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FREDERICK K. COX
INTERNATIONAL LAW CENTER

War Crimes Prosecution Watch

Volume 12 - Issue 24
February 5, 2018

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Editor-in-Chief
James Prowse

Technical Editor-in-Chief
Samantha Smyth

Managing Editors
Rina Mwiti
Alexandra Mooney

War Crimes Prosecution Watch is a bi-weekly e-newsletter that compiles official documents and articles from major news sources detailing and analyzing salient issues pertaining to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes throughout the world. To subscribe, please email warcrimeswatch@pilpg.org and type "subscribe" in the subject line.

Opinions expressed in the articles herein represent the views of their authors and are not necessarily those of the War Crimes Prosecution Watch staff, the Case Western Reserve University School of Law or Public International Law & Policy Group.

Contents

AFRICA

CENTRAL AFRICA

Central African Republic

Sudan & South Sudan

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Burundi

WEST AFRICA

Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

Lake Chad Region — Chad, Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon

Mali

EAST AFRICA

Uganda

Kenya

Rwanda (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda)

Somalia

NORTH AFRICA

Libya

EUROPE

Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Domestic Prosecutions In The Former Yugoslavia

MIDDLE EAST AND ASIA

Iraq

Syria

Yemen

Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal

War Crimes Investigations in Burma

Israel and Palestine

Afghanistan

AMERICAS

North & Central America

South America

TOPICS

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Terrorism

Piracy

Gender-Based Violence

Commentary and Perspectives

WORTH READING

AFRICA

CENTRAL AFRICA

Central African Republic

Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Cases: Central African Republic

Fresh violence in Central African Republic sparks 'unprecedented' levels of displacement
UN News Centre

January 23, 2018

[Surging violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) has put unprecedented numbers of people on the run, the United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday, reporting that hungry, desperate arrivals being registered in neighbouring Chad say their houses have been torched and that armed groups are "killing anyone in their way."

Overall, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the violence has pushed displacement to its highest levels since the start of the violence in 2013, moreover, estimates show that almost half the population is now food insecure and some 2.5 million people need humanitarian assistance.

"Data as of the end of December shows that 688,700 people were displaced internally — 60 per cent more than just a year ago," Adrian Edwards, UNHCR spokesperson told reporters at today's regular press briefing in Geneva.

Meanwhile, 542,380 CAR refugees are in neighbouring countries, a 12 per cent increase compared to last year.

"For a country whose population is estimated at around 4.6 million, these two figures combined represent an astonishing level of suffering and people in need," he added.

Clashes between the mainly Muslim Séléka rebel coalition and anti-Balaka militia, which are mostly Christian, plunged the country into civil conflict in 2013. Hundreds of thousands of people have been uprooted and have fled to neighbouring Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Chad and the Republic of Congo for safety.

The recent surge in violence, particularly in the country's north-west, has led over 17,000 Central Africans to flee to Chad since end-December — some ten times more than during the whole of 2017 — making it the biggest refugee influx since 2014.

UNHCR and the authorities are identifying host villages away from the border in Chad to relocate the refugees, and teams are distributing food and basic relief items, including blankets and mosquito nets, provided by the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

The UN refugee agency and its partners are also providing medical assistance to new arrivals, some of whom are affected by malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections. In total Chad hosts 77,122 refugees from CAR.

The conflict in CAR's north-west has also displaced some 65,000 Central Africans to the city of Paoua, which has seen its population tripling.

"The newly displaced told UNHCR that armed groups attacked their villages, torching houses, looting food and killing anyone in their way," updated Mr. Edwards.

While local authorities report that some 15,000 houses have been burned and 487 people killed across the northwest, UNHCR fears the number could be higher as some places are still inaccessible.

Describing the situation as "one of the world's most forgotten displacement crises," Mr. Edwards shared humanitarian community estimates that almost half of all Central Africans will face food insecurity in 2018."

"In 2017, against needs we estimated at $209.2 million for the CAR situation, only 12 per cent was funded — barely more than a dollar for every 10 required. In 2018, UNHCR's financial requirements for the CAR situation amount to $176.1 million," he concluded.

Central African Republic: Renewed violence threatens people and healthcare in Bria
Medecins Sans Frontieres

January 31, 2018

The cycle of attacks and violence in 2017 has left neighbourhoods in Bria, in eastern Central African Republic (CAR), entrenched or emptied by their inhabitants. Attacks of an extreme brutality have been directed against the Fulani community, for the most part Muslims, by various groups — some of them factions made up of Muslim fighters. In May, Christian neighbourhoods were particularly targeted, resulting in over 40,000 people leaving the area populated by about 47,000 people. The newly displaced went to the precarious PK3 refugee camp, on the outskirts of the town. That is also where most anti-Balaka and so-called self-defence militias are based. They attack any fighters and civilians who they consider to be "foreigners", Muslims, Arabs or Fulani, but some have also forged alliances of convenience with ex-Seleka factions, their former enemy. Clashes are frequent between these factions.

The dividing lines, now deeply marking the geography of the town, deal with identity and various other issues, which cannot be reduced to a conflict of opposing Christians and Muslims.

Bria is divided into zones held by rival armed groups, forging volatile alliances. Reprisals and acts of revenge are an everyday reality for the population. In this context, any attempt by a family with a sick child, or someone wounded to leave their neighbourhood and reach the hospital puts their lives in immediate danger. Despite the short distance to seek medical care, moving around the city amounts to crossing frontlines and being exposed to attack, robbery, being beaten up or killed based on perceived complicity with one or other side.

A difficult journey to access medical care

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) set up mobile clinics in various strategic locations, such as the Fulani enclave in Gobolo, Borno neighbourhood and PK3, the camp where mostly Christian displaced people live. The clinics enable access to healthcare for children under 15 years old and injured people, and manage referrals to the hospital when needed.

Once admitted at the hospital, the medical journey is not over for the most severe cases, which have to be referred to the MSF surgical programme in Bangui. Many hurdles are faced by the teams in providing urgent medical care, including threats against MSF staff who manage the referrals.

"Our work consists in providing free medical care to those who need it, regardless of their origins, beliefs, political affiliations and the reason they are sick or injured", said Anne-Marie Boyeldieu, MSF Head of mission in December 2017. "It is a medical duty enshrined in international humanitarian law. We cannot fulfil it if our team is under threat."

Medical workers often under threat

In December, armed men in Bria stopped an MSF ambulance, pointing guns at the vehicle to oppose the referral of an injured patient to the hospital. The incident was eventually resolved without further violence but the patient could not reach the hospital.

In the powder keg of Bria, the population paid a heavy price for the violence in 2017, and medical staff were not spared.

In September, more than 30 MSF staff forced to flee their neighbourhood found shelter for weeks in Bria hospital, again trapped by the conflict.

"We're stuck in the hospital, like prisoners. We have to sleep in our office," said Armel Zengbe, MSF's nursing supervisor at the hospital.

Every morning, an MSF vehicle used to go to pick up other staff members who sought refuge in PK3 camp and were unable to reach the nearby hospital themselves without risking their lives.

Central African Republic: UN Renews Arms Embargo, Threatens More Sanctions
All Africa

January 31, 2018

The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday renewed an arms embargo against the Central African Republic for another year and added criteria that could lead to new sanctions.

The French-sponsored resolution passed unanimously.

Along with extending the arms embargo, it condemns using religion or ethnicity to incite violence. It says anyone who carries out such crimes will face sanctions.

"Acts of incitement are a scourge for CAR and are at the root of violence that has resulted in too many victims among civilians and blue helmets [U.N. peacekeepers]," French Ambassador Francois Delattre told the Security Council. "There will be no lasting peace in CAR if these acts of incitement continue, and the council will shoulder its responsibilities."

Violence has plagued CAR since Muslim rebels overthrew the Christian president in 2013.

Christians retaliated, leading to the deaths of thousands on both sides and sending hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees fleeing for their lives to Cameroon and Chad.

UN Condemns Violence, extends sanction on C. African Republic
The Himalayan Times

January 31, 2018

The UN Security Council condemned ongoing violence and instability in Central African Republic on Tuesday in a resolution extending an arms embargo on the country and sanctions on individuals and entities for a year.

The resolution adopted unanimously by the council also condemns acts of incitement to violence that undermine peace, especially "on an ethnic or religious basis," and says for the first time that those responsible could face sanctions.

The council also reiterated that sanctions can be imposed for a host of other reasons including undermining peace or security in CAR, violating international human rights and humanitarian law, directing or committing acts involving sexual or gender-based violence, and supporting criminal networks.

Central African Republic has been wracked by violence between Muslims and Christians since predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels overthrew the Christian president in March 2013 and seized power.

Anti-Balaka militias, mostly Christians, fought back, resulting in thousands of deaths, the displacement of hundreds of thousands more, and the flight of many Muslims to the country's north and across the border into Chad and Cameroon.

Despite peaceful elections in early 2016, sectarian violence has moved into the impoverished country's central and southeastern regions, prompting warnings of a national conflict roaring back to life.

France's UN Ambassador Francois Delattre, whose country drafted the resolution, called the incitement of violence based on religion or ethnicity, and attacks against humanitarian workers and UN peacekeepers "a scourge for the CAR."

"The perpetrators of these calls for violence must henceforth know that their acts will not go unpunished," he said.

Delattre stressed that "there can be no lasting peace in the CAR if this continues."

As for the arms embargo, he said that "armed groups unfortunately are still present on a large part of the territory and continue to get supplies" of weapons and ammunition illegally from neighboring countries.

Armed groups "also make the most of the illicit trade in natural resources to get rick," Delattre said. The resolution expresses concern "that illicit trafficking, trade, exploitation and smuggling of natural resources including gold, diamonds, and wildlife has a negative impact in the economic and development of the country, and that it continues to threaten peace and stability of the CAR."

The CAR sanctions blacklist currently includes 11 individuals and two entities — a diamond-purchasing organization and the Lord's Resistance Army, which the resolution says remains active in the country's southeast "having carried out the killing and abduction of civilians, including children and women."

The resolution notes "with concern" that sanctioned individuals are traveling in the region in violation of a travel ban and that "funds, financial assets and economic resources of listing individuals and entities have still not been frozen" as required.

The resolution extends sanctions until Jan. 31, 2019 and the mandate of the panel of experts monitoring their implementation until Februrary 28, 2019.

It asks the experts to report on incitement to violence, particularly on "an ethnic or religious basis" that is undermining peace. And it encourages the panel "to devote special attention" to analyzing "illicit trafficking networks which continue to fund and supply armed groups."

Central African Republic: Conviction of Andjilo Rodrique Ngaibona
CNBC Africa

January 31, 2018

Statement by Heather Nauert, Spokesperson, U.S. Department of State:

The recent conviction of anti-balaka leader Rodrique Ngaibona ("General Andjilo") on charges of murder, criminal conspiracy, aggravated robbery, arbitrary detention/kidnapping, and illegal possession of ammunition and weapons is a significant step forward in the Central African Republic's efforts to combat impunity and ensure accountability.

We commend President Touadera, the Ministry of Justice, and the members of the Bangui Court of Appeals for demonstrating their commitment to the rule of law and justice for all citizens in the Central African Republic. We recognize and appreciate the courage and risk involved in this effort.

The United States, through more than $30 million in criminal justice-sector funding from the Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, strongly supports the criminal court system. We will continue to work with Central African and international partners to support its criminal justice system.

Impartial justice and accountability is essential for stability, reconciliation, and a prosperous, peaceful democracy.

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Sudan & South Sudan

Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Situation in Darfur, Sudan

Britain Says Monitoring South Sudan Peace Violations, Eyes Penalties
U.S. News

By Dennis Dumo
January 18 2018

Britain said it was closely monitoring a ceasefire agreed last month between South Sudan's warring parties and would work with regional partners to identify individuals guilty of violations and take action.

South Sudan has been wracked by a four-year civil war that broke out after a political disagreement between former vice president Riek Machar and incumbent leader Salva Kiir degenerated into military confrontation.

Last month, the two sides signed a ceasefire deal in Addis Abba.

In an interview in South Sudan's capital Juba this week, British special envoy Chris Trott told Reuters:

"Anyone that spoils the chances of peace should understand that we are watching...any breach of the peace process.

"We have seen...violations of the agreement and what we are saying to the parties is that this is unacceptable."

He urged regional countries to report promptly on any violations, identifying individuals, and "we would like you to send the message by doing X or Y". He did not specify what this might involve.

Trott was speaking ahead of planned meetings with South Sudanese officials and said he would make it very clear to the government it was expected to honor the ceasefire.

Britain is among world powers trying to put diplomatic pressure on both the South Sudan government and rebels to end the fighting and agree a peace.

Since the deal was signed, several violations have occurred, with both sides blaming each other for the breach.

Early this month several people were killed after fighting broke out near Juba.

The army blamed the rebels who they said attempted to seize a military outpost west of Juba.

Attorneys defending two jailed members of former vice- president Machar's staff said they had quit, citing what they called the government's violation of the agreement by failing to release all political prisoners.

South African national William John Endley and James Gatdet Dak, who served as advisor and spokesman for Machar, were arrested in 2016 and have been in detention since. Both were charged with crimes including conspiracy, treason and publishing materials harmful to the state.

Monyluak Alor Kuol, head of the two defendants' legal team told Reuters their clients' continued prosecution contradicted the spirit of last month's ceasefire.

"As lawyers, we cannot encourage impunity (on the part of the government) and that is why we withdrew," he said.

Sudan holding journalists arrested while covering protests
VOA

January 18, 2018

Authorities in Sudan were holding an Agence France-Presse (AFP) journalist on Thursday after he was arrested a day earlier while covering demonstrations against rising food prices that were dispersed by police.

Abdelmoneim Abu Idris Ali, a 51-year-old who has worked for AFP in Khartoum for nearly a decade, was covering the protests on Wednesday in the Sudanese capital's twin city of Omdurman, where riot police fired tear gas on some 200 protesters.

Idris Ali was unreachable after the protest and authorities informed AFP on Thursday that he had been arrested along with two other journalists, including one working for international news agency Reuters, and was being held at a detention center run by Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).

Authorities initially said Idris Ali would be released within hours but as of late Thursday, more than 24 hours after he was detained, the reporter was still being held.

Authorities said the three journalists "are being investigated" but provided no further details.

"AFP management strongly condemns the arrest of Mr. Idris Ali and asks Sudanese authorities for his immediate release," the agency said.

Several protesters were also reported to have been detained at the demonstration.

Sporadic protests have erupted across Sudan after prices of food items, but mainly bread, surged following a jump in the cost of flour due to a shortage of wheat supplies.

Wednesday's rally was called by the main opposition Umma Party, a day after a similar demonstration was held near the presidential palace in Khartoum following a call issued by the Communist Party. Tuesday's protest was also broken up by police.

Similar protests were held in late 2016 after the government cut fuel subsidies.

The authorities cracked down on those protests to prevent a repeat of deadly unrest that followed an earlier round of subsidy cuts in 2013.

Rights groups said dozens of people were killed when security forces crushed the 2013 demonstrations, drawing international condemnation.

Critics have repeatedly accused President Omar al-Bashir's regime of cracking down on the media in Sudan, with watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranking the country 174th out of 180 countries in its 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

UN Warns of 'Lost Generation' In South Sudan's Grinding Conflict
VOA

January 19, 2018

Seventy percent of South Sudan's children are out of school and the young country risks losing a generation that would make it harder to rebuild after conflict ended, a United Nations official said.

South Sudan, which split off from its northern neighbor Sudan in 2011, has been gripped by a four-year civil war sparked by political rivalry between incumbent leader Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar.

In an interview with Reuters on Friday, Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF's executive director, made the warning after visiting some of the areas most devastated by the war.

"Seventy percent of the children are out of school; that is highest in the world. There is too much violence." she said "If we don't help ... we are going to lose this generation and that would be tragic for South Sudan because a country cannot build itself without this next generation of young people."

Fore said she had visited towns in the country's north and witnessed widespread malnutrition among children and warned: "We are heading into the dry season... we might lose up to quarter million children in South Sudan."

An estimated tens of thousands have died in the conflict which has also displaced a quarter of the country's population of 12 million.

The country's economy, nearly entirely dependent on oil exports, has been left in tatters as output has been cut. Agricultural production, too, has declined as insecurity has left sometimes entire villages abandoned and gardens unattended.

A cease-fire deal was signed in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa last month to halt the fighting but it has been violated repeatedly with both sides blaming each other.

Attacks have also been directed at humanitarian workers, complicating delivery of relief services on which hundreds of thousands of the displaced depend.

South Sudanese Rebels Demand Compensation to Release Kenyan Pilots
U.S. News

January 23, 2018

South Sudanese rebels are holding two Kenyan pilots and will not release them until compensation is paid to the family of a civilian killed when their plane crashed, a rebel spokesman told Reuters on Tuesday.

The plane crashed in Akobo, in the Greater Upper Nile region, two weeks ago, Lam Paul Gabriel, the rebels' deputy spokesman, said.

"When the plane crashed, it took a life. There was a lady that was killed and also there were some animals killed. The relatives of the lady and the owners of the cows are complaining they want compensation," he said.

"They (Kenyan leaders) have to write an official letter to Dr. Riek Machar and it will come to us to inform of an order, then we will release him."

Machar, the country's former vice president, is the head of the largest rebel faction but has been held under house arrest in South Africa since 2016.

South Sudan's military spokesman confirmed the two pilots were being held.

"The plane had a technical problem. It crash-landed and killed a person on the ground," said Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang.

"The (rebel) SPLA-IO-appointed governor of the area has demanded the ransom of $200,000 which is beyond normal compensation for any person killed," he added.

The Kenyan foreign ministry said it was unable to comment.

Oil-rich South Sudan has been riven by civil war since 2013. The conflict has displaced a third of the population, shut down most of the oil production and wrecked the economy.

Humanitarian Costs of South Sudan Conflict Continue to Escalate
African Center for Strategic Studies

January 29, 2018

South Sudan has now been at war for five of its seven years of existence, and there is no end in sight. This internal conflict, which has been raging since 2013, has already driven 4.5 million people from their homes—the same number of southern Sudanese displaced during the entire three-decade Sudan civil war. The humanitarian crisis is entirely manmade, with displacement escalating in tandem with increases in violence.

Seven million people—nearly 60 percent of the population—require humanitarian assistance. The 4.5 million people displaced by the conflict is up from 4 million in October.

A cessation of hostilities agreement signed on December 21, 2017, has not interrupted violent clashes between government and opposition forces in Central Equatoria, Western Equatoria, and Unity states. Unity state has also seen an increase in cattle raids due to the resurgence of some armed groups. Meanwhile, inter-communal tensions remain high in Jonglei, Lakes, and Warrap states.

This crisis reflects a steady deterioration since 2013 when the conflict began.

In previous years, only a scattering of counties faced famine and only for certain months of the year.

Today, all regions of South Sudan are currently experiencing either crisis or emergency levels of hunger.

Two-thirds of the counties have suffered famine and acute levels of food insecurity are persisting throughout the year.

During 2017, 28 aid workers were killed, and there were 1,159 incidents that impeded humanitarian access.

The humanitarian situation in 2018 is expected to be worse than 2017 as conflict persists, farming is disrupted, humanitarian access is restricted, the economy is further destabilized, and household coping capacity dwindles.

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Democratic Republic of the Congo

Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

DR Congo: UN rights office urges probe into use of force against protestors, UN personnel
UN News Centre

January 23, 2018

At least six people died and 68 were wounded during weekend demonstrations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) capital, Kinshasa, the United Nations human rights office reported Tuesday, urging the Government to investigate all incidents where security forces may have used excessive force against protestors and UN personnel.

"The rights to freedom of religion, expression and peaceful assembly must be fully respected, in line with the DRC's obligations under international law. The authorities must also ensure that UN human rights personnel are able to carry out their essential monitoring work," Ravina Shamdasani, Spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told reporters in Geneva.

On Sunday, the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC recorded at least six deaths during demonstrations in the nation's capital, Kinshasa, with 68 people wounded, 121 people arrested and the firing of tear gas into churches in various parts of the African country.

A UN rights officer trying to conduct human rights monitoring of the demonstrations was kicked and punched by security forces in Kinshasa, while military police also fired tear gas towards at least three UN patrols.

"Violent dispersal of protestors will not resolve the political tensions but will only serve to heighten them," she said, calling on the authorities to work constructively with political opponents, religious leaders and civil society to ensure that the right of all Congolese to participate in the public affairs of their country is upheld.

Throughout the country, Internet and SMS [text message] services have been suspended since midnight on Saturday, 20 January night, following a similar 48-hour suspension around the 31 December protests.

Tear gas was fired into and around churches in Kinshasa, Goma, Kisangani, Lubumbashi and Bukavu, while heavy deployments of national police and armed forces, were reported in Mbandaka, Beni, Mbuji-Mayi and Butembo, particularly around places of worship.

Sunday's events followed the killing of nine people and the injuring of at least 98 others during the 31 December 2017 protests.

"Those held responsible for the killings and injuries must be brought to justice without delay," Ms. Shamdasani said.

The protests have been taking place in the vicinity of churches.

The political agreement at the heart of the demonstrations — facilitated by Conférence Episcopale Nationale du Congo (CENCO) mediators — allowed President Joseph Kabila to stay in power beyond the end of his term and stipulated that peaceful, credible and inclusive elections would be organized in the DRC by the end of December 2017.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: violence in Tanganyika and South Kivu fuels one of the world's worst displacement crises for children — UNICEF
Relief Web

January 25, 2018

At least 1.3 million people, including more than 800,000 children, have been displaced by inter-ethnic violence and clashes between the regular army, militia and armed groups in the provinces of Tanganyika and South Kivu in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), UNICEF said today. The DRC is now home to one of the largest displacement crises in the world for children.

"Children in the eastern DRC continue to suffer devastating consequences as waves of violence destabilize the region," said Dr. Tajudeen Oyewale, UNICEF Acting Representative in the DRC. "Hundreds of thousands of children in the region no longer have access to health care and education, while many have suffered atrocities at the hands of combatants. It is simply a brutal situation for children with no end in sight."

Children in eastern DRC are also being sexually abused and recruited to fight. UNICEF and its partners have identified more than 800 cases of sexual abuse, although the true scale of sexual violence being perpetrated against children is believed to be much larger. Recent UNICEF data shows that more than 3,000 children have been recruited by militias and armed groups over the past year.

UNICEF is deeply concerned by how the fighting has impacted children's health and nutritional wellbeing. Many health centres are no longer functioning and there is a heightened risk of food insecurity as violence has prevented many people from working the fields to grow their crops. There is a very real possibility that thousands of children could suffer from malnutrition due to the lack of food.

This comes in addition to disease epidemics in both South Kivu and Tangyanika. In 2017, the two provinces recorded 18,250 suspected cholera cases, twice as many as in 2016, and 18,000 suspected cases of measles.

As part of its emergency response program in Tanganyika and South Kivu, UNICEF is providing multi-sectoral support to the displaced population, including:

Immunization of children against measles;

Cholera prevention and treatment;

Assistance to malnourished children;

Distribution of school kits and the training of teachers in peace education; and

Protection, treatment and psychosocial support for children affected by violence, along with those who are injured or unaccompanied.

UNICEF continues to call on all parties to the conflict to guarantee humanitarian access to people in urgent need of assistance.

To assist the children affected by the crises in the Provinces of Tanganyika and South Kivu, UNICEF has appealed for $65 million in support of its response over the next six months.

DR Congo: UN chief condemns killing of 'blue helmet,' calls on armed groups to lay down weapons
UN News Centre

January 27, 2018

Condemning the killing today of a peacekeeper with the United Nations stabilization mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who was ambushed in the vast country's restive east, Secretary-General António Guterres again called on armed groups there to lay down their weapons and seek to resolve their grievances peacefully./p>

A statement issued this afternoon by the UN Spokesman said the Pakistani peacekeeper deployed with the Mission, known by its French acronym, (MONUSCO), was killed following an ambush by members of an armed group near Lulimba, 96 kilometres south-west of Baraka, in the DRC's South Kivu Province.

At least one other peacekeeper was wounded in the attack.

"The Secretary-General extends his heartfelt condolences to the family of the deceased and to the people and government of Pakistan," said the statement, adding that Mr. Guterres wishes a speedy recovery to the injured and calls on those responsible for the attack to be brought to justice.

The Secretary-General reiterated his call on armed groups in the DRC to lay down their arms and seek to resolve their grievances peacefully.

"He reaffirms the readiness of MONUSCO and the United Nations system to continue working with the authorities of the DRC to help address the security challenges facing the country," the statement concluded.

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Burundi

Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Investigation: Burundi

UN probes DRC clashes that killed Burundi refugees
news24

January 17, 2018

The United Nations announced Tuesday it will investigate the death of 39 Burundian refugees in clashes with soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo in September.

The soldiers allegedly opened fire on the refugees in eastern South Kivu province after they protested the detention of a small group of Burundians by Congolese authorities.

Nigerian Lieutenant-General Chikadibia Isaac Obiakor will lead the UN investigation of the violence on September 15 in Kamanyola, said a UN statement.

The special investigation will look into the response of UN peacekeepers to the violence and provide recommendations, it added.

UN peacekeepers sought to intervene to halt the clashes that left 39 dead including women and children, and 94 wounded.

A Congolese soldier was killed in the violence.

More than 43,000 Burundians have arrived in DRC since 2015.

Burundi's Human Rights Record Comes Under Critical Review by UN
VOA News

By Lisa Schlein
January 18, 2018

Member states participating in a U.N. review of Burundi's human rights record have accused the central African government of wide-scale abuse, including extrajudicial killings, torture, sexual violence and repression of the freedom of expression.

This is the third time Burundi has been examined under the Universal Periodic Review, a unique process that scrutinizes the human rights records of all 193 U.N. member states. Burundi is one of 14 states under examination.

Martin Nivyabandi, Burundi's minister of human rights, social affairs and gender, said major reforms have been made since its last U.N. review in 2013 to promote and protect human rights, including addressing human trafficking, protecting victims of gender violence, and reducing prison overcrowding.

He also said steps are being taken to make sure victims of human rights violations receive assistance.

"We have set up a department providing legal aid," Nivyabandi said. "Not providing access to a lawyer so much as providing advice on and orienting individuals and to make sure that a defense is guaranteed and to make sure that everybody's rights are upheld."

The head of the U.S. delegation, Jason Mack, expressed dismay at the continued threats against U.N. personnel by government officials and ruling party members in Burundi.

"We are deeply troubled by continued restrictions on political and civic space, for members of the opposition, independent media and civil society," Mack said. "A credible electoral process cannot take place without improvements and the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and freedom of expression."

Burundi has suspended all cooperation and collaboration with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. It also has refused to grant access to the U.N. Commission of Inquiry to investigate rights abuses. Many member states at the hearing called on Burundi to reverse these decisions.

Burundi: Human Rights Watch - '2015 Crisis Continued Through 2017'
Iwacu English News

By Diane Uwimana
January 19, 2018

In its 28th annual world report made this Thursday 18 January, the Human Rights Watch has published a 643-page report reviewing the human rights practices in more than 90 countries including Burundi. The experts of the Human Rights Watch report that the political and human rights crisis that erupted in April 2015 continued through 2017, as government forces targeted real and perceived opponents with near total impunity.

"The violence in 2017 claimed scores of lives. Dead bodies of people killed in unknown circumstances were regularly found across the country," say the experts referring to figures of Burundian and international human rights organizations.

They also say several grenade attacks took place in bars and elsewhere across the country in 2017, killing and injuring many people including children. "The identity of the perpetrators was often unknown,"say the experts.

During the presentation of the 2017 report in December, Minister of Public Security, Alain Guillaume Bunyoni said there was a significant decrease in crimes compared to the previous year. "Assassinations decreased from 401 in 2016 to 277 in 2017, terrorist acts from 134 in 2016 to 11 in 2017 and illegal possession of firearms decreased from 161 cases in 2016 to 42 in 2017," he said.

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WEST AFRICA

Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Situation in the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire

IVORY COAST COURT SENTENCES FORMER GBAGBO MINISTER TO 15 YEARS
Eye Witness News

January 19, 2018

A court in Ivory Coast has sentenced a former adviser to ex-President Laurent Gbagbo to 15 years in jail for plotting to overthrow Gbagbo's successor, President Alassane Ouattara, the defendant's lawyer said on Friday.

Moise Lida Kouassi, who once served as Gbagbo's defence minister, was arrested in Togo in 2012 for his role in a planned military coup against Ouattara, who beat Gbagbo in a United Nations (UN)-certified election in 2010.

Gbagbo refused to step down after the election, dragging Ivory Coast into a brief civil war that ended when he was defeated by pro-Ouattara forces backed by French and UN troops. Gbagbo is now on trial at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

Details of the plan to reinstate Gbagbo in a coup were found on Kouassi's computer hard drive after his arrest. At the time, Kouassi said he wanted to ask for Ouattara's forgiveness.

Kouassi's lawyer Felix Bobre said his client would appeal against the decision. He said Kouassi was being targeted just because of his association with the disgraced ex-president.

"This conviction confirms the denial of justice in Ivory Coast and the systematic condemnation of all the relatives of former president Gbagbo in arranged and unjust lawsuits," said Bobre.

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Lake Chad Region — Chad, Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon

Nigeria: Cameroon Conflict – the Absurd Phase of a Systemic Cruelty
All Africa

By Omonu Nelson
January 28, 2018

Since 11th February, 1961, United Nations backed referendum merged the British administered Cameroon with the French speaking Cameroon. Since then, it has been a marriage of an uneasy calm. Omonu Nelson examines the issues in contention in Cameroon's succession debacle

The decision by Southern Cameroon to join their Francophone counterparts in a UN sponsored referendum in 1961, was to promote their interests. However, 57 years down-the-line, the union appears to be more problematic than the expected prosperity.

