#R2P10: The Impact of the Syrian Conflict on Women

The international community has begun to recognize the disproportionate impact of conflict on women and girls, and the necessity to include women in the prevention and resolution of crises. In 2000, the UN Security Council adopted historic Resolution 1325 – the first resolution on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS). Since then, the UN Security Council has adopted Resolutions 1820(2008), 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009), 1960 (2010), and 2106 (2013), which address sexual violence in conflict, and Resolution 2122(2013), which focuses on women’s participation, empowerment, and human rights.

The scope and purpose of the WPS agenda and the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) are different. Nevertheless, there are several ways they overlap and have the potential to reinforce one another. Firstly, gender-based human rights violations can serve as early warning indicators for atrocity crimes. Secondly, RtoP crimes and violations have a disproportionate impact on women and girls, and can amount to atrocity crimes as recognized in UNSC Resolution 2106. Thus, both agendas also work to strengthen mechanisms to prevent such violations from occurring. Additionally, WPS and RtoP seek to increase the recognition of women’s role in the prevention and response to mass atrocities.

The following is the latest submission for the #R2P10 blog series. ICRtoP had the privilege of speaking to Laila Alodaat, a human rights lawyer and MENA Project Coordinator at Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, to discuss the impact of the Syrian conflict on women.

 

The Syrian crisis continues to show the detrimental impact that the spread of arms and the use of explosive weapons has on civilian populations. How has the widespread use of such weapons impacted women in Syria and what are likely long-term consequences?

The Assad regime spared no effort to turn the peaceful uprising that called for freedom and dignity into an armed conflict. While brutally targeting pacifist activists,  lawyers and political figures who were demanding civil and legal reforms, it also applied indirect measures like releasing extremist convicted criminals from prisons, turning the political seen into chaos. Such actions, combined with aggressive repression, abuse, torture and use of propaganda, resulted in civilians taking up arms as self-defence, a phenomena that later on turned into an element of the armed conflict feeding on the uncontrolled influx of arms to the country.

Today, the increased militarisation and the proliferation of arms have devastating impacts on the structure of society and on the wellbeing of civilians who are suffering far beyond numbers of casualties. And while small arms have a devastating impact on women, the greatest threat still revolves around the extensive use of explosive weapons, which has been the main strategy of the Assad regime to impose corporal punishment on entire communities and to retain control of areas that fell out of its control.

Since the beginning of the uprising in 2011, 53% of civilians died by explosive weapons. As a result of the Assad regime doubling the use of explosive weapons in 2014, over 35% of the death toll in Syria (76000 of an estimated 220000 casualties) took place in that year. Furthermore, almost half of the global casualty by explosive weapons in the world between 2011-2013 occurred in Syria. This has a devastating impact on women and girls, as 74% of the casualties are a result of explosive weapons and 17% of small arms.

UN observers document damage done by shelling in Homs, Syria

UN observers document damage done by shelling in Homs, Syria

Beyond casualties, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas has a great impact on health care systems due to the destruction of infrastructure and hospitals, and a general fear of moving around in an armed conflict setting. This is particularly right in the Syrian context where attacks on health facilities and personnel by different parties to the conflict have become commonplace. A recent publication showed that between February 2014 and February 2015, at least 83 separate attacks on health facilities were reported.

As for women, the lack of access to reproductive health can be a death sentence especially in places where maternal mortality is already high. No recent information on maternal mortality in Syria is available. However, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) stated that 80% of maternal mortality could be prevented by better access to health care during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. We believe similar, if not worse, statistics are applicable to Syria.

It is also crucial to mention that the survivors of explosive weapon attacks suffer from long-term challenges such as disability, psychological harm, and thus social and economic exclusion that have a greater impact on women in a society where they have less access, more restrictions and limited freedom of action compared to men.

To what extent has the failing rule of law and rampant impunity in Syria disproportionately affected women and what issues need to be prioritized to address these matters going forward?

During the armed conflict, the already shaky rule of law completely failed; firstly when the Syrian regime transformed the judiciary into a tool of repression through a combination of unconstitutional laws and emergency military courts, and secondly when it gave unlimited power to the notorious security branches that took pride in the horrifying reputation of torture, abuse and being the place where the best and brightest disappear.

This failure resulted in more power given to arms and force against those who do not have access to it (women, children, elderly civilians, disabled people) or do not wish to use it (again women, ideologically pacifists, etc.) leaving them marginalised, disempowered, and with no access to justice.

As the state completely abandoned its role in protecting citizens, constructing a fair society and ensuring safety and security, arms became the sole source of power and justice. And while they are only available to men, Syrian women were left with no power or protection and had to retreat quickly from being active right-bearers into subjects in need of protection by men, reaffirming masculine stereotypes that harms men and women alike.

The empowerment of women requires recognition and criminalisation of gender-based crimes and a comprehensive approach to combat impunity for crimes perpetrated by all groups in control. Dealing with these crimes requires adapting a culture of reform, restitution and rehabilitation, rather than mere punitive justice. Only a victim-centred approach to justice will allow space for rehabilitation, social and psychosocial support, empowerment and growth for both women and men.

Conflicts often force women to take on new roles and responsibilities as a result of the gendered impact of war and the commission of atrocity crimes. Can you explain how this has been the case, particularly with regards to the economic impact on Syrian women?

It is crucial to adapt a viable political economy approach to understand the depth of women’s suffering in the on-going conflict. The Syrian conflict is yet another example of how women’s experiences of violence cannot be separated from the new roles dictated upon them by the emerging war economy.

The Syrian regime’s targeting of civilians and civilian-populated territory with explosive weapons among other devastating means resulted in a widespread destruction of infrastructure. The enormous increase in military expenditures and the subsequent collapse of traditional income sources and local currency gave place to emerging war trades that enforced masculine constructions and resulted in a war economy that brought additional burdens on women. These women now bear new responsibilities as heads of household and primary carers for a large number of children, elderly and orphans while their rights to work, education and movement have been almost entirely compromised.

Today, with 12.2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, 7.6 million people internally displaced by violence, and 4 million registered refugees (statistics of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs as of March 2015) and only 15% of the required fund met (US$ 1,135,217,169 received of the US$ 7,426,692,851 required), Syria is a case study of the feminisation of poverty. Women form the majority of poor people not solely due to the lack of income or inability to work, but also due to the lack of access to productive resources and gender biases in law and practice.

It is widely acknowledged that women are crucial actors in peace processes and that equal participation in such efforts is necessary to uphold the rights of all civilians and ensure the sustainability of peace agreements. That said, women remain disproportionately represented in efforts at all levels to prevent and respond to atrocity crimes. How have women in Syria organized to impact global peace processes, and how has the international community received such efforts?

Syrian women showed great abilities when equipped with the space and choice. In January 2014, 47 Syrian women of diverse backgrounds and positions came together to set up the Syrian Women’s Initiative for Peace and Democracy with the aim of contributing to a peace process that ensures an immediate stop of the fighting, lifts the siege in civilian areas, releases political detainees and ensures effective participation of women on all levels of decision making as well as the negotiation process and transitional period. They have also offered to send a delegation to observe the Geneva II negotiation process and ensure that demands and experiences of Syrian women will be respected.

The document issued by the Initiative proved to be the most inclusive, balanced and civilian-centred document since the Syrian uprising started, however, despite the tireless efforts of the initiative’s members, the consecutive UN envoys to Syria failed to translate their promised support into action. Hence, Syrian women continue to be absent from formal negotiations.

The participation of women in opposition fronts also continues to be minimal and the concerns of women remain sidelined. This marginalisation has had devastating consequences, including the lack of gendered aspect in the emerging policy, absence of women experiences, and an emphasis on arming and militarisation vs. development, conflict resolution and peace making.

 

What steps must domestic and international actors take in order to address the war’s impact on women and ensure women’s full participation in resolving this crisis as it wages into its fifth year?

A sustainable peace in Syria cannot be achieved without the active participation of women and the incorporation of their perspectives at all levels of decision-making. We cannot afford to wait for a resolution to the conflict in order to start containing its devastating impact on women. It is imperative that all stakeholders stop compromising the effective participation of women at all levels, whether in constitutional and legislative councils, temporary or permanent local councils, judiciary, local courts, law enforcement and police authorities.

Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, briefs the UNSC on the situation in Syria.

Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, briefs the UNSC on the situation in Syria.

