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A Massacre in South Sudan and the Limits of UN Peacekeeping


It’s a heavy time for South Sudan. Last week, the UN warned of famine should $230 million of donor funds not materialize before the rainy season begins next month. Now, there is word of a massacre of hundreds of civilians in the city of Benitu, an oil town.

A rebel contingent, known as SPLA in Opposition, captured the city on Tuesday. They began systematically targeting certain ethnicities, including members of their own ethnic group whom they deemed not sufficiently supportive. A grim press release from the UN Mission in South Sudan details what happened next.

At Bentiu Hospital, on 15 April, several Nuer men, women and children were killed for hiding and  declining to join other Nuers who had gone out to cheer the SPLA in Opposition forces as they  entered the town. Individuals from other South Sudanese communities, as well as Darfuris, were specifically targeted and killed at the hospital. On the same day, the SPLA in Opposition forces  entered the Kali-Ballee Mosque where civilians had taken shelter, separated individuals of certain  nationalities and ethnic groups and escorted them to safety, while the others were killed. More than  200 civilians were reportedly killed and over 400 wounded at the Mosque. At the Catholic church  and at the vacated WFP compound, SPLA in Opposition soldiers similarly asked civilians who had  taken refuge there to identify their ethnic origins and nationalities and proceeded to target and kill  several individuals.

Many of those who survived this assault have taken refuge at a nearby UN base, which has become a de-facto IDP camp. There are now over 22,000 people sheltering at the UN camp in Benitu.

Toby Lanzer, a top UN official in South Sudan, documented an endless stream of humanity as they fled to relative safety of the UN compound.

I say ‘relative’ safety, because even in a UN compound there is no guarantee. Last week, in the city of Bor, militia entered the UN compound and opened fire, killing 20 people before they were pushed back by blue helmets.

In all, there are about 8,500 armed UN Peacekeepers in South Sudan–a country the size of Texas. The actual authorized size the peacekeeping mission is 12,500 troops, but countries have so far not provided all the troops the UN has requested. About 75,000 civilians are now sheltering in UN bases throughout the country.

This is clearly a violent and volatile situation. These peacekeepers are outgunned and out numbered. The massacre in Benitu on Tuesday shows that peacekeepers are unable to prevent attacks on civilians outside the base. The assault on the UN compound in Bor last week calls into question UN Peacekeepers’ ability to deter attacks on civilians huddled inside their bases.

These 8,500 troops clearly cannot impose a peace. They are too few, for too large a territory, with foes apparently determined to wage war on civilian populations. If the international community is serious about preventing a slaughter in South Sudan, they need to step up and provide the UN the tools it requires to protect civilians. This includes more troops, more equipment and funding for a humanitarian operation to stave off a famine. Deeper still, countries with influence in the region need to use their muscle and compel the warring factions to negotiate a political settlement to this conflict.  As it stands, the situation is just getting worse by the day.

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Top of the Morning: Famine Looms in South Sudan

Top stories from DAWNS Digest

Famine Looms in South Sudan…It is planting season in South Sudan, and the areas of the country with the worst fighting also happen to be its breadbasket. The Details: “The UN estimates that a third of the country of 11 million are facing starvation unless farmers can plant a critical round of crops before the annual rains hit in May. Experts believe as many as 50,000 children could die. It would be the most devastating famine anywhere in 30 years.” What can be done?  $230 million, over the next two months is  what the UN and international partners need to stave off full blown famine. But so far, donors have not ponied up. Deeper Dive: National Geographic

The Ebola virus has claimed 61 lives in Guinea out of 109 laboratory-confirmed cases since January, the government said. (AFP

Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu warned Sunday that the Central African Republic was “on the brink of genocide”, as he urged warring sides to reconcile their differences and “re-learn to live together.” (AFP

Carlyle this week became one of the first major private equity players to launch a dedicated sub-Saharan Africa fund, underscoring the growing investor interest in the continent’s growing middle class. (AFP

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Why We Should Be Paying Attention to Elections in Burkina Faso

Since he took power during a coup in 1987, Blaise Compaore has been the president of Burkina Faso. An influential regional player and recognized as an ally by Western nations in the Sahel, Compaore has enjoyed nearly 30 years of uninterrupted rule. The scheduled presidential elections in 2015, however, are to be a test of Compaore’s respect for democracy and his country’s constitution. Indeed, in 2000, a constitutional amendment was enacted to limit heads of state to two terms of five years each. In 2010, Compaore clinched his second – and, technically, last – term with 81% of the vote.

