Zimbabwe’s Spiraling Inflation

By Myriam Clerge
Impunity Watch, Africa

Zimbabwe is battling a down spiraling inflation rate. The official rate is 4,500 %, the highest in the world for a country not in war.

In an effort to curb inflation rates, which increased by 300 % in the last week alone, the government ordered a price cut on basic commodities such as bread, milk and oil. The price cut took effect on Tuesday. However, several struggling companies have ignored the governments order and continued raising prices.

In essence, the government is ordering factories to sell goods at prices lower than production costs. Reluctant to violate new laws prohibiting criticism of the government, one storeowner explained that it could not simply slash prices in the middle of production.

President Mugabe is blaming the West, specifically Britain, for persuading factories to defy price reduction in an effort to overthrow him. During the funeral of a top military official, Mugabe warned that if factories continued their “dirty tricks” he would seize and nationalize all companies.

In 2000, Mugabe forcibly seized white owned farms and gave them to the landless blacks. Critics blame this seizure for the present state of the economy. Furthermore, economists warn that price cut strategies will likely lead to shortages and factory closures. Economic analyst Tony Hawkins, suggests that Mugabe’s threat to seize companies is another ploy to win the 2008 election.

In the meantime, the United States and the European Union has imposed a travel ban and an asset freeze on President Mugabe and other leading officials.

For more information please see:

Yahoo – Mugabe Threatens to Seize Firms Over ‘Dirty Tricks’ – 27 June 2007

BBC – Zimbabwe to Cut Prices ‘By Half’ – 26 June 2007

Yahoo – Zimbabwe Government Orders Price Cuts – 26 June 2007

Charles Taylor Trial Delayed

By Impunity Watch Africa

The trial against former Liberian President Charles Taylor was set to resume Monday in The Hague, however Taylor once again refused to attend.  When opening statements began on June 4, Taylor refused to appear in court, instead sending a letter to the judge calling the court “a charade that does injustice to the people of Sierra Leone.”  Taylor claimed he could not receive a fair trial and fired his attorney, Karim Khan, stating he wished to represent himself.  Following opening statements the trial was in recess until Monday, when witness testimony was scheduled to begin.

Monday brought neither new defense attorneys for Taylor, nor an appearance by the accused, and the trial was once again put on hold.  Justice Julie Sebutinde issued a terse warning against “undue delay” but was nevertheless forced to continue the trial until July 3.  The purpose of the delay is to appoint a new defense team to Taylor, who has claimed he will not appear in court until he is provided with enough resources to match those of the prosecution. He continues to assert that he will act as his own attorney unless he can be represented by a Queen’s Counsel (a high-level British lawyer).

The prosecution objected to the delay, stating that Taylor had intentionally tried to delay proceedings by waiting until the start of trial to fire his lawyer.  However, Justice Sebutinde ruled that adequate resources had to be provided to the defense and that the court’s registry has not moved quickly enough to ensure they were in place.

Taylor faces 11 charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and violations of international humanitarian law for acts which allegedly occurred during his involvement with the Sierra Leone civil war.

Last week the Sierra Leone Court issued its first verdicts, convicting three former Sierra Leonean military leaders on multiple counts of war crimes, including the first ever conviction by an international court for the use of child soldiers. The three men convicted were former leaders of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, a group of former military officers who overthrew Sierra Leone’s government in 1997 and then teamed up with rebels to control the country.  Prosecutors allege the rebels were among those supported by Taylor.

For more information, please see:

AllAfrica – Liberia: Sebutinde Warns Taylor On Boycott – 26 June 2007

AllAfrica – Liberia: Defiant Taylor’s Request Granted – 26 June 2007

BBC – Liberia’s Taylor trial adjourned – 25 June 2007

CNN – Taylor Boycott Forces Delay – 25 June 2007

Somalia: Violence Despite Curfew

By Myriam Clerge
Impunity Watch, Africa

The violence in Somalia continues despite the curfew invoked by the government, effective this past Friday, after weeks of bloodshed. Anyone outside his or her home between 7 pm and 5 am will be arrested. Somalia’s intelligence chief Mohamed Warsame Darwish says the curfew is a necessary means to tackle the violence in the evening and secure the city.

