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Why there’s no need to panic on UN peacekeeping cuts

IRIN Gender - Fri, 03/24/2017 - 09:47

Fears are growing that the UN will be forced to drastically cut peacekeeping missions at President Donald Trump’s behest. Fortunately, it's a lot more complicated than that. First, Trump has to get his proposed budget through the US Congress and then, even if he does, where and when to cut the presence of blue helmets around the globe relies on tricky diplomatic manoeuvring and careful navigation of the UN's bureaucratic roadblocks. 

The current UN peacekeeping budget, for the year ending 30 June, 2017, is $7.78 billion. The US provides 28.57 percent of this budget, followed by China and Japan at around 10 percent, then Germany, France, and the UK.

The budget officially proposed by the Trump administration would significantly reduce financing to the State Department, international aid, and the financing of international organisations, including the UN. The so-called “skinny” budget contains only a few lines that directly reference peacekeeping. Namely, the US “would not contribute more than 25 percent for UN peacekeeping costs”.

However, the US Congress already caps American’s peacekeeping assessment level at 25 percent. To meet its marginally higher existing obligations, that cap must be waived every year. “Trump is not creating this – it exists already,” pointed out Paul D. Williams, associate professor of international affairs at George Washington University.

Recent reports suggest that the Trump administration wants to cut far deeper than the 25 percent ceiling, ripping as much as 40 percent from the $2.2 billion annual US contribution. A decrease from 28.57 percent to under 25 percent amounts to around $280 million. Incidentally, this is almost precisely the figure a 2014/15 UN Board of Auditors’ report identified as the total amount funded but not being spent by missions. A 40 percent cut would take roughly $1 billion from the UN's peacekeeping budget and reduce the US share, at existing levels, to more like 17-18 percent.

The UN has often faced threats from American politicians, but this time the White House has telegraphed a clear intent to follow through on its promises: “We’re absolutely reducing funding to the UN and to various foreign aid programmes,” said Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director.

“We should look at all 16 of them,” US ambassador Nikki Haley said at her confirmation hearing, referring to the number of blue-helmet missions around the world (14 are funded through the assessed peacekeeping budget). Haley will chair a 6 April meeting at the UN Security Council about the future of those peacekeeping missions. A letter she sent to Council members asks: "are current missions still 'fit for purpose?'"

"Council members are encouraged to review missions and identify areas where mandates no longer match political realities and propose alternatives or paths towards restructuring to bring missions more in line with achievable outcomes," wrote the US mission. The letter, obtained by IRIN, asks many of the same questions already being posed by Council members – what to do "where there is no political process to support"; how to guard against mission creep; or whether it is "advisable, or even possible, to operate a mision without the strategic consent of the host government".

Even if a far larger proposed cut does emerge when Trump’s more detailed budget is released in May, the reality is that it is Congress that ultimately decides the budget, not the White House. Many Republicans already balked at the proposed cuts, especially at the State Department, and the president is already locked in a major congressional battle over healthcare reform.

"I do not anticipate that Congress will approve the UN-related provisions in the president’s budget without major revisions,” Peter Yeo of the UN Foundation told IRIN. "There are many congressional champions who appreciate peacekeeping, and want to ensure full-funding.

Experts reserve their deepest concern for reductions in US financing to other UN programming, including UNICEF. “I think the proposed cuts to the UN’s humanitarian, climate and human rights work will have a far more negative impact,” said Cedric de Coning, senior research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.

No one knows exactly how things will play out at this stage. For one, the White House has yet to even brief Congress on its budget proposals for the State Department. 

“Depending on how all this shakes out, the cuts could end up being quite enormous across the various agencies and the UN itself,” Bathsheba Crocker, assistant secretary of international organisation affairs at the State Department during President Barack Obama’s administration, told IRIN. “I think we all need to be girding ourselves for that possibility.”

But when it comes to peacekeeping, the US cannot pick and choose which missions it wants to fund.

What each member state owes as a portion of the peacekeeping budget is determined every three years. The US share, like that of other countries, won’t be renegotiated until late 2018. That means that if the US cuts funding to 25 percent of the peacekeeping budget – regardless of what the total budget is – it will be in arrears for the first time in nearly a decade, according to the UN Foundation.

America’s own federal budget won’t be passed for nearly a year. The UN’s peacekeeping budget, meanwhile, will be renewed at the beginning of July. “This cycle is rarely aligned with the Security Council mandate” of each peacekeeping mission, the UN’s website notes.

"This is an attack on an institution based on prejudice and ignorance."

All of these built in lags – at times criticised as roadblocks to simplifying UN bureaucracy – could now serve as buffers. New UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has already committed himself to deep reforms and will look to carefully decide how and where best to trim.

Some Security Council diplomats say there is room to make missions work better, and that could mean some cuts in funding – though such efforts may now be associated with the White House, where top officials have shown contempt for the UN as an institution. "There is an opportunity to have a tougher approach with the UN on where they spend their money, using money as an incentive for reform,” insisted one non-American Security Council diplomat. If the US approves deep funding cuts without a parallel re-assessment at the UN, diplomats may be less sympathetic. 

US reviews of peacekeeping missions, noted de Coning, “will probably prompt the UN Secretariat to also do its own internal reviews, and other member states, especially those in the Security Council, will also need to form their own opinions, and have a basis for doing so.”

“This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is always good to be under pressure to review your goals, objectives, effectiveness, and efficiencies,” he added. “The proposed cut to 25 percent will be politically symbolically important for the US, but the real reduction in costs would come from pressure to bring down the overall $8 billion budget.”

Others point to the fact that peacekeeping is hugely cost effective for countries like the US. As one recent analysis points out, the US pays $2.1 million every year for each servicemember deployed in a war zone; the equivalent figure for a deployed UN peacekeeper is $24,500.

“I think this budget proposal reveals this administration’s slash-and-burn approach to the UN is ideological,” Williams. “It is not the product of a thoughtful review process carried out and then implemented to find sensible reforms. This is an attack on an institution based on prejudice and ignorance.”

“Such cuts would mean the UN Security Council would not be able to achieve a range of objectives it authorised in the name of maintaining international peace and security,” he added.

But several missions were already in the process of shutting down or transitioning to a smaller footprint, so efficiencies can also be made, even if they don’t make the kind of dent in spending that the White House appears intent on achieving.

“There are actually quite a lot of straightforward ways to shrink the peacekeeping budget by reasonably high amounts in the next several years,” said Richard Gowan, an associate fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations who focuses on the UN.

IRIN took a look at the options, mission by mission:

Cutting and shrinking


UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has recommended that the mission in Haiti be drawn down and replaced with a smaller UN presence by October of this year. That move is complicated both by disagreements over what the new presence would entail – or if there should be one at all – and the UN’s ongoing response to a cholera epidemic that its own peacekeepers introduced in 2011. A trust fund set up to finance the UN’s $400 million cholera response strategy currently contains just $2 million. MINUSTAH’s current mandate will expire in less than one month – on 15 April.

Currently, there are nearly 5,000 uniformed personnel deployed, including 2,370 military and 2,601 police. An additional 1,245 civilian personnel are in the country, according to the Department of Peacekeeping. The mission’s budget is currently $345.9 million.

UNOCI – Cote D’Ivoire

In April 2016, the UN Security Council voted to close down UNOCI by June of this year, and lifted an arms embargo on the country, and travel bans. By 30 April, all uniformed and civilian personnel are to leave the country. The mission’s budget for the fiscal year ending June 2017 is $153 million.

UNMIL – Liberia

After more than 13 years, the UN’s mission in Liberia will close at the end of March. Its approved budget through this year was $187 million.

Maximum overall savings: $685.9 million

The Big Missions

The UN’s five most expensive missions are MONUSCO, deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; UNMISS, deployed in South Sudan; UNAMID, deployed in Darfur, Sudan; MINUSMA, deployed in Mali; and MINUSCA, deployed in the Central African Republic. Together, the five missions soak up more than $5.2 billion, or two-thirds of the entire peacekeeping budget.

In order for significant cuts to be made, “you have to see some major changes to existing missions like CAR or Mali or DR Congo,” said Peter Yeo of the UN Foundation. “If you want to get serious numbers,” said Crocker, “it’s very hard to do without these big missions taking some hits.”

MONUSCO – The Democratic Republic of Congo

The UN’s mission in the DRC is its most expensive peacekeeping operation, with an approved budget of $1.23 billion. Nearly 19,000 peacekeepers are deployed in the country, and Guterres recently requested that the Security Council send 320 additional police to handle election-related unrest. The Council meets in March to consider mandate renewal. It could be a first sign of how Haley’s US mission plans to throw its weight around. But it may also be too soon to gauge, with the ink on the White House budget barely dry, and little sense of how Congress will proceed. Recent violence and the disappearance of two UN experts and their teams have ratcheted concerns.

At the Security Council, France has circulated a draft resolution to renew the mandate. Last week, France’s UN ambassador Francoise Delattre said he was open to “negotiations aimed at reforming MONUSCO,” as long as they remained focused on protection of civilians and preparing for elections. “We should not be playing with fire when it comes to such high stakes,” he added.

"What commitments should the Council expect of countries hosting UN peace operations where the UN is helping the government to establish its authority throughout its territory," asked the US note, specifically referring to MONUSCO, as well as missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Somalia. 

“Negotiations around MONUSCO are going to be the first evidence of how these battles play out,” said Akshaya Kumar, deputy UN director at Human Rights Watch. “In many ways you need MONUSCO to do more, not less, in the coming year. Slimming down the mission at the same time as the country is gearing up for elections could be really problematic.”

“My guess is that the DRC mission will stay in some capacity, although the government pretty much wants it to leave,” assessed David Curran, a peacekeeping research fellow at Coventry University.

UNAMID – Darfur, Sudan

UNAMID is the UN’s second costliest mission, and its first hybrid deployment. 2017 marks the 10-year anniversary of the joint UN-African Union enterprise, and at an annual price tag of $1.03 billion, it has been one of the “most expensive endeavors ever conducted” by the organisation. Beset by scandals and an inability – some say unwillingness – to operate freely, the mission has long been under pressure. UN officials say it is not always easy to quantify the return on investment for UNAMID – a metric the US now appears bent on amplifying. In a region historically vulnerable to genocide, it acts as a deterrent (a weak one, critics say) and provides leverage against the government in Khartoum. Several Security Council diplomats told IRIN that UNAMID needs at the very least to be reformed.

The 16,000-strong mission is currently mandated through June 2017. “It may be the case that the calls for UNAMID to leave are more open now than ever before,” said David Curran, a peacekeeping research fellow at Coventry University.

“It is a very troubled mission for sure; it is also a very troubled part of the world,” offered Crocker. The Security Council, she said, “should make sure that any decisions that are made about downsizing the mission are made on a realistic strategic assessment of the needs on the ground.”

Several diplomats suggested that the US may negotiate hard on UNAMID, potentially raising the threat – perhaps feigned – of vetoing its renewal.

“I would imagine Darfur (UNAMID) may receive the most attention as the protection situation there is perhaps less acute than in DRC and South Sudan,” said de Coning.

UNMISS – South Sudan

Authorised on 8 July, 2011 – one day before South Sudan became independent – the mission’s task changed drastically following the outbreak of civil war in December 2013. Today, the mission protects a quarter of a million displaced South Sudanese civilians at its bases, including more than 120,000 just in Bentiu, the capital of Unity State. The mission has been censured for previous failures to intervene in violence against civilians and aid workers.

It would be hard to rationalise shutting down a mission in a country where UN officials have repeatedly highlighted the threat of genocide, and where famine has been declared in some areas. But UNMISS may find its funding at risk simply because of the need to find ways of overall tightening.

With an approved budget of $1.08 billion, UNMISS is the second most expensive UN mission. According to State Department figures, the US financed the mission in 2016 to the tune of $315.47 million. The UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) reports that 12,923 uniformed personnel are currently deployed, along with 1,973 civilians. In December 2016, the mission’s mandate was renewed and the Security Council reaffirmed the authorisation of a 4,000-member “Regional Protection Force”. That force has yet to be allowed into the country, underscoring the impasse.


The UN’s peacekeeping mission in Mali is one of its most expensive – and also one of the deadliest. More than 70 peacekeepers have been killed since MINUSMA’s deployment in July 2013, following French intervention against extremists and rebel groups. Blue helmets are targeted by and involved in fights with regional al-Qaeda affiliates and other extremists. Currently, more than 13,000 peacekeepers are deployed.

Because of the mission’s counter-terrorism role, some diplomats consider it better safeguarded from cuts than other deployments. It is also relatively new by UN standards. In February, Canada reportedly delayed deployment of its peacekeepers to the country because it was wary of US plans across all missions. “The overall security situation remains worrying,” UN peacekeeping chief Hervé Ladsous said last week during a visit.

MINUSMA will cost $933 million in the fiscal year ending June 2017.

MINUSCA – Central African Republic

A mission notorious for rampant sexual abuse among its peacekeepers, some diplomats consider MINUSCA too recently created for large scale retrenchment. Deployed in April 2014, there are currently more than 12,000 peacekeepers in the country. MINUSCA will cost roughly $920 million this year.

On 16 March, Haley met with Faustin-Archange Touadéra, president of the Central African Republic. According to a readout, she expressed America’s “commitment” to both MINUSCA and “how to make it as efficient and effective as possible.” In a speech before the Security Council on the same day, deputy US representative Michele Sison also largely endorsed the mission; repeating that America wanted to make “MINUSCA an even more efficient and more effective peacekeeping mission”. She did note the sexual exploitation and abuse tied to the mission, but did not criticise its staffing.

The current mandate expires in November 2017.

Annemieke Vanderploeg/UNMISS Chinese peacekeeper in South Sudan   Other Missions

UNIFIL – Lebanon

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has been deployed in the country since 1978. Its mandate has changed several times, most recently after the 2006 Lebanon War involving Israel. UNIFIL was subsequently expanded by the Security Council. Rarely mentioned in the press, its presence and price tag are not small: 11,425 UN personnel, including 10,577 troops, are currently deployed. The mission currently has an approved budget of $488 million.

When UNIFIL’s mandate was last renewed, in June 2016, the Security Council requested that the secretary-general conduct a strategic review. Delivered on 9 March, it recommended reductions in the number of maritime crew personnel deployed by the mission, from 1,200 to 900, and that helicopters be flown less. Larger cuts were not outlined, although the review reiterated that “UNIFIL should continue to optimise its staffing complement and resources to support the effective and cost-efficient implementation of its mandate.”

UNISFA – Abyei

The United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei was deployed in June 2011. Set up as an interim force, the current mission costs a sizeable $268.5 million. More than 5,300 military personnel are deployed. The current mandate runs through May of 2017. Much of the Security Council’s attention has been drawn to the other more expensive missions in the Sudans – UNAMID and UNMISS.

UNMIK – Kosovo

The UN’s mission in Kosovo, deployed since 1999, costs $36 million per year. In a February report, Guterres supported the continued resourcing of the mission, which he said “in it’s current configuration, is well suited to respond to challenges on the ground.” But the US representative told the Security Council in February: “we believe UNMIK is over-resourced and overstaffed in comparison with its limited responsibilities.”

UNFICYP – Cyprus

Amid negotiations between Turkish and Greek Cypriot representatives, the UN in January approved a six-month extension of the mission there. One of the UN’s oldest missions, UNFICYP costs a modest $55 million per year.

UNMOGIP - India/Pakistan

The United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan is one of the smallest peacekeeping operations. Only 111 total personnel are deployed; the budget through 2017 is $21 million.

UNTSO – Middle East

The United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) is the UN’s oldest current peacekeeping mission. Founded in 1948, today it assists other deployments in the region. Its budget for the fiscal year ending in 2017 is $68 million.

MINURSO – Western Sahara

The UN’s mission in Western Sahara was created in 1991. Last year, it was the center of controversy when then secretary-general Ban Ki-moon referred to the Moroccan “occupation” of the territory. Today, the mission is involved in ceasefire monitoring and supporting local families. Current strength is around 480 personnel, including 241 peacekeepers. Its budget through mid-2017 is $56 million.

UNDOF - Golan Heights

UNDOF was mandated in 1974 to supervise disengagement between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights. Since 2013, fighting inside Syria has forced most of its peacekeepers into Israeli-controlled territory. The mission currently deploys around 830 peacekeepers, at a cost of $47 million per year. Its mandate was renewed in December until 30 June, 2017.


A look at the options, mission by mission Why there’s no need to panic on UN peacekeeping cuts 201409190935360772.jpg Samuel Oakford Analysis Conflict Human Rights Politics and Economics UNITED NATIONS IRIN Africa DRC Somalia South Sudan Sudan Liberia Mali Haiti Global Middle East and North Africa
Categories: Gender Parity

Raped, injected with poison, entire family murdered: One woman's story in CAR

IRIN Gender - Thu, 03/23/2017 - 10:07

The first time the Séléka rebels captured Danielle* she was visiting the shallow grave where her husband, father, and brothers were all buried. Danielle had witnessed the rebels kill the men outside her home just a few hours earlier. When she returned to show her mother what had happened, the fighters – still lingering outside – turned on her.

“They took me to the bush, where I stayed for almost two weeks with my hands tied behind my back,” she says. “Every day, they raped and brutalised us.”

Eventually, Danielle managed to escape from the rebels, but they soon caught her again. Back in the bush in Bambari, a market town in Central African Republic’s Ouaka Province, the fighters filled up a syringe and injected her with poison.

“Sometimes, my body smells very bad,” she says, peeling back her t-shirt to reveal a thick surgical scar snaking down her stomach.

Almost three years on, the memory is still hard to bear. Sitting on a brown, flowery sofa at a legal aid clinic run by the American Bar Association in CAR’s capital, Bangui, the 31-year-old weeps in front of her lawyer, Guy Galabaja. 

Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN

“This is a war crime,” says Galabaja, 51.

Sitting next to Danielle, three other women from different parts of the country share similarly horrific stories.

They are all survivors of sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated by the Séléka – a predominantly Muslim coalition of rebel groups from the north, who overthrew former president François Bozizé in a coup in March 2013 – and the anti-balaka, a network of Christian self-defence militias that rose up in response (Since its formal dissolution in 2014 the rebel coalition is now often referred to as “ex-Seleka”).

The battle for justice

While a small number of victims of the ensuing conflict have since found lawyers and had their cases filed with the national prosecutor, the search for justice in CAR remains an uphill struggle.

According to figures from Amnesty International, the UN’s peacekeeping force in CAR, MINUSCA, has helped arrest 384 suspects following warrants from the country’s prosecutor. But barely any have been high-ranking members of Séléka or anti-balaka.

Part of the problem is a lack of resources.

“The judiciary system has been destroyed, the infrastructure has been destroyed, and the personnel that worked in the justice system have fled,” explained Adrien Nifasha, a Burundian lawyer working with the NGO Avocats Sans Frontières.

There is also an absence of political will. One of the few senior figures to be arrested since the conflict began was Jean-Francis Bozizé, former minister for defence and son of the deposed president. 

After returning from exile, Bozizé fils (son) was arrested by MINUSCA but released just a few days later by the national authorities. Since then he has been networking among various anti-balaka groups, according to the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts.

For Didier Niewiadowski, a French jurist and former advisor at the French embassy in Bangui, the Bozizé affair reveals just how deeply “the Central African authorities fear losing their lucrative positions by questioning anti-balaka and former Séléka leaders”.

More explicit cases of corruption are occurring as well. One senior lawyer interviewed by IRIN says he was forced to abandon two recent cases involving perpetrators of rape and child abuse after receiving threatening phone calls from “high-level people”.

“It’s clear there is corruption and not just in Bangui,” he says. “In a context where there is poverty and people are not well paid, [legal officials] will use their positions to get resources”.

Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN Site of the SCC still operating as the High Court Hybrid help?

To help rebuild public trust, the country’s pre-election, transitional government ordered the creation of a Special Criminal Court back in May 2015.

Like previous courts in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, East Timor, and Kosovo, the SCC will have national and international staff and apply a blend of national and international law.

If things go well its hybrid structure will mean “the justice that is served will ultimately be closer to the communities affected by violence”, says Mark Kersten, international criminal justice consultant at the Munk School of Global Affairs.

Tasked with prosecuting genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity dating back to 2003, experts also hope the SCC will complement the work of the International Criminal Court, which has two investigations active in CAR but is expected to indict just a handful of people.

