Atrocities Watch Africa (AWA) is a non-partisan, civil society organisation that provides continental leadership in matters pertaining to the prevention of mass atrocities within Africa, our strategies and approaches are grounded in the realisation that atrocities can be prevented through various interventions, including, but not limited to, early warning mechanisms, diplomatic efforts, use of social media and new technologies, litigation, and advocacy campaigns.
This newsletter builds on our team’s continuous monitoring of the region that allows us to identify deteriorating situations where atrocities may be committed as well as track ongoing situations of ongoing atrocities to detect increasing tendencies or opportunities for improvement.
This month newsletter covers:
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Almost 50 people were killed in a crackdown on a protest in Goma against the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Congo (MONUSCO), the Regional Force of the East African Community (EACRF), other UN agencies and international non-governmental organisations in late August. Over 220 people were arrested, among them women and children. The protest, which was organised by a religious sect called the Natural Judaic and Messianic Faith Towards the Nations, had been banned by the authorities citing the state of siege which has been in place for two years. MONUSCO and EACRF have come under increasing criticism for failing to protect civilians. President Tshisekedi has requested that they begin to drawdown at the end of the year.
Fighting erupted between the country’s armed forces (FARDC) and M23 in North Kivu on 1 October breaking the ceasefire in place since November 2022. North Kivu’s government spokesperson accused M23 of seeking to reoccupy positions they earlier vacated as part of a ceasefire, but the rebel group blamed the government for beginning a new offensive and ruling out any possibility of negotiation in a speech by President Tshisekedi at UNGA.
M23 is not the only rebel threat in the country. A recent report by the US Bridgeway Foundation called the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) the deadliest group in eastern Congo. The report described the group’s financing and its relationship with the Islamic State. Since it began operating in 2017, the ADF has killed at least 4,650 people and their area of operation has expanded from 1,700 square kilometres to over 10,000, transforming it from a relatively obscure Ugandan rebel group to a regional threat, even conducting a series of suicide bombings in Uganda in 2021.
The DRC is scheduled to hold elections in December 2023, and already the opposition is under threat, with government authorities arresting opposition politicians, restricting their gatherings and violently repressing demonstrations. As one example, Moïse Katumbi Chapwe’s top adviser, Salomon Kalonda, was arrested on 30 May accused of plotting with M23 and its Rwandan allies to overthrow the government, in what Human Rights Watch analysts suggest is an attempt at intimidation. Opposition presidential candidate Franck Diongo was also arrested and detained for almost a month on 20 June. A member of parliament and spokesperson for Katumbi, Chérubin Okende, was shot dead in Kinshasa. Journalists have also been targeted by supporters of political parties while covering events. Congolese elections have been increasingly characterised by a narrowing of civic space, political and electoral violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, abductions, threats against political opposition, excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators, hate speech and incitement to violence, which undermine the credibility of the elections and increase the possibility of violence, reported the UN Joint Human Rights Office.
There was over 90% increase in reported cases of gender based violence (GBV) in camps for the internally displaced in North Kivu between 2021 and 2022 according to a recent report by UNFPA. Women and girls arrive in these camps fleeing conflict or climate disasters seeking safety and assistance but face heightened risk of sexual assault and coercion and little support there. The lack of livelihood opportunities and an overall lack of security has left women especially vulnerable, and some turn to negative coping strategies to earn money and feed their families, while others have been forced to leave the camp in search of supplies and work facing exploitation in the process.
New technologies have increased demand for cobalt and copper and the mining industry has sought to expand, at times by evicting entire communities and committing grave human rights abuses including sexual assault, arson and beatings, according to a recent report by Amnesty International.
As the fighting in North Kivu resumed, army chiefs from four regional blocs are expected to meet at the AU headquarters to discuss “the existing and planned military deployments in eastern DR Congo to establish a clear division of labour.”
