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International court to probe Darfur crimes
The world’s first permanent war crimes court, the International Criminal Court, announced in June that it would begin investigating suspected crimes against humanity in the Darfur region of Sudan. The announcement follows a referral of the case by the UN Security Council and findings by an international commission of inquiry on Darfur established last October by Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The commission confirmed that war crimes and crimes against humanity had occurred in Darfur since fighting began in early 2003. Between 180,000 and 300,000 people may have been killed and 2.4 million made homeless. The commission provided sealed dossiers on 51 Sudanese individuals — some reported to be high-ranking government officials — deemed responsible for the violence. The government of Sudan has said, however, that it will not accept the court’s jurisdiction.
In a statement, court prosecutors said their inquiries would be “impartial and independent, focusing on the individuals who bear the greatest criminal responsibility.” The referral of the Darfur case was made possible when the US, which fiercely opposes The Hague-based court, did not exercise its veto powers as a permanent UN Security Council member.
The court conducted its first judicial proceedings in March in The Hague, capital of the Netherlands, with a pre-trial hearing on abuses carried out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in a war that killed some 3 million people. It was set up in 2002 with the backing of 100 nations and can only operate in countries that have signed the treaty, unless authorized by the UN Security Council. The US declined to sign, saying it fears its nationals could be targeted by “frivolous” cases.
90 million more Africans could be infected by HIV by 2025
The cumulative number of new HIV infections in Africa could reach 90 million by 2025 if the response from African governments and their international partners is not stepped up, reports the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). In a study released in March, the agency paints three possible scenarios over the next two decades.
In the worst-case scenario, a failure by both African governments and the international community to respond effectively to the epidemic would see AIDS deplete resources and weaken infrastructure in many countries. Even if infection rates remain stable at about 5 per cent of the adult population, poverty and underdevelopment across the continent would increase.
If African countries implement effective policies but foreign assistance does not rise, only about 24 million of the 90 million new infections would be prevented, UNAIDS calculates. While initiatives to support AIDS orphans would increase, the number of children orphaned by AIDS would almost double by 2025.
In the most optimistic scenario, with massive government and donor financing and treatment of those infected, 43 million new infections could be averted by 2025, the report notes. Africa’s adult HIV prevalence rate would drop considerably and anti-retroviral coverage would reach 70 per cent.
“The scenarios are not predictions. They are plausible stories about the future,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot. “Millions of new infections can be prevented if Africa and the rest of the world decide to tackle AIDS as an exceptional crisis that has the potential to devastate entire societies and economies.”
“Not only is strong leadership vital, strong health systems and development are also necessary in our quest to control the AIDS epidemic,” former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda said at the report’s launch. “AIDS is going to be around for a long time and needs consistent policy responses.”
NEPAD ‘e-schools’ ready to roll
Between June and October 2005, a year-long “electronic schools” demonstration project will get under way in 20 African countries. Formulated by the e-Africa Commission of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the project is being supported and fully financed by 13 private companies. The goal is to integrate new information and communication technologies (ICTs), including computers and Internet usage, into the courses and curricula of African schools.
The participating countries were selected from the first 20 nations to join NEPAD’s voluntary African Peer Review Mechanism, which monitors governance standards. Each of those countries was asked to designate six schools for the initial demonstration project and to free up instructors for training. As of early June, 16 countries had done so. Overall, some 150,000 African teachers and students will benefit from the training and from access to new communications hardware and software.
Among the companies supplying the equipment and training are Hewlett Packard-ZTE, Microsoft, Inmarsat, Oracle and Cisco. They and other companies have also agreed to ensure security and maintenance of the computers and other equipment during the demonstration phase, after which national governments will take over continued operation of the e-schools.
To gain sufficient experience for a subsequent “mass roll-out” phase in which ICTs will be systematically introduced into many more schools in more countries, the selection of participating schools was designed to a ensure a diversity of challenges. The selected schools “include urban and rural schools, with or without access to electricity, and for both female and male students,” says Prof. Peter Kinyanjui, a programme coordinator of the e-Africa Commission.
Leaders of local communities will also be encouraged to take part at an early stage, so that ultimately the new e-schools can function as community resources. In addition, notes Prof. Kinyanjui, the training programmes will take into account the preferred languages of instruction in the given country and encourage greater use of local African languages. A number of African researchers and institutions have already developed software for using local languages. Moreover, members of Africa’s diaspora, resident in other parts of the world, should also be involved in the e-schools project, to help strengthen the African content of the curricula. “That is the only way that Africans will be able to identify themselves closely, with what they are familiar with, rather than rely on borrowed curricula developed elsewhere,” argues Prof. Kinyanjui.