Statements from Southern Cameroons National Council, SCNC, a body, formed as an umbrella organisation of all Southern Cameroons liberations put the number of Southern Cameroon refugees in Nigeria at 40,000. The disenchantment that follows the Francophone Cameroon brazing marginalisation of their Southern counterparts have since heightened the succession agitation.

The demand of the Southern Cameroonian is simple, "We want the restoration of Independence and Sovereignty of the Southern Cameroons (Ambazonia) according to UN Resolutions and Articles."

The response or handling of the Southern Cameroons demand by the Paul Biya led Yaounde Administration have degenerated the crisis that has caused 40,000 inhabitants of English-speaking Cameroons to flee to Nigeria. The Spokesperson for SCNC, Chris Anu has also claimed that, 12 of its leaders were arrested by the Nigerian authorities.

Speaking with newsmen in Abuja, Mr Chris Anu appealed to the Nigerian government to release the 12 'secessionist' leaders arrested on January 5, 2018 by security operatives in Abuja.

The group leads a movement for an independent Ambazonia State, which seeks to break away from the domination of the French-speaking Cameroon.

Most leaders of the movement have since fled to neighbouring countries including Nigeria amidst a clampdown by the central government led by President Paul Biya.

Mr Chris Anu said "The arrest is a reckless violation of international human rights as they have not been accused of committing any crime in Nigeria. Since their arrest, the movement leaders have been held incommunicado and were denied access to their lawyers and families.

He said they were arrested while planning a meeting on the situation of about 40,000 Southern Cameroonians refugees in Nigeria, who he said were still trooping into the country.

"We are appealing to the government of Muhammadu Buhari to let our leaders go. They did not commit a crime and have not been accused of any. What is being done is a disservice to their wives and children to keep them under lock and key as if they were criminals," he said.

According to him, majority of those arrested are not just ordinary citizens of Southern Cameroons, they are intellectuals, professors and lawyers, some of whom, he said, have dual citizenship of Nigeria and Cameroon.

Anu also denied the claims that the arrested leaders are secessionists. "Our leaders arrested on January 5, are not Cameroonians. They are Southern Cameroonians.

Southern Cameroons have never been part of French-speaking Cameroon. That is why we say we are not separatists. You can only separate from something you have been part of, and not something you have not been part of," he added.

Also speaking, the legal representative of the Southern Cameroonians, Barrister Abdul Oroh, said the Nigerian government should charge them to court, if it feels they have committed any offence.

"If you think they have committed any offence in Nigeria that warrants them to be prosecuted, take them to court and then we will take it from there.

"What is unfolding in Southern Cameroon is a genocide at its early stage... Our concern is that the arrested leaders may be deported to Cameroon. This will mean death for them," he said.

"Our worry is their liberty, their fundamental right to freedom of association as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution, African Union Charter and the United Nations Convention.

"The issue they are campaigning for can be debated but what cannot be debated is their right to freedom of association," he said.

However, the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, has justified it's arrest of the leaders of Cameroon's Separatist Movement. The Force Public Relations Officer, Jimoh Moshood explained that, the men were arrested within Nigeria's territory because they flouted the nation's laws by operating training camps in Nigeria.

Investigations revealed that members of the Southern Cameroon's Secessionist group, who are agitating for an independent state were arrested in both Taraba and Cross River states.

The two states have boundaries with the Southern parts of Cameroon hence there is easy access to Nigeria.

According to a Police source, "the government of Nigeria cannot be seen to be habouring separatists from a neighbouring Country like Cameroon when both countries are cooperating and jointly fighting to uproot Boko Haram terrorists.

"Moreover, it is common knowledge that the federal government of Nigeria recently clamped down on the illegal activities of the IPOB (Independent Peoples of Biafra). So, how can the territory of Nigeria be used to train separatists to cause civil disobedience in such a friendly country."

There was also indications that officials of Nigeria's ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cameroon's Embassy in Nigeria were already holding discussions over the arrest.

Analysts are contending that the Cameroon crisis has remained malignant because of the way President Biya's government is handling it. They contended that attempts to solve the problem with brut force has only worsen the already deplorable.

A public Affairs analysts, Oyiza Abubakar opined that, the crisis in Southern Cameroon, if not carefully handled, could spell doom for Nigeria.

"Nigeria is already overburdened by the by the ongoing war on terror, and it's attendant consequence like huge refugee crisis, to add Southern Cameroon refugees to it will overstretch the Nigerian system.

"Because of proximity, any escalation of violence, it is Nigeria that will bear the brunt. The safest thing for Nigeria to do, is to initiate a diplomatic move, aimed at nipping the crisis where it has reached."

For the Cross River State, who have been overburdened by the hosting of the 'Bakassi returnees' in the last few years, the latest addition of large chunk of the Southern Cameroon refugees is one weight too many. Only recently, the state government provided food and non-food items to over 3,000 Southern Cameroonian refugees camping in Ikom Local Government Area of the state.

The items included rice, plantain, beans, yam, garri, palm oil, cartons of indomie, toiletries and cooking utensils.

Presenting the items, Governor Ben Ayade of the state disclosed that the intervention was to give succour for the hardship and displacement experienced by the refugees.

Mr. Ayade, who was represented by Mercy Akpama, the Managing Director, Cross River Food Bank Commission, said that his administration places premium on the welfare of residents in the state.

"I am aware of your pains and I am not relenting in my contacts with President Muhammadu Buhari and the international community to know that what is happening to you is not good before God and humanity.

"There is no greater pain like depriving a people of their ancestral homes and reducing them to wants in body and soul.

"This passion has led me to bring food to you and soon I will build camps for you while waiting for my contacts to come to fruition in a bid to see you return to your ancestral homes.

"I love you all and urge you to stay in peace with your hosts. Remain patriotic and obey the laws of the land.

"I urge you to share these items in love for your suffering will not be for too long," he said.

The Director General of Cross River State Emergency Management Agency, John Inaku, told the refugees that the state governor was passionate about their plight. "

We have your brothers and sisters in other locations as well, these items are for those of you in Ikom and I can assure you that the governor will also reach others soon," he said.

Mr. Inaku explained that drugs would also be provided soon to take care of the health needs of the refugees.

"The governor will come with more things for you. Be law abiding; you are our brothers and sisters and we love you all," he said.

David, Coordinator, Southern Cameroon refugees, lauded the government and people of the state for their concern, noting that the gesture was a sign of true love.

"A drop of water to a man who is very thirsty is a welcome development. We are appreciative of this gesture by Cross River state governor and it is a sign that he cares about our wellbeing," he said

Southern Cameroons National Council, SCNC, formed as an umbrella organisation of all Southern Cameroons liberation forces, has been championing the cause. Every Southern Cameroonian feels cheated as they are being treated as second class citizens in their own country. From the boiling tension that has grown from several years of anger, and, having been exploited, avenues for redress, through dialogue and peaceful means has failed.

The Southern Cameroons Problem is an issue of marginalisation, subjugation and attempts at assimilation of Southern Cameroonians by successive Francophone (French Cameroon) regimes in the Cameroons. lt is a minority problem akin to that which Namibia, Eritrea and East Timor had before their respective independence. The Southern Cameroons case being is, however, more concrete in that there is documented proof to the tact that the two nations [Southem Cameroons and French Cameroun] came together as two equal states and were to operate as such, but this has, since 1961, been disrespected with impunity by the latter which bas adopted the position of coloniser over the former. The Southern Cameroonians contend that, in accordance with a United Nations sponsored plebiscite in 1961, they voted to become independent by uniting with French Cameroon or La Republique du Cameroun. According to the arrangement thereof, they united under a federal structure of two equal states. But beginning from Foumban where leaders of both states held talks on how to run the federation, and returned to consult their people, they were given a raw deal as the then leader of La Republique du Cameroun, Alhadji Ahmadou Ahidjo, went behind and decreed the existence of a Federal Republic of Cameroon, which was still under discussion, with himself as President. Since then, there bas been spo-radic resistance by the Anglophones to subjugation, especially under President Paul Biya who succeeded Ahidjo in 1982 and has treated the grievances of Southern Cameroonians with contempt and disdain. The worst challenge and provocation to Southern Cameroonians was witnessed after the forceful reintroduction of democracy in 1990 by the Social Democratic Front, SDF party, led by a Southern Cameroonian, Ni John Fru Ndi. At the hurriedly organised or precipitated presidential election in October 1992, Fru Ndi clearly won, but was not allowed to become president Southern Cameroonians contend because he is not a Francophone or does not bail from La Republique du Cameroun.

Francophones would, however, never understand when the Southern Cameroonians are complaining of the lack of freedom and marginalisation, because they [Francophone have never known freedom and self-determintion, integrity and the pride thereof While the Southern Cameroonian were taugbt self-rule and the British trusteeship, the French Cameroonian was being subjected into a kind of conversion into some sort of Frenchman-Cameroonian in a master-servant relationship.

BREAKING: Boko Haram hits IDP camp in Borno, may feared dead
The Daily Post

By John Owen Nwachukwu
January 31, 2018

Many people are feared dead as suspected Boko Haram suicide bombers attacked the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, camp in Dalori, Borno state on Wednesday.

Confirming the incident to reporters, the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, in a statement, however, said only two of the suicide bombers died in the incident.

The brief statement said, “Multiple suicide bomb attacks involving two suicide bombers at Dalori quarters near Dalori IDP camp.

“One person was inflicted with a mild injury whereas the suicide bombers were killed by the explosion.”

Dolori has been frequently attacked by Boko Haram, with at least, three attacks launched on the community since last two years.

Details later…

UN Launches Appeal for Over 200 000 Displaced by Boko Haram
News 24

January 31, 2018

The UN refugee agency appealed on Wednesday for $157m to help over a quarter of a million people affected by the insurgency led by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram.

The UNHCR, acting with more than 40 other agencies, said it needed to help 208 000 Nigerian refugees and 75 000 of their hosts in Niger, Cameroon and Chad, where infrastructure has been strained by the influx.

Since 2013, the Boko Haram conflict has internally displaced another 2.4 million people in northeast Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, it said.

"The Boko Haram crisis lingers on and is far from over," said UNHCR deputy high commissioner Kelly Clements while launching the appeal.

"The world should not forget the victims of this deadly conflict, especially as there appears to be little hope for a return to peace and stability in the near future."

"Devastating" side effects of the conflict include a huge rise in food insecurity and severe malnutrition, the agency said.

More than seven million people in the Lake Chad Basin region were food-insecure as of September 2017, with potentially severe consequences for child health, it said.

A similar appeal for $241m in 2017 was only 56% funded, the UNHCR noted in its press release.

and Cameroon are engaged alongside Nigeria and Niger in the battle against Boko Haram extremists, who first took the conflict across the border into Niger in 2015, with numerous raids around the region of Diffa.

Between 2015 and 2017, UN monitors recorded 582 civilian casualties in 244 raids blamed on Boko Haram in Diffa.

On Monday at least two soldiers were killed in southeastern Niger while fighting off an attack by suspected Boko Haram militants.

A source in Niger's security forces said that the insurgents came from neighbouring Nigeria.

Amnesty says Nigerian air force killed 35 people in raids
The Citizen

January 31, 2018

Nigerian air raids aimed at stopping herdsmen-farmer clashes killed at least 35 people in December, Amnesty International said Tuesday, describing the government’s response as “unlawful”.

In a new report, the rights monitor said that on December 4, Nigerian air force planes fired “warning” rockets on villages in the northeastern state of Adamawa as nomadic herdsmen clashed with farmers.

“Launching air raids is not a legitimate law enforcement method by anyone’s standard,” said Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria.

After decades of government inaction, skirmishes over resources between nomadic herders and farmers have turned into blood feuds and threaten to morph into something even deadlier.

“Such reckless use of deadly force is unlawful, outrageous and lays bare the Nigerian military’s shocking disregard for the lives of those it supposedly exists to protect,” Ojigho said.

The International Crisis Group think tank has warned the violence is becoming “as potentially dangerous as the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast”.

The tit-for-tat attacks have killed an estimated 549 people in 2017 and 168 people in January this year, according to Amnesty.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has been criticised for failing to bring the perpetrators of the violence to justice.

“The frequent deployment of soldiers has resulted in many cases of excessive use of force, unlawful killings and extrajudicial executions throughout the country,” Amnesty said.

– “Unfounded allegations” –

The Nigerian Air Force dismissed the report as “unfounded allegations” and “lies”.

In a statement on Tuesday, spokesman Olatokunbo Adesanya said that the air force was never involved in settling any herdsmen-farmer clashes in the area.

Adesanya said that “hundreds of people, mostly dressed in black attires, and who appeared armed, were sighted ransacking and setting a village on fire”, reflecting the official stance that Boko Haram jihadists had infiltrated the ranks of the herders.

The Amnesty allegations come a year after Nigeria launched a botched air strike on the village of Rann that killed 112 people.

The military plays a major role in shaping policy in Nigeria, one of Africa’s largest oil producers that only became a democracy in 1999 following decades of military rule.

Current President Buhari is a former general and served as a military head of state in the early 1980s after seizing power in a coup.

International rights groups have repeatedly alleged that the Nigerian military has committed war crimes in the battle against Boko Haram Islamists.

Other security operations, including against Shiite Muslims in the northern Zaria state and oil militants in the Niger delta, have also been criticised for being heavy handed.

The Nigerian government has denied reports of large scale human rights abuses.

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Mali

Dutch commission slams military over safety standards
New Vision

January 19, 2018

A Dutch commission appointed after the death of two soldiers during a training exercise in Mali in 2016 slammed defence officials on Friday for exercising "insufficient control over occupational safety".

The July 2016 incident triggered major soul-searching within the Dutch defence ministry and led to the resignation of minister Jeanine Hennis in October, who admitted she was "politically responsible".

The defence ministry "is insufficiently in control when it comes to occupational safety," the four-person commission said in its 20-page report, which it handed over to newly-appointed Defence Minister Ank Bijleveld.

"Occupational safety can and must improve," said the report which made several recommendations.

These included fostering greater security awareness through such things as "safety awareness days" within the military and creating an internal safety board to enforce standards.

"Attention to improving safety standards to prevent injury is essential. Improving safety standards is not 'rocket science'," the report pointed out.

The 2016 incident was also probed by the Dutch Safety Board last year, who said there had been "serious shortcomings" which led to the deaths of the men.

It found that the military had been using stocks of old shells bought in 2006 "with the help of the US Department of Defense amid a pressure of time" to supply the Dutch mission as part of the NATO–led force in Afghanistan.

During the munitions purchase, the Dutch defence ministry "omitted to carry out its own procedures and controls ... as it assumed the US Army was already using the ammunition and had carried out safety tests," the OVV said at the time.

The Netherlands has been part of the UN stabilisation mission in Mali (MINUSMA) since April 2014, and had deployed some 400 troops, four Apache helicopters and three Chinooks to the west African nation.

The UN mission was deployed in Mali in July 2013 as part of an international effort against jihadist groups which had overrun the country's northern territory.

Since being deployed there, at least 80 UN peacekeepers have been killed, making it the most costly UN mission in terms of human life since Somalia (1993-1995).

UN urges Mali government to hold presidential vote in July
Tampa Bay Times

January 24, 2018

The U.N. peacekeeping chief urged Mali's government on Tuesday to do everything possible to hold presidential elections on schedule in mid-July.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix told the Security Council that last week's adoption of a timeline for the government, Tuareg separatists and armed groups to implement a June 2015 peace agreement by the end of March was an important step.

He said this should lead to progress on a host of issues including reform of the security sector and establishing security conditions for the presidential vote as well as local and regional elections in April.

"It's urgent that we confront the fact that we're racing against time in Mali," Lacroix said. "We are confronting increasing insecurity which has cost the lives, unfortunately, of hundreds of civilians in the north and center of the country as well as dozens of elements of defense forces" from Mali, the U.N. and France.

Mali has been in turmoil since a 2012 uprising prompted mutinous soldiers to overthrow the country's president of a decade. The power vacuum that was created ultimately led to an Islamic insurgency and a French-led war that ousted the jihadists from power in 2013. But insurgents remain active in the region.

Lacroix said 4.1 million Malians — or 22 percent of the West African nation's population — will be "food insecure" this year.

"The goal needs to be to create conditions that would lead to elections, and beyond that pursuit of the peace process," he said.

Lacroix said presidential elections "will mark the beginning of a new chapter in the stabilization of Mali."

He said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres informed the council on Monday that he was establishing an international commission of inquiry to investigate serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed in Mali since January 2012.

"Its establishment represents an important step forward in the implementation of the justice and reconciliation measures of the (peace) agreement as well as in efforts to fight impunity," the undersecretary-general for peacekeeping said.

Lacroix also announced a "comprehensive strategic review" of the more than 11,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali which has become the most dangerous in the world for peacekeepers. He said it was time to reassess "the assumptions that underpin" its presence, review its tasks mandated by the Security Council against its achievements, and re-examine its deployments.

Mali's Foreign Minister Tieman Hubert Coulubaly said the government is committed to progress which he said "has contributed to the progressive restoration of peace and security in our country."

However, he said, "time is running short," and the government is determined to accelerate implementation of the peace agreement.

In 2018, Coulubaly said, the government is committed to completing the implementation of the peace agreement, containing "increasing insecurity in the center of the country," meeting demands "for urgent social needs," and "organizing credible, transparent and peaceful elections."e

Two customs officers killed in Mali 'jihadist' attack
Daily Mail

January 24, 2018

Two Malian customs officers have been killed in a suspected jihadist attack at a market in the small village of Toubakoro, security sources told AFP on Wednesday.

"Two customs officers were killed, a terrorist too," according to one source.

The attackers arrived in Toubakoro, some 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of the capital Bamako, on motorcycles and were armed, said another source, adding that, "there was a great panic in the village".

"The jihadists were well informed about the comings and goings of the security forces," said an elected representative who was near the market at the time.

"The jihadists fired at a customs vehicle," he added.

Islamic extremists linked to Al-Qaeda took control of the desert north of Mali in early 2012, but were largely driven out by a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

However, large tracts of the country remain lawless and jihadists have continued to carry out attacks against civilians and security forces.

Newly-appointed Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga said earlier this month that "urgent measures" were required to address Al-Qaeda-linked groups.

Defence sources have told AFP that the military aims to deploy some 1,000 soldiers to take back control of the country's restive centre.

French forces are still operating in Mali as part of Operation Barkhane, an offensive deployed in five countries — Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso.

`These countries form the so-called G5 Sahel force, a French-supported group that aims to combat jihadists in the region.

Death toll now 26 in Mali truck blast, including 4 children
The Washington Post

January 26, 2018

Burkina Faso's government says the death toll has risen to 26 after a truck hit an improvised explosive device.

The government says six women and four children are among the dead in Thursday's blast that occurred shortly after the truck entered Mali from northern Burkina Faso.

The government says authorities are working to identify the victims, who were from both West African countries and had been traveling for a weekly market.

The border area is home to a radicalized preacher whose Ansarul Islam organization has carried out deadly attacks on security forces and civilians.

No one has claimed responsibility for Thursday's blast.

Burkina Faso's government reported last month that more than 114 people were killed in 2017 in 89 extremist attacks by Ansarul Islam and others.

Ambush on Mali army camp leaves 14 soldiers and 17 attackers dead
The New York Times

January 27, 2018

Islamic militants stormed an army camp in northern Mali on Saturday, killing at least 14 soldiers in the worst attack on security forces in the West African country in more than a year, an army spokesman said.

The spokesman, Col. Diarran Kone, said that after the attack in the Timbuktu region, the bodies of 17 assailants were left at the scene and the base was once again under the control of the Malian military.

Mali recently commemorated the fifth anniversary of a French military mission to oust Islamic extremists from power in the major towns to the country's north. The operation, however, merely dispersed the jihadists into the surrounding desert.

In the years since, they have staged frequent attacks on the military as well as on United Nations peacekeeping forces that are trying to stabilize the country.

Last January, at least 54 people were killed in the eastern city of Gao after a camp, which housed hundreds of former fighters from armed groups, was bombed. The former fighters, who were signatories to Mali's 2015 peace agreement, had agreed to join forces with the military to battle extremist groups.

Despite the presence of a peacekeeping mission and troops operating under a regional French anti-militant mission, violence is again on the rise and attacks are spreading farther south toward the capital, Bamako.

A land mine explosion blew up a civilian passenger vehicle near the central Mali village of Boni on Thursday, killing 26 people and injuring several others. In a separate incident on the same day in the nearby town of Youwarou, the Malian military said its forces had repelled an attack by fighters suspected of Islamist insurgents.

Mali and its western neighbor of Senegal plan to deploy 1,000 troops soon in an operation to pacify central Mali and contain jihadists who had been confined to its Saharan expanses in the north.

But analysts doubt they will be able to do so purely through military means. The Islamists exploit the grievances of local cattle herders from the Fulani tribe and their disputes with local farmers over access to grazing lands.

The government's periodic crackdowns on jihadists have therefore tended to target the Fulani, driving some of them into the arms of the armed groups

Suicide bomber kills four Malian soldiers
AFP

January 28, 2018

A suicide bomber killed four Malian soldiers on Sunday, the army said, in the second deadly attack this weekend in the country's troubled north.

Mali's deteriorating security situation is of growing concern as Al-Qaeda-linked groups mount increasingly ferocious attacks on domestic and foreign forces.

"A terrorist suicide bomber was destroyed this morning, Sunday, January 28, 2018, in Menaka as he attempted to blow himself up on the approach to an army and national guard post," a statement by the armed forces posted on social media said.

"Unfortunately during this operation, four armed forces personnel lost their lives," it added.

A Malian military source told AFP earlier there was more than one attacker, blaming jihadists, adding that the armed forces were now "in control of the situation". A local official told AFP rockets were launched at the site.

Meanwhile French helicopters were circling the area, the sources said.

The attack comes the day after 14 soldiers were killed and 18 wounded when suspected jihadists seized control of their camp in Soumpi, near Timbuktu in northern Mali and about 800km east of Menaka.

And on Thursday 26 civilians including mothers and infants were killed when their vehicle ran over a landmine in Boni, central Mali, leading President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to cancel plans to attend an African Union summit in order to visit the area.

Keita told victims' families: "All of Mali was in mourning, all of Mali is appalled" over the high civilian death toll.

"Everyone knows what we are going through... Every day we do what we can," he added.

Mali mayor kidnapped by armed men: family
eNews Channel Africa

January 31, 2018

A missing mayor in northern Mali was "kidnapped by armed men", his family and a security source said Wednesday, as the nation's most powerful jihadist group claimed a string of attacks last week.

Baba Ould Cheikh, the mayor of Tarkint in the Gao region, was snatched by six armed men between January 21 and 23, a member of his family told AFP, underlining increasing insecurity months ahead of a presidential election.

Cheikh had negotiated the release of Europeans kidnapped by jihadists in the past, and is the latest victim of either criminal elements or jihadists who frequently organise such kidnappings.

"There is no doubt he was taken away. He didn't just disappear. Either the kidnapping was done by people he had a disagreement with, or Islamists who organised it," the security source said.

The mayor was named in an enquiry into a drug smuggling operation in 2009 involving a Boeing 727 flown from Venezuela and burnt after unloading the cargo in the Gao region, according to the UN drugs agency.

He was arrested for cocaine trafficking in April 2013 but released months later due to lack of evidence.

Meanwhile, the powerful Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM in its Arabic acronym) claimed two attacks against the Malian army last week that left 18 soldiers dead.

The Mauritanian news agency Al-Akhbar, which regularly reports claims of responsibility from jihadists in the Sahel, published a statement from the Islamist militant coalition which stated it lost four men in the attacks.

Islamist extremists linked to Al-Qaeda took control of the desert north of the former French colony in early 2012, but were largely driven out in an ongoing French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

In June 2015, Mali's government signed a peace agreement with coalitions of non-jihadist armed groups. But Islamist insurgents remain active, and large tracts of the country are lawless

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EAST AFRICA

Uganda

Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Situation in Uganda

Kenya, Uganda Accused of Prolonging South Sudan War
The East African

By Kevin J Kelley
January 30, 2018

Kenya and Uganda are aiding to prolong the four-year-old civil war in South Sudan by serving as conduits for arms to combatants, a United Nations official said on Monday.

"The responsibility to prevent atrocities is regional and international," Adama Dieng, the UN special advisor for prevention of genocide, told VOA.

"It is true that large quantities of weapons and ammunition are flowing into South Sudan through Kenya and Uganda."

Mr Dieng said peace will be achieved in South Sudan only "if we have concerted regional and international efforts to leave no further options to the South Sudanese leaders to stop and start negotiating."

"International partners have to start targeting the accomplices, intermediaries of the South Sudanese parties," Mr Dieng said.

"Welcoming refugees who are victims of a conflict they are de facto facilitating is not good enough," he added.

Uganda is hosting more than one million refugees from South Sudan, while Kenya's Kakuma camp holds more than 100,000.

Arms trafficking

Mr Dieng did not indicate whether the governments of Kenya and Uganda are directly involved in arms trafficking to South Sudan. He also did not say whether the weapons are intended for the country's military or rebel forces -- or possibly both.

The UN panel of experts reported last November it had obtained documentary evidence of a cargo flight containing 31 tonnes of weapons that arrived in Entebbe, Uganda, in August.

Kampala-based Bosasy Logistics was listed as consignee for the shipment which was said to have originated in Bulgaria. The arms were to be transferred to South Sudan, according to unnamed sources cited by the UN experts.

Mr Dieng's contention that Kenya and Uganda are fuelling the war in South Sudan follows a comment by US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley last week that "it is past time for the leaders of Uganda and Kenya to get involved and put pressure on President Kiir".

Kenya and Uganda "are key players in the success of a true peace process," Ms Haley said in a speech to the UN Security Council.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also recently warned South Sudan's neighbours against taking sides in the civil war.

While not naming Kenya or Uganda, the UN chief told an African Union gathering in Addis Ababa on January 27 that it is essential to ensure that "any contradictions that might exist among the neighbours of South Sudan are not translated into an influence in the internal situation of South Sudan."

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Kenya

Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Situation in the Republic of Kenya

A Deadly Election Season in Kenya
The Atlantic

By Tristan McConnell
January 23, 2018

Two days after her husband was shot in the head on a soggy October afternoon, Dorothy Achieng sat on a wood-framed sofa cradling their one-year-old daughter Maya. Around her sat a dozen friends and relatives, quietly commiserating. In front of her, two photographs of her handsome husband lay on a knee-high wooden table; in each picture, he's posing and smiling directly at the camera.

Thirty-year-old Paul Omina was killed in the poor, crowded Nairobi neighborhood of Mathare late last year as an extended, disputed, and sometimes violent election season drew to a close. That witnesses said he was shot by the police came as no surprise to virtually everyone I met in the neighborhood. For them, such brutality is rendered mundane by its ubiquity—there are well over one hundred extra-judicial killings recorded in Kenya each year, and even more in election years. But each statistic is its own tragedy.

Achieng, Maya, and seven-year-old Stephane, her other daughter, shared a single cramped room on an upper floor of dark building with uneven stairs rising through unlit stairwells. The apartment block sits above a pharmacy and hair salon, next to a broken road with clogged gutters leading to the filthy Mathare River, which gives the slum its name. Sandals and flip flops belonging to friends and neighbors piled up outside Achieng's doorway. "I don't know what is going to happen," Achieng whispered. "I don't know where to start, or even how to start."

Omina is one of at least 92 people—most of them young male supporters of the political opposition, allegedly shot by police in the head or chest—who died during Kenya's protracted and divisive election season. The election killings revealed the harrowing reality of Kenyan politics, an elite game in which the players are rarely victims. They also laid plain the impunity of the Kenyan police, which often behaves as if it is above the law it is paid to enforce. The killings suggest a state that is now more predator than protector.

"Paul was not so much into politics. He just wanted to vote for Baba, that's all," Achieng said, using a popular nickname for opposition candidate Raila Odinga. During the first attempt at the presidential election on August 8, Omina voted for Odinga. Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta won with 54 percent of the vote, but Odinga claimed fraud and went to court, winning an annulment and rerun of the poll. The new election was set for October 26, but Odinga declared a boycott just days before. His supporters mostly stayed home, and Kenyatta won again, with 98 percent of the vote, though turnout was only 39 percent.

The repeat election day saw a tense standoff with police at Mathare North Primary School, a polling station, where opposition protesters who heeded the call for a boycott were disrupting the vote. Rocks flew and tear gas was fired. Some who dared vote were identified by their inked finger and smacked about by the mob.

Police violence that day was casual, conspicuous, and predictable: A small group of young men would gather; someone would set a tire alight; stones would be thrown, and the police would respond with tear gas and a baton charge. As the protesters ducked down alleys, the officers would give chase, often shooting as they ran. Eventually the cops would re-emerge, hauling a young man behind them. The suspect would be flung into a police truck and officers would take turns whacking him with sticks, the beating accompanied by a creaking of the truck on its axles and stifled moans from the prisoner. None of this was hidden.

Omina and three friends, all Odinga fans, stood outside the school in the drizzle, but claim not to have been demonstrating. "We just wanted to see what was going on," Erick, 23, who accompanied Omina, told me. The story of what followed, recounted by Erick, was corroborated by rights researchers, Omina's relatives and others.

