Opening Day in Charles Taylor Trial

By Impunity Watch Africa

The trial of Charles Taylor, Liberia’s former president, for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone began today in The Hague.  Taylor boycotted the first day of the trial, claiming he had lost faith in the UN-backed court.  In a letter read by the defense counsel, Taylor stated that he “cannot participate in a charade that does no justice to the people of Liberia and Sierra Leone.”  Taylor also dismissed his defense attorney Karim Ahmad Khan from the case and is now seeking to represent himself.  Khan walked out despite an order by presiding Justice Julia Sebutinde to continue representing Taylor for the remainder of the opening arguments.  Taylor’s letter caused confusion in the court, and came as the prosecutor was making a four-hour opening statement.  Justice Sebutinde assigned another attorney to represent Taylor and directed Chief Prosecutor Stephen Rapp to begin his statement.

Taylor faces charges for numerous war crimes committed during Sierra Leone’s 1991-2001 civil war including murder, rape, mutilation, and recruitment of child soldiers.  He was the first sitting president of Africa to be indicted by a foreign hybrid court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.  The case is to be handled exclusively by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague and is predicted to last until December 2008 with a judgment likely in mid-2009.

Taylor has pled not guilty to all 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.   Prosecutors claim in the indictment that Taylor supported the RUF rebels in order to gain control of Sierra Leone’s mineral wealth and destabilize the government, thereby increasing his regional influence.  Taylor’s defense does not dispute the horrors that occurred in Sierra Leone, but argue that Taylor did not give any orders to troops and did not supply any weapons to the rebels.

Civil society groups have launched a website designed to keep West Africans, particularly those from Liberia and Sierra Leone, informed on the trial.  The website, www.CharlesTaylorTrial.org, will provide daily updates with detailed information and expert analysis on the trial.  The hope is that this website will help keep the victims and those affected in Sierra Leone and Liberia informed, since the trial is being conducted in Europe and many Africans did not know that the trial was beginning, nor why it had been moved.

Amnesty International (AI) released a press statement cautioning the court to keep the trial accessible and known to the victims.  AI pleaded that the victims must observe the justice process and they should be able to see that the trial is “conducted fairly in accordance with international standards, respecting the presumption of innocence.”   Officials for Human Rights Watch, however, have stated that they see the trial as undoubtedly a step in the right direction for prosecuting former heads of state for serious human rights violations and other war crimes.

For more information, please see:

AllAfrica – Liberia: Taylor in the Dock Today! – 04 June 2007

AllAfrica – Website Launched to Cover Taylor Trial – 04 June 2007

Amnesty International – Press Release – 01 June 2007

HRW – Liberian Ex-President Goes on Trial – 30 May 2007

CNN – Taylor Boycotts ‘Charade’ Trial – June 2007

MSNBC – Liberia’s Taylor Goes on Trial Over War Crimes – June 2007

Niger’s Government Dissolves

By Meryl White
Impunity Watch, Africa

Niger is one of the five poorest countries in the world. It is situated in the southern region of the Sahara Desert. This arid nation has experienced a history of coups and elections since its independence from France in 1960. On Friday, June 1, 2007, Niger was once again without a government when Prime Minister Hama Amadou’s cabinet lost a no-confidence vote brought by parliamentary opposition. Sixty-two delegates in a 113-seat national assembly voted Amadou out of office. He was the leader of the ruling National Movement for a Society of Development (MNSD) since 1998.

The vote was prompted by a fraud case at the education ministry where two former ministers were involved in embezzling foreign funds that were intended for impoverished schools. Between 2002 and 2006, more than $9 million of European Union Aid was allegedly taken in the corrupt scandal.

While Amadou immediately resigned from his position on Friday, he was shocked that four groups allied to the MNSD voted against his government. He said, “After surviving four no-confidence votes, the government has fallen.” Moreover, he stated, “It’s a total surprise, given that the government has a big majority.”

President Tanja now has to pick a successor for the position of prime minister or dissolve parliament and call for new elections within 45 days. Opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou said, “We would like him to make the right choice in order to give Niger a prime minister who will promote good governance and fight corruption and the embezzlement of public goods.”

For more information, please see:

BBC – Niger Vote Dissolves Government – 01 June 2007

International Herald Tribune – Niger’s Government Dissolves After No Confidence Vote – June 2007

Yahoo – Niger Government Falls After Losing Confidence Vote – June 2007

No Changes in Somalia

By Myriam Clerge

Impunity Watch, Africa

“Once again Somalia has failed to emerge from the upheaval[s].” This thought sums up the present circumstances in Somalia. The country is still unable to feed its people and there continues to be war. The humanitarian crisis in Somalia has not reached this stage since clan warfare nearly 16 years ago. This time the war is between allies of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and Ethiopian forces- in support of the Transitional Federal Government.