The curfew comes after a bombing in the main Bakara market in Mogadishu on Thursday. At least five people were killed, four police officers and one civilian, when a masked man threw a grenade at several policemen patrolling the crowded marketplace in the capital of Somalia.

Somali policemen continue to be the targets of violence. Early last week two people were killed when insurgents attacked two police stations.

The government and its allied Ethiopian troops have been battling insurgents for nearly six months. The government has accused the Islamists and Mogadishu’s dominant Hawiye clan for Thursday’s bombing.

A national reconciliation conference is scheduled for next month and both the Hawiya clan and Islamists have been invited to create a peaceful resolution. However, neither group has elected to attend or discuss peace until Ethiopian troops are removed from the country.

The Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) controlled the government for six months last year until Ethiopian and government troops ousted the Islamic group.

In the meantime, as malnutrition increases in Somalia, about 140 UN trucks carrying food aid to Somalia were forced to remain in the Kenyan border for more than a month. Kenya closed its border to Somalia in January after hundreds of thousands migrated to the neighboring country following the increased violence. The Kenyan land route was chosen after pirate attacks threatened the safety of seamen and cargo.

Today, with the arrival of food and aid, at least three people were killed when hundreds of people stormed a police station where food was being handed out. One witness, whose brother was among the victims, reports that the police opened fire and killed five people. Another witness describes the killing as cold-blooded murder.

For more information please see:

BBC – Shooting at Somali Food Aid Crush – 25 June 2007

BBC – Somalia Food Aid Trucks Stranded – 22 June 2007

BBC – Curfew After Somali Grenade Blast – 21 June 2007

Yahoo – Somalia Violence Kills 6; Curfew Imposed – 21 June 2007

New UN Report Says Sudan Conflict Fueled By Climate Change

By Impunity Watch Africa

A recent report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has concluded that the conflict in Darfur is being driven and fueled by climate change and environmental degradation.  This report follows an eighteen-month study of Sudan and concludes that Darfur holds grim lessons not only for their own country, but for other countries at risk, particularly Chad and southern Africa.   The report also warns that the Darfur tragedy could be repeated throughout North Africa and the Middle East as the result of growing populations fighting over limited water supplies and resources.

The precarious peace signed between north and south Sudan in 2005 may be at risk, due to declining rainfall and the advancement of the Sahara.  The resulting tensions between farmers and herders over evaporating water holes and disappearing pastures threaten to reignite the half-century war.  The southern Nuba tribe has warned that they could “restart the war” because Arab nomads – themselves pushed south due to a drought – are cutting down their trees to feed their camels.

Estimates of casualties from the Darfur conflict range from 200,000 to 500,000.  The immediate cause was a regional rebellion, which the government responded to by recruiting Arab janjaweed militia members to ethnically cleanse the African population.  The UNEP study suggests that the actual genesis of the conflict is to be found in the decrease in rainfall and spreading desertification, and the resulting conflict between African farmers and Arab nomads fighting over water and land.

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, stated to the Washington Post: “Almost invariably, we discuss Darfur in a convenient military and political shorthand – an ethnic conflict pitting Arab militias against black rebels and farmers. Look to its roots, though, and you discover a more complex dynamic. Amid the diverse social and political causes, the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change.”

The Darfur crisis has in turn exacerbated the environmental degradation, sending more than two million refugees into camps.  Deforestation has accelerated and underground aquifers are being drained in order to support the large numbers.

The report contains recommendations and proposed measures that if implemented are estimated to cost $120 million over three to five years. The Sudanese GDP in 2005 was $85.5 billion.

