Sahel

Burkina Faso faces 'unprecedented' crisis

Attacks by Islamist militants, military operations, and waves of inter-communal violence have left hundreds dead and tens of thousands displaced since January in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, triggering an "unprecedented" humanitarian crisis that has caught many by surprise. Homegrown militant groups, as well as extremists linked to al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State group, had been operating in the country's north since 2016, but have expanded to new fronts in eastern and southwestern Burkina Faso, threatening the stability of neighboring countries. Militants now launch near-daily attacks on Burkina Faso's embattled security forces, which have responded by committing numerous abuses against civilians in "counter-terrorism" operations, including mass summary executions and arbitrary arrests, according to witness accounts and rights organizations. As the state struggles to protect civilians, a growing number of "self-defense" militias have mobilized, escalating ethnic tensions in a country once considered a beacon of coexistence and tolerance in West Africa.

UN rights chief condemns Sudan repression

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on Jan. 17 called on the government of Sudan to protect its people's rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in the face of mounting violence. Since mid-December, anti-government demonstrations have been taking place in multiple cities across Sudan. As of Jan. 6, a total of 816 people had been arrested, including "journalists, opposition leaders, protestors and representatives of civil society." The government has confirmed 24 deaths but other reports place the number at double that. There have also been reports of security forces following protesters into hospitals and firing tear-gas and live ammunition inside.

Fulani herders massacred in Mali

A settlement of semi-nomadic Fulani herders was attacked in Mali Jan. 1, with at least 33 residents slain and several homes set aflame. Survivors said the attackers were traditional Dogon hunters, known as dozos. The army was rushed to Koulogon village in central Mopti region to control the situation following the massacre. But the perpetrators may have actually been assisted by the armed forces. Dogon residents of the area have formed a self-defense militia, known as Dana Amassagou (which translates roughly as "hunters in God's hands"), to prevent incursions by jihadists from Mali's conflicted north into the country's central region. The militia is said to have received weapons and training from the official armed forces. However, driven by conflicts over access to land and shrinking water resources, the militia has apparently been attacking local Fulani villages. Hundreds are said to have been killed in clashes between Dogon and Fulani over the past year. A Senegalese rapid reaction force under UN command was deployed to Mopti last year in response to the mounting violence. (All India Radio, Middle East Online, Jan. 2; Al JazeeraBBC News, Jan. 1; IRIN, Sept. 4)

Economic protests across Sudan turn violent

Protests have been mounting across Sudan in response to the nation’s acute economic crisis. Inflation reached 70% in November and many have been forced to spend significant portions of their income on bread, leading to local media designating the demonstrations as "bread protests." Protesters have repeatedly called for President Omar al-Bashir, who has been in power since 1993, to step down. President Bashir promised reforms on Dec. 25 after police blocked protesters who marched on his presidential palace. The protests have been organized by professional organizations and trade unions as well as Sudan's principal opposition group, the Umma Party. Sudan's government on Dec. 20 shut off internet access to prevent the protesters from organizing via social media. According to an Amnesty International report released Dec. 24, at least 37 protesters have been killed so far as Sudanese authorities attempt to quell the demonstrations by releasing tear-gas and firing live ammunition, sparking international criticism.

Twins of genocide schmooze in Damascus

Well, this is all too telling. Seeking to legitimize his regime now that he's reconquered most of Syria (with massive Russian military help), Bashar Assad has just welcomed the first Arab League leader to Damascus since the war began in 2011—and it is none other than President Omar Bashir of Sudan, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur. As BashirWatch recalls, Bashir has been evading justice for 11 years. The Assad regime's official news agency SANA said the two dictators discussed the "situations and crises faced by many Arab countries," stressing the need to build "new principles for inter-Arab relations based on the respect of the sovereignty of countries and non-interference in internal affairs." (Al Jazeera, Middle East Eye)

Al-Qaeda franchise claims Mali suicide blast

The Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), al-Qaeda's branch in West Africa and the Sahel, claimed its forces were responsible for a suicide bombing in the northern Malian city of Gao Nov. 12. The suicide truck-bomb detonated in a residential area of Gao, killing three (not counting the attacker) and wounding another 30. The JNIM statement claimed the target was a base of "Crusader invaders" from the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada. However, all of those killed were civilians and local Malians. Four of the wounded were foreign employees of the United Nations' Mine Action Service, working to remove landmines in the area. They included two Cambodians, a South African, and a Zimbabwean. A video later released by JNIM confirmed that the mine-dismantling headquarters in Gao was the intended target. The video stated that "this operation demonstrates that the mujahideen are continuing upon their covenant, which they had made to their lord, until they achieve one of the two good ends, victory or martyrdom." The statement said the group will continue to target international forces until "the ummah [Musilm community] enjoys the rule of shariah."

South Sudan: will 'permanent' ceasefire hold?

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his bitter rival and former vice president Riek Machar, now leader of the SPLM-IO rebels, met in the Sudanese capital Khartoum June 27 to sign a "permanent" ceasefire agreement, pledging to form an inclusive transitional government.  The parties agreed to open humanitarian corridors, release detainees, withdraw troops and militarily disengage. The agreement calls on the African Union and the regional bloc IGAD to deploy protection forces and monitors to observe the ceasefire implementation. The transitional government is to form a national army and security forces not linked to tribalism, and to collect weapons from the populace. The parties also agreed to immediately start work to resume oil production at sites in Unity state (Blocks 1,2 and 4) and Tharjiath (Block 5), which have for years been paralyzed by the conflict.

ICC takes Mali war crimes suspect into custody

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.

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