National and international organizations must take women’s issues and experiences into account and act effectively to support and rehabilitate them to allow for full and substantial participation, whether individually or through groups and initiatives. This would also be in line with UN Resolution 1325, which calls upon all conflict parties to include women in the management and resolution of armed conflicts.

Finally, the participation of women in solving the Syrian dilemma should go beyond mere token representation to focus on structural changes that allow space for women issues to be tackled, as well as for their opinions, and that of civil society and peaceful actors, to weigh as much as those of parties to the conflict.

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RtoP Weekly 8-12 June 2015

Untitled

AU Summit a Chance to Increase Regional
Political Will to Act to Protect Populations

As African Union members gather for the AU summit in South Africa, which began Wednesday and will run until 14 June, leaders should be thinking, in line with their Responsibility to Protect, of creative and timely actions to protect an array of at-risk populations from atrocity crimes.

The African Union’s predecessor, the Organizationfor African Unity (OAU), played a key role in the mediation process that led to the signing of the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, a crucial step in bringing peace and stability  to Burundi. It is therefore crucial that the AU work to safeguard this legacy, including through assisting Burundi and regional/international actors in establishing the environment necessary for holding free and fair elections. The AU should further consider issuing a statement that underscores the need to respect the will of the people and warns that any actor that commits or calls for the commission of gross human rights violations will be held accountable.

Additionally, the AU could highlight the need for any dispute about the electoral process/results to be raised through the relevant judicial bodies, with support provided to assist in this process if needed. Such actions will serve to ensure that any challenges to the process are raised through the relevant legal channels, and not through calls for action that could lead to adversely impacting the political and human rights of civilians.  As Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, the former OAU secretary-general, stated recently, “No one should underestimate what is at stake…Without coordinated international action to de-escalate the situation, I am fearful for the consequences.”

However, Burundi is just one of several African countries in which populations are either experiencing or are at risk of atrocity crimes. Atrocities throughout the African region, including in Mali, Darfur (Sudan), South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Nigeria, and Libya again prove the critical need for committed and steady regional prevention and response in order to fulfill this organization’s’ Responsibility to Protect (RtoP).

Finally, though pressing country situations may dominate discussions, the AU should ensure that it gives its theme “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development” due consideration. As is all too often documented in various crises, women remain disproportionately impacted by the commission of atrocity crimes, and such atrocities bear long-term economic, social, political, and psychological consequences for women and the society affected as a whole. Thus, through taking concerted effort to enhance the promotion and protection of women’s rights, the African Union will directly contribute to the empowerment of women throughout the continent and assist governments in upholding their protection obligations articulated in the Responsibility to Protect. Furthermore, women and women’s rights organizations play a crucial role in the advancement of atrocities prevention; however, despite their inherent right to directly contribute to the prevention and response to atrocities, women overall are drastically underrepresented in such processes. By enacting measures to acknowledge the role women are already directly playing in atrocities prevention as well as taking action to ensure barriers to equal participation are broken down, the African Union will serve to ensure its membership upholds the equal rights of all citizens. This will in turn strengthen initiatives undertaken by states to protect populations from atrocities through having diverse and holistic input into such processes.

 


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of Congo
Gaza
Iraq
Libya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen
Other

Burma/Myanmar:

150 of 208 migrants that were found adrift in a boat off of Myanmar’s coast were set to transfer back to Bangladesh. Myanmar has yet to state what will happen to the remaining migrants as the countries work to determine the origins of those stranded.  Myanmar police have arrested more than 90 people for human trafficking offences this year, but no cases have been reported in the Rakhine state, where persecuted Rohingya have fled.


Burundi:

The electoral commission proposed a postponement of elections for the second time, pushing back voting from June 26 until July 15, which sparked renewed tension and violence across the country. However, Burundi’s political opposition rejected the proposal put forth by the electoral commission as well as called for UN mediator Said Djinnit to step down following allegations of bias in favor of the government. On 11 June, Said Djinnit ultimately steppeddown as mediator in the Burundi crisis, but he noted that he remains committed to peace in the country and will serve as the UN’s envoy to the Great Lakes region.


Central African Republic:
The Head of State of the Transition, Catherine Samba Panza, officially created the Special Criminal Court, giving it investigative and judicial powers over war crimes committed since 2003 to begin the process to end impunity in the country.While major security and political progress has been made since President Panza’s appointment, women at the grassroots level remain left out of peace and reconciliation efforts and are calling for more inclusive participation.

Foreign policy specialists have also called for the United States to renew its waning commitment and become more vocal and active in providing support for a truly democratic and stable CAR


Democratic Republic of the Congo:
The families of 34 victims filed a public complaint requesting the exhumation of the mass grave in Maluku which, although found over two months ago, has yet to be responded to by the government. Human Rights Watch suspects that officials are trying to hide evidence of government abuses that could be found at the site.


Gaza:

The International Criminal Court is sending a delegation to Israel for a preliminary examination into whether or not crimes against humanity and war crimes have been committed in Palestinian territories. If the delegation determines that there is reasonable basis for an investigation and that the ICC has the authority to do so, it will investigate the activities in both Israeli and the Palestinian territories.


Iraq:

The new UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Stephen O’Brien, met senior Iraqi Government officials in Baghdad and discussed that more must be done for the Iraqi people. However, Lisa Grande, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq stated, “If funding is not urgently secured, more than half of all humanitarian programmess are likely to close or be curtailed in the coming weeks and months.”  Meanwhile, the United States government is sending 450 more US military personnel to train and assist Iraqi Security Forces at Taqaddum military base in eastern Anbar province, as they try to take back the city of Ramadi from ISIS. Britain is also sending 125 more troops to Iraq to assist in training of the state forces.


Libya:
Russia and China opposed the request from the United States, Britain, France and Spain to impose sanctions on two Libyans for obstructing UN talks. The UN facilitated Libyan political dialogue on forming a national unity government began on Monday in Germany.  There is now a draft  agreement said to address most of the challenges facing Libya, but the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on the North African nation said that “time has come to make an agreement” and he urges the draft to be finalized before the beginning of Ramadan on 17 June. Meanwhile, a coalition of Islamist militias in Libya vowed to take down a local unit of ISIS situated in Darnah.


Mali:

The Malian government and the Tuareg rebels agreed on a ceasefire calling for the retreat of all rebel forces to 20 kilometers outside Menaka, a strategic town East of Gao. Suspected Islamist militants attacked a Malian police base near the southern border with the Ivory Coast.


Nigeria:

Recently elected President Buhari attended the G7 Summit asking for assistance in the fight against Boko Haram as well as support in improving Nigeria’s infrastructure and economy. Heannounced that he will move the military’s base to the Maiduguri, the largest city in the Northeast and an area heavily impacted by Boko Haram. Opponents of Buhari were elected to the Senate presidency and other leadership positions on 9 June, which demonstrates the ongoing political tensions and the difficulties that Buhari will face as he tries to reform his government.


South Sudan:

South Sudan’s latest talks began in Ethiopia on Monday to try to solve the 18 month old conflict. The warring factions only have one month to form an internationally-mandated power-sharing government. The government of South Sudan also formed a Parliamentary committee to investigate the recent fighting in Maridi County between Dinka pastoralists and local youth. In addition the government released statements assuring that its forces are in control of the oil fields in Unity and Upper Nile states, negating rebel claims that they captured the fields.


Sudan/Darfur:

Dr. El Tijani Sese, chairman of the Darfur Regional Authority, expressed his hope that the new Sudanese government will consider dialogue as a priority to reach peace in Darfur at the Darfur-Darfur conference being held at the Research Centre for Peace and Development of the University of El Geneina. President Omar al-Bashir formed a new government, a month after winning the very poorly attended election, and says that he wants to bring peace to his country. At a Security Council briefing, Edmond Mulet, UN peacekeeping deputy chief,stressed to the council that insignificant progress in peace efforts has been made in Darfur. He also pointed to the increasing and indiscriminate attacks against civilians taking place. Dozens of women and girls report being gang-raped by Sudanese government forces in Golo.


Syria:

In addition to ISIS, al-Qaeda is becoming a prominent part of the rebellion in Syria. Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra shot at least 20 members of the Druze minority and has also forced hundreds to convert to Sunni Islam.  A public square in Al-Janudiyah, controlled by opposition forces, was raided by air strikes from the Syrian government killing at least 49 civilians. Kurdish forces and moderate rebels fought ISIS in the town of Tel Abyad and thousands of Syrians fled into Turkey.