For more information, please see:

The Age – Sudan war fueled by climate change: UN – 23 June 2007

Guardian – Darfur Conflict Heralds Era of Wars Triggered by Climate Change, UN Report Warns – 23 June 2007

All Africa.com – UN Report Says Environmental Degradation Triggering Tensions – 22 June 2007

BBC – Sudan ‘Must Address Climate Ills’ – 22 June 2007

VOA News – UN Program Finds Environment Degradation Triggers Conflict in Sudan – 22 June 2007

Mail & Guardian – UN: Environmental woes a cause of Sudan conflict – June 2007

Guilty Verdicts for Using Child Soldiers

By Myriam Clerge
Impunity Watch, Africa

The guilty verdicts were declared for three men accused of being co-conspirators and participants of war crimes in Sierra Leone. Alex Tamba Brima, Brima Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu were alleged leaders of the junta, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), responsible for toppling Sierra Leone’s government in 1997. The group later formed an alliance with the notorious Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels to control the country until 1998.

The court found the three defendants, who pleaded not guilty to all charges, guilty of 11 of the 14 charges including terrorism, using child soldiers, enslavement, rape and murder. They were acquitted of sexual slavery and other inhumane acts. Sentencing is scheduled for July 16th.

These are the first verdicts made by the Sierra Leon UN-backed war crimes court. More importantly the verdicts mark the first conviction in an international court for enlisting children under the age of fifteen into armed forces or groups and using them to participate actively as soldiers.

Roughly 30,000 children, in Sierra Leone alone, were conscripted into the war. In Liberia, former President Charles Taylor’s men are accused of creating the Small Boys Unit that “enlisted” young boys whom they baptized Babykillers. Although children have been used in war, never before was their involvement more obvious.

Backed by Liberia’s former president Charles Taylor in exchange for “blood diamonds,” the AFRC and RUF held power from 1997 to 1998. During that period thousands of women were raped and turned into sex slaves. About half a million people were brutally murdered. Those not killed by the rebels’ trademark of hacking off limbs, were forced to work in the mines to fuel the devastation.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone was set up following the end of fighting in 2002 with the help of the United Nations. Although the convictions of the three leaders of the ARFC mark a vital step, many criticize the slow progression of trials. To date the court has indicted 12 people, including Charles Taylor, out of the thousands who committed these crimes and who continue to enjoy impunity. Of the 12 people indicted, three have since died before trial including the notorious leader of RUF Foday Sankoh.

Amnesty International said while Thursday’s verdict was a positive step, it should not be the closing chapter in the struggle to achieve justice for the terrible crimes committed against the people of that country. Thousands of others must be held criminally responsible and reparations must be provided to the victims.

Taylor’s trial is scheduled to resume next week.

For more information please see:

AllAfrica – Sierra Leone: Guilty Verdicts Not the End of the Story for Victims of War Crimes – 21 June 2007

BBC – First S Leone war crimes verdicts – 20 June 2007

BBC – Country Profile: Sierra Leone – 20 June 2007

Yahoo – Sierra Leone convicts 3 of war crimes – 20 June 2007

Namibia: Seeking Solutions to Gender-Based Crimes

By Myriam Clerge
Impunity Watch, Africa

Hundreds of stakeholders were prompted to meet at Windhoek for a four day national conference to seek solutions to the string of horrible and cruel forms of violence that is plaguing Namibia. 350 delegates representing government, civil society, traditional leaders and religious groups came together on Tuesday to find a solution to the thorny issue of gender-based violence.

The meeting came together two days after the latest incident in which a young woman was murdered and her head, legs and arms were savagely hacked off. The remaining parts of her body was dumped in a bin on the road between Okahandja and Windhoek.

Marlene Mungunda, Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, says these incidents show that Namibia is fighting a vicious enemy. She stated that the problem called for “watertight strategies.”

The police have been criticized for failing to arrest perpetrators committing gender-based violence, especially those committing crimes that are gruesome and shocking to the public. The minister made a passionate appeal to the Namibian police and other law enforcers to assure that the perpetrators of gender-based violence, particularly those committing bizarre murders, are arrested.

Namibia is among countries in the SADC region that have good legislation on children and women’s rights. However, the effective implementation of these laws is being doubted in some regions.

Norman Tjombe, Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) Director, said, “Gender-based violence is Namibia’s main human rights problem.” Tjombe singled out rape and said 60 rape cases out of 100, 000 persons in the country are recorded every year. While society has viewed rape as an incident where the female is always the victim and the male the perpetrator, shockingly one out of 14 victims is a man or a boy.