When it opens, it will be the first example of a hybrid court working alongside the ICC in the same country. Almost two years after the law establishing the new court was promulgated however, evidence of progress is hard to find. The building earmarked for the SCC – a faded, modernist relic in downtown Bangui – is still operating as the country’s High Court.

Asked when he expects it to be operational, Joe Londoumon, president of the SCC’s organisational committee, sighs and looks up at the ceiling of his office, across the road from where the court will eventually be based.

“I don’t know yet,” he says. “The judicial police is not yet in place, so for now there are no investigations. Even the building where the SCC will operate hasn’t been set up.”

One of the main challenges facing the SCC will be funding. While $5 million of the $7 million required for the court’s first 14 months has been provided, according to figures from Amnesty International, its future revenue will depend on piecemeal, voluntary contributions. A similarly unpredictable funding structure used for the Special Court in Sierra Leone left it chronically underfunded.

The fog of war

An even greater problem is CAR’s ongoing conflict. Like their counterparts at the ICC – yet to issue a single arrest warrant despite opening a new investigation in September 2014 – SCC investigators will face the unenviable challenge of how to access vast parts of the country where war crimes have and continue to be committed.

“We are not talking about a post-conflict situation,” says Pierre Hazan, special advisor in transitional justice with the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Geneva. “We are in a war. If [investigators] want to meet people, collect evidence, protect witnesses, how are they going to do that? It makes the whole thing extremely ambitious.”

For Londoumon, the solution is obvious: “My hope is that these rebels will be disarmed so we can catch them,” he says, referring to the government’s ongoing disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) programme.

But simultaneously disarming and prosecuting rebels isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. Since the 1990s – when the contemporary international criminal justice system was born in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda – scholars have agonised over an apparent tension between peace and justice.

Intervening after conflicts with decisive victors such as was the case with the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals, created by the Allied powers in the wake of World War II, is one thing. But in active conflicts, some fear the presence of international prosecutors can turn belligerents away from peace negotiations.

While rebel groups in CAR have complex incentives for remaining violent, with the DDR programme stalling, “there is a risk,” says Richard Moncrief, Central Africa project director for the International Crisis Group, “that the process of negotiation around disarmament becomes bogged down and justice, including through the Special Criminal Court, accelerates.”

“That creates a very strong disincentive for people to enter the disarmament programme because they are already being targeted by the justice system,” he adds.

Outside his house in Boy Rabe, a notorious anti-balaka neighbourhood in Bangui’s fourth district, Judicael Moganazou, the spokesman for one faction of the group, says the debate is academic.

“If some of the people know that today they are going to be disarmed and then tomorrow they are going to be prosecuted by the international community or local judges, then they won’t drop their guns,” he says.

Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN Ex-Seleka rebels in Bambari Finding a way

Whatever progress the SCC and ICC do make, the mass criminality that swept through CAR means neither is likely to be sufficient.

Searching for fresh ideas, last year Hazan joined a delegation of Central Africans to Rwanda where 9,000 community-based “Gacaca” courts sprung up across the country in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide.

While they’ve been criticised by some human rights groups, the courts played an important role in post-conflict Rwanda, focusing not just on retributive justice but on truth recovery and national reconciliation.

A mandate for CAR’s own Truth and Reconciliation Commission was adopted by the transitional government in May 2015.

“The basic concept is to address the needs of victims,” Hazan explains. “You need to address what people have been through over the past few years and create a narrative that is acceptable along the spectrum of public opinion.”

No progress has been made to date, however, and in the context of open conflict, building an effective commission won’t be easy.

“People talk a lot about reconciliation, but the tensions and the mistrust are absolutely still there,” says author and anthropologist Louisa Lombard. “The idea that Muslims are not real Central Africans is still present, as is the idea that justice should be a way to punish ‘bad people, but not us because we were just fighting for our own rights’”.

Back at ABA’s legal aid clinic, it’s just 10am but almost every seat is taken. The road to justice may look impassable, but in a country where so few victims receive any kind of support, the women here remain hopeful that some, albeit limited form of justice, can still be served.

“Even if they don’t find the people who committed this crime, at least I will go to the courts and publicly tell people what happened,” says Marie, who was raped by three Séléka fighters in a graveyard in Bangui three years ago. 

“I will explain to them what is in my heart,” she adds, fighting back tears.

*Names have been changed.

(TOP PHOTO: Abuse survivor sits at a legal aid clinic run by the American Bar Association in CAR’s capital, Bangui. CREDIT: Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN)


Raped, injected with poison, entire family murdered: One woman's story in CAR michelle_ngoakouzou_2.jpg Philip Kleinfeld Feature Conflict Human Rights BANGUI IRIN Africa Central African Republic The battle for justice

While a small number of victims of the ensuing conflict have since found lawyers and had their cases filed with the national prosecutor, the search for justice in CAR remains an uphill struggle.

According to figures from Amnesty International, the UN’s peacekeeping force in CAR, MINUSCA, has helped arrest 384 suspects following warrants from the country’s prosecutor. But barely any have been high-ranking members of Séléka or anti-balaka.

Part of the problem is a lack of resources.

“The judiciary system has been destroyed, the infrastructure has been destroyed, and the personnel that worked in the justice system have fled,” explained Adrien Nifasha, a Burundian lawyer working with the NGO Avocats Sans Frontières.

There is also an absence of political will. One of the few senior figures to be arrested since the conflict began was Jean-Francis Bozizé, former minister for defence and son of the deposed president. 

After returning from exile, Bozizé fils (son) was arrested by MINUSCA but released just a few days later by the national authorities. Since then he has been networking among various anti-balaka groups, according to the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts.

For Didier Niewiadowski, a French jurist and former advisor at the French embassy in Bangui, the Bozizé affair reveals just how deeply “the Central African authorities fear losing their lucrative positions by questioning anti-balaka and former Séléka leaders”.

More explicit cases of corruption are occurring as well. One senior lawyer interviewed by IRIN says he was forced to abandon two recent cases involving perpetrators of rape and child abuse after receiving threatening phone calls from “high-level people”.

“It’s clear there is corruption and not just in Bangui,” he says. “In a context where there is poverty and people are not well paid, [legal officials] will use their positions to get resources”.

Hybrid help?

To help rebuild public trust, the country’s pre-election, transitional government ordered the creation of a Special Criminal Court back in May 2015.

Like previous courts in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, East Timor, and Kosovo, the SCC will have national and international staff and apply a blend of national and international law.

If things go well its hybrid structure will mean “the justice that is served will ultimately be closer to the communities affected by violence”, says Mark Kersten, international criminal justice consultant at the Munk School of Global Affairs.

Tasked with prosecuting genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity dating back to 2003, experts also hope the SCC will complement the work of the International Criminal Court, which has two investigations active in CAR but is expected to indict just a handful of people.

When it opens, it will be the first example of a hybrid court working alongside the ICC in the same country. Almost two years after the law establishing the new court was promulgated however, evidence of progress is hard to find. The building earmarked for the SCC – a faded, modernist relic in downtown Bangui – is still operating as the country’s High Court.

Asked when he expects it to be operational, Joe Londoumon, president of the SCC’s organisational committee, sighs and looks up at the ceiling of his office, across the road from where the court will eventually be based.

“I don’t know yet,” he says. “The judicial police is not yet in place, so for now there are no investigations. Even the building where the SCC will operate hasn’t been set up.”

One of the main challenges facing the SCC will be funding. While $5 million of the $7 million required for the court’s first 14 months has been provided, according to figures from Amnesty International, its future revenue will depend on piecemeal, voluntary contributions. A similarly unpredictable funding structure used for the Special Court in Sierra Leone left it chronically underfunded.

The fog of war

An even greater problem is CAR’s ongoing conflict. Like their counterparts at the ICC – yet to issue a single arrest warrant despite opening a new investigation in September 2014 – SCC investigators will face the unenviable challenge of how to access vast parts of the country where war crimes have and continue to be committed.

“We are not talking about a post-conflict situation,” says Pierre Hazan, special advisor in transitional justice with the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Geneva. “We are in a war. If [investigators] want to meet people, collect evidence, protect witnesses, how are they going to do that? It makes the whole thing extremely ambitious.”

For Londoumon, the solution is obvious: “My hope is that these rebels will be disarmed so we can catch them,” he says, referring to the government’s ongoing disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) programme.

But simultaneously disarming and prosecuting rebels isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. Since the 1990s – when the contemporary international criminal justice system was born in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda – scholars have agonised over an apparent tension between peace and justice.

Intervening after conflicts with decisive victors such as was the case with the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals, created by the Allied powers in the wake of World War II, is one thing. But in active conflicts, some fear the presence of international prosecutors can turn belligerents away from peace negotiations.

While rebel groups in CAR have complex incentives for remaining violent, with the DDR programme stalling, “there is a risk,” says Richard Moncrief, Central Africa project director for the International Crisis Group, “that the process of negotiation around disarmament becomes bogged down and justice, including through the Special Criminal Court, accelerates.”

“That creates a very strong disincentive for people to enter the disarmament programme because they are already being targeted by the justice system,” he adds.

Outside his house in Boy Rabe, a notorious anti-balaka neighbourhood in Bangui’s fourth district, Judicael Moganazou, the spokesman for one faction of the group, says the debate is academic.

“If some of the people know that today they are going to be disarmed and then tomorrow they are going to be prosecuted by the international community or local judges, then they won’t drop their guns,” he says.

Categories: Gender Parity

How a gold mine has brought only misery in Liberia

IRIN Gender - Tue, 03/21/2017 - 08:55

The maths was merciless. Siah* had the equivalent of $5 in her pocket but needed $15 to treat her youngest son Joseph’s malaria. She had travelled an hour to the nearest clinic only to discover she couldn’t afford the medicine. Joseph died that day, as she cradled him in her arms.


Siah lives in Kinjor, a small town in the lush forests of western Liberia. Just a few steps from her home, Liberia’s largest commercial gold mine, New Liberty Gold, plans to dig out a billion dollars-worth of the precious metal.


The Liberian government and its multilateral funding partners see commercial mining as a path to development in a country still recovering from the impact of 11 years of civil war.


Under the law, communities are obliged to give up their land rights and move, in return for compensation. But IRIN’s months-long investigation can reveal that financial reward isn’t always forthcoming from the foreign mining operations.


To make way for New Liberty Gold, 325 families in two villages, Kinjor and Larjor, had to abandon their homes, farms, and artisanal mines that had provided some income. In return for their move to a new village, also named Kinjor, and carved out of the forest near the mine, the company promised to make life better: new houses, a school, hand pumps – and what could have made all the difference to Joseph – a clinic. 


Construction began on the mine in 2014, and the first gold sales came a year later. Even though the company describes the operation as a “key asset”, the promised better amenities are yet to materialise years later, and there has already been one major chemical spill that has polluted the environment.


New Liberty Gold has the backing of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, which since 2014 invested $19 million and became a key shareholder. That support was predicated on a 155-page Resettlement Action Plan by the company, which listed its planned $3.9 million investments in the new Kinjor.


During the IFC board meeting that approved the mining project, the US delegate formally raised “serious concerns” regarding “the environmental and social risks posed”. The US urged the IFC “to work with the company to ensure that all appropriate funds are set aside for this [resettlement] plan”.

The cost of “progress”? photo-1-main-road-of-kinjor-dscf2067.jpg Emmanuel Freudenthal and Alloycious David Investigations Health Human Rights Politics and Economics KINJOR Liberia IRIN Africa West Africa Liberia Hundreds of families forced to make way for New Liberty Gold mine The World Bank is a key shareholder in the multi-million-dollar project The promised resettlement package remains largely undelivered A March 2016 accident released arsenic, cyanide into nearby river Dead fish, skin rashes reported by local riverside communities Responsibility hard to pin down due to opaque offshore ownership The origins of conflict A history of displacement

Projects funded by the World Bank have displaced more than three million people between 2004 and 2013 in 124 countries, according to data published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.  Those shortcomings were acknowledged by Bank president Jim Yong Kim in 2015, after an internal review found “major problems” that caused him “deep concern”.


But the Bank and the IFC do not appear to have held New Liberty Gold accountable for failing to meet its basic obligations, despite a commitment made by the IFC on its website to help the company “implement best practice standards” in Kinjor.


“I’m really disappointed to say that [this case] is one amongst many," said Jessica Evans, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. "We’ve seen time after time serious failings by the World Bank and the IFC when it comes to resettlement."


That is little comfort for Siah. Outside a neighbour’s house in Kinjor, she fought back the tears to speak about her son’s death. Her voice rose in anger when she listed the failings of New Liberty Gold: “no hospital here, no safe drinking water”.


“There are toilets right next to the water pump. It makes us sick,” she added. “We are suffering.”


The owner of the mine, Avesoro Resources Inc. (previously called Aureus Mining), has built a school and installed some water pumps. But the rest of the action plan, the compensation due for uprooting people against their will, remains little more than a wish list.

Still waiting

Controversy at mining projects like New Liberty Gold is not new in Liberia. For nearly 100 years, natural resource extraction – from rubber to minerals – has been steeped in violence and corruption. Opaque investments carry a tremendous risk in the context of such a fragile state as Liberia.


In one of Kinjor’s narrow alleys flanked by mud huts, Yarpawolo Gblan, an old man in a faded black polo shirt, stepped forward: “Are you a journalist? Come and see my house!”


We sat on a bench, our backs to the wooden wall of a hut scrawled with the phone numbers of Gblan’s children. Three years ago, Avesoro had forced him to move from what had been his home for a decade, into “temporary” accommodation, to make way for the mining project.


The huts the company provided have just two small rooms: not nearly big enough to house Gblan’s family of eight. He extended the original structure as best he could, using his own resources.


The huts were meant to be a stopgap measure, until the displaced families could move into 325 “improved houses” promised by the company. The unfinished shells of those houses stand in ordered rows, just a few hundred metres away.


But construction stopped longer than a year ago. Weeds now grow between the brick walls, and slimy bright-green algae thrive in puddles fed by rain falling through where roofs should be.

The company man

Half a day’s drive from Kinjor, in a wealthy suburb of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, a striking white-walled villa serves as the headquarters of New Liberty Gold.


Debar Allen is the company’s general manager, a physically imposing man who fills his generously appointed office. From behind a large wooden desk, he explained in a calm baritone that people like Gblan, who were supposed to have been resettled, “do not want to move from where they are”.


He offered two reasons for the construction delay: the need “to get going with the mining project because we were running out of funds”, and the desire of those being resettled to build their own permanent houses where they are now. “Rather than bringing contractors from Monrovia, we have to team up with them,” he said.


The World Bank, via email, offered a different explanation. With “the Ebola outbreak, the company faced significant construction delays. As a consequence, the project experienced some significant challenges that impacted its financial/cash flow position.”


The result was that “the full implementation of several aspects of the project had to be postponed, and some of the permanent houses have not yet been completed.”


But in February 2015, the IFC provided a $5.3 million cash injection for New Liberty Gold to help the company “cope with additional costs” as a result of the Ebola outbreak, and to “support the company’s ongoing work in Liberia”. 


In reality, the company should have finished the resettlement houses several months before Ebola hit Liberia. Moreover, the outbreak was brought under control more than 18 months ago, yet the new housing construction will not be completed any time soon.


Allen explained: “We signed with the [local] leaders a memorandum of understanding that postpones the completion to the end of next year”. That means December 2017.


Community representatives told IRIN that the company had asked them to sign numerous times, accepting the new deadline, and that they eventually gave in. They had reasoned that whether they signed or not, the houses would not be built any faster. 


The World Bank did not reply to IRIN’s requests for more details on the resettlement timeline and the mine’s failure to make good on its promises to the community.

  Dead fish and rashes

In March 2016, an accident at New Liberty Gold mine released cyanide and arsenic, byproducts of the mining process, into a nearby river that serves villages downstream. In Jikando, where people use its water to fish, bath and wash clothes, they began to see dead fish floating. Soon, they started developing skin rashes themselves.


A slim teenager lifted his t-shirt to show a rash he has had since shortly after the spill. He told IRIN it still itched but said: “it doesn’t worry me all the time”. Several mothers confirmed their children were still afflicted by similar rashes. No medical tests have been conducted on villagers who’ve reported similar effects.


Avesoro’s Allen said the company found out about the leak in April, after a phone call from the local chief in Jikando. He noted that the company now regularly delivers frozen fish to replace the poisoned ones, as the community’s “source of protein was from the creek”.


On 14 April, shortly after the leak, the Liberian Environmental Protection Agency fined the company. On 10 May, Avesoro publicly disclosed the spill to shareholders, stating that its “investigations to date indicate no adverse impact on any human settlement”. 


It’s difficult to pin responsibility for the mine’s failures on any individual because it’s hard to identify the successive true owners of New Liberty Gold. Aureus is part of a long list of shell companies named in the Panama Papers leak, many of them registered in opaque jurisdictions. 


The latest twist in the ownership trail came at the end of 2016 when MNG Gold, headquartered in Turkey, took over Aureus and changed its name to Avesoro Resources Inc.

The warlord

Investing in companies with complex ownership is not unusual for the IFC. A recent report by Oxfam found that 84 percent of the IFC’s investments in sub-Saharan Africa in 2015 used “secrecy” jurisdictions.


But the roots of the New Liberty Gold project stretch back before 1995, when a resource extraction license was issued by former warlord turned president Charles Taylor to a mysterious company called KAFCO. 


The permit changed hands a few times and, today, Avesoro holds its permit via a wholly-owned subsidiary, Bea Mountain Mining Corp – a company created in 1996 by Keikurah B. Kpoto, one of Taylor’s closest associates.  


The exploitation of Liberia’s gold and diamonds allowed Taylor, convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court in 2012 and now serving a 50-year prison sentence in the UK, to fund his war effort.


In 1998, foreign interests bought Bea Mountain Mining. The beneficiaries of the sale were well hidden. According to a document IRIN procured, three quarters of its capital belonged to a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. The rest was held by owners of bearer shares.  


Bearer shares are the vehicles of choice for the corrupt because they are owned by whoever holds the paper certificates, just like cash. There is no trace of their owner in company records and they can easily become covert payments for pretty much anything.


The World Bank nevertheless wrote that it had undertaken due diligence on New Liberty Gold, an investigation that included “desktop reviews, several meetings with Aureus management and a site visit”. 


Over the past decade, the IFC has spent more than $200 million on projects like New Liberty Gold. It has a seemingly unshakable faith that commercial mining can deliver development that will trickle down to communities like Kinjor.


As for Siah: Her last-born is now buried. If she once believed the promises of New Liberty Gold, that is certainly no longer the case. “The company is doing nothing for us,” she told IRIN. “If the company had built a hospital here, [his death] would not have happened.”


(This investigative report is being jointly published by 100Reporters, IRIN and Le Monde Afrique. 100Reporters is an award-winning investigative news organisation based in Washington, DC. Its objective is to reveal untold stories on corruption, transparency and accountability. IRIN delivers unique, authoritative and independent reporting from the front lines of crises to inspire and produce a more effective humanitarian response. Le Monde Afrique is a pan-African francophone media for news, reporting, analysis and debates.)


- The mainroad of new Kinjor

- Yarpawolo Gblan sitting in front of his “temporary house”

- Unfinished "new houses"

- A child's hand after the chemical spill

- Left to right: Tambakai Jangaba, Taylor, Foday Sankoh (leader of the Sierra Leonean rebel RUF), and Kpoto


Categories: Gender Parity

South Sudan needs peace as much as food

IRIN Gender - Mon, 03/20/2017 - 09:58

The declaration of famine in two counties of South Sudan last month led to immediate pledges of aid. Grave editorials called on Western governments to prioritise relief efforts to the needy, despite the shortcomings of the government and the ongoing civil war.

But a singular focus on sending more food may miss the mark. That's because in South Sudan's famine zone, more people die from bullets than starvation.

The famine was declared for Mayendit and Leer counties of southern Unity State, an area populated by various clans of the Nuer ethnic group. These clans are politically loyal to Riek Machar, who leads South Sudan's main rebel group, the SPLA-IO, and hails from Leer.

According to a February survey that food security experts analysed as part of the data used to declare famine, 4.1 in 10,000 people died per day across Mayendit county. That’s above the famine threshold of two hunger-related deaths per 10,000 people, which itself is about 10 times the average global death rate

But 73 percent of those deaths in Mayendit were from conflict, not starvation. That means more than two people per 10,000 died per day – the same catastrophic, out of control death rate of a famine – but the immediate cause was because they had been shot.

