To wage war is to make the opponent admit defeat. Beyond the classical strategies to win the war, there are shocking methods aiming at marking the spirits to take the upper hand.
The involvement of combatants in a war or conflict has always given rise to situations in which the worst of mankind stands out. Rape is both a by-product of the presence of non-professional armed forces, but it is also a weapon. The civilian population is the privileged target because it is defenseless.
The physical and psychological after-effects of rape make it difficult, if not impossible, to rebuild the individual. On the other hand, beyond the individual, it is the resistance and support of the population towards its fighters that are broken, especially when this act is practiced on a large scale. This process has been used in the Libyan conflict since 2011, but it is generalized to any conflict. And sometimes the victim becomes the executioner for revenge. Recently, studies have been conducted in the Central African Republic, including one in 2020 that reported over 2,200 cases of sexual violence. This figure is only a pale reflection of reality, since the majority of victims, faced with shame and fear of reprisals, refuse to testify and bring their cases to justice.
Rape is not the only weapon used in conflicts, as torture and manipulation of information are also used.
The support of the population is always essential to win a conflict or to lead a country. In fact, since support for a cause is based on information, we have been witnessing more and more manipulation of the latter.
Intimidated, harassed or even killed, the journalist is the first victim of information manipulation. One of the most famous examples is the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey. Another example closer to home, took place in CAR in July 2018. It was the murder of three Russian investigative journalists investigating the Russian private military company Wagner.
The Media Foundation for West Africa regularly denounces attacks on journalists and media professionals. This practice is disturbing and threatens press freedom and the proper functioning of justice in our countries.
Hidden, misappropriated or distorted, the truth is the second victim of the manipulation of information for personal gain. One of the most telling cases is that of the US lie that led to the Iraq war in 2003. Colin Powell’s intervention before the Security Council on February 5, 2003, supporting the presence of weapons of mass destruction is indeed a scandalous example of the misuse of the truth. We are in an era where fake news is mixed with information and to face it, a generation of fact-checkers is emerging in West Africa.
Massacres, real and fake, and manipulation of information complement each other to the point that some seem to be making systematic use of them today.
In conflict zones, particularly in West Africa, atrocities are widespread, particularly by and against security forces, but also against civilian populations. The massacre of towns, villages or places of worship is one of the methods used by terrorist groups to establish their authority over these populations and territories. For example, let’s remember the exactions committed by Boko Haram in 2009, including the massacre in the town of Baga in Nigeria (more than 2,000 victims) which led to the displacement of more than 20,000 inhabitants.
However, the massacres are not always known or recognized because they are isolated, hidden or without witnesses. The discovery of a mass grave sheds light on the facts, the number of victims and their identity. More than 200 mass graves left by the Islamic State have been discovered in Iraq and have led to investigations. The discovery of mass graves always shocks public opinion and a population in a state of shock is a more manipulable population, hence the need to be careful with the information given.
More recent examples of mass graves have occurred in Mali. In April 2022, the mass grave in Gossi caused a stir when France accused mercenaries from the private group Wagner, with the support of a drone surveillance video that filmed the mercenaries at the time of the scene, without their knowledge. Moreover, the evidence of Moura’s abuses remains unclear. The version given by the FAMa announces the execution of terrorists, while the version of the mayor (who was assassinated afterwards) and NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, accuse the Russian mercenaries of exactions on the population.
The methods of warfare affecting the physical integrity of the population lead to the isolation of the target country, the fracture of society and difficult reconstruction. The distortion of the truth is more and more common and dangerous, especially when the information is instantaneous and highly mediatized. We must be careful about the manipulation around the exactions and take the necessary precautions to bring out the truth. Lies bear flowers but not fruit. If you witness abuses, you MUST testify.