(Formerly called IRIN) Journalism from the heart of crises

  • Central African Republic: The worst place to be young?

    Aid agencies and journalists like to use lists. They usually apply to bad things: the worst place to be a woman; top five crazy holiday destinations; or, in the case of the Commonwealth Secretariat, its Global Youth Development Index.


    It measures progress on youth development in 183 countries, looking at young people’s levels of education, health and well-being, employment opportunities, as well as civic and political participation.


    When all this is weighed, the index finds that the best place to be young is Germany. Sub-Saharan Africa is not recommended. But the place to really avoid is Central African Republic, which is anchored at the bottom of the table.

    The 2.6 million young people living in CAR already know this. An insurgent rebellion, sweeping down from the north in 2012, has left swathes of the country still lawless, having a disastrous impact on the fortunes of the youth.

    They have been forced out of school; are victims of displacement and collapsed health services; have been recruited as combatants; and have been direct casualties in the fighting between an alliance of northern-based Muslim rebels called Séléka, and Christian self-defence groups known as anti-Balaka.


    Boy with gun
    Pierre Holtz/UNICEF
    Young member of a self-defence group


    Turmoil in numbers

    CAR never was a model of development. But the resultant turmoil has made things a good deal worse. According to the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, some 2.3 million people out of a population of 4.6 million are currently in need of aid; 385,000 people have been made homeless; and 452,000 have been forced to flee the country.

    Children, as ever, are among the most vulnerable. Between 6,000 to 10,000 (aged under 18) have been conscripted by various militia. Some, like Uganda’s notorious Lord’s Resistance Army, operating in the south, abduct to fill their depleted ranks. Other groups kidnap for ransom, according to a report by the UN secretary-general.

    As jobs are extremely hard to find, some young people join voluntarily – if consent is really possible under such circumstances. They man the barricades and checkpoints that tax citizens. Others still see themselves as community defenders, or are out for revenge.

    Girls are at particular risk of sexual violence as a result of the disorder. They are not only threatened by gunmen in their own communities, but shockingly have also been victims of soldiers in the UN peacekeeping mission known as MINUSCA, and the French intervention force Sangaris.

    Those allegations stretch from 2013 to March this year, according to Code Blue, which monitors abuse by peacekeepers.

    School’s out

    The violence has affected an already fragile education system. Schools have been attacked and vandalised. But in an environment of insecurity and economic hardship, classes are less of a priority for worried parents.

    Patricia Ngoumbré Mounon is a district school inspector in Bangui. The six schools she supervises had more than 15,000 students last year. Enrolment has now fallen to 12,700 pupils, part of a deepening trend of disruption.


    Girl in class
    Pierre Holtz/UNICEF
    A crisis of education

    “Parents would rather keep their children at home while waiting for the security situation to get better, or would rather take them to the fields and use them as labour,” Mounon told IRIN.


    Paul Singa, a second-year philosophy student, has had to quit university and take up work as a cleaner in an NGO to support his family. “This crisis has crushed my dreams because my parents, who were financing my studies, cannot anymore,” he said.




    Ten armed groups agreed last year to release all children under their control and cease recruitment of child soldiers. As a result, some 3,000 former child combatants have been “separated” from the militias, but according to the US State Department, the government remains “without an effective disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration programme”.


    All children who have been released have received reintegration support from aid agencies and most were reunited with their families. But there is still the risk of re-recruitment. In January this year, 150 children re-joined the armed group they had been separated from, the State Department noted.


    “All indicators are red. Most young people are illiterate,” said Francis Mangombé, president of the National Youth Council, an NGO. “It’s an under-educated youth, and it hasn’t been trained properly for a while.”


    Demobilisation in Batangafo, northern CAR
    Crispin Dembassa-Kette/IRIN
    Demobilisation in Batangafo, northern CAR

    New hope?


    President Faustin Archange Touadera was the surprise winner of elections in February. The former maths professor has sworn to disarm fighters on both sides of the conflict, pursue dialogue, and reunify a divided country. But it’s going to be an uphill struggle.


    The government is weak and its influence limited. Insecurity is actually increasing, with humanitarian agencies forced to shut down operations in the central town of Kaga Bandoro last month, following attacks by Séléka rebels. Adding to the uncertainty, France will end its Sangaris deployment this year.


    The government is also broke. Currently, a UN appeal for $532 million to cover humanitarian and development work in CAR this year is only 33 percent funded.


    But Touadera has launched an “emergency national programme” to create 400,000 jobs, which he hopes will be funded by the donors. At a conference in Brussels on 17 November, the government will request the support of the World Bank, the UN, and the EU for its five-year recovery and peacebuilding plan.


    The success, or not, of the donor conference will help to determine whether life for CAR’s youth will continue to be quite so precarious.



    TOP PHOTO: UN peacekeepers monitor a crowd. Credit: Edouard Dropsy

    Central African Republic: The worst place to be young?
  • Editor’s take: Can UN peacekeeping be fixed?

    Lieutenant General Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki is in disgrace. The Kenyan commander of the UN peacekeeping force in South Sudan was sacked this week by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon after a special investigation found there was a "chaotic and ineffective response” to protecting civilians during fighting between government and opposition soldiers in the capital, Juba, in July. 


    But Ondieki’s departure will not solve the wider deficiencies and challenges hobbling UN peacekeeping. Ondieki inherited many of those shortcomings: he had only headed the UN Mission in South Sudan for two months before the Juba clashes.


    A furious Kenyan government, accusing the UN of scapegoating, has said it will withdraw its 1,000-strong contingent from UNMISS. It has also backed out of a planned, more robust, 4,000-man Regional Protection Force.


    The significance of walking away is that Kenya is the region’s point person for South Sudan’s battered peace process


    What the UN’s special investigation found was certainly shocking. Peacekeepers abandoned their posts. No contingent was willing to participate in a rescue mission to help aid workers and civilians whose hotel was raided by government soldiers a little over a kilometre from their base, even though a senior government officer offered to accompany the reaction force.


    Problems from the start


    The panel pointed to a grave lack of leadership. But Ondieki may well be feeling aggrieved: the bar that UNMISS could operate at was never set particularly high.


    From the start, UNMISS has struggled to attract enough troops to reach its mandated strength. Command, as in other UN missions, is also complicated by “caveats” – hidden restrictions whereby the different national contingents apply their own rules of engagement, or refer direct orders to their home governments who make often delayed decisions on compliance or refuse them.


    When the country degenerated into civil war in December 2013, the peacekeepers had little choice but to pull back into their bases. The idea was that they would provide protection to the civilians around them, but the reality was that UNMISS was intimidated by a government that publicly accused it of supporting the opposition.


    Duck and cover

    A bunkering mindset meant UNMISS chose not to patrol aggressively or challenge the restrictions placed on its free movement – even though those restrictions violated the status of forces agreement the UN had agreed with the government.


    In Mongatan, just outside the Juba Tongping base, civilians were being killed by government forces within earshot of the UN troops when fighting first broke out. Between January and April 2014, there were massacres in Leer, Malakal, and twice in Bentui, towns where peacekeepers were bivouacked.


