WTF Friday, 5/8/2015

Last week the news broke that French peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic sexually abused homeless children begging for food at a Bangui refugee camp.

We know about this because a UN staffer passed an internal report on the allegations to French authorities, who launched their own inquiry. The staffer was suspended for leaking confidential information, but temporarily reinstated on Wednesday by the United Nations Dispute Tribunal pending a full review of the case.

That’s already chock full of WTF-ery, but on top of that, the media has apparently decided to designate this a “sex for food scandal” (see Exhibit A, below).Screen shot 2015-05-08 at 7.50.51 AMIt strikes me as just a touch… something (sanitizing? anodyne? dishonest?) to refer to it this way. Surely forcing children to perform sex acts for food (or for any reason) is in fact a “child rape scandal”.

But further investigation reveals that this is the standard practice for discussing sexual abuse of indigent children by peacekeepers, apparently because the wordplay on “oil for food” is just tooooo tempting. See Exhibits B-E: former “sex for food” scandals in 2002 (West Africa), 2004 (DRC), 2006 (Liberia), and 2011 (Côte d’Ivoire).

It really says it all that we have enough datapoints on this to infer a pattern, doesn’t it?


U.N. Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic: Um Whut?

On Friday morning, the AP ran a story about a leaked report from the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic, which had concluded that it was “too early to speak of genocide or ethnic cleansing” in CAR, but that other crimes against humanity had taken place.

The first part of that conclusion surprised me. In February, Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, testified before the Security Council that his agency had “effectively witnessed a ‘cleansing’ of the majority of the Muslim population in western CAR.” Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both also reported that Muslims are being driven from the country en masse. What had the Commission uncovered that led it to decide otherwise?

I’ve now read the leaked report, and I still haven’t the foggiest idea.

The section analyzing the allegations of genocide and ethnic cleansing is exceptionally brief – less than a page long, much of which is taken up with a bullet-pointed list of the names of different genocidal crimes. It then dismisses the allegations of genocide and ethnic cleansing in a single paragraph, without citing any law or specific sources:

“As has been stated above, the origins of the present armed conflict in CAR is rooted in the struggle for political power. The actions of the parties to the dispute as of present demonstrate the fact that the conflict is still in reality a political conflict. SELEKA a mainly Muslim movement on the 8th of May declared a de facto partition of CAR, setting up a military Council and claiming the right to administer exclusively three regions of CAR. The main parties to the conflict remain SELEKA and anti-BALAKA. The fact that there is an anti-Muslim propaganda from certain non-Muslim quarters does not mean that genocide is being planned or that there is any conspiracy to commit genocide or even a specific intent to commit genocide. The displacement of Muslims affected by whatever party so far is a matter of protection and the preservation of human life not a matter of ethnic cleansing.”


Let’s break this down. First, it should go without saying that it is thoroughly possible for genocide and ethnic cleansing to take place within the context of a “struggle for political power,” or during a “political conflict.” Indeed, it would be unusual for them not to. And second, while “the fact that there is an anti-Muslim propaganda” is of course not in and of itself enough to prove genocide or genocide-adjacent crimes, it’s not particularly comforting, either. Those facts are not a basis on which to conclude that genocide is not taking place, they are reasons to investigate whether it is taking place. (If only there could be some sort of U.N. Commission of Inquiry tasked with finding out what’s really going on. Someone should really get on that.)

And has the Commission mistaken “ethnic cleansing” for some sort of laundry-related procedure? How else can we explain a line that dismisses claims of ethnic cleansing … by basically describing ethnic cleansing? Forcibly clearing a target population from an area by threatening the lives and safety of its members is pretty much the first chapter from the ethnic cleanser’s handbook.

This conclusion also seems to be contradicted by facts contained elsewhere in the report. For instance, in describing the difficulties faced by foreign peacekeeping forces in CAR, the Commission notes that “the MISCA and SANGARIS forces have been subject of attacks especially from the anti-Balaka militia, the majority of whom seem keen to carry out an ethnic cleansing in CAR by driving out the population or worse by killing them which would amount to genocide.” If the anti-Balaka fighters expressed their intent to commit ethnic cleansing by “driving out the population,” and then proceeded to do just that, what does the Commission need to see in order to conclude that ethnic cleansing is taking place? Engraved invitations? (“Your local anti-Balaka cordially invites you and your family to be ethnically cleansed on Saturday, June the twenty-first, two thousand fourteen. Plus-ones encouraged. RSVP.”)

Is it possible that the Commission, after a thorough investigation, determined that the anti-Balaka were all talk, and the civilians who have been displaced were merely caught up in generalized violence that was not targeted towards specific groups? Yes. But if that’s what happened, the Commission should have explained as much in the report, so that observers – and the Security Council – could weigh the credibility of the report’s conclusions. That didn’t happen.

And is now a good moment to point out that the Commission limited its investigation to Bangui, and is thus not really in a position to make pronouncements about ethnic cleansings and genocides that may or may not be going on in the rest of the country? I understand that the security situation made it difficult for the investigators to travel to other parts of CAR, but am quite confused as to why they did not at least interview refugees in neighboring countries.

