MONUSCO

This week in conflict… October 23rd-29th, 2010

World

  • Vincenc Fisas of the School for a Culture of Peace released his report on the progress of peace processes in the third quarter of 2010. Sudan, Chad, the Western Sahara, Myanmar talks with the NLD, China-Tibet talks, Israeli-Palestinian talks and Yemen were all listed as progressing poorly in their respective peace processes.
  • Negotiators are working on a treaty to share genetic resources between countries and companies, a step that could unlock billions of dollars for developing nations from drug, agri-resources and cosmetic firms. The access and benefit-sharing protocol aims to create a legal framework that would give nations much better control over their natural resources that can lead to potentially valuable discoveries.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report for 2010 came out this week. The report increased this year to cover 134 countries, up from only 115 countries in 2006 and considers factors such as gender dimension in economic participation and opportunities, educational attainment, access to basic and higher education, and political empowerment.
  • The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced the launch of a training programme to help war-torn countries and those vulnerable to disputes over the use of natural resources prevent strife. UNEP research suggests that natural resource disputes account for some 40% of the world’s internal conflicts. Training will begin in four countries, Timor-Leste, Liberia, Peru and Guinea, next year.
  • Transparency International released its annual report on Tuesday on corruption and transparency. Somalia was listed as the most corrupt country in the world, followed by Afghanistan, Myanmar/Burma and Iraq. Nearly three quarters of the 178 countries fell below an index score of 5 on a scale where 0 is the most corrupt and 10 is the least.

Africa

  • French President Sarkozy announced on Saturday that it was a “scandal” that Africa has no permanent seat on the UN Security Council, considering they collectively have one billion inhabitants and make up 27% of the UN Membership. Sarkozy also supported places for India, South America, Japan and Germany in the UNSC.
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to the international community on Saturday to find sustainable ways of supporting the African Union’s peacekeeping initiatives. Ban called for the same level of support as similar UN missions, including reimbursement of staff, saying that their current limited resources are troubling the peacekeeping efforts in places like Sudan and Somalia.
  • Twelve people were killed in fierce fighting between a pro-government militia and an insurgent group in Mogadishu, Somalia on Saturday. A separate attack killed at least 5 people after al-Shabaab attacked the presidential palace, Villa Somalia. Al-Shabaab publicly executed two young girls aged 15-17 years old on Friday in front of a crowd of some hundred residents after accusing them of spying. Recent fighting near the Kenyan border is said to have displaced some 60,000 people.
  • Cote D’Ivoire has so far deployed less than a fifth of the 8,000 troops needed to secure this coming weekend’s election. While the run-up to the poll has been generally peaceful, clashes erupted between rival candidates’ supporters in some towns over the weekend. The UN has sent an extra 500 peacekeepers ahead of Sunday’s election, bringing their numbers up to 8,000 soldiers and 1,500 police.
  • The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel group in Darfur announced on Sunday that it was ready to start discussions with international mediators in the peace process. JEM previously walked out of talks in Qatar in May claiming Sudan’s government had broken a ceasefire. A meeting on the Abyei referendum has been postponed indefinitely, after delegates from the National Congress Party and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement failed to agree on who can participate. It was announced on Wednesday that Southern Sudan has prepared to offer the north a financial package to soften the blow of secession if it agrees to allow southern annexation of the Abyei region. Several children under the age of 18 face the death penalty following their sentencing of special courts in Darfur in contradiction to international laws, which Sudan is party to.
  • The Nigerian rebel group Boko Haram attacked a police station on Sunday in Yobe, Nigeria. The rebels are said to have firebombed the police station, which led to a gun fight that killed at least one person. On Sunday morning, 3 soldiers and 13 civilians were killed in a clash between two neighbouring communities over ownership of portions of an oil palm plantation located at their border. Nigerian security forces intercepted 13 containers of arms and ammunition including rocket launchers, cartridges and hand grenades at the airport on Wednesday.The containers were suspected to have been shipped from Iran but were later determined to have originated in India. Six women and children were killed in Jos on Tuesday after attackers invaded a village.
  • Freedom of the press is in jeopardy in Egypt leading up the parliamentary elections, with a string of firings and resignations that removed most of the prominent government critics from their positions. At least four private TV channels were closed in the past week, two others were issued warnings for content violations and the opposition is claiming that Egyptian state TV has refused to air their ads and print shops are refusing to print their campaign literature.
  • The Presidential run-off elections in Guinea were delayed indefinitely, resulting in a weekend of looting and rioting. The election was postponed on Friday, just two days before the election, in the third delay to the run-off since September. Human Rights Watch on Tuesday accused the Guinean security forces of using excessive force in clashes with demonstrators over the delayed elections which killed at least one person. On Wednesday it was announced that the run-off would be postponed until November 7th. Thousands of Guineans from the Peul ethnic group were forced to flee their homes in ethnic clashes following rumours that Peul businessmen tried to serve tainted water sachets at a political rally last Friday.
  • Around 50 rebels suspected to be from a Mai Mai militia group attacked a peacekeeping base in eastern Congo over the weekend, which resulted in the death of 8 assailants. The MONUSCO peacekeepers fired back on their attackers, following their rules of engagement in hostile environments. Angola deported nearly 200 Congolese citizens this week, prompting fears of a new wave of mass expulsions that saw tens of thousands displaced last year. The deported are said to come completely stripped, without clothing or even shoes, and several are injured. It was later reported that at least 30 of the deported women were kept as prisoners in a dungeon-like structure and gang-raped over several weeks at the border only to be left naked in the bush. Many men in the group were also brutalized, and at least three people were killed in the journey.
  • Human Rights Watch reported on Monday that Morocco routinely holds suspected militants in secret detention centres where they risk being coerced into making false confessions. The Moroccan government rejected the allegations.
  • Rwanda has charged the President’s main political opponent Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza with forming a terrorist organization with an aim of causing state insecurity. Ingabire has plead not guilty to all charges.
  • Two newspapers in Tanzania face being banned or deregistered for allegedly publishing material that could tarnish the government or country’s reputation. They have also been told them must stop publishing “negative articles” sent to the paper.

