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IRIN - Human Rights


In northern Myanmar, a long-forgotten conflict flares out of view

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 03:53:18 +0000

Doi Ra hid with her family in an outhouse toilet as the soldiers gathered up the men from her village, blindfolded them, and tied their hands together. Then the beatings started. "They beat them until they vomited blood," she said, kneading her hands as she recalled how the soldiers struck her neighbours with boots, guns, and sticks. One of her neighbours was battered so badly that his skull cracked, she said. Doi Ra is one of the latest people to be displaced by a long-festering conflict in Myanmar’s north. Along with 50 other people who fled after six trucks of Myanmar soldiers rumbled through her village last July, Doi Ra and her family have taken shelter in a church compound near the Kachin State capital, Myitkyina. As she spoke, the men around her lowered their heads and stared at the ground. At a nursery next door, children fervently sang songs in the Kachin language. The tent she now lives in with her family is sweltering during the day and frigid during the northern nights. Her makeshift home floods during monsoon rains. “But at least here we are safe," Doi Ra said. Others aren’t so lucky.  While the international community is fixated on the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State, where a military crackdown has driven more than 655,000 Muslim Rohingya into Bangladesh since late August, the conflict in the country's north is smouldering out of view. Doi Ra and her family are among some 100,000 people who have been displaced by clashes between Myanmar’s military and ethnic armed groups in Kachin and northern Shan states in a conflict that has been simmering since 2011. Now, the current dry season is expected to escalate violence even further as Myanmar’s military moves to consolidate its hold over the fractured territory. Rights groups say government restrictions have squeezed humanitarian access to a trickle, leaving tens of thousands of displaced people without aid, caught in the crosshairs between the military and rebel groups. Uprooted again Northern Myanmar is just one of multiple hotspots around the country where the army’s battles with an array of ethnic armed groups have trapped civilians in the middle. In Kachin State, the breakdown of a 17-year ceasefire in 2011 between the military and the Kachin Independence Army, or KIA, one of the country’s biggest ethnic armed groups, has thrown the north into a war zone. Both the military and the rebel groups are fingered for rights abuses. Amnesty International accuses the army of executions, indiscriminate shelling, using civilians as human shields, and forced conscription. Armed groups are accused of abductions, killings, and recruiting child soldiers. frameborder="0" height="500" scrolling="no" src="" width="100%"> Much of this violence has simmered in remote regions where aid groups have little access. About 40 percent of people displaced by the conflict live in areas outside government control, according to the United Nations. But Myanmar has also placed new curbs on access to areas even under its authority, mirroring the more publicised restrictions in place in Rakhine. "The other day our aid workers had to turn around halfway because the soldiers didn't let them pass," said Lu Ja, who works with the Metta Development Foundation, a local NGO distributing aid in Kachin and northern Shan states. “They accused us of supporting the KIA.” Myanmar authorities have not allowed the UN to travel to displacement sites in areas beyond government control for more than a year, according to the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA. At the same time, the crisis in Rakhine State has frayed relations between the government and aid groups, making some organisations more reluctant to speak publicly about problems in the north. Representatives of multiple aid groups declined on-the-record interviews with IRIN. “We are self-censoring ourselves out of fear to be forced to leave the country otherwise, which would mean we could no longer influence anything at all,” one co[...]

Rohingya who fled Myanmar a second time are certain: "We can’t go back"

