Seven army officers have been arrested and charged with war crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to government officials at a press conference on March 18. The charges stem from a massacre of unarmed civilians in Kasaï-Central Province in February that was recorded and widely shared on social media. Congolese military auditor general Joseph Ponde Isambwa said that all seven arrested soldiers were members of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, or FARDC. Ponde said the charges against the officers include "war crime by murder, war crime by mutilation, war crimes by cruel inhuman and degrading treatment and denial of an offense committed by persons subject to military jurisdiction."
Violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the Central African Republic—including arbitrary killings, and sexual violence—continue to plague the country, according to a United Nations report published Dec. 14. The report examined the ast 10 months of the transitional goverment, which formally ceded power in March. But the new government of Faustin-Archange Touadera has limited control outside the capital Bangui and has failed to convince armed factions to lay down their weapons. During the period covered, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) recorded 1,301 cases of human rights violations and abuses affecting at least 2,473 victims throughout the country, including 1,000 men, 261 women, 91 boys and 67 girls, with a further 808 unidentified adults and 246 whose age and gender could not be verified. The main perpetrators were identified as elements from the Anti-Balaka, ex-Séléka, Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), and Fulani militants affiliated with the group 3R (Retour, Reclamation et Réhabilitation). (Reuters, Dec. 15; ReliefWeb, UN News Centre, Dec. 14)
Security forces in western Uganda arrested Omusinga (King) Charles Wesley Mumbere of Rwenzururu Nov. 27 amid claims he was harboring militants seeking independence for the semi-autonomous region. Heavy fighting broke the day before in the regional seat of Kasese, after royal guards attacked a police patrol, leaving 14 officers and some 40 guardsmen and associated militants dead. The king's palace was set afire during the two-hour battle, and a cache of weapons seized. President Yoweri Museveni had phoned the king that morning and ordered him to disband the guards, who are accused of leading a militia seeking an independent "Yiira Republic," straddling the border of Uganda and North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) on March 20 declared unanimously (PDF) that Congolese ex-military leader Jean-Pierre Bemba is guilty of two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes for his role in armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002 and 2003. The case of The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo lasted almost eight years, following Bemba's arrest by Belgian authorities in 2008. Bemba was on trial for crimes committed during his time as the commander of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). He was found guilty of rape, murder and pillage; the verdict condemned the widespread use of sexual violence as a means of war. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, welcomed the judgment, stating the ruling "sends an important message across the world that international justice will finally prevail, even in cases where civilians with supervisory, or command, responsibility are accused of crimes committed in a country other than their own."
Amnesty International (AI) reported Jan. 29 that satellite images show five possible mass graves in Buringa, Burundi, which may be connected to last month's infamous massacre. On Dec. 11, security forces killed at least 87 armed protesters who stormed military barracks in the capital of Bujumbura. Witnesses told AI that authorities retrieved bodies from the streets the following day and dumped them in several undisclosed locations. Local reports suggest that there may be nine more mass graves in Mpanda and Kanyosha. AI has called on African leaders to demand further investigation into the matter during the African Union summit taking place this weekend.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) formally closed Dec. 31 after issuing 45 judgments. The ICTR, established in 1994, was the first international tribunal to deliver verdicts against those guilty of committing genocide. Within its 21 years, the ICTR sentenced 61 to terms of up to life imprisonment for their roles in the Rwanda massacres. There were 14 acquittals, and 10 accused were transferred to national courts. An International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals has been established and eight fugitives remain at large.
Approximately six million Rwandans on Dec. 19 approved a referendum by a vote of 98% to amend Article 101 of the Rwanda constitution which states the president may only serve two seven-year terms. The referendum will allow President Paul Kagame (official profile) to serve another seven-year term beginning in 2017 and then two more five-year terms. Kagame has served as president since 2003. Last month, the Rwandan Senate unanimously approved the referendum following approval from Rwanda's lower house of parliament in October. Also in October, Rwanda's Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of the referendum, but this did not stop the vote from moving ahead.
The trial of Bosco Ntaganda (BBC profile), a former Congolese rebel leader also known as "The Terminator," began at the International Criminal Court (ICC) Sept. 2. The rebel leader has pleaded innocent to the 18 charges levied against him, including rape, murder, recruitment of child soldiers and sexual slavery of civilians. He has been accused of killing at least 800 civilians between the years of 2002 and 2003 and keeping girl soldiers as sex slaves. The trial is expected to last for a few months with the anticipation that approximately 80 witness will be called. He faces a maximum life sentence if convicted.