    Even the UNMISS bases themselves have not been safe for the sheltering civilians. In Akobo, 43 Indian peacekeepers, defending a fortified position, equipped with armored personnel carriers, surrendered to a mob who executed at least 20 people in the base. In Bor, 43 were killed in the IDP camp defended by UNMISS; in Malakal this year, 30 died when government soldiers broke in.


    The 12,000-strong UNMISS force, without proper medevac support or air cover, has preferred not to confront a government army or rebels who have shown little compunction in killing peacekeepers or downing UN helicopters. The international community has applied limited pressure on Juba and done little else to try to change this equation – and, in truth, may lack leverage.


    A global problem


    South Sudan is just one example of the challenges and setbacks faced by UN peacekeeping. Through the years there’s also been the genocide in Rwanda; the surrender by Dutch peacekeepers in Srebrenica; the sex abuse scandals and multiple failures to protect civilians in the Congo; and ineptitude in Darfur.


    In Central African Republic, child rape and murder aside, the failure of the UN mission to end the lawlessness in the centre and east of the country led to protests last month demanding MINUSCA’s withdrawal – in which the peacekeepers shot dead four people.



    Bentiu IDP Camp
    UN Photo/JC McIlwaine
    Bentiu IDP Camp


    Traditional peacekeeping is about separating warring parties who consent to the intervention. But increasingly UN operations are in countries where there is little or no peace to keep. Rather than an interposing neutral force, the UN is increasingly a direct combatant, as in Mali and the Congo.


    In the future, even more complex roles are anticipated for blue helmets, from countering people-trafficking to cyber-crime. But are we already expecting too much of peacekeepers? 


    New skills needed


    There is a narrative that blames peacekeeping failures on the “Third World” soldiery that makes up the bulk of missions. That is as insulting as it is inaccurate. Several countries in the Global South have a proud tradition of peacekeeping.


    What Western armies do possess is the additional equipment and skills that will allow UN peace operations to be more mobile, aware, and harder-hitting.


    In Mali, 10 percent of MINUSMA is made up of soldiers from the Netherlands, Germany, and Sweden. They come with the experience of dealing with IEDs in Afghanistan, and their contribution of drones, attack helicopters, and special forces has enabled the creation of an intelligence “All Sources Information Fusion Unit” - unique initiative for the UN.


    But the Europeans are in Mali because of its strategic importance: it is a hub of Salafi jihadism, and a key migration and drug route to Europe – there is also the sense that if these personnel do not use the capabilities developed in Afghanistan, they will be lost.


    The African Union, on the other hand, has a duty to intervene to uphold peace on the continent. The AU has shown itself willing to deploy in situations like Somalia and engage in the bloody slog of house-to-house combat – hardly the traditional role for UN blue helmets.


    The UN’s High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, or HIPPO, envisages more regional interventions like Somalia, authorised by the Security Council. But whereas the AU can provide the troops and deploy far faster than a still hidebound UN, it doesn’t have the funding.



    Victorious SPLA soldiers
    Albert González Farran/IRIN
    Victorious SPLA soldiers in Malakal


    The AU has now agreed an innovative plan to finance its organisation, and 25 percent of its peace operations, through a 0.2 percent levy on imports. African leaders hope the international community will make up the remaining 75 percent, mostly through UN-assessed contributions. But it is far from a done deal.


    Political solutions


    The HIPPO argues that the role of peace operations is to create the space for political solutions. It calls for flexibility to respond to changing needs, rather than standard template deployments. But it also acknowledges there are situations where the UN should say “No” to intervention.


    South Sudan feels far from “ripe” for a political solution. In the absence of that moment, the UN Security Council wants the planned 4,000-strong RPF to specifically protect civilians and strategic installations in Juba. It is a measure of the difficulty of operating in the country that the focus is so limited.


    It also remains far from clear what an additional 4,000 troops can achieve, beyond what the existing 12,000 blue helmets have struggled to accomplish.


    The RPF will be operating under the existing UNMISS mandate and command structure, and dealing with the same truculent government. Juba will no doubt refuse to accept any additional equipment that will improve the UN’s fighting abilities.


    So what happens next, now that Ondieki has gone, replaced by a Chinese force commander?


    Not much new, might be the right answer. What South Sudanese no doubt hope will emerge is a new sense of accountability from the men and women the international community has sent to help them.


    But the ultimate responsibility doesn’t rest with the peacekeepers. It is the duty of the South Sudanese government to protect and serve its own citizens. When it fails, those in charge must be held to account.




    TOP PHOTO: Bangladeshi peacekeeper in South Sudan, Credit: UNMISS

    A damning report on the UN’s performance in South Sudan adds to the urgency for reform
    Editor’s take: Can UN peacekeeping be fixed?
  • Wounds remain raw in Central African Republic

    The Central African Republic’s new government is struggling to bring an end to three years of war and sectarian violence, its authority undermined by continuing attacks on civilians by the mainly Muslim Séléka and rival Christian anti-Balaka militias.

    Six months after Faustin-Archange Touadéra became the country’s first democratically elected president in three years, his plans for security sector reform, reconciliation, and the reintegration of armed groups into society have been undermined by a steady rate of bloodletting.

    On 12 October, Séléka rebels – part of an alliance of northern insurgent groups –killed 30 in an attack on a camp for displaced people in the central town of Kaga-Bandoro.

    The rebels stabbed and hacked to death people in the camp who had already been made homeless by previous violence, in what local media reported as retaliation for the murder of four young Muslims in the town.

    UN peacekeepers based in Kaga-Bandoro shot dead 12 of the attackers.

    Last month, the same group of rebels raided the village of Ndomete, 15 km from Kaga-Bandoro, killing at least six people.

    Fading hope

    Despite high hopes following the election of Touadéra, CAR remains a deeply divided nation, with government authority contested across large sections of this mineral-rich but profoundly poor country.

    Séléka fought their way to the capital of Bangui in 2013, staging a coup that led to the establishment of an interim administration.

    Their abuses against civilians led to the emergence of “anti-Balaka” self-defence groups, and a wave of sectarian violence in a country that is 80 percent Christian.

    In lawless enclaves like Kaga-Bandoro, Séléka control the roads, erecting roadblocks and extorting money.

    The violence and intimidation has forced aid workers to suspend programmes in the Kaga-Bandoro area, even though the humanitarian needs are immense. As a result, more than 120,000 are now without food, health, education, and other relief services.

    "On the roads, we get robbed once a month on average," Katy Kabeya, CAR mission chief for the aid agency INTERSOS, told IRIN. "We are in an area where the state has no authority. So the armed groups collect taxes.”

    On 29 September, Fabrizio Hochschild, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for CAR, visited Ndomete to hear for himself the concerns of the community, sweeping into the village in a fleet of a dozen vehicles.

    The primary issue, he was told, was the lack of security.

    "Two weeks ago the anti-Balaka came to our village and said they would protect us. We had nothing to do with them,” Gerard Mambissi told Hochschild. “But Kaga-Bandoro's Sélékas learned about this and then they came to the village. They stole everything. People were killed.”

    Mambissi fled into the bush with his children and stayed for a week, waiting for the situation to calm down.


    Muslim community buries their dead
    Edouard Dropsy/IRIN

    Blaming the peacekeepers

    But the residents of Ndomete are also critical of the performance of the UN peacekeeping mission known as MINUSCA, despite the fact that the same contingent repelled this week’s attack in Kaga-Bandoro.

