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Martinets, migrants, and militants: The drawn-out saga of Libya and the ICC

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 15:41:57 +0000

When International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda addressed the UN Security Council in May, she assured the assembled nations that Libya was a priority in 2017. Halfway into the year, there’s little sign of progress or justice. Speaking in May, Bensouda urged Libya to swiftly hand over Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of former leader Muammar Gaddafi, so he could be prosecuted for crimes against humanity in The Hague. She also said she was considering launching an investigation into crimes against migrants in the country, a situation she called “dire and unacceptable”. Neither the Gaddafi case nor any future charges relating to the migrants are likely to be easy wins for the court, which has had little impact on the rampant impunity in Libya, where civilians bear the brunt of ongoing violence. Elham Saudi, director of the NGO Lawyers for Justice in Libya, which advocates for human rights in the country, is pessimistic about the court’s accomplishments since it began investigations in the wake of Gaddafi’s 2011 ouster: “Has [the ICC] promoted peace and security in Libya? No. Has it promoted the rule of law? No. Has it promoted due process or fair trials? No.” The sins of the son The ICC charged Gaddafi with murder and persecution – both crimes against humanity – in 2011, and he was last seen in 2014 by video link during a domestic trial in Tripoli for crimes committed during the revolution that led to his father’s overthrow. He and 32 other Gaddafi-era officials, including former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, were convicted of various offenses committed during the 2011 uprising, in a trial that international human rights groups said was undermined by serious due process violations, including the defendants’ lack of access to lawyers. Gaddafi was tried in absentia, as he was then being held by the Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Brigade, a militia based in northwest Libya’s Zintan. This June, the brigade posted a statement online saying it had released Gaddafi following an amnesty law passed by one of Libya’s competing authorities, the Tobruk-based parliament. A UN-backed Government of National Accord sits in the capital Tripoli, as does a third would-be government, the National Salvation Government. Gaddafi’s ICC lawyer Karim Khan confirmed to IRIN that his client is still in Libya, although he would not elaborate on his exact whereabouts or if he has in fact been released. “He’s well, and I’ve spoken to him in the last few days,” Khan told IRIN, adding he met with Gaddafi in Libya last summer. Khan said he plans to challenge the admissibility of the ICC’s case against his client. One argument open to the defence, Khan said, is double jeopardy – that the case against Gaddafi has already been “tried and determined” in the courts of Libya. Khan is also likely to raise the case of al-Senussi, who the ICC also charged with crimes against humanity. ICC judges declared his case inadmissible, in a controversial ruling that he could receive a fair trial in Libya (the ICC is a court of last resort and only steps in when countries are unwilling or unable to prosecute). Despite the al-Senussi ruling, Libya was unsuccessful in challenging the ICC’s case against Gaddafi, and the judges decided he should be tried in The Hague. But that doesn’t mean he will ever set foot in an international courtroom. Kevin Jon Heller, an academic at the University of Amsterdam, doubts that Libya will ever hand Gaddafi over to the ICC, in the absence of its own police force relies on member countries to make arrests. “It’s sort of performance art,” he told IRIN. “The ICC reminds Libya of its obligations, and Libya doesn’t do much but knows that until Gaddafi shows up nothing has to happen,” he said. If Gadaffi did ever make it to the ICC, Heller doubts the double jeopardy strategy would hold water. “I would be surprised if there was nothing the ICC could still try him for,” Heller continued. “There’s a universe of criminality they could level at Gaddafi. If Libya did one part [[...]



