Archive for December 2010
Guest post by “Kabonesho”: TENTH COMMEMORATON OF THE TITANIC EXPRESS MASSACRE : WILL JUSTICE EVER PREVAIL IN BURUNDI?
Sorting ethnic victims as under the Nazis, grouping the Tutsi on one side, the executioners strip victims of their property, rape women, machine-gun all the Tutsi, whoever looks like them (at least according to the stereotypes dating from the colonial racist now and still in force), all Tutsi’s friends and those who take their defense, then go quietly to write up a report for the genocidal hierarchy as this would be shown in documents that were later seized in the den of these bloodthirsty criminals…
This took place in Burundi in 2000, on December 28th to be precise, when the PALIPEHUTU-FNL terrorist organization attacked the Titanic Express bus linking Kigali (Rwanda) to Bujumbura (Burundi). It was one of many terrorist acts by these neo-Nazi genocidal militias, now in power in Burundi and which genocide denials shamefully call ‘democrats,’ ‘peace pillars,’ and ‘peacemakers,’ ….
One of the victims, Miss Charlotte Wilson, was a British citizen and a professor at Nyamirambo, Rwanda. She was making the trip together with her fiancé from Burundi, Ndereyimana Richard, a professor at the same school. She was be introduced to his family in view of their future marriage.
Riahcrd is handsome and tall; for the terrorists under the command of Agathon Rwasa, the commandeer of the carnage, he must be a Tutsi and it doesn’t matter whether the characterization was wrongful. His physique is sufficient ‘reason’ for him to be savagely mutilated and then murdered together with his fiancée, while the executioners rejoice in singing “IBIKUNDANYE BIRAJANA” (those who love must die together).
There was also a Canadian citizen of Burundi origin aboard that Titanic Express bus that was linking Kigali, rwanda to Bujumbura, Burundi. His name was Arthur Kabunda. He was Tutsi, and as for the others, this was sufficient to justify his murder.
There is no doubt that the attack was committed by the PALIPEHUTU militia, now in power with the other racist, terrorist and genocidal organization CNDD-FDD. In his December 2000 monthly report dated January 12, 2001, the then commander of the PALIPEHUTU terrorist militias operating from Tenga, SIBOMANA Albert, wrote that the attack was scheduled for December 27, 2000 but the bus had not shown up. It was therefore postponed to the next day at Mageyo on RN1 highway. In the meantime, the terrorists had reinforced both material and human resources that they needed for the ambush. Therefore, this attack was a carefully planned terrorist act.
What is surprising is the fact that Canada and Britain, two nations who claim to be the avant-garde position in the fight against terrorism, acts of genocide and crimes against humanity, support the impunity of the organizations and individuals who have commandeered and carried out these crimes. The stand is even paradoxical if we consider that the victims were not from Burundi alone, but they included also of citizens of Canada, Great Britain two other countries.
It should be recalled that many other international figures have been deliberately massacred in Burundi by these organizations. The international community’s reaction, if any, was more support for these criminals against humanity now in power in Burundi. Obviously, the consequences could be but more institutionalization of impunity as well as violation of international law and universal morality.
One such example is the murders of Representatives of UNICEF, WHO, and the Apostolic Nuncio in Burundi, to mention but the most senior dignitaries. Yet, neither the UN nor the Vatican does promote in Burundi the badly needed rule of law that would curb impunity and establish for peace a foundation that is stronger than the institutionalization of terrorism and racism that were inherited from the Arusha process.
However, that these acts and their perpetrators are of racist, terrorist and criminal nature, is established beyond any possible doubt:
§37 “Effective impunity generates political violence and is a serious destabilizing element in all contexts of the Burundi socio-political system. Respect for the rule of law is essential to maintain order and stability and to protect human rights in any country. Impunity encourages and perpetuates the mass violations of human rights. There have been periodical mass killings, but extremely few perpetrators have been brought to justice. Furthermore, impunity is an obstacle to democratic development and peace negotiations, and makes reconciliation difficult.”
“An amnesty in Burundi is exactly the wrong direction to take,” said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “Many of the killings in Burundi, whether perpetrated by Tutsi or by Hutu, were crimes against humanity. A U.N. Commission has described some of them as genocide. How can there be any hope of justice and order in Burundi if crimes of this magnitude are left unpunished?
Human Rights Watch urged the creation of a new division of the existing International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to prosecute crimes committed in Burundi. It also recommended using foreign jurists within Burundian courts to speed judging the thousands of persons accused of ethnic killings and other attacks since 1993.”
§496. “Having concluded that acts of genocide against the Tutsi minority were committed in Burundi in October 1993, the Commission believes that international jurisdiction should be asserted with respect to these acts.”