Omina was well-known at the school. He worked on a charity-supported allotment carved out of the school grounds by the river's edge. There, he grew tomatoes, collard greens (known locally as sukuma wiki), and pumpkins for the school and for sale in the nearby market. The school's 52-year-old headmaster, Jackson Monayo, knew the vote would be a flashpoint. In 2008, he had watched violence tear through Mathare North in Kenya's worst-ever post-election upheaval, which left over 1,100 people dead. In August of this year, one of his pupils, nine-year-old Stephanie Moraa, was shot dead by police as she watched street riots from the balcony of her parent's apartment.

Monayo remembered Omina fondly saying the allotment project, aimed at keeping idle young men out of trouble, had been good for him. "He was a changed man. He focused on the garden, not on the streets outside."

When police broke up the crowd at the school, Omina ran with his friends. They went around the corner, up a gentle incline, and towards home, pursued by cops. At a tee-junction a few-hundred meters away, they found Huruma Road empty, its wooden stalls abandoned, doors shut, and stoops empty. "When we reached the junction the police started shooting at us," Erick said with some hesitation (Fearing the police might come after him too, he declined to give his full name.)

The friends scrambled through an open downstairs door, slamming it behind them as a half-dozen gunshots cracked outside. But Omina was no longer with them. Erick peered through a gap between the metal door and its frame and saw his friend lying face down in the mud, his dark hoody flopped over his shaved head. "Omina, anuka! Omina, kuja!" he called out in Swahili: Get up! Come here! Omina didn't move.

The police moved towards Omina's motionless body. Erick watched through the crack in the door as they barely glanced at the prone body before turning up another alley and leaving. The silence that followed the gunfire was broken as people emerged. "They began screaming and came to carry him," Erick said. Someone rolled Omina onto his back, revealing a bloody puncture in his forehead above his right eye. Then he was lifted and carried across the street to a small medical clinic, where he was laid on a metal bed with a plastic-covered mattress. Erick said he was breathing then, but stopped soon after.

Achieng received a phone call from someone at the clinic a few minutes later. As she rushed there in a panic, she was uncertain of Omina's whereabouts. The huddle of his friends outside the clinic was a warning, the screams of "Wamemwua!"—they have killed him—the confirmation.

Achieng pushed through the crowd. She saw her dead husband, his t-shirt hoisted up to his chest, a mess of bloodied clothes around him, and a wad of cotton wool sticking from a neat wound in his head; she fainted. Although three others died violently in Kenya on that October 26 election day, Omina was the only one killed in Nairobi.

The Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU), a Kenyan group that tracks illegal killings and torture and carries out autopsies on victims, said in a report soon after the rerun that police used "excessive and indiscriminate force including lethal force … especially in areas where opposition supporters heeded their leaders' call for a boycott." IMLU said police shot 34 people, killing 13 of them, between October 25 and 28 alone.

George Kinoti, then a spokesman for the national police, sought to counter IMLU's "sensational reporting" and defend officers' actions. In a brief statement, Kinoti claimed just two people died in Nairobi—one shot while carrying "a Somali sword," the other burned by a mob, he said. He did not include Omina in the tally and police said they have no record of Omina's death, and deny any responsibility for it.

A subsequent report from the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) released on December 20 put the final death toll from 2017's election-related violence at 92. The actual number could be higher still, according to other rights researchers.

Like many Odinga supporters, Omina was a member of the Luo tribe from western Kenya. Justus Nyang'aya said police "profiled" opposition demonstrators, singling them out for "punitive policing." On social media, the hashtag #LuoLivesMatter has been used, taking inspiration from the America's Black Lives Matter movement.

Nyang'aya's researchers have investigated many of the election killings, including Omina's. Omina's case "falls bang in the middle of how policing should not be done," he said. "This particular young man could have been part of the demonstration, but where he was shot is not where the demonstration was happening. Police were chasing people, and it is only the police who had guns in that area and were shooting," he said.

When they saw Omina's body, splayed in the mud, he said, "they did not stop, they did not try to find out what had happened, if indeed they were not responsible. Instead they walked majestically away," he said. "I really don't have any hope there will be justice."

Media Barred From Opposition Event: Authorities Arbitrarily Shut Down TV, Radio Coverage
Human Rights Watch

January 30, 2018

Kenyan authorities stopped news outlets from covering a planned public event by a political opposition leader on January 30, 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. The Communications Authority of Kenya switched off three television stations and their affiliated radio stations. The television and radio stations were still off air at time of writing.

The authorities appear to have been angered by the decision of the media companies to defy President Uhuru Kenyatta's order to editors at a meeting on January 26 not to cover the planned swearing in of the opposition leader, Raila Odinga, who rejected Kenyatta's victory on October 26, 2017 in the presidential election. The Kenyan authorities have not given any explanation or legal justification for their attempt to ban media coverage of Odinga.

"Kenyan authorities have restricted media coverage at a critical moment, and violated the public's right to information about important events," said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "They should immediately allow the media organizations to resume their work in accordance with the law."

On November 20, the Supreme Court upheld Kenyatta's re-election as president, rejecting a petition from nongovernmental groups challenging his victory on October 26. The October 26 election followed a court order invalidating the first election, held on August 8, and ordering a new election within 60 days.

On January 29, the chairman of the Kenya Editors Guild, Linus Kaikai, issued a statement condemning the president's decision to summon editors and senior media managers to the president's office in State House on January 26. Kenyatta was accompanied at the meeting by his deputy, William Ruto, Interior Secretary Fred Matiang'i, Information Secretary Joseph Mucheru, and Attorney General Githu Muigai.

Kaikai said in the statement that at the meeting the president threatened to shut down any media organization that covered Odinga's swearing in. The government has neither denied nor confirmed that it held the meeting on January 26, but at least one other official of Kenya Editors Guild and the chairman of the Media Owners Association have publicly said they attended the meeting with the president that Friday.

Waruru Wachira, the managing director of Royal Media Services, the parent company of Citizen TV and Radio, said on January 30 that there was no official communication from the government about why its stations were taken off the air. "We are actively engaging with the relevant government authorities to establish the reason for this action," Waruru said in a statement to the media.

The government's action underlines a trend since 2013, when Kenyatta took office for his first term. Government officials have intimidated, harassed and threatened media organizations and individual journalists and bloggers writing on sensitive subjects.

In some cases, journalists and bloggers critical of the government and senior officials have been physically attacked or killed, by people who have been identified. Suspects have rarely been arrested or convicted.

Pressure on the media increased during and after the prolonged election period in 2017, during which police cracked down violently on demonstrations by opposition supporters. On August 12, police arrested a Standard newspaper journalist, Duncan Khaemba, who was covering demonstrations in Nairobi's Kibera neighborhood, for allegedly wearing a bulletproof vest without the necessary authorization, in what appeared to be an attempt to obstruct him from doing his work.

On January 6, David Mugonyi, Ruto's spokesman, threatened to have a Daily Nation journalist, Justus Wanga, fired for a story that exposed a rift between Kenyatta and Ruto over the selection of the cabinet. "I want to be outright with you," Mugonyi told Wanga in a 50-second call recorded by the Daily Nation. "If you want to be fired, continue on that path."

A May 2017 Human Rights Watch and Article 19 report found that the authorities used a range of tactics, including harassment, intimidation, and threats, and withholding advertising and payment to media critical of the government, in an attempt to compel them to toe the line. Police have rarely investigated reports of attacks on journalists and bloggers, and attackers have rarely been held to account.

Kenyan authorities have an obligation to protect and uphold rights, including freedom of expression and the right to information, enshrined in the constitution and international law. Freedom of expression includes the right of everyone to receive and share information, through any media of their choice. States can only restrict this right when the restriction is based on a clear domestic law and is carried out for a legitimate reason as set out in international law, and if the restrictions are proportionate (i.e. not sweeping or with disproportionate punishments).

"Kenya is on a very slippery trajectory in regard to human rights, and president Kenyatta urgently needs to reverse this trend," Namwaya said. "The heightened assault on freedom of the media and expression risks further damaging Kenya's reputation in the world as a rights-respecting nation."

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Rwanda (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda)

Official Website of the ICTR

Genocide suspect Ntaganzwa rejects lawyer
The New Times

By Elisee Mpirwa
January 22, 2018

The trial of Genocide suspect Ladislas Ntaganzwa took another twist Monday when he told court that he was rejecting his defence counsel Laurent Bugabo, who was assigned to him by Rwanda Bar Association.

Appearing before judges at the Specialised Chamber for International Crimes at High Court, Ntaganzwa alleged that his lawyer does not create enough time for him in preparation of his defence, claiming that "he is always busy with other work."

Ntaganzwa, a former bourgmestre (mayor) of Nyakizu Commune, now in Nyaruguru District, was one of the nine so-called "Big Fish" indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) but had not yet been arrested by the time the UN court closed shop.

His file was subsequently transferred to Rwandan prosecution to take on the case.

He was arrested from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2015 and extradited to Rwanda the following year.

He is mainly accused of personally commanding a mob that included Burundian refugees in which over 20,000 Tutsi in his former commune were slaughtered.

Before the hearing in substance could proceed with the defence's first submissions, Judge Antoine Muhima ordered the defendant to elucidate his letter written to the court about some misunderstandings between him and his lawyer, Laurent Bugabo.

Ntaganzwa stated that during the last ten court sessions, Bugabo did not want to sit with him and discuss before appearing in court.

Bugabo dismissed the claims by his client and said that he prepared submissions for him and they were working closely together until December last year where that Ntaganzwa suddenly refused to meet with him at the prison.

He said that Ntaganzwa has even insisted on having the ICTR ruling on his referral translated into a language he understands though it is in French which he easily reads and writes.

"He was claiming it was only in English."

As the arguments went on between the attorney and his client, the Judge Muhima requested the defence team to reach an agreement, but Ntaganzwa insisted that he no longer wants Bugabo as his lawyer because he can't trust him at this stage of the trial.

Prosecution represented by Faustin Nkusi and Claudine Dushiminana, said that the defendant has no rights to reject his lawyer because he is not the one who chose him, adding that he is most likely to reject another one that will be provided to him.

Nkusi later added that the only way to solve the stalemate is for the accused and his lawyer to sit and solve their differences to ensure the trial continues, saying that it is in the interest of all parties for the case to be heard to its conclusion without wasting much time.

The court decided to adjourn the hearings to February 7, giving the defence a two-week time to sit together and seek for a solution themselves, and ordered them to be back in court with a detailed list of defence witnesses.

UN Recognizes The 1994 Genocide As Against Tutsi In Rwanda
KT Press

By Jean de la Croix Tabaro
January 26, 2018

The United Nations General Assembly has officially designated 7 April as the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

On Friday, the United Nations referred to its previous events, resolutions and activities in regard to the Genocide and changed its stance.

Since April 7th 2004, UN General Assembly has been observing the atrocities in Rwanda as just the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda, which, according to Rwanda was demeaning and ignoring facts.

The UN has now changed the narrative and it has decided to "designate 7 April as the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda."

To change the narrative, among others, the UN General Assembly referred to precedents of its own United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) which indicated that it was a "fact of common knowledge" that "between 6 April and 17 July 1994, there was a Genocide in Rwanda against the Tutsi ethnic group" where more than a million people were killed in a period of 100 days.

The United Nations, which in 1994 also had soldiers on a peacekeeping mission in Rwanda who did not help much to save the victims of the Genocide against Tutsi views its new stance as an effort to combat Genocide denial and impunity for all violations that constitute the crime of Genocide.

"This is a day the world should think about the atrocities of the Genocide," Naphtal Ahishakiye, Executive Secretary of Ibuka told KT Press.

"But, it's not just about reflecting about it; the World should also make it a day of never again, when they brainstorm about preventing the Genocide from happening again, in any part of the World."

Ibuka is an umbrella organization of Genocide against Tutsi survivors' associations. Students survivors, widows of the Genocide against Tutsi and other organizations that defend the cause of genocide survivors and seek justice in regard to this Genocide are part of Ibuka.

For Laurent Nkongori, a practicing lawyer and former commissioner at National Human Rights Commission told KT Press that this step is good, but Rwanda expects more.

"We would wish them to make another step; let them think about compensation," Nkongori said.

"We are not necessarily interested in money because compensation or reparation can be in several forms. Let it be symbolic at least."

Nkongori 68 years today, said, "The biggest event I am awaiting is to see the UN, countries like France accept their role in Genocide against Tutsi, then compensate the survivors."

In the case of France, Nkongori said that previous events where the United Nations Human Rights Commission asked the country to reflect about their role is an indicator that "France should break the ice, admit its role and compensate the Genocide survivors."

Having taken that step, Nkongori says UN, should also do that final gesture of compensation.

When facts cease to matter: The polarised world of Rwanda research
African Arguments

By Jos Van Oijen
January 29, 2018

In the world of academia, few topics are subject to a more polarised debate than the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. When discussing this event, even eminent professors will make scurrilous accusations against those with whom they disagree. "Guilt by association" arguments frequently find their way into the scholarship under the guise of academic research.

In this often unproductive debate, a regular point of contention is the role of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the Tutsi-led rebel group that defeated the extremist Hutu regime in July 1994 and is still in power today.

Some contend that the RPF bears some responsibility for the genocide against the Tutsi and that they themselves committed "acts of genocide" against the Hutu. They point out that the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) failed to investigate RPF crimes and claim this was the result of a deliberate cover up – one that may have involved the complicity, consent or even active participation of prosecutors and NGOs.

In August 2016, this conspiracy theory was given a boost by a 42-page article in Human Rights Quarterly, entitled "NGO Justice: African Rights as Pseudo-Prosecutor of the Rwandan genocide". The piece by academic Luc Reydams centres in on the advocacy group African Rights. It claims that this apparently independent body was in fact "coopted" by the Rwandan rebels during the first weeks of the genocide, and that it consequently became an "outright RPF-front organization funded by and working closely with the RPF's intelligence apparatus".

Reydams claims that the African Rights report "Death, Despair and Defiance" became hugely influential and ended up shaping the whole narrative of the genocide. He says this document even helped determine the approach and actions of ICTR officials who supposedly referred to it as "the Bible".

Pulling no punches, the academic contends that African Rights was ultimately a proxy for the RPF and that its landmark report was "instrumental in shaping and spreading an easily consumable one-sided narrative of the Rwandan conflict and that the resulting pensée unique contributed to RPF impunity".

However, Reydams' article turns out to contain hundreds of errors, unverified accusations and logical flaws. Nonetheless, it is worth examining how and where his major allegations fall short. His approach gives an insight into the sad state of the current debate at times.

Rumour and myth

Reydams' main allegation – that the widely-accepted narrative of the genocide originated from RPF propaganda in African Rights reports – can be traced back to rumours spread by well-known extremists shortly after the genocide.

In his 1995 open letter to African Rights director Rakiya Omaar, for example, Hassan Ngeze, editor of the Hutu Power magazine Kangura, claimed: "All of the evidence put forward in the report was apparently provided to you by the RPF and its members."

Jean Bosco Barayagwiza, leader of the extremist Coalition for the Defence of the Republic (CDR), similarly accused the rights group of being "a blind and unconditional ally of the RPF" in his book of the same year.

Such accusations have not been reserved to just African Rights. Hutu Power sympathisers have also described United Nations researchers as pro-RPF agents and the testimony of Human Rights Watch researcher Alison Des Forges as being "so coloured by prejudice as to be without objectivity". In fact, even before the genocide erupted, Ferdinand Nahimana, co-founder of the hate radio station RTLM, tried to discredit a human rights investigation co-chaired by Des Forges.

Nahimana, Ngeze and Barayagwiza were all convicted by the ICTR in 2003 for their role in encouraging the genocide. But their rumours survived and were given new life by Reydams. He attempts to add weight to the old conspiracy theory by offering an alternative narrative around African Rights. He suggests that far from being an independent researcher, the group's director Omaar worked hand-in-hand with the RPF who allegedly gave her access, fed her interviewees and accompanied her during fieldwork.

In this narrative, Reydams cites Theogene Rudasingwa, the RPF's chief public relations officer in 1994, who claims he enlisted Omaar on 26 April 1994 in Nairobi, Kenya. He says he then put her in touch with RPF commanders in Rwanda. "I played a vital role in bringing her into the RPF network," he says.

The article offers no details about how this arrangement operated in practice, however, and Rudasingwa did not elaborate when we contacted him. He said only that he has "nothing else to add or distract" from what he was quoted as saying in "NGO Justice".

But for her part, Omaar is adamant Rudasingwa's account is incorrect. She says she attended a press conference held by the former RPF official – as mentioned in "Death, Despair and Defiance" – but that she never spoke to Rudasingwa in Nairobi, nor had any kind of meeting with him there.

Instead, Omaar says her initial research in Rwanda was facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Reuters News Agency. She says her work on the genocide started after she attended ICRC briefings in Nairobi. There, she met Geoffrey Loane, a senior ICRC official, who she says put her in touch with people who had been evacuated from Rwanda and others.

We contacted Loane. "Rakiya did attend on one or more occasions," he confirmed. "We also met over lunch one of those days." Omaar says she took an ICRC flight to a refugee camp near the Rwandan border in Tanzania. Loane says this "rings a bell", but that he cannot be certain after so long.

The African Rights researcher only reached Mulindi, where the RPF was headquartered, in mid-May when she joined a crew of Reuters journalists entering Rwanda from the north. Journalist Buchizya Mseteka, who headed the crew, remembers giving Omaar this ride.

Reydams makes much of her time in Mulindi, but according to the BBC's Mark Doyle, passing through this RPF stronghold could not be avoided and does not suggest any kind of collaboration. "It is ridiculous to say that the fact of going to Mulindi is to sign up with the RPF agenda," he says. "Other crossings were only for the very brave".

Jonathan Clayton of Reuters echoes this sentiment and adds that the rebels' presence was crucial for their security. "In those days the RPF gave everybody minders, but as I recall we welcomed their presence," he says. "I remember one chasing away a group of Interahamwe coming towards us with pangas drawn".

Photojournalist Corinne Dufka, now a regional director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), says that the need for RPF security shifted over time though. "As the RPF control increased in Kigali, we were able to work on our own," she says. "That said, it was often risky, so we preferred going with a UN or RPF escort – but again not always."

After Mulindi, Omaar went on to Byumba and the Kigali area where she conducted interviews in camps and hospitals. The testimonies she recorded correspond closely to accounts by journalists also present, such as Mark Fritz and Bill Berkeley. Omaar says she had a soldier as a guide at this time, but that he didn't interfere with her work.

Her claim that she conducted research independently is backed up by others who were there at the time. Clayton, for instance, explains that the RPF was not omnipresent. "I remember seeing Rakiya interviewing people at one place where our paths crossed and I have no recollection then of any RPF military presence," he says.

Two prominent victims – former prosecutor Francois Xavier Nsanzuwera and former human rights activist Jean Paul Biramvu – also recall meeting Omaar in separate camps. Contrary to Reydams' claims, they both say they could speak freely and without an RPF presence. "I did not need an interpreter because Rakiya spoke in French", says Nsanzuwera. " She respected all my responses and wrote exactly what I said."

In fact, when it comes to actual witnesses to Omaar's work, which Reydams claims was closely overseen by the RPF, the academic only offers one source: a former African Rights employee who wished to remain anonymous. "The RPF would bring a dozen survivors or witnesses to [Omaar] at a time and she would 'process' them with the help of RPF translators," the source is quoted as saying.

This former employee's quotes are presented by Reydams in reference to the extensive interviews that formed a large part of "Death, Despair and Defiance". But the source – whose identity is known to African Arguments – did not work for the advocacy group in 1994. He only worked on the second edition of the report, published in 1995. When contacted, he said of that research: "The RPF never pointed out witnesses for me to interview; they neither guided me towards any witnesses, nor was I supervised during the interviews."

He was also eager to distance himself from Reydams' accusations. "After reading his article, I was shocked to realise that he tried to give the impression that it was the RPF that identified the people for interview and that they shaped their accounts to fit with his [their] version of the facts," he said.

The Bible?

Having claimed to have proven that African Rights was an RPF front, Reydams goes on to argue that its landmark report was instrumental in popularising the dominant narrative about the genocide.

But this claim is based on similarly fragile evidence, as is quickly apparent from the chronology of events. The African Rights report was published on 29 September 1994. By this time, the "grand narrative" of the genocide Reydams refers to had already become the consensus view. More than five months earlier, on 19 April, Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW, had written an open letter to the UN Security Council. In it, he referred to the atrocities against the Tutsi minority as "genocide" and claimed "the campaign of killing was planned weeks before the death of President Habyarimana".

At the same time, HRW consultants such as Des Forges were working tirelessly to get this same message across in the media and by visiting the White House, US Congress and UN Security Council. This was all before Omaar even set foot in Rwanda.

As well as suggesting "Death, Despair and Defiance" helped create the widely-accepted story of the genocide, Reydams claims it formed a core part of the ICTR's investigations and actions. He says the report was referred to as "the bible" and significantly influenced the Court's approach.

This claim also seems unfounded. When contacted, former ICTR investigator Humbert de Biolley and former prosecutor Sara Darehshori both said they indeed referred to the report. However, they insisted it was only one of many documents they looked at and that it was used for context only.

"[It was] certainly not a bible," said de Biolley, laughing when he heard the claims. Darehshori, currently a senior lawyer at HRW, said the African Rights report was not even as influential as the expert report written by Des Forges in May 1995. "That was much more important in evidence presentation," she said.

A former team leader of the ICTR investigators, who wished to remain anonymous, gave a similar account. He added that far from having to rely on "Death, Despair and Defiance", there was lots of information available in 1995, whether from news archives, experts, books, UN peacekeepers or their own intelligence unit.

Darehshori does concede that the ICTR fell short in investigating crimes committed by the RPF. But she says that rather than this being due to the court buying into RPF propaganda, it was rooted in far more practical reasons.

"I do think the Tribunal failed to prosecute the RPF which damages its legacy," she says. "There were some investigations into RPF crimes, but it was hard particularly since the office was based in Kigali and there was no witness protection and there were concerns about leaks of confidential information."

There is no doubt that African Rights' research, conducted in the most difficult of circumstances, was imperfect. Even those who praise the work see its inevitable flaws.

"I do not agree with all of what Rakiya and AR did or said, nor with all their explanations and conclusions," says Clayton. "But by being there and doing her work she did mankind a huge service for which she deserves credit, not this type of character assassination."

With little evidence, however, this is what Reydams does as he reaches conclusions that even his own sources find suspect.

For example, the academic lists two other Rwandan sources that informed his work besides the former African Rights employee and Rudasingwa. African Arguments contacted them as well. Noel Twagiramungu responded by saying that Omaar did become too close to the RPF-led government in later years, but he distanced himself from Reydams' article, saying it "suffers from the syndrome of post-hoc conclusions". Gerald Gahima simply requested that we say Reydams' article misrepresents his views about Omaar's work on the genocide.

The only Rwandan source to stand by Reydams therefore is Rudasingwa, whose comments should be understood in the context that the former RPF Secretary General fell out with President Paul Kagame in 2004, fled the country, and has since become one of the government's leading critics.

A polarised field

In its upcoming February 2018 edition, Human Rights Quarterly has agreed to publish a critique of Reydams' article. Co-written by seven Great Lakes specialists, the authors call his contribution "unreasonable, ill-founded and intemperate". They go through twelve areas of contention and complain that the author provided "not a shred of evidence for the sweeping and damaging claims he makes". The co-authors say the piece was unworthy of publication.

The fact it was published – despite scores of factual errors, leaps of logic and libellous aspersions – raises questions about the submission process at Human Rights Quarterly. However, while the character assassination of Omaar is particularly extensive, it is notable that attacks of this kind are sadly not rare within this particular academic field. Criticism is often aimed at individuals, who are accused of ulterior motives, rather than at the facts and theories they publish.

Academic Filip Reyntjens even wrote a pamphlet on this phenomenon, arguing that the debate "remains so emotional and polarised that the substance too often gives way to…the less than honest presentation of each other's points of view and to what is known in English as 'character assassination', where one plays the man and not the ball". Ironically, Reyntjens himself has employed these same tactics on occasion.

Helen Hintjens of the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague suggests that, in this debate, there seem to be two present-day Rwandas. One is presented as deserving praise for its stability and development since the devastating genocide and civil war. The other is presented as led by a power-hungry and repressive regime with little regard for its citizens. Dissent or even mild criticism is not appreciated by those on either side of this divide.

As academic Jonathan Fisher points out, being critical towards the government means risking being barred from the country or worse. Meanwhile, as Jonathan Belloff notes, not being critical enough means risking being alienated by an academic community that is increasingly disapproving of the RPF regime.

This polarisation affects not just analysis of the current day, but ends up being projected onto the past, diminishing the quality of research on Rwandan history and the genocide. Both Fisher and Hintjens say that they and many other academics have had submissions to journals rejected, based not on the scholarly merit of the articles but on either their perceived disproportionate sympathy or hostility towards Kigali.

If "NGO Justice" is a sample of what those articles are replaced with, this is not a very encouraging development.

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Somalia

Southwest State Confirms the Death of Burhakabo Military Commander
All Africa

January 30, 2018

At least 3 soldiers and a commander were killed and others injured following heavy fighting with Al Shabaab militants in Bay region, in the south part of the Horn of Africa nation.

Southwest spokesman, Nuradin Yusuf Abukar confirmed that four government soldiers and the commander of the military forces in Bur-Hakabo district were killed in the fighting.

"We have killed seven al-Shabaab militants, injured several others and recovered four guns after fighting that lasted several hours in Lug-habar location, along the road which joins Burhakaba and Baidoa town in this region," Abukar said.

He said the Somali National Army (SNA) conducted the operation against al-Shabaab militants in the area after getting information that the insurgents had mounted a checkpoint in the area.

Al-Shabaab militants, however, said they won the battle with Somali National Army, claiming to have killed SNA's commander for Bur-hakaba town, Abdirahman Osman Abrone.

The group said its fighters ambushed an SNA convey from Baidoa town, the administrative capital of Southwest State in Somalia to Burhakaba town.

The latest fighting came amid military operations in the region to flush out insurgents who have been mounting near-daily attacks on African Union peacekeeping mission bases, government installations, and other public places.

34,000 left homeless after army destroys camps
Middle East Monitor

January 30, 2018

Somalia's national army has demolished homeless shelters in the capital Mogadishu, Garowe Online reported today.

Between 29 December and 19 January, 3,000 shelters were destroyed by Somalia's military and police forces using bulldozers and heavy machinery. Somalia's internally displaced were not given adequate notification and are currently on foot without basic amenities.

"The Somali government needs to take responsibility for the mass forced evictions of these vulnerable, marginalised communities in Mogadishu," Laetitia Bader, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, said.

"A thorough investigation should be followed by concrete steps to ensure that all evictions are lawful and that anyone displaced is provided for."

The Somalia government has a record of forcibly leaving internally displaced people without any redress.

"If local and federal authorities need to move displaced people, they should first consult with these communities and put in place a plan that ensures people's security and access basic assistance," Bader continued.

Last week, the UK's international development secretary pledged to provide $29 million in humanitarian assistance to Somalia.

Somalia has had a deteriorating humanitarian issue with some two million internally displaced people suffering from a drought amid conflict for more than a decade.

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NORTH AFRICA

Libya

Official Website of the International Criminal Court
ICC Public Documents - Situation in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

Three bodies with signs of torture found in Benghazi
The Libya Observer

By Safa Alharathy
January 23, 2018

Benghazi Medical Centre said that it had received three unidentified bodies with traces of torture and gunshots.

A source from the centre said that the bodies were handed over by local citizens who found them dumped in Hawari district on Monday morning.

The incident comes two days after another body of a young man was found in Hawari district with visible signs of torture and gunshots as well.

Numerous abductions and killings have been continuing in Benghazi with impunity, where the bodies of victims are found in scattered locations in varying numbers. The most horrific was the discovery of 36 bodies in Abayar town, east of the city late last October.

U.N. alarmed at reports of summary executions in Libya's Benghazi
Reuters

By Aidan Lewis
January 24, 2018

The United Nations Libya mission said it was alarmed by reports of "brutal and outrageous summary executions" in the eastern city of Benghazi on Wednesday, after pictures emerged appearing to show at least nine people being shot dead at the site of a twin car bombing.

The U.N. Libya mission, UNSMIL, suggested in a tweet that the gunman was Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a special forces commander wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly carrying out a number of similar killings.

"(The U.N.) demands the handing over of Mahmoud al-Werfalli immediately to (the ICC) as it documented at least 5 similar cases, in 2017 alone, carried out or ordered by al-Werfalli," UNSMIL said on its Twitter account.

"Those responsible for committing or ordering summary executions are criminally liable under international law."

Reuters could not independently confirm the gunman's identity.

The photos, which were posted on social media and in local media, appear to show executions in front of Benghazi's Bayaat al-Radwan mosque, where a twin car bombing on Tuesday left at least 35 people dead.

One of the pictures shows a gunman dressed in military camouflage, pointing a weapon at the head of the first of a row of blindfolded men kneeling in blue jumpsuits in front of damaged mosque gates.

Another photo shows all but three of the people slumped forward on the road as the gunman makes his way along the line. It was unclear who the men were.

Al-Werfalli is from an elite unit attached to Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA), which controls Benghazi and battled Islamists and other opponents in the city until late last year.

After the ICC said it was seeking al-Werfalli's arrest in August, the LNA announced that it was investigating him and had detained him, though his whereabouts were unclear. The special forces dismissed the ICC warrant.

A spokesman for the LNA could not immediately be reached for comment on the pictures.