Meet the Gambian migrants under pressure to leave Europe

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 06:46:37 +0000

The Gambia’s leader of 22 years, Yahya Jammeh, used to give Gambians good cause for claiming asylum, even if the majority were fleeing poverty rather than persecution. But with the autocratic president’s exit in January, Gambians’ grounds for international protection have suddenly become shakier, making them prime EU targets for rapid return, although they are not the only ones. Gambians are one of the top nationalities among the 93,000 mainly West African and Asian migrants who have arrived in Italy already this year. The majority, as in preceding years, are unlikely to qualify for asylum. And yet Italy, like most EU states, has had little success in forcibly returning them home or persuading them to leave voluntarily. Italy’s threat to close its ports to foreign rescue vessels at the end of June prompted the EU to come up with an action plan promising more support, not only in deterring migrants from crossing the Mediterranean, but also in stepping up returns of those already on Italian soil. Left to fester Ebrima Gaye was 17 when he disembarked a rescue boat in Pozzallo, Sicily in July 2016. He spent seven months in a centre for minors near Syracuse. After turning 18 in March, he was shunted around several times before being sent to the Frasca Centre in Rosolini. Jason Florio/IRIN Ebrima Gaye in his room at the Frasca Centre in Rosolini Like many of the 2,000 extraordinary reception centres (CAS) scattered across Italy, Frasca was once a hotel. A white behemoth of a building, it sits on top of a scrubby hillside on the outskirts of town. Residents congregate in a large living area with a pool table, where young men sit slumped on chairs, staring at their phones while daytime television babbles in the background. Others lie on their beds in dorms that sleep up to 30, immobilised by the stultifying heat and boredom. The centre is meant to be an “emergency” short-term facility, but the overwhelming demand on Italy’s reception system means camps like this one have become holding pens, while migrants’ asylum claims move through the glacial legal system. Some residents have been there for a year. Under Italian law, asylum seekers who have a residence permit can seek work, but residents reported that they had been forbidden from working while living in this centre. Gaye’s asylum application was rejected in May and he is waiting to appeal the decision. Almost a year after arriving, the reed-thin boy glumly admits he regrets making the journey. Before leaving, Gaye worked as a barber in his home village on the banks of the River Gambia. “I am the firstborn son, so I contributed to my family, but the money I was saving was very small. Many of my friends had taken ‘the back way’ [the irregular route to Europe via the Sahel and Libya], so I decided to go,” he said. But Gaye’s savings only got him as far as Agadez in Niger, then he had to beg his family to send him $2,400 to complete his journey. Prisoners of hope in Italy migrant camps width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Xmg9gDgFG3M?feature=oembed" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""> Jason Florio Prisoners of hope in Italy migrant camps Prisoners of hope Gambia’s new government has received unprecedented amounts of development aid from the EU to tackle its “back way” exodus with youth training and job creation programmes. But none of the young Gambians IRIN spoke to were persuaded by the promise of what has been dubbed “New Gambia”. “I spent a lot coming here,” Gaye said. “I could have had a good business in Gambia, but now I’ve been here a year and I have gained nothing. So it is better I stay here and try to find something for my future first.” Jason Florio/IRIN Boredom can be the most frustrating aspect of[...]