It should recalled also that the FNL are the result of a merger between the PALIPEHUTU militias and the ex-FAR/Interahamwe. The agreement to implement that fusion was signed in Cibitoke, Burundi on May 28, 1997. The FDD also cooperate closely with the ex-FAR/Interahamwe, following other agreements signed between then CNDD-FDD’ chairman Leonard Nyangoma and ex-FAR’s Commander in Chief, General Augustin Bizimungu. The UN released these agreements, and reports by Human Rights Watch revealed that nearly 60% of the militia that were terrorizing the neighborhood of Bujumbura were half-Burundian, half-Rwandan …
International Crisis Group report dated 18.05.2001 confirms that cooperation or merger: ” The presence of armed elements of the Rwandan Hutu opposition in Burundi and the rebel PALIPEHUTU association with the RAF is old. “
Cooperation between genocidal militias is limitless. The same report from International Crisis Group warns that “contacts between the political branches and the staffs FDD of Jean Bosco Ndayikengurukiye and FNL of Agathon Rwasa are now regular. In addition to a meeting in late March Mayotte between politicians from two movements, Rwasa also visited Lubumbashi at the same time for a congress of the FDD in order to devote the alliance of two rebel movements. The FDD and FNL refuel in uniforms, weapons and ammunition via Kivu, are doing a hand if necessary and exchange information on the positioning and movement of the Burundian army .
In 1997, the UN published the report S/1997/1010 proving that “there is close link between the Rwandan and Burundian insurgent forces, including increasing coordination, cooperation and joint planning between the former Rwandan government forces/Interahamwe and the Burundian Conseil National pour la Defense de la Démocratie and its military wing, the Front pour la Défense de la Démocratier (CNDD-FDD (§ 108 d) The following year, in 1998 the same UN published another report, S/1998/777 proving once again that ” very close co-operation exists between the ex-FAR and two of the Burundian rebel groups: CNDD/FDD and the Parti pour la libération du peuple hutu (PALIPEHUTU) and its military wing, the Forces Nationales de Libération (FNL).” (paragraph 46)
The same report publishes the ” Cooperation Agreement (in Appendix II) signed May 22, 1995 in Bukavu (Democratic Republic of Congo) by the high command of the FAR and the CNDD, formalizing cooperation between the two parties. It was signed by Leonard Nyangoma, President of the CNDD, and Major General Augustin Bizimungu, Commander and Chief of Staff of the ex-FAR. In the preamble to this document, both sides say they are “convinced of the benefits of pooling resources, both material and financial, and coordination of all actions that are needed to ensure a final victory of the FAR and FDD. “(paragraph 47)
On May 21, 1997, another cooperation agreement was signed in DRC between the FNL’s Kagoma battalion and the FAR. It translates as: “We, the delegations of the Kagoma Battalion and Forces Nationales de Liberation, having met successively on April 25 and April 26,1997; May 5 and tMay 21, 1997; have agreed to unite in order to fight our common enemy, namely the Mututsi and his acolytes; in view to free our beloved nation. To achieve this, after our meeting this May 21, 1997, our cooperation project was successful, and we have decided what follows:
1 ° The merger of the Forces under the name “NATIONAL LIBERATION FORCES”;
2 ° The Forces thus merged are dedicated to the total liberation of the Hutu Nation;
3 ° To achieve the objective assigned to the National Liberation Forces, it was decided to begin our struggle from the front of Burundi, the Rwanda front will come second;
4 Throughout the process of liberation, the two forces’ logistics, material, and human means are common.
In other words, the false rebels, who run the institutions of the puppet government in Bujumbura Burundi are not even Burundian!
Is there a reason why law and morality are so despised, even in Burundi? Is there a reason why criminals against humanity continue to be proclaimed kings in Burundi for the same crimes and same accomplices that put them to trial in the case of neighboring Rwanda?
Now that we have been honoring and incensing shame and dishonor, it is high time to go back and earnestly realize that happy and peaceful future is on the side of the proponents of the rule of law in Burundi.
 Economic and Social Council deferred E/CN.4/1996/4/Add.1 24 July 1995 § 37
 Human Rights Watch, Neglecting Justice in Making Peace, 2001
 International Commission of Inquiry for Burundi Final Report (S/1996/682)
10th anniversary of the Titanic Express massacre: Statement from Burundian diaspora group Action Contre Genocide
STATEMENT ON THE 10th COMMEMORATION OF THE TITANIC EXPRESS MASSACRE
On December 28th, 2000; the PALIPEHUTU-FNL terrorist organization attacked the Titanic Express bus at Mageyo in Burundi, and selectively killed all ethnic Tutsi and anyone who looked so or who happened to be travelling with a Tutsi. Twenty-one innocent people including children aged less than 5 years were thus massacred in cold blood.
As we commemorate this terrorist attack, the Toronto Branch of AC Genocide Canada expresses the deepest sympathy to the victims’ families and to all those who lost their loved ones in this ignoble attack.
The Toronto Branch of AC Genocide Canada recalls that this anniversary is made even bleaker by the impunity that PALIPEHUTU-FNL has been enjoying together with the ruling CNDD-FDD and FRODEBU, although both parties were found by UN inquiry commissions to have prepared and carried out genocide against the Tutsi in Burundi (Report S/1998/777, pages 10-24; Report S/1996/682, page 74).
The Toronto Branch of AC Genocide Canada strongly condemns once more the sustained support that the international community has brought to these organizations despite the unspeakable atrocities that they have committed.
The Toronto Branch of AC Genocide Canada condemns further the de facto amnesty that PALIPEHUTU-FNL has acquired as the United Nations and major world democracies supported peace negotiations in Burundi that put the enthronement of terrorist organizations before justice.
The Toronto branch of AC Genocide Canada recalls the United Nations that if impunity is prevailing in Burundi, it is because they have failed their obligations as parties to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which binds the signatories to punish organizations which commit genocide.
