The International Criminal Court (ICC) on March 7 found (PDF) Congolese militia leader Germain Katanga guilty of four counts of war crimes and one count of crime against humanity. The crimes were committed during an attack on a village in a diamond-rich region of Congo in 2003, in which approximately 200 civilians were killed and some sexually assaulted. During a public hearing Friday, presiding judge Bruno Cotte delivered a summary of the judgment. He explained that based on the evidence presented and witness testimony, it had been established beyond a reasonable doubt that Katanga made a "significant contribution to the commission of crimes by the Ngiti militia." The court acquitted Katanga of the other charges, including sexual slavery, using child soldiers and rape. Katanga is only the second person to be convicted since the court's inception in 2002.
The local Islamic police, or Hisbah, in Nigeria's Bauchi state (see map) are carrying out a hunt for members of a putative "homosexual organization," whose formation was reported in a local newspaper last year. The article in Hausa Leadership daily included a list of names, and the state's Sharia Commission ordered they be arrested. If apprehended they could face death by stoning. One man convicted by the Bauchi sharia court last month was publicly lashed 20 times, the death sentence waived because the defendant showed "great remorse." On Jan. 30, an angry mob gathered outside the sharia court in Anguwan Jaki, Bauchi, and attempted to lynch seven suspected gays who were on trial there. Protesters hurled rocks at the court, breaking a window and injuring one, demanding that the defendants be stoned to death. Security forces fired tear gas canisters and several gunshots into the air to disperse the mob. Also last month, President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, criminalizing gay marriage and gay organizations on a national level. (BBC News, Feb. 6; Vanguard, Lagos, Jan. 30 via AllAfrica; AP, Jan. 16; AP, Jan. 13)
A French court opened trial Feb. 4 against former Rwandan intelligence chief Pascal Simbikangwa in the country's first trial of a suspect in the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Simbikangwa, 54, is charged with arming and directing Hutu extremists in the violence that claimed the lives of an estimated half a million ethnic Tutsi. He was arrested in 2008 while in hiding on the French island of Mayotte. A paraplegic since 1986, Simbikangwa faces a potential life sentence for complicity in the genocide and crimes against humanity. The current president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, has accused France of supporting the Hutu militia and harboring fugitives who fled to France in the years following the genocide. This trial is seen as an important first step in repairing relations between the embittered nations.
The African Union (AU) called Feb. 1 for African countries to "speak with one voice" against the trials of sitting heads of state in the International Criminal Court (ICC). The statement comes in relation to the trial of two current heads of the Kenyan government, Kenya's president, Uhuru Kenyatta, and his deputy, William Ruto. The AU asked the UN Security Council to postpone the trials while the Kenyan leaders were still in power, but the resolution failed to get the required nine votes, making it the first resolution in decades to fail without a veto from one of the permanent members.
Two were killed Jan. 13 as South African police fired on protesters at the townships of Mothotlung and Damonsville, where residents are angry at having been without water services for a week. The townships are on the outskirts of the northern city of Brits, near the nation's platinum belt, the scene of recrnt labor unrest. Access to water is a constitutional right in South Africa, but many northern townships have been intermittently without water over the past two years due to infrastructure decline linked to corruption and mismanagement. (PoliticsWeb, South Africa, Jan. 21; AFP, Jan. 14; Sky News, Jan. 13)
Uganda's parliament on Jan. 15 retroactively approved military intervention in neighboring South Sudan—after President Yoweri Museveni reversed his initial denials and admitted Ugandan troops are fighting there. His administration spun it in terms of humanitarian intervention, with Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga telling parliament: "That a genocide was looming in South Sudan was a reality." (Zee News) But some say the intervention could only deepen the crisis, and undermine Uganda's supposed role as a moderator in the still-fruitless peace talks being brokered in Ethiopia by regional bloc IGAD. Aly Verjee, a senior researcher for the Rift Valley Institute, told IRIN: "If Uganda deploys more offensive forces to South Sudan, there is the risk the conflict escalates and the neutrality of IGAD's mediation is undermined. A split in the views of IGAD member states will not help the peace process."
Almost 20,000 people of Chadian origin have fled violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) in recent weeks, and many more are expected to join the exodus, which is straining humanitarian capacity in Chad, a country many of those fleeing have never lived in. "Those of us who were born here are Central Africans, but we are treated like foreigners. We have never seen Chad but have to go there for our own protection," said Awa Rabilou, one of thousands of people camped for the last two weeks outside the Chadian embassy in Bangui, waiting for a place on a truck headed for Chad. "Our houses were burnt. We left with only the clothes we were wearing. They even threw grenades at us. It was people who joined the anti-balaka who did this. If we stay in our neighborhood, they will kill us," added Rabilou.
Amid ongoing fighting in South Sudan, the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 7 notes that two of the regional powers supposedly attempting to head off further escalation through a "diplomatic effort" are Kenya and Uganda—whcih were "recruiting investors to back an oil pipeline in South Sudan in December when a rebellion upended the world's newest nation." Most reportage reads as if the "upending" came out of nowhere, but when a precursor rebellion broke out in Jonglei state last March, we noted widespread theories that Sudan was quietly backing it to interrupt plans for alternative pipeline routes through Kenya or Ethiopia, which would break South Sudan's reliance on old enemy Khartoum for getting its crude to market. So we may now be looking at a proxy war for South Sudan, pitting US client states Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia against Sudan. On the ground, the Dinka (the group most closely linked to the ruling faction) are pitted against the Nuer (whose legitimate grievances may be exploited by Khartoum). Of course the model of a ruling clique controlling oil wealth and distributing it in clientelist manner to build a power base is what is really at root of the conflict—and neither side has any interest in challenging that.