US decision will provide ‘profound relief’ to millions in war-torn Yemen: UN spokesperson

OCHA/Mahmoud Fadel
An internally displaced child plays at an IDP settlement in Al-Dhale’e governorate, southern Yemen.

The US announcement revoking the previous administration’s terrorist designation of Yemen’s Houthi movement, formally known as Ansar Allah, will provide “profound relief” to millions in the country, who depend on international assistance and imports for their survival, the UN Spokesperson said on Saturday. 

In a note to correspondents, Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, welcomed the announcement, which was made by the Biden administration on Friday. 

“The revocation of the designations will provide profound relief to millions of Yemenis who rely on humanitarian assistance and commercial imports to meet their basic survival needs. It will help ensure that much-needed essential goods reach them without significant delays”, Mr. Dujarric said. 

“At a time when Yemen is at significant risk of famine, maintaining commercial imports and humanitarian assistance in adequate quantities is essential”, he added. 

Mr. Dujarric also expressed hope that the move will contribute to UN efforts to resume a Yemeni-led and Yemeni-owned political process to reach an inclusive, negotiated settlement to the conflict. 

Central African Republic: First Seleka Suspect in ICC Custody

The surrender by Central African Republic authorities of the first Seleka-rebel suspect to face charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) is an important step toward justice for serious crimes committed by the two main warring factions in the country’s civil conflict, Human Rights Watch said today.  

Mahamat Said Abdel Kani was flown from the Central African Republic to ICC headquarters in The Hague on January 24, 2021. He is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed as a Seleka commander in Bangui, the capital, in 2013. The ICC issued the arrest warrant under seal on January 7, 2019. 

“Said is the first commander of the Seleka, a group responsible for wide-ranging atrocities against civilians, to be brought before the ICC,” said Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “Said’s case is an important step, but it should be followed by other cases against Seleka leaders, some of whom are implicated in abuses still being committed today.”  

In 2012, the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted the Central African Republic President, François Bozizé, and seized power through a campaign of violence and terror. In March 2013, the Seleka took control of Bangui, attacking civilians and pillaging the city. In late 2013, Christian and animist militias known as anti-balaka began to organize counterattacks against the Seleka. Both the Seleka and anti-balaka have been implicated in widespread atrocities against civilians. 

An ICC judge found reasonable grounds to believe that from March 2013 to January 2014 the Seleka committed a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population, elements of crimes against humanity. Said is accused of responsibility for the crimes against humanity of imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty, torture, persecution, enforced disappearance, and other inhumane acts, and the war crimes of torture and cruel treatment. 

Said, who is 50 and from the town of Bria, is believed to have joined the Seleka in 2012 and was promoted to lieutenant, colonel, and then commander. In April 2013, when Seleka abuse in Bangui was acute, he was given a key role in the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry (Office Central de Repression du Banditisme, OCRB).  

Said’s surrender occurred a few weeks before the opening of a trial against two anti-balaka leaders, Alfred Yékatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona. Their cases had stood in stark contrast to the absence of proceedings involving crimes by the Seleka, who continue to control vast territory in the country. Human Rights Watch has documented the Seleka’s involvement in abuses since 2013.  

In 2014, the Seleka splintered into several groups, including the Popular Front for the Renaissance (FPRC), headed by Noureddine Adam and Michel Djotodia. Recently, some factions of the FPRC have aligned themselves with anti-balaka forces.  

Djotodia is currently residing in Bangui and Adam is openly circulating in the Northeast. Other high-profile Seleka leaders, such as Mahamat Al Khatim, Saleh Zabadi and Ali Darassa continue to lead splinter Seleka groups. Some Seleka leaders were granted government posts in 2019 after a peace agreement.  

“Said’s arrest is important for ensuring that justice is not – nor seen to be – one-sided,” Keppler said. “Central African Republic authorities played a valuable role by cooperating with the ICC in Said’s surrender.”  

Said will now have his initial appearance at the ICC. The court will subsequently hold a hearing to determine if the charges against him should be confirmed and a trial go forward.  

In 2014, the ICC opened an investigation into crimes in the Central African Republic since 2012, following a request from the Central African government. This is the ICC’s second investigation into crimes committed in the Central African Republic. The first investigation there, related to an earlier conflict in 2002 and 2003, has not yet held any individuals to account for crimes committed. The first investigation produced only one case, against Jean-Pierre Bemba, a Congolese former vice president, which ended in an acquittal on appeal in June 2018.  

ICC investigations in the Central African Republic are complemented by the Special Criminal Court, an important new court set up in Bangui staffed by international and Central African judges and prosecutors, and the country’s ordinary courts. The Special Criminal Court began operations in 2018 but has yet to hold its first trial. 

