New UN report States that Human Rights Violations in Iraq May Amount to Atrