The Coalition for Genocide Response (the CGR) is a research and advocacy organisation focusing on strengthening the domestic and international responses to genocide. The CGR collaborates with a broad range of partners working on the topic of genocide to maximise their voice and contribute to the success of the cause.
The CGR welcomes the inquiry into the situation in Sub-Saharan Africa. The following submission discusses the situation in a few Sub-Saharan states and provides recommendations that the UK Government could adopt to strengthen its cooperation with Sub-Saharan countries.
The below submission considers the situation in Nigeria, Burundi, and the Central African Republic (CAR), focusing on the issues of genocide and other international crimes, specifically, the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war and persecution based on religion or belief (section 2). The section further considers the unfolding situations that require urgent attention. The submission discusses the response that are needed in cases of genocide or other international crimes (section 3) and makes recommendations for the UK Government (section 4).
Genocide and other international crimes are not foreign to Sub-Saharan Africa. Among others, in 1994, 800,000 Tutsis were killed in Rwanda within 100 days of slaughter. Thousands more were injured. Among those, it is estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 women were subjected to systematic rape and sexual violence. These statistics send a strong message. The speed of the killings (approximately 8,000 per day) confirms that the atrocities were planned. The implication is that the destruction of the Tutsi people, an ethnic minority group, was the intention. The international community failed to see the warning signs and so missed the chance to prevent the atrocities from happening (or supressing them) in breach of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The legal response to punish the perpetrators followed after the United Nations established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). It has conducted more than 70 prosecutions, with Rwandan domestic courts prosecuting a further 10,000 individuals up until mid-2006. In order to assist with the prosecutions, the traditional community court system, so-called “Gacaca” trials, were used in parallel. With over 1.2 million cases (by over 12,000 community-based courts), the Gacaca trials were praised for promoting reconciliation. They enabled the survivors to learn the truth about the death of their relatives and gave the perpetrators the opportunity to admit their crimes, express their remorse, and seek forgiveness. (The Select Committee should comment whether this form of translational justice (and the truth and reconciliation process in South Africa) has application elsewhere - not least in DRC where more people have been killed than in any conflict since World War II.) However, it is crucial to emphasise that even today, some genocidaires from Rwanda continue to roam the world freely, including the UK.
The high costs to human life paid in Rwanda has not had a lasting impact on the conscience of the international community. Indeed, only some years later, the failure to intervene sufficiently early led to over 300,000 suspected fatalities and over 2.7 million displaced because of the atrocities in Sudan. Again, while the international community has failed in fulfilling their duty to prevent, the international community has done more to fulfil its duty to punish the crime, having referred the situation in Darfur (Sudan) to the International Criminal Court (the ICC). Now that the transitional government of Sudan announced that it would hand Omar Al Bashir over to the ICC, there is hope that justice will be served.
And while some of the remnants of the past conflicts continue to hunt the region, over time, new threats have emerged that constitute a significant risk to the populations of the Sub-Saharan countries. The below discusses two methods to bring about international crimes, 1) rape and sexual violence and 2) persecution based on religion or belief, identifying their manifestations in Nigeria, Burundi, and CAR.
2.1. International crimes by ways of rape and sexual violence
Rape and sexual violence have been widely practiced as a weapon of war throughout armed conflicts all over the world. However, the use of rape and sexual violence is not a military strategy of the past – conversely, rape and sexual violence are widely used today in a number of conflicts, including by Daesh and Boko Haram in Nigeria. Boko Haram fighters have committed sex and gender-based violence, including sexual slavery, rape, forced marriage, and forced pregnancies. The atrocities are widespread. The Boko Haram’s use of sexual violence against women and girls first gained international attention when on April 14, 2014, the terrorist group abducted 276 girls, mostly between 16 and 18 years of age, from a secondary school in Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria. The ensuing social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls gained the attention of worldwide media and was supported by a number of celebrities but was largely unsuccessful in motivating any operation to secure their release. As the sixth anniversary of the Chibok attack approaches, international attention to the campaign is fading while the whereabouts of many girls are still unknown. Furthermore, it has to be emphasised that the Boko Haram atrocities have affected much greater numbers than those kidnapped at Chibok. In fact, the Boko Haram attacks on women and girls were more frequent in 2013, a year before the assault on the high school in Chibok.
