Sudan: Crash Course to Conflict?

As the end of the interim period for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement nears in January 2011, the fragile peace between the North and the South may be close to unraveling. Sudan’s first elections in twenty-four years are just around the corner on April 11, 2010. Although the international community had been hoping for a smooth electoral contest after a relatively peaceful-although flawed-voter registration process, there are a number of red flags pointing to the possibility of the outbreak of violence.  Before this week, they were limited to continued repression of opposition candidates, threats to expel elections observers and laws limiting the opposition’s political rights of assembly and speech. However, the recent decision by opposition parties to partially or fully boycott the polls may have severe ramifications for security and stability.

Sudanese supporters of the south's SPLM party wave the southern flag at a rally in Bentiu, state capital of Unity. © Peter Martell/IRIN

Sudanese supporters of the south's SPLM party wave the southern flag at a rally in Bentiu, state capital of Unity. © Peter Martell/IRIN

Human rights advocacy organizations, most recently Human Rights Watch, warn that government repression and human rights violations in Sudan threaten the legitimacy of the elections as free, credible and fair.  In the north, NCP government efforts to diminish the opposition’s political power in advance of elections have resulted in arbitrary arrests, detainment or abduction of activists, the break-up or prevention of public meetings and other violations of civil, political and human rights. 

Already in January of this year, Amnesty International drew attention to the Sudanese government’s violent crackdown and torture of more than 200 protesters that were speaking out about delays in passing vital laws for the forthcoming referendum and elections.  In addition, a recent report (pdf)  from the Carter Center  stressed the repressive nature of the Electoral Law and the opposition’s stifled freedoms of assembly and inability to freely campaign against the standing government. The report points specifically to the case of three young activists who were arrested for noise disturbance in a public place while trying to raise awareness of the campaign process.

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Women of Zimbabwe Arise March for Education, Member Jailed

Women of Zimbabwe Arise take to the streets in Zimbabwe.

Women of Zimbabwe Arise take to the streets in Zimbabwe.

UPDATE January 25th: Today a delegation of 200 women and men marched again in Bulawayo to deliver the WOZA report regarding the collapse of the education system in the country. Once the ministry of education official had attended and received the report, members began to disperse. As they dispersed, seven riot police officers ran out of the police drill hall and started to beat the peacefully dispersing activists, innocent bystanders and vendors. One member who tried to avoid arrest by walking into the passport office was followed and beaten, after being beaten she was then told to ‘run’ to the drill hall whilst being beaten all the way there. It was finally determined that a total of eleven WOZA members were arrested, however they were released within hours without charge or explanation.

Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) took to the streets recently demanding education reform in Zimbabwe. In a report published by the organization, WOZA calls for teachers to quit demanding extra money from parents to supplement their income, the Education Ministry must improve the quality of the curriculum including the addition of human rights education, the examination system must be re-vamped and no increase in school fees in 2010.

Over 800 WOZA members marched in Bulawayo on January 13th, singing and chanting the WOZA MOYA! slogan. The demonstration proceeded without violence or arrests but they were not able to deliver their report at the government complex as police dispersed the demonstrators upon arrival. On January 18th-MLK Day, the members of WOZA marched to the Education Ministry offices in Harare and were dispersed, this time by riot police. One WOZA member, a journalist and a bystander were arrested. The demonstration was broken up before WOZA members were able to deliver the report to education minister David Coltart.

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No Good Governance in Southern Africa?

Even though The Mo Ibrahim Foundation decided no former African leader merited its $5 million prize this year; when it ranked African nations on good governance, five of the top 10 were countries monitored by Amnesty International USA’s Southern Africa Co-group: Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Sao Tome y Principe and Lesotho. Zimbabwe was in the bottom five. (I know: shocking.)

Botswana, which you might only be familiar with through The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, is often hailed as a shining light of democracy in Africa. Last week, Batswanans went to the polls and elected Ian Khama to a new 5 year term as president. Khama assumed the presidency last year when then President Festus Mogae  stepped aside for his then-Vice President in order to allow him to run as an incumbent this year. Talk about your smooth transitions of power, right? Except this is the second time this has happened and also ensures that the same ruling party remain in power for the past 43 years.

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Human Rights Flashpoints – October 20, 2009

What’s Up This Week:

  1. Afghanistan: Elections Run-Off
  2. Angola: Humanitarian Crisis
  3. Upcoming This Week

Afghanistan Elections – Take Two
On Sunday, the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) announced the results from its fraud investigations regarding the August 20th Afghanistan presidential elections.  The commission’s conclusions invalidated nearly one million votes cast as fraudulent, with 210 out of the 350 polling stations marred by fraud.  As a consequence, incumbent President Hamid Karzai’s margin of victory has diminished to below the 50% vote threshold necessary for an outright win forcing him to concede to a run-off election against opponent Abdullah Abdullah on November 7th.  SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Human Rights Flashpoint – September 15, 2009

AFGHANISTAN – Election Recount
The United Nations Electoral Complaints Commission has ordered a recount of about 10 percent of votes from Afghanistan’s recent president election. The recount could reduce President Hamid Karzai’s lead to below the 50 percent threshold, which would in turn force a second-round runoff. The recount will involve polling stations throughout Afghanistan and not only in the south, where Karzai finds his strongest ethnic support and where the worst of the cheating is alleged to have happened.