Yemen:

Saudi-led air strikes on the rebel forces headquarters killed twenty civilians and hit residential buildings.  As violence continues to escalate, those trapped in the conflict in Yemen continue to share their experiences living in constant fear with little access to food, water and aid. Meanwhile, the families of American drone strike victims, Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber and Waleed bin Ali Jaber, filed a lawsuit in Washington, asking the court to deem the strike unlawful and publicize the truth.


 

What else is new?

The UN commission of inquiry on human rights in Eritrea  released a report on June 4th, which details the human rights abuses committed by the regime of President Isaias Afwerki.  Mike Smith, the chair of the commission of inquiry stated that, “the commission also finds that the violations in the areas of extrajudicial executions, torture (including sexual torture), national service and forced labour may constitute crimes against humanity.”

A new app, eyeWitness, developed by the International Bar Association, provides a quick way for anyone to capture photos/video that can be used to investigate and prosecute individuals who commit atrocity crimes. The app is currently only available for Android devices but will be adapted to others soon. The app uploads the photos to a database in the US and includes a timestamp and GPA location and can be deleted from the phone itself. A team of IBA lawyers will review the photos and determine if they need to be submitted to an international war crimes tribunal.

 

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#R2P10: The Burundi crisis and the risk of regionalisation

The following is the most recent submission to the ICRtoP’s RtoP at 10 blog series, which invites civil society and academic experts to examine critical country cases, international/regional perspectives, and thematic issues that have been influential in the development of the norm over the past 10 years, and that will have a lasting impact going forth into the next decade. Below is a piece by Lucy Hovil, Senior Researcher at International Refugee Rights Initiative, a Steering Committee Member of the ICRtoP.

Much hope was pinned to the summit of East African Community (EAC) heads of state on 31 May in Dar es Salaam to discuss the situation in Burundi that has evolved since President Nkurunziza announced his intention to stand for a third term. The potential impact of this meeting was lessened by the fact that Nkurunziza, not surprisingly, did not attend: the last time he left the country, there was an attempted coup.

Previous experience in the region has shown that the destiny of each of the region’s countries is deeply intertwined with that of its neighbours. The approach of the EAC is an important example of the role that regional institutions can play in implementing the responsibility to protect. As noted by the Secretary-General noted in his 2011 report on The Role of Regional and Sub-Regional arrangements in Implementing the Responsibility to Protect, those that “are closer to the events on the ground may have access to more detailed information, may have a more nuanced understanding of the history and culture, may be more directly affected by the consequences of action taken or not taken, and may be critical to the implementation of decisions” at the global level.

Moreover, as noted by the Secretary-General, such regional actors have a responsibility under the second pillar of RtoP to assist Burundi to fulfill its protection obligations and protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. Therefore, the involvement of the EAC is laudable and necessary (if the outcome from the most recent meeting is somewhat wanting).

However, it is also important to remember that regional leaders have as often been part of the problem as part of the solution.  Therefore, urgent attention needs to be paid to the regional dynamics of this crisis to avoid an escalation – and a regionalisation – of what is, at least for the moment, a distinctly Burundian crisis. In a troubled region where numerous conflict dynamics have been left hanging, there is significant potential for those in need of political bolstering to draw in others in a political tit for tat. With much tinder on the ground, the potential for conflict to spread around the region should neither be assumed nor ignored.

Already the crisis has exacerbated tense relations between the governments of Rwanda and Burundi. Many of the leaders of the failed coup have allegedly escaped to Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, fuelling rumours that Rwanda was behind the coup. Off-the-record interviews with opposition politicians in Burundi show their faith in a strong alliance with Rwanda who, they believe, is ready to come to the rescue of the “oppressed” if needed. Rumours are rife in Bujumbura that a number of army officers have gone to Rwanda. Many fear that Rwanda will become a base for those in exile to create an opposition army, or that Rwanda could intervene more directly.

The Burundi government has expressed no doubt as to where Rwanda’s loyalties lie. According to a declaration broadcast on radio on 25 May, the government said “some countries” are getting involved in the crisis in Burundi and are making matters worse. As one civil society leader in Bujumbura told the author, “Any Burundian knows that what the government is really referring to here is Rwanda.”

The instability and continuing presence of armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) provides further fuel for the potential regionalisation of the Burundi situation. Just as armed groups in the DRC have been supported by regional powers in a form of proxy warfare in the past, there is a risk that these groups might be drawn into the current crisis. Already there are rumours to this effect. Some members of the opposition are accusing the government of Burundi of allowing interahamwe (former génocidaires who took part in the 1994 Rwanda genocide) to operate alongside the government’s notorious armed youth wing, the imbonerakure. The government has strongly denied these allegations. However, with the opposition asserting support from the government of Rwanda, the temptation for the government of Burundi to “make a deal” with Rwanda’s enemies, whether the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), an anti-Rwandan-government militia including a number of former interahamwe or génocidaires, or others, is not beyond the realms of possibility. For its part, the government of Burundi is already claiming that damage has come from this alleged alignment, saying that Burundians who had previously fled to the DRC and had then returned to Burundi, have been forced to flee once more into exile for fear of being accused by the opposition of belonging to the interahamwe.

Much of this is rumour and conjecture, and it is important to emphasise that neither civil war nor regional conflict are by any means inevitable. Indeed, there are plenty of factors that can prevent this from happening if sufficient action is taken. While any resolution is going to need a creative combination of factors, the leaders of the EAC, if able to work together, can be key players and have the potential to comprehensively address these regional dynamics before they escalate.

However, whether or not this will happen remains to be seen. There is a serious concern that the EAC leaders could split into factions and exacerbate tension. For example, tensions between Burundi and Rwanda were aggravated when Burundi “sided” with Tanzania in their stand-off with Rwanda in 2013. Tanzania’s President Kikwete called on countries taking part in peace talks on the ongoing crisis in eastern DRC to open discussions with all the rebel groups operating there, including the FDLR. Rwandan President Kagame, who was still smarting from having lost favour with a number of donors who suspended aid in mid-2012 following accusations that it was supporting the M23 rebellion in eastern DRC, was infuriated by the suggestion, and the relationship between the two countries quickly deteriorated. Tanzania expelled thousands of Rwandans – including refugees and a number of Burundians and Ugandans who were accused of being Rwandan – and Rwanda increased trade barriers against Tanzania. While Burundi supported Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda sided with Rwanda, splitting the EAC. Although relations have since become more civil, tensions have remained.

Furthermore, leaders in the region will be hard pressed to take the moral high ground on the presidential term limit debate. Uganda’s President Museveni has tampered with the constitution to accommodate not only a third term but to remove term limits entirely, and the Rwandan parliament is soon to debate whether or not Rwanda should do the same. Even more worryingly, political leaders may see their own fates reflected in whether or not President Nkurunziza remains in power: they may be tempted to conduct their external affairs primarily with a view to their own political futures rather than to the good of Burundi.

All of this boils down to the fact that the current crisis precipitated by President Nkurunziza’s declaration of his intention to run for a third term has the potential to exacerbate numerous tensions that have been simmering below the surface for years, or even decades. Once more, it seems that the failure to deal adequately with past rounds of conflict is likely to come back to bite the region. With so many loose ends left hanging – as evidenced by rebel groups operating in eastern DRC and a broader failure throughout the region to generate justice and equitable governance – the situation remains tense. Indeed, the exodus of approximately 100,000 refugees from Burundi to neighbouring states has, in many respects, already made it into a regional affair.

Ultimately, however, the responsibility for what is taking place in Burundi rests primarily with the government and thus firmly at the feet of the president. Although President Nkurunziza appears to hold most of the cards at the moment, this may not remain the case for much longer. The more he tightens the screws on the opposition the more dangerous the situation will become, and the more likely it is that his opponents will look to alternative sources of assistance. As head of state, he has a responsibility to protect populations in his country and to prevent of the escalation of the crisis.

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RtoP Weekly 25-30 May 2015

UntitledAt Summit Today, Governments Must Address Underlying Causes Forcing Rohingya to Flee from Burma
Today, 29 May 2015, 17 states (chiefly from the Asia-Pacific region) will gather in Thailand to discuss the crisis of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants trapped at sea. Over the past few weeks, several Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia and Thailand, prompted international alarm by turning away hundreds of starving sea migrants. At one point, an estimated 6,000 migrants were stranded at sea, abandoned by their human traffickers, before Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to provide them with temporary shelter.