Other surveys tell a similar story. In Leer, there's no recent available mortality data, but a survey from February 2016 found that of the more than three people dying per 10,000 per day there, 57 percent were from conflict rather than starvation. 

third study released in December 2016 by REACH, a USAID-funded group, found conflict the leading cause of mortality in Leer and Mayendit, accounting for 49 percent of total deaths.

That means the war in southern Unity is so bad that even amid a famine, violent deaths still outpace starvation deaths.

To be clear, the high rate of conflict deaths does not mean Leer and Mayendit counties are not experiencing famine.

Jason Patinkin Displaced children find shelter on the small island of Kok

A famine requires, among other factors, that a population experiences two deaths per 10,000 people per day that are “related to hunger”. A violent death can also be “related to hunger” if, for instance, a hungry person ventures into an unsafe area in search of food and is shot, something that has been the case in southern Unity.

But the opposite is even more true. Southern Unity is a lush floodplain, full of fish and arable land. No one would die from hunger there if there wasn't conflict. The war has prevented people from planting, harvesting, fishing, and trading. Just as importantly, the conflict prevents relief workers from bringing enough food aid to reach hungry people.

“With active conflict in these places, it is very difficult for humanitarian assistance to be felt, because even when the food is distributed, sometimes it can be taken away [by armed groups],” explained Barack Kinanga, a food security expert with the International Rescue Committee.

The hunger facing people in southern Unity is not just a byproduct of the war, but the goal, many analysts suggest. Across the country, 5.8 million people are in need of food aid and more than 2.3 million – one in every five people in South Sudan – have been forced to flee their homes as a result of the conflict.

While SPLA-IO rebels have launched attacks (including on civilians), and thrown up barriers to aid, the death by violence and hunger in southern Unity is primarily the result of three scorched-earth campaigns waged by the government army (the SPLA), and its militia allies.

Draining the sea

The first campaign, led by the Justice and Equality Movement, a militia from Sudan's Darfur region that has fought for South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, took place in January 2014.

JEM stormed south from the Unity capital Bentiu and razed Leer, sending civilians and aid workers running for their lives. By the time aid groups returned in May 2014, children were already dying of malnutrition, though no famine was declared.

The next two campaigns were far more devastating. For seven months, beginning in late April 2015, SPLA-backed militia from the Bul and later Jaggey clans of the Nuer wreaked havoc across southern Unity.

Besides mass murder and sexual slavery, the militia torched villages, stole or destroyed grain and crops, looted cattle on an industrial scale, wrecked water points, shelled river ports to disrupt trade in foodstuffs, and either stole or blocked aid deliveries.

The goal was to annihilate the rebels’ support base by creating an “empty area” in central and southern Unity, according to a United Nations Panel of Experts report.

“SPLA armed forces were intent on rendering communal life unviable and prohibiting any return to normalcy following the violence,” the group said.

Nearly 8,000 people died by violence or drowning in the swamps while fleeing attacks in the 2015 campaign, according to a UN mortality study released early last year.

By the end of 2015, some 70,000 people had fled the affected region, mostly to government areas where aid workers were allowed to deliver food. Forty thousand people left behind were classified by the IPC to be in “famine conditions”.

The most recent campaign, from July 2016 and continuing into 2017, finally pushed Mayendit and Leer counties into what the UN and the government now officially describe as a famine.

Jason Patinkin Men carry an elderly woman through the swamps

These attacks were carried out by SPLA-backed militia loyal to Taban Deng Gai, who hails from the Jikany Nuer clan in northeastern Unity state. Since the collapse of a peace and power-sharing deal with rebel leader Machar in 2016 and the return to civil war, the international community has recognised Taban, as he is popularly known, as the First Vice President.

The 2016-2017 campaign appears to have been just as brutal as the one of 2015, including rape, murder, and destruction of villages.

“A whole village would disappear,” said one aid worker, who visited repeatedly in 2016 but IRIN is keeping anonymous for safety reasons. “In your next visit, you'd find just piles of ash.”

As in 2015, soldiers targeted civilians and their livelihoods by stealing cattle, blocking aid, and destroying crops during fighting, which the REACH study said was the largest cause of food insecurity in the state. Destitute people have turned to gathering wild fruits, leaves, and fish to survive, but soldiers block access to even these emergency food sources.

“We found a case [in government-controlled southern Mayendit], the men with guns are basically disallowing anyone from accessing fishing areas,” the aid worker said.

“Pushed and pushed and pushed”

Throughout the chaos, aid groups have undertaken what at times was the largest single-country aid effort on Earth.

In 2014, they started dropping food from planes, which hadn't been done anywhere since the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

That wasn't enough, so they started “Rapid Response Missions”, where aid workers were helicoptered in to remote areas for one to two weeks at a time, quickly assessed needs, and distributed as much as food and medicine as possible before dropping into the next place. Those missions hadn't been done anywhere, ever.

When government militia started killing civilians who attended the rapid response missions and stealing their food, aid groups covertly handed out “emergency relief kits” – small packages of high-energy biscuits, fishing hooks, water purification tablets, and other lifesavers – by helicopter or canoe to families hiding in the bush.

This was a far cry from meeting the needs of people on the ground, but aid groups continued trying to reach them. Médecins Sans Frontières and the International Committee of the Red Cross kept coming back, even though soldiers looted or destroyed their compounds in Leer four times, including last July.

None of these efforts stopped the violence itself. Even the declaration of famine, the loudest alarm bell the aid world can ring, hasn't resulted in a ceasefire. Just days after the announcement, aid workers were forced to evacuate Mayendit yet again.

“We've pushed and pushed and pushed,” said World Food Programme spokeswoman Challiss McDonough. “But humanitarian assistance can only do so much on its own. It cannot end a conflict.”

For that, the international community needs to mobilise political action.

“This is a conflict-driven famine,” said Nicholas Haan of Singularity University, who led the development of the IPC and is on its independent Emergency Review Committee, which assessed the famine data for South Sudan.

“In addition to stop-gap humanitarian assistance, there needs to be extreme, extraordinary measures to tamp down the conflict in the area, whatever that looks like.”

Identifying the problem

For now, most commentators – besides activists George Clooney and John Prendergast – blame South Sudan's “man-made” famine on fighting between “armed groups”, rather than plainly accusing the government.

There are few journalists and researchers operating in the country, so most information comes from the UN mission, called UNMISS, and aid groups.

UNMISS often avoids commenting on incidents of violence. Aid groups, despite having by far the best network of contacts on both sides of the conflict, are also largely silent – even when they are the targets of violence – in the name of "neutrality".

The effect of this institutional silence and aversion to naming culprits is a wider illusion that atrocities aren't happening, or if they are, that all sides are equally culpable.

“One of the biggest lessons from southern Unity was that we, as a humanitarian community, needed to come together and be more vocal and honest about what we were seeing,” said one senior aid official, who worked closely on the response but spoke anonymously over career concerns.

“We had overwhelming anecdotal evidence to suggest that ethnic cleansing was under way [in 2015], but we were blocked by senior UN leadership from being able to say that,” the source added.

Jason Patinkin This village in Leer County was attacked by government forces a week after the photo was taken

The silence held even when relief workers themselves were attacked. UNMISS said nothing when men believed to have been from South Sudan's National Security Service beat up the mission’s deputy humanitarian coordinator at her home in Juba. Later that year, MSF would not comment when three staff were killed, though they announced the incident to their employees. 

IRIN interviewed two other aid officials who worked closely on southern Unity. Both agreed with the assessment that aid groups operated under a culture of silence.

They said this phenomenon increased followed the arrival of a new UN humanitarian coordinator in the middle of 2015, Eugene Owusu, who replaced Toby Lanzer after his expulsion by the government.

One of the officials said the wariness to speak out was “policy” from Owusu's office, noting that internal pressure was required to drive any public statement. All three officials said public silence was not an effective strategy at gaining access to southern Unity, even though the need to preserve access was the justification for remaining silent.

“Access was often used as an excuse not to speak out on human rights violations, [but] we already didn't have access for most of 2015 so we didn't have that much to lose,” said the first official.

“There has to be a point at which we say, ‘you know what, now speaking out about what we're seeing and the massacres we're hearing about is more important than maintaining our relationship with the government’. It seemed like the UN never hit that point where they were comfortable making that shift, and NGOs fell in line.”

What’s next?

One possible measure to slow down the violence is an arms embargo.

The 2015 campaign, which lasted through the wet season, depended heavily on armoured and amphibious vehicles. Even today, fresh bullets continue to flow into southern Unity, including a reported transfer of ammunition from the SPLA to a militia in the area last month. But an embargo is unlikely to get past Russian and Chinese objections at the UN Security Council, even if it could garner enough regional support.

Another possible way to stop the attacks on civilians might be foreign military intervention. Already, UNMISS has a Chapter Seven mandate to protect civilians with lethal force when necessary and to facilitate humanitarian aid.

But UNMISS has weak command and control and a general unwillingness to engage. Although it established a base in Leer in November 2016, the town has only become more violent, militarised, and unsafe for aid workers and civilians alike.

Eight months ago, there was talk of sending an additional 4,000-strong UN Regional Protection Force drawn from neighbouring countries. But the RPF would only deploy to the capital Juba, and faced with government resistance, there has been no real progress on that or any other military option.

Political solutions are also in short supply.

“The international community has few options, and the state knows this,” said Carol Berger, a Canadian anthropologist who has worked in South Sudan for many years.

“The unimplemented peace agreement, talk of a national dialogue, of forming a hybrid court to try those alleged to have committed atrocities — all of these supposed solutions have only provided the state with a cover as it continues its war,” she told IRIN.

It's a grim outlook, but if the world continues sending food without stopping bullets, it's a likely scenario for years to come.


TOP PHOTO: A young man with a gun walks through the swamps in rebel-held Leer County. CREDIT: Jason Patinkin

South Sudan needs peace as much as food leer_jason_gun_man.jpg Jason Patinkin Analysis Aid and Policy Conflict Health Human Rights NAIROBI IRIN Africa East Africa South Sudan
Categories: Gender Parity

Besieged: A 360º experience in Sudan's Nuba Mountains

IRIN Gender - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 04:28

It’s the dry season in the Nuba Mountains, a time when the Sudanese government usually renews its offensive against the rebels holed up in the rocky fastness.

This season though, despite sporadic clashes, a ceasefire seems to be holding.

For Khartoum, there is an incentive to keeping the peace. The outgoing US administration of Barack Obama lifted economic sanctions in January, and a key condition of the six-month probation period until their permanent removal is a cessation of hostilities.

The rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N) also have a point to make. They are keen to demonstrate to the international community their commitment to talks, and to the clearing of obstacles to aid access to the impoverished South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

Peace can’t come soon enough for the people of the Nuba Mountains. The conflict has disrupted farming in rebel-held areas, and, along with poor rains, has resulted in sharply reduced harvests. Food prices are sky-rocketing, and the crisis is forcing more and more people from their homes in search of aid.

Besieged: A 360º experience in Sudan's Nuba Mountains ABOUT THE PROJECT HOW TO WATCH IN VR Besieged: Nuba 360º caves_inside_panorama_background.png TFMDigital Video Aid and Policy Conflict Human Rights Politics and Economics Journalists and NGOs are banned from the Nuba Mountains. This rare film was captured by local community groups with guidance from international media. The narration is scripted directly from interviews with more than a dozen Nuba civilians. IRIN Africa East Africa South Sudan Sudan The origins of conflict

The people of the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan live on the fault line between Sudan’s largely Arab north and its predominantly black African south.

Political and economic power in Sudan has historically been in the hands of a northern, Arabised elite. Since independence, the country’s marginalised communities have tried to resist that domination. The Nuba, numbering around 1.5 million, are a group of majority Muslim peoples, proud of their “African-ness”. They have faced long-standing discrimination as a consequence.











When the Second Sudanese Civil War erupted in 1983, the alternative message of equality and inclusion of the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and its charismatic commander-in-chief John Garang resonated with Nuba leaders. By 1987, an alliance had formed. Garang took the fight north through South Kordofan. The Nuba Mountains became a key rebel stronghold, and the government responded with a scorched-earth strategy that bore hallmarks of genocide. Jihad was declared, and a fatwa made it clear that Nuba Muslims were not to be spared either.

A fragile peace took shape between the north and the south in 2005, which led to a referendum and independence for South Sudan in 2011. But the contested areas of Blue Nile and South Kordofan were left under Khartoum’s control. Promised consultations on greater autonomy failed to materialise. As the world applauded South Sudan’s independence in July 2011, bombs were once again falling on the people of the Nuba Mountains. The conflict that still grips South Kordofan today was well under way.







About the project

This 360º film project was a collaboration between local Nuban organisations and foreign media. 

Directed and produced by London-based production company TFMdigital with support from Pax Christi, the film gives voice to the lived experience of people besieged in the Nuba Mountains.

The narration of Besieged: A 360º experience in Sudan's Nuba Mountains is composed of interview excerpts from more than a dozen civilians. You can download the full transcripts here.

Film Library Film Library Photo Library Back to film list Gandi Khalil Leyl | BESIEGED Share this film

The narration was recorded by the South Sudan Theatre Organization in Juba, South Sudan involving Sudanese and South Sudanese actors.

The scenes themselves are of real civilians in real situations and were filmed on location by Transformedia near the front lines of the conflict in the Nuba Mountains.

Virtual Reality at the Highest Level

Footage from the film Besieged: A 360º experience in Sudan's Nuba Mountains was used to provide high-level officials around the world the opportunity to take a "Virtual Reality Human Rights Mission to Sudan".

More than 600 officials took this Virtual Mission at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in New York, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva (UNHRC), the African Union Commission on Human and People’s Rights (AUHPR) in Banjul, and in parliaments around the world. This work was partially funded by Amnesty International.

Transformedia/IRIN Virtual Human Rights Mission to members of the Bureau of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child


How to watch in VR and 360

360º video allows you to be immersed in a scene, almost as if you were there.

You can watch 360º videos in three ways: by simply altering the position of your phone or tablet or by using your mouse to drag around the scene on your computer. To really bring the content to life, you can use a virtual reality headset.

You can experience Besieged: A 360º experience in Sudan's Nuba Mountains by using the YouTube app on headsets such as Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear. You can also use Google Cardboard.

How to watch on your phone
without a VR headset
  1. Open the YouTube app on your smartphone and search for the IRIN News channel.
  2. Once you’ve selected the IRIN 360º video you would like to watch, turn your phone horizontally so it becomes full screen.
  3. Select the three vertical dots in the top right corner of the screen, then select ‘Quality’. Choose the maximum resolution for the best viewing experience.
  4. Now you can physically move your phone around or use your fingers to shift the perspective of the camera.
How to watch on your desktop
  1. Open YouTube on your internet browser and search for the IRIN News channel.
  2. Once you’ve selected the IRIN 360º video you would like to watch, select the ‘Settings’ icon in the bottom right corner, click ‘Quality’ and choose the highest resolution.
  3. Select the ‘Full Screen’ icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen.
  4. Now use your mouse or trackpad to shift the perspective of the camera by clicking and dragging.
How to watch on your VR headset
  1. Open the YouTube app on your smartphone and search for the IRIN News channel.
  2. Once you’ve chosen the IRIN 360º video you would like to watch, select the ‘Settings’ icon in the bottom right-hand corner, click ‘Quality’ and choose the highest resolution.
  3. Click on the three vertical dots in the top right corner of the screen and select the 'Cardboard' icon. You’ll see the layout of the screen split into two circles.
  4. Turn your phone horizontal and place it into your headset.​



Categories: Gender Parity

Eritrea to Ethiopia, Mosul worsens, and Boko Haram bombs: The Cheat Sheat

IRIN Gender - Fri, 03/03/2017 - 11:29

Every week, IRIN’s team of editors takes a look at what lies ahead on our humanitarian agenda and curates a selection of some of the best reports, opinion, and journalism you may have missed:

What’s coming up?

Mosul’s back (it never went away)

In case you turned away for a minute, here’s a reminder that the battle of Mosul is ongoing and that for civilians it appears to be getting much worse. The UN says an average of 4,000 people are streaming out of western districts each day – plus it estimates there are up to 750,000 more trapped inside. Supplies of food and water are said to be running low, and many people live in the tightly packed old city, where civilians Thursday were feared dead after a mosque was hit in what witnesses say was a strike from the air. Fleeing the city is a risk too, but conditions inside are so horrific that for some it’s worth the journey. Will aid agencies be ready to meet the needs of this new wave? They have been preparing for at least six months, but we all know that's no guarantee. Next week we’ll take you there, with testimony from civilians who have walked across the desert under fire, desperately seeking safety and help.

One day the war will end

Boko Haram attacked the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri early on Friday in a triple suicide bombing. The attack comes ahead of a visit by the UN Security Council to the city, part of a tour of the four-country Lake Chad region by diplomats to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis affecting 21 million people in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

The international community had its chance to act at the Oslo humanitarian conference last month. Analysts had called for a significant donor response – see our op-ed. What got pledged was $672 million in new money spread over three years, against an appeal target of $1.5 billion for 2017. Neither the US or British governments made even a show of opening their wallets in Oslo. In these straitened times we must be glad for any mercy, but also mindful that the 2016 appeal was for a good deal less, $739 million, and wound up being only 53 percent funded.

Behind the humanitarian crisis looms Boko Haram. Nigeria repeatedly promises the jihadists are under control. Today’s bombing in Maiduguri proves otherwise. What to do? Researcher Atta Barkindo calls for the opening of channels of dialogue. Someday, the war will be over, and the local vigilantes that have sprung up to defend their communities will be disbanded. The International Crisis Group is sounding an alarm now, of new dangers unless care is taken over how these young men are demobilised.

EU plan to detain migrants for up to 18 months

Migration is high on the agenda, once again, at next week’s European Council meeting in Brussels. Ahead of the meeting, the European Commission issued a slew of press releases trumpeting progress on various initiatives. The one that has grabbed the most headlines is an action plan on the return of irregular migrants, including a recommendation that member states detain people awaiting removal for up to 18 months to prevent them from absconding. At a press conference on Thursday, EU home affairs commissioner Dmitris Avramopoulos made it clear children would not be exempt. The Commission also released the latest figures for the EU’s relocation and resettlement scheme, revealing that just 13,546 asylum seekers have been transferred from the overwhelmed frontline states of Italy and Greece. Several countries, including Hungary and Austria, have refused to participate in the scheme, while others have accepted only a handful. Also came a third progress report on the Partnership Framework with third countries, focusing on “results” in Niger, Ethiopia, Mali, Senegal and Nigeria, and on next steps such as finalising a readmission agreement with Nigeria by June. Our reporting last month highlighted how – dodgy statistics aside – the Niger deal has successfully stemmed northward migration, albeit while decimating the local economy.

Hotspots to watch

The International Crisis Group has released its annual report on the top 10 conflicts where it believes the EU should look to take action to promote peace. Some are fairly predictable (Somalia, Syria, Yemen), but others you may not even have heard of. Gold star if you can find Nagorno-Karabakh, for example, on a map. The contested region is within the borders of Azerbaijan but has an ethnic Armenian majority and Armenia also claims sovereignty. The two countries went to war from 1992 to 1994 over control of the area, but tensions have been sizzling much more recently. Last April, clashes erupted again and 200 people lost their lives. Other surprises on the list include Myanmar, which has been accused of crimes against humanity in its crackdown on ethnic Rohingya, and Venezuela, which has reached such a low ebb that civil conflict has become a real possibility.

Did you miss it?

Eritrean journeys on hold

Several thousand Eritreans are thought to leave their country every month, fleeing compulsory and open-ended national service, political persecution and a failing economy. Most cross into neighbouring Ethiopia, where they are accommodated in refugee camps, but not many remain there. This new report by the Overseas Development Institute looks at how policy decisions are influencing Eritreans’ decisions to move on, often towards Europe via the irregular route to Libya and across the Mediterranean. The main finding of the report is that livelihood support programmes in Ethiopia and the slim possibility of resettlement to a third country are not enough to offset the fact that refugees there are denied the right to work. Instead, they are forced to scrape out a living that might meet their basic needs but holds no promise for the future. This reality is captured by an excellent accompanying film following the experiences of Teddy Love, an Eritrean man who escaped eight years of military service to become a popular singer in Asmara before being arrested and imprisoned. Since arriving in Ethiopia seven years ago, he has eked out a living singing in nightclubs for tips to support his two children.

