United to End Genocide is monitoring conflicts in the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, and Kenya, where violence, hate speech and repression of political dissent could be warning signs of future mass atrocities.

As an organization that seeks to prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities, United to End Genocide monitors countries where conflict patterns reflect significant potential for widespread and systematic violence against civilians.

In addition to our ongoing work on Burma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan South Sudan and Syria, there are nine situations that we’re watching closely. In the first of a three-part blog series, we talk about Central African Republic, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Central African Republic

Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistence Army, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for his crimes (Credit: Chris Shultz)

Attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony, have increased in the Central African Republic (CAR) since the beginning of 2012. This escalating violence comes despite U.S.-backed regional military efforts to capture the elusive rebel leader and dismantle his armed group.

According to a report released by the United Nations in July, 11 civilians were killed and 37 people abducted in nine separate attacks., Human Rights Watch reports that the LRA carried out attacks in the CAR and the Democratic Republic Congo between January and March, abducting 90 civilians and killing nine others. The number of attacks in southeastern CAR is a significant increase over attacks reported in 2011.

The LRA has perpetrated crimes against humanity across central Africa and the group remains an active threat to civilians living in remote regions that lack a significant presence of security personnel. The United Nations Secretary-General condemned the “grave violations” committed by the LRA against children in CAR, the DRC and South Sudan from July 2009 through February 2012. Violations included “recruitment and use, killing and maiming, sexual violence, abductions, attacks on schools and hospitals and denial of humanitarian access.” In CAR and other neighboring countries, more than 4,200 people have fled LRA attacks so far this year, adding to the more than 440,000 people who have been displaced since 2008.

Ethiopia

The passing of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has sparked fears of a leadership vacuum, which could create instability in Ethiopia. Zenawi’s 21-year-old rule saw an unprecedented economic growth, but was marred by the violent repression of political dissent. An independent report revealed in 2006 that the Ethiopian police massacred 193 protesters in the violence that followed disputed elections of the previous year. The trend of killings and imprisonment of opposition political parties and supporters continued in the subsequent election in 2010. Furthermore, tensions are growing between the country’s Muslim population, who represent one third of the total population, and state authorities following a crackdown on Muslim protesters on July 13.

According to Human Rights Watch, Ethiopian police and security services have harassed, assaulted and arbitrarily detained hundreds of Muslims in the capital for protesting against the government’s interference in religious affairs. Those who have been released said that they were mistreated in custody.

Photo of a village in Ogaden reportedly destroyed by the Ethiopia government that was taken by an opposition group.

Tensions also continue to simmer in the southeastern Ogaden region where the Ethiopian government launched a military crackdown in 2007. The government is accused of widespread abuses against ethnic Somali civilians who live in the region. Thousands have fled this little-known conflict area where Human Rights Watch has said war crimes and crimes against humanity have taken place.

Zenawi’s death creates the potential for gross human rights abuses in the likely event that there is a struggle to fill the power vacuum. In the hope of maintaining order, the Ethiopian government may resort to using security forces to suppress internal dissent and peaceful demonstrations. However, rights abuses are not inevitable, and the transition may offer hope for rights reform.

Kenya

During the most recent presidential election in December 2007, election irregularities and a dispute over the victor provoked ethnic violence. More than 1,000 people were killed and an estimated 500,000 displaced. There are fears that the upcoming election in March 2013 could reignite tensions.

Houses burn in Kenya as ethnic violence breaks out following the 2007 election.

Adding potential fuel to the fire, the trial of presidential hopefuls, Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and former Education Minister William Ruto will take place at the International Criminal Court in April 2013.

Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto are accused of being responsible for crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, persecution and deportation committed during the post-election violence in 2007 and 2008.

Meanwhile, ethnic clashes have been reported in northern and southeastern Kenya. In the southeast, at least 48 people were killed in clashes on August 22 between the Orma and Pokomo communities. The victims included 31 women, 11 children, and six men many of whom were hacked to death with machetes. The attack is believed to have escalated from a dispute over grazing rights for cattle.

There have also been sporadic attacks around Lake Turkana between Kenya’s Turkana community and the Merille of Ethiopia. In early May, Merille militia raided fishermen and cattle herders from Turkana killing at least 38 people. It is feared that violence may continue as the two groups compete for food in and around Lake Turkana.

In the lead up to the 2013 election, we will be paying attention to hate speech, incidents of inter-tribal violence and other indicators as a means of warning of potential mass atrocities. Following the election, we will observe how civil society groups, regional governments and the broader international community take appropriate measure to avert post-election violence.

Read part II of the series profiling Ivory Coast, Libya and Mali, and check out part III featuring Nigeria, Tajikistan and Zimbabwe.

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