women in the Central African Republic.  Women in the region have been subjected to repeated instances of rape and sexual slavery.  The repeated violence is the result of a coup that took place in the country in 2013;

“Thousands have died and a fifth of Central Africans have been uprooted in a conflict that broke out after the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize in early 2013, provoking a backlash from Christian anti-balaka militias.”

It’s clear, according to Human Rights researcher Hillary Margalois, that the violence against women is calculated and intentional;

“Armed groups are using rape in a brutal, calculated way to punish and terrorize women and girls…Every day, survivors live with the devastating aftermath of rape, and the knowledg[e] that their attackers are walking free, perhaps holding positions of power, and to date facing no consequences whatsoever.”

This targeting has a directly negative effect on the women involved.  Women may not feel as if they have effective recourses against the treatment, which may lead to underreporting of the violations against them, “Due to stigma, under-reporting by survivors, and security-related restrictions on research, the full number of sexual violence incidents by armed groups during the conflict is undoubtedly higher.”

The stigma discussed is not just that of being the victim of rape or sexual exploitation.  There are also cultural factors at play that can affect women twice over, social and familial. A woman can be forced to bear shame from the violence against her and be ridiculed by family and community members;

“Stigma and rejection also present significant barriers to women and girls disclosing rape or seeking help. Survivors said their husbands or partners abandoned them, family members blamed them, and community members taunted them publicly after rape…Only 11 of the 296 survivors interviewed said they had tried to initiate a criminal investigation. Those who had informed authorities faced mistreatment including victim-blaming, failure to investigate, and even demands to present their attackers for arrest. Three survivors said that their relatives had been killed, beaten, or threatened with death when they confronted members of an armed group responsible for their rapes.”

The stigma attached to the violence, coupled with shame and ridicule, leave these women with little options to pursue justice.  The threat alone of repeated physical violence or even death is enough to deter women from seeking out help.  As a result, many of the aftereffects resulting from the violence and rape leave permanent afflictions;

“Women and girls often said they suffered incapacitating physical injury and illness, including HIV, because of rape, as well as suicidal thoughts and loss of livelihoods or access to education. Most had not received post-rape medical or mental health care – including medication to prevent HIV and unwanted pregnancy – due to a lack of medical facilities, the cost of services or transport to facilities, and misconceptions about available services.”

Violence against women in conflict zones is unfortunately a rather frequent occurrence in Africa.  Women and children tend to be the most vulnerable and do not have the means to seek effective redress. The United Nations has spent considerable time and resources in identifying and trying to address the problem head-on. There have been regional initiatives that attempt to empower tribunals to conduct investigations into allegations of sexual violence and bring those responsible to justice.  The Special Criminal Court (SCC) is backed by close to 20 non-governmental and international human rights organizations. The challenge, however, is to convince surviving victims that pursuing justice is a possibility and that it doesn’t result in further intimidation or violence from the perpetrators.

For more information, please see:

Reuters — ‘Rape, sexual slavery are weapons in Central African Republic war – report’ — 05 October 2017

Human Rights Watch — ‘Central African Republic: Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War’ — 05 October 2017

Human Rights Watch — ‘Central African Republic: Support the Special Criminal Court’ — 16 November 2016

Amnesty International — ‘Global campaign targets rape in conflict zones’ — 23 November 2012

United Nations — ‘Rape: Weapon of War’ — June 2008

Minamata Convention Seeks to Curb Mercury use in Africa

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Two boys seperarte gold from ore. Courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

DADOMA, Tanzania — A new UN convention on the trade and use of mercury held its inaugural meeting on September 24, 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland. The treaty, known as the Minamata Convention on Mercury, seeks to cover a wide range of areas related to mercury,

“The treaty holds critical obligations for all 74 State Parties to ban new primary mercury mines while phasing out existing ones and also includes a ban on many common products and processes using mercury, measures to control releases, and a requirement for national plans to reduce mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining. In addition, it seeks to reduce trade, promote sound storage of mercury and its disposal, address contaminated sites and reduce exposure from this dangerous neurotoxin.”

The name of the convention is derived from a fishing town in Japan that involved many cases of mercury poisoning. The connection between mercury and African countries is its use in a process used to mine for gold.

Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Mali are but a few African countries that use mercury to separate gold from ore.  The mining process that utilizes this method is known as artisanal and small-scale gold mining or ASGM.  This process is utilized in rural areas where gold mines are located, but are not central mining hubs. While the process is not as intensive as opposed to larger mining operations, the practice does pose some health risks.

The danger of using mercury in ASGM have short and long term effects on those who come into direct contact with the mercury, “Mercury is a shiny liquid metal that attacks the nervous system. Exposure can result in life-long disability, and is particularly harmful to children. In higher doses, mercury can kill.” Children are often utilized in ASGM, given the relative ease of the process.  For some, it is a way for them to earn money to support their families. The reliance on ASGM in rural communities has grown steadily over the years.

A report released by UN Environment details the amount of reliance on ASGM in Africa and worldwide,“ASGM is now responsible for around 20 per cent (600-650 tonnes per annum) of the world’s primary (mined) gold production. It directly involves an estimated 10-15 million miners, including some 4.5 million women and 1 million children.” While 20% seems to be a small percentage of the overall gold production, the numbers may not tell the entire story.  In the same report, statistics detailed the level of inaccuracy regarding the reported figures of ASGM.

Data showing ASGM use by country. Photo courtesy of UN Environment.

The numbers show the wide disparity in the quality of the data reported, which is further explained by some countries who are known to export mercury, but do not necessarily disclose all instances of its export, “Trade between the countries mostly appears to be undocumented. For example, Kenya did not register any exports during 2010-15 period.”

While the convention brings more than 100 countries together to address the issue of mercury use, the convention may face challenges regionally in Africa.  ASGM is a source of income for many rural families.  Taking a hard stance against ASGM, where mercury is the primary agent for ore separation, could hurt a source of income for rural gold miners.  

Beyond the individual considerations, country-level considerations are also relevant.  Some of the more wealthier African countries play a role in the mercury trade, “Kenya and South Africa were the main supply hubs for mercury used in ASGM, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa itself.” Many of the countries rely on gold production as an important source of revenue.  Limiting the use and trade of mercury could have an impact on the gold industries in those countries.

The requirements of the convention also call for swift and decisive action for compliance purposes,

“The convention comes with a long checklist of deadlines. Nations must immediately give up building new mercury mines and, within three years, they need to submit a plan of action to come to grips with small-time gold miners. By 2018, they need to have phased out using mercury in the production of acetaldehyde – the process that poisoned Minamata is still in use. By 2020, they need to have begun phasing out products that contain mercury.”

Three years to comply could pose some challenges to countries who have to not only begin phasing out the use of mercury, but also replace the lost revenue streams from ASGM with new ones.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch — ‘Mercury Rising: Gold Mining’s Toxic Side Effect’ — 27 September 2017

Daily Nation — ‘UN pledges to curb sale and use of mercury’ — 25 September 2017 — ‘Something in the water—life after mercury poisoning’ — 26 September 2017

UN Environment —  ‘Global mercury supply, trade and demand’ — 14 September 2017

AllAfrica — ‘Minamata Convention, Curbing Mercury Use, Is Now Legally Binding’ — 16 August, 2017

Human Rights Groups Rebuke Egyptian Arrests on Suspicion of Homosexuality Crackdown

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Concert Goer at Mashrou’ Leila Concert Displays LGBT Flag. Photo Courtesy of The Independent.

CAIRO, Egypt — A string of arrests following the recent display of the LGBT flag at a concert in Cairo has human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International calling for an ease in crackdowns against suspected homosexuals. According to the Independent, the flag in question was displayed at a Mashrou’ Leila concert on September 22, 2017. Since the concert, a number of people have been detained on suspicions of homosexuality,

“Both Amnesty and HRW said in their Saturday statements that a total of 11 people had been arrested since the concert, held at an upscale mall in an eastern Cairo suburb.”

One of the techniques commonly used in a homosexuality investigation is an anal examination. Countries such as Tunisia are moving away from the mandatory use of anal examinations, but that does not change the status of homosexual people in the Middle East.