    The areas blue helmets hail from Pakistan, and locals said that as Muslims they are naturally sympathetic to the Séléka.

    This sort of sectarian suspicion is rife in a country that is still deeply polarised three years on from the 2013 coup, and communities remain on a short fuse. The 3 October killing of a senior army officer in the predominantly Muslim PK5 district of Bangui triggered reprisal violence in which at least 12 people died.

    Among those killed were five men either burned alive or lynched simply because they were members of the Fula ethnic group, from the Muslim north of the country.

    Demobilisation delays

    More than 384,000 people remain displaced by the violence in CAR, with at least 80 percent of the Muslim population driven out of the county. Reconciliation, and the return of people to now ethnically cleansed old neighbourhoods, remains painfully slow.

    “Hostilities between anti-Balaka militias, ex-Séléka rebels, armed Muslim self-defense groups and other armed groups, as well as between international peacekeepers and these groups, continue to pose a threat to populations,” according to an August report by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

    Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army has also exploited the security vacuum to expand its operations in the remote south and east of the country.

    The report called on UN and remaining French forces in the country to “forcibly disarm groups that continue to threaten populations. MINUSCA must ensure it deploys in adequate numbers to all areas where vulnerable civilians lack sufficient protection.”

    But a long-planned demobilisation is a hard sell, and following the latest PK5 violence anti-Balaka groups met to discuss whether they would still participate in the government’s scheme.

    After three hours of talks, they decided not to withdraw. But if Séléka groups push for partition of the parts of the country they control, “we will have to fight back”, said anti-Balaka leader Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona.

    The anti-Balaka also want assurances that they will be integrated into the army and consulted in government decision-making – two demands the government has already rejected.

    That defiance, and the continued lawlessness, leaves little room for optimism that the government will be able to heal CAR’s divisions any time soon.


    TOP PHOTO: Peacekeepers patrol in Kaga-Bandoro, by Edouard Dropsy

    Wounds remain raw in Central African Republic
    Sectarian violence continues, despite high hopes for new government
  • EXCLUSIVE: UN paying blacklisted diamond company in Central African Republic


    The UN has paid more than half a million dollars to a company on its own sanctions list for allegedly fueling the conflict in Central African Republic through the sale of ‘blood diamonds’, an IRIN investigation reveals.

    The Bureau d’Achat de Diamant en Centrafrique (BADICA) was placed on the UN Security Council sanctions list in August 2015 for its role in the diamond trade in CAR.

    The UN accuses the company of funding one of two major militias in CAR, known as the Séléka, by purchasing diamonds from Séléka-controlled mines, which were then smuggled out of the country to BADICA’s sister company, KARDIAM, in Antwerp, Belgium.

    And yet the UN’s stabilisation mission in CAR, whose mandate includes the disarmament and demobilisation of fighters, has a base on land owned by BADICA.

    In an official response to IRIN, the UN department of peacekeeping confirmed that it holds a leasing contract with BADICA for premises in the capital Bangui. In a written response, a spokesperson said all rent paid to BADICA goes into a frozen account, which is monitored by CAR authorities. A UN payment of rent arrears to the BADICA Ecobank account was authorised in June, suggesting payments were held back for several months.

    BADICA disputes the sanctions listing and has launched a legal challenge to its enforcement in the European Union, which is obliged to implement UN sanctions rulings. A person answering the telephone at KARDIAM’s office in Belgium declined to comment and efforts to contact BADICA in CAR were unsuccessful.

    The UN says it has attempted to find alternative premises since BADICA’s listing, but without success.

    “No other site in Bangui meets the mission’s needs,” the UN spokesperson told IRIN. “The BADICA premises are unique in their size and their ability to accommodate the BJTF (Bangui Joint Task Force).”


    Headquarters of MINUSCA in Bangui
    Nektarios Markogiannis/ UN
    Protesters gather outside MINUSCA headquarters in 2014 following violence in CAR

    The UN mission, known as MINUSCA, currently consists of nearly 13,000 uniformed personnel. It was set up in 2014 following the overthrow of President François Bozizé by Séléka rebels in 2013 with a mandate to protect civilians, promote human rights and support the political transition process.

    The sanctions, authorised by the UN Security Council, ban international trade and transactions and have global force. All of the company’s financial assets and economic resources are frozen and no further money can be transferred to the company by any individuals or entities. UN procurement rules specifically exclude companies on the sanctions list.

    Pre-existing contracts with sanctioned firms can, however, continue under certain circumstances, according to Security Council resolutions. The spokesperson said the BADICA contract, as it began before the listing, was allowable under the terms of the sanctions resolution. The UN’s peacekeeping department says it has notified the Security Council sanctions committee and a panel of experts that advises on sanctions-related issues for the Central African Republic.

    The UN has twice amended its contract with BADICA, originally signed on 1 November 2013. The current extension continues until the end of October 2016, and the monthly payments have increased from five to six million FCFA ($10,200) per month, according to the UN statement to IRIN.

    “The mission is continuing to make all efforts to explore and identify alternative premises,” the statement continued.

    BADICA is part of the Antwerp-based group Groupe Abdoulkarim, headed by businessman Abdoulkarim Dan Azoumi, who lives in Belgium. The group also includes Minair, an aviation company, and Sofia-TP, a transport firm, listed as “branches” of BADICA in the UN sanctions list.


    The offices of BADICA in CAR
    Amnesty International
    BADICA's offices in Carnot, a key mining region

    IRIN’s examination of UN procurement data also revealed  a UN contract with Sofia-TP for “transport and cargo services” in 2014.

    Through both the leasing contract with BADICA and the contract with Sofia-TP, the UN had paid a total of $495,571 to Groupe Abdoulkarim by the end of 2015, whilst condemning one of its companies for its role in funding Séléka rebels through the diamond trade. Rent due in 2016 would increase the total to over $550,000.

    The UN listing states: “BADICA/KARDIAM has provided support for armed groups in the Central African Republic, namely former Séléka and anti-balaka, through the illicit exploitation and trade of natural resources, including diamonds and gold.”

    "These recent findings that reveal financial deals made between the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR and BADICA authorised by the UN security council reflects the failure of the international community to address the financing of the armed conflicts in CAR," says Nathalia Dukhan from the Enough Project, a campaign which aims to end genocide and mass atrocities in Africa. 

    A new report for the UN Security Council on the conflict in CAR draws a picture of continued arms smuggling, militia activity, illicit exploitation of natural resources and an upsurge in conflict as well as abuses and displacement of civilians.

    The UN’s mission to stabilise CAR has been weighed down by revelations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers. A senior UN human rights official recently resigned over the UN’s mishandling of reports of sexual abuse by foreign troops.

    See: The Ethical Failure: Why I resigned from the UN

    It follows a series of French and UN-led operations including Operation Sangaris and BINUCA. MINUSCA’s annual budget stands at $816 million. 

    A shaky peace

    Following the overthrow of Bozizé in 2013, a number of diamond mines in CAR fell under the control of the country’s Séléka militia, an alliance of mainly Muslim armed factions.

    The illegal “taxes” imposed on the mines by the militia led to the country being excluded from the Kimberley Process, a global initiative aimed at stopping the international trade of ‘blood diamonds’, meaning that companies like BADICA could not legally export any diamonds.