At today’s Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asian nations have an obligation to no longer ignore the plight of the Rohingya in Burma, often referred to as the “world’s most persecuted minority.” As outlined by a statement signed by 60 civil society organizations, including the ICRtoP and 8 of its members, the Burmese government has escalated this humanitarian crisis via increasingly restrictive policies, practices and legislation, including through widespread sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls. Therefore, declared Human Rights Watch, regional governments should “exert pressure on Burma as the main source of the problem”, including by calling on Burmese officials to “end the repressive measures and denial of basic rights that have driven Rohingya to flee their native Arakan state over many years.” Only by encouraging and assisting Burma to halt its discriminatory citizenship and legal policies against the Rohingya can the international community fulfill its Responsibility to Protect the Rohingya from the atrocity crimes they currently face.

In the short and medium-term, as Amnesty International highlighted, international and regional actors at the conference must supply migrants with the desperately-needed humanitarian aid, coordinate search and rescue operations, allow boats carrying asylum seekers to land safely, and ensure that asylum-seekers undergo a fair refugee status determination procedure.
For more on Burma:


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of Congo
DPRK
Gaza
Iraq

Libya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Other

Burma/Myanmar:

Though signs are emerging that negotiators from the government and ethnic rebel groups are closing in on a ceasefire accord, it is less certain whether the ceasefire accord will lead to a political dialogue, and thus a broader peace-building process, prior to general elections in 2015. Mass graves have been found at large, sophisticated, and now abandoned smuggling camps in Malaysia, believed to have housed Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants.


Burundi:

Zedi Feruzi, leader of the opposition party Union for Peace and Development, was shot and killed, leading activists to suspend talks with the government. The East African Community announced that it would hold a summit this Sunday to discuss the crisis. The Government underscored that it would not negotiate with actors on President Nkurunziza’s candidacy and claimed that the media had abused the practice of freedom of press by inciting insurrection. The government further made an appeal to its public for money to fund the upcoming election, after international actors withheld aid for the vote. Lithuania, the current president of the Security Council, stated that the “predominant” opinion among Council members was that Burundi’s June elections should be delayed.


Central African Republic:
Save the Children warned that more than 60% of CAR’s children have witnessed or been subjected to acts of extreme violence since March 2013. Evidence emerged that the United Nations knew about allegations that French peacekeepers had sexually abused children for months. French and Central African justice authorities announced that they were cooperating in ongoing investigations on the accusations.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:
Residents of a town in eastern DRC started a tax strike in protest of several rebel massacres that have occurred there.Congolese soldiers clashed with FDLR rebels, wounding six, as anagreement to move the Rwandan Hutu fighters from one transit camp to another fell apart.


Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

U.S., South Korea, and Japan announced that they would tie the DPRK’s rights records to nuclear talks, issues which the countries had previously dealt with separately.


Gaza:

Amnesty International reported that the military wing of Hamas carried out a campaign of abductions, torture and unlawful killings against Palestinians accused of “collaborating” with Israel and others during Israel’s military offensive against Gaza in the summer of 2014. A rocket was fired from Gaza into Israel on Tuesday.


Iraq:

Iraq began its operation to expel the Islamic State from Ramadi. Suicide bombings killed at least 17 Iraqi soldiers in Anbar. Shiite authorities in Baghdad have started restricting the entry of Sunnis displaced by the Islamic State. Iraq exhumed 500 bodies from mass graves in Tikrit, believed to be those of Iraqi soldiers killed by the Islamic State in June 2014.


Libya:
Libya’s internationally-recognized Government says that gunmen tried to assassinate the Prime Minister. Human Rights Watch warns that civilians are trapped in Benghazi and called on the International Criminal Court to open an investigation.


Mali:

International Crisis Group warned that Mali’s peace agreement must be strengthened if a resumption in fighting is to be avoided. Thousands of Malians marched in support of the agreement. A UN peacekeeper was killed by militants in Bamako. At least nine civilians werekilled in a separatist attack in northern Mali, with Tuareg rebels accusing pro-government militias of executing the civilians. The UN stated that it was investigating the incident.


Nigeria:

Boko Haram killed dozens in an attack in Borno. UNICEF reported that women and children carry out 75% of the suicide attacks in Nigeria. Fulani herdsmen killed 96 in Benue. Video footage captured near Boko Haram camps indicates that foreign fighters are among the group’s leaders.


South Sudan:

AU Peace and Security Council renewed its call for the UN Security Council to impose sanctions and an arms embargo on South Sudan. Uganda’s Parliament, in a new report, urgedthe government to pull its forces from South Sudan, though the Ugandan defense minister rejected the proposal. Paloch, an oil field in Upper Nile State (the sole region still pumping crude oil), has emerged as a prime rebel target. The loss of Paloch could spell disaster for the oil-dependent South Sudanese government. The UN estimated that over 40% of South Sudanese will face a severe food shortage over the coming months.


Sudan/Darfur:

An estimated 3,000 civilians who fled militia attacks in East Jebel Marra two months ago are being terrorized by Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The Sudanese government said that it prevented a move by European states to give the ICC jurisdiction over crimes against women and children. The UN special rapporteur on violence against women called for an inquiry into the accusations of mass rape in Tabit, Darfur in November 2014.


Syria:

Kurdish forces wrested control of 14 Assyrian villages from the Islamic State. The Syrian foreign ministry said that it wanted more coordination with Iraq in the fight against the Islamic State. Syria’s air force bombed an Islamic State-controlled air base in Raqqa and also carried out intense strikes to dislodge the Islamic State from Palmyra. The Islamic State reportedly executed over 200 after taking control of Palmyra last week. Opposition activists claimed that they have documentation of 18 cases of chlorine gas attacks since 6 March 2015. Turkey stated that it has reached an agreement “in principle” with the U.S. to provide air support to Syrian rebels. Hezbollah vowed to increase its participation in the civil war..


What else is new?

The ICRtoP is extremely saddened to hear of the passing of renowned genocide prevention scholar Sheri Rosenberg last Friday. A leading voice in this field, her work will continue to impact the Responsibility to Protect for years to come.

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RtoP Weekly: 19-22 May 2015

Untitled

Burundi Needs More Than Rhetoric on Responsibility
International Community Must Act Now to Prevent Atrocity Crimes
(The following is an excerpt from an ICRtoP press release)

The international community must take timely and decisive action to protect populations in Burundi who could be at risk of mass atrocity crimes due to a surge in violence surrounding upcoming elections, the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) said today.

Actors at the international, regional, and national levels frequently underscore their dedication to the prevention of atrocity crimes. Many have said that prevention is the most crucial, cost-effective, and efficient way to implement their Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), a norm under which United Nations (UN) member states agreed that they have an obligation to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.

“With the quickly devolving situation in Burundi, the international community has an opportunity to match its rhetoric on prevention with actual action, in line with its Responsibility to Protect,” said Don Deya, chair of the ICRtoP.

Burundi exhibits several risk factors, as outlined in the UN’s Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes, which create an environment conducive to atrocities. (…)

Read the full press release here.

Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of Congo
Iraq
Libya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Other


Burma/Myanmar:

Myanmar finally acknowledged that the international community had “concerns” over the hundreds of Rohingya migrants trapped at sea after fleeing persecution in Myanmar, but suggested that regional partners resolve the issue. The National League for Democracy, a prominent opposition party in Burma, demanded that the government give the Rohingya minority Burmese citizenship. The Philippines indicated its willingness to open its country’s doors to the migrants on Tuesday, while Thailand announced that it will host talks on 29 May among 15 countries affected by the crisis, which will aim at devising measures to deal with the influx of Rohingya refugees. After consultations between Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia announced they would provide temporary shelter to an estimated 7,000 migrants stranded at sea. 450 migrants were rescued by Indonesian fishermen on Wednesday. Myanmar announced it “was ready to provide humanitarian assistance to anyone who suffered at sea.”


Burundi:
The President of Burundi fired his defense, foreign, and trade ministers as protests resumed after the failed coup attempt. He further postponed parliamentary and local council elections by one week, to 6 June, under advice from Burundi’s Electoral Commission and East African leaders. Meanwhile, protests resumed against President Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term, with Burundian security forces firing shots and tear gas at protesters. The ministers of the East African Community held an emergency meeting on the situation on 18 May in Arusha. The African Union Economic, Social and Cultural Council released a statement on Monday urging respect for the Arusha Accords and underlining that “the people of Burundi must be allowed to elect democratic, legitimate and constitutional government through inclusive, credible and transparent elections, held in a conducive environment.” In a press statement on the crisis, the EU Council stressed that “there can be no impunity for those responsible for serious human rights violations.”