The conference is being held under the theme “Unifying Action to Eliminating Gender-Based Violence in Our Society.”

For more information please see:

AllAfrica – Namibia: Meeting to Thrash Out Gender Violence – 19 June 2007

AllAfrica – Namibia: Mungunda Calls On ‘Supernatural’ to Help Fight Violence – 20 June 2007

AllAfrica – Namibia: Violence Conference Begins Huge Task – 20 June 2007

Sierra Leone Court Hands Down First Convictions for War Crimes

By Impunity Watch Africa

The Special Court for Sierra Leone, a UN-backed court, issued its first verdicts today, convicting three former junta leaders of war crimes.  The court found the three defendants – Alex Timba Brima, Brima Bazzy Kamara, and Santigie Borbor Kanu – guilty of 11 of 14 charges, including terrorism, the use of child soldiers, enslavement, rape, and murder.  No judgments were issued on the charges of sexual slavery and inhumane acts related to sexual violence, and all three were acquitted of “other inhumane acts” related to physical violence.  The three defendants were commanders of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), former government soldiers who split from the army and sided with the RUF rebels during the conflict.

Corrine Dufka, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that today’s verdict marks a watershed.  “It’s the first time that an international court has issued a verdict on child recruitment.”  David Crane, the founding prosecutor for the Sierra Leone court agreed.  “It’s a huge moment for children around the world who have been oppressed in these conflicts.  This particular judgment sets the cornerstone forever – those who recruit children into armed force are criminally liable.”

The Special Court for Sierra Leone was established following the end of fighting in 2002 to prosecute the worst offenders.  It is estimated that half a million people were the victims of killings, systematic mutilation and other atrocities during the 1991-2002 conflict.  To date, the court has indicted twelve people, including former Liberian president Charles Taylor who is accused of backing the rebels.  Three of the suspects have since died and the location of one is still unknown.  Taylor is currently facing trial in The Hague due to fears that the case would trigger violence.  Taylor is also linked to abuses in his own country, but Liberia has opted for a truth and reconciliation commission rather than a court.

For more information, please see:

ABC – Sierra Leone court delivers first war crimes verdicts – 21 June 2007

CNN – Sierra Leone war crimes court convicts 3 – 20 June 2007

USA Today – 3 convicted of Sierra Leone War Crimes – 20 June 2007

Chronicle Journal – Sierra Leone court convicts three junta leaders of war crimes in civil war – June 2007

Mail & Guardian – Sierra Leone court delivers first war-crimes verdicts – June 2007

Yahoo NewsSierra Leone court to deliver first war crimes judgment – June 2007

Land and People Misplaced in Ethiopia

By Myriam Clerge
Impunity Watch, Africa

Several weeks ago the UN Security Council received a letter from the Ethiopian government accepting the commission’s decision to award the town of Badme to Eritrea. The agreement arrives five years after Ethiopia initially promised to comply with the UN’s 2002 ruling.

Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after 30 years of guerilla war. For two and a half years the two countries fought over the town of Badme until they agreed to a truce to cease hostility in 2000.

Ethiopia’s letter to the UN Security Council required Eritrea to comply with the 2000 truce and if violated to be sanctioned by the commission. In response to Ethiopia’s conditional acceptance, Eritrea issued its own letter blaming the UN for failing to force Ethiopia to turn over the town.

The Security Council met with African Union and Ethiopian officials in Addis Ababa this past weekend to discuss border issues and possible resolutions.

The Security Council was greeted by thousands of Ethiopian Jews in Addis Ababa waiting to get to Israel. In 2005 Israel unofficially promised to relocate Ethiopian Jews who claim their families were forced to convert to Christianity in the 19th century, known as the Falashmura, by the end of 2007.

Under Israel’s “law of return” anyone who is Jewish or has a Jewish relative or spouse is granted automatic Israeli citizenship. However, Ethiopian Jews in Israel are claiming that the government is discriminately blocking their relatives’ immigration.

Instead, thousands of Ethiopian Jews, who have abandoned their home and livelihood, are living on little hillocks near the Israeli embassy in Addis Ababa, waiting in vain to get to the Promise Land.

