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Atrocity Alert No. 280: Nigeria, China and Sudan

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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.

ATTACKS BY ARMED BANDITS IN NORTH-WEST NIGERIA CONTINUE UNABATED

Communities in north-west Nigeria are coming under increasing attack from armed groups – commonly known as “bandits” – despite the bolstered presence of government security forces in affected areas. Between Sunday night and Monday morning, 14-15 November, armed men attacked Illela town and approximately seven surrounding villages in Goronyo Local Government Areas of Sokoto State, north-west Nigeria, killing no less than 45 people and injuring dozens of others. Populations in Goronyo had already suffered from an assault by armed bandits during October that killed approximately 30 people at a market. Between 2018-2020 more than 4,900 people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced due to the emergence and expansion of armed banditry in the north-west. Sokoto is one of the states most affected by this violence.

President Muhammadu Buhari strongly condemned the assaults and threatened the bandits with “ultimate destruction,” saying that the government “is determined more than ever before to protect Nigerians from murderous criminal gangs that have no respect for the sanctity of human life.” In an attempt to curb the criminal activities and attacks by armed bandits in north-west Nigeria, the government has instructed security forces to intensify their military operations and has enforced a series of measures in the region since September, including the shutdown of telecommunication networks, a ban on weekly markets and restrictions on movement.

Many of Nigeria’s bandit groups have been formed over the past decade in response to growing inter-communal conflict over land and resources. While these groups are driven largely by criminal motives, ethnic tensions have been exacerbated as many bandits are ethnic Fulani and prey on settled farming communities. Violence between herding and farming communities has become increasingly deadly since 2011 as a result of the proliferation of armed groups and gangs who engage in organized cattle-rustling, kidnapping, plunder, murder and rape.

President Buhari is facing growing criticism as the country is tackling multiple security threats, not only posed by armed bandits, but also by the armed extremist groups Boko Haram and the so-called Islamic State in West Africa. The deteriorating security situation in Nigeria has resulted in a dire humanitarian emergency, with more than 8.7 million people requiring urgent assistance according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Military operations alone cannot comprehensively defeat the combined threat of bandits and armed extremism in northern Nigeria. The government also needs to address the grievances of local communities in the north and confront structural issues of endemic poverty, corruption, youth unemployment and environmental degradation that are exploited by bandits, armed extremists and other groups.

GROWING EVIDENCE OF WIDESPREAD FORCED LABOR OF UYGHURS IN CHINA

A new report from the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice, released on 17 November, provides further evidence of the widespread campaign of forced labor that the Chinese government employs in its violent repression against Uyghurs (or Uighurs), Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). According to the report, more than 100 international brands are “at risk” of using cotton in their supply chains that was produced by Uyghur forced labor.

Under the false claims of combatting religious extremism, the Chinese government in recent years has detained over 1 million Uyghurs and members of other majority-Muslim groups in “re-education” or “de-extremification” camps, where they are then often forcibly transferred to factories in Xinjiang and across China to work under conditions of forced labor. Reports estimate that more than 100,000 former detainees may be working under forced labor conditions.

Cotton harvested in XUAR accounts for approximately 85 percent of Chinese production and 20 percent of the world supply. The report analyzed five leading Chinese textile companies, which all source cotton from XUAR that 53 intermediary companies purchase as unfinished cotton. These intermediary companies supply cotton to at least 103 international brands, such as Lululemon and Banana Republic, putting those retailers at a high risk of having forced labor cotton contaminating their supply chains. In 2020 the Australian Strategic Policy Institute identified more than 80 global companies, including Apple, BMW, Gap, Nike and Samsung, with probable ties to Uyghur forced labor.

On 9 November the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum concluded in its report that the Chinese government is likely perpetrating genocide against Uyghurs, as well as multiple crimes against humanity, which “demonstrate that China is failing to uphold its responsibility to protect its citizens.” Forced labor is just one of the myriad ways in which the Chinese government is persecuting the Uyghur population. Other crimes include systematic and widespread forced sterilization, torture, forcible transfer, imprisonment and sexual violence.

Liam Scott, Research Associate at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said that, “these new reports underscore the severity of the atrocities faced by the Uyghurs and other groups in Xinjiang. In light of the systematic forced labor of Uyghurs – which amounts to enslavement – UN member states must ban goods produced by these means. It is imperative that all companies investigate their supply chains and cease working with factories implicated in what amounts to potential crimes against humanity.”

PRO-DEMOCRACY MOVEMENTS REJECT NEW POWER-SHARING AGREEMENT IN SUDAN

Nearly four weeks after the military seized power in Sudan, the country’s top general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok signed a new political agreement on Sunday, 21 November. The agreement followed sustained political pressure from the international community, which denounced the military coup, as well as continued nationwide mass protests by pro-democracy movements. Some reports claim that Prime Minister Hamdok may have signed the agreement under duress in order to prevent further violence on the streets.

Since the 25 October coup, hundreds of thousands of protesters have demonstrated across the country, demanding the reinstatement of the civilian-led government. More than 41 people have been killed and hundreds injured by security forces during protests so far. Security forces reportedly fired bullets and teargas to disperse protesters, killing at least 15 people in the capital, Khartoum, and its twin city, Omdurman, on 17 November alone.

Despite the agreement, protests have continued in and around Khartoum as well as across the country. Pro-democracy movements, including the Forces of Freedom and Change and the Sudanese Professionals Association, have rejected the agreement and called for further protests. Protesters have denounced the reinstatement of Prime Minister Hamdok, decrying him as a “traitor” for accepting to share power with the military, and are demanding the handover of political power to civilian authorities.

Several civilian leaders who were arrested or placed under house arrest since the coup, including Prime Minister Hamdok, were released by the Sudanese military on Sunday. The 14-point agreement that reinstated Prime Minister Hamdok also calls for the restoration of the transition to civilian rule and the release of all political detainees. Many detainees have yet to be released. Although General Burhan said in a televised statement that Prime Minister Hamdok will lead a technocratic cabinet until elections can be held, it is unclear how much power the government will have due to continued military oversight.

Juliette Paauwe, Senior Research Analyst at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, warned that, “the risk of atrocities and a violent crackdown by security forces has not diminished despite the signing of the new power-sharing agreement. The trust between civilians and the military is broken and this new arrangement is unlikely to fix this long-standing animosity.”

In this period of uncertainty, it is imperative that the international community continue to pressure the Sudanese authorities to fully restore the political transition, taking into account the people’s desire for democratic reform. Security forces should protect the fundamental right to peaceful assembly and refrain from using excessive and deadly force against protesters. Thorough, independent and transparent investigations into the killing of peaceful protesters and other human rights violations need to be launched.