“The right side of history” – Gambians seek justice after Jammeh’s fall

Thu, 13 Apr 2017 15:28:51 +0000

A year ago, opposition activist Solo Sandeng led the first march in over decade to call for free elections in Gambia. Although the demonstration was a catalyst for the ouster of autocrat Yahya Jammeh, it cost Sandeng his life. The court case into his death has now become the first prosecution trial under Gambia’s new elected government for the human rights violations perpetrated during Jammeh’s 22-year reign. “The Sandeng case is not only politically the match that lit the fire, it really brought home the injustices of the regime,” said Aziz Bensouda of the Gambia Bar Association. “It’s one of the cases where we have a lot more detail than in the past, and it will really set the tone [of future human rights cases].” A key prosecution witness, Nogoi Njie, a member of Sandeng’s United Democratic Party, told IRIN how she and other UDP activists were arrested on 14 April as they marched at Westfield Junction, a busy roundabout in the centre of the sprawling market town Serrekunda. In her living room, Njie, a matronly woman in her early 50s, said she was interrogated at the National Intelligence Agency headquarters in Banjul over her political allegiance and repeatedly beaten by masked men known as the Jungulars – Jammeh’s personal squad of soldiers who tortured and killed on his orders. In one room, she recalled seeing a noose hanging from the ceiling, before she was ordered to undress to her underwear, her head covered in a nylon bag. “They told me if I don’t lie down they can hang me by the neck and nobody will know. They started to beat me. The blood was coming out all over my body. I almost lost my life,” she said. Later she found herself in the same room as Sandeng. The 57-year-old was naked, his body already swollen and bleeding. He was beaten again and fell to the floor. She recounted what she believes were his last moments alive: “He called my name ‘Nogoi, Nogoi’.” While lying on the ground, Njie said she heard him make a sound, which she re-enacted as a faint, strangled breath. “I called his name so many times and he didn’t answer me. And I cried because I’m very sorry for that man, he’s a family man. And he’s a very strong man, and they killed him like this.” Jason Florio/IRIN Nogoi Njie - the last person to see Solo Sandeng before he died The demand for justice Change in Gambia began when Jammeh spectacularly lost an election in December to now President Adama Barrow. But he refused to accept the result, and only stepped down after West African leaders sent in troops to force him into exile. There is now a powerful demand for justice as the country transitions from dictatorship to democracy. In February, Interior Minister Mai Fatty instigated the arrests of former NIA chief Yankuba Badjie, ex-operations director Saikou Omar Jeng, along with seven other NIA operatives, charging them with Sandeng’s murder. But the trial is raising some difficult questions over the direction Gambia’s quest for justice should take, and the implications for its new-found democracy. Opinion is divided over whether criminal prosecutions should proceed before the government’s promised truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) is established. The commission’s goal is to encourage people to confess the crimes they committed, and for victims to air the injustices they suffered. Last month, Justice Minister Ba Tambadou announced that the commission will begin hearings in September. For some critics, waiting until the TRC process begins would mean delaying the day of reckoning for those responsible for the worst abuses. They, like journalist Alhagie Jobe, who was tortured at the NIA and imprisoned for 18 months, want to see justice delivered swiftly through the courts. “These people are the enablers of Jammeh and contributed to the killing of not only Solo Sandeng, but many other innocent people and today their families are crying. There was no justice for the l[...]



New Gambia, new migration?

Tue, 28 Mar 2017 14:28:27 +0000

“I am very happy to be home,” said 18-year-old Mohammed Nyabally, sitting on the steps of his uncle’s house in Serekunda, a town near The Gambia’s coast. Just two weeks earlier, he was languishing in a prison near Tripoli; his third spell in detention during the nine months he spent in Libya trying to board a boat to cross the Mediterranean. Nyabally’s parents sold the family’s land to send him the $5,600 he needed to pay his way out of his first and second stints in detention and the smuggling fee for him and another relative to take a boat to Italy. But after being robbed by a street gang, he landed up back in one of the squalid and brutal detention camps that have sprung up all over lawless Libya and are used to extort ever greater sums from young migrants trying to reach Europe. “Prison is very difficult,” the shy teenager told IRIN, speaking with a slight stutter. “I was beaten; many people were killed in that prison. I saw my friend shot dead because he tried to escape. Another Gambian boy I knew died too.” When the International Organization for Migration visited the detention centre where he was being kept and gave him the choice of staying there or going back to Gambia, he opted for freedom. “I didn’t want to stay in Libya,” he said. “The treatment of black people is very bad. I came back because it was too dangerous.” Nyabally was one of 140 Gambians aboard IOM’s first chartered flight from Libya to Banjul on 10 March. A second flight from Libya carrying 170 stranded Gambians is due to arrive on 4 April, while another 290 have signed up for IOM’s EU-funded voluntary return programme. Winds of change The Gambia is one of Africa’s smallest nations, with a population of just under two million. And yet its citizens have consistently ranked among the top five nationalities taking the Central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy. Until recently, the potential for convincing Gambians not to risk the “back way” to Europe was limited. That changed in January, when the country’s first democratically elected president Adama Barrow took office and former president Yahya Jammeh was exiled after a six-week political impasse. Jammeh, who held onto power for 22 years, had viewed migration as unpatriotic and refused to accept that young people were leaving the country to escape poverty and his autocratic rule. Even those migrants who didn’t find what they were looking for in Europe were reluctant to return home.  By contrast, the new coalition government has made tackling irregular migration a priority. It plans to focus on creating jobs and training opportunities to reduce the 40 percent unemployment rate among young people, the main push factor behind The Gambia’s exodus. “The improved political situation and stability in The Gambia is one of the factors that’s helping migrants to take this decision [to return from Libya],” said Michele Bombassei, IOM regional migrant assistance specialist. For the government, creating an environment that positively reduces migration is a matter of urgency. According to UNICEF, which analysed Italian immigration data, nearly 0.5 percent of The Gambia’s population migrate every year – the highest rate in Africa. The Gambia also ranks highest among sub-Saharan African countries in terms of the numbers of its migrants who are unaccompanied minors. In 2016, 13 percent of unaccompanied children arriving in Italy were Gambian, according to UNICEF. In total, nearly 12,000 Gambians arrived in Italy via the Mediterranean in 2016, a 36 percent increase from 2015. “The back-way trend is only going to be addressed if there are policies to attract the young people to come back and fulfil their dreams,” Employment Minister Isatou Touray told IRIN. Rebuilding bridges With an estimated inherited debt of more than $1 billion, the new government has been shoring up international donor support to kick-start development stalled for decades by Jammeh’s isolationis[...]



