Mauritania: polls boycotted, slavery condemned

Parties that make up Mauritania's Coordination of the Democratic Opposition (COD) have announced a boycott of November's legislative and municipal elections after talks with the government collapsed without agreement earlier this month. The ruling Union for the Republic is the only party fielding candidates in every district, with the next highest representation from Islamist group Tewassoul, the only member of the 11-party COD that will field candidates. Tewassoul calls its participation a form of struggle against the "dictatorship" of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who took power in a 2008 coup. The opposition is demanding the polls be postponed until April to allow time for a voter census and guarantees of the independence of the electoral commission. A vote was due in 2011 but has been repeatedly delayed due to disagreements between the opposition and government. The last legislative election was held in 2006. (AFP, Oct. 29; Reuters, Oct. 4)

NYC Congolese protest Paul Kagame, Elie Wiesel

On the evening of Sept. 29, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel joined Rwandan President Paul Kagame on a panel sponsored by This World: The Jewish Values Network at New York's Cooper Union entitled "Genocide: Do the Strong Have an Obligation to Protect the Weak?"—with the obvious context being the crisis in Syria. But outside a small group of local Congolese protested, holding banners reading "KAGAME IS A CRIMINAL OF MASS MURDER" and "PROTECT THE WEAK FROM KAGAME." Said protester Kambale Musavuli of the group Friends of the Congo: "He should be on the terrorist list and instead he's being invited to speak about genocide. This is really sick."

Is Rwanda really bombing itself?

As the world awaits military intervention in Syria and we are treated to idle theorizing about how the Ghouta chemical massacre was a "false flag" attack by the rebels, comes a grimly amusing analogue from Central Africa. Rwanda on Aug. 29 accused government forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo of shelling its territory, killing a woman and wounding her baby. (BBC News) Open war between Rwanda and the DRC suddenly looms, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has appealed to Rwanda's President Paul Kagame for restraint. (BBC News) The shelling comes as DRC troops and the UN's new "intervention brigade," dubbed MONUSCO, have been battling the M23 rebels in Congo's east. (BBC News, Radio Australia) The DRC government has denied responsibility, and says it was actually the rebels that shelled Rwanda's territory—a claim backed up by MONUSCO. (Reuters) Now, since the M23 is said to be intimately directed by Rwanda's defense minister, Gen. James Kabarebe, who has apparently even sent military commanders to lead the rebel force, this basically means that Rwanda is bombing itself. Indeed, Congo Planet tells us the DRC is charging that Rwanda's government used the M23 rebels to shell its own territory, as a provocation to justify a direct military intervention in eastern Congo. 

HRW protests Rwanda aid to Congo rebels

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on July 22 that the rebel group 23 March Movement (M23, see BBC backgrounder) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is receiving assistance from Rwanda despite continued human rights abuses by the M23, including rape, executions and forced recruitment of young boys. HRW based its report on interviews with former M23 fighters who have abandoned the movement. According to the report, Rwanda is permitting the M23 rebels to recruit from within Rwanda and is giving material support to the rebels, including food, uniforms, ammunition and other supplies. While a panel of UN experts reported in June that Rwanda's support for the M23 is declining, HRW asserted that the support remains significant and called upon the UN and the US to urge Rwanda to halt support to the M23.

China mining firms contribute to Congo abuses: AI

Chinese-owned mining companies in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are contributing to a culture of human rights abuses, Amnesty International reported June 19. AI claims those companies should be held accountable for the longstanding, ongoing human rights abuses related to child labor, on-site injuries, financial exploitation and the illegal detainment of workers in improvised jail cells. Although AI does not claim that the Chinese companies are the original source of such treatment, the likes of which have been recorded for decades, it does maintain that the companies must be held accountable for the current situation. Furthermore, AI contends that the companies hold undue economic influence in the region, debasing the rule of law and and allowing mining interests to literally relocate entire towns without providing any compensation for lost homes or resources. According to the report, DRC is in violation of several UN resolutions regarding the rights of workers:

UN approves Congo 'intervention brigade'

The UN Security Council on March 28 unanimously approved the first-ever "offensive" UN peacekeeping brigade, to fight rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The force of more than 2,500 troops will operate under orders to "neutralize" and "disarm" rebel forces in the resource-rich east of the country. The intervention brigade is unprecedented in UN peacekeeping because of its offensive mandate. The resolution states that it will be established for one year "on an exceptional basis and without creating a precedent" to the principles of UN peacekeeping. The force, to be deployed in July, will include troops from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi. The UN currently has some 18,000 troops in the DRC, and has been widely accused of doing little to stop the violence in the eastern region. The latest rebellion flared a year ago, and has forced some 800,000 from their homes.

Congo war crimes suspect surrenders to US

Congolese war crimes suspect Gen. Bosco Ntaganda surrendered himself to a US embassy in Rwanda on March 18 and requested extradition to the  International Criminal Court  (ICC). Ntaganda has been wanted by the ICC since 2006 on charges enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 and of using them to participate actively in hostilities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from July 2002 to December 2003. Ntaganda remained at large, however, and in 2012 ICC Pre-Trial Chamber II issued a second warrant for Ntaganda's arrest for additional war crimes and crimes against humanity in contravention of the Rome Statute:

ICC acquits Congolese militia leader

The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Dec. 18 acquitted Congolese militia leader Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui on charges of rape, murder and pillage. Ngudjolo was accused of commanding fighters in a 2003 rebel attack on Bogoro, a strategic village in the mineral-rich Ituri region in eastern Congo. Some 200 people, including children, were raped and killed in the attack, carried out with machetes. The judges ruled the prosecution had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Ngudjolo was responsible for the crimes committed, and ordered his immediate release. Rights groups including Amnesty International expressed disappointment with the decision. The prosecution said it intends to launch an appeal.

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