The Toronto Branch of AC Genocide Canada invites the United Kingdom, Canada, and all other countries whose citizens were killed in Titanic Express massacre, to realize that:
(a) the decade-old promise by the Burundi government to investigate the Titanic Express attack has not materialized so far;
(b) as long as Burundi is governed by an organization like CNDD-FDD which, like the PALIPEHUTU-FNL, has committed genocide against the Tutsi without ever being tried, no reliable investigation can be made in the Titanic Express massacre or in any other atrocities;
(c) under Burundi’s current regime whereby the Head of State Pierre Nkurunziza, is a convict himself for his leading role in crimes against humanity, Burundi gives no hope of justice for the victims of atrocities that were committed by PALIPEHUTU-FNL, CNDD-FDD and FRODEBU organizations;
The Toronto Branch of AC Genocide Canada urges the United Nations to assign the above investigations to a neutral, international commission, and to establish an International Tribunal for Burundi that would try the accused in accordance with the UN report S/1996/682, Paragraph 496 .
The Toronto Branch of AC Genocide Canada reaffirms her belief that granting amnesty to organizations like PALIPEHUTU-FNL, CNDD-FDD and FRODEBU who have committed inamnistiable crimes, is double standard to the people of Burundi for whom crimes that are internationally punished, are deemed normal political activities and swept under the carpet with consent of the international community.
The Toronto Branch of AC Genocide Canada calls once again for the trial of all people and all organizations like PALPEHUTU-FNL, CNDD-FDD and FRODEBU who committed genocide and other crimes against humanity in Burundi.
Done at Toronto, December 28th, 2010.
Toronto Branch of AC-Génocide Canada www.acgenocide.blogspot.com
On December 28th 2000, twenty-one unarmed civilians, including my sister Charlotte Wilson (a British aid worker), and her Burundian fiancé Richard Ndereyimana, were massacred after their bus, bearing the ill-fated name “Titanic Express”, was ambushed in Bujumbura-Rurale, close to the Burundian capital Bujumbura.
According to survivors, the attackers opened fire on the bus at around 3.30pm local time (1.30pm in the UK), shooting out the tyres and forcing it to crash. A large, well-armed group then surrounded the vehicle, ordered the passengers out, robbed them, and separated them according to their ethnicity. Several Hutus and Congolese were released unharmed. The remaining passengers were stripped to their underclothes, made to lie face down on the ground, and shot. Most of the victims were Rwandan and Burundian Tutsis. Charlotte Wilson was the only European on board.
Who carried out the attack?
The Titanic Express massacre took place in an area dominated by a Hutu-extremist rebel group known for its hatred of Tutsis, Palipehutu-FNL (aka “the FNL”). One survivor recounts that the attackers specifically identified themselves, saying “We are the FNL, not your FDD” (FDD was the FNL’s largest rival at the time). Others have simply described them as “rebels”.
In March 2001 Amnesty International listed the Titanic Express attack among several believed to have been carried out by the FNL. In May 2001, the International Crisis Group attributed the Titanic Express attack to FNL “troops under the order of… Agathon Rwasa”. A Human Rights Watch report from April 2000 lists a number of carried out a number of similar attacks in the same area earlier in 2000.
In 2002, a document emerged which appears to be a detailed report by the FNL, signed by Commandant Albert Sibomana, of the Titanic Express attack, listing what was looted from the bus, how many people were killed and how many bullets were expended in killing them. Dozens of smaller attacks were listed in the same report.
Sibomana’s track record is bloodthirsty even by the standards of Burundi’s conflict. In February 2000, he reportedly oversaw the massacre of hundreds of his own comrades, after a split within the FNL.
At the time of the Titanic Express attack, Agathon Rwasa was FNL “Chief of Operations” around Bujumbura. In early 2001, he ousted the FNL’s then leader Kossan Kabura, and assumed overall control of the whole group.
Following years of negotiations, the FNL agreed to end hostilities in April 2009, and began disarming. But amid ongoing instability, the UN recently reported that Rwasa was remobilising his forces for a “new holy war” from bases in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Later I’ll add some links to further reading on Burundi’s recent history, and the long-promised plans for a UN-backed “Special Chamber” and Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Video piece about Charlotte’s murder – “Rights Universal”, Channel 4, 2008
Charlotte Wilson, a British citizen, was killed in a bus massacre in Burundi on December 28th 2000. It was one of many brutal ethnic attacks by the Hutu-extremist “Forces Nationales de Liberation” (FNL). Despite repeated promises, the Burundian government has made no serious effort to investigate the killings, or prosecute those responsible.
On the 10th anniversary of Charlotte’s death, her family are urging the UK government to press Burundi to keep its promises, and bring the perpetrators of this massacre to justice.
If you have thirty seconds – please show your support by joining the Justice For Charlotte Facebook group.
If you have five minutes -please contact your MP via this website, asking them to raise Charlotte Wilson’s case with the UK Foreign Office.
Charlotte’s family are asking the UK government to press the Burundian President, Pierre Nkurunziza, to fulfil his longstanding promise to set up a special UN-backed court to investigate the many abuses committed during the country’s long civil war, and prosecute the worst offenders. Human rights experts argue that this approach offers the best hope of achieving both justice and peace in this troubled country. Charlotte’s family believe that the establishment of this special court will be a major step towards justice for the victims of the December 28th 2000 “Titanic Express” bus massacre.