Boko Haram chooses its targets for a variety of reasons, including on the basis of the religion of its targets, for tactical reasons including land control and often targets schools especially those which are attended by women and girls. Abducted women and girls are subjected to sex and gender-based violence, including forced marriage, rape and sexual abuse. Rape and sexual violence are used as weapons of war against local communities to establish control as well as a mechanism of punishment for resistance.
Rape and sexual violence in conflict cannot be treated as insignificant. The impact of the crimes on women and girls is devastating as it subjects women and girls to physical and psychological harm. Even if the women and girls survive the attacks and the abuse, there are various challenges that they will face once free. They will likely struggle with mental or physical injuries requiring medical assistance, therapy and counselling that is much more difficult to access in their countries. These abused women and girls may also struggle to reintegrate into the society because of the stigma associated with the sexual nature of abuse they have suffered.
Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) identified the Boko Haram’s use of rape and sexual violence against women and girls as one of the cases for their review. However, as Nigeria is still at the stage of the preliminary examinations and awaiting decision whether any official investigations will be initiated, the chances of justice being done remain bleak.
The situation in Burundi is one of the cases of old conflicts that has not been adequately addressed in the past and where acts of violence amounting to international crimes continue to re-occur. Some of the recent developments in Burundi call for an urgent response. On September 4, 2019, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (the Commission on Burundi), a special investigative mechanism established to consider the situation in the state, published its report shedding light on the deteriorating situation of the country. The report identifies several human rights violations, including violations of ‘the right to life, security and liberty, the right not to be subjected to torture or ill-treatment, cases of sexual violence and breaches of civil liberties.’ The report suggests that the atrocities have a political dimension. Indeed, some of the atrocities occurred and intensified around political events, including the constitutional referendum in May 2018 and in preparation for the 2020 elections.
Furthermore, as the Commission on Burundi emphasised, the perpetrators have been using rape and sexual violence as a weapon to implement their agenda. The majority of victims are women and girls who are subjected to gang rape at the hands of Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling party. ‘Some of these rapes were committed at night in victims’ homes, in front of their children and other members of their families, and generally involved other violations of physical integrity as well as, sometimes, the abduction or execution of the family member considered to be the head of household.’
2.2. Religious Persecution
Boko Haram has been targeting Christian minorities and others they considered as ‘non-believers’ on account of their faith. Indeed, as Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau justified such acts of violence against Christians stating that:
All those clerics are to be killed for following democracy, all of them are infidels. I will tell Muslims what Allah wants them to do. We are anti-Christians, and those that deviated from Islam, they are forming basis with prayers but infidels....
To the people of the world, everybody should know his status, it is either you are with us Mujahedeen or you are with the Christians. The likes of Obama, Lincoln, Clinton, Jonathan, Aminu Kano. They are your fathers of democracy, the likes of Tafawa Balewa. It is Usman Dan Fodiyo that is our own...
We know what is happening in this world, it is a Jihad war against Christians and Christianity. It is a war against western education, democracy and constitution. We have not started, next time we are going inside Abuja; we are going to refinery and town of Christians. Do you know me? I have no problem with Jonathan. This is what I know in Quran. This is a war against Christians and democracy and their constitution, Allah says we should finish them when we get them.
While over the recent years it was Boko Haram which would hit the headlines for its brutal attacks in the north of the country, the recent reports are instead emanating from the Middle Belt where farmers are under attack from Fulani militia and from Northern Nigeria where Daesh-affiliated terror groups intensify their attacks.
