Ongoing violence threatens upcoming elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
As the government of the DRC prepares for December’s long awaited presidential election, clashes between militias and other armed groups continue throughout the east of the country. On Wednesday, 18 July, officials in Masisi, North Kivu province, reported that 15 people had been killed during five days of fighting between armed men from the l'Alliance des Patriotes pour un Congo Libre et Souverain (APCLS) and the Mai-Mayi Nduma défense du Congo-Rénové (NDC-R). The APCLS and NDC-R have been competing for control of remote mines in North Kivu province for many years. The leader of NDC-R, Guidon Shimiray Mwissa, was added to the UN sanctions list earlier this year for his role in recruiting child soldiers and using the proceeds from illegal mining taxes to violate the arms embargo on the DRC.
There are over 70 armed groups operating in the DRC. Such groups exploit ongoing instability and the weakness of government authority in the vast country to launch sporadic attacks and perpetrate mass atrocity crimes against civilians. Earlier this month on 7 July, militias in Uvira, South Kivu province, burned 10 people to death during clashes between Banyamulenge and Bafuliro ethnic groups.
Meanwhile, civilians have slowly started to return to parts of Ituri province where inter-communal violence between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups resulted in more than 350,000 people being displaced earlier this year. On 13 July the UN Refugee Agency reported that many returnees found that their homes and local infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, had been completely destroyed. During the fighting armed groups had targeted civilians on the basis of their ethnic identity, often razing entire villages.
There are only five months left until the presidential election in the DRC, which has been unconstitutionally delayed since 2016. In order to ensure that voting is able to safely take place in the east of the country, the government must intensify efforts to neutralize predatory armed groups. The government should also work closely with the UN peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, to mediate inter-communal conflicts that could inhibit people’s ability to participate in the electoral process.
North Korea tops Global Slavery Index
On 19 July the 2018 Global Slavery Index, a country-by-country ranking of modern slavery, was published. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), where one in ten people are compelled to participate in forced labor, topped this year’s Index. Slavery constitutes a crime against humanity under international law.
Forms of modern slavery perpetrated by the government of North Korea – including within forced labor camps – are among the many human rights abuses committed in the country. The Human Rights Council-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK issued a report in 2014 documenting murder, torture, imprisonment, rape, persecution and enforced disappearances carried out by state authorities. These widespread and systematic acts also amount to crimes against humanity.
This year’s Global Slavery Index also highlighted two drivers of modern slavery that often enable the commission of mass atrocity crimes – highly repressive regimes and “conflict situations which result in the breakdown of rule of law, social structures, and existing systems of protection.” Of the top ten countries on the 2018 Index, six are also on the Global Centre's list of “Populations at Risk” of mass atrocity crimes – Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Eritrea, North Korea and South Sudan.
While the 2018 Global Slavery Index notes that “important progress” has been made by many governments in investigating forced labor within their supply chains and combating human trafficking, more than 40 million people around the world remain victims of modern slavery.
The Myanmar military’s “extensive and systematic” planning of atrocities
Today, 25 July, marks eleven months since the beginning of the Myanmar military’s so-called “clearance operations” in Rakhine State. At the peak of the operations between 25 August and December last year Myanmar’s security forces committed widespread atrocities, including the unlawful killing of civilians, torture, sexual violence, and the destruction of more than 350 villages. More than 720,000 ethnic Rohingya civilians were forced to flee to Bangladesh.
On 19 July a Southeast Asia-based human rights organization - Fortify Rights - published a report documenting how Myanmar’s military made “extensive and systematic preparations” for attacks on ethnic Rohingya communities in the months before August 2017. These included the deployment of additional troops to Rakhine State, arming and training local auxiliaries and blocking the flow of humanitarian aid. While the nominal justification for such measures was to boost security in the region and the need to battle a Rohingya armed group (ARSA), military preparations focused on the collective punishment of the entire ethnic Rohingya population. The report also argues that the failure of the international community to respond to earlier atrocities committed by the military in Rakhine State between October and November 2016 prompted senior officers to plan for an expanded campaign.
Despite a growing body of credible evidence regarding potential crimes against humanity and genocide committed against the Rohingya, the UN Security Council has failed to adopt a single resolution on the matter. As the one year anniversary of the launch of the so-called “clearance operations” approaches, the Council should refer the situation in Rakhine State to the International Criminal Court for investigation. The Security Council should also impose an arms embargo on Myanmar and targeted sanctions on all senior officers with command responsibility for atrocities committed against the Rohingya.
All UN member states should follow the example of the European Union, United States and Canada and immediately impose targeted sanctions on senior military officers implicated in the planning or execution of mass atrocity crimes in Rakhine State, including Commander-in-Chief General Min Aung Hlaing.