There has been a recent upsurge in violence in the Central African Republic surrounding the presidential election held on December 27, 2020. A new rebel coalition has engaged in a number of attacks, leaving several peacekeepers dead and leading to further mass civilian displacement. The coalition consists of both anti-balaka and Seleka factions. The recent violence signals the end of the 2019 peace deal.  

“The arrest of the first Seleka suspect, and impending trial of anti-balaka leaders, should send a powerful signal to those committing crimes at this very moment,” Keppler said. “The Central African Republic finds itself at a critical juncture, with armed groups at the gate of the capital. Would-be perpetrators should realize they too could find themselves in the dock.”

Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio Inspects Agricultural Machinery at the Agriculture Central Stores

Sierra Leone president Julius Maada Bio has embarked on an inspection tour of the stores of the Ministry of Agriculture that is housing about 2,410 agricultural implements and 410 tractors for the 2021 planting season. 

In the 2018 New Direction Manifesto of the SLPP, the President emphasised that the overall goal of their agricultural policy was to sustain and diversify the production of food, increase investment in agriculture, develop and implement mechanised commercial farming to transform the traditional subsistence agricultural sector. 

At the inspection site, east of Freetown, President Bio said his visit was to show that his government was serious about improving the agricultural sector and providing the enabling environment for farmers to exhibit and discover their true potentials. 

“There has been constant grumbling about the lack of mechanisation in farming over the years. With these machines, it is now left with us as a country to effectively utilise them to increase agricultural productivity for the years ahead,” he noted.

The Acting Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security, Dr Abubakar Karim, disclosed that all the 410 tractors and 2,410 farming implements would be distributed across the country by next week to ensure that farmers were ready for the 2021 planting season.

Biden appoints geneticist Eric Lander as science adviser

President-elect Joe Biden has chosen a research policy maven—and familiar face—to be both his science adviser and head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

Eric Lander’s appointment is seen as a sign that the Biden administration will embrace scientific research.MATTHEW J. LEE/BROAD INSTITUTE

Eric Lander, 63, is president and founding director of the Broad Institute, which is jointly run by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A mathematician turned molecular biologist, Lander was also co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) for 8 years under former President Barack Obama, where he worked closely with Obama’s science adviser, John Holdren, and interacted with Biden.

“Eric is a fabulous choice, and he will make a terrific science adviser,” predicts Holdren, who calls Lander “a science polymath” for his breadth of knowledge across many disciplines. That’s also true for policy, Holdren says. “Eric’s fingerprints were on every one of PCAST’s 39 reports” issued under Obama, Holdren adds, noting that six of them covered previous pandemics and public health crises.

Lander will be the first biologist to hold both jobs, and he’ll be the first to hold Cabinet-level status. Holdren expects Lander to take full advantage of that forum.

“He’s incredibly good at explaining complex scientific issues,” Holdren says about Lander’s role in presenting PCAST reports to the president. Biden participated in several of those briefings, Holdren noted, calling the former vice president “a real science wonk.”

Lander has long had a high scientific profile. He co-led the public Human Genome Project to the completion of a first draft in 2001. In 2003 he founded and now leads the Broad Institute, a genome-sequencing powerhouse. Lander is known for his enthusiasm for big science projects and his healthy ego. A few years ago he was criticized for downplaying the role of some scientists in developing CRISPR, the gene-editing tool that has transformed biology in recent years.

Story credit: SCIENCE

Nigerians got their abusive SARS police force abolished – but elation soon turned to frustration

A police officer in Lagos, Nigeria, Nov. 3. Olukayode Jaiyeola/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Samuel Fury Childs Daly, Duke University

For a brief moment in October, it seemed that youthful protesters calling to “abolish” a police force had succeeded. After weeks of mass demonstrations against police brutality, the government agreed to disband a widely hated police unit.

This was in Nigeria, not the United States. But the lessons from Nigeria have broad relevance for protesters elsewhere calling for major reforms to policing.

In Nigeria, it took just three weeks of mass demonstrations for President Muhammadu Buhari to announce he would eliminate the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS, the most reviled segment of the national Nigerian Police Force.

SARS officers were infamous for demanding bribes at checkpoints and for violent confrontations with civilians that could end in death. Though heavily armed, SARS officers seldom wore uniforms. Many Nigerians struggled to distinguish the police from the criminals they ostensibly pursued.

Buhari explained his decision to dissolve SARS by stating his “commitment to extensive police reforms… to ensure that the primary duty of the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection of lives.”

At first, Nigerians were elated, if surprised: President Buhari, a former military dictator who in the 1980s imposed corporal punishment for minor infractions like jumping the line at bus stops, had caved to public pressure over policing.

Their joy was to be short-lived.

