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."
Gunmen from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) targeted a popular beach resort in southern Ivory Coast on March 13, killing at least 14 civilians and two soldiers. The resort, in the city of Grand Bassam, is located only 25 miles east of Ivory Coast's largest city of Abidjan. According to the AFP, the gunmen "roamed the beach firing shots" before targeting the L'Etoile du Sud and two other nearby hotels. Ivorian security forces quickly "neutralized" the gunmen. The government's statement says that "six terrorists" were killed; however, AQIM's short claim of responsibility released online, states only three of its fighters were involved in the assault. “Three heroes from the knights of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb were able to break into the tourist resort city of Grand Bassam," the jihadists said, indicating a larger statement will be released soon. Mauritanian news site Al Akhbar reports that sources within AQIM said that its "Sahara Emirate" and Katibat al-Murabitoon, led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, were behind the attack. (Long War Journal, March 13)
The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) on March 11 released a report describing a multitude of atrocious human rights violations taking place in South Sudan in the context of the civil war. This report describes "in searing detail" violations including "a [g]overnment-operated 'scorched earth policy,' and deliberate targeting of civilians for killing, rape and pillage." The report places majority blame on state actors for the crimes, stating that some allied forces have been allowed to rape women in lieu of wages. The report focuses on the shocking scale of sexual violence in the nation, where in a five-month period last year, the UN recorded more than 1,300 reports of rape in just one of South Sudan's 10 states, oil-rich Unity. The report further states that the majority of casualties are the result of deliberate attacks on civilians and not actual combat operations.
A US air raid, carried with both warplanes and drones, killed more than 150 al-Shabaab militants in Somalia March 5, with the Pentagon citing an "imminent threat" to US and African Union forces. Spokesman Cpt. Jeff Davis said a "large-scale" attack was being prepared at the camp. The target, identified as "Raso Camp," was in Bulobarde province, about 200 kilometers north of the capital, Mogadishu. Al-Shabab was pushed out of Mogadishu by African Union peacekeeping forces in 2011 but has continued to launch frequent attacks in its bid to overthrow the Western-backed government—including the twin bombing at a busy restaurant in the Somali city of Baidoa that killed 30 on Feb. 28.
At least 6,000 villagers have fled their homes in Mozambique's western Tete province amid renewed fighting between the government and RENAMO guerillas. Most are now in refugee camps across the border in Malawi, where the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is calling on the government to grant them asylum. Violence has been escalating since mid-December, and on Feb. 8 RENAMO formally announced a return to war, accusing the government of murdering and kidnapping their leaders. The Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO), which waged a brutal insurgency in the 1980s, formally re-organized as a political party at the end of the Mozambican Civil War in 1991. However, it returned to arms in 2013, charging the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) with controlling elections and running a one-party state. There have been repeated ceasefires since then, but the current fighting is the most serious since the end of the civil war. (Times Live, South Africa, UNHCR, Malawi24, Feb. 18; MSF, South Africa Institute of International Affairs via AllAfrica, Mozambique News Agency via AllAfrica, Feb. 16; Mozambique News Reports & Clippings via AllAfrica, Feb. 14)
The UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, Aristide Nononsi, on Feb. 5 called for an end to conflict in Darfur between the Sudanese government and the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid which may have led to violations of international law. Tens of thousands of civilians have reportedly fled the Jebel Marra area in the past two weeks, with 21,338 fleeing to North Darfur state and 15,000 fleeing to Central Darfur state. (The Jebel Marra straddles the states of North, South and Central Darfur.) Nononsi also stated there have been an unspecified number of civilian casualties and destruction of property. The UN is urging that all parties protect unarmed civilians and respect international law and human rights. Nononsi also urged Sudan to provide access to UN-African Union Mission (UNAMID) in Darfur to areas affected by conflict.
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.
At least 29 people were killed as three suicide bombers carried out a coordinated attacks at a market in the village of Bodo in northern Cameroon Jan. 25. The first explosions struck the road leading to the market, while the second and third blasts hit the entrance and interior of the marketplace. It was the second terror attack to hit Cameroon this year. On Jan. 13, a suicide bomber killed 12 people and wounded at least one other in an attack on a mosque in Kolofata village. Dec. 10 also saw a suicide attack in Kolofata that left at least 10 dead. (Al Jazeera, Jan. 25; Al Jazeera, Jan. 13) But villagers are also being caught in indiscriminate army attacks in the northern region. On Jan. 19, troops fired rocket-propelled grenades in the village of Ashigashiya, on the Nigerian border, killing a family of four. Witnesses said two elderly men were also dragged from their homes and shot. Scores of civilians are believed to have been killed in recent weeks as the army attempts to enforce a "no-go zone" along the border. (AP, Jan. 19) Locals have started to form vigilante committees to defend their villages from Boko Haram. In a sign of hope, Christian vigilance committees have been patrolling outside mosques during prayer sessions, while Muslims are guarding churches during services. Both have been targeted by the militants. (VOA, Jan. 19)