Yemenis fight for survival as famine looms

After flagging up last week that Yemen is facing the largest food insecurity emergency in the world, IRIN published a two-part feature this week from rural Taiz, where children and the elderly are already dying of malnutrition. Regular contributor Iona Craig has been writing on this crisis since 2010 and has covered the country’s downward spiral from neglected humanitarian disaster to civil conflict, all-out war and economic meltdown. Her words, aided by photographs from Ahmed al-Basha, now describe the reality of a rural Yemen on the brink of famine. Skin hangs from the scrawny hands of a baby girl who can’t be nourished by her starving mother, women and children collect precious drops of water from a dying spring, a healthcare system on its knees can’t possibly cope. But these are the lucky ones. In her accompanying story, Craig ventures into the more remote highlands and finds al-Dashin, a displacement camp where death from malnutrition is becoming a regular event. Her conclusion: “Yemenis are renowned for their unwavering resilience. This is a rural-based society, well practised at caring for its own after decades in which there has been a near-total absence of a functioning state. But there has to be a breaking point. In a remote dusty wasteland in rural Taiz, that point of collapse is startlingly tangible.”

(TOP PHOTO: Protests in Aden, Yemen. CREDIT: Iona Craig)



Protests in Aden, Yemen, February 2017 .jpg News Migration Conflict Food Human Rights This week’s humanitarian outlook IRIN GENEVA Global
Categories: Gender Parity

Post-quake Nepal: No country for old women

IRIN Gender - Tue, 02/28/2017 - 23:30
Laxmi Devishretha hasn’t spoken for a week. Silent but for the rhythmic in-and-out of the oxygen tank pumping through her nostrils, the 83-year-old lies in a hospital bed, tucked up to her chin in a red fleece blanket. At this point, she’s largely given up trying to make herself heard.   “It’s the cold,” explained her daughter, also called Laxmi. “It’s hard to keep warm at night, so her asthma has got worse.”   The air in her home doesn’t help either, according to Binot Dangal, medical director of Charikot Hospital in Dolakha, one of the districts hardest hit by the April 2015 earthquake that killed about 9,000 people and displaced another 3.5 million.   Dangal said there has been a spike in respiratory illnesses among elderly women since the quake. He blamed poor ventilation combined with open cooking fires inside the makeshift huts where they are now forced to live.   That’s just one hardship that women – and especially older women – are facing during the post-quake reconstruction phase.    Survey results included in the UN’s Interagency Common Feedback Project report showed that perceptions of progress jumped from 22 percent six months ago to 49 percent last month. But while the overall results indicate that Nepalis are more satisfied with rebuilding efforts, there is a glaring gap between men and women.   “Women report having seen less progress, having received less support, they have less information about how to get support, less knowledge about safer building practices and they are less likely to have consulted an engineer,” said the report.   As the second anniversary of the devastating quake approaches, Devishretha is one of an estimated two million people still living in temporary accommodation. Reconstruction has been painfully slow, but in the meantime, tents are gradually being replaced across the 14 affected districts by semi-permanent corrugated iron shacks.    Corinne Redfern/IRIN Laxmi Devishrethra, 83, suffers from respiratory illness partly due to living in a poorly ventilated shack after Nepal's 2015 earthquake   SEE: A year after Nepal quake, billions unspent and little rebuilt   Gender gap   What the UN report refers to as the “gender information gap” is evident across all age groups, but the discrimination faced by elderly women following the earthquake is chasmic.    According to the government’s Nepal Living Standards Survey, women are nearly 30 percent more likely to be illiterate than their male counterparts. Literacy decreases with age, according to local NGO Ageing Nepal, which reports that 95 percent of elderly women are unable to read.   Illiteracy poses a major problem for elderly women who need to access the three installments of governmental post-earthquake support. Doing so requires a bank account, which requires extensive paperwork. Widows whose husbands – deemed by default as “heads of households” – opened a bank account on their family’s behalf have also found their access to the grants rescinded, according to the UN report as well as individuals who spoke to IRIN.   Health issues post-earthquake are ostracising Devishretha’s peer group even further.   Research conducted by Suman Thapaliya for his Masters thesis at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan University last year reveals that 51 percent of elderly women with “significant” physical problems developed them since April 2015, while only a quarter of men aged 60 or older have noticed a decline in their physical health during the same timeframe. Elderly women are also 7.2 percent more likely to have experienced depression or neglect since the earthquake.    Yet so far, no specific government programmes are in place to improve their access to medical facilities, target their mental health, or improve their literacy levels.    “We have a generation of widows who have spent their lives facing discrimination from a deeply patriarchal society, and who have now lost everything,” said Krishna Gautam, Ageing Nepal’s founder. “And they’re still not receiving the assistance they need to recover – physically or emotionally.”   Suddenly vulnerable   Mira Serchan, who heads the Senior Citizen’s Unit at the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, is keen to clarify that financial assistance of 2,000 rupees (about $18) a week is available “for all men and women over 60”. The government is also collaborating with local NGOs in 10 districts to teach the elderly crafts such as candle making.   “The focus is very much upon giving [older women] the tools to live independently,” said Serchan.   That may be the case, but learning to make candles won’t solve the issues faced by people like Mau Khakda. The 65-year-old lived independently in Dolakha long before the earthquake struck, but she has now been forced to move in with her grandson in Kathmandu. Her main challenge is illiteracy.   “It wasn’t a problem two years ago. I worked in the fields and I had a routine,” she said. “But my house was totally destroyed in the earthquake, and everything is new now. Even when information is distributed by word of mouth, I can’t check anything.”   Corinne Redfern/IRIN The Basic Literacy School For Senior Citizens   There aren’t any figures to show exactly how many senior citizens fled to Kathmandu following the disaster, but Gautam of Ageing Nepal says he’s certain it’s in the thousands. Aware that they were struggling to assimilate in a new city – a lettered labyrinth mapped out with street signs and numbered bus routes – he embarked on a bid to find funding to launch a literacy programme for elderly women.    After approaching the government, he eventually succeeded in securing a $3,000 grant from the NGO Committee on Ageing at the UN. The “Basic Literacy School For Senior Citizens” launched in July last year, with 25 eager-eyed women aged 60 to 83 clutching new notebooks and sharpened pencils.   Ageing Nepal plans to open a second school in Kathmandu later next month, this time with funds from members of the local community.   cr/jf/ag   (TOP PHOTO: Maiti Thapi, 61, in Deurali. CREDIT: Corinne Redfern/IRIN) nepal_elderly_4.jpg Feature Aid and Policy Environment and Disasters Health Human Rights Post-quake Nepal: No country for old women Corinne Redfern IRIN DOLAKHA DISTRICT, Nepal Asia Nepal
Categories: Gender Parity

Countdown to AMISOM withdrawal: Is Somalia ready?

IRIN Gender - Tue, 02/28/2017 - 12:17

The swearing-in last week of Somalia’s new President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” was greeted with a surge of optimism on the streets of Mogadishu that a new era of stability was on its way.

He won by a landslide, on a wave of nationalist fervour. But the fact that the ceremony took place in a highly secured airport zone, under the control of African Union peacekeepers, in a city repeatedly bombed by the jihadist group al-Shabab, betrays how huge the task confronting him is.

The International Crisis Group’s latest report said Farmajo had benefited from being seen as the right leader “to build a robust Somali National Army (SNA), speed up the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM)’s exit, stabilise security, curb interventions by neighbouring countries, and protect Somalia’s dignity and sovereignty.”

But this is an ambitious wish list and the path ahead is fraught with danger.


Central to Somalia’s security is the 22,000-strong AMISOM multinational force. It has been in Somalia for a decade, battling al-Shabab and helping slowly expand state authority.

AMISOM is due to start withdrawing its troops from October next year and is expected to be fully out of the country by December 2020, handing over to the SNA, which will probably number just 20,000.

“AMISOM alone cannot defeat al-Shabab,” said a report last year by Mogadishu’s Heritage Institute for Policy Studies (HIPS). “This can only happen if AMISOM can partner with a capable, legitimate and inclusive set of Somali security forces.”

But the Somali National Army is a force beset with problems, particularly over corruption, capacity and its acceptance in regions beyond Mogadishu. At the moment, there are doubts it will be able to stand up to a degraded, but still dangerous, insurgency.

Francisco Madeira, AU special representative to Somalia, is painfully aware of that challenge. “Building the capacity of the Somali National Security Forces is something that is central to the mandate of AMISOM, and we are doing this to the best of our ability and within the available resources,” he told IRIN.

UN Photo/ Ilyas Ahmed President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo Too soon?

Given this, and the historically weak and divided nature of the Somali state, experts fear AMISOM’s departure will be premature.

“It seems highly unlikely to me that the Somali army [and state institutions] would be ready in just three years, given the current state of the security situation,” said Nina Wilen, a research fellow at Université Libre de Bruxelles.

“A withdrawal of AMISOM in 2020 will be untimely,” agreed Christian Ani Ndubuisi, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies. A more viable option, he believes, is for international donors to support a longer transition, of five to 10 years.

The challenge for AMISOM is that exiting Somalia with some honour hinges on several factors beyond its control. Crucially, it relies on international funding, and not enough has been forthcoming “to seriously degrade rather than simply displace al-Shabab”, said the HIPS report.

AMISOM draws its main fighting forces from Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Burundi. Allowances for the troops are paid by the EU, and logistical support – from food to medical supplies – is provided by the UN. The attack helicopters it desperately needs have not been available.

There is also now trouble in the ranks of the troop-contributing nations, which have threatened to withdraw ever since the EU cut the monthly allowance paid to soldiers by 20 percent in January 2016, from $1,028 to $822.

While the AU argues that its soldiers bleed and the West provides only money, the EU counters that there are other peace operations on the continent deserving of its support, including Central African Republic, Mali and the Lake Chad crisis.

“AMISOM will celebrate its 10th year this year, and the main funder [the EU] does not see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Thierry Vircoulon, ICG project director for Central Africa. “It is not ready to fund another never-ending peacekeeping mission as the UN usually does.”

Chicken and egg

AMISOM does not have the manpower or equipment to comprehensively defeat al-Shabab, yet cannot secure additional funding until it demonstrates greater battlefield success.

But defeating al-Shabab is not just a military undertaking. The Somali government has been unable to consolidate the territorial gains made by the AU troops, including providing much-needed services and security to the people.

That means the “ideological foundation of the group remains hard to dismantle within the local population,” said Ndubuisi of ISS.

Additionally, Somalia is a federal state with its autonomous regions in uneasy alliance with Mogadishu and at times testy relations with each other. These regional forces have greater local acceptance than the SNA.

“The state formation project in Somalia is still marred by ongoing disputes between autonomous regions,” explained Ndubuisi. “How can the different regions in the country collaborate for a common purpose?”

More troops?

The AU’s answer is a surge of troops to weaken al-Shabab before the 2018 draw down. On 16 January, it asked the UN Security Council to authorise an additional 4,500 soldiers for a non-renewable period of six months.

“We have concluded plans to recover the last strongholds that the al-Shabaab holds in Somalia, specifically in the Lower Juba region,” said Madeira, the AU representative. “To do this, however, we need additional troops, just for this assignment, after which the troop numbers will return to previous levels.”

But AMISOM may not be the perfect instrument for Somalia’s renewal, especially for nationalists in Mogadishu. For a start, there have always been question marks in Somalia over the AU intervention, especially when regional rivals – Ethiopia and Kenya – joined the mission.

“Initially, [AMISOM] did a lot, particularly pushing al-Shabab from urban centres,” said Abdirashid Hashi, one of the HIPS report’s authors. “Then Kenya and Ethiopia entered Somalia, pursuing their own national security interests, and were rehatted [as AMISOM] so the UN/EU can foot the bill.”

AMISOM/Omar Abdisalan SNA passing-out ceremony Building consensus

The critical piece in the puzzle, argues the HIPS report, is the need for a political settlement in Somalia that encompasses the federal government and the regional administrations.

“This settlement must include agreement on how to govern Somalia, a shared vision of the roles of the country’s security forces and a roadmap for integrating the numerous armed groups that currently proliferate,” it noted.

Hashi argued that “only a well-armed and well-trained Somali security apparatus can, in the long run, address the insecurity and instability enveloping the country.”

“Much could be achieved in three years if Somalis get their act together and seriously focus on fixing their ailing state, and if the international partners provide genuine support,” he added.

Farmajo’s mandate is indispensable to make progress on those multiple fronts, particularly reconciliation, addressing corruption and finalising the constitution, said the ICG report. The upcoming London conference in May, where donors will be present, could also help.

Al-Shabab, meanwhile, has vowed to fight Farmajo as an “apostate”. In a defiant message released earlier this month, a commander bragged: “We know how to eat cheese,” a reference to the president’s nickname, an approximation of the Italian word for “cheese”.

But there have been suggestions that the insurgency is worried by his popularity. Dissident commander Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansur, who leads a “nationalist” wing of al-Shabab, has reportedly considered surrendering.

Any concrete signs of a splintering of the insurgency – there are none yet – would represent a real victory for Farmajo and his project to rebuild Somalia.


TOP PHOTO: SNA troops with AMISOM forces in battle for Mogadishu

mog_amisom_5.jpg Analysis Conflict Human Rights Politics and Economics Countdown to AMISOM withdrawal: Is Somalia ready? Samuel Okiror IRIN KAMPALA Africa East Africa Somalia
Categories: Gender Parity

In support of Dodd-Frank conflict minerals regulation

IRIN Gender - Tue, 02/28/2017 - 09:55

IRIN’s recent article, Who pays the hidden price for Congo’s conflict-free minerals, offers a compelling story that highlights some real challenges facing many Congolese people today.

Unfortunately, it misses the broader importance and impact of Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank law: supply chain transparency for the minerals trade, and the breaking of the links between minerals and deadly armed groups in eastern Congo.

Dodd-Frank 1502 is a hard-won demonstration of the United States’ support for corporate transparency in environments where opacity, and the lack of rule of law, have cost lives and spurred brutality.

The article focuses on Kisengo, a different region of Congo than the area that led the US Congress to pass Dodd-Frank 1502. The Kivu provinces, where the deadliest war since World War II has brutalized communities, is home to the bulk of tin, tantalum, tungsten mining in Congo, and has major gold deposits also.

Fuel for conflict

The minerals have been a major fuel for conflict in the Kivus. Dodd-Frank 1502 has largely de-linked three out of the four conflict minerals from armed group violence. Seventy-nine percent of miners at tin, tantalum, and tungsten mines surveyed in three conflict-affected provinces in eastern Congo now work at conflict-free mines, according to a study by the International Peace Information Service (IPIS) in October 2016.

This is a major change compared to 2010, the year that Dodd-Frank passed, when the UN stated  that nearly every mine in the Kivus was controlled by a military group.

While President Joseph Kabila’s mining ban in 2010 and initial implementation of the law were poor, and miners in some areas faced livelihood challenges, this has changed significantly. There have been record-breaking exports of certified conflict-free minerals in the Kivus since then. North Kivu exported a record 1,121 tons of tantalum in 2016 and 1,550 tons of tin.

Dodd-Frank 1502 also spurred the first-ever minerals certification process, that of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, and 220 mines have been validated as conflict-free by multi-stakeholder teams.

Preventing smuggling, eliminating corruption, enforcing the rights of mining cooperatives and their members, and ensuring the basic needs of families who rely on mining for their livelihoods are met – these are all critical goals. Suspending, repealing, or weakening Dodd-Frank 1502 will not help achieve them. Those objectives require nuanced, locally-led and internationally-supported, responsible minerals trade development and rule-of-law initiatives.

Support for Dodd-Frank

Turning to the suspension or repeal of Dodd-Frank 1502 as a solution will reverse meaningful progress on increasing the rule of law in a previous black market and pushing corporations to understand and publish the origin of materials in their products.

There is significant support for Dodd-Frank 1502 and the continued reform of the mining sector in Congo and the Great Lakes region. Several activists have been calling for regulation since long before Dodd-Frank was passed, and Congolese human rights and governance groups have issued seven different letters over the past two weeks in strong support of the law, signed by 89 different Congolese civil society groups and activists.

For example, a letter signed by 31 civil society groups said: “Any step to suspend section 1502 would undoubtedly lead to conflict minerals infiltrating the supply chain with devastating effects. Namely, the reactivation of armed groups and the feeding of terrorist and mafia networks.”

Another letter signed by 13 Congolese human rights groups in North Kivu said: “The introduction of the Dodd-Frank Act was a way of reducing the number of violent acts committed by these warlords and enabled the suspension of illegal arms sales; sales which had facilitated the proliferation of unauthorised weapons in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Mr President [Trump], we wish to most expressly assure you that if you decide to call into question the Dodd-Frank Act, this will once again lend legitimacy to the presence and proliferation of armed groups in the east of the DRC, something which Congolese civil society condemns in the strongest terms.” 

A separate open letter, signed earlier by a different group of 31 Congolese civil society groups and others said: “Dodd-Frank has been the primary driver of corporate and regional policy change on conflict minerals.”

More recently, a coalition led by the Congolese organisation, GATT-RN, urged the Trump administration not to take steps to repeal 1502 since that would risk “plunging the Congolese people and the Great Lakes Region of Africa into the tragedy of [blood minerals].”

Maintaining progress

Significant problems remain in Congo’s mining sector, and further steps, such as sanctions on gold smugglers, are needed combat the conflict gold trade.

It is precisely because so many individuals rely on the mining industry in Congo that so many Congolese are calling for its thorough reform. The way to achieve that is through the construction of rule of law and a credible certification system, buoyed by disclosure requirements in minerals sourcing and real consequences for minerals smugglers.

Those goals have not yet been fully achieved, but important steps toward them have been taken for the first time since Dodd-Frank 1502 passed. Efforts to weaken or repeal the law risk undoing years of progress and distracting from the work left to be done to improve livelihoods, security, and traceability in eastern Congo’s mines.


TOP PHOTO: Artisanal gold miners near Iga-Barrière, DRC. CREDIT: Guy Oliver/IRIN

Artisanal gold miners near Iga-Barrière, about 25km east of Bunia, the administrative town of the Ituri Region (Jan 2013) Opinion Conflict Human Rights Politics and Economics In support of Dodd-Frank conflict minerals regulation Sasha Lezhnev IRIN WASHINGTON Africa DRC Global
Categories: Gender Parity

Politicised humanitarian aid is fuelling South Sudan's civil war

IRIN Gender - Mon, 02/27/2017 - 09:59

A declaration of famine in South Sudan has prompted a swirl of appeals for new funding to stem the catastrophe. There are millions of people in desperate need, and there are aid groups well-positioned to do more, if only they had more money to expand their programming.

But there is also an uncritical aspect to such appeals: the idea that the relief effort is somehow apolitical.

Humanitarians are portrayed as impartial technocrats, keeping above the fray of conflict and politics, dispensing aid fairly to anyone in need. In turn, the “beneficiaries” of the aid effort are cast as apolitical themselves, usually hapless and victimized, incapable of any agency of their own.

This is far from the truth, and it is long past time to come to grips with a fundamental reality: Humanitarian assistance is political action. For Western countries providing the vast majority of funding for relief aid, humanitarian intervention is a stand-in for other forms of political action.

They have consciously privileged humanitarianism over alternative action – to the detriment of peace, security and justice efforts that might actually address the causes of the aid crisis.

A critical look at the ongoing aid efforts brings us to some uncomfortable conclusions.


First to be examined needs to be the relationship between relief organisations and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), which has taken approximately 200,000 ethnic minorities under its protection at sprawling guarded camps known as “Protection of Civilians” sites, or PoCs for short.

Since day one of the civil war, relief groups have uncritically accepted the UN policy of housing at-risk civilians in these ethnic ghettos.

PoC sites require huge amounts of aid money to be sustained – more so than traditional refugee camps because they are mostly located in remote areas, with poor roads and bad security.

They need to be surrounded by razor wire, defensive berms, watch towers and 24/7 guards. The UN insists that the PoCs are merely temporary because eventually the government will create the necessary conditions for citizens to be able to return safely to their places of origin.

But the camps serve distinct political purposes that make it unlikely that they will be dismantled any time soon. For example, the PoC in the northern town of Bentiu is the result of a military campaign to depopulate oil-producing areas and the heartland of the ethnic Nuer group. Closing the camp and allowing the safe return of its residents would reverse the intended outcome of this campaign.

Likewise, ethnic Shilluk residents of the PoC in Malakal who once inhabited a thriving and diverse capital of northeastern Upper Nile State face new ethnic rules preventing them from returning to homes and jobs in the city.

