On 20 September the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Venezuela released its third report, which implicated President Nicolás Maduro, as well as other high-level individuals, in potential crimes against humanity. The FFM investigated chains of command within the country’s military and civilian intelligence services – the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence and the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service – finding that both institutions “function as well-coordinated and effective structures in the implementation of a plan orchestrated at the highest levels of the government to repress dissent through crimes against humanity.”
In 2020 the FFM detailed patterns of violations and abuses, including extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detentions, short-term enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment and sexual violence committed by Venezuelan security forces and intelligence services since at least 2014 as part of a “widespread and systematic attack” against the civilian population. The latest report concluded that these violations and abuses continue to occur and that “the same structures, dynamics and practices remain in place.” In 2021 the FFM detailed how the domestic justice system perpetuates pervasive impunity for these crimes.
The FFM also investigated abuses in Venezuela’s gold mining region, Arco Minero del Orinoco, where state agents and armed criminal groups have allegedly committed killings, sexual and gender-based violence, torture, corporal punishment and disappearances, including against indigenous populations. The FFM warned of continued persecution against human rights defenders reporting on the multidimensional crisis.
Next week the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) will decide on a draft resolution – led by Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala and Paraguay – that aims to renew the FFM and mandate that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights continue to ensure ongoing investigations, public reporting and formal debates on the situation of human rights in Venezuela. This follows a joint civil society call by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and 124 other organizations requesting ongoing international scrutiny into crimes against humanity in Venezuela.
In light of the FFM’s recent findings, HRC member states must actively support this initiative and, in the likely event that a vote is called, vote in favor of the draft text. Elisabeth Pramendorfer, Senior Human Rights Officer at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said that, “with no domestic institutions to turn to for accountability, justice and redress, the FFM plays a crucial role in shedding light on what has happened to victims, their families and loved ones, and contributes to advancing international justice proceedings for ongoing atrocity crimes in Venezuela.”
On 28 September 2009 Guinean security forces attacked peaceful demonstrators who had gathered in Conakry stadium, perpetrating violence that resulted in the massacre of at least 157 people, as well as over 1,200 injuries and more than 100 women raped. Earlier today, on the 13th anniversary of the incident, a court in Guinea opened the long-delayed trial of alleged perpetrators of the 2009 stadium massacre. Eleven men, including former junta leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara and several former high-ranking members of his government, will stand trial.
The deadly incident occurred when opposition supporters organized a demonstration to contest Camara’s reported intention to break his promise to cede power to civilian rule in the January 2010 elections. During the peaceful protests, security forces blocked exits to the stadium and opened fire on the crowd. Some security forces also committed widespread sexual violence, with evidence of many women having been gang raped.
In the immediate aftermath of the stadium massacre, the UN established a Commission of Inquiry that subsequently concluded that the crimes perpetrated were part of a “widespread and systematic attack” that could be described as crimes against humanity. The Commission’s report indicated that members of Camara’s National Council for Democracy and Development had prior knowledge of the planned demonstration and had incited the armed forces to commit violence against civilians. A national commission of inquiry also confirmed that killings, rapes and enforced disappearances had occurred.
The trial will provide long-awaited justice for victims and survivors. A group of Guinean judges began an investigation into the incident in February 2010, and after years of interviews with victims and witnesses, charged 13 suspects with responsibility for crimes perpetrated at the stadium. Despite this, a culture of impunity, insufficient financial and material support for the judicial process, and numerous government transitions, including a September 2021 coup, delayed the opening of a trial. Justice Minister Charles Alphonse Wright said that he hopes that the trial “will revisit our history, our past, that we all emerge from this trial with a new vision of our Guinea.”
As the trial proceeds, it must be carried out in a credible manner, in accordance with international legal standards, and adequate security assurances should be provided so that survivors and the families of victims can participate fully. Jaclyn Streitfeld-Hall, Director of Policy and Research at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said that, “while the trial is an important step in achieving accountability and reconciliation for the crimes perpetrated in 2009, Guinea continues to need urgent reforms to safeguard human rights – including the right to peaceful assembly – and combat impunity for all violations against populations.”
Since August inter-communal clashes have intensified in the Maï-Ndombe province, north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) capital, Kinshasa, between the Teke and Yaka ethnic communities. Amidst the violence, people have been chased and killed, hundreds of homes and villages torched and roadblocks established to catch perceived enemies. Local sources have alleged that individuals have also faced arrests and “inhuman treatment.” In mid-September Adolphe Muzito, an emissary dispatched by President Félix Tshisekedi to examine “the profound causes of the conflict,” estimated that 80 percent of the villages in Kwamouth territory, Maï-Ndombe province, had been burnt down. The violence has forcibly displaced at least 21,000 people, including 285 unaccompanied children, who are facing dire humanitarian and protection needs. Schools in parts of Maï-Ndombe have been unable to reopen due to ongoing insecurity.
The violence initially broke out in June – reportedly over the forced collection of taxes on agricultural land use imposed by Teke customary chiefs on “non-natives.” The Teke consider themselves to be “natives” and owners of the villages located along the Congo River whereas the Yaka came to settle afterwards. However, these communities have lived peacefully for decades.
Although appeals for calm by traditional authorities in Kwamouth resulted in a brief reprieve in mid-September, tensions continue to flare and violence has spread to neighboring areas. According to Radio Okapi, a radio managed by the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, approximately 80 people were killed in fighting between 21-22 September in Bibonga, Engweme and Bisiala villages in Kwamouth. Meanwhile, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported that the situation in the town of Bandundu “remains extremely tense” as the violence has started to move eastwards to Bagata territory. Dr. Dieya Papy, medical officer in MSF’s emergency team, said, “we saw with our own eyes villages burned down and people massacred, in a very worrying pattern of attacks and revenge attacks.”
Authorities should refrain from aggravating the situation further and address the ongoing risk of violent reprisals, including by arresting and punishing those responsible for inciting, ordering or committing massacres and possible atrocities since June. Traditional leaders must engage in inter-communal dialogue between the Teke and Yaka and mediate an end to the ongoing conflict. Those who have taken up arms should lay down their weapons and engage in dialogue to reestablish peaceful coexistence.
Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
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