    Rough diamonds exported from a state participating in the Kimberley Process must come with a certificate confirming that they are not ‘conflict diamonds’.

    Despite being rich in natural resources, CAR remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Before a 2013  ban on the flow of conflict diamonds, they were a key export. At their peak in 2006, the value of diamond exports reached $70 million. 

    BADICA was sanctioned after officials in Antwerp, Belgium seized a parcel sent to its sister company KARDIAM. It contained rough diamonds that the Panel of Experts deemed likely to have originated from CAR despite the Kimberley Process ban. The company, in a letter to the UN, disputed the assertion that BADICA was behind the parcel seized in Antwerp, which had transited through Dubai, and questions whether the diamonds even came from CAR in the first place.

    The Central African government is keen to have the export restrictions lifted, and steps towards peace have led the Kimberley Process to partially lift the export restrictions in certain areas of the country. In June, CAR’s first legal export took place after the Kimberley Process declared some areas peaceful enough to meet its criteria.


    A young boy mines for diamonds in CAR
    Amnesty International
    In May 2015, children as young as 11 were engaged in diamond mining

    However, the latest report from the UN’s Panel of Experts suggests the export ban has been lifted prematurely.

    According to the Kimberley Process rules, to ensure that diamonds are not fueling conflict, there must be government control, an absence of armed groups in mining areas and freedom of movement. The Panel of Experts argues that freedom of movement is still limited and militia have a stake in diamond production and trade.

    “Without respect for freedom of movement and other human rights, CAR’s diamonds cannot be considered suitable for export,” Michael Gibb, campaign leader for conflict resources at advocacy group Global Witness, told IRIN.  

    While Global Witness does not advocate for the blanket ban, for Gibb, the credibility of any resumed trade rests on consistent on-the-ground monitoring and a broad assessment of conditions in compliant zones.

    “If the same abuses, corruption, and looting are again allowed to take root in CAR’s resource sectors, they will continue to undermine peace and stability, as they have throughout the country’s troubled history,” he said.

    (TOP PHOTO: MINUSCA peacekeepers work on the government's new road construction project in CAR. Credit: Catianne Tijerina/UN)




    UN paying blacklisted diamond company in Central African Republic
  • The way home

    The house where Bertrand Dodoffo was born and raised is now a pile of rubble and brick. But, if you look closely, you can still see a white plastic rosary and a metal crucifix hanging off a nail on what was the wall of Bertrand's bedroom. 


    A crucifix hangs on a wall
    Brenna Daldorph/IRIN

    Since he was a little boy, Bertrand, now 41, had wanted to be a priest. He was training at a Catholic seminary in the capital, Bangui, and living in his parents' compound to save money.

    He had managed to keep going with his studies when conflict broke out in Central African Republic in 2009. In December 2013, when fresh violence erupted in Bangui, he had been close to finishing.

    His daily lessons weren't far from home. The biggest local church, Notre Dame de Fatima, is next to his family's compound. A wall, about three metres high, is the only thing that separates the church grounds from Bertrand's place.

    On 9 December 2013, scaling that wall was Bertrand's only means of escape as violence tore through his neighbourhood.

    Bertrand Dodoffo | The Student Priest, Central African Republic

    Katerina Vittozzi/IRIN
    The Student Priest

    For nearly three years now, the Fatima church has been Bertrand's home. During the peak of the violence between the Séléka – a coalition of mostly Muslim insurgent groups from the north of the country – and local vigilante groups known as the anti-Balaka, religious sites across the country became improvised boltholes for people fleeing the indiscriminate killings, rapes, and looting.

    See: Hear it from the people: What's wrong in the Central African Republic?

    Camp organiser Innocent Gbawito told IRIN that when people first started coming, around 6,000 men, women, and children were crammed into the church grounds. "You couldn't drive a car into the gate," he recalled. "The yard was crammed with people."

    In the beginning, international relief agencies like the Danish Refugee Council provided materials to make emergency shelters, food items, and basic sanitation kits. But now, nearly three years on, regular supplies have stopped. “People here are hungry,” Gbawito said.

    According to the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, more than 800,000 Central Africans have still not returned home. Around half that number live outside CAR in neighbouring countries. The rest are in camps for internally displaced persons, or in the homes of family and friends.

    Bertrand wants to leave the church but, with no home to go to, he’s going to need help. “If the government, along with NGOs, can do something to rebuild their homes then people will be able to leave,” he told IRIN. “But if that doesn’t happen, well, you can see, that’s why people stay in camps.”

    The government, along with partners like the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, is working to try and re-house the displaced. UNHCR said that as of 6 August, it had helped nearly 900 people from six camps across the capital to return home.

    But that's just a drop in the ocean, with OCHA estimating there are more than 400,000 IDPs still waiting to return.  

    See: CAR data - a crisis in numbers


    Brenna Daldorph/IRIN
    Children sleep and play in the Fatima church compound for asylum seekers

    For now, government re-homing targets seem overly optimistic. "The good intentions are there," noted an official at the largest IDP camp in the capital. "But the means aren't there."

    The EU's Bêkou Fund has pledged more than 11 million euros for urban rehabilitation to help rebuild homes in destroyed communities. But the government is still looking for more money, as are international relief agencies for a range of humanitarian projects. UNICEF says its education projects have so far only been 20 percent funded. 

    The lack of money is slowing down efforts. Minister of Social Affairs and Reintegration Virginie Mbaikoua told IRIN the government aims to have the majority of IDPs in Bangui home by the end of September.

    "But that date might change," she admitted. "We are asking donors to help us so that these people can go home." 

    Virginie Mbaikoua | Minister for Social Affairs and Reintegration, Central African Republic

    Katerina Vittozzi/IRIN
    The Minister for Social Affairs and Reintegration

    It's a Wednesday morning in central Bangui, and 38-year old Wilfred Makosso is beginning his journey back home, to the PK12 district of the capital.

    Makosso fled his neighbourhood in December 2013. He sought refuge in the compound of a church, Saint Charles Lwanga, with around 200 other people. With the support of UNHCR, the church camp has now been closed. At a small ceremony, each household gets a sack containing some essentials: sleeping mats, plastic sheets, jerry cans, a bucket, blankets, and kitchen pots and pans. 

    "Security is coming back, little by little, to our neighbourhood," said Makosso. "Life in the church camp was terrible. So we decided it was better to leave.”  He’s planning to live with his parents for the timebeing. “At home, we can do better,” he said. “People can go farm, go to the market and trade.”

    Central Bangui

    Katerina Vittozzi/IRIN
    Life goes on in Central Bangui

    The government and relief agencies admit that people won't go home until they feel safe. In June 2016, deadly attacks by militia groups in the northwestern province of Ngaoundaye forced thousands more from their homes and into neighbouring Chad.

    In a review of his first 100 days in office, CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra said the country remained “in danger”, with rebel groups still in control of many regions outside the capital. 

    It's been more than a year since armed groups signed a peace and disarmament agreement at the Forum de Bangui. But the government-led official disarmament, demobilisation, and reconciliation process has still not started.

    See: BRIEFING: Can new pact bring peace to the CAR?

    In the interim, the UN mission in the CAR, MINUSCA, has piloted what it's called pre-DDR. In return for handing in their weapons, ex-combatants are eligible for paid community service. The UN has committed around $6 million to the project and says more than 3,000 people have signed on. 

