Archive for January 7, 2010

At least 140 killed in Sudan violence: UN

At least 140 people have been killed and 90 wounded in the remote troubled Wunchuei region in southern Sudan over the past week, a senior UN official said on Thursday.

Clashes, apparently between rival tribal groups, occurred some time since the beginning of the year but reports emerged only after a UN security team visited the remote area by aircraft two days ago.

“Local sources on the ground said that at least 140 people had been killed, 90 wounded and 30,000 head of cattle had been stolen,” said Lise Grande, the UN Deputy Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in south Sudan.

Ms Grande said a military team of UN peacekeepers had left Thursday by vehicles to ascertain the exact situation on the ground.

“This is a matter of deep concern,” she said.

The dead were from the Dinka people common in the area. Local sources suggested that a rival group from the Nuer people were responsible, but the report could not be immediately confirmed.

Clashes between rival ethnic groups in south Sudan erupt frequently – often sparked by cattle rustling and disputes over natural resources, while others are retaliation for previous attacks.

However, a string of recent raids has shocked many, with an apparent sharp increase in attacks on women and children, as well as the targeting of homesteads.

In September, more than 100 people, including South Sudanese troops, were killed in weekend clashes in the Jonglei state after Nuer raided a Dinka village where the troops had a base.

More than 2,000 people have died and 250,000 have been displaced in inter-tribal violence across southern Sudan since January, according to the United Nations, which says the rate of violent deaths now surpasses that in the war-torn western region of Darfur.

The United Nations has warned that poor rains and food insecurity could spark further clashes, with tensions rising as pastoralist cattle herders move their animals into areas controlled by rival groups.

AFP

Read the full report here via At least 140 killed in Sudan violence: UN – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

As reported on BBC NEWS

New Zealand and Australia are joining forces to carry out research on whales using non-lethal methods, in an attempt to challenge Japan’s hunting programme.

Eighteen scientists will set sail for Antarctica next month to study minke, humpback and blue whale populations.

They will also be assessing the impact of climate change on the whales.

The scientists hope their research will help to disprove Japan’s claims that whales have to be killed if they are to be properly studied.

The six-week voyage will start in Wellington in early February.

Non-lethal

Researchers will employ a range of non-lethal techniques to try to unlock some of the secrets of these giant marine mammals.

They will use air rifles fitted with darts to collect blubber and skin for DNA testing, as well attaching satellite tags to monitor the whales.

Samples of dung will also be gathered and many photographs will be taken, while acoustic instruments will record the animals’ distinctive calls.

Nick Gales from the Australian Antarctic Division, who is leading the expedition, believes it will show that Japan’s arguments for whale hunting are misguided.

“Anyone can always come up with a project that you have to kill an animal to measure something,” he said.

“But the important question is whether or not you need that information – and our view very strongly is that all of that type of information that is relevant to the conservation and management of whales can be gathered using new and very powerful non-lethal tools.”

Japan says there are genuine scientific reasons why it kills hundreds of whales each year in Antarctic waters, where its fleet is currently operating.

Critics, including the Australian and New Zealand governments, insist that such arguments are simply a cover for the sale and consumption of whale meat, which is banned under an international moratorium on commercial hunting.

Reported via BBC News – NZ, Australia research whales to challenge Japan.

DAKAR, 6 January 2010 (IRIN) – The UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Guinea is seeking funds to re-stock nutritional centres which are running out of essential fortified foods at a time of rising malnutrition.

The latest monthly nutritional survey in the capital, Conakry, showed that moderate acute malnutrition rose to 8.4 percent in December from 6.9 percent in November. The surveillance, funded by the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance, is carried out by Helen Keller International (HKI), the Health Ministry and the government humanitarian office.

Families are increasingly bringing children to NGO-supported nutritional centres but because of a shortage of corn-soya blend (CSB), vegetable oil and sugar – used for treating moderate acute malnutrition – WFP can no longer supply the centres as needed, according to agency officials.

“The demand for CSB is greater than the supply and currently we do not have the funds to furnish all nutritional centres,” Foday Turay, WFP-Guinea head of programme unit, told IRIN.