The US sanctioned six individuals for contributing to the escalation of fighting and cases of SGBV and violence against children in eastern Congo: three members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FLDR), Apollinaire Hakizimana, its defense commissioner, Sebastian Uwimbabazi who is in charge of intelligence, and Ruvugayimikore Protogene leader of the FDLR-affiliated Maccabe group; Bernard Byamungu, M23’s deputy commander of operations and intelligence; FARDC 3411th Regiment’s commander Colonel Salomon Tokolonga; and Brigadier General Andrew Nyamvumba, the head of operations for the Rwandan Defence Force’s 3rd Division. Nyamvumba was later promoted by Kagame in what could be perceived as defiance against Washington.
The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken engaged with both the DRC and neighbouring Rwanda asking them to take measures to de-escalate the situation.
The US, Canada and various EU states reiterated their preparedness to support December’s elections and expressed concern over the excessive use of force and the need to ensure freedom of speech, assembly, association, and movement.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern over the
killings that took place in Goma during the anti-UN protests in late August.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) raised the alarm about the urgent need for funding as millions of people risk going hungry in a country where 25.8 million people are food insecure, including over 40% of the population in the eastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu.
Uganda extended its military presence in the country via the Operation Shuja set to combat the ADF insurgents.
On 26 July 2023, President Mohamed Bazoum was overthrown in an operation led by Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani. Demonstrations both in favour of and against the coup have taken place since then, but protests for Bazoum’s reinstatement have been met with resistance and some have been broken up. Demonstrations in support of the military takeover and against French troops and ECOWAS’ sanctions occurred, people took to the streets carrying Russian flags and chanting anti-French slogans, some residents even said they’re preparing to fight back against a possible ECOWAS military intervention with many Nigeriens registering as volunteers or fighters. Tensions between the country and France are at an all-time high and have led to Macron announcing the withdrawal of French troops from the country. This was met with celebration from civil society organisations who called it a “victory for the Nigerien people who fought for this.” However, analysts fear the repercussions this may have in the region and called for the international community to pay close attention to the unfolding crisis. Ghanaian political analyst Mutaru Muqthtar, executive director for the West Africa Centre for Counter Extremism (WACCE), warned “…the official disengagement of France would mean dire consequences for the region in terms of dealing with violent extremism,” and that France’s exit may lead to non-Western partners to increase their presence in Niger.
Political violence increased 42% in August compared to July and reached the highest numbers since March 2021 with over 100 lives claimed, ACLED reported this is mostly due to ongoing IS Sahel and JNIM activity, organised banditry in the southern Maradi region, and intercommunal violence between ethnic Djerma-Songhai and Fulani in the western Tillaberi region. Fighters have been taking advantage of the freedom of movement they’ve enjoyed since the coup, mostly due to suspended foreign -French and American- military operations and a distracted Nigerien army focusing efforts on the capital. In the third week of August, the first major attack against the army in six months took place in which at least 17 soldiers were killed near the Burkinabe border. A week prior, six National Guard soldiers were killed in the Tillabéri, the main insurgent area. During the same week at least 50 civilians were killed in the region by suspected ISIL fighters, humanitarian actors have expressed concern due to the increased hostilities from non-state armed groups as well as intercommunal clashes between sedentary and pastoral communities in the tri-border area which has already resulted in forced displacement.
WFP reported that currently 3.3 million people (13% of the population) are severely food insecure, but an additional 7.3 million people (28% of the population) are at risk. Since the political crisis, prices of staple foods have risen leaving people more prone to need assistance.
ECOWAS activated a clause allowing for the deployment of a military force to reinstate constitutional order, and indicated they are ready to do so if diplomatic pressure fails. In the meantime, economic sanctions and travel restrictions have been imposed. The junta agreed to dialogue with ECOWAS but so far has only indicated they will hand over power to civilian rule in three years’ time and will begin working on a new constitution for the country in a month’s time, meanwhile the block is aiming for a nine month transition programme similar to the one that was implemented in Nigeria in 1998.