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 03:00:59 +0000

Noor Mohammed fled to Bangladesh in 1991, only to return to his home in Myanmar a year later, lured by a promise of safety. Now, he’s back in Bangladesh, one of more than 655,000 Rohingya driven out of Rakhine State in last year’s wave of bloodshed. This time, he’s determined to stay. Bangladesh and Myanmar this week announced a two-year timeline to return Rohingya refugees to Rakhine. Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said repatriations could begin next week, on 23 January. In a statement posted on its Facebook account, the ministry said it had “verified” a list of 1,258 people who could be included in an initial round. But refugees like Mohammed say they have no intention of returning. "We can't go back,” Mohammed told IRIN. “There's so much pain for us there." "As soon as somebody announced that it was time to get on the boat, a couple of women starting bawling their eyes out" The returns process has been shrouded in uncertainty and met with deep scepticism. Rights groups say the festering ethnic tensions on the ground in Rakhine State make it “alarmingly premature”. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, says it would need unfettered access – aid groups have been largely blocked from working in northern Rakhine since the August 2017 refugee exodus – and refugees themselves must be directly involved in making decisions. But for people like Mohammed, part of an older generation of refugees that has fled Myanmar more than once, the current talk of repatriation brings back memories of previous returns to violence. Forced returns Mohammed's resolve to stay in Bangladesh was not as strong in the 1990s, when he was one of some 250,000 Rohingya who surged into Cox’s Bazar. At that time, when Bangladeshi security officers told him he couldn’t stay, he listened. "They said your country is peaceful now, so you should go back to your village," he said.  In 1992, he returned by boat over the Naf River, which splits Myanmar and Bangladesh. But after only a few months, he recalled, the cycle of harassment by Burmese soldiers resumed. People in his village lived in constant fear that the military would arrest them or force them into labour. "There was never any peace for Muslims in our areas," he said.  Kaamil Ahmed/IRIN Noor Mohammed was part of a wave of Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh in 1991. He returned to Myanmar in the 1990s, but now he says he won't go back again. Bangladesh's government has insisted that any repatriation today will be voluntary. It said the same in the 1990s – a process that various rights groups and aid organisations believe was blighted by coercion and poor planning. According to a Médecins Sans Frontières survey at the time, almost two thirds of interviewed refugees were scared to return, while a similar proportion said they had no idea they could refuse. Researchers of an April 1994 report by Refugees International said they witnessed local officials in Bangladesh beating people who refused to cooperate. In interviews, refugees claimed officials withheld food in the camps as a form of pressure.  “Repatriation, although agreed upon to be voluntary, has in fact not been voluntary,” the report stated. A researcher who documented the process for an international organisation in 1994 told IRIN that most of the refugees clearly "had a very deep fear of returning”. Many signed documents agreeing to go home simply because they didn’t understand them or thought they had no choice. Their reluctance to return was most apparent as they left, said the researcher, who asked to remain anonymous to safeguard ongoing work in the region. "The look on their faces: they were just scared to death and incredibly upset about what was happening to them," the researcher told IRIN. "As soon as somebody announced that it was time to get on the boat, a couple of women starting bawling their eyes out." For those who remained in Bangladesh, life in the camps became inc[...]

Red flags, rising Tunisians, and Myanmar’s Rakhine: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 12 Jan 2018 12:05:51 +0000

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:   Red flags in Côte d'Ivoire   Clashes this week between rival elements of Côte d'Ivoire’s security forces appear to be a destructive extension of a tussle at the highest levels of power. As such, they bode ill as the country gears up for presidential elections in 2020. On Tuesday night in Bouaké (the country’s second largest city and between 2002 and 2011, a rebel stronghold), soldiers from a military camp housing the 3rd Battalion attacked and razed the base of the Centre de coordination des décisions opérationnelles (CCDO), an elite unit of police and gendarmes. It was the second time the two groups had clashed within the space of a few days. One man was killed in the first incident. After the mutinies of a year ago, divisions are looming large again within the security forces – fallout from the jostling taking place within the ruling party. Former rebel leader Guillaume Soro, now the speaker of the national assembly, has retained control over sections of the military. Any presidential ambitions he has do not sit well with President Alassane Ouattara’s camp. The two men were at odds during the last few months of 2017 and some of Ouattara’s associates still have it in for Soro, accusing him of orchestrating last year’s army mutinies. And while some attribute the latest unrest to a love affair or a dispute over pay, others suggest it is a flare-up in an ongoing power struggle. “We are seeing a dangerous game,” political analyst Aboudramane Bamba told IRIN. “The army shouldn’t be manipulated because of one’s ambitions.” What happened “is not insignificant because most the senior people in government… have placed their men within the army. It makes you wonder whether they won’t count on them to back their chosen candidate down the line.”   Seven-year itch?   Seven years since the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit and veg vendor whose self-immolation set off a revolution in his home country and the wider “Arab Spring,” Tunisians are once again taking to the streets. Protests have erupted over a new austerity budget that means a tax hike and price rises for basic goods. In many places demonstrations turned violent: the army has deployed; and hundreds have been arrested. All of this comes as many Tunisians feel that the promise of democracy has not trickled down, and as an increasing number attempt the dangerous sea journey to Europe. By October, Tunisia was the top country of origin for migrants arriving in Italy. Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said 2018 would be the “last difficult year for Tunisians”, and he believes the budget’s tax hikes are the only long-term way to put the country’s economy on an even keel. But with protestors demanding minimum wage increases, welfare, and concerned about the price of bread, it’s not clear if ordinary Tunisians are willing to wait it out.   Rakhine State’s ‘toxic fear’   While the influx of 655,000 Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh has commanded global attention since late August, there’s been much less news from inside Rakhine State, once home to most of the departed Rohingya. That’s because Myanmar authorities have largely sealed off northern Rakhine, only recently allowing a trickle of aid to resume, along with supervised visits from foreign officials and journalists. Comments this week from a UNICEF official who visited Rakhine offer a stark reminder of the violence that pushed the Rohingya out – and of the smouldering divisions that endure throughout the state. Marixie Mercado, a UNICEF spokeswoman, describes the “acute level of fear” between remaining Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine communities. For example, a Rohingya parent refused vaccinations because security officers would be present, while government workers said they were too afraid to enter Rohingya commun[...]