This is a consequence of a presidential decree that divided Upper Nile State into smaller ethnic enclaves, giving the capital to the Dinka and relegating the Shilluk to the less developed western bank of the Nile. The government has little interest in relaxing conditions to allow Shilluk to return to homes and villages that once existed outside of the enclave now designated to them.

The solution is not more funding for the PoC sites or for resettlement programmes that are unlikely to succeed. Instead, the PoCs should be dismantled and the vulnerable populations moved en masse into neighboring countries where it is safer and logistics lines are better.

Naysayers will say that this is impossible. But they would be overlooking relevant precedents, including the resizing of the PoC in Bor, the capital of Jonglei State, which went from more than 5,000 residents in early 2014 to a more manageable size of about 2,000 today, mostly because residents left of their own accord.

There was also the massive returnee movement of about 250,000 people from Sudan, which took place before and after the 2011 referendum that split the country by ushering in independence for South Sudan. It was largely facilitated by the International Organization for Migration, which moved people by road, barge and air.

The biggest obstacles to closing the PoCs are not practical; they are political and conceptual. Above all, UN bureaucrats are reluctant to admit the obvious – that there is already a massive demographic change project underway in South Sudan.

Aid groups, donors and the UN are making a political choice by continuing to indefinitely shelter and care for vulnerable populations at PoCs rather than escorting them to places of real safety. This policy is not neutral, and its political objectives are failing. It is time to re-think the strategy.

IOM/Gonzalez Palau 2016 The ruins of Malakal PoC destroyed in fighting False sense of security

Aid organizations that provide services within UNMISS protection sites are abetting the peacekeepers in providing a false sense of security to inhabitants, similar to the false assurances that UN peacekeepers implicitly gave to the Tutsi minority prior to the genocide of 1994. This is because the camps themselves are not safe.

On several occasions, including Bor in April 2014 and Malakal in February 2016, government troops or militia attacked these supposedly safe zones, overrunning poorly manned UN defenses and massacring civilians inside.

Soldiers also regularly rape women in and around the camps, fire randomly on the camps, restrict resupply, and otherwise make life there extremely difficult and dangerous. The PoC strategy is failing the people it is meant to help. It’s also the crippling the peacekeeping mission itself by tying up its troops and resources.

Silencing victims

Hand-in-hand with ghettoisation is a practice of denying people in camps basic human freedoms such as freedom of speech. UNMISS' Public Information Office has restricted access to journalists seeking to enter the protection sites.

United States-funded “humanitarian” media projects operating in the camps allow people to talk about cholera prevention or birth control, but they discourage citizens from speaking about the atrocities that they experienced. Likewise, the UN radio in South Sudan has done little to report on rights abuses. The main purpose of this is self-preservation: If the UN were to allow freedom of speech in the PoC sites then it would anger authorities and threaten humanitarian access.

Beyond the PoCs, donors have funded radio projects on an ethnic basis, offering money to FM community radio stations in Dinka areas while closing those in Nuer areas – the ethnic group most identified with the ongoing rebellion against the Dinka-dominated government.

Although this is ostensibly about security at the broadcast sites – the Nuer areas were subjected to attacks – it also reflects an implicit political choice: the choice to continue funding Dinka stations in the absence of balance. More fundamentally, a policy of supporting “community radio” during ethnic conflict is conceptually problematic: community radio stations are by definition parochial, serving ethnic interests.

What is needed are media projects that consistently represent victim and survivor narratives, serving as catalysts for change and healing within the society. Instead, most donor-funded media have become little more than extensions of the state media, ignoring abuses and thereby promoting impunity.

Forex and the war economy

Aid programmes in South Sudan have played a major role in bolstering a dual exchange rate system that enables war profiteering. It works like this: Generals and high-ranking officials own many of the foreign exchange bureaus and commercial banks. They obtain US dollars at the official rate and then turn around and sell them for a far higher price on the black market.

In the meantime, aid groups and the UN trade local currency at an overvalued official rate that is ignored by virtually everyone else.

Humanitarians have lost millions this way, particularly in 2015, when the street rate soared to five times higher than the official rate. “The official rate absorbs two-thirds of the value ... Anything we do fuels the corruption,” said one aid official cited in a 2016 investigative report.

Even though the gap between the official and black market rates has narrowed over the last year or so, it remains significant, and the UN and aid groups continue to bolster demand for a currency that otherwise has lost credibility.

Jason Patinkin/IRIN Rebel soldiers Diversion of aid resources

Humanitarians have bolstered government war efforts in other ways as well. By offering social services in government-controlled areas they allow the government to spend most of its revenues on the military without facing any backlash from the population.

They have also unintentionally provided huge amounts of food aid to government soldiers, who have repeatedly looted World Food Program warehouses and convoys, and taken food from civilian beneficiaries.

A recent article by Lindsay Hamsik, published by the Overseas Development Institute, points out that South Sudanese authorities engage in “predatory rent-seeking behaviors” that divert humanitarian resources. These include demanding vehicles, fuel, cash, tyres and phone credit.

“Donor countries’ taxpayers have a right to know how much of their money is not reaching beneficiaries but is being diverted to a government that is fueling the humanitarian crisis,” recommends the article.

Aid programmes also pay salaries or bonuses on behalf of the government to thousands of civil servants, usually because donors fear that health or education services would collapse if they stopped doing so. From a political economy perspective, the aid industry in South Sudan is in many ways just an extension of the country's patronage-based civil service that has President Salva Kiir at its apex.

Selective geographic programming

During Sudan’s last civil war of 1983-2005, aid groups ran the cross-border Operation Lifeline into rebel-controlled territory, basing themselves in Lokichogio, Kenya, rather than the capital, Khartoum.

But this time donors and humanitarians have made the political choice not to engage in such operations. Limited services are offered in rebel-held areas, but these are all cleared through Juba, which means that the government can restrict access at will. For example, the government army has repeatedly prevented food barges from reaching parts of Upper Nile, and erected checkpoints on roads approaching famine-stricken areas.

“Essentially, aid is being used to punish opposition and reward loyalty,” says Hamsik's ODI article.

Needless to say, many aid groups working out of Juba are doing important work and could not relocate their base of operations to somewhere outside the country like Lokichogio. But if even a small handful of aid groups were willing to take on such a role then it could significantly alter the humanitarian situation and possibly save many lives.

Ethnic segregation in schools

The civil war has led to a flourishing “education in emergencies” sector through which aid groups like Save the Children have taken in millions of dollars in funding. They provide services for out-of-school children at UN protection camps across the country, including learning spaces, playgrounds and incentive pay to caregivers and educators.

While this may look non-political at first blush, what it really amounts to is support for ethnic segregation of previously integrated urban school systems, a process now three years in the making.

In Malakal, for example, Shilluk and Nuer children no longer learn alongside Dinka children. During the last civil war, South Sudanese refugees attended integrated schools in Uganda and elsewhere, where they learned side-by-side with children of other communities. This time it's very different.

NGOs will protest that they are only providing interim solutions for children in need: the PoC schools are not formal learning institutions, but are “temporary learning spaces”; the teachers are not formally teachers, they are “volunteers.” But they are de facto helping to create a segregated system, which does not look like it is going to be temporary. In doing so, they are reinforcing momentum toward permanent ghettoisation and lasting social divisions.

Where does this leave us?

It needs to be said that humanitarians have done brave work over the last three years, keeping South Sudanese alive in some of the harshest places on earth. To be fully appreciated, humanitarianism in South Sudan must not be judged on a purely political basis.

A public health perspective could be weighed alongside a political economy perspective. For example: Yes, a given public health intervention may come with a political cost, but what would be the epidemiological consequence if that cost were not paid? Is it worth it? How do we decide?

Humanitarian action is a deeply human, deeply political activity. More needs to be done to provide humanitarians and donors with resources and safe spaces for engaging in reflection on the complex ethical and political dilemmas they face - both at the policy level and in the field.


TOP PHOTO: SPLA soldiers in Malakal. CREDIT: Albert González Farran

albert.jpg Opinion Aid and Policy Conflict Human Rights Politicised humanitarian aid is fuelling South Sudan's civil war Daniel van Oudenaren IRIN NAIROBI Africa East Africa South Sudan
Categories: Gender Parity

Xenophobes, hungry Yemenis, and open data: The cheat sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 02/24/2017 - 15:43

Every week, IRIN’s team of editors takes a look at what lies ahead on our humanitarian agenda and curates a selection of some of the best reports, opinion, and journalism you may have missed:

What’s coming up?

Next week in the famine spotlight…

Here’s a quick quiz: Which country has the UN called the largest food insecurity emergency in the world? Is it Nigeria, where the northeast has been hit hard by the Boko Haram insurgency? How about Cameroon, Chad, or Niger, also on the borders of Lake Chad and dealing with the fallout of the same crisis – all the focus of today’s Oslo donor conference to raise funds for the region? Perhaps South Sudan, where famine has just been declared? Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. It’s Yemen, where this week the UN warned that 7.3 million people are on the brink of famine. This is almost entirely a man-made crisis created by two years of war, and while new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is making an effort to restart peace talks, there doesn’t appear to be much appetite by the warring parties. Yemen is a tough place to report from and to draw attention to for reasons we’ve detailed again and again. Next week, we’ll give it another go with two exclusive reports on what the looming famine looks like in what was already the poorest country in the region, even before the fighting began.

Xenophobia on the march again in South Africa 

Anti-immigrant sentiment has reared its ugly head again in South Africa with stores looted, buildings set aflame, and people being attacked on the streets of Pretoria, the country’s capital, just for looking foreign. Armed police are breaking up protests and Nigeria is calling on the African Union to get involved to tamp out the xenophobic fervour. We’ve been here before. Bloody anti-immigrant riots in 2008 left scores dead and thousands displaced. More recently, in 2015, seven people were killed after an angry mob wielding makeshift weapons attacked immigrants and torched buildings on the streets of Johannesburg. A similar riot broke out in Durban the same year, leaving five dead and causing thousands of foreigners to flee. But, as IRIN’s Africa Editor Obi Anyadike explained at the time, xenophobia doesn’t exist in isolation. South Africa’s unemployment rate is at a near-record high, and many are falling victim to the perception that the country is becoming overrun with immigrants who are all taking their jobs. True, South Africa is a sought-after destination for many fleeing conflict and economic hardship elsewhere in the continent. But research shows that foreign migrants are net contributors to the economy and that the numbers of those born abroad has declined anyway. Appeals for calm are all very well, but the government needs to get serious about tackling income inequality and addressing the socio-economic roots of the problem.

Calling all aid transparency nerds

The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) is a powerful but complex set of rules to structure data about development and humanitarian financing. IATI data from donors and aid agencies describes hundreds of thousands of projects, budgets, transactions, disbursements and results. Many of the biggest donors produce reports in the format, often providing detail not easily available elsewhere. However, the voluntary initiative suffers from wide variation in data quality and completeness and can be intimidating for the non-specialist to grasp. IATI is tentatively adopted as the data standard for a new era of humanitarian finance transparency, called for in the Grand Bargain, but critical mass seems a way off.

IATI open data advocates gather in Dar es Salaam early March for an annual meeting to steer a way forward.

(IRIN would be glad to hear your views on the state of open data in the humanitarian sector: contact

Climate change, migration and movies

Dubbed Gimme Shelter, organisers are billing this as the “world’s first film festival exploring the connections between climate change and migration”. The four-day event kicks off in Newcastle, UK, on 16 March, and it features films as well as lectures and art exhibitions. One talk delves into controversial media coverage linking climate change to Syria’s civil war, and  “examines some of the latest research exploring the links between climate change and armed conflict.” Films include “The Age of Consequences”, which investigates the impact of climate change on security and comes with the tag line: “The Hurt Locker meets An Inconvenient Truth”.

Swedish press freedom event in Geneva


This Wednesday, 1 March, join us at the opening of the exhibition “The Swedish Freedom of the Press Unfolded” and hear how Sweden came to be a forerunner for freedom of the press.

The event kicks off at 12 pm (GMT+1) with a discussion moderated by IRIN Director Heba Aly. Speakers include:

-    H.E. Margot Wallström, Foreign Minister of Sweden

-    H.E. Veronika Bard, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the UN

-    Ms. Dunja Mijatovix, Representative on Freedom of the Media, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

Join live – on the spot at La Passerelle in Geneva’s Palais des Nations, or remotely via our Facebook page.

Did you miss it?

Nice map, shame about the subtext

Not so humble brag: IRIN’s recent map and listicle on foreign military bases in Africa is proving very popular. Ten months ago, we attempted a more ambitious map outlining more than 40 ongoing conflicts around the globe. But credit where credit is due: This “Global Conflict Tracker” from the Council on Foreign Relations’ Center for Preventive Action is as good, if not better. Visually, it clearly surpasses our April 2016 effort, but this is part of the problem. Using pretty, coloured circles to distinguish different levels of “impact on US interests”, it has a three-pronged scale from critical to significant to limited. Scroll down from the map itself and these grades of US interest become separate sections with thumbnails taking you to extensive briefings on each conflict. But studying these reveals a depressing subtext: Unless the United States has a vested interest in a conflict, no one really cares. At the high-end, unsurprisingly, are only countries that have seen direct US military involvement: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, plus those to do with rival superpower China. But it’s the lowest end of the spectrum that is more revealing. It reads like a compendium of the world’s most neglected conflicts. IRIN readers will know them only too well: Somalia, Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Myanmar, Mali, and Burundi. Yemen does makes it into the middle “significant” category, but then again US Navy SEALs performed an ill-judged raid there recently and the Pentagon is reportedly considering ramping up US involvement. Looking at this map, and the conflicts marked critical, that might not be a good thing.

Central African Republic: What’s gone wrong?

One reason is alluded to in the entry above, but there are many others as to why Central African Republic finds itself in renewed turmoil. If depth of despondency or complete lack of hope could propel a crisis onto the front pages, CAR would surely have a chance. Regular IRIN contributor Philip Kleinfeld does his best here: Stunning photographs and vivid frontline testimony. The underlying facts speak for themselves: no government control outside the capital; violence spreading within and between different Muslim communities, let alone the Christian-Muslim dynamic that characterised the previous conflagration in 2013; record displacement above 410,000; UN peacekeepers struggling to prevent the conflict from enveloping the second city of Bambari. Oh, and innocent civilians are routinely targeted because of ethnicity. “They turned up in vehicles and were shooting everywhere,” Issa, 26, tells IRIN. “My husband fought back to protect the community, but he was shot in the head.” This is great reporting. But will it make a blind bit of difference?

(TOP PHOTO: April 28, 2015. A guard walks past what remains of Ibn Sina School, in Sana’a, the capital. CREDIT: Mohammed Mahmoud / UNICEF)





201505250621360406.jpg News Aid and Policy Migration Environment and Disasters Climate change Conflict Food Human Rights The weekly humanitarian outlook IRIN GENEVA Global
Categories: Gender Parity

Central African Republic: What’s gone wrong?

IRIN Gender - Fri, 02/24/2017 - 11:38

There was hope last year that the election of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra would bring real change to the troubled Central African Republic. But 12 months on, he has been unable to extend his authority beyond the capital, Bangui, and the rest of the country is as lawless as ever.

Fatimatou Issa and her family witnessed that violence first-hand last month. They’d heard rumours of trouble for days, but when the ex-Séléka rebels drove up, they had no time to react.

At first, they assumed the men had come to fight other rebels. But as bullets whizzed around the ethnic Fulani village of Mbourtchou, in CAR’s Ouaka Province, it was clear who they were targeting.

“They turned up in vehicles and were shooting everywhere,” said Issa, 26. “My husband fought back to protect the community, but he was shot in the head.”

Sweating in the dusty heat, Issa was standing outside a flimsy straw and bamboo hut at Elevache camp for displaced persons in nearby Bambari, a market town of red-earth streets and mud-brick houses 400 kilometres from Bangui.

“Many of the families here have been given nothing,” said community leader Mohammadou Saibou, who fled the same attack. “When we arrived, the Red Cross provided us with some food, but there wasn’t enough for everyone.”

Getting worse

A year on from democratic elections that promised a new era in CAR, the crisis is deteriorating, with armed groups in control of the vast majority of the country and civilians like Issa and Saibou the principal victims.

Renewed fighting between rebel groups in the central and eastern provinces of Ouaka and Hautte-Kotto is now dangerously close to reaching Bambari, CAR’s second largest town.

Together with fighting in Kaga Bandoro in the north, and Ouham-Pendé in the northwest, the number of displaced people has passed 411,000, the highest level since the crisis began.

Back in 2013, the conflict pitted the Séléka, a predominantly Muslim coalition of rebel groups from the north, who overthrew former president François Bozizé in a coup, against anti-Balaka – a network of Christian self-defence militias that rose up in response.        

Today, that dynamic has changed. After a de facto partition between Christians in the south and Muslims in the north, hostilities between the two groups have decreased. In its place is an explosion of fratricidal fighting between different factions of the Séléka, who were disbanded in 2014 and driven out of Bangui.

“Against the supposed Christian versus Muslim logic of this conflict, we now see Muslim groups fighting Muslim groups, divided on ethnic lines and fighting for territory,” said Richard Moncrieff, Central Africa project director for the International Crisis Group.

In Ouaka and Hautte-Kotto, the two main groups vying for control are the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC), dominated by Muslims from the Fulani ethnic group, and a coalition of rebels led by the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC), dominated by Muslims from the Gula and Runga communities.

The UPC and FPRC split back in 2014, after FPRC leader Noureddine Adam demanded independence for CAR’s predominantly Muslim north, a move rejected by UPC leader Ali Darassa. Tensions festered when Darassa rejected FPRC attempts to unify ex-Séléka factions last October, and turned critical a month later after clashes around a gold mine in Ndassima.

Ethnic complexion

Since then, violence has assumed an ethnic complexion with both groups targeting civilians associated with their opponents. The FPRC’s attack on Issa and Saibou’s village came after an even more brutal assault in Bria, 100 kilometres to the east. 

Over three days, 21-23 November, the group singled out and slaughtered Fulani, a historically nomadic group who are falsely stereotyped as “foreigners” and “Chadians”.

To Saibou, who worked as a trader before fleeing the FPRC, that argument makes no sense.

“Our community has been here throughout the history of the country, even before independence,” he said, as a group of men prayed beside him. “So why do they say we are not from this country?”

Fulani that remain in Bria are now trapped in enclaves, and there are growing fears the same, or worse, could happen in Bambari.

FPRC forces are currently closing in on the town from two separate directions: Ippy from the northeast, and Bakala from the northwest. Their intention is to dislodge the UPC, “liberate the country from foreign armed groups”, and declare Bambari the capital of an independent state called the Republic of Lagone, or Dar al-Kuti.

The UPC are attempting to prevent their advance, but committing their own atrocities in the process. In Bakala, they executed 32 civilians and captured fighters in December, according to a report by Human Rights Watch. 

Around 10,000 civilians fled to nearby Mbrés, Grimali and Bambari, with several thousand others camping out in the bush.

“They arrived on a Sunday afternoon and were attacking the Christian community and Gula [people] too,” said Christine Passio, a 45-year-old Christian who fled Bakala last December. 

Homeless, she now lives in a straw hut near Bambari’s airstrip, surviving on meagre food rations tied up in a burlap sack. 

“We had no time to take our belongings, and we spent three weeks travelling in the bush, carrying our children with no food,” she said.

For the time-being, Bambari remains conflict-free. But fighting between the two groups has poisoned relations within the town’s Muslim community, with the UPC targeting Gula and Runga they consider sympathetic to the FPRC. 

“It’s the first time we’ve had this kind of division within the Muslim community,” said one humanitarian worker, who asked not to be named. “Every time there is a convoy to Bria or Bangui, they [Gula and Runga] are taking the opportunity to leave. Others have fled to the Christian side of Bambari”.

My enemy’s enemy

At the back of Notre-Dame des Victoires, a small Catholic church that doubles as a displaced persons camp for Christians, 32-year-old Zoyondonko Sogala Deya, a Gula, was remarkably calm. 

Until recently, the father of three wouldn’t have dreamt of stepping foot in the area, which lies in the middle of Bambari’s anti-balaka-controlled territory.

But after Deya’s house was looted last month by UPC fighters, he said he had little choice but to seek refuge among the Christian community. Asked if he worried about living among anti-balaka, he shook his head. “I feel better living here with Christians than there with Muslims,” he said. “We are all scared of the UPC”.

