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Archive for June, 2009

‘LRA accused of DR Congo massacre’ (Al-Jazeera, 26 June 2009)

June 28, 2009 2 comments

It is almost an indictment of the western media that one of the most serious, intractable and tragic conflict is also one of the most neglected conflict.  I am referring to the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, also known as ‘Congo-Kinshasa’, also formerly known as Zaire.  In fact, the country has been labelled by the United Nations as the worst failed state.  Here are some startling statistics that illustrate the point.  (See Sexual Warfare in the Democratic Republic of Congo, SMH 26 June 2009)

  • According to the latest World Bank report in 2008, out of 151 countries, DRC ranks dead last in terms of stability.
  • According to an Amnesty International Report in 2004, 40000 rapes have occurred in DRC during the previous six years of fighting.  Rapes were committed against civilians by armed militias.
  • 5.4 million people have already died in this ongoing conflict.
  • During the latest round of fighting in recent months in North Kivu province, 250000 people have been displaced, not to mention thousands of death as well as countless of number of rape victims.  This has brought the total human casualties to over a million.
  • This is a conflict where rape has been used systemically as a weapon on an unprecedented scale.  (See The rape of a nation‘, The Age, 7 December 2008)
  • Coupled with this has been the rise in the recruitment and abuse of child soldiers, along with the psychological scares that will remain for generations.
  • There has also been a recent outbreak of cholera, which is increasing burden on the already stretched medical resources from NGOs.

Pictures tell a thousand words.

To really understand the roots of the conflict, one really should go deeper into the tragic history of the region, with particular focus on the historic complicity of Belgian colonialism.  I would recommend those interested to do some elementary research.

Onto the latest development of this conflict.  Much of the fighting and humanitarian disasters take place in a province called North Kivu.  A map of North Kivu (provincial capital city: Goma) provided by Médecins Sans Frontières should tell part of the story.

Map of North Kivu (with MSF camps indicated)

As you can see on this map, the province of North Kivu borders three countries with some very troubled past.  Ugandan government has, for many years, been fighting a bloody civil war against a rebel army called the Lord’s Resistance Army.  This rebel militia is widely known to be responsible for the use of child soldiers, as well as the systemic killing, rape and mutilation of civilians.  The leader of the LRA is Joseph Kony, who has already been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, but thus far is unable to be captured.  For its part, the Ugandan army has adopted counter-insurgency tactics that has made it complicit in war crimes and human rights violations.  To the south of Uganda is Rwanda, which in 1994 saw Hutu militias (Interhamwe), backed by government forces, went on a killing spree against the Tutsi minority.  The Interhamwe and Rwandan government forces were subsequently kicked out of the Rwanda by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which has since been in power in Rwanda.  The defeated Hutu extremist rebels however have taken advantage of the political instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and set up their bases in North Kivu.  Less of a problem but still noteworthy is the neighbouring country of Burundi, which also saw inter-ethnic violence between Hutus and Tutsis for more than a decade, and only began to implement, with comparable success, the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement 2000.

Keeping in mind the the porous nature of the borders in Central African region, you can begin to appreciate the security problems that beset the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in particular North Kivu.  The recent fighting concerns the infiltration of the LRA rebels from Uganda into North Kivu, wrecking havoc and destruction upon the already traumatised civilians in that province.  This extract from a news report by Al-Jazeera (‘LRA accused of DR Congo massacre’ (Al-Jazeera, 26 June 2009)) tells part of the story.

About 1,200 Congolese civilians have been killed and around 1,500 abducted by Ugandan rebels over the last six months, a UN official says.
Ross Mountain, the UN secretary general’s deputy special representative, said on Friday that the violence had taken place in the remote Haut-Uele region in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
He said that most of the people who had been abducted were children.
The Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, is believed to have taken as many as 20,000 children for use as soldiers, porters and “wives” since it launched its war against the Ugandan government in the early 1990s.
“The LRA has traditionally recruited children in Uganda and its presence in Congo, in the past, has been as a kind of back base,” Mountain told Al Jazeera.
“Unfortunately they have now taken up actions against the civilian population and they are spreading through a very large area in small numbers, they are not a large force.”

About 1,200 Congolese civilians have been killed and around 1,500 abducted by Ugandan rebels over the last six months, a UN official says.