The situation in the Middle Belt appears to be spiralling out of control with weekly reports of slaughtered farmers. The atrocities are presented as a clash over grazing land. However, there is an underlying concern that it is religious in nature with the Fulani militia attacking Christians farmers and other minorities who do not follow their ideology. Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project reported that ‘from January through June 2018, Fulani attacks against civilians occurred at a rate 47.5% higher than those of Boko Haram. Moreover, Fulani attacks throughout 2018 have spanned the geographic width of the country, whereas Boko Haram attacks are mostly focused eastern Borno and the north-east Adamawa States.’ This suggests that the situation is deteriorating, and Fulani militia have been allowed to act with impunity. One of the recent attacks (on June 23, 2018) left more than 200 dead. In response, the Nigerian military reportedly deployed 300 soldiers and seven helicopter gunships to Benue, Plateau and Taraba States. This action came a few days too late. The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project further reported that since the beginning of 2018, ‘66 separate events involving the militia have been recorded, a 260% increase from the same month in 2017.’
In January 2020, a Daesh affiliated terror group has perpetrated several attacks targeting Christians as non-believers. They have been reported to have killed several Christians with a promise to continue to spill more blood without mercy.
The Select Committee should examine the testimony of the mother of Leah Sharibu (abducted, raped, impregnated, forcibly converted by Boko Haram) who was in Westminster in February and met Parliamentarians from the APPG on FoRB. It graphically illustrates how facile it is to ignore ideological motives behind executions, abductions, and genocide - with a misplaced FCO narrative which reduces the ills of the world to the simplistic narrative of climate change or competition for resources (which may indeed be a contributory but less significant factor). Climate change does not behead eleven Christians on Christmas Day or seek to eradicate Christians living in the north of the country. The Select Committee should carefully study what happened in Sudan and consider how it is being replicated in Nigeria.
Violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief are not uncommon in Burundi. According to the report of the Commission on Burundi, the Burundian Government has stepped up its control over the churches. Furthermore, ‘With its allies, it has also issued warnings to religious leaders, including the Catholic bishops, in order to discourage any criticism or discourse of ‘a political nature’, and has called on the faithful to monitor them.’ Indeed, as Doudou Diène, the chair of the Commission on Burundi, emphasised: ‘It is extremely dangerous to speak out critically in Burundi today.’ The silence from Burundi should not be misconstrued as an ‘illusion of calm.’ The report identified those who are most responsible for the atrocities. These include Imbonerakure, officers of the National Intelligence Service, the police and multiple-level administrative officials (in the municipalities, districts and hill districts).
Based on the collated evidence, the Commission on Burundi has stated that it has reasonable grounds to believe that the atrocities perpetrated in Burundi amount to crimes against humanity, as defined in the Rome Statute. Crimes against humanity in Burundi include ‘murder, imprisonment or other severe forms of deprivation of physical liberty, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence of comparable gravity, and political persecution.’
On May 2, 2018, gunmen with grenades attacked the Notre-Dame de Fatima church, a Roman Catholic church, in Bangui in the Central African Republic (CAR). 15 people were killed, and dozens injured. The attack comes a few weeks after 28 people were killed in violent clashes after an operation launched by UN peacekeepers and local security forces in the neighbouring Bangui district of PK5. This sectarian violence has been escalating since February 2018. The recent attacks are nothing new as religious (and ethnic) conflicts have haunted the country for several years, reaching a peak at the end of 2012. Prior to 2012, 85% of the population of the CAR was Christian with a 15% percent Muslim minority. This has changed significantly over the years.
In late 2012, an umbrella terror group Séléka, predominately Muslim, supported by Chadian and Sudanese foreign fighters, begun to occupy towns in the northern part of CAR. A short-lived peace agreement collapsed in March 2013 and the terror group took control of the capital of CAR, Bangui, ousting President François Bozizé. The sectarian violence and targeted killings, motivated by religion, escalated after the 2013 coup. Reported atrocities included summary executions, rape, sexual abuse, enforced disappearance, illegal detention and torture. The terror group was formally dissolved in September 2013 by its leader and (self-proclaimed) President Michel Djotodia in light of the international condemnation of the crimes perpetrated by the group. Nonetheless, the ex-Séléka fighters, now members of multiple smaller groups, continued to engage in atrocities. In retaliation to those atrocities, in June 2013, a self-defence militia (primarily Christian), former Central African Armed Forces (FACA) soldiers, and other non-Muslims, so-called anti-balaka, united their forces. These ex-Séléka and anti-balaka have been engaged in fighting a religious war in the CAR since September 2013. The conflict escalated after anti-balaka attacked Muslim neighbourhoods in Bangui on December 5, 2013, resulting in a full-blown religious conflict that affected the whole nation.
