UN officials have received new allegations that peacekeepers operating in the CAR raped three young women.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, UN spokeswoman Vannina Maestracci disclosed, “these new allegations concern a report that three young females were raped by three members of a MINUSCA military contingent,” adding that one of the alleged victims is a minor. The rapes allegedly took place in the town of Bambari, located northeast of the capital Bangui, in recent weeks, with sources disclosing that the families of the victims notified the UN mission on 12 August. While Maestracci declined to name the nationality of the accused troops, sources have indicated that they were from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The new allegations come a week after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon dismissed the head of the UN’s mission in the country, declaring “enough is enough” after a string of accusations of child sex and other misconduct carried out by the troops. The MINUSCA force, which took over from an African Union (AU) mission nearly a year ago, has been plagued by a series of allegations involving its peacekeeping forces, with sources disclosing that there have been at least 61 claims of misconduct against them, twelve of which involve sexual abuse. UN officials have disclosed that Burundi and Morocco are also investigating allegations of sexual abuse against their soldiers in MINUSCA. Meanwhile UN Peacekeeping officials have requested an urgent meeting with officials from the DRC in order to discuss the allegations. They have given them ten days in order to decide whether to investigate.
These new allegations also come just weeks before United States President Barack Obama is due to host a summit in New York on UN peacekeeping, in a bid to try to shore up missions. This latest sexual abuse scandal however is likely to cast a shadow over the event, which will be held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting. On Tuesday, in its first statement on the matter, the UN Security Council expressed outrage and anger over the mounting allegations, adding that troop-contributing countries must investigate the scandals. Under UN rules, it is up to member states to investigate and prosecute their soldiers who face accusations of misconduct while serving under the UN flag. Sources have disclosed that last week, Secretary General Ban told a special Security Council meeting that too many countries are slow in responding to accusations against their soldiers and that in some cases they do not respond at all.
In June, Ban appointed a review panel, which is led by former Canadian Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps, in order to examine how the UN handled separate allegations that French and African troops sexually abused children in the CAR beginning in late 2013. Those findings are expected in the coming months.
Over the weekend, Senegal’s Navy boarded a Russian vessel that was allegedly illegally fishing in its waters, with officials now indicating that they plan on fining the Russian ship for repeatedly fishing illegally in its waters.
A military report released on Saturday has indicated that the ship was boarded after it was observed illegally fishing in Senegalese waters near the border with Guinea-Bissau. According to military communications officers Lieutenant-Colonel Adama Diop, “the Navy boarded it and it is being escorted “toward Dakar, adding that this is the third time the past week that an illegal fishing boat has been stopped in Senegalese waters.
Russian state Ria Novosti news agency has released the name of the boat, Oleg Naidenov, and has indicated that sixty-two Russians and twenty Guinea-Bissau nationals were on board the vessel at the time of the boarding. Senegal’s Fisheries Minister Haidar El Ali has also indicated that the trawler had a licence in neighbouring Guinea-Bissau but was not allowed to fish in Senegalese waters, adding, “this ship is a repeat offender.” According to the Fisheries Minister, the Russian fishing boat ignored an initial warning, forcing Senegalese commandos to intervene. The trawler arrived in Dakar overnight Saturday under military escort. The ship is currently “in the hands of the Senegalese government, under the control of the national navy and the national police.”
On Sunday, El Ali confirmed that Senegal will impose a 600,000 euro fine on the Russian vessel for repeatedly fishing illegally in its waters. Although Senegal can seize the ship and its cargo and impose a maximum fine of 200 million CFA frances (nearly 305,000 euros/$414,000) for the offense, El Ali has indicated that because the Russian vessel is a repeat offender, it “will be fined twice as much, 400 million CFA francs.”
The boarding of this Russian vessel comes a week after Eli Ali warned that Dakar would take measures against four industrial fishing vessels, including two Russian ones, which had been spotted fishing illegally off the coast. Senegal has for several years been battling to contain unauthorized fishing by foreign trawlers in its waters, which has been blamed for depleting fishing stocks, undermining the environment and endangering the livelihoods of local small-scale fishermen.
Meanwhile the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) has ended its operations after eleven years of ensuring accountability for crimes committed during the country’s decade-long civil war. The SCSL, an independent tribunal that was set up jointly by the UN and the Government of Sierra Leone, was mandated to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law committed in the country since 1996. Based in the capital city of Freetown, the Special Court carried out a number of trials since it was established in 2002. These trials included various leaders as well as former Liberian President Charles Taylor. The trials also witnessed first-ever convictions for attacks against UN peacekeepers, forced marriage as a crime against humanity and for the use of child soldiers. In a statement issued by his spokesperson in New York, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated the staff at the SCSL, stating that “the United Nations is proud of its partnership with the Government of Sierra Leone in establishing the Special court, which ensured accountability for the unspeakable crimes committed during Sierra Leone’s over a decade-long civil war, and thereby greatly contributed towards establishing peace and stability and in laying the ground for Sierra Leone’s long-term development.” The SCSL has been succeeded by the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone, which will deal with matters arising from the on-going legal obligations of the tribunal which could include applications made by convicts for early release or judicial review of their convictions. Judges may also be called on to preside over any contempt of court proceedings.
