Africa Theater

Cameroon holds 84 children after raid on madrassa

Amnesty International urged Cameroon on June 19 to end the six-month detention of 84 children being held after raids on Koranic schools. AI reports that some of the children were as young as five years old. The children remained detained in a children's center in Maroua even after being charged with no crimes. The government charged the teachers of the Koranic schools of running terrorist training camps for the Nigeria-based group Boko Haram. The raids were part of the Cameroon government's on-going battle against the terrorist group. Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International deputy director for West and Central Africa, stated: "Detaining young children will do nothing to protect Cameroonians living under the threat of Boko Haram." AI has urged Cameroon to immediately release any children under the age of 15 to their parents and ensure a fair trial for any other's associated with the raid.

Ethiopia: army 'massacre' of tribespeople

UK-based advocacy group Survival International says it has received reports that violent conflict between Ethiopian soldiers and Hamar pastoralists left dozens dead last month. The Hamar are one of several tribal peoples of the Lower Omo Valley who are subject to the government's policy of "villagization." They are being forcibly relocated to government-created villages along new roads through the region, while their ancestral grazing lands are sold off to investors for commercial plantations. These land-grabs have already led to starvation in parts of the Lower Omo. Tensions have been rising as a result of these evictions; at the end of May, Hamar were reportedly attacked by soldiers with rifles and mortars. Survival says a "news blackout" imposed by the government makes it impossible to know the exact number of casualties, but one observer referred to what took place as a "massacre." The incident follows a pattern of abuses in the Lower Omo, including beatings, rape and arbitrary arrest. One displaced Hamar said, "The government told us that if we don't give in to them we will be slaughtered in public like goats." (Survival International, June 5)

Amnesty: Nigeria military in crimes against humanity

Around 8,000 Nigerian civilians have been killed since 2011 as a result of abuses by military forces, Amnesty International (AI) reported June 3. The report attributes civilian deaths to torture, starvation, suffocation and executions by military forces at detention camps. AI's secretary general Salil Shetty said, "[t]he previous Nigerian administration's utterly callous 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil' attitude when it comes to the hundreds of stories of death coming out of the military detention centers beggars belief." AI says the military's actions at the detention camps are part of a "witch hunt" in an effort to locate members of Boko Haram. AI called for President Muhammadu Buhari to investigate any possible crimes against humanity committed at the camps and to bring justice to the victims.

Uganda: displaced villagers protest land-grab

A BBC News account today notes an action by a group of elderly women in a village in northern Uganda that made local headlines in April. When officials backed up by soldiers and police were sent to Apaa village to begin a land demarcation project, the women stripped naked in front of them while chanting "Lobowa, lobowa!"—"our land" in the Luo language. Women appearing naked is a traditional form of shaming and dishonoring. The conflict affects several villages in Uganda's northern Amuru district, where residents were forcibly relocated to government camps (ostensibly for their protection) during the 18-year war with the Lord's Resistance Army. Now that they are returning, they find that Uganda's Wildlife Authority seeks to demarcate 827 square kilometers of their traditional lands as a game reserve to be leased to a private investor—said to be a South African businessman. At Apaa village alone, some 21,000 residents who cannot prove official title to their lands stand to be evicted.

UN calls for investigation of CAR peacekeepers

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, on May 30 called on several states to investigate allegations that members of their peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) have committed serious human rights violations. It is reported that soldiers have engaged in the killing of civilians, summary executions, abductions and sexual exploitation of local women and children. Zeid summarized the troubling contradiction by saying, "[t]he role of international forces in halting the worst of the fighting and sectarian slaughter in CAR has been invaluable, and their presence has unquestionably saved many, many lives. Yet, in some cases the longed-for protectors turned into predators." The High Commissioner's statement revealed that many states' forces are under suspicion of engaging in the "disturbing" behavior and some have disciplined the soldiers involved. In addition to requesting further investigation, the High Commissioner also announced he is sending a team to look into possible further measures to address human rights violations in the CAR.

Burundi arrests military officers in coup attempt

Burundi authorities arrested several military generals May 15 after an unsuccessful coup attempt and said the suspects will face a military court for mutiny charges. Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombare [who fought alongside Hutu rebels in the 1993-2005 civil war] announced the coup on May 13. President Pierre Nkurunziza was in Tanzania at the time the coup was announced but is believed to be back in his country. In Bujumbura, troops supporting the president and those supporting Niyombare fought on the streets for two days after the declared coup. Following the announcement, the airport in Bujumbura and the land borders were closed, but the streets reportedly calmed by May 15.

Sudan: mass rape by army in Darfur

Sudanese army forces raped more than 200 women and girls in an organized attack on the north Darfur town of Tabit in October, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Feb. 11. The report, "Mass Rape in Darfur: Sudanese Army Attacks Against Civilians in Tabit," documents army attacks in which at least 221 women and girls were raped in Tabit over 36 hours beginning on Oct. 30. "The deliberate attack on Tabit and the mass rape of the town's women and girls is a new low in the catalog of atrocities in Darfur," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The Sudanese government should stop the denials and immediately give peacekeepers and international investigators access to Tabit."

Sahara drug trade funds Boko Haram insurgency

The brutal Boko Haram rebels are gaining ground at a frightening pace in northwest Nigeria, even mounting a bloody attack this week on the region's major city, Maiduguri. Reports are mounting that the extremist movement is funding its insurgency by exploiting Nigeria's strategic place as a crossroads of the global narco-traffick. BBC News on Jan. 25 asked "How have Nigeria's militants become so strong?" It cited the findings of the International Crisis Group that Boko Haram "has forged ties with arms smugglers in the lawless parts of the vast Sahel region." Plenty of its arms (including tanks and armored vehicles) have been plundered from the Nigerian army itself. But plenty more are thought to have come from Libya, where arms depots were looted when Moammar Qaddafi's regime was overthrown in 2011. Trafficking networks have been moving that plundered war material across the Sahel and Sahara, integrating the traffick into routes already established for moving drugs and other contraband between West Africa, Europe and Asia.

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