Young men with face masks around their neck hold police reform signs
Young protesters call for abolishing SARS at the Lagos State House of Assembly on Oct. 9. Adekunle Ajayi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

History of police violence

In my research on the history of law enforcement in Nigeria, I’ve documented how durable its police institutions are, and how resistant to fundamental change.

The Nigeria Police Force dates back to British colonialism, which lasted until 1960. It is notoriously ineffective, and since it is a federal agency its officers are usually not local to the places they patrol. Officers are poorly paid, which leads them to demand bribes and encourages other forms of corruption. A lack of oversight means that police who abuse their power are seldom punished.

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad – the target of protesters’ recent ire – is a federal police force created during Nigeria’s long military dictatorship.

Military rule in Nigeria lasted from 1966 to 1999 with two brief interruptions, punctuated by the Nigerian Civil War from 1967 to 1970. After the war, economic volatility and a glut of leftover firearms contributed to a spike in property crime.

Nigeria’s military rulers responded to a national crisis of armed robbery by imposing martial law and making robbery a capital offense. SARS was established in 1992 as part of one such crackdown. But it endured after Nigeria returned to a civilian-led democracy in 1999.

Other law enforcement tools the military had used, like tribunals, continued after dictatorship, too, as did colonial-era punishments like corporal punishment by police.


The mandate of SARS went beyond patrolling and investigating. It also made judgments about guilt and meted out punishment, just as policemen and soldiers had done during military rule. That punishment could entail torture, and even death, which human rights groups documented.

SARS officers also tormented Nigerians with more mundane harassment. They set up checkpoints to search cars and phones for “evidence” that they then used to demand bribes.

Heavily armed men in camouflage and black vests walk toward a line of voters
SARS officers patrol a polling station in Kano, in northern Nigeria, during Nigeria’s 2019 presidential election. Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP via Getty Images

In October 2020, a a video of the killing of a young man by SARS officers in the town of Ughelli sparked long-standing opposition to SARS into a national cause. Online activism took #EndSARS international, and an avalanche of Twitter posts exhorted the Nigerian government to dissolve the force. Nigerians living abroad led protests in New York and in front of many Nigerian embassies, garnering global media attention.

#EndSARS built on a long history of discontent with the Nigerian police. While the movement in some ways recalled Black Lives Matter in the United States – which issued a statement in support of #EndSARS – age rather than race was at its center. Its leaders argued that, as young people in a state run by elderly ex-soldiers, they were vulnerable to police harassment.

Soro soke werey” – a slang phrase roughly meaning, “speak up, madman” – was one of its slogans, an indictment of past generations for having tolerated police violence.


Two days after President Buhari agreed to disband SARS, celebration turned to disillusionment.

On Oct. 14, the Nigerian Police Force unveiled a new police squad, the Special Weapons and Tactics Team, or SWAT. The police promised SWAT would be “strictly intelligence-driven,” and that “no personnel from the defunct SARS will be selected to be part of the new tactical team.”

Activists suspected SWAT was a new label for an old institution, not a meaningful reform. Rather than clearing the streets, protests grew, in Nigeria and abroad. #EndSARS became #EndSWAT. On Oct. 20, soldiers opened fire at an #EndSWAT protest in Lagos, killing at least 48.

Crowd holding #EndSARS signs with New York skyscrapers visible in the background
A protest against Nigeria’s SARS police force in New York City on Oct. 21. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Six police officers have been killed on the job since the #EndSARS movement concluded, and the Lagos State government has compensated their families. Nothing has been paid to the families of the protesters who died. The Lagos State government opened a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the Oct. 20 killings, but such inquiries, which are merely advisory, have come to little in the past.

[Insight, in your inbox each day. You can get it with The Conversation’s email newsletter.]

Nigeria’s government has begun punishing the young organizers of #EndSARS, including by freezing their bank accounts and revoking their passports. This, too, has echoes in the past. Financial penalties were imposed on the losing side of the Nigerian Civil War in the early 1970s, and military regimes regularly prevented their critics from leaving the country.

Nigeria’s story reveals a common pitfall of police reform movements that’s also been seen in the United States and beyond. Governments facing pressure to reform police may shuffle around personnel or rebrand maligned units – but cosmetic changes cannot fix root problems that date back decades, even centuries.

Samuel Fury Childs Daly, Assistant Professor of African and African American Studies, Duke University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sudan at critical juncture in path towards democratic transition, Security Council hears

International support for Sudan is critical as the country continues on the path to democratic transition, amid challenges that include political disagreements, economic decline, and the COVID-19 pandemic, UN political affairs chief, Rosemary DiCarlo told a virtual meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday.

Ambassadors were updated on developments since the signing in October of a milestone peace agreement between the authorities and two armed movements from Darfur, and on the potential drawdown of the UN-African Union force in the province, known as UNAMID

“Sudan is at a critical juncture. It can move forward decisively in its transition, but that progress can still be derailed by the many challenges it faces. It is incumbent on all of us to support Sudan in its efforts to achieve democratic governance, economic prosperity and an inclusive society for all Sudanese”, said Ms. DiCarlo.  

