Democratic Republic of Congo’s Very Fragile Peace

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Bosco Ntaganda has been wanted since 2006 on an International Criminal Court arrest warrant (AFP/File, Lionel Healing)

Bosco Ntaganda has been wanted since 2006 on an International Criminal Court arrest warrant (AFP/File, Lionel Healing)

I guess only when something directly affects you, then you’ll do something about it. This is the case with President Joseph Kabila ordering the long-awaited arrest of General Bosco Ntaganda after 600 Congolese soldiers deserted their posts this week. With the recent guilty verdict of Thomas Lubanga, the ICC and human rights activists have pressured Congo to follow suit with Ntaganda. Not only does Kabila make it clear that “he will not work under foreign pressure [even though they] have more than a hundred reasons to arrest him,” but his arrest is much more complicated and holds significant implications for the country’s stability.

The defecting soldiers are a mix of former rebels, including loyal members of the former Rwandan-backed rebel group turned political party, National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), which Ntaganda led. Under the 2009 peace deal designed to end the conflict in eastern Congo and an effort to distill rebellion, former CNDP rebels were integrated into the national army and Ntaganda was made general in the Congolese army and deputy commander of a joint UN/Congolese operation. Thus, allthough Ntaganda or ‘The Terminator’ has been wanted by the ICC since 2006 for war crimes, massacring villages, raping civilians, recuriting child soldiers, and a key figure for the persistent unrest in the East, he is considered a strategic component of maintaining order among the most significant former rebel group.

“From his point of view, the message he wants to get across is that if you try to arrest me, I will react violently. So whereas Bosco may be the linchpin of this whole situation, there is a broad alliance of people who are linked to him; that means any action by Bosco or against Bosco could very quickly escalate throughout the provinces,” Jason Stearns, the director of the Usalama Project, which researches conflict in eastern Congo.

As if to throw another curve-ball into the already extermely complex situation, Ntaganda supported President Kabila’s re-election in a small area of the eastern Congo, which may have added to the president’s reluctance to turn him over to the ICC, but after observers widely condemned the vote as flawed, Kabila has sought to reassert his authority and prove his legitimacy to the international community.

I believe that Ntaganda’s arrest could threaten a fragile peace but the much more colossal issue in DRC is the never-ending impunity that fuels the relentless killings, unrest, and human rights abuses by all parties. The government has previously refused to arrest Ntaganda, on the grounds that peace is more important than justice. Is it better to maintain the status quo and prevent rebellion once again or should we risk uprisings and further violence in the name of justice, trying to establish accountability and rule of law in a country that needs it most?

Just to follow-up, Wednesday also saw the collapse of Frederick Mwenengabo, the Congolese-Canadian who has been on a hunger strike for 38 days to protest against human rights abuses in Congo; he is being treated in the hospital.

Uganda ready to arrest Omar Al-Bashir

Omar Al-Bashir (AP)

Omar Al-Bashir (AP)

A senior government official of Uganda indicated today that Uganda is ready to arrest Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir on war crimes charges should he ever visit the country. Apparently warrants for Al-Bashir’s arrest are already in the Solicitor General’s Office.

This is great news in light of the recent summit of African leaders denouncing, as well as criticizing the arrest warrant against Al-Bashir.

“It is a legal obligation for Uganda to arrest Bashir if he comes to Uganda,” Ocampo said.

UPDATE: Mr. Bashir was set to visit Uganda later this month.  Following this report, he has now canceled his trip.  

Read the full article at CBS.

Expelled Agencies Returning to Sudan?

There are reports that four humanitarian groups kicked out of Sudan in March are being allowed to return to the country. The groups include CARE International, Save the Children, Padco, and Mercy Corps.

The Sudanese government expelled 13 agencies in total after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir. According to the reports, all expelled agencies can renew their operations in Sudan provided they register under slightly changed names and logos.

However (and this is a big however), the Sudanese government has denied these reports - firmly stating that “those that have been expelled are expelled” and “will not return to Sudan”.

Children of Darfur Refugees Named “Okambo”

Desmond-TutuInteresting story…

According to actress and Darfur advocate Mia Farrow, several Sudanese refugees in Chad have named their children “Okambo”in honor of the International Criminal Court’s Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo – the man behind the issuance of an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir.

It appears that survivors of the Darfur genocide appreciate Moreno-Ocampo’s efforts just as much as many of us do.

ICC Prosecutor Answers Your Questions

Recently, ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the courageous man behind Omar al-Bashir’s arrest warrant, answered questions submitted by the public through a website.

Some of the questions asked included the following -

What can be done to stop Bashir when he is hosted by the Arab League summit and treated with honor and respect?

What do you see as the greatest impediment to justice in Darfur?

What are the top 3 things the US can/should do to help the ICC’s Darfur cases?

Click here to listen to the podcast for Moreno-Ocampo’s answers.

“The King is Naked”

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has again asserted that he received “zero” information from humanitarian groups in Darfur.

He also dismissed the idea that the issuance of an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir directly caused the subsequent expulsion of aid organizations -

It is very interesting, the prosecutor is responsible not the criminal? The king is naked. It is not my responsibility that he is naked.

The devastating effects of aid groups being kicked out are beginning to come to fruition. One Darfur IDP camp is expected to experience a severe water shortage. The camp, designed to hold only 30,000 people, is currently home to 80,000.

ReliefWeb has released a great diagram showing the extent that various humanitarian assistance projects in Sudan are affected by the aid group expulsion – including water and sanitation, food security, health and nutrition, and shelter. Affected beneficiaries amount to as high as 1.5 million.

ICC Prosecutor – Pushing Forward Not Moving On

On March 4th, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir – charging him with 5 counts of crimes against humanity and 2 counts of war crimes.

The first-ever indictment of an active head of state – one would think that ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the main man behind the Bashir arrest warrant, would be overwhelmingly pleased with the decision.

However, for Moreno-Ocampo, while the ICC’s decision is significant and a step in the right direction, it is not enough.

Moreno-Ocampo has filed an application to appeal the arrest warrant’s absence of genocide charges against Bashir requested by the ICC prosecutor.

According to Moreno-Ocampo -

Killings, as a matter of law and as a matter of fact, are not the only way to commit genocide…the majority decision has misunderstood the prosecution’s arguments pertaining to the test to be applied for genocide…the decision contains fundamental errors.

With each passing day, I continue to be more amazed and more inspired by Moreno-Ocampo’s commitment and resolve to the pursuit of justice. The issuance of an arrest warrant for crimes against humanity and war crimes is a victory on its own. However, Moreno-Ocampo knows that what he has seen in Darfur is genocide and will not stop until it’s called by its rightful name.

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