    But the UN stresses that pre-DDR is only a temporary measure. "Full DDR is the responsibility of the government," said MINUSCA spokesman Vladimir Monteiro. 

    In an interview with local media on 1 August 2016, Touadéra said he wanted to start formal DDR discussions with armed groups by the end of August. But full funding for that DDR process is yet to be secured. The regional community, CEMAC, has pledged around 6 million euros but more money is needed. A further European donor meeting is scheduled for November in Brussels. 


    Katerina Vittozzi/IRIN
    A peace cell meeting in Ngaragba

    However, some communities are tired of waiting for the official DDR process to begin. In an area of the capital called Ngaragba, a cilivian-led “peace cell” is building bridges in the community and getting former fighters to give up their arms.

    The peace cell is made up of community leaders from all faiths, backgrounds, and sexes. Supported by NGO Conciliation Resources, it aims to promote community cohesion through dialogue.

    Godefroy Kassai is the group’s secretary. "We've worked a lot with children in the neighbourhood, trying to sensitise them," Kassai told IRIN. "One day we heard a little boy say he wanted to kill any Muslims that came back. So we realised we had to start with the kids."  

    Around 300 Muslim residents fled this area during the peak of the conflict. The majority had been living peacefully in the area but still their homes were destroyed, their lives threatened. Some have now returned, including local Imam Idriss Koyakomzio.

    Today, he is part of the peace cell leadership. Koyakomzio’s mosque was destroyed during the fighting. It was rebuilt last year, thanks to donations from local churches coordinated by the peace cell.

    But Ngaragba isn't totally free from weapons nor a potential return to violence. Hérve Yombo led the anti-Balaka group in the neighbourhood.

    Yombo is 41 and was working in a quarry outside the capital when he heard his hometown was being attacked. “I had to get a self-defence group together. And together we pushed the Séléka out of our neighbourhood,” he told IRIN.

    Yombo says he surrendered his gun to the local mayor's office as soon as he felt his neighbourhood was secure. He's also now part of the community peace cell.

    "There are people who committed crimes who are scared to come back or hand in their weapons because of what they’ve done."

    "There are people who committed crimes who are scared to come back or hand in their weapons because of what they’ve done," Yombo told IRIN. "But some of them are holding on for the DDR."

    Yombo said people are expecting around one million Central African francs each, the equivalent of nearly $2,000, if they give up their weapons. However, no official sum has been revealed.

    Herve Yombo | The militia leader, Central African Republic

    Katerina Vittozzi/IRIN
    The militia leader

    It's late afternoon and Bertrand is back at the Fatima church camp, catching up with a few fellow residents. 

    He's been out in the town centre all day, looking for work. 

    "I’m trying to find something in a school," he explained. "I did some of my training in Kenya and I speak some English, so maybe I can teach that."

    Bertrand had wanted to travel again but his passport was destroyed along with his home.

    “All I had is gone, but what can I do?” he asked. “I just have to stay optimistic. And hope someone can help."


    Rebuilding peace in Central African Republic
    The way home
  • Liberté, égalité, impunité

    As French investigators prepare to return to Central African Republic to look further into two-year-old accusations that French soldiers deployed in the country sexually abused children, there is no sign of any criminal charges being laid any time soon, let alone of convictions being secured.


    This is despite the fact that accounts provided to UN staff by child victims and witnesses in May and June 2014, and given to French authorities in July 2014, included the names of the children and some nicknames and physical characteristics of 11 alleged perpetrators serving in France’s Sangaris military mission.


    The force deployed with the blessing of the UN Security Council and at the request of CAR’s president in December 2013, a time when clashes between rival armed groups gave rise to fears of genocide and forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.


    The reported abuse occurred in a camp for displaced civilians at Bangui airport, under the protection of French and UN peacekeepers.


    The allegations described in these accounts include French soldiers requesting and in several cases receiving fellatio from young boys in return for food and money; one French soldier urinating in the mouth of one of his victims; and soldiers from Chad and Equatorial Guinea deployed under the UN mission anally raping young boys. The alleged abuses took place in late 2013 and early 2014.


    These incidents, and four other cases of alleged physical abuse committed by Sangaris troops in CAR, are currently under investigation.


    No progress


    The office of the Paris prosecutor in charge of the dossiers told IRIN there had been no significant progress in the main case since May 2015, when discreet preliminary investigations launched the previous August were upgraded into a full-scale, well-publicised criminal enquiry involving the appointment of magistrates. The change in status came soon after the Guardian newspaper broke the story of the alleged sexual abuse.


    Read more


    Exclusive: Top UN whistleblower resigns, citing impunity and lack of accountability


    EXCLUSIVE: The ethical failure – Why I resigned from the UN


    Pope’s visit highlights CAR’s deep scars


    In the absence of military courts, crimes committed by French soldiers abroad are dealt with by the civilian justice system, specifically the military wing of the office of the prosecutor of the High Court in Paris.


    France’s justice system is inquisitorial, rather than adversarial, which means the role of these magistrates is not to build a case for the prosecution but to look impartially into the circumstances of an allegation to determine whether criminal charges are merited.


    Until convicted in court, suspects enjoy the presumption of innocence, a point that has been emphasised by the army high command in the main CAR case. (There is a separate case of alleged sexual abuse against two minors, one aged five, by two French troops deployed in Burkina Faso: the pair were immediately suspended. The Paris prosecutor is also looking into this case.)


    When accusations involve members of the armed forces, military police are also involved in the investigations.


    “We are not going to see anyone before all the facts are verified,” the head of military police told a French documentary last year when asked why investigators had not yet questioned any of the Sangaris suspects. 


    The investigators returning to CAR this summer are due to talk with child victims and witnesses who have not yet been interviewed. But this doesn’t necessarily mean any charges will then be brought.


    “They are right,” a source in the Paris prosecutor’s office said of those who have lamented that the case is very unlikely to come to trial. While declining to comment on whether the veracity of the allegations had been established, the source said none of the cases had actually been dropped.


    Zero tolerance?


    This is a case that illustrates the apparent chasm between regular public pronouncements about zero tolerance for crimes committed by troops serving in peacekeeping missions and actually delivering justice for victims of such human rights abuses and international crimes.


    French troops in CAR
    Crispin Dembassa-Kette/IRIN

    “The longer this drags on, the more perpetrators are emboldened, seeing colleagues getting away with dreadful stuff, perpetuating a culture of impunity,” said Paula Donovan of Code Blue, a campaign run by the NGO Aids-Free World to end impunity for UN peacekeeping personnel. 


    The chronology of the case suggests that key events could have taken place sooner. For example, French investigators only interviewed the children in June 2015. This was almost a year after senior human rights official Anders Kompass – who has since resigned from the UN – handed the interview summaries taken by the UN human rights officer (HRO) in Bangui to the French diplomatic mission in Geneva.


    Moreover, the officer herself insists she informed Sangaris commanders in Bangui of the allegations as early as May 2014.


    The source at the French prosecutor’s office told IRIN that the June 2015 interviews “did not shed enough light to indict anyone”. Only five of the 14 suspects mentioned in the original summaries could be identified, the source added.


    The French investigators interviewed these five in December 2015 – two months after the documentary aired.