This month will mark two years since the Sudanese Revolution, which led to the overthrow of longstanding leader, Omar Al-Bashir, in April 2019.  A joint military-civilian body, known as the Sovereign Council, is ruling the country until elections can be held. 

Despite progress, Ms. DiCarlo reported political forces in Sudan are increasingly fragmented.  Disagreements have surfaced following the recent establishment of a new body, the Council of Partners for the Transitional Period, while formation of the Transitional Legislative Council has been postponed until 31 December. 

Sudan has also experienced severe economic decline, partly due to a five-month shutdown to prevent coronavirus spread.  As a result, public revenues dropped while spending on emergency health programmes increased, contributing to a growing budget deficit of roughly $250 million each month.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic has further aggravated the humanitarian needs, also driven by severe flooding, intercommunal violence and prolonged displacement”, she continued.    

“In recent weeks, over 48,000 people have fled the Ethiopian conflict in the Tigray region and have sought refuge in Sudan. This has put an additional strain on the Sudanese authorities.” 

The UN Political Affairs chief again welcomed the intention by the  United States to rescind Sudan’s designation as a State sponsor of terrorism, which will open up access to critical international financial assistance. 

Targeting journalists takes a toll on ‘societies as a whole’ – UN chief

UNAMA/Fardin Waezi
A mural on a blast wall in downtown Kabul commemorates journalists killed in Afghanistan in 2016.

When journalists are targeted, “societies as a whole pay a price”, the UN chief said on Monday, the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.

“If we do not protect journalists, our ability to remain informed and make evidence-based decisions is severely hampered”, Secretary-General António Guterres spelled out in his message for the day.  

And when they cannot safely do their jobs, “we lose an important defense against the pandemic of misinformation and disinformation that has spread online”, he added.

Free press ‘essential’ 

There were at least 21 attacks on journalists covering protests in the first half of 2020 – equal to the number of such attacks in the whole of 2017, Mr. Guterres said.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted new perils for journalists and media workers, the UN chief reiterated his call for a “free press that can play its essential role in peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights”.

“Fact-based news and analysis depend on the protection and safety of journalists conducting independent reporting, rooted in the fundamental tenet: ‘journalism without fear or favour’”, he concluded.

Adverse consequences

In her message, Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), maintained that through accurate reporting, journalists “bring truth to light”.

However, she noted that for too many “telling the truth comes at a price”.

While journalists are in “a unique and compelling position” to “speak truth to power”, the UNESCO chief observed that the two “do not always see eye to eye”.

Between 2010 and 2019, close to 900 journalists were killed while doing their job, according Ms. Azoulay – more than 150 in the last two years alone. 

Journalists in crosshairs

Although many have lost their lives covering conflicts, far more are being killed for investigating issues such as corruption, trafficking, political wrongdoing, human rights violations and environmental issues. 

And death is not the only risk journalists are facing.

“Attacks on the press can take the form of threats, kidnappings, arrests, imprisonments or offline and online harassment with women being targeted in particular”, the UNESCO chief elaborated. 

Preserving freedom

Even though the 2019 death toll for journalists was the lowest in a decade, the UN official pointed out that wider attacks are continuing “at an alarming rate”. 

She noted that in seven-out-of-eight killings, the perpetrators go unpunished, and asserted: “We can and should do more”.

“Journalists are essential in preserving the fundamental right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, she explained. “When journalists are attacked with impunity, there is a breakdown in security and judicial systems for all”. 

End impunity

UNESCO commemorates the day annually on 2 November to raise awareness and highlight some of the specific risks that journalists face in their quest to uncover the truth.

“On this day, I call on…all Member States and international and non-governmental organizations to join forces to guarantee the safety of journalists and root out impunity”, said the UNESCO chief.

“Only by investigating and prosecuting crimes against media professionals can we guarantee access to information and freedom of expression”. 

Unleashing information

UNESCO also marked the day by releasing the brochure Protect Journalists, Protect the Truth.

Among other things, it revealed that most journalists were killed in countries with no armed conflict. 

And while impunity for crimes against journalists continues to prevail, in 2020, 13 per cent of cases worldwide were reported as resolved in comparison to 12 per cent in 2019, and 11 per cent in 2018.

The findings also showed that in 2019, Latin America and the Caribbean region represented 40 per cent of all killings registered worldwide, followed by the Asia and Pacific region, with 26 per cent. 

“States have an obligation to protect journalists”, and judges and prosecutors must promote “swift and effective criminal proceedings” to ensure that perpetrators of crimes against them are held accountable, upheld Ms. Azoulay.