Category Archives: Central Africa

Uganda and ICC – LRA’s Ongwen on trial for rape, abduction and crimes against humanity

Star (Nairobi)

Dec. 06, 2016, 6:00 pm

Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in the Lord's Resistance Army, whose fugitive leader Kony is one of the world's most-wanted war crimes suspects, is flanked by two security guards as he sits in the court room of the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands, December 6, 2016. /REUTERS
Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army, whose fugitive leader Kony is one of the world’s most-wanted war crimes suspects, is flanked by two security guards as he sits in the court room of the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands, December 6, 2016. /REUTERS

An alleged senior commander in the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army was notorious among his fellow soldiers for enslaving and raping particularly young girls, beating those who resisted, the International Criminal Court was told on Tuesday.

Addressing judges at the start of the trial, the court’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the fact that Dominic Ongwen was himself a victim of LRA leader Joseph Kony’s campaign of child kidnapping was at most a mitigating circumstance.

Describing harrowing acts of sexual violence, Bensouda said Ongwen had raped one child victim vaginally and anally.

“To quiet her when she wept and screamed he threatened her with his bayonet,” Bensouda told the court, citing the witness’s statement.

The prosecutor quoted another witness describing children as young as six receiving military training, so small “that the muzzles of their AK-47 rifles dragged along the ground”.

Bensouda also played extracts from intercepted radio traffic in which a rebel she identified as Ongwen confirmed massacring a group of civilians.

Ongwen, who says he was abducted as a teenager and pressed into service in the late 1980s, faces 70 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in northern Uganda.

He pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

“It was the LRA who abducted and killed people in northern Uganda, and I am one of the people against whom the LRA committed atrocities,” he said in his native Acholi, speaking through an interpreter.

Dressed in a sober suit, Ongwen appeared unsure of his surroundings. Asked to stand, he rose only after the guards surrounding him interpreted the order with hand gestures.

He was indicted by the global court for war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2005 alongside Kony, who is still at large, and three other commanders now believed dead.

Waging a rebellion against Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, the LRA earned a reputation for massacres, mutilating civilians and mass kidnapping of children to serve as fighters and sex slaves from the late 1980s onwards.

Ongwen gave himself up last year after a decade on the run. Prosecutors accuse him of being the commander of the LRA’s Sinia Brigade and being responsible for a series of attacks on civilians from October 2003 to June 2004.

The LRA left Uganda after a military offensive by Kampala and has since roamed across lawless parts of Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Central African Republic, eluding international efforts to defeat it.

DR Congo – 31 killed in security force clash with local militia

BBC

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At least 31 people died in clashes between “tribal” militia and security forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo at the weekend, officials say.

They say the violence in the central Kasai province was sparked by a row between an uncle and a nephew over the title of a traditional chief.

Deputy Governor Hubert Mbingho N’Vula said 13 members of the security forces sent to quell the fighting were among those killed.

Eighteen militiamen also died, he said.

Mr N’Vula said public order had been restored in and around the city of Tshikapa in the remote province.

DR Congo is beset by sporadic violence between ethnic militias.

This has been enflamed further by the postponing of a presidential election due to be held before the end of the year.

UN says South Sudan conflict has given rise to horrific sexual violence

Reuters

By Katharine Houreld | NAIROBI

South Sudanese soldiers brutally raped an elderly woman and a pregnant woman lost her baby after being gang-raped by seven soldiers, according to United Nations investigators.

The U.N. human rights investigators presented the testimonies on Friday, saying increasingly brutal attacks on women are an integral part of spreading ethnic cleansing. They said the violence could spill into genocide.

“The scale of gang rape of civilian women as well as the horrendous nature of the rapes by armed men belonging to all groups is utterly repugnant,” said the chairwoman of the U.N. independent commission on human rights, Yasmin Sooka.

“Women are bearing the brunt of this war along with their children … rape is one of the tools being used for ethnic cleansing.”

South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011 and had a brief period of celebration before ethnic tensions erupted amid allegations of widespread corruption.

In December 2013, fighting broke out months after President Salva Kiir, from the Dinka ethnic group, sacked vice president Riek Machar, a Nuer.

The sporadic fighting has increasingly taken on ethnic dimensions. Many of the smaller tribes accuse the Dinka of targeting them. Rebels have also targeted Dinka.

Women across the country were being subjected to sexual slavery, tied to trees and gang-raped or passed from house to house by soldiers, said Sooka, who said rebels were also committing atrocities.