Asia

  • At least 10 alleged insurgents were killed after military helicopter gunships attacked the hideouts of Islamist militants in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday. On Sunday, military helicopter gunships attacked militant positions in the northwest, allegedly killing 13 insurgents and destroying four hideouts. On Monday, at least six people, all civilians, were killed in a bomb blast at a Sufi Muslim shrine in central Pakistan; two gunmen on a motorcycle killed a pro-Taliban politician outside his house in the southwest; and three labourers were killed in an attack by masked gunmen in Kohlu. On Tuesday, Islamist militants allegedly attacked a paramilitary checkpoint killing one soldier and at least five militants. On Wednesday, a pair of suspected US drone strikes killed at least 5 militants in northwest Pakistan; a roadside blast near a police van killed two policemen and one civilian in Quetta; and a bomb planted in a motorcycle wounded seven people in the north west. On Thursday, US missile strikes killed another seven suspected militants near the Afghan border; gunmen attacked a Japanese consular vehicle wounding two employees; a roadside blast killed on soldier and wounded five others in Kalaya; and militants cut the throats of three tribesmen and dumped their bodies on a roadside in Ghalanai.
  • Six Indian police were killed by a roadside bomb allegedly planted by Maoist rebels in the east of the country on Saturday. Officials claim the attack was aimed to disrupt the month-long polling process to elect a new government that began last Thursday.
  • Thousands of protesters were dispersed by Bangladeshi police using rubber bullets and teargas on Saturday, injuring some 50 people. Protesters are demonstrating against plans to acquire 1,000 acres of land for housing projects for the army.
  • Security forces in Myanmar/Burma have arrested five men accused of plotting to bomb public places, including an international airport on Wednesday. Investigators claim the insurgents had stockpiled explosives to plant bombs in three major cities in an attempt to derail next month’s election.
  • Two Kyrgyz politicians accused of planning mass disorder and attempting to overthrow the government in May of this year made their first court appearance on Monday. The two maintain that the charges are “absolutely groundless”. The leader of a nationalist party claimed on Monday that he was injured in an assassination attempt when some 50 men attacked his home in Bishkek. On Wednesday, a group of unknown assailants opened fire on a group of policemen, killing two and severely wounded another.
  • A Vietnamese blogger was arrested this week for allegedly defaming a senior Communist Party official and his family. Her arrest follows an increase in arrests in recent weeks of bloggers who criticize the government.
  • Human Rights Watch reported on Tuesday that freedom of the press is under attack in Azerbaijan, as the government is using criminal laws and violent attacks to silence dissenting journalists. Dozens of journalists have been prosecuted on criminal and civil defamation and other criminal charges while police have carried out physical attacks to deliberately interfere with journalist’s efforts to investigate issues of public interest. Opposition candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections have accused authorities of preparing to fix the elections by barring candidates, censoring the media and limiting the right to campaign.
  • On Saturday, four suicide bombers dressed as police and women attacked the main UN compound in the western Herat province in Afghanistan; a Danish soldier was killed in a gunfight in the Helmand province; an ISAF service member was killed by a homemade bomb in the east; Afghan officials accused NATO troops of killing two schoolboys after a patrol came under fire by Taliban insurgents; and a suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed one civilian. On Sunday, a NATO-ISAF soldier was killed in an insurgent attack in Afghanistan; Afghan and ISAF forces killed several insurgents in an air strike and rocket fire after a foot patrol came under attack; and several insurgents were reportedly killed by an air strike in Helmand province. On Monday, Afghan forces and NATO troops killed at least 15 alleged insurgents in a raid and air strike in Helmand province; a suicide bomber detonated explosives at an Afghan checkpoint in the southeast, killing three people; two civilians were killed when their motorcycle hit an anti-vehicle landmine in the road in Helmand province; a suicide bomber killed himself near a foreign troop convoy north of Kabul; Afghan and coalition forces killed a Taliban commander and two other alleged insurgents in an overnight right in the east; and Afghan and coalition forces killed two alleged insurgents in the west. On Tuesday, a roadside bomb killed four Afghan police in western Herat; NATO forces are said to have captured a Taliban leader in Logar; and ISAF said it killed more than five insurgents in an air strike in Helmand province. On Wednesday, a NATO service member was killed by a homemade bomb in Kabul; and Afghan and foreign forces killed several insurgents during an overnight operation targeting a Taliban commander in Baghlan. On Thursday, an improvised bomb explosion killed a NATO service member in Kabul; more than 10 suspected insurgents were captured in three operations in Kabul; and an ISAF air strike is said to have killed one suspected insurgent in the east. On Friday, more than 20 insurgents were killed in an air attack by the NATO led ISAF in Kandahar; two insurgents were killed in a NATO air strike in the south; and several insurgents were killed in an overnight operation to capture a Taliban commander in the southeast. Also this week, an Afghan refugee woman who was trying to cross the border into Iran with her four children was shot dead by Iranian border guards. The US military has been securing a vast database of biometric information of Afghans living in the southern and eastern parts of the country. They are said to have information on over 800,000 people.
  • The US has made plans to build a $12.6 billion dollar super military base in Guam in an attempt to contain China’s military build-up. The Environmental Protection Agency fears that the influx of 19,000 Marines into a population of only 173,000 could trigger some serious water shortages, and that the dredging of the harbour to allow an aircraft carrier to berth would damage 71 acres of pristine coral reefs.
  • A fire destroyed the Islamic Resistance Party’s (IRP) cultural center, widely known as the “women’s mosque” in Tajikistan on Saturday. The IRP does not think the fire is accidental, as the center served as the only mosque in Tajikistan that allowed women to pray alongside men, following the ban of women from attending mosque prayers in 2004 by religious authorities in the region.
  • UN funding has been found to be used to run a brutal internment camp for the destitute in Cambodia, where detainees are held for months without trial, raped and beaten, sometimes to death. The so-called “social affairs centre”, that is officially described as offering education and healthcare to vulnerable people is said to actually be an illegal, clandestine prison for “undesirables”, such as drug users, sex workers and the homeless. Cambodia’s ministry of social affairs has previously denied all allegations of abuse, saying that the centre offers rehabilitation and vocational training.
  • South Korea sent its first shipment of rice aid to North Korea in more than two years on Monday and announced it would consider holding monthly talks with the North if it was committed to denuclearization. South Korean media also reported that the US and South Korean military had postponed their latest military drills in the Yellow Sea to avoid creating problems with China and North Korea ahead of the G20 summit. On Friday it was announced that North Korean troops had fired across the heavily armed border into South Korea, whose soldiers fired back.

