On Thursday, 15 November, violence erupted in the Central African Republic (CAR) town of Alindao between armed men affiliated with local anti-Balaka militias and members of the Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC) armed group. During the violence at least 37 people were killed when the UPC attacked a camp for 20,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) that is operated by the Catholic Church. A church was burned during the attack, a priest was among those killed, and thousands of people sheltering at the camp were forced to flee.
The recent intensification of violence in Alindao, in southern CAR, follows increased fighting in Batangafo, northern CAR, during October. An estimated 5,000 people are still sheltering at a Médecins Sans Frontières-supported hospital in Batangafo after clashes between rival armed groups. On 16 November a Tanzanian peacekeeper from the UN Mission in CAR (MINUSCA) was also killed while protecting civilians seeking refuge in a MINUSCA camp in the village of Gbambia, in the southwest.
Despite the drastic deterioration of the security situation across CAR, last week the UN Security Council (UNSC) was unable to reach agreement on a mandate renewal for MINUSCA due to political differences among the Council’s permanent members regarding reference in the draft resolution to Russia’s political engagement with CAR. In order to allow for further negotiations the UNSC adopted a “technical rollover,” extending MINUSCA’s mandate for one month.
Meanwhile, on 17 November Alfred Yekatom, a notorious anti-Balaka commander accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, was extradited to the International Criminal Court (ICC). CAR’s Special Criminal Court was also officially inaugurated on 22 October, paving the way for further investigations into mass atrocity crimes and advancing a national accountability process.
The UNSC must overcome its divisions and expeditiously renew MINUSCA’s mandate, prioritising the protection of civilians from potential war crimes and crimes against humanity. Utilizing the ICC and the Special Criminal Court, all perpetrators of atrocities in CAR should be held accountable for their crimes.
On 14 November seven UN peacekeepers and several members of the Congolese army were killed during an offensive against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) armed group near Beni city, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The peacekeepers were participating in a joint offensive between the military (FARDC) and the UN Mission in DRC (MONUSCO), launched in response to atrocities perpetrated by the ADF against Congolese civilians.
Recent attacks by the ADF have also hampered efforts to halt an Ebola outbreak in North Kivu Province that has killed more than 200 people. The ADF and other armed groups have deliberately attacked humanitarian and medical workers, leading to the temporary suspension of Ebola response efforts. On 18 November the World Health Organization announced that its anti-Ebola activities had resumed following an attack near their facilities on 16 November.
So far this year the ADF and other militias near Beni have killed at least 235 civilians, while more than 165 people have been abducted. On 30 October the UNSC adopted a resolution on the Ebola outbreak condemning armed groups that are destabilizing the security situation in the Congo. The resolution also emphasized the primary responsibility of the DRC government to protect civilians from crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Last December suspected ADF members attacked a UN base in Semuliki, near Beni, killing 14 peacekeepers and injuring more than 50 in the largest attack on “blue helmets” in recent history. Following last week’s incident the UNSC reiterated that attacks targeting peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law.
UN peacekeepers help uphold the international community’s responsibility to protect people from genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The seven peacekeepers killed last week paid the ultimate price while protecting vulnerable populations from predatory armed groups in the eastern DRC. Ongoing efforts by MONUSCO to halt attacks by armed groups and to help confront the Ebola outbreak remain essential.
On Friday, 16 November, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) determined for the first time that the former Khmer Rouge government committed genocide against the ethnic Vietnamese and Muslim Cham minorities. The ECCC convicted the last two surviving senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, for crimes committed between April 1975 and January 1979.
Following a bitter civil war, the extremist “Marxist-Leninist” Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975 until they were overthrown almost four years later. Under the Khmer Rouge at least 1.7 million people – 22% of Cambodia‘s population – died due to forced labor, starvation and the targeted killing of minority groups and political opponents.
Both Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were found guilty of crimes against humanity by the ECCC in 2014, but the Court’s latest decision determined that the two Khmer Rouge leaders were also guilty of genocide. Under the Khmer Rouge an estimated one third of Cambodia’s Cham population of 300,000 died, while the entire ethnic Vietnamese population was either deported or killed.
The ECCC, a Cambodian Court with international elements, became fully operational in 2007 after the Cambodian government requested assistance from the UN in prosecuting those responsible for the Khmer Rouge’s atrocities. Last week’s verdict is a historic victory for all victims of the Khmer Rouge and for all those who campaigned for over four decades for criminal accountability. It is a reminder that international justice can eventually catch up with any perpetrator, no matter how powerful they or their patrons and protectors may seem today.
Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue, Suite 5203
New York, NY 10016-4309, USA