Nobel Peace Prize brings global attention to epidemic of sexual violence in the DRC
On 5 October Dr. Denis Mukwege of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Ms. Nadia Murad of Iraq were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work combating rape and sexual violence during armed conflict. Dr. Mukwege founded Panzi Hospital in Bukavu city in eastern DRC in 1999. Since then the hospital has treated over 85,800 survivors of sexual violence and complex gynecological injuries. Winning the Nobel Prize has helped bring global attention to the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war in the DRC.
A recent Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) report claims that between May 2017 and September 2018 its staff treated 2,600 victims of sexual violence in the town of Kananga in Kasaï Central Province of the DRC alone. Eighty percent of the victims reported having been raped by armed men. Of the 2,600 people treated, 32 were men and 162 were children under the age of 15, including 22 under the age of five.
For several decades various predatory armed groups have utilized instability and the weakness of state authority in various parts of the DRC to perpetrate mass atrocity crimes, including through the systematic use of rape and sexual violence. However, with presidential elections scheduled for 23 December, much of the recent increase in violence has been linked to competition between political forces and numerous armed groups vying for power.
On 4 November members of the Allied Democratic Forces armed group carried out raids in North Kivu Province, killing seven civilians and abducting 15 children. The UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC has also reported that armed groups and security forces carried out at least 92 extrajudicial executions during September.
As the DRC approaches its long overdue December elections, it is essential that the government and the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo (MONUSCO) intensify efforts to protect all civilians, including from sexual and gender-based crimes that may constitute crimes against humanity under international law.
Famine and a possible UN Security Council resolution on Yemen
After three years of armed conflict, creating the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, the United States Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, and Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, as well as the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Jeremy Hunt, all expressed support for a ceasefire in Yemen during the week of 29 October. Despite these public calls for an end to the conflict, which has killed at least 16,000 civilians since March 2015, hostilities around the crucial port city of Hodeidah have continued to escalate.
Since the Yemeni government - supported by the Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE)-led coalition - launched a military offensive on Hodeidah city on 12 June, over 570,000 civilians have been displaced and civilian infrastructure has been systematically targeted in airstrikes and by shelling. As a result of the conflict, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has reported that the total number of people suffering severe food insecurity in Yemen could soon reach 14 million, half of Yemen’s population.
In the wake of OCHA’s recent announcement that a famine of historic proportions is imminent in Yemen, as well as expressions of support for a ceasefire by the United States and United Kingdom, there is renewed momentum for political negotiations. After three years and eight months without a substantive resolution on Yemen, the UN Security Council (UNSC) must finally take action.
A new UNSC resolution should reaffirm that all parties to the conflict in Yemen must uphold their responsibility to protect civilians from war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Council should recall, in particular, the obligation to distinguish between civilian populations and combatants, the prohibition against indiscriminate attacks, as well attacks against civilian infrastructure.
The UNSC should also stress the need to end impunity for all violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, and reaffirm that those responsible must be brought to justice, regardless of their position or affiliation.
The UNSC should also demand an immediate ceasefire in Hodeidah Governorate to enhance emergency humanitarian relief efforts and avert a catastrophic famine.
Finally, Yemen’s armed conflict requires a sustainable political solution. The UNSC should urge the UN Secretary-General, through his good offices and the efforts of his Special Envoy for Yemen, to expeditiously convene all parties to the conflict and engage in formal peace talks, without preconditions.
Security forces shoot dead more than 40 protestors in Nigeria
Between 27 and 30 October at least 40 members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), a Shia political group, were killed by the security forces after a march of about 1,000 IMN members turned violent. During a religious procession from the city of Suleja to Abuja, IMN members also blocked traffic and protested the ongoing imprisonment of the movement’s leader, Ibrahim el-Zakzaky.
After the IMN marchers allegedly took an unapproved route in Abuja, began blocking traffic, and started throwing rocks at the security forces, the army and police used live ammunition against the crowd. In addition to fatally shooting at least 40 people, more than 100 IMN members were wounded by gunfire, with Amnesty International claiming that “soldiers and police approached IMN processions not to restore public order, but to kill.”
Shias make up approximately two to three percent of the population of Nigeria and the IMN has a long history of conflict with the secular federal state. In 2015, following a confrontation between IMN members and the convoy of Tukur Buratai, the Army Chief of Staff, soldiers shot and killed more than 340 IMN members in Kaduna State. The military claimed that the IMN had tried to assassinate Buratai and subsequently arrested Mr. el-Zakzaky. The IMN leader has been held in detention ever since.
In June 2015 President Muhammadu Buhari promised to end impunity for crimes committed by the Nigerian security forces. In August 2017 Vice President Yemi Osinbajo established a seven-member judicial panel to investigate the military’s compliance with human rights obligations and rules of engagement. The government has delayed the report’s publication. In the aftermath of last week’s events it is essential that all soldiers and police officers responsible for using deadly and disproportionate force against civilians be held accountable for their actions.