Ross Mountain, the UN secretary general’s deputy special representative, said on Friday that the violence had taken place in the remote Haut-Uele region in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He said that most of the people who had been abducted were children.

The Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, is believed to have taken as many as 20,000 children for use as soldiers, porters and “wives” since it launched its war against the Ugandan government in the early 1990s.

The LRA has traditionally recruited children in Uganda and its presence in Congo, in the past, has been as a kind of back base,” Mountain told Al Jazeera.

Unfortunately they have now taken up actions against the civilian population and they are spreading through a very large area in small numbers, they are not a large force.”

This latest spate of violence came about due to a breakdown of peace talk in Uganda between the LRA and Ugandan government forces.  According to the report,

The LRA declared a unilateral ceasefire in August 2006 and a truce was agreed later the same month.

However, as negotiations for a lasting peace dragged on LRA fighters began to drift away from two designated assembly points and the talks broke down.

Ironically, a possible reason for the breakdown in peace talk between the LRA and Ugandan government forces has been the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for LRA leader Joseph Kony.  Fearful of a possible capture and arrest in the event of a successful peace talk, Joseph Kony has thus far been very cagey about the signing any peace agreement.  There are now people within the Ugandan government calling on the International Criminal Court to rescind its arrest warrant for Joseph Kony in the interests of a prospective peace agreement.  (See ‘Looking for justice in Uganda’, TIME, 18 June 2007)

There is a UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The MONUC (Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies en République démocratique du Congo), founded under UN Security Council Resolution 1291 (2000), it has a current strength of 5537 personnel including 500 observers, making it the largest peacekeeping mission on earth.  Originally mandated to monitor the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement and the end of the Second Congolese War (also known as the African World War), its mission has since been refocused to adapt to the changing nature of the conflict in DRC.  Despite being the largest peacekeeping operation in UN history, it has struggled to deal with the challenges of the conflict.  When you consider the size of the country alone, this is not surprising.  Aside from suffering from inadequate number of personnel, the MONUC has also been accused of corruption and incompetence.  Members of the Indian peacekeeping contingent, for example, has been accused of engaging in narcotic trade with members of the Hutu rebels.  It has also been accused of criminal complacency in weapon seizures of rebel forces, in return for illicit material gains. (Pointers: Congo-Kinshasa: Under Cover, Africa Confidential, 9 May 2008, Vol. 49, No.10, p.12)  Attempts to investigate this by UN internal investigation team has stalled, due to fear that it might alienate the Indian government which is the second largest contributing country in the MONUC.  (“UN troops ‘traded gold for guns'” by Martin Plaut, BBC News, 22 May 2007)  There has been call for increase troop contribution from European nations, particularly by France, but thus far the European reinforcement has not materialised.

The good news is that it simply cannot get much worse.  Africa’s World War is officially over.  However the road to peace is still fraught with dangers and unforseeable pitfalls.

‘Women becoming more violent towards partners’ (AAP, 22 June 2009)

June 24, 2009 Leave a comment

familyThe article is self-explanatory.

Women becoming more violent towards partners‘ (AAP, 22 June 2009)

SYDNEY, June 22 AAP – It’s been revealed that women are becoming more violent towards their partners.
Figures from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics show the number of women charged with domestic violence-related assault has increased dramatically.
The figures show 2,336 women faced court on charges of domestic violence in 2007, mainly for bashing their husbands, compared with just 818 in 1999.
News Ltd says men’s groups say they’re happy that police are finally taking men seriously, but it’s still hard for husbands to admit they’ve been attacked by their wives.
Research shows women tend to use guns, knives, boiling liquids and irons to attack their partners.
The increase in violence, which is often fuelled by alcohol, has sparked calls for refuges for men.
Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch says there’s no definitive explanation for the increasing number of women being prosecuted for domestic violence offences.

SYDNEY, June 22 AAP – It’s been revealed that women are becoming more violent towards their partners.

Figures from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics show the number of women charged with domestic violence-related assault has increased dramatically.

The figures show 2,336 women faced court on charges of domestic violence in 2007, mainly for bashing their husbands, compared with just 818 in 1999.

