- Created on 28 August 2013
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) -- In an area of Nigeria where an Islamic insurgency has caught fire, security forces are carrying out night raids in residential neighborhoods and have arrested many people. No one knows where the detainees have wound up, whether they're in good health or even if they're still alive.
Distraught relatives, human rights organizations and journalists have asked the army, the police, intelligence services and government officials where the arrested people are, to no avail. No one even knows, or is saying, how many people have been detained.
Human rights monitors are deeply troubled that scores or possibly hundreds of detainees have gone missing in a country where security forces have a reputation for human rights abuses.
The Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria has received "hundreds and hundreds, up to 3,000" calls from people across northern Nigeria complaining that loved ones have disappeared after being arrested by the military or police in the past three years, said Shehu Sani, an activist with the organization.
Habiba Saadu's two sons and her daughter were taken on Aug. 3 by soldiers who went from house to house in a night raid in Maiduguri, accusing them of participating in the uprising by Boko Haram, an armed Islamic group that has been waging a bloody war in Africa's most populous nation for four years.
"Up to now, I have never seen my children!" Saadu said.
Visits to police stations, the army barracks, the intelligence services and local politicians gave no clue to the whereabouts of her children, Kundiri Muhammed, a 32-year-old kola nut trader, and Ka'adam Muhammed, a 29-year-old fuel seller and a daughter whom Saadu declined to name who is a high school student.
Boko Haram - which means "Western education is forbidden" - is blamed for the deaths of more than 1,700 people since 2010. The sect has attacked Christian and Muslim clerics, government health workers and security forces, school teachers and students in its quest to overturn democracy and install strict Sharia law across this nation of more than 160 million people that has a mainly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south.
President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency on May 14 in the northeastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, giving a Joint Task Force of soldiers, police, intelligence and customs and immigration officials the right to detain people and move them from place to place, as well as the right to search without warrants.
But even under the state of emergency, Nigeria's constitution dictates that anyone detained must have access to lawyers and family and must be brought before a magistrate within 48 hours, said lawyer Justine Ijeomah, executive director of the Human Rights, Social Development and Environmental Foundation.
"Any other detention is incommunicado and is against the law," Ijeomah said. Even so, such disappearances are common, he said.
Asked about people disappearing, Joint Task Force spokesman Lt. Col. Sagir Musa told The Associated Press only that "if they are arrested, then they are being held."
In its half-year report published last month, Nigeria's federal prison service said it was holding 202 Boko Haram suspects by the end of June. Yet the military, the police and civilian vigilantes say they have arrested hundreds upon hundreds of suspects. Every day there are reports of people being detained. The disappearances of detainees began even before the state of emergency.
Journalist Hauwa Hassan Kida has spent the better part of the year searching for one of the missing. For her, the mission is a personal one.
On the night of Oct. 28, 2012, security forces took her brother, Samaila Hassan Kida, from the family home in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. Hassan and her mother got the news by telephone in Abuja, the Nigerian capital where they shared a home.
"The Joint Task Force came heavily armed in two Jeeps. They demanded everyone come out and form a queue, and when they were lined up they started beating everyone up with the rifle butts, their fists and their boots," the reporter said, citing accounts from family members. The raiders asked for her brother by name and beat him so badly that he was unable to get into the security vehicle on his own when they ordered him inside, she said.
A family member reported Kida's arrest to the police station opposite their home. Siblings went in search of their brother as soon as a nighttime curfew was lifted the next morning. They got leads that he had been taken by two soldiers and learned their names.
The reporter and her mother rushed to Maiduguri, where the reporter spoke with police and military officers and a leading politician but still found no trace of her brother.
"After some days, I found the soldiers that arrested him and pleaded with them, but I did not press them too much for fear they would kill him," she said. "They are all denying they arrested him."
Sani said his organization, based in the largest northern city of Kano in Kano state, has been receiving more phone calls in recent months despite the fact that the military had cut cellphone and Internet service to three other northeastern states and relatives had to travel to another state just to make a telephone call. Service to one of the states, Yobe, has been reinstated.
