Former Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) commander Dominic Ongwen on Jan. 26 made his first appearance before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The pre-trial hearing was brief as Ongwen simply had to confirm his identity and that he clearly understood the charges against him. During his hearing, Ongwen thanked God and referred to himself as a former soldier saying that he "was abducted in 1988 and...taken to the bush when [he] was 14 years old." He spoke in Acholi, his native language. Ongwen faces three counts of crimes against humanity: murder, enslavement, and inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury and suffering; and four counts of war crimes: murder, cruel treatment of civilians, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population, and pillaging. A pre-trial confirmation of charges hearing has been scheduled for August. This hearing will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe that Ongwen committed each of the crimes with which he is charged. The ICC took legal custody of Ongwen in Central African Republic's capital Bangui earlier this month.
An advance unit of hundreds of Chadian troops, backed up by a column of tanks, arrived at Cameroon's northern border town of Kousseri Jan. 17, greeted with cheers by local residents terrorized by Boko Haram. The intervention force, approved by Chad's parliament, is to number in the thousands. Days earlier, most of the residents of nearby Kolofata were forced to flee after an attack by Boko Haram. Cameroon troops killed 143 insurgents in a gun battle that lasted more than four hours, the army said. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau this month threatened Cameroon's President Paul Biya in an online video. Biya sent some 1,000 troops to the border to fight Boko Haram after the wife of deputy premier Amadou Ali was captured in July by suspected militants. A French-led initiative calls for Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad to contribute 700 troops each to a multinational force against Boko Haram. (Press TV, Jan. 18; AFP, Jan. 17; BBC News, Bloomberg, Jan. 16)
An advance unit of a 700-strong Chinese infantry battalion arrived in South Sudan last week, marking the first People's Liberation Army infantry force to participate in a United Nations peacekeeping mission. Commander Wang Zhen said the battalion will be equipped with drones, armored vehicles, anti-tank missiles and mortars, among other weapons "completely for self-defense purpose." The force is to be fully deployed by April. Speaking during talks across the border in Sudan's capital Khartoum, Beijing's Foreign Minister Wang Yi assured: "China's mediation of South Sudan issues is completely the responsibility and duty of a responsible power, and not because of China's own interests."
After days of discussions, the Ugandan military decided on Jan. 13 to send Dominic Ongwen, a rebel leader with the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), to trial in the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The ICC has sought to try Ongwen, who is thought to be the second-in-command to Joseph Kony, since 2005 when an initial warrant of arrest was issued. He is accused of enslavement and directing attacks against civilian populations, among other charges, for his actions in the early 2000's in which thousands were killed and children abducted to be used as soldiers or sold as sex slaves.
Up to 2,000 are feared dead in an ongoing massacre after Boko Haram seized Baga, a town on Nigeria's border with Chad in Borno state. Amnesty International cited witness claims that the town was "razed to the ground." Hundreds of bodies remain strewn in the bush, where fighting has continued since the town's military base was overrun by the militants on Jan. 3. Said Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International: "The attack on Baga and surrounding towns, looks as if it could be Boko Haram’s deadliest act in a catalogue of increasingly heinous attacks carried out by the group. [T]his marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram’s ongoing onslaught against the civilian population." Meanwhile in Potiskum, Yobe state, at least six people are dead after two suspected child suicide bombers blew themselves up in a market Jan. 11.
Royal Dutch Shell on Jan. 7 reached a settlement in a lawsuit concerning the Niger Delta oil spills of 2008. The settlement, totaling $84 million, will be divided between 15,600 individuals who will receive $3,300 each as compensation for losses caused by the spills. The remaining $30 million will be disbursed throughout the community, which also suffered significant damage from the spills. Rights group Amnesty International noted that this settlement is "an important victory for the victims of corporate negligence," but expressed disappointment that it took six years for the victims to be compensated. They argue that Shell knew that the oil spills [which took place near Bodo in October and December 2008] were a distinct possibility since 2002 and took no "effective" action to prevent them from occurring. However, the managing director of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited, Mutiu Sunmonu, contends that they have taken responsibility for the spills from the beginning, and that the spills were due to operational pipe failure. AI also accused Shell of making false claims about the impact of the oil spills in documents presented to a UK court in November. They state that Shell claimed that only 4,000 barrels of oil spilled for both spills but AI believes the number is closer to 100,000 barrels for the first spill alone.
The UN published a report (PDF) Jan. 8 finding that acts committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity, but not genocide. The report summarized the investigation of the situation in the CAR, which began in December 2013. The purpose of the investigation was to identify and hold accountable perpetrators of violations against humanitarian law. The report states that holding perpetrators accountable will help bring an end to impunity in the CAR, which contributed to the cycle of violence in the country. The report identifies the responsible actors as members of the CAR Armed Forces under President Francois Bozizé and the principal militia groups Séléka and anti-Balaka. While the report concludes that the crimes committed do not meet the threshold required to be considered genocide, it holds the principal actors responsible for serious humanitarian offenses including rape and the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population.
Kenya's parliament on Dec. 18 passed a sweeping new anti-terrorism law after some of its members engaged in a shoving match that led to blows being exchanged. Those opposed to the law, citing violations of free speech and other civil liberties, shouted, threw water, and even threw books at the Speaker in protest of the bill. The law allows security services to detain suspected criminals without charging them for up to 360 days, allows media members to be persecuted for publishing material that is likely to cause fear or alarm, and enables a domestic spy force to carry out secret operations. President Uhuru Kenyatta has backed the bill due to increased pressure to improve security in the country after a 2013 terrorist attack by Somali al-Shabaab rebels that killed 67 people.