Can Barrow deliver on the promise of a “New Gambia”?

Wed, 08 Feb 2017 12:16:19 +0000

The Gambia’s new president, Adama Barrow, received a hero’s welcome when he returned to Banjul after his makeshift inauguration in neighbouring Senegal at the end of January. Tens of thousands of well-wishers came out to rejoice at the democratic victory that ended more than two decades of rule by autocrat Yahya Jammeh. Barrow and his coalition government are riding high on a wave of popularity. But they have major challenges ahead in reforming a country that effectively has to be rebuilt from scratch within a self-imposed three-year term. If the honeymoon period is to last, their first test is to prove to the nation that “New Gambia” really is a different country. Great expectations “We have got to start on the right footing,” said Sait Matty Jaw, a Gambian PhD student who went into exile in Norway after being arrested and imprisoned in 2014 for his human rights work. “Everything under Jammeh’s regime was tailor-made to suit his interests, so for us to move forward, the government has to show it is different from the former regime.” After 22 years of not being allowed to criticise the government, Gambians – especially the younger generation of educated professionals that played a major role in pushing for political change – are already scrutinising the new administration. For some, Barrow’s cabinet announcements last week carried disappointing echoes of the old ways of appointing: entitlement over merit. Out of the 11 filled posts (there are seven remaining), each of the seven parties that form the coalition got a major post, while Barrow’s United Democratic Party got three. One blog suggested he had chosen a “cabinet that attempts to reward and preserve the coalition that brought him to power”. “The potential for patronage is still there,” noted Jeggan Grey-Johnson, a Gambian who works for the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa and hopes to play an active role in the reform process. “Barrow doesn’t (yet) have the experience and gravitas as a politician, and those surrounding him have 10 times the amount of authority, so he will have to defer to their competing interests.” The cabinet is old (the average age is above 60) and predominantly male, and that demographic has also come in for criticism. “They may have the wisdom, but they lack the dynamism required to deal with the modern challenges of the Gambian youth population,” argued Salieu Taal, a lawyer and founder of the #GambiaHasDecided opposition umbrella movement. Jason Florio/IRIN Youth power It is the younger generation that has been the driving force behind political change, voting in unprecedented numbers in the 2016 election. It is no surprise they want to make sure their voices are heard and represented in government after decades of repression. Last week, youth groups staged the country’s first peaceful demonstration without worry of harassment by the authorities. Around 1,000 youths protested outside the National Assembly, calling for all members of parliament that supported Jammeh’s motion for a state of emergency to resign. The National Youth Council is also launching the Not2Young2Run campaign to encourage and support young people in contesting for parliament in the National Assembly elections in April. The coalition government has already made clear it is a transitional administration with the primary goal of righting the wrongs perpetrated under Jammeh. Speaking before he was appointed as foreign minister, Ousainou Darboe, a former opposition leader, acknowledged that three years was too short a time to repair all the damage, but said “the foundations will have been laid”. So far, the government has not shared any kind of roadmap for what it specifically aims to achieve, and it runs the risk of failing to manage expectations. “The government needs to identify the magnitude of the challenge and where to prioritise its interventions,” said Gr[...]