Amid record needs, new UN relief chief promises reform

Tue, 05 Dec 2017 14:09:06 +0000

His predecessors sat in an office of picture windows overlooking the East River fitted with beige furniture on the upper floors of UN headquarters in Manhattan. But Mark Lowcock, the new UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, prefers a cubicle. “I like the interaction with my direct team,” said the approachable 55-year-old. “I don’t like being stuck in the corner office with all the sofas and that. It’s not my style.”   Ninety days into his role as the coordinator of global relief efforts, the former British civil servant sat down with IRIN after launching the largest appeal for humanitarian funding in UN history.   His role has arguably never been more important. His office estimates that war, drought, and other disasters will put 135 million people at risk around the world next year, a five percent increase on 2017. Last week, he appealed for $22.5 billion to help 90 million of them – the price tag of the omnibus appeal involving the UN and dozens of other aid groups has risen eightfold since 1992. New conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo have engulfed millions; the speed and scale of the Rohingya exodus from Myanmar demands an exceptional response; and Yemen, already predicted to be 2018’s worst crisis, could get even worse.       allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="400" id="datawrapper-chart-PYrt2" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" scrolling="no" src="//" style="width: 0; min-width: 100% !important;" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="75%">   Lowcock faces a troubled world, but also a troubled organisation.   One of his responsibilities is running the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the UN body charged with bringing together governments, NGOs, UN agencies, and others to ensure a coherent response to emergencies. Described in 2016 by external consultants as being in a state of “widespread organisational dysfunction”, and facing donor-imposed budget cuts, OCHA embarked on an internal restructuring. Led by his predecessor Stephen O’Brien, it is now for Lowcock to complete.   Three months in, some of the changes are coming into focus. Film Library twitter facebook whatsapp email Film Library Photo Library Back to film list width="640" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> Lowcock interview 2: OCHA changes Share this film twitter facebook whatsapp email First, Lowcock has created five new senior management positions. He said he wants to “get the world’s best people in these jobs”. This opens the way to replacing at least some of the existing senior management, which has come under criticism for in-fighting. It could help rebalance resources “unusually” concentrated in one department, according to the Boston Consulting Group.   Second, in cutting some $37 million from the $278 million OCHA budget due to reduced donor commitments, Lowcock has chosen the main offices in New York and Geneva to bear the brunt of reductions. “We’ve got this refocus on the field versus the HQ,” he said. “We protected the f[...]