Relations with France, which supported Bazoum, deteriorated and the junta expelled the ambassador and renounced several military cooperation agreements, ending with France announcing it will withdraw its ambassador and military contingent. France currently has about 1,500 troops there as part of a broader fight against jihadists in the Sahel. The junta had also accused France of plotting a military intervention with the backing of ECOWAS. On the other hand, Burkina Faso and Mali, countries who have undergone military takeovers in recent years, announced they support the military government. Putin had a conversation with acting Malian president Goita on the situation in Niger.
The US ambassador to Niger travelled to the country and met with the junta. The US State Department indicated that “…her arrival does not represent any change in our policy position, but responds to the need for senior leadership of our mission at a challenging time.”
The African Union condemned the coup, suspended Niger’s membership and requested the AU Commission compile a list of members of the military junta and their supporters for targeted sanctions.
Presidential elections took place on 23 August in which President Emmerson Mnangagwa secured a second term in office with almost 53% of the votes, against 44% for the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) candidate. Less than a week after the results were made public, post-election violence was reported across the country, with the CCC claiming that their supporters and activists were being targeted by Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) supporters. An opposition councillor for Glen Norah ward 7 and a youth representative, Womberaiishe Nhende, and his colleague were abducted and tortured and over 70 people were displaced by the violence. In the three weeks after the election, over a dozen CCC figures were arrested by the police and there have been reports of opposition party members abducted and physically abused.
Election days were marred with human rights violations, voting was challenging due to extreme delays in all major opposition strongholds, forcing president Mnangagwa to extend voting into the following day. Voter intimidation and degraded internet access limited access to information. The lack of independent monitoring raised concerns, 41 independent observers deployed by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) and the Election Resource Centre (ERC) were arrested on election day.
Concerns were raised regarding the legitimacy of the election as the electoral process did not meet regional and international standards. The CCC alleged voting irregularities, saying that “…ballot boxes were reopened, with authorities summoning polling officers to fill out new verification forms, with those refusing to do so being intimidated by authorities.” However they decided they would not legally challenge the results considering the courts to be in the hands of Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF and instead called for a re-run, though this was not successful. Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s (ZEC) impartiality was also called into question, as it is composed of commissioners chosen by the president after vetting by parliament. Analyst Chidi Odinkalu said “…it was impossible to escape the feeling that the president had bought and paid for another term in office…it seemed clear that the government and its hand-picked ZEC had succeeded in suppressing turnout among voters not sympathetic to them.”
The situation was also worrisome in the lead up to the election, ACLED reported attacks targeting opposition candidates and their supporters, especially the CCC, with registered events more than doubling in July when compared to the average of the past year. Numerous reports implicated supporters of the ruling Zanu-PF and linked groups in the violence, MP candidates threatened opposition supporters and sought to dissuade them from voting. Research conducted by Human Rights Watch revealed that CCC politicians were detained and/or convicted on what appeared to be baseless, politically motivated charges. Police used the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act of 2019 to deny the opposition permission to hold meetings and campaign rallies.
The human rights situation in the country has worsened in the last five years as political opposition, journalists, human rights activists, among others have been targeted for criticising the government. Amnesty International conducted a review of Zimbabwe’s human rights record in the period 2018-2023, finding that authorities have systematically suppressed peaceful dissent. There has been an increase of excessive use of force during protests, making it increasingly challenging for people to freely express their opinions, human rights activists and defenders or any individuals who speak out or organise protests have been particularly targeted and have faced persecution, harassment and abductions. Laws, including the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and the Patriotic Bill, were passed or amended to target dissenting views and groups, and limit the space for political debate.
Zimbabwe also experienced brutal and widespread post-election violence in 2008 in which as many as 500 people were killed.
The international community, including the EU Election Observer Mission, SADC and the United States pointed to the lack of transparency and independence of the ZEC and the overall lack of credibility of the election. The UN expressed concern over the violence and called for disputes to be resolved through established legal and institutional channels.