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.


US tries to seize Iranian gas heading toward Venezuela

Updated 11 min 3 sec ago

US tries to seize Iranian gas heading toward Venezuela

  • The Trump administration has been stepping up pressure on ship owners to abide by sanctions against US adversaries like Iran and Venezuela
  • As commercial traders increasingly shun Venezuela, Maduro's government has been turning to Iran

MIAMI: US federal prosecutors are seeking to seize four tankers sailing toward Venezuela with gasoline supplied by Iran, the latest attempt to disrupt ever-closer trade ties between the two heavily sanctioned anti-American allies.
The civil-forfeiture complaint filed late Wednesday in the District of Columbia federal court alleges that the sale was arranged by a businessman, Mahmoud Madanipour, with ties to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, a US-designated foreign terrorist organization.
“The profits from these activities support the IRGC’s full range of nefarious activities, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, support for terrorism, and a variety of human rights abuses, at home and abroad,” prosecutor Zia Faruqui alleges in the complaint.
Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for the Iranian mission to the United Nations, said any attempt by the US to prevent Iran's lawful trading with any country of its choosing would be an act of “piracy, pure and simple.”
“This is a direct threat to international peace and security and in contravention of international law including the UN Charter,” he said in a statement.
The Trump administration has been stepping up pressure on ship owners to abide by sanctions against US adversaries like Iran, Venezuela and North Korea. In May, it issued an advisory urging the global maritime industry to be on the lookout for tactics to evade sanctions like dangerous ship-to-ship transfers and the turning off of mandatory tracking devices — both techniques used in recent oil deliveries to and from both Iran and Venezuela.
The campaign appears to be working.
On Thursday, the US Treasury Department lifted sanctions on eight vessels that were recently found to have transported Venezuelan crude. The move followed an attempted auction Wednesday by federal marshals in Houston of 100,000 barrels of gasoline seized from a Greek-managed ship whose owner suspected the cargo was heading toward Venezuela. None of the five parties at the auction agreed to the minimum $2.5 million bid.
As commercial traders increasingly shun Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro's socialist government has been increasingly turning to Iran.
In May, Maduro celebrated the arrival of five Iranian tankers delivering badly needed fuel supplies to alleviate shortages that have led to days-long gas lines even in the capital, Caracas, which is normally spared such hardships. Despite sitting atop the world's largest crude reserves, Venezuela doesn't produce enough domestically-refined gasoline and has seen its overall crude production plunge to the lowest in over seven decades amid the ongoing crisis and fallout from US sanctions.
We are “two rebel nations, two revolutionary nations that will never kneel down before US imperialism,” Maduro said at the time. “Venezuela has friends in this world, and brave friends at that.”
The flotilla’s arrival angered the Trump administration, which struck back by sanctioning the five Iranian captains of the vessels.
The four tankers named in the complaint filed Wednesday — the Bella, Bering, Pandi and Luna — are currently transporting to Venezuela 1.1 million barrels of gasoline obtained via risky ship-to-ship transfers, prosecutors allege. Of the four, the Bella is currently sailing near the Philippines, ship tracking data shows, while the Pandi appears to have turned off its satellite tracking system on June 29 after having spent two weeks between Iran and the UAE. The other two were last spotted in May — the Bering near Greece and the Luna sailing between Oman and Iran.
One of the companies involved in the shipment to Venezuela, the Avantgarde Group, was previously linked to the Revolutionary Guard and attempts to evade US sanctions, according to prosecutors. An affiliate of Avantgarde facilitated the purchase for the Revolutionary Guard of the Grace 1, a ship seized last year by Britain on US accusations that it was transporting oil to Syria.
Iran denied the charges and the Grace 1 was eventually released. But the seizure nonetheless triggered an international standoff in which Iran retaliated by seizing a British-flagged vessel.
According to the asset forfeiture complaint, an unnamed company in February invoiced Avantgarde for a $14.9 million cash payment for the sale of the gasoline aboard the Pandi. Nonetheless, a text message between Mandanipour and an unnamed co-conspirator suggest the voyage had encountered difficulties.
“The ship owner doesn't want to go because of the American threat, but we want him to go, and we even agreed We will also buy the ship,” according to the message, an excerpt of which was included in the complaint.