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US Sanctions Darken Internet in Congo

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Georgianne Nienaber       (Page 1 of 4 pages)     Permalink

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Update January 16:  A spokesperson for the website http://soleildugraben.com/ said today that after additional conversations with Hostmonster.com, the legal department decided to reactivate the "soleidugraben" domain.  The hosting company cited "technical problems with the script on the website" that are now resolved. Because of the sanctions list, the "M23mars" domain remains closed.


The news of suppression of Internet accounts began with a report by Jeune Afrique on December 1, 2012. Facebook had suspended the pages of leaders of the Congolese political/rebel movement, Mouvement du 23 Mars (M23/CRA), citing complaints from the NGO "Friends of the Congo," based in Washington, DC.

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Jeune Afrique quoted a spokesperson. "I cannot understand that the rebels who have displaced populations and which were responsible for many atrocities against civilians can have a Facebook page," said Kambale Musavali. Jeune Afrique alleged that the NGO was one of several groups responsible for a social media campaign on Twitter and Facebook to suspend M23's access to social media.

On January 3, 2013, the US Treasury Department leveled sanctions on two DRC militant groups for "Using violence against children and contributing to the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo." M23 was added to the sanctions list along with the Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR). The FDLR is led by Rwandan Hutus who were involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. There are at least two dozen militias operating in eastern Congo.

It seemed that while M23 was winning on the battlefield against both the FDLR and the regular Congo Army (FARDC), and had gained recognition by the African Union as a partner in peace negotiations, they had lost the social media and Internet public relations battle.

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On January 9, 2013 the web addresses of the M23, http://www.M23mars.org and http://www.soleildugraben.com, were suspended by Hostmonster.com after the company learned that M23 was on the Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN). SDN is a publication of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC ), which  lists  individuals and organizations with whom United States citizens and permanent residents are prohibited from doing business.

The guilt or innocence of the entities on the sanctions list is not the issue in this discussion, and will be debated for decades to come. International and regional courts are in place to pass judgment or offer exoneration.

However, the issue of freedom of expression and communication is worthy of discussion, and it involves an understanding of the sanctions process and lobbying pressures.

Questions and More Questions

If it all sounds confusing, well it is. In this case, the timeline is critical, unsettling, and directly affects each and every American who is concerned about free speech on the Internet and lobbying by tax exempt organizations promoting a foreign agenda on American shores. If Americans do not stay well-versed in foreign policy, they risk having their voice co-opted by proxy groups for foreign governments.

The narrative promoted by the NGO cited by Jeune Afrique involved US Congressional hearings--costing up to $125,000 each on the taxpayers' dime.

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There are additional questions about the Obama administration's continued reliance on the legislative tool known as the Executive Order. Executive orders are nothing new in the history of the Republic. It is not a malevolent process. Abraham Lincoln used one to quell an insurrection in Louisiana in 1862, but the process has never been without controversy. By a stroke of the pen the Chief Executive can sign an action into law with no input by Congress and by extension, the American people.

In the case of the conflict in Congo, President Obama quietly renewed a controversial Executive Order written by President Bush in 2006. Executive Order 13413 "Blocks the property of certain persons contributing to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo." The complete text and subsequent revisions can be found in the Homeland Security Digital Library,  along with dozens of other executive orders implemented by Bush under broad powers assumed after 9/11.

Who determines that events unfolding in the Democratic Republic of Congo are a direct threat to the "foreign policy of the United States?" What criteria did the State Department and Treasury use to put M23 on the punitive SDN/OFAC list?

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota, New Orleans and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill (more...)

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