For more information please see:

Yahoo – Ethiopian troops attacked in Somalia – 15 June 2007

Yahoo – Ethiopia agrees to give town to Eritrea – 15 June 2007

Yahoo – Ethiopian Jews in limbo, waiting to get to Promised Land – 14 June 2007

BBC – Country Profile: Eritrea – 09 March 2007

Working Out the Details on Darfur Peacekeeping Force

By Impunity Watch Africa

This week Sudan agreed to a hybrid AU-UN force of 19,000 troops, however details over control has continued to be an issue of debate.   Currently the plan is for the UN to have overall control of the mission with the AU having responsibility for the day-to-day responsibilities.  Similar agreements in the past have failed due to Khartoum’s opposition.  Both the US and UK have warned that if Sudan continues to resist peacekeepers, sanctions will be imposed.

UN Security Council envoys are due to hold talks with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on deployment soon.  Western diplomats are looking for an exact timetable for deployment of peacekeeping force.  A Sudanese diplomat stated that troops could be in Darfur by October, depending on the time it takes the two organizations to get troops and funds.

Meanwhile, British aid agency Oxfam has stated that they are leaving Darfur due to safety concerns for its workers.  Three aid agencies based in Geneva were attacked by a rebel group in December.  One aid worker was beaten, another was raped, and several were subjected to mock executions.  Oxfam has stated they are withdrawing due to a lack of prosecution for the crime and a lack of assurances that such an attack would not happen again.   Oxfam has been supplying water, sanitation and healthcare to 130,000 people in refugee camps outside Gereida town.

Violence in Darfur has killed more than 200,000 people and turned 2.5 million people into refugees.  Much of the violence has been the cause of clashes between government-sponsored Janjaweed militias and Darfur rebel groups.

For more information, please see:

BBC – UN Talks Darfur detail with Sudan – 18 June 2007

Kenya Broadcasting Corporation – UN, Sudan to discuss Darfur plan – 17 June 2007

Sudan Tribune – Hybrid peacekeeping force could be in Darfur by October – 13 June 2007

Former Militia Leader Released on Bail in Nigeria

By Meryl White
Impunity Watch, Africa

On Thursday, former militia leader, Mujahid Dokubo-Asari was freed on bail by a Nigerian court due to his health condition. Dokubo-Asari has been in detention since September 2005. He is on trial for treason. Dokubo-Asari belongs to the liaw ethnic group, which is the most populous group in the Niger Delta. Elders of the liaw group have unsuccessfully tried to have Dokubo-Asari released for the past two years. Moreover, the Supreme Court denied him bail last Friday because of national security fears.

Analysts believe that Dokubo-Asari was released as a result of a political deal between the Nigerian government and rebels in the southern Bayelsa state in the delta. Rebels in southern Nigeria have freed hostages, declared a truce, and are willing to communicate with the newly inaugurated President Umaru Yar’Adua. This truce will help to improve oil production in the region.

Powerful state figures have publicly approved the release of Dokubo-Asari. Emmanuel Diffa, a Liaw elder purports that the release is “good news for anyone with a business in the Niger Delta. It will pour cold water on the situation. Asari is key to bringing peace to the delta.” Asari has stated that he will help the Nigerian government as long as the army stops using violence. Government officials believe that Asari is a powerful voice to help persuade rebels to disarm. Nevertheless, Justice Peter Olayiwola has conditioned that Dukubo-Asari can not take part in any political rally or political activity upon release. Moreover, his movements will be monitored by security services.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Fight For Nigeria Oil to Continue – 15 June 2007

BBC – Hostages Released in Niger Delta – 12 June 2007

CNN – Nigerian oil delta militant freed on bail – June 2007

Peace Efforts in Congo

By Myriam Clerge
Impunity Watch, Africa

The President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Joseph Kabila met with South African President Thabo Mbeki this week to discuss business investments in the country. DR Congo, once known as Zaire, has had a long history of civil war and corruption fueled by the country’s vast mineral wealth. Mbeki played a leading role in the peace progress and ensuring a fair election after the former Congolese president Laurent Kabila was assassinated. Joseph Kabila, the son of Laurent Kabila won the historic election in late 2006.

