Violence in DR Congo’s Ituri may be crimes against humanity: UN

Hundreds of people have been killed or raped in attacks on the Hema ethnic group in eastern DR Congo's Ituri province, in what "may amount to crimes against humanity", the UN Human Rights High Commissioner's spokesman says in Geneva. SOUNDBITE
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Updated 10 January 2020

Violence in DR Congo’s Ituri may be crimes against humanity: UN

  • At least 701 people have been killed and 168 injured during inter-ethnic tensions between the Hema and Lendu communities between December 2017 and September 2019
  • The UN report documented a range of atrocities, including the raping of women, the killing of school children and looting and burning of villages

KINSHASA: Hundreds of people have been killed or raped in attacks on the Hema ethnic group in eastern DR Congo’s Ituri province, in what “may amount to crimes against humanity” or even genocide, the UN said on Friday.
“At least 701 people have been killed and 168 injured during inter-ethnic tensions between the Hema and Lendu communities, in the territories of Djugu and Mahagi, from December 2017 to September 2019,” the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJRHO) said.
“In addition, at least 142 people have been subjected to acts of sexual violence.
“Most of the victims are members of the Hema community.”
Since February last year, nearly 57,000 people have taken refuge in Uganda and more than 556,000 have fled to neighboring regions, according to UN figures.
The investigation said armed Lendu groups became more organized from September 2018 and escalated their attacks.
“Among their objectives is to take control of the land of the Hema communities and their associated resources,” UNJRHO said in a press release.
Tensions between the Lendu, who are sedentary farmers, and the Hema, who are predominantly cattle herders and traders, have a long history.
Conflict between the two groups between 1999 and 2003 caused tens of thousands of deaths, ending only with the dispatch of a European force called Artemis — the first rapid-reaction military mission by the European Union outside Europe.
The UN report documented a range of atrocities, including the raping of women, the killing of school children and looting and burning of villages.
It added: “The barbarity that characterises these attacks — including the beheading of women and children with machetes, the dismemberment and removal of body parts of the victims as trophies of war — reflects the desire of the attackers to inflict lasting trauma to the Hema communities and to force them to flee and not return to their villages.”
Documented cases of violence in Djugu and Mahagi “may present at least some of the constitutive elements of the crime of genocide,” the report said.
There were also acts of reprisal by some members of the Hema community between 2017 and 2018, including the burning of villages and isolated attacks targeting the Lendu, it added.
The report also pointed the finger at the Democratic Republic of Congo’s security forces.
Army and police deployed to the region since February have failed to stem the violence — and security forces themselves had carried out abuses, including extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and arbitrary arrest.
Two policemen and two soldiers have been convicted by DRC courts.
The report names a Lendu militia called Codeco, for Cooperative for the Development of the Congo, and its suspected leader, who goes by the name of Ngudjolo.
In July, the DRC’s new president, Felix Tshisekedi, said there had been an “attempted genocide” in Ituri and vowed to crack down.
The army began an offensive against Codeco on January 3.
On Monday, it said it had killed 16 militiamen in two villages — Ngongo in Djugu and Lipri in Irumu territory, both located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the provincial capital Bunia.


‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Afghan envoy Daudzai

Updated 09 July 2020

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Afghan envoy Daudzai

  • Pakistan played positive role in US-Taliban peace talks, says diplomat

PESHAWAR: Afghanistan’s newly appointed special envoy for Pakistan has had put “mending political relations” between the two estranged nations as one of his top priorities.

Mohammed Umer Daudzai, on Tuesday said that his primary focus would be to ensure lasting peace in Afghanistan and maintain strong ties with Pakistan, especially after Islamabad’s key role in the Afghan peace process earlier this year.

In an exclusive interview, the diplomat told Arab News: “Two areas have been identified to focus on with renewed vigor, such as lasting peace in Afghanistan and cementing Pak-Afghan bilateral ties in economic, social, political and other areas.”

In order to achieve these aims, he said, efforts would be intensified “to mend political relations” between the neighboring countries.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,600-kilometer porous border and have been at odds for years. Bonds between them have been particularly strained due to a deep mistrust and allegations of cross-border infiltration by militants.

Kabul has blamed Islamabad for harboring Taliban leaders after they were ousted from power in 2001. But Pakistan has denied the allegations and, instead, accused Kabul of providing refuge to anti-Pakistan militants – a claim rejected by Afghanistan.

Daudzai said his immediate priority would be to focus on “political reconciliation” between the two countries, especially in the backdrop of a historic peace agreement signed in February this year when Pakistan played a crucial role in facilitating a troop withdrawal deal between the US and the Taliban to end the decades-old Afghan conflict. “Afghanistan needs political reconciliation which the Afghan government has already been working on to achieve bottom-up harmony,” he added.

Daudzai’s appointment Monday by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took place days after Islamabad chose Mohammed Sadiq as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special representative for Afghanistan.

Reiterating the need to maintain strong bilateral ties with all of its neighbors, Daudzai said Pakistan’s role was of paramount importance to Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has a positive role in the US-Taliban peace talks, and now Islamabad could play a highly significant role in the imminent intra-Afghan talks. I will explore all options for a level-playing field for the success of all these initiatives,” he said, referring in part to crucial peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban which were delayed due to a stalemate in a prisoner exchange program – a key condition of the Feb. 29 peace deal.

Under the agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and around 1,000 government prisoners were to be freed by March 10. So far, Afghanistan has released 3,000 prisoners, while the Taliban have freed 500. Daudzai said that while dates had yet to be finalized, the intra-Afghan dialogue could begin “within weeks.”

He added: “A date for intra-Afghan talks hasn’t been identified yet because there is a stalemate on prisoners’ release. But I am sure they (the talks) will be kicked off within weeks.”

Experts say Daudzai’s appointment could give “fresh momentum” to the stalled process and revitalize ties between the two estranged neighbors.

“Mohammed Sadiq’s appointment...could lead Kabul-Islamabad to a close liaison and better coordination,” Irfanullah Khan, an MPhil scholar and expert on Afghan affairs, told Arab News.

Daudzai said that he would be visiting Islamabad to kickstart the process as soon as the coronavirus disease-related travel restrictions were eased.

Prior to being appointed as the special envoy, he had served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan from April 2011 to August 2013.

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