Sahel

Mauritania: press crackdown amid political crisis

The Mauritanian Radio and Television Broadcast Authority on Oct. 17 ordered Mauritania's five privately owned news stations to shut down for "failing to fulfill their financial agreements." The move is the latest sign of a crackdown on the independent press following a controversial referendum called by President Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz in August. The vote, boycotted by the opposition, approved abolition of the country's Senate after it ruled against expanding presidential powers. At least one station was removed from air. After the letters were sent , agents of the tax authority went to the office of al-Mourabitoun TV—a channel generally supportive of the opposition Islamist parties. Employees were ordered to leave, and the doors to the building were locked. The agents told staff that the channel owed 2 million ouguiyas (US$5,600), in tax, according to local media reports. (Committee to Protect Journalists)

Reparations for destroyed Timbuktu shrines

The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Aug. 17 found (PDF) that a former Malian jihadist militant is liable for individual and collective reparations for overseeing the destruction of Muslim shrines in Timbuktu. Ahmad al-Faqi was found liable for 2.7 million euros in expenses. In its order, the ICC stressed the importance of cultural heritage:

Because of their purpose and symbolism, most cultural property and cultural heritage are unique and of sentimental value. As a result, they are not fungible or readily replaceable. The destruction of international cultural heritage thus "carries a message of terror and helplessness; it destroys part of humanity's shared memory and collective consciousness; and it renders humanity unable to transmit its values and knowledge to future generations". It is an irreplaceable loss that negates humanity.

The court noted that al-Mahdi is indigent and encouraged the Trust Funds for Victims to complement the reparations award and submit a draft implementation plan by next February.

Amnesty accuses Cameroon of war crimes

Amnesty International in a report issued July 20 accused Cameroon of torturing suspected supporters of Boko Haram in its military campaign against the jihadist group. According to the human rights organization, hundreds of suspects have been "subjected to severe beatings, agonizing stress positions and drownings, with some tortured to death" at the hands of government authorities. Amnesty documented 101 cases of secret detention and torture within the last four years. Alioune Tine, Amnesty's regional director for West and Central Africa, said, "These horrific violations amount to war crimes." Amnesty also observed American and French military personnel at one of the bases while the detention and torture was taking place. The organization is calling for the US and France to investigate the extent of knowledge that their military personnel may have of war crimes in Cameroon.

ICC rules against South Africa in Omar Bashir case

The International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled (PDF) July 6 that South Africa violated its treaty obligations by failing to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when he visited the country in 2015. Two arrest warrants (PDF, PDF) have been issued for al-Bashir involving numerous charges including "crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of genocide." South Africa contended that because al-Bashir has immunity from criminal proceedings under customary international law that had not been waived in Sudan, the court was precluded from compelling South Africa to detain and surrender him.

Niger: army massacres displaced peasants

Niger's army on July 6 killed at least 14 displaced persons who were apparently mistaken for jihadists in the restive southeast, where Boko Haram militants have staged regular attacks. Soldiers were patrolling a militarily restricted zone around the village of Abadam near Lake Chad when they opened fire on what turned out to be unarmed peasants. Yahaya Godi, official in charge of the Diffa region, said: "Any individual seen in the area is considered Boko Haram." Thousands of people have been displaced from the southeastern Diffa region, and civilians have been banned from many areas in response to raids by Boko Haram from across the border in Nigeria. Many, however, have been returning to their lands to tend their crops, fearing hunger and permanent displacement.

CAR armed groups still committing 'war crimes'

Armed groups continue to commit war crimes in the Central African Republic (CAR), according to a report released July 5 by Human Rights Watch (HRW) detailing violence in three central provinces between November 2014 and April 2017. During that time period, HRW documented at least 566 civilian deaths at the hands of the Seleka and Anti-Balaka groups. Armed groups also destroyed no fewer than 4,207 homes, forcing people to flee and causing the deaths of 144 children and elderly people. Those responsible for the deaths have not been "detained, arrested or otherwise held accountable," and are still free to roam the areas where their crimes occurred. In addition to seeking international support for improved civilian protection, the report also asks the UN and other individual governments to back the Special Criminal Court (SCC) financially and politically. Although President Faustin-Archange Touadéra has praised the SCC, the government has "lagged in steps to operationalize" it. The SCC, an institution within the CAR's justice system with international judges and prosecutors, has the "unique chance to hold accountable the perpetrators of these grave crimes."

Middle East may become uninhabitable: FAO

New evidence is deepening fears in the scientific community that the Middle East and North Africa risk becoming uninhabitable in a few decades, as accessible fresh water has fallen by two-thirds over the past 40 years. Already, per capita availability of fresh water in the region—encompassing 22 countries and home to nearly 400 million inhabitants—is 10 times lower than the world average. The region's fresh water resources are among the lowest in the world, and are expected to fall over 50% by 2050, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). By century's end, higher temperatures may shorten growing seasons in the region by 18 days and reduce agricultural yields by up to 55%. "Looming water scarcity in the North Africa and Middle East region is a huge challenge requiring an urgent and massive response," said FAO director general Graziano da Silva on his recent visit to Cairo.

Nigeria: pogroms target Shi'ites

Shops and homes belonging to Shi'ite Muslims in Nigeria's Kaduna state were destroyed by rampaging mobs in a wave of attacks that spread across several towns Oct. 15. The attacks, which came as Shi'ites were celebrating their Ashura religious festival, were reported from the towns of Tudun Wada, Ungwan Muazu and Kabala West. A Shi'ite religious school was also destroyed in Tudun Wada earlier in the week. Human Rights Watch blamed Kaduna state authorities for enflaming an atmosphere of intolerance by persecuting Shi'ites in appeasement of local Sunni fundamentalist sentiment. HRW stated that "the move to ban the Shia umbrella body, the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), by the Kaduna State government appears to have triggered a wave of discrimination and violence against Shia elsewhere in the country." (ABNA, Information Nigeria, Premium Times, Nigeria, Oct. 15)

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