    UN foot-dragging


    Within the UN bureaucracy, the contortions and delays in reporting key information were set out in excruciating detail in a report issued by an external panel of experts in December 2015. 


    As well as lambasting a range of senior UN officials for their actions and inactions in the affair, the report lends credence to France’s claims that its investigations were severely hampered by the UN’s refusal to allow key staff members to be directly interviewed and its insistence that convoluted “official channels” be followed.


    “Exchanges between the French Permanent Mission [in New York] and the UN, including with their respective senior officials and legal offices, took weeks for each round of communication,” according to the panel.


    French investigators initially approached the HRO and a UNICEF staff member in Bangui in August 2014. But it wasn’t until the following April that, guided by the UN’s Office of Legal Affairs, she provided answers to their questions, which had to be submitted in writing, nor until July 2015 that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon waived her legal immunity, a privilege all UN staff enjoy.


    “[I]mmunity should not be a bar to UN officials and experts on mission when they are called to testify as witnesses to crimes of sexual violence,” the panel said in its recommendations.


    In denial over abuse?


    Emmanuel Daoud, a lawyer for ECPAT, an NGO working to end the sexual exploitation of children and acting as a “civil party” in the criminal proceedings, agreed that the use of immunity had been a problem for the investigators. But he dismissed any suggestion that French investigators had been dragging their feet, insisting they had worked “very professionally”.

    Hundreds of internally displaced people gather at Bangui’s M'poko International Airport in the Central African Republic.

    Hundreds of internally displaced people gather at Bangui’s M'poko International Airport in the Central African Republic.
    A. Greco/UNHCR
    Displaced at Bangui airport that peacekeeprs were supposed to protect

    He said it wasn’t unusual for such investigations to take so long and pointed out that this was a particularly complex case, not only because the crimes took place in a foreign country in the throes of violent unrest (with interviews requiring translators), but also because the implicated Sangaris troops had rotated out of CAR – in one case to Afghanistan.


    Even when conducted in France, criminal investigations in rape cases last three years on average, with trial verdicts coming only five years after complaints are lodged, according to a 2013 book entitled Rape, an Almost Ordinary Crime.


    For its part, the UN Secretariat maintains it acted correctly all along. In May 2015, Ban’s spokesman Stéphane Dujarric told reporters: “We very much cooperated with the French judicial authorities on this… And I think the issue of [the] lifting or not lifting of immunity is not really pertinent in this case.”


    Perhaps surprisingly, given its own vociferous criticism of the UN’s inability to prevent and punish sexual violence committed by peacekeeping troops, Code Blue agrees.


    “In this particular instance, the argument about immunity as the main impediment to the French investigation doesn't hold water” because of the extensive details contained in the HRO’s initial report, explained Aids-Free World’s Communications Director Gill Mathurin.


    But this doesn’t mean Mathurin believes mistakes weren’t made. Had the UN alerted the French authorities back in May 2014, “it is likely that they could have prevented subsequent abuses from occurring”, she said.


    In April 2016, the UN said 108 more victims in CAR, mostly underaged girls, had come forward with accounts of sexual abuse (including bestiality) committed between 2013 and 2015, allegedly by UN and French troops.


    Three months earlier, reports had come to light of yet more abuses, allegedly committed in 2014 by troops from France and other countries on children as young as seven.



    Lead photo: French troops on parade, by Luc Lagarde/Flickr

    Liberté, égalité, impunité
    French peacekeepers unlikely to face prosecution for alleged child sex abuse
  • Mission (Not) Accomplished

    Uganda’s announcement earlier this month that it plans to withdraw troops hunting the feared Lord’s Resistance Army has triggered alarm that it could encourage a resurgence in attacks and abductions by the notorious rebel group.

    Uganda has 2,500 troops, backed by US special forces, hunting the LRA and its elusive leader Joseph Kony as part of an African Union Regional Task Force (AU-RTF) in Central African Republic. They have been on the trail of the remaining members of the group, hiding out in the region’s remotest areas, for five years.

    The phased pullout of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), which is set to start from October and run to the end of the year, will deprive the task force of its largest and most effective contingent.

    The task force is part of the AU’s Regional Cooperation Initiative for the Elimination of the Lord’s Resistance Army (RCI-LRA), which is supposed to include troops from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and CAR.

    But it’s operational in name alone. The participation of the other countries has been extremely limited: there is no coherent vison of the mission, or chain of command; and the DRC does not allow Ugandan soldiers onto its soil.

    “If the Ugandan government withdraws the UPDF contingent, the AU-RTF will be left without any troops capable enough of pursuing Kony and other top LRA leaders,” Paul Ronan, project director at the LRA Crisis Initiative, told IRIN.

    “Unless a capable replacement for UPDF troops is found, civilians in eastern CAR will be left far more vulnerable to violence by the LRA.”

    The rebel group, which terrorised northern Uganda from 1987 to 2006, is known for its brutal, retaliatory violence.

    Solo mission

    Uganda’s military spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Paddy Ankunda, complained that the UPDF had been left to virtually “single handedly” shoulder the burden of an operation starved of financial and logistical support from the AU and the wider international community.

    The RTF is not the only regional operation under threat. Uganda is also reviewing its commitment to the AU mission in Somalia following a 6.2 percent cut in defence spending and a reduction in EU funding to AMISOM troops.

    Out of the planned 5,000-strong task force launched in 2012, South Sudan and the DRC were supposed to provide 500 troops each and CAR 85. But they have either withdrawn or failed to deploy due to security and political challenges at home.

    “I can’t comment on the commitment of other countries. What is true is that we are there [in CAR] alone,” Ankunda told IRIN.

    The AU’s Peace and Security Council, which only recently extended the RCI-LRA mission for a further 12 months, has expressed “deep concern” over Uganda’s decision to withdraw, fearing a security vacuum. It has called on Uganda to reconsider its October drawdown.

    “In our view, the LRA are greatly weakened and do not pose a direct threat to Uganda,” Ankunda insisted. But he did add: “We will also look at the AU’s request for us to stay longer and see whether there is merit in it.”

    LRA on the march

    There has already been an uptick in LRA violence this year – especially in CAR. According to the LRA Crisis Tracker, Kony’s men were responsible for six civilian deaths and 252 abductions in CAR in the first three months of 2016. That compares with five civilian deaths and 114 abductions for all of 2015.

    There have been an additional 44 abductions in the DRC this year, where the UPDF cannot operate.

    The Ugandan military believes that the LRA numbers just 200-300 armed men. They move in small, mobile bands between CAR and the Garamba National Park in the DRC, and in the Kafia Kingi enclave – a wedge of disputed territory between Sudan and South Sudan.

    “Joseph Kony has found a safe haven along the border of northern CAR, South Darfur, and the Kafia Kingi enclave where counter-LRA troops have limited ability to operate,” said Ronan. “Other LRA groups have established camps in DR Congo.”

    The LRA’s fragmentation, across a territory estimated at 184,000 square kilometres, makes it extremely hard for the UPDF and their US special forces partners to gather actionable intelligence.

    “Key in the LRA’s recent resurgence is the instability in South Sudan, CAR, and the DRC, which has given the group a safe have to move about freely,” said Martin Ewi, a senior researcher at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies. “Instability in the region also makes it difficult for the RTF to move around.”