On Thursday, attackers stormed a United Nations base, where civilians had taken refuge, in South Sudan. According to officials, two Indian peacekeepers were killed, with many others feared dead.
United Nations deputy spokesman Farhan Haq reported that officials at the UN had lost contact with the base at Akobo in Jonglei state and that the fate of more than thirty ethnic Dinka civilians sheltering there was also unknown. UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson, who strongly condemned the attack, stated “we have received reports of people killed and injured and are in the process of verifying.”
India’s UN ambassador Asoke Mukerji confirmed that two Indian peacekeepers were “targeted and killed” in the assault on Akobo. An injured Indian soldier was taken to hospital. A minute’s silence for the soldiers was held at a UN meeting on peacekeeping in New York. UN deputy spokesman Haq further noted that forty other Indian peacekeepers, along with six UN police advisors, were moved to safety at a nearby South Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) camp. The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) will send sixty reinforcements and aircraft in order to pick up the peacekeepers however they are not scheduled to arrive in Akobo until Friday as it is difficult to get to. The latest attack was reportedly carried out by ethnic Nuer youths.
In the wake of this recent attack, the UN Security Council called emergency consultations to occur on Friday as the crisis in South Sudan, where hundreds have been killed this week in battles between President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar, continues to mount. A statement released by a spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon indicated that the UN leader was “appalled” by the attack on Akobo. The statement added that if reports of civilian deaths were confirmed, “those responsible must be held accountable for their crimes.” Ban also noted “the future of this young nation requires its current leadership to do everything possible to prevent South Sudan descending into the chaos that would be such a betrayal of the ideals behind its long struggle for independence.”
Meanwhile in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, officials have indicated that UN forces are protecting 1,000 civilians who have gathered around a base. They are also protecting the Bor airstrip. Bor fell to Riek Machar’s forces on Wednesday.
Since clashes between rival factions of the army erupted on Sunday, hundreds of people have been killed in the capital city Juba. UN deputy spokesman Haq indicated on Thursday that there were unconfirmed reports of several students killed by security forces at Juba University. According to a spokesman for the university, several hundred students have stayed on the university campus and have requested protection from UN forces. Between 2,000 and 5,000 civilians have also gathered at the Kator complex in Juba. They have also requested help from the UNMISS mission. In turn, more than 15,000 people have sought shelter at two UN and one World Food Programme (WFP) compounds in Juba.
Three Tuareg and Arab rebel movements announce their merger. Meanwhile insecurity continues to destabilize the country with a new attack occurring in northern Mali.
On Monday 4 November 2013, three Tuareg and Arab rebel movements in northern Mali announced their merger to form a united front in peace talks with authorities in the Malian capital city Bamako. According to reports, after several days of talks in Burkina Faso, which is the regional mediator for the conflict, representatives of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) along with the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) adopted a “political platform,” a “negotiating committee,” and a joint “decision-making body.” The three rebel movements further indicated that the decision to merge was “guided by a common political will to prioritize the best interests of the people” of the vast northern desert region they call Azawad, adding that a political solution was the only option in securing peace. According to the groups, the merger will go ahead “within 45 days” after the membership of each of the groups had approved the move, adding that no name has yet been chosen for the new movement.
Meanwhile in the latest insecurity to hit the country, on Monday four people were killed in northern Mali after their truck ran over a land mine. According to a local government official in Menaka, four passengers were killed when a pick-up, which was transporting thirty-eight people between the desert towns of Ansongo and Menaka in the region of Gao, drove over the explosive device. Ibrahim Ag Moha further indicated that ‘four people died on the spot and eight others were injured, and are currently being taken to hospital in Menaka.” Two of the injured are reported to be in critical condition. The truck was a public transport vehicle. It currently remains unknown who is responsible for laying the mine however a report released by the United Nations earlier this year indicated that unexploded ordnance and land mines littering the West African nation remained a “significant threat.”