Bye bye Jammeh: Hope and challenges in The Gambia

Tue, 24 Jan 2017 12:32:30 +0000

Only disgraced ex-president Yahya Jammeh’s most hardcore supporters turned up to watch as he boarded a private jet at the weekend for exile in Equatorial Guinea. Some soldiers and members of his political party cried and shouted: “Daddy, Daddy”. Others aggressively jeered at supporters of The Gambia’s new coalition government. But once he took to the skies, most of the nation breathed a collective sigh of relief. “This day is amazing. We didn’t see it coming. We didn’t believe that he would leave, and the fact that this has happened democratically is the greatest achievement,” said 24-year-old Aminata, part of a youth group helping Gambian refugees as they arrived back at the ferry terminal in Banjul. “A year ago, we thought this would be impossible. But now we are hopeful that things will change. Now, we feel that destiny is in our hands, because leaders will have to be more accountable. Now, we know the power of our vote.” The moment was all the more remarkable because of what was at stake if the situation had unravelled. “We are in disbelief that we have come out of this in peace. We are glad that Jammeh has gone, but in a solemn way, because we came so close to war,” added Aminata’s friend, Khadija. Adama Barrow, The Gambia’s new president, was sworn in last week. For his safety, the ceremony had to take place in Dakar, Senegal, and he was not planning to return home until a West African military intervention force had secured the country. They were poised across the border the night Barrow was sworn in, and the threat of force was crucial in buttressing mediation efforts by the West African regional bloc ECOWAS that eventually succeeded in pressuring Jammeh to accept his electoral defeat and step down. ECOWAS troops and military vehicles now patrol the streets of Banjul, cheered as they pass. Gambian soldiers are meanwhile being disarmed because of a concern that rogue elements, still loyal to Jammeh, could cause trouble. Jason Florio/IRIN Adama Barrow - the man of the moment From total power to ignominy Jammeh, along with a group of other young officers, came to power in a coup in 1994. After 22 years of oppressive rule, in which arbitrary detention, torture, and disappearances were common, he suffered a shock electoral defeat in a 1 December ballot that most analysts assumed he would rig. At first, Jammeh magnanimously accepted the result, only to change tack a week later and declare the poll void. He petitioned the Supreme Court for a fresh election, but as he had sacked most of the judges 18 months previously the court could not hear the challenge before May.   He then declared a state of emergency that technically would have allowed him to stay in power for another three months. This desperate, last-ditch attempt to cling to power was ignored by the West African leaders who were working to resolve the crisis. By then, Jammeh’s grip on power was already slipping. Most of his cabinet had deserted him and his army chief, General Ousman Badjie, had conceded that his soldiers would not resist the ECOWAS intervention force. Barrow’s inauguration speech embraced the history-making moment. “This is a day no Gambian will ever forget,” he said. “The capacity to effect change through the ballot box has proven that power belongs to the people in The Gambia. Violent change is banished forever from the political life of our country. All Gambians are therefore winners.” But the fact that Barrow’s much-anticipated swearing-in couldn’t take place on Gambian soil is a bitter reminder of the regime’s far-reaching net of oppression.    Jammeh had ordered there to be no inauguration celebrations. In the event, nothing could stop at least several thousand young Gambians defiantly taking to the streets. At Westfield Junction – the symbolic location just outside Banjul where [...]



