STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND Education Task Force.
This week’s news brief focuses on the Central African Republic (CAR), Nigeria, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Burundi. Human rights are under attack in Burundi as its leaders undergo steps to remove themselves from the International Criminal Court (ICC) and deny UN investigators access to the country. Violence continues to grow in the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, there is some good news from Nigeria, where Boko Haram released 21 school girls previously held captive.
Great Lakes Region of Africa
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Congolese President Joseph Kabila, his party, the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and smaller opposition parties have officially proposed to delay the presidential election until April 2018. The proposal would allow Kabila to stay in power until elections, but with a Prime Minister selected from the opposition. On Monday, October 17, the Constitutional Court gave the electoral commission permission to delay the election, following the signing of the deal.
The main opposition bloc was not involved in the decision making of the election delay, and an official of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, the largest opposition party in the DRC, Jean-Marc Kabund, claimed that his group did not recognize the agreement, which he described as a working document. The bloc has claimed they will continue to apply pressure to have the transition of power take place as originally planned in December, which could lead to more violent protests similar to those held in September.
On October 13, Human Rights Watch (HRW) distributed a message to European Union (EU) member states encouraging the imposition of targeted sanctions to “help prevent the situation in Congo from spiraling out of control in the coming weeks.” HRW has encouraged the EU to place sanctions on senior security forces officials, intelligence officers, and government officials to send the message that the international community will not tolerate repressive actions. HRW also issued a report that found that security forces used excessive force in September, resulting in the the deaths of 56 opposition protesters. In response, Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, sent a delegation to the DRC to call for restraint from both the opposition and the ruling party.
Meanwhile, in Katanga province, a dispute erupted between the Batwa and Luba ethnic groups. The Batwa accused the Luba of beating up vendors and imposing an illegal tax on the sale of caterpillars, which are one of the Batwa’s main sources of income. In response to the tax, members of the Batwa group killed several members of the Luba ethnic group, who in response killed thirteen Batwa. The groups have never fought over caterpillars before, suggesting that motivation for the violence comes most likely from their ongoing feud.
Burundi has attempted to remove themselves from the scrutiny of the international community by officially declaring their withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC) and by denying three United Nations (UN) rights investigators access to the country.
On October 18, Burundi became the first country to begin the withdrawal process from the ICC. President Pierre Nkurunziza signed legislation following a vote by lawmakers to withdraw; however, the withdrawal will not stop existing investigations that began before their withdrawal. The ICC began a preliminary investigation in April of this year, but will face difficulties pursuing a formal investigation because the government refuses to allow outsiders, and in particular those with a human rights focus, into Burundi.
Three UN investigators, Pablo de Greiff, Christoff Heyns, and Maya Sahli-Fadel, submitted a report on September 20 accusing the Government of Burundi and the people associated with it of “gross, widespread and systemic human rights violations.” These included enforced disappearances, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, and extrajudicial executions. The Burundian government has since banned all three investigators from entering the country. There are concerns that mounting violence will lead to genocide, however it is important to note that the violence and repression thus far appear to be limited to political opponents rather than ethnic or religious groups.
The political crisis in Burundi is leading to a greater economic crisis in the country. The government has banned food exports to Rwanda in hopes of meeting greater demand in Burundi, and fuel shortages have hurt the production of coffee, Burundi’s largest revenue source. In addition, the violence and political unrest are deterring tourists from entering the country, further damaging the economy. These blows to the economy have significantly lowered the living standards for those within Burundi.
Central and West Africa
Central African Republic
Two days after Marcel Mombeka, the head of the armed forces in the Central African Republic (CAR), was killed in the capital of Bangui on October 4, eleven civilians were killed in the PK5 neighborhood, a predominantly Muslim area of the city that had been largely peaceful since a visit by Pope Francis last November. Exactly one week later, fighters from the Séléka rebel group killed thirty in Kaga-Bondoro, allegedly in response to the death of four Muslims in the town. A different attack against a camp for displaced people in Ngakobo resulted in the deaths of eleven more.
These clashes are emblematic of two main realities. First, there are a number of “lawless enclaves” in CAR where the government lacks control. In these areas, armed groups have readily exerted influence by extorting taxes from the terrified population. Second, the goals of demobilization and reconciliation championed by President Faustin-Archange Touadéra are going to be far more difficult to achieve than anyone had hoped. Violence in certain neighborhoods have made people reluctant to return to their homes; as a result, close to 400,000 people remain displaced. Worse, the recent violence is making it more difficult to convince certain groups to disarm and reintegrate into society. After the recent violence in Bangui, anti-Balaka groups talked for three hours about whether they would still participate in the disarmament process. Although they ultimately did not withdraw, they made it quite clear that they would respond with violence if the Séléka fighters did not cease their attacks. They also expressed that their desire to be integrated into the military and involved in policymaking. Given that the government has rejected both of these demands already, the prospect of peace remains uncertain.
Beyond the violence, there remains a serious humanitarian crisis in the country, which is at least in part due to attacks against humanitarian organizations throughout the country. CAR ranks the highest on the Global Hunger Index, with malnutrition and starvation widespread around the country. There has also been an outbreak of monkeypox, the magnitude of which public health organizations are still trying to determine. As long as violence continues, however, it will be difficult to resolve such crises.
