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Atrocity Alert No. 185: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq and Boko Haram

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ADF armed group massacres civilians in eastern Congo

The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) armed group continues to attack villages in the Beni region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), massacring over 200 people since 31 October. In the latest attacks, 22 people were killed in Ntombi on 14 December and another 12 were killed in Kamango the following night. ADF attacks have been rising despite a government-led military offensive launched on 30 October.

During November increasing civilian casualties prompted violent protests in Beni by locals demanding greater protection from ADF attacks. The government and the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) responded by deploying extra troops to the Beni area and conducting joint patrols. Following this weekend’s massacres, the Head of MONUSCO, Leila Zerrougui, said that, “these barbaric attacks are orchestrated in order to break the confidence of the population and to discredit both the troops of the Armed Forces of the DRC [FARDC] engaged in the fight against the ADF and MONUSCO.”

In his “State of the Nation” address on 13 December, President Felix Tshisekedi claimed that nearly all of the ADF’s sanctuaries had been destroyed by the FARDC. The government’s offensive was partially prompted by frequent ADF attacks on medical facilities involved in combatting an Ebola outbreak that has gripped the Beni region since August 2018. The World Health Organization has documented 390 attacks on health facilities during 2019, resulting in many centers being closed down and 11 health workers and patients being killed.

The ADF was originally formed in Uganda – with support from several rebel factions and Islamist-inspired armed groups – and has operated along DRC’s border for more than 20 years. The armed group has a history of attacking villages in North Kivu, perpetrating potential war crimes and crimes against humanity, and is accused of massacring more than 700 civilians in the Beni region between October 2014 and January 2017. In response to military offensives by the FARDC and MONUSCO, the ADF often engage in retaliatory attacks on isolated villages. Recent ADF attacks have involved their fighters using machetes against unarmed civilians.

Enhanced civilian protection must be at the center of all FARDC and MONUSCO joint operations as they attempt to eradicate the ADF. All attacks on civilians should be thoroughly investigated and any captured ADF leaders should be held accountable for atrocities perpetrated against the local population. The UN Security Council must also take into account the increased threat facing vulnerable populations throughout the eastern DRC when it considers MONUSCO’s mandate renewal later this month.

Armed militias attack and kill protesters in Iraq

On 6 December more than 29 protesters were killed when dozens of unidentified armed men stabbed and shot protesters in Baghdad’s al-Khilani Square and in the al-Senak parking garage. Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), said that, “The deliberate killing of unarmed protesters by armed elements is nothing less than an atrocity against the people of Iraq.” During the attack Iraqi police and military forces reportedly withdrew, only returning afterwards to arrest and detain traumatized protesters.

UNAMI has warned that this incident of “gang-driven” violence places Iraq on a dangerous trajectory. Since mass protests began during October, there have been fears that the resulting political instability would be exploited by paramilitary groups. UNAMI has documented numerous reports of killings, abductions, forced disappearances and the arbitrary detention of protesters carried out by unknown armed men described as “militias, unknown third parties, armed entities, outlaws or spoilers.”

On 11 December UNAMI issued its third Human Rights Special Report since the protests began, claiming that the security forces continue to perpetrate widespread human rights violations and abuses, including the unlawful use of lethal force. UNAMI found that the Iraqi security forces have also detained thousands of demonstrators, often subjecting them to ill-treatment or torture.

The Iraqi Independent High Commission for Human Rights has reported that since 1 October, there have been at least 460 deaths and 17,000 injuries due to violence against protesters. Other reports allege that the death toll is now over 500 people. Although Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned last month, protesters continue to call for an end to the sectarian quota-based system, corruption, unemployment and poor public services.

UNAMI and President Barham Salih have emphasized that Iraq bears “the primary responsibility for the protection of its people” and has an obligation to defend peaceful protesters from organized violence. In keeping with these pronouncements, the Iraqi authorities should immediately initiate a full and independent investigation into the deadly and disproportionate use of force against protesters. Any militias found responsible for killing unarmed Iraqis should be immediately disarmed and disbanded, and individual perpetrators should be prosecuted regardless of their position or affiliation.

Boko Haram resurgence threatens civilians in Nigeria and Cameroon

Despite regional efforts to militarily confront Boko Haram – and previous claims by the presidents of Nigeria and Cameroon that the group had been defeated on their national territories – populations in the Lake Chad Basin continue to be attacked by the armed extremist group. Amnesty International has documented at least 275 people killed in Cameroon between January and November 2019 during a resurgence of Boko Haram activity. Other civilians have also been mutilated or kidnapped during recent attacks, with the authorities in Cameroon’s Far North claiming that the group has been launching daily attacks on villages along the border with Nigeria.

On 14 December Boko Haram fighters killed 19 ethnic Fulani herders in Nigeria’s Fuhe village, close to the Cameroonian border. Fighters from the group reportedly returned to the village to attack the herders, burn down homes and destroy food supplies after an earlier attempt to steal livestock was repelled. The Fuhe attack is part of a growing trend of Boko Haram targeting local farmers and herders, accusing them of passing information to the military and local self-defense groups.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 35,000 people have been killed since Boko Haram began their insurgency in 2009. As a result of insecurity caused by the group, at least 1.84 million people remain internally displaced in Nigeria’s Borno State, with an additional 400,000 displaced in Adamawa and Yobe states. In a press release on 13 December, OCHA condemned the killing of four humanitarian workers in Borno State by an armed group. A total of 26 UN staff and NGO workers have lost their lives since 2011 in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.

On 16 December the UN Security Council met to discuss the rise of inter-communal and extremist violence in the region. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, said the entire region had been “shaken by unprecedented violence” over recent months. Armed groups like Boko Haram exploit local grievances to spread extremism and exacerbate inter-communal tensions. In areas under their control, extremists also attempt to provide protection and rudimentary social services, undermining state authorities.

The governments of Cameroon and Nigeria must address the root causes of inter-communal violence and armed extremism through socio-economic initiatives and political reforms that tackle land rights, endemic poverty, social marginalization and poor governance. The governments should also continue to support programs that strengthen local security and safeguard human rights in areas where Boko Haram operates.