Monitor May 2024

Atrocities Watch Africa (AWA) conducts continuous monitoring of ongoing situations in African countries at risk of or experiencing mass atrocities in order to identify trends in patterns of violence and policy responses in efforts to contribute to recommendations for the cessation of violence.

AWA’s mission is predicated on fighting impunity, ending the perpetration of mass atrocity crimes, and ensuring accountability. Through its efforts, AWA aims to contribute to the prevention, punishment, and deterrence of future mass atrocity crimes.

This month’s newsletter covers:

  • The Central African Republic
  • Ghana
  • Mali
  • South Sudan

Central African Republic

Violence and instability continue to afflict the Central African Republic (CAR). March saw the highest level of civilian targeting by Russian armed forces since February 2022 as about 60 civilians were killed in a number of  attacks in the Ouham prefecture intended to gain control over strategic mining areas, according to data gathered by ACLED. Africa Corps, formerly known as the Wagner group, has killed over 900 civilians since December 2020, making them the deadliest armed group to civilians.

The security situation continues to be of concern throughout the country. In the northeast, the army and its allies continued to clash with the Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation (3R) and the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) rebels, while in the southeast clashes took place among rebels and self-defence militias which refused to disarm. Scores ofcivilians were killed throughout April, 3R is suspected to have massacred at least 24 civilians in Ouham-Pendé and MINUSCA found at least a dozen dead bodies in Mbomou, suspected victims of Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC). UPC is also suspected of having carried out attacks in Haut-Mbomou. The lack of a functional state and state security apparatus have fostered an environment conducive to the recruitment of individuals into various rebel factions, and those who took advantage of the government-backed disarmament process met a similar fate. Up to 15 percent of those who go through the disarmament program return to armed groups due to lack of other opportunities, civilians and human rights groups have accused Wagner/Africa Corps of recruiting among former rebel fighters.

Human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law have been committed by all parties to the conflict. According to MINUSCA, 2,100 violations were reported between July 2022, and June 2023, impacting 4,676 victims. Armed groups accounted for 51 percent of these, while state actors were responsible for the remaining 49 percent.  138 cases of conflict-related sexual violence were documented involving 89 girls and 77 women. The perpetrators were armed groups, the military and other security personnel. Children in the country are especially vulnerable, between July 2021 and June 2023 674 boys and 372 girls were victims of grave violations including recruitment and use of children, abuse and sexual violence, with armed groups being the main perpetrators

The CAR has historically remained overlooked in terms of global attention on conflicts. However, according to a researchconducted by Congolese humanitarian worker Karume Baderha Augustin Gang, in 2022 it was the deadliest conflict in the world with an estimated 6% of its population dying that year, widely surpassing UN[1] and other international estimations and shedding light on an unrecognised crisis. Violence has been a key contributor to the gradual deterioration of living standards, Gang’s research indicated that malnutrition and lack of basic access to healthcare are the main factors causing mortality as 82 percent of adults and 73 percent of children were only eating once a day or less in 2022. The latest UN OCHA reportfrom March 2024 showed improvement, indicating that only 41 percent of the population is not eating enough, however the situation remains concerning and it is unclear if the latest estimation reflects the reality on the ground as accessing some regions remains impossible due to security concerns.

Elections in CAR are scheduled to take place at the end of 2024 and the narrowing political space and the ongoing crackdownon opposition forces remains of concern. For the past two years and since the call for a constitutional referendum on abolishing presidential term limits in 2022, state institutions, including police, have intimidated civil society activists, accusing them of involvement with armed factions, and have obstructed opposition demonstrations. Opposition leader Mboli Goumba from the Republican Bloc for the Defence of the Constitution (BRDC) was arrested for 72 hours on contempt of court after accusing four judges and the minister of justice of corruption, on 27 March he was sentenced to one-year suspended prison. This raised further concerns from the opposition as just months earlier President Touadéra carried out a cabinet reshuffleappointing numerous new ministers. This brought on criticism from opposition parties who perceived it as a form of reward for individuals who were instrumental in the Republican Dialogue of March 2022, which facilitatedthe constitutional referendum in July 2023, which opened up the possibility of a third term for Touadéra.

International response:

The Special Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for François Bozizé, accusing him of crimes against humanity reportedly committed from February 2009 to March 2013. While this marks progress towards justice for the atrocities committed, there’s uncertainty about its effectiveness. Despite the issuance of at least 25 warrants by the court, suspects remain at large.