Homosexuality remains a sensitive topic in Egypt particularly,

“Homosexuality is highly taboo in Egypt among Muslims and minority Christians alike, but it is not explicitly prohibited by law. Egypt regularly arrests gay men, with large police raids on private parties or locations such as public baths, restaurants and bars.”

The majority of Egyptians see homosexuality in a negative light and as an import of Western culture, “Most Egyptians see homosexuality as a practice that goes against nature and religion and insist it is a social disease exported by a decadent West.”

Mashrou’ Leila actually developed as a counter to the environment around homosexuality in the Middle East. Founded in 2008 at the American University of Beirut, the band has been touring the Middle East and large parts of the United States. The band is billed as an alternative rock band. The lead singer, Hamed Sinno, has developed a notable reputation for his advocacy through music,

“Hamed Sinno, the band’s lead singer and lyricist, may be the most prominent gay musician in the Arab world, and much of his songwriting takes aim at homophobia and misogyny.”

Music has been utilized as a prominent tool for resistance from Africa to Russia. The art form offers some the ability to connect with those that share similar struggles without openly voicing those struggles.

For more information, please see:

The Independent — ‘Human rights groups urge Egypt to halt crackdown on LGBT people after rainbow flag waved at concert’— 30 September 2017

Impunity Watch — ‘Tunisian Authorities Pledges to Stop Forced Anal Examinations for Homosexuality’ — 30 September 2017

CNN — ‘Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova: Authoritarianism is spreading like ‘sexually transmitted diseases’ — 18 August 2017

Wikipedia — ‘Mashrou’ Leila’ — August 2017

The New Yorker — ‘Mashrou’ Leila and the Night Club’s Political Power’ — 31 July 2017

Tunisian Authorities Pledges to Stop Forced Anal Examinations for Homosexuality

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

Tunisian authorities recently announced a change to compulsory anal examinations for accusations of homosexuality. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

TUNIS, Tunisia – Tunisian authorities recently announced that it would be ending its current practice of forcing those who face accusations of homosexuality to undergo mandatory anal testing.  In Tunisia, a judge has the power to compel a defendant accused of homosexuality to undergo an anal examination to collect evidence against the defendant. Under the new policy, defendants would be able to refuse the examination.  According to Mehdi Ben Gharbia ( a Tunisian politician), “judges can still request that a suspect undergo the test but that person has every right to refuse, without his refusal being held up as proof of homosexuality”.

The United Nations and other human rights organizations have equated the practice of mandatory anal exams to torture. In March 2016, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing instances of forceful abuse of the anal examination protocol against Tunisian citizens.  One victim recalled his experience with the examination process,

“[T]he policeman took me outside to a small garden. He hit me. He slapped me on the face and punched me on the shoulder and said “You will do the test.” The doctor was not watching, but he knew I was being beaten. The policeman pushed me back into the room and said to the doctor, “He will do the test…..He entered one finger inside my anus, with cream on it. He put his finger in and was looking. While putting his finger in, he asked “Are you ok now?” I said, “No, I’m not okay.” It was painful…Then he put in a tube. It was to see if there was sperm. He pushed the tube far inside. It was about the length of a finger. It felt painful. I felt like I was an animal, because I felt like I didn’t have any respect. I felt like they were violating me. I feel that up to now. It’s very hard for me.”

Amnesty International covered the issue of abuse against homosexual and transgender persons in Tunisia originally in 2015. In their report, they detailed the challenges that homosexual and transgender persons faced when trying to seek redress for the harms against them,

“In some cases, instead of duly investigating these homophobic and transphobic crimes – as is their obligation under international law – the police warned or openly threatened survivors, including lesbian women, to drop their complaints if they did not wish to be prosecuted themselves. In other cases police officers have exploited LGBTI people’s fears of prosecution to subject them to blackmail, extortion and, at times, sexual abuse. Gay men and transgender individuals who do not want to be arrested are often forced to bribe police officers and give up their phones or other valuables.”

