A young woman who survived rape by soldiers in Congo.
(Philip Kleinfeld, IRIN)
As War between Government and Rebels Rages on, Congolese Soldiers Gang-Raping Women, Witnesses Report
Jan. 10, 2018
Violence escalated in the Democratic Republic of Congo in December, as the war that has consumed the Central African country for two decades shows no signs of stopping. An assault on a peacekeeping base left 14 U.N. soldiers dead, one missing and many more seriously injured, the IRIN news service reported. The attacks are believed to have been carried out by one of dozens of rebel groups operating in eastern Congo.
In the following weeks, Congolese security forces and rebel groups reportedly killed, abducted and raped hundreds of civilians. Congolese soldiers began systematically raping women and arbitrarily arresting young men, according to dozens of interviews IRIN conducted over several weeks with victims and witnesses.
A 36-year-old woman said she was gang-raped by soldiers alongside her 65-year-old blind mother, who died shortly afterwards. Nearby, a 35-year-old mother-of-four said soldiers stopped her outside her home and asked where her husband was. When she replied that he was traveling, they accused her of collaborating with the rebels. She said five soldiers then entered her house and raped her in front of her children until she fell unconscious.
“I woke up to the sound of my children shouting ‘Mama, Mama!’,” she said.
IRIN said it had documented rape committed by soldiers since September as the government has cracked down on a new rebel alliance. Victims and witnesses gave dozens of horrifying, first-hand accounts of sexual violence committed by the national army, the FARDC, which is forcing communities to flee, and building support for the insurgency.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has been at war with itself for more than two decades, with eastern Congo mired in conflict since the mid-1990s, when perpetrators of Rwandan genocide fled there, triggering two regional wars.
In Makobola, the representative of a local peace organization said at least 25 women were gang-raped by Congolese soldiers over the course of one day in late September, after the army retook the town.
New Year’s Eve saw the Congolese government violently repressing protests against President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down by the end of the year, as agreed in negotiations between the government and opposition in December 2016. Critics accuse Kabila of postponing elections to maintain his grip on power, sparking tensions, violence and deadly street demonstrations across the country.
Congolese Ambassador Ignace Gata Mavita played down the clashes and insisted there were no deaths linked to the unauthorized demonstrations, the Associated Press reported. He called those killed terrorists.
As Reuters reported, nearly two-thirds of the world’s cobalt, a main ingredient in lithium-ion batteries, comes from Congo. Demand for the metal has surged due to expected growth in the electric vehicle sector, causing the price on the London Metal Exchange to triple over the last two years.
A Nigerian refugee seeking a better life in Europe was sold as a slave in Libya before entering a detention center to await deportation. (CNN)
African Refugees Being Sold as Slaves in Libya
Nov. 17, 2017
African migrants are being sold as slaves in Libya, in some cases for $400 per person, CNN reported Nov. 14.
A Nigerian man who appears to be in his twenties was recently sold for 1,200 Libyan dinars, the equivalent of $800. He was offered for sale as one of a group of “big strong boys for farm work” by the auctioneer.
“Does anybody need a digger?” asked the salesman, dressed in camouflage gear. “This is a digger, a big strong man. He’ll dig. What am I bid?” Buyers raised their hands as the price rose, “500, 550, 600, 650 ...” Within minutes the auction was over and the men were handed over to their new “masters.”
Each year, tens of thousands of refugees cross Libya’s borders, fleeing conflict in their homelands or seeking economic opportunities in Europe. Most have sold everything they own to finance the journey through Libya to the Mediterranean coast.
But a recent crackdown by the Libyan coast guard means fewer boats are making it out to sea, leaving smugglers with a backlog of would-be passengers. So migrants and refugees become the smuggler' slaves.
CNN was told of slave auctions at nine locations across Libya, but many more are believed to take place each month. Using hidden cameras, CNN reporters filmed a slave auction that took place in a seemingly normal town in Libya, where local people lead regular lives.
First Lieutenant Naser Hazam of Libya’s Anti-Illegal Immigration Agency in Tripoli said that he had not witnessed a slave auction, but acknowledged that organized gangs are operating smuggling rings in the country.
“They fill a boat with 100 people [who] may or may not make it,” Hazam said. The smuggler “does not care as long as he gets the money, and the migrant may get to Europe or die at sea.”
At a detention center in Tripoli for migrants due to be deported, a young man named Victory said he was sold at a slave auction. Tired of rampant corruption in Nigeria’s Edo state, the 21-year-old fled home and spent a year and four months—and his life savings—trying to reach Europe.
He made it as far as Libya, where he said he and other would-be migrants were held in grim living conditions, deprived of food, abused and mistreated by their captors.
“If you look at most of the people here, if you check your bodies, you see the marks,” he said. “They are beaten, mutilated,” and even have sharp objects inserted in their anuses.