The African nations have also recognized the progress of the DRC from 41 years of regional wars to swift political transition backed by the West. In an effort to encourage and reinforce the disarmament of the DRC, the three-day Disarmament Conference opened on Tuesday in DRC. The delegates of 20 African countries met to discuss issues of child soldiers, armed foreign rebels and unemployment.

Unfortunately Kabila’s visit to South Africa and the conference were marked by the murder of a Congolese journalist on Wednesday. Serge Maheshe, journalist for Radio Okapi, a UN sponsored radio station, was shot several times after visiting a friend’s house. Maheshe was traveling in a clearly marked UN van with 2 friends, who were not injured. The Reporter Without Borders media’s rights group condemned the “targeted murder” especially during a time when the government aspires peace and security.

The police have mounted an operation to hunt down the murders. Maheshe is the fourth media worker to be killed in the past two years. He leaves behind a wife and two children.

For more information please see:

Yahoo – UN-backed radio journalist gunned down in DRCongo – 14 June 2007

Yahoo – DR Congo president to pay state visit to South Africa – 12 June 2007

Yahoo – African Disarmament conference opens in DR Congo – 12 June 2007

BBC – Country Profile: Democratic Republic of Congo – 05 June 2007

Continued Strike is Damaging South Africa

By Myriam Clerge
Impunity Watch, Africa

According to Jacob Zuma, the deputy leader of the governing ANC, South Africa’s public sector strike could have been avoided and is damaging the country’s image abroad.

One of the biggest strikes in South Africa increased Wednesday as hundreds of thousands more workers downed tools, bringing large parts of the country to a standstill.

Hospitals, schools and transports have met a huge disruption since the beginning of the strike, June 1. Most public schools have been closed since the beginning of the month and hospitals are only able to run a skeleton service with army medics. Bus and train services refuse collections as the unions staged massive marches through the center of the country’s main cities, such as Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.

Despite optimism from President Thabo Mbeki the wage dispute could soon be resolved. The government has increased its offer from six to 7.25 percent but the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has vowed to pressure the government into raising their pay offer from the 7.25 percent. Workers, who wanted a 12 percent increase, say they will not go below 10 percent.

Zuma, a possible successor to President Thabo Mbeki, said negotiations since the start of the strike showed that a compromise between the government and unions was possible and should have been explored beforehand.

Zuma acknowledged that the strike damaged the country’s international reputation as it tries to cement its status as the continent’s economic powerhouse and ahead of the 2010 World Cup which is being held in South Africa.

Meanwhile, the government criticized the unions of failing to explain the details of the negotiations to their members and took out ads in newspapers to give information of how its offer included increases on housing and medical allowances.

For more information please visit:

BBC – Strike Escalates in South Africa – 14 June 2007

Yahoo – Strike Damaging South Africa, Says Zuma – 14 June 2007

Yahoo – South Africa Shutdown as Strike Intensifies – 13 June 2007

Sudan Approves Peacekeepers

By Impunity Watch Africa

Sudan approved a new plan for a joint African Union (AU) and UN peacekeeping force for Darfur on Tuesday following two days of high-level technical consultations.  Under this new plan, the AU will run the day-to-day operations, while the UN will have overall control of the 17,000 to 19,000 peacekeepers. In announcing the agreement, AU Peace and Security Commissioner Said Djinnit urged the UN Security Council to authorize deployment of the hybrid force as soon as possible.

Sudan has raised some concerns about exit strategy, and it was agreed that the operation will be periodically reviewed. However, it was not stated how often such reviews will take place.  There are also concerns over the use of non-African troops.  The head of Sudan’s delegation, Mutrif Siddig, stated that the parties had agreed that priority should be given to African troops, but if there are not enough they are willing to take troops from elsewhere.

The UN Security Council is being briefed today on the deal.  Some diplomats are fear that there are conditions attached to the deal and it will prove to be yet another pact aimed at resolving the Darfur conflict that will fail to come to fruition.    The US ambassador has said that if there are conditions attached, additional sanctions will become necessary.