Central and North Americas

  • A series of suspected computer problems is said to have taken 50 of America’s 450 nuclear intercontinental missiles (ICBMs) off-line for a short period. Reports say sabotage or a computer virus has been ruled out, and that the missiles could still have been launched in an emergency, despite the nearly hour long communications break. US officials arrested a Pakistani-American man for plotting a series of bomb attacks on Washington’s subway system on Wednesday. The man is suspected to have ties to al-Qaeda. Washington DC experienced more shooting of military buildings this week, as several shots were fired into the Marine Corps museum on Friday. Investigators believe that this recent shooting is linked to the two previous shootings, one at a Marine Corps recruiting station and another at the Pentagon.
  • Thirteen people were gunned down at a drug rehabilitation clinic in Tijuana on Sunday just days after another 14 people were killed at a party in Ciudad Juarez.  Also on Sunday, three bystanders were killed in the cross-fire between suspected drug hitmen and federal police in Saltillo. On Wednesday, a group of suspected drug hitmen shot and killed at least 13 people at a car wash in western Mexico. Seven other people were mowed down in the street, four factory workers were killed on a bus and nine police officers were killed in an ambush on Thursday.

South America

  • Former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner died of a heart attack on Wednesday. Kirchner, who was succeeded by his wife as president in 2007, was expected to run in the 2011 Presidential elections. 
  • I am still looking for some suggestions of reliable news sources for South America that are available in English. If you have any suggestions, please write them in the comments below or email us at apeaceofconflict@gmail.com. Thanks!

Middle East

  • The start of the olive season in Israel/Palestine has been wrought with conflict, as Palestinians blame Israeli settlers of chopping down, burning or stealing their fruit and trees and attacking farmers who try to harvest. Damage was also said to have been done to some Israeli properties. On Monday, Israel’s hardlined Foreign Minister commissioned a report on how the country will prepare for a nuclear-armed Iran, as well as a plan on possible responses should the Palestinians unilaterally declare a state taking in all of the occupied West Bank. Violent clashes broke out between Palestinian-Israelis and Israeli police following a demonstration by a right-wing Jewish group in northern Israel. Police fired tear gas at a crowd of Palestinian-Israelis who had gathered to protest the march. A huge arms cache bound for Gaza was impounded On Friday in Egypt. The cache was said to contain more than 150 kg of TNT.
  • Bahrain’s parliamentary elections have resulted in the Shia opposition movement winning all the seats it contested, and emerging as the single largest group in a political system dominated by the Sunni minority monarchy. Al-Wifaq won 18 out of 40 seats in the chamber of deputies, while 13 were won by Sunni candidates loyal to the government, with another nine to be fought out next week in the second round.
  • Whistleblowing website WikiLeaks released nearly 400,000 classified US files on the Iraq war, detailing instances of prisoner abuse and torture that was ignored by the US military. The files revealed a shocking scale of breach of international law by American soldiers, such as the shooting of men trying to surrender, the private security firm abuses and murders, and showing a significant raise in the official civilian death tolls, among other things. On Saturday, a sticky bomb attacked to a car wounded a driver in Baghdad; gunmen attacked a police checkpoint in southern Baghdad, wounding three people; and a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi checkpoint wounded six soldiers and one officer in Abu Ghraib. On Sunday, a former Iraqi intelligence officer died after Iraqi army soldiers raided his home southeast of Mosul; and a car bomb exploded inside a public hospital complex, killing two civilians and wounding 19 others in Mosul. On Monday, a gunmen in a speeding car shot an employee of the Electricity Ministry in Baghdad; and a sticky bomb attached to the car of a Defense Ministry employee wounded him and two bystanders in south Baghdad. On Tuesday, a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol killed six workers north of Baghdad; two roadside bomb attacks killed one civilian and wounded another civilian in eastern Mosul; a roadside bomb targeting a deputy minister wounded two bodyguards and two bystanders in central Baghdad; and one person was wounded in a sticky bomb attack on a car in Baghdad. On Wednesday, a roadside bomb killed the head of Jalawa’s criminal investigation unit and three of his bodyguards; a sticky bomb on a car wounded two off-duty policemen in Jalawla; a bomb attached to a truck killed the driver and wounded four others in Baghdad; another bomb in Baghdad killed two guards and wounded four bystanders; a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol wounded three people in Abu Ghraib; and at least three people were wounded when a bomb exploded in Kirkuk. On Thursday, a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi police patrol wounded three policemen in Mosul; a sticky bomb on a car in Basra wounded a South Oil Company employee; a sticky bomb on a car killed a police colonel in Baghdad; a sticky bomb on a car wounded a police brigadier general in Baghdad; another sticky bomb on a car wounded a Housing and Construction Ministry employee in Baghdad; a suicide bomber targeting a federal police base killed a policeman and wounded eight others in Mosul; and one civilian was killed and two others wounded in a car bomb explosion in Baghdad.
  • Security forces in Yemen announced on Saturday that they have foiled a planned attack on “vital installations” ahead of the 20th Gulf Football Cup in Aden. A man was arrested with 1,800g of dynamite along with 7 suspected accomplices. On Tuesday, 15 Yemenis suspected of belonging to al Qaeda allegedly turned themselves in to authorities after negotiations. On Wednesday, Shi’ite northern rebels are said to have killed one man and wounded three others in an ambush, and on Friday two rebels and one pro-government tribesman were killed in clashes between rebels and government aligned tribes.
  • Iran has sentenced an Iranian journalist who worked for a banned pro-opposition newspaper to one year in prison for writing anti-government articles. Masoud Bastani is just one of thousands who were arrested and jailed following the June 2009 elections.
  • The UN court investigating the 2005 killing of Lebanese statesman al-Hariri was allegedly attacked by a group of people on its way to a pre-arranged meeting. Tensions have escalated in the past few months. Hezbollah called on all Lebanese to boycott the international investigation on Thursday accusing investigators of sending information to Israel.