When his money ran out, Victory was sold as a day laborer by his smugglers, who told him that the profit they made from the transactions would reduce his debt. But after weeks of being forced to work, Victory was told the money he’d been bought for wasn’t enough. He was returned to his smugglers, only to be re-sold several more times.
At the detention center, he now waits to be sent back to Nigeria, empty-handed. “I’m not happy,” he said. “I go back and start back from square one. It’s very painful.”
As a result of CNN’s exclusive report, Libyan authorities have launched a formal investigation into slave auctions in the country, the government said Nov. 17.
Venezuela’s Dissidents Could Face Long Jail Terms under ‘Hate and Intolerance’ Law
Aug. 16, 2017
Dissidents in Venezuela could be jailed for 25 years under a law pending in the South American country’s newly-formed constituent assembly. As Reuters reported, Venezuelans who express “hate or intolerance” will be jailed for up to 25 years under the proposed bill, which the opposition fears the government will use to further crack down on dissent.
President Nicolas Maduro has faced widespread international criticism since installing the 545-member assembly stacked with his Socialist Party allies earlier this month. He defends the new legislative super-body as Venezuela’s only hope for peace and prosperity.
Clashes between anti-government protestors and security forces have left more than 120 people dead while the country sinks further into recession, triple-digit inflation and acute food shortages, Reuters reported.
Penal Forum, a local human rights group, estimated that Maduro’s government was holding 676 political prisoners as of Aug. 16, a number that could rise once the new measure becomes law.
“The proposal includes incredibly vague language that would allow them to jail anyone for almost anything,” Tamara Taraciuk, head Venezuela researcher for Human Rights Watch, was quoted as saying.
“Anyone who goes out into the streets to express intolerance and hatred will be captured and will be tried and punished with sentences of 15, 20, 25 years of jail,” Maduro recently told the assembly, drawing a standing ovation.
In its first session on July 30, the assembly fired Venezuela’s top prosecutor Louisa Ortega, who had accused Maduro of human rights abuses. The assembly then appointed a Maduro loyalist to replace her. The Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists said that Ortega’s dismissal “removes one of the last remaining institutional checks on executive authority” in Venezuela.
The New York Times reported that in a special meeting of foreign ministers from the Western Hemisphere recently convened by the Peruvian government, 12 of the largest and most influential governments signed a declaration calling Venezuela a “dictatorship.” The foreign ministers agreed to work together on more concrete actions, including restricting arms shipments and blocking any Venezuelans nominated to international organizations. U.S. President Donald Trump said a “military option” is possible to deal with Maduro’s increasingly dictatorial regime.
The Financial Times reported that Venezuela’s oil exports, which account for about 90 percent of the country's total exports, have collapsed as prices have dropped and production has folded.
Recovery Efforts Slow after Flooding and Mudslides Devastate Parts of Peru
‘International community has lost interest in Peru’s emergency’
May 5, 2017
Heavy rains have stopped but funding shortfalls are slowing recovery efforts in Peru, after the country suffered its worst flooding and mudslides in 20 years. During February and March, record downpours engorged rivers, triggering deluges and landslides that wiped away people, crops and buildings.
As of mid-April, at least 85 people had died, tens of thousands were left homeless and more than 1 million were affected by the disaster, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
“Damage has been incredibly severe,” Walter Cotte, the organization's Regional Director for the Americas, said in a statement. “Many people have lost everything.”
On March 23, the Red Cross launched an emergency appeal for 3,997,679 Swiss francs (about $4,003,341) to help 50,000 people in Peru. On April 4, the appeal was revised to 4,740,589 Swiss francs, about $4,747,860.66.
As of May 5, “we only have 15 percent of the appeal coverage,” Diana Medina, communications manager for the Panama City, Panama, office of the International Red Cross told Moresby Press. The Red Cross has been working with donors, but “in general the international community has lost interest in Peru's emergency," she said. “Our operation is moving very slow because we have very low coverage of the appeal.”
With the funds available, the Red Cross is working on the most urgent needs of water, sanitation and shelter, she said.
The Peruvian Red Cross said people in areas hit by flooding and mudslides also need livelihood and food-security support, and emergency health care to treat water-borne diseases. In areas worst affected by flooding in northern Peru, conditions are ripe for an increase in mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, Zika and Chikungunya.
Thirty-one cases of leptospirosis have been reported in flood-affected areas, and the Ministry of Health has warned of a potential outbreak. Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection spread by rats. In severe cases it can cause liver damage, kidney failure, bleeding and death.
Despite the devastation caused by the flooding, mudslides and their aftereffects, the ongoing crisis in Peru has not received widespread international attention. “We are concerned that, due to the lack of resources to act immediately, the proliferation of diseases in the affected areas will become an additional emergency to the one already created by the floods,” Cotte said.
The Peruvian Red Cross raised $200,000 in donations from individuals before a problem with its online platform suspended its ability to receive additional donations over the Internet. The International Red Cross cannot receive donations from individuals, Medina said. Other organizations accepting online donations to help victims of Peru's historic floods include MercyCorps and UNICEF.