News Ltd says men’s groups say they’re happy that police are finally taking men seriously, but it’s still hard for husbands to admit they’ve been attacked by their wives.

Research shows women tend to use guns, knives, boiling liquids and irons to attack their partners.

The increase in violence, which is often fuelled by alcohol, has sparked calls for refuges for men.

Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch says there’s no definitive explanation for the increasing number of women being prosecuted for domestic violence offences.

Categories: family law Tags:

‘Babes-in-freezer trial grips France’ (BBC News, 17 June 2009)

June 17, 2009 Leave a comment

JusticeWe are aware of ‘battered woman’s syndrome’ as a legal defence against the criminal charge of murder.  One wonders how the law will deal with a psychological condition known as  ‘pregnancy denial‘?

‘Babes-in-freezer trial grips France’ (BBC News, 17 June 2009)

A verdict is due this week in “the babes in the freezer” case, in which a French mother is accused of murdering three of her children.

A verdict is due this week in “the babes in the freezer” case, in which a French mother is accused of murdering three of her children.

First of all, the facts of the case.

Veronique Courjault, who already has two teenage sons, and who is said by her family and colleagues to be “an exemplary mother”, initially denied any connection to the bodies found in her freezer, but after DNA tests proved she and her husband were the natural parents, she admitted suffocating the two infants in Koreas in 2002 and 2003.

She also admitted killing and burning the body of a third baby she bore in France in 1999.

She explained to investigators she and her husband had agreed they did not want any more children and that during her three subsequent pregnancies, she had felt no connection with the babies growing inside her.

The babies in question were found in a freezer in Seoul, left there by the 41 year old defendant while she was on holiday in South Korea.

What is the legal issue facing the jurors?

Jurors have to now decide whether Veronique Courjault was suffering from a psychological disorder (namely pregnancy denial), or whether she is guilty of premeditated murder.

Apparently on this question, the court summoned medical experts are heavily divided.  The judge has extended the hearing for another 24 hours to allow the expert witnesses to present their evidence more thoroughly.

State’s police licensed to Taser (SMH, 14 June 2009)

June 14, 2009 2 comments

criminal justiceThis blog entry concerns the widespread introduction of taser stun guns to the NSW Police Force.  It will also discuss the possible ramifications of such widespread use.

State’s police licensed to Taser (SMH, 14 June 2009)

TASER stun guns will be rolled out across the state in the biggest revolution of police equipment since the NSW force was formed in 1862.
In a move which will delight the Police Association and alarm civil libertarians, Tuesday’s budget will include $10 million to buy 1962 Tasers for front-line police.
They will have just eight hours’ training but will need to get at least 80 per cent in a written test, and pass an annual certification, before they can use the potentially deadly weapons.

TASER stun guns will be rolled out across the state in the biggest revolution of police equipment since the NSW force was formed in 1862.

In a move which will delight the Police Association and alarm civil libertarians, Tuesday’s budget will include $10 million to buy 1962 Tasers for front-line police.

They will have just eight hours’ training but will need to get at least 80 per cent in a written test, and pass an annual certification, before they can use the potentially deadly weapons.

What is a taser gun?  According to its entry in Wikipedia, taser gun is “an electroshock weapon that uses electrical current to disrupt voluntary control of muscles“.  It is made by Taser International.  Taser works by firing

two small dart-like electrodes, which stay connected to the main unit by conductive wire as they are propelled by small compressed nitrogen charges similar to some air gun or paintball marker propellants. The air cartridge contains a pair of electrodes and propellant for a single shot and is replaced after each use.  (Wikipedia entry on ‘History of Taser‘)

Used correctly, taser guns offer a non-lethal alternative to normal guns for law enforcement.  However, it is not without its critics.  Many civil liberty advocates have expressed concerns about its misuse and abuse by members of the law enforcement agencies.  Of particular concerns is the drive-stun mode, a function now commonly found in taser guns.  According to Amnesty International Canada,

… the potential to use TASERs in drive-stun mode – where they are used as ‘pain compliance’ tools when individuals are already effectively in custody – and the capacity to inflict multiple and prolonged shocks, renders the weapons inherently open to abuse.” (Amnesty International’s concerns about Tasers, Amnesty International Canada)

Not surprisingly, the usage of taser guns  have been accompanied by civil litigation concerning its misuse by the police force.  The most recent one appears to be in Sydney.

