North Africa Theater
The UN Security Council on April 27 extended the mandate of the peacekeeping force for Western Sahara (MINURSO) through the end of October 2018, while calling for Morocco and the Polisario Front to finally negotiate an end to the decades‑old conflict. Western Sahara is claimed by Morocco, while the Polisario Front seeks independence for the territory. The territory has since the 1975-1991 war that followed its independence from Spain been divided by a series of sand berms and a "buffer zone." These separate the territory's Morocco-occupied west and a Polisario-controlled eastern strip. The Security Council called for the Polisario Front to immediately withdrawal from the buffer strip around the area of Guerguerat, to refrain from any destabilizing actions. It also expressed concern over Polisario's planned relocation of administrative functions form Tindouf, across the border in Algeria, to Bir Lahlou within Western Sahara, (ReliefWeb, April 27)
A UN report (PDF) published April 10 detailed the conditions of thousands of people being held in Libya, describing them as human rights violations. According to the report, released by the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR), about 6,500 people are being held in official prisons, but thousands more are being detained in facilities controlled by armed groups, with varying degrees of loyalty to official authorities. One facility, which holds about 2,000 people, is run by a militia nominally loyal to the internationally recognized Government of National Accord, at Mitiga airbase in Tripoli. It is said to subject detainees to torture and unlawful killings, while denying adequate medical care. Additionally, the report asserts that people are arbitrarily detained because of their tribal or family background. The report further contends that authorities use armed groups to arrest suspected opponents.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) announced March 31 that al-Hassan ag-Abdoul Aziz ag-Mohamed ag-Mahmoud was surrendered to the court's detention center in the Netherlands by Malian authorities. According to the arrest warrant (PDF), he is accused of crimes against humanity in Timbuktu, Mali, as de facto leader of the "Islamic police" force in 2012 and 2013. He allegedly took part in the destruction of the mausoleums of Muslim saints in Timbuktu. He also allegedly participated in forced marriages involving Fulani women, which resulted in repeated rape and the reduction of women and girls to sexual slavery. The International Criminal Court concludes that there is evidence to provide grounds for an arrest warrant under the reasonable belief that Al Hassan could be criminally liable under Articles 25 (3) (a) or 25 (3) (b) of the Rome Statute (PDF) for crimes against humanity. Al Hassan is expected to make an initial appearance in court later this week.
The company operating Libya's biggest oilfield, Sharara, announced March 4 that it had been shut down after a citizen closed the pipeline that pumps the field's oil to al-Zawiya refinery. The field is run by a joint venture between Libya's National Oil Corporation with Spain's Repsol, French Total, Austria's OMV and Norway's Statoil. The individual, named as Hatem al-Hadi from Zintan, claimed the pipeline passes through his land and caused environmental pollution, the Mellitah Oil & Gas consortium said in a statement. The same person reportedly closed the pipeline last year and then reopened after the company pledged that his six hectares of land would be cleaned. The company has apparently failed to follow through on its promise. With this latest closure of the Sharara field, Libya's oil output dropped to a six-month low of 750,000 barrels per day, after reaching 1 million bpd last year.
UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Cecilia Jimenes-Damar is calling on the government of Libya to protect hundreds of former residents of the town of Tawergha who are currently stranded in the desert. According to the UN, approximately 40,000 Tawarghans were forcefully evacuated in 2011 due to their perceived support for the country's former leader Moammar Qaddafi and their return has since been blocked by armed militia groups acting with the consent of the Libyan government. These militias continue to impede the Tawarghans' return despite an agreement being reached by representatives of the Tawarghans and the Misratan militia group that would have allowed individuals to begin returning home on Feb. 1.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Jan. 25 condemned the deadly mosque attack in eastern Benghazi two days earlier that left 34 people dead and 90 wounded, the majority civilians including three young children. According to a local hospital source, the car bombs exploded within 15 to 30 minutes of each other in front of the Baya'at al-Radwan Mosque in the Salmani district of Benghazi. The identity of the individuals or group that set the bombs is currently unknown. The first explosion occurred as worshipers were on their way out, after finishing their evening prayers known as "al-Isha," killing three and injuring six. The second explosion, which caused the majority of the casualties, followed the arrival of security forces and volunteer civilians who were helping to evacuate the wounded and dead.
In a victory for Berber activists, Algeria officially celebrated Yennayer, the new year holiday of the Amazigh people, for the first time. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said declaration of Yennayer as a national holiday was officially approved at a meeting of his Council of Ministers. Yennayer marks the first day of the agrarian calendar, celebrated by the Berber (Amazigh) people across North Africa on Jan. 12. This Yennayer marks the first day of the year 2968 in the Amazigh calendar, which starts counting from the enthronement of Shoshenq I in Egypt, initiating a Berber-ruled dynasty. The move to recognize Yennayer is part of a general effort by Algeria's government to permit greater expression of Amazigh culture in order to head off a separatist movement, marked by the recent proclamation of a Provisional Government of Kabylia in the country's Berber-majority eastern region.
A Jewish school on the Tunisian island of Djerba, home to one of North Africa's ancient indigenous Jewish communities, was attacked Jan. 9 as anti-government protests raged elsewhere around the country. Petrol bombs hurled at the school caused property damage but no injuries, the head of the local Jewish community, Perez Trabelsi, told Reuters. Trabelsi suggested the assailants exploited the fact that there was a reduced security presence in Djerba, as police were occupied elsewhere repressing anti-austerity protests. "Unknown people took the opportunity of the protests and threw Molotov cocktails into the lobby of a Jewish religious school in Djerba," he said. (Haaretz)