Concern is mounting for the Democratic Republic of Congo’s vast forests and rich wildlife as logging concessions and licenses to explore for oil in protected areas are prepared ahead of presidential elections later this year. A moratorium on industrial logging, in place since 2002, has been broken with three concessions reportedly handed out by the DRC environment ministry to Chinese-owned logging companies since February. A further 14 logging concessions are expected to be granted within months, according to Unearthed, the Greenpeace investigative unit. In addition, reports referenced by Greenpeace indicate the government is preparing to reclassify large areas inside Salonga and Virunga national parks, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Among the coca-growing peasants of Bolivia's Yungas region (the country's prime legal cultivation zone) is a substantial Afro-Bolivian population—descendants of slaves who were brought in by the Spanish colonialists to work in the silver mines and haciendas centuries ago. Some have inter-married with the indigenous Aymara people of the Yungas, forming a distinctive Afro-Aymara culture. The Guardian on Dec. 6 notes the 10th anniversary of the coronation of the "King of the Afro-Bolivians," Julio I—said to be South America's last reigning monarch, although he lives as a cocalero and grocery-shop keeper in the little village of Mururata. His dominion—recognized by the Bolivian government—extends to a few dozen rural villages as well as some city dwellers that together make up the 25,000-strong Afro-Bolivian community.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) government recruited former M23 rebel fighters to protect President Joseph Kabila after protests broke out last December over his refusal to step down at the end of his constitutionally mandated two terms, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported Dec. 5. During December of last year, at least 62 people were killed and hundreds were arrested. The M23 fighters were granted authority to use lethal force. Many journalists were also detained to keep them from reporting about the events taking place. According to the report, rebel forces have long been recruited into the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), without formal training or extensive vetting. The forces in question were deserters from the group, who were initially recruited from Rwanda and Uganda. The FARDC have themselves been criticized for various human rights violations.
Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, the leader of a militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), turned himself in to UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) on July 26. The DRC took out a warrant for Sheka's arrest in 2011 after his forces allegedly raped at least 387 civilians during a four-day period in 2010. The militia is also accused of murdering 70 civilians between 2010 and 2015. The UN sanctioned Sheka in 2011 for war crimes, including mass rapes and crimes against children. MONUSCO said that Sheka surrendered near the town of Walikale, North Kivu province, and will be transferred to DRC authorities to eventually stand trial.
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."
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."
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.