‘Man launches civil action after stun-gun attack’ (SMH, 14 June 2009)

Solicitor Nick Boyden, of Australian Criminal Law Specialists, said yesterday his 38-year-old client, whose identity has been withheld, was still suffering from the effects of being twice Tasered by a senior officer on Oxford Street almost three months ago, when it appears he was complying with instructions from the officer to get off the road and onto the footpath.

Mr Boyden, who has briefed criminal defence barrister Winston Terracini, SC, to lead the civil action, said: “There is a place for the responsible use of a Taser by police and that is as a shield to protect police and the public … not a weapon.

Mr Boyden said what happened to his client at 2.30am on Sunday March 29 was captured by a closed-circuit video camera.

It is clear that the use of the Taser in this instance was unwarranted as three other officers from the public riot squad were close at hand to detain my client who only appears to be intoxicated and not posing a threat to any other persons,” he said.

In fairness to tasers, it is probably a safer alternative to ballistic shotguns.  However, the potential of abuse appears to be considerable, and when seen in the context of the recent increase in police powers, this is still a worrying trend in the civil liberty of New South Wales.

‘Program to help prisoners be better fathers’ (ABC News, 9 June 2009)

June 11, 2009 Leave a comment

criminal justiceAn interesting pioneering program in Western Australia that can break the cycle of crime among male prisoners who are also fathers.  

Program to help prisoners be better fathers(ABC News, 9 June 2009)

Prison programs aimed at making inmates better parents will be trialed in Western Australia over the next few months.
Perth’s medium security Acacia Prison will run two courses for fathers, one focusing on behavioural problems in children and the other dealing with the father’s own emotional history.
After the trial, psychologists from Edith Cowan University will determine which course was more effective.
Acacia Prison Director Andy Beck says the programs aim to change attitudes towards parenting and stop them re-offending.
“The more skills that we can give them in prison, the better they are going to be when they are released in terms of managing their own family lives for the future,” he said.
“The aim is to reduce that likelihood of re-offending because they are connected with their families, but importantly to provide better outcomes for children.”

Prison programs aimed at making inmates better parents will be trialed in Western Australia over the next few months.

Perth’s medium security Acacia Prison will run two courses for fathers, one focusing on behavioural problems in children and the other dealing with the father’s own emotional history.

After the trial, psychologists from Edith Cowan University will determine which course was more effective.

Acacia Prison Director Andy Beck says the programs aim to change attitudes towards parenting and stop them re-offending.

The more skills that we can give them in prison, the better they are going to be when they are released in terms of managing their own family lives for the future,” he said.

The aim is to reduce that likelihood of re-offending because they are connected with their families, but importantly to provide better outcomes for children.

Burundi: Security Council hears of progress in peace process, upcoming elections (UN News, 9 June 2009)

June 10, 2009 Leave a comment

united nationsIt seems that international peacekeeping attracts a lot of criticisms.  The failure of the UN peacekeeping mission (UNAMIR) to stop the genocide in Rwanda being one of the notable examples.  It is therefore noteworthy that there are some parts of the world when UN peacekeeping has actually been quite successful.  

In this case, the country in question experienced humanitarian and political problems similar to that of Rwanda.  In fact, it is a neighbour of Rwanda.  The country’s name is Burundi.

Burundi: Security Council hears of progress in peace process, upcoming elections (UN News, 9 June 2009)

Significant strides have been taken in Burundi in implementing its ceasefire accord and laying the foundations for next year’s presidential election, the United Nations top envoy to the impoverished African nation said today.

The Government and the Palipehutu-FNL – the last major rebel hold-outs after the end of the brutal civil war between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority – took a decisive step forward in April when the FNL formally disarmed and registered as a political party, Youssef Mahmoud, Executive Representative of the Secretary-General for Burundi, told the Security Council.

Burundi’s problems were in fact very similar to that in Rwanda.  Like Rwanda, it experienced ethnic tensions between Hutus and Tutsis.  Both were former Belgian colonies.  Both have experienced inter-ethnic wars.  However, the UN peackeeping mission in Burundi has actually been successful in implementing the peace accord signed in 2006, despite some setbacks.  

3,500 former combatants for the FNL, which had first signed the Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement in 2006 but revised it last year after a fresh outbreak of deadly fighting, integrated into Government forces and the police.

“The FNL’s renunciation of armed struggle is an important development which paves the way for its participation in the democratic process in Burundi,” Mr. Mahmoud, who also heads the UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB), told the Council in an open meeting.

He noted that almost half of the 11,000 adults associated with the FNL militia have registered and received assistance as part of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process.

Some 340 children, including six girls, who had been separated from the FNL during April, were also reunited with their families, and 24 the group’s leaders had been nominated to senior civil service positions, including ambassadorial posts and governorships.

The head of BINUB said that the political climate in the Great Lakes nation had also seen some improvements in 2009, most notably the establishment of the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI).

Categories: world order Tags: ,

‘Parents could ‘spy’ on kids’ mobile phones’ (ABC, 2 June 2009)

June 10, 2009 Leave a comment

cell_phone2Not only does this media report raise interesting legal and ethical questions, it will raise the eyebrows of many students!

‘Parents could ‘spy’ on kids’ mobile phones’ (ABC, 2 June 2009)

Parents may soon be able to read their children’s text messages as part of a plan to give them more control over rapidly developing technologies…

Rapid advance in telecommunication technology has been the hallmark of the late twentieth century.  However it brings never ending new challenges that stretch the boundaries of law.  Just recently, for instance, there have been news about cyber-bullying in elite schools.  Use of mobile phones in gang violence have also been noted during the Cronulla riot.  There has also been continuing public concerns about children being exposed to ‘sexting’ or sexual predators.  

It seems for every problems that technology creates, there is a technological solution.

American company My Mobile Watchdog says it has responded to this community concern by launching software that allows parents to see the text messages, calls, picture messages and emails sent to and from their children’s phones.
Geoff Sondergeld is the managing director of Device Connections, the exclusive Australian agent for the software, and he says parents have to face the reality of modern communication.
“The child is notified every time they power their device that their phone is being monitored and they must accept that notification before they can move on to use the phone in any normal use,” he said.
“The screen will say ‘your phone is being monitored by mobile watchdog, press any key to continue’.”
He insists the product is not spyware, because the child will know every time their parents access the records of their phone.

American company My Mobile Watchdog says it has responded to this community concern by launching software that allows parents to see the text messages, calls, picture messages and emails sent to and from their children’s phones.

Geoff Sondergeld is the managing director of Device Connections, the exclusive Australian agent for the software, and he says parents have to face the reality of modern communication.

“The child is notified every time they power their device that their phone is being monitored and they must accept that notification before they can move on to use the phone in any normal use,” he said.

“The screen will say ‘your phone is being monitored by mobile watchdog, press any key to continue’.”

He insists the product is not spyware, because the child will know every time their parents access the records of their phone.

It should not be surprising that civil libertarian lobby groups have raised concerns about this.  Their main argument is that if parents have to rely on this form of technology to monitor their children’s usage of mobile phones, they have to reevaluate their parenting techniques.  They also raise concerns that this constitutes questionable intrusion of one’s privacy.  According to the head of Civil Liberties Council, Terry O’Gorman,

If this technology allows a parent at any time to in effect go and read any communication that is going to or from their child’s mobile phone, that is simply not acceptable,” he said.

Children have certain rights of privacy, including certain rights of privacy in their communication, that their parents should not know about.”

He says parents should not rely on technology such as this to keep aware of what their children are doing.

Those parents that argue they need that software ignore the reality,” he said.

“The best way of finding out what’s happening with your child is to talk to them and not access their phone communications behind their back.

In fact, this technology is yet to be introduced in Australia due to privacy concerns.  

However, parents interviewed for this article are not so convinced by that line of argument.  

Susan Hetherington has an 11-year-old son and she is also a media commentator on children’s issues.

I think it is pandering a little bit to parent hysteria about issues like paedophilia and cyber-bullying but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for parents to be able to make some basic checks on who their children are talking to, depending on the ages of the kids,” she said.

As long as you’re still paying the bills, you have rights to know how that phone is being used.

“In days gone by if someone wanted to talk to their child they’d call the family home, you’d answer it and you’d decide if they could speak to them. I don’t see how this is very different from that.