While this measure will provide more protection to those accused of homosexuality, there are still some uncertainties around the proposal.  First, there is no set date when the measure will go into effect.  The policy is the proposition stage, with no indication as to how soon the measure will be enacted. The Tunisian medical council actually banned the practice in April of 2017, but that ban served more as a declaratory opinion rather than a legally binding mandate. Second, while the refusal of taking the exam is claimed to not be used as evidence against a defendant, the subjective outcomes may be different. As the victim detailed in the Human Rights Watch report, the coercion and violence can be used to compel a defendant to take the examination long before he comes in front of a judge.  This leaves an open question as to whether the change will adequately protect those accused of homosexuality. 

While much progress has been made since the coup of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the progress is still met with staunch opposition.  Tunisia is still a Muslim country that adheres to the pillars of Islam.  The measure also does not have broader implications for the acceptance of homosexuality in Tunisia. The measure for example does not make homosexuality legal in Tunisia, “Homosexuality is still punishable by three years in jail under Article 230 of Tunisia’s criminal code, which President Beji Caid Essebsi has said would not be repealed.”

For more information, please see:

Daily Mail UK — ‘Tunisia vows to ban anal examinations on ‘suspected homosexuals’ to determine if they are gay’ — 22 September 2017

Independent — ‘Tunisia medical council bans forced anal tests for homosexuality after nearly decade of abuse’ — 12 April 2017

Independent — ‘Tunisia is jailing men for having gay sex and forcing them to undergo anal exams, human rights group claims’ — 30 March 2016

Human Rights Watch — ‘Tunisia: Men Prosecuted for Homosexuality, Abuses in Detention, Prison’ — 29 March, 2016

Amnesty International — ‘Challenging Tunisia’s homophobic taboos’ — 30 September 2015

Upcoming Liberia Elections Signal New Chapter for Democracy

By: Adam King
Impunity Rights News Reporter, Africa

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf addressing UN General Body. Photo courtesy of UN News Centre.

MONROVIA, Liberia – Democracy hasn’t come easy for Liberia: a country ravaged with civil warfare aplenty.  October 10, 2017 will mark a historic achievement for Liberia. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, proclaimed the achievement:

“The [legislative and presidential polls] will mark the first time in 73 years that political power will be handed over peacefully, and democratically, from one elected leader to another….Democracy is on the march in Liberia and, I believe, on an irreversible path forward on the African continent.”

Liberia has gone almost a century without a peaceful transition of power from one government to the other.  President Sirleaf’s achievement in being the first woman to be elected in a democratic election on the African continent is right on par with the anticipated peaceful transition of power.  Former United States President Barack Obama underscores the importance of a peaceful transition of power in his farewell address:

“In 10 days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy:  the peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected president to the next…it’s up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face…But that potential will be realized only if our democracy works.  Only if our politics reflects the decency of the our people.  Only if all of us, regardless of our party affiliation or particular interest, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.”

President Sirleaf echoed Mr. Obama’s sentiments in the view that she has for Liberia going forward:

“Liberia’s transformation was powered by a world community that made a shared commitment to deliver peace to a country, and a subregion, beset by civil conflict and cross border destabilization. The UN and its partner nations were of one mind, and from that global unity, a new Liberian democratic state was born. Liberia is a post conflict success story. It is your post conflict success story.”

President Sirleaf assumed the presidency at a time when Liberia was facing stagnant development and civil war. Despite those challenges, Liberia has erected a new foundation through government restructuring and citizen engagement. President Sirleaf commented on some of the initiatives that have helped to revitalize the country:

“Further, previously dysfunctional public institutions now have the capacity to respond to the needs of our citizens through decentralized county service centers with ownership by strong local governments. And from the tragedy of the health crisis, we are strengthening our healthcare systems, prioritizing prevention and delivering capacity at the community level.”

Much remains to be seen as to how Liberia will fair upon the departure of President Sirleaf.  The local election commissions in Liberia are taking sizable precautions to safeguard the electoral process.  In addition to training for its volunteers, the government will be providing upwards of 6,000 security servicemen to assist with order on election day.  The field of candidates for the presidency is quite extensive (upwards of 20), leaving doubt as to what direction Liberia will take once the new president is elected and assumes power. While President Sirleaf has ushered in some notable achievements in here tenure, it has not all been free of scrutiny.   

