To Members of the Security Council   

Your Excellency,

We write in advance of the Security Council's mission to Africa on June 1-10, 2008, to urge you to use this opportunity to address pressing human rights issues in Sudan, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.

Your itinerary takes you to five nations in which, altogether, millions of civilians have or are continuing to suffer the effects of often horrific violence carried out by government security forces and non-state armed groups. These abuses include killings, mutilation, rape, and other physical abuse, abduction of children, large-scale and prolonged displacement and arbitrary arrest and detention, and are in most cases carried out with near-total impunity.

While armed conflicts entailing serious abuses continue in Sudan, Somalia and-intermittently-Chad, some progress towards improved human rights is occurring in Côte d'Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo. However in all of these nations, Security Council action is urgently needed to ensure an end to persistent abuses by all parties to the conflict, to protect civilians still at risk of violence, and to provide accountability of those responsible for serious human rights abuses and redress for their victims.

Sudan

Darfur
While widespread abuses have continued in Darfur over the last two years, the situation has worsened dramatically in 2008. In February 2008, the Sudanese government has reverted to the "scorched earth" counterinsurgency tactics it used to such devastating effect in the early days of the conflict. A Human Rights Watch investigation into a series of attacks on civilians by government forces and allied militia in West Darfur in February 2008 found that the attackers killed more than 120 civilians, injured hundreds more and destroyed and pillaged civilian property, including homes, schools, medical facilities, and food and water supplies. The government has continued to carry out deliberate or indiscriminate bombings of civilian villages in Darfur: in May government forces bombed a school and marketplace in the village of Shegeg Karo in North Darfur, killing 13 civilians, seven of them children.

The United Nations/African Union peacekeeping force for Darfur (UNAMID), meanwhile, remains barely one-third of its authorized strength, and unable to protect civilians in the face of ongoing and escalating violence in Darfur. The government of Sudan has continued to hinder deployment of UNAMID, in particular by refusing to accept deployment of non-African forces, despite their being no equivalent African troops ready to deploy, and by limiting the force's freedom of movement in Darfur.

Violence between the government and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel group has continued to escalate, culminating in an attack by JEM forces on Omdurman, a suburb of Khartoum, on May 10, 2008. Human Rights Watch welcomes the Council's rapid calls for all sides to exercise restraint and respect international humanitarian law following that attack, but we remain concerned these calls will not be heeded. We are also deeply concerned by reports that government forces in Khartoum arrested more than 100 people following the attack, many of whom remain unaccounted for, that some of those arrested have been tortured and that at least two people have been summarily executed in public.

The International Criminal Court and Darfur
Over a year ago, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Ahmed Haroun and Ali Kosheib for 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. During the Council's mission to Khartoum in June 2007, rule of law and accountability issues were notably absent from the terms of reference. The omission of the ICC from the agenda did not go unnoticed by Khartoum. Instead of surrendering the accused, the Sudanese government promoted Ahmed Haroun to Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs, and released Ali Kosheib from custody for "lack of evidence."

The current terms of reference for the mission include language that allows the Council to formally raise Sudan's obligation to cooperate with the ICC pursuant to resolution 1593. While in Khartoum, we urge you to call on the government of Sudan to fulfill its obligations to arrest and surrender the two accused. Failure to follow through on the commitment to justice will further embolden Khartoum to continue with its culture of impunity, manifested in ongoing attacks against civilians.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement and Southern Sudan
While conflict continues to escalate in Darfur, across southern Sudan the political and security situation is deteriorating. The unresolved status of Abyei is a flashpoint for recent clashes that have resulted in hundreds of deaths and the displacement of thousands of others. While Abyei is perhaps the most potent symbol of the fragility of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), tensions connected to ongoing insecurity and the slow implementation of the CPA are mounting throughout southern Sudan.