In December 2014, the International Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic released a report confirming that there had been a ‘pattern of ethnic cleansing committed by the anti-balaka in the areas in which Muslims had been living.’ This finding followed the January 2014 violence unleashed by anti-balaka fighters who had begun to kill Muslims based on their religious identity. This violence led to the forcible displacement of 99% of the Muslim population of Bangui. Furthermore, 80% of the Muslim population of CAR has since fled to Cameroon and Chad. Reports suggested that out of 436 mosques in the country, 417 were destroyed. The return of Muslim minorities back to CAR has been very slowly ever since and the remaining Muslim minorities predominately live in the peacekeeper-protected enclaves. Some of those who have returned back to their homes report being forced to convert by anti-balata soldiers. UN peacekeepers have also reported seeing the returning Muslim minorities subjected to harassment and abuse.
Religious identity continues to be one of the most significant predictors of violence in the CAR. Many Muslim communities remain displaced and in the western parts, Muslims cannot practice their faith freely. The CAR Government has initiated some work to ensure renewed interfaith cooperation and address the growing tensions between religious communities. However, without adequate reconciliation efforts, this has not achieved the desired results. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) found that the situation in CAR merits the designation of a country of particular concern (CRC). In its 2018 report, USCIRF reported that Muslim minorities in CAR had been subjected to marginalisation even before the recent conflict arose. Muslims continue to suffer from systemic discrimination in a wide range of areas including their access to education and identity documents. The ongoing violence has resulted in over 2.3 million people requiring humanitarian assistance. It has created more than 450,000 refugees and almost 350,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). Thousands lost their lives.
The religious conflict in CAR is deeply rooted and had not yet been adequately addressed. The conflict cannot be analysed in a vacuum. Any response to the attacks needs to take into consideration the historic internal conflict. Any future progress towards peace in CAR must incorporate comprehensive plans to combat sectarian violence. It must accommodate interfaith dialogue and reconciliation. Above all, it must ensure that human rights are afforded to all, including the right to freedom of religion and belief to the minority Muslim groups.
2.3. Other Unfolding Situations
Apart from the above, it is crucial to exphasise and consider the deteriorating situation in other parts of the Sub-Saharan Africa that, if unaddressed, will continue to escalate.
The Anglophone crisis in Cameroon emerged in 2016 but is grounded in long-standing and unresolved issues surrounding political, economic, and social marginalization of the Anglophone minority community. The Anglophone community constitutes of approximately 20% of the country’s population, with the remaining 80% being Francophones. In 2016, Anglophone lawyers and teachers took to the streets in protest against the Government’s appointment of French-language judges and teachers and the introduction of French-language procedures in Anglophone-region courts and schools. The response to the protests was one marked by excessive use of violence.
In the subsequent months, the situation only deteriorated. This provided fertile ground for the emergence and/or engagement of several non-state groups. As the International Crisis Group reported that as a result of the crisis, since 2017, approximately 3,000 people have been killed, over 500,000 have become internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 40,000 sought refuge in Nigeria. In November 2019, UNICEF reported that close to 2 million people in the Anglophone Regions were in urgent need of humanitarian aid. 855,000 children were forced out of school because of the crisis.
Government forces are accused of involvement in extrajudicial killings, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force, use of torture, forcible displacement of the population, using rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war, and attacks on hospitals. The non-state actors involved in the crisis have been accused of using torture, kidnappings, violence, rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war.
Religious persecution in Eritrea affects several religious groups, including the Jehovah’s Witness and Muslim communities. These communities were the first religious groups to experience such challenges in Eritrea before other religious groups came under threat.
