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Atrocity Alert No. 266: Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon

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Atrocity Alert is a weekly publication by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect highlighting situations where populations are at risk of, or are enduring, mass atrocity crimes.

AFGHANISTAN’S UNFOLDING HUMAN RIGHTS AND HUMANITARIAN CATASTROPHE

Taliban forces entered Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, on Sunday, 15 August, taking over the presidential palace just hours after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. Fears have intensified among civilians about the implications of a return to Taliban rule and the reimposition of past practices that violated the universal human rights of women, girls and religious minorities. Raising concerns regarding potential targeted killings, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the UN, Ghulam M. Isaczai, warned on 16 August that, “Kabul residents are reporting that Taliban have already started house to house searches in some neighborhoods in Kabul.” Recent reports from Afghans also reveal violence against women and children as they attempt to cross Taliban checkpoints.

In the first two weeks of August, following the withdrawal of United States and other foreign forces, the Taliban quickly overran 26 out of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals. As areas were seized by the Taliban, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights received reports of summary executions, enforced disappearances, reprisal attacks against government officials and their families, and attacks on civilian objects, including homes, schools and health clinics. Reports from 16 provinces recently overrun by the Taliban indicate that women are now enduring a similar pattern of human rights violations as experienced under Taliban rule 20 years ago, including forced marriage and harsh restrictions on freedom of movement. The ethnic Hazara population are also at extreme risk of further persecution.

Since the Taliban launched their offensive in May, over 3,750 civilians have been killed or maimed as a result of the Taliban’s attacks or by retaliatory airstrikes conducted by the Afghan government. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, prior to the Taliban entering Kabul, 400,000 Afghans had been forcibly displaced so far this year, including over 250,000 since the end of May. At least 80 percent of those who have fled are women and children. Since 15 August thousands of Afghans have also flooded Kabul airport in a desperate attempt to escape the country.

During an emergency UN Security Council session on 16 August, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged the international community to “use all tools at its disposal” to defend and uphold human rights in Afghanistan. Secretary-General Guterres warned that “dreams of a generation of young Afghan women and girls, boys and men” hang in the balance and stressed that “we cannot and must not abandon the people of Afghanistan.”

Dr. Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said that, “we urgently call on all governments to take every necessary step to ensure safe passage out of Afghanistan for civilians at risk of persecution and death at the hands of the Taliban. All UN member states should offer sanctuary to Afghan asylum seekers and strictly adhere to the principle of non-refoulement. What is at stake in Kabul today is not just about the Afghan people, it is about all of humanity.”

MASS RAPE PERPETRATED BY ARMED GROUPS IN EASTERN DR CONGO

Fighting between armed groups in Tanganyika province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has resulted in “widespread and systematic” abuses against women and girls according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). UNHCR’s partners in Kongolo and Mbulula have recorded 243 incidents of rape in 12 villages since the start of August, with an average of 17 attacks a day. Witnesses claim that armed groups perpetrated the mass rape of women who were attempting to flee violence and that some women and girls have been abducted and used as sex slaves. The number of incidents is likely significantly underreported given local taboos around reporting sexual violence and the stigmatization of survivors.

According to the UNHCR spokesperson, Shabia Mantoo, “the attacks are reportedly being carried out by rival armed groups competing to maintain control over mining areas – especially gold mines – and as retaliation against government-led military operations.” During May the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC warned of increasing attacks in the Nyunzu region of Tanganyika, including violations perpetrated by the Mai-Mai Apa na Pale armed group.

There are currently more than 120 armed groups and militias in the eastern DRC. The ethnic affiliation of groups operating in Tanganyika province has often resulted in targeted attacks on rival communities, including frequent violence between armed groups affiliated with ethnic Twa and Bantu communities. More than 300,000 people in Tanganyika have been displaced by ongoing violence, including 23,000 who have fled from the north of the province since May. Although the president announced a “state of siege” at the end of April to address the threat of armed groups in the east, operations are currently focused on North Kivu and Ituri provinces.

Survivors of the violence in Tanganyika need urgent protection, as well as psychosocial and medical support. The government must also scale up humanitarian efforts for displaced populations and help end the exploitation of natural resources by armed groups. Government authorities should investigate, pursue and hold accountable all perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence.

INTER-COMMUNAL CONFLICT IN THE FAR NORTH OF CAMEROON

Local officials reported that violence between cattle herders and fishermen in the town of Kousseri in the Far North region of Cameroon last week led to the killing of at least 20 people and wounded 70 others. Clashes erupted between members of the Shoa Arab and Mousgoum communities on Tuesday, 10 August, after livestock fell into holes dug by Mousgoum fishermen to lure their catch. Approximately 11,000 people have fled to Chad and the clashes in Kousseri have been described as the worst inter-communal violence in the Far North in years.

Civilians in the Far North region are also experiencing increased tensions caused by the armed extremist group Boko Haram. When Boko Haram expanded from Nigeria into Cameroon in 2014, the group disrupted traditional socio-economic relations between different communities in the Far North region and weakened local trading networks. Mahamat Bahar, a customary chief in Kousseri interviewed by Reuters, alleged that the intensity of the recent violence was the result of locals acquiring firearms to protect themselves from Boko Haram and bandits. Bahar said that, “the agro-pastoral conflict between farmers and herders and fishers and herders has always existed. But this is the first time it is at such a scale.”

There are more than 200 different ethnic communities in Cameroon. In the north-west region, already plagued by a deadly conflict between Anglophone separatists and Cameroonian government forces, inter-communal tensions between Muslim Mbororo/Fulani herders and Christian farming communities, particularly in the Bamenda Grassfields area, have regularly escalated into violence. In recent years, armed separatist groups have also perpetrated attacks on Fulani communities, prompting the formation of Fulani vigilante committees.

Juliette Paauwe, Senior Research Analyst at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said that, “this is not just a security issue. Meaningful programs that tackle poverty, radicalization, corruption and environmental degradation are urgently needed if the government of Cameroon wants to address the root causes of inter-communal violence and armed extremism.”