In March, Nada Al-Nashif, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking at the 55th session of the Human Rights Council, highlightedthe vulnerable situation of women and girls in the country, especially with the upcoming elections. She also called on the government to address impunity as a means to end the violence, an essential first step towards mitigating the suffering of civilians.

The UN Security Council held a briefingon the situation in the CAR in February where head of MINUSCA, Valentine Rugwabiza, briefed the council on developments since October 2023 shedding light on the ongoing proliferation of arms, including explosive devices that represent not only a threat to the population and peacekeepers but also to humanitarians, constraining the delivery of aid in the western region where 50 percent of the population lives.


On 7 December 2024, Ghanaians will cast their votes, marking the nation’s ninth general election, to determine their next president. However, recent developments show worrisome trends aimed at silencing opposition voices.   

The tension is palpable with the political environment growing increasingly strained. The heightened polarization and fallout from the 2020 elections and a complex regional context, set the stage for a challenging journey ahead. Ghanaians have reported increased threats on political opponents, proliferation of information on online sources including fake news and the use of hate speech  taking center stage. During the last days of December 2023, Mustapha Gbande the Deputy General Secretary of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) called on Ghanians to arm themselves before heading to the polls in order to ensure free and fair elections and to prevent intimidation from the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP). Gbande’s comment caused controversy and fellow NDC members backed the statements. Dr. Osei Owusu Bonsu, a political analyst, sounded the alarm as this “sets a precedent that can lead to chaos and violence on election day.”

There is growing concern overincidents of violence involving party youth groups as both the NDC and NPP centre their campaigns on youth. Analysts expressed concern about the risk of violence and vigilantism that these groups may inflict if tensions continue to escalate, the excessive use of force and lack of accountability from state security forces has eroded public trust and led political parties to strongly rely on youth for security. They have already been used to propel violence in internal elections. Youth unemployment is a contributing factor, as unemployed youth are not only willing to get their hands dirty for some food but are rewarded in the form of political appointments turning the elections into a “do-or-die affair” , says Mensah Thompson, executive director of the Alliance for Social Equity and Public Accountability. In contested areas party supporters have often used small weapons to intimidate potential voters, both during the voter registration process and on election day. Small arms are being used to disrupt political party activities, creating a sense of fear among voters and detering individuals from participating in the election. Mounting tensions and the longstanding rivalry between NDC and NPP provide a fertile ground for conflict, if not properly addressed.

Tribal and religious politics are also gaining grounds. On a video circulating on social media the leading member of the NPP Ali Suraj called on Muslims to vote for NPP’s presidential candidate Bawumia citing religious reasons. Civil society openly condemned this statement, during the safeguarding Our Democracy Initiativeled by Community Focus Foundation Ghana (CFF-Ghana)Richard Kasu, the Executive Director, warned that “religious politics is burning grounds for unresolved protracted conflicts in some neighboring African countries and Ghana mustn’t avail itself for same because religious and tribal induced conflicts come at a high cost. Contributions to Ghana’s democratic discourse should not be grounded on religious and tribal lines”.

Civil society and concerned citizens have raised the alarm on vote-buying. In the internal polls NPP delegates openly flaunted wads of cash on camera as incentives for voting for certain aspirants. According to a2022 survey by the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development, politicians and political parties are being funded by individuals involved in criminal activities.

Members of the press have also been affected by the crackdown, there has beenan increase in attacks on journalists by both political actors and security agencies. During 2023, media outlets, including United Television faced attacks, journalists were assaulted by members of opposition parties, and others were arrested and mistreated while carrying out their duties.The Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) recorded 45 assaults on journalists and media institutions between 2019 and 2023, with the latter showing the highest number of attacks. GJA fears that attacks will increase closer to the elections and the Accra-based Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) believe the repressive tendencies of the administration have been effective in intimidating journalists.

Both the NDC and the NPP have denounced the attacks and despite the government creating the Coordinated Mechanism on the Safety of Journalists office tasked with investigating attacks on journalists, observers say it is all talk and no action as previous attacks have barely been investigated.

The stakes are high, as the political scene is largely shaped by two key figures: John Mahama representing the NDC and Mahamudu Bawumia from the NPP and December’s election is expected to be closely contested.To exacerbate matters, during the 2020 election, eight citizenswere allegedly killed by agents associated with the ruling NPP, unfortunately justice for the victims appears elusive.When coupled with the broader erosion of democracy that is ongoing across West Africa and the recent postponements of elections in Senegal, these developments create an environment where violence is prevalent and fair transitions of power are less likely. It is probable that these concerning patterns will persist in Ghana, and there is a strong need for de-escalation and creating an environment conducive to safeguard transparency, fairness, and a seamless transition of power.