For the time-being, Deya’s trust in the anti-balaka isn’t quite as crazy as it sounds. Wanting to share in the spoils of war, or to simply push the Fulani out of CAR, anti-balaka elements in and around Bambari have forged an opportunistic alliance with the FPRC, sworn enemies just a few months ago.

Sitting in a restaurant near his house on the west side of Bambari, Marcelin Orogbo, general-secretary of the anti-balaka in Ouaka, said the only thing he wants is “Ali Darassa gone”. 

Knocking back bottles of Mokaf, a beer brewed in Bangui, he praised the FPRC for their “discipline” and argued that their objective in Bambari is simply “to kick out the UPC”.

How long that alliance lasts remains to be seen. When IRIN brought up the FPRC’s stated goal of dividing the country, Orogbo quickly rowed back. “If they go beyond their objective of getting rid of Darassa, we won’t accept it,” he said. “We are strictly against the division of the country. CAR is one.”

Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN Major UN test

To stem the rising tide of violence in central and eastern CAR, the UN’s 13,000-strong peacekeeping force, MINUSCA, is fighting two separate battles in one of its biggest tests to date.

The mission, which has faced criticism of inaction despite its mandate to protect civilians, has drawn figurative “red lines” on the roads leading into Bambari to stop the FPRC from advancing. It has also issued an ultimatum to UPC combatants inside the town to leave.

“We are ready, willing and able to take over the city and we will do it,” said the UN’s bullish head of office in Ouaka, Alain Sitchet. “Bambari is going to be a weapon-free city.”

Others are less optimistic. The FPRC has already broken through one “red line” and, according to a well-placed source, is circumventing MINUSCA’s positions on the main roads by advancing to Bambari through the bush.

While reports this week suggested Ali Darassa has now left Bambari, UPC combatants remain in the city in plain clothes, and others continue to fight the FPRC in nearby towns and villages.

In an earlier interview with IRIN, Darassa – a towering figure scrunched into a plastic chair in a white robe – was deliberately ambiguous about his plans. 

“If the civilian population want me to leave, I will leave,” he said, adding that protection of Bambari’s Fulani population remained his priority.

Touadéra’s dilemma 

For its part, the central government appears almost completely powerless. It shows that “having a relatively well-accepted election produces a legitimate government in [the capital] Bangui, but it doesn't give you much more,” said Moncrieff.

To try and rein in the different armed groups, a dialogue over disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration has been initiated by President Touadéra, a former maths professor.

But previous DDR schemes in CAR have failed, and few are optimistic about the current attempt. 

The FPRC, a new Ouham-Pendé-based armed group called Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation (better known as 3R), and anti-balaka under the command of Maxime Mokom, have all boycotted the process.

Any measures ex-Séléka groups have taken to disarm have been “tokenistic”, said Lewis Mudge, a researcher with Human Rights Watch.

“If you think about it, there is no reason for them to [disarm],” he added. “They are benefiting. The UPC might be in a defensive position, but the FPRC and the Patriotic Movement for Central African Republic (another ex-Séléka group) are benefiting from conflict.”

The underlying grievances driving conflict have not been tackled either, according to Moncrieff.

“One problem is the total lack of economic opportunity in the provinces, and the other is citizenship,” he said. “Many people in the country have a feeling of being second-class citizens and being completely marginalised from the political classes in Bangui.” 

CAR is mineral-rich, but for decades has been a byword for underdevelopment. The continued violence is deepening poverty in a country where half of the 4.6 million population is already dependent on humanitarian aid.

(TOP PHOTO: Displaced Fulani at Evalache camp, CAR. CREDIT: Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN)


displaced_fulani_at_elevache_3.jpg Analysis Conflict Human Rights Central African Republic: What’s gone wrong? Philip Kleinfeld IRIN BAMBARI Africa East Africa Central African Republic
Categories: Gender Parity

Women’s empowerment meets male resistance, sexual exploitation in Nigeria camps

IRIN Gender - Wed, 02/22/2017 - 12:35

The camps for displaced people scattered across northeast Nigeria are supposed to provide safety from Boko Haram violence. But for many women the threat is no longer the jihadists: The danger is inside the camps, and stems from the attitudes of men in general.


Fatima Mohammed* is the “acting women’s leader” in sprawling Bakassi Camp in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State and birthplace of Boko Haram. She says she’s seeing increasing rates of domestic violence – disputes she’s expected to step in and mediate.


Sewing a prayer cap with the distinctive pattern from her hometown of Gwoza, she recalled a typical recent case. It underlines both the domestic tensions of camp life, and the easily bruised egos of men, which can all too readily flare into violence.  


The example was this: A woman’s husband had found work putting up tents in another camp, and they agreed to invest his wage in a small trading business – a common practice among the displaced, who often set aside part of their meagre rations for sale so they can earn some money for medicines, cooking oil, firewood, or any of their many other unmet needs.


The business worked. But the man grew violent, resentful that it was his wife who was making the money. After one beating his wife mocked him “for not having [any] work”. That kicked off more abuse, and he also banned her from the market. That’s when Fatima was called in.


“We told him he would only be spiting himself and his children if he prevented her from going to market.” She also advised the woman not to “mock” or “make [her husband] less of a man”. The issue of the beating remained unbroached.


Men being men


Abubakar Abdulahi*, an employee of the State Emergency Management Agency, laced his fingers over the bridge of his nose and sighed: “Men don’t know how to handle having their role change… this is a very sensitive issue.”


Having worked in several of the internally displaced person (IDP) camps that dot Maiduguri, Abubakar has been thrust into a number of domestic issues. 


Speaking with Fatima about the state of affairs in Bakassi, a camp of 21,000 people, he was unsurprised when she reported: “there are months when the food distribution is late and the food is exhausted”. As a result, “women ask their husbands to find some food or some small money, and the men get angry and frustrated because they can’t,” Fatima said, adding that she is usually only called in to adjudicate when “the fighting gets out of hand”.


Miriam Zannah*, who works with the USAID-funded Northeast Regional Initiative in neighbouring Yobe State, said women’s roles are changing as a result of their new responsibilities as widows, orphan caretakers, and breadwinners.


Both Miriam and Abubakar advocate “women’s empowerment” programmes – development schemes that teach women how to sew caps or tailor clothes. But they have both witnessed the backlash from men.


Picking his words carefully, Abubakar explained that “men feel less like men; they always complain that NGOs are giving preference to women.”  




The bias towards “women’s empowerment” is not intended to undermine men’s sense of self, but is rather a result of the demographics of the camps’ adult population, which is overwhelmingly female.


The programmes are also an easy sell to the donors for the aid organisations operating in the underdeveloped north. Maternal mortality rates in the region are among the highest in the world and women’s literacy barely cracks double digits, way behind the rest of the country.


The development programmes have not radically altered the lived experiences of women. But “having to cope with being jobless is hard on men,” said a sympathetic Fatima.


The evidence bears her out. A survey conducted by Voices 4 Change in 2016 found that men in Nigeria believe their masculinity is determined by their ability to provide for their family.

HilaryMatfess/IRIN If the cap fits

The turmoil that has roiled the northeast since the Boko Haram insurgency began in 2009 has played its part in upending traditional order. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, some 1.7 million have been displaced, and more than five million will face crisis levels of food insecurity in the coming months.


Trauma and domestic violence are mutually reinforcing, according to a blog by Maame Esi Eshun at the Africa Program of the Wilson Center.


But “the government has no idea how to cope with this issue,” said Abubakar. Instead, domestic abuse cases are referred to community leaders, camp managers, or the police.


That doesn’t solve the problem. In Nigeria, as in most other societies, gender-based violence is ingrained, as are the attitudes associated with it.


Survival sex


In 2012, it was estimated that one in three Nigerian women had experienced “some form of violence, including battering and verbal abuse, emotional and psychological abuse, marital rape, sexual exploitation, or harassment within the home.”


It’s not just violence that women in Bakassi are forced to contend with, but also sexual exploitation. That can range from being turned into “cheap wives” for men in the surrounding communities, where poor families feel under pressure to marry off their daughters, to rape and “survival sex”.


In nearly every camp, residents complain about shortages of food and services. Accompanying the scarcity is a power dynamic that subjects vulnerable women to the authority of the largely male, relatively wealthy camp management team, and the security services.


Survival sex – the exchange of sexual favours for basic material needs – is not unique to Nigeria. But after being assured of anonymity, NGO workers throughout the region often let out exasperated sighs and describe how camp guards trade exit passes with female residents in exchange for a proscribed visit to their tents. 


A member of the Civilian Joint Task Force, a vigilante group that works alongside the military in Borno, told IRIN plainly: “security forces are often laying with women… they are raping them, or not raping, but taking advantage, because for these girls, anything is a big deal.”


Those in charge of food distribution, too, force young women to weigh the value of an extra ration (or even the full ration that they’re entitled to) against their dignity. Pre-marital sex is still considered taboo for women in the region, so there is a heavy reputational risk.


Cheap wives


But marriage provides no safety from exploitation. As Mohammad Aliyu*, a CJTF member noted, there is enormous pressure on poor families in the camps to marry off their daughters in order to receive the bride price.


“Whenever women reach the age of marriage, they are given, to reduce the family liability,” he said. The result is that the average bride price has tumbled from $190-$290 to $20-$30 at the current black market exchange rate of the naira.


This low barrier to entry has created opportunities for the most unscrupulous marital entrepreneurialism. “Men from town come to the camps and pick themselves cheap wives,” said Mohammed. He estimates that 40 percent of the marriages end in divorce within a few months, once the men grow bored of the woman.


After the divorce, women are often forced to return to the camps and their families. Their prospect for a future marriage is much reduced – especially if they have fallen pregnant.


“IDP camps are for IDPs – outside men shouldn’t be let in!” said Rina Mohammed*, an aid worker and protection expert.


Rina said that although that seems like an obvious step, it hasn’t been adopted because “camp managers either don’t care, see it as a positive solution, or are profiting from it”.


*All names have been changed



PHOTOS: Women in Maiduguri IDP camps. CREDIT: Hilary Matfess

sick.jpg Analysis Aid and Policy Migration Conflict Human Rights Women’s empowerment meets male resistance, sexual exploitation in Nigeria camps Hilary Matfess IRIN MAIDUGURI Africa Nigeria
Categories: Gender Parity

EXCLUSIVE: UK “voluntary” returns – refugee coercion and NGO complicity

IRIN Gender - Tue, 02/21/2017 - 08:00

The UK Home Office is accelerating its drive for “illegal” migrants and those refused asylum to return home voluntarily – a tactic publicised as more cost-effective and “humane” than forced returns. But how “voluntary” are these returns really? And how have NGOs become complicit in this strategy?

The UK is the only EU country with no time limit on immigration detention. Since being refused asylum, 19-year-old Aamir* from Afghanistan has been held at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, near Heathrow Airport, for eight months. He has no idea when he’ll be released or deported.

Without adequate access to legal or psychological support in detention, and no release date, Aamir is considering “voluntarily” returning to Afghanistan, a country where a prolonged conflict has worsened in the past year, displacing hundreds of thousands from their homes.

“I can’t sleep or eat. There is no one to talk to. I feel like I’m going crazy,” he told IRIN. “I don’t want to go back to Afghanistan – my whole family is dead there – but I am scared I’ll kill myself if I don’t leave this place soon.”

The primary targets of the UK Home Office’s Voluntary Return Service, though, are people outside of detention who are living on a minimal support grant. In April, as a result of the 2016 Immigration Act, that support – £73.90 a week for families/£36 for single adults and government-contracted housing – will be discontinued for those whose initial asylum claims have been refused.

Although an initial asylum refusal is by no means the end of the legal road (87 percent of refusals of asylum claims by Eritreans were overturned by judges on appeal in 2015), the Home Office encourages people seeking asylum who’ve had an initial negative decision to accept voluntary return in order to avoid destitution. For non-European nationals, destitution is considered a breach of the conditions under which they can legally stay in the UK and can be used as grounds for enforced removal.


In late 2015, the Home Office cut nearly £2 million in funding to Refugee Action, a charity that ran the UK’s Assisted Voluntary Return programme from 2011. Refugee Action claimed to deliver “free impartial, independent and confidential advice” regarding voluntary return.

Starting in January 2016, the Home Office began running an in-house Voluntary Return Service (VRS). Refugee Action described the change as “part of a wider strategy by the government to strengthen the ‘hostile environment’ and create stronger incentives for voluntary return”.

VRS seeks to “achieve” 31,500 removals over three years, with a budget of £18,638,296. It mainly targets people in the UK “illegally”. Another related programme, called “Assisted Voluntary Return”, provides up to £2,000 to help returnees “find somewhere to live, find a job or start a business” and is aimed specifically at survivors of trafficking, families, unaccompanied minors, people with ongoing asylum cases, and people who have exhausted the appeals process.

Whilst people who opt for voluntary return may not come into direct contact with restraints, guards, or physical force, the transition to a Home Office-run service has raised concerns about “voluntariness”, particularly when offered to people faced with the prospect of indefinite detention and enforced removal.

Hannah* said the Home Office tried to coerce her and her young child into accepting voluntary return to East Africa by threatening to cut her asylum support when her initial asylum application was refused.

Whilst at her local Home Office reporting centre, Hannah said she was approached by an employee who asked if she would consider returning home “voluntarily” and even offered to help pack her bags and order her a taxi to the airport. According to Hannah, she proceeded to threaten her and her son with deportation if she didn’t accept this “help”, and told her to go away and think about it.

The next time Hannah visited the centre, she told staff she was preparing a fresh asylum claim – evidenced with a letter from her lawyer – and didn’t want to sign documents consenting to “voluntarily” return. She was consequently required to travel more than two hours every day to report at the centre “until further notice”. Once there, Hannah said she faced verbal abuse and intimidation from employees who, in addition to threatening to cut her asylum support, told her she could be arrested if she didn’t comply. Had she given in to the pressure and signed the form agreeing to voluntary return, Hannah would have lost the right to submit a fresh asylum claim and could have faced forced return if she later tried to withdraw her consent.


Hibiscus Initiatives

The Home Office refused to comment about individual cases like Hannah's, but IRIN's investigation found that when such tactics fail it looks to trusted organisations to “persuade” people to leave the UK voluntarily. As one senior manager noted in 2014: “It’s a matter of trust; they [NGOs such as Refugee Action] can have discussions with migrant groups that the Home Office can’t… realistically we know that there’s a concern about engaging directly with the government.”

One NGO benefiting from this strategy is Hibiscus Initiatives, a registered charity with “teams” based at the Yarl’s Wood, Colnbrook, and Harmondsworth detention centres. The charity runs an “International Resettlement” project – funded by the Home Office since 2012 – which provides “independent advice to detainees and practical assistance to make resettlement in their home country easier”.

Unlike Refugee Action, which was transparent about its financial relationship with the Home Office, Hibiscus Initiatives doesn’t list the Home Office as one of its funders on its website. However, its financial statements show that in the year ending March 2016, the Home Office paid the charity a total of £400,000, accounting for 68 percent of its “contract income”.  

The Home Office told IRIN it “has no contract with Hibiscus Initiatives” and a spokesperson described the organisation as “a registered charity who provide independent returns facilitation support and advice to non-EU detainees”. But government documents show that the Home Office made 10 grants, each over £25,000, to the charity between August 2015 and August 2016, under the category of “Immigration Enforcement”.

The grants are drawn from the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), which lists Hibiscus Initiatives as “State/federal authorities”, and describes the purpose of the project as “to support the UK priority on returns by contributing towards 600 successful, compliant returns per year”.

The NGO’s Trustees’ Report, published in March 2016, notes that the International Resettlement Team “exceeds” these “demanding targets by a very large margin”.

NGO “dilemma”

Hibiscus Initiatives claim to have provided a “human and caring service” to 3,115 people at immigration detention centres last year.

Kayla*, a Zimbabwean woman detained at Yarl’s Wood, recalled her experiences of the charity: “They said that if I don’t return voluntarily I will stay in detention… I don’t feel like they are supporting me; I think they are the same as the guards – they just want to please the Home Office.”

Another detainee, Mark*, talked to IRIN over the phone from Colnbrook detention centre about his encounters with Hibiscus Initiatives: “They kept talking to me about returning voluntarily, returning freely… But I am in detention, how would it be free? They didn’t listen to me when I said I want to fight my case, to stay with my kids here in the UK… All they do is tell me I would be better off leaving… It’s not advice; it feels like a command.”

At the time of publication, Hibiscus Initiatives had not responded to several requests for comment from IRIN.

But Frances Webber, a former human rights barrister and vice-chair of the Institute of Race Relations who has written about the politics of voluntary return, noted:NGOs such as Hibiscus Initiatives… face the dilemma that their concern for people’s safety, wellbeing and rights comes up against, and must cede to, Home Office enforcement strategy, which offers ‘voluntary return’ solely as an alternative to indefinite detention, persisting destitution and enforced deportation. The most they can do is sugar-coat the pill.”

*Names have been changed

Illustrations by Sam Wallman


An IRIN investigation finds evidence the Home Office is using outside NGOs to pressure asylum seekers How "voluntary" are UK refugee returns? voluntary_returns1.jpeg Lotte Lewis Smith Investigations Migration Human Rights Politics and Economics LONDON IRIN Europe United Kingdom
Categories: Gender Parity

Humanitarian situation worsens in Myanmar despite Aung San Suu Kyi

IRIN Gender - Tue, 02/21/2017 - 00:51

The crops were almost ready to harvest when fighting forced Naw Tin Swe’s family to flee to this camp on Myanmar’s eastern frontier where food supplies always seem to be running low.

“We had to leave our rice, our corn, our firewood,” said Naw Tin Swe. “Someone else maybe took it. We are so poor now.”

Naw Tin Swe is among about 5,500 people who have been stranded since September in Myaing Gyi Ngu, an area in Kayin State where relief supplies trickle in only sporadically as international aid agencies are largely blocked.

The military and its Border Guard Force militia sent people to Myaing Gyi Ngu when they began operations against a faction that had broken away from the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, a former insurgent group that signed a “Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement” in 2015.

The NCA was a centrepiece of the previous government’s attempts to forge a peace deal with ethnic armies, some of which started fighting shortly after Myanmar’s independence from Britain in 1948. But only eight of the 15 groups invited to sign did so. Others were excluded from the process, which wrapped up just before elections ushered in a parliamentary majority for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

SEE: Myanmar’s ceasefire accord – peace or propaganda?

Many hoped that Aung San Suu Kyi’s electoral triumph would revive peace negotiations. The talks were fraught with distrust between the ethnic armed groups and the government, which was led by a party mainly comprised of former officers of the military that had ruled Myanmar for 49 years.

While expectations were high, Aung San Suu Kyi actually has limited influence over security matters. A military-drafted constitution reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for serving officers and puts key ministries in military hands. The constitution allows no civilian oversight for military operations, which means that Aung San Suu Kyi’s government does not have control over the military offensives in Myanmar’s northern Kachin and Shan states, or western Rakhine State.

What Aung San Suu Kyi does have is a lot of political capital, and she has been criticized for failing to expend some of it to stand up to the generals. As horrific reports of atrocities committed against Rohingya civilians emerged, her government’s response has been outright denial in defence of the military. To the dismay of some ethnic leaders, she has not condemned the military’s intensifying offensives in the north. Instead, she implored them to sign the NCA.

“I want to request of national ethnic groups who have not signed yet the cease fire treaty to sign with bravery and self confidence,” Aung San Suu Kyi said in a 12 February speech.

Almost a year after the NLD took power, the picture is grim. Fighting has gotten worse, and the government was forced to call off the next round of peace talks scheduled for 28 February. As the security situation has declined, so has access to those affected, with humanitarian groups saying the government is preventing them from bringing aid to displaced people.

The situation is so bad that the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, recently told IRIN that she would call for a “special session” at next month’s Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva. At the moment, she is scheduled to present her report on 13 March, which will be followed by a two-and-a-half hour discussion.

“That’s just not enough,” she said.

Lee mentioned in particular the recent assassination of Ko Ni, a respected legal advisor to the NLD and a prominent Muslim, the surge in fighting in northern Myanmar, and alleged abuses of ethnic Rohingya during military counter-insurgency operations in western Rakhine State.

SEE: UN rights envoy urges inquiry into abuses of Rohingya in Myanmar

Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay did not answer phone calls to respond to IRIN’s questions about the deteriorating situation.

