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Archive for the ‘Peace or appeasement?’ Category

New film looks at unanswered questions around Western complicity in 1975 East Timor invasion

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Written by Richard Wilson

September 3, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Posted in Corruption, Peace or appeasement?

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Justice not therapy…

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Vintage stuff  by Ken Roth and the late great Alison Des Forges, in defence of the basic principles of international justice, and individual responsibility. From the Boston Review:

[Helena] Cobban argues that criminal prosecutions are a “strait-jacket” solution imposed from outside Rwanda. But the Rwandan government itself initially requested the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (though it later opposed it) and decided on national trials for the more than 100,000 jailed in Rwanda on charges of genocide…

Cobban’s analysis is most troubling when she resorts to medical metaphor. She acknowledges the planning and organization of the genocide by state authorities, detailing how killers coolly and regularly slaughtered Tutsis as daily “work.” Yet in her view, these were not horrible crimes but a “social psychosis,” not acts of volition but a “collective frenzy”; the architects of the genocide are not more culpable than ordinary killers but “sicker.”

Cobban’s analysis resembles that of the perpetrators themselves. They argued that the slaughter was “spontaneous,” committed by people driven mad out of fear and anger. Rwandan killers have indeed been traumatized but their ailment resulted from their conduct rather than causing it.

Mob psychology cannot explain choices made during the genocide: why some individuals killed for reward or pleasure, or from fear of punishment, while others did not. To judge the killers as merely “sick” devalues the courage and decency of the millions who resisted this inhumanity, sometimes at the cost of their lives.

Cobban’s medical metaphor allows no place for individual responsibility. A person plagued by cancer is a victim of unfortunate circumstance, but is not at fault. Murderers, let alone orchestrators of genocide, are different. When they corral victims into churches and stadiums and systematically slaughter them with guns and machetes, the killers are not the latest hapless victims of the genocidal flu. They are deliberate, immoral actors. Treating them as no more culpable than children who refuse to wear coats and catch cold is both wrong and dangerous. Wrong because it does a deep disservice to the victims, as if their deaths were a natural accident, not a deliberate choice. Dangerous because it signals to other would-be mass murderers that they risk not punishment but, at most, communal therapy sessions.

Written by Richard Wilson

February 22, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Church-aided rebel group rampages through Congo, killing hundreds

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The BBC reports that more than 400 people have been killed in the last few days, after Uganda’s Lords Resistance Army stepped up its war on civilians in the North-Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The article cites the Catholic aid NGO Caritas as its source for the casualty figures – but fails to mention that the same organisation was earlier this year implicated in supplying food and medicine to the LRA, amid the misguided hope that this would help persuade them to sign a peace deal. In fact, this material support gave the group a vital lifeline, allowing it to sustain its fighters while it reorganised and rearmed under the cover of the ongoing peace negotiations.

As long ago as October 2007, the International Criminal Court had warned that the LRA was selling surplus food aid in order to buy weapons. But the Catholic Church appears to have taken no notice, with Caritas continuing to supply aid until at least April 2008 – six months after the ICC had publicly raised its concerns.

UN report sheds light on the credulity of international donors as regional governments finally lose patience with Uganda’s LRA rebels

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From The Times

An intelligence document compiled by the United Nations mission to Congo, known as Monuc, spells out the scale of the threat. It says that the LRA cynically used the peace talks to organise itself into a regional fighting force. The 670-strong band of fighters now has more than 150 satellite telephones, many bought with cash meant to aid communications during the talks. “Simply put, Kony now has the ability to divide his forces into very simple groups and to reassemble them at will,” the report says. “When put together with his proven mastery of bush warfare, this gives him new potency within his area of operations.”

They were given tonnes of food by a charity, Caritas Uganda, to discourage the looting of villages, and fistfuls of dollars by southern Sudan’s new leaders, whom they once fought.

General Kony is stronger than ever, the report concludes: “Recent abduction patterns suggest that he is now in the process of perfecting the new skill of recruiting and controlling an international force of his own.”

See also:  Catholic aid charity Caritas accused of materially supporting LRA terror group

UN mediators fooled again by LRA leader Joseph Kony

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From the Institute of War and Peace Reporting

After announcing that he would sign a peace deal with the Ugandan government on Saturday, November 29, Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony again drew a crowd to the jungle camp of Nabanga on the border between South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.

As Kony has done in the past, he balked, leaving a host of his Acholi tribal and cultural leaders waiting and wanting, along with the United Nations special envoy Joachim Chissano, the talk’s chief mediatory, South Sudan vice- president Riek Machar and a flock of international observers.