The ruling National Congress Party in Khartoum remains the primary obstacle on issues such as Abyei's status, but the government of southern Sudan is also failing to implement essential steps that would improve the human rights situation of southern Sudanese. Human Rights Watch's recent research in southern Sudan also indicates that security forces in the south, including the Sudan People's Liberation Army and the police, continue to be responsible for a range of abuses against civilians, including beatings, rape and looting.

The Security Council should:

  • Publicly and privately condemn the attacks by government forces and allied militia against civilians in West Darfur in February 2008, and ongoing indiscriminate and deliberate attacks on civilians; urge all sides to protect civilians and respect international humanitarian law, and make it clear that the Council will investigate and hold accountable any party responsible for indiscriminate or deliberate attacks on civilians.
  • Call on the government of Sudan to account for the whereabouts of all detainees held following JEM's May 10 attack on Khartoum, and to ensure that those arrested are promptly released, or charged and tried in accordance with international fair trial standards.
  • Urge the government of Sudan to actively facilitate full deployment of UNAMID, including by immediately and formally authorizing deployment of Thai and Nepalese units, and of other non-African troops as needed, and to allow UNAMID full freedom of movement throughout Darfur.
  • Urge the government of Sudan to fulfill its obligations to arrest and surrender the two suspects wanted by the ICC, and ensure that any public statements and reports following the mission include reference to the need for Khartoum to cooperate with the ICC.
  • Call on the National Congress Party and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement to promptly implement the outstanding elements of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
  • Emphasize that the government of southern Sudan is responsible for the conduct of its forces and must take appropriate action to investigate and prosecute as appropriate alleged abuses by its personnel.
  • During its visit to Juba, urge the government of Southern Sudan to expedite the passage of relevant legislation on a range of issues affecting protection of human rights, including the mandate of the Southern Sudan Human Rights Commission, corruption and land rights.

Ugandan Peace Negotiations in Juba

As negotiations in Juba, southern Sudan to end the conflict in northern Uganda have faltered, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is reportedly committing new atrocities, including at least 100 abductions in Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo and Southern Sudan. Around the Juba talks, the LRA has tried to portray the ICC as the obstacle to peace. Nevertheless, LRA leader Joseph Kony failed to appear to sign a final peace agreement on April 10, 2008 despite its focus on holding national trials of ICC cases. Recent alleged abuses and Kony's month-long silence only intensify ongoing questions as to the LRA leadership's commitment to peace talks.

The Security Council should:

  • Make full inquiries into alleged LRA abuses since February 2008, including reported unpublicized UN inquiries into abuses in the CAR.
  • While in Juba discuss with key interlocutors-including UN officials, the mediation team, regional governments and observers to the talks-how to stem abuses and effectively execute ICC arrest warrants while minimizing the risk to civilian life and without use of excessive force.
  • In the event that Kony does emerge to sign the final peace agreement, the Council should press for prompt implementation of key provisions of the Juba agreements that provide for trial for the most serious crimes and for the release of women and children currently with the LRA. The council should also reject any request to defer the ICC's investigation and prosecution as it would legitimize improper political interference in a judicial institution while risking making the Security Council hostage to the LRA leadership's agendas.

Chad

The use of child soldiers by all sides to the conflict in Chad remains a grave concern. The Security Council working group on children and armed conflict issued conclusions on September 24, 2007, urging the Chadian government to demobilize children from its armed forces, criminalize the use of child soldiers under domestic law, and rigorously investigate and prosecute those who commit crimes against children.

The Chadian government has done little to implement the Security Council's conclusions: 92 percent of the 501 children demobilized to date were former members of rebel factions that joined the government army under the auspices of recent peace accords, while actual demobilization from the government side represents only one percent of the estimated 4,000 children under arms. The government has failed to criminalize or prosecute the use of child soldiers.

