Remains of Rwanda war crimes suspect found in Congo

Ex-defence minister Augustin Bizimana, believed to have died in 2000, was indicted on genocide, murder and rape charges.

The remains of Augustin Bizimana, former Rwandan defence minister and one of the top suspects wanted over the country’s 1994 genocide, have been identified in a grave in the Republic of Congo, a United Nations war crimes prosecutor has said.

Serge Brammertz said Bizimana, who was indicted on 13 charges, including genocide, murder and rape, is believed to have died in Pointe Noire, in Congo, in 2000.


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His remains were identified by DNA testing.

“Bizimana was alleged to be responsible for the murders of former Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and 10 Belgian United Nations peacekeepers, and for the murder of Tutsi civilians” in five Rwandan regions, Brammertz said in a statement on Friday.

He is believed to have died around August 2000, “based on the conclusive identification of Bizimana’s remains in a gravesite in Pointe Noire, the Republic of the Congo,” the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) said in a statement.

The announcement of Bizimana’s death follows the arrest in Paris last week of 84-year-old Felicien Kabuga, another of a handful of prominent suspects from the Rwandan genocide who had been on the run for more than 20 years.

On Wednesday, in his first appearance in public in more than two decades, Kabuga was brought into a French courtroom in a wheelchair, dressed in jeans and a blue jumper and wearing a face mask.

The court’s three judges, who are due to decide whether to transfer Kabuga to the UN tribunal – adjourned the hearing to May 27. Kabuga’s lawyers said he wanted a trial in France and accused the country’s chief public prosecutor of trying to rush the legal process.

But Brammertz said a request had already been launched for Kabuga’s transfer into UN custody and that he could initially be held in The Hague rather than Africa because of coronavirus travel restrictions.

Kabuga has been indicted by UN prosecutors for genocide and incitement to commit genocide, among other charges. He is accused of bankrolling and arming the ethnic Hutu militias which killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus over 100 days.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda conducted 50 trials before closing its doors in 2015.

Brammertz is the prosecutor of a successor UN court with dual offices in Arusha, Tanzania and The Hague, Netherlands, that continues to function for remaining suspects and appeals.

Brammertz said his office continues to pursue Protais Mpiranya, the former commander of the Presidential Guard of the Rwandan Armed Forces, and five other Rwandan suspects.

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Coronavirus lockdowns threaten Africa’s already-vulnerable food supply

In a pre-dawn raid in food-starved Zimbabwe, police enforcing a coronavirus lockdown confiscated and destroyed 3 tons of fresh fruit and vegetables by setting fire to it. Wielding batons, they scattered a group of rural farmers who had travelled overnight, breaking restrictions on movement to bring the precious produce to one of the country’s busiest markets.

The food burned as the farmers went home empty-handed, a stupefying moment for a country and a continent where food is in critically short supply.

It was an extreme example of how lockdowns to slow the spread of the coronavirus may be choking Africa’s already-vulnerable food supply.

Lockdowns in at least 33 of Africa’s 54 countries have blocked farmers from getting food to markets and threatened deliveries of food assistance to rural populations. Many informal markets where millions buy their food are shut.

About one in every five people in Africa, nearly 250 million, already didn’t have enough food before the virus outbreak, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. A quarter of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is undernourished.

“This is double any other region,” said Sean Granville-Ross, director for Africa at the aid agency Mercy Corps. “With lockdowns, border closures and the ability to access food curtailed, the impact of COVID-19 on Africa could be like nothing we have seen before.”

Lockdowns without provisions to help the poor “may affect us very, very much,” said Lola Castro, regional director in southern Africa for the U.N. World Food Program.

The Kibera slum in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, is at a breaking point already. Last week, thousands of desperate people scrambled for food aid at a distribution point, causing a stampede.

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The World Food Program was already feeding millions in Africa, mainly rural people, due to a myriad of disasters: Floods, drought. armed conflict, government failures, even plagues of locusts. The pandemic has added another layer of hardship.

Take Sudan, where restrictions to combat the virus are hampering aid workers from reaching some of the 9.2 million people in need, according to the U.N.

The most severe drought in decades is already threatening about 45 million people with hunger across southern Africa, where farmers are still recovering from two devastating cyclones that battered Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi last year.

Somalia, one of the world’s most fragile countries, is struggling to get food to people living in extremist-controlled areas. Two months ago it declared a national emergency over an outbreak of desert locusts that devoured tens of thousands of hectares of crops and pastures. That left 20 million people with dire food shortages in East Africa. Now t he locusts are back, more of them this time.

In West Africa’s Sahel region, nearly 30 million are struggling to find food, said Granville-Ross of Mercy Corps.

On top of these problems, the World Bank said the virus could create “a severe food security crisis in Africa.”

Among those at risk are millions of children normally fed through WFP’s school meals program. A few weeks after the virus crept into Africa, so many schools have been closed that 65 million children are now missing out on meals, WFP told The Associated Press.

For many Africans, the immediate concern is not the virus _ it’s surviving the lockdowns.

“Most Africans work in the informal sector and need to go out every day,” World Health Organization Africa regional chief Matshidiso Moeti said. “I think above all of access to food.”

The virus has been slow to spread in Africa, which has not yet experienced the drastic number of cases and deaths witnessed in parts of Europe, Asia and the United States. The continent of nearly 1.3 billion people has reported just over 15,000 cases and 815 deaths, although those figures may be vastly under-reported.