The pictures were posted as U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame visited Benghazi on Wednesday, meeting Haftar at a military compound near the city and expressing condemnation of the car bombing.

Haftar, a divisive figure in Libya, has increasingly been courted by the international community as he has gained power on the ground. He is considered a likely candidate in elections that the U.N. has said it hopes can be organized by the end of 2018.

Gun attacks in Benghazi hospitals becoming widespread
The Libya Observer

By Housam Najjair
January 24, 2018

An armed man opened fire on a patient in Al-Jala Hospital in Benghazi on Tuesday.

The hospital said on its official Facebook page that a visitor to one of the patients fired shots at another patient near the admission office, causing panic among the medical staff, the patients and the visitors. The hospital did not give further information.

The hospital confirmed that such an incident has been repeated several times inside the hospital without any precautions or deterrents put in place.

A similar operation took place just one day before at Benghazi Medical Center after an altercation quickly turned into a shooting that caused a number of people to be wounded.

Toll rises to 35 in car bombing outside Benghazi mosque
Reuters

By Ayman al-Warfalli
January 24, 2018

The toll from a twin car bombing at a mosque in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi rose to 35 on Wednesday, medics said, one of the highest from a single attack since Libya slid into turmoil after a 2011 uprising.

The first blast on Tuesday evening hit worshippers leaving the large Bayaat al-Radwan mosque in Benghazi's central Al Salmani district.

The second, which witnesses said came about 15 minutes later and was much stronger, inflicted a high number of casualties among people who had gathered at the scene of the first blast.

On Wednesday, the site of the bombings was strewn with scraps of clothing and victims' possessions, and the stench of blood hung in the air.

Surrounding buildings had their windows blown out and about 15 vehicles, including a firefighters' vehicle that had arrived to deal with the first explosion, were destroyed.

Senior security officers were among the casualties, as well as security officials and a firefighter who had rushed to the scene. At least three children were killed, and others injured. In all, around 60 people were wounded, medical officials said.

"I was there for the second blast and there was an ambulance between us and the explosion," said Yassin Farouk, a shopkeeper who had been praying in the mosque and was one of the first to leave. "The explosion was very powerful and we survived it by a miracle."

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Benghazi is controlled by the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar. It was battling Islamists including some linked to Islamic State and al Qaeda, as well as other opponents until late last year in the Mediterranean port city.

Marae al-Houti, an LNA special forces commander, blamed "terrorists defeated in battle, using this wicked method".

"There are terrorist sleeper cells and they will be arrested soon," he told Reuters.

Haftar, a possible contender in national elections that could be held by the end of 2018, has built his reputation on delivering stability in Benghazi and beyond, promising to halt the chaos that developed after a NATO-backed uprising ended Muammar Gaddafi's long rule nearly seven years ago.

Haftar launched his military campaign in Benghazi in May 2014, in response to a series of bombings and assassinations blamed on Islamist militants.

In past months there have been occasional, smaller scale bombings apparently targeting LNA allies or supporters.

One of those killed in Tuesday's attack was Ahmed al-Feitouri, head of the LNA's investigation and arrest unit. A tent for mourners was erected in front of his house, close to the Bayaat al-Radwan mosque.

Mohamed Fathi, who came to help people hit by the first blast, suffered shrapnel injuries in his leg and hand from the second. "It was a huge explosion intended to kill as many people as possible," he said.

Terror cell working for Dignity Operation captured with explosives in Derna
The Libya Observer

By Housam Najjair
January 25, 2018

The Security Unit of Derna Shura Council (DSC) arrested a terror cell loyal to Dignity Operation of Khalifa Haftar.

The cell was seeking out ways to carry out assassinations and bombings in the city of Derna, the spokesman of the DSC, Mohammed Mansouri, stated in a post on Facebook.

He said that the cell follows direct orders from Khalifa Haftar`s head of office, Awn Farjani, and Hafed Majdoub.

Mansouri added that the cell members used an ISIS style profile to attempt to disguise their real identity, noting that a number of explosives were seized with them.

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MIDDLE EAST AND ASIA

Iraq

Grotian Moment: The International War Crimes Trial Blog

Iraqi court sentences to death German woman who joined Daesh
Arab News

January 21, 2018

An Iraqi court on Sunday sentenced to death a German woman of Moroccan origin for joining Daesh, a spokesman said.

The German national was captured by Iraqi forces during the battle for Mosul last year, the spokesman said, declining to identify her.

She can appeal the sentence, said Abdul-Sattar Al-Birqdar, spokesman for Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council in Baghdad.

"She confessed that she traveled with her two daughters from Germany to Syria and then joined Daesh in Iraq," Birqdar said. The woman was convicted of participating in attacks on Iraqi security forces and offering the militant group logistical support, said Birqdar.

Thousands of foreigners have been fighting for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Iraq declared victory last month over Daesh, which had seized control of nearly a third of the country in 2014. However, the group continues to carry out bombings and other attacks in the country.

Separately, Iraq's Supreme Federal Court on Sunday ruled against calls by Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers to delay a parliamentary election, expected to be called for May, to allow hundreds of thousands of people displaced by war to return home.

Shiite politicians, including Prime Minister Haider Abadi, argued delaying the election would be unconstitutional.

The election must be held "within the timeframe provided by the constitution," the court said in a statement.

Parliament is expected to meet on Monday to validate May 12 as the date for the ballot, as suggested by the government, or agree another date in May.

Abadi is seeking re-election, building on a surge in his popularity among Iraq's majority Shiite Arab community after leading the three-year fight against Daesh militants, supported by a US-led coalition.

"Postponing the elections would set a dangerous precedent, undermining the constitution and damaging Iraq's long-term democratic development," the US Embassy in Baghdad said in a statement on Thursday.

The US had shown understanding for Abadi's move in October to dislodge Kurdish fighters from the oil rich northern region of Kirkuk, even though the Kurds are traditional allies of Washington and played a key part in the war against Daesh.

Tens of thousands of Kurds were displaced as a result of the takeover of the ethnically mixed areas of Kirkuk and its surroundings by Iraqi forces supported by Iranian-backed paramilitary groups.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday called for boosting relations with the Iraqi Kurdish region as part of a united Iraq, Iranian media reported, after ties were strained over an independence referendum in the area last year.

The call came during a visit by the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region's Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, the first such high-level trip to Iran since last year's Kurdish independence referendum which Iran strongly opposed.

The Kurdish referendum on Sept. 25, which produced an overwhelming "yes" for independence, angered Iraq's central government and neighbors Iran and Turkey, which have their own restive Kurdish minorities.

"President Rouhani stressed the historical and deep-rooted ties between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kurds of Iraq, and said all efforts should be made to strengthen the close relations between the two nations of Iran and Iraq," the state news agency IRNA reported.

Iraq officials say six police, two others killed in coalition operation
CNN

By Mohammed Tawfeeq
January 28, 2018

Eight people were killed and 20 others were wounded in an Iraq military operation and US airstrikes Saturday, the town's injured mayor told CNN.

Sharhabil al-Obaidi, the mayor of al-Baghdadi in Anbar province, said a bodyguard, a civilian and six police officers were killed after Iraqi military and special police forces raided a house. The bodyguard and civilian died during the raid.

Iraq's Joint Operations Command said Iraqi forces were going after a terrorist leader.

Iraqi local police officers and local tribesmen rushed to the scene, thinking the Iraqi troops who raided the house could be ISIS militants dressed as Iraqi troops, according to the mayor.

ISIS militants are known to have carried out many attacks and ambushes on Iraqi security forces and civilians while posing as Iraqi troops.

After the troops detained the suspect, and while they were searching the house, "the force was attacked by a hand grenade from one of the neighboring houses, prompting a quick response, and then the forces pulled back to their headquarters," the Joint Operations Command said.

The joint command statement said Iraqi forces on the ground called in air support when they saw the police, believing them to be "a group of gunmen gathering without coordination with the assigned force."

Obaidi said an airstrike hit the gathering, killing the six police officers and wounding 20 others, including security officers, the mayor and town's police chief.

"We demand Iraqi government to investigate the attack and give an explanation on why such operation was conducted without informing local authorities," Obaidi said.

"Those security officers who were killed in the airstrikes had fought ISIS militants before," al-Obaidi added.

Col. Ryan Dillon, a US Army spokesman for the Combined Joint Task Force, said the incident is under investigation but US warplanes give support when requested and approved by the Iraqi military.

A US military official told CNN they are still investigating to see whether there were US aircraft in the area at the time.

Al-Baghdadi, about 200 km (125 miles) northwest of Baghdad, is the closest village to the Al Asad Air Base, where the US military has planes.

Al-Baghdadi was mostly under ISIS control in 2015 for a few weeks before being was liberated.

Iraqi forces arrest Islamic State informant in Mosul
Iraqi News

By Mohamed Mostafa
January 28, 2018

Iraqi forces arrested an individual in the city of Mosul for colluding with Islamic State militants, a security source was quoted saying on Wednesday as troops continue the hunt for sleeper cells after the group's defeat.

Iraqi Almaalomah website quoted the source as saying that the individual was arrested in Sumer district in eastern Mosul and was transferred to a security quarter for interrogation. The source said troops reached him after obtaining information from citizens.

Thousands of Islamic State militants and Iraqi civilians were killed since Iraqi forces, backed by a U.S-led coalition, launched an offensive to clear IS-held regions, starting with Mosul in October 2016.

The campaign for Mosul lasted for more than eight months and managed to liberate the city in July.

Iraq declared a final victory over IS last In December.

Mosul was the place from where IS supreme leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, proclaimed the establishment of the group's rule in Iraq and Syria.

The militants have carried out a number of attacks against the civilians and security members in the city even after its recapture, which provoked observers' fears that the group may still pose a security challenge even after losing its strongholds.

Iraqi troops thwart Islamic State plot to launch terrorist attacks in Baghdad
Iraqi News

By Mohammed Ebraheem
January 29, 2018

Security forces foiled on Monday a plot by Islamic State militants to carry out terrorist attacks in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, a well-placed security official was quoted as saying.

Speaking to Baghdad Today news website, Spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry Maj. Gen. Saad Maan said, "Federal police and intelligence personnel have arrested a terrorist who admitted receiving orders from Islamic State leaders to find a place in al-Taji area, north of Baghdad, to use it in carrying out criminal acts in Baghdad."

"The arrest was made upon accurate intelligence reports," Maan pointed out.

The Iraqi capital has seen almost daily bombings and armed attacks against security members, paramilitary troops and civilians since the Iraqi government launched a wide-scale campaign to retake Islamic State-occupied areas in 2016. Though most of the daily bombings go without a claim of responsibility, Islamic State has declared it had been behind many.

According to the monthly release by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), a total of 69 civilians, excluding police personnel, were killed, while 142 others were wounded in December due to acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict across the country.

The worst affected province was Baghdad with 122 civilian casualties (24 killed, 98 injured). Salahuddin ranked the second place, with 7 killed and 25 injured, then Kirkuk came third with 15 killed and 6 injured.

The figures saw a significant decline from November's which reached a total of 117 Iraqi civilians killed and another 264 injured.

'Islamic State' sleeper cells spread fear in Iraq's Hawija
Egypt Independent

January 29, 2018

Last October, after weeks of bitter combat, some 1,400 "Islamic State" (IS) fighters turned themselves in, expediting Hawija's liberation. In a series of operations, the Iraqi army swept through the region to clear any remaining pockets of IS fighters. However, in its effort to speed up the process, it hasn't been as efficient as was hoped. The eastern part of Hawija remains unsafe and has attracted sleeper cells who are still active there, emerging at night to take food from civilians.

In response, the Iraqi army recently staged a nine-day operation in an effort to smoke them out. "We found tunnels, a bomb factory and an IS-run clinic," says Mukaddam Ali, an Iraqi colonel stationed at a base outside nearby Kirkuk. "There was even a functional operation center," he told DW.

A ghost town to which no one is as yet allowed to return, much of Hawija has been seriously damaged as a result of air attacks and an explosion at an IS bomb factory. On the roads, the wrecks of cars every couple of hundred meters, which IS fighters used to slow the progress of the military last October, serve as reminders of the battle. Holes in the roads mark the booby-traps the army discovered in time, while in some more remote villages buckets and water containers are used to mark spots where they have not yet been cleared.

In the eastern part of the region, IS fighters have reportedly formed the so-called White Flag group. The new group is named after its white flag with a lion on it, but details are hard to come by. Captain Moath Obeidi, a security coordinator with the Iraqi government, says it consists of a mixed bag of Kurdish, Turkmen, Arab and Iranian fighters, many of whom were even on different sides of the conflict in the past — some fighting alongside IS, others joining forces with the Kurdish PKK, which fought IS in the area until the Iraqi army took over in October. "The only thing they have in common is their enemy: the Iraqi army. This is a textbook case of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend,'" Obeidi told DW.

Still, in some local villages, civilians have returned and started to work their land and repair their homes. They have reopened their schools, too, including the girls' school in Hodh Sitta village, with over 300 children aged six to 13. The girls wear colorful dresses – a far cry from the black clothing and veils all girls and women had to wear under IS rule.

For the children's sake, it is important to raise awareness "that the ideology of Daesh [Arabic name for IS] is a criminal one," says head teacher Abdellah Najm.

The villagers, many of whose people work for the Iraqi army, police or government, suffered terribly under IS rule. Eighteen people were killed, most were displaced, and those who stayed lived in fear and poverty. Even though only six villagers joined IS, the whole village is seen as affiliated to the group. "We suffered as a result even during our displacement," Najm told DW. "We were treated as if we were Daesh, too, not real Iraqis. In everyone's minds, and that included the government and the media, it's simple: Hawija is Daesh."

Now anyone with ties to those groups is no longer welcome in Hodh Sitta. Their houses have been destroyed and their families are not allowed back.

For Ahmed Dekhalf, the school's assistant head master, it's simple. "All the Daeshi should be sent to prison and their families to the camps." IS families are kept in camps set up by the Iraqi government. "We don't want them back. We need to get the message across that we reject their ideology, and that not all of Hawija is Daesh."

But in the next village, a young sheikh of the Jibouri tribe disagrees. Ahmed al-Muheiri, who lost his father and two uncles to IS, fears that people will feel like outcasts in the camps. "The children that come out of there will be worse than their families are now. That way, we will have another crisis on our hands 10 years from now."

Over strong coffee, the sheikh explains that he would prefer to bring the women and children back into the community, where they can be monitored closely, rather than leave them in camps, where they will be vulnerable to indoctrination. But he is fighting a losing battle: "We are a difficult society, and people do not see this as an alternative."

In the Hawija area, around 7,000 died during the conflict and another 5,000 are still missing. The sheikh, who took over his father's tribal position as a conflict mediator in 22 of Hawija's villages, says the loss has at least made the community aware of the need for tighter security. Previously, people were unwilling to report those who spoke out or acted against the government. Many even welcomed IS as a Sunni revolution against the much-hated Shiite government. That has now changed completely.

"The Sunni revolution is dead in Hawija," says the young sheikh. "And when we find someone who still supports it, we report them to the security services. We do not let them walk around freely. We do not accept any group, religious or otherwise, that is against the government."

Two Islamic State suicide bombers killed in Kirkuk military operation
Iraqi News

By Mohammed Ebraheem
January 31, 2018

Security force killed on Wednesday two Islamic State suicide bombers and arrested three others during a military operation in western Kirkuk, a security source was quoted as saying.

Speaking to Alghad Press news website, the source said, "Federal police personnel shot dead two Islamic State suicide attackers during a clampdown to track down Islamic State remnants at a village in Hawija, 45 km west of Kirkuk."

"The troops also arrested three Islamic State militants and found a terrorist hotbed, comprising explosive materials and mobile phones," the source added.

He pointed out security forces will continue to assume their duties on a daily basis until purging all Iraqi territories from Islamic State remnants.

In October, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared that Iraqi troops recaptured Hawija, a main town held by Islamic State in the country.

The town fell to Islamic State in June 2014, when the militant group seized control of much of northern and western Iraq and proclaimed the creation of a self-styled "caliphate". There, Islamic State's reign forced thousands to flee to refugee camps, while hundreds had been executed by the group for attempting to escape the area or contacting security forces.

Hawija, which lies 215 km (135 miles) north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, has been a bastion of Jihadists since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Iraqi troops finds grave of 8 executed by IS in Mosul
Iraqi News

By Mohamed Mostafa
January 31, 2018

Iraqi forces found a grave containing the relics of eight people executed by Islamic State militants in Mosul, a security source was quoted saying on Wednesday.

The Iraqi Media News Agency quoted the source saying that the Federal Police troops found the grave in al-Tayaran district in western Mosul.

He said the grave contained the relics of eight young people executed by the militants with shots in the head. Most of the bodies were decomposed, according to the source.

As Iraqi troops recaptured areas held by Islamic State militants since 2014, they have regularly run into mass graves of civilians and security agents executed by militants over accusations of fleeing the group's havens or collaborating with security forces.

Iraqi troops recaptured Mosul in July after more than eight months of operations. It was the place from where Islamic State declared its self-styled "caliphate" in June 2014.

Iraq's war against the Islamic State displaced millions of civilians both inside and outside the country, and left thousands dead.

Iraq declared victory over Islamic State last Saturday, ending a three-year war to bring down the group's self-styled "caliphate" declared from Nineveh's Mosul in 2014. Security continues to comb recaptured areas for remnant cells.

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Syria

Exclusive: Tests link Syrian government stockpile to largest sarin attack
Reuters

By By Anthony Deutsch
January 20, 2018

The Syrian government's chemical weapons stockpile has been linked for the first time by laboratory tests to the largest sarin nerve agent attack of the civil war, diplomats and scientists told Reuters, supporting Western claims that government forces under President Bashar al-Assad were behind the atrocity.

Laboratories working for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons compared samples taken by a U.N. mission in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta after the Aug. 21, 2013 attack, when hundreds of civilians died of sarin gas poisoning, to chemicals handed over by Damascus for destruction in 2014.

The tests found "markers" in samples taken at Ghouta and at the sites of two other nerve agent attacks, in the towns of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib governorate on April 4, 2017 and Khan al-Assal, Aleppo, in March 2013, two people involved in the process said.

"We compared Khan Sheikhoun, Khan al-Assal, Ghouta," said one source who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the findings. "There were signatures in all three of them that matched."

The same test results were the basis for a report by the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism in October which said the Syrian government was responsible for the Khan Sheikhoun attack, which killed dozens.

The findings on Ghouta, whose details were confirmed to Reuters by two separate diplomatic sources, were not released in the October report to the U.N. Security Council because they were not part of the team's mandate.

They will nonetheless bolster claims by the United States, Britain and other Western powers that Assad's government still possesses and uses banned munitions in violation of several Security Council resolutions and the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The OPCW declined to comment. Syria has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons in the conflict now in its seventh year and has blamed the chemical attacks in the rebel-held territory of Ghouta on the insurgents themselves.

Russia has also denied that Syrian government forces have carried out chemical attacks and has questioned the reliability of the OCPW inquiries. Officials in Moscow have said the rebels staged the attacks to discredit the Assad government and whip up international condemnation.

Under a U.S.-Russian deal after the Ghouta attack in 2013, Damascus joined the OPCW and agreed to permanently eliminate its chemical weapons program, including destroying a 1,300-tonne stockpile of industrial precursors that has now been linked to the Ghouta attack.

But inspectors have found proof of an ongoing chemical weapons program in Syria, including the systematic use of chlorine barrel bombs and sarin, which they say was ordered at the highest levels of government.

The sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun in April last year prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to order a missile strike against the Shayrat air base, from which the Syrian operation is said to have been launched.

Diplomatic and scientific sources said efforts by Syria and Russia to discredit the U.N.-OPCW tests establishing a connection to Ghouta have so far come up with nothing.

Russia's blocking of resolutions at the Security Council seeking accountability for war crimes in Syria gained new relevance when Russia stationed its aircraft at Shayrat in 2015.

Washington fired missiles at Shayrat in April 2017, saying the Syrian air force used it to stage the Khan Sheikhoun sarin attack on April 4 a few days earlier, killing more than 80 people.

No Russian military assets are believed to have been hit, but Moscow warned at the time it could have serious consequences.

In June, the Pentagon said it had seen what appeared to be preparations for another chemical attack at the same airfield, prompting Russia to say it would respond proportionately if Washington took pre-emptive measures against Syrian forces there.

"SERIOUS LAB WORK"

The chemical tests were carried out at the request of the U.N.-OPCW inquiry, which was searching for potential links between the stockpile and samples from Khan Sheikhoun. The analysis results raised the possibility that they would provide a link to other sarin attacks, the source said.

Two compounds in the Ghouta sample matched those also found in Khan Sheikhoun, one formed from sarin and the stabilizer hexamine and another specific fluorophosphate that appears during sarin production, the tests showed.

"Like in all science, it should be repeated a couple of times, but it was serious matching and serious laboratory work," the source said.

Independent experts, however, said the findings are the strongest scientific evidence to date that the Syrian government was behind Ghouta, the deadliest chemical weapons attack since the Halabja massacres of 1988 during the Iran-Iraq war.

"A match of samples from the 2013 Ghouta attacks to tests of chemicals in the Syrian stockpile is the equivalent of DNA evidence: definitive proof," said Amy Smithson, a U.S. nonproliferation expert.

The hexamine finding "is a particularly significant match," Smithson said, because it is a chemical identified as a unique hallmark of the Syrian military's process to make sarin.

"This match adds to the mountain of physical evidence that points conclusively, without a shadow of doubt, to the Syrian government," she said.

NO CHANCE REBELS BEHIND GHOUTA

Smithson and other sources familiar with the matter said it would have been virtually impossible for the rebels to carry out a coordinated, large-scale strike with poisonous munitions, even if they had been able to steal the chemicals from the government's stockpile.

"I don't think there is a cat in hell's chance that rebels or Islamic State were responsible for the Aug. 21 Ghouta attack," said Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, an independent specialist in biological and chemical weapons.

The U.N.-OPCW inquiry, which was disbanded in November after being blocked by Syria's ally Russia at the U.N. Security Council, also found that Islamic State had used the less toxic blistering agent sulfur mustard gas on a small scale in Syria.

The Ghouta attack, by comparison, was textbook chemical warfare, Smithson and de Bretton-Gordon said, perfectly executed by forces trained to handle sarin, a toxin which is more difficult to use because it must be mixed just before delivery.

Surface-to-surface rockets delivered hundreds of liters of sarin in perfect weather conditions that made them as lethal as possible: low temperatures and wind in the early hours of the morning, when the gas would remain concentrated and kill sleeping victims, many of them children.

Pre-attack air raids with conventional bombs shattered windows and doors and drove people into shelters where the heavy poison seeped down into underground hiding places. Aerial bombing afterwards sought to destroy the evidence.

The large quantity of chemicals used, along with radar images of rocket traces showing they originated from Syrian Brigade positions, are further proof that the rebels could not have carried out the Ghouta attack, the experts said.

Turkey launches airstrikes in Syria against U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters
The Washington Post

By Kareem Fahim and Louisa Loveluck
January 21, 2018

With airstrikes and artillery fire, Turkey on Saturday defied U.S. appeals and opened a long-anticipated offensive on ­Afrin, an enclave in Syria for Kurdish militias backed by the United States.

Turkish officials have framed the offensive as part of a wider battle against Kurdish separatists, known as the Kurdistan Workers' Party, in Turkey's southeast. Turkey also fears any gains in strength by the Syrian Kurds, whose territory runs along some of Turkey's southern border.

But the United States has opted to back the Syrian Kurds as proxy fighters against the Islamic State and as a buffer to keep the militants from trying to reclaim territory.

The military action immediately raised concerns that it could spark conflicts among the assortment of foreign military powers present, in proximity, across northern Syria. They include Turkey, Russia and the United States. All have the Islamic State as a common foe, but, individually, they back different factions among the various armed groups in Syria.

The latest flash point also highlighted the shifting disputes and conflicting agendas that have complicated any efforts toward ending nearly seven years of conflict in Syria. The Turkish military action came amid intensifying violence in the northern Syrian province of Idlib, where Syrian government forces are on the offensive against al-Qaeda-aligned rebels in the east of the province.

Recent statements by U.S. military officials about plans to train border security forces that would protect a Kurdish enclave in Syria also provoked Turkey's ire.

"We are taking these steps to ensure our own national security," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in comments carried by the semiofficial Anadolu agency.

Yet Turkish incursions could carry risks. The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had warned that it was prepared to fire on Turkish warplanes in the event of an attack on Afrin.

A Syrian government offensive is causing one of the worst surges in population displacement since Syria's civil war began. More than 212,000 people have fled fighting around Idlib in the past month, many of them sleeping in the open as temperatures plunge and rain drenches makeshift campsites, according to the United Nations.

On Saturday, hours after the announcement of the airstrikes, Turkey said it had struck more than 100 positions belonging to Kurdish fighters. The number of casualties was not immediately clear. The airstrikes followed days of intense Turkish artillery fire on Kurdish positions, according to residents in Afrin.

In a statement, the U.S.-backed Kurdish force, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, warned that the Turkish offensive "threatens to breathe new life into Daesh," using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State militant group.

The Trump administration, in urging NATO-ally Turkey not to attack, had made a similar argument, saying it would distract from the ongoing battles against Islamic State militants in their remaining strongholds in Syria. There are roughly 2,000 U.S. troops in northern Syria.

Russia, which backs Assad's government, said it was watching developments "with concern" and called on the warring sides to "exercise mutual restraint." Russia's Defense Ministry said that an unspecified number of Russian troops had been moved out of the Afrin area and redeployed.

Much about the Turkish offensive, which the government dubbed "Operation Olive Branch," remained unclear Saturday, including whether it would be accompanied by a substantial push by Turkish ground forces and allied rebel factions.

"The challenge is that no one knows what they intend to do," said Aaron Stein, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

"Afrin will be hostile to a Turkish-backed force patrolling from permanent garrisons. The YPG in the area can retreat to the mountains for protection," he said, referring to the Syrian Kurdish militia that controls Afrin.

The offensive probably was prompted in part by Turkish concerns that Russia and the United States planned to broker a reconciliation between Syria's government and the Syrian Kurdish forces. "This is anathema to Turkey for obvious reasons," Stein said. "So they are making a statement."

U.S. Accuses Syria of New Chemical Weapons Use
The New York Times

By Michael Schwirtz
January 23, 2018

The United States on Tuesday accused Syria's government of a chlorine gas attack on civilians in the same rebel enclave hit more than four years ago by the deadliest known chemical assault in the Syrian war.

In sharp denunciations from Ambassador Nikki R. Haley at the United Nations and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson in Paris, the Americans also rebuked Russia for what they called its failure to stop such assaults, which under international law are war crimes. The Russians called the American accusations "baseless."

The chlorine attack happened Monday in Eastern Ghouta, an insurgent redoubt near Syria's capital, Damascus, that has defied President Bashar al-Assad's forces since the war began nearly seven years ago. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said at least 13 people were hurt by rockets loaded with chlorine gas. Others said 21 were sickened.

Eastern Ghouta was the target on Aug. 21, 2013, of an attack using lethal sarin nerve agent, which by some estimates killed 1,400 people. That assault stunned the world and led President Barack Obama, who had called the use of chemical weapons a "red line," to threaten military retaliation on Mr. Assad's forces.

Although Mr. Assad denied he was responsible, he agreed to destroy his chemical arms stockpile and promised to never use such weapons by joining the treaty banning them, under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States that averted the threatened American reprisal.

Mr. Obama's critics say his reluctance to use force at that time was a mistake, considering the repeated instances of chemical weapons use in Syria since then.

As of Tuesday, there was no definitive confirmation of who had carried out the East Ghouta chlorine attack. Bassam Khabieh, a freelance photographer working for Reuters, was in the vicinity and said in an interview that it occurred between 5:30 and 6:00 on Monday morning. By the time he arrived, he said, a chlorine smell hung in the air and dead cats littered the ground. All the victims had already been taken to the hospital, he said.

The Douma Medical Center in East Ghouta said 21 people, including six children, had been admitted by the Ambulance Department at the Damascus Countryside Specialty Hospital at 6 a.m.

It was at least the second time chlorine assaults were reported in Syria this month, with no provision for establishing who was responsible. The United Nations Security Council's panel for investigating such attacks was disbanded two months ago in a political showdown between Russia and the United States. In a statement, Ms. Haley said that Russia bore some responsibility for the latest attacks because of its decision to veto the renewal of the panel, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism. Russia said the panel had been biased and unprofessional, accusations that the United States and its allies angrily disputed.

By halting the work of the investigative body, Russia sent a "dangerous message to the world," Ms. Haley said on Tuesday, "one that not only said chemical weapons use is acceptable but also that those who use chemical weapons don't need to be identified or held accountable."

Mr. Tillerson also criticized what he called Syria's continued use of chemical weapons in the war and what he described as Russia's complicity.

No matter who was behind the East Ghouta chlorine attack, Mr. Tillerson said, Russia was responsible because of its 2013 deal with the United States that had guaranteed Syria would eliminate chemical weapons.

"There is simply no denying that Russia, by shielding its Syrian ally, has breached its commitments to the United States as a framework guarantor," Mr. Tillerson said. "Russia's failure to resolve the chemical weapons issue in Syria calls into question its relevance to the resolution to the overall crisis."

Mr. Tillerson was speaking at a Paris meeting of envoys from France and more than 20 other nations to establish a new organization intended to identify and punish any government or group that uses chemical weapons.

The Russians delivered their rejoinder on Tuesday afternoon at the United Nations, where Ambassador Vassily A. Nebenzia convened an unscheduled session of the Security Council.