Three in five women in U.N.-administered “protection of civilian” sites around the capital Juba experienced rape or sexual assault, according to a 2016 report by the U.N. Population Fund. The sites are meant to offer safe shelter for civilians.

Government officials and commanders on all sides had a legal duty to prevent their soldiers from preying on civilians, said Sooka’s colleague Kenneth Scott, a former prosecutor.

“Commanders, officers will be held accountable for failing to exercise command and control,” he said, warning failure to prevent atrocities could result in prosecution.

The shaky 2015 peace agreement that was supposed to end the latest round of fighting provided for a hybrid court to be set up with responsibilities divided between the African Union and South Sudan, but progress on setting it up was “very slow”, Scott said.

South Sudanese officials were not available to comment on the investigators’ findings, but on Thursday, Kiir told Reuters that no ethnic cleansing was taking place in South Sudan. The military has repeatedly denied targeting civilians.

Scott said the government had had almost “no reaction” to the commission’s findings.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

The genocidal logic of South Sudan’s “gun class”

IRIN

Alan BoswellTwitter

A researcher on South Sudan’s conflict based in Nairobi, Boswell is exploring the country’s birth and collapse

South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013 with ethnic cleansing in the capital, Juba, committed by a government put in power by external brokering aimed at paving the way for the world’s newest nation.

This South Sudan political experiment lasted two and a half years. Its bloody collapse continues, a slow-motion calamity on a par with any crisis in the world.

Last week, the UN special adviser on preventing genocide, Adama Dieng, declared South Sudan at risk of genocide. The sudden focus is warranted but tardy. Some estimate that South Sudan’s death toll rivals Syria’s. But the atrocities described now in South Sudan’s Equatoria region — charred bodies in torched villages, gang rape, depopulation as a tool of war, and political violence waged against perceived ethnopolitical blocs — has characterised the war since its inception.

In the beginning, many observers performed mental gymnastics to downplay the ugly ethnic nature of South Sudan’s war. The new concerns over genocide risk reversing that mistake, casting the violence as chiefly ethnic, not political. Both miss the mark. In a South Sudan where political might flows up from mobilised ethnic enclaves, politics is ethnopolitics, and the ethnic tension is politically driven by the “King of the Hill” logic of a crude state formation.

This year I witnessed a Shilluk ethnic defense militia march new graduates to war with songs against the Dinka, after the government annexed traditional land to a neighboring Dinka state. I landed in Wau, a historically diverse provincial town, to emptied streets patrolled by Dinka soldiers after a Dinka militia avenged a Fertit rebel attack by torching a Ferit neighbourhood. At an abandoned medical research facility deep in the forest of Western Equatoria, a Zande rebel leader derided the Zande governor, simply, as “Dinka” — the height, for the rebel, of all insults.

Origins

South Sudan’s ethnopolitical war is rooted in the flaws of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which installed a non-representative and ethnically fractured party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, in charge of a future country it never won over. Many South Sudanese militias, some more representative of political constituencies than others, successfully resisted the SPLM throughout the war. But peace brokers crowned SPLM the winner.

Nyakong, 22, has been hiding in a village near Nasir, South Sudan, and surviving off cow's milk for months. The village is unsafe, but the floodwaters are too high to bring her three young children to Leitchuor refugee camp in Ethiopia.
C. Tijerina/UNHCR
The victims of a state unraveling

The SPLM’s lack of monopolised or legitimised rule rendered South Sudan a failed state before birth. This is the origin of South Sudan’s derided “gun class”: without a state, politics is war. Rather than address this structural timebomb head-on, the 2005 CPA peace accord perversely incentivised SPLM leaders to latch hold of external sovereignty instead of legitimising its rule. Patchwork patronage coupled with crude collective punishment held the state together, but reinforced South Sudan’s ethnopolitical lines.

This fractured state did not withstand its first power dispute. Riek Machar, South Sudan’s vice president, a Nuer, challenged President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, for SPLM leadership, and Kiir sacked him.

Riek’s “antics”, Justice Ambrose Riny Thiik, who leads an influential Dinka nationalist lobby, told me, “sent waves through the Jieng (Dinka) community”. Anyone who wants to lead South Sudan “must be someone that can win [the] support of our community”, South Sudan’s largest, he maintained. “So we joined together, all the Jieng communities of Bahr el Ghazal and Greater Upper Nile.”