IRIN reporting wins 2017 UNCA award

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 08:07:48 +0000

We are delighted to announce that the United Nations Correspondents Association has recognised IRIN’s outstanding reporting on Asia, awarding a joint silver medal to former Asia Editor Jared Ferrie for the Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Prize for written media. From the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, to the forgotten conflict in the Philippines, to the deepening migration crisis in Afghanistan, Jared Ferrie’s excellent reporting from the region is well deserving of recognition - recently earning an honourable mention from the Society of Publishers in Asia. His award-winning entries include: Myanmar says Rohingya rape and abuse allegations “made-up”, despite mounting evidence In the face of outright denials by Myanmar’s government, Jared Ferrie uncovered strong evidence that the military was committing atrocities against the country’s persecuted ethnic Rohingya Muslim community. His story juxtaposes the experiences of survivors against government statements, providing a historical record of both the atrocities and the attempts to cover them up. As Myanmar refused to allow journalists near the police border posts where the accounts were emerging, Ferrie travelled to neighbouring Bangladesh. His vital reporting there revealed that the number of people who fled across the border was far higher than previously reported, and the facts he uncovered directly challenged the government’s narrative. A spokeswoman for Myanmar’s leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, insisted that military operations had been conducted “with very much restraint”. And allegations of rape and ethnic cleansing? “Completely false.” With the evidence presented in Ferrie's story, such denials became impossible to believe. EXCLUSIVE: UN rights envoy urges inquiry into abuses of Rohingya in Myanmar In an exclusive interview, Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, told Jared Ferrie her plan to push member states to sponsor a resolution for a commission of inquiry into military abuses of Myanmar’s minority Rohingya Muslims. “I never said in the past to a reporter what I plan to put in my report,” she said. “This time I am making this point: I will certainly be pushing for an inquiry, definitely, on the Rohingya situation.” With Myanmar unwilling or unable to carry out a credible investigation, pressure was mounting for a UN-backed inquiry. Jared Ferrie’s analysis outlined the challenges to forming such an inquiry. It would require that a Human Rights Council member put forward a resolution, and it would need cooperation from the Myanmar government, which is civilian-led but has no control over the military. Indeed, the Council in the end choose to form a “fact finding mission”, which carries less weight than a commission of inquiry. To date, Myanmar has refused to allow members of the mission access to the country. For more on the denied oppression of Myanmar’s Rohingya people, please see our in-depth coverage here. (TOP PHOTO: A Rohingya family shelter in the village of Hazi Para, Bangladesh, after fleeing Myanmar. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IRIN) bangladesh_5.jpg About Us Aid and Policy Migration Conflict Human Rights IRIN reporting wins 2017 UNCA award IRIN Asia Global [...]

IRIN TEDx Talk: Stop eating junk news

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 14:05:17 +0000

Over the last decade, we've awoken to the fact that junk food hurts us. It's time for a similar revolution in our news consumption.  In this new TEDx Talk, IRIN Director Heba Aly takes on the role of ‘chief news nutritionist’. Fake news is one thing but Heba explains why we must stop consuming the more insidious, less obvious variety of junk news: “If classical junk news is your greasy double bacon cheeseburger, junk coverage of important news is the low fat blueberry muffin that looks healthy but is actually loaded with calories.” A journalist covering humanitarian crises for the past 10 years, Heba highlights through personal experiences and powerful examples the dangers of simplistic narratives that can warp our views of conflicts and crises, affect realities on the ground and even impact peace negotiations. “It has never been more important to understand our ever-complex world because we cannot prevent, respond to or resolve these crises if we do not properly understand them,” she says.  “This isn’t just about a failure to understand the world around us. Junk news erodes our democracies because it fails to give us the information we need to be responsible, active citizens and to make informed decisions about our own lives.”  IRIN’s mission is to put quality, independent journalism at the service of the most vulnerable people on earth. As Heba explains, “reliable journalism does exist - you just have to seek it out and consume it, and where possible support the journalists producing it.” Food is fuel; knowledge is power. Better diets make us healthier. High quality news helps change the world for the better. Support IRIN’s journalism here. Stop eating junk news | Heba Aly | TEDxChamonix width="640" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> TEDx Talks HebaTEDx.jpg About Us Aid and Policy Migration Environment and Disasters Conflict Food Health Human Rights Politics and Economics IRIN TEDx Talk: Stop eating junk news IRIN Global [...]