Apologizing to fellow diplomats for "spoiling your siesta," Mr. Nebenzia called the American criticism "the latest baseless accusations against Russia."

"Representatives from the U.S.A. and United Kingdom without a moment's hesitation and before any confirmation, not to mention an investigation, rushed to declare that the Syrian 'regime,' as they call it, was involved," he said. "Now, they are also trying to drag Russia into this."

He said Russia had prepared a resolution that would create a new panel to succeed the Joint Investigative Mechanism, which would be "professional and apolitical."

Ms. Haley described the Russian resolution as an attempt to "distract" from the new initiative announced in Paris.

"Russia should look in the mirror before bringing us into the Security Council to talk about chemical weapons," she said.

During its two years of work, the Joint Investigative Mechanism found that the Syrian government and the Islamic State had used chemical weapons against civilians.

Russia, which has staunchly defended Mr. Assad, both on the battlefield and at the United Nations, has never conceded that his forces used chemical weapons in the conflict.

In particular, Moscow objected to the investigative panel's conclusions that Mr. Assad's forces had carried out a sarin attack on the rebel-held village of Khan Sheikhoun last April that killed at least 83 people and sickened roughly 300.

Russia called the Khan Sheikhoun findings "nonsense."

But the attack led President Trump to order a cruise missile strike on an airfield that American intelligence officials said had been used by Mr. Assad's air force to strike Khan Sheikhoun.

The Trump administration said its missile retaliation had sent a strong message to Mr. Assad not to use chemical weapons again. Last June, Ms. Haley told Congress that the White House's willingness to use force had dissuaded the Syrian government from another attack and had "saved innocent lives."

It was not clear from the remarks by Mr. Tillerson and Ms. Haley on Tuesday whether the United States was prepared to respond militarily to the East Ghouta attack.

During his campaign for president, Mr. Trump criticized his predecessor's decision to avoid military action after the 2013 sarin assault, describing it as a sign of weakness that emboldened Mr. Assad.

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Yemen

Nine killed in Saudi-led airstrike in Yemen: residents
Reuters

By Sami Aboudi
January 23, 2018

At least nine civilians, including four children, were killed in a Saudi-led coalition air strike in northern Yemen on Tuesday, residents and medics said, bringing to 30 the number of people killed in military operations in the country in two days.

Yemen has been torn apart by nearly three years of conflict, which pits the internationally-recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi against the Iran-aligned Houthis who control most of the populous northern Yemen. Hadi's forces and their allies control vast areas in south and eastern Yemen.

Residents said an aircraft struck a vehicle traveling in the Aal Ali region of Razeh district in western Saada province, an area of confrontation between government forces loyal to Hadi and the Houthis.

Apart from those killed, three people were wounded, including two who were being treated at a local hospital, medics said.

"We take this report very seriously and it will be fully investigated as all reports of this nature are," a spokesman for the coalition said. "Whilst this is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further."

Though little territory has changed hands between the two sides since war erupted in 2015, it has caused a major humanitarian crisis in which more than 10,000 have been killed, according to U.N. data.

It has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine and led to a cholera epidemic believed to have affected about one million people.

On Monday, coalition air strikes destroyed a building near the Saada provincial capital that housed a small clinic, killing seven people, including five children, while two more people died in a separate attack, also near Saada city.

The Western-backed coalition has come under criticism from the United Nations and international rights groups over repeated air strikes that hit civilians.

The coalition says it directs strikes only at military targets.

In southwestern Yemen, rockets fired by the Houthis on Monday at a parade of Yemeni government special security forces killed 12 people, including two journalists. The deputy interior minister, who was attending the parade, escaped unharmed.

Yemeni Officials say heavy fighting in Taiz kills 48
FoxNews

By Ahmed Al-Haj
January 26, 2018

Yemeni security officials and witnesses say fighting between Shiite rebel forces and others loyal to Yemen's internationally recognized government in the southwestern city of Taiz has killed at least 48 people on both sides.

They said Friday that fighting intensified earlier this week when forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi attempted regain full control over the city and expel rebel forces surrounding it.

They also said that Saudi-led coalition forces backing Hadi carried out several airstrikes on Houthi-controlled bases. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media, while the witnesses did so for fear of reprisals.

The coalition has been at war with the Iran-backed rebels, known as Houthis, since March 2015 to reinstate Hadi's government.

Ten dead as rival Yemenis battle for control of Aden
Reuters

By Mohammad Mukhashaf and Stephen Kalin
January 28, 2018

At least 10 people were killed and about 100 others were wounded as southern Yemeni separatists fought government troops in the southern city of Aden on Sunday, local medics said, deepening a rift between forces that had been on the same side.

The worst clashes yet between southern separatists, who are allied to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and forces loyal to the Saudi-based government risk crippling their once united war against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen's north.

The fighting subsided by the evening after Prime Minister Ahmed bin Daghr ordered a truce and instructed forces loyal to the government to return to barracks, witnesses said.

By evening, some shops were open but the streets were mostly deserted.

Yemen has been torn apart by three years of conflict between the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Houthi, and the factional fighting in the south compounds the misery.

The fighting broke out after the expiry of a deadline set last week by separatists from the Southern Transitional Council (STC) for Hadi to dismiss the bin Daghr government, accusing it of corruption and mismanagement. The government denies this.

Gunmen were deployed throughout most of Aden's districts and there was heavy automatic gunfire and explosions in the southern port city, according to Reuters witnesses.

Armed separatists appeared to gain the upper hand by wresting a key military base in Khor Maksar district in northern Aden and several government buildings from soldiers loyal to Hadi, local newspaper Aden al-Ghad reported on its website.

Residents said that hundreds of pro-Southern demonstrators had gathered in a main square.

Hospitals said at least nine fighters and one woman were killed in the fighting. International medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said 86 wounded people were being treated, including seven people from one family whose car was hit by a shell.

ARAB INTERVENTION APPEAL

Bin Daghr had earlier denounced the separatists' actions as a coup and said the outcome of the contest in Aden was in the hands of their backers, the UAE, who enjoy overall control in the city. He said the situation was headed toward "a comprehensive military confrontation ... (which is) a direct gift to the Houthis and Iran".

"This is a serious matter and the coalition and Arabs as a whole must move to save the situation," bin Daghr wrote in a message on his Facebook page. "The matter is in their hands and the hope, as we in the government see it, is on the (United Arab) Emirates."

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said the UAE's stand was "clear and principled in supporting the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia".

The STC accused bin Daghr's government of attacking peaceful protesters and urged Hadi to sack the prime minister and his cabinet.

"The STC holds the bin Daghr government fully responsible after it violated the Arab coalition's call for calm and used weapons to prevent demonstrators from reaching the parades square," it said in a statement.

RECREATING SOUTH YEMEN

Although Hadi remains in exile in Saudi Arabia, his administration and local allies nominally control about four-fifths of Yemen's territory, but political and military leaders in Aden now want to revive the former independent state of South Yemen.

A top military adviser to Hadi, Mohammed Ali al-Miqdashi, said any move toward rebellion would render the southerners an enemy.

"There is no difference between the Houthis and anyone else who rebels against the legitimate government, no matter who they are - left, right, south, east," said Miqdashi, speaking at a remote military base near the central Yemeni city of Marib, late on Saturday.

The Latest: Islamic militants kill 12 troops in south Yemen
The Washington Post

By AFP and Ahmed Al-Haj
January 30, 2018

Yemeni tribesmen say suspected Islamic militants have attacked a checkpoint in southern Yemen, killing at least 12 soldiers.

The tribesmen say Tuesday's attack started with a mortar round fired at the checkpoint, followed by heavy gunfire that killed most of its guards. The checkpoint is near the southern city of Ataq, the provincial capital of Shabwa.

They tribesmen spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to the media.

The troops guarding the checkpoint are part of a unit called the Elite Shabwa Force that was trained by the United Arab Emirates and deployed last year to the region. It declared victory over al-Qaida's branch in Yemen, which used Shabwa as a safe haven. The UAE is part of a Saudi-led coalition battling Yemen's Shiite rebels who control the country's north.

Meanwhile, UAE-trained forces in the city of Aden — some 400 kilometers, or 250 miles, from Shabwa— have battled Yemeni government forces there and seized control of a district where the presidential palace is located.

10 a.m.

Yemeni security officials say the prime minister is preparing to flee the country for Saudi Arabia after separatists seized the area around the presidential palace in the southern port city of Aden in fierce battles overnight.

The officials say fighters loyal to the so-called Southern Transitional Council fought all way to the gates of the Palace of Maashiq in the district of Crater in Aden, forcing President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi's troops to abandon their positions.

They said Hadi's prime minister and several Cabinet members would leave imminently to Riyadh.

The palace is the seat of Yemen's internationally backed government. The separatist forces did not enter the palace itself and were stopped by Saudi Arabian troops who have been guarding the palace for the past months.

Saudi-Backed Coalition in Yemen Upended in Deadly Factional Fighting
The New York Times

By Saeed Al-Batati and Rick Gladstone
January 30, 2018

A simmering split within the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting rebels in Yemen since 2015 exploded into deadly combat this week, paralyzing the southern city of Aden, the government's temporary seat of power.

The fighting, which began Sunday, has pit allies armed with heavy weapons against each other and further complicated prospects for a resolution of the war in Yemen, the Middle East's poorest country and home to one of the world's worst man-made humanitarian crises.

The coalition includes forces loyal to the Saudi-backed president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and a faction supported by the United Arab Emirates, known as the Southern Transitional Council. The council has accused Mr. Hadi's subordinates of corruption and incompetence, and has advocated the revival of a separate state in southern Yemen, which merged with the north in 1990.

Last week, the council gave Mr. Hadi an ultimatum to dismiss the cabinet, and as the deadline neared, the forces of the two sides started shooting at each other on Sunday with tanks, artillery and automatic weapons.

The feud has, for the moment, overshadowed the coalition's common goal of defeating the Houthis, the northern Yemeni rebels supported by Iran who drove Mr. Hadi's government from the capital, Sana, in 2015, and still control big regions of the country.

Mr. Hadi was not in Aden when the clashes between his loyalists and the Southern Transitional Council separatists began. He was believed to be in Saudi Arabia, where he has spent much of his time for the past three years.

After two days of what witnesses and local news reports called fierce shelling and shooting, Mr. Hadi's forces in Aden crumbled on Tuesday, and the separatists seized the area around the presidential palace where his prime minister and other officials had been staying. Their whereabouts as of Tuesday night were unclear.

The official Saba news agency in Yemen quoted local health officials as saying that as many as 21 people had been killed and 290 wounded since Sunday.

Hani bin Bourek, a senior member of the Southern Transitional Council, said the separatists had pulled their forces back after mediation by other members of the Saudi-led coalition.

In an interview with France 24's Arabic-language channel, the president of the council, Aidarous al-Zubaidi, said his fighters were still "engaged in a mission with the Saudi-led coalition."

Whether the council's rift with Mr. Hadi's forces could be mended was uncertain at best.

Saudi Arabia's official press agency, quoting a coalition statement, said that the coalition had been "watching with regret all over the past two days that all parties have not responded to the calls for calm" and that it had requested "all parties to speed up the cessation of all clashes immediately."

International aid groups and the United Nations, which have been struggling to deliver emergency aid to Yemeni civilians, appealed for calm in Aden, which had been a relatively stable area until shooting and artillery blasts erupted on Sunday.

"The fighting in Aden makes it impossible for us to carry out our lifesaving work," Tamer Kirolos, the director of Save the Children's operations in Yemen, said in a statement. "Our staff are forced to shelter at home and in bunkers while gun battles rage outside."

A spokesman in New York for the United Nations, Stéphane Dujarric, said the organization's relief officials were "extremely concerned by the violence that we've seen over the last couple of days."

The lack of any progress on political negotiations, Mr. Dujarric said, "only piles onto the misery of the Yemeni people."

The war has left more than 10,000 people dead, displaced at least two million and contributed to an acute hunger crisis that has put much of the population of roughly 27 million close to famine.

Efforts by a succession of United Nations mediators to hold negotiations on the conflict have ended in failure. Less than two weeks ago, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, a veteran diplomat from Mauritania, announced he was vacating the mediator post in February.

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Special Tribunal for Lebanon

Official Website of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon
In Focus: Special Tribunal for Lebanon (UN)

Lebanon transfers its contribution to STL budget
The Daily Star

January 23, 2018

Lebanon has transferred its 2018 contribution to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon's budget, Prime Minister Saad Hariri's office announced Tuesday.

"STL received Monday Lebanon's contribution, which constitutes 49 percent of [the tribunal's] budget," the statement read.

According to an STL press release, the sum from the Lebanese government amounts to 28,827,533 euros ($35,406,264).

Before departing Beirut to participate in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Hariri reaffirmed that Lebanon remained committed to the U.N. Security Council resolution that established the tribunal.

STL's mandate – to investigate the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Downtown Beirut in 2005 – was approved in 2009.

The statement added that Hariri was looking forward to the day on which STL will make its final statement on the assassination.

In December, the tribunal's term was extended for another three years from Mar. 1, 2018.

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Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal

Court defers framing of charges against 17 war-crime suspects
bdnews24

January 22, 2018

Salamat Ullah Khan, former chairman of Cox's Bazar Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and 16 others are facing multiple charges of crimes against humanity committed during the 1971 War of Liberation.

All of them are residents of Maheshkhali in Cox's Bazar.

On Monday, the war crimes tribunal led by Justice Md Shahinur Rahman fixed Feb 26 to press charges against the suspects, said prosecutor Rana Das Gupta.

"The court was due to indict them today but one suspect, Rashid Mia, could not arrive in court due to his illness."

Rashid Mia, a former BNP lawmaker, is admitted to the Coronary Care Unit of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital.

The defendants' lawyer Abdus Sattar said: "The court granted Rashid Mia bail on condition. The bail will turn invalid if he fails to appear in hearings. The court accepted my application on behalf of Rashid and fixed Feb 26 for the hearing."

The International Crimes Tribunal finished hearing charges on Dec 17 last year in the case and set Jan 22 for indicting the suspects.

Four suspects, Salamat Ullah Khan, a leader of the Liberal Democratic Party Bangladesh, Nurul Islam, Badshah Mia and Osman Gani, are behind bars.

Twelve others, Moulavi Zakaria Sikder, Oli Ahmed, Md Jalal Uddin, Md Saiful alias Sabul, Momtaj Ahmed, Habibur Rahman, Amzad Ali, Moulavi Ramiz Hasan, Abdul Shukkur, Md Zakaria, Moulavi Jalal and Abdul Aziz, are at large.

The case initially accused 19 people. The number has come down to 17 after the death of two suspects.

The state has brought 12 specific charges against them.

They stand accused of torturing women and forcibly converting people to Islam, sending them into exile and murdering 94 people during the liberation war.

An inquiry into the case was carried out between May 2014 and October 2015. As many as 126 witnesses have testified in the case.

What Should the International Community Do to Address Impunity in Bangladesh?
Just Security

By Toby Cadman
January 31, 2018

On March 23, 2010, Bangladesh ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), making it the first South Asian State to do so and the 111th State Party to the ICC. Despite its commendable ratification, Bangladesh has failed to adopt legislation incorporating the crimes into domestic law. It has also failed to investigate credible allegations of the involvement of its own State Security Services in close to 1,300 extra-judicial killings, more than 400 enforced disappearances, the arbitrary arrest and detention of several thousand political opponents, and the systematic practice of torturing detainees.

Human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have repeatedly called on the government of Bangladesh to disband law enforcement and paramilitary units responsible for gross human rights violations and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Regrettably, it is an environment where Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed provides overt support through her incendiary and highly inflammatory remarks, such as "whatever stern measures are needed, take them without any hesitation; I give you the liberty." Plus, her son, Sajeeb Ahmed Wazed, a senior government adviser, also helps to incite acts of violence against political opponents through his public comments. In December 2013, he said,"Let us also vow to wipe out their sympathizers and collaborators in Bangladesh once and for all…"

The prime minister, along with several senior ministers and cabinet members, the police commissioner, the director of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) are all in positions to effectively exercise control over or direct the political and police action in Bangladesh, but they have failed to do so.

It is quite clear that the alleged acts constitute crimes against humanity and fall within the jurisdiction of the ICC. But despite repeated calls to investigate domestically, it has failed to do so. It is therefore incumbent upon the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to open a preliminary examination into the situation in Bangladesh as a matter of priority.

In determining the gravity threshold, the ICC Prosecutor will have to consider the scale, nature, manner of commission of the crimes and impact on the local community. The scale of the situation should be assessed both quantitatively and qualitatively, and by taking into account the number of direct and indirect victims, and the extent of the damage caused by the crimes, in particular the bodily or psychological harm caused to the victims and their families, and their geographical or temporal spread (intensity of the crimes over a brief period vs low intensity violence over an extended period).

The underlying acts include increasing numbers of state killings, torture, deportation, imprisonment, persecution on political grounds, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts. They have been committed through state machinery, including the police force, the RAB, the BGB and the judiciary.

A series of Skype conversations secretly recorded and published by the Wall Street Journal and The Economist in December 2012, demonstrated the level of government interference in the judicial system. Government speeches and rhetoric also show the abuse of power, and the organized policy to systematically repress the political opposition.

The impact of the crimes on the local community is significant. The acts of indiscriminate killings in response to large-scale civilian protests, the brutal torture of opposition leaders and critics, the imprisonment, trial and execution of senior political opponents are demonstrable of a flagrant denial of justice that have occurred with the aim or consequence of increasing the vulnerability of civilians and to spread terror among the civilian population. Moreover, the repression of the opposition has drastically enhanced social divisions and tensions, adding to the climate of fear and social unrest, and is likely to lead to long-term social damage.

In late 2014, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote to the government of Bangladesh, warning of the deteriorating human rights situation. He focused in particular on the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), calling for a stay of two imminent executions in order to examine the trial process. His request came after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'Ad Al Hussein and the former U.S. Ambassador for Global Criminal Justice, Stephen Rapp, voiced their concern. There were numerous other statements from respected international jurists and parliamentarians and an independent report by the preeminent international legal expert Geoffrey Robertson QC, which called for the matter to be referred to the UN Security Council. The chorus of disapproval also included a senior member of the UK House of Lords, Lord Alex Carlile, a number of leading UN human rights experts and Special Rapporteurs, plus Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and members of the U.S. Congress.

The ICT was established in 1973 as a national judicial mechanism with a view to putting on trial Pakistani military commanders responsible for international crimes (war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and torture) that were alleged to have been committed during the 1971 War of Liberation. It was established as a military tribunal under a lex specialis that removed the fundamental protections under the Constitution and national criminal procedure laws. It was re-enacted in 2009 as a civilian court to put on trial civilian and military leaders. The suggestion therefore, was that all credible allegations of murder, willful killing, rape etc. would be dealt with accordingly. It quickly transpired however, that it would only be those offenses alleged to have been committed by those who supported Pakistan, and therefore opposed to independence, that would be considered, with those who fought for independence being labelled freedom fighters, and therefore immune from prosecution, despite there being credible allegations against both sides. The ICT therefore adopted a position of 'victor's justice' and thereby immediately putting it at odds with other tribunals, such as the ICC.

The various statements critical of the ICT shared a common theme: disappointment and rejection. That Bangladesh had experienced one of the worst conflicts in modern history was never in dispute. It was deeply regrettable that the international community had done nothing for more than four decades following the bloody birth of Bangladesh. Neither was it in dispute that there was a critical need to establish an effective mechanism to hold those perpetrators accountable through a credible judicial process, which would lead towards a process of reconciliation. Regrettably, the process established under the reign of Wajed is neither credible nor aimed at justice. It is widely considered a tool of vengeance used to dismantle a political opposition.

The response to such criticism from Bangladesh was to dismiss it. But Leahy has continued to track the situation and speak out. On Oct. 23, Leahy said, "[like] the inquiries and appeals of others, my concerns have repeatedly been responded to by Bangladeshi officials with denials, obfuscation, and falsehoods … it is beyond a doubt that the rule of law is often violated by Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies. This conduct has become so ingrained that it is not an overstatement to describe Prime Minister Wajed's government as one that condones state-sponsored criminality."

The significance of this cannot be underestimated as it goes so far beyond comments that highlight 'concern' or 'worry,' that one may associate with parliamentarians. The Bangladesh Government now stands directly accused of criminality by a longstanding U.S. senator with a commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms, and one who cannot be said to be serving any interest other than that of respect for the rule of law. It is of further significance when one considers the position Leahy holds as the minority ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee and his statement that he will not support assistance to Bangladesh for those institutions involved in human rights abuses.

The use of the expression "state-sponsored criminality" to describe the grave and continuous human rights violations in Bangladesh is not only thought-provoking, but also legally relevant. Article 7 of the Rome Statute describes crimes against humanity as a series of acts committed as "part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack."

In international criminal law, it is widely considered that the key element of this crime —and the most difficult to prove— is, the planned or otherwise systematic or widespread character of the attack. The adoption of the term "state-sponsored criminality" indicates that certain patterns of violence have been identified to prove the existence of a pre-conceived and a fully intentional crackdown against the civilian population, and more particularly, dissenters and political opponents, by the highest spheres of the official political power in the country.

The position adopted by Bangladesh is to view any opponents, as 'enemies of the State' and therefore, anti-Liberation, or against the country's independence. What began as simple rhetoric against opponents however, has since developed into a state policy of persecution, hence the expression adopted by Leahy as "state-sponsored criminality".

Despite such clear evidence, the international community on the whole has thus far been unwilling to act. The question therefore is what can be done? I believe, now is the time for the ICC Prosecutor to open a Preliminary Examination. In tandem, States ought to consider whether they should continue to associate with a dictatorial regime that oppresses its own people.

Widespread Criminality

It has been recorded, through credible human rights monitors such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, that approximately 500 civilians have lost their lives as a result of violent clashes with security forces during the last parliamentary elections held in 2014. These elections were boycotted by many opposition parties given their fears that any election would be neither free nor fair. The former UN High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, warned during this time that the election violence was within the jurisdiction of the ICC. Regardless, despite the high degree of violence, and the fact that the coalition of political opposition parties chose not to participate due to real concern over the lack of transparency, elections took place. The Awami League, headed by Prime Minister Wajed, won an overwhelming majority of parliamentary seats. The international community condemned the election as not being free and fair and not representative of the will of the people, but the result remained unchallenged and the Awami League is likely to call the next parliamentary election in March 2018.

The violent repression of the political opposition has only gotten worse since then. Human rights groups reported more than 425 extrajudicial executions between 2014 and 2016. The first anniversary of the elections was marked by 150 additional deaths, 4,500 injuries and over 10,000 political arrests. Attacks from security forces have continued, and just in 2016, more than 100 citizens died and over 5,000 were injured in more episodes of electoral violence.

The evidence clearly points to the commission of Crimes Against Humanity, and thus, as espoused above, there is a credible basis for the ICC opening a Preliminary Examination.

Through political arrests, as well as the widespread use of torture and enforced disappearances, the Awami League Government has installed an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that has shrunk the space for civil society, as the EU-Bangladesh Sub-Group on Good Governance and Human Rights noted in a public statement of December 2016. As a matter of fact, after an exhaustive analysis of primary sources and of the work of local NGOs in Bangladesh, in July 2017, Human Rights Watch published an 83-page report documenting 90 cases of forced disappearances in 2016 alone. This shocking figure forms part of what the organization called the "long history of human rights violations" committed by Bangladesh law enforcement agencies. Since the Awami League came to power in 2009, there have been more than 320 reports of forced disappearances in Bangladesh.

Disappearances have particularly targeted political opponents and even members of their families. Three sons of the political opponents condemned, sentenced and executed by the universally condemned ICT were abducted by law enforcement agents in the summer of 2016. In spite of numerous calls by the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to investigate the allegations and clarify their fate, one of the three men was dumped outside his family home after months of being held incommunicado and the whereabouts of the other two remain unknown. In his recent statement, Leahy spoke to this situation. He echoed the words of the State Department, which in its last country report on Bangladesh noted that the UN had contacted the government of Bangladesh concerning the ''reportedly alarming rise of the number of cases of enforced disappearances in the country'' and had 34 outstanding cases under review. However, the UN has yet to receive a response.

The Government Response

Worryingly, despite the gravity of the situation portrayed by these numbers and ample evidence demonstrating the intervention of the security forces in the crimes committed, silence and denial have been the de facto response of Bangladesh. Far from investigating these reports and punishing perpetrators, violations of human rights by law enforcement agents have been met with complete impunity. This impunity, which could be also considered a good indication of official acquiescence, constitutes a violation of the Rule of Law and a threat "to democracy itself," as noted by Leahy.

For instance, after the publication of the Human Rights Watch report last summer, the Awami League, accused the organization of being "one-sided" and "biased," even though the report noted that Bangladeshi authorities had failed to "respond to letters that Human Rights Watch submitted in April 2017 requesting information about the specific cases documented." Meanwhile, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan denied the practice of enforced disappearances in Bangladesh, maintaining that victims were hiding willingly, and described security agents who commit human rights violations as "overenthusiastic security personnel who acted on their own." After all, disappeared bodies leave no traces, no testimonies and no evidence.

Leahy has and complained that all of his inquiries have been met with "blanket denials, obfuscation, and even falsehoods." During the last few years, Bangladeshi authorities have constantly manipulated narratives to justify violent repression and violations of the rights of citizens. They use the veil of legitimacy provided by law to justify arbitrary executions by the ICT, and manipulate counter-terrorism discourses to criminalize democratic rights. In this vein, members of one of the main political parties in the opposition, Jamaat-e-Islami, are usually portrayed as extremist to justify their arbitrary detention. In the summer of 2016, more than 10,000 individuals—the majority members of the opposition—were arbitrarily arrested as part of an alleged 'counter-terrorist' strategy.

The government of Bangladesh therefore has shown itself to be unwilling to address the ongoing human rights crisis in the country and is content to further the ongoing impunity by way of blanket denial.

More concerningly however, Bangladesh has shown itself to be not only willing to obfuscate domestically, but, it is now willing to at best manipulate the position internationally, and at worst, recount blatant falsehoods.

One of the most egregious examples of this manipulation occurred in June 2017, when following a meeting with ICC representatives, several news organizations published that —according to a press release of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh— ICC representatives had expressed "satisfaction over the proceedings of war crimes trials in Bangladesh" and suggested that the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh (ICT) "will play an important role in development of overall judicial system in the national level". A week later, the ICC had to publish an official statement correcting these misleading reports and clarifying that "neither the President nor the Deputy Prosecutor expressed any opinion whatsoever about proceedings being conducted before the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh ("ICT") or any other national court proceedings." Bangladeshi authorities had wilfully attempted to manipulate the ICC to falsely legitimise its domestic tribunal, the ICT, and misrepresent the position of the international community.

The Response of the International Community

The international community has strongly condemned the behavior of Bangladesh and its security forces. Numerous statements —including letters addressed to Wajed, communications by UN Special Rapporteurs, and even resolutions from the European Parliament— have been issued in the last few years urging Bangladesh authorities to put an end to the human rights violations.

On Dec. 20, 2016, the EU-Bangladesh Sub-Group on Good Governance published a statement expressing concern over extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, the death penalty, freedom of association and freedom of expression, and thus encouraging Bangladesh to form "an independent, impartial, non-partisan and highly-qualified Election Commission to hold the next general elections in a fully participatory way."

Still, most initiatives from the international community have been limited to mere statements of concern or condemnation since no formal sanctions have been imposed. While most Western democracies, as well as the European Union, have vowed to protect the rights of all citizens, and included human rights clauses in their cooperation agreements, in the case of Bangladesh, the international community has constantly failed to enforced these clauses and maintained a dishonest stance at the expense of the citizens of Bangladesh. Leahy announced that he would not support further U.S. assistance for Bangladesh law enforcement agencies "until the necessary steps are taken," but on July 13, the EU-Bangladesh Joint Commission published a statement announcing the continuation of the development cooperation agenda for 2018 to 2020, and mostly avoided the topic of human rights. This is in stark contrast to their previous stance on the situation. Seven months earlier, the EU was raising concerns over the extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances that were taking place. It is clear that the EU must take the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms seriously and place it at the forefront of discussions with States that are recipients of its aid.

Regrettably, as the international community fails to act, the crackdown continues. Seven of the most senior members of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami were arrested last month in Dhaka while holding a meeting. The charge was that they had held a clandestine meeting and had plotted to overthrow the government. Considering that they are a political party one might reasonably ask why holding a political meeting is not permitted, and secondly, as there is an upcoming election, it might be reasonable to suggest that unseating the government was its responsibility. This action —the last one in the litany of violations of human rights perpetrated by the Bangladesh security forces— left the political party leaderless and further confirmed the relentless campaign of tyranny against any political opposition.

The "state-sponsored criminality" in Bangladesh, as described by Leahy in his October statement, has exposed not only the repression and violence at the hands of the government, but also a lesson in the hypocrisy by the international community whose wilful blindness to the gravity of the situation has signalled an unparalleled spiral of autocracy. As Leahy, and other vocal critics have articulated, Bangladesh, under the current Awami League government, is not a democracy and does not exhibit the characteristics of a State based on the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms. It operates in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation and epitomises the label of "state-sponsored criminality."

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War Crimes Investigation in Burma

Scandal-hit Thai Temple Helps to Stage Mass Buddhist Event in Myanmar
The Irrawaddy

January 22, 2018

Thousands of Buddhist monks gathered in Myanmar's second largest city on Sunday for an event partly organized by a scandal-hit Thai temple whose abbot is wanted for questioning on money-laundering allegations.

