Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ivory Coast: racial and religious hatred empowered and unleashed


The legacy of French and NATO intervention in Ivory Coast -- where the West intervened on behalf of Islamists in order to advance their own economic interests -- is that Ivory Coast 's predominantly Christian southern tribes must now live with serious insecurity in an increasingly militarised yet lawless state where Muslim soldiers may abuse them at will and with impunity.  This is racial and religious hatred empowered and unleashed.

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Brief background

Ivory Coast held elections in December 2010, despite the fact that pre-conditions had not been met. For starters, northern-Muslim rebel forces loyal to Muslim presidential candidate Alassane Ouattara refused to disarm; a fact that meant the electoral process in the north could hardly be free and fair.  (How ironic that Bafétigué Ouattera (Côte d’Ivoire) has just been elected as a Vice-Chair of the UN's Disarmament Commission.) 

After the Constitutional Council investigated all reported irregularities (as mandated by the constitution) it ruled that the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo -- a southerner and observant Christian -- was the victor. However, before it could even announce its ruling, pro-Ouattara elements pre-empted the constitutional council's decision and broadcast via French TV from Ouattara's headquarters that Ouattara had won the election. The illegal announcement was met favourably in the West as a Ouattara presidency would serve French and US economic interests.

Confident of Western backing, Ouattara then moved to seize power through military violence. Up against the mighty army of the Ivorian secular State, the pro-Ouattara ethnic and Islamic rebels were the weaker force. The violent coup d'état coup was only successful due to NATO air-strikes and military assistance from France.

Having seized power through violence and with foreign assistance, it is no surprise to learn that Ouattara's hold on power is dependent on violence and terror.

For further background and analysis on Ivory Coast: see Religious Liberty Monitoring.

Death in Abidjan

On Monday 6 August, gunmen -- presumed to be Gbagbo loyalists -- killed six soldiers in a pre-dawn attack on the Akouédo military base in Abidjan. A day earlier, gunmen attacked a police station in Yopougon neighbourhood, on the other side of Abidjan, killing four soldiers. Gbagbo's political party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), issued a statement condemning "with the utmost vigour this wave of deadly violence", while also calling on the government to capture the attackers.

Response

In response, President Alassane Ouattara ordered the Republican Forces (FRCI: the new Ivorian Army, incorporating the former Forces Nouvelles rebels) to "fight without mercy" those attempting to create a feeling of insecurity in Ivory Coast. Consequently, there has been a surge in appalling human rights abuses targeting "perceived Gbagbo loyalists": i.e. predominantly Christian southerners, mostly ethnic Bété, Guéré, Ebrié, Oubi and Adioukrou. The abuses involve mass arrests, extortion and extreme violence, including torture.

See: Ivory Coast: Ex-detainees describe torture by military following roundup after attacks
By Robbie Corey-Boulet, The Associated Press, 4 October 2012

Excerpts:

The soldiers lined up the detainees in a row on the grass in the middle of the night and beat them with sticks. Other times, soldiers struck the prisoners with belts and rifles so hard the welts lasted for weeks.

Cedric Bao, a 33-year-old who was held for two weeks in August on suspicion of hiding weapons, said soldiers also attached wires to detainees and administered electrical shocks as they writhed on the ground.

"When that happened, the wires would produce a lot of noise, and the lights would flicker, and it would smell like burning. We could hear the people shouting," Bao said. "I was always praying to God not to be brought downstairs."

. . . While torture allegations have been documented at multiple military facilities, the U.N. officials said that some of the worst came from detainees at the San Pedro camp, including credible reports of electrical shocks.

Few detainees in the city had spoken up about their experiences at the camp because of threats they received before being released, said Serges Dagbo, San Pedro representative for the Ivorian Human Rights League.

But in recent interviews with The Associated Press, four former detainees described harsh conditions marked by cramped quarters, minimal food and the frequent use of violence to extract confessions. . .

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On 19 November, Human Rights Watch released a report exposing the gross human rights abuses being committed by the Republican Forces (FRCI), including: arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, extortion, inhuman treatment and torture.

See: Ivory Coast military accused of torture during 'reprisal' crackdown
Hope of reconciliation after civil war fades amid claims of inhuman treatment of perceived Gbagbo loyalists

By David Smith, Africa correspondent, The Guardian, 19 Nov 2012.