Amid escalating efforts by the ruling junta to stifle dissent, the Council of Ministers adopteda decree suspending the activities of political parties and associations until further notice, citing public order concerns. Since December 2023, at least four opposition organisationshave been dissolved. The suspension came amid increasing tensions regarding the return to civilian rule, originally set to take place by 26 March 2024. However, the elections scheduled for February were suspended citing technical difficulties, sparking widespread condemnation from political parties and civil society whoare calling for a clear roadmap for restoration of constitutional order. No new election date has been set.

Days after the suspension, the country’s high authority for communication issued a statement requestingthe media halt any broadcast and/or publication covering the activities of political parties and associations, limiting freedom of expression. The consequences of non-compliance are still unclear.  Mali has been under military rule since August 2020 with the ruling junta seizing power during a second coup that took place in May 2021.

These actions represent serious violations of the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association, escalating the country’s pattern of shrinking civil society space since the 2021 coup. Opponents, including politician Housseini Amion Guindo Poulo, calledon the Malian people “to resist this ignominy and initiate civil disobedience until the fall of the illegal and illegitimate regime.” On 4 March, Col. Alpha Yaya Sangaré, who published a book on abuses by the government armed forces, was forcibly disappeared.

The political turmoil is only aggravated by the lack of security, especially in northern Mali with tensions between the junta and separatist forces continuing to rise. In late January, the junta annulled the 2015 Algiers Accords[2] with northern separatist groups, alleging that some signatories had changed their posture and Algerian interference. Instead, they proposed a committee to oversee anational peace dialogue, Tuareg separatists however rejected the initiative. This comes amid increasing tensions between the two parties who have been contesting territory in northern Mali. Violence in Kidal state more than doubled during the second half of 2023, coinciding with the withdrawalof UN peacekeepers. Although the Malian armed forces (FAMA), with assistance from the Africa Corps -formerly the Wagner group- managed to regain control over Kidal, a key city in the north that had been under separatist control since 2014, analyst Christian Klatt, head of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Mali’s capital, Bamako, said civilians who initially backed the military junta after the 2020 coup have become disenchanted. With nearly 70% of Malians living in poverty, and access to essential services like education, healthcare, electricity, and clean water severely constrained, over one third of the population relies on humanitarian aid for survival, while escalating conflict drives a growing number of individuals to flee their homes. Despite these challenges, dissenting voices are scarce, as many fear reprisals in the context of violence and shrinking civic space. 

On the other hand, Islamic insurgents have been focusing on smaller attacks, avoiding direct confrontation with FAMA and Africa Corps. Despite this avoidance, Klatt arguesthat FAMA is not in a position to control the territory, and its weakness will be exploited by jihadist forces. The only alternative is to tackle the structural inequalities that lead people to join such groups.

FAMA have been fighting alongside the Africa Corps since December 2021 and, according to a recent Human Rights Watch report, both forces have “unlawfully killed and summarily executed civilians during counterinsurgency operations since December.” Analyst Ilaria Allegrozzi says the Malian government “is not only committing grave abuses but is also working to eliminate scrutiny into its human rights situation.” The government has  left the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) block depriving victims of gross human rights violations of the ability to seek justice through the block’s Court of Justice.

Neighbouring countries Niger and Burkina Faso are also grappling with escalating insecurity and the prospect of a transition to civilian governance remains distant. Despite efforts by regional bodies to mitigate the crisis, tangible outcomes are yet to be seen and the indications of these nations announcingtheir withdrawal from ECOWAS signal a concerning development, further complicating the regional landscape.

International response:

In February, the government announcedtheir plan to withdraw from the ECOWAS regional bloc alongside Burkina Faso and Niger, who will together form the Alliance of the Sahel States (AES). The countries accused ECOWAS of falling under the influence of foreign powers and imposing illegal and inhumane sanctions. The bloc has not yet received the formal notification which would allow the states to leave in a years time and the AU has urged maintenance of ECOWAS unity. This formality, as analyst Nicholas Westcott says, gives both the junta and the regional organs time to negotiate. Still the regional bodies face a difficult choice between maintaining their principles and risking open conflict or accommodation

The three AES nations account for the majorityof deaths from terrorism in the Sahel region. Despite its promises, the Alliance’s effectiveness is yet to be seen. Concernshave been raised regarding their limited resources to tackle the problem and their heavy dependency on Russia, which is in turn constrained by the conflict in Ukraine. With the withdrawal of assistance from the UN and France, these nations face a vulnerable security landscape. If they are unable to address the ongoing Islamist insurgency this threat could expand to other countries in the region.