Europe

  • The Swedish police are investigating a racially motivated gunman following 18 shootings of citizens of ethnic-minority with no known ties to organized crime. Police have warned residents from ethnic-minority groups to take extra care when going out at night.
  • NATO will reduce its troops in Kosovo by half to 5,000 over the next few months. It was announced on Friday that security had improved in the area and that local institutions are increasingly capable of assuming responsibility for security.
  • A policeman was killed in Daghestan when a suicide bomber blew himself up near a police base on Saturday. The attacker was unable to enter the base, as the entrance was blocked by a truck, so he blew himself up outside of it.
  • Mikhail Gorbachev voiced sharp criticism of Russia’s current leaders Medvedev and Putin, accusing them of eroding democracy in the country in an effort for personal power. The Russian military could return to Afghanistan for the first time since being forcibly expelled in 1989 as part of a joint NATO-Russian initiative, including the contribution of Russian helicopters and crews to train Afghan pilots, assistance training Afghan national security forces, increased cooperation on counter-narcotics and border security, and improved transit and supply routes for NATO forces. Russia successfully tested its Bulava nuclear missile on Friday, after seven previous failures, in hopes that the missile will make the cornerstone of its nuclear missile programme.
  • Police and residents clashed this week in Italy over a waste disposal crisis. Hundreds of tons of trash lie uncollected in the streets in Naples and surrounding areas, and daily demonstrations have resulted in violence.
  • Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden has warned France to expect more of its nationals to be kidnapped because of it’s policy in Africa and the ban on the burka and the niqab. Bin Laden stated that “the reason why your security is being threatened..” is that “you intervene in the affairs of Muslims, in north and west Africa in particular”.
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This week in conflict… October 2nd- 8th, 2010.

World

  • The UN called upon governments to expand their efforts to ensure the protection for the world’s 43 million forcibly displaced people in the face of  “never-ending” conflicts that are creating new semi-permanent refugee populations. More than 5.5 million refugees are stuck in protracted situations.
  • China began hosting its first UN climate conference this week aimed at building momentum and finding areas of agreement ahead of the annual summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Climate change is said to highly affect global conflicts. China said at the conference that rich nations must vow greater cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and warned of lost trust in talks, while rich countries accused China of undercutting progress.
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a report on Friday calling for equal participation by women in post-conflict peacebuilding. He laid out a seven-point action plan aimed at changing practices among all actors and improving outcomes on the ground.

Africa

  • At least nine civilians were killed after al-Shabab fighters in Mogadishu, Somalia attacked an African Union’s peacekeeping position on Saturday and another eight were killed on Sunday. On Wednesday it was announced that over 30 people had been killed in the past three days and at least 51 wounded in this continued fighting. Uganda announced it could raise an entire 20,000 troop force for the African Union to defeat Somalia’s Islamist rebels and pacify the country in a statement released on Monday. Uganda’s President has been urging greater urgency in regional and international efforts to stabilize Somalia since the twin bomb blasts that rocked Uganda’s capital in July that were led by the al-Shabab militia. Uganda is also the site for the new UN regional peacekeeping hub for the Great-Lakes region.
  • The UN Security Council traveled to Sudan this week to discuss the scheduled referenda on self-determination. Southern Sudan will vote on whether to secede from the rest of the country on January 9th, while the central area of Abyei will vote on whether to be part of the north or south. Sudanese officials announced on Tuesday that the long-awaited timetable for the referendum has been released, but that unforeseen circumstances could still delay the vote. Voter registration is to start in mid-November, with the final voter list ready by December 31st, leaving just 8 days before the January 9th deadline for the vote. Armed men abducted a civilian peacekeeper in Darfur on Thursday.
  • Ethiopia’s best-known opposition leader was released after five years in jail for treason related to the 2005 election dispute on Wednesday. The move was seen as a placatory gesture by the newly sworn in Prime Minister, who had refused to let her out for the parliamentary elections, in which the ruling party won 99.6% of the seats.
  • Nigeria’s government admitted it was warned of the parade attack last week that killed at least 12 people by foreign agencies and did the best it could to secure the area. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) also suggested that it gave the security forces five days notice of the attacks. South African police invaded the Johannesburg home of the leader of MEND on Saturday, apparently acting on the request of Nigerian authorities who claimed he was stockpiling weapons and re-arming fighters in the Niger Delta region. No weapons were found after a 10 hour search. Nigeria’s secret service detained an aid to one of President Goodluck Jonathan’s election rivals on Monday in connection to the bomb attacks, raising concern over violence in next year’s election polls. The former MEND leader announced that he received a phone call from a “close associate” of Goodluck Jonathan urging him to tell MEND to retract its claim of the bombings, so that they could blame them on northerners who are opposing the President. The next day, the former leader was being described as the main suspect in the bombings. On Wednesday, the Northern Political Leaders Forum declared that President Jonathan should immediately resign from office or they will take take steps to impeach him because he has proved he is incapable of leading the nation justly and fairly, amid another bomb scare. On Friday, inmates at a prison in northeastern Nigeria torched a part of the building, raising fears that a radical Islamic sect, who has many members incarcerated in the jail, are attempting a comeback. The sect previously staged an uprising that resulted in the deaths of hundreds.
  • Guinea’s already postponed runoff presidential elections may be delayed even further due to technical issues such as production and supply of voters’ cards. The originally scheduled September 19th election was delayed because of election violence. On Wednesday, the government announced it will hold the delayed second round on October 24th. On Wednesday, the first place winner of the first round of elections insisted that a run off could only be possible if the “controversial” election commissioner is changed and threatened to boycott the elections if he was not.
  • Suspected al-Qaeda militants killed five Algerian soldiers and wounded another 10 in an attack on their convoy on Saturday. Around 200,000 people have died in the country since violence broke out in the early 1990s between Islamist rebels and government forces.
  • According to a leading survey, governance standards have improved significantly in Angola, Liberia and Togo over the past four years but have decline in Eritrea and Madagascar. Mauritius was revealed as Africa’s best-governed country, while Somalia was listed as the worst-governed nation.
  • The Egyptian Journalists’ Union has accused the government of cracking down on media that is critical of the authorities in advance of an upcoming November parliamentary election. Two popular talk shows were recently closed down.
  • UN peacekeepers say they have captured the rebel commander they accuse of being behind the rape of hundreds of villagers in eastern DR Congo in August on Tuesday. The UN peacekeeping force was largely criticized for failing to prevent the mass rape of over 300 people, which took place just 20 miles from their base. Recent budget cuts to the newly scaled back MONUSCO peacekeeping mission, mean that the mission lacks sufficient helicopter strength to operate effectively in the country’s unstable east. The UN announced that the crisis in the DRC is beyond their capacity. ICC appeals judges ruled on Friday that Thomas Lubanga, accused of war crimes, should not be released and ordered that his trial resume following a two month stay after the prosecutor failed to comply with the trial chamber’s orders.
  • The first of 500 additional UN peacekeeping troops arrived in Cote D’Ivoire on Thursday in advance of the October 31st election. The UN is distributing voter and identity cards across the country.
  • Recent attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has shown that the group has extended its reach to vulnerable communities in the Central African Republic. Four LRA rebels are said to have been killed in a clash on Monday with the UDFR.