Ten humanitarian stories to look out for in 2017

Mon, 02 Jan 2017 09:27:40 +0000

While 2016 taught us to expect the unexpected, IRIN’s eyes and ears on the ground have given us an idea of what to look out for in the new year. We can’t promise everyone else will be covering these stories, but here are ten we’ll be watching: The impact of Trump Since Donald Trump’s election, speculation has been rife about what his presidency will mean for the wider world. His many statements and tweets on the campaign trail suggest that he intends to prioritise domestic and security interests over foreign aid spending and will roll back efforts made during the Obama administration to combat climate change. But many in the humanitarian sector have been adopting a glass half full attitude, publicly at least, by pointing out that foreign aid has bipartisan support and Republicans in Congress will oppose any major cuts to foreign assistance. Others are predicting that even if the Trump administration doesn’t significantly cut overall aid spending, it will favour channelling aid through partnerships with the private sector and results-oriented initiatives like the Millennium Challenge Corporation, rather than through traditional recipients like the UN and international NGOs. A Trump administration seems likely to allocate less aid to reproductive health and family planning programmes, and funding for initiatives relating to climate change will almost certainly be on the chopping block too. Trump has appointed a number of climate change sceptics to his cabinet, including Rick Perry, who will head the Department of Energy and Scott Pruitt, who will lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Venezuela undone The oil-rich nation has been unravelling in almost every conceivable way in 2016 – from runaway inflation and empty supermarket shelves to the virtual collapse of the public health sector with the resurgence of previously eradicated diseases like malaria and diphtheria. The government closely guards data on what appear to be steep rises in maternal and infant mortality rates, poverty and malnutrition, but doctors and civil society groups have been monitoring the worrying trajectory. With the government of President Nicolas Maduro still in complete denial about the growing humanitarian crisis (let alone accepting some responsibility for it), the downward spiral will only continue in 2017. Vatican-mediated talks between the government and the opposition that started in October have so far failed to yield an agreement to lift the country’s ban on international aid, a change that could alleviate critical medicine shortages. Maduro successfully stalled a recall vote that would likely have unseated him in October 2016. Under Venezuela’s constitutional rules, should Maduro lose a referendum in 2017, he will still be able to hand over power to his vice president and keep the United Socialist Party in power. With a political solution virtually off the table, more social unrest seems inevitable in 2017. Increasingly, Venezuelans will be forced to cross borders in search of livelihoods, healthcare and affordable food. Look to Brazil and Colombia, who will likely bear the brunt of this growing forced migration. Yemen’s downward spiral A small sliver of the world is finally paying attention to Yemen. That’s in part due to activist campaigns pushing the United States and Britain to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia, not to mention the Saudis’ grudging admission they had used British cluster bombs in the war (followed by Britain’s statement of the same). But the war and humanitarian catastrophe marches on. Despite assurances by the Saudi-led coalition that they take great care to avoid collateral damage – to IRIN no less – there have been attacks on markets and funerals, and now more than 4,300 civilian deaths since the war began last March. And that’s only what the decimated health system can count. Mohammed Yaseen Ahmed Ibrahim/I[...]