Recently, however, Compaore and his ruling party, Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), have been setting the stage to modify the constitution to allow Compaore to run again for the presidency next year. This move has led to mass defections from the party, and the establishment earlier this year of a new opposition group, the Movement of People for Progress (MPP), with powerful ex-CDP figures at the helm. Demonstrations in support of and against Compaore and his bid to seek another term as president have been held with increasing frequency, contributing to further polarization in Burkinabe politics. Last week, CDP supporters gathered in Burkina’s second largest city to collectively call for a referendum on whether article 37 of the constitution – which sets the two-term limit for the head of state – should be modified. The message has been reinforced by party leaders, and a popular rally was held yesterday, which organizers estimate 50,000 people participated in.

Signaling the regional significance of the intensifying political crisis in Burkina Faso, Ivoirian president Alassane Ouattara has recently been brokering discussions between Compaore and his former party cadres, now leading the MPP. Compaore, over the years, has established a reputation as an influential power broker in the region, facilitating negotiations in neighboring countries, such as Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, or Guinea. His move to run for the presidency again is shaking Burkina Faso’s stable foundations in an unprecedented manner, meriting the intervention of another regional leader.

Notwithstanding his non-democratic beginnings and his relationships with leaders such as Liberia’s Charles Taylor and Lybia’s Qaddafi, Compaore has made himself – and his country – lynchpins in regional stability. He is routinely called upon to help mediate disputes, including in Mali where he helped broker a peace agreement with Touareg rebels and the the government in Bamako last year.

Burkina Faso, despite ranking 183rd of 187 countries on the UN Human Development Index in 2013, has enjoyed relative peace and stability for many years under Compaore’s rule. In the next few months, leading up to the 2015 election, we will see whether Burkinabe democracy can withstand Compaore’s efforts to modify the constitution.


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A South African Corruption Controversy that Could Sink the ANC

Could an embezzlement scandal end the famed-Africa National Congress’ 20-year hold over South African politics?

South African President Jacob Zuma faces controversy after a public prosecutor reported he spent 246 million rand in public funds— close to $25 million— on a swimming pool, cattle enclosure, amphitheater and other improvements to his Nkandla estate.  Public prosecutor Thuli Madonsela’s 444 page report accuses Zuma of “benefitting unduly” from the improvements in a manner which was “unconscionable, excessive and caused a misappropriation of public funds.”

As South Africa’s May 7 elections approach, the corruption scandal threatens to end or damage Zuma’s African National Congress party’s political dominance since the end of apartheid. Though South Africa sits in the middle of the pack in corruption rankings worldwide, Zuma’s actions may turn voters against the longtime majority ANC and towards other parties. The opposition Democratic Alliance party has already targeted the issue, sending an anti-Zuma text message to 1.5 million voters in the Gauteng providence. The ANC lost a court case against the message, which read, “The Nkandla Report shows how Zuma stole your money to build his R246m home.”

Zuma’s Nkandla compound in the KwaZulu-Natal providence recently underwent renovations including a pool, performing arts amphitheater, chicken coop, cattle pen, clinic and visitor center. In the public prosecutor’s report, entitled “Secure in Comfort,” she alleges the renovations were classified as “security improvements” and the pool as a piece of  “firefighting equipment” to justify the public expense. Prosecutor Madonsela recommended Zuma repay a “reasonable percentage of the cost” of the improvements, which totaled over eight times the expense of security improvements to two of President Nelson Mandela’s residences.

In addition, the report contends Nkandla construction funds were diverted from inner-city service programs, while public works ministers gave incorrect information about the renovations. “Due to lack of proper demand management and planning,” Madonsela wrote, “service delivery programs of the Department of Public Works were negatively affected.”