EU fails to identify and protect gay, lesbian, and transgender asylum seekers

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000

Daar* was scared to tell anyone he was gay, let alone the foreign officials who held his future in their hands.   So when the 28-year-old Syrian from Damascus had his first interview for European asylum on the Aegean island of Lesvos, he kept mum, even though revealing his identity would have helped him start a new life away from the island’s squalid camps.   “I was afraid,” he told IRIN. “I didn’t know how to say that [I am gay], and didn’t want to talk about that with the official interpreter who was present during the interview. He is from the Arab community and I didn’t know how he would react.”   In his second interview, Daar decided to tell the asylum office he was gay, helping him gain asylum in a European country and leave the island.   What Daar may not have known at first is that under EU law, people who have been persecuted or face persecution in their home countries due to their sexual orientation and gender identity qualify for refugee status and potentially asylum.   But a weeks-long IRIN investigation has found that EU governments are often failing to even identify gay, bisexual, and transgender asylum seekers, much less afford them special protections that, as a vulnerable group, many desperately need.   Ignorance and fear   Joey*, a volunteer from the UK who came to Greece to help LGBTQI individuals through their immigration and asylum procedures, understands why many people share Daar’s original instinct to hold back.   The onus is on asylum seekers to raise issues of sexuality and gender in the interviews that are a required part of the asylum process, and only then can officials ask questions on the topic. In some countries, like Finland, France, or Sweden, questions around sexual orientation aren’t allowed at all as they’re considered a personal intrusion.   “Why would you, if you come from a country where you can’t really be open about who you are, why would you go to an official, policeman, or representative of the asylum service and say, ‘and by the way, I am lesbian or transgender’, or anything?” questioned Joey.   Katherine Reilly, an activist for LGBTQI rights who has advised asylum seekers on the interview process, agrees: “You have to carry on your shoulders two stigmas at the same time, and I understand why many people are not ready to deal with it,” she told IRIN. Some people cross the hurdle of telling officials they are gay or transgender and claim asylum because of it, only to find their applications have been rejected. Last year Eliana, a trans woman from Lebanon, was rejected in Germany on the grounds that she crossed from Turkey to Greece as a man and therefore couldn’t be considered trans. In 2014, the European Court of Justice concluded that asylum seekers couldn’t be asked to present proof of their sexual orientation “in a way that violates their privacy and dignity”. But some asylum offices, in Hungary for example, still ask for proof that is humiliating and/or impossible to provide. Your browser does not support the video tag.   Unsure   Only a handful of EU member states have specific guidelines for interviewing LGBTQI individuals. A UNHCR survey revealed that only one in five asylum offices have formal or informal procedures dedicated to handling these issues.   A number of grassroots groups and NGOs in Greece and across Europe are trying to find ways to help, not just by encouraging people to come out during the asylum interview, but also by demanding that interviewers ask the right questions and address the situation appropriately.   IRIN met Abtin*, a 17-year-old from Iran who has set up a campaign group in Greece that aims to reach Iranians before they leave home to encourage them to talk about their sexuality on arrival in Europe.   That’s all well and good for those who are certain about their sexual orientation, but it doesn’t help M*, a 23[...]

Rohingya death count, war games, and a non-coup in Zimbabwe: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 15:27:22 +0000

