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.
A judge in Senegal has formally charged Chad’s former President with crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture and has remanded him in custody, pending a trial. The judgement comes just days after paramilitary police in Senegal’s capital city of Dakar arrested Hissen Habre, who is wanted for alleged atrocities that were committed during his eight-year rule. The arrest also comes shortly after United States President Barack Obama praised the efforts made by Senegal’s current President Macky Sall to bring Mr. Habre to trial. Mr. Habre has been living in exile in Senegal for the past twenty-two years, ever since he was overthrown in a 1990 coup in Chad. Human Rights Watch has stated that Mr. Habre will be held in a special ward of Dakar’s main hospital for prisoners suffering from health problems, pending his trial.
The seventy-year old has been under a house arrest in Senegal since 2005, when he fled after being deposed in 1990. Human rights groups have been pushing Senegal to put Mr. Habre on trial for decades. Last year, the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Senegal to place him on trial or to extradite him to face justice overseas. This led to MP’s in Senegal passing a law in December of last year which effectively will allow a special African Union tribunal to be created in the country in order to try the former leader.
The charges against Mr. Habre date from 1982, when he came to power in a coup, until 1990, the year he was ousted. Mr. Habre however has denied killing and torturing tens of thousands of his opponents. Although he was first indicted in Senegal in 2000, the country’s courts ruled at the time that he could not be tried there. His alleged victims then filed complaints under Belgium’s universal jurisdiction law, which allows the country’s judges to prosecute human rights offenses committed anywhere in the world. He was charged by Belgium with crimes against humanity and torture in 2005 however Senegal has refused four extradition requests. Plans in 2011 to repatriate Mr. Habre to Chad, where a court in 2008 sentenced him to death in absentia for planning to overthrow the government, were stopped following a plea from the UN. A trial in Senegal would set a historic precedent as until now African leaders accused of atrocities have only been tried in international courts.
According to his lawyers, the current inquiry, which will draw on extensive evidence collected by international human rights organizations and prosecutors in Belgium, is expected to last around a year. A trial, presided over by an African Union-appointed judge, could take a further seven months. Human rights groups hold Mr. Habre responsible for the torture or killing of up to 40,000 people during his 1982 – 1990 presidency.
After nearly two months of fighting, French President François Hollande has announced that French troops are currently engaged in the final phase of fighting Islamist militants in the northern region of Mali. French officials have confirmed that over the past weekend, there has been an increase of fighting in the Ifoghas mountains where a number of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) militants are reportedly hiding. Fighting continued into Sunday when French warplanes targeted an Islamist base in Infara.
Speaking in Paris on Saturday, President Hollande indicated that Chadian troops had launched an attack on Friday which resulted in significant loss of life. According to the Chadian army, thirteen soldiers from Chad and some sixty-five militants were killed in clashes that occurred on Friday. This latest fighting, between the Islamist militants and ethnic Tuaregs, occurred in the In-Khalil area, which is situated near the northern border town of Tessalit. Security sources have confirmed that four members of the Arab Movement of the Azawad (MAA) were wounded on Sunday after French warplanes launched an attack on an Islamist base in Infara, which is located 30 km (19 miles) from the border of Algeria.
With airstrikes continuing throughout Mali, and especially in the northern mountainous regions of the country, it is likely that hit-and-run attacks may be staged in a number of towns over the coming weeks. In turn, with France slowly wrapping up its military intervention, and with operations being handed over to the African Union forces, militants may use this opportunity in order to clash with locals and army forces in a bid to exploit the fluid security situation. Furthermore, any militants who have fled the airstrikes in Mali may be regrouping in other countries and may attempt to stage hit-and-run attacks in neighbouring countries and/or in those African states that have provided troops for the intervention. The United States Embassy in Senegal has warned its citizens of a possible attack in the capital city of Dakar. Although no further information has been provided, any such attacks may be carried out by Islamist militants from Mali or may be indirectly linked to the Malian intervention.
Meanwhile in Algeria, the gas plant that was at the centre of a deadly hostage-taking last month has partially resumed production. Ever since al-Qaeda-linked gunmen stormed the plant and took hundreds of local and dozens of foreign workers hostage, the Tiguentourine plant has been closed. The hostage crisis ended after four days when the Algerian army stormed by complex. The incident left twenty-nine insurgents and at least thirty-seven hostages dead. Officials have indicated that the plant is now operating at about a third of capacity. Since the incident, the plant has increased its security, with armed guards being deployed in order to help protect Algeria’s remote desert energy installations.