While the signing of the agreement would certainly have been a milestone in the history of Uganda, it remains a meaningless document despite the vast amount of time and money spent by international community on the talks, including the provision of food and other supplies to the rebels, over the past couple of years…

Kony has been able to manipulate the international community with his repeated peace overtures. He has devised the perfect ploy: talk peace, and do the opposite.

What’s clear is that Kony will be around for a long time, doing what he wants, when he wants, in part due to the painful indulgence of the international community.

Sadly, the innocent and the defenceless suffer. Maybe now, finally, the international community will wake up.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 1, 2008 at 11:59 pm

Human Rights Watch on the deadly consequences of UN wishful thinking in Congo

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William Swing

UN Congo chief William Swing withheld
evidence of DRC government atrocities

From Human Rights Watch

The United Nations and a number of bilateral donors invested significant financial and political capital in the [2006] Congolese elections, one of the largest electoral support programs in the UN’s history. But with the polls finished, they have failed to invest comparable resources and attention in assuring that the new government implements its international human rights obligations. For donor governments, concern about winning a favored position with the new government took priority over halting abuses and assuring accountability…

Donor governments said they would devote considerable financial and technical resources to security sector reform programs, but have yet to insist that such programs include adequate vetting to rid the military and law enforcement services of individuals in senior positions who have been implicated in serious human rights violations…

Following the killings in Bas Congo in February 2007, MONUC [the UN peacekeeping force in Congo] sent a multi-disciplinary team to investigate. Its report was not published for five months as it was deemed “too sensitive.” UN officials did not want to criticize the new government before securing its agreement on the role of MONUC in the post-electoral period. Similarly MONUC delayed publication of its report on the March 2007 events for fear of upsetting relations with Kabila.

Both reports were blocked by the head of MONUC, Ambassador William Swing, who deflected repeated requests from the UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in New York and from the then UN high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, for the reports to be made public.

If the reports had been promptly published, they could have contributed to wider awareness of the serious violations committed and might have led to additional diplomatic pressure on the Congolese government to halt the abuses and hold the perpetrators accountable. The March 2007 investigation report was eventually published in French on January 4, 2008, after a copy was leaked to the press; no English version has been made public.

Alexis Sinduhije jailed for “insulting the President”

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PresidentNkurunziza.jpg

Criticizing Burundi’s “forgiving”
President (r) can land you in jail

I met Pierre Nkurunziza in London in the autumn of 2004, a few months after I’d started writing Titanic Express. At the time, CNDD-FDD was still a rebel movement, and Nkurunziza had just been appointed Burundi’s “Minister for Good Governance”. This particular choice of post seemed cruelly ironic, even then, to many of those who had lost loved ones in CNDD-FDD attacks. Given Nkurunziza’s subsequent track record as President it seems even more so now.

Nkurunziza was elected by a landslide in the summer of 2005, amid high hopes that the predominantly Hutu CNDD-FDD rebel group had succeeded in transforming itself into a genuinely multi-ethnic political party, committed to a peaceful and democratic future for Burundi. As I wrote in December of the following year, these hopes were quickly dashed. Nkurunziza’s time in office has been characterised by corruption, political intransigence, and increasingly brutal attacks on the political opposition.

Matters have been complicated by Nkurunziza’s success in portraying himself as the model of the “forgiving” Christian post-conflict African President, with all the positive associations that this carries internationally. Conflict Resolution NGOs and some international donors have repeatedly hailed Burundi as a success story, even though corruption has been rife and violence ongoing, with still no conclusion to the seemingly endless “peace process”.

When the popular independent journalist Alexis Sinduhije last year launched a new political party, the Movement for Security and Democracy – with a multi-ethnic leadership and, unusually for a Burundian political movement, no armed wing – the government refused to allow it to register, and has been increasingly hostile as the months passed.

In September, the journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu was arrested and accused of “defaming” Pierre Nkurunziza after reporting on his personal expenditure at the Beijing Olympics. Today, the BBC reports that Alexis Sinduhije has been jailed on similar charges over his activities as an opposition leader, following his arrest last week. The Movement for Security and Democracy report that their activists across the country are being rounded up and detained. Clearly Nkurunziza’s “forgiving” approach doesn’t apply to those who question his conduct in office. Many Burundians I know are pessimistic that the upcoming 2010 elections will be anything remotely approaching “free and fair”.

A lot of this was quite predictable. I have Burundian friends who did, in fact, predict broadly this state of affairs as soon as it became clear that CNDD-FDD was on course to take power. Nkurunziza’s supposed commitment to democracy and a genuinely multi-ethnic approach was nothing more than window dressing, I was told. The international community was kidding itself if it thought that an armed group with such a track record of brutality and extortion would even be capable of changing its ways once it had its hands on the levers of power, especially when its many crimes had gone unpunished (a 2003 deal granted CNDD-FDD fighters “provisional immunity” from prosecution. Five years on, this supposedly temporary measure still stands).