Central African Republic:

The Security Council issued a press release welcoming the Bangui Forum and urged implementation of the Republican Pact for Peace, National Reconciliation and Reconstruction. The UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Central Africa, Abdoulaye Bathily, noted that elections in CAR may need to be postponed.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

President Kabila called for all political parties to join a forthcoming national dialogue “focus on creating an environment for a peaceful electoral process.” The European Union Parliamentapproved a draft regulation that would oblige companies to provide information on the use of material sourced from conflict zones. The Parliament underscored that the EU must ensure that importers do not fuel conflict and human rights abuses in areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo and other parts of Africa.


Iraq:

The UN announced that 25,000 people fled Ramadi during the Islamic State’s fresh and successful attempt to re-take the city. The AP released a Q & A on what the fall of Ramadi could mean for the fight against the terrorist group. The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of the internally displaced denounced Iraq for failing to adequately support and protect the nearly three million people displaced by the Islamic State.


Libya:
Justice First enlisted Luis Moreno Ocampo, former prosecutor for the ICC, to assist in pursuing a war crimes probe in Libya. The UN Support Mission in Libya warned Libyan armed groups that abducting civilians, torture and murder are war crimes, and that those who commit them are criminally liable, including in front of the ICC.


Mali:

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the signing of a peace agreement between the Malian government and a coalition of armed groups. Despite the peace agreement, Tuareg rebels killed three soldiers near Timbuktu. Assailants attacked a UN residential compound in Mali in Bamako.


Nigeria:

Nigeria’s military said that it destroyed 10 Boko Haram camps. Reports surfaced that hundreds of women and girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram have been raped, in what might be a deliberate strategy to create a new generation of Islamist fighters. At least 7 people were killed in a suicide bombing outside of a livestock market.


South Sudan:
The UN Secretary-General condemned the sharp uptick in fighting in South Sudan in Unity and Upper Nile State, which included two mortar bomb attacks on a UN compound. A Security Council press statement on the crisis reiterated that the “Government of South Sudan bears the primary responsibility to protect civilians within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction, including from potential crimes against humanity and war crimes.” They also underscored their willingness to impose sanctions against those responsible for the violence. The Red Cross warned of a looming food crisis in the country, while UNICEF declared that dozens of children have been raped, killed, and abducted over recent weeks in Unity. Rebelsdeclared that they captured an oil refinery in Upper Nile, a claim denied by the government.


Sudan/Darfur:

The Sudanese government approved a strategy to end tribal violence in East Darfur anddispatched more troops to east Darfur. Attacks by Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces havedisplaced the majority of the populations in Jebel Marra.


Syria:
Iran reportedly expanded its credit line to the Assad regime. A coalition of Islamist groupscontinued their advances on territory held by Assad in Idlib province.  The Islamic State has allegedly seized two oil fields near the world heritage site of Palmyra. Hezbollah said its fighters had expelled Syrian opposition forces from Syria’s Qalaman region. Syria’s “White Helmets,” a volunteer civil defense search and rescue corp that responds to victims, told diplomats at the UN that they needed a no-fly zone. The Islamic State won control of Palmyra, the first time that the militants had seized an entire city from Assad’s forces.


What else is new?

ICRtoP Member Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation  is holding an event to mark the launching of their 1st Edition of the National Mechanisms for the Prevention of Genocide and other Atrocity Crimes Booklet on Tuesday, 9 June. For details and to RSVP, click here.

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the U.S. State Department, and USAID released a newAtrocity Assessment Framework.

Security Council Report released their latest cross-cutting report tracking UN Security Council involvement on the issue of Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.

The ICRtoP, together with the Cyrus Vance Center and the International Justice Project, is holding an event on Tuesday, 26 May titled “Is International Law Effective in Preventing Genocide? Lessons Learned from Darfur”. Register here.

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RtoP Weekly: 11-15 May 2015

Untitled

ICRtoP Event: Is International Law Effective in Preventing Genocide?

Lessons Learned from Darfur
May 26th, 2015, 6:30-8pm
New York City Bar Association

With the end of World War II, the international community took up the pledge of “Never Again,” vowing to ensure action in the face of genocide. Despite progress made to identify the risk of and respond to the commission of atrocity crimes, such as genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, the international community has all too often shown an inability and, in some circumstances, failure to act to protect populations from these most horrific crimes. The continuing crisis in Darfur and the international community’s inability to ensure the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, despite an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for genocide, is but one example. Impunity for genocide sets a dangerous precedent for leaders who may continue to rely on the commission of such crimes to maintain their hold on power. Ending impunity for perpetrators of genocide is thus essential in preventing future genocides.

The apparent failure to heed the lessons from past and present genocides also calls for a serious reflection on strategies for a more comprehensive approach to genocide prevention.

This panel, hosted by the ICRtoP, the Cyrus Vance Center for International Justice, and the International Justice Project, will convene experts from the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, and local and international human rights NGOs, among others, to instruct on how various diplomatic, legal, economic, and humanitarian tools have been used to respond to past conflict situations, discuss their effectiveness in addressing and preventing mass atrocities, and most critically, explore ways in which civil society, including private lawyers, can employ such mechanisms to help strengthen national legislation and institutions to prevent atrocity crimes.
For more information and to register, click here.

Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of Congo
Iraq
Libya
Mali

Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Other


Burma/Myanmar:

Nearly 2,000 sea migrants from Myanmar were rescued or swum to safety in Malaysia and Indonesia last weekend. However, a wooden fishing boat carrying hundreds of migrants from Myanmar is adrift at sea without food or water, after Malaysia refused to take them in. According to The Guardian, Rohingya Muslims are braving such risks of death at sea to escape their “open-air prison” in Myanmar, but Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia are all refusing new migrants.


Burundi

More than 50,000 refugees have poured into Rwanda from Burundi. An army general attempted a coup while President Nkurunziza was abroad in Tanzania, though whether he was successful is unclear. The general, Godefrois Niyombare, said he was working with civil society, religious leaders, and politicians to form a transitional government. Concerns are mounting that Burundi’s electoral violence could have a major impact on the electionsscheduled next year in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect released a statement on Burundi reminding the Army, Police and government of their shared responsibility to protect.

ICRtoP member International Crisis Group has a new Q & A with Thierry Vircoulin on the coup and its implications.


Central African Republic:

Ten armed groups agreed to a peace deal requiring them to disarm at the Bangui Peace Forum. The agreement also stipulated that no amnesty would be granted for atrocity crimes, and called for the urgent creation of a special criminal court for such crimes in CAR. Amnesty International called for follow-through on the accountability promises made in the accord. Armed groups released more than 300 children, including several under 12 years old, thanks to an agreement facilitated by UNICEF.


Democratic Republic of the Congo

At least 7 bodies, presumed to be hacked to death by machetes and axes, were found near Beni, where a series of massacres have left 300 dead in seven months. It is unclear if ADF rebels committed the most recent killings. The DRC is requesting the extradition of the leader of the ADF, Jamil Mukulu, from Tanzania. Mukulu was arrested by Tanzania in April. MONUSCO announced that Bantu militiamen had massacred dozens of Pygmies over the past week, in a conflict driven by social inequities.


Iraq:

Iraq began training Sunni tribal fighters to help in the battle against ISIS, an initiative backed by the U.S. ISIS militants staged a prison break near Baghdad, freeing prisoners and gaining access to the jail’s weapons stores.


Libya

At a briefing to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda urgedthe international community to be more proactive in helping restore peace in Libya, while also announcing that she is prepared to investigate crimes allegedly committed by ISIS in Libya. ICRtoP Member Human Rights Watch also called the Security Council to speak out strongly against impunity in Libya. According to Amnesty International, refugees and migrants across Libya are at risk of torture, rape, and abductions. Four children were killed in a rocket attack in Benghazi, for which ISIS claimed responsibility.


Mali:

A Tuareg rebel alliance, the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), signed a preliminary peace agreement with the government, but clarified that the initial accord represented only their “commitment to peace.” They underscored that many pending issues would have to be resolved before singing a final accord.


Nigeria:

The military placed Maiduguri under curfew after a surprise attack by Boko Haram on Tuesday. President Idriss Deby of Chad claimed that Nigerian and Chadian troops are not cooperating in the fight against Boko Haram. Nigerian soldiers have been found guilty of mutiny and sentenced to death for refusing to fight against Boko Haram. The soldiers protest that they lacked weapons.