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:   Plus ça change in Zimbabwe   It all started with tanks; except the military vehicles globally reported on the outskirts of Harare on Tuesday evening weren’t tanks at all, but infantry fighting vehicles. Anyway, things like tanks on the streets, the president under house arrest, a man in uniform on state TV insisting it’s all a temporary measure, everything will return to normal shortly. Has to be a coup, right? Not so fast. It’s increasingly apparent that Zimbabwe’s army has no intention of effecting fundamental political changes. It may have determined it’s time for President Robert Mugabe, 93, in power since 1980, to leave office, but they haven’t actually yet deposed him, and still refer to him as the head of state. And, as this article published by African Arguments postulates, what’s really been happening in recent days is a “realignment” and an “internal settling of scores” within the long-ruling ZANU-PF party. “This is no revolution giving the power to the people. The army has done its duty in giving power back to the party,” it concludes. For more on life after Mugabe, read our recent analysis (Not that we’re claiming we saw this coming).   Libya’s descent   Libya is hell for migrants, with rape, extortion, and imprisonment rife. Utter chaos has allowed smugglers – allied with some of the country’s militias and competing political forces – to run rampant. Two months ago, the UN launched an action plan to get an “inclusive political process” going again and establish some sense of stability. But Ghassan Salamé, the UN’s special representative in Libya, hinted in a Thursday briefing to the Security Council that it would be a complicated and long road ahead: “Elections should not take place until we are certain that they will not add a third Parliament or fourth government.” It’s in part thanks to political instability that Libya’s economy is in a bad way. Despite a small rebound in oil outputs, inflation is rising and the country is unable to fund much in the way of food imports or defend its foreign reserves. On the ground – with many going unpaid and food prices rising steadily – some Libyans are getting desperate. Reuters reports that in Tripoli, people are selling foreign currency and jewelry to pay for medical care. Whose fault is the economic collapse? According to Libya’s Central Bank Governor Sadiq al-Kabir earlier this week: “everyone”.   Tracking deaths in Bangladesh’s swelling Rohingya camps   Health authorities in Bangladesh are investigating a measles outbreak in the crowded Rohingya camps of Cox’s Bazar, to where more than 620,000 refugees have fled since late August. In that time, there have been at least 611 cases. Aid groups have warned that disease outbreaks are likely in the makeshift camps, where authorities have struggled to keep pace with the swelling refugee numbers and even basic water and sanitation systems are severely inadequate. Ongoing tests of drinking water sources in the camps, for example, found 83 percent tested positive for faecal contamination. It’s forced health authorities and aid groups to keep a close eye for early signs of problems. Health providers have set up an early warning reporting system in Cox’s Bazar, tracking everything from severe diarrhoea and respiratory infections to a recent, worrying uptick in cases of “unexplained fever” – there were more than 49,000 reported cases as of mid-November. This surveillance system is also a thorough, if dispassionate, record of what’s killing people in the camps, which now have the population, but none of the infrastructure, of a bustling city. Until 12 November, the system recorded 199 [...]

Where are Burundi’s missing witnesses to crimes against humanity?

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 16:22:41 +0000

In Burundi, it’s not just witnesses to the politically motivated string of murders, torture, and rapes who are going missing, it’s also the perpetrators, underscoring the enormous scale of the challenge now facing the International Criminal Court. So great are the risks to the “life and wellbeing” of potential witnesses to alleged crimes against humanity committed by state agents here that ICC judges agreed for the first time to deliberate in secret before deciding the tribunal’s chief prosecutor could step up her enquiries. Fears of a Kenya-style witness tampering campaign appear well-founded: Several people with first-hand knowledge of crimes implicating police, soldiers, and militia members have disappeared or been killed in Burundi, according to relatives and rights groups. An ICC judges’ ruling has authorised Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to elevate her “preliminary examination” to an “investigation”, paving the way for eventual arrest warrants, criminal charges, and trials. The judges cited Bensouda’s affirmation: “[The] Government of Burundi has not merely been uncooperative but has actively sought to target, both in Burundi and abroad, persons who it perceives could implicate it in the crimes alleged, as established by additional sources.” And, in another unprecedented decision, the judges allowed Bensouda to wait a full 10 days before informing the Burundian government that such permission had been granted. In so doing, they granted time for witness protection measures to be put in place and lent credence to Bensouda’s view that the “concrete possibility of an investigation [was] likely to affect the calculations of those implicated by the crimes”. The alleged crimes in question include: murder and attempted murder, imprisonment or severe deprivation of liberty, torture, rape, enforced disappearance, and persecution. According to the prosecutor, high-ranking officials of the Burundian government, the police, the intelligence service, the military, and also the Imbonerakure (the ruling party’s youth wing), appear to be those most responsible for the most serious crimes. “The Chamber considers that multiple sources indicate that the Government of Burundi has interfered with, intimidated, or harmed victims and witnesses,” the judges’ decision read. 30 months of hell Such a campaign appears to have begun soon after the country was plunged into a violent crisis in April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would run for a third term in office (widely deemed unconstitutional) prompted street protests, a heavy-handed response from security forces, and an attempted coup. A list of dozens of Burundians “forcibly disappeared” over the past two-and-a-half years has been published on a dedicated website called Ndondeza, which is the Kirundi for “Help me to find him”. Names on the list include those of activists and politicians from various parties, journalists, state intelligence agents, police and army officers, Imbonerakure members, and would-be refugees detained while trying to leave Burundi. “People implicated in crimes are often eliminated in the same way as their victims,” explaned Pacifique Nininahazwe, who is president of the Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (the organisation behind the Ndondeza campaign) as well as a leading opponent of Nkurunziza’s third term in office. Speaking to IRIN by phone from Europe where he is living in exile, Nininahazwe said there were already several cases of Imbonerakure members being eliminated after having been “implicated in odious crimes”, including those who attempted to assassinate Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, the country’s leading human rights activist. Missing perpetrators Among this category of missing is Aimé Aloys Manirakiza, who has not been seen since May 2[...]