Excerpts:

In August, members of the government's Republican Forces carried out mass arrests of perceived Gbagbo supporters almost daily in the Abidjan neighbourhood of Yopougon, Human Rights Watch said. "Without arrest warrants or individualised evidence, soldiers arbitrarily arrested young men in their homes, at neighbourhood restaurants, at bars, in taxis and buses, as they walked home from church, and at traditional community celebrations.

"Soldiers often arrived in neighbourhoods in military cargo trucks and forced 20 or more perceived pro-Gbagbo youth to board. Hundreds of young men appear to have been rounded up and detained, largely on the basis of their ethnicity and place of residence. Those arrested were often brought to military camps, which are not lawful detention sites for civilians under Ivorian law."

. . . In August and September, the commander in charge of one detainment camp was Ousmane Coulibaly, better known as "Bin Laden", Human Rights Watch said. In a previous report on the post-election violence, it had named him as one of the Republican Forces commanders whose soldiers committed acts of torture and dozens of summary executions during the final [France and NATO-backed] battle for Abidjan in April and May 2011.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH REPORT
A Long Way from Reconciliation
Abusive Military Crackdown in Response to Security Threats in Côte d’Ivoire
19 November 2012  (79 pages)

Excerpts:

Human Rights Watch interviewed eight former detainees at the [Adjamé] military police camp, five of whom provided detailed evidence suggesting that they had been victims of torture. . . with the purpose of demanding answers to questions about the location of guns or alleged suspects, or in order to pressure the detainee to sign a confession of involvement in an attack against state security. (p25)

They also described seeing other detainees come back to the cell with bruised faces, severe swelling, and open wounds. Detainees at the military police camp also described suffering grossly inadequate detention conditions, including severe overcrowding, near complete denial of food and water, and humiliating practices like being placed in a room filled with excrement. (p26)

The former detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch were all young men from ethnic groups perceived to support Laurent Gbagbo. They described their detention rooms as being full with people from the same ethnic groups, including the Bété, Guéré, Ebrié, Oubi, and Adioukrou. . .  many young men were picked up during mass arrests in areas with a concentration of perceived Gbagbo supporters. (p26)

In the cases documented by Human Rights Watch, severe physical pain appeared to be inflicted by state agents, namely military personnel, in order to pressure people into a confession or to divulge information about the location of weapons. Torture did not appear to be systematic, as other detainees described only minimal physical abuse. However, the cases documented by Human Rights Watch raise concerns about the total number of potential victims. (p29)

In addition, Human Rights Watch received credible information about recent cases of torture against detainees held in a Republican Forces military base in San Pedro, a town in southwestern Côte d’Ivoire about 350 kilometers from Abidjan.  On October 4, the Associated Press reported [see above] that soldiers at the San Pedro military camp had subjected at least four civilian detainees to electric shock, finding that “long wires were attached to their feet, midsections and necks before electrical shocks were administered.” (p34)

Human Rights Watch describes the crackdown as "unlike any since the end of the post-election crisis". (p37)

A diplomat from a key partner to Côte d’Ivoire told Human Rights Watch that there were deep concerns about how Ivorian authorities had framed the issue: “The language they use is very concerning: ‘eradication,’ ‘terrorism,’ ‘clean the country up’. (p 37)

Youths rounded up en masse in Yopougon report being separated according to their ethnic group. On a daily basis, masses of youths belonging to southern (normally pro-Gbagbo) tribes were trucked to the BAE (Brigade anti-émeute, or anti-riot unit) police camp where they were punished mercilessly and extorted. (see page 39)

A Ouattara supporter who lives near the BAE camp told Human Rights Watch, “You wouldn’t believe the things we see there each day. [There are] always youth being trucked in, being beaten. They don’t even hide [the abuses]; it’s often in plain view. [The FRCI there] aren’t afraid of any consequences.” An Ivorian civil society leader agreed: “[The soldiers implicated in abuses] are at ease. They don’t fear anything, and that’s the most dangerous thing: the complete impunity.” (p 40-41)

Human Rights Watch interviewed Yopougon residents who were arrested in their homes, while eating at a maquis, with friends at a bar, when walking home from church, when in a taxi or a bus, and when attending a funeral. (p 41)