"If we go to the police, the police will say that they are not with them but may be with the military," Sani said. "The military will say they must be with the intelligence service, the intelligence service say they don't keep detainees - even though they do - and say they hand them over to police. So there is this cycle of confusion. The conditions in which people are being detained is very secretive."
He had asked some families of detainees to join together in a lawsuit against government agencies and officials, including the federal attorney general, to challenge the legality of the arrests but they are afraid that doing so could put their detained loved ones in mortal danger, Sani said.
Hauwa Hassan Kida, the journalist, has returned to her work in Abuja after learning nothing about the whereabouts of her brother. Her mother refuses to join her until she finds her son.
"We still don't know if he's alive or dead," the reporter said.
- Created on 27 August 2013
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The inconveniences of the daily routine in the nation's capital will be a selling point as Washington, D.C., makes a push to host the 2024 Olympics.
"We are the safest and most secure city in the world," said Bob Sweeney, president of DC 2024. "The largest expense of any Olympic Games is security, and the fact that we've got it pretty built in to our everyday life here in Washington, we would leverage that asset tremendously to put on this high-profile event."
Sweeney announced Tuesday the formation of a nonprofit group aimed at making D.C. the first American city to host the Summer Games since Atlanta in 1996, and the first to host an Olympics since the Winter Games were held in Salt Lake City in 2002.
The bid has a long way to go. Washington was one of 35 U.S. cities to receive a letter from the U.S. Olympic Committee to gauge interest, and Sweeney expects about 10 to step forward as serious candidates. The USOC hasn't even decided for certain that it wants to bid for the 2024 Games, which will be awarded by the International Olympic Committee in 2017.
"They need to make sure there is a strong horse to ride," Sweeney said. "And we certainly intend to be that."
Los Angeles, which hosted the 1932 and 1984 Olympics, Philadelphia and Tulsa, Okla., have announced their interest. San Diego wants to host a cross-border Olympics with Mexican neighbor Tijuana. Other potential 2024 contenders from around the world include Paris; Rome; Doha, Qatar; and a city in South Africa.
Washington made a push for the 2012 Games a decade ago and was thought to be the favorite to be the U.S. representative, but the USOC chose New York instead. There was concern at the time that the D.C. bid was tainted by hearings held by Congress in connection with the Salt Lake City bribery scandal, the thought being that the IOC would not want to put the Olympics in the city where its then-president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, was grilled by lawmakers under oath.
New York went on to finish fourth in the international bidding, losing out to eventual winner London. Chicago made a bid for 2016 and suffered a stinging first-round exit, with Rio de Janeiro winning the games.
Chicago's defeat was blamed partly on a revenue-sharing feud between the USOC and IOC. The two sides have since resolved the dispute, and USOC leaders have worked hard to improve their standing in the international Olympic community.
"It's a different USOC than it was, certainly, for Chicago," Sweeney said.
Sweeney, a former president of the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, helped out with D.C.'s 2012 bid and said he has no concerns about the political problems that hurt that effort. He pointed out that Washington was recently chosen to host a major Olympic meeting - the general assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees - in 2015. D.C. is also making a push to host the 2017 fencing world championships, which would be timely if Thomas Bach, a former German fencer, is chosen as the next IOC president in an election next month.
Sweeney said he hopes to raise $3 million to $5 million to support the D.C. bid by the end of 2014. He estimates the cost of hosting the Olympics in D.C. would range from $3.5 billion to $6 billion, although he expected it would be toward the lower end because a good deal of the infrastructure is already in place.
There will be the need, however, for a new stadium to host the opening ceremony and track and field. Sweeney said he has met with the Washington Redskins, whose lease at their current stadium in Maryland expires in 2026. D.C. leaders will be pushing hard for the team to come back to the city at that time, so a stadium built for the Olympics could become an NFL stadium shortly afterward.