Tragically, while the war criminals remain free, one of the Burundian journalists who has done most to highlight the Titanic Express massacre, Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, has been languishing in prison since July. He is facing a criminal trial for “defamation” and “treason” after making critical comments about Burundi’s army.
PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in French, English, Kirundi or your own language:
- expressing grave concern that journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu has been detained on charges of treason and defamation for criticizing the Burundian security services;
- urging the authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression;
- reminding the authorities that, as a state party to the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Burundi is obliged to uphold the right to freedom of expression.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 17 JANUARY 2011 TO:
Pierre Nkurunziza, Président de la République, Présidence de la République, Boulevard de l’Uprona, Rohero I, BP 1870, Bujumbura, Burundi
Fax: +257 22 24 89 08
Agathon Rwasa is the militia leader whose forces carried the December 28th 2000 “Titanic Express” massacre in Burundi, of which my sister Charlotte was one of 21 victims. The UN recently reported that Rwasa was remobilising his forces from bases in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in preparation for a new “holy war”. The Banyamulenge blog Journal Mibembwe gives more details:
From Journal Mibembwe:
As was reported recently in our news, the security continues to deteriorate in the high plateaux of Bijombo, district of Uvira, where most civilians from the Banyamulenge ethnic group are still victims of the ongoing conflicts in the region. These people, mostly pastoralists, have nothing to do with politics. Those who managed to escape, however, still face the same situation where their killers followed them even across the borders in the neighbouring countries like Burundi where many hundreds have been slaughtered in a refugee camp in August 2004.
Some of those who claimed responsibility in the killings, like Mr. Agathon Rwasa, still move around freely. Instead of being arrested and judged for his acts, credible sources say that this experienced killer, Agathon Rwasa, has found refuge in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Banyamulenge community feel threatened by his presence in the region.
Last time we reported a transfer of some the FARDC army commanders in the high plateaux of Bijombo, causing increased fear in the Banyamulenge community of more insecurity and threats carried out by the government troops in their villages. This is seen by many as the continuation of some politicians’ plans, like ANZULUNI BEMBE from 1993, to exterminate the Banyamulenge under the pretext that they are ‘foreigners’ or just for who they are, like what Agathon Rwasa has done in Gatumba (Burundi) in 2004.
UK Africa Minister Henry Bellingham says that he and his colleagues can be “candid friends” of the Sudanese dictatorship, whose president is wanted for genocide by the International Criminal Court
So this is what the UK government means by “boosting UK trade links” with Sudan…
From The Guardian
Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, has siphoned as much as $9bn out of his impoverished country, and much of it may be stashed in London banks, according to secret US diplomatic cables that recount conversations with the chief prosecutor of the international criminal court.
Some of the funds may be held by the part-nationalised Lloyds Banking Group, according to prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who told US officials it was time to go public with the scale of Bashir’s theft in order to turn Sudanese public opinion against him.
“Ocampo suggested if Bashir’s stash of money were disclosed (he put the figure at $9bn), it would change Sudanese public opinion from him being a ‘crusader’ to that of a thief,” one report by a senior US official states. “Ocampo reported Lloyds bank in London may be holding or knowledgeable of the whereabouts of his money,” the cable says. “Ocampo suggested exposing Bashir had illegal accounts would be enough to turn the Sudanese against him.”
BURUNDI: DEMAND RELEASE OF ONLINE EDITOR
Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, the editor of a Burundian online news agency, Netpress, has been detained since July after suggesting that the Burundian security forces could not defend the country. He has not been tried and was denied a bail request on appeal in November.
Jean-Claude Kavumbagu published an article on 12 July 2010, one day after suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda, criticizing the capacity of Burundian security forces to protect the country from a terrorist attack. Somali Islamist armed group, al-Shabaab, claimed responsibility for the bombings in Uganda. They also threatened to attack Burundi in retaliation for Burundi’s participation in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
Jean-Claude Kavumbagu’s article said that “the anxiety has been palpable in Bujumbura and all those who have heard about [the bombings] yesterday in Kampala were convinced that if the al-Shabaab militants wanted to try ‘something’ in our country, they would succeed with disconcerting ease, [as] our defense and security forces shine in their capacity to pillage and kill their compatriots rather than defend our country.” He was arrested on 17 July, questioned without a lawyer, charged with treason, and transferred to Mpimba Central Prison, Bujumbura.
Treason is a crime punishable by life imprisonment and is only applicable under Burundian law in time of war. Jean-Claude Kavumbagu has also been charged with defamation and violating Burundi’s press law. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression. His detention may detrimentally impact on the exercise of free expression in Burundi. It could increase self-censorship by other journalists to protect themselves from arbitrary arrest and detention.
Jean-Claude Kavumbagu’s bail request was rejected on 6 September. At the appeal on 9 November, his defence claimed that violating the press law and defamation do not justify preventative detention and that treason is not a valid charge. However, the Appeal Court of Bujumbura confirmed his pre-trial detention on 11 November. As of 6 December, his lawyers had not received a copy of the ruling and were waiting for the trial date to be announced.
Mpimba Central Prison is overcrowded and insanitary and conditions fall well below international standards.
PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in French, English, Kirundi or your own language:
expressing grave concern that journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu has been detained on charges of treason and defamation for criticizing the Burundian security services;
urging the authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression;
reminding the authorities that, as a state party to the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Burundi is obliged to uphold the right to freedom of expression.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 17 JANUARY 2011 TO:
Pierre Nkurunziza, Président de la République, Présidence de la République, Boulevard de l’Uprona, Rohero I, BP 1870, Bujumbura, Burundi
Fax: +257 22 24 89 08
Salutation: Monsieur le Président/ Your Excellency
Minister of Justice and Keeper of Seals
Madame Ancilla Ntakaburimvo
Ministre de la Justice et Garde des Sceaux, Ministère de la Justice et Garde des Sceaux, BP 1880Bujumbura, Burundi
Fax: +257 22 21 86 10
Salutation: Madame la Ministre
And copies to:
The Prosecutor of the Republic
Monsieur Elyse Ndaye
Procureur Générale de la République
Fax: +257 22 27 30 53
Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.
BURUNDI: DEMAND RELEASE OF ONLINE EDITOR
Burundi has a vibrant media and journalists continue to criticize the government despite attempts to silence them. The Burundian government has used prolonged pre-trial detention, harassment by judicial authorities and substantive and procedural violations of Burundian law to unduly restrict freedom of speech. Burundi is a state party to both the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantee the right to freedom of expression.
The Burundian government is particularly sensitive to criticism of their security forces. Al-Shabaab, a Somali Islamist armed group, has threatened to attack Burundi, as well as Uganda, in retaliation for their contributions to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). AMISOM is a peace support operation mandated to protect the institutions of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia. The 11 July bombings in Kampala, Uganda, for which al-Shabaab claimed responsibility, killed 74 people who had come together to watch the World Cup Final, and injured another 70.
Jean-Claude Kavumbagu was arrested on 17 July by Colonel David Nikiza, the Commander of the Western Region, who presented him with a mandat d’amener (an order calling him before the prosecutor). He was charged with treason defined under Article 570 of the Burundian criminal code as: “any Burundian who, in times of war… knowingly participates in an attempt to demoralize the Army or the Nation, with the object of weakening national defense.” Jean-Claude Kavumbagu has also been charged with defamation (imputations dommageables), under Article 251 of the penal code, and violating Article 50 of the 2003 press law (loi No 1 025 du Novembre 2003 regissant la presse du Burundi).
On 30 July, Jean-Claude Kavumbagu was brought before the High Court in Bujumbura (Tribunal de Grande Instance de la Mairie de Bujumbura). His lawyer requested bail, arguing that his pre-trial detention was not prescribed by Burundian law. The court did not rule on the case because one judge had been transferred to another court two days earlier – a move attracting criticism from 10 civil society organizations in a joint communiqué because the judge waited until the trial date to notify the court. The court was forced to wait until September, after the August judicial holidays, to reconvene.
Jean-Claude Kavumbagu’s bail request was finally heard on 1 September. The court ruled on 6 September that Jean-Claude Kavumbagu would be remanded in custody to ensure his availability for the investigation. At the appeal on 9 November, the defence called for provisional liberty claiming that two charges – violating the press law and defamation – did not, under Burundian law, justify preventative detention. The defence stated that if Jean-Claude Kavumbagu were to be charged with treason, the Prosecution would need to declare that Burundi was at war on 12 July. The representative for the Public Prosecutor stated that Burundi had not been at war on 12 July, but that it was for the court to decide. The Appeal Court of Bujumbura confirmed his pre-trial detention on 11 November.
Jean-Claude Kavumbagu has been a prisoner of conscience several times, most recently in 2008 when he was charged with defamation. He alleged that the cost of President Nkurunziza’s trip to see the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics had caused some civil servants’ salaries to be paid late. He was held in pre-trial detention for seven months before being acquitted in March 2009. The Prosecutor appealed the acquittal and the case remains open.
UA: 248/10 Index: AFR 16/004/2010 Issue Date: 06 December 2010
The Guardian reports that the Culture minister Jeremy Hunt has accused BBC staff of having a left-wing bias, suggesting that “it was clear to most people that more BBC employees would vote Labour or Lib Dem than Conservative”.
But given that the Tories mustered just 36% of the popular vote at the last election – while the combined Lib Dem and Labour popular vote was 52% – should this really be seen as a surprise, or indeed a serious problem?
If we factor in the detail that just 65% of those eligible to vote (ie. adult UK citizens, themselves a subset of the British/NI population) actually did so, the figures look even worse. In total, just 10.7 million UK residents voted Conservative – little more than a sixth of the total population. By any measure, voting Tory is a niche interest.
To put it another way if the majority of BBC staff were Conservative rather than Labour/Lib Dem voters, this would make the BBC even less representative of the UK at large than it currently is.
If voting Conservative is a niche interest, then so too, in fairness, is voting Labour (8.6 million votes at the last election, or 14% of the UK population) and voting Liberal Democrat (6.8 million votes – 11%). At the last election, the combined vote for all three of the main political parties was 26.15 million - barely 42% of the population.
There is, perhaps, a case for regarding the BBC as relatively left-wing compared to the bulk of the British press – but then again most UK voters are significantly to the left of the bulk of the British press. At the last election, while just 36% of voters (17% of the total UK population) supported the Conservative party, 7 of out of 11 daily national newspapers backed the Tories . The Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Star, Daily Telegraph, Sun, Times and Financial Times all came out for the Conservatives, with just the Morning Star, Independent, Guardian and Mirror supporting Labour, the Lib Dems, or another party.