    Ugandan soldiers in CAR
    Richard Mugisha
    Ugandan soldiers on patrol in Obo town, CAR

    The LRA is also profiting from ivory poaching and the sale of timber – Kafia Kingi is a known smuggling haven – and is “networking and teaming up with other non-state armed groups in CAR and the DRC,” Ewi told IRIN.

    One more push

    The US government says it remains committed to the hunt for Kony, who has been indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. It stands by the record of the task force in degrading the LRA.

    “Over the past four years, the Ugandan military, as part of the AU-RTF, removed four of the LRA’s top five most senior and notorious commanders from the battlefield,” a US State Department official told IRIN.

    “During that time there have been about 275 defections and releases from the LRA and the number of people killed by the LRA has dropped by over 90 percent.”

    Ewi agreed: “As a matter of fact, I think the mission exceeded expectations and has been able to orchestrate the decline of the LRA.”

    But Holly Dranginis, a senior analyst at the US-based Enough Project to End Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, said the mission needed to improve its capacity on two fronts: to more effectively gather intelligence, and to operate in Kafia Kingi. The latter case would require permission from Sudan, which has declined to join the task force.

    “Kony still hides out there with impunity, sending orders down the chain of command and facilitating illegal natural resource trafficking,” she said.

    Ronan believes that the LRA must also be denied access to the Garamba National Park, the artisanal gold and diamond mines in eastern CAR, and there should be “significantly expanded messaging aimed at encouraging LRA members to defect”.

    But all these worthy initiatives depend on the Ugandan forces, the lynchpin of the regional task force, staying on to complete its mission.


    Mission (Not) Accomplished
    Uganda gives up the hunt too soon for Kony and the LRA
  • Exclusive: Top UN whistleblower resigns, citing impunity and lack of accountability

    UN whistleblower Anders Kompass, who exposed the sexual abuse of children by French and African peacekeepers in Central African Republic, is to resign in protest over what he sees as the organisation’s failure to hold its senior officials to account.

    “The complete impunity for those who have been found to have, in various degrees, abused their authority, together with the unwillingness of the hierarchy to express any regrets for the way they acted towards me sadly confirms that lack of accountability is entrenched in the United Nations,” Kompass told IRIN. “This makes it impossible for me to continue working there.”

    Kompass, field operations director at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, passed a confidential internal report on the abuse of children by French troops in CAR to the French authorities in 2014 after the UN failed to raise the alarm and stop the exploitation. The alleged abuse involved hungry children – as young as eight – in the M’Poko camp for displaced people, coerced into sex in return for food or a little money.

    Instead of investigating those allegedly responsible for what proved to be an even wider crime – including the involvement of its peacekeepers – the UN’s Office for Internal Oversight Services launched an internal investigation into Kompass’ conduct. Accusing the former Swedish diplomat of leaking, it condemned his “misconduct”, suspended him from his job, humiliatingly marched him out of his office, and demanded his resignation.

    An independent panel later found senior UN managers to have “abused their authority” in the handling of the scandal.

    Paula Donovan of Code Blue, a campaign to end sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers, says the UN’s attitude left Kompass no alternative but to quit.

    “I’m not sure how you can work with a system that’s gone out of its way to prove it can defeat anyone who tries to expose it,” she told IRIN. “Despite the platitudes, the assertions of intolerance for wrongdoing, it’s all just empty phrases.”


    Under pressure from several governments, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon eventually appointed a three-person independent panel to review the UN’s response to the reports of child sex abuse and its treatment of Kompass.

    Hundreds of internally displaced people gather at Bangui’s M'poko International Airport in the Central African Republic.
    A. Greco/UNHCR
    Bangui’s M'poko camp for the displaced

    Nine months later, both the internal investigation and the external panel had exonerated him. The panel also excoriated the UN’s “gross institutional failure” – which enabled the documented forced oral sex and rape of 13 boys by 16 peacekeepers.

    Buck-passing meant nobody took action for more than a year, the panel report said. When French investigators tried to delve, just days after Kompass had passed on the evidence, their efforts were frustrated by UN officials.

    Staff in both the UN mission in CAR, known as MINUSCA, and UNICEF, whose initial joint investigation formed the basis of the internal UN report Kompass shared with the French, failed to ensure that the identified children received proper care, or took steps to protect other potential victims, the independent panel found.

    Zero tolerance

    The UN has trumpeted a “zero tolerance” policy towards sexual abuse by peacekeepers since 2005. Ban has now pushed tough new measures. These include the addition of response teams in peacekeeping missions to handle abuse allegations, and the recall of units if perpetrators are not held to account.

    But the reports keep coming. More than 100 new cases of sexual abuse by UN and non-UN peacekeepers were reported in CAR in March – most involving children. The alleged attacks occurred between 2013 and 2015.

    Currently, 123 countries have troops or police units deployed in 16 missions around the world. According to the UN, of the 60 largest troop contributing countries, only 14 have not reported cases of sexual abuse committed by their forces in the past five years.

    The UN has historically argued that it has no jurisdiction over the troops provided by contributing countries for peacekeeping missions – they can only be prosecuted at home. The need for peacekeepers may have also acted as a disincentive to demand stricter standards. Some countries have resisted the new reforms.  

    Human Rights Watch reported today that African Union peacekeepers from Congo-Brazzaville serving in CAR allegedly killed at least 18 people, including women and children, between December 2013 and June 2015 and dumped their bodies in a mass grave outside their base. The government has so far ignored UN requests for a judicial investigation, the rights group said.

    The UN is urging member states to work with it to prevent and react expeditiously to abuse. In February, the UN appointed Jane Holl Lute, previously a senior official in UN peacekeeping, as special coordinator on “improving the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse”.

    In a briefing to the UN General Assembly last month, Lute stressed that “much has been done”, and outlined a package of toolkits and guidelines that is in the works.

    But nearly two years after the CAR scandal broke, Donovan is scathing. “Although he says he has zero tolerance, Ban Ki-moon has appointed someone to coordinate what has been identified as just a failed, broken system.

    Peacekeeper in CAR
    UN Photo/Catianne Tijerina
    Who's protecting whom in CAR?

    “If you set the bar so low – that you are going to coordinate these dysfunctional entities, and try and improve the response – that just says it all,” she said.

    While the UN has focused on reforming the system at the ground level, critics point to the relative impunity enjoyed by those in the highest echelons of the UN civil service – an accountability vacuum they say the Kompass case has laid bare.

    Abusing authority

    The independent panel’s report found that three officials had specifically “abused their authority”: Babacar Gaye, the special representative of the secretary-general for MINUSCA; Carman Lapointe, under-secretary-general for the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), and Renner Onana, the chief of the Human Rights and Justice Section in MINUSCA.

    Ban fired Gaye in August 2015 after UN peacekeepers were accused of raping a 12-year-old girl and killing a 16-year-old boy and his father. Lapointe, who initiated the internal investigation into Kompass, resigned in September 2015. But Onana remains a senior official in the UN mission in CAR.

    Susana Malcorra, Ban’s chief of staff, came in for criticism by the independent report over a “conflict of interest”. She facilitated a meeting with OIOS and the UN Ethics Office – two bodies that should operate at arm’s length from the UN system – to discuss what to do about Kompass. The report, however, absolved her of abusing her authority.

