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.

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.

OC For Darfur planning meeting is this Tuesday, February 2nd

Hi everyone,

This Wedneday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) will issue a long awaited ruling on whether Sudanese President, Omar Al-Bashir committed genocide against citizens of his own country. Last year, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Bashir for crimes against humanity and murder, but decided that the evidence presented by chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo did not meet the “threshold required by Genocide convention and Rome Statue to establish that the gravest crime [genocide] has been committed in Darfur.”

Many of us eagerly await this ruling as it will certainly have an impact on the elections in Sudan in April. Click here to read the entire article.

Our next planning meeting is this Tuesday, February 2nd 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 Darfur, Congo and Burma.
  • Planning for the documentary screening of “God Grew Tired of Us” this Thursday.
  • Orange County Walk Against Genocide in April.
  • What should we do to commemorate Genocide Prevention month in April?

If you’d like to get involved and help with the planning of any of these activities, I hope you will join us :)

See you on Tuesday.

Anshul Mittal
Orange County for Darfur
ocfordarfur.org | calendar | photos | shop | blog | facebook | twitter

Screening of The Reckoning (Saturday, Sep 19th)

Hi everyone,

For those of us who follow the Darfur crisis, we hear constantly about the ICC (International Criminal Court) and it’s chief prosecutor, Mr. Luis Moreno-Ocampo (I’m a huge fan).  Yet, I knew so little about the behind-the-scenes story of how the court was formed.

PBS recently aired this fantastic documentary about the court — The Reckoning.  And we’ve secured rights to hold a free screening this month on Saturday, Sep 19th in Irvine.  All details are below.

Many thanks to Peggy and Bridgette for doing all the work in organizing this screening. I hope you will join us.

Anshul Mittal
Orange County for Darfur
ocfordarfur.org | blog | calendar | shop | latest updates | photos

The Reckoning: Battle for the International Criminal Court

The Reckoning: Battle for the ICC

presented by

Orange County for Darfur
Amnesty International, Irvine Chaper

Saturday, Sept 19th 2009
7:00p

Irvine Ranch Water District
15600 Sand Canyon Av.
Irvine, CA 92618

Click here to watch the trailer

An epic, nail-biting account of the new International Criminal Court’s struggle to prosecute perpetrators — however powerful or concealed they may be — of crimes against humanity as the Court fights to establish its own credibility on the world stage.  The film was an Official Selection of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Please visit http://livingubuntu.org/events for more information.  RSVPs greatly appreciated.

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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.

The Reckoning, a new documentary on the ICC premieres in July

“The Reckoning” by Pamela Yates, follows dynamic ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and his team for three years across four continents as he issues arrest warrants for Lord’s Resistance Army leaders in Uganda, puts Congolese warlords on trial, shakes up the Colombian justice system, and charges Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir with genocide in Darfur.

Watch the trailer below.

In this place killers go unpunished.  Without justice, people have no respect for each other.  If this is left unpunished, it will happen again.

This documentary was the official selection of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.  And it premieres on PBS on Tuesday, July 14thCheck your local listings.

You cannot have lasting peace without justice.


The Reckoning (official website)

See the broadcast schedule on PBS.

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.

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