The Grinch’s not-so-festive guide to food ration cuts

Tue, 27 Dec 2016 15:17:50 +0000

Across much of the world, the festive season is a time of indulgence. But what if you’re too busy fleeing violence and upheaval, or stuck in a refugee camp on reduced rations? It’s been a hard year for the most vulnerable among us. This is partly due to tightening aid budgets, but it’s also the result of there simply being so many more people in crisis who need help. “It's not just a question of falling donor funding; most donors have continued to be generous, providing funds at relatively consistent levels for years,” World Food Programme spokeswoman Challiss McDonough told IRIN.  “But the number of [those in need] is much larger.” A prime example is Uganda, where 602,000 South Sudanese refugees are sheltering. As a result of the conflict in neighbouring South Sudan, “we are now supporting nearly twice as many refugees as we were just six months ago”, explained McDonough. WFP, as the global emergency food responder, is feeling the strain. “I'd say there are probably very few countries where we have not had to make some kind of adjustment to our assistance plans because of a lack of funding,” said McDonough. The following is a not-so-festive guide to where WFP has been forced to make cuts to already minimal food rations in Africa. It includes some non-refugee national programmes, which have also been impacted by funding shortfalls. allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="400" id="datawrapper-chart-eFGRg" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="//datawrapper.dwcdn.net/eFGRg/1/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="100%"> Burkina Faso Rations have been reduced and cash assistance suspended for the 31,000 Malian refugees in Burkina Faso. As a result, about a quarter of refugees do not have enough food to meet their basic nutritional needs. “Most refugees in the camps depend solely on humanitarian assistance to survive,” said WFP country director Jean-Charles Dei. “When assistance is interrupted or insufficient, the food security and nutrition situation dramatically deteriorate, especially for women, children, and elderly people.” Burundi Lack of funding has impacted a range of activities targeting vulnerable communities. Food-for-training for Congolese refugees and Burundian migrants expelled from Tanzania and Rwanda has been suspended. The number of children reached through an anti-stunting campaign has been reduced by 70 percent, with the programme halted entirely in Ruramvya and Rutana provinces. Cameroon Monthly food rations for Central African Republic refugees in Cameroon was cut by 50 percent in November and December. The 150,000 refugees are entirely dependent on international aid. In May, WFP also halted its meals programme to 16 primary schools in northern Cameroon due to a lack of funding. Central African Republic WFP has been unable to assist more than 500,000 people in urgent need of aid and has been forced to halve the amount of food it has provided to those it can reach. Emergency school meals have been suspended in the capital, Bangui, and rations to displaced people in the violence-hit central town of Kaga Bandoro have been slashed by 75 percent. “WFP needs to urgently mobilise flexible contributions to cover for distributions from January onwards,” the agency has warned. Chad For the past two years, refugees in Chad have survived on monthly rations well below the minimum requirement. For some, the cuts have been by as much as 60 percent. A joint assessment released in November by WFP and the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, found more than 40 percent of the 400,000 refugees in Chad are malnourished and the majority of children are anaemic. Ethiopia Since November 2015, ration cuts have affected more than 760,000 refugees, the bulk of them from So[...]



The challenge of building “New Gambia”

Tue, 06 Dec 2016 12:57:40 +0000

Last Friday, the unbelievable happened in Gambia: after 22 years of autocratic rule, Yahya Jammeh peacefully conceded defeat in a historic presidential election. By Monday, 19 political prisoners, including former opposition leader Ousainou Darboe, had been released from jail. It has been a head-spinning few days for the nation as it breaks free from oppression to rebuild what the incoming coalition government, headed by Adama Barrow, has branded “New Gambia”. The challenges ahead are daunting. Ensuring a safe transfer of power and reassuring the country that the new government has a strong reform plan are the immediate tasks. But after more than two decades of misrule, Gambians are also impatient for change and the list of problems is long: a prostrate and undiversified economy, a high rate of outmigration, heavily politicised state institutions – including a military and a criminal justice system used to operating by fear. Expectations are sky-high as so much already seems to have happened so quickly. Coalition 2016, officially formed only one month before the election, swept to victory on Friday with 46 percent of the vote, to Jammeh’s 37 percent. Independent candidate Mama Kandeh trailed on 18 percent. Soon after the announcement that Jammeh was to stand down, delivered by the reportedly trembling chair of the Independent Electoral Commission, Gambians began pouring onto the streets, shouting for joy and dancing as car horns wailed. Jubilation The jubilant scenes shared through social media were a collective release. “It was like we had been under a magician’s spell and the spell had just broken,” said Alieu Bah, a 24-year-old activist and writer. “Twenty four hours earlier we were in the polar opposite situation. It was like a dream. No one saw this coming, even the most optimistic of people.” Steve Cockburn/Amnesty International Gambia celebrates The coalition’s popularity was no surprise. Its two weeks of electoral campaigning had culminated in youthful and energised crowds packing streets for several kilometres in the rallies held in the urban coastal areas. But nobody expected Jammeh, who had vowed that only God could remove him from power, to accept defeat without a fight. “People were ready for change, but knowing the type of person Jammeh is, they did not believe that he would concede defeat without contesting the results,” said exiled journalist Alhagie Jobe, reporting from Dakar, Senegal. “Hopes were not high for a peaceful transfer of power.” Gambians were bracing for the worst after Jammeh, without warning, imposed a total internet and telecommunications ban at 8pm on the eve of the election. “We thought there would be Ivory Coast-style electoral violence,” said Jobe, referring to a 2010-11 crisis that led to civilian massacres. But the communications blackout ultimately failed to intimidate voters, and activists and journalists within the country published rolling results via SMS and on satellite phones, in a victory for transparency. “Jammeh was not happy,” said Jobe, who had been tortured and imprisoned for 18 months by the regime. “He fought behind the scenes. He did all he could to hold on to power, but because there was such a strong atmosphere for change he knew he couldn’t stop it: the people had spoken.” What next? There are now great hopes – and pressures – on the coalition to deliver their promise of a New Gambia, especially among youths who voted for change in unprecedented numbers. “Youths came out and voted in this election and their voices have been heard,” said Dakar-based rapper Jerreh Badjie (stage name Retsam). Youth activist Mariama Saine said she hoped that once the new government took back all the industries owned by Jammeh, including farms and fa[...]