“WFP is therefore appealing urgently for funds to replenish its stocks of CSB, as well as vegetable oil and sugar, so that we can continue providing much-needed nutritional support throughout Guinea.”

WFP is seeking funds to help 25,000 children and 7,000 pregnant and lactating women.

Mamady Daffe, head of the Health Ministry’s nutrition unit, told IRIN: “Resources for malnutrition treatment are quite limited and this means the situation is worsening by the day.”

High child malnutrition rates are common throughout West Africa; some 4.5 million under-five children, or 9.9 percent, suffer acute malnutrition, according to the Food Security and Nutrition Working Group.

via IRIN Africa | GUINEA: Funds needed to stem child malnutrition – WFP | West Africa | Guinea | Children Health & Nutrition Conflict Aid Policy | News Item.

opinion by: Andrew M. Mwenda

6 January 2010 – AllAfrica Post

Kampala — Since Ndorwa West MP David Bahati introduced a bill to kill homosexuals, I have become wary of the behaviour of Uganda’s international donors. They have threatened to cut off aid if the government goes ahead with the bill. This way, they are literally using their money to blackmail government to respect gay rights. Yet this approach, although driven by good intentions, is actually counterproductive.

Those hostile to homosexuals argue that gays are promoted by the West with money to undermine African culture although they have not produced even a scintilla of evidence to support this claim. But by threatening aid cuts if the bill is passed, donors are inadvertently proving the purveyors of this argument right. Donors should learn that cultural change should be a gradual internal process. To use force to make people change their attitudes would require a high amount of coercion that is certainly undesirable. Intimidation and blackmail are not effective weapons against cultural bigotry; open debate is.

In threatening aid cuts, I suspect Western leaders are actually addressing their constituents. Their electorates see the bill as a barbaric move to suppress a fundamental right. However, donors need to be careful not to be seen to be arm-twisting the government. The biggest challenge gays and lesbians face in Uganda is not state law (however draconian) but deeply held cultural bigotry by the society.

Therefore, a democratic government would find it difficult to resist popular pressure to hang homosexuals. Multitudes of Ugandans are homophobic and would not hesitate to sanction genocide against gays. To secure attitudinal change through force would require unprecedented violence. Our challenge is how to foster openness and tolerance. This can only be achieved through open debate.

This is why although Bahati is subjectively homophobic, he is objectively an ally of gays. By introducing his bill with provisions to kill gays, he has inadvertently opened debate on a subject that has been taboo in Uganda. In the process, he has given gays and progressive intellectuals an opportunity and a platform to enlighten Ugandans about sexual diversity and expose the fallacies that inform homophobia.

Since I wrote a column criticising Bahati, I have been impressed by the number of young Ugandans who have written to me saying the debate has made them rethink their prejudice. There have been critics as well and others who wrote calling me names. I had expected worse. My column also generated fierce debate on our website with the anti-homosexual side suffering a devastating but delicious intellectual beating.

A particular problem with Ugandan society is its low levels of openness. As evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller has written, openness to experience implies curiosity, novelty seeking, broad-mindedness, interest in culture, ideas and aesthetics. Our society exhibits low levels of openness partly because of the influence of tradition.

But as our society modernises and urbanises, a new cultural sophistication is consolidating. For example, in the current debate on Bahati’s bill, the most virulent anti-gay crusaders are largely (although not entirely) from rural areas, born in peasant families, are less travelled and are not widely read. So they lack exposure to diversity. The opposite applies to most of the people who are tolerant of gays.

It is easy to tell open-minded people; they tend to seek complexity and novelty, they readily accept innovations and changes – and as Miller writes, they prefer grand new visions to mundane, predictable ruts. This sounds like a personality profile of Charles Onyango-Obbo. You cannot catch a person of his attitude and calibre in a homo-bashing rant.

People who are low on openness tend to seek simplicity and predictability; they resist change and respect tradition. They are often more conservative, close-minded, conventional and authoritarian. They follow the established cults as did their grand parents. Even in heterosexual relationships, they reject creative acts that increase intimacy. In the name of tradition, they support female genital mutilation, practice polygamy, beat their wives and want to decide for their children.

