Realizing the Gravity of the Situation in the Congo

A refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo reacts to camera as she arrives at the Nyakabande refugee transit camp in Kisoro town 521km (312 miles) southwest of Uganda capital Kampala (REUTERS/James Akena)

A refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo reacts to camera as she arrives at the Nyakabande refugee transit camp in Kisoro town 521km (312 miles) southwest of Uganda capital Kampala (REUTERS/James Akena)

 “There were so many of them. They came at 1:30 p.m. We were almost done with the school day. [The fighters] asked us to exit the room and then they took us behind the school building. They tied my hands with a rope. All of us were tied up. Then they marched us to the hill…. They told us we would fight for Bosco [Ntaganda]…. They informed us that we would liberate our country by giving our support to Bosco Ntaganda. We must support him so that our Congo would not be taken by others.” A 17-year-old student at Mapendano secondary school told Human Rights Watch.

A new Human Rights Watch report says Bosco Ntaganda’s troops, an estimated 300 to 600 soldiers who followed him in his mutiny, forcibly recruited at least 149 boys and young men around Kilolirwe, Kingi, Kabati, and other locations on the road to Kitchanga, in Masisi, North Kivu province, between April 19 and May 4. At least 48 were children under age 18. Human Rights Watch Senior Africa Researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg says much of the forced recruitment has targeted schools.

In mid-April, Ntaganda and fighters under his command told those living in towns and villages under their control that children and young men were needed for their forces. One woman from Birambizo told Human Rights Watch that Ntaganda personally came to her village and said, “Since you [villagers] have been with the government, you’ve gotten nothing. Why not join me?” The woman said: “[Ntaganda] asked us to give our children, our students, to him to fight. He came to our village himself, like [detained rebel leader Laurent] Nkunda used to do. But we refused and said our children should go to school.”

Now that the situation is exponentially getting out of control, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has decided to expand its charges on Bosco and also pursue the arrest of Sylvestre Mudacumura, military commander of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militia.  ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Monday he wanted to add charges of crimes against humanity for murder, ethnic persecution, rape and sexual slavery. He also sought war crimes charges for “intentional attacks” against civilians that led to murder, rape, sexual slavery and pillaging. And for Mudacumura, military commander of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militia, the prosecutor is seeking five counts of crimes against humanity — murder, inhumane acts, rape and torture — and nine war crimes charges. This is hopeful and encouraging news, but why did it take the ICC this long?

Both of these very dangerous men have killed millions over the past 20 years and they were charged with much less than what they commited, like Thomas Lubnaga. Luis Moreno-Ocampo said that an examination of the evidence collected during the Lubanga trial has led the Office of the Prosecutor to request an expansion of the arrest warrant against Ntaganda for murder, persecution based on ethnic grounds, rape, sexual slavery, attacking civilians and pillaging. Ntaganda was a close associate of Lubanga, who in March became the first person to be convicted by the ICC.

“The followers of Ntaganda and Mudacumura have to understand that it is time for them to demobilize and stop their crimes, even help in arresting the leaders,” the ICC prosecutor, whose term of office comes to an end next month, said.

War Criminal Bosco Ntaganda Stirs Never Ending Trouble in Congo- 5,000 Flee North Kivu

DR Congo rebel General Bosco Ntaganda is pictured in 2009 (AFP/File, Lionel Healing)

DR Congo rebel General Bosco Ntaganda is pictured in 2009 (AFP/File, Lionel Healing)

A few weeks back, I covered the story on General Bosco Ntaganda and his loyal soldiers’ defection and how it could shake DRC’s very fragile peace and lead to massive unrest. Regrettably that’s exactly what has happened this week. A BBC reporter in the Goma area says thousands of people are fleeing fierce fighting between government forces and soldiers loyal to Bosco. To  be exact, 5,000 people, mostly women, children and the elderly, have been displaced (src) in Congo’s North Kivu province, the United Nations refugee agency said Wednesday. The reporter saw a constant stream of families loaded with mattresses, kitchen utensils and suitcases on the road between Sake and Goma.

“There has been a lot of shooting, this is why we have fled,” an elderly man who fled Mushake told the BBC.

Bosco’s arrest warrant by the ICC was issued in 2006, but three years later Ntaganda and his fighters were made part of the Congolese army as part of a peace deal. President Kabila has previously refused to arrest him for numerous reasons but said Bosco should face a military tribunal in Congo and there is no need to hand him over to the International Criminal Court.