The Dhammakaya temple's foundation helped organize the mass alms-giving for an estimated 20,000 monks on the runway of an abandoned airport in central Mandalay. Thailand's largest and wealthiest temple, Dhammakaya has staged similar spectacles at its vast complex north of Bangkok, which police besieged last year in a fruitless search for its fugitive abbot.

The Mandalay event aimed to "tighten the relationship between both Myanmar and Thailand [and] unite the Theravada monkhood" in the region, according to a Dhammakaya Foundation press release.

Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka are predominantly Buddhist countries that follow the religion's Theravada branch.

In Mandalay, a center for Buddhist learning crowded with temples and monasteries, monks in burgundy or orange began filing barefoot into the old airport before dawn.

Almost all the monks at the ceremony were from Myanmar and there were also thousands of local lay people attending along with about 100 monks and other Buddhists from Thailand and Sri Lanka, according to Dhammakaya temple.

Mandalay is home to the monk Wirathu, the self-styled "Buddhist bin Laden" famous for his anti-Islamic sermons, but there was no sign that he attended the mass alms-giving.

"It's such a wonderful ceremony. I live in Mandalay, and it's never happened like this before," said Ven Ya Ma, 40, who led a group of about 30 monks from the city's Ma Soe Yein monastery.

Ven Ya Ma opposed the actions of the Thai police against the Dhammakaya temple, which he said was only promoting Buddhism worldwide.

"People are worried that Buddhism is in danger," he said.

In March, Thai police abandoned a three-week siege of the Dhammakaya temple's complex, which is nearly 10 times the area of the Vatican City and centers around a giant, UFO-shaped golden stupa.

Police wanted to question the abbot, Phra Dhammachayo, about alleged money-laundering and building violations, but gave up after protests by monks and meditating devotees. His whereabouts are unknown.

Dhammakaya claims millions of followers in Thailand and around the world, and in recent years has forged closer ties with Myanmar's Buddhists.

Wirathu is a leading light in Ma Ba Tha, a religious group accused of whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar.

A brutal military crackdown in Rakhine State, in western Myanmar, has driven about 650,000 Rohingya Muslims over the border into Bangladesh since August.

What's attracting women to Myanmar's Buddhist nationalist movement?
Open Democracy

By Isabel Marler and Macarena Aguilar
January 30, 2018

In the hastily-built displacement camps of Rakhine state, in the western part of Myanmar, where some 129,000 mostly Muslim Rohingya people have been interned since 2012, there's very little to look forward to. With no freedom to work outside the camps, the survival of this long-persecuted minority hinges on international aid deliveries and special permits to leave which are granted only for medical emergencies.

In August 2017, the latest outbreak of violence returned to the fore long-standing anti-Muslim sentiments amongst the region's ethnic Rakhine (primarily Buddhist) communities. Some of these communities went as far as blocking vital assistance from reaching the camps and, perhaps surprisingly, women were often seen taking a lead in efforts and protests aimed preventing life-saving aid.

Women "will actively stop heavily pregnant Rohingya women from getting to the nearest hospital," a seasoned representative of an international aid organisation working in the area told us, speaking anonymously due to fear of reprisals from the government. "I've worked in many complicated places around the world, but I had never experienced this."

In October 2017, the leader of a group called the Arakan Women's Network, who staged a sit-down protest over another NGO's attempt to provide education, hygiene and sanitation services to displaced Rohingya in the camps, called this assistance "simply unacceptable." She told Reuters: "They have food, they have shelter to live… We can't accept these kinds of excess things for them."

Rakhine is the most visible and stark example of such extremism in action, but Myanmar (also known as Burma) is home to a growing ethno-nationalist movement that has gained widespread grassroots support.

At the heart of the ideology is the idea that Burmese Buddhism needs to be "protected"; extreme notions of ethnic purism and xenophobia; and violence-justifying concepts of "self-defence" against external and internal "threats" posed by Muslim populations, and by the Rohingya in particular.

Along with Sri Lanka, Myanmar is considered by many to be Asia's last bastion of Buddhism. Rakhine State, which borders Bangladesh, is viewed by members of the country's Buddhist population as the "Western Gate" through which Islam will spread unless action is taken to stop it. This is despite the fact that barely 5% of Myanmar's 54 million population is Muslim.

Buddhist nationalists are capitalising on often repeated claims that the Muslim Rohingya are "illegal immigrants." They use religious and racial rhetoric to present their arguments. Some have made chilling claims that the Rohingya are reincarnated from insects and snakes, echoing the language of genocide heard in other parts of the world.

Myanmar's one million Rohingya have been systematically marginalised for decades, culminating in military "clearance operations" that began in August 2017, which killed an estimated 10,000 people, and brutally expelled more than 655,000.

While the UN denounced these actions as ethnic cleansing, a highly influential Buddhist religious leaderin Myanmar referred to an ancient religious passage to claim that the killing of non-Buddhists can be justified "during warfare" on the grounds that they are not complete humans.

MaBaTha (the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion), a decentralised organisation of religious and lay persons. Officially established in 2013, MaBaTha's approach seems to be strategically multidimensional.

On one hand there is outright incitement to violence and extreme rhetoric from some of its most popular figures such as Ashin Wirathu, branded by Time magazine as "the face of Buddhist terror."

On the other hand, the group carries out respectable community-based activities that win support even from people who oppose its hate speech.

Under the MaBaTha banner, for example, monasteries champion the promotion of "Buddhist values," provide assistance to the poor, and raise funds to assist communities affected by natural disasters.

For underprivileged youth, monastic schooling, often offered by MaBaTha-friendly monasteries, is the only chance they have to access education. Buddhist Sunday schools (Dhamma schools), are run across the country with the support of female activists from the group, who often work as teachers.

While numbers are hard to pin down, Melyn McKay, an anthropologist studying women's involvement in Buddhist nationalism, told us that in Yangon (the country's commercial capital and largest city) alone there are an estimated 20,000 to 80,000 MaBaTha members.

She also said that formal membership of MaBaTha by women is large and growing. In only the central Mandalay area up to 3,000 women have formally become MaBaTha members. But such figures may not include "many who participate in marches and such activities," without formal membership.

The roles that women play within MaBaTha vary. Some contribute to administrative duties – managing donations, communications, or keeping historical records. Others teach in Dhamma schools, give talks in their communities on the importance of protecting Buddhist teachings and values, or apply their trade skills. Those with legal training, for instance, may give pro bono support to cases identified by MaBaTha.

In a society where women are often marginalised at home and in powerful institutions, including religious institutions, MaBaTha provides opportunities they don't always find elsewhere, McKay explains.

Not only does MaBaTha allow women to study under some of the most respected monks in the country, the leadership also "supported an organisation of nuns pressing for the right to take the higher level exams so they could prove their knowledge of the Dhamma and improve their standing," she said.

Women's involvement in the movement also goes beyond the religious realm. Their political participation allowed and encouraged by MaBaTha provides "a powerful platform… to elevate the concerns of women and bring visibility to the struggles they face in daily life," McKay said.

According to an International Crisis Group (ICG) report, many women members of MaBaTha specifically reference feminism as a reason for joining the group. The report describes community-level outreach, including efforts to "inform rural Buddhist women about their marriage rights and rights to practise their Buddhist faith," as well as efforts to support women in abusive work or family situations.

In 2015, Buddhist nationalists celebrated the government's passage of a legal package known as the "Race and Religion Laws" which implicitly target Muslim women, regulating, for example, the number of children they can have and their ability to marry. These laws also place restrictions on Buddhist women wishing to marry non-Buddhist men, and force non-Buddhist men to convert to Buddhism before marrying Buddhist women.

International commentators, and various women's groups inside Myanmar, denounced the laws as discriminatory to women and non-Buddhists. However, many Buddhist women welcomed them and female MaBaTha members organised signature-gathering campaigns to support the laws.

McKay says that many Buddhist women were particularly supportive of a provision banning polygamy. While this ban garnered attention from the international community, and human rights organisations in the country, for targeting Muslim communities, women supporters presented it as a straightforward women's rights issue.

Nationalist women are now on stand-by to oppose a law aimed to curb widespread violence against women. The draft Violence Against Women and Girls Bill has not yet been publicly released or scheduled for debate, but nationalists plan to protest it on the basis that it may weaken parts of the Race and Religion laws if it does not explicitly prohibit polygamy and forced religious conversions.

"Nationalists will take this as a signal that the NLD [National League for Democracy, Myanmar's governing party] is willing to sacrifice moral and religious imperatives in order to appear tolerant and appease Muslims at the expense of the majority – and Buddhist women, in particular," said ICG.

Women involved in the nationalist movement seem to feel little dissonance between their sense of fighting for women's equality and their involvement in a hugely discriminatory movement. "They see their work to promote women's interests and to protect the religion as complementary," McKay explains.

The use of women's issues to garner support could well be a deliberate strategy of the Buddhist nationalist movement. This is not unique to Myanmar; recent research conducted by women's rights groups shows a global trend towards the co-opting of progressive language of rights and justice, including women's rights, by fundamentalist and anti-rights agendas.

"Fundamentalist and fascist movements often operate in this seemingly paradoxical way," says Shareen Gokal of the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID), who has led work on women's rights and fundamentalisms for more than a decade.

"They are patriarchal, espouse oppressive gender norms and perpetuate discrimination and violence. But at the same time they offer women involved opportunities to experience some form of empowerment through political action, participation and even leadership – although the limits may vary – so long as their involvement serves the movement and ideology," Gokal told us.

When it comes to ideologies where anti-Muslim sentiment is central, as in Myanmar, women's rights arguments take on another layer of significance, she added.

"For various fundamentalist and fascist groups with an anti-Muslim agenda, be it European white supremacists or Hindu nationalists in India, the idea that Muslim communities are singularly oppressive towards women is consistently mobilised to widen support… You find those who have had no interest in gender equality suddenly speaking the language of women's rights to justify their hate-filled ideologies."

"You find those who have had no interest in gender equality suddenly speaking the language of women's rights to justify their hate-filled ideologies."

Behind the individual motivations of women MaBaTha members sits a complex political backdrop.

Buddhist nationalist ideas are by no means new, but things have gone up a gear in recent years as the country transitions towards democracy after decades of military rule. In opening its borders to foreign trade, the neoliberalisation of Myanmar's economy has exacerbated poverty and inequality, which have fuelled the scapegoating of non-Buddhists, and in particular Muslims and the Rohingya.

State control of media has also skewed the nation's perceptions of ethnic minorities, and sustained anti-Muslim sentiment. Some analysts have suggested that economic interests are fuelling recent, extreme violence in Rakhine, and that a new multibillion-dollar China-Burma oil and gas pipeline may be connected to the state's expulsion of the Rohingya and subsequent land seizures.

The Buddhist nationalist movement shows no signs of slowing down soon. At present, it seems that hostility towards the Rohingya population is one of few things binding together Aung San Suu Kyi's NDL party, the army that once opposed her, and the majority of people in Myanmar. Whichever direction the movement takes next, it seems likely that women will remain at its forefront.

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Israel and Palestine

Israel says it killed Palestinian sought in settler slaying
Boston Globe

By Ian Deitch
January 19, 2018

Israeli officials said special forces hunting the killers of a West Bank settler raided a home before dawn Thursday, killing a Palestinian suspect in a firefight that also wounded two Israeli officers.

The raid was part of a police and army hunt for those irresponsible for a drive-by shooting last week that killed a rabbi from an Israeli settlement outpost, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

One suspect was killed and other Palestinians were arrested in the West Bank town of Jenin, according to a statement by Israel's Shin Bet security services.

Israeli security forces did not release the name of the slain man, and there was growing confusion over his identity several hours after the raid.

Israeli media initially identified the man killed as a local member of the Islamic militant Hamas group by the name of Ahmed Jarrar.

However, Palestinian health officials, correcting their initial identification, later said the man killed was Ahmed Jarrar's cousin, a 30-year-old with the same first and last name.

The officials said the cousins have different middle names — Nasser for the Hamas activist and Ismail for the cousin. The Jarrar family described the 30-year-old as a laborer not involved in politics.

The Shin Bet declined further comment, saying that it was still reviewing the incident.

The Jarrar family said Israeli forces demolished three homes belonging to the extended family with bulldozers and damaged a fourth one in the process.

Israel detains 53 Palestinians in West Bank raids
Yeni Safak

January 30, 2018

The Israeli army rounded up 53 Palestinians in overnight raids across the Israeli-occupied West Bank, according to a Palestinian NGO on Tuesday.

In a statement, the Palestinian Prisoners Society said 33 Palestinians were detained during raids on their homes in Issawiya neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

Israeli forces also detained 11 Palestinians in the cities of Nablus, Jenin and Tulkarem.

"Nine more Palestinians were arrested in the central and southern West Bank cities of Ramallah, and Bethlehem," the NGO said.

The Israeli army, for its part, said its forces had detained 26 people in raids in the West Bank.

In a Tuesday statement, the army said the individuals had been detained for suspected involvement in "terror and violent disorders".

The Israeli army frequently carries out wide-ranging arrest campaigns in the West Bank on the pretext of searching for "wanted" Palestinians.

According to Palestinian official figures, more than 6,400 Palestinians are currently held in detention facilities throughout Israel.

The arrests come amid tension in the Palestinian territories following U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the U.S. Embassy to the holy city.

Israeli army shoots dead Palestinian teen in West Bank
Aljazeera

January 30, 2018

Israeli forces have shot dead a Palestinian teenager in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Ministry of Health has confirmed.

Layth Abu Naim, 16, was shot in the head with live ammunition during a confrontation with the Israeli army in the village of al-Mughayir, northeast of the occupied West Bank town of Ramallah.

According to local media, Abu Naim - a high school student - was shot at point-blank range. The confrontations reportedly erupted after Israeli forces raided the village.

The boy's funeral is set to be held on Wednesday after midday prayers in his hometown.

A spokeswoman for Israel's military said "violent riots are taking place in this area and burning tires and stones were thrown at the soldiers," according to Israeli media.

The spokeswoman was "unable to confirm that any Palestinians had been hit by gunfire".

Increasing tensions

Abu Naim is the sixth Palestinian to be killed by Israeli forces since the start of 2018.

Tensions in the region have increased in recent weeks after US President Donald Trump's controversial decision to name Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Trump's December 6 move prompted deadly protests in the Palestinian territories and mass rallies in solidarity with the Palestinians across the Muslim world.

US Vice President Mike Pence's visit to Israel and the region increased animosity among Palestinians towards the United States. His speech in the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on January 22 was laden with praise for Israel.

On Tuesday, a group of Palestinians protested the arrival of an American delegation to the West Bank city of Bethlehem. The delegation was reportedly there to hold a training session on digital commerce, according to Israeli media.

A video shared on social media showed protesters entering the meeting room holding signs and chanting against the US administration's decision surrounding Jerusalem, after which the delegation packed up and left.

Israel's Shin Bet to face first-ever torture probe
Aljazeera

By Jonathan Cook
January 30, 2018

For the first time in its history, an interrogator from Israel's secret police agency, the Shin Bet, is to face a criminal investigation over allegations of torture.

It will be the first probe of the Shin Bet since Israel's supreme court issued a landmark ruling nearly two decades ago prohibiting, except in extraordinary circumstances, the use of what it termed "special methods" of interrogation.

Before the ruling, physical abuse of Palestinians had been routine and resulted in several deaths in custody.

According to human rights groups, however, the supreme court ban has had a limited impact. The Shin Bet, formally known as the Israel Security Agency, has simply been more careful about hiding its use of torture, they say.

More than 1,000 complaints from Palestinians have been submitted to a government watchdog body over the past 18 years, but this is the first time one has led to a criminal investigation.

Many Palestinians are jailed based on confessions either they or other Palestinians make during Shin Bet questioning. Israeli military courts almost never examine how such confessions were obtained or whether they are reliable, say lawyers, contributing to a 99.7 percent conviction rate.

Last month, in freeing a Palestinian man who was jailed based on a false confession, an Israeli court accused the Shin Bet of using techniques that were "liable to induce innocent people to admit to acts that they did not commit".

'Exception that proves the rule'

But rights groups have told Al Jazeera the current investigation of the Shin Bet agent is unlikely to bring an end to the long-standing impunity of interrogators, or a change in its practices.

Instead, they noted, an updated decision last month on torture from the Israeli supreme court, revising the 1999 landmark ruling, had moved the goalposts significantly in the Shin Bet's favour.

Hassan Jabareen, director of Adalah, a legal rights group representing Israel's large Palestinian minority, said: "This case is the exception that proves the rule - one investigation after many hundreds of complaints have been ignored.

"It will be promoted to suggest - wrongly - that the system has limits, that it respects the rule of law."

That view was shared by Rachel Stroumsa, head of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, which has submitted many of the 1,100 complaints of torture filed against the Shin Bet.

She told Al Jazeera that Israel was "highly unusual" in making legal justifications for interrogation practices that clearly violated the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which Israel ratified in 1991.

The convention forbids intentionally inflicting "severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental" on those in detention to gain information.

The 1999 ruling by the Israeli supreme court banned torture except in extremely rare cases of "necessity", or what it termed "ticking bombs" – suspects from whom it was essential to gain information quickly.

But Stroumsa said the large number of complaints from Palestinians submitted to Mivtan, a watchdog body in the justice ministry, indicated that the Shin Bet had never stopped using torture.

The justice ministry has refused to divulge details of the criminal investigation, apart from saying it refers to "a field interrogation" in 2015. Field interrogations are usually conducted moments after a Palestinian has been seized by security forces.

Mivtan's consistent failure

Speaking of the case at the weekend, Emi Palmor, director general of the justice ministry, said that this was "the first case that will be translated, presumably, into an indictment".

Stroumsa said the investigation was not in response to a complaint her committee had filed. Israeli media have speculated that the case may have progressed only because it was supported by testimony from another Israeli intelligence agent.

Rights groups have been harshly critical of Mivtan over its consistent failure to investigate Palestinian complaints of torture.

For most of its history, the unit was part of the Shin Bet and employed only one investigator.

But following criticism in 2013 from a state inquiry, conducted by the Turkel Commission, Mivtan was transferred to the justice ministry. Last year it recruited a second investigator, who reportedly speaks Arabic.

Before the 1999 ruling, the Shin Bet was regularly accused of violently shaking prisoners and beating them, including by banging their heads against a wall.

According to testimonies, the Shin Bet still uses physical violence, though less routinely, including choking, forcing victims into stress positions that cause intense pain, and tightly cuffing their hands to prevent blood flow.

But the Shin Bet is reported now to prioritise mental torture that does not leave tell-tale signs doctors could identify. These include threats of physical and sexual violence, including against family members, interrogation lasting for days, sleep deprivation, and prolonged exposure to loud music.

Palestinians are often denied access to daylight, sometimes for weeks, so they become disoriented. "They are completely isolated – they feel buried. They don't know when their interrogation will end or how it will end," Anat Litvin, a researcher for Physicians for Human Rights – Israel told Al Jazeera.

She added that it was often hard to prove torture because the Shin Bet denied requests for doctors to inspect prisoners. "That creates a vicious circle – those who are tortured cannot prove they were because there is no documentation."

Even so, she said, doctors usually only recorded bumps and bruises without noting claims from Palestinians that their injuries were inflicted by their interrogators.

Last year an unnamed senior interrogator confirmed that the agency uses torture to the Haaretz newspaper. He said agents were required to record details of how many blows they inflicted and what painful positions they used on detainees. Interrogators concentrated on sensitive regions such as the nose, ears and lips.

In an indication of high-level support for torture in Israel, he said logs were sent afterwards to the attorney general, Israel's chief law officer.

"Israel is a torturing society," said Litvin. "It requires that all levels of the system turn a blind eye – the Shin Bet, investigators, government officials, the courts, and doctors. There has to be a climate that allows this to happen."

A global survey by the International Red Cross in 2016 found more support for torture in Israel than any other country apart from Nigeria. Half of Israelis backed its use, with only a quarter opposed.

Ticking bomb 'loophole'

Stroumsa said: "The fact is many Israelis can live with these things as long as they are being done in the dark, out of view, without any documentation. They assume all cases of torture are 'ticking bombs'."

Efforts to prove torture have also been hampered by an emergency order passed in 2002, in the wake of the supreme court ruling, that exempts Shin Bet interrogations from being recorded on video.

In 2015 the cabinet justified the exemption on the grounds that video recording "could cause real damage to the quality of the interrogation and the ability to investigate security offenses".

Stroumsa noted that, aside from the moral problem, research has shown that torture is ineffective. A US Senate report, published in 2014, concluded that it was "not an effective means of obtaining accurate information".

Nonetheless, the signs are that the Israeli courts are rolling back the restrictions on torture they put in place at the end of the 1990s.

Last month the supreme court issued a ruling in the case of Assad Abu Ghosh, a Hamas activist who, the Israeli state admits, was subjected to "special methods" of interrogation in 2007.

According to a petition to the court from the Public Committee, he was beaten and repeatedly slammed against a wall, and forced into the "banana position", putting extreme pressure on his back. Abu Ghosh was left with neurological damage as a result.

Human rights groups had hoped the court would close the ticking bomb "loophole", which has allowed the Shin Bet to carry on torturing prisoners, or at least more tightly control the kinds of methods they use.

Instead, said Jabareen, of Adalah, the ruling appeared to give greater licence to the Shin Bet to use torture.

"It is now enough that the [Shin Bet] agent believes subjectively that the prisoner is a 'ticking bomb', even in the absence of objective facts to support that belief," he said. "His actions will not be treated as criminal in nature because they are assumed to be done in good faith."

Stroumsa said she found the judges' ruling in the Abu Ghosh case "astonishing", given the injunction in international law against torture.

"The court ruled that, even if technically in international law interrogation methods were considered torture, in Israel they were not regarded as such. The judges effectively gave the Shin Bet a green light to continue with torture."

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Afghanistan

Kabul Hotel Attack a War Crime
Human Rights Watch

By Patricia Gossman
January 22, 2018

This weekend's attack on the Intercontinental Hotel was just the latest in a long string of incidents targeting civilians in Afghanistan. Those who ordered or carried out this serious violation of the laws of war are responsible for war crimes.

The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the hours-long attack on the hotel, during which gunmen killed at least seven Afghans and 11 foreign nationals, most of them shot dead in their rooms or the hotel dining room. The attackers, who reportedly entered through the kitchen, worked their way through the hotel floors, blowing open guests' rooms and shooting whoever was inside, or detonating grenades. Some people were injured or killed jumping out of windows while trying to escape. The death toll may rise further as some hotel guests are reportedly still missing, and fire has destroyed part of the hotel.

Attacks harming civilians in Afghanistan have increased sharply in the past year. The most recent report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan notes that in the first half of 2017, more civilian deaths and injury from suicide and complex attacks were documented than in any previous period.

The Intercontinental Hotel attack is a grim and unnecessary reminder of the increasingly routine carnage deliberately inflicted by combatants against civilians in flagrant violation of international law.

Islamic State attacks Save the Children charity in Afghanistan
The Washington Post

By Sayed Salahuddin
January 24, 2018

Islamic State gunmen stormed the offices of a British charity in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday morning, killing three people and wounding at least 20, officials said. The attack came as the country was still reeling from an even deadlier assault on an international hotel in Kabul on Saturday night that left at least 22 people dead.

The toll could have been much higher in the course of the nine-hour gun battle between the militants and soldiers, but it appears that staff of the Save the Children charity were able to hide in a "safe room" and remain undiscovered.

The attack was claimed by the local affiliate of the Islamic State and began with a car bomb detonated outside Save the Children's building. At least three gunmen then stormed the premises, sparking a battle that lasted until nightfall. Two of the dead were guards for the charity, which is located on a street near several other aid groups.

It was after the battle, as the soldiers searched the offices, that they discovered some 40 people, including women, hiding in the safe room.

Taliban insurgents, who claimed responsibility for the weekend strike against the Intercontinental Hotel, disavowed any connection with the Jalalabad attack.

The latest attacks appear likely to further stoke anxieties among foreigners and aid groups in Afghanistan. Some foreign charities have already reduced their activities over the past year because of rising violence as Afghan forces, aided by the United States and NATO, battle a resurgent Taliban and affiliates of the Islamic State.

Save the Children, which has operated in Afghanistan for decades, said it was shutting down its operations — including education and relief programs for 1.4 million children in the country — and would resume them only after security assurances.

"In response to this all of our programs across Afghanistan have been temporarily suspended and our offices are closed. Afghanistan is one of the most difficult places in the world to be a child and for humanitarians to operate in," it said in a statement.

Images on social media and local TV news channels showed flames and smoke rising from the charity's building in Jalalabad, while a group of panicked children ran for cover on the street outside.

In a statement emailed to journalists, the United Nations mission in Afghanistan condemned the assault, saying that "attacks directed at civilians or aid organizations are clear violations of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes."

The attack came just four days after Taliban militants stormed the hilltop Intercontinental hotel in Kabul. Among the 22 dead were 14 foreigners, including three Americans. It was one of the bloodiest attacks against foreigners since the Taliban was driven from power in 2001, and Taliban officials said they were specifically targeting expatriates visiting the hotel.

The attack, which lasted nearly 16 hours, raised questions about how five assailants managed to enter the guarded premises with guns and explosives and roam the floors for hours before being killed by Afghan security forces. Afghan officials said the attack was conducted by the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, a Taliban faction.

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AMERICAS

North & Central America

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South America

Judges sworn in to Colombian war crimes court
Coalition for the International Criminal Court

January 18, 2018

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has sworn in 30 judges to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, a war crimes tribunal established to prosecute conflict-related grave crimes committed by guerrilla members, state agents and some civilians during the country's recently ended 50-year civil war. Chief prosecutor Giovanni Alvarez, has indicated that the first war crimes suspect should be brought to trial within six months.

The Special Jurisdiction for Peace was established through the peace agreement between the Colombian government and FARC rebel group agreed in November 2016. President Santos reportedly ignored a ban imposed by Congress on appointing judges with experience in war crimes cases.

While explicitly excluding amnesty for genocide, "grave" war crimes, crimes against humanity and other gross human rights violations which don't fall under the previous categories (kidnapping, torture, extrajudicial executions, sexual violence, forced displacement and recruitment of minors), the agreement envisages reduced and/or alternative sentences for perpetrators who confess to crimes and contribute to establishing truth.

Some human rights group have expressed concern that this will in fact amount to amnesty. Responding to these concerns, President Santos stated "[t]here are crimes so serious that neither the law nor our conscience allow us to grant amnesty, serious war crimes, genocide, and in general the serious violations of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, all these crimes will be judged and punished under the auspices of the new jurisdiction."

Alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by government forces, armed guerrilla groups, and paramilitaries have been the subject of an ICC preliminary examination since 2004, intended to determine whether a full investigation is warranted. The ICC prosecutor has been monitoring the peace process to ensure the delivery of genuine justice under the Rome Statute principle of complementarity, which requires authorities in ICC member states to investigate and prosecute grave crimes in the first instance.

On an official visit to Colombia, UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres encouraged the government to play a key role in providing the security, administration, healthcare system and infrastructures needed to ensure lasting stability.

As Perverse as it Gets in Venezuela
Human Rights Watch

By Tamara Taraciuk Broner
January 25, 2018

The killing of Oscar Pérez-a rogue police officer who opposed the Venezuelan government-indicates that 2018 is off to a very bad start for human rights in Venezuela.

In 2017, Pérez published several videos on social media calling on the Venezuelan people to rebel against Venezuela's "tyrannical" government. In June, he threw a grenade from a helicopter to the Supreme Court building, and in December he allegedly stole firearms from a Bolivarian National Guard base.

Pérez and six others were killed on January 15 in the town of El Junquito, near Caracas, after security forces, together with members of an armed pro-government gang called "colectivos" in Venezuela, surrounded the house where Pérez and the others were hiding. Government authorities claimed they died after a "confrontation," and said they were "terrorists." Two security agents and a colectivo member also died.

Evidence suggests, however, that Pérez may have been extrajudicially executed. Prior to his death, Pérez posted several videos on social media claiming that he and his colleagues were being attacked, and that he was negotiating with authorities to surrender. A copy of his death certificate indicates that the cause of his death was a single shot in his head, which fractured his skull. At least three others died of similar wounds, according to local press reports. The sister of one of the victims said, after seeing her brother's corpse, that his head was "destroyed" and that she saw a bullet hole coming in and out of his head. She said he had been "massacred."

Moreover, the government's actions since the killings suggest an attempt to cover-up what really happened. Security forces destroyed the building where Pérez and the others had been hiding. Neither the ombudsman nor the acting attorney general have publicly commented on the case.

Members of the Bolivarian National Guard, a military security force, limited access to the morgue where the bodies were being autopsied. During the following days, authorities denied family members access to the bodies. They also ignored the families' wishes, who wanted to decide when, where and how to bury their loved ones. Pérez's body, the last one to be buried, was rushed to a Caracas cemetery before dawn on January 21. Only two family members were allowed to be present at his burial.

Venezuelan authorities started 2018 acting as if they can get away with covering up possible extrajudicial killings. Given that there are no independent institutions left to act as a check on executive power in Venezuela, concerned governments and international organizations should press the Maduro government to accept an independent international investigation into these killings, carried out by people with full access to information and evidence. It is critical for leaders world-wide to raise their voices and tell Venezuelan high-level officials that this behavior will not be tolerated and that those responsible for the killings and for the security forces' systematic abuses should be brought to justice.

