ICRtoP holds training in Bangkok, Thailand,
launching workshop series in Southeast Asia
From 4-6 November, over 30 civil society representatives participated in a workshop convened by the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) in partnership with the Asia-Pacific Centre for R2P (APR2P) entitled “Advancing Atrocities Prevention in Southeast Asia.” This three day interactive workshop, held in Bangkok, Thailand, marked the first in a series of civil society workshops led by the ICRtoP and APR2P in Southeast Asia, with the goals of enhancing capacity for early warning; strengthening understanding of the relationship between the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) and regionally relevant issues such as genocide education and land rights and access; and developing national plans of action to protect populations from atrocities. The meeting brought together participants from Thailand and Cambodia and featured expert speakers from the region as well as from the United Nations Office for the Prevention of Genocide and RtoP.
Importance of “localizing” RtoP
Central throughout the workshop was the critical need to contextualize RtoP to ensure that steps taken to implement the norm were informed by the realities on the ground. While participants expressed a clear understanding of RtoP as a friend of sovereignty that can serve to enhance state capacity, they agreed that homegrown methods for prevention and response are essential for protecting populations from atrocities. Discussions thus focused on assessing the state of RtoP’s advancement in Thailand and Cambodia, with experts in the national advancement of atrocities prevention, such as Dr. Pranee Thiparat of Chulalongkorn University and Amb. Pou Sothirak of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace (CICP) reflecting on their experience in “domesticating” RtoP. It was agreed that at the most basic level this requires translating materials into local languages so as to engage with all relevant actors involved in atrocities prevention. Of equal importance is the need for education on atrocities prevention so as to increase awareness of RtoP and the norm’s relevance to the countries in focus. Participants also noted that it would be necessary for civil society to engage with policy makers to support the development of national architectures that prioritize civilian protection.
Understanding risk factors for atrocities & RtoP’s relevance to other sectors
In order to “localize” RtoP, it is essential that civil society actors be well equipped to assess the risks for the commission of atrocities and the opportunities for prevention. The workshop thus featured a series of interactive sessions led by Ms. Claudia Diaz of the UN Office for Genocide Prevention and RtoP that explored the utility of the Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes as a key tool for civil society. While the presence of risk factors or indicators does not mean that atrocities are imminent, the training made it clear that no country is immune to such crimes. Through using the Framework, civil society can analyze their national context so as to inform their advocacy as well as the development of national mechanisms for atrocities prevention.
In addition to the importance of understanding the risk factors that can make a country more vulnerable to atrocity crimes, understanding the relationship between RtoP and other areas of work is critical to ensuring a holistic approach to prevention. Experts, including Dy Khamboly of the Sleuk Rith Institute and Pou Souvachana of CICP reflected on how education can build state resilience as well as on how the denial of land rights can serve as an indicator of atrocity crimes. While it was acknowledged that working on such issues does not always need to be “labeled” as RtoP, participants expressed an understanding of how the diverse work that their organizations engage in contributes towards the protection of populations.
Civil society as key actors in the advancement of RtoP
While pushing RtoP forward requires concerted effort and coordination by a range of actors, a key theme that emerged from the discussions was the centrality of civil society as partners in atrocities prevention. It became apparent to participants that upholding RtoP is a difficult task that faces hurdles at every turn. While atrocities prevention is a process that requires short through long-term goals and measures, participants acknowledged the importance of NGOs in taking impactful action to influence implementation at every stage. An output from the workshop included the drafting by participants of national action plans for RtoP’s advancement. Such plans, which were developed following an analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities in their countries, will serve as key tools for civil society to take forward as they continue to lead in building state resilience to atrocity crimes.
A full report from this workshop will be released soon.
Catch up on developments in…
Central African Republic
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Early reports indicate that the National League for Democracy (NLD) and party of Aung San Suu Kyi is likely to have won the recent elections in Burma/Myanmar, the first in the country in 25 years. Thus far, 47% of the results have been announced, with the NLD winning a majority of declared seats. Suu Kyi accused the Union Election Commission, run by the current government, of intentionally delaying the results of what appears to be a landslide victory for her party for the new Burmese presidency. The current Information Minister Ye Htut, on behalf of President Thein Sein, however, promised a peaceful transition of power in “accordance with the legislated timeline.” Furthermore, the military chief of Burma/Myanmar, Min Aung Hlaing, stated that the military, which holds a quarter of Parliamentary seats, will work with the NLD. Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from becoming president, but has said she would rule in a position “above the president.”
In a statement released prior to the elections, the Global Centre on the Responsibility to Protect brought attention to the continued commission of atrocities against the Rohingya, declaring that “democracy and lasting peace…cannot be built while the persecution of the Rohingya and other minorities continues.”
