Thursday, February 26, 2009

A measure of justice at last in Sierra Leone

Yesterday, three senior members of the former Sierra Leone Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group, including its second-in-command, were found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown. The RUF gained infamy in the 1990s for their savage tactics, including the use of child soldiers, the amputation of the hands and arms of victims and the carving of the RUF's initials into the bodies of victims.

The BBC reported that the judges concluded the rebel chiefs "significantly contributed" to a joint criminal enterprise with former Liberian President Charles Taylor [also standing trial for crimes against humanity] to control the diamond fields of Sierra Leone to finance their warfare. They were also found guilty of forced marriage - the enslavement that countless young girls suffered when their villages were raided and they were forced to "marry" a rebel. The convictions mark the first time the forced marriage charge has been successfully handed down in an international court of law.

The RUF's leader Foday Sankoh died in custody before facing trial.

TIME magazine had this interview with the Special Court's prosecutor, who expressed satisfaction at the verdict. When asked about the potential conflict between justice and peace, he pointed out that the two were complimentary. "I guess [the] proof of the pudding is that the country held an election in August and September 2007 where not only was the opposition not expected to get in, they were allowed to get in. That's pretty positive. What the court has done is reinforce the peace and restore the rule of law to allow events like that to happen," he noted.

The three will be sentenced at a later date.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

West Africa: Britain's garbage dump

UK media outlets The Independent newspaper and Sky News have stories on how Britain is using West Africa is its national garbage dump. In conjunction with the advocacy group Greenpeace, the media outlets reported (as The Independent described) how:

Tons of toxic waste collected from British municipal dumps is being sent illegally to Africa in flagrant breach of this country’s obligation to ensure its rapidly growing mountain of defunct televisions, computers and gadgets are disposed of safely.

Hundreds of thousands of discarded items, which under British law must be dismantled or recycled by specialist contractors, are being packaged into cargo containers and shipped to countries such as Nigeria and Ghana, where they are stripped of their raw metals by young men and children working on poisoned waste dumps.

The Independent's investigation can be found here, while the Sky News report can be found here. An Independent editorial pointedly denounced the scandal.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Once a military commander, always a military commander (pt. 52)

If you want to delusional rants that would make Robert Mugabe blush, check out this al-Jazeera interview with Eritrean dictator Isaias Afewerki. In addition to calling al-Jazeera a mouthpiece of Washington, he also denied that there was any opposition inside Eritrea. Presumably, he meant there was no opposition outside Eritrea's prisons. In some cases, though, he lacked the spin of many other dictators. When asked when Eritrea would hold elections, he said maybe within two or three decades, maybe not. Not years, but decades.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Morons in high places

Nigeria's Vanguard reports on some rather bizarre comments by the country's foreign minister.

Under its universal periodic review mechanism proceedure, in a session lasting three hours Chief Ojo Madueke presented an overview of Nigeria's human rights situation... His presentation caused a stir when he informed members of the council that the government of Nigeria had been unable to locate persons of gay and sexual orientation, despite concerted efforts by his ministry to include this category of persons in the consultations on the human rights situation in Nigeria.

The foreign minister is part of a government which has proposed to throw people in jail for up to five years who 'witnesses, abet and aids the solemnisation' of a same sex marriage. Two years ago, the foreign minister's party proposed a bill which would criminalize free speech that suggested that gays and lesbians deserved 'rights of recognition'.

Striking a blow for sectarian harmony, the government's virulent anti-gay crusade is one of the few things on which the country's normally fractious Muslim and conservative Christian communities can find common ground.

Given the government-sanctioned assault on (at the very least) their freedom, is it really much of a shock that gays and lesbians in Nigeria aren't eager to discuss their sexual orientation with a rabidly homophobic government?!

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Zim power "sharing" government sworn in

The long-awaited national unity government in Zimbabwe was sworn in last week. Morgan Tsvangirai, who should have been inaugurated as president based on last year's vote, was instead sworn in as prime minister by the long-time dictator Robert Mugabe. Several other members of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were also sworn in to the cabinet.

But it remains to be seen whether Tsvangirai and MDC cabinet members will have any real power, as Mugabe and his cronies will surely be loathe to relinquish their perks.