Second-place candidate Abdullah Abdullah has welcomed the move but believes that a higher percentage of votes should be recounted, claiming the fraud is much more extensive.

Meanwhile, the BBC reports that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, predicts the US may require many more troops in Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban, despite a doubling of the force this year. Mullen was speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee during his nomination hearing for his second term as President Barack Obama’s senior military adviser. US Army General Stanley McChrystal, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, is expected to make a request for more troops in the next couple weeks.

Must Reads

Overheard

We will press for an investigation of all fraud allegations. It is important that the elected president is recognized and respected by the entire population of Afghanistan – German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, September 15, 2009

A properly resourced counterinsurgency probably means more forces. And, without question, more time and more commitment to the protection of the Afghan people and to the development of good governance – Admiral Mike Mullen, September 15, 2009

UGANDA – Still Chasing the LRA
As the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) continues to terrorize civilians throughout the region, the Ugandan army is stepping up efforts to put an end to their rebellion. On Friday, the UN reported an increasing number of “brutal” attacks in South Sudan, which have included burning villages, killing civilians and abducting children. There have already been seven attacks leading to civilian displacement in September alone.

Meanwhile, the Ugandan military has captured Okot Atiak, a feared senior rebel of the LRA, while pursuing a military campaign in southeast Central African Republic (CAR). Although Atiak is not one of the 3 LRA commanders indicted by the ICC, his arrest is proving useful to the Ugandan military as he is providing intelligence to troops in the field.

In a separate development, at least 15 people were killed and hundreds arrested following pro-monarchy protests in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. Reuters reports that the police had barred the Buganda monarch, the “Kabaka,” from visiting a town claimed by his kingdom, which triggered riots in Kampala and other central towns. This is part of a long-simmering row over land and power between the Ugandan government and Buganda. Ugandan President Museveni accuses the King of Baganda of overstepping his authority and trying to meddle in politics. Human Rights Watch has accused the Ugandan police of having used unnecessary lethal force during the protests.

Calm has now returned to Kampala, but some analysts say that this is just one of several incidents which point to increasing turmoil ahead of the 2011 elections.

Must Reads

Overheard

Many innocent people are losing their lives every week, and the United Nations is very concerned about the killing, abduction, maiming and displacement of innocent civilians – Ameerah Haq, UN humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, September 11, 2009

It was agreed that since (LRA leader Joseph) Kony is a regional problem, he should be pursued into Central African Republic where he had gone – Uganda military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Felix Kulayigye, September 7, 2009

Upcoming
September 14-October 2: 12th Session of the UN Human Rights Council.
September 14: US Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell starts trip to Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

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.

Gabon Election Update: Violence as Bongo is Declared Winner

Gabon election protests

After the official results of the presidential elections, unrest broke out in Gabon's capital. (AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGO)

The results of Gabon’s presidential election, held this past Sunday, were officially announced  today, as the Ministry of the Interior proclaimed Ali Ben Bongo the winner with 42% of the vote. As we reported on Tuesday on our weekly Human Rights Flashpoints blog, all three leading candidates for the Gabon presidency – Bongo, Pierre Mamboundou, and Andre Mba Obame – had proclaimed they had won the election before official results were announced. Moreover, tensions had been rising in Gabon since Sunday’s election, with troops being stationed at several key locations in the capital, Libreville, and with widespread accusations of election fraud by opposition candidates.

Since the election results this morning, leading news sources have reported clashes between police and supporters of the opposition candidates. According to the BBC, the police have been using teargas and batons against protesters in Libreville. Most worrisome are reports that opposition candidates Pierre Mamboundou and Andre Mba Obame were among the thousands of protesters wounded by the police’s indiscriminate use of force.

Reuters also reports that the French consulate in Port Gentil, an oil city in Gabon, was torched by protesters. France is widely considered to be supporting the proclaimed winner of the election, Ali Ben Bongo, who is the son of Gabon’s late president Omar Bongo. Bongo had ruled Gabon for the past 41 years and had been a close ally of France, its former colonial ruler. Critics argue that the poll was fixed in order to ensure a dynastic succession and some have called the situation a coup d’état.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who has been in touch with all three candidates, has confirmed that Mamboundou had been wounded.  According to the French daily Le Monde, Kouchner also advised its 10,000 citizens living in Gabon to stay at home and assured that France was prepared to protect its citizens if the situation deteriorated. France keeps close to 1,000 troops on a permanent military base in Gabon.

Juliette Rousselot contributed to this post.

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.

What Next in Iran?

Protesters and police clashed in Tehran today over the outcome of last week’s presidential elections. Alertnet has published a good Q & A on what might happen next in Iran:

WILL THE AUTHORITIES CRACK DOWN HARDER?