The Asia Pacific Centre for Responsibility to Protect will hold a public seminar led by Dr. Noel Morada, who will discuss the recent elections in Burma/Myanmar. The seminar will be held on Monday, 23 November from 4pm to 5:30pm at the APR2P Conference Room.
An unnamed human rights lawyer has informed All Africa of gruesome details of Burundi’s spiral into further ethnic violence that he says cannot be accurately represented on social media; meanwhile, while some commentators are of the view that talk of genocide is too premature, others in international media warn that the ethnically charged language recently used by the government echoes disturbing sentiments also heard before, during, and after the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
ICRtoP member, the Global Centre for R2P (GCR2P), released a statement on the deteriorating security situation and the imminent threat of mass atrocities. GCR2P recommended that the African Union, Unitedn Nations and individual states immediately impose sanctions on any individuals deemed responsible for inciting violence, participating in targeted killings, and/or undermining the Arusha Peace Agreement.
Human Rights Watch, also a member of the ICRtoP, released a report urging Burundian security forces to exercise restraint in operations enforcing the deadline to lay down arms in and around the capital. Meanwhile, president Pierre Nkurunziza has authorized security forces to use all means at their disposal. The report details the recently elevated level of threatening and inflammatory language in public speeches and statements, coupled with increasing violence that has left over 100 people dead since August.
As Burundi spirals into further ethnically charged and regional conflict, the United Nations has warned that it is less well positioned to respond to the disturbing warning signs in the country than it was before and during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Additionally, the United Nations, African Union, and European Union collectively warned on Thursday that political tensions in Burundi are on an increasingly dangerous precipice and called on both sides for mediated talks. At least 240 people have been killed and thousands fled since April.
Central African Republic:
Three people have been killed and five wounded early this week in intensified violence in and around the town of Bambari, says a U.N. official on condition of anonymity. Anti-balaka forces allegedly infiltrated Bambari on foot and opened fire on Union for Peace in Central Africa (UPC) fighters in the streets as UN peacekeepers attempted to mitigate the damage.
Several United Nations’ peacekeepers in Central African Republic are facing new accusations of sex abuses per a Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation. MINUSCA has said that it will dispatch a multifunctional team to Bambari for fact-gathering and take immediate preventative and disciplinary and corrective action against misconduct.
Democratic Republic of the Congo:
The United Nations Security Council called this week for the elimination of local and foreign armed groups in eastern Congo and for the immediate resumation of joint operations between UN peacekeeping force’s Intervention Brigade and the national army. Groups such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), composed of mainly Rwandan Hutu rebels, and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) remain at large. The Council also deplored the consistently high frequency and level of violence and human rights abuses in the region, including targeted civilian attacks, far reaching and systematic sexual and gender-based violence, and the use of child soldiers by armed groups.
Unrest in Palestinian territories continues as Israeli security forces shot and killed an elderly Palestinian women in the West Bank city of Hebron this weekend after she allegedly attempted to ram her vehicle into soldiers. In separate incidents, a Palestinian protester was shot dead during a protest east of Khan Yunis city in Gaza and four Israelis were injured in attacks near Hebron.
Palestinians were outraged Thursday after footage detailing undercover Israeli forces disguised in traditional Arab garb infiltrated a West Bank hospital overnight and killed a Palestinian man in a raid in Hebron. The raid follows almost two months of Israeli-Palestinian violence with no signs of deceleration.
Special Representative the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), Ján Kubiš, told the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday that the Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi, faces “immense challenges” to reconcile diverging groups in the nation and bring the Sunni community into the political process.
Meanwhile, around 7,500 Kurdish fighters launched a major military mission on Thursday aimed at retaking the strategically important town of Sinjar, which was captured in 2014 by ISIL. US warplanes and military advisers are backing the Kurdish peshmerga forces in this operation. It was reported that the Kurdish forces were making progress in their offensive, including by seizing a main road that connects Mosul and Raqqa.
Last week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Martin Kobler as his Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). Kobler follows Bernadino Leon who previously held the post.
In a statement issued on 7 November, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) urged all Libyan stakeholders to endorse and sign the recent UN-facilitated political deal in order to form a Government of National Accord. The Council also expressed concern over the continued political, institutional, and security crises that plague the country. Meanwhile, it was reported on 12 November that leaked emails indicate that the United Arab Emirates was sending weapons to parties in Libya over the summer in violation of an international arms embargo. Additionally, the government allegedly offered a high paid position to one of the UN personnel involved in the negotiations.
Reports this week also indicated that at least 16 people were killed in Benghazi amidst heavy fighting and airstrikes between Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) forces and militants allied with Islamic State.
