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.
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.
A UN human rights expert warned June 20 that the Central African Republic (CAR) "must act now" to protect its population and implement justice. According to Marie-Thérèse Keita Bocoum, the expert on human rights for the CAR, armed groups are spreading throughout the country at a worrying rate, and a lack of response from the government to defend civilians has led to revenge attacks, public outrage, and "cries of distress" from citizens. The announcement from the UN comes on the heels of a peace accord signed by the CAR and most of the armed groups, aimed at ending the ethnic and religious conflict that has killed thousands. The peace accord was mediated by the Roman Catholic Sant'Egidio peace group (which brokered the end of the civil war in Mozambique in 1992) and was signed in Rome.
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."
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)
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."