Roughly 430,000 to 350,000 have fled from Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, since the fighting began. According to the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund, one million Somalis are in need of aid and protection and 71 % of the population is malnourish.

To make matters worse, pirates have hindered the transport of food and aid to displaced Somalis. Earlier in the month, a ship carrying tons of UN relief refused to leave the port of Kenya because of piracy. On Tuesday, pirates released a vessel and its crew after the cargo owners agreed to pay the $100,000 ransom. The United Nations has appealed for international support to secure the waters off Somalia.

Besides humanitarian aid the United States objective is to prevent Somalia from becoming a safe haven to terrorist. Somalia has been without an affective government for 16 years. Although the Ethiopian forces overthrew the Union of Islamic Courts, the US is fearful extremist of the Islamic Court may harbour members of al-Qeada.

Ethiopia has vowed to retain troops in Somalia until African Union forces are at an effective level. Five Somali civilians died and three were injured yesterday after an attack on a convoy forced Ethiopian soldiers to open fire. As Islamists increasingly adopt guerrilla tactics, the likelihood the fighting will end soon seems daunting.

For more information please see:

BBC – Five Die in Somalia Convoy Attack – 30 May 2007

Yahoo – Somali Pirates Release Ship, Crew – 30 May 2007

BBC – Somalia – ‘A Depressing Prospect’ – 14 May 2007

BBC – Country profile: Somalia – 6 March 2007

UN Imposes Sanctions on Sudan

By Impunity Watch Africa

President George Bush announced yesterday the imposition of new economic sanctions against Sudan targeting government-run companies involved in the oil industry and three individuals, including a rebel leader suspected of being involved in the Darfur conflict.   In announcing the new measures, Bush stated that the US would no longer turn its eyes from the crisis called its “rightful name” by his administration: genocide.  The United Nations has estimated that 200,000 people have been killed and 2 million made homeless since the conflict broke out four years ago.  Sudan has disputed these estimates, and claim that only 9,000 people have died.

Sudan’s government immediately criticized the action, calling it “unfair and untimely” and based solely on politics.  One official stated that Sudan was counting on its “friends” such as China, which takes sixty percent of its oil exports, to avert the economic hurt caused in the long run by the sanctions.   Sudanese officials further stated that US sanctions will have little effect due the fact that they have no direct trade ties with the US.

While many humanitarian organizations welcomed the new sanctions, they also cautioned that it might be too little, too late.  Save Darfur Coalition director David Rubenstein cautioned President Bush to “set a short and firm deadline for fundamental changes in Sudanese behavior, and prepare now to implement immediately further measures should Khartoum continue to stonewall.”  Amnesty International stated that without the support of the international community, unilateral sanctions against Sudan would do little.

Britain quickly stated that it is behind the US actions, fully supporting the sanctions and the US efforts to address the situation in the Security Council of the UN.  A UN resolution would apply new international sanctions against the government, would seek to impose an expanded embargo on arms sales to Sudan, prohibit Sudan’s government from conducting offensive military flights over Darfur, and strengthen the US ability to monitory and report any violations.  A resolution from the Security Council may take some time however, due to the longstanding opposition from China. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated yesterday that he needed more time to promote negotiations and to persuade the Sudanese government to accept more peacekeepers.

For more information, please see:

allAfrica – Sudan: US Sanctions welcome but too late – 30 May 2007

BBC – US Sanctions ‘won’t help Darfur’ – 30 May 2007

Reuters – Amensty doubts Sudan sanctions, urges Arab pressure – 30 May 2007

MSNBC – Bush imposes new sanctions on Sudan – May 2007

Yahoo – Sudan: US sanctions to have little fiscal impact – May 2007

Yahoo – Sudan shrugs off US ‘genocide’ sanctions as political – May 2007

Yahoo – Britain backs US on Darfur sanctions – May 2007

Rwandan Hutu Rebels Suspected of Killing 29 in DRC

By Meryl White
Impunity Watch Reporter

In Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, between Saturday night to Sunday morning, more than 29 people were killed by suspected Rwandan Hutu Rebels. Seventeen bodies were found in three villages in South Kivu province, while another twelve bodies were found in the forest. The murderers slashed their victims with machetes during a night attack.

Ignace Murwanashyaka, the leader of the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) has denounced responsibility for the attacks. Furthermore, Murwanashyaka claims that it will be impossible for law enforcement to identify the perpetrators because the attack took place at night.