It is extremely unlikely that the Maduro government will knowingly allow anyone who will objectively report on these killings, or any other issue of concern for the government, to enter the country. In fact, it has repeatedly denied access to the country to key international human rights monitors for over a decade. Yet, by putting Venezuelan high-level officials in the position of having to reject the proposal, foreign leaders will be pushing for accountability-which will eventually happen, either in Venezuela or abroad, and whether Venezuelan high-level officials want to, or not.

A FARC Rebel Commander Runs For President. Many Colombians Aren't Ready To Forgive.
NPR

By Manuel Rueda
January 29, 2018

Rodrigo Londoño has been sentenced for taking people hostage, raiding an army base and recruiting children into his guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Now, the former rebel commander is running for Colombia's top office.

On Saturday, the 59-year-old former guerrilla leader waved at supporters from a stage set up outside a community center in Ciudad Bolívar, one of Bogotá's poorest neighborhoods. Amid tight security, a catchy campaign song and confetti blasts, he joined the race for the May 27 presidential election.

"Colombia needs a new type of politics, that focuses on working people, on their human dignity, on their economic recovery," Londoño told a crowd of about 500 supporters who had come to see him speak. "We need a government that will represent the interests of the poor, one that will work for them nonstop."

With Londoño as their presidential candidate, the FARC will be participating in elections for the first time since the revolutionary group was founded in the 1960s.

The FARC became a political party last year, after signing a peace deal with the Colombian government in 2016 that ended 52 years of bloody civil conflict. They turned in their weapons to the United Nations - more than 8,000 guns and 1.3 million pieces of ammunition - in a successful disarmament process, changed their name to the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force, and are now trying to take over the government the legal way. With votes.

But while some people in Colombia welcome the FARC's decision to drop their guns and curry favor with voters, others feel it is too soon to see left-wing militants like Londoño - better known by his nom de guerre, Timochenko - on campaign posters.

In more than five decades of battling the Colombian government, the FARC killed hundreds of civilians in attacks on rural villages. They kidnapped innocent people for ransom, littered the countryside with landmines and took a cut of the country's lucrative cocaine trade, in an attempt to fund their insurgent campaign.

The group is still on the U.S. State Department's list of international terrorist groups. The U.S. ambassador to Colombia was quoted in September by El Tiemponewspaper as saying it was because the FARC hadn't provided enough information on drug trafficking routes.

Instead of on the ballot, many Colombians would rather see FARC leaders in a courthouse or in prison, paying for their war crimes.

"It makes me feel very uncomfortable to see them campaigning," said Joanna Jiménez, a hairdresser in the central Colombian city of Villavicencio.

Her younger sister Vanessa Jiménez was recruited by the FARC in 2002 at age 13. In an attempt to protect Vanessa, Joanna Jiménez herself enlisted with the guerrillas and stayed in a camp, cooking for the rebels and collecting money for them for two years before managing to escape with her kid sister.

The story has been documented by a Colombian government office that records victims' testimonies, an agency that's helped the older Jiménez sister rebuild her life.

Vanessa was not as lucky. She was eventually found and apparently executed by the guerrillas for being a deserter.

"I think the FARC leaders need to change their ways and answer for their crimes before thinking about presidential campaigns," Jiménez said.

Carmenza Gómez, a Bogotá office worker who stumbled upon Timochenko's campaign rally on Saturday, said the emotional wounds of war are still too fresh for many Colombians. She said it was too early for them to run for office. "I think they should've waited some years, until more favorable conditions arise," Gómez said.

Bullets to ballots

While a campaign by the FARC (the group's new name forms the same acronym in Spanish) may be controversial, it is absolutely legal. The peace agreement signed by the government and the FARC eliminated previous convictions handed to guerrillas by Colombian courts, paving the way for Timochenko, who had been convicted of 16 crimes, to run for office.

The deal also ensures the FARC will take a minimum of 10 seats in congress for the next eight years. The former guerrillas will try to improve on that by putting candidates up for congressional elections in March.

"The media have stigmatized us, and now we want people to know us better and listen to our proposals," said Sebastian, a young FARC supporter at Timochenko's campaign rally who refused to share his full name. Sebastian said that for several years, he has campaigned for the FARC at universities in Bogotá, but was afraid to share his identity because the group's sympathizers are still discriminated against and sometimes attacked.

Timochenko has promised to curb violence from radical groups if he becomes president. Despite the peace deal, a smaller, rival group of leftist militants is still fighting the Colombian state, and right-wing extremists continue to attack human rights activists in the countryside.

Timochenko also said he would work to reduce income inequality, and proposed creating a guaranteed income for all Colombians, including for housewives and other caretakers to also be rewarded for their work.

It's not exactly a radical communist manifesto. But Timochenko is still a fringe candidate. His support in opinion polls currently hovers at around 2 percent.

Sergio Guzman, an analyst in Bogotá at the political risk company Control Risks, said the group's previous ties to violence hurt their electoral prospects. But he believes the FARC can still make a positive impact on Colombian politics.

"They will have a small delegation in congress that will not be able to push legislation through," Guzman said. "But I think they will initiate interesting debates on issues that mainstream parties have ignored, like the role that corporations have played in Colombia's armed conflict."

The FARC has also said it will try to ensure the government fulfills its end of the peace deal - including promises to redistribute land to poor farmers who were driven away from the countryside during the war.

Ariel Ávila, who researches security and politics and is director of local think tank the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, says as Colombians see the FARC working in congress, they will be more likely to change their opinions of the former guerrillas.

"I think their presence in congress will promote reconciliation," Ávila said. "It will be good for people to see them in a new role, debating legislation and drafting laws."

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TOPICS

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Truth seeking must continue to define our South African landscape
Daily Maverick

By Kimal Harvey
January 23, 2018

The ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting, in Gauteng, will prospectively discuss the fate that will befall President Jacob Zuma. Cyril Ramaphosa's address to the ANC, for the first time as its new president, epitomised the symbolic passing of the flame. The emphasis during the ANC's 106th anniversary was on addressing corruption and economic stability. In the wake of the State Capture report released in 2016 this promise to fight corruption is more of a necessity now than ever. The posture that the ANC exudes is one of rehashing empty promises and condoning impunity. Especially, given lack of remorse or regret demonstrated by President Jacob Zuma's faction within the ANC. Zuma will remain the head of state until 2019, when presumably Ramaphosa will succeed him. To date, Ramaphosa has been expectedly diplomatic and vague regarding what the ANC should do with regards to Zuma's fate. Consequently, we can surmise that perhaps no radical action will be meted out to Zuma for the foreseeable future.

In an interview with eNCA, Ramaphosa promised that he and the ANC would welcome a commission of inquiry into the issue of State Capture. Moreover, he stated that if it were revealed that wrongdoing has occurred then there would be "action and consequence," that follows. Ramaphosa has an opportunity here to rebuild the relationship between the public and the ANC, especially with regards to accountability. Since 2001 the Department of Justice has set up 11 commissions, four of which had implicated high level corporate and government officials, including the Donen Commission, the Arms Commission, and the Marikana Commission. The latter commission interestingly implicated Ramaphosa himself, and the commonality shared by these commissions is that all key implicated actors were in effect absolved of all charges.

In order to demonstrate a commitment towards addressing impunity, the commission of inquiry into State Capture provides the governing ANC a seminal opportunity to reassert its commitment to the founding principles of the South African Constitution, and to also restore legitimacy among the electorate by demonstrating a willingness to genuinely uphold the notions of accountability and transparency.

Truth seeking has defined South Africa's political landscape since the transition to freedom in 1994. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up in order to expose the atrocities committed during apartheid. The parties involved decided that a more restorative transitional justice route should be implemented as opposed to the prevailing retributive forms of justice which are implemented through criminal tribunals. Specifically, the TRC employed truth seeking and amnesty tactics to investigate and document the horrific crimes of the past. The aforementioned commissions of inquiry thereafter followed this model, in particular the Marikana Commission. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there is some nominal support for the use of truth seeking processes. However, there are concerns about what truth seeking processes deliver in practice. The TRC did recommend some cases to be further prosecuted but this still has not materialised. Moreover, the commission only investigated very specific crimes that violated the victim's human rights directly.

Therefore, violent crimes were prioritised over structural political and economic crimes. In effect, the TRC did not investigate and economic crimes which were central to the maintenance of the brutal apartheid regime, and the legacies of this omission are evident in the vast levels of inequality and poverty that continue to haunt the South African society. This is a relevant issue given the corporate malfeasance of accounting companies like KPMG, and the corrupt acquisition of funds by McKinsey. It is vital for the ANC to ensure that high-level politicians and large corporate institutions do not get away with only a slap on the wrist.

Ramaphosa's rhetoric for being tough on corruption and welcoming of the State Capture inquiry would suggest a new era for transitional justice in South Africa. While inquiries into the State Capture crisis may seem more relevant right now, there are broader transitional issues that need to be addressed, including socio-economic justice, reparations and the building of bridges between communities across the country.

State Capture must be further investigated, but so should all the major events of the past, post and during apartheid. Economic injustices and social structures post-apartheid are still yet to be appropriately addressed, especially with cases such as the arms deal post-apartheid and the massive apartheid arms trade revelations highlighted in Hennie Van Vuuren's Apartheid, Guns and Money (2017). "Corruption" has become a trigger word used by politicians and leaders alike so they sound like they are taking action. It is a sound bite for their voters to digest in the ballot box. President Zuma would like to continue this farce; create an inquiry of mystery and inaction. Ramaphosa, the apartheid trade unionist and the calculating pragmatic businessman, has to mean what he says and deliver on urgently required reform in South Africa. Ramaphosa must break with the disingenuous practices of his predecessor and his political operatives.

To hell with your National Peace and Healing Commission Mnangagwa - MRP President.
Bulawayo 24 News

By Stephen Jakes
January 27, 2018

Mthwakazi Republic Party leader Mqondisi Moyo has told President Emmerson Mnangagwa to to to hell with his National Peace and Healing Commission if he does not acknowledge wrong doing through his participation in the Gukurahundi massacres which saw over 20 000 people killed in Matabeleland and Midlands.

The interview on Emerson Mnangagwa in Davos on the 24th of January 2018 on Gukurahundi atrocities exposed that Mnangagwa and Robert Mugabe are birds of the same feather.

"In fact they are both Gangsters masquerading as leaders. If one is a leader but struggles to apologize, he is good as the devil. Mnangagwa even unnecessarily went on to dispute the 20 000 figure estimation of the people he butchered. We now expect him to tell us the actual numbers, as he was a direct perpetrator. We vividly remember that on 04 March 1983 he said our Mthwakazi people were cockroaches who needed to be sprayed with DDT and on the following morning 55 people were reported killed in Lupane alone," Moyo said.

"Mnangagwa stop living on denial, actually the more than 20 000 innocent people you and Robert Mugabe killed is smaller compared to the reports that we gather in our interactive outreaches through our party campaigns. Remember this is the authentic CCJP report that you and Robert Mugabe failed to report on. You collectively decided to conceal the findings of the Chihambagwe Commission of Inquiry. If you are a genuine leader, it is an opportune time for you to release it now. A sane people can not expect justice from any program led by a rewarded factional Vice President in the case of the compromised Kembo Mohadi."

He said any credible Commission of Inquiry will comprise of neutral people, preferably an international judge.

"Anything less than that will be trash. We know that CCJP did not capture all the areas and cases that were perpetrated by you, in actual fact, some researchers put the figures to more than 20 000. It is mind boggling that both you and Robert Mugabe have never embraced Mthwakazi clergymen, opting to surround yourselves with shona clergyman who are part of 1979 satanic Grand plan and agents of its implementation. No wonder most of them have been seen praise singing you, with the recent climax of botlicking by Andrew Wutawunashe at Bulawayo, who christened you, Emerson Joseph Mnangagwa, in a glaring at of blaspheming and mocking God. Before your millitary coup the same shona pastors used to praise sing Robert Mugabe insinuating that he was God ordained and we wondered which God were these pastors referring to, unless if shonas have a different God," he said.

"I implore you Mnangagwa to stop shedding crocodile tears on our people, Gukurahundi was genocide and we cannot just easily forget it and you cannot just say "let by be bygones" when it is people like you and your former mentor Robert Mugabe who killed our people. Mr Mnangagwa sir, in your live interview in Davos you openly denied the possibility of having a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Practically, there will be no Gukurahundi redress without the Truth, unless there is something are you hiding? We are a new generation that will never accept piecemeal arrangements, it is now clear to the whole world that you are indicating left when turning to the right. You have proven that you are a negligent, dangerous and unqualified driver of a nation who is a threat to human life. Our lives cannot be entrusted to you. The Gukurahundi redress starts by confession, as the bible says, the cycle of sin is through confession. Wake up from your slumber Emerson and stop living in the past, you can no longer deceive the world as you did with your former boss Robert Mugabe."

"We reckon that at one point you boasted and said you were trained to kill. Trained by who and to kill who? You even at one point said Gukurahundi was a closed chapter, so said that to you Gukurahundi is just a chapter. What a broken man and president you are."

He said as Mthwakazi people denounce the so called Unity accord agreement of 1987 because that was a marriage of convince which failed to acknowledge Gukurahundi and how the Gukurahundi issues were to be redressed.

"To us, that agreement was a very empty document with nothing to offer for the people of Mthwakazi. It was a document between and for only Robert Mugabe and the late Joshua Nkomo in their capacities as leaders at the time. Decisions are made and signed for people and not for individual leaders, I put it to you Mnangagwa and your Shona ilk that Gukurahundi is still benefitting you up to this era, and indeed it has taken another form. This moment in time it takes the form of an economic genocide which only benefits your kinsmen through the implementation of the satanic 1979 Grandplan. You and your former boss have continued to treat our people as second class citizens in all spheres of life, be it political, economical or social," Moyo said.

"Even your delegation to Davos was reflective of your devilish status quo, with only two Ndebeles. This confirms that you are continuing from where your mentor Robert Mugabe left. Your blotted delegation was all about travelling and subsistence allowances, not to the benefit of an ordinary person on the street, I am aware that as government officials you make a lot of money through these allowances on your overseas trips, hence you have inherited your mentor's thirst for blotted joy rides, to the abuse of the taxpayer's hard earned money."

He said the issue of the Gukurahundi genocide does not require a bill to be dressed.

"It demands logic and willingness for Justice. Perpetrators cannot now create conditions and terms of references in the quest for justice on behalf of the victims. The national constitution and the relevent arms of the state are conveniently positioned to function towards giving justice to the victims of this heinous act. We perceive you as a wolf in sheep skin Mr Emerson Mnangagwa, and you can't redress the Gukurahundi issue now. The only recommended redress to Gukurahundi victims is accepting that Mthwakazi and Zimbabwe are two separate states that will never co-exist and we demand our independence now. We don't beg for it but this is our right and it will be the only long lasting solution. This will permanently close the so called chapter that Robert Mugabe, Sydeny Sekeremayi, Perence Shiri, Constantine Chiwengwa, Enos Nkala, yourself and others opened. We say no to this purported commission to be launched by you before you release to us the previous findings and results of Chihambakwe and Dumbutshena commissions. To people like Kembo Mohadi we say hands off to Gukurahundi issues and absolve yourself from being used for selfish ends," he said.

"Ndebeles have mostly been used to lead the national healing organ, which to me shows lack of seriousness because a victim cannot be a healer and the perpetrator cannot proffer solutions. This smells of political strategy rather than genuineness for the cause. My final and stern warnings goes to the Mthwakazi chiefs, I say hands off the Gukurahundi issue. You will be tainted if you allow yourselves to be part of this rehearsed program under the supervision of Mnangagwa, This was purely a political act and needs to be dealt with politically and holistically. Chiefs can play a pivotal role by revealing to the whole world how many people were killed in their communities. This will vindicate the estimates of 20000 victims desputed by Mnangagwa."

"We finally plead with Matabeleland chiefs to stand against Christopher Mutsvangwa's open declaration that they and the army will be used to deliver election victory for ZANU PF. You are above politics as chiefs, you are the custodians of our tradition and culture."

National Peace and Reconciliation Commission to start public hearings
The Chronicle

January 31, 2018

The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission will next month begin public hearings on various issues to do with justice, healing and reconciliation.

Earlier this month, President Emmerson Mnangagwa signed the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Bill (NPRC) into law to operationalize the Commission that was appointed in 2016.

The National Peace and Reconciliation Act provides for the functions, powers, operations and removal from office of members of the Commission.

It also provides for the manner of conducting investigations and staffing of the Commission, among others.

In a statement on its Twitter handle, the NPRC said that the engagements would start in Gwanda and Bindura.

"The NPRC kicks off provincial visits for stakeholder engagement on 9/2/18. Team A will be in Gwanda (Matabeleland South) and Team B will be in Bindura (Mashonaland Central). Venues and other details to be advised," reads the Tweet.

NPRC acting chairperson, Commissioner Lillian Chigwedere yesterday confirmed that they would be starting engagements but said details would be made available soon.

"Yes, we will start engagements but we haven't finalized anything. More details will be made available at the end of the week," she said.

According to Section 252 of the Constitution, the NPRC's functions are to ensure post-conflict justice, healing and reconciliation.

The Constitution says the Commission must develop and implement programmes to promote national healing, unity and cohesion in Zimbabwe and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

The Commission should also bring about national reconciliation by encouraging people to tell the truth about the past and facilitating the making of amends and the provision of justice among other functions.

The eight-member Commission, appointed in 2014 by former President Robert Mugabe says it will work hard to leave a legacy of unity, tolerance and national healing as it kick-starts its work.

Recently President Mnangagwa said, while in Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Forum, that the Peace and Reconciliation Commission will proffer recommendations to Government on how the Gukurahundi matter should be handled.

He said his government will not ignore the issue hence he has assigned Vice President Kembo Mohadi to be in charge of the Peace and Reconciliation portfolio.

"We are not saying the past must be thrown away from history, it has happened, it is there. Currently, just a week ago I signed the NPRC bill. I have signed it into an Act and I've assigned one of my Vice Presidents to deal with that one," he said.

President Mnangagwa said he believes he has put up a good team to address the issue.

"In my view, there is nothing more than me putting a legislation where a commission headed by a Vice President and most eminent persons in Zimbabwe to deal with that issue and make recommendations," said President Mnangagwa.

He said the Commission will engage affected communities before making recommendations to Government on how the issue can be addressed.

President Mnangagwa said he is prepared to appear before affected communities if they invite him to discuss the matter.

The President has revealed that he has already engaged traditional leaders from Matabeleland on the matter.

"Let me assure you, just recently I had a meeting with chiefs from Matabeleland region, discussing with them because I feel there is bad patch in our history. We would want to correct it. We would want to say wherever a wrong was committed, we must say the Government of the day must apologize," said the President.

"Wherever a community suffered any injury, if it is possible to have that injury repaired, we do it. As a community, as traditional leaders, as a Government we have agreed on how to deal with that issue."

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Terrorism

At Least 95 Killed, 150 Wounded in Car Bombing in Afghan Capital
CBS News

January 27, 2018

A suicide bomber driving an ambulance killed at least 95 people and wounded 158 more in an attack claimed by the Taliban in the Afghan capital Kabul, authorities said. The bombing Saturday came just a week after Taliban militants killed 22 at an international hotel in the city.

It has been a month of relentless attacks in Afghanistan, with the Taliban and the Islamic State affiliate making alternate claims of responsibility.

The brutality and frequency of the attacks, including one in December at a Shiite cultural center has shattered Afghanistan's usually quiet winter fighting season. The attacks have infuriated Afghans, frustrated by the worsening security after 16 years of war. They have expressed their anger with neighbor Pakistan for harboring insurgents and with the U.S.-led coalition for its inability to suppress the insurgency. They have also blamed the deteriorating security situation on a deeply divided government embroiled in political feuding that has paralyzed Parliament.

The attacker Saturday used the ambulance to get through a security checkpoint in central Kabul, telling police he was taking a patient to a nearby hospital, said Nasrat Rahimi, deputy spokesperson for the Interior Ministry. He then detonated his explosives at a second checkpoint, Rahimi said.

The Health Ministry said 95 were killed and 158 wounded.

"The majority of the dead in the attack are civilians, but of course we have military casualties as well," Rahimi said. He said four suspects had been arrested and were being questioned but he didn't elaborate.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the bombing, which sent thick, black smoke into the sky from the site near the government's former Interior Ministry building. Also nearby are the European Union and Indian consulates.

In a statement, the spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the deadly attack in Kabul. "Indiscriminate attacks against civilians … can never be justified," spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John R. Bass condemned the attack as "senseless and cowardly".

The powerful explosion was felt throughout the capital and covered the blast area in smoke and dust. At the scene, dozens of vehicles were damaged or destroyed. Several shops, including some selling antiques and photography equipment, were also destroyed.

Windows at the nearby Jamhuriat government hospital were shattered and its walls damaged. People ran out to help and ambulances arrived to transport dozens of wounded to area hospitals.

The International Committee of the Red Cross condemned the attack in a tweet, saying: "The use of an ambulance in today's attack in (hash)Kabul is harrowing … Unacceptable and unjustifiable."

It was the second successful Taliban attack in a week on high security targets in the city.

Last Saturday, six Taliban militants attacked Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel, leaving 22 people dead, including 14 foreigners. Some 150 guests fled the gun battle and fire sparked by the assault by climbing down bedsheets tied to balconies. The U.S. State Department said multiple American citizens were killed and injured in the attack.

The hotel attack prompted the United States to repeat its demand that Pakistan expel Taliban who have found sanctuaries on its soil, with particular reference to the Haqqani network. On Wednesday a U.S. drone slammed into Pakistani tribal territory that borders Afghanistan killing two Haqqani commanders, according to Pakistani officials, who deny providing organized camps for their safety. Pakistan says the Taliban cross the porous border that separates the two countries along with the estimated 1.5 million Afghan refugees still living in Pakistan.

After Saturday's attacks Pakistan issued a statement condemning the bombing.

"No cause or ends justify acts of terrorism against innocent people," the statement said.

Afghan security forces, whose competency has been uneven, have struggled to fight the Taliban since the U.S. and NATO formally ended their combat mission in 2014.

President Donald Trump has pursued a plan that involves sending thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and envisions shifting away from a "time-based" approach to one that more explicitly links U.S. assistance to concrete results from the Afghan government. Trump's U.N. envoy, Nikki Haley, said after a recent visit to Afghanistan that Trump's policy was working and that peace talks between the government and the Taliban are closer than ever before.

On Dec. 28 a suicide bomber and other explosions at a Shiite cultural center in Kabul killed at least 41 people in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group that may have been aimed at a pro-Iran news outlet based in the building.

On Wednesday, IS militants stormed the offices of Save the Children in eastern Afghanistan killing four and triggering a standoff with police that lasted almost 10 hours. The Islamic State group was involved in at least 10 fatal attacks in Afghanistan last year.

Turkey court orders release of Amnesty head Taner Kilic
BBC News

January 31, 2018

A court in Istanbul has ordered the release of the head of human rights group Amnesty International in Turkey, who was detained last June.

Taner Kilic had been charged with membership of a terrorist organisation, an accusation the London-based group had described as "baseless".

The court ordered his release on bail. Ten other activists are also on trial.

The cases were part of a crackdown following the failed coup attempt of July 2016.

The decision was met with applause and shouts of joy in the courtroom, while Mr Kilic's friends wept and hugged one another.

Mr Kilic was accused of using an encrypted messaging application called Bylock that the Turkish government said was used by followers of the US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen.

Taner Kilic, who was held in the western province of Izmir and appeared in court via video link, denied having the app and said he had proved his innocence through documents presented to the court, AFP news agency reports.

Amnesty said two independent forensic analyses of his phone found that there was no trace of the application ever having been on his device.

The group welcomed Mr Kilic's release, but said it would continue to press for the charges against the 11 activists to be dropped.They include the director of Amnesty's Turkey office, Idil Eser, a German and a Swede, who were released last year.

Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty's Europe director, said: "These unfounded prosecutions are an attempt to silence critical voices within Turkey but have only served to highlight the importance of human rights and those who dedicate their lives to defending them."

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses Mr Gulen of being behind the coup attempt - a charge the cleric denies.

More than 40,000 people were arrested and 120,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs in the aftermath of the failed coup. They include police, military personnel, teachers and public servants.

Amnesty has been a vocal critic of the crackdown on suspected coup plotters. It said in 2016 it had "credible reports" of detainees being subjected to "beatings and torture, including rape".

Two sentenced to death in Bahrain's mass trial
MWC News

January 31, 2018

Two Shia Muslims sentenced to death and 56 others jailed on charges of 'terrorism', prosecutors say.

A Bahraini court has sentenced two Shia Muslims to death and jailed 56 others on charges of "terrorism", prosecutors in the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom have said.

The supreme criminal court also stripped 47 of the defendants of their Bahraini citizenship at Wednesday's mass trial, accusing them of "forming a terrorist group" to carry out "murders" and "attacks" against police officers, a statement on the state news agency BNA said.

According to the public prosecution, some of the defendants were also charged with training to use weapons and possessing bombs.

Of the 60 Bahrainis who were prosecuted at the closed-door hearing, 19 were sentenced to life in prison, 17 were given 15 years, 9 were handed 10 years and 11 were given 5 years.

Only two were acquitted, it said.

Responding to the ruling, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), called it a "travesty of justice".

"Authorities have further proved their willingness to exploit the vulnerability of its citizens: the lives of two men hang in the balance; women are being subjected to harsher sentences of imprisonment; and the overwhelming majority of those whose citizenship has been revoked are rendered stateless.

"Coerced confessions have become the norm for Bahraini courts in their deliverance of suffering to its citizens."

Tensions have been running high in Bahrain, where there is a growing gap between the Sunni-led government and the island's Shia population.

Bahrain's Saudi-backed authorities crushed the Arab Spring protests shortly after they erupted on February 14, 2011, and have refused to listen to opposition demands for reforms.

Human rights groups have accused Bahrain of clamping down on dissent and violently cracking down on protests.

The government says the protesters are supported and influenced by Iran, but activists insist they are fighting for jobs, housing, and political clout.

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Piracy

41 Somali pirates finally sent home in special chartered flight
Times of India

By Ahmed Alil
January 20, 2018

The first batch of 41 Somali pirates was deported on Friday from among the 117 caught in Indian waters in 2011 and freed recently. A special chartered flight was arranged by the Somali embassy, a relief for the police, who did not know what to do with the penniless pirates after their release.

The remaining pirates continue to linger in different jails, including the one in Taloja, as they have nowhere to go. Many of the 41 sent home had been spending their days loitering near the Yellow Gate police station since the completion of their seven-year term. Some of them had even started staying inside the police station.

"Today the first batch of 41 Somalis was deported and now the embassy plans to send the second batch soon," DCP (port zone) Rashmi Karandikar.

On March 12, 2011, officers on the navy ship Kalpeni, which was on anti-piracy patrol duty off the coast of Lakshadweep, were appraised that a pirate attack had taken place on the merchant vessel Sagittarius Leader. The prosecution stated that after fighting off an attack from the pirate vessel, which involved firing from machine guns, the pirates agreed to surrender.

They were convicted by a sessions court on August 2, 2017, under various charges. The court had directed that they be deported once they completed the remainder of their prison term.

The police said the Somali embassy had to be informed about the situation as the pirates were not legal immigrants.

ADECS 2018: Piracy report released
Shephard Press Limited

By Wendell Minnick
January 23, 2018

A new annual international piracy report issued by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) under the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), and covering 2017, indicated that the total number of piracy and armed robbery attacks against 180 ships was the lowest annual number since 1995, when 188 incidents were reported.

The London-based IMB report, 'Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships,' was issued in January.

In 2017, according to the report, 136 ships were boarded, there were 22 attempted attacks, 16 ships fired upon and six ships hijacked. 'Whilst the continued decline in overall numbers is welcome, the effects on crew and their safety continue to be a cause for concern,' said the report. 'Ninety-one crew were taken hostage in 15 separate incidents and 75 crew kidnapped from their ships in 13 separate incidents.'

'The positive is that there were fewer incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships globally in 2017 than there have been in any year in the past two decades,' said Sam Bateman, professorial research fellow at the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security, University of Wollongong.

'This is a result of many factors, not least of all improved cooperation to counter-piracy in particular piracy 'hot spots' - both between security forces at sea and their counterparts on land,' Bateman said.

The negative is that piracy in hot spots - the Gulf of Guinea, off Somalia and in Southeast Asia - has not entirely gone away, with some resurgence even in attacks off Somalia, Bateman said.

Off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden the report states that there were nine incidents, with three of them being hijacks. This included a container ship fired upon by armed pirates off the coast of Mogadishu. 'Ladders were sighted on the attack skiff - a clear indication of piratical intent.'

Last year, in December it was the ninth anniversary of the European Union (EU) Naval Force Operation Atalanta near Somalia, which has proven a success. It has four aspects that should be studied and copied by other regions. The first, the operation provides escort services by EU warships for the World Food Programme between Mombasa and Somalia.

Second, warships deter and disrupt piracy within the Gulf of Aden and along the Somali coast. Third, warships also provide protection to vulnerable shipping that transits 'precarious sea lane'. Fourth, the programme monitors fishing operations as part of its overall effort to protect commercial vessels.

Bateman said that increased attacks in Philippine waters are also a worry. 'The Philippines might draw a lesson here from Indonesia, which has successfully introduced a system of well-patrolled safe anchorages. This measure has been effective in reducing the number of attacks in Indonesian ports and anchorages.'

