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

Phys.org — ‘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

African Country Ties with North Korea Spark UN Inquiry

By: Adam King
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Africa

Kim Yong Nam, President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, visiting Uganda. Image courtesy of AP.

NEW YORK, New York – The United Nations is actively investigating purported military  ties between North Korea and several African countries.  The probe comes at a time where the whole world has turned its attention to the recent actions of North Korea.  Two African countries in particular, Uganda and Tanzania, face accusations of violating sanctions imposed by the UN by engaging in prohibited economic exchange. Tanzania is accused of engaging in business ventures with North Korea estimated to be worth $12.5 million.

Some African countries have maintained relationships with North Korea since the early 1960s.  In fact, North Korea has supported several African countries during and after the Cold War:

“The relationship between North Korea and Africa dates back to the Cold War where the country was looking to find allies among newly liberated, socialist countries in Africa. Like China and Russia, it was looking to stamp out western influence on the continent, and present its adversary, South Korea, as a puppet of the US.”

Uganda in particular shares particular proclivities with North Korea related to opinions of the  United States:

“President Yoweri Museveni has proven to share North Korea’s disdain for western foreign policy and influence. Museveni, whose party members recently proposed to extend the age limit for heads of state, has hosted a banquet for North Korean diplomats in Uganda and defended his relationship with the country, once describing them as “friends who have helped Uganda for a long time.”

Uganda and North Korea have faced scathing criticism regarding human rights violations in their respective countries. A large portion of the transactions that continue between North Korea and African nations are military related. Transactions include enhancing missile capabilities to military vehicles, “In Mozambique, for example, the experts said they are looking into the reported supply of shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, air defense systems, other surface-to-air missiles and radar by a North Korean trading company.” 

Many African countries do not have the capability to produce the weapons they are acquiring from North Korea. In turn, North Korea is utilizing relationships with African countries to spread their technological innovations around the world for a lucrative profitMany of the weapons proliferated across the African continent are exported from foreign entities, which give continuous fuel for protracted conflicts.

For more information, please see:

Quartz — Eleven African countries will be probed by the UN over their military ties in North Korea — 14 September 2017 

All Africa — Uganda: UN Probes Tanzania and Uganda Deals With North Korea — 13 September 2017

The Citizen — Tanzania in trouble over North Korean sanctions — 12 September 2017 

LA Times — UN Experts: North Korea exported $270 million illegally recently — 10 September 2017 

The Washington Post — North Korea’s surprising, lucrative relationship with Africa — 10 July 2017 

The Guardian — Global weapons trade targets Africa as imports to Algeria and Morocco soar — 20 March 2015 

Lake Chad Basin Faces Continuing Threats

By: Adam King
Impunity Watch News Report, Africa

Site for Internally Displaced People in Mellia, Chad. Photo Courtesy of United Nations.

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria – The Lake Chad Basin, which is considered one of the worst conflict zones in Africa, faces multiple challenges to regional security. The basin is surrounded by four countries: Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. The lake itself struggles with ecological challenges in the form of drought and dwindling water supplies. According to the United Nations, the ecological effects are playing a role in the proliferation of protracted conflict:

“The impact of the drying lake is causing tensions among communities around Lake Chad. There are repeated conflicts among nationals of different countries over control of the remaining water. Cameroonians and Nigerians in Darak village, for example, constantly fight over the water. Nigerians claim to be the first settlers in the village, while Cameroonians invoke nationalistic sentiments, since the village is within Cameroonian territory. Fishermen also want farmers and herdsmen to cease diverting lake water to their farmlands and livestock.”

The conflict over resources gives rise to more instability through the interstate crime. Boko Haram, for example, continues to be a challenge to continued stability, “[w]hile the efforts of the Governments in Africa’s Lake Chad Basin have diminished Boko Haram’s combat capacity in the region, the terrorist group has changed its tactics, increasing the use of suicide attacks.”

Boko Haram has been accused of perpetrating egregious acts against citizens of multiple states in the region,

“[T]he group had shifted its tactics in the wake of these efforts, and some 130 attacks attributed to Boko Haram in the four affected countries – Nigeria, followed by Cameroon, Niger and Chad – in June and July resulted in 284 civilian fatalities, a significant increase compared to 146 attacks and 107 civilian fatalities in April and May.”

The presence of Boko Haram in the region is but one of many factors that continue to drive the violence. According to Jeffrey Feltman, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, “[p]overty, weak state authority, insecurity and climate change explain this situation, with women and girls being the first victims.”