The United Nations Mission in DR Congo is now investigating the attack in the Kanyola district. However, locals in the South Kivu province have been disappointed by both the UN and the army. One resident said, “They roll past in their armoured vehicles here but are incapable of puttng an end to the exactions and disarming the groups that are spreading terror throughout the region.”

Saturday’s attack is the most gruesome in South-Kivu since May 23, 2005, when a militia killed 19 civilians in Nindja. On July 9, 2005, almost 40 civilians were burned to death by suspected Rwandan Hutu rebels who wanted to punish civilians for backing a UN offensive against them.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Rwanda Rebels’ in DR Congo Raid – 28 May 2007

Yahoo – UN Probes DRC Massacre of up to 30 Villagers – May 2007

Justice in Rwanda

By Myriam Clerge
Impunity Watch, Africa

Francois-Xavier Byuma, a prominent civil rights activist, was sentenced for 19 years in prison by a grassroots genocide court for his involvement in the 1994 massacre in Rwanda. On Sunday May 24th, Byuma was convicted of conspiring with criminals and beating a woman during the massacre in 1994. In response, Byuma, a member of the Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, a playwright and head of a children’s rights group, claimed the trial and conviction were designed to settle a score between the judge and himself and intends to appeal.

The 1994 mass murder was one of Africa’s worst genocide. During the 100-day killing spree at least 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis, were massacred by extremist members of the Hutu ethnic group. The Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) later regained control of the country, which led to nearly 2 million Hutus migrating to nearby Congo. Some of the fleeing Hutus were participants of the Rwanda massacre.

Although Rwanda signed a peace treaty with eastern Congo in 2002, tension and conflict remains between the ethnic groups within the two countries. On Sunday May 24th Rwandan rebels, based in Congo, attacked a Congolese village with machetes and spears killing 17 and wounding dozens. The rebels are suspected of being Hutu members of the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda. The UN commission in Congo has not confirmed the attack, but as of April has launched a military offense to push back Rwandan rebels from eastern Congo.

For more information please see:

Yahoo – Rwandan Rights Activist Sentenced for Genocide Role – 28 May 2007

Yahoo – Rwandan Rebels Kill 17 in Congo Village – 27 May 2007

BBC – Country Profile: Rwanda – 04 May 2007

David Crane Interview on Charles Taylor Trial

By Impunity Watch Africa

Professor David Crane, former chief prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, will be attending the Charles Taylor trial at The Hague scheduled to begin June 4.   Crane issued the indictment for Charles Taylor and was invited by the current prosecutor to attend the opening statements.

For the full article and interview, please see:

VOA News

Ugandan Rebel Group Threatens War Over Indictments

By Impunity Watch Africa

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group in Uganda has threatened a return to war if the International Criminal Court’s indictments against the top leaders are not withdrawn by the end of peace talks.  This has been a long controversy between the government of Uganda and the rebel leaders, who have been in hiding in the DR Congo since the indictments were issued.    The LRA waged a lengthy and savage campaign against the government and civilians in northern Uganda for two decades, resulting in the displacement of almost two million civilians and the deaths of thousands.  The ICC has indicted the top five LRA leaders for crimes against humanity, but none have so far been arrested.   One of the leaders was killed by the Ugandan army in battle, however the remaining four continue to hide.

The government has agreed to issue pardons to LRA members who surrender, however they have continued to refuse to do so for high-ranking officers.   The government has indicted a willingness to persuade the ICC to drop the indictments if the leaders take full responsibility for the crimes committed against civilians through traditional justice.  However, the rebels continue to refuse to accept anything less than lifting the indictments beforehand.

For more information, please see:

All Africa – Otti Threatens War Over Warrants – 26 May 2007

Reuters –http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/a08a28c1c879b4da6de68dbc5e0 – May 2007

IRIN – Museveni Gives Rebels Ultimatum Over Northern War – 17 May 2006

Landmark Trial for the ICC in Democratic Republic of Congo

By Meryl White
Impunity Watch, Africa

The ICC is a permanent court created in 2002 to provide for international justice. The ICC is independent from the United Nations and has international jurisdiction. Since 2002, the ICC has investigated the conflict in northern Uganda, “resource-fueled” battles in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the crisis in Darfur, Sudan. Moreover, the ICC recently announced a new investigation into the violence occuring in the Central African Republic.