The Ugandan education system adds to the problem. At home, children are taught to obey their parents without question. In school, Students are taught to respect every opinion in a book or from the teacher instead of questioning it. That is why it is boring and frustrating reading opinions in our newspapers or listening to radio talk-shows. There is little attempt to add value to existing dogmas and beliefs.

Yet life is more complex than the “facts” that stare us in the face suggest. A person from mars visiting a small poverty stricken village in Karamoja would find people living close to the Stone Age – sleeping in grass thatched mud-huts, walking naked, cooking in medieval pots and eating from pre-historic wooden bowls. Visiting a high-tech firm in the Silicon Valley, he finds people building rockets that can navigate other planets millions of miles from the earth and yet keep sending pictures of what they observe.

It seems obvious to a casual observer from mars that the people in Karamoja are mentally inferior to those in the Silicon Valley; otherwise how do we explain such fundamental differences? Well the people in Karamoja will be black and the ones in the Silicon Valley will be white. Therefore, on the basis of this hard “evidence”, it is easy to conclude that blacks are inferior to whites in intelligence.

Actually, this “hard evidence” of white intellectual superiority was the basis of slavery, colonialism and other forms of racial injustice visited on the black race. Today, most people know that the factors that shape the economic and social destiny of peoples are varied and diverse; the colour of one’s skin has almost nothing to do with it. The difference in achievements between a worker in Google and a Karimojong cattle-herder may be rooted in the simple accident of history and geography, not their mental abilities.

As we debate Bahati’s bill, we will learn that the factors that shape human sexuality are complex and we should therefore not kill anyone because they are different. We should punish those who sexually molest children and those who rape – not because of their sexual orientation but because they violated some else’s rights while seeking sexual gratification. Happy New Year!

As reported on allAfrica.com: Uganda: Donors Blackmail On Gays Bad.

” A good read for those interested, i can see for’s and againsts for the bill and further discussion and education in Uganda about sexuality is required in order to quell the fears of those who are homophobic” Rebecca Fowler

Sheila Velez

6 January 2010

The defence in the trial of alleged Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo – the first war crimes trial to be conducted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) – is scheduled to begin on Thursday. Ahead of the resumption of the case, Sheila Velez sketches the background.

The silence of the public gallery is interrupted only by the slow rise of the blinds. We are about to watch history in the making. Behind bulletproof glass a courtroom appears – the heart of the International Criminal Court. On the right, the prosecution. On the left, the defence, their sombre robes contrasting starkly with the courtroom’s pale wood furnishings. In their midst – dapper, calm, attentive – sits the eye of this storm: Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the first person ever to face trial at the ICC.

Who is this man, and what has he done to earn his dubious distinction? Now quietly jotting notes, now leaning over to consult with one of his lawyers, take away the setting and he could be a businessman as unremarkable as any you encounter on the streets of London, Brussels or New York every day of the week. Hardly a Radovan Karadzic or a Pol Pot. Hardly a Josef Mengele, whose experiments on children left the few survivors scarred for life.

When the Second World War ended, nobody expected that we would ever again allow destruction on such a scale. Five decades later, so inured had we become to wholesale slaughter that five million people could die in a new Great War, the Second Congo War, and their untold sufferings would remain just that.

Until now. Because in the course of this landmark trial, not just experts but children who became the victims of this war are taking the stand to speak to the charges that as president of the Union des Patriots Congolais (UPC), between September 2002 and August 2003 Thomas Lubanga recruited, trained and used hundreds of young children to pillage, rape and kill.

Lubanga is a member of the Hema ethnic group from Ituri, a district in the northeast corner of the Congo which has about the same land area and population size as the Republic of Ireland. Born in 1960, he secured a degree in psychology from the University of Kisangani. Married, with seven children, by the late 1990s there was no particular indication that this family man would ever become a feared warlord. In fact well into the Second Congo War he was still working as a trader, selling beans in the market of Bunia, Ituri’s capital.

However, the war would set him on a path to power and notoriety, not so much for any personal military feats as for his dedication to an inherently ethnic view of politics in which the Hema as a group must either eliminate all threats or be eliminated.