A Dinka paramilitary force secretly arrived in Juba, and its sudden ethnic cleansing campaign forced the ethnic Nuer out of South Sudan’s political space and into armed rebellion and exile. South Sudanese got the message: In South Sudan, ethnicity trumps citizenship. If so, one could barely construct an entity more ripe for mass atrocities than South Sudan’s weak ethnocratic rule over militarily fractured zones of ethnopolitical control.

The Nuer mobilised in vengeance, raiding towns and slaughtering Dinka in retaliation. Kiir relied increasingly on Dinka nationalism to wage the war and mobilise recruits. Political patronage dried up. Kiir’s political base narrowed further.

Celebrating independence in 2011
UN Photo/Paul Banks
Celebrating independence, at war two and a half years later

Where now?

The war widened with the August 2015 peace deal, which granted Machar an official opposition army. National recruitment into Machar’s force surged in new strongholds, a perverted but predictable effect of the accord’s provisions. Unaligned militias, like the Arrow Boys in Western Equatoria, loosely joined Machar’s now-official opposition, and mobilisation efforts in Equatoria and Western Bahr el Ghazal picked up.

A similar descent into war repeated itself across the country: rebel mobilisation sparks government hostility. Dinka security officers detain young men; some disappear. Civilians flee the garrison towns to the countryside. Broad retaliation follows rebel raids; more Dinka reinforcements arrive, reinforcing a sense of ethnocratic occupation. Isolated garrison towns suddenly float in seas of hostility. The government, increasingly, resorts to draining the sea.

This sea is now lapping up to the shores of Juba, which is within Equatoria. South Sudan is not Sudan or Syria; no rump state exists. The war is increasingly existential. If the history of mass atrocities should tell us anything: beware the desperate, not just the strong. Thus far, in the brutal logic of South Sudan’s war, all sides become weaker and weaker, more and more vulnerable.

South Sudan’s ethnopolitical crisis requires an ethnopolitical solution. The solution to the winner-take-all struggle is not a new winner-take-all election between armed parties. Nor will South Sudanese give up their arms until the political crisis is resolved. This only appears a chicken-or-egg predicament if one assumes South Sudan must be built top-down in a repeat of failed statebuilding models. South Sudanese voted for liberation. Instead, they are stuck in the violent spiral of a state collapse into bloody ethnopolitics waged over a centre created by peace brokers and statebuilders. Many flee. Others won’t, or can’t. The world will watch.

When Dinka, Nuer, and Shilluk first sought shelter with the UN in Malakal, violence raged between the ethnic groups inside the camp. The UN head called a meeting and John Chuol, a community police volunteer, stood to speak. “I told her to divide us up, so we’d stop fighting. She did. And it worked,” he told me. Tensions calmed, allowing Chuol to start a youth league bringing the groups back together as South Sudanese.

Chuol invited me to the youth meeting. Dinka, Nuer, and Shilluk mingled. Days later, government forces torched the camp, including Chuol’s home, while evacuating the Dinka inside.

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Cameroon arrests 100 anti-discrimination protestors in Bamenda

Reuters

Mass arrests in Cameroon at anti-discrimination protests
00:50
By Sylvain Andzongo | YAOUNDE

Security forces in Cameroon arrested about 100 people during days of protests over alleged discrimination against minority English-speaking people, Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary and a senior security source said on Wednesday.

Bakary said vandals who mingled with the demonstrators smashed shops in the northwestern town of Bamenda during the protests during which one person was killed.

A second security source said the demonstrators also wanted independence for Cameroon’s two English speaking regions and the departure of President Paul Biya, who has been in power since 1982 and is one of Africa’s longest serving rulers

French is spoken in eight of Cameroon’s 10 regions and English in the northwestern and southwestern regions.

Bakary said reinforcements in Bamenda were helping security forces return the situation to normal. He said the protests posed no threat to Biya.

“Unions were complaining of being a bit marginalised and said they were discriminated against because of the (English) language,” Bakary told Reuters.

“There are some politicians who are using the situation as a tool for leverage to pursue their own interests,” he said, noting that the government was open to dialogue and ministers had met for talks to work out how to resolve the problem.

Reuters television footage of Bamenda on Tuesday showed security forces scouring the streets for protesters, and several barricades and one avenue blocked by flames in the market area.

A woman walking with two young children stopped in her tracks at the sound of a gunshot. It also showed residents fleeing as riot police and soldiers marched through almost deserted streets.

It was not immediately possible to contact residents or union members – who had organised the protests – in the town.