The Congolese government asked the ICC in 2004, to investigate the atrocities that took place during the Second Congolese War, the five year conflict that ended in 2003, and killed four million people. In Bunia, Democratic Republic of Congo, a Congolose warlord named Thomas Lubanga, became ICC’s prime suspect. He is responsible for the recruitment of child soldiers to fight in his militia. In January 2006, the ICC submitted an arrest warrant for Lubanga, and within two months the Democratic Republic of Congo handed Lubanga over to the court. Lubanga’s arrest marks ICC’s first prosecutorial trial.

The ICC faces certain logistic and security battles to obtain suspects for trial. Since the ICC has no enforcement or marshall service, it is often powerless to act on its warrants. For example, in 2005, the ICC charged five Ugandan rebel commanders with crimes against humanity but have since been unable to arrest the men. Furthermore, the ICC has many international critics, who believe that ICC warrants undermine peace efforts in hostile regions. Others believe that concerns of poor infrastructure and poverty present grave problems in the region and should be concurrently addressed with the court’s actions.

For more information, please see:

Yahoo – ICC Path to Justice Tested in Congo – May 2007

Amnesty International – Amnesty Report Says Rights Situation in Africa Remains Dire – May 2007

Ban on Rallies

By Myriam Clerge
Impunity Watch, Africa

The Zimbabwe police have placed a ban on opposition rally in an effort to halt a series of “disturbances”. The government claims the ban is in effect to protect the people and officers form looting and bombing. Recent crackdown has been focused on the chief political opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), who Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe, has termed the group, puppets of the British monarchy.

The rise in rallies and violence were led by renewed criticism from West concerning the present state of the country’s economy and claims of human rights violations. Zimbabwe has an inflation rate at more than 3,700 percent, unemployment at 80 percent, and a shortening and scarce food supply.

Initially the government placed the ban prohibiting political rallies and demonstration in parts of the capital Harare for three month due to the country’s state of emergency, that ban expired on May 20. However, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) has reported that the government has elected to extend the ban for another month for the city of Mbare, where a police camp was bombed.

The MDC has filed a court petition against the first ban; however the court has yet to review the claim.

For more information please see:

Yahoo – Zimbabwe extends ban on protests, rallies in Harare – 24 May 2007

Yahoo – Zimbabwe police slap new ban on opposition rallies – 24 May 2007

Amnesty International Report on Africa

By Impunity Watch Africa

Amnesty International has recently released their 2007 report on Africa.  Amnesty reports that the human rights situation remained precarious throughout the region in 2006.  Armed conflict, under-development, extreme poverty, widespread corruption, inequitable distribution of resources, political repression, marginalization, ethnic and civil violence, and the HIV/AIDS pandemic have all contributed to the undermining of human rights throughout the region.  While armed conflict on the whole decreased, many countries continue to be affected by it and as a result there are millions of refugees and internally displaced people.  Extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, torture and other ill-treatment is still occurring across the region.

Amnesty’s report provides further detailed information on armed conflicts, economic, social, and cultural rights, repression of dissenters, the death penalty, impunity, violence against women and girls, and regional institutions and human rights.

For the full report, please see:

Amnesty International – Amnesty International Report – May 2007

Upcoming Trial for Charles Taylor

By Impunity Watch Africa

Charles Taylor, the former leader of Liberia from 1997 to 2003, is currently awaiting trial for 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law including mass murder, mutilations, rape, sexual slavery, and the use of child soldiers.  All counts stem from his role in the Sierra Leone civil war.   He was indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in March 2003 and arrested in Nigeria in March 2006.  The Special Court will conduct the trial, however they requested permission in June 2006 for it to take place in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.  The United Nations Security Council unanimously agreed and Taylor was subsequently transferred to the Netherlands where he is currently awaiting his June 4 trial.

Taylor played a large role in the Sierra Leone civil war, trading diamonds for guns with rebel leader Foday Sankoh and providing support and advice to Sam Bockarie. Taylor’s administration is also charged with harboring members of Al-Qaeda sought in connection with the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Charles Taylor- Preacher, Warlord, President – 13 July 2009

AllAfrica – UN-Backed Court in Sierra Leone Unveils Start Date for Trial of Former Leader – 08 May 2007

Trial Watch – Charles Taylor – May 2007

Human Rights Watch – Charles Taylor Hague Trial Must Be Accessible – 19 June 2006

BBC – Taylor Trial to Be Out of Africa – 16 June 2006

Terror Trial in Mauritania

By Meryl White

Impunity Watch, Africa

On Monday, May 21, 2007, more than 20 suspected Islamic militants went on trial in Mauritania. The militants include young Mauritanians and religious teachers who received terrorist training from the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) in Algeria. The Algerian GSPC is linked to the al-Qaeda network. Currently, the GSPC is on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations. In June 2005, the GSPC attacked a Mauritanian army garrison and killed 17 soldiers. Moreover, the GSPC claimed responsibility for the triple suicide bombings in Algeria that took place in April, 2007.