Nearly all of those interviewed described the widespread commission of criminal acts by members of the FRCI in Yopougon. These crimes were perpetrated first during the process of neighborhood sweeps and mass arrests, when soldiers stole cash and valuables such as cell phones, computers, and jewelry from people’s homes and off people being arrested; and second, by demanding money in order to secure a detainee’s release. The mass arrests appear to have been a financial boon for members of the Republican Forces based at the BAE camp, and a crippling hardship to those who were swept up because of their age and perceived political affiliation. (p 46)

Since the end of the post-election crisis, the Republican Forces and armed “volunteers” [including dozos: see here and here] loyal to them have unlawfully taken over many functions that the police and gendarmes are legally mandated to do . . . (p 56)

Several victims of arbitrary arrest or detention told Human Rights Watch that police officers or gendarmes tried to intervene on their behalf and stop abuses. . .  A youth arrested while walking home from a church function on August 25 described how police kept him from being detained and upbraided soldiers who had stolen dozens of cell phones from those arrested (p 57) "God thankfully made that there was a police officer nearby," he said (p 58)

The HRW report also notes that after being arbitrarily arrested and beaten senseless for a week, men are then extorted, forced to pay in order to be released rather than killed. Towards the end of the report there are testimonies from women who testify to being arbitrarily arrested and then told that their male relatives will released if they (the women) have sex with the soldiers.

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In an unrelated article, Associated Press reports on the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center's findings, that continuing conflicts over land have caused at least another 24,000 Ivorians to become displaced so far this year (i.e. by Nov 2012).
[for an example, see Ivory Coast: Thousands displaced in renewed terror
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 172, Wed 15 Aug 2012]

That figure is in addition to the 40,000 to 80,000 who remain displaced from the March-April 2011 hostilities.

According to the report, "armed men have prevented displaced persons from accessing their land, sometimes imposing 'arbitrary taxes on those wishing to return'."

Are these "arbitrary taxes" simple criminal extortion, or jizya (Islamic, sacralised extortion of the dhimmi, as mandated by the Qur'an in Sura 9:29)? And why is it being allowed? The fact is, lawless Ivory Coast is awash with illegal weapons.

On 5 Dec, UN Watch issued a statement entitled, Despite Military Atrocities, Ivory Coast Elected as UN Disarmament Commission Vice-Chair, in which it called for the move to be reversed.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Announcing: Turn Back the Battle

Elizabeth Kendal's book, Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today, is now available on Amazon.

Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
By Elizabeth Kendal (Deror Books, Dec 2012)

A website by the same name, Turn Back the Battle, will be up and running shortly.

A Kindle version of the book should be available by the end of the month.

There will be an Australian launch early next year, from which point the book will also be available through Australian Christian booksellers such as Koorong Books, United Christian Broadcasters (UCB) and others.

This book is an offering to the Lord. Please pray that God will take it and use it for the benefit of his Church and the glory of his name.

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The product of nearly four years' labour, Turn Back the Battle arises out of Elizabeth Kendal's passionate interest in and growing concern for how persecuted Christians and their advocates respond to suffering, persecution and existential threat. The book is informed by Elizabeth's nearly15 years of service in the cause of international religious liberty and the persecuted Church.

In Turn Back the Battle, Kendal brings Isaiah 1 - 39 to life and applies it to the 21st Century Church. She juxtaposes Judah's situation in the latter part of the 8th Century BC with our own. For like our own times, the times in which Isaiah lived were times of immense regional volatility, soaring geo-political tensions and gross insecurity. Twice, Judah was invaded by hostile forces threatening occupation and regime change, death and captivity. Indeed it is the politically and militarily-charged context that makes Isaiah's call to trust the Lord so profoundly radical, incredibly challenging and hard to swallow.

But in Isaiah 7 - 39, God gives us not only theory, but precedent. For not only does he commission a prophet to instruct God's people on how they should respond to insecurity and existential threat, he provides a typological drama that illustrates the word and proves the point that God is alive and active in history. Through the historic narrative, which commences in 735 BC with the faithless King Ahaz and the Syro-Ephraimite war and concludes with King Hezekiah and the Assyrian invasion of 701 BC, God illustrates, consolidates and demonstrates everything Isaiah says through his advocacy and his oracles.  