A more interesting question, it seems to me, is who actually gets given a platform by the BBC, and on what basis, and how much prime air time their views are allotted within political coverage. The ubiquitous Nick Robinson, the BBC’s chief political editor, started his adult life as President of the Oxford University Conservative Association and shows little sign of having changed his allegiances since then. Andrew “don’t mention the denialists” Neil, presenter of the BBC’s “Daily Politics Show”, is the former editor of Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times and has a longstanding relationship with the Spectator magazine. The hard-right commentators Fraser Nelson, Andrew Green, James Delingpole and Melanie Phillips appear so often on the BBC’s flagship political panel shows that one wonders if the beeb is operating some sort of quota system…
If anyone knows of any analysis of how such pundits are selected by the BBC, and the overall political weighting of the views represented on Question Time, Any Questions, the Daily Politics, Newsnight, the Moral Maze, the Today Programme etc., I’d be interested to see it.
A few weeks ago I saw Wikileaks spokesman Julian Assange debating Times pundit David Aaronovitch on the ethics of transparency and disclosure, at City University in London. The big question of the night was whether Wikileaks should have done more to protect the identities of the Afghan informants featured in the now-famous US military Afghan War Logs – and to what extent Wikileaks would be culpable if anyone identified in the logs was killed by the Taleban.
David Aaronovitch came across as thoughtful, measured, and courteous – praising many of Assange’s achievements but challenging him to acknowledge greater moral complexity, and take more responsibility for the possible unintended consequences of his work. Assange, by contrast, seemed condescending, and at times bad-tempered, giving a series of abstract and elliptical answers that were often much stronger on rhetoric than detail.
Although a number of Aaronovitch’s arguments seemed to me to be deeply flawed, they were masterfully made, and Assange did a poor job of responding to them. The audience appeared unimpressed.
In my view, Julian Assange has done himself no favours by appearing to suggest that the greater-good of a more transparent world might justify (or morally counterbalance) some degree of “collateral damage” to innocent people inadvertently put at risk by being identified on Wikileaks.
It seems to me that there are some serious ethical issues at stake in the publication of details which could lead to increased risks for innocent people, and that there are valid questions to be asked about the Wikileaks “harm minimization policy”.
And yet I don’t believe that any of the above criticisms quite does the job that the most vehement critics of Wikileaks seem to want them to. Julian Assange may be arrogant, condescending and a poor debating match for David Aaronovitch – he may even be guilty of the (as yet unproven) charges laid against him by the Swedish authorities. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s wrong about the realities of UK and US foreign policy, or about the need for a radical shift towards greater public transparency worldwide.
Likewise, if it did transpire (and I’m not aware of any direct evidence to date) that an innocent person had been injured or killed at the hands of someone who had identified them via a document published on Wikileaks, this would, in my view, be a serious moral indictment. But it would not necessarily mean that Wikileaks were at fault in seeking to publish the document in some form – only that they were negligent in failing to redact all identifiable personal details.
While the issue of “harm minimization” cannot simply be brushed aside, it is clearly not the only ethical issue at stake in the debate about Wikileaks. One of the most serious charges made against the UK and US governments in the light of the Afghan War Logs and the more recent “cablegate” revelations is that the political elites who determine policy – both the politicians and the bureaucrats who advise them – have systematically deceived their electorates about the realities of the war in Afghanistan. As John Naughton puts it:
The WikiLeaks revelations expose the extent to which the US and its allies see no real prospect of turning Afghanistan into a viable state, let alone a functioning democracy. They show that there is no light at the end of this tunnel. But the political establishments in Washington, London and Brussels cannot bring themselves to admit this. Afghanistan is, in that sense, the same kind of quagmire as Vietnam was. The only differences are that the war is now being fought by non-conscripted troops and we are not carpet-bombing civilians, but otherwise little has changed…
These realities are, of course, plain to see, because even the mainstream media, despite its need always to pay tribute to “our brave troops”, has had to report some of it. But what nobody has known until now — outside of the magic circles of the Beltway, Whitehall and NATO HQ — is that our rulers privately concede the hopelessness of the venture. The implicit cynicism and hypocrisy of this is breathtaking — and it goes a long way towards explaining the irrational fury of our political elites at having it exposed in so brutal and unmediated a fashion.
If this analysis is fair, then it seems to me that Naughton may also be broadly correct that the latest row “represents the first really serious confrontation between the established order and the culture of the Net”.
I’ve been aware of Wikileaks since the early days of their existence. But I began following them closely last year, after the Trafigura super-injunction scandal, which centred on an internal company document, the “Minton Report”, published by Wikileaks in September 2009. Being based far outside of UK legal jurisdiction, relatively anonymous and with an opaque legal structure, Wikileaks were able to publish the information freely, at a time when the UK media had been comprehensively gagged. The fact that the “banned” information was so easily available from Wikileaks to anyone in the UK via a simple Google search helped to render Trafigura’s super-injunction redundant. The injunction was ultimately dropped, allowing the mainstream press to report freely on the case.
The Trafigura incident highlighted starkly just how constrained the UK media is. But it also gave insights into how a site like Wikileaks could be used to weaken and circumvent those constraints. A UK court had issued an injunction threatening jail-time for contempt-of-court to anyone who so much as referred to the “Minton Report”. Wikileaks had blithely ignored it. It was impossible not to wonder what they would turn up next – or how far they would be allowed to go before a concerted attempt was made to shut them down.