“We’re seeing now that people are suffering from that. It was predictable. You don’t integrate a former human rights abuser into the military.  They will continue the human rights abuse,” Kambala Musavuli, a spokesperson for Friends of the Congo.

However Ntaganda has continually denied any involvement in the new mutiny:

“I am not involved in what happens here (Masisi), I am an officer in the army of the DRC (Congo) and I obey the orders of my superiors,” Ntaganda told a journalist in Goma who works for Deutsche Welle. “My problem is between me and my superiors that I have promised to solve it.”

According to Musavuli, the scope of problems in Congo are huge and thus one of the solutions is the most important:

“We must bring these rebel leaders to justice so that they don’t continue to repeat these crimes,” he said. “There needs to be an end to the culture of impunity.”

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.

Hopefully Not too Little too Late

Gen Gun Maw addresses the standing committee in Laiza, Kachin State (PHOTO: The Irrawaddy)

SUDAN/SOUTH SUDAN

With Sudan and South Sudan presidents meeting eminent, it’s evermore pertinent to draw attention to the growing human catastrophe in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States. United to End Genocide is advocating March 16 as the national day of action for Sudan in response to the escalating crisis.

Furthermore, on March 7 a new piece of legislation, the Sudan Peace, Security and Accountability Act was introduced in the House of Representatives to propel immediate action. Implementing the legislation includes holding Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his forces fully accountable with strengthened and increased sanctions, and immediately working to ensure the delivery of food to prevent mass starvation as a result of genocide by attrition.  Take action here.

“We welcome the introduction of strong bipartisan legislation to address the blockade of food and humanitarian aid and the ongoing bombing of civilians that has put the lives of 500,000 people at risk in Sudan.” – Tom Andrews, United to End Genocide President

George Clooney and John Prendergast, who together co-founded the Satellite Sentinel Project, just returned from Sudan’s troubled Nuba Mountains region in the hopes of bringing attention to and potentially heading off hostilities. They spoke and gave their report to Washington and the Council on Foreign Relations March 14. Watch their video clip here:

http://www2.americanprogress.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=205

“There’s a difference between two armies fighting and what the Geneva Convention calls war crimes.We saw that very specifically happening on two occasions: rape, starvation, lack of humanitarian aid. They’re scaring the hell out of these people and they’re killing, hoping and trying to get them just to leave.” – George Clooney, Activist for Sudan.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

A top commander of the Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebel group, Lt. Colonel Bizimana, has surrendered to the UN mission in South Kivu. A joint military offensive between the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and the Congolese army pressured Lt. Colonel Bizimana, also known as Idrissa Muradadi, to turn himself in along with three of his bodyguards. He is being processed through the Demobilization Disarmament Rehabilitation, Repatriation and Reintegration (DDRRR) and awaiting extradition to Rwanda.

The FDLR, operating in Eastern Congo, is known for their destructive attacks and brutality against civilians. They are comprised of primarily former Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) and interahamwe, responsible for killing 800,000 people in the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

“It’s very good news for us because the surrender of Idrissa will also have a demoralizing effect on his troops and we are expecting to see a lot of the FDLR [rebels] surrender in the coming days.”  - MONUSCO spokesman Madnodje Mounoubai

I am surprised by the surrender but wonder how the outcome will turn out. The integration process has become extremely messy because of the convolution and mixed loyalties created by the number of armed factions. To add to the calamity, just because Bizimana surrendered to MONUSCO doesn’t necessarily mean any problems are solved because both UN officials and Congolese army officials have been reported to have killed, raped, and endangered innocent civilians. Thus, we must continue to seek sustainable and ingenious ways to solve this dreadfully complex conflict and the rampant impunity that plagues the DRC.

In light of this surrender, the ICC’s first verdict on March 14 has found Thomas Lubanga guilty of recruiting child soldiers during the DRC conflict. While the case may help set a precedent for other cases involving the recruitment of child soldiers, the ICC has much work to do with the trying, process, and sentencing of war criminals.

BURMA

The government has signed provisional ceasefires with several armed ethnic groups in recent months as part of political reform in the country, but has resulted without agreement and an end to fighting with the Kachin ethnic group. Most recently, daily clashes have prompted the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the Burmese government to hold peace talks.

“Negotiations have not yet yielded any agreement. There needs to be more discussions about the withdrawal of Burmese army bases from the region. We will continue to talk until we reach an agreement.” – Gen Gun Maw, the deputy military chief of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

The KIO says it wants government troops to withdraw from their bases in Kachin strongholds before it signs any ceasefire with the government. The government delegation, though, has maintained that such issues can only be discussed after a ceasefire is in place. President Thein Sein ordered an end to fighting with Kachin rebels December 10 of last year, but the hostilities between the two continue.