Asia

  • Two suspected US missile strikes into northwest Pakistan reportedly killed at least 12 militants on Saturday and another five militants of German nationality were thought to have been killed in drone strikes on Tuesday. On Monday, gunmen attacked seven more fuel tankers in revenge for last week’s NATO incursions into the country, and on Tuesday at least 20 trucks were targeted, resulting in the deaths of at least 3 people. Two Pakistani troops were said to have been killed in the incursion. The attacks continued, with another dozen tankers attacked on Wednesday, resulting in the death of at least one man. On Thursday, two suspected suicide bombers hit a crowded Muslim shrine in Karachi, killing at least 7 people. At least four people were said to have been killed in more NATO drone attacks on Thursday, bringing the death toll from drone attacks to over 150 in the past month alone. On Friday, three drone missiles killed at least five suspected militants, and two soldiers were killed in a roadside blast in the northwest. NATO’s Secretary-General has spoken out against the continued blockage of the main NATO supply routes into Afghanistan by Pakistan, saying that the incursion was “obviously… unintended”. Meanwhile, former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf has decided to form a new political party in an effort to “introduce a new democratic political culture” to his people. An ironic choice of words from a man who led a coup in 1999 to overthrow an elected civilian government because he was fired.
  • Eight private security firms have been disbanded and hundreds of weapons confiscated in Afghanistan as the government moves towards taking full responsibility for the country’s security. Afghanistan is set to take over security from foreign troops by 2014. At least 3 Afghan civilians were killed alongside 17 insurgents in a NATO air strike targeting senior Taliban commanders in the south on Sunday. The US military later apologized for the civilian deaths. At least eight people were killed after two explosions rocked Kandahar on Monday. On Tuesday, an Afghan soldier fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a French and Afghan outpost, but missed the target. The soldier has fled and has yet to be caught. Following the barrage of complaints of election fraud, a provincial head of the Independent Election Commission was arrested on Monday. The officer was accused by candidates and observers of taking bribes in exchange for important election posts. Peace talks were supposedly underway between Taliban reps, Afghan officials and a Pakistani government delegation in Kabul this week aimed at setting the ground for negotiations on ending the Afghan war, although participants denied that the talks involved Afghan and Pakistani officials meeting with the Taliban, calling them instead “brainstorming sessions”.  NATO claimed that a Taliban leader and seven of his associates were killed in an air strike and ground operation on Wednesday, and that the Taliban “shadow governor” of a northwestern province was killed in a separate operation on the same day. On Thursday, a German soldier was killed in a suicide attack in a northern province. On Friday, a British soldier was killed in an explosion in the southern Helmand province and at least 15 people were killed in a separate bomb blast in a mosque in a northern town. Also on Friday, two other ISAF soldiers were killed in two separate incidents in the south; Taliban insurgents burned eight NATO supply trucks and killed six Afghan guards; one senior Taliban commander was captured with four others and one insurgent was killed in Kabul; and Afghan forces killed four suspects in a firefight in Kabul.
  • Police in Bangladesh arrested three militants from the Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in their continuing crackdown on militancy. Police claim that LeT followers have regrouped and are trying to launch fresh attacks.
  • Fiji’s former prime minister Chaudry was arrested on Friday for allegedly violating public emergency regulations that outlawed holding public meetings. Chaudry is thought to be a real contender to overthrow the current military government in the next election. The current President, who seized power in a 2006 coup, imposed the ban and scrapped plans for an election after saying conditions were not right.
  • Three Thai soldiers were killed after an ambush by suspected Muslim separatists in south Thailand on Sunday. The soldiers were said to be patrolling a road near the Malaysian border when gunmen opened fired from a nearby hill. On Tuesday, at least three people were killed after an explosion hit a residential building north of Bangkok. On Wednesday at least four people were said to have been killed in drive-by shootings by separatist rebels in the south.
  • Government troops continued their operations against militants in eastern Tajikistan resulting in the death of four soldiers, a police officer and two insurgents. Meanwhile, official press centres in the area are virtually closed and communication lines remain blocked making it extremely difficult for media representatives to get any information about the ongoing events. In retaliation, Tajik troops killed at least 5 rebels between Monday and Tuesday. On Thursday, a land mine blast killed six soldiers in an operation on the Afghan borders.
  • Police in Sri Lanka have been ordered to arrest activists who put up posters that criticize the President’s backing of a prison term for a former army chief who ran against him. The former army chief, once a national hero, was ordered to serve 30 months for corruption charges. Police have claimed that the order was intended to prevent posters from being placed in prohibited areas.
  • Authorities in Indian Kashmir began scaling down security as part of its efforts to defuse tensions. More than 100 people have been killed since June. Kashmiris remain angry about the widely-hated security law that gives the military sweeping powers to search, arrest or shoot protesters that are still in place.
  • Disturbing pictures of Nepali police carting off ballot boxes in Nepal, following the primary election held among some 80,000 Tibetan exiles to pick candidates for polls for a new parliament-in-exile and prime minister next year, have raised concern of continued repression of political activities by the Chinese. China objects to the election for a government in exile which it does not recognize.
  • The offices of the Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) party in Kyrgyzstan were attacked on Wednesday after some 100 members of two local movements forced their way into the offices. The two movements had staged a protest in Bishkek’s central square early that day. Kyrgyzstan is scheduled to hold an election on Sunday amid fears of increasing violence.
  • South Korea’s defense minister announced that his military would initiate a new and expanded propaganda war if provoked by the North and has reinstalled 11 sets of psychological warfare loudspeakers along the border. The North has warned that if undertaken, it will fire across the border and destroy the loudspeakers. The South also suggested that the North’s nuclear programme has reached an “alarming level” and poses a serious threat to the South. North Korea confirmed on Friday that Kim Jong-Un, Kim Jong-Il’s youngest son will succeed him as the next leader.
  • The announcement of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner angered the Chinese authorities, who see Liu Xiaobo as a criminal. Liu Xiaobo is currently serving time in a Chinese prison for “incitement to subvert state power” and co-authoring Charter 08, a call for democratic reforms in the country. The Chinese warned that awarding Liu the prize would damage Sino-Norwegian relations. Liu is a long-time activist for human rights and democracy.

