Armed groups target religious leaders in Central African Republic
On Friday, 29 June, unidentified gunmen entered the presbytery at St Joseph’s Cathedral in Bambari, Central African Republic (CAR), and killed Father Firmin Gbagoua. No one has claimed responsibility for the shooting, but many have blamed the ex-Séléka armed group, l'Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC). Father Gbagoua was widely known for his role in local peace and meditation efforts. Locals have accused the UPC of a targeted assassination of a religious leader who was at the forefront of promoting dialogue.
Despite the presence of peacekeepers from the UN Mission in CAR (MINUSCA), Bambari has experienced a growing number of violent confrontations between rival armed groups, including the UPC and anti-balaka militias who are competing for control of local resources. Amidst widespread violence in and around the city, the Catholic Church has been attacked three times since May.
Father Gbagoua was the third Catholic priest killed in CAR so far this year. Armed men stormed the Fatima Church in Bangui during May, killing Father Albert Tougoumalé Baba, a well-known advocate for peace and reconciliation between divided religious communities. Two months earlier the parish priest of Séko village, Father Désiré Angbabata, was killed in another attack allegedly carried out by the UPC. Following the attack on Fatima Church, angry mobs carried out revenge attacks and burned two mosques.
According to the UN, an estimated 70 percent of CAR is still in the hands of predatory armed groups who continue to compete for territory, power and resources. In response to ongoing violence more than a quarter of the country's population have fled their homes, with more than 690,000 Central Africans internally displaced and almost 570,000 refugees in neighboring countries.
As attacks on religious leaders and incitement to ethnic and religious-based violence continues to grow in CAR, the government and MINUSCA must take immediate steps to disarm armed groups and ensure credible criminal investigations into the latest killings. Those responsible for the murder of religious leaders, as well as crimes against humanity previously perpetrated in CAR, must be held accountable.
No independence celebrations amidst ongoing conflict in South Sudan
Although Monday, 9 July, marked the seventh anniversary of the independence of South Sudan, official celebrations were cancelled again this year. According to the UN Children’s Fund, 75 percent of children in South Sudan have known nothing but war and humanitarian crisis. More than 4.5 million people are currently displaced, and over 7 million people are severely food insecure as the country remains on the brink of another man-made famine.
Since the beginning of civil war in December 2013 South Sudan’s rival political leaders have signed many peace agreements and broken numerous promises to end the conflict and hold perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable. Most recently, during June President Salva Kiir and former Vice President (and opposition leader) Riek Machar signed the “Khartoum Declaration” – establishing yet another “permanent cessation of hostilities.” On Sunday, 8 July, the two leaders also signed a power-sharing deal and divided governmental leadership positions between their followers.
Despite these formalities, armed conflict continues in South Sudan with fighting reported in Wau and Upper Nile states. On 10 July the UN Mission in South Sudan also issued a report on fighting between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the SPLA in Opposition from 16 April to 24 May. Among other atrocities, the report documents attacks by the SPLA on at least 40 villages and settlements in Unity State, during which 120 girls and women were raped and more than 230 civilians were killed. The victims included 35 children and 50 women, many of whom were hanged or burned alive. These acts constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
This week the UN Security Council will review and likely extend the sanctions on six of South Sudan’s military and rebel leaders. It should also expand and enforce targeted sanctions against the additional six previously-identified senior officials and rebel leaders deemed responsible for atrocities and/or for impeding the peace process. The Council should also immediately implement an arms embargo and deprive both sides of the means of waging war.
Bringing sustainable peace to Africa’s youngest country requires more than a power-sharing agreement between two bitter political foes. On the seventh anniversary of independence, the people of South Sudan deserve peace with justice not gestures without substance.
Possible ICC investigation into crimes against humanity in Venezuela
On Thursday, 5 July, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open a formal investigation into possible crimes against humanity in Venezuela. These crimes include arbitrary detention, torture and extrajudicial killings attributed to state security forces and auxiliary militias, or “colectivos."
During May a report by a panel of independent international experts commissioned by the Organization of American States (OAS) accused the government of Venezuela of having systematically committed widespread human rights abuses and violations in its attempt to suppress mass protests and crush political opposition to President Nicholas Maduro. The report states that "the widespread and systematic targeting of opponents of the regime or suspected ‘enemies of the state’” constitute crimes against humanity committed as a matter of state policy.
The ICC opened a preliminary examination of the Venezuelan situation in February. During June the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, also requested greater involvement of the ICC, “given that Venezuela appears neither able nor willing to prosecute serious human rights violations.” The High Commissioner also called for the establishment of an International Commission of Inquiry to investigate human rights abuses in Venezuela.