Africa Theater

DRC soldiers arrested in video-recorded massacre

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."

Pirates or protesters in Somalia sea stand-off?

The March 13 seizure of an oil tanker en route from Djibouti to Mogadishu—the first such incident since 2012—enflamed global fears of a resurgence of piracy off the coast of Somalia. But the tanker and its Sri Lankan crew were released without ransom or any other conditions March 16—hours after brief a gun battle between the captors and the marine force of Somalia's autonomous region of Puntland, followed by intensive negotiations brokered by local clan elders. International media reports referred to the captors as "pirates," whereas local media in Somalia called them "fishermen." In an interview with Puntland's Radio Garowe via phone to the fishing village of Alula, one hijacker said: "We are fishermen in Alula town, our livelihood destroyed by the illegal trawlers and chemical waste dumping. We were fishing and then we saw the vessel spilling waste in the sea, which reached our coast... We are not pirates as reported by the media. We are protecting our territorial waters from the international ships dumping the toxic and chemical wastes on our coast."

Somali refugees stranded by Trump travel ban

At least 100 Somali refugees previously cleared for resettlement in the US are stranded in Kenya in the wake of President Trump's travel ban. The refugees now face an uncertain future as they wait at a transit center run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Nairobi. They are mostly from Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp, which currently shelters nearly 300,000 and is considered the world's largest. Trump's order has forced the IOM to cancel "all flights for refugees till further notice," said Christelle van Rosmalen, resettlement officer at the UN refugee agency UNHCR at Dadaab. 

World Court to hear Kenya-Somalia maritime case

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Feb. 2 ruled that it has the authority to adjudicate a dispute over a stretch of water in the Indian Ocean that is potentially laden with oil and gas. Somalia asked (PDF) the ICJ to rule on the dispute in 2014 after negotiations with Kenya broke down over the 100,000-square mile stretch. The ICJ rejected Kenya's claim that a 2009 agreement (PDF) between the two countries to settle the dispute through negotiations deprives the court of jurisdiction in the matter. Kenya's attorney general, Githu Muigaistated: "Kenya maintains the view that litigation can resolve only one aspect of a wide range of complex issues the parties must agree upon." This decision allows the case to proceed, with no date set as of yet for the trial to begin.

African Union leaders back leaving ICC

Leaders of multiple African countries announced Feb. 1 that they have backed a "strategy of collective withdrawal" from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Prior to this week's African Union (AU) summit, the AU issued a document seen by Reuters that proposed a coordinated withdrawal unless the ICC is reformed. The AU claims that the ICC is improperly focusing on prosecuting individuals from African countries, and its exit could be significant, as almost a third of the ICC's member countries are African. The AU and the ICC have had a tumultuous relationship over the course of the past year. In July an AU advisory board accused the ICC of narrowly focusing its investigations on African government leaders since its inception in 2002. The AU's Economic Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) recommended that members quit the ICC should Rome Statute signatories follow through with a proposed amendment allowing the prosecution and arrest of sitting heads of state. Human Rights Watch stated that giving sitting leaders immunity would defeat the purpose of the ICC's creation.

Central African Republic: multi-factional fighting

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)

South Sudan 'teetering on brink of disaster'

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on Dec. 14 warned  that South Sudan "teeters on the brink of a disaster." Speaking before the Human Rights Council Special Session on South Sudan, Zeid called for urgent action. "The highest priority must urgently be given to protection for those most at risk from killings, sexual violence and other serious human rights violations. And it is time for all national and regional actors to advocate decisively for a political process that is both inclusive and implemented on the ground." Zeid also urged the Council "to call on South Sudan's leaders to refrain from incitement to violence and ethnic hatred." Yasmin Sooka, chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said the international community could prevent a "Rwanda-like" genocide by immediately deploying 4,000 peacekeepers to protect civilians. The Council concluded the session by adopting a resolution condemning the ongoing rights violations and reaffirming the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.

Kenya's Shabaab amnesty: 'loaded gun'?

A Kenyan government amnesty for Shabaab militants who renounce violence was supposed include guarantees for security and support for resettlement—generally in marginal areas, such as Majengo district, a low-income suburb of Nairobi. But both the security and aid have been elusive. A Human Rights Watch report in July alleged that security forces "have forcibly disappeared at least 34 people in the past two years during abusive counterterrorism operations in Nairobi and in northeastern Kenya." There are concerns that resettled ex-militants, receiving little aid and vulnerable to reprisal attacks, are ripe for being recuited again into the Somalia-based Shabaab network that now extends into Kenya.