Will a united opposition finally unseat Gambia’s strongman?

Mon, 28 Nov 2016 15:02:41 +0000

There has been unprecedented popular protest this year against the regime of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. But as the country heads to elections this week, hope for change is giving way to trepidation he will win and extend his 22-year stay in power. Human rights organisations have warned that the conditions leading up to Thursday’s vote are not conducive to a free and fair election. There has been a spate of arrests of journalists and opposition activists in a country in which disappearances, arbitrary detention, and torture is commonplace. The Sandeng family is all too aware of those dangers. In April, they were forced to flee, crossing the border with Senegal at night, at a point they hoped would be unguarded. A week before, on 14 April, the head of the family, opposition activist Solo Sandeng, had allegedly been tortured to death by Gambia’s security forces for leading a peaceful protest near the capital, Banjul. Escape The family, five adults and five children, spent a week in hiding, knowing their home was under constant surveillance. Then, realising they had no choice but to leave, they sought refuge in Senegal. It is a well-trodden escape route for the many Gambians who find themselves on the run from political persecution. “I was told to walk across the border and not look back,” said 22-year-old Fatoumatta Sandeng. In their new home in exile, the Sandeng family crammed onto sponge mattresses on the floor as Fatoumatta related how her father, a leading member of the opposition United Democratic Party, had been marching with youth activists against new rules introduced by Jammeh to scupper his opponents’ chances in this election. It was the first opposition demonstration since 14 students were gunned down by the army in 2000. “People were protesting for electoral reforms so that there could be a change of government. Because if the elections were free and fair, which is very rare in the Gambia, people would be at least hopeful that it could bring a better Gambia for its citizens,” Fatoumatta explained. Exiled Gambians pin hope of return on a new president-elect width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ydEr3_YkBCU?feature=oembed" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""> Jason Florio and Louise Hunt/IRIN Exiled Gambians pin hope of return on a new president-elect Change Jammeh’s regime has a long history of hounding dissenters, but due to the government’s tight control over the media Gambians are often unaware of the scale of human rights violations. The very public nature of Sandeng’s arrest was a wake-up call. “In Gambia, we know there wouldn’t be any protests without the government trying to stop them,” said Fatoumatta. “But to the extent of arresting, torturing and killing someone: that was shocking to the Gambian people.” Over April and May, Sandeng’s death ignited an unprecedented public outcry against the government’s brutality. “Before, you didn’t see people protesting on the streets. People didn’t dare hold a banner that insults the president. Now, it’s happening,” noted Alhagie Jobe, a journalist who was tortured by the secret police and spent 18 months in prison before being acquitted of sedition charges. He now lives in exile in the Senegalese capital, Dakar. “It’s changing gradually. He [Jammeh] himself knows he is coming to the end of his administration. What people weren’t doing before for the past 20 years; it’s happening now. So that’s the signal that he’s losing power, gradually.” Opposition re-set Jammeh, who came to power in a military coup, responded to the bout of protests by arresting most of the UDP hierarchy, including p[...]