Thursday, 21 November 2013

Conflict in the Central African Republic

By Miss Ruwaida Abubakar, African Regions Editor 

The flag of Central African RepublicThe civil unrest in the Central African Republic is a humanitarian crisis that can no longer go unnoticed. The coalition rebel group ‘The Seleka’ led by Michel Djotodia was initially a rebel group known as the Union of Democratic Forces of Unity (UFDR). The rebellion by this group is what began the Central African Republic Bush War. However there were many other rebel groups but they were very small and founded at the very end of the war. Apart from the UDFR the other rebel groups involved in the conflict were the ‘People's Army for the Restoration of Democracy (CAR) (APRD), Groupe d'action patriotique pour la liberation de Centrafrique (GAPLC), the Movement of Central African Liberators for Justice (MLCJ), the Front démocratique Centrafricain (FDC), and Union of Republican Forces (UFR).

The fighting began in 2004, and between 2007 and 2012 a number of peace agreements were signed to try and resolve the conflict. The most important of which was the Global Peace Accord which was signed in Libreville Gabon on 21st of June 2008. This agreement was signed by UDFR, APRD and FDPC groups. The agreement granted amnesty for any acts perpetrated against the state prior to the agreement, and called for a disarmament and demobilization process to integrate former rebels into society and the regular CAR armed forces. The only other major rebel group that did not sign this agreement at the time was the CJPJ which continued its activities until the 25th of August 2012 when they signed an agreement with the government led by François Bozizé. During this conflict hundreds of civilians were killed, 10,000 houses were burned and approximately 212,000 people have fled their homes to live deep in the bushes of the northern Central African Republic.

After the CAR Bush War was resolved, another conflict started in December 2012 between the Government and the Seleka. The Seleka is a coalition rebel group which consists of the groups that were previously fighting in the CAR Bush War, led by Michel Djotodia. This current conflict arose because the rebels felt that the Bozizé government failed to abide by the peace agreements that were signed to end the CAR Bush War.

Chad, Gabon, South Africa, Republic of Congo, Angola and Cameroon sent troops to the Central African Republic as part of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) to try and prevent the potential rebel takeover of the capital of Bangui and to help the Bozizé government, but their efforts failed and the rebels seized control of the Capital on 24th March 2013. The President François Bozizé by this time had fled the country and Michel Djotodia had declared himself president.

The CAR is Africa’s poorest and most underdeveloped country, since the rebels took over in March the country has sunk into a state of near-anarchy. When the Seleka took over the country, they promised a new beginning for the country, but instead they have abused their power and have carried out large scale attacks on civilians, looting and murder. The looting was not just limited to food or personal possessions, but pharmaceuticals also. Medicines are scarce and much medical equipment has been stolen, in some hospitals even the mattresses have been looted.  They have recruited children as young as 13 to carry out their horrendous actions.  The charity Save the Children have been informed that 100,000 children are facing sexual abuse or being recruited to the armed forces. They are being forced to flee their homes and some even have to witness their parents being threatened and beaten.

Rebels who are linked to the Seleka (led by Michel Djotodia) have continued to launch attacks across the country especially the North West which is the home town of the former President François Bozizé. That area is particularly being targeted because the rebels believe that they are supporters of the former president and are instigating the unrest.

One of the few organisations working in the conflict affected areas in the North West is the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) delivering the much needed help that region requires. The MSF have said that they have seen entire villages being burnt down and have to treat victims for gun and machete wounds. ‘They have also witnessed the execution of a healthcare worker, multiple murders and violent attacks on humanitarian staff’ (MSF surgeon Erna Rijinierse). The work of the MSF is greatly needed in the CAR because since the Seleka came to power, there has been a complete breakdown of the health system as well as law and order.

Due to the burning down and destruction of people’s homes and villages (1000 homes have been deliberately destroyed in just 4 months in the Capital and in the provinces), there are numerous camps that have been set up in the affected areas. One of which is the town of Bossangao whom many have been treated by the MSF for gun and machete wounds, the displaced people have had to take shelter in the towns Catholic Mission, schools, airstrip and hospital. All these places have exceeded their capacity and have now become makeshift camps.

With so many people and such little space, the living conditions are dangerous and have become a breeding ground for malaria which is the number one cause of death in the CAR. Those who are unlucky enough to not be near any of these makeshift camps, have fled their homes and are living in the bushes in fear of more attacks with no food or water.

The Seleka have strong grievances against the previous government including many claims of human rights violations. Indeed, those suspected of working for the previous government, are at risk of extra-judicial killing. Human Rights Watch recorded that on the April 15 Seleka forces forced nine men suspected of being former soldiers into a vehicle and drove them to the Mpoko River, outside of Bangui. Seleka members summarily executed five of the men, those who survived told how they were driven to the river, made to line up, and readied for execution until a Seleka member realized that the men had not in fact been soldiers under Bozizé and spared those who had not yet been killed. In another example, a self-appointed Seleka official coordinated the killings of five men who were tied up and executed numerous suspected murderers associated with the army under ousted president, François Bozizé.

However the UN Security Council recently approved a resolution which allows the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force in the country. Also France has 400 troops based at the airport in Bangui in order to tame the violence in the country. The African Union is in the process of incorporating a regional force to also help with the resolution of violence. However, on September 13 transitional President Michel Djotodia dissolved the Seleka coalition and announced that the official state forces were in charge of security, but provided no details as to how these forces would neutralize the thousands of Seleka fighters across the country in order for there to be peace.

