North Africa Theater
As Morocco is readmitted to the African Union at the continental body's 28th summit in Addis Ababa, it is pushing for the suspension of Western Sahara, placing the AU in a difficult position. The AU has long backed self-determination for the Moroccan-occupied territory, and recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as the representative of its people. Morocco dropped out of the Organization of African Unity (precursor to the AU) in 1984 in protest at the SADR's admission to the body. At Addis Ababa, Rabat won the backing of a simple majority of AU members for its return to the body. Among the dissenting votes was South Africa, whose ruling African National Congress (ANC) issued a statement calling the readmission of Morocco an "important setback for the cause of the Saharawi people." Rabat stopped short of explicitly demanding the AU withdraw its recognition of the SADR, with King Mohammed VI saying in a statement: "On reflection, it has become clear to us that when a body is sick, it is treated more effectively from the inside than from the outside." SADR's Foreign Minister Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, howver, said Morocco's readmission represents "a victory of the Sahrawi people since Morocco had finally accepted to sit alongside its neighbor, Western Sahara." (Africa in Fact, Feb. 1 via AllAfrica; BBC News, Sahara Press Service, SPS, Jan. 31; The East African, Jan. 30 via AllAfrica)
US B-2 Stealth bombers and drones carried out a raid against presumed ISIS camps in the Libyan desert Jan. 19, in what will likely be the final air-strikes ordered by President Obama. The operation targeted two camps located just over 40 kilometers southwest of Sirte, the coastal city recently liberated from ISIS by an alliance of local militias. The strikes, which left scores dead, were reportedly ordered several days ago on the basis of information gathered from the air and on the ground. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said militants at the camps "were actively planning operations against our allies in Europe." (Al Jazeera, NPR, ANSA)
Khalifa Haftar, the military commander who is the de facto strongman of Libya's east, was invited aboard the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov in the Mediterranean Jan 11, days after the carrier was re-deployed from off Syria. Haftar met with Russian officers on the ship and spoke via video-link with Moscow's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. "They discussed pressing issues in the fight against international terrorist groups in the Middle East," Russian media repoted the ministry saying. A Russian embrace of Haftar, who is waging his own war against Islamist militias in the east, would be complicated by the fact that he opposes the UN-backed "official" Libyan government based in Tripoli. (Reuters, Jan. 11)
Human Rights Watch has issued an urgent call for Libya's government to protect civilians who were detained after fleeing former ISIS stronghold Sirte. "Libyan authorities should ensure the safety of and urgently provide medical care for more than 120 women and children being held in a Misrata prison after recently fleeing fighting in Sirte," the statement said. Sirte was announced cleared of ISIS fighters by forces allied with Libya's unity government after seven months of fighting. ISIS had seized Sirte in June 2015. After evacuating the city, Libyan authorities detained a number of civilians suspected of ISIS links. Although the majority of the detainees are Libyans, others are from Tunisia, Iraq, Chad, Syria, Eritrea and Niger. Some of the women are believed to have been abducted by ISIS fighters. HRW said authorities have "an obligation to ensure the well-being and security of the women and children" and should not detain them on the basis of suspected relationships to ISIS fighters. HRW urged the government to work with the UN and aid agencies to "find safe destinations for those detained and treat them for injuries, illness, and malnourishment." (HRW, AFP, Dec. 25)
The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights reported Dec. 5 that over the past days some 1,400 migrants, mainly from West Africa, were taken from their homes in Algiers by riot police—including children, pregnant women, asylum-seekers, refugees. Some were injured in the raids, and most were taken to a holding center outside the city. A convoy of 11 buses is already reported to have left Algeirs for Tamanrasset in the south, presumably to expel the detained across the border to Mali. Algerian authorities warned at the end of September that they intended to expel tens of thousands of migrants. Recent weeks have seen clashes in southern Algeria between migrants and local residents. (BBC World Service)
The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) informed the UN Security Council on Nov. 10 that the ICC wants to significantly expand investigations in Libya in 2017. The ICC began work in Libya in 2011 to investigate crimes against humanity, including murder and persecution. According to Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Libya is being made a priority due to "the widespread violence, lawlessness and impunity that currently prevails in many parts of the country; by a desire to provide justice for victims of Rome Statute crimes, and to alleviate the suffering of those civilians who continue to endure the tragic consequences of the conflict in Libya; and finally, by the opportunities for further investigation that the Office has identified." By increasing the priority of Libya, the ICC will be applying for new arrest warrants and executing the warrants in a timely manner. The ICC is requesting additional support from the Security Council for the investigations.
Civilians have been trapped for months in a neighborhood of the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, amid fighting between the Libyan National Army (LNA) and Islamist militias that form the Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council (BRSC). Human Rights Watch called for all sides to the conflict to allow all civilians to leave the Ganfouda district, and allow for the safe passage of humanitarian aid into the neighborhood. Ganfouda is one of the few remaining holdouts of militant Islamist groups in Benghazi. The LNA, which has Ganfouda under siege, has said it will not allow any evacuation of males between ages 15 and 65, and has set a series of other conditions. The Islamist coalition controlling the neighborhood has also set conditions for evacuation of civilians.
Thousands of Moroccans held protests in several towns and cities after a fish vendor was crushed to death in a garbage compactor while trying to retrieve fish confiscated by police Oct. 28. The death of Mouhcine Fikri in the northern town of al-Hoceima immediately sparked widespread outrage on social media, and protests quickly spread to Marrakesh, Rabat and elsewhere. The protests, on a scale rarely seen in Morocco, were called by the February 20 Movement, which organized demonstrations during the "Arab Spring" of 2011. Angry postings on social media referred to "hogra," a term for official abuse and injustice.