Rights group documents fresh South Sudan ‘war crimes’

Amnesty International’s report, based on research following a government offensive on Leer and Mayendit counties in the northern Unity State between April and June. (File/AFP)
Updated 20 September 2018
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Rights group documents fresh South Sudan ‘war crimes’

NAIROBI: A rights group on Wednesday accused the government of South Sudan and its allied militias of carrying out “war crimes” of “staggering brutality” during an offensive earlier this year.
Amnesty International’s report, based on research following a government offensive on Leer and Mayendit counties in the northern Unity State between April and June, catalogued the testimonies of around 100 civilians who escaped the attacks.
“The offensive was characterised by staggering brutality, with civilians deliberately shot dead, burnt alive, hanged in trees and run over with armored vehicles,” Amnesty said.
The group also documented “systematic sexual violence,” rape and gang-rape as well as abductions of women and girls, and the deliberate killing of young boys and male infants.
The killings echo the type of brutality meted out to civilians that has characterised South Sudan’s war since the start.
Amnesty said the latest offensive began in April and continued until early July, “a week after the latest cease-fire was brokered on 27 June.”
That cease-fire paved the way for the signing last week of another peace agreement between President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar aimed at ending the vicious five-year-old civil war that has killed tens of thousands of people, pushed millions to the brink of starvation and scattered refugees across East Africa.

Battle for power

The battle for power between Kiir, a member of the Dinka tribe, and Machar, a Nuer, meant the conflict quickly took on an ethnic character with civilians targeted by both sides for massacre and widespread rape.
UN rights experts have warned of “ethnic cleansing” and the threat of genocide.
Amnesty blamed a failure to prosecute perpetrators for the continuing violence.
“The only way to break this vicious cycle of violence is to end the impunity enjoyed by South Sudanese fighters on all sides,” said Joanne Mariner, Amnesty’s senior crisis adviser.
In a rare example of justice, 10 soldiers were found guilty earlier this month of an attack on a hotel in the capital Juba in which five foreign aid workers were gang-raped and a South Sudanese journalist killed.
But commanders and their political masters are not held to account.
A so-called “hybrid court” to try war crimes and crimes against humanity, proposed by the African Union as part of a failed 2015 peace agreement, has not been set up.
South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, broke away from Sudan in 2011 after a long and bloody independence struggle, but just two years later the new war began triggering one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.


Indian election reveals role of money, questionable morality

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi listens to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah speak during a press conference at the party headquarters in New Delhi, India, Friday, May 17, 2019. (AP)
Updated 16 June 2019
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Indian election reveals role of money, questionable morality

  • The report said the Bharatiya Janata Party was the biggest spender, accounting for about 45% of the total

NEW DELHI: India’s recent national election delivered a historic victory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, but also exposed the influence of money, power and questionable morality on the world’s largest democracy.
Nearly 43% of the new members of the lower house of Parliament that convenes Monday for the first time since the election won despite facing criminal charges. More than a quarter of those relate to rape, murder or attempted murder, according to a report by the civic group Association of Democratic Reforms.
The loophole that allows them to take office is that they have not been convicted — in part because the Indian legal system has a huge backlog of an estimated 30 million cases and trials often last decades. When asked about the charges against them, they invariably accuse a political rival of framing them.
Since such rivalries often lead to false accusations, the main political parties say it would be unfair to bar people from contesting elections unless they have been convicted by court.
Under existing laws, only those who have been sentenced to prison for two years or more can be barred from elections.
Members of Parliament with criminal backgrounds is not a new phenomenon in India, but despite Modi’s campaign vow in 2014 to clean up corruption and the influence of money in politics, the problem appears to be only growing worse.
In the 2004 national election, the percentage of candidates with pending criminal cases was 24%, which rose to 33% in 2009, 34% in 2014 and 43% this year, said Shahabuddin Y. Quraishi, a former chief election commissioner.
The Association of Democratic Reforms found that 116 of the 303 lawmakers from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party elected last month face criminal charges, including one for alleged terrorism.
Pragya Singh Thakur, who won a seat from Bhopal in central India, is awaiting trial in connection with a 2008 explosion in Malegaon in western India that killed seven people.
Twenty-nine of the opposition Congress party’s 52 lawmakers face serious charges.
“This trend has been growing in India, leaving no political party untouched. We need to educate voters not to elect these people,” said Jagdeep S. Chhokar, ADR’s founder.
“What the Indian state has been unable to provide, strongmen promise to deliver to people in their area of influence, using gun and money power,” said Lennin Rasghuvanshi, a coordinator with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.
Starting in the 1960s and ‘70s, some Indian politicians began turning to the criminal underworld for cash to win votes.
“In due course, the criminals started thinking that these politicians were winning because of their money or crimes so why shouldn’t they become lawmakers themselves? If they are people running from the police, they know that when they became lawmakers, the same police will protect them,” Quraishi said.
In Uttar Pradesh state in northern Indian, former mafia don Mukhtar Ansari has been elected to the state assembly five times despite more than 40 criminal cases pending against him, including murder.
Another don-turned-politician, Hari Shankar Tiwari, also of Uttar Pradesh, has been a member of the legislative assembly for 23 years, even winning an election while being detained on murder charges.
During the campaign, Election Commission officials and government agencies seized mountains of cash, alcohol, gold and silver, saris and expensive watches in the offices of political parties that were intended as gifts in exchange for votes.
The total value of the seized goods was $500 million, including $120 million in cash — nearly three times what was found in the 2014 general election, according to the Election Commission.
Analysts say that political parties seem to prize electability over ethics.
“They think that people with criminal backgrounds have more chances to win because of their money and muscle power,” Qureshi said.
In the days of paper ballots before electronic voting machines were introduced, gangs would use brute force to take over polling stations to rig the vote.
One reason for the increasing number of criminal suspects going into politics is the sheer cost of elections. In the general election that concluded in May, political parties and candidates are estimated to have spent about $8.65 billion. That’s double the amount in the 2014 election, according to a report by the Center for Media Studies in New Delhi.
The report said the Bharatiya Janata Party was the biggest spender, accounting for about 45% of the total. The Congress party accounted for between 15% and 20%.
Analysts say a key cause of corruption is the way political parties are funded in India. Parties are permitted to receive foreign funds, any company can donate any amount of money to any political party, and any individual, group or company can donate money anonymously through electoral bonds.
Donors do not need to disclose the party they have donated to, nor does the party have to reveal the source of its money.
Quraishi is calling for more transparency in campaign funding as well as a cap on election spending.
“The people want transparency, the donor wants secrecy. Whose wish should prevail?” he said.