Human Rights Flashpoint – August 18, 2009

AFGHANISTAN – Election violence and a nod to “warlord politics”

The world is looking to Afghanistan this week, where Presidential and Provincial Council elections will be held on August 20th. The Taliban are threatening to attack polling stations in the country’s unstable southern province. The government estimates that about 14 percent of the country’s polling centers are considered too dangerous for people to vote. Moreover, the risk of violence will increase should no presidential candidate reach more than 50 percent of the vote, leading to a mandatory run-off between the top two contenders. Nevertheless, US government officials are optimistic, stating that the Taliban have failed to derail the elections. In other developments, both government officials and the Taliban have been increasing pressure and threats against journalists in the country and limiting independent and critical reporting.

In what the Christian Science Monitor calls a nod to ‘warlord politics’, suspected war criminal General Dostum returned to Afghanistan this week. Addressing the thousands of people who welcomed him home, he boasted that he is too popular to be persecuted: “If you mess with Dostum, you mess with a million people.” His return has shown the failure of the Afghan government and its international supporters to demonstrate that the rule of law is respected in Afghanistan.

Must Reads

Overheard

We hope that, from top to bottom, every effort will be taken to make election day secure, to eliminate fraud, and to address any complaints fairly and quickly. It will be several days before we have preliminary results and we hope initial reports will refrain from speculation until results are announced. Final results could take several weeks. We call on candidates and their supporters to behave responsibly before and after the elections – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

We have made clear to the Government of Afghanistan our serious concerns regarding the return of Mr. Dostum and any prospective role in today’s Afghanistan. And I think that President Obama had earlier, based on an earlier story, had asked that the national security team gather further information on his background, including concerns that he might have been involved in the deaths of a significant number of Taliban prisoners of war a few years ago, and that the team is continuing to gather that information – Philip J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs

A ferocious offensive by the Taliban [was] designed to try to kill the elections. Their goal is to prevent the elections and they have failed in that – Richard Holbrooke, US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC – Humanitarian situation deteriorates

Ongoing ethnic conflict in northeastern Central African Republic (CAR) and recurring attacks by the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the southeast part of CAR have created overwhelming humanitarian needs throughout the country. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that thousands of internally displaced people have been left without food, protection or shelter.

The country is the second poorest in the world after Sierra Leone and has long been unstable. Although five of the rebel groups signed peace treaties with the government in late 2008, the security situation has been deteriorating since the beginning of the year, causing about 18,000 people to flee to Chad and many more losing their homes during attacks. Children are particularly at risk in CAR, with almost 700,000 children under five living below acceptable standards, according to UNICEF.

Meanwhile, CAR Communications Minister Cyriaque Gonda announced on Monday that the government has set up a three-year timetable to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 former rebels. However, upcoming elections in 2010 and the formation of a new rebel group in 2009 in the northeast of the country are likely to lead to increasing insecurity and tension in CAR.

Must Reads

Overheard

The situation is still very volatile and the displaced population remains traumatized […] Fear is very evident amongst the people who had to repeatedly leave their villages and watch their homes and livelihoods being looted, burnt and destroyed – Catherine Bragg, UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs

These children’s lives, their ability to learn, to earn, and to lead productive lives is being stunted by this tragic crisis – Jeremy Hopkins, acting representative of UNICEF in CAR

Coming This Week

  • August 18: U.S. President Barack Obama meets Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Washington, DC
  • August 18: Secretary Clinton meets with Colombian Foreign Minister Bermudez
  • August 20: Presidential and Provincial Council Elections in Afghanistan
  • August 17-24: US Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration travels to Sudan (Juba, Makalal), Ethiopia and Egypt

Juliette Rousselot contributed to this post.

Human Rights Flashpoints is a weekly column about countries at risk of escalating human rights violations and is brought to you by AIUSA’s Crisis Prevention and Response team.