A shot across the bows from The Hague as ICC investigates Burundi

Fri, 10 Nov 2017 15:23:59 +0000

By authorising a full-scale investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed by state actors in Burundi, judges of the International Criminal Court want to send a clear message to perpetrators of such crimes across the world: If you think pulling out of this tribunal will let you off the hook, think again. On 27 October, Burundi became the first party to withdraw from the Rome Statue, the ICC’s legal foundation. But in response to an unpublicised 5 September request from the court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, the judges of Pre-Trial Chamber III ruled that the court still “has jurisdiction over crimes allegedly committed while Burundi was a state party to the ICC Rome Statute”. The judges handed down the ruling on 25 October but kept it under seal in order to protect witnesses until a redacted version was released on Thursday. In a crucial interpretation of the statue, which sets an important precedent, they determined that the ICC’s jurisdiction “remains unaffected by a withdrawal of a State Party from the Statute”. “It was a surprise move for everyone, including the government of Burundi,” international law expert Benjamin Dürr told IRIN. Step forward By elevating its engagement with Burundi from the “preliminary examination” started in March 2016 – a process that simply determines issues of jurisdiction and admissibility – to an “investigation”, the judges have now opened the door to indictments and arrest warrants being issued. This is precisely what a UN Commission of Enquiry urged the court to do in a September report that detailed crimes allegedly committed by people at “the highest level of the state” and within the security services in Burundi since April 2015, when protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term in office prompted protests met with a very harsh response. Crimes allegedly include “extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, sexual violence, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and enforced disappearances”. In their ruling, the judges referred to estimates that “at least 1,200 persons were allegedly killed, thousands illegally detained, thousands reportedly tortured and hundreds disappeared”. Roadblocks However, the ruling doesn’t mean international prosecutions of these crimes are now inevitable, let alone imminent. Burundi has the right to ask the ICC prosecutor to defer the investigation on the grounds that the crimes in question are being investigated by domestic courts. Even if this claim lacks much foundation (the ICC judges deemed Burundian authorities “inactive” in this regard), such a move would oblige the prosecutor to issue a fresh request to the judges to open an investigation. Both Burundi and the prosecutor would then be allowed to appeal the judges’ response to such a request. This process could take years. Another caveat: The collapse of ICC cases against prominent Kenyans, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, and the moribund state of the case against President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, illustrate how hard it is to prosecute incumbent leaders. The judges also ruled that Burundi is still obliged to cooperate with the ICC despite its withdrawal. If it fails do so, the UN Security Council could in theory impose sanctions, as it already threatened to do in August amid worsening security. Those in power unmoved The response from the country’s government and Nkurunziza’s ruling CNDD-FDD party was vitriolic. The country’s ambassador to the UN, Albert Shingiro, tweeted that the judges’ ruling was a “non-event” and described it as “another attempt to destabilise Burundi that will fail as its previous [attempts did]”. Government spokesman Willy Nyamitwe was equally strident, saying on Twitter: “As usual, the[...]