According to the report, there was a 'noticeable' increase of piracy in Philippine waters - up from ten in 2016 to 22 in 2017. These incidents could be decreased if Manila followed a strategy similar to the collaboration between the Indonesia Marine Police and IMB, which has shown positive results.

Some analysts point out that China's efforts in the Gulf of Aden as part of the international anti-piracy coalition could be an area the Philippines could learn from, or perhaps even coordinate with Chinese naval activities in the South China Sea.

Ching Chang, a research fellow at Taiwan's ROC Society for Strategic Studies and a former Taiwan naval officer, said China's heavy-handed actions in the South China Sea obviously have led to a downturn in piracy.

Chang said this is due to three factors: no commercial maritime transportation activity in land features claimed by China; those land features cannot sustain basic living requirements for pirates to conduct armed attacks; and the high intensity of military patrols around these land features eventually eliminates the possibility of any criminal activity at sea.

Whether it would be wise for the Philippines and China, which have competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, to conduct collaboration programmes remains to be seen, but China's rise as a maritime military power in the region cannot be ignored.

Guards Repel Pirate Attack on Cement Carrier
Maritime Executive

January 23, 2018

On Sunday, embarked maritime security contractors aboard a bulker repelled a pirate attack in the high-risk area off Somalia.

According to maritime security firm LSS-SAPU, the cement carrier NACC Valbella was transiting 90 nm south of Mukallah, Yemen when it was approached by a pirate mother ship. The LSS security unit on board the Valbella lit warning flares, in keeping with their rules of engagement, then fired warning shots. The attacking vessel opened fire, and the guards fired another volley of warning shots. The pirates then abandoned their attack and veered away. The Valbella did not suffer material damage and no injuries were reported.

On Friday, Indian authorities deported 41 Somali pirates who were arrested in Indian waters in 2011. The Somali government arranged a charter flight to bring them back to their homeland.

The convicted pirates were among a group of 120 Somalis arrested during the peak of the East Africa piracy epidemic. Most of them were captured by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard off the Lakshadweep Islands, over 1,000 nm to the east of Somali waters. In a series of actions from January to March 2011, Indian units deterred ongoing attacks on the region's merchant shipping, capturing scores of pirates and freeing more than 50 hostages aboard pirate mother ships.

These pirates were taken to the Indian mainland and imprisoned pending trial. Three died in jail, and last year, the remaining 117 suspects were sentenced to time served followed by deportation. All are scheduled to be sent back to Somalia by the end of next month. "Another 76 will be released in two batches on February 15 and 23 and will be sent back to their home country," said lawyer Vishwajeet Singh, their appointed representative, speaking to the Mumbai Mirror.

"The offenders have been given a lesson that in India there is rule of law and that the offenders are brought to justice," special public prosecutor Ranjeet Sangle told the Times of India at the time of the sentencing. "From 2011, since the pirates were arrested, the entire piracy operation in the western waters of India has come down."

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Gender-Based Violence

Back on the tourist trail: the hotel where women were raped and tortured
The Guardian

By Emma Graham-Harrison
January 28, 2018

The TripAdvisor reviews for Vilina Vlas spa hotel are mixed. Only a couple mention the rape camp it once was - and if you do not speak French or German you would miss them. The rest are a mix of mundane complaints about dirty rooms, and enthusiastic tributes to the forest and its natural hot springs.

The hotel also features on the tourist website for historic Višegrad town, and older editions of the only guidebook to Bosnia-Herzegovina by Bradt. So unsuspecting guests travelling through Višegrad can - and do - book into a building used for murder, rape and torture by a sadistic paramilitary group less than 25 years ago.

And though the mattresses may have been changed, and the walls repainted, the bed frames that tourists sleep on today are the same ones on which dozens of women were attacked. The dated lobby is floored with the same stone that in 1992 had to be hosed clean of blood, and visitors using the swimming pool splash around in what was a killing ground.

"People who go there don't know they are staying in beds where women were raped, and swimming in a pool in which people were executed," said Bakira Hasečić, a native of Višegrad who established and now runs the Association of Women Victims of War.

In 1992 Vilina Vlas was commandeered as a headquarters by Milan Lukić, the sadistic leader of the Serb paramilitary group the White Eagles, which in a few months turned Višegrad into a charnel house and virtually emptied it of its Muslim population.

After years on the run, including some in Latin America, Lukić was captured, tried in the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague and sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes including murder, cruelty, persecution and other crimes against humanity.

While the war was horrific enough, the peace that followed brought new torment for the victims of Vilina Vlas. Hotel business resumed at the squat, red-roofed building: the rape camp was returned to use for tourists without even a change of furniture - much less a memorial.

Višegrad town is now run by people apparently bent on not only forgetting the campaign of death that transformed their town from one with a Muslim majority to one heavily dominated by ethnic Serbs, but erasing any trace that any of it ever happened.

Despite pages of testimony at the international court in the Hague, and a judgment that confirmed it was used as a rape centre, Višegrad's mayor, Mladen Djurevic, denies ever having heard of rape, torture, or murder at Vilina Vlas.

"I don't know what happened there," he said. "I am not interested in going back to the past. Why would I read about that if I'm not interested in going back to that?"

His offices suggest his disdain for history is selective. They sit at the heart of Andrićgrad, a tourist-trap pastiche of a traditional Serbian town, recently built in tribute to Višegrad's most famous son, Nobel-prize winning author Ivo Andrić.

Previous administrations have poured millions of euros into building this memorial to an imagined past, while doing their best to destroy evidence, in some cases, of painful recent events. For years they have tried to demolish the ruins of a house where 59 Muslim civilians were burned alive, issuing demolition orders to make way for a superfluous drainage pipe and then a road to nowhere.

In the town's Muslim graveyard, swollen by graves from 1992, authorities ordered the word "genocide" to be chiselled off a memorial to the dead, then sent in a team of workers to get rid of it. Survivors responded by painting it back in blunt, black letters so they stood out more dramatically.

And at Vilina Vlas, after blocking a memorial and ignoring calls for the hotel to be pulled down - or at least remodelled - the local government instead poured money into repaving the road to the hotel and starting work on an expansion to add a "luxury" floor.

"I personally don't think we should demolish anything. We should refurbish and expand," said Djurevic when asked about calls by some victims for the hotel to be pulled down. Dwelling on the past stopped a town from moving forward, he added.

One of the strongest voices against this official campaign of forgetting has been Hasečić, a survivor of both sexual violence and the ethnic cleansing campaign partly run from the spa.

In 1992 she lived just a few miles down the road from the hotel and watched as it swallowed friends and neighbours. "No one knows exact numbers - we think around 200 women were taken through, based on testimony from survivors," she said.

Word of the horrors began seeping out as a few of the men and women taken to Vilina Vlas - usually for murder and rape respectively - escaped or were rescued, often by Serb friends who managed to prise them away from their captors.

At least one girl who Hasečić knew, Jasmina Ahmetspahic, committed suicide by jumping from a balcony. Another was freed after the intervention of a Serbian friend but returned "her lips scratched, with a fever, shaking so much she couldn't hold a cup of milk".

Later, when she had escaped to relative safety, Hasečić began collecting more details about what had happened there. Much of it was confirmed as accurate years later in the trial of Lukić and his aides at The Hague, even though he was not charged with sexual violence.

"There was ample evidence about a large number of rapes, murder and other serious crimes being committed at the Vilina Vlas hotel," said Dermot Groome, who led the prosecution of Lukić at The Hague, and is now a professor at Penn State Dickinson Law University, US.

Groome, a former sex-crime prosecutor in Manhattan, who also led the investigation of Slobodan Milosevic's crimes in Bosnia, said the women tortured and abused at the hotel were "some of the most traumatised people I had ever encountered in my work as a prosecutor".

None of them wanted to cooperate in a prosecution for sexual violence when initially contacted, because of their fears about appearing in court. However, the trial ended up hingeing on their testimony, as the rape survivors who had known Lukić in childhood played a critical role in dismantling his claim that he was not in Višegrad at the time of other attacks.

"To rebut his alibi, I needed to introduce a great deal of evidence of his sex crimes - evidence that would be sufficient to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he committed these rapes, and therefore was in Višegrad to commit the charged crimes," Groome said.

Nerma Jelacic, a deputy director of the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, whose family is from Višegrad, said the aggressive refusal of the authorities in the town, and many of the ordinary Serbs who lived there, to even acknowledge these crimes was a fresh trauma for survivors, but also damaging to any longterm hopes of rebuilding.

"You have whole generations who have been raised with this denial - this systematic denial of the undeniable," she said. "This has become another way of waging a war."

Tragedy mingles with hope on the streets of nearby Sarajevo, where there are constant reminders of past horrors - from the "Sarajevo roses" etched in the streets by mortar rounds to the museums about the war - but also a sense that people who were victims are rebuilding their lives.

But Višegrad feels much more sinister, a town where streets are still half-empty from the ethnic cleansing of 1992, while Serbs who benefited from it or moved in deny the reality around them. Djurevic was happy to lament Višegrad's shrinking population, while at the same time ready to attack the campaigns to remember the bloody events that drove most Muslims away. "Until the early 1990s we had around 25,000 citizens, and currently the population is half of that," he said.

In 1991 there were about 23,000 people living in Višegrad, two-thirds of them Muslim. The most recent 2013 census found the population had fallen to less than half that, and barely 10% of them are Muslims.

Among the few who have come back is Bilal Memišević, who left a well-paid job in Dubai to grapple with the complex politics of Višegrad. He survived because he was studying abroad in 1992, but his parents were killed; he says he came home to honour their memory.

"My parents paid the highest possible price for Višegrad, so I had a moral obligation to go back and continue our family line, on our family land - and I succeeded in that," he said.

Now he farms and breeds horses and is the only Muslim member of the municipal assembly. But he wishes more Muslim people would join him. "We have a problem that there are very few of us," he said.

He considers Vilina Vlas a "terrible kind of place" and was part of a civil society initiative to have a commemorative plaque put on the building. "You could prevent a future crime by telling about the terrible things that happened," he says. But he doesn't want the building torn down.

Historic hammams, or bathhouses, in the hotel grounds dated back to Ottoman times and had never been used for murder, he said. And the hotel was important to the town's economy, employing about 70 people.

"I deal with the past in a certain way, because I want people who come back to Višegrad to have a future," he says. "Rationally, you can't blame buildings. It's the ideology that needs to be changed. If you say we have to destroy the spa, by that logic you have to destroy half of Bosnia."

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Commentary and Perspectives

Our Man in Benghazi
The Libya Observer

By Emadeddin Zahri Muntasser
January 31, 2018

The United States is supporting UN-mediated dialogue in Libya in the hopes of resolving the festering disputes among the country's warring parties. That's been America's policy ever since the overthrow of the dictatorial regime of Muammar Gaddafi - engineered with US support in 2011 which led to a brief period of stability and freedom only to be followed by strife and fragmentation. Getting the parties to agree to a timetable for elections and ensuring a fair and impartial voting process is critical to forging a lasting peace.

But it could all come to naught. Since taking office, the Trump White House has refused to distance itself publicly from Khalifa Haftar, a rogue warlord, former CIA asset, and accused war criminal who is seeking to impose himself by force as the country' next supreme ruler.

Trump's State Department is well aware of the problems its one-time friend and ally are posing to the still-fragile peace process. Haftar has openly attacked the UN peace plan and ordered his cronies to attack and destroy polling stations in towns he controlled. He also arranged for "supporters" to sign petitions calling on Haftar to bypass elections and to immediately seize power.

In late September of last year, Haftar was summoned to Rome to meet with the deputy CIA director. The message was clear: Stop attacking polling stations, stop the signature collecting charade, and show support for the elections. The attacks came to a complete halt, signature collection stations were disbanded, and Haftar went on TV and reluctantly endorsed the upcoming elections.

But the Trump administration refuses to sever its ties with Haftar. Instead, it's allowing its surrogates, Israel, Egypt, and the UAE to fill the void left by the withdrawal of American covert support. Press reports, citing unnamed intelligence sources, have documented Israel's role in boosting Haftar's militia forces, primarily with arms sales. Whereas Mr. Trump has wasted no opportunity to reverse any Obama policy he's inherited, in Libya he's decided to stay the course.

Another important event occurred after the Rome meeting. The Department of Justice received a detailed complaint against Haftar and his sons. Haftar has been implicated in a multitude of war crimes including publicly calling on his militia to shoot captured prisoners, organizing public executions, and publicly ordering his subordinates to "suffocate" the residents of a neighboring town that refused to submit to his rule. Replete with legal analysis and evidence, the complaint called upon the US government to open a formal investigation of Haftar for "war crimes and other violations of US law."

Haftar's response? He has just hired two high-profile Washington lobbying firms - Keystone Strategic Advisers and Grassroots Political Consulting - to attempt to push back against a formal indictment and to convince the Congress, and eventually Trump, to maintain close ties.

In its press release announcing support, Grassroots Consulting heaped praise on Libya's most notorious warlord and his entire family, saying they had "sacrificed a great deal" in order to "achieve long-term stability" in Libya. The combined support of the two lobbying firms will cost more than half a million dollars over the next six months - a princely sum far beyond Haftar's own the resources.

Haftar's real aim is to establish a family autocracy in Libya. Just like Kim Jung-Un, he is consumed with dreams of grandeur and wealth. He reads American silence in the face of his war crimes as a nod of approval. In his twisted mind he believes he can trade on his past relationship with the CIA and the sympathies of the Trump administration for military strongmen to buy his way into the presidency.

Trump, in public statements, has sent mixed signals. Occasionally, he would extol the virtues of strongman leaders like Haftar as forces for stability and order. But on other occasions, Trump would promise that the US would be on the side of peace, justice, and human rights.

Haftar's anti-democratic track record is crystal clear. He teamed up with Gaddafi in 1969 to overthrow Libya's democratic government. Then Haftar switched sides and tried, with US support, to overthrow Gaddafi in a military coup, which led to his exile in the United States. In 2014 he led yet another coup and ordered the arrest of all elected officials in Libya. Amazingly, Haftar recently kidnapped a member of the US-recognized and supported ministry of the Interior who threatened to expose his complicity in war crimes, murder, and assassinations.

Even the military rationale for supporting Haftar is weakening. Despite a bloody three-year campaign and despite support from several foreign governments, Haftar only controls a few Libyan cities and towns. Without such direct foreign assistance and without the support of religious extremist groups, Haftar's nominal control will quickly diminish.

The Trump administration is running a real legal risk by not ostracizing its one-time "asset." Haftar is a US citizen, which means he could be prosecuted in American courts. The Department of Justice has already received at least one formal complaint against Haftar. If the DOJ indeed convenes a grand jury, Haftar could well be indicted, in which case American officials run the risk of being accused of aiding and abetting a war criminal.

For all of these reasons, now is not the time for Western allies to play footsie with Haftar to keep his own putschist ambitions alive. Haftar's rivals are pulling together and laying the foundation for a stable parliamentary government. The International community needs to create incentives for all warring parties to come together, lay down their arms, and agree to negotiate a common future based on democracy, freedom, and the rule of law. Haftar, at best, is a peace process holdout; at worst, he is a spoiler and a war criminal.

Trump needs to make clear that America is making a clean break with the past - including past support for brutal unaccountable warlords like Haftar.

What Should the International Community Do to Address Impunity in Bangladesh?
Just Security

By Toby Cadman
January 31, 2018

On March 23, 2010, Bangladesh ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), making it the first South Asian State to do so and the 111th State Party to the ICC. Despite its commendable ratification, Bangladesh has failed to adopt legislation incorporating the crimes into domestic law. It has also failed to investigate credible allegations of the involvement of its own State Security Services in close to 1,300 extra-judicial killings, more than 400 enforced disappearances, the arbitrary arrest and detention of several thousand political opponents, and the systematic practice of torturing detainees.

Human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have repeatedly called on the government of Bangladesh to disband law enforcement and paramilitary units responsible for gross human rights violations and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Regrettably, it is an environment where Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed provides overt support through her incendiary and highly inflammatory remarks, such as "whatever stern measures are needed, take them without any hesitation; I give you the liberty." Plus, her son, Sajeeb Ahmed Wazed, a senior government adviser, also helps to incite acts of violence against political opponents through his public comments. In December 2013, he said,"Let us also vow to wipe out their sympathizers and collaborators in Bangladesh once and for all…"

The prime minister, along with several senior ministers and cabinet members, the police commissioner, the director of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) are all in positions to effectively exercise control over or direct the political and police action in Bangladesh, but they have failed to do so.

It is quite clear that the alleged acts constitute crimes against humanity and fall within the jurisdiction of the ICC. But despite repeated calls to investigate domestically, it has failed to do so. It is therefore incumbent upon the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to open a preliminary examination into the situation in Bangladesh as a matter of priority.

In determining the gravity threshold, the ICC Prosecutor will have to consider the scale, nature, manner of commission of the crimes and impact on the local community. The scale of the situation should be assessed both quantitatively and qualitatively, and by taking into account the number of direct and indirect victims, and the extent of the damage caused by the crimes, in particular the bodily or psychological harm caused to the victims and their families, and their geographical or temporal spread (intensity of the crimes over a brief period vs low intensity violence over an extended period).

The underlying acts include increasing numbers of state killings, torture, deportation, imprisonment, persecution on political grounds, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts. They have been committed through state machinery, including the police force, the RAB, the BGB and the judiciary.

A series of Skype conversations secretly recorded and published by the Wall Street Journal and The Economist in December 2012, demonstrated the level of government interference in the judicial system. Government speeches and rhetoric also show the abuse of power, and the organized policy to systematically repress the political opposition.

The impact of the crimes on the local community is significant. The acts of indiscriminate killings in response to large-scale civilian protests, the brutal torture of opposition leaders and critics, the imprisonment, trial and execution of senior political opponents are demonstrable of a flagrant denial of justice that have occurred with the aim or consequence of increasing the vulnerability of civilians and to spread terror among the civilian population. Moreover, the repression of the opposition has drastically enhanced social divisions and tensions, adding to the climate of fear and social unrest, and is likely to lead to long-term social damage.

In late 2014, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote to the government of Bangladesh, warning of the deteriorating human rights situation. He focused in particular on the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), calling for a stay of two imminent executions in order to examine the trial process. His request came after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'Ad Al Hussein and the former U.S. Ambassador for Global Criminal Justice, Stephen Rapp, voiced their concern. There were numerous other statements from respected international jurists and parliamentarians and an independent report by the preeminent international legal expert Geoffrey Robertson QC, which called for the matter to be referred to the UN Security Council. The chorus of disapproval also included a senior member of the UK House of Lords, Lord Alex Carlile, a number of leading UN human rights experts and Special Rapporteurs, plus Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and members of the U.S. Congress.

The ICT was established in 1973 as a national judicial mechanism with a view to putting on trial Pakistani military commanders responsible for international crimes (war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and torture) that were alleged to have been committed during the 1971 War of Liberation. It was established as a military tribunal under a lex specialis that removed the fundamental protections under the Constitution and national criminal procedure laws. It was re-enacted in 2009 as a civilian court to put on trial civilian and military leaders. The suggestion therefore, was that all credible allegations of murder, willful killing, rape etc. would be dealt with accordingly. It quickly transpired however, that it would only be those offenses alleged to have been committed by those who supported Pakistan, and therefore opposed to independence, that would be considered, with those who fought for independence being labelled freedom fighters, and therefore immune from prosecution, despite there being credible allegations against both sides. The ICT therefore adopted a position of 'victor's justice' and thereby immediately putting it at odds with other tribunals, such as the ICC.

The various statements critical of the ICT shared a common theme: disappointment and rejection. That Bangladesh had experienced one of the worst conflicts in modern history was never in dispute. It was deeply regrettable that the international community had done nothing for more than four decades following the bloody birth of Bangladesh. Neither was it in dispute that there was a critical need to establish an effective mechanism to hold those perpetrators accountable through a credible judicial process, which would lead towards a process of reconciliation. Regrettably, the process established under the reign of Wajed is neither credible nor aimed at justice. It is widely considered a tool of vengeance used to dismantle a political opposition.

The response to such criticism from Bangladesh was to dismiss it. But Leahy has continued to track the situation and speak out. On Oct. 23, Leahy said, "[like] the inquiries and appeals of others, my concerns have repeatedly been responded to by Bangladeshi officials with denials, obfuscation, and falsehoods … it is beyond a doubt that the rule of law is often violated by Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies. This conduct has become so ingrained that it is not an overstatement to describe Prime Minister Wajed's government as one that condones state-sponsored criminality."

The significance of this cannot be underestimated as it goes so far beyond comments that highlight 'concern' or 'worry,' that one may associate with parliamentarians. The Bangladesh Government now stands directly accused of criminality by a longstanding U.S. senator with a commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms, and one who cannot be said to be serving any interest other than that of respect for the rule of law. It is of further significance when one considers the position Leahy holds as the minority ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee and his statement that he will not support assistance to Bangladesh for those institutions involved in human rights abuses.

The use of the expression "state-sponsored criminality" to describe the grave and continuous human rights violations in Bangladesh is not only thought-provoking, but also legally relevant. Article 7 of the Rome Statute describes crimes against humanity as a series of acts committed as "part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack."

In international criminal law, it is widely considered that the key element of this crime -and the most difficult to prove- is, the planned or otherwise systematic or widespread character of the attack. The adoption of the term "state-sponsored criminality" indicates that certain patterns of violence have been identified to prove the existence of a pre-conceived and a fully intentional crackdown against the civilian population, and more particularly, dissenters and political opponents, by the highest spheres of the official political power in the country.

The position adopted by Bangladesh is to view any opponents, as 'enemies of the State' and therefore, anti-Liberation, or against the country's independence. What began as simple rhetoric against opponents however, has since developed into a state policy of persecution, hence the expression adopted by Leahy as "state-sponsored criminality".

Despite such clear evidence, the international community on the whole has thus far been unwilling to act. The question therefore is what can be done? I believe, now is the time for the ICC Prosecutor to open a Preliminary Examination. In tandem, States ought to consider whether they should continue to associate with a dictatorial regime that oppresses its own people.

Widespread Criminality

It has been recorded, through credible human rights monitors such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, that approximately 500 civilians have lost their lives as a result of violent clashes with security forces during the last parliamentary elections held in 2014. These elections were boycotted by many opposition parties given their fears that any election would be neither free nor fair. The former UN High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, warned during this time that the election violence was within the jurisdiction of the ICC. Regardless, despite the high degree of violence, and the fact that the coalition of political opposition parties chose not to participate due to real concern over the lack of transparency, elections took place. The Awami League, headed by Prime Minister Wajed, won an overwhelming majority of parliamentary seats. The international community condemned the election as not being free and fair and not representative of the will of the people, but the result remained unchallenged and the Awami League is likely to call the next parliamentary election in March 2018.

The violent repression of the political opposition has only gotten worse since then. Human rights groups reported more than 425 extrajudicial executions between 2014 and 2016. The first anniversary of the elections was marked by 150 additional deaths, 4,500 injuries and over 10,000 political arrests. Attacks from security forces have continued, and just in 2016, more than 100 citizens died and over 5,000 were injured in more episodes of electoral violence.

The evidence clearly points to the commission of Crimes Against Humanity, and thus, as espoused above, there is a credible basis for the ICC opening a Preliminary Examination.

Through political arrests, as well as the widespread use of torture and enforced disappearances, the Awami League Government has installed an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that has shrunk the space for civil society, as the EU-Bangladesh Sub-Group on Good Governance and Human Rights noted in a public statement of December 2016. As a matter of fact, after an exhaustive analysis of primary sources and of the work of local NGOs in Bangladesh, in July 2017, Human Rights Watch published an 83-page report documenting 90 cases of forced disappearances in 2016 alone. This shocking figure forms part of what the organization called the "long history of human rights violations" committed by Bangladesh law enforcement agencies. Since the Awami League came to power in 2009, there have been more than 320 reports of forced disappearances in Bangladesh.

Disappearances have particularly targeted political opponents and even members of their families. Three sons of the political opponents condemned, sentenced and executed by the universally condemned ICT were abducted by law enforcement agents in the summer of 2016. In spite of numerous calls by the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to investigate the allegations and clarify their fate, one of the three men was dumped outside his family home after months of being held incommunicado and the whereabouts of the other two remain unknown. In his recent statement, Leahy spoke to this situation. He echoed the words of the State Department, which in its last country report on Bangladesh noted that the UN had contacted the government of Bangladesh concerning the ''reportedly alarming rise of the number of cases of enforced disappearances in the country'' and had 34 outstanding cases under review. However, the UN has yet to receive a response.

The Government Response

Worryingly, despite the gravity of the situation portrayed by these numbers and ample evidence demonstrating the intervention of the security forces in the crimes committed, silence and denial have been the de facto response of Bangladesh. Far from investigating these reports and punishing perpetrators, violations of human rights by law enforcement agents have been met with complete impunity. This impunity, which could be also considered a good indication of official acquiescence, constitutes a violation of the Rule of Law and a threat "to democracy itself," as noted by Leahy.

For instance, after the publication of the Human Rights Watch report last summer, the Awami League, accused the organization of being "one-sided" and "biased," even though the report noted that Bangladeshi authorities had failed to "respond to letters that Human Rights Watch submitted in April 2017 requesting information about the specific cases documented." Meanwhile, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan denied the practice of enforced disappearances in Bangladesh, maintaining that victims were hiding willingly, and described security agents who commit human rights violations as "overenthusiastic security personnel who acted on their own." After all, disappeared bodies leave no traces, no testimonies and no evidence.

Leahy has and complained that all of his inquiries have been met with "blanket denials, obfuscation, and even falsehoods." During the last few years, Bangladeshi authorities have constantly manipulated narratives to justify violent repression and violations of the rights of citizens. They use the veil of legitimacy provided by law to justify arbitrary executions by the ICT, and manipulate counter-terrorism discourses to criminalize democratic rights. In this vein, members of one of the main political parties in the opposition, Jamaat-e-Islami, are usually portrayed as extremist to justify their arbitrary detention. In the summer of 2016, more than 10,000 individuals-the majority members of the opposition-were arbitrarily arrested as part of an alleged 'counter-terrorist' strategy.

The government of Bangladesh therefore has shown itself to be unwilling to address the ongoing human rights crisis in the country and is content to further the ongoing impunity by way of blanket denial.

More concerningly however, Bangladesh has shown itself to be not only willing to obfuscate domestically, but, it is now willing to at best manipulate the position internationally, and at worst, recount blatant falsehoods.

One of the most egregious examples of this manipulation occurred in June 2017, when following a meeting with ICC representatives, several news organizations published that -according to a press release of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh- ICC representatives had expressed "satisfaction over the proceedings of war crimes trials in Bangladesh" and suggested that the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh (ICT) "will play an important role in development of overall judicial system in the national level". A week later, the ICC had to publish an official statement correcting these misleading reports and clarifying that "neither the President nor the Deputy Prosecutor expressed any opinion whatsoever about proceedings being conducted before the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh ("ICT") or any other national court proceedings." Bangladeshi authorities had wilfully attempted to manipulate the ICC to falsely legitimise its domestic tribunal, the ICT, and misrepresent the position of the international community.

The Response of the International Community

The international community has strongly condemned the behavior of Bangladesh and its security forces. Numerous statements -including letters addressed to Wajed, communications by UN Special Rapporteurs, and even resolutions from the European Parliament- have been issued in the last few years urging Bangladesh authorities to put an end to the human rights violations.

On Dec. 20, 2016, the EU-Bangladesh Sub-Group on Good Governance published a statement expressing concern over extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, the death penalty, freedom of association and freedom of expression, and thus encouraging Bangladesh to form "an independent, impartial, non-partisan and highly-qualified Election Commission to hold the next general elections in a fully participatory way."

Still, most initiatives from the international community have been limited to mere statements of concern or condemnation since no formal sanctions have been imposed. While most Western democracies, as well as the European Union, have vowed to protect the rights of all citizens, and included human rights clauses in their cooperation agreements, in the case of Bangladesh, the international community has constantly failed to enforced these clauses and maintained a dishonest stance at the expense of the citizens of Bangladesh. Leahy announced that he would not support further U.S. assistance for Bangladesh law enforcement agencies "until the necessary steps are taken," but on July 13, the EU-Bangladesh Joint Commission published a statement announcing the continuation of the development cooperation agenda for 2018 to 2020, and mostly avoided the topic of human rights. This is in stark contrast to their previous stance on the situation. Seven months earlier, the EU was raising concerns over the extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances that were taking place. It is clear that the EU must take the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms seriously and place it at the forefront of discussions with States that are recipients of its aid.

Regrettably, as the international community fails to act, the crackdown continues. Seven of the most senior members of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami were arrested last month in Dhaka while holding a meeting. The charge was that they had held a clandestine meeting and had plotted to overthrow the government. Considering that they are a political party one might reasonably ask why holding a political meeting is not permitted, and secondly, as there is an upcoming election, it might be reasonable to suggest that unseating the government was its responsibility. This action -the last one in the litany of violations of human rights perpetrated by the Bangladesh security forces- left the political party leaderless and further confirmed the relentless campaign of tyranny against any political opposition.

The "state-sponsored criminality" in Bangladesh, as described by Leahy in his October statement, has exposed not only the repression and violence at the hands of the government, but also a lesson in the hypocrisy by the international community whose wilful blindness to the gravity of the situation has signalled an unparalleled spiral of autocracy. As Leahy, and other vocal critics have articulated, Bangladesh, under the current Awami League government, is not a democracy and does not exhibit the characteristics of a State based on the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms. It operates in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation and epitomises the label of "state-sponsored criminality."

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