I knew all this, and yet I wanted to believe. When I met Nkurunziza in London he seemed cordial enough. My friend Desiré took him and his entourage shopping after the meeting. How could a man who goes to buy toys for his kids on Oxford Street be such a bad dude? Next to the psychotic excesses of the Hutu-extremist group Palipehutu-FNL, the CNDD-FDD Hutu rebels looked positively moderate.

But they weren’t, and they never had been. The qualities that it takes to become a successful warlord are very different from those needed to be an effective and successful statesman. Recent history is littered with examples of those who failed to make the transition. Brutal civil wars tend to breed a certain kind of mentality, and armed groups like CNDD-FDD attract a certain sort of person – the kind of person who’s comfortable taking and giving orders, and is prepared to engage in acts of extreme violence in order to get their job done.

When CNDD-FDD signed a peace deal, many such people gained lucrative positions in the government and the security forces, safe in the knowledge that they were effectively immune from prosecution for the abuses they’d previously committed – and would be for as long as they could hold onto power. It shouldn’t really have been a great surprise that Burundi’s new elite continued to behave as ruthlessly as they had whilst fighting in the bush – or that they are proving reluctant to cede power peacefully now that their popular support has begun to dwindle. It shouldn’t really have been such a surprise, in short, that Nkurunziza’s Burundi would start to look more like Mugabe’s Zimbabwe than Mandela’s South Africa. When we set aside the hopeful rhetoric, the cold reality is that ex-warlords generally tend to lean more towards despotism than democracy.

So why did we fall for it? I suspect that a certain kind of insidious relativism can set in when we’re looking at a situation as extreme as Burundi. Politicians such as Pierre Buyoya, whose style is more to orchestrate targeted assassinations of his opponents and rivals than to actively incite genocide, come to seem like “moderates”. Rebel groups like CNDD-FDD, who at least talk about the need to turn their back on ethnic divisionism and embrace a multi-ethnic membership, seem reasonable and democratic, even as their leaders continue to bully the general population and line their own pockets.

But one further factor that I think deserves much more scrutiny than it has hitherto been given is the extent to which – both in Burundi and elsewhere – international mediators often have a clear agenda of their own, which may not necessarily be in the best interests of the people they are ostensibly trying to help. “Peace” is now something of a lucrative business – from the NGOs raking in millions to Do Conflict Resolution in troubled regions of the world, to the career diplomats and politicians looking to declare “mission accomplished” and buff their resumé with plaudits for “bringing peace to [fill in country of choice here]“.

When, in 2003, Nkurunziza came out of the bush and declared his commitment to peace, democracy, and “forgiveness” there were a lot of people with a vested interest in promoting the idea that it was genuine. The fact that the terms of the peace deal sowed the seeds for future abuse and instability was not something that most NGOs (with the notable exceptions of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch), “security analysts” or international mediators seemed to want to talk about.

Doubtless a part of it was simple, honest-to-goodness, wishful thinking. But the fact that so much money, and – perhaps even more importantly – so many personal reputations, were at stake in Burundi’s peace process could only have made things more complicated.

Burundi had seen so much horror that it’s perhaps understandable that people would get carried away with the euphoria when things finally seemed to be improving. It should also be said that many things do seem to have improved; the level of violence has gone down and the economy was beginning to recover – but the question is for how long.

Since the violence that exploded after independence in the 1960s, the bloodshed has come in cycles, punctuated by periods of relative stability. Successive generations of politicians have been willing to manipulate tensions, and incite ethnic massacres when faced with pressure to relinquish power. Burundi’s new CNDD-FDD ruling elite have already shown that they are prepared to kill, torture and arbitrarily detain their critics in order to protect their political interests. We can only hope that they pull back from the brink before the situation becomes any more unstable.

US State Department calls for release of Alexis Sinduhije

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From the Washington Post

The State Department protested the Burundian government’s arrest Monday of an aspiring presidential candidate and former journalist who was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people this year by Time magazine.

Burundian authorities arrested Alexis Sinduhije at his political party’s headquarters in Bujumbura on Monday, along with other party staff members.

“We believe that is unacceptable. We believe he should be released immediately,” Russell Brooks, spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, said Friday. “It remains our hope the government of Burundi will work to advance the cause of political freedom and speech in Burundi and allow citizens to exercise universally recognized rights.”