But while direct casualties are still relatively low, the “large majority” of economies at risk from the pandemic are in Africa, according to WFP.

“For many poor countries, the economic consequences will be more devastating than the disease itself,” said WFP. British charity Oxfam warned that if Africa doesn’t get help, the fight against poverty could be set back “by as much as 30 years.”

Ordinary Africans can’t expect much help from their governments, many of which are already labouring with huge debts and low foreign currency reserves. Falling global oil and mineral prices mean that Africa’s exports are worth less now.

Some are making drastic decisions.

In a street in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, Eugene Wadema trudges along, searching for transport to get back to her rural home 300 kilometres (186 miles) away.

In the days before the lockdown, food prices shot up at a rate many Zimbabweans, already hammered by a ruined economy and the world’s second-highest inflation rate, just couldn’t handle.

“Here, the price of a pack of potatoes is now $40. It was $15 yesterday,” the 23-year-old Wadema said. She said her rural homeland is one of the lucky ones still receiving food aid but she doesn’t know h.ow long it will last.

Behind her, her husband holds a small child. Two other young children _ 5-year-old twins _ try to keep up as they carry bags with clothes and blankets. But there’s no food for the journey.

“If we had food we wouldn’t be going,” Wadema said.

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Some African nations complain about treatment of Africans in China's Guangzhou

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Several African countries have demanded that China address their concerns that Africans in Guangzhou city are being mistreated and harassed amid fears there of a potential spread of coronavirus from imported cases.

In recent days Africans in the city have reported being ejected from their apartments by their landlords, being tested for coronavirus several times without being given results and being shunned and discriminated against in public. Such complaints have been made in local media, and on social media.

In a statement on Saturday, Ghana’s minister of foreign affairs Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey said she had summoned the Chinese ambassador to express her disappointment and demand action to address the “inhumane treatment.”

“I regret and highly condemn this…ill-treament and racial discrimination,” the minister said.

She said she had summoned Ambassador Shi Ting Wang to “register my disappointment and call for his government to immediately address the situation and bring their officials to order.”

There was no immediate response from the Chinese Embassy in Ghana to a request for comment on this.

In a tweeted statement on Saturday, the Chinese embassy in Zimbabwe dismissed the accusation of Chinese deliberately targeting Africans and suggested reports of racial discrimination and harassment were being sensationalized.

“It is harmful to sensationalize isolated incidents,” the statement said. “China treats all individuals in the country, Chinese and foreign alike, as equals.”

China has ended its more than two-month lockdown in Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus infections began, after containing the outbreak there but authorities are now worried about a potential second wave of infection from imported cases.

At the peak of the outbreak in Wuhan some African nations refused to evacuate their students from China, expressing confidence in Beijing’s ability to handle the outbreak.

In a press statement on Friday the Kenyan government said the “stringent testing of foreigners” that China had undertaken had “precipitated unfair responses against foreigners particularly of African origin.”

In the foreign ministry statement about the treatment of Africans in Guangzhou, Nairobi “officially expressed concern.” It added that government was working with Chinese authorities to address the matter.

On Friday, Nigerian legislator Akinola Alabi tweeted a video of a meeting between the leader of Nigeria’s lower house of parliament, Femi Gbajabiamila, and Chinese Ambassador Zhou Pingjian. In it, Gbajabiamila demanded an explanation from the diplomat after showing Zhou a video of a Nigerian complaining about mistreatment in China.

The ambassador said in response to the questions from the house leader that he took the complaints “very seriously” and promised to convey them to the authorities back home.

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Some African countries heading for peak in coronavirus cases in weeks: WHO official

ABUJA (Reuters) – Some African countries could see a peak in coronavirus cases in the coming weeks, and testing should be urgently increased in the region, World Health Organization (WHO) officials said on Thursday.

“During the last four days we can see that the numbers have already doubled,” Michel Yao, the WHO Africa programme manager for emergency response, told a media teleconference on Thursday.

“If the trend continues, and also learning from what happened in China and in Europe, some countries may face a huge peak very soon,” he said, adding it could arrive in the coming weeks but without naming countries.

The numbers of people recorded infected with the novel coronavirus in Africa have been relatively low so far – with nearly 11,000 cases and 562 deaths, according to a Reuters tally based on government statements and WHO data.

The WHO’s Africa head, Matshidiso Moeti, said there is an “urgent need” to expand testing capacity beyond capital cities in Africa, as the virus spreads through countries.

“Without help and action now, poor countries and vulnerable communities could suffer massive devastation,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told diplomats in Geneva.

“The infection numbers in Africa are relatively small now, but they are growing fast,” he said.

He noted the havoc wrought even in wealthy nations in the 100 days since China first informed the WHO of cases of a “pneumonia of unknown cause” in the city of Wuhan.

African leaders including the presidents of South Africa, Nigeria and Rwanda have rallied around Tedros, a former foreign minister of Ethiopia, after U.S. President Donald Trump criticised the United Nations agency and threatened to withhold his country’s contribution to its budget.

Although Africa accounts for a fraction of global cases of the disease, its countries are feeling the economic impact. In a report published on Thursday, the World Bank said the outbreak is expected to push sub-Saharan Africa into recession in 2020 for the first time in 25 years.

The bank’s Africa’s Pulse report said the region’s economy will contract 2.1% to 5.1% from growth of 2.4% last year, and that the new coronavirus will cost sub-Saharan Africa $37 billion to $79 billion in output losses this year due to trade and value chain disruption, among other factors.

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