We follow UN envoy to Burma Tomas Ojea Quintana’s call on the Burmese government to develop a plan to “officially engage with ethnic minority groups in serious dialogue and to resolve long-standing and deep-rooted concerns.”

In light of Ambassador Derek Mitchell’s current presence in Burma this week, a petition has been launched to increase civilian protection. We hope you will make time for this action: Support Ethnic People of Burma: Tell Ambassador Mitchell to Protect Ethnic Civilians.

Hearing the Cries, Heeding the Cries

Nakivale refugee camp has been home to thousands of Congolese during and since DR Congo's civil war

Nakivale refugee camp has been home to thousands of Congolese during and since DR Congo's civil war

SUDAN and SOUTH SUDAN

This week’s news offers a small glimpse of hope as the thousands of lives that are being jeopardized in the Nuba region is finally grasping the attention of the international community, government officials, and the media with recent visits by Anne Curry and Nick Kristof.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday accused the Khartoum government of actively trying to undermine the government of South Sudan and suggested that the US is prepared to take measures against Bashir. Her comments came in response to Representative Ed Royce’s (R OC, CA) introduction of a new piece of legislation last week to expand the U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice program to include those wanted for the most serious human rights abuses, which includes Bashir’s indictment by the ICC.

The UN Security Council also called on the Sudanese government and the SPLM-N to cooperate fully and ensure that humanitarian assistance is delivered to those suffering from the rising levels of malnutrition and food insecurity. However, as attention is finally turned to these atrocities, attention is not enough, genocide by attrition still continues.

“We are still expecting them, they are still around us and now we don’t sleep in the houses, we are sleeping in the bush. That means the war is still there, no change.” Meluth Kur Jok, an elder who has sought sanctuary in Jonglei’s Akobo town since five close relatives were killed and 80 children abducted in an attack on his home village of Woulang a few weeks ago, told IRIN of his fears of more violence.

An unlikely actor, an American man married to a Nuba woman, Ryan Boyette, is risking his life to collect video of atrocities and has set up a network of local citizen journalists to document the atrocities and starvation in hopes of making the world care enough to intervene. So far the Associated Press, CNN, Fox News and Al-Jazeera have used his videos or photographs, and he plans to post more on a website, EyesAndEarsNuba.org and he was the one that helped Nick Kristof enter the Nuba Mountains.

Now more than ever we can feel the value of Ubuntu and realize that if one person is suffering, we are all suffering and must heed the cries for help and humanitarian assistance to the starving and afflicted people of South Kordofon/Nuba Mountains.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

All is not as it appears in the DRC as little is done to provide safety and security to the endangered and constantly antagonized Congolese civilian population. It is in the works to open up a third refugee camp in Uganda to cope with a influx of at least 100 people a day crossing the border to escape an upsurge in violence in eastern region of DRC. However, the population continues to be at risk from killings, abductions, and rape by armed men in the Eastern Kivu provinces, during transit, and in refugee camps. It is a situation replicated in thousands of registered and unregistered displaced persons settlements throughout the Great Lakes region. So what is being done?

The first case brought to the International Criminal Court filed in 2004 charging Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga with war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under age 15 as soldiers during the conflict in 2002, has come to a verdict to be heard on March 14. This will be the ICC’s first judgment since its conception a decade ago. As an avid follower of DRC’s long entrenched conflict watching  heinous human rights abuses and brutal rapes committed, it’s extremely disappointing that this narrowly focused case is the only one being heard after nine years and does not even come close to address the extent of crimes endured by the thousands of civilians everyday. It is also important to mention that Lubanga’s co-accused, Bosco Ntaganda charged by the ICC at the same time with war crimes relating to the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Ituri is currently untouched and a Congoloses general.

“There has never been a systematic attempt to address the issue of impunity within the Congolese justice system,” said Aaron Hall, Enough Project Congo policy analyst and report co-author. “The lack of accountability for war crimes including the murder of civilians, rape, plunder, and extortion is one of the key obstacles to creating an environment for peace and development in eastern Congo.”

I believe the ICC and the international community should work much harder with local partners to begin to hold perpetrators accountable, tackle impunity, and bring an ounce of justice to victims and survivors in the DRC.

BURMA

Burma’s on the surface changes are twofold. On the one hand Burma has headed toward reform and cease-fires reached with ethnic insurgents, and unprecedented open discussion about human rights violations, including in Kachin State where fighting since last June has displaced 70,000 people. However, on the other hand, the Burmese army is acting no better than it has in the past six decades, with reports of sexual violence, use of forced labor and firing on civilians.