The latest unrest comes as the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Mali late on Monday to begin a regional tour that will highlight the battle against poverty. The Secretary General, along with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and top officials from the African Union, African Development Bank and European Union are scheduled to meet in Mali on Tuesday before travelling to Niger later that day and Burkina Faso and Chad on Wednesday. They are scheduled to meet the presidents of each country. Ahead of his visit to Mali, Mr. Ban stated that eleven million of the 80 million people living in the Sahel countries lack sufficient food.‘ According to a statement released by World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim, “the people of the Sahel region desperately need more secure living standards, and our hope is this funding helps build a new path for economic growth in the region.” The European Union and the World Bank have pledged more than US $8 billion in fresh aid for the Sahel region countries which have been affected by conflict.
The Secretary General’s official visit to Mali comes at a time when French and Malian troops are searching for the killers of Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, who were kidnapped and shot dead by suspected terrorists on Saturday in the northeastern town of Kidal. The deaths of the two French journalists have further highlighted the ongoing security threat just three weeks ahead of parliamentary elections which are meant to mark the completion of Mali’s transition back to democracy following a military coup in March last year.
Diplomats indicated on Wednesday that the UN Security Council is expected to soon authorize 4,000 more troops in order to boost the African force that is battling resurgent al-Shabaab militants in Somalia. According to reports, the council is likely to allow a new upper limit of about 22,000 troops for the African Union force, which is known as AMISOM. During a recent Security Council meeting on Somalia, which specifically focused on efforts to support the country’s interim government, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson stated that advances made by the African force, along with the Somali army, had “ground to a halt” because it lacked a sufficient number of troops. According to the UN Deputy, al-Shabaab “is mobile and is training and recruiting substantial numbers of frustrated, unemployed young men.” During the meeting, the UN Deputy reaffirmed an earlier call made by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the African Union for “a significant temporary boost” to AMISOM’s numbers. In a recent report to the Security Council, the Secretary-General indicated that there is an urgent need to reinforce AMISOM in order to move into southern Somalia to “deny Shebaab the opportunity to raise resources and to forcefully recruit and train personnel.” Britain is drawing up a resolution on increasing the force, which is expected to be voted by the Security Council in mid-November. The resolution would effectively allow for an increase of about 4,000 troops in order to allow an upper limit for AMISOM of about 22,000 troops. The call for an increase in troops comes amidst mounting warning pertaining to al-Shabaab’s increasing threat after the Nairobi shopping mall attack last month. While the AMISOM force, along with the Somali army, have pushed al-Shabaab militants out of the capital city, along with other major cities, over the past eighteen months, al-Shabaab has been able to regroup and stage large and elaborate attacks, such as the one on Westgate Mall in Nairobi on September 17. In turn, suicide bombers have been able to stage attacks in Mogadishu, which is government controlled. If the increase in troops is to pass in a Security Council vote, the new deployment of troops will likely be tasked with focusing on removing al-Shabaab militants from the southern region of Somalia, particularly from their new stronghold of Barawe. In recent weeks, the town has been the focus of two missions carried out by US forces. The first focused on targeting a senior al-Shabaab commander, known as Ikrima, while the second, a drone strike, killed three al-Shabaab commanders, including the militant group’s top bomb-maker. In turn, sources indicate that al-Shabaab militants stationed in Barawe have been planning attacks not only throughout the rest of the country, but regionally as well.
Meanwhile, for the first time, Somalia’s President visited the southern port city of Kismayo on Thursday, which is a former al-Shabaab stronghold that is now controlled by a warlord who has long been opposed to the region being controlled by the central government in Mogadishu. While no further details of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s visit have been released by his spokesman, Abdirahman Omar Osman, the trip does signal a step forward in relations with the breakaway region. Shortly after the President’s visit, al-Shabaab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab boasted that the group’s militants fired dozens of artillery and mortar rounds at the “infidel leader,” however officials have dismissed this claim. The president’s spokesman later confirmed that “there was no mortar attacks at Kismayo airport contrary to al-Shabaab claims.” The visit also comes amidst efforts to increase support for the central government and is seen as a bid to combat the threat from al-Shabaab militants who continue to control large areas around the port city. Kismayo, which is patrolled by Kenyan and Sierra Leonean troops from the African Union force, is controlled by the Ras Kamboni militia of warlord Ahmed Madobe, who has claimed leadership over the southern semi-autonomous region of Jubbaland. The region lies in the far south of Somalia, bordering both Kenya and Ethiopia, and its control is split between multiple forces including clan militias, al-Shabaab and Kenyan and Ethiopian troops. Al-Shabaab forces currently control their last major port at Barawe, which is located some 250 kilometers northeast of Kismayo. However African Union forces are moving closer to capturing control of the town. Taking Barawe would result in al-Shabaab loosing a vital area and in turn, it would link up AU forces who are currently split between Jubbaland and Mogadishu.