An ethnic Tutsi reporter who adopted a Hutu war orphan, Sinduhije has become a national celebrity in Burundi, a small central African country that has been plagued for more than 15 years by violence between the two ethnic groups.

In 2001 Sinduhije founded Radio Publique Africaine, an independent radio station that promoted reconciliation between the groups.

His reporting has drawn international praise. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists honored Sinduhije in 2004 with its International Press Freedom Award. He has also appeared as a guest on PBS‘s “Charlie Rose” show.

“We wanted to set an example of how relations between the ethnic groups could be humanized,” Sinduhije said in explaining his journalistic mission at the 2004 award ceremony. “We hired former fighters, both Hutu and Tutsi . . . to become fighters for peace and truth.”

Joel Simon, the committee’s executive director, said Sinduhije’s radio station “was a beacon” for those searching for an “alternative to the kind of politics of racial division which had brought Burundi to the brink of genocide.”

Simon said Sinduhije has been repeatedly threatened, beaten and jailed for his work as a reporter. Sinduhije left journalism in December 2007 to compete in Burundi’s 2010 presidential election. The government has refused to formally register his political party, the Movement for Security and Democracy.

“We don’t think this is a press freedom case,” Simon said, noting that the charges were nevertheless “trumped up.” He said, “We’re obviously very concerned about him, and this treatment illustrates the environment in which Burundi’s election is taking place.”

Burundi’s U.N. ambassador, Augustin Nsanze, declined to comment on the arrest.

Over the years, Alexis Sinduhije has been immensely supportive of efforts to get to the truth over the Titanic Express massacre, and secure justice for all Burundi’s victims. Click here for more background on his arrest.

US Embassy in Burundi urges release of Alexis Sinduhije

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Alexis Sinduhije outlines his political vision earlier this year

Four days ago, the acclaimed Burundian journalist Alexis Sinduhije was arrested for holding an “unauthorised” meeting of his new multi-ethnic political party, the Movement for Security and Democracy. It says something about the state of the world – and the internet’s potential for positive political action – that the message first came through to many of Alexis’ supporters through the MSD’s Facebook page.

The indefatigable US-based campaign group Human Rights Watch quickly issued a statement calling for Alexis’ release – and drawing attention to the Nkurunziza-regime’s wider pattern of suppressing political opposition. This has reportedly now been followed by this message from the US Embassy in Bujumbura:

The United States regards the incarceration by Burundian authorities of Burundian journalist Alexis Sinduhije as unacceptable. Mr. Sinduhije was arrested on November 3 in Bujumbura, reportedly to be questioned for conducting an illegal meeting. To date, he has not been charged. We believe Mr. Sinduhije should be freed immediately. It remains our hope the Government of Burundi will work to advance the cause of political freedom and speech in Burundi and allow citizens to exercise universally recognized rights.

adolphe

Torture-happy General Adolphe Nshimirimana is rumoured to be behind the attack on Sinduhije

According to the veteran Burundian statesman Gratien Rukindikiza, Alexis was arrested at the behest of the appropriately-named secret police chief, General Adolphe Nshimirimana – Burundi being the only country I know in the world where any variation of the name “Adolf” is still in common use.

Nshimirimana, who has previously been implicated in the systematic torture of Palipehutu-FNL “suspects”, has, according to Rukindikiza, accused Alexis, without evidence, of recruiting fighters for the Congolese Tutsi warlord Laurent Nkunda – and also levelled the same allegation at Rukindikiza himself.

“That story made me laugh”, Rukindikiza says. “If I was recruiting for any cause, I would recruit thousands of agronomists to help fight famine with modern agricultural methods”.

This latest episode in Burundi’s ongoing political saga has echoes of the Nkurunziza regime’s abortive attempt, back in 2006, to implicate virtually the entire political opposition, both Hutu and Tutsi, in a fictitious plot to assassinate the President. Then as now, the Burundian authorities sought to tie Alexis Sinduhije to the nefarious conspiracy – yet he emerged more popular than ever.

In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I argue that bogus conspiracy theories are not the exclusive preserve of dodgy men in pubs. Dodgy men in government are often at it too – and Adolphe Nshimirimana’s latest fabricated conspiracy smear against Alexis Sinduhije seems like a very good example.

The Burundi authorities’ 2006 attempt to squash all political opposition on the pretext of a bogus conspiracy fell apart under pressure from the international donors who continue to bankroll much of the country’s budget.

As the 2010 elections approach, it will be interesting to see how far Europe and the US will be prepared to go in insisting that the authorities do more than pay lip service to “good governance” – even if this means puncturing the bubble of wishful thinking at the international level about Burundi’s “forgiving” President, Pierre Nkurunziza.