In its 2017 report, USCIRF found that
Systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations include torture or other ill treatment of religious prisoners, arbitrary arrests and detentions without charges, a prolonged ban on public religious activities of unregistered religious groups, and interference in the internal affairs of registered religious groups.
According to USCIRF, religious prisoners are routinely detained in the harshest of prison environments where they are subjected to cruel punishments. The report further states that:
Released religious prisoners have reported that they were kept in solitary confinement or crowded conditions, such as in 20-foot metal shipping containers or underground barracks and subjected to extreme temperature fluctuations.
USCIRF identified that the situation is particularly severe in the case of unregistered Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses. As a result of these challenges, USCIRF indicated that Eritrea meets the requirements for a country of particular concern (CPC) designation under the International Religious Freedom Act.
As it stands, the Eritrean law does not protect the right to freedom of religion or belief adequately or at all. Theoretically, the Eritrean constitution provides for a protection for the right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Yet, despite the fact that the Constitution was ratified in 1997, it is yet to be implemented. The fact that the constitution has not been implemented also affects the protection of other fundamental human rights. Eritrea is a religiously diverse country and the government encourages a multi faith tradition, so long as the religion is officially recognised. The problem lies in the fact that the Eritrean government recognises only four religious groups: the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea. Other religious groups are subject to burdensome registration. Any religious group that is not registered is not allowed to conduct religious activities until such time as the registration is granted. Having said that, according to Pew Research Centre, ‘the Eritrean government has not approved registration for any additional religious group since 2002.’ The result of the requirement to register religions is that certain religious factions become effectively outlawed. Evangelical and Pentecostal religious groups are two such examples of religions which were effectively outlawed after the introduction in 2002 registration requirement. Groups practicing these religions face the risk of arrest followed by indefinite detention without charge or any chance of redress, as well as the physical and psychological violence often experienced in detention.
It is noteworthy that in 2016, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (the CoI-E) stated that there were reasonable grounds to conclude that crimes against humanity were being perpetrated in Eritrea. For this reason, the CoI recommended that the UN Security Council refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. In July, the CoI-E recommended that ‘an accountability mechanism to investigate, prosecute, and try individuals accused of committing crimes against humanity in Eritrea, including engaging in torture and overseeing Eritrea’s indefinite military service, which the CoI-E equated to slavery’ be implemented by the African Union.
Mass atrocities likes genocide (but also crimes against humanity and war crimes) require a comprehensive response. Some of the needed responses are discussed below.
Preventing and Stopping the Atrocities
We must act to prevent mass atrocities like genocide from occurring. In order to do so, monitoring is necessary as followed by a comprehensive analysis and risk assessment. Where the atrocities are ongoing, it is crucial to stop the atrocities and protect those targeted. It is accepted that while the primarily responsibility towards the members of the persecuted communities lies with the state, where they fail to do so (or indeed, there are responsible or complicit in the acts), the international community must act, in accordance with the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect doctrine.
Assisting the Survivors
The survivors of such atrocities require a wide range of assistance to address their short and long-term needs, including medical aid, humanitarian assistance, and help with homes, businesses and infrastructure in the regions destroyed. In many cases, the assistance required means rebuilding all aspects of their lives pre-atrocities and placing protections to ensure that such atrocities will never happen again.
Prosecuting the Perpetrators
The perpetrators must be prosecuted for their atrocities, whether as genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, (or for a litany of lower offences, including, murder, manslaughter, torture, battery, rape, slavery and many more). This is the primary way to ensure that the survivors and the families of the victims will see some justice being done. Also, such prosecutions may assist with prevention of similar future crimes by way of deferring. The ever-growing atmosphere of impunity will not be able to achieve this.
For example, the atrocities perpetrated by Boko Haram in Nigeria are already considered by the ICC and the ICC has identified six cases against Boko Haram. However, the atrocities perpetrated by the Fulani militia or the Daesh-affiliated terror groups continue to be outside of the ICC’s consideration. The ICC is also engaged on the situation in Darfur (Sudan) and issued an arrest warrant for Omar Al Bashir. Now that that the transitional government of Sudan announced that it would hand Omar Al Bashir over to the ICC, there is hope that justice will be served.
