The Biden administration on March 10 designated two alleged affiliates of the Islamic State, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique, as "Foreign Terrorist Organizations." The State Department named as FTOs the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in DR Congo and Ansar al-Sunna in Mozambique. The Department also designated the respective leaders of those organizations, Seka Musa Baluku and Abu Yasir Hassan, as "Specially Designated Terrorists." The designations freeze all US property and assets in the names of these groups and leaders, and prohibit US citizens from doing business with them. Additionally, the Department stated that "it is a crime to knowingly provide material support or resources" to the groups, or "to attempt or conspire to do so."
Twelve rangers were among 17 people killed in an April 24 attack by gunmen within Virunga National Park, the critical highland gorilla preserve on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Park administrators in a statement said rangers came under "a ferociously violent and sustained ambush" as they were coming to the aid of a civilian vehicle being waylaid by armed men near Rumangabo village. "This is a devastating day for Virunga National Park and the surrounding communities," park officials said.
The government of Rwanda, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the African Union on Sept. 10 signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a transit mechanism for evacuating refugees out of Libya. According to a joint statement, around 4,700 people are currently being held in detention centers in Libya and urgently need to be transferred to safety. Under the agreement, refugees and asylum-seekers currently being held in Libya will be transferred to Rwanda on a "voluntary" basis. Evacuees will then either be resettled to third countries, be helped to return to countries where asylum had previously been granted, be returned to their home countries if it is safe to do so, or be given permission to remain in Rwanda subject to agreement by the competent authorities.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) government recruited former M23 rebel fighters to protect President Joseph Kabila after protests broke out last December over his refusal to step down at the end of his constitutionally mandated two terms, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported Dec. 5. During December of last year, at least 62 people were killed and hundreds were arrested. The M23 fighters were granted authority to use lethal force. Many journalists were also detained to keep them from reporting about the events taking place. According to the report, rebel forces have long been recruited into the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), without formal training or extensive vetting. The forces in question were deserters from the group, who were initially recruited from Rwanda and Uganda. The FARDC have themselves been criticized for various human rights violations.
Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, the leader of a militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), turned himself in to UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) on July 26. The DRC took out a warrant for Sheka's arrest in 2011 after his forces allegedly raped at least 387 civilians during a four-day period in 2010. The militia is also accused of murdering 70 civilians between 2010 and 2015. The UN sanctioned Sheka in 2011 for war crimes, including mass rapes and crimes against children. MONUSCO said that Sheka surrendered near the town of Walikale, North Kivu province, and will be transferred to DRC authorities to eventually stand trial.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) on March 20 declared unanimously (PDF) that Congolese ex-military leader Jean-Pierre Bemba is guilty of two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes for his role in armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002 and 2003. The case of The Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo lasted almost eight years, following Bemba's arrest by Belgian authorities in 2008. Bemba was on trial for crimes committed during his time as the commander of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). He was found guilty of rape, murder and pillage; the verdict condemned the widespread use of sexual violence as a means of war. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, welcomed the judgment, stating the ruling "sends an important message across the world that international justice will finally prevail, even in cases where civilians with supervisory, or command, responsibility are accused of crimes committed in a country other than their own."
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) formally closed Dec. 31 after issuing 45 judgments. The ICTR, established in 1994, was the first international tribunal to deliver verdicts against those guilty of committing genocide. Within its 21 years, the ICTR sentenced 61 to terms of up to life imprisonment for their roles in the Rwanda massacres. There were 14 acquittals, and 10 accused were transferred to national courts. An International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals has been established and eight fugitives remain at large.
Approximately six million Rwandans on Dec. 19 approved a referendum by a vote of 98% to amend Article 101 of the Rwanda constitution which states the president may only serve two seven-year terms. The referendum will allow President Paul Kagame (official profile) to serve another seven-year term beginning in 2017 and then two more five-year terms. Kagame has served as president since 2003. Last month, the Rwandan Senate unanimously approved the referendum following approval from Rwanda's lower house of parliament in October. Also in October, Rwanda's Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of the referendum, but this did not stop the vote from moving ahead.