From the late 1990s Ituri had become a particular focal point for violence as different factions involved in the wider war battled for control of its mineral wealth. Decades of mistrust between Ituri’s ethnic groups, particularly between the Hema and Lendu, were manipulated for political ends with deadly consequences.

In June 2000, hundreds of Hema soldiers in the Rassemblement Congolais, the movement then in control of Ituri, went to Uganda for two months’ military training. When they returned, tradesman Lubanga became their spokesman. It didn’t matter to them that he had no previous political experience. He was educated, an intellectual, and he would speak on behalf of his ethnic group. The seeds of the UPC had been planted.

In January 2001, Lubanga joined the Rassemblement Congolais government as commissioner for youth and sports. Later becoming defence commissioner, he recruited even more Hema troops. Sidelined by the Rassemblement Congolais from involvement in an April 2002 peace deal designed to end the war in the Congo, Lubanga broke away, taking his Hema soldiers with him.

Turning on his old masters, in August 2002 his forces chased the Rassemblement Congolais out of Bunia, launching attacks on the Lendu and anyone they identified as “Jajambu” (outsiders). Almost total anarchy ensued as the UPC and rival ethnic militias not only fought each other but killed civilians from opposing ethnic groups with indiscriminate barbarity. And all sides were using child soldiers.

Now, as evidence is led in an ICC courtroom at The Hague in the Netherlands, figures in green military fatigues, clapping and singing, fill screens in the public gallery. In the midst of the figures is a slightly slimmer version of the man now in the dock. The frame freezes. The deputy prosecutor’s voice cuts in.

“Witness, do you know the person who is on the screen?” The girl in the witness stand – identified only as “Witness Ten” and who even now can barely be out of her teens – confirms: “It’s Thomas Lubanga.” She adds, “There was one song. When we sang it, some people cried, like me, because I knew I didn’t have a family anymore and that I was all alone. I couldn’t really express the sadness I felt, and I couldn’t really say that I was afraid.”

By  September 2002, Thomas Lubanga had been appointed president of the UPC.  From then on he would brook no opposition. He would be not merely the president but the “Rais” – a king-like leader invested with permanent and sacred authority by his community; the protector of the Hema, in an existential war demanding the participation and contribution of every Hema man, woman and child.

Children were enticed, abducted, even given up by their parents for military training, the parents acting to protect themselves and their ethnic group. Many of the children were aged 10 to 15, some allegedly as young as five.

But why? What does a war machine gain from being fed with children?

Militias around the world in recent years have made a cynical calculation: that children can be exploited without payment; that they are loyal, obedient and unlikely to mutiny; that they show less fear in battle, are less capable of assessing risks and consequences than adults. And if they are girls, they are likely also to be useful as domestic servants and sex slaves.

“I used to be a virgin before I entered the UPC, but they took away my virginity. I saw the blood that completely destroyed my life,” Witness Ten tells the court. Murmured conversation in the public gallery falls silent. “I cry every day, for I have no mother or father. I’m alone and it’s hurting… When I think about it, I feel like killing myself.”

Elisabeth Schauer, a doctor in clinical psychology, and head of an NGO working on rehabilitation after trauma, addresses the court.

“Any experience where the perpetrator is physically close with a knife, with a gun, raping you, assaulting you; such experiences are more likely to cause us to develop psychiatric disorders,” she says. “Traumatic or emotionally important memories for us are burned into memory, right? Trauma doesn’t subside. Trauma doesn’t go away. You can be traumatised at age 11 and die with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder when you’re 70 years old.”

If the UPC was using child soldiers, it was doing nothing new. Hundreds of thousands of children are in service in armed conflicts around the world. Whatever its outcome for Thomas Lubanga, the message this trial sends is new: Use children as soldiers, even in a war as lawless as that in the Congo, and one day you may forfeit your liberty.  So for anyone who values children, the future of our world, this trial matters.

Sheila Velez is a freelance journalist and author of the “Lubanga Chronicles” which document the ICC trial.

via allAfrica.com: Congo-Kinshasa: Lubanga Trial Highlights Plight of Child Soldiers.