From ecological disaster to insurgent violence, those who inhabit the region are facing a humanitarian crisis of large proportions. According to the USAID, some 8.5 million people are in need of humanitarian aid. Disease also plays a factor as cholera and hepatitis further complicates the plight of the local inhabitants.

The severity of the situation prompted a meeting of the UN Security Council to develop an adequate assessment of the situation,

“As Council members took the floor, delegates expressed serious concern over those challenges, while many also welcomed the strong and coordinated response of the Multinational Joint Task Force. Several speakers outlined their Governments’ responses to the multiple crises in the Lake Chad Basin, urging donors to bolster their financial, logistical and technical support to the affected States.”

While the crisis continues to worsen, Samantha Newport, from the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, offers a positive perspective on the aid and support of the international community working to mitigate the severity of the problems faced,

“The international system has rapidly scaled up and saved millions of lives. We reached two million people with food assistance every month and have provided hundreds of thousands of children with life-saving nutritional support.”

For more information, please see:

United Nations Meetings Coverage — ‘Terrorism, Other Security Threats Diverting Scarce Funds from ‘Staggering’ Lake Chad Basin Humanitarian Crisis, Political Affairs Chief Tells Security a Council’ — 13 September 2017

The Premium Times — ‘UN Humanitarian Aid Interventions Save Millions of Lives in North East’– Official’ — 13 September 2017

UN News Centre — ‘Stronger peacebuilding efforts needed to tackle Boko Haram, end Lake Chad Basin crisis, Security Council told’ — 13 September 2017

USAID — ‘Lake Chad Basin – Complex Emergency Fact Sheet #23, Fiscal Year (FY) 2017’ — 31 August 2017

United Nations —  ‘Africa’s Vanishing Lake Chad’ — April 2012

New Report Details Torture by Police in Egypt

By: Adam King
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Africa 

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Photo Courtesy of CNN.

CAIRO, Egypt – A new report by Human Rights Watch released  September 6, 2017 claims to shed light on a culture of torture by Egyptian police and national security forces. The report is based on interviews from multiple detainees who were interned by Egyptian police and security forces between 2014 and 2016. According to the report:

“Of the 20 cases documented by Human Rights Watch, 13 detainees were tortured in National Security offices, five in police stations, and two in both places. Six men were tortured at the National Security Agency headquarters inside the Interior Ministry near Cairo’s Lazoghly Square, a place where detainees have alleged torture for decades. In five cases, security officers used torture to force suspects to read prewritten confessions on video, which the Interior Ministry then sometimes published on social media channels.”

The report claims that detainees were subjected to harsh torture tactics such as electric shock, awkward hanging positions and threats of physical violence.  The torture could last hours on some occasions with numerous techniques being utilized interchangeably. One detainee even claims to have been raped on multiple occasions by police officers with foreign objects.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi obtained the presidency of Egypt in 2013 following a military coup of then President Mohammed Morsi. President el-Sisi continues to face accusations of rampant torture at the hands of police and security forces since taking the presidency. The report also claims that some of the deplorable techniques that characterize the reign of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak have be reinstituted and even expanded in some instances.

Human Rights Watch is not the only organization to focus on allegations of torture in Egypt at the hands of police and security forces. The United Nations reached similar conclusions in its own report in May of 2017, “Torture appears to occur particularly frequently following arbitrary arrests and is often carried out to obtain a confession or to punish and threaten political dissenters.” 

The UN also opined that attempts at detainees to make their cases known and to seek redress against the harms have not been met with adequate procedural recourse:

“[P]rosecutors, judges and prison officials also facilitate torture by failing to curb practices of torture, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment or to act on complaints…In the view of the Committee, all the above lead to the inescapable conclusion that torture is a systematic practice in Egypt.”

Egyptian officials rebuke the claims of Human Rights Watch and, according to Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid, are indicative of “a new episode in a series of deliberate defamation by such organization, whose politicized agenda and biases are well known and reflect the interests of the entities and countries sponsoring it.”

The Egyptian Government has since blocked the Human Rights Watch website as of September 7, 2017, bringing the grand total of blogs and news websites blocked to 424.  