Human Rights Watch condemns Burundi ruling party’s attack on Alexis Sinduhije

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Click here for more background on this story.

From Human Rights Watch

(Bujumbura, November 5, 2008) – The detention of political activist Alexis Sinduhije and 36 others by Burundian police on November 3, 2008, highlights the growing obstacles to the free exercise of civil and political rights in Burundi, Human Rights Watch said today. Sinduhije, well-known as a former radio journalist, has been trying since February to form an opposition political party, the Movement for Security and Democracy (MSD).

The detentions follow extensive harassment of leaders of several parties opposed to the dominant National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of the Democracy (CNDD-FDD).

“It looks like the ruling party is calling in the power of the state to silence the voices of dissent,” said Alison Des Forges, senior Africa advisor at Human Rights Watch.

Dozens of police armed with Kalashnikovs entered the MSD headquarters shortly after noon on November 3, indicating they had information that an illegal meeting was being held. A search warrant that they contended legitimized their entry was delivered two hours later, carried no docket number, and listed another premises – Sinduhije’s residence – as the place to be searched. It gave the charge against Sinduhije as “threatening state security.” Police officers searched and confiscated several documents, one of which they said contained “subversive material.” They proceeded to arrest everyone on the premises, including political activists, a receptionist, and a driver who was later released.

When a Human Rights Watch researcher present at the time of the search and arrests questioned police officers about irregularities, they responded that they were only “executing orders” given by Regional Police Commissioner David Nikiza, who had delivered the search warrant.

Asked to comment on the irregularities, the police spokesman, Pierre Chanel Ntarabaganyi, responded that the party itself was illegal and that therefore the search and subsequent detentions were justified.

Interior Minister Venant Kamana has refused to register MSD as a political party, claiming that a party cannot include “security” among its goals because security is the exclusive province of the state.

Taken into custody on November 3, Sinduhije and the others were still being held at several city jails as of the evening of November 4, without any charges having been formally entered against them. Police officers interrogated Sinduhije, in the presence of his lawyer, about statements in the confiscated documents criticizing President Peter Nkurunziza’s development policies. They suggested such statements might lead to a charge of “insulting the President.” They also interrogated him about efforts to recruit party members among young people, some of them former combatants in rival forces during 10 years of civil war.

Two other MSD members were arrested last week in Cankuzo province, one for allegedly distributing party cards, the other for having such a card in his possession.

Ntarabaganyi, the police spokesman, told a Human Rights Watch researcher that Sinduhije and the others had been arrested for holding an unauthorized meeting. A ministerial ordinance issued in early October 2008 requires political parties to obtain official authorization for meetings rather than simply informing officials of their intent to meet, as had previously been the case. Burundian law does not require groups other than political parties to obtain authorization for meetings.

Other parties have also faced harassment. Since late September 2008, police have arrested at least 25 members of UPD-Zigamibanga, a party opposed to the CNDD-FDD. Most were arrested in Ngozi province on charges of participating in an unauthorized meeting and released after paying a fine, but two others were detained in Kayanza province on charges of insulting President Peter Nkurunziza after they criticized his education policy during a private conversation.

Most local authorities on the provincial and communal levels are CNDD-FDD members. Even before the new ordinance on meetings was issued, some of them used their authority or that of the police to hinder political meetings or to shut down press conferences by opposition parties including the Democratic Front in Burundi (Frodebu), the Democratic Alliance for Renewal (ADR), and the CNDD (a party different from CNDD-FDD).

Burundi has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Both of these treaties require Burundi to protect fully the rights to freedom from arbitrary detention and to freedom of association. To avoid arbitrary detention, persons detained on suspicion of having committed a criminal offense must be informed of the charge against them as quickly as possible, allowed access to a lawyer and to visitors, and be brought speedily before a judicial authority with power to order their release.

“Using the police to limit dissent and to discourage peaceful political activity violates the rights of Burundians and weakens the rule of law,” said Des Forges. “Officials should promptly release Sinduhije and others arbitrarily detained and permit Burundians the full exercise of their civil and political rights.”

Crackdown in Burundi worsens – Nkurunziza’s thugs arrest Alexis Sinduhije

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I’ve just had a message from Burundi’s Movement for Security and Democracy, the political party founded earlier this year by the celebrated journalist Alexis Sinduhije.

In an email he sent on Saturday, Alexis reported that:

…there is more and more pressure against MSD from the government so that is a sign that we are a movement that is being taken seriously and a threat to the current power structure. In Kirundo and Ngozi they have been trying to arrest our colleagues out in the collines doing good work.