The very existence of Wikileaks also seemed to point towards a larger question – how durable is the scale of freedom that has developed on the internet in recent years? Will the net really lead to a permanent “redistribution of data” – the mass availability of information previously so jealously guarded by the media and political elites? Or will the current era come to be seen as a short-lived blip – an involuntarily loosening of controls that lasted only as long as it took for the elites to figure out the dynamics of the new technology, devise new systems for bringing it under control, and develop the political means to apply those systems worldwide?
It seems possible that we will get some clues about these questions over the next year. Will Julian Assange receive a credible and fair trial in Sweden if, as seems likely, he is arrested and extradited in the next few weeks on rape charges? Will he ultimately be handed over to the US authorities and prosecuted for some yet-to-be-defined espionage offence – and if so will he get a fair trial there? Will the US government seek to make an example of the suspected whistleblower Bradley Manning by pressing for the death penalty, as senior Republican politicians appear to be demanding? Will the political fallout generated by the Wikileaks revelations lead US legislators to support new laws watering down constitutional free speech protections? Will US allies around the world be persuaded to modify their own laws to make it more difficult for websites like Wikileaks to operate outside the reach of US jurisdiction? Will the bulk of the established mainsteam media support such efforts at increased censorship, or seek to rally public opinion against them?
At this stage I still find the signs very difficult to read. Many technical people I’ve spoken to seem convinced that there is simply no practical way, in technological terms, of controlling internet traffic without also imposing Chinese-style levels of domestic political surveillance and repression. National governments may succeed in shutting down sites like Wikileaks temporarily, the argument goes – but while the technology for sharing large amounts of data and putting it online is so ubiquitous and easy to master, it’s inevitable that censored information will simply reappear elsewhere on the net before too long.
On the other hand, the forces ranged against Wikileaks – and the idea that it represents – now seem formidable. Where previously the United States – and to a lesser extent the member countries of the European Union – have taken a broadly liberal stance on internet censorship, the position appears to be shifting. Commenting on developments in a statement earlier this week, the press freedom group Reporters Sans Frontieres noted that:
French digital economy minister Eric Besson today said the French government was looking at ways to ban hosting of the site. WikiLeaks was also recently dropped by its domain name provider EveryDNS. Meanwhile, several countries well known for for their disregard of freedom of expression and information, including Thailand and China, have blocked access to cablegate.wikileaks.org.
This is the first time we have seen an attempt at the international community level to censor a website dedicated to the principle of transparency. We are shocked to find countries such as France and the United States suddenly bringing their policies on freedom of expression into line with those of China. We point out that in France and the United States, it is up to the courts, not politicians, to decide whether or not a website should be closed.
While the five permanent members of the UN Security Council may not be able to agree unanimously on much, the political elites in Britain, France, Russia, the United States and China suddenly seem much closer to a consensus on the need to control the information that their subjects can access online. And while western countries have opposed moves within the UN to create an international convention criminalising the “defamation of religion”, it’s harder to predict which way they would jump if a UN member state proposed a treaty to impose global controls on the internet.
Striking, too, has been the character of response from many mainstream US establishment figures to the exposure of their country’s embarrassing secrets. Newt Gingrich (former Speaker of the House of Representatives) has called for Julian Assange to be treated as an “enemy combatant” – placing him in the same category as the terror suspects denied basic legal rights and detained and tortured at Guantanamo Bay. Former Republican Vice Presidential candidate and likely Presidential contender Sarah Palin has called for him to be “hunted like Osama bin Laden”. The Washington Times, meanwhile, has published what could be described as a “fatwa” by Jeffrey T Kuhner, the President of the “Edmund Burke Institute”, urging the extrajudicial killing of Julian Assange on English soil.
Already it seems that there is pressure within the United States to extend the legal category of “non-person”, previously reserved for those suspected of direct involvement in terrorist atrocities, to cover those who publish information that the government alleges puts national security at risk.
While it seems doubtful that the current US administration would go to such extremes, given the Republican Party’s current rhetoric, their past record on torture and due process, and the lack of any prosecutions to deter such abuses in future, it’s difficult to predict how far they will go if they succeed in winning back the Presidency at the next election.
The position of the established media, too, seems uncertain. While the Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times have been instrumental in disseminating edited highlights of the recent Wikileaks disclosures, the conservative media have been active in airing the most authoritarian demands of the American hard-right, while others have been keen to offer their advice in how the “threat” might be contained.
“If America feels threatened by WikiLeaks”, writes the Economist, “then it should lean on its allies—Sweden, Iceland and Belgium—to strip the organisation of the protections it so carefully gathers as it shifts its information around the world. Mr Assange has suggested that he might be hounded all the way to Russia or Cuba. If he has to take all of his servers with him, it will be harder for him to act so boldly.”
Alexis Sinduhije is an award-winning former journalist and political prisoner, now the leader of Burundi’s “Movement for Security and Democracy”. I’ve been in touch with him since 2002, when he was director of Burundi’s groundbreaking Radio Publique Africaine. During Burundi’s long civil war, RPA took the lead in investigating and reporting on the abuses on both sides, including the December 2000 “Titanic Express” massacre, in which my sister Charlotte was killed.