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera – Egypt blocks Human Rights Watch website – 8 September 2017

CNN – Report: Egypt police security forces ‘routinely torture political detainees – 7 September 2017

Human Rights Watch – “We Do Unreasonable Things Here” Torture and National Security al-Sisi’s Egypt – 5 September 2017

United Nations – Summary from Committee Against Torture – 12 May 2017 

The New York Times – Army Ousts Egypt’s President; Morsi Is Taken Into Military Custody – 3 July 2013 

African Leaders Encourage South Sudan to Revive Peace

By: Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch News Reporter, Africa Desk

 

JUBA, South Sudan — The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) concluded its summit meeting this past Monday with a focus on the worsening war situation in South Sudan.  The bloc at the summit called upon all parties involved to take necessary steps to follow a concrete plan to revitalize the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict on South Sudan, which was implemented in 2015.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir (Photo Courtesy of Eyewitness News)

The IGAD also called for a forum including all parties, even estranged groups, to discuss measures to restore a permanent ceasefire.  The forum would also develop a more realistic timeline towards South Sudan’s August 2018 elections, and would delay the elections if necessary to a more feasible date.  South Sudan First Vice President Taban Deng Gai believes the elections should go forth as planned, however summit delegates officially decided that it would be “too premature” to hold an election considering the country’s high level of violence.

The Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (JMEC) in South Sudan has also decried its country’s continuing violence.  JMEC chairperson Festus Mogae commented that “[t]he rapidly deteriorating political, security, humanitarian and economic situation in the country has caused unprecedented displacement, famine, and growing civilian flight.  The pace of the implementation of the Peace Agreement has been too slow…”

According to the UN OCHA Humanitarian Bulletin Report distributed on May 28, 3.7 million South Sudanese are homeless.  Some have relocated to civilian sites, and others have been moved to refugee settlements in neighboring countries Kenya and Uganda.  Also according to the report, 5.5 million people are “food insecure,” and there are many reports of human rights violations including murders, sexual violence, arbitrary arrests, and detentions.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir did not attend the summit due to “pressing issues in the country,” however First Vice President Gai attended in his place.

Sudan’s ambassador to Ethiopia, Jamal Al Sheikh, told reporters that the summit commenced the opening of “Sudanese humanitarian corridors to forward to relief to the affected civilians in South Sudan.”  Al Sheikh confirmed that IGAD would continue its efforts to cooperate with willing partners.

 

For more information, please see:

Africa News — IGAD Redirects South Sudanese Warring Parties Back to Peace Agreement — 13 June 2017

All Africa — East Africa: IGAD Appreciates the Great Role Played by the Sudan in Hosting Juba Refugees — 13 June 2017

Eyewitness News — Africa Leaders Push South Sudan to Revive Peace, Delay Vote — 13 June 2017

The Star — End Hostilities, Abuse of Human Rights in South Sudan, JMEC tells IGAD — 13 June 2017

UN Peacekeepers Accused of More Sexual Abuse

By Samantha Netzband 

Impunity Watch, Africa Desk Reporter

KINSHASA, DR Congo– Another United Nations Peacekeeper is accused of sexual abuse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The year has been filled with allegations of sexual misconduct against United Nations Peacekeepers in the DR Congo.  In this instance, a United Nations Peacekeeper was placed on leave after accusations that he had sex with a minor.

UN peacekeepers in Congo drive in armoured vehicle.

UN Peacekeepers in the DR Congo. (Photo Courtesy of BBC Africa)

This United Nations Peacekeeper is Romanian.  Out of the five cases that have come to light this year this recent case is the first involving a minor.  Two of the other cases against peacekeepers involve South African soldiers and paternal recognition.  In those cases one baby has been more and the other is expected soon.

The accusations that the United Nations Peacekeepers are facing in the DR Congo are not new to the United Nations Peacekeeping program.  Past allegations against peacekeepers have been made around the globe.  Nearby in the Central African Republic both United Nations Peacekeepers and French troops allegedly raped children.  The legal responsibility of the United Nations and the Peacekeepers in cases of sexual abuse is still hotly contested and unclear.  The victim of this most recent allegation has been put into the care of UNICEF.