According to today’s message from the MSD, 30 party members, including Alexis himself, have now been arrested following increasing threats and harrassment by the authorities:

Today the police arrived at the permance de MSD with a search warrant. They then took 30+ of the MSD members that were there to the Jabe police station. Alexis remained in office and then was later taken in as well. He has not been allowed to see his lawyer and no reason for his detention. They claim they are under investigation for holding a meeting. Alexis has asked that the MSD members be realeased and only he be detained as he is the sole responsable.

Like Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, the campaigning journalist arrested in September, Alexis Sinduhije has been a huge help in raising the profile of the Titanic Express case over the years, and the book would have been considerably diminished without the input he gave to the campaign.

This latest move by the Burundian authorities to suppress the political opposition makes a further mockery of the PR efforts of international religious groups bent on presenting Burundi’s corrupt and authoritarian Christian evangelical President as the model of the “forgiving” African leader.

More information about Alexis Sinduhije’s work can be found at the MSD’s Facebook page.

04/11 Update from MSD:

Alexis spent his first night in police detention. He had a small cell to himself. He had a mattress but did not sleep. He has not been beaten or tortured.

His friends and supports around the world are organising support. The American, Dutch, British, French, Belgian , German, South African and Norwegian embassies are all informed.

International press has been informed as well. However given the fact that today is election day in the US we do not expect much attention.

He has not been allowed to see his lawyer yet.

Free Jean-Claude Kavumbagu!

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I owe Jean-Claude Kavumbagu a huge personal debt for the help he gave me while I was writing “Titanic Express”, and for his efforts to keep up the pressure on the case within the Burundian media.

Jean-Claude, an ardent critic of corruption and human rights abuse in his country, was arrested in September 2008, and charged with “defamation”, simply for questioning President Nkurunziza’s expenditure at the Beijing Olympics.

Amnesty International has taken up the case, listing Jean-Claude as “a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression.”

I’ve just set up an online petition to raise the profile of the case, and press for Jean-Claude’s release:

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/FreeJeanClaudeKavumbagu

Written by Richard Wilson

October 14, 2008 at 4:40 pm

Jean-Claude still being held by Burundian government – Amnesty International lists him as a “Prisoner of Conscience”

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It’s now one month since my friend Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, who helped me enormously with “Titanic Express” (he is mentioned in the acknowledgements), was arrested and detained on bogus grounds in Burundi.

Jean-Claude, a journalist and ardent critic of corruption and human rights abuse in his country, had the audacity to question the tens of thousands of dollars spent by President Pierre Nkurunziza during his visit to the Beijing Olympics. Jean-Claude’s news agency says it was $90,000. Nkurunziza’s CNDD-FDD government claims it was about half that figure, and has jailed Jean-Claude for “defamation” simply for saying otherwise. The average income in Burundi is $700 a year.

Amnesty International has taken up the case, listing Jean-Claude as “a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression.”

Jean-Claude’s arbitrary arrest sits in sharp contrast with the PR campaign by religious groups seeking to portray President Pierre Nkurunziza – a born-again Christian and vocal supporter of greater church involvement in politics – as the model of the humble and ‘forgiving’ African leader.

Click here to find out what you can do to help.

Catholic aid charity Caritas claims to have stopped supporting LRA rebels, demands thanks from the Ugandan government

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See also: Catholic aid charity Caritas accused of materially supporting LRA terror group

From the Caritas website

Caritas had provided food aid to rebel groups while the peace process that began in 2006 was in place at the request of the Ugandan government and international mediators in line with its humanitarian mission. Caritas ended all food aid distributions once negotiations collapsed and has supplied no food aid since April 2008. The Ugandan government is aware of all these steps.

Government Minister for Disaster Preparedness, Professor Tarsis Kabwegyere said on 30 September, “Caritas should stop giving food to the rebels so that they get under pressure to sign the peace agreement. But as long as they continue to get supplies, they will see no reason of ending the rebellion. There is a moral question on why (rebel leader) Kony continues to receive food. Whoever is sending food to the jungles is committing a mortal sin especially if they are Christians”.

Caritas Uganda National Director Msgr. Dr. Francis Ndamira said, “We would like to clarify this statement which is likely to mislead the public and the world which is already too anxious and waiting for that day of signing the peace agreement. Caritas Uganda is not currently supplying food and medicine to the rebels. When the (peace agreement) signing flopped, Caritas also ended its mandate.

“It is therefore surprising for Hon. Prof. Kabwegyere to make such misleading and irresponsible statements of that kind. On the contrary, he should thank Caritas Uganda and the entire Catholic Church leadership for the peaceful contribution we have made in the peace process and also the spiritual and material help which the respective Churches have given to the suffering people in Northern Uganda.”