(Additional reporting by Matthew Mpoke Bigg in Accra; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Cameroon – three Boko Haramn attacks in 24 hours

Reuters

Suspected Boko Haram militants launched three attacks in northern Cameroon within 24 hours, including a thwarted suicide strike on a camp for people who have been displaced by the conflict, security sources said on Tuesday.

The Islamist militant group is based in northeastern Nigeria but regularly carries out raids in neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, prompting the four countries plus Benin to create a 10,000-strong joint task force.

The frequency of the attacks has dropped in recent months, although more than 1,500 people have been killed in Cameroon by such attacks, International Crisis Group said in a report this month. Attacks were happening on an almost daily basis, but have dropped to between six and eight a month, it said.

Only one of this week’s strikes, at a military camp at Darak where six soldiers were killed, resulted in the deaths of people other than the attackers themselves, the sources said.

“Between yesterday and today there were three attacks: in Darak, in Diguina and a thwarted kamikaze strike in the Kolofata (camp),” said a senior army source who asked not to be named, referring to three places in the Far North Region of Cameroon.

On Monday, a young women armed with explosives attempted to enter a military post for soldiers adjacent to a camp for thousands of people displaced by the militant group.

“We thought it was a beggar at first but then she sped up and refused to stop when we shouted at her so she was neutralised,” said an intelligence source.

In the third incident, militants set fire to houses in the village of Diguina, the sources said.

(Reporting by Sylvain Anzongo in Yaounde and Josiane Kouagheu in Douala; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Alexander Smith)

Cameroon – Clashes in Bamenda between protesters & security forces as Anglophone tensions rise

RFI

mediaProtesters gather in Bamenda, 21 November 2016.Via social media, independently verified.

 

The Cameroonian city of Bamenda was calm on Tuesday morning, a day after skirmishes broke out between protesters and security forces. Demonstrators took to the streets on Monday following the start of a teachers’ strike against a perceived lack of educational provision for Anglophone children. Security forces were deployed to the north-western city and fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators who joined teachers in voicing their grievances with the Francophone administration.

“Yesterday was the start of a sit-in strike declared for teachers and students of the English sub-system of education in Cameroon in the two Anglophone regions, the south-west and the north-west,” said Tassang Wilfred, Secretary General, Cameroon Teachers’ Trade Union (CATTU).

Teachers in Bamenda are angry that the government has been deploying Francophone teachers to teach Anglophone children, according to Wilfred. “Francophone teachers don’t master our system of education, there’s a pedagogy problem.”

There are differences in the curriculum under the Anglophone and Francophone system, the CATTU head told RFI. In sciences, for example, Anglophone pupils start taking lessons in biology, chemistry and physics four years earlier than their Francophone counterparts.

“The government, through tribalism and nepotism, is beginning to recruit even Francophones, people who have studied in the French sub-system, to teach Anglophone children the English language and this is outrageous,” said Wilfred, by telephone from Bamenda.

French and British troops forced the Germans to leave Cameroon in 1916 and the country was then divided up into French and British administrative zones according to the 1919 London Declaration. The British zone represented some 20 per cent of the country before Cameroon became a federal country, comprising both the British and French zones, gaining independence in 1961.

“We have a law here in Cameroon that manages education – the 1998 law on the orientation of education – and this law has spelt out clearly that the two sub-systems of education are independent and autonomous, but government has been violating this law,” said Wilfred.

The teachers strike and industrial action by lawyers in the city acted as the catalyst that brought people out on the streets on Monday, according to Fred, a protester who wanted to remain anonymous.

Lawyers went on strike, unhappy with the government’s lack of recognition for the Anglophone legal system, Fred told RFI. Members of the secessionist Southern Cameroon National Congress group took to the streets, calling for independence as well as other Bamenda residents who are angry about high prices, a lack of jobs and what they see as discrimination of Cameroonian Anglophones.

The strike call by teachers and lawyers quickly gathered momentum, said Fred in a series of messages. “Little did they know that they can’t control the entire population, especially those who feel extreme bitterness towards the government,” he said.

“The government has failed in every way, people are mad and pouring out their frustrations,” the young protester added.

The teachers union met with local officials and religious leaders on Monday evening, according to union leader Wilfred. He said they are expecting representatives of the Yaoundé-administration to come to Bamenda and hold discussions about their concerns.

Until the union can meet the government they will continue to call for teachers to stay at home, according to Wilfred, while urging parents to keep their children off their streets to help prevent any further clashes with security forces.

“Cameroon is a bilingual country, it is a bijural country, but the government is violating all these aspects of our culture and our nationhood to the disadvantage of Anglophone children,” said Wilfred.