For more information, please see:

BBC Africa – DR Congo: UN peacekeepers face fresh sexual abuse claims – 28 April 2017

Inner City Press – On New UN Sex Abuse in DRC, While MONUSCO Lists 5 Accused, UNHQ Won’t Answer – 28 April 2017

International Business Times – DRC: Five UN peacekeepers suspended over fresh sexual abuse claims – 28 April 2017

PBS Newshour – UN peacekeepers accused of thousands of cases of abuse, AP finds – 12 April 2017

 

Conservationist Kuki Gallmann Shot at Her Kenyan Conservatory

By Samantha Netzband 

Impunity Watch, Africa Desk Reporter

NAIROBI, Kenya– Kuki Gallmann, renowned author and conservationist has been shot at her conservatory in Kenya.  Gallmann is 73 years old and owns the Laikipia Nature Conservatory.  There is currently conflict between landowners, like Gallmann, and cattle herders in the Laikipia area.  Gallmann owned a luxury safari lodge which was burned to the ground last month.  It is suspected that the cattle herders may have been behind the arson.

Kuki Gallmann

Author and conservationist Kuki Gallmann. (Photo Courtesy of BBC Africa)

Currently it is unclear exactly who shot Gallmann, but those that were with her at the time claim it was a group of armed men without cattle.  Gallmann is not the only one who has been shot.  A British rancher, Tristan Voorspuy, was shot dead while inspecting his ranch in the same area.  Gallmann has also been shot before in 2009.

Gallmann and others fear that Northern Kenyan is become a land of lawlessness.  There are many who have nothing to lose and simply run around the country doing whatever they can to support themselves.  Sometimes that means targeting individuals like Gallmann.

The widespread drought that is happening in East Africa is only complicating matters.  Gallmann’s daughter said that she and her mother often will let herders graze on their land.  However, recently due to the drought, there have been many more herders than usual.  Some cattle, Gallmann’s daughter believes, actually belongs to wealthy owners rather than locals just seeking a place for their cattle graze.  This has cause conflict between Gallmann and some of the herders.

Gallmann is currently recovering in ICU at a Nairobi hospital after a seven hour surgery to do repairs on her abdomen.  She is expected to make a full recovery.

For further information, please see: 

BBC Africa – Kuki Gallmann shot and wounded at Kenya conservation park – 23 April 2017

CBS News – Kuki Gallmann, “I Dreamed of Africa” author, shot at Kenyan ranch, officials say – 23 April 2017

Huffington Post – Activist Kuki Gallmann Shot At Her Kenyan Ranch – 23 April 2017

The New York Times – ‘I Dreamed of Africa’ Author and Conservationist is Shot in Kenya – 23 April 2017

53 Charged After Celebrating Gay Wedding in Nigeria

By Samantha Netzband 

Impunity Watch, Africa Desk Reporter

LAGOS, Nigeria– 53 men have been arrested in the Nigerian state of Kaduna after celebrating a gay wedding.  The group was charged with conspiracy, unlawful association, and unlawful society.  Currently homosexual acts are illegal in Nigeria.  If caught for performing homosexual acts one can face up to 14 years in prison.

KENYA-NIGERIA-HOMOSEXUALITY-RIGHTS-DEMO

Kenyan gay and lesbian organizations demonstrate outside the Nigerian High Commission in Nairobi on February 7, 2014. (Photo Courtesy of NBC News)

Upon being charged the group plead not guilty to the charges of conspiracy, unlawful assembly, and unlawful society.  The groups defense lawyer, Yunusa Umar, claims that the group was illegally detained for 24 hours.  He also said that most of the group is students.  Gay rights group claim that the group was celebrating a birthday rather than a wedding.  Maria Sjodin, deputy executive director of LGBTQ advocacy group OutRight Action International, said she believes the gay wedding story is just an “excuse” and part of the police’s attempt to “crackdown on an emerging LGBTQ movement” in Nigeria.

Homosexual acts were made illegal in Nigeria in 2014.  The creation of this law came from the two conservative parts of the country: evangelical Christianity in the South and Islam in the North.  Human Rights Watch and other rights group claim that the law was also created to legitimize abuse in the LGBT community.  “Extortion, mob violence, arbitrary arrest, torture in detention, and physical and sexual violence” are common against people suspected of homosexual activities, Human Rights Watch said in a 2016 report.  The country also bans gay marriage.

Currently the group is out of jail on bail pending a hearing on May 8th.

For more information, please see: 

BBC Africa – Nigeria ‘gay wedding’ bust leads to charges – 20 April 2017

Deutsche Welle – Nigeria arrests 53 over Gay Wedding – 20 April 2017

The Journal – Nigeria charges 53 men with conspiracy to organise a gay wedding – 20 April 2017

NBC News – 53 Arrested in Nigeria for Celebrating Gay Wedding, Police Say – 20 April 2017