Catholic aid charity Caritas accused of materially supporting LRA terror group

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A few weeks ago I wrote about the aggressive campaign by church-funded lobby groups for the lifting of the International Criminal Court’s war crimes indictments against Uganda’s “Lord’s Resistance Army” rebels.

Now a Ugandan government spokesman has accused the Catholic aid charity Caritas of providing food and medical supplies to the LRA, a proscribed terror group who are continuing to kill and abduct civilians despite repeated attempts to persuade them to make peace.

According to Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere, Uganda’s Minister for Disaster Preparedness, the ongoing material supplies from humanitarian agencies were helping the group to perpetuate the conflict, and he singled out the Catholic NGO Caritas for particular criticism:

Caritas should stop giving food to the rebels so that they get under pressure to sign the peace agreement. But as long as they continue to get supplies, they will see no reason of ending rebellion

There is a moral question on why [LRA leader] Kony continues to receive food. Whoever is sending food to the jungles is committing a mortal sin, especially if they are Christians.

The supplying of food and medicines by western aid agencies to demobilised ex-combatants is relatively common, as a first step towards reintegration into society. But the gifting of material support to an armed group which is still actively engaged in attacks on civilians seems like a whole different matter.

A church led initiative led to the creation in 2000 of the Ugandan amnesty commission, offering a blanket pardon to any member of the group who laid down their arms, but the leadership continued to hold out until they were indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2005. Since then, the group has been focussed on getting the indictments lifted, a cause in which they have gained considerable support from the Catholic Church and other Christian organisations.

The Caritas website appears to make no mention of support being given to the LRA.

See also: “LRA Accused of Selling Food Aid”, Institute of War and Peace Reporting

Peter Eichstaedt on the international community’s naive dealings with Uganda’s LRA rebels

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From the Institute of War and Peace Reporting.

Someone defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

It’s an accurate description of the continuing situation with Joseph Kony, the leader of the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, currently holed up in the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.

As he has in the past, Kony continues to play humiliating games with negotiators seeking a final end to northern Uganda’s brutal 20-year war with the LRA.

He, or his so-called spokesman David Matsanga, repeatedly announce that Kony plans to sign a permanent peace agreement, and even go so far as to set dates. Negotiators scramble to an agreed rendezvous point in the jungle – but Kony never shows.

This is followed by public grumblings from the negotiators, who vow never again to be fooled.

But that “never again” lasts only a few weeks. Kony then calls someone like United Nations Special Envoy Joachim Chissano or talks mediator Riek Machar, the vice president of South Sudan, or dials up Mega FM in Gulu or Radio France International, and rambles on about how much he wants peace.

This inevitably draws yet another delegation to the jungles and which again is left sitting alone and waiting.

Kony undoubtedly enjoys this because of the ease with which he can get away with it. He clearly does not want peace.

Written by Richard Wilson

September 24, 2008 at 8:55 pm

Free Jean-Claude Kavumbagu!

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I’ve just heard that the Burundian journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu has been arrested on charges of “defaming” the country’s President, Pierre Nkurunziza. Jean-Claude, the director of the ‘Netpress’ news agency has been tireless in exposing human rights abuses and corruption in Burundi, and I am endebted to him for his support while I was writing my last book.

This arrest was triggered by a Netpress report that Burundi’s President spent $100,000 on his official visit to the Beijing Olympics - a particularly sensitive issue in a country where income tends to average about $100 a year.  

Reporters Sans Frontieres has taken up the case, calling for Jean-Claude’s immediate release. According to RSF:

His latest arrest comes at a time of growing hostility among the president’s supporters towards human rights organisations and certain local journalists and privately-owned media, which a pro-government website recently accused of being “children of the dictatorship” concerned solely with “defending what they have gained.”

The Burundi government’s ongoing harrassment of its critics seems to contrast sharply with uncritical-verging-on-hagiographic media reports in the East African press of Nkurunziza’s presidency and his supposed emphasis on ‘forgiveness’.

Astro-turfing in Acholi-land – the role of the Catholic Church in Northern Uganda

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There must be potential for a good few PhD theses in examining the role played by the Catholic Church in recent efforts to shield Uganda’s “Lord’s Resistance Army” rebels from prosecution by the International Criminal Court. When arrest warrants were first issued in 2005, the move was immediately condemned as a threat to peace by senior Catholic clergy in Uganda, and the church has been active in opposing it ever since. 

“The entire Acholi population has said, ‘Let us forgive for the sake of peace,’“, announced Father Matthew Ojara earlier this year. “We do not believe in punishment in the sense of imprisoning someone. Once reconciliation is done, you have to walk free and live with your brothers and sisters. There are no prison cells or house arrest. That’s a Western practice.”