Otherwise, DC 2024 boasts that the area has "more sporting facilities in a 40-mile radius than any other city in the U.S." and "more than 100,000 hotel rooms." Sweeney said the events would stretch from Baltimore to Richmond, Va., but would be mostly concentrated around D.C.
"We are the only major capital city in the world," Sweeney said, "not to have hosted the games yet."
- Created on 26 August 2013
GOMA, Congo (AP) -- Congolese troops came under fire from rebels in the country's volatile east Monday as fighting resumed just outside Goma, a city of nearly 1 million people near the volatile Congolese-Rwandan border, army officials said.
Heavy weapons fire rang out around 4:30 p.m. near the front line just 9 miles (11 kilometers) outside the city.
Hostilities resumed last week after weeks of relative calm, and by Thursday a new United Nations intervention brigade with a stronger mandate than past missions shelled rebel positions for the first time.
Both sides suffered heavy casualties over the weekend, with more than 50 rebels killed and 23 government soldiers dead, according to a doctor near the front line and an army chaplain. Three U.N. peacekeepers were wounded: two South Africans and a Tanzanian, U.N.-backed Radio Okapi reported.
The head of the United Nations mission in Congo, Martin Kobler, visited two hospitals on Sunday and paid his respects to wounded government and U.N. soldiers, hailing them as "heroes fighting to restore peace," Radio Okapi reported.
The Congolese forces have advanced less than a mile (about 2 kilometers) since Wednesday and have yet to achieve their immediate objective - cutting off M23 from a border crossing where the rebel group is believed to get supplies from neighboring Rwanda, say observers.
The Congolese are fighting with the help of a new United Nations intervention brigade, which was created after the M23 rebels invaded and briefly held Goma last November.
The M23 has been pounding Goma from their positions just north of the strategic city, killing civilians in Goma's residential neighborhoods. By Saturday, scores of angry residents took to the streets in protest, claiming that the U.N. had not done enough to protect them. A U.N. car was set on fire, and in the melee two protesters were killed.
Some Goma residents claim the U.N. opened fire on the mob, but the President of Uruguay Jose Mujica said in a statement over the weekend that Uruguayan peacekeepers had only fired rubber bullets to control the crowd. Mujica said that it was Congolese police who had used live ammunition.
On Monday, the Congolese government called for an investigation into the deaths of the civilians. Minister of the Interior Richard Muyej told The Associated Press: "We are absolutely in agreement that a joint commission needs to be created (to investigate what happened.)"
Medical services were struggling to cope with the scale of the casualties among government troops and the M23 fighters who launched their rebellion last year and briefly held Goma in November before retreating. Subsquent peace talks in neighboring Uganda have repeatedly stalled.
Dr. Isaac Warwanamiza told The Associated Press he had seen 82 bodies since early Sunday, 23 of whom he claimed were government soldiers, the highest death toll reported since hostilities broke out last week.
"I'm overwhelmed by what I've seen: bodies blown apart, arms and feet here and there," he said, speaking by phone from a hospital north of Goma.
Eight of the dead had no uniforms, 23 were government troops and the rest were M23 rebels, the doctor added.
The total of wounded Congolese troops at the military hospital is 720, according to army chaplain Lea Masika.
This is the first time that the Congolese army has been backed by the new U.N. intervention force, which was created in March.
The U.N. brigade was given a mandate to fight the rebels after Goma was seized by the M23 in November last year. In a humiliating blow to both Congo and the international community, the rebels marched directly past U.N. peacekeepers stationed at the gates of this city. The peacekeepers did nothing to stop them, because their mandate at the time was limited to protecting civilians.
The M23 is made up of hundreds of Congolese soldiers mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group who deserted the national army last year after accusing the government of failing to honor the terms of a deal signed in March 2009. Many of the movement's commanders are veterans of previous rebellions backed by Rwanda, which vigorously denies allegations that it has been supporting and reinforcing the M23.
In Washington, the United States State Department condemned the actions of the M23, calling on the rebel group to immediately cease hostilities, disarm and disband. The U.S. also suggested that Rwanda is assisting the rebels.