List of sources

Monday, 4 November 2013

Wrongful Convictions in the United States of America: The Case of Ray Krone

by Miss Sarah Lucy Cooper, Senior Lecturer in Law, Birmingham City University and Fellow of the Arizona Justice Project  

As of October, 2013, 311 people have been exonerated of crimes they did not commit by post-conviction DNA testing in America. 18 of those people had been sentenced to death before DNA exonerated them, and on average, each exoneree, served over 13 years in prison for a crime they did not commit. As the number of exonerees has steadily grew since the late 1980s, common causes of wrongful convictions have been identified.

The case of Ray Krone (Sarah is pictured to the right with Ray) America’s one-hundredth DNA exoneree, showcases a number of them. The naked body of Kim Ancona was found on the morning of December 29, 1991, on the floor of the men’s restroom at the bar she worked at in Phoenix, Arizona. She had been fatally stabbed, and had what appeared to be a bite-mark on her left breast.

Two suspects emerged early on in the police’s investigation: Ray Krone – a United States postal worker and patron of the bar where Ancona worked -- and an unknown Indian male. Friends and colleagues reported Ancona and Krone were romantically involved and that on the night of her death she had told a friend “Ray” was going to help her close the bar. Others told police there had been problems with American Indian males in the area. A note suspiciously dropped at the crime scene the night after the murder also described an “Indian” as a potential suspect.

Police visited Krone and observed he had crooked teeth. They asked him to bite into a Styrofoam plate, purchased from a convenience store, so that a cast of his teeth could be made and compared with the bite-mark on Ancona’s breast. Subsequently, the state criminologist reported Krone’s dentition was “consistent with” the bite-mark on Ancona. Soon-after, Krone was charged with Ancona’s murder. Until that moment, Krone had a clean criminal record and proud military past. The media dubbed him the “Snaggletooth Killer.”

The bite-mark was the focal point of the prosecution’s case against Krone at his trial in 1992. The state presented a renowned expert in forensic odontology, who testified that Krone’s dentition “matched” the bite-mark on Ancona, and who presented a videotape to demonstrate the “match.” The state also presented evidence that Krone and Ancona were romantically linked. Krone steadfastly denied he had killed Ancona, and that they were romantically involved or that he helped her close the bar on the night of her murder. His story remained the same – he had been at home watching TV then sleeping on that night. His defense, however, struggled to overcome the state expert’s bite-mark “match,” due to a lack of resources and availability of alternative scientific opinion from a comparable expert.

Krone’s defence lawyer had just a few thousand dollars to run the entire case, which was a mere fraction of what the state paid for its expert’s opinion alone. In 1991, DNA tests were not conclusive enough to include or exclude Krone as the killer. Plus, lots of the forensic evidence collected from the crime scene, such as fingerprints that could not be linked to Krone, never made it to the forefront of the trial. Krone was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. In 1995, his conviction and sentence were overturned by the Arizona Supreme Court because the expert’s videotape had not been disclosed to the defense until the eve of trial. Krone was re-tried in 1996.

The state’s case was essentially the same, but the defense presented a far more robust case. This time, four nationally-recognized experts rebutted the state’s theory that Krone’s dentition “matched” the bite-mark on Ancona. In addition, the hair evidence now pointed away from Krone. Seventeen hairs had been found on Ancona’s body and none of them matched Krone. Crucially, DNA testing now established blood found on the inside pocket flap of Ancona’s jeans belonged to someone with a genotype different from both Krone and Ancona. Research indicated that the reported genotype was popular in the American Indian population. A poly-marker test also revealed a genetic profile found at the crime scene did not belong to Krone or Ancona. Still, despite all of this fresh evidence in Krone’s favour, he was convicted again.

This time, however, due to the lingering doubts of the trial judge, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. In 2001, Krone’s defense requested DNA testing on biological material present on Ancona’s bra, jeans and tank top. One year later, the results came back. None of the biological material on the items matched Krone’s DNA. Several of the items did, however, contain DNA that matched a man named Kenneth Phillips, who was on the FBI database and had an extensive criminal record. He was also an Indian.

Krone’s legal team interviewed Phillips at the Arizona prison where he was incarcerated. Within hours, they had elicited from Phillips what appeared to be admissions of guilt. Phillips reported that he had woken the morning after the murder with blood on his jeans and shoes, and that when he saw news reports on television he hoped he hadn’t committed the crime. Based on the DNA testing results and Phillips’ admissions, Krone walked free on April 8, 2002. Shortly after, additional testing officially exonerated him. The blood found on the victim’s jeans and panties matched Phillips, as did multiple fingerprints lifted from the crime scene. Notably, Phillips did not have a unusual dentition.

The Snaggletooth Killer was a myth. Krone’s case showcases a number of popular causes of wrongful convictions, including faulty and/or invalidated forensic evidence, target fixation, evidence suppression, and disparate resources. There are many more, however. Many wrongful convictions can be attributed to erroneous eyewitness identifications, false confessions, snitches, misconduct, and bad lawyering too. Krone was lucky. DNA evidence was eventually available to exonerate him. However, DNA is only available in around 5% of cases. Although DNA cases are certainly not easy to resolve, the other 95% of cases, even if they display a combination of the hallmarks of wrongful convictions, are almost impossibly difficult. Inmates in this bracket of cases are not alone, though.

Across the United States tens of innocence and justice projects take these cases and work relentlessly towards a fair conclusion. They also contribute to criminal justice reform and education. These projects are a mix of non-profit organizations, law school clinics, private bodies and other set-ups, and volunteer lawyers, academics and students from multiple disciplines are often the driving force behind them.

For students in particular, these projects present a unique opportunity to put theory in to practice and develop an ethic for pro bono work. I have been a pro bono Academic Fellow at the Arizona Justice Project since 2010 and can vouch for the fact that every contribution, no matter how small, counts. I have known students to unravel faulty forensic testimony, unearth a pivotal, once-thought missing document, track down key witnesses and build a rapport with inmates a lawyer could only dream of. So, get involved. You might just do the impossible.