Central and North America

  • An armed gang kidnapped at least 20 tourists in Mexico on Saturday near the resort city of Acapulco, in what is thought to be the latest bout of drug related violence in the country. On Saturday, assailants tossed a live grenade into a square in Monterrey, injuring 12 people.
  • The controversial and notorious security contractor Blackwater (now renamed Xe) is said to have received a new contract in the $10 billion range. Two former Blackwater employees are currently on trial in the US for murdering civilians in Afghanistan, and in 2008, give Blackwater guards were charged with the deaths of 17 Iraqis civilians, which were ultimately dismissed. The group also has been charged with weapons export violations. The first civilian trial of a Guantanamo Bay detainee was delayed on Wednesday after the judge told prosecutors they could not call their star witness, because they had learned of his identity only through harsh interrogation at a secret CIA camp.
  • The controversial and much protested “Ground Zero mosque” scheduled to be built in New York City turns out not to be a mosque after all, but a multi-faith community centre that includes a gym, playground and childcare area. It’s Muslim prayer area does not even satisfy the stringent requirements for a sanctified mosque.
  • The US State Department issued a travel alert to Europe on Sunday following the threats of a possible terrorist plot in several European countries.
  • The US midterm elections are to become the most expensive in history, and nearly five times as much as the last Presidential election, at an estimated $5 billion. This is the first year in which all donation limits were removed, allowing corporations to get involved.
  • A Canadian army captain convicted of shooting an unarmed Taliban fighter in Afghanistan after a battle avoided a jail term this week and instead will be kicked out of the Canadian forces. The killing has been dubbed a “mercy killing”, citing that the Captain only shot the gravely wounded enemy to end his suffering as he believed he was not going to receive treatment from Afghan forces. Mercy killing is not a defense in Canada. The Supreme Court in Canada ruled on Friday that suspects in serious crimes do not have a right to consult their lawyer during a police interrogation, essentially reversing the Canadian Charter’s right to counsel in specific cases.

South America

  • Ecuador’s President Correa vowed to punish and purge his enemies after last week’s police rebellion. He suggested the axe would also swing towards opposition politicians whom he accused of attempting a coup. Days later, the government agreed to raise the pay of its police and armed forces by $35 million annually, calling the announcement a “coincidence”. Debate has been ensuing over whether the police tried to kill the President during the riots or were simply protesting against pay cuts and conditions. On Wednesday it was announced that at least 46 police officers were detained for their alleged participation in the revolt.
  • Former guerrilla Dilma Rousseff won the first-round Presidential election in the Brazilian  polling with 46.7% of the votes, and will do battle in the October 31st runoff against Social Democrat Jose Serra who won just under 33% of the votes. Green party activist Marina Silva gained far higher than pollsters had expected with 19% of the vote.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales is said to have kneed a political opponent in the groin during a friendly football match of political rivals. A bodyguard of Morales tried to arrest the kneed opponent after the match, but he was quickly ordered to be released by the opposition leader.