Zuma, however, recently responded in a television interview that he did not know of the renovations and has written that the report was “tainted by a lack of proper procedure.” Zuma said a cabinet investigation cleared him of misdeeds and will wait for a third report from South Africa’s anti-corruption Special Investigation Unit at the end of the month.

Madonsela’s report shows South Africa has the institutions necessary to expose government corruption, but Zuma must not be allowed to evade any financial responsibility for his actions, lest South Africa becomes a display of how national leaders can steal with impunity. Depending on outcome of the Special Investigation Unit report and the May elections, the ANC may want to start looking for a new president.

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Top of the Morning: Militia Attacks UN Base in South Sudan

Top stories from DAWNS Digest

Militants attack UN Base Sheltering IDPs in South Sudan…There are about 70,000 IDPs who have sought refuge inside UN compounds since fighting erupted in South Sudan late last year. Yesterday, one of the compounds was assaulted by a militia group, resulting in two deaths. Who is this group?The White Army, a youth militia band loosely aligned with the South Sudan’s rebel leader Riek Machar.What Happened? ‘The U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said in a statement that an armed mob forced entry to the U.N. compound in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, and “opened fire on the internally displaced persons sheltering inside the base.” Why Bor?  It’s a hotly contested town in an oil producing region. The city has changed hands several times in the fighting, with civilians caught in the middle.Deeper Dive: VOA

Free At Last!  Five aid workers, including four with the International Federation of the Red Cross/Red Crescent, who were kidnapped in northern Mali were rescued in a daring pre-dawn raid by French special forces.

Polio Alert: After being free of polio for nearly 15 years, Equatorial Guinea has two cases of the disease. (NPR


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Ukraine Calls in the International Criminal Court

The International Criminal Court may set its sights on Ukraine.

The ICC’s registrar has just accepted a request from the government of Ukraine that grants the ICC jurisdiction to investigate alleged crimes committed on its territory between November 21, 2013 and February 22 2014. Ukraine is not a member of the International Criminal Court, but according to the ICC’s bylaws, a government can invite the court to investigate alleged crimes on an ad hoc basis. This is what happened today.

So does this mean that those responsible for the deaths of hundreds of protestors may wind up in The Hague? Not quite. It is now up to the prosecutor to decide whether or not this situation warrants the attention of her office. To that end, prosecutor Fatou Bensouda must consider whether the information available to her “establishes reasonable basis to open an investigation.” If not, the prosecutor can simply decline to take the case.  If so, she has to convince a judge to issue warrants or summonses to the accused. This process can take a long time.

The prosecutor — theoretically, at least — should be driven exclusively by evidence and law, and definitely not politics. If the evidence leads to an investigation, and if that investigation leads to arrest warrants, then so be it. The geopolitics of the consequences of an investigation are not really the prosecutor’s concern.

But the politics of this are interesting! There are currently eight situations before the court: Darfur, Uganda, Libya, Mali, CAR, DRC, Cote D’Ivoire, and Kenya. Notice a pattern? So do the court’s detractors, which accuse it of being a European-based court that only goes after Africans. For the prosecutor, this is sort of a golden opportunity to open a case outside of Africa and prove the critics wrong.

On the other hand, the geopolitics of this particularly situation are sort of fraught.  The court’s core political and financial support comes from Western Europe, which probably would not mind seeing the ICC take on this case.  Russia and the USA are not members of the court — though under the Obama administration, the USA has cooperated with the court and supported its work. Russia has been fairly indifferent to the ICC.

The fact that the Ukrainian government requested the ICC investigation suggests that they believe the investigation could lead to the arrest or indictment of pro-Russian (or even Russian) leaders.  The thing is, the ICC has no police force. It relies on governments to arrest and extradite suspects. If the ICC hands down warrants, one would imagine that the suspects would flee to Russia. And if that happens, the ICC would be in the very unenviable position of having a member of the UN Security Council harboring fugitives.

Such a scenario is not implausible. It would also be a disaster for the ICC, which relies on the very same Security Council to help compel countries like Sudan and Libya to turn over suspects and cooperate with the court.  One would imagine that Russia’s relationship with the ICC would go from indifferent to hostile. That would undermine the court’s work around the world.


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