South Sudan:

South Sudan’s parliament passed a new bill “regulating NGOs”, which would require aid agencies in South Sudan to ensure that no more than 20% of their staff are foreigners. The South Sudan NGO Forum protested that the bill would hinder the delivery of services and “cost lives.” Over 300,000 civilians have been left without assistance in Unity State after the UN and aid agencies were forced to evacuate after a surge of fighting. UNMISS expressedconcern over reports from Unity of the torching of villages, killing, abductions, rape, and forced displacements. Meanwhile, the South Sudanese government rejected a proposal by UNMISS to relocate over 100,000 internally displaced persons from civilian protection sites to their places of choice, including villages and towns held by rebels.

IPI released a new issue brief on State Formation, Humanitarianism, and Institutional Capabilities in South Sudan.


Sudan/Darfur:

Sudan claims that it has made progress against rebels in Darfur. Over 100 people were killedin tribal clashes in East Darfur this week, while UNAMID called for restraint over rising tensions between the Rezeigat and Ma’alia tribes. Sudan’s first vice-president demanded thefinalization of consultations on a referendum to decide Darfur’s administrative status, an element of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur. A Sudanese militia commander declaredTawila, in North Darfur, a military area, saying that people may be targeted.


Syria:

The Commission for International Justice and Accountability claims they have compiled enough evidence from smuggled documents to indict Assad and 24 members of his regime for war crimes. The Syrian National Coalition announced that it would not be attending the Geneva consultations hosted by the UN envoy, Steffan de Mistura, dampening hopes of a breakthrough. The UN announced that 36,000 newborn Syrians are now stateless in Lebanon. Inspectors in Syria found new traces of chemical weapons. Handicap International warnedthat 5 million Syrians will be at risk of explosive weapons for years to come.


What else is new?

Ahead of Wednesday’s Security Council debate on Small Arms and Light Weapons, the ICRtoP and PAX coordinated with 40 ICRtoP members and partners to write a letter urging member states to voice their “strong support for addressing the horrific civilian impact of SALW, the most commonly used weapons in armed conflicts and post-conflict situations, and for addressing their Responsibility to Protect in this regard.” Read the full letter here.

The ICRtoP, Stanley Foundation, and Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect have released a report on the civil society workshop called “Ten Years Since the World Summit: Developing Civil Society’s Strategy for the Responsibility to Protect in the Asia-Pacific Region” held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on 28 February 2015.  The workshop reflected on the best practices and challenges of the past decade; evaluated the ability of domestic, regional, and international actors to implement RtoP; and identified measures that could further operationalize the norm. Representatives of civil society from Australia, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, as well as those from international nongovernmental organizations, participated in the meeting.

ICRtoP’s Senior Program Officer, Megan Schmidt, was interviewed in the Canadian International Council’s feature of RtoP experts.

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Elect to Act, Why the Unrest in Burundi Cannot Be Ignored

The following is an entry in ICRtoP’s ongoing ‘RtoP at 10′ blog series. The series invites civil society and academic experts to examine critical country cases, international/regional perspectives, and thematic issues that have been influential in the development of the norm over the past 10 years, and that will have a lasting impact going forth into the next decade. Below is a piece by Sean Murphy, Research Intern with the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect. Applying the Framework of Analysis produced by the United Nations Office for the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, Mr. Murphy reflects on the risks present in Burundi as the country prepares for a contested upcoming election.  

Mothers line up to register their children in Rwanda after fleeing their native Burundi. Photo credit: UNHCR/S. Masengesho

Mothers line up to register their children in Rwanda after fleeing their native Burundi. Photo credit: UNHCR/S. Masengesho

In under eight weeks’ time, the people of Burundi will come forward to vote in what is becoming an increasingly contested and volatile presidential election. As the vote nears, violence has erupted between protestors and police, with twelve civilians reported dead so far and thousands having fled to neighboring Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, citing threats and intimidation by the ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure. There has also been mass detainment of those voicing disapproval with the government, and steps to silence the media seeking to report on the deteriorating situation. The recent decision by Burundi’s current president, Pierre Nkurunziza, to seek a third presidential term, which violates the country’s constitution, and run in the June elections has been the spark that has led to Burundi experiencing the most serious unrest since the end of its civil war in 2005. While atrocity crimes – genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing – are not presently being perpetrated in Burundi, many civil, regional, and international actors are concerned about the risk because of the highly contested nature of the elections combined with the underlying and unresolved issues that the country faces. Early reporting and the identifying of warning signs, such as those present in Burundi, is crucial to spur swift and preventive action to protect populations. Given that atrocity crimes are not spontaneous acts that erupt without warning but rather are the result of a process of planning at the hands of those most responsible, there are often windows of time to take preventive action.

The Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes, published by the United Nations Off ice on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect (OGPRtoP) in 2014, is a new tool to help identify the risk for atrocity crimes and lead to early warning and reporting. It contains 14 risk factors for atrocity crimes and within each risk factor are additional indicators relating to that specific risk factor. The risk factor helps to identify the probability of atrocity crimes overall, while the indicators assist in determining the degree to which an individual risk factor is present. These risk factors and indicators are meant to help monitors and analysts in guiding their collection and assessment of information where suspected atrocity crimes are taking place. This blog will show the use of the Framework of Analysis as a practical tool in helping with the prevention of atrocity crimes and violations by identifying some of the risks that are currently present in Burundi.

Please note that this blog does not seek to identify all current risk factors and indicators present in the country.

Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes. Published by the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect.

Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes. Published by the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect.

Burundi Through the Framework

Risk Factor 2: Record of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law

Indicator 2.2: Past acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or their incitement

Burundi is a country that has suffered tremendous violence throughout its history, whether it be the 1972 genocide in which around 200,000 were killed at the hands of then-President Michel Micombero, who deployed his Tutsi military commanders to kill Hutus across Burundi, or the twelve-year civil war that saw about 300,000 Hutus and Tutsis killed due to violent inter-ethnic hostilities. Despite the atrocities carried out, adequate steps have not been taken to hold perpetrators accountable and assist victims.

On 4 December 2014, Burundi’s Parliament elected eleven members to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to look into the decades of killings it has faced since independence in 1962. The Burundian TRC has been long overdue and has faced continuous setbacks and delays. Furthermore, its establishment was boycotted by opposition politicians from the Tutsi minority who feel the TRC protects the President’s ruling party and, “ignores the element of justice contained in the Arusha Peace Accord.” While the establishment of a TRC is a positive step towards bringing justice to those responsible for the killings, there are many challenges it will have to overcome. TRCs are often criticized for their slow movement and their ability to secure pragmatic resolutions that will satisfy victims has been questioned. The TRC will have four years to establish the truth about ethnic killings from 1962-2008, identify and map mass graves, propose a reparations program, and promote reconciliation and forgiveness. This will be an extremely difficult undertaking, and with the presidential elections not far away, the threat of renewed ethnic clashes remains.

Risk Factor 1: Situations of armed conflict or other forms of instability

Indicator 1.7: Economic instability caused by scarcity of resources or disputes over their use or exploitation

The issue of limited land and resources in Burundi is a serious cause of contention. With around 10 million people packed into just 10,475 square miles and the return of refugees previously driven out by violence and conflict, the amount of land one possesses is vital to survival. Burundi also contains a very high internally displaced persons (IDPs) population, further exacerbating complex ownership issues. Most of the population relies on subsistence farming and many barely have enough to sustain themselves and their families. If the ineffective and inconsistent policy decrees from both the government and the Commission National Terres et Autres Biens (CNTB), the agency tasked with resolving land disputes, continue, it could possibly serve as another triggering factor that could lead to the outbreak of violent ethnic conflict.

Indicator 1.5: Political instability caused by disputes over power or growing nationalist, armed or radical opposition movements

Enter the Imbonerakure. The Imbonerakure is the youth wing of Nkurunziza’s current ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy—Forces for Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD). They have been flagged by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for their previous violent actions against civilians and, according to recent reports, its members have been responsible for the disappearance of family members and carried out other intimidation tactics against those associated with the political opposition.

Furthermore, Tutsis are also being targeted because of their ethnicity in what are increasing signs that tensions between Hutus and Tutsis could once again produce devastating consequences. To gain an actual account of the torment, Pelagie Nduwimana, a Burundian refugee now in Rwanda, describes her experience stating: “One day, in a bar, one of them told me that if the president gave him the signal, he will clean his rifle with the blood of Tutsi…There is a lack of food and shelter here [Rwanda], but I will never go back to Burundi. Even if we are forced to go, I prefer to struggle and to die here.”