Each chapter concludes with a page of questions for personal contemplation or group discussion, as well as a carefully crafted prayer that applies the key lessons of the chapter.

A few selected quotes from the book:

In these darkening days of escalating persecution and insecurity, the church would do well to remember that real prayer is not only a critical and strategic element of the spiritual battle, real prayer is the highest form of advocacy and God’s ordained means of unleashing the forces of heaven. (From chapter 5)

When Isaiah approached the political powers in Jerusalem, he always did so as Yahweh’s ambassador, as Yahweh’s prophet, and never in the manner of a union representative. Isaiah presented Jerusalem’s political powerbrokers with the clear and simple word of God. He invested no faith in kings or political players per se. Neither did he invest faith in the power of weapons or funds or influence or projects that these political powerbrokers had at their disposal. His faith was in the Lord alone. (From chapter 8)

Christians have a freedom the world can only dream of. Because our God is the living, loving, sovereign, saving and eternally faithful God, the Christian is never condemned to fate. Jerusalem was doomed before Hezekiah prayed. But Hezekiah’s prayer changed everything. Hezekiah’s prayer marks the moment the crown of the Lord of Hosts was put on and the battle was turned back at the gate (28:6). (From chapter 11)

Selected quotes from selected endorsements:

In 'Turn Back the Battle' Isaiah's message comes through loud and clear. . . The lesson to be drawn for Christian work is not to rely on compromised human institutions to bring justice and freedom to a beleaguered humanity but to rely on God alone.
– Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester and Director of the Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue

. . . Elizabeth Kendal puts the current awful outpouring of violence, aggression and terrorism against the Body of Christ in its biblical context. She shines the light of God's Word onto the pain, the anguish and the disdain that God's people suffer. This book will reinforce your confidence in God's commitment to liberate his people. It explains why we need to focus on him in our darkest hour . . .
– Timothy O. Olonade, Executive Secretary and CEO, Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association

'Turn Back the Battle' is a timely antidote against the belief that more activism . . . can substantially change the situation of persecuted Christians. Elizabeth Kendal's very readable book applies the message of Isaiah to believers today, to show that our faith must be in God alone, and our focus on obeying him before anything else. . .
– Jos M. Strengholt, Anglican priest in Cairo, Egypt

In this superbly written book, Elizabeth Kendal shows how the wisdom of the prophet Isaiah can equip today's Christians. It serves as a wake-up call for believers tempted by the attractions of an increasingly God-less world, and Christians living under oppression will draw great inspiration from it.
– Peter Riddell, Vice-Principal (Academic), and Dean of the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths, Melbourne School of Theology

'Turn Back the Battle' is an outstandingly insightful book which exposes global threats to Christian faith, religious liberty and human rights. As the foundation of our civilisation is shaken, and the Church faces life-endangering challenges from within and without, it calls us to ask ourselves in what and in whom do we trust. It proclaims that our ultimate security rests in Christ alone. It invites readers to a radical faith in God. The message of this passionate and prophetically astute book should be heeded by all Christ's faithful witnesses in this the 21st Century.
– Albrecht Hauser, Mission Secretary and Canon of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Württemberg and a Trustee of the Barnabas Fund

Table of Contents:

     Introduction: You will have tribulation        
     John 16:33
1   Who will we trust?            
     Isaiah 2:1–4:6
2   Stand or stumble, the choice is yours         
     Isaiah 7:1–13
3   A paradigm for threatened Christians        
     Isaiah 8:5–17
4   Inquire of the Lord of Hosts                        
     Isaiah 9:13                
5   Forgetting God                                             
     Isaiah 17:1–11 & 28:1–6   
6  Yesterday’s faith is not sufficient for today 
     Isaiah 22:8–11 & 38-39
7   Christian security: not in ‘Man’                    
     Isaiah 22:15–25
8   Christian security: not in the ‘City of Man’    
     Isaiah 24—27
9   Christian security: not in a ‘covenant with death’  
     Isaiah 28:9–22
10 Christian security: not in practical atheism      
     Isaiah 30—31
11 ‘In whom do you now trust?’                    
     Isaiah 36—37
12 Choose this day …                               
     Isaiah 34—35
     Bibliography & Abbreviations