This trial marks the first prosecution in Mauritania since civilian president, Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, took office in April, 2007. State officials believe that the new civilian government will give the suspects a fair and speedy trial. “The government is obliged to respect the dictates of the constitution and the laws … this is not just a security issue,” said an unnamed official.

President Abdallahi has indicated that the government of Mauritania will continue to cooperate with the United States to uncover militant training camps in the desert borders. Mauritania will join the Washington’s Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership, and share military cooperation and intelligence with U.S. Special Forces stationed in the region.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Suspected Islamic militants on trial in Mauritania – 21 May 2007

BBC – Mass terror trial in Mauritania – 21 May 2007

Zimbabwe: Poor Role Model for Progress

By Myriam Clerge
Impunity Watch, Africa

The United Nations announced Zimbabwe’s appointment to the body’s Commission on Sustainable Development, despite disapproval from the United States, European nations and human rights organizations. The commission is charged with promoting economic progress and environmental protection. Given the state of the country, opponents argue Zimbabwe is not suitable to represent the theme of the commission.

Once the “breadbasket of Africa”, Zimbabwe can’t now feed itself. The nation’s annual inflation has soared to 3,714 percent. Zimbabwe is experiencing the world’s fastest-shrinking economy. Fueled by numerous business shut downs, unemployment has reached 80 percent.

Many charge Zimbabwe’s current president for the countries poor state. Mugabe has been criticized by the West and domestic opponents for oppression and corruption. Suspicious of western influence, Mugabe’s main opposition, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), claims many of their members have been killed, tortured and harassed by Mugabe and his party.

Since 1980 President Mugabe and his political party, Zanu-PF has dominated Zimbabwe’s politics. Considered anti-western and suspicious of capitalism, Mugabe played a key role in ending white rule in Rhodesia. In 2000 he implemented a land redistribution plan in Zimbabwe which disrupted the agriculture-based economy. White-owned commercial farms were violently seized and handed to poor blacks.

Zimbabwe is suffering from massive food and fuel shortages. According to the Central Statistical Office, prices increased by 100.7 percent, the highest on record. While the nation’s consumers are forced to carry bags of currency to purchase scarce resources, President Mugabe is building a $4 million museum to display the many gifts he received during his 27 year presidency.

Mugabe’s critics argue that Zimbabwe’s appointment to such a key body in the U.N. will call into question the credibility of the organization. Despite disapproval, the commission traditionally rotates among regions of the world. This year Africa was up for the position.

For more information please see:

Washington Times – Zimbabwe president extravagant amid poor – 20 May 2007

Yahoo – Inflation in Zimbabwe hits 3,714 percent – 17 May 2007

CNN – Zimbabwe to head key U.N. body – 12 May 2007

BBC – Country Profile: Zimbabwe – 04 May 2007

Grenade Kills Children in Ivory Coast

By Meryl White
Impunity Watch Reporter, Western and Central Africa

BONDOUKOU, Ivory Coast – Seven children aged four to fifteen, have died after playing with a hand grenade that they found on the ground near their Koranic school. Seven more children were injured in the blast. Two of the children are in critical condition at a hospital in Bondoukou.

The boys picked up the grenades. The first grenade went off when the child removed the pin and resulted in the numerous deaths. After the accident, parents of another child turned the second grenade over to the police as part of Ivory Coast’s disarmament process.

The scene had been described as “just devastating,” by an investigator on Wednesay. He also stated that “One of the children had a severed head.”

Bondoukou is 460 kilometers from the economic capital Abidjan in the south. Moreover, it is the site of a former front line of the five year conflict that ended in March 2007. In March, Laurent Gbagbo, the President of Ivory Coat reached a peace agreement with rebel leader, Guillaume Soro. The rebels released control of northern Ivory Coast.

Today, Mr. Soro is a prime minister in the power-sharing government. Since December, the government has been employing a disarmament process.

Richard Secre, chairman of Bondoukou’s local council, stated “We’re in a zone which isn’t far from the front line. With the war, weapons were moved around but we don’t know how these grenades got here.”

For more information, please see:

BBC- Grenade kills W African children – 2 January 2007

Reuters- Grenade blast kills 7 children in Ivory Coast – 2 January 2007

IC Publications- Seven children die in Ivorian grenade accident: police  – 2 January 2007