Relations with neighbouring Algeria deterioratedwith Mali accusing Algeria of tolerating the presence of terrorist groups. Since seizing power in 2020 the junta has broken off several alliances including with the EU and its former colonial power France as well as expelling MINUSMA.

South Sudan

For the first time since its independence in 2011, South Sudan is gearing up to head to the polls currently scheduled for December 2024. Unfortunately elections in South Sudan have been postponed multiple times. After the civil war ended in 2018, elections were set to take place byDecember 2022, however these were pushed back to December 2024 to allow for the implementation of the key prerequisites. However, as of April 2024 these have not been addressed, and it is unclear whether they can be addressed before December.

A number of key commitments from the 2018 Revitalised Peace Agreement, including drafting a constitution, integration of the rival factions into a unified army command and establishment of transitional justice mechanisms, remain unfulfilled. The new constitution was intended to create the framework for a new electoral system and a new unified military was intended to provide security, however, these are not yet in place.

Both President Kiir and Vice-President Machar, the rivals who signed the 2018 peace agreement, seem to be on opposite ends, with Kiir arguing that elections should proceed and Machar arguing that other key provisions of the agreement should be fulfilled first. Political analyst Edgar Githua has pointed out that the peace process, and the elections remain vulnerable to spoilers both within and outside the 2018 agreement and these are intensifying as the elections draw nearer.

In addition, there are a number of more technical processes such as formation of a National Electoral Commission, census and demarcation of constituencies and voter registration.. Voter registration is slated to begin in June and political actors and civil society representatives agreed upon a Code of Conduct to govern the actions of political parties. On the other hand an electoral bill passed in March 2024 imposes a $50,000 registration fee on parties wishing to nominate candidates in the upcoming polls, which opposition parties argue is an effort to prevent them from running in December.

TheSouth Sudan Civil Society Forumalso raised their concerns, saying that under current conditions free and fair elections cannot be held and urged the parties to take action to alter these conditions. Ongoing insecurity is likely to render conducting the vote extremely dangerous especially in regions where it is likely to escalate boundary disputes, inter-communal tensions, or local power dynamics. Protestsover the lack of a conducive environment for free and fair elections have already begun.

The growing political tensions are likely to exacerbate existing patterns of gross human rights violations in the country. A report by the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan highlighted the failure to implement transitional justice measures and deal with the root causes of violence. Intercommunal violence perpetrated by political and military elites persisted. In addition, the large influx of refugees and returnees fleeing from the neighbouring, war-torn Sudan have must also be carefully managed

The precarious economic situation also increases the risk of atrocities, as it leads to intensified fights over resources and higher unemployment especially among youth, who are then vulnerable to military recruitment,  as highlighted by the UN Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix. A recent rupture in one of South Sudan’s key oil pipelines which passes through Sudan is impeding oil exports. The country relies heavily on oil revenue, with two thirds of it going through the now-ruptured pipeline, further exacerbating the already precarious economic situation.

The current situation is a recipe for disaster. Kiir and Machar were unable to reconcile after the country’s civil war and to this day they continue to fuel violence for their personal political gains. Violence is ongoing throughout many areas of the country, clashes between communal militias backed by the country’s leaders persist, and civilians pay the price for it. Elections often serve as a potentialcatalyst for renewed violence in post-conflict contexts, unless sufficient time, resources, and confidence-building measures are dedicated to their planning and execution. If these are not addressed, it increases the risk of atrocities in South Sudan.

International Response:

The international community pressured both Kiir and Machar to implement the necessary steps for fair elections to take place in December. This includes international and regional bodies including theAfrican Union, the European Unionas well as the governments of Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, in a letter to the UN Security Council enumerated over a dozen critical preconditions necessary to hold genuine and peaceful elections that the transitional government has yet to meet and called on the parties to achieve a “critical mass” of implementation necessary for a peaceful conduct of free, fair and credible elections. The Security Council is expectedto review and either endorse or critique these findings.

The UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan shared their findingson the worrisome human rights situation in the country at the last UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva in February – March 2024 and repeatedly urged the government to address structural drivers of violence to enable legitimate and meaningful political processes.

[1] The discrepancy in the estimation was explained by the lack of comprehensive record-keeping and conducting a nationwide survey is prohibitively expensive and complex in the current security situation, so previous surveys had been limited to areas under government control, rendering them incomplete representations of the entire population.

[2] The 2015 Algiers Accords ended three years of war in Mali between government forces and various separatist groups in the north, including the Tuareg.