This seems likely after Khamenei’s steely Friday sermon in which he warned opposition politicians they would be responsible for any bloodshed if protests continued against the June 12 poll, which he said Ahmadinejad had won fairly by 11 million votes.

A senior police commander said on Saturday any further protests would be illegal and police would act firmly.

The authorities had allowed many of the huge marches of the past week to proceed, in the hope they would die down.

However, human rights groups say police and religious militia have sometimes attacked largely peaceful demonstrators. Hundreds of opposition and reformist activists have been detained.

Other signs of a crackdown have included attacks by security forces and militias on university dormitories, severe disruption of internet and mobile telephone communications, and curbs on international and domestic media, the rights groups say.

The authorities can call on the elite Revolutionary Guard, the religious basij militia, police and other forces considered loyal to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to crush dissent.

WILL THE PROTESTS CONTINUE?

It is not clear yet that the hundreds of thousands of Iranians who have protested in Tehran and elsewhere are ready to cool their anger over an election that Mousavi says was rigged.

Mousavi and another losing candidate, liberal cleric Mehdi Karoubi, have called for the vote to be annulled.

The anti-Ahmadinejad camp has support from a broad coalition of moderates and conservatives within Iran’s religious and political establishment, including former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the mayor of Tehran.

Because Khamenei has thrown his weight behind Ahmadinejad, these establishment insiders will have to decide whether to pursue a course that could lead to much bloodshed.

They will also have to weigh the risks of an opposition campaign that would effectively challenge the authority of the Supreme Leader, a pillar of Iran’s system of Islamic rule.

IS ANY COMPROMISE POSSIBLE?

It is hard to see any deal that could satisfy both sides, especially after Khamenei’s harsh rhetoric on Friday.

But an offer by the Guardian Council, a watchdog body which must certify the election result, to recount a random 10 percent of the votes in the presence of representatives of the defeated candidates, might open the door for a face-saving solution.

The council, composed of 12 clerics, half of them appointed by Khamenei, had invited the three candidates to discuss their complaints on Saturday, but only Mohsen Rezaie, a conservative former Revolutionary Guard commander, showed up.

The council had said previously it was only willing to recount some disputed ballot boxes, not re-run the election, which official results showed Ahmadinejad had won with nearly 63 percent of the vote, against 34 percent for Mousavi.

COULD KHAMENEI BECOME A TARGET?

The Supreme Leader, who has usually preferred to rule from behind the scenes, has thrust himself into the thick of the political conflict by siding so openly with Ahmadinejad.

Khamenei has enormous powers, far outweighing those of the president, but one body, the 86-man Council of Experts, does have the authority — never previously used — to depose him.

Rafsanjani presides over this body of clerics, but it is not clear whether the wily politician would be able or willing to muster a majority for a constitutional challenge to Khamenei.

Ominous message from the Iranian Supreme Leader

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran

Today, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, spoke to the crowd at the weekly Friday Prayer and made what many have interpreted as a warning to those opposing the contested election results to cease their public protests or else face possible severe reprisals. The reprisals in question have been viewed as thinly veiled references to violence by government agents and Basij, or paramilitaries. The Supreme Leader said that opposition leaders would be held responsible for any bloodshed that resulted from the banned opposition rallies.

Although the protests in the streets in the first few days after the elections were met with attacks by baton-wielding riot police on motorcycles, and on Monday by deadly indiscriminate shooting into the crowd that left up to seven people fatally wounded and many more injured, the massive street protests since Monday have been largely peaceful, although random violence carried out by vigilantes and Basij have been reported.

Human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani is one of the activists who have been arrested in the aftermath of election protests in Iran.

Human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani is one of the activists who have been arrested in the aftermath of election protests in Iran.

The Iranian authorities have conducted their severest repressive measures in the form of mass detentions of journalists, students, opposition politicians and human rights activists. Among those arrested are human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani, a close associate of Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi and a member of the Center for Human Rights Defenders.

However it has been an open question to what extent the Iranian authorities would be willing to unleash the full force of its military and riot police against the vast numbers of protesters in the streets. The potential for such use of violence to result in large-scale bloodshed is alarming.

Amnesty International has expressed concern that an opposition rally that is said to be planned for tomorrow may be met with the use of excessive violence. We urge the authorities to respect the right of the Iranian people to engage in the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and association.

Written by Elise Auerbach, AIUSA Iranian country specialist

Ibrahim Yazdi Detained in Tehran

Ibrahim Yazdi, the Secretary General of the Freedom Movement of Iran political party, was just arrested at 3 PM today by the Iranian Security Forces at the Pars Hospital, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.  He has since been transferred to the Evin Prison in northwest Tehran.

Yazdi was Deputy Prime Minister for Revolutionary Affairs for the interim Iranian government in 1979 directly after the Islamic Revolution. He also served as Foreign Minister and was elected to the Islamic Consultative Assembly parliament, serving for 4 years.

As recently as Saturday, the day after Iranians went to the polls, Yazdi was speaking out against what he saw as a rigged election.  Such discourse may have contributed to his arrest.

100 others have allegedly been detained alongside Yazdi.

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post