For more information, please see:

All Africa – Sudan Accepts Hybrid Peacekeeping Force in Darfur – 12 June 2007

Yahoo – UN Council hears hitches on Darfur force deal – June 2007

MSNBC – Sudan accepts joint peacekeepers in Darfur – June 2007

BBC – Sudan accepts joint Darfur force – 12 June 2007

Twelve Hostages Released in Nigeria

By Meryl White
Impunity Watch, Africa

On June 11, twelve hostages were released in the Bayelsa state of Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta. According to the Nigerian government, three Americans, five Britons, two Indians, one Filipino and one South African were released. In addition, a local Nigerian who was captured during the raids was also released. Since January 2006, more than 200 oil workers have been kidnapped by armed militants and criminal gangs in the oil rich region. These militants want more of the oil revenues to be spent on developing infrastructure in local poverty stricken communities.

The hostages were released phsyically unharmed after the ransom was paid on their behalf by oil companies or state governments. Nevertheless, one hostage, South African Duplooy Smit, described the first three days as “hell.” Smit had been held hostage since May 25th 2007. He told to Reuters news agency that the rebels conducted a mock execution on him. Moreover, Smit feared the rebels because they “they were all high on local gin and marijuana, and carrying machine guns, so you never knew what would happen next.”

While the twelve hostages were released on “humanitarian grounds,” the militants indicated that they would continue the attacks in southern Nigeria. More than twenty-four foreigners are currently being held hostage in southern Nigeria. The main militant group, Movement for the Emancipation for the Niger Delta has given President Yar’Adua one month to find a solution to the problems of poverty and under-development that plague the Niger Delta. However, the Movement for the Emancipation for the Niger Delta did not release any hostages on Monday.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Hostages Released in Niger Delta – 12 June 2007

CNN – Report: Hostages Let Go in Nigeria – 11 June 2007

BBC – Briton’s Nigeria kidnap confirmed – 03 June 2007

CNN – Nigeria gunmen seize six foreigners – 03 June 2007

BBC – Nigeria militants offer ceasefire – 02 June 2007

Reactions to Beginning of Charles Taylor Trial

By Impunity Watch Africa

Charles Taylor’s boycott and refusal to show at the first day of his trial in The Hague for war crimes that occurred in Sierra Leone has sparked much response and criticism from scholars and commentators.  Instead of attending the first day of his trial, Taylor sent a letter from his cell calling the court a “charade” and firing his counsel, apparently intending to represent himself.

The former founding Chief Prosecutor David Crane of the Special Court for Sierra Leone indicted Charles Taylor, Liberia’s former President, on March 3, 2003. The original indictment included seventeen counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity including rape, murder, pillage, enslavement, mutilation, and unlawful recruitment of child soldiers.   It was later changed to eleven to make for more concise charges.

Former Prosecutor David Crane attended the opening statements.  His response to Taylor’s boycott is that “Taylor and his counsel are predictably providing the histrionics that accompany the public disgrace of a bloody tyrant.”  He saw Taylor’s actions as no different from those of Milosevic or Hussein or any other former head of state on trial for war crimes.

With a three-week break before the trial begins, many are cautioning the court to ensure proper control over the proceedings in order to prevent a disaster.  The presiding judge in this case has started well, and was able to manage the defense counsel’s attempts to derail the opening statements and was able to get the proceedings back on track.  Corrine Dufka, a West African researcher for Human Rights Watch, noted that the judge has already started off well.  Unlike the Milosevic trial where the defense and prosecution were allowed to go on and on and there was a lack of management from the bench, here the judge has already instituted order and is working to ensure a fair trial.

The trial resumes in three weeks on June 25.

For more information, please see:

Jurist – An Empty Chair at The Hague: Trying Charles Taylor – 08 June 2007

World Politics Review –  Accountability in West Africa: Charles Taylor on Trial at The Hague – 07 June 2007

VOA – Charles Taylor Boycotts His War Crimes Trial in The Hague – 04 June 2007

Guardian – Liberia’s Taylor Snubs War Crimes Trial – June 2007