Africa

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