As the UK Independent notes: The first litmus test will be the sacking of Gideon Gono, the man who has bankrolled the Mugabe regime from his post as head of the central bank. "Clearly he's got to go," said the source. "Otherwise there will be no coherence on the economy and the international community won't give us the time of day."

If Prime Minister Tsvangirai is unable to wrest any real power away from the Mugabe cabal, then nothing will happen and the 'national unity' government will collapse.

I am reminded of the power sharing agreement in Guinea that ended the 2007 general strike. Then-head of state Lansana Conté accepted the union's pick for prime minister Lansana Kouyaté and some cabinet positions. But Conté and his cabal obstructed Kouyaté and the technocrat ministers, nothing got done and Kouyaté was eventually sacked by Conté replaced by another crony. Conté deftly diffused the momentum toward contestation without solving any of the underlying problems.

There is a serious risk that the same will happen in Zimbabwe. Ultimately, it's impossible to see Zimbabwe's implosion halting while Mugabe and his thieves are still in power. Just today, it was reported that Mugabe bought a $5.7 million house* in Hong Kong while his people are starving and dying of cholera.

(*-Of course, that's $5.7 million in US dollars. That amount in Zimbabwean dollars wouldn't even buy a quarter of a loaf of bread)

As if to illustrate the criminals' desperation, the MDC deputy agriculture minister-designate was arrested by the regime on trumped up terrorism charges.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Human rights' giant dies in plane crash

Last Thursday, 49 people were killed when a plane crashed near Buffalo, NY. One of the victims was Alison Des Forges of Human Rights Watch.

Des Forges was regarded as the world's leading expert on the 1994 Rwandan genocide and its aftermath and has testified many times at the Rwanda war crimes tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania. She wrote the report "Leave None to Tell the Story," which is considered the seminal work on the genocide, as well as several other influential reports on post-genocide Rwanda.

HRW adds, Clear-eyed and even-handed, Des Forges made herself unpopular in Rwanda by insisting that the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front forces, which defeated the genocidal regime, should also be held to account for their crimes, including the murder of 30,000 people during and just after the genocide.

Though "just" a human rights activist, Des Forges was one of those people who made a huge impact on behalf of justice from a position of little inherent power. She was an inspiration to human rights activists and proponents around the world.

Des Forges was 66.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Mass politicide in colonial and post-independence Cameroon

For those of you who can understand French, Swiss radio RSR's Histoire Vivante has a documentary series of five shows on the virtually unreported two-and-a-half decades long politicide in Cameroon. It notes that between the middle of the 1950s and the end of the 1970s, historians estimate that between 30,000 and 500,000 people were killed from the ranks of the UPC (Union of the populations of Cameroon). As the dates suggest, this was perpetrated both by the colonial regime and by the post-independence dictatorship of Ahmadou Ahidjo.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

All hell breaks loose in Madagascar

All hell has broken loose in Madagascar as protests try to oust the president Marc Ravalomanana. At least 25 people were killed on Sunday as police opened fire on demonstrators who were marching toward the presidential palace. At least 68 people had been killed in protest events prior to this.

The country's defense minister has resigned over the most recent killings.

This is the escalation of a power struggle between Pres. Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina, mayor of the capital Antananarivo.

The president dismissed Rajoelina as mayor of the capital but Rajoelina countered by declaring a transition authority and naming his own prime minister.

The protesters accuse Ravalomanana of being a dicator and of misspending public money.

Previously mayor of the capital himself, Ravalomanana assumed the presidency in 2002 after leading street protests to oust the previous regime. Though in that case, it followed elections.

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Trafficking vs migration

The UN's IRIN news service has a good piece exploring the nuances of human trafficking and the difficulties in fighting against it. Particularly difficult is how to discern human trafficking from legitimate economic migration.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Guinea invaded by Liberian army... worms

West Africa has been invaded by worms. No laughing matter, the pests have caused agricultural damage in Liberia so severe that Pres. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has declared a national state of emergency. According to the UN, the worms left wells contaminated with their feces, fields empty of crops and markets lacking food. Reports suggest that worms have crossed the border into southeastern Guinea.

Initial reports referred to the pests as army worms, but experts have since concluded that they are in fact an unidentified species.

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