Condi's former professor argues she should be tried as war criminal tonight

Tonight just after 10 pm EST, Condoleeza Rice’s former history professor will argue in a debate with Colorado State Senator Shawn Mitchell that the former Secretary of State should be tried as a war criminal.

The webcast debate will follow a showing of the documentary film Courting Condi, which follows Ms. Rice’s path from a childhood in segregated Birmingham, Alabama to her former post as U.S. Secretary of State.

The film depicts Rice’s defense of Guantanamo and the invasion of Iraq, and her apparent approval of the use of torture of detainees, but also revisits a host of other debacles including her role on the board of Chevron during the company’s extraction of oil in Nigeria amidst extreme violence and shareholder action for the company to engage with the Nigerian government, helping to bring down affirmative action at Stanford, and turning the other cheek in the face of hundreds of thousands of victims of Katrina in the Gulf Coast.

Importantly, the film tackles the issue of impunity of private security contractors (Blackwater) who shot and killed civilians in Baghdad in 2007. While an update to my interview in the film on this topic should note that now there has been an indictment brought against the guards, and at least arguably, contractors in Iraq no longer enjoy the immunity from Iraqi prosecution they did at the time of filming, the need for oversight and adequate regulation, also highlighted by Rep. David Price, still persists.

You can watch a q-and-a with the film’s producer at 10:15 pm EST, and the debate at 10:30 EST, here:

What Nkunda Wants

Alice Eve

Alice Eve

Laurent Nkunda considers himself a man of diplomacy and politics. Unfortunately, whether we agree or not has become academic. This war criminal has a following that is growing and will continue to: aside from his Tutsi advocates there is suspicion that he is allied with ethnic Tutsi Paul Kagame (Rwanda’s President), and furthermore it has been speculated that he has the support of the Christian American right. This is a powerful foundation from which to wage a war of unthinkable proportions. Surely the question to ask at this stage is:
What does Nkunda want?

We know the UN Security Council has approved 3,100 additional peace keepers. Hopefully  this will be enough. As Ugandan Eddie Kwizera notes, “there is no peace to keep”. The DRC is the size of Western Europe, yet MONUC (Mission des Nations Unies en République Démocratique du Congo) the biggest peace keeping mission in the world, still only has 17,000 troops there. Neighbouring state Angola acknowledges that: “the direct and indirect interference by third parties will only worsen the conflict”.

The World Health Organization as of last Tuesday has named cholera a ‘serious risk’ in the region. This is perhaps the most concerning of all the developments in the region since August.  Cholera stands to be as powerful a killer as the men with guns. It can be passed on with just a handshake.

It is a handshake that needs to be considered. We have seen genocide just one generation ago in Rwanda. In the 1960′s we saw another failed peace-keeping mission in the area (UNOC). Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General UN, has said the UN forces suffer from a “lack of adequate equipment or a clear chain of command”. Fighting fire with fire is not the answer.

It may seem insufferable to the Gordon Browns and Bernard Kouchners to think of Nkunda as a leader, but a leader he is. Nkunda’s CNDP (National Congress for the Defence of the People) is a growing army with a following. It is hypocritical and embarrassing to be preaching peace only to discover that MONUC finds itself lending its sympathies to the Congolese army. It publicly admonishes the CNDP for abuses that the Congolese army are equally guilty of. How can we expect the CNDP to behave rationally if MONUC itself is taking sides?

As it is the Western idea of partition that was imposed on this region (the Belgian colonizers deciding the Tutsis were a superior race and so creating divisions), the Western idea of peace talks must be followed through with. Finding out what Nkunda wants, and genuinely engaging with and understanding the desires and divisions is the only way forward. If Kabila continues to ignore requests for direct negotiations, Nkunda could be well on his way to fulfilling his promise of toppling his government.

Of course there is an inherent problem, the Congo is mineral rich. Perhaps now would be a good time to stop exploiting Africa’s abundant natural resources. With the current state of the world maybe we should be more concerned with growing our own carrots.