The tenure of President Sirleaf herself has also been questioned by some.  Most recently, President Sirleaf proposed a law entitled the “Presidential Transition Act”.  According to the Liberian Observer, the act contained provisions related to peaceful transitioning of the government and protection provisions for the president and vice president including vehicles, security and dependent benefits. There were other parts of the law that were more controversial.  Some have argued that this bill could be used to shield President Sirleaf from charges of corruption for example.  President Sirleaf has since withdrawn the bill as of September 17, 2017.

For more information, please see:

Front Page Africa — 6,000 Security Officers to Guard Polling Stations on During Elections — 20 September 2017

Liberian Observer — Ellen Dispels Notion of Living in Fear after Tenure — 20 September 2017

UN News Centre — “Upcoming elections will signal Liberia’s ‘irreversible course’ towards democracy, President Sirleaf tells UN” — 19 September 2017

United Nations — “Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet” — 19 September 2017

Bloomberg — Liberia Elections Body Says 20 Candidates Will Vie for President — 31 July 2017

Los Angeles Times — Read the full transcript of President Obama’s farewell speech — 10 January 2017

ICC Asked to Investigate Crimes Against Humanity in Burundi

By: Ethan Snyder
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

2015 demonstration amid failed coup d’état in Burundi. Photo Courtesy of BBC News.

BUJUMBRA, Burundi – On Monday, September 4, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Burundi called upon the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate alleged crimes against humanity. Established in 2016, the commission was charged with examining reports of human rights violations from April 2015 to present.

President Nkurunziza announced in April 2015 that he intended to seek incumbency for a third term in conflict with Burundi’s Constitution. After an unsuccessful coup and increasing political unrest, security forces cracked down violently on suspected opposition throughout the country. It is estimated that more than 350,000 people have fled to neighboring countries that include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.

The commission interviewed approximately 500 witnesses who corroborated allegations of sexual violence, detention of opposition and journalists, extrajudicial executions, torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment. The Burundian government denies all allegations relating to state agents being responsible for crimes against humanity.

Chair of the Commission of Inquiry, Fatsah Ouguergouz, announced that the commission is “struck by the scale and the brutality of the violations” and that they are concerned by the “lack of will on the part of the Burundian authorities to fight against impunity and guarantee the independence of the judiciary.”

Despite multiple requests over the year-long period of investigation, the U.N. Commission was not allowed to go to Burundi and was forced to conduct the majority of their inquiry from neighboring countries.

Burundi’s lower house of parliament passed a law in 2016 to withdraw from the Rome Statute – the treaty that established the ICC. Burundi would be the first country to withdraw from the ICC. Many countries on the continent have threatened similar action citing a disproportionate number of cases and charges being brought against African nations for human rights violations. Burundi is projected to exit the ICC by October of 2017.

The ICC continues to have jurisdiction to investigate allegations of human rights violations in Burundi until their formal exit. If Burundi successfully withdraws from the Rome Statute, the ICC investigation would require a resolution from the U.N. Security Council referring the case to the ICC to continue its inquiry.

Presently, only African states have been charged in the six cases that are either ongoing or about to begin since the court was established. There are preliminary investigations that have been opened into events elsewhere in the world.

The Burundi commission noted that “[t]here is a climate of pervasive fear in Burundi. Victims have been threatened, even in exile.” Many witnesses have reported that they have been threatened or confronted by supporters of the Nkurunziza regime after fleeing to nearby countries.

Although Burundi has a history of high ethnic tensions, the commission does not find that the human rights violations are ethnically motivated.

For more information, please see: 

Human Rights Council: Interactive Dialogue on Burundi – Oral Briefing by Fatsah Ouguergouz – 19 September 2017

Africa News – UN asks ICC to investigate Burundi ‘crimes against humanity’ – 5 September 2017

New York Times – U.N. Group Accuses Burundi Leaders of Crimes Against Humanity – 4 September 2017

United Nations Human Rights: Office of the High Commissioner – Burundi: Commission of inquiry calls on the International Criminal Court to investigate possible crimes against humanity – 4 September 2017

Human Rights Watch – Burundi’s refusal to cooperate with inquiry in contempt of membership on UN rights body – 4 September 2017

United Nations Human Rights: Office of the High Commissioner – Burundi: UN investigation urges strong action in light of gross, widespread and systemic human rights violations –  20 September 2016