In the interest of fairness, I should note here that the report has not officially been released yet, so it is possible that the version I saw was merely a partially-completed draft, and not yet in its final form. That would certainly explain why it is a mere 26 pages long, 13 of which are taken up with a history of the conflict and a description of the difficulties the Commission faced in conducting its investigation. (Turns out there’s a war on!) However, the fact that the document was accompanied by a letter from Ban Ki Moon submitting it to the Security Council on May 27th suggests that it was the final version.

If that is the case, then I am tremendously disappointed. The Commission had a mandate to:

“investigate reports of violations of international humanitarian law, international human rights law and abuses of human rights in the Central African Republic, by all parties since 1 January 2013 and to compile information, to help identify the perpetrators of such violations and abuses, point to their possible criminal responsibility and to help ensure that those responsible are held accountable.”

And yet, after six months of work from a team of six full-time investigators, the Commission appears to have produced a report that details little in the way of investigation, identifies perpetrators only in generalities, contains almost no documentation of specific violations or abuses, and provides no useful analysis that would ensure future accountability.

Not good enough, Commission of Inquiry. Do better.

Is HRW’s Ken Roth Celebrating October Fools’ Day?

Unless there’s an October Fools’ Day that we’re unaware of, we’re going to have to issue an Amber Alert for Ken Roth’s common sense.

Roth, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, argues in this week’s Foreign Policy that Obama should send troops to Africa to apprehend Joseph Kony:

[A]s Barack Obama recognized in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, “Force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans.”

Obama needs to put this principle into practice, and there is no better case for the humanitarian use of force than the urgent need to arrest Joseph Kony, the ruthless leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and protect the civilians who are his prey. And far from requiring a non-consensual intervention, Kony’s apprehension would be welcomed by the governments concerned.

Say what now? First of all, the fact that force “can be justified” on humanitarian grounds hardly means that the only decision remaining to be made is where to start a-forcing. And second through fourth of all, “far from requiring a non-consensual intervention?”

As they say on ‘Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego,’ let’s go to the map:

The governments concerned are the Sudan, the DRC, and the Central African Republic. Perhaps they might welcome Kony’s apprehension, but does Roth really believe that they would welcome large numbers of American troops trampling their beautiful shrubberies in order to make that happen? Seriously?

Let’s start with Sudan, because recent reports suggest that Kony’s probably hanging out in Darfur at the moment. Let’s set aside for a moment Khartoum’s cuddly relationship with Kony over the years, its refusal to allow Uganda to send its troops into Darfur to pursue him, and the fact that U.S. troops arriving just in time for the referendum on Southern Sudanese independence might raise a few eyebrows. Does Roth really think that if Obama calls up President Bashir and tells him some U.S. marines are on their way over to arrest a notorious war criminal who’s wanted on an ICC warrant, Bashir’s going to be like “peachy keen!” Because we think he might have some concerns about that…

And then we have the DRC, where Kabila continues to insist that the you-say-MONUC-I-say-MONUSCO peacekeepers clear off the field in time for the November 2011 elections. Apparently, it’s time for the Congo to “fly with its own wings.” Definitely sounds like a government that would “welcome” a new intervention, right?

In Roth’s defense, at an A.U. summit today, the CAR government did call for the LRA to be “treated and fought like al Qaeda.” However, we’re thinking that when they said “like al Qaeda” they probably meant “like a serious threat to international peace,” not “like a group in fruitless pursuit of which the United States should reduce our country to rubble for nearly a decade.”

(Hat tips to Texas in Africa, who points out some other potential problems with this plan, and to Abu Muqawama, who nominates Roth for Tuesday’s “Worst Idea on the Internet” award; Map via Reliefweb)

Better Know a Congolese War Criminal II: Jean-Pierre Bemba

Congolese-War-Criminal-of-the-Day Jean-Pierre Bemba was arrested in Belgium this Saturday on an ICC warrant.

You may remember Bemba as vice-president of the DRC, leader of the Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo (MLC), and one of the richest men in the Congo. But I will always remember him as the man who, in response to accusations that he and his men had eaten up a number of pygmies during their war crime-y activities in Ituri in 2002, coined the immortal response: “I didn’t eat the pygmies. They’re alive and well. Let’s count them.” (Paraphrased, but not by much.)

Bemba was indicted on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for atrocities committed by the MLC in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002-2003. They were there under the auspices of (former) CAR president Ange-Félix Patassé who had requested their assistance stomping out a coup attempt. Apparently they stomped a little too firmly, and in a distinctly rapey manner; local women’s groups compiled 600 verified reports of sexual assault.

An informed (and rabidly Bemba-partisan) source tells me that one likely outcome of the arrest is to feed suspicion in the DRC that the ICC is a political, and pro-Kabila, institution. Kabila would certainly be happier with Bemba in the ICC dock, rather than hanging around showing up Kabila with his superior Congolese-ness. (In the 2006 presidential election, Bemba ran on “100% Congolese” platform, a dig at Kabila’s childhood spent in Tanzania, and inability to speak Lingala.) Bemba’s supporters spent this morning marching on Parliament demanding that the government work to get Bemba released from Belgian custody. I’m guessing that’s not going to happen…