Middle East

  • The Palestinian leadership confirmed that it will not return to direct peace negotiations with the Israelis without an extension to the now-expired freeze on settlement construction, a move endorsed by the Arab League. The Israelis have begun deflecting blame for the breakdown of talks, with expectations of the Palestinians “to show some flexibility”. The Syrian President said that the peace talks were only aimed at “bolstering domestic support” for Obama during a meeting with Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Two Israeli soldiers were convicted on Sunday of using a nine-year old Palestinian boy as a human shield during the three-week Gaza war in 2008-9. The soldiers will face prison sentences of up to three years. Israeli paramilitary border police killed a Palestinian on Sunday after he entered East Jerusalem from the occupied West Bank without a permit. On Monday, arsonists, suspected to be radical Israeli settlers, damaged part of a Palestinian mosque in the West Bank, scrawling the word “revenge” in Hebrew on a wall. On Monday, a video of an Israeli soldier dancing around a blindfolded, bound prisoner provoked more anger from Palestinians. The Israeli army condemned the video, calling it an “isolated incident” and opened a criminal investigation on the matter on Tuesday. Many see this as the continued degrading treatment and mentality of the occupier in the country, remembering the degrading photos from an Israeli guard that surfaced on facebook in early August, among others. On Wednesday, Israeli PM Netanyahu announced he would push for legislation requiring all those who want to become Israeli citizens to pledge a loyalty oath to the “nation-state of the Jewish people” in an attempt to win back angry settlers. On Thursday, the Israeli military said it had carried out an air strike in the Gaza Strip against Palestinian militants planning an attack in Israel. Witnesses say the strike targeted a car traveling in the central Gaza Strip. The ICC is being urged to prosecute members of the Israeli defense force for its role in the Gaza flotilla killings, however, Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute, meaning it can only be possible after a reference from the UN Security Council.  On Friday Israel signed a deal with the US to buy $2.75 billion worth of radar-evading Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets. The F-35 is said to be the most-advanced fighter in the world.
  • Hamas announced on Wednesday that it would retaliate against the Western-backed Palestinian Authority if it continued to take actions against their members in the West Bank. The PA has recently been cracking down on Islamist activists, with Hamas claiming that nearly 750 of its activists have been arrested since August 31st. On Friday, Israeli forces killed two senior Hamas militants in the West Bank.
  • Iran has detained several western “spies” it claims were behind the recent cyber attacks on its nuclear programme. The number of jailed students in Iran has been reported to be the highest in decades with over 73 students currently being held in jails over their activism. Student opposition to the government report that the government has been using a new militarization strategy on campuses to stop opposition political activism there. On Thursday, at least four police officers and one bystander were killed after a gunman opened fire on a police patrol in Iran’s Kurdish region. On Friday, Iranian security forces killed two people suspected in Thursday’s attack.
  • Britain’s deputy ambassador to Yemen and her colleagues survived a rocket propelled grenade attack on their car on Wednesday. It is thought that the attack was carried out by al-Qaeda.
  • Tensions have increased in Lebanon and Syria after Syria issued arrest warrants for more than 30 people accused of misleading the investigation into the assassination of Lebanon’s former PM in 2005. Syria’s wanted list includes senior Lebanese judges, politicians and journalists who are said to have been “false witnesses”.
  • Iraq postponed its first full census in more than two decades until December on Sunday to avoid triggering open conflict between Arabs and Kurds locked in a fight over oil-rich land in the north. The survey is crucial because it will determine who has the greatest percentage of the total population in the region, and can therefore claim it as its own under the constitution. Two senior security officials in the north were arrested in connection with a plot to bomb the provincial government building on Sunday. Also on Sunday, gunmen using silenced weapons– increasingly the weapon of choice of insurgents–opened fire on a police checkpoint, killing one policeman in Falluja. At least one person was killed in Baghdad in a roadside bombing that targeted a deputy minister in the Iraqi government on Monday, at least one other person was killed in a separate bombing within the city and at least three people were killed in a bomb attack in Jalawlah. On Wednesday a civilian was wounded in a rocket attack in Kirkuk, while a roadside bomb targeting police patrol in a northern city wounded two policemen. On Friday, armed men in two boats wounded seven security guards when they attacked a prison in Basra, causing a riot in the prison. Also on Friday, a policeman was killed by a sniper in Baghdad.

Europe

  • Russian forces killed as many as five people as they besieged two housing blocks in Daghestan on Saturday in a counterterrorism raid.
  • The leader of Russia’s opposition Yabloko party was detained along with several environmental activists after protesting in the North Caucasus. The protesters were later released by police without charge. Russia announced on Thursday that it had successfully tested a long-range missile seen as a mainstay of its nuclear forces, after a series of failures which had raised doubts about its viability.
  • Roma and other migrants leaving France will soon be required to be fingerprinted, in an attempt to discourage them from coming back to France after being expelled. The fingerprinting is scheduled to begin October 15th, and will include anyone over the age of 12. Nearly a million protesters demonstrated on Saturday, pressing President Sarkozy to drop plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. This was the third day of protests in a month. A French blogger who filmed himself burning a Qur’an and urinating on it to put out the flames will face charges of incitement to religious hatred on Tuesday. He faces up to five years in jail. France’s highest court has approved the law banning full-facial veils in public. In six months time, women wearing the veil will face arrest and a $195 fine or “citizenship lessons”, while a man who forces a woman to wear the veil will be fined $42,000 and serve up to a year in prison.
  • The far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders has gone on trial this week on charges of inciting anti-Muslim hatred. Wilders released a short film in 2008 that denounced the Qur’an as a fascist book, urging Muslims to tear out “hate-filled” passages. Wilders is appealing to have the case dismissed invoking freedom of speech.
  • Bosnians went to the polls on Sunday to vote in general elections. Voters complained that the elections were dominated by issues of nationalism and ethnicity instead of the economy and necessary political reforms. Preliminary election results indicated that the current tripartite government is likely to remain deadlocked over Bosnia’s future, with two of the leaders advocating unity and a third pushing for the country’s breakup. The Bosnian state prosecutor indicted four Bosnian Serb police officers on Thursday on charges of mass killing, detention and torture during the 1992-5 war.
  • Teachers in an eastern Ukrainian city complained this week that the ruling Party of Regions is putting pressure on them, and that it is no longer possible for any to become a school director and not be a member. Many parents of students complain that the Party has started using secondary schools for its election campaign with pictures of the local Party candidate on display.
  • England and France may soon find themselves cooperating defensively on everything from nuclear warheads to transport aircraft, helicopters and aircraft carriers. The two countries are set to hold a summit in three weeks to discuss collaboration.

What to do about blood minerals in the DR Congo.

I  may have spoken too hastily in the past regarding conflict resources in the DR Congo. My rage at the inherent abuse led me to think that boycotting and protesting companies was perhaps the best way to go. I realize now, that I was wrong. Starting with the last steps in the chain is the wrong approach to this problem.

Over the past six years, I have delved into this subject more than any other and have even gone so far as to ban all products for my personal use if I didn’t know EXACTLY where they came from and what effect they had. I still feel comfortable with this personal decision. I have become essentially a non-consumer (except for second hand goods) and I like it that way because I cannot fathom my personal choices causing pain in others and could not live with myself and my luxuries at that expense. As such, I’ve taken to growing almost all of my own food, having friends make me new clothes from reclaimed fabric or hitting the second hand shop and living a pretty austere life away from any new fangled gadgets. I have been mocked by other friends who suggest I now live in the stone age (not quite, I still have many older modern conveniences such as my laptop that I’ve had for the past 8 years– she runs just fine!). Frankly, that doesn’t bother me. I enjoy being connected to what I produce and what I consume. It makes me feel whole, but it’s definitely not a plausible life choice for everyone.

Over the past several months, it has become blatantly clear to me that boycotts will not improve the situation for those in the DR Congo, in fact, it will only make things worse for the people on the ground. Nor will creating a certification-scheme for “fair trade” products to help ban all blood minerals and metals. Lobbying governments or companies will create further awareness on the issue, perhaps bringing much needed funding for Congolese humanitarian projects, but it won’t make the lives of the people any better and it won’t stop conflict resources from flooding the market.