Earlier today I emailed Alexis to tell him about my own plans for marking the 10th anniversary of the attack. I was pleased and encouraged to get this reply: “I support your action. I am on the same stand: justice, justice and justice for the victims of Titanic”.
Alexis speaks in more detail here about the wider need for justice in Burundi as a means of breaking the cycle of corruption and abuse.
Earlier this week I wrote about my plans for marking the 10th anniversary of the December 2000 massacre in which my sister Charlotte was killed. Today I was sent a UN report suggesting that the group responsible, Burundi’s hardline Hutu FNL militia, are mobilising in the Democratic Republic of Congo for a new “holy war”.
From the Final report of the UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (page 32), 29th November 2010:
113. During its mandate, the Group has followed closely the remobilization of the Burundian rebel group, FNL. Led by Agathon Rwasa, FNL combatants were either integrated into the Burundian security services or were demobilized in mid-2009. Rwasa was to have been one of the main candidates in the 2010 presidential elections in Burundi, but withdrew from the contest citing concerns over fraud, after FNL and other opposition parties were heavily defeated by the ruling Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie party of Pierre Nkurunziza, in local elections held on 24 May. In early July, Rwasa disappeared from Bujumbura.
114. According to multiple credible sources in Uvira, Rwasa crossed into the Democratic Republic of the Congo north of Kavimvira with the support of Colonel Baudoin Nakabaka (deputy commander of the 10th military region of FARDC) (see S/2009/603, paras. 25-27, 29-31, 33, 39, 70, 73, 80, 150, 159 and annexes 14, 50and 51). According to Congolese intelligence and several local sources, Rwasa was subsequently transported to Bukavu by Nakabaka and stayed with the commander of the 10th military region of FARDC, General Patrick Masunzu (see S/2009/603, paras. 25, 29, 48, 53, 158 and 159). The Group met eyewitnesses who confirmed Rwasa’s subsequent presence in Mwenga, where, according to Congolese intelligence services, he met FDLR representatives to form an alliance. According to diplomatic sources in the region, FDLR and Nakabaka have promised to provide financial backing for FNL.
115. Since Rwasa’s departure from Burundi, FNL has reportedly mobilized an estimated 700 of its most experienced combatants within the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone. According to diplomatic sources and former members of FNL, as at September 2010 there were more than 400 combatants based in the high plateaux of Minembwe, more than 200 in Kiliba, north of the Burundi border, another 100 north of Sange in the Ruzizi plain and an unknown number in Fizi territory. According to the same sources, those forces are led by Antoine “Shuti” Baranyanka, the former chief military commander of FNL. Instead of being integrated into the Burundian army with the rank of lieutenant general, Baranyanka opted to be demobilized in what analysts considered a “reserve option” for Rwasa in case of an adverse result in the Burundian elections (see annex 12).
116. In addition to its alliance with FDLR, FNL has also reportedly joined forces with the Mai Mai Yakutumba of the Bembe community in Fizi territory. According to MONUSCO and diplomatic sources, FNL has benefited from FDLR and Mai Mai Yakutumba’s strategic access to ports commonly used for smuggling across Lake Tanganyika. The Group has learned that, as a result, Rwasa himself has been able to make frequent trips between the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kigoma and Dar es Salaam in the United Republic of Tanzania. The Group also obtained documents of ongoing investigations concerning the disappearance of weapons within the FARDC Zone 4 headquarters, commanded by Colonel Bernard Byamungu (see S/2009/603, annex 124). According to FARDC sources, those weapons could have been supplied to FNL.
117. Eyewitnesses to FNL recruitment activities along the Burundi/Democratic Republic of the Congo border informed the Group that FNL was offering 80,000 Burundian francs to new recruits but selecting only those with previous combat experience. This is likely to include sympathizers who have deserted the ranks of the Burundian security services; the Group has confirmed 20 such cases through interviews with FNL defectors. Burundian authorities have attempted to arrest potential candidates crossing into the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The highest-ranking officer from the Burundian army to join FNL in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was Major Nzabampema who, according to Burundian intelligence services, survived an ambush en route to joining “Shuti” at Kiliba.
118. In addition, according to sources in the Burundian police and intelligence services, FNL has benefited from the support of Burundian businessmen. Former members of FNL informed the Group that some of the businessmen had provided “Shuti” with over $30,000 in order to begin his recruitment. According to those same sources, when the FNL leadership was negotiating with representatives of the Burundian Government in the United Republic of Tanzania in 2008, one of those businessmen proposed to Rwasa that FNL attack Bujumbura, during which operation he promised to deliver support from soldiers in the Burundian army.
119. In his public statements, Rwasa has explicitly denied that he was involved in a new armed rebellion. However, numerous credible sources informed the Group that Rwasa had made statements to his supporters that this new war would be a “holy war” and would transcend ethnicity. Meanwhile, members of other opposition political parties have also joined the ranks of FNL, including some members of MSD, which commands a strong following among the country’s urban Tutsi youth. While not significant in numbers, FNL does receive some support from its fellow opposition party, the Union for Peace and Development (UPD), led by Hussein Rajabu, who is imprisoned. According to Burundian authorities, a UPD leader by the name of Jean-Petit has joined Rwasa’s new rebellion. According to former FNL sources, Rwasa is exploring ways to finance his movement through involvement in the gold trade.