“With all the changes happening in central Burma, it’s quite alarming that the military has shown absolutely no compunction to change its behavior,” Human Rights Watch senior researcher, David Mathieson told the Wilson Center.

Mathieson also noted less-documented rights abuses by some ethnic armed groups against their own people, including use of child soldiers—rampant too in the national army—and executions of Burma prisoners of war. It goes to show that although Burma’s release of prominent political prisoners is a step towards change, Burma has a long way to go as sporadic fighting and lack of accord between Kachin rebels and Burmese government leaves thousands of civilians in makeshift camp on the Chinese border.

Is Khartoum’s “New Strategy” the “final solution” for the Darfur problem?

Hi everyone,

Yesterday I had mixed feelings after seeing the following Facebook post from Ambassador Susan Rice. “Back from #Sudan. Situation very worrying. Parties have lots of work ahead. US will continue to do all we can to support peace and justice.”

I think many of us have known, and for quite a long time now, that the situation in Sudan is “very worrying”.  If ever there was a time to stay engaged, following the many ever-changing developments, the time is now.

If you haven’t seen it yet, make sure to check out the recent piece by Eric Reeves:  Accommodating Genocide: The International Response to Khartoum’s “New Strategy for Darfur”.  With so much uncertainty surrounding the upcoming referendum in Sudan, we have decided to hold an event in November that will allow us to hear directly from members of the local Sudanese community.  For now, please save the evening of Saturday, November 13th on your calendars and we will send full details soon.

Lastly, please note the International Criminal Court Alliance Annual Meeting from 4-7p this coming Thursday, October 14th .  The program entitled, “Will the New Changes to the ICC Treaty Make it Easier for the U.S. to Join?” (see details below) will include Gillian Sorensen, formerly United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for External Relations, now Senior Advisor/National Advocate at the United Nations Foundation as keynote speaker.   A panel discussion with Cesare P.R. Romano (Professor of Law and W. Joseph Ford Fellow at Loyola Law School), David Kaye (the Executive Director of the International Human Rights Program at UCLA Law School and Director of its International Justice Clinic), and Gillian Sorensen, will be moderated by Edwin “Rip” Smith (Professor of Law at USC Law Center), and much more.

Thank you.

Barbara English
Orange County for Darfur, a project of Living Ubuntu
ocfordarfur.org | blog | facebook

PS: Our next OCFD meeting is tomorrow, Tuesday October 12th at 6:30p. Hope you can join us!

oct 2010 flyer

OC For Darfur meeting is on Tuesday, August 31 at 6:30p

Hi everyone,

Omar Bashir snubs ICC arrest warrant, visits Kenya

Omar Bashir snubs ICC arrest warrant, visits Kenya

Just yesterday, Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir visited Kenya to celebrate the country’s new constitution. This was yet another chance to arrest and bring him to justice. Did the United States, Brazil and other major European governments know about this? How will they respond to this clear snub of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the UN Security Council?

The next OC For Darfur meeting this Tuesday, August 31st at 6:30p. We will meet at Patty’s office in Newport Beach. Here is the address:

Patty’s office @ 6:30p
2424 SE Bristol Street, Suite 300
Newport Beach, CA 92660


We will discuss:

  • Update on what’s going on in Sudan, Congo and Burma.
  • Planning for the screening of The Greatest Silence in September.
  • Potential event featuring the Sudanese from San Diego in November.
  • The United States and the International Criminal Court (ICC).

If you’d like to know more about us and our various activities, please join us at the meeting. We would love to have you participate.

Barbara & Anshul
Orange County for Darfur, a project of Living Ubuntu
ocfordarfur.org | calendar | blog | facebook

The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo

The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo


“Why is this happening? Why use sex in order to humiliate and defeat someone? To threaten someone so they flee their village? Why use sex? This is the monstrosity of the century.”
- Dr. Denis Mukwege, Panzi Hospital

Sunday, September 19 2010
6:30p refreshments
7:00p screening & discussion

Mesa Verde United Methodist Church

1701 W. Baker St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Cost:
Free

Since 1998 a brutal war has been raging in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Over 5 million people have died. Tens of thousands of women and girls who have been systematically kidnapped, raped, mutilated and tortured by soldiers from both foreign militias and the Congolese army. Why doesn’t the world know about these women? Why do they suffer in silence?

Visit http://livingubuntu.org/events for more information.
Please help us in planning for the event and RSVP on the website.

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