Humanitarian access

The UN says about 218,000 people are displaced inside Myanmar, mostly in temporary camps in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states. Many of them fled after ceasefires broke down in Shan and Kachin in 2011, and when mobs of nationalist Buddhists chased minority Rohingya Muslims from their homes in 2012.

Another 100,000 people or so more recently fled their homes. They include people like Naw Tin Swe in Kayin State, as well as thousands more in Shan and Kachin who have escaped clashes between ethnic armies and government forces. But the vast majority are Rohingya and most of them escaped over the border to Bangladesh. 

More than 73,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh since the military launched operations in October in Maungdaw, a border township, and the UN estimates that another 24,000 are internally displaced.

SEE: The denied oppression of Myanmar’s Rohingya people

Amid reports of atrocities committed by the military against Rohingya civilians in Maungdaw, the government refused access to media as well as aid agencies. The World Food Programme reported that it has recently been allowed to distribute some relief items, but restrictions remain in place in Rakhine, as well as other regions in the north and east.

“Humanitarian access to conflict areas in Myanmar is currently worse than at any point in the past few years,” said Pierre Péron, a spokesman for the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA.

Paul Vrieze/IRIN Children displaced by fighting in Kayin State in a makeshift shelter Not enough food

In this remote corner of Kayin State, camp managers complain that the government is hindering international aid delivery and said they relied on limited food donations from authorities and local community groups.

“We want foreign organisations to support us, but sometimes the Burmese government doesn’t allow it,” said camp leader Saw Paing Paing, using Myanmar’s former name. “We don’t know why.”

He showed IRIN the remaining supplies: enough rice, beans and onions to feed the camp for four more days, plus 300 kilograms of vegetables donated that day by a local group.

Arsen Sahakya, a WFP spokesman, confirmed that the organisation “does not have unfettered access to the camp” and that it had only been allowed to deliver two months worth of rations of high energy biscuits for children in October and November. He said state authorities told WFP there was no need for its assistance.

People in the camp disagreed, including Naw Kin Yin, who is seven months pregnant.

“(The food) is not really enough for me and the baby,” she said, adding that rations sometimes run out before everyone is fed. “Sometimes I go hungry, if I’m late and I miss the rice distribution.”


(Additional reporting by Kyungmee Kim and Jared Ferrie. TOP PHOTO: A donation of vegetables from a community group arrives at a camp for people displaced by fighting in Kayin State​. CREDIT: Paul Vrieze/IRIN)

myanmar_idps_1.jpg Analysis Migration Conflict Food Human Rights Humanitarian situation worsens in Myanmar despite Aung San Suu Kyi Paul Vrieze IRIN MYAING GYI NGU MYANMAR Asia Myanmar
Categories: Gender Parity

Who pays the hidden price for Congo’s conflict-free minerals?

IRIN Gender - Mon, 02/13/2017 - 20:01

Valentin was in trouble. His arms were tied behind his back and he couldn’t move. The sun was beating down in the courtyard of the mining company where he and his friends were being held.

The men had been arrested by mining police for peacefully protesting the low price of the coltan ore they had dug out by hand from deep narrow shafts in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Western activists have sought to help end violence in Congo by championing conflict-free mineral policies that aim to stop armed groups profiting from the trade. But thousands of miners like Valentin are paying a heavy price. At his mine, Kisengo, a monopoly on clean coltan has kept prices low, reduced revenues, and driven some miners to trade their wares illegally or move into the illicit artisanal gold sector.

A proposed executive order by US President Donald Trump reportedly seeks to cancel those regulatory controls. The draft order, obtained by The Guardian and Intercept, claims to be acting out of concern over “mounting evidence” that instead of preventing minerals from fuelling conflict, these controls are actually causing harm and contributing to instability in the region. On this occasion, Trump may have a point. A months-long IRIN investigation in mineral-rich eastern Congo found that some artisanal mining communities have suffered serious consequences as a result of the new conflict-free rules.

Several thousand self-employed miners work alongside Valentin [1] in the Kisengo mine. Like him, they’re only allowed to sell to a single company. That company, MMR, is a pioneer in the supply of untainted minerals. It has exclusive rights to purchase the entire production of the four main artisanal mines in what was formerly Katanga Province – now four smaller provinces.

“We don’t set prices. We impose them on miners.” That’s how one MMR employee, who asked for anonymity, explained the relationship.


[1] Name changed. Although one of MMR’s employees confirmed the arrest of miners, the head office later denied having any knowledge of it.


An IRIN investigation finds merit in President Trump’s claims that a US law banning conflict minerals is leading to lost livelihoods Who pays the hidden price for Congo’s conflict-free minerals? irin_congo_ethical_minerals-0877.jpg Emmanuel Freudenthal Investigations Conflict Human Rights Politics and Economics Kisengo IRIN Africa DRC United States Good intentions

Artisanal mining is one of the main sources of livelihoods in eastern Congo.

Like Valentin, some 240,000 miners work with just picks and shovels, under extreme conditions, to extract valuable minerals, among them coltan. The dark metallic ore contains the commercially important element tantalum, which is extracted and used to make key components in mobile phones and almost every other electronic device.

The forests and grasslands where the miners work are crisscrossed by armed militias, whose violence has led to millions of deaths since the 1990s. The motivations of these groups range from local grievances to regional proxy wars. But one thing many of them have in common is that they sustain themselves by taxing the natural resources trade – in particular minerals.

In reaction, human rights activists in the United States lobbied for a law, section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act, which was passed in 2010 and requires publicly listed companies to determine whether their products contain “conflict minerals” produced in Congo.

The new rules provided the impetus for similar legislation in Congo and neighbouring countries. This year, the European Union will have its own version, which will apply worldwide. Whether these efforts have reduced conflict in Congo is hotly debated between activists and academics.

Passed in the wake of the financial crisis of 2007-2009 to tighten company oversight, Dodd-Frank was hugely unpopular with the Republican Party and is now under general assault by the Trump administration, which reportedly intends to suspend section 1502 for two years.

Keeping it clean

For minerals to remain truly conflict-free, their flow has to be kept separate from tainted materials.

It’s a challenge. The mines validated as conflict-free can be just a few hills away from those controlled by armed groups. And the trade is messy, with miners and mineral traders operating independently and constantly on the move across the region. Conflict minerals can easily leak into the supposedly clean supply chains. 

Emmanuel Freudenthal/IRIN A fleck of gold in the palm of a Congolese miner

“If you use the old trading networks… it’s almost impossible to track your minerals,” explained Ken Matthysen, who helped conduct a unique survey of more than 1,600 mines in eastern Congo for the Belgian research institute IPIS.

MMR has been at the forefront of efforts to produce bona fide conflict-free minerals. Its first clients included companies such as Fairphone and Motorola that make a big deal out of sourcing materials responsibly. 

While other mines have more open access, potentially allowing tainted minerals to leak in, MMR goes to great pains to make sure its production is kept pure, from the shafts all the way to export.

The company was also among the first to implement a traceability scheme, called iTSCi, which currently channels nearly all of Congo’s legal coltan exports.

Exclusive contract

The production of conflict-free minerals kicked off in a village called Kisengo, in eastern Congo.

In 2007, large deposits were discovered there, which soon attracted the miners, with families and merchants in tow. More than 20,000 people arrived within the first year.

Indian businessmen were also attracted to Kisengo’s natural riches. In March 2010, their company, MMR, obtained the exclusive rights to purchase the entire production of Kisengo and three other large mining sites. This proved a particularly good deal as, around the same time, the price of tantalum doubled on international markets.

Emmanuel Freudenthal/IRIN

The contract between MMR and the provincial government of Katanga, headed by Moïse Katumbi at the time, was not subject to any tender. Instead, the agreement gave MMR exclusive rights, on the understanding that the company would prevent the mineral trade from funding armed groups and maximise tax revenues for the province. In exchange, MMR had to build a hospital and a school in Kisengo, which it eventually did.

The contract also instructed MMR to collaborate with a miners’ cooperative, CDMC, which, according to Africa Intelligence, was founded by a brother of the mining minister. The minister, Martin Kabwelulu, did not reply to IRIN’s emails.

MMR has enforced this agreement with the help of the army, and latterly the police, as set out in its contract. Claude Iguma, a PhD researcher who has studied the security situation in Kisengo, counted 43 policemen in the village, most of them armed with assault rifles, and five control points at its exits. MMR pays the police on top of their government salaries, according to several IRIN interviews with informed sources and prior research, but the company denies this.



Despite the impressive security apparatus, minerals are still smuggled out of MMR’s concession.

There’s good reason for that. The prices offered by MMR are much lower than those offered on the black market.

Several traders told IRIN they could smuggle minerals out of the Kisengo mine and sell them for twice the price MMR offers. MMR has been buying coltan for $20-24 per kilo, whereas one trader told IRIN he sold ore from Kisengo in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, a few months ago for more than $50 per kilo.

Amani, the gold trader Emmanuel Freudenthal/IRIN Amani, the gold trader | Congo’s conflict-free minerals

The price of coltan depends on its tantalum content, and Kisengo’s ore is known by traders to be of the highest quality.

According to confidential information obtained by IRIN, MMR has bought between 100 and 160 tonnes of coltan annually from Kisengo miners over the past few years. This could add up to anywhere between $3 million and $9 million in annual export sales, depending on production, grade, and exact price.

Purchase prices are set by a committee composed of MMR itself, formal representatives from the miners' cooperative, and government officials.

But the miners’ cooperative, CDMC, supposedly a separate entity, is indistinguishable from the company. Its director sits behind an empty desk in MMR’s building. Questioned by IRIN on this point, the company said: “All entities that work collaboratively with MMR on production of minerals spend time in MMR facilities." But MMR also pays the salaries of CDMC’s employees, according to two CDMC managers interviewed by IRIN.

As such, none of the members of the price-setting committee effectively represents the miners’ interests.


Protests erupt

In May 2016, a delegation of miners met with MMR to request better prices, but the company refused.

Valentin and some of the others decided to strike, and a large crowd of miners ended up blocking access to the mine. Valentin said they harassed no one but simply demonstrated, saying, “No organisations owned by foreigners will be allowed to come and conduct its activities… until the price is increased.”

Miners in protest Emmanuel Freudenthal/IRIN Miners in protest | Congo’s conflict-free minerals

At the end of that day, MMR increased the price from $20 to $22 per kilo. When the police reportedly fired shots in the air, the miners dispersed and returned to town.

But a little later on, more than a dozen protesters, including Valentin, were arrested by the mining police, tied up in MMR’s compound for several hours, thrown into one of MMR’s cars, and taken to Kalemie (half a day’s drive away), where they were jailed overnight, according to several miners and independent eyewitnesses.

There, they were accused of being armed rebels and only released after the provincial governor, Richard Kitangala, intervened.

A local MMR representative said the car had been commandeered by the police and denied that the miners were held in its compound.

Contacted by email, MMR’s head office responded: “We know nothing of the specifics that are referred to here.” The head of the mining police responsible for the area said he was not authorised to speak with journalists and could not provide a spokesperson.

Similar protests against MMR’s monopoly have occurred routinely over the years. In 2011, UN investigators found that when miners protested the coltan price in another of MMR’s mines, the police and army were deployed. The report said: “Live rounds were fired, and two civilians were killed." But MMR told IRIN: “We doubt this is true, as we have never heard of such incident.”

Night owls

By protesting, Valentin and his colleagues secured a couple of dollars more per kilo for their ore. But there is another way a miner can look to increase his revenue.

Illicit traders are nicknamed “owls” because they work at night, when the miners crawl out of their shafts. If owls are caught by the police, they lose all their goods and their capital.

The Night Owls Emmanuel Freudenthal/IRIN The Night Owls | Congo’s conflict-free minerals

In a dark room, one such trader spoke softly, anxious to remain anonymous for obvious reasons. He told IRIN the police had confiscated his minerals and then sold them on to MMR, without paying him a cent. Another said MMR buys “tonnes and tonnes… how can they come to confiscate the 20 or 30 kilos that I need to survive, and leave me empty-handed? Don’t you see this is not normal?”

Prior to MMR’s stranglehold, traders could buy and sell minerals freely. Many of them were wandering across eastern Congo, trading minerals worth a few hundred dollars, much like any other merchandise. They would sell them to larger buying houses that would then export them abroad.

According to the 2011 UN investigation, this all changed in Kisengo after MMR obtained its exclusive buying rights. Congolese soldiers began to “actively track down any infringing traders, jail them — sometimes for several days — and deliver the seized minerals” to MMR, its report says. Those who refused to sell their minerals to MMR were detained until they agreed. Since then, the mining police have taken over enforcement.

Ironically, the very same army that had enforced MMR’s conflict-free supply chain is the main culprit in the conflict minerals trade. According to IPIS, the Congolese army levies illegal taxes over a quarter of the miners in eastern Congo, more than any other armed group.

Most traders have quit Kisengo, but some remain, despite the risks, purchasing coltan smuggled out of the quarry, attracting the miners by adding a couple of extra dollars per kilo on top of MMR’s prices, and then looking to make a profit elsewhere.


Town hit hard

According to the most conservative estimates, more than one million people directly depend on artisanal miners in eastern Congo, with many more indirectly benefiting from their business.

A recent study by researchers at the United Nations University suggests that child mortality in villages located near mines in the region has more than doubled since Dodd-Frank was enacted.

Akram the hairdresser | Congo's ethical minerals Emmanuel Freudenthal/IRIN Akram the hairdresser | Congo’s conflict-free minerals

In Kisengo, barber Joseph Akram leant close to a client, a razor blade in his hand, expertly shaving away the smallest hairs for a perfect cut. The afternoon heat was gathering under his tarp-covered salon. It was spotlessly clean and colourfully decorated with posters of various hairstyles. “Because we depend on the diggers, if they don’t find revenues, we also suffer,” he explained. “Everyone here depends on MMR,” said Akram. He recalled that in 2007, “coltan prices were around $50 per kilo, but now they are… $22. Imagine! Life has become hard.”

“Here, there’s no competition: there’s no company that can compete to increase prices. In economics, we say that if demand is higher, prices increase, and without demand, prices decrease.”

Greg Mthembu-Salter, a consultant and former member of the UN group of experts on Congo, sees MMR’s exclusive rights as leading to a “capitalist chain reaction” that means miners end up bearing most of the cost.

“How do you find a fair price in the absence of competitive buying and trade union negotiations?” he asked.

Matthysen, who conducted the mine survey for IPIS, said the approach means “you have clean minerals that satisfy demand [of global consumers], but not the development of local communities."


Rush to gold

Faced with the low coltan prices in Kisengo, many miners and traders have taken the sandy road leading northward. Meandering beautifully through seas of tall grass, after a few hours' drive, it leads to a gold quarry called Kamoko.

Gold has attracted miners to Kamoko since the 1990s. Like Kisengo, it used to be a tiny village, but today it is a town with bars, restaurants, a radio station, hotels, and tick-infested brothels. The military, the police, and a flood of government agencies have set up shop in Kamoko, each with their own rules and taxes.

Byamungu, the radio announcer Emmanuel Freudenthal/IRIN Byamungu, the radio announcer | Congo’s conflict-free minerals

Miners armed with picks and shovels have buried the grasslands under yellow soil, dug out of hundreds of pits. Standing at the quarry’s entrance, you can’t see to the other end. In the underground tunnels, crawling under 15 metres of mud, the air is suffocating, and the soggy earth often collapses, leading to injury and death.

A few hundred metres from the quarry, IRIN found Fiston Ulumbu battling the wind as it swept through the camp and the rain began to fall. To keep the raindrops away from his mattress, the lanky miner leant forward out of his hut and readjusted the blue tarps covering the frail, wooden structure. Even then, it was cold and damp inside.

Fiston used to work in MMR’s concession in Kisengo, but the price the company offered was too low, so he took the road to Kamoko. He told IRIN he was used to the itinerant lifestyle: “Everywhere, there are quarries. If there’s a chance, I need to go. If I hear today that there is much gold in Kolwesi, I need to do everything to get to Kolwesi.”

According to IPIS, the combination of conflict mineral regulations and changing prices and demand have seen many miners, like Fiston, shift from digging coltan and other minerals to gold since 2009, when it conducted its first survey.

Congo’s artisanal gold production is at least $437 million per year. But nearly all of it is illegal and therefore smuggled out of the country. One trader told IRIN he smuggled gold to Tanzania, while others sell it in Uganda or Burundi. According to the UN, most of Congo’s gold ends up in Dubai, where buyers don’t ask too many questions about its origins.

IPIS estimates that about 80 percent of all artisanal miners in eastern Congo now dig for gold. They usually work under the control and illegal taxation of armed groups, most commonly the army.


The future

The activists seeking to solve Congo’s problems through “ethical” electronics consumption do not intend to make miners lives harder, but at Kisengo and other mines in the region the effects of Dodd-Frank section 1502 are hard to ignore.

The impacts of the conflict mineral laws on livelihoods “may have been unintended, but they were not unknown”, pointed out Ben Radley, a PhD researcher on the issue at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague.

Fiston and Joseph, the miners | Congo's ethical minerals Emmanuel Freudenthal/IRIN Fiston and Joseph, the miners | Congo's ethical minerals

The draft of Trump’s executive order justifies suspending section 1502 on the grounds of the “loss of livelihoods” faced by artisanal miners and the “compliance costs” to companies.

In section 1502’s absence, “all these people who trade conflict minerals… could come back,” said Delly Mawazosesete, a Great Lakes researcher based in the eastern Congolese city of Goma. “On an economic level, this will be good. But for human rights and prevention of armed conflicts and their consequences, this will be bad.”

But Laura Seay, a US academic who has been critical of the impact of 1502, believes any suspension will be largely symbolic. The spread of anti-conflict mineral laws regionally and internationally means big corporations that operate multinationally will remain bound by other legislation, she told IRIN.

Fiston has a university degree, but there are no jobs for people without the right connections. He’ll keep digging in the hope of buying a house one day. So far, he barely finds enough gold to survive day by day.

The supply chain of Congo’s industrial gold is already hermetically sealed, but artisanal activity could be targeted whenever the next phase of international efforts against conflict minerals begins.

A kilo of gold is more than 1,000 times more valuable than a kilo of coltan, making it a lot easier to smuggle and harder to trace. Conflict-free gold would require an even more secure supply chain, tightening the noose further on traders and miners alike.

What Fiston doesn’t know yet is that a company affiliated with MMR is coming to Kamoko. Like Congo’s other industrial gold mines, it will produce conflict-free gold in a tightly controlled environment, but it will require far fewer hands. When it starts operations, Fiston and all the other artisanal miners eking out a living from the earth here will have to move on again.

