In brief

News of the week

Coup in Burkina Faso / High Court reaffirms that South African government acted unconstitutionally by letting al-Bashir escape / Mugabe holds same speech twice / Egyptian cabinet resigns / Nepal’s new constitution / Sri Lankan war crimes / Former Guatemalan first lady is candidate in run-off election
D+C / E+Z

Coup in Burkina Faso

Members of Burkina Faso’s Presidential Guard (Régiment de Sécurité Présidentielle – RSP) have detained the interim president and prime minister and declared their leader, General Gilbert Diendéré, to be the new president. Diendéré is a long-time ally of Blaise Compaoré, who ruled the country for almost three decades before being forced to resign by a democratic uprising last year. Madiambal Diagne of Senegal’s Le Quotidien writes that many people in Burkina feel that the RSP leaders wants to put an end to the transition to civilian rule.

Diendéré has declared that elections will not be held as planned in mid-October, but at some later point in time. In Ouagadougou, the capital city, his soldiers were seen dispersing protest rallies against the coup. There have been reports of journalists suffering repression, for instance, and radio stations were attacked to stop their broadcasts. Diendéré has a reputation for violence. Among other things, he played a leading role in the assassination of Burkina’s leftist leader Thomas Sankara when Compaoré grabbed power in a military coup in 1987.

The RSP was always an important component of Compaorés regime. The interim government that was established last year to prepare democratic elections, had recently discussed its dissolution. In recent months, the investigation of crimes committed by government institutions under Compaoré had begun, and the RSP’s repressive role had become quite clear.

Sources: Le Quotidien, La Liberation, Le Monde, RFI


South African High Court reaffirms ruling against government

The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria stands by its earlier judgement that the country’s government acted unconstitutionally by not arresting Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir in July. The International Criminal Court wants to try al-Bashir for war crimes and issued an arrest warrant in 2009. ICC member states are under obligation to detain him and transfer him to the ICC in The Hague.

When al-Bashir attended a summit of African leaders in South Africa in July, the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC), a non-governmental organisation, turned to the High Court which then ordered that al-Bashir must not be allowed to leave the country. Shortly after, however, he boarded an airplane at a military airbase and flew home to Sudan.

Later the government filed objections against the High Court order. It argued that arresting a serving head of state would have violated foreign-policy norms and suggested it was facing “countervailing duties”. The High Court has now decided that these objections are not valid.

Leaders of the ANC, the ruling party, want the government to appeal to the country’s Supreme Court. The response of Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, the chief executive of the SALC, was: “The state is free to petition the Supreme Court of Appeal directly, and we will continue in our quest to ensure that South Africa does not become a safe haven for suspected war criminals.”

Sources: Mail, Guardian, SZ, SABC


Mugabe holds same speech twice

Opening Zimbabwe’s parliament, President Robert Mugabe held the same speech as he had done for his state-of-the-nation address in late August. George Charamba, Mugabe’s spokesman, told a local newspaper that there was “a mix-up of speeches” in the presidential office. Mugabe apparently did not notice that he was delivering the same speech for the second time.

Members of his party ZanuPF applauded him during the speech, while opposition MPs kept quiet. Some of them had heckled Mugabe in August and later received death threats from ZanuPF supporters. An opposition leader said after the event that Mugabe was obviously no longer fit for office.

Mugabe is 91 years old and has been in power since Zimbabwe became independent in 1980. He first served as prime minister and later became president. His rule has been authoritarian and violent. For example, more than 20,000 people were killed in Matabeleland in genocidal atrocities when Mugabe consolidated his control of the state in the 1980s.

Sources: BBC, ABC


Egyptian cabinet resigns

In Egypt , Sherif Ismail has been asked to serve as prime minister and form a new cabinet. In the previous cabinet, which resigned collectively because of a corruption scandal, he was the oil minister. Together with his aides, Salah el-Din Helal, who was the agriculture minister, is accused of having accepted bribes worth about $ 880 million. Observers argue that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the country’s top leader, hopes that the government reshuffle will help his allies in parliamentary elections that will be held later this year.

Source: Deutsche Welle  


Nepal’s new constitution

With a majority of more than 90 %, Nepal’s Constituent Assembly has approved a new constitution which will come into force on Sunday 20 September. The country will be divided into seven federal provinces which each will have legislative assemblies and a chief minister.

Political fringe groups have been agitating against the new constitution. Some 40 people, including some policemen, are estimated to have died in politically-motivated clashes in the past four weeks. For instance, bloody riots rocked Nepal after the Constituent Assembly turned down a proposal to declare the country a Hindu state. A right-wing party had made the proposal. Sushma Swaraj, India’s foreign minister who belongs to a Hindu nationalist party, urged for calm however.

In 2006, a comprehensive peace agreement had ended a long civil war, and an interim constitution has been in force since 2007. Progress has been slow since then, and this year people’s discontent grew because state agencies proved unable to handle the impacts of a devastating earth quake. The Constituent Assembly was thus under particular pressure to finally get its work done.

Sources: Economic Times, The Hindu, Hindustan Times, Times of India


UN want special court for Sri Lankan war crimes

The UN want to establish a special court to try war-crime perpetrators in Sri Lanka. Presenting a report in Geneva, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the UN commissioner for human rights, said both sides “most likely” committed war crimes in the final stages of the civil war. The war between rebels of the Tamil minority, known as “Tamil Tigers”, and government forces lasted 26 years and ended in 2009. The UN investigation unveiled abuses including torture, executions, forced disappearances and sexual abuse by security forces as well as suicide attacks, assassinations and recruitment of child soldiers by Tamil rebels.

The UN want the court to investigate individuals responsible for the worst atrocities. They also want it to by “hybrid”. Hybrid courts typically have international and local judges who apply international and national law. Since Sri Lanka has so far opposed any international investigation of the matter, a hybrid court could be a compromise. President Maithripala Sirisena promised both to cooperate with the UN and to promote reconciliation.

Sources: BBC, Guardian


Former Guatemalan first lady is candidate in run-off election

Sandra Torres will run against Jimmy Morales in the final round of Guatemala’s presidential elections next month. The former first lady leans left, while Morales, a TV comedian, has the support of the country’s military and business establishment. With about a quarter of the votes, Morales was the frontrunner in the first round, in which Torres and Manuel Baldizon, a conservative politician, won about 20 % each.

Baldizon dropped out of the race when it became clear last week that Torres had gained about 6000 more votes. He also resigned from the chairmanship of his party. He has made bitter comments about elections being manipulated, but videos that were promoted on social media prove that he did not play by the rules all the time himself.

In the meantime, opposition activists in neighbouring Honduras want an international commission against impunity to be established in their country in order to investigate criminal action of government officials. Their model is the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, which has made many headlines this year. It uncovered corruption networks and thus contributed to the resignation of the previous president, Oscar Pérez Molina, who must now face a court trial.

Sources: LA Times, taz, AP

These items were compiled by Hans Dembowski and Katja Dombrowski on the basis of international media coverage.

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