Risk Factor 4: Motives or Incentives Indicator 4.1: Political motives, particularly those aimed at the attainment or consolidation of power.

Throughout its text, the Framework brings continued attention to the importance of early warning. Specifically under Risk Factor 4 it notes that, “From an early warning perspective, it is extremely important to be able to identify motivations, aims or drivers that could influence certain individuals or groups to resort to massive violence as a way to achieve goals, feed an ideology, or respond to real or perceived threats.” With regards to Burundi, President Nkurunziza’s political motivations to seek a third term have the potential to eradicate the decade of peace in a very short amount of time.

Electoral workers conducting voter registration for the upcoming 2015 elections in Burundi. Photo credit: MENUB

Electoral workers conducting voter registration for the upcoming 2015 elections in Burundi. Photo credit: MENUB

The Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi, from which the current constitution is based upon, stipulates a two-term limit for the presidency, meaning that seeking a third term is a violation of both the agreement and the constitution. Nkurunziza and his supporters claim he is eligible to run as he was elected by Parliament and not “by universal direct suffrage” as indicated in the Agreement. On 5 May 2015 the Burundian Constitutional Court decreed that Nkurunziza’s decision to run did not violate the constitution, which further enraged protestors. Reports claim that the judges were under heavy pressure and in some instances even received death threats from senior government officials to rule in favor of Nkurunziza. If President Nkurunziza does not step aside and allow for a free and fair election process to be carried out, Burundi could fall right back into another civil war. The Arusha Peace Agreement should be abided by so as to establish important precedents that would prevent situations like this from occurring in the future.

Risk Factor 8: Triggering Factors

Indicator 8.8: Census, elections, pivotal activities related to those processes, or measures that destabilize them.

Triggering Factors are “Events or circumstances that, even if seemingly unrelated to atrocity crimes, may seriously exacerbate existing conditions or may spark their onset.” As evidenced throughout this piece, the presidential election, set to be held on 26 June 2015, is a pivotal triggering factor that is responsible for the current volatility in Burundi. The 2015 presidential election has also produced another alarming development: the censorship of media outlets, such as radio stations and the internet. The decision by the government to shut down independent radio stations and block access to social media, according to Risk Factor 7 in the Framework, is described as an, “enabling circumstance or preparatory action.” It specifically corresponds to Indicator 7.6: “Imposition of strict control on the use of communication channels, or banning access to them.” Christian Mihr, the director of Reporters Without Borders Germany said, “President Nkurunziza is openly trying to silence media coverage of disagreeable events.” Aside from silencing political opposition and the protests, by limiting access to the internet and independent news outlets it becomes increasingly difficult for agencies monitoring the situation to report the risk or commission of atrocity crimes and easier for those carrying them out to do so. The Framework states, “Such events, actions or changes can also serve to create an environment that favors or even encourages the commission of such crimes.”

Looking Ahead

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, in his recent trip to Burundi on 15 April 2015, stated: In short, Burundi cannot afford another outbreak of violence. It cannot afford it economically, politically, socially or culturally. It cannot afford it domestically or internationally…I urge the President and the ruling party, as well as opposition leaders, police and military to place the future well-being of the country as a whole before their own personal political desires. The Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes is a useful tool that helps signal the warning signs but it must be put to good use behind a conscientious effort to protect civilians. Jean Claude Nkundwa, a peace activist in Bujumbura and Jonathan W. Rosen, a journalist based in Rwanda, warns the international community that it cannot afford to repeat its previous stance of negligence from two decades ago saying: Twenty-one years after the Rwandan genocide, as the United States, the United Nations and other international actors still try to come to terms with their failure to act in the face of horrific violence, they must not underestimate the severity of the crisis that once again is brewing in the region.

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RtoP Weekly: 27 April – 1 May 2015

Untitled

Political Crisis in Burundi Raises Risk of Renewed Ethnic Tensions
On 25 April 2015, Burundi’s ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Peacekeeping-BurundiDemocracy (CNDD-FDD), announced that the incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza would run for a “constitutionally-questionable” third term. The pronouncement capped weeks of tense, intermittent fighting between the CNDD-FDD’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure, and opposition parties. Concerns are mounting that the Burundian President’s long-feared decision will strike a serious if not fatal blow to the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement ending Burundi’s civil war. Indeed, protests have proliferated in the week since Nkurunziza’s announcement, and the government’s response has accordingly grown more brutal. Amnesty International reports that the government has banned independent radio channels, killed and injured protestors, obstructed access routes to Bujumbura’s city centre, and dispersed crowds with tear gas, water cannons, and live ammunition. In anticipation of the looming electoral violence, an estimated 20,000 refugees have meanwhile fled to Rwanda alone.

As International Peace Institute (IPI) notes, though the recent fighting “has not been exclusively on ethnic lines”, the threat it poses to the fragile ethnic power-sharing agreement put in place by the Arusha Agreement could “allow disputes of this nature to reemerge with more force.” Opponents of President Nkurunziza (a Hutu) and his party assert that he is trying to consolidate Hutu power. The “extreme examples of hate speech” at a pro-government rally deplored by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, indeed indicate an increased risk of a revival of ethnic tension.

International Crisis Group describes how, in response to the looming crisis, High Commissioner Zeid, the Tanzanian president, and the UN Security Council recently visited Burundi, while the UN created an electoral mission (MENUB). Despite such action, International Crisis Group claims that “the reaction of Burundi’s partners—especially the guarantors of the Arusha agreement—is not commensurate with the gravity of the situation…they must urgently mobilize sufficient resources.” The AU’s 28 April decision to send a high-level AU delegation to “defuse current tension” and “identify practical measures” to resolve the crisis is welcome in this regard, and in line with the organization’s Responsibility to Protect. However, as IPI cautions, time is short, and “the next few weeks will test the strength of Burundi’s democracy and the resilience of the power-sharing agreement…in the meantime, the political tension is exacting a heavy human toll.”

For more on Burundi:

Catch up on developments in…

  • Central African Republic
  • DPRK/North Korea
  • Gaza
  • Iraq
  • Libya
  • Mali
  • Nigeria
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan/Darfur
  • Syria
  • Other

Central African Republic:
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for CAR warned that the country is becoming “a forgotten crisis”, with the UN receiving a mere fraction of the funds necessary to address the humanitarian situation. Civil society organizations welcomed CAR’s National Transitional Council decision to adopt a law establishing a Special Criminal Court within the national justice system. The Court will investigate and prosecute perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity in CAR since 2003. The UN Security Council renewed the mandate of its peacekeeping mission in CAR, “recalling that the Central African Republic authorities have the primary responsibility to protect all populations in the CAR, in particular from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

Finally, a leaked UN report alleges that French peacekeeping troops in CAR sexually abused refugee children.


DPRK/North Korea:

A report by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea accuses the regime of increasing its material support for terrorism. Foreign Policy reports that threats of accountability for the crimes against humanity documented by the UN’s Commission of Inquiry report are “creating anxiety” in North Korea.


Gaza:

The UN criticized Israel for causing 47 Palestinian deaths on its premises in the 2014 Gaza conflict. Hamas detained and beat political protestors in Gaza.


Iraq:

A series of car bombings killed at least 20 civilians in Baghdad. At least 30 Iraqi police diedduring heavy confrontations between the Iraqi security forces and ISIS in Ramadi, though Iraqi forces appear to be gaining ground in the city.


Libya

The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Libya, Bernardino León, outlinedfor the Security Council his draft proposal for a political settlement among Libya’s warring parties. The draft is “anchored” in key principles, such as a clear separation of powers between the executive and legislative authorities. The UN is seeking to finalize the agreement before the start of Ramadan on 17 June. Meanwhile, ISIS militants killed two Tunisian journalists in Libya who had been kidnapped last year.


Mali:

Mali’s main Tuareg rebel group, the MNLA, announced that it would sign a peace agreement with the government next month. However, pro-government militias (Gatia and the Arab Azawad Movement) seized Menaka from Tuareg separatists from the MNLA, threatening to derail the peace process. Tuareg rebels shot at UN peacekeepers in Timbuktu during two rebel attacks.


Nigeria:

A committee set up to assess the level of destruction in locales recovered from Boko Haram found hundreds of decomposed bodies littering the streets, dry riverbeds, and houses in Borno State. The Nigerian military claimed to have rescued 200 girls and 93 women from the Shambisa forest from Boko Haram, though the Chibok girls abducted in 2014 are not among them. The next day, the military stated it had rescued an additional 150 women and girls.