It’s hard for me to admit this, especially since I have so vehemently proposed such things in the past and now feel stupid for doing so. I ask myself, how did I not come to this conclusion earlier? The evidence was all there, I was reading it daily, but these conclusions made me feel helpless. Boycotting and calling the governments and companies to change made me more able to do something about the problem. Again, I feel helpless and feel like I am starting from scratch.

So what can people in North America do?

I still advocate that people should be aware of what they are purchasing. They should know that when they buy luxuries, they are affecting more than just their pocketbook. They should not over-consume, and skyrocket demand for mining and resource extraction that may cause environmental degradation, abuse or suffering. But what can they do directly about the problem?

In a country where corruption is king, and violence rampant– certification schemes are going to be corrupted. One only has to look to the Kimberley Process and the recent problems in Zimbabwe to realize that certifications schemes are not all they are cracked up to be. Until corruption and governance can be stabilized, a certification scheme is out of the question. So should we just ban all such resources from the areas of fighting in the DRC?

Criminalizing imports in an area where the majority of the population is reliant on revenues from mineral exports means that the local economy would experience rapid devaluation of their currency, suddenly making their basic needs completely unaffordable. It will also push illegal trade much further underground, making it much harder to track and people will still be subject to abuse for the sake of minerals. These minerals will still end up in our market, only they will have gotten there through much shadier means.

The new Bill C-300 on the table in Canada will open channels for victims of human rights abuses at the hands of Canadian corporations acting overseas and in theory allow them to have more access to justice. The bill would allow guilty companies to be sanctioned, their support withdrawn from Export Development Canada (EDC), as well as any investment by the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) in their company shares. In practice, however, given the high risk nature and generally small size of extractive companies, they do not generally even receive EDC funding or CPP investment. Mining companies could feel the sanctions, but as the bill is a private member’s bill, it will not likely be receiving the financial resources it needs to adequately make this function-able in the first place. Not to mention that the average person living in the DRC would probably not even be aware of the existence of said bill to even begin to file a complaint. In its current form, the Bill is clearly problematic and will have little effect on the well-being of the affected population.

The American Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 is meant to push companies to report on any minerals used in their products coming from conflict areas and describe the steps they took to ensure the minerals procurement did not support arms groups. All information would be public for citizens so that they could make their purchasing choices accordingly. This will result in essentially boycotting minerals from the DRC since the cost to the companies will increase with their use and people will avoid buying from companies who use potentially conflict-laden materials. Boycotts, as mentioned above, will have devastating effects for the population. The Conflict Minerals Trade Act of 2009 also amounts to a boycott.

Ok. Ok. Enough with the bad stuff, what will work?

It’s not that simple. What the DRC needs more than anything is good governance and security. “Without a Congolese state capable of playing its role in controlling and running affairs, how can the minerals of Kivu be de-criminalized?”

Since MONUC, the UN peacekeeping troop in the DRC,  has recently decided to scale back its mandate and reduce its troops by 2,000 to change itself into MONUSCO, the possibility of good governance in the country looks bleak. The latest UN resolution calls on MONUSCO to “support” and act “upon explicit request” from the Congolese government (one of the major human rights abusers in the country, including within the mineral trade), a move that offers no explicit details on how MONUSCO is supposed to support them or deal with abusive officers or improve the behaviour of the forces. The resolution also limits the mandate of civilian protection to only areas where peacekeepers are stationed, clawing back existing assistance. The former head of MONUC has also just retired to be replaced with the surprise choice of Alan Doss, a man with no previous UN experience, potentially leaving the already troublesome command structure weakened.

What can we do about this? Well, the UN already has the largest peacekeeping force in its history in the country, but it would take thousands more troops to really provide some semblance of stability and that is just not likely to happen.

We can petition our governments to push for greater UN presence in the country, to increase their spending to aid these endeavors and increase their arms sanctions or actually enforce them. We can push the UN to increase its mandate so it can try to actually secure unstable territory. We can push them to be more engaged with the local populations and look at ways to more effectively communicate with them (such as hiring more translators or setting up remote radio communication systems). We can push the UN to work on good governance programs, ensure active functioning justice systems, continue its Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration program and thoroughly train the police or in areas where there are no police, do the job of policing to ensure security. We can also push them to rethink their approach and adopt differing strategies that would allow them to better address the realities on the ground  (Séverine Autesserre has some good suggestions)  We can push the UN to hunt down and contain the rebel movements who are destabilizing the country. We can push the international community to actually listen to local solutions and help implement them. We can push our own governments to demand accountability for the billions of dollars they give to the Congolese government each year. We can push for any of our extraction companies in the DRC who are directly committing crimes in the country to be brought to justice and actually investigate all claims made by UN and other reports that implicate any companies in criminal actions within the country. We can push the media to actually show the severity of the conflict to help increase international aid and monitor the progress and to focus more on local solutions and initiatives to the problems. We can inform people of what is happening and encourage them to push their governments and the UN as well.

And we can hope that the world will listen and respond. With enough pressure, anything is possible.

** Update: I received a thoughtful email from Laura at Texas in Africa with some great suggestions who agrees with the idea that “getting a functioning security sector, police who can and will do their jobs, collecting taxes so that salaries can be paid, and getting the judiciary working again” are a top priority.

She stated, “I’ve found that the best thing for me to do in terms of formulating a response is to support organizations that I think are doing a good job, and to encourage others to do the same.  If you’re concerned about women who are victims of rape in the region, Heal Africa, Panzi Hospital, and Women for Women all do a wonderful job of helping them to return to health and rebuild their lives.  The IRC, Doctors without Borders, and Oxfam also do good work, especially in the education and health sectors.  Supporting  NGO work doesn’t solve the bigger issues, but it does help me to feel like I’m making a small difference, even as I work to figure out these issues and educate others about them.”

She also suggested reading over Resource Consulting Services Ltd. ‘s work for ideas on how to legalize and formalize the mineral trade in the DRC. Thanks Laura for your helpful suggestions!