Great Lakes of Africa: Burundi
President Nkurunziza’s government has expressed dissent over the African Union’s December 18 decision to deploy a 5000-strong African Prevention and Protection Mission (MAPROBU) peacekeeping force for a 6-month period. The peacekeeping force is tasked with civilian protection, prevention of the escalation of violence, and to foster conditions conducive to dialogue.
The Human Rights Council approved a motion for the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner to send a mission of experts to follow and report closely of the human rights situation in Burundi. The motion, which was adopted as a United Nations resolution, was additionally supported by Amnesty International as ‘an important first step.’ Emphasizing the need to focus on human rights violations, Amnesty International provided a written statement to the United Nations highlighting recent infringements on human rights in Burundi, including extrajudicial executions and torture.
Burundi’s government spokesman, Gervais Abayeho, asserted that Burundi ‘does not need a peacekeeping force and will not allow foreign troops in Burundi.’ The African Union has established a 96-hour deadline for the Burundi government to fully cooperate with and accept the deployment of the peacekeeping force, and has warned of its right to enforce its decision. The United Nations Security Council, noting the AU decision, has appealed to the Burundian government to cooperate fully and has urged African member states to contribute troops and police for the operation. The Security Council additionally called for East African states to expedite mediation efforts.
The United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, has expressed concern over the Burundi government and opposition’s manipulation of ethnic tensions through inflammatory propaganda, similar to that which preceded the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which sought to pit Hutus and Tutsis against each other. Dieng warned the Security Council that Burundi may be on ‘the verge of a descent into violence that could escalate into atrocity crimes.’
The European Union has pledged $450,000 to support Uganda in a bid to accelerate inter-Burundian mediation talks and prevent further escalation of violence. According to Kristian Schmidt, Uganda was mandated by the EAC to initiate a constructive dialogue between the opposition and government.
In Darfur’s Jebel Marra, the Sudanese Air Force launched a bombing raid on Fanga village, damaging property and killing livestock. On Sunday, December 13, rebel forces belonging to the Sudan Liberation Movement-Abdul Wahid (SLM-AW) attacked government forces in the same area and seized supplies of ammunition and weapons. Around the same time as the Sunday attack, the military spokesman for the SLM-AW, Mustafa Tambour, had also been detained, but this has yet to be confirmed by Khartoum. The SLM-AW, as well as other Darfuri rebel groups have been fighting the government for over a decade.
In a meeting with the African Union, the Foreign Minister of Sudan discussed the exit strategy of the UNAMID mission, a United Nations peacekeeping force of 20,000 in Darfur, which has been criticized by Khartoum. Tensions between the UN and UNAMID leadership have existed since the introduction of the mission in 2007. Recently, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda has criticized the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for failing to bring President Omar al-Bashir to the Hague to stand trial for war crimes in Darfur. The ICC issued its first warrant for al-Bashir’s arrest in 2009. The Security Council, bound by the veto power of China and Russia, is unlikely to call for his government to cooperate with the arrest warrant. The Security Council is the only body within the UN that has the power to force al-Bashir to appear at the Hague.
Despite weeks of delays, and a row between President Kiir’s government and the opposition over the size of the SPLM-IO advance team to Juba, President Kiir has agreed to allow a team of 609 opposition figures to return to the capital. The advance team is a key prerequisite to the implementation of a transitional government as stipulated in the August peace agreement, and opposition leader Machar’s return to the capital. President Kiir and his ministers have raised no further objection to the size of the advance team, and the President has instructed state governors to prepare a warm reception for the team. Adhering to a Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) timetable for the formation of a new transitional government, the team is scheduled to arrive in three parts: the first is to be composed of 150 SPLM-IO personnel, with the others arriving in two waves over the next two weeks. According to the timetable, a new government and transitional constitution must be formed and agreed upon by January 23.
Unconfirmed allegations of a government offensive in Western Equatoria state have surfaced, as much of South Sudan continues to be wrought by political instability and fighting despite a peace agreement being in place. The Arrow Boys militia have declared the occupation of certain areas of Western Equatoria and issued a “warning” to the government not to provoke further clashes with them. Elsewhere, Oguruny village of Eastern Equatoria State also saw clashes this week, but conflicting reports on exact casualties and the sequence of events exist, demonstrating the continued division between the government and rebel forces.
On December 15, the 2-year anniversary of the start of the South Sudanese Civil War, the UNSC renewed the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) mandate, deployed surveillance drones in the country, and sent additional peacekeepers, elevating their presence in South Sudan to 15,000 people. A new Human Rights Watch report detailed and asserted that over 16,000 children have participated in the armed conflict in some capacity, and has named specific rebel and government officials for prosecution due to their role in employing child soldiers. The SPLM-IO dismissed the report, and blamed the exploitation of child soldiers on the government. The SPLM-IO has also called for the international community to form a tribunal to prosecute members of the government who carried out war crimes throughout the conflict, despite an AU inquiry report asserting that both sides committed atrocities in the first year of the civil war.
Southeast Asia: Burma
Hundreds of Rohingya refugees have disappeared from camps in northern Sumatra in recent weeks. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has expressed concern that human traffickers in the region are once again smuggling people into Malaysia. Thomas Vargas, the Indonesia representative for UNHCR, expressed his fears this week saying that “smugglers have already shown how completely they can disregard human life. So, obviously, we are very concerned when we see that this type of thing can happen again.”
This week, the second trial of smugglers Mohammad Jabar and Dahrani has begun. The pair are accused of taking a bribe to turn back, while attempting to traffic 25 (mostly Rohingya) migrants to Australia, in return for payment of 35 million rupiah ($3440) in July. The pair claim that they did not receive payment from Australian authorities to return to Indonesia, only a satellite phone and fuel. However, Amnesty International are treating the case as highly suspicious and investigations are ongoing regarding the potential involvement of Australian officials in trafficking.
Police powers to use force and bear arms against crime suspects have been expanded this week amid security concerns. Under a new bill, which was passed on December 16, police will be able to use military-grade weapons previously reserved for riots in territories where rebel militia groups are operating. However, this additional fire power may carry the risk of escalating hostilities in unstable regions.
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) from across Burma have called greater inclusion in the political dialogue in Burma’s peace process, as set out in the framework drafting process which concluded this week. Daw Khon Ja, coordinator of the Kachin Peace Network, urged the government to involve more members of ethnic minority groups in the decision-making process. Speaking at a meeting in Yangon, Daw said “The political dialogue is a Union-level conference and it is very important for the country. The government should prepare who will participate in the political dialogue. We are worried about the current framework and we will try to get more seats.” This could well be a powerful step forward in Burma’s peaceful democratic transition.