Ensuring Safety and Security of the Survivors
The survivors of the genocidal atrocities and other international crimes need to be provided with adequate security to be able to remain in the region where once they faced annihilation (if they choose to do so). If they are not able to stay in the region (or indeed they do not have faith in their future in the region), it is crucial that steps are taken to ensure that they find a safe haven somewhere else.
Protecting the Rights of All
Lastly, it is crucial to ensure that the rights of those targeted individuals and communities are adequately protected and enforced to provide a strong foundation for a better future.
Keeping the above in mind, the CGR recommends that the UK Government strengthens its cooperation with and support to Sub-Saharan Africa, and especially, countries that continue to be haunted by atrocities, including international crimes like genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, including, but not limited to:
Preventing and Stopping the Atrocities
- work with the governments on capacity building to develop and strengthen the skills, abilities, processes and resources to address such acts of violence, with the aim of preventing them in the future.
- work with the governments on monitoring the atrocities;
- ensure that the atrocities are recognised for what they are and addressed accordingly (Here, it is crucial to emphasise that if the atrocities meet the legal definition of genocide, they must be recognised as such and responded to with full implementation of the duties under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.);
- engage in a dialogue with the states or international actors to stop the ongoing atrocities;
- introduce Magnitsky laws, and once introduced, impose travel bans and assets freeze on the individuals involved in the worst human rights violations;
Assisting the Survivors
- provide practical assistance (or ensure that the financial assistance given to the countries is used) to assist the survivors of the atrocities, for example, the women and girl- victims of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war must be provided with medical assistance for their physical or psychological injuries, educational needs, skills trainings, resistance building, or any other assistance they may require; (but also with malaria mediation or others that the targeted communities may require);
Prosecuting the Perpetrators
- provide assistance to the judiciary in the countries in response to the atrocities, from investigations to prosecutions;
- provide assistance to the local enforcement mechanisms in using new technology to record the acts of violence, monitor their frequency and scale, map the atrocities, secure evidence and prepare them for future prosecutions;
- play a proactive role at the UN Security Council (or other UN bodies) to ensure that investigative bodies or adequate tribunal are set up to consider the atrocities, or the situation is referred to the ICC expeditiously;
Ensuring Safety and Security of the Survivors
- assist the targeted communities by extending protection towards them or working with governments to ensure their protection;
Protecting the Rights of All
- help with accommodating interfaith dialogue, and where appropriate – with truth and reconciliation committees;
- provide assistance with legislative and policy changes to ensure that:
--the duties under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide are adequately implemented and enforced in the countries, including, the states conduct their own investigations to determine the atrocities, act to prevent or suppress the acts and prosecute the perpetrators;
--the international standards, especially in relation to the right to freedom of religion or belief for all, minority rights, protection from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, are adequately implemented and enforced in the countries;
- foster genuine cooperation with African countries, that does not depend on the UK remaining silent on human rights violations, but empowering UK to raise such issues and assist in addressing them.
 In the case of Rwanda v Nteziryayo, the Rwandan government fought for the extradition of a number of alleged genocidaires to allow it to prosecute. The extradition request was blocked by UK courts. One of the reasons the extraditions were blocked was that there was a risk that the alleged genocidaires would not have been granted a fair trial. The judgment confirmed that they could be prosecuted in the UK, in accordance with section 70, Coroners and Justice Act 2009. However, when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPR) approached Rwandan authorities for assistance to the Metropolitan Police, the Rwandan authorities responded that they ‘were not prepared to “cede jurisdiction to the UK authorities” and would not provide copies of their evidence to the police.’ Without cooperation from Rwanda, the prosecutions in the UK were not possible.
 Ibid., 42 ff.
 The Voice of the Martyrs, ‘October 2014 Newsletter Media’. Available at: available at: www.persecution.com/october2014.
 In February 2020, several parliamentarians sent a letter to the ICC emphasising the religious element of the atrocities.