Atrocity Alert No. 137: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar (Burma) and Nicaragua

9 January 2019

Atrocity Alert is a weekly publication by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect highlighting situations where populations are at risk of, or are enduring, mass atrocity crimes.


Fear of violence in DRC as election results are delayed

Tensions continue to rise in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as people await the official announcement of who will replace President Joseph Kabila after nearly two decades in power. Following a two-year delay in holding the presidential election, Congolese finally went to the polls on 30 December. However, on Sunday, 6 January the National Election Commission (CENI) postponed the official announcement of results, noting that it had received fewer than 50 percent of the vote tally sheets. At the time of publication CENI was apparently preparing to release preliminary results on the evening of 9 January, local time.

The elections took place amidst widespread allegations of irregularities, including vote tampering and voter suppression. Just days prior to the election CENI also announced that voting in several cities in eastern DRC would be delayed until March 2019. Voting was postponed in Beni and Butembo, North Kivu province, due to an outbreak of Ebola and in Yumbi, Bandundu province, due to ethnic violence and threats of terrorist attacks. In North Kivu armed groups also attacked several polling stations.

One local group of election observers have reported 52 “major” voting irregularities, including the altering of results, in 101 of the vote counting centers that it monitored. Meanwhile in the capital, Kinshasa, an estimated 20 percent of polling stations were unable to open due to lack of working voting machines.

On 31 December the government shutdown cellular telecommunications and internet services until the official results are announced. On 7 January the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression called for the government to restore all services, while also noting that the shutdown hinders the compilation of results from rural polling stations.

Many international observers and local civil society organizations fear possible riots and political violence, as occurred in the aftermath of the 2006 and 2011 elections, if the election results are perceived as illegitimate. On 9 January the government deployed riot police to CENI headquarters amidst threats of widespread protests. All three leading candidates have already claimed to have won the Presidency.

The government should immediately restore telecommunication networks and end unnecessary restrictions on the media. Regardless of the outcome of the election, the DRC’s security forces must respect the right of all Congolese to freedom of assembly, peaceful protest and political expression.

Myanmar’s military launches new campaign in Rakhine State

Clashes between Myanmar’s security forces and the Arakan Army – an armed group seeking greater autonomy for the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist population – have intensified in recent weeks, placing civilians at increased risk of potential atrocities. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, over 4,500 people have been displaced in Rakhine State since early December due to the fighting.

On Monday, 7 January, Myanmar’s civilian and military authorities, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, met to discuss the situation. Following the meeting, a government spokesperson told a news conference that, “the president’s office has instructed the military to launch an operation to crush the terrorists.”

Rakhine State is also home to the ethnic Rohingya population, more than 720,000 of whom fled so-called “clearance operations” launched by Myanmar’s security forces in August 2017. Those operations, initially launched against the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) armed group, resulted in a systematic campaign of violence against the entire Rohingya community, including the unlawful killing of civilians, widespread rape and the razing of nearly 400 villages. According to the UN’s Independent International Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar (Burma), the campaign against the Rohingya amounted to genocide. Despite these findings, General Min Aung Hlaing and other senior military officers have not been held accountable.

Recent developments underscore the complex history of ethnicity and conflict in Rakhine State. Inter-communal violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims killed at least 200 people in 2012 and resulted in 120,000 Rohingya being segregated and indefinitely confined to displacement camps. Some ethnic Rakhine civilians, working closely with Myanmar’s security forces, also participated in atrocities committed against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State during 2017.

The Myanmar government has the primary responsibility to protect its diverse populations without discrimination and regardless of ethnicity or religion. Until all perpetrators of past atrocities are held accountable, the threat of further crimes will continue. The government must ensure that all military operations conducted against the Arakan Army are conducted in strict adherence with International Human Rights Law and do not target civilians. The government must also take proximate steps towards building a more inclusive society in which the human rights of all of Myanmar’s diverse populations are protected.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights says crimes against humanity committed in Nicaragua

On 21 December the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, expressed alarm at the deteriorating political situation in Nicaragua, and warned that “there are now virtually no functioning independent human rights bodies left” in the country. In their final report, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts, mandated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), stated that potential crimes against humanity have been committed by Nicaraguan state authorities in their attempts to suppress widespread protests that began in April 2018.

The Group of Experts report concluded that under the direction of President Daniel Ortega, various state institutions, the security forces, and pro-government armed militias pursued a strategy of intimidation and persecution of perceived government critics. Tactics have included extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detention and the excessive use of force against protesters. More than 322 people have been killed since demonstrations began, and at least 565 individuals remain in detention.

One day prior to the report’s release on 20 December, President Ortega expelled both the Group of Experts and the IACHR Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua. Earlier in December the government shut down nine local civil society organisations as well as independent media outlets, and arrested a number of journalists on charges of “terrorism.”

In cooperation with the Organization of American States (OAS) and the UN, the government of Nicaragua must take immediate steps to end the human rights crisis in the country. The government should immediately demobilise all pro-government paramilitaries and must ensure that its treatment of political detainees complies with international law.

All deaths and human rights violations resulting from protests and political violence should be independently investigated and those responsible must be held accountable, regardless of their position or political affiliation. OAS member states and the broader international community should impose targeted sanctions on those responsible for potential crimes against humanity in Nicaragua.

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect


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