The Nigerian government’s Media Coordinator, Operation Lafiya Dole, Tukur Gusau stated that the Nigerian military rescued 14 children and six women after clearing four suspected Boko Haram terrorist camps in Borno. Two suspects were captured alive and are currently being interrogated.
President Buhari took additional steps in the establishment of his government with the swearing in of 36 cabinet ministers five months after his election.
Pro-Biafra protests erupted in multiple cities across Nigeria against “the continued detention of the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, and demanded urgent recognition of the Sovereign State of Biafra.” In Port Harcourt, federal police fired shots and teargas to scare away hundreds of protesters. The police also said that security was increased across the country to ensure security and peace of the nation.
As reports of atrocities committed on all sides mount, negotiations have established a fragile framework that could allow for a transitional government in South Sudan where such a scale and nature of violations witnessed have not been previously seen by inquiry commissions and witnesses. Meanwhile, humanitarian organizations such as Doctors Without Borders have been forced to suspend operations in Leer after the looting of their facilities and staff members being threatened. Additionally, South Sudan’s increasing violence has “intensified with grave consequences for civilians,” including increased food insecurity and vulnerability to diseases, says a recent UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report.
South Sudan’s armed opposition faction, SPLM-IO, has been commended by the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, for making formal commitments to prevent and mitigate conflict-related sexual violence in the region. Such commitments include a focus on accountability ; timely and rigorous investigations ; and the protection of victims and witnesses, judicial actors, humanitarians and service providers.
The African Union (AU) has officially declared that talks on security arrangements between the Sudanese government and rebel groups will commence on 18 and 19 November concerning the Blue Nile, South Kordofan, and Darfur regions.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded that mustard gas was used in an attack by on the northern Syrian town Marea on August 21. While the OPCW does not apportion blame for the attack, sources on the ground claim ISIL was the most likely culprit. That same day the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 42 people, including 27 civilians and 15 ISIL fighters, were killed by Russian airstrikes on the ISIL held city of Raqqa. In Latakia, a stronghold for the Syrian regime, at least 22 civilians were killed and 65 injured after a mortar attack on residential neighborhoods. While no group claimed responsibility, rebels and jihadists, particularly Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, have long targeted the city.
The Syrian army and pro-government militia have since ended a year-long siege by ISIL on Kweyris military airport in northern Aleppo province. Syrian state television reported that a “large number of IS terrorists” were killed in the operation.
It has been reported that many soldiers of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are leaving in part due to issues like low pay, poor conditions, and fragmentation. The increased desertions are having a marked effect on the FSA’s strength, according to Al Jazeera.
United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura announced that the UN will support any decision made at the next round of Syrian peace talks held this weekend in Vienna. Mr de Mistura stated his hope that the discussions will yield concrete results, specifically steps that will bring about an end to the violence.
UNHCR has reported that over 120,000 refugees and migrants have fled Yemen since April 2015 when the civil war began to intensify. More than 15,000 people have sought safety in Djibouti, the small east African state across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen.
Fighting between the Saudi led coalition and Houthi and other rebels has led to a number of military and civilian deaths over the course of the last week. At least 19 people – eight pro-government fighters and 11 rebels – were killed in clashes and airstrikes on Friday in the south of Yemen, according to military sources. Clashes killed over 50 people on Saturday and Sunday. In Taiz, medical sources reported that clashes had killed 29, including 8 civilians. Residents reported that about 30 people had died as a result of fighting in Damt district in Dhalea governorate in the south.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Saudi led coalition “deliberately” targets hospitals and medical facilities. In an official statement, ICRC announced that some 100 medical facilities have been attacked since airstrikes began in March 2015.
What else is new?
On September 9th, 2015 the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, in partnership with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and the Stanley Foundation, hosted a panel event entitled “The Responsibility to Protect at Ten: Perspectives and Opportunities.” The panel of experts reflected on the norm’s implementation, with particular focus on how atrocities prevention is related to and affected by various sectors of work such as disarmament and refugee protections, among others. Read the full report from the event for more information on the discussion and recommendations for RtoP’s advancement.
The Budapest Centre for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities is holding an event entitled, “Ten Years of RtoP: The Way Ahead. Implementation of a normative principle.” This discussion will be convened on 16 November at the World Bank Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
On 17 November the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law will hold a book launch for the edited work, Reconstructing Atrocity Prevention, from 6:00-7:30pm at 55 5th Avenue, New York, NY.
The Global Centre for R2P, the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, and the government of Denmark are currently convening their second annual RtoP training course in Ghana. The training seeks to engage with actors from the region to enhance knowledge and capacity for the implementation of the Responsibility to Protect within their work.