On October 13, twenty-one of the nearly three hundred Nigerian schoolgirls captured from a Chibok school in northern Nigeria were freed by Boko Haram. With the help of the International Red Cross and the government of Switzerland, the government of Nigeria and Boko Haram were finally able to come to an agreement after numerous failed negotiations that have taken place over this past year. The girls were found to be in “reasonably good health,” but were sent to medical facilities for monitoring. Despite this good news, the vast majority of the kidnapped girls remain captives. Although similar negotiation tactics could be used to free the remaining girls, Yemi Osinbajo, the vice-president of Nigeria, suggested that such talks with the terrorist group could also potentially compromise the safety of the country overall. If the government does believe such a tradeoff exists, it remains to be seen if all the girls will be rescued.
Although the release of these girls is rightly viewed as a success for President Muhammadu Buhari, he has also faced severe criticism as of late. Although he pledged both to defeat Boko Haram and to reduce corruption in the government, he has accomplished neither objective so far. On October 19, the terrorist organization attacked a small military encampment in the northeastern part of the country, wounding thirteen soldiers. For months, Boko Haram focused exclusively on attacking soft targets designed to kill civilians. This most recent attack, which is one of three recent strikes against the Nigerian army, may indicate that the terrorist group is regaining strength, despite the efforts of Buhari. The president is also widely acknowledged to have failed with regard to his second goal. Although he recently put two of his reportedly ten presidential jets up for sale in an attempt to “cut waste,” many critics argue that these actions are not enough. BudgIT has claimed that more money is spent on the presidential fleet than on higher education. Worse, many Nigerian lawmakers make handsome salaries as the vast majority of civilian suffer from the economic recession. Discontent has grown so great that Aisha Buhari, the first lady of the country, has said that she may not back her husband in the next election. The political turmoil within the government will likely make it even more difficult to address the recession that is hitting the people of Nigeria hard.
On Friday, October 21 the 5th Annual Symposium on Women and Genocide took place in Washington, DC, featuring a series of panels and testimonies from genocide survivors to bring together scholars, student activists, and educators to discuss ongoing issues of genocide and mass atrocities throughout the world. The conference focused primarily on ongoing violence against women and children in Darfur. According to the UN, at least 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in Darfur since the outbreak of the genocide in the early 2000s.
On October 25, Sudan president Omar al-Bashir accused Amnesty International of spreading rumors that Sudanese government forces had used chemical weapons to attack civilians in Darfur. Amnesty had previously issued a report that Sudanese forces had used more than 30 suspected chemical weapons in a mountainous area in Darfur, which killed up to 250 people, including a large number of children. Darfur has been wrapped up in a deadly conflict since 2003 when different ethnic groups took up arms against Bashir’s Arab-dominated government.
On September 27, the UN reported that the Sudanese government continues to broach sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council because of their violent actions in Darfur. A group of experts issued the report, which found violations of the arms embargo and the use of cluster bombs, which have historically caused incredible harm on civilians in places ranging from Vietnam in the 1960s to Yemen and Syria today. The report also included numerous human rights violations committed by the government. Human Rights Watch’s Deputy U.N. Director Akshaya Kumar has argued that the sanctions “now exist in name only.”
On October 25, Amnesty International issued another report on recent atrocities committed by South Sudan’s army. The new report describes the murder of a 6-year old girl and a journalist and the gang-rape of a 15-year-old girl as among the crimes committed by South Sudanese soldiers during the clashes with the opposition in the capital city of Juba, where hundreds of people were killed in July.
In recent days, Sudanese rebels were given an ultimatum to leave South Sudan within 30 days. The two countries signed a non-aggression pact which demands that the two nations take no military action against each other. In order to show its full and sincere commitment to respecting the deal, the South Sudanese government has given armed groups from Sudan fighting the Sudanese government the opportunity to leave at the end of November, a move that contradicted the government’s earlier claims that it did not host armed dissidents opposed to the Khartoum regime within its borders.
On October 24, Ellen Margrethe Løj, the head of the UN mission in South Sudan, said the road to peace in South Sudan would be challenging. The South Sudan peace deal has stood at the verge of complete collapse since fighting broke out in the capital Juba last July, forcing the country’s former first vice president Riek Machar to flee. Løj heads a 12,000-strong peacekeeping force to protect civilians, some 200,000 of whom are sheltered at 6 UN bases in various parts of South Sudan. The number continues to rise as violence in the country continues.
After nearly three years of devastating civil war, several South Sudanese artists have recently launched a public art project in Juba, which aims to incite discussion about peace. The works of art, painted on walls, shipping containers, bakeries, schools, and cultural centers across Juba, often seek to emphasize the suffering of children and the self-destructive nature of the conflict to encourage work towards reconciliation.
Justin Cole is STAND’s Central and West Africa Coordinator. He is a Junior at UNC Chapel Hill where he majors in Economics and Peace, War, and Defense.
Joanna Liang is STAND’s Sudan and South Sudan Coordinator. She is a Junior at the University of Delaware where she majors in History Education.
Elizabeth Westbrook is STAND’s Great Lakes Coordinator. She is a Junior at UNC Chapel Hill where she is a Political Science major.