South Sudan:
Médicins Sans Frontières warned of impending “perpetual displacement” of South Sudanese families in Upper Nile State.  UMMISS confirmed that heavy fighting between the government and the rebel group SPLM-IO had reached oil-rich Bentiu. The United Nations Special Representative for South Sudan, Ellen Margrethe Løj, urged for the release of the remaining child soldiers held by the Yau Yau militia.


Sudan/Darfur:

ICC fugitive Omar al-Bashir won re-election. South Darfur saw fierce fighting between the Government, the Justice and Equality Movement, and the Sudan Liberation Movement-Minni Minnawi last weekend. The AU stressed the need to investigate reports of attacks on UNAMID peacekeepers last week in South Darfur. UNAMID stated that the Sudanese government was misinforming the public by claiming that UNAMID had killed 7 civilians, declaring that the UN had responded appropriately to two attacks against them by armed men.


Syria:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that ISIS has shot, stoned & beheaded over 2,000 off the battlefield since it declared its caliphate. The EU’s foreign policy chief said she wants Iran to play a “major but positive” role in a Syria peace process. The UN Envoy to Syria will begin meeting with parties to the conflict in May in a fresh attempt to broker an end to the war. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar have ramped up their military and financial support to Syrian rebels, allowing the new rebel coalition “Army of Conquest” to achievesignificant advances against Assad in northwest Syria, including the overrunning of a military base. Opposition groups reported another chemical weapon attack in Idlib.


What else is new?

ICRtoP Member the Stanley Foundation released a new policy brief “Taking Stock of R2P in the Asia-Pacific”.

ICRtoP Member the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation is holding an event to launch its 2014 Annual Report of the Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention on 4 May. For details and to RSVP, click here.

ICRtoP Member the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies is holding its 3rd annual professional training program on the prevention of mass atrocity crimes in June. For details, click here.

The U.S. Under Secretary General for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights gave a speech called “Making Progress: U.S. Prevention of Mass Atrocities.” Read or watch the speech here.

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RtoP Weekly: 20 April – 24 April 2015

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RtoP Weekly will be a new release from the ICRtoP each week to provide its members, partners, and the public with regular updates on RtoP-related developments. 

Perspectives on RtoP’s Applicability to Atrocities Committed by the Islamic State and Possible Avenues for Accountability

Isn’t it too late to protect populations from the Islamic State (IS)? Aren’t the problems presented by the Islamic State primarily ones of counter-terrorism, not the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P)? A new article in Open Canada by Alex Bellamy argues no to both questions: despite the fact that much more could have been done to prevent the birth and expansion of the brutal terrorist group (and the wider Syrian civil war and turmoil in Iraq), such failures of prevention “must not be allowed to excuse inaction in the face of atrocity crimes.” Furthermore, those who advocate for a narrow counter-terrorism approach ignore the inescapable fact that “terrorism–understood as violence intentionally targeted against civilians–is itself often a crime against humanity.” In several instances–such as with IS, al-Shabaab and Boko Haram–RtoP and counter-terrorism are simply different ways of looking at the same problem, and Bellamy pleads for more understanding of the relationship between the two agendas. He further advocates for a formal declaration by the UN General Assembly or Security Council outlining the clear demands that RtoP places on non-state actors, as well as a redoubled effort by the international community to protect Syrians and Iraqis from “ISIS’s reign of terror.”

One possible avenue to protect populations from IS is to refer the group to the International Criminal Court (ICC). In this regard, the Coalition for the ICC this week examined four possible ways of achieving accountability for IS’s barbaric crimes: 1) the ICC prosecutor could exercise personal jurisdiction over nationals of ICC member states; 2) Iraq and Syria could join the ICC or give it temporary jurisdiction; 3) The UN Security Council could refer the situation to the ICC; or 4) Governments could carry out national prosecutions. Learn about the likelihood of each and add your thoughts about the best way to achieve justice for IS victims here.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar:

In an open letter to the heads of state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the eve of the organization’s 26th summit, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) called for greater recognition of the grave threat the persecution of the Rohingya minority poses to Myanmar and the entire ASEAN region. APHR further demanded an independent investigation into the crisis and the deployment of ASEAN monitors before the 2015 elections. As Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament, underscored “The growing risk of atrocity crimes in Myanmar…undermines our shared commitment to protecting all people from persecution and violence.”
ICRtoP Member Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect also released a statement highlighting that the prevention of electoral violence is “part of the Myanmar government’s primary responsibility to protect from communal violence leading to atrocity crimes”, and provided several recommendations in this regard.

Central African Republic:

ICRtoP Member Human Rights Watch reported that anti-Balaka fighters are holding captive 42 Muslim Peuhl herders, most of whom are women and girls, noting that such “shocking tactics” amount to war crimes and calling on UN peacekeepers and the government to act immediately to free them. Meanwhile, the CAR transitional authorities postponed a planned peace forum.

Libya

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a massacre of Ethiopian Christians on a beach purportedly in Libya. The Red Crescent said that the crisis in Libya has displaced 500,000 since May 2014. Fajr Libya, a coalition of militias controlling Tripoli, launched airstrikes against the Islamic State in Sirte.

Mali:

International mediators set a May 15 deadline for the UN’s proposed peace deal in a bid to increase pressure on Tuareg separatists to sign. Tuaregs are demanding further autonomy for the “Azawad” region. Algeria has threatened to cease its cooperation with the Tuaregs if they continue to refuse the deal. MINUSMA meanwhile suffered its third deadly assault on its peacekeepers this week when militants attacked a UN convoy.

Nigeria:

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon released a statement expressing his hope that the new Buhari presidency would “promote a return to normalcy”. The Nigerian military invaded the Sambisa forest in a bid to find the Chibok girls abducted by Boko Haram in 2014, reporting that the operation has cut off the terrorist group’s arms supply.

South Sudan:

President Kiir unveiled a new road map to peace at the opening of the national assembly, while urging for a law to “better regulate” humanitarian NGOs. Three World Food Programme workers disappeared in Upper Nile State, causing the UN agency to suspend some operations.

Sudan/Darfur:

Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the ICC, cancelled his trip to Indonesia to attend a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement, reportedly after several countries refused permission for his plane to fly over their airspace. Human Rights Watch’s Elise Keppler stated that the change of plans “reinforced al-Bashir’s status as a fugitive from international justice with limited travel options.”

ICRtoP Member International Refugee Rights Initiative released a new report “We Just Want a Rest From War: Civilian Perspectives on the Conflict in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan State.”

Syria/Iraq:

A Syrian analyst warned that recent rebel victories have not weakened Assad as much as it appears, noting that a military stalemate benefits Assad more than it does his opponents. Russia announced that it was supplying arms to Iraq and Syria to help them fight the Islamic State. A Washington Post op-ed describes how the U.S. has abandoned its atrocities prevention doctrine and defended its inaction in Syria.

What else is new?

ICRtoP is pleased to welcome three new members to the Coalition: International Justice Project (New Jersey, USA), which works to promote human rights through the rule of law and to provide support to victims of atrocities; Rural Women’s Network Nepal (Sindhuli, Nepal), which promotes the rights of rural women, youth, and children; and Society for Threatened Peoples (Gottingen, Germany), which campaigns on the behalf of threatened and persecuted ethnic and religious minorities, nationalities, and indigenous peoples.

ICRtoP member UNA-UK released a new guide to RtoP, introducing the norm, describing the UK’s actions to prevent atrocities, and letting you know what you can do to promote RtoP.

ICRtoP member the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect released a statement commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.

Child Soldiers Initiative released a new Working Paper “Understanding the Recruitment of Child Soldiers as an Early Warning Indicator.”

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#R2P10: What Can Your Organization Do To Advance the Responsibility to Protect in 2015?

As part of the #R2P10 blog series, ICRtoP has prepared an infographic detailing ways that civil society organizations interested in advancing the Responsibility to Protect can use the 10th anniversary of its adoption as an opportunity to mobilize support at the national, regional, and international levels to strengthen approaches for the prevention and response to mass atrocities. Read on below! (click the image for an enlarged view).

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RtoP at 10 What do you think of our advocacy points? Have anything to add? What is your organization doing to mark the 10th anniversary of the Responsibility to Protect? Let us know by commenting below, or reaching out to us on Twitter  and Facebook. Also, be sure to check out our updated ‘Civil Society and RtoP’ educational tool  for suggestions on how CSOs can directly contribute to upholding protection obligations. 

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