    She resigned in November 2015 to become Argentina’s foreign minister. Her hat is in the ring as a candidate to succeed Ban as secretary-general.

    The meeting to discuss the Kompass case was held at the urging of Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Kompass’ boss. He had “a single-minded determination to pursue an investigation” into Kompass and “undoubtedly” risked compromising the independence of OIOS and the UN Ethics Office, the panel report found.

    Al Hussain “is still vocally, publicly refusing to acknowledge what Anders did was appropriate, and what he [Zeid] did was wrong and retaliatory,” said Bea Edwards of the US-based Government Accountability Project, which tries to protect whistleblowers.

    Al Hussain told the New York Times last year that he felt Kompass had done “the right thing wrongly”. Al Hussain’s office did not respond to IRIN’s requests for comment. Neither did OIOS, the Ethics Office or UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric.

    Hard decision

    Kompass says he shared the internal report with the French authorities with the sole purpose of ending the abuse as quickly as possible. Doing so was not in and of itself wrong, according to UN procedures – in fact, sharing information with governments to advocate for changes in behaviour was part of Kompass’ job description.

    But while the UN has suggested that Kompass did not follow normal procedures, the independent panel said it was “disingenuous” for the UN to label his actions as “misconduct”.

    Citing a separate case in which Kompass was accused of providing information to the Moroccan government about Western Sahara for “personal gain”, one past media report suggested that he was seen in the UN as “an untrustworthy shill for a foreign government”.  

    Such rhetoric and Kompass’ treatment may well give other potential whistleblowers pause.

    “The point of whistleblowing is that somebody will be held responsible for criminal misconduct,” said Edwards. “Those that have taken the risk to report should be protected, commended and rewarded.”

    Kompass, 60, is to resign on 31 August, one year before the end of his current contract. He has reportedly accepted a job at the Swedish foreign ministry.

    “It was a very hard decision for me to take, after a total of 21 years of service with the United Nations,” he told IRIN, “but one that I feel was unavoidable.”

    Read more: In an exclusive commentary, Anders Kompass details the reasons for his resignation.


    Exclusive: Top UN whistleblower resigns
    Anders Kompass quits after exposing sexual abuse by peacekeepers in Central African Republic
  • WANTED: War criminals still at large

    Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić was today found guilty of genocide and war crimes and sentenced to 40 years in jail.

    The verdict ends Europe’s biggest war crimes trial since Nuremburg, and hopefully brings some solace to the families of the victims of the ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica in 1995. Karadžić was the final case before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The tribunal is one of a series of international courts created to address the legacies of large-scale human rights violations, push back against impunity and hold individuals accountable. The list includes the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, hybrid courts like the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Special Tribunal for Cambodia, and the Hague-based International Criminal Court, with its universal jurisdiction. At times controversial, they mark a shift towards a global framework of international human rights norms.

    But first you must catch your killer. Below are three fugitives – charged with crimes of chilling proportions – that are yet to face justice.

    W A N T E D

    Joseph Kony

    Félicien Kabuga


    Joseph Kony, Lords Resistance Army
    Joram Jojo/Flickr
    Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army


    Félicien Kabuga
    Félicien Kabuga
    The leader of Uganda’s notorious Lord’s Resistance Army may not be the world’s greatest mass murderer, but the sheer horror of his crimes means he tops our list. His rebel band is notorious for the massacres of civilians, the brutalisation and forced recruitment of children, sexual enslavement, mutilations and calculated terror. Kony grew out of the chaos of northern Uganda in the late 1980s. A self-styled messenger of God and spirit medium, he claimed to be fighting to turn the country into a theocracy, and in the process “purify” his own Acholi people.

    Kony was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2005 on 21 counts of war crimes and 12 counts of crimes against humanity. Ever-elusive and a master of the bush, he is believed to keep on the move in a triangle of remote territory between South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic. He is being hunted by the Ugandan army, backed by a small team of US special forces.

    A Rwandan businessman, accused of bankrolling and participating in the Rwandan genocide. He was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 1998. Kabuga was expelled from Switzerland in 1994, and spent some time in the Democratic Republic of the Congo before sheltering in Kenya, where he is believed to be protected by senior figures in the former corrupt regime of President Daniel arap Moi. A reported attempt by US investigators to apprehend him in 2003 led to the murder of their Kenyan informant. In 2009 a Kenyan court froze his assets, and a legal appeal against the ruling bought by his wife was rejected in 2015.

    Kabuga, 81, bankrolled RTLMC, the radio station that spewed hate against the Tutsi minority in Rwanda. The broadcasts helped to prepare the ground for the genocide in which 800,000 people were killed. He was also one of the country’s main importer of machetes, with which much of the slaughter was carried out.

    Omar al-Bashir


    Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir
    Jesse B. Awalt/via Wikimedia Commons
    Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir

    The Sudanese president is the only sitting head of state with outstanding arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court. He was initially charged with seven counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes. In 2010, three counts of genocide were added. The accusations stem from the conflict in Sudan’s western region of Darfur. Al-Bashir is accused of masterminding a campaign, waged by Sudanese forces and Janjaweed militia, “to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups, on account of their ethnicity”. An estimated 200,000 to 400,000 died in the government’s scorched-earth response to rebellion in Darfur by local groups challenging their marginalization.

    Some legal experts argue the ethnic cleansing charges will be hard to prove, and the ICC may have overreached. But that is moot, as Al-Bashir does not appear about to be detained anytime soon. The African Union, League of Arab States, Non-Aligned Movement, and the governments of Russia and China are backing Al-Bashir. His international travel plans are only occasionally inconvenienced – most recently when he was hustled out of South Africa last year by the government when a local court demanded his arrest.



    The ICC is still pursuing a number of indictments.  This interactive map shows ICC cases across the globe. Zoom in and out and click on each country for more details.

    Radovan Karadžić found guilty of genocide, but others still on the run
    The war criminals still at large
  • Corruption and risk 2016

    Transparency International has launched its annual ranking of corruption, pointing to the negative effects of public sector graft on the poor and vulnerable. The ranking combines a range of factors to produce a best-to-worst chart. Denmark comes out on top, while Somalia and North Korea share the bottom ranking.

    Alternatively, the INFORM index is a ranking of countries according to their humanitarian risk. A score from 0 to 10 is derived from a range of elements, including a country's exposure to various risks, natural or man-made, and its ability to deal with them. On this ranking, Singapore is the least risky, and Somalia the most. 

    If your country is prone to earthquakes, corruption can't be blamed. The INFORM index includes "Institutional Capacity" as only one of the many factors in its formula. A government mired in corruption will not respond well to a natural or man-made crisis.

    So what is the picture when you combine the two?

    Are corrupt countries more vulnerable? Are vulnerable countries more corrupt?

    Judge for yourself in the graphic below.



    At the worst end of both scales, we see a cluster of troubled countries, Afghanistan and Somalia in particular, both facing the impact of years of conflict and severe poverty. 

    At the bottom left are some Nordic countries and Singapore - neither corrupt nor risky in humanitarian terms. 

    A few countries appear to buck the trend: Kazakhstan scores badly on corruption but isn't looking too bad on humanitarian risk, while for Mali and Ethiopia, it's the reverse.


    Are corrupt countries more vulnerable? Are vulnerable countries more corrupt?

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