"We urgently call on (Congolese) and Rwandan governments to exercise restraint to prevent military escalation of the conflict or any action that puts civilians at risk," the statement said. "We reiterate our call for Rwanda to cease any and all support to the M23."
- Created on 23 August 2013
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) -- One baby was healthy and the other cold and lifeless, a sight that horrified Michael Mubangizi and his wife, a young Ugandan couple who soon felt one of their twin babies had been swapped at Uganda's main public hospital. They rejected the dead one, saying it wasn't theirs, and a DNA test later proved they were right.
Mubangizi said the likely prospect that he won't ever be united with his missing baby, born a year and a half ago and whose whereabouts are unknown, fills him with anguish. As a court is set to hear his civil case against Mulago Hospital, officials and some activists say parents in Uganda risk losing their children in scams orchestrated by doctors and nurses who are apparently selling the babies.
Some may be colluding with childless Ugandan couples while other babies are possibly being sold to foreigners. Last week a Czech man without proper adoption papers was arrested while trying to leave Uganda with a 3-month-old baby, according to Moses Binoga, a police detective and Uganda's top anti-human trafficking official.
Details are scant and officials don't know how widespread the baby thefts are. But this year alone, at least three cases of baby theft have been reported at Mulago Hospital in Uganda's capital, Kampala, according to police spokesman Patrick Onyango. A police report released last year said there were 261 cases of child theft over a 12-month period, but that includes teenagers who are duped to go abroad for work but are forced into the sex trade. The police report did not break down the numbers.
Health officials who had been investigating a case of baby theft that occurred in 2006 announced on Aug. 13 the suspension of a doctor for his role in the alleged switching of a baby at Mulago Hospital. In that case, which is remarkably similar to Mubangizi's, a doctor named Asinja Kapuru confessed to swapping a healthy baby for a dead one after being confronted with the results of a DNA test. Police arrested and questioned the doctor Tuesday before releasing him because his case is still under investigation, according to Onyango. He said Kapuru is likely to be charged with child theft, a felony for which a seven-year jail term is prescribed.
Joel Okullo, a Ugandan doctor who led that investigation, said the case shows that some hospital workers likely "are part and parcel of the evil intention of others to steal babies" from unsuspecting parents. Okullo, who heads the Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council, said hospital workers who steal babies are likely motivated by money in a country where public health professionals are poorly paid and overworked. Many have sought work abroad or opened up private practices that consume most of their time.
Enock Kusasira, a spokesman for Mulago Hospital, said the hospital's critics have seized on "a few cases" of baby theft that he insisted probably went missing due to inexperience on the part of some staff.
He blamed some of the lapses on students who do their clinical training there and insisted that the staff generally makes sure babies are correctly matched with their mothers immediately after birth through a tagging method that he called "baby labeling," in which a string with a card bearing the newborn's details is tied around its arm. He said the guidelines were not strictly enforced among the staff until late last year, when new administrators took charge.
Campaigners have long warned that a combination of poverty, corruption and weak laws has made Uganda a target for child traffickers.
Babies are likely stolen with the help of adoption agencies that then obtain genuine adoption papers for clients, said Marlon Agaba, the Uganda spokesman for an Africa-wide children's rights watchdog group known by its initials as ANPPCAN. In Uganda it's possible to obtain legal guardianship of a child in just a week, he said, a status that allows a guardian to travel with the child abroad even if the adoption process has not been completed.
"Ugandan children are being sold abroad and the government is doing nothing," he said.
But Binoga, Uganda's top anti-human trafficking official, said Ugandan police had recently become more vigilant against human traffickers and that most stolen babies likely end up in the custody of childless Ugandan women.
Mubangizi, the man who lost one of his twin daughters at Mulago Hospital in 2012, believes his baby was sold to another couple. His wife says in a court document that she is now "afraid of giving birth in hospitals."
"Every time we are thinking about where our child is," Mubangizi said. "We are thinking, `What if she could be here playing with her twin sister?' I think that the child is alive."
A trial date in that case has not been set yet.