But this view contrasts sharply with that we hear from other sources. In August last year the International Center for Transitional Justice released the results of a survey of 2,875 adults from the regions most affected by LRA violence. 

According to allafrica.com: “Most respondents wanted those responsible for war crimes and violations of human rights to be held accountable. They distinguished between LRA leaders and lower-ranking LRA members, who, in many cases, had themselves been abducted as civilians. Only a minority (17%) said that the rank-and-file should face trial and/or punishment. Many wanted to see LRA leaders face trials and/or punishment such as imprisonment or death (41%), although many others (52%) also indicated that they favored options including forgiveness, reconciliation, and reintegration into communities.”

One particularly salient issue, it seems to me, is the extent to which religious leaders have sought to speak on behalf of “The entire Acholi population”.

International media coverage on this issue often seems to take at face value claims made by the likes of Ojara about the views of victims, and the inherently forgiving nature of ‘Acholi culture’.

Neither has there been much comment on the irony that many of those most vehemently rejecting the ICC as a ‘western’ imposition - and urging adherence to what they say traditional Acholic culture demands - are fully signed-up members of the single largest ‘western’ religion, Roman Catholicism. 

Internationally, one of the organisations most active in lobbying for the ICC warrants to be suspended – and calling, in more or less euphemistic terms, for the LRA to be offered financial payoffs – has been the US-based “Uganda Conflict Action Network”.

Since Uganda-CAN was established in mid-2005, the organisation’s founders, Peter Quaranto and Michael Poffenberger, have made dozens of media interventions portraying the ICC indictments as an obstacle to peace, urging that the US, as a non-signatory, intervenes to “impact the talks in ways that European countries cannot“, highlighting LRA demands for guarantees of their “physical and financial security”, and suggesting that “creative inducements” could persuade the LRA leader to sign a peace deal.

Uganda-CAN – which was launched just months before the ICC issued its arrest warrants for the LRA leaders (and was relaunched recently under the name “Resolve Uganda”) – is itself an initiative of the Washington-based “African Faith and Justice Network“, which – according to its website – was founded by three Catholic missionary congregations in 1983, and whose “support base is primarily built on the Catholic missionary community”.

But the Resolve Uganda website now makes very little of its religious affiliations, listing AFJN as only one among a number of ‘partners’, and presenting itself as a ‘grassroots’ organisation founded and run by students. It’s only when we dig a bit deeper that we learn that one of those “students”, Resolve Uganda’s head honcho Michael Poffenberger, was formerly “Associate Director of the Africa Faith and Justice Network”.

Wikipedia has a little more on the Uganda-CAN phenomenon – along with a handy definition of the PR tactic commonly known as “astroturfing”.

LRA rebels demand $600,000 from international donors in exchange for ‘peace’

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The Institute for War and Peace Reporting has been running an excellent series of articles on Uganda’s notorious “Lord’s Resistance Army”, and the various political manoevres being made by the group, and its supporters, to enable it to evade arrest by the International Criminal Court.

Media coverage of this issue tends to focus on claims made by the LRA, and some religous groups, that peace could have been achieved long ago if the group had been granted a blanket amnesty for their crimes. Less well publicised has been the fact that, in addition to demanding, as the price for any peace agreement, impunity for their various acts of mass-rape, murder, torture and mutilation, the Lord’s Resistance army have made repeated demands for large sums of money.

Back in 2006, the government of Southern Sudan admitted paying the LRA $20,000 in exchange for a promise to stop attacking Sudanese civilians.

In August last year, the LRA demanded a further $2 million from international donors, which they said they needed for, amongst other things, flying 500 people to meet LRA leader Joseph Kony, and sending fact-finding missions to South Africa, Sierra Leone and Argentina.

In February of this year, the LRA demanded that the Ugandan government should provide a “golden handshake in cash and kind in recognition of all the LRA delegates and their efforts in brokering peace”.

Now the IWPR reports on the publication of a letter, ostensibly from the LRA lead negotiator David Matsanga, stating that: “the JUBA PEACE process is under siege and there is a danger of it collapsing due to the lack of Funding from the donor community…”

More chillingly, the letter adds that the “cost of war in the region will be much, much higher than the funds that are currently needed by Chief Mediator Dr Riek Machar to complete the Juba Peace Process”.

The IWPR reports that the LRA spokesman recently told the media that:

“We need about 600,000 US dollars to prepare [for] the meeting in Ri-Kwangba and also to carry out negotiations”.

Written by Richard Wilson

August 1, 2008 at 9:02 am