This is the first in a two-part IRIN series on the adverse effects of US conflict-free mineral legislation



Categories: Gender Parity

UN under fire even as Pakistan lifts Afghan deportation order

IRIN Gender - Mon, 02/13/2017 - 05:24
Pakistan has backed off threats to deport more than two million Afghans starting next month, but the refugees are still under intense pressure to leave and the UN is accused of complicity in alleged plans to coerce them back across the border into a war zone.   Last week, Pakistan announced it would allow Afghans to stay in the country until the end of the year. Insiders say the decision by the administration of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came after lobbying from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, as well as two allied political parties and the Afghan government. Sharif’s cabinet was also warned that such a move could push Afghanistan closer to Pakistan’s archrival, India.   But the decision will not alleviate the fear and uncertainty that Afghans live with in Pakistan. In fact, the situation is now similar to last year when more than 600,000 Afghans crossed the border under intense pressure from the government, including an initial end-of-year deportation deadline (which was later delayed until the end of March 2017).   “Giving refugees short-term status and threatening deportation is a very effective way to get people to leave,” said Gerry Simpson, author of a report released today by Human Rights Watch.   The report accuses Pakistan of violating international law by committing refoulement: forcibly returning refugees to a country where they face persecution, torture or a risk to their lives. The report says UNHCR is complicit because it has failed to condemn government measures intended to coerce Afghans to leave and has assisted the government by providing cash grants to returnees.   “It’s clearly high time for UNHCR to speak in plain, simple English and call it what it is, which is forced return,” Simpson told IRIN.   SEE: Will the UN become complicit in Pakistan’s illegal return of Afghan refugees?   Freedom to choose?   The refugee agency rejected HRW’s accusations.   “The return of Afghan refugees in 2016 from Pakistan was categorically not refoulement,” said Duniya Aslam Khan, a spokeswoman for UNHCR in Pakistan.   She told IRIN that the agency does not promote returning to Afghanistan, but offered the cash grant to those who decided on their own accord to leave Pakistan.   “We acknowledge that conditions for return are less than ideal,” said Khan. “UNHCR facilitates voluntary repatriation upon the request and fully informed decision of refugees.”   Simpson argued that conditions were not only “less than ideal” but became so difficult for Afghans in Pakistan last year that repatriation became less of a decision than a necessity.   Halfway through 2016, the government launched a public information campaign warning Afghans that they needed to leave the country or face deportation. After that, refugees began reporting increasing animosity from members of Pakistan’s host communities and they often suddenly found their rents were increased, their children were not allowed to attend school, and employment dried up. The government has denied ordering security forces to harass refugees, but HRW collected evidence that such harassment dramatically increased after the government announced the plan.   SEE: Families torn apart as Pakistan forces Afghan refugees over the border   Harassment by security forces appeared to have dropped off late last year when the government extended the deportation deadline to March. It’s not yet clear whether refugees will be facing the same pressures in 2017, but Simpson warned of that possibility.   Those who decide to return to Afghanistan will be going home to a war that shows no signs of abating and has only become more dangerous for civilians. The UN Mission in Afghanistan recorded 11,418 civilians killed or injured last year, the highest number since UNAMA began documenting civilian casualties in 2009.   The Afghan government is struggling with a record number of displaced people, including those who fled their homes due to conflict last year, as well as record numbers of Afghans who have returned mainly from Pakistan and Iran. The government and aid agencies are asking for $550 million from the international community to support the most “vulnerable and marginalised” people in the country in 2017.   Human Rights Watch   Human Rights Watch   Backroom talks   Afghanistan’s government formally requested Pakistan to extend the stay of the refugees until the security situation improves, according to a senior Pakistani official who declined to be identified as he was not authorised to speak to media on the subject.   The official said that the cabinet also received briefings, which warned that forced repatriation would put further pressure on the strained relationship between the two countries and that India might use that tension to its advantage.   “India can exploit sentiments of the deported refugees in its favour,” he said. “Therefore, we need to be extra careful in pushing the refugees across the border.”   Imran Zeb, Pakistan’s chief commissioner for Afghan Refugees, told IRIN that the government also based its decision on appeals by UNHCR and two political parties, Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami and Jamiat Ulma-e-Islam (Fazal).   Both parties receive most of their support from regions along Pakistan’s frontier with Afghanistan, especially among ethnic Pashtuns who live on both sides of the border.   “We don’t want to throw them into mouths of wolves in Afghanistan,” said Muhammad Jamaluddin, a Jamiat member of the National Assembly. “The refugees will go back voluntarily when the situation improves in their hometowns.”   Simpson, of HRW, said another likely factor was that Pakistan simply does not have the capability to quickly deport the approximately 2.4 million Afghans in the country. However, if Pakistan ramps up pressure on them as it did last year, and if about the same number leave as a result, it could force out most remaining refugees within three years.   SEE: Afghanistan’s deepening migration crisis   as/jf/ag   (TOP PHOTO: A truck carrying Afghan refugees returning from Pakistan travels through Afghanistan's Nangarhar province in August 2016. CREDIT: Jim Huylebroek/NRC)    jalalabad_nrc_jimhuylebroek-17.jpg News Aid and Policy Migration Conflict Human Rights UN under fire even as Pakistan lifts Afghan deportation order Aamir Saeed Jared Ferrie IRIN ISLAMABAD Asia Afghanistan Pakistan
Categories: Gender Parity

EXCLUSIVE: UN rights envoy urges inquiry into abuses of Rohingya in Myanmar

IRIN Gender - Thu, 02/09/2017 - 05:17
The UN should launch an inquiry into military abuses of Myanmar’s minority Rohingya Muslims, because the government is incapable of carrying out a credible investigation, the UN’s rights envoy will tell the Human Rights Council next month.   Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, told IRIN that she will urge member states to sponsor a resolution for a commission of inquiry when she presents her report to the Council in Geneva on 13 March.   “I never said in the past to a reporter what I plan to put in my report,” she said in a phone interview. “This time I am making this point: I will certainly be pushing for an inquiry, definitely, on the Rohingya situation.”   Rights groups have, over the past few years, been urging the UN to investigate reports of abuses against the Rohingya, a mostly stateless minority forced to live under an apartheid system. But the calls have become more urgent since reports of mass rapes, killings, and other atrocities began to emerge in early October, when the military launched counterinsurgency operations.   There is now unprecedented pressure for a UN-backed inquiry, which could find evidence that Myanmar’s military has committed crimes against humanity.   “A commission of inquiry would have been unthinkable six months ago, but serious momentum is growing daily,” said Matt Smith, chief executive officer of Fortify Rights, which has documented abuses of Rohingya. “The special rapporteur plays an essential role in helping UN member states understand what to do. They'll strongly consider her recommendations.”   Mass exodus   More than 69,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since October, bringing with them horrific accounts of soldiers attacking their communities in Maungdaw, a township on the border that the military has kept under strict lockdown. However, Rohingya who made it to Bangladesh have recounted their experiences to groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which also analysed satellite images indicating that the military systematically burned villages.   A “flash report” issued last week by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights added considerable weight to the push for an inquiry. Myanmar refused to allow UN investigators into Maungdaw, but 204 survivors in Bangladesh recounted harrowing experiences that allegedly included witnessing children being “slaughtered with knives”.   Myanmar’s civilian government, headed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, has for months responded to such allegations with outright denials. But her administration appears to have softened its stance – if only slightly – in the wake of the OHCHR findings.    Spokespersons for the president’s office and the foreign ministry did not answer phone calls, but the government today printed a statement on the front page of the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper in response to the OHCHR report.   “The government of Myanmar considers the allegations contained in the report very serious in nature and is also deeply concerned about the report,” said the statement, which added that a government commission formed in December would investigate.   Few people outside the government have faith in that commission, which is headed by Myint Swe, a former lieutenant general who was only recently removed from the US sanctions list.   “It’s gone beyond the point of depending on the government to do a credible investigation,” said Lee, who met with the commission during her visit to Myanmar last month. “It didn’t even have a methodology of approaching this investigation,” she told IRIN.   A UN commission would include forensic specialists who would be tasked with determining whether crimes took place or not.    SEE: The denied oppression of Myanmar's Rohingya people   Doubts   Two questions loom large: Will one of the 47 member states in the Human Rights Council put forward a resolution to form a commission of inquiry? And, if so, will Myanmar cooperate?   Myanmar’s military is unlikely to allow access to investigators who would probably find evidence that its soldiers had committed crimes against humanity, according to a European diplomat who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.    Aung San Suu Kyi’s government may be cooperative, but the military has ignored instructions over the past couple months from her administration to allow independent investigators, said the diplomat.   Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration has no control over the military and her influence on military matters is thought to be little if any.   The generals dissolved their junta in 2010, after almost five decades of unbroken military rule, and ushered in sweeping reforms that allowed Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy to participate in elections after being violently repressed for decades. While the NLD won a majority in parliament, the military occupies key ministries in line with the constitution it wrote in 2008, which also gives it authority to carry out operations without civilian oversight.   However, the military would be under intense pressure to cooperate with a UN-backed commission of inquiry. Refusal by the government and military to cooperate with the UN would strip away much of the credibility Myanmar has gained internationally over the past few years through the reform process initiated by the generals themselves.   “It would put Myanmar back in time, to pariah state status,” said Lee.   That question of how Myanmar reacts will be irrelevant if no Human Rights Council member sponsors a resolution. Although pressure is growing, it is by no means a given.   During the Barack Obama presidency, the US was supportive of the reform process, while also frequently speaking out against rights violations. But US policy under President Donald Trump remains to be seen.   A spokesman for the US embassy declined to comment on the potential for a UN-backed inquiry, and instead focused on Myanmar’s own promises to investigate the OHCHR findings.   “We hope the Myanmar government will take the report’s findings seriously and redouble efforts both to protect the civilian population and to investigate these allegations in a thorough and credible manner,” said the spokesman.   IRIN submitted queries to four other embassies, as well as Bangladesh’s foreign ministry, none of which responded.   Lee and other sources pointed to the European Union as one of the most likely candidates to sponsor a resolution. The EU ambassador, Roland Kobia, suggested it was a possibility – but couched his statement in diplomatic language.   “The EU will continue to table a Myanmar-specific country resolution in the UN HRC as we have done in years past,” said Kobia. “I would expect that the topic of the investigation… will come up during the negotiations on the resolution text.”   jf/ag   (TOP PHOTO: The front page of Myanmar's state-run newspaper on 9 February 2017 carried two articles about government attempts to investigate alleged military abuses of Rohingya. CREDIT: Jared Ferrie/IRIN) myanmar_commission_2.jpg Analysis Conflict Human Rights EXCLUSIVE: UN rights envoy urges inquiry into abuses of Rohingya in Myanmar Jared Ferrie IRIN YANGON Asia Bangladesh Myanmar
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Can Barrow deliver on the promise of a “New Gambia”?

IRIN Gender - Wed, 02/08/2017 - 07:16

The Gambia’s new president, Adama Barrow, received a hero’s welcome when he returned to Banjul after his makeshift inauguration in neighbouring Senegal at the end of January.

Tens of thousands of well-wishers came out to rejoice at the democratic victory that ended more than two decades of rule by autocrat Yahya Jammeh.

Barrow and his coalition government are riding high on a wave of popularity. But they have major challenges ahead in reforming a country that effectively has to be rebuilt from scratch within a self-imposed three-year term.

If the honeymoon period is to last, their first test is to prove to the nation that “New Gambia” really is a different country.

Great expectations

“We have got to start on the right footing,” said Sait Matty Jaw, a Gambian PhD student who went into exile in Norway after being arrested and imprisoned in 2014 for his human rights work. “Everything under Jammeh’s regime was tailor-made to suit his interests, so for us to move forward, the government has to show it is different from the former regime.”

After 22 years of not being allowed to criticise the government, Gambians – especially the younger generation of educated professionals that played a major role in pushing for political change – are already scrutinising the new administration.

For some, Barrow’s cabinet announcements last week carried disappointing echoes of the old ways of appointing: entitlement over merit.

Out of the 11 filled posts (there are seven remaining), each of the seven parties that form the coalition got a major post, while Barrow’s United Democratic Party got three. One blog suggested he had chosen a “cabinet that attempts to reward and preserve the coalition that brought him to power”.

“The potential for patronage is still there,” noted Jeggan Grey-Johnson, a Gambian who works for the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa and hopes to play an active role in the reform process.

“Barrow doesn’t (yet) have the experience and gravitas as a politician, and those surrounding him have 10 times the amount of authority, so he will have to defer to their competing interests.”

The cabinet is old (the average age is above 60) and predominantly male, and that demographic has also come in for criticism.

“They may have the wisdom, but they lack the dynamism required to deal with the modern challenges of the Gambian youth population,” argued Salieu Taal, a lawyer and founder of the #GambiaHasDecided opposition umbrella movement.

Jason Florio/IRIN Youth power

It is the younger generation that has been the driving force behind political change, voting in unprecedented numbers in the 2016 election. It is no surprise they want to make sure their voices are heard and represented in government after decades of repression.

Last week, youth groups staged the country’s first peaceful demonstration without worry of harassment by the authorities. Around 1,000 youths protested outside the National Assembly, calling for all members of parliament that supported Jammeh’s motion for a state of emergency to resign.

The National Youth Council is also launching the Not2Young2Run campaign to encourage and support young people in contesting for parliament in the National Assembly elections in April.

The coalition government has already made clear it is a transitional administration with the primary goal of righting the wrongs perpetrated under Jammeh.

Speaking before he was appointed as foreign minister, Ousainou Darboe, a former opposition leader, acknowledged that three years was too short a time to repair all the damage, but said “the foundations will have been laid”.

So far, the government has not shared any kind of roadmap for what it specifically aims to achieve, and it runs the risk of failing to manage expectations.

“The government needs to identify the magnitude of the challenge and where to prioritise its interventions,” said Grey-Johnson. “People need to be reassured that the coalition understands the challenges and to communicate there is a plan in place and how they’re going to go about it.”

Economic crisis

The economy is in dire straits. The Gambia’s poverty rate is 50 percent and its debt repayment rate is 100 percent of GDP, according to Grey-Johnson. “So, whatever we make goes straight out of the country,” he said. “Gambia is insolvent. We are broke.”

Add to this the thousands of tourists during the December election crisis that went home in the middle of the season, the hotels that are only half booked, and the reality is “unemployment is about to shoot up”, Grey-Thompson added.

Jason Florio/IRIN

It is unlikely the rate of youth unemployment can be tackled anytime soon. And this is the most urgent employment problem the government faces, with thousands of youths attempting the illegal “backway” Mediterranean route to Europe.

“The backway trend is only going to be addressed if there are policies to attract the young people to come back and fulfil their dreams,” Employment Minister Isatou Touray told IRIN.

That means “finding jobs and addressing the human rights situation, and having freedom of movement so that they can help themselves under this regime”.

Donors on board

The coalition is already making good on its promise of improving international relations and encouraging long-term business investment, development, and, ultimately, job creation.

In its first weeks, ministers have met with officials from several donor countries, including China. There have been talks with the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, as well as the signing of the first World Bank-funded project to promote child and maternal health.

A decision by the European Union to reinstate its 33-million-euro development fund, frozen from 2015/16 over human rights concerns, is also a welcome move.

Abdul Aziz Bensouda, secretary general of the Gambia Bar Association, believes that establishing a truth and reconciliation commission will also be an important part of the reform process – a step towards healing after decades of human rights abuses and embezzlement under Jammeh.

“We need a commission of inquiry to investigate the crimes over the years, to allow civil society to decide what to do with them,” he said.

Momodou Sabally, a former minister who was imprisoned twice by Jammeh, agrees on the need for a truth and reconciliation process, but sounds a note of caution.

“I know there’s a lot of anger and zeal for vengeance, but we should be careful,” he said. “So many people have served in Jammeh’s regime; some of the victims now have been villains too in this long stretch of time.”

If not handled properly, “the government won’t be able to do any work,” said Sabally. “They’ll be having to deal with these things piecemeal until their time is up. So, it’s important to address this in as mature a manner as possible.”

The young, in particular, are in a rush to create New Gambia, but how much real change can be achieved in just three years under a coalition government? For Bensouda, simply “righting the wrongs and democratising the country” would be a start.


Can Barrow deliver on the promise of a “New Gambia”? new_gambia_barrow_2.jpg Louise Hunt Analysis Human Rights Politics and Economics BANJUL IRIN Africa Gambia
Categories: Gender Parity

Inside Brazil’s gang-run prisons

IRIN Gender - Mon, 02/06/2017 - 08:13

For 14 hours, guards did nothing while inmates from the First Capital Command (PCC) used knives and machetes to kill and behead 26 members of a rival drug gang. Having cut the electricity, the prisoners carried out the killings in darkness. The guards were simply too few and too afraid to intervene.


The massacre took place on 15 January in the notoriously violent Alcaçuz Prison on the outskirts of Natal, in northeastern Brazil. It was only the latest in a wave of gang violence inside the country’s prisons that has resulted in more than 130 inmate deaths so far this year, most of them concentrated in the states of Roraima and Amazonas.


Warning signs that Brazil’s prisons were heading for a crisis had been present for some time, but the Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for the penal system, failed to act on them.


In one instance in October last year, inspectors from the ministry concluded in an internal report, obtained by the magazine CartaCapital, that members of the PCC gang were moving freely around the Monte Cristo Agricultural Penitentiary in Roraima.


“Prisoners were adept at opening the locks and thus circulated freely in a wide extension of ​the unit and were able to hide themselves in the numerous unfinished or semi-destroyed buildings scattered around between the prison pavilions,” the report stated.


No action was taken and on 6 January, the PCC killed 33 fellow inmates at the prison.


Ironically, the PCC started in 1993 as a prisoner rights organisation that aimed to improve conditions and security for inmates, but later morphed into Brazil’s largest and most powerful organised crime group. Gang members often run criminal enterprises from their cells and represent one of the main threats to other prisoners.


Their victims at Alcaçuz Prison were members of the RN Crime Syndicate, with whom they fight for control of the drug market outside the prison walls. Following last month’s killing spree, a gunfight between the two rival gangs reportedly broke out in the city of Natal that same night.


Beyond the gang warfare, the roots of the crisis can be traced to severe overcrowding and staff shortages. Brazil’s prison population has nearly tripled over the last two decades to more than 600,000 – nearly twice the official capacity – in the wake of drug laws that have seen a steep rise in arrests on drug-related charges.


Vicious circle


Brazil has one of the highest homicide rates in the world and Natal’s per capita murder rate is higher than any other state capital.


Fillipe Azevedo Rodrigues, a lawyer and law professor at Potiguar University in Natal who is authorised to make routine, unannounced prison inspections, argues that the conditions in the prisons both reflect and reinforce the gang violence that plagues surrounding communities. In short, he believes that prisons contribute to Natal’s rampant levels of crime instead of addressing them.


“The prisons are producing criminals at an assembly line level,” Rodrigues tells IRIN during a visit to an interim detention centre in the Natal district of Candelária.


Brazil imposes long prison sentences even for minor crimes, such as the possession of marijuana. While serving time, many of these minor offenders are forced to join the prison’s dominant gangs as their only guarantee of safety.


Natal, alone, has more than 10 prisons. Rodrigues says Candelária is one of the better ones. Nonetheless, the smell of sweat, fungus, urine, and faeces is intense. Each 12- to 15-square-metre cell contains 17 to 20 people. They sit on the floor, shoulder-to-shoulder, with laundry hanging down from the ceiling above. A 10-centimetre opening serves as a window.


Many have been remanded in custody while awaiting trial. Brazil’s judicial system is so overwhelmed that they could spend two years in jail waiting for a trial date.

Magnus Boding Hansen/IRIN Detainees at Alcaçuz Prison

Left with the choice of letting alleged criminals go or keeping them remanded for years, authorities have consistently opted for the latter. By 2014, pre-trial detainees made up more than a third of Brazil’s prison population.


Human rights groups say the chronic overcrowding not only leaves inmates more vulnerable to violence but also to the spread of infectious diseases.


According to Rodrigues, most inmates develop severe respiratory problems and skin diseases. One prisoner at Candelária stretches two pale arms through the bars. They are covered in wounds caused by skin disease. “We are being treated like animals, and some of us become animals,” he says.


Tough solutions


Rodrigues recently co-authored a book in which he argues that Brazil’s gangs are often better organised than the corruption-riven state.


He estimates that 40 percent of Natal’s police officers have been corrupted by criminals, 20 percent only exist on paper, and the remaining 40 percent are honest but powerless. The prisons themselves, meanwhile, are woefully undermanned.


Routine cell searches to look for hidden weapons, drugs, and phones come with their own risks when there aren’t enough guards. When prisoners are moved outside their cells, they often manage to start fights and sometimes attempt to escape, explained the head of the inspections and riot control unit for Natal’s wider state of Rio Grande do Norte, Leonardo Alves.


During one such search at Alcaçuz Prison two months ago, before the riot, 400 inmates were ordered to strip naked and wait in the yard. They were ordered to place their hands over their heads while seven officers wearing battle helmets and full-body armour moved cautiously through the cells. The walls were covered with gang graffiti – most of them words or symbols associated with the PCC. The guards found several cell phones and homemade weapons, including a short spear fashioned from a bar broken off a window.

Magnus Boding Hansen/IRIN Heavily armed guards carry out a routine cell search at Alcaçuz Prison

Brazilian President Michel Temer has responded to the recent massacres by announcing that 1,000 soldiers will be dispatched to prisons to assist with searches like these.


Temer also said the government would aim to build 30 new prisons over the next year, including five federal maximum security institutions to house the most violent convicts, and 25 state facilities that would aim to ease overcrowding.


But getting to the roots of the prison violence requires far-reaching reforms both in and outside the prison system. Alves admitted as much on the drive back to the city from Alcaçuz. “The violence is like an aggressive type of cancer. It is hard to fight without killing the patient in the process,” he said as his police car kicked up a trail of red dust. ”We won’t give up, but the task ahead of us is difficult.”

(TOP PHOTO: Empty cells at Alcaçuz Prison while guards conduct a search for weapons and cell phones. Magnus Boding Hansen/IRIN)


alacacuz_4.jpg Feature Human Rights Inside Brazil’s gang-run prisons Magnus Boding Hansen IRIN Locking people up just breeds more criminals NATAL Americas Brazil
Categories: Gender Parity