The Security Council should:

  • Demand stronger action by the government of Chad to demobilize children from all corners of the military, not just the ranks of former rebel groups, and urgently finalize a concrete, time-bound plan of action to end all recruitment and use of child soldiers.
  • Press the Chadian government to implement the Security Council working group's recommendations of September 24, 2007, including by:
    1. Implementing the May 2007 agreement with UNICEF to demobilize child soldiers;
    2. Cooperating with the establishment of a monitoring and reporting mechanism on children and armed conflict; and
    3. Criminalizing the use of child soldiers under domestic laws and rigorously investigating and prosecuting those who use or recruit children or commit other crimes against children, such as unlawful killing, rape and abduction.
  • Remind the government of Chad that the Council's working group on children and armed conflict will soon undertake its second review of violations against children in Chad, and that if it fails to see sufficient progress, it will recommend additional action, including targeted measures.

Côte d'Ivoire

Public debate in Côte d'Ivoire is characterized today by an intense focus by local and international actors on the process leading up to the presidential elections, currently scheduled for November of this year. Human Rights Watch welcomes the progress that has been made in implementing the Ouagadougou Agreement and the role played by the United Nations. However we are concerned that in its narrow focus on elections, concerned governments risk losing sight of the need to resolve issues of impunity for human rights violations that are critical not only to ensuring calm during the upcoming elections themselves, but also to long-term prospects for peace and stability. There are three areas where the Security Council could play a critical role in broadening the current focus:

First, the Security Council should promote public dialogue regarding the importance of combating the prevailing culture of impunity and imperative for justice for serious crimes that have been committed. Human Rights Watch believes that, given its importance to the nation's future, national dialogue on this subject needs to occur before the elections, not after the fact.

Second, to date the Security Council has yet to make public or discuss the findings of a Commission of Inquiry report into serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law since September 2002, which was handed to the UN secretary-general in November 2004. The failure to so much as discuss the findings of the report, much less act upon them, sends the wrong signal to abusers. Human Rights Watch believes that, at a minimum, official publication of this report could be used to help generate much needed national dialogue on the need for transitional justice.

Third, Ivorian authorities have yet to facilitate a mission by the ICC's Office of the Prosecutor to assess a possible investigation into crimes committed in Côte d'Ivoire. This is despite having made an ad hoc declaration in 2003 giving the ICC authority to investigate and prosecute crimes in Côte d'Ivoire even though the state has not ratified the Rome Statute. An ICC mission to Côte d'Ivoire would allow the court to assess a possible investigation, but also to send a strong signal that serious crimes in violation of international law will not be tolerated. Such a signal would be particularly significant in advance of the elections and given ongoing concerns about the climate of impunity for past and ongoing crimes. Human Rights Watch therefore urges the Security Council to raise the importance of Ivorian authorities enabling the mission of the Office of the Prosecutor to take place.

The Security Council should:

  • Task the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (Opération des Nations Unies en Côte d'Ivoire, ONUCI) to initiate, through existing human rights education, media, and outreach programs, public dialogue on impunity and justice.
  • Immediately publish the findings of the Commission of Inquiry report into serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law since September 2002.
  • Press the Ivorian government to promptly consent to and actively facilitate a mission by the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC.

Democratic Republic of Congo

We are pleased that the Security Council and its peacekeeping mission, MONUC, remain actively engaged in finding solutions to the ongoing violence that blights eastern Congo. Over the past eight months considerable progress has been made establishing a basis for peace in eastern Congo, including the signing of the Nairobi communiqué and the Goma peace agreement (Acte d'Engagement); the creation of the Congolese government's Amani [Peace] Program; and the establishment of the Joint Technical Committee on Peace and Security to monitor the ceasefire and disengagement of troops. Despite these advances, skirmishes between armed groups and government forces have continued and, as in the past, have included attacks on civilians, sexual violence against women and girls, and other serious abuses of human rights. More than one million people remain displaced from their homes. The enormous scale of the human rights abuses and the humanitarian crisis merits increased attention and concrete action by the Council on its mission.

The recent agreements signed by the various parties all include substantive human rights obligations and offer an important opening to hold the parties to their commitments. We believe that the Council should remind the parties, including the government, of their human rights commitments and the need for them to be urgently implemented especially in relation to ending sexual violence, releasing child soldiers and halting attacks on civilians. The Council should strongly emphasize, as it has done in its various resolutions, that those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity will be held to account.

Tackling the problem of the Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), an armed Rwandan Hutu group in eastern Congo, is critical to the peace process. FDLR troops are dispersed over wide areas of eastern Congo and are involved in numerous attacks against Congolese civilians. In the Nairobi communiqué of November 2007, the governments of Congo and Rwanda committed themselves to new efforts to resolve the FDLR problem, and we urge them to make this a priority.

The Council should also use its visit to remind the Congolese government that there must be no financial or military support given to FDLR combatants, either directly or indirectly though other groups, such as the local Mai Mai armed group and the Coalition of Congolese Patriotic Resistance (PARECO). The Council should support efforts by the Congolese government to organize a meeting with the FDLR leadership, under international observation, to fully communicate the terms of the Nairobi communiqué and urge the disarmament and voluntary return of FDLR combatants to Rwanda. Either during its visit or when it returns to New York, the Council should also meet with Rwandan authorities to urge them to take concrete steps towards providing an environment that would encourage the voluntary return of FDLR combatants.

The Security Council should:

  • Urge concrete action to tackle the humanitarian and human rights crisis in eastern Congo and call on all parties to the Goma agreement to uphold their commitments to respect human rights.
  • Meet with international facilitators and with Abbé Apollinaire Malu Malu to show support for the Amani peace program and to emphasize the importance of making progress on respect for human rights.
  • Remind the Congolese government that there should be no support, direct or indirect, to the FDLR and to make resolving the FDLR problem a priority.
  • Support efforts by the Congolese government to organize a meeting with the FDLR leadership, under international observation, to encourage the disarmament and voluntary return to Rwanda of FDLR combatants.

Somalia

The situation in Somalia is one of the world's starkest and most neglected tragedies. Since early 2007, thousands of civilians in Mogadishu have been killed in appalling circumstances by all of the warring parties. Thousands more have been injured, assaulted, raped, and looted of all their property as they fled Mogadishu's violence. Each day adds to the toll of civilian deaths and injuries. Humanitarian assistance, although increasingly urgent in light of the high levels of displacement and growing drought, is sorely limited due to both targeted attacks and generalized insecurity.

To date the international response to this catastrophe has been myopic at best. The Security Council's visit to Nairobi is an important opportunity to begin to rectify this failure. Clearly the situation in Somalia is complex and requires substantial and sustained attention from the international community at many levels, not only because of the scale and gravity of the internal crisis for Somalis, but because of its serious regional implications. In the context of your visit to Nairobi we urge you to focus on two of the many concerns in your discussions with the various Somali, regional and other stakeholders.

The Security Council should:

  • Call on all of the warring parties, including the government of Ethiopia, the Somali Transitional Federal Government and the insurgents, to articulate and then implement measures that will ensure unfettered humanitarian access to all civilians in need of assistance in areas under their control and reiterate that attacks on humanitarian aid workers are war crimes under international law.
  • Emphasize the need for an end to impunity in Somalia more broadly by supporting the urgent establishment of an international commission of inquiry to investigate reports of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Somalia since January 2007 by all parties; identify the perpetrators of such violations with a view to ensuring that those responsible are held accountable; map the most serious past crimes that might require further future investigation; and formulate recommendations on appropriate mechanisms for justice and accountability, including criminal prosecutions.

Human Rights Watch believes your impending visit offers an extremely important opportunity to put crucial issues of justice, the fight against impunity and the protection of civilians front and center on the agenda. Indeed, lives are in the balance. We urge you to use your leadership and good offices to ensure that the vital concerns outlined in this letter can begin to be seriously and meaningfully addressed. Thank you for your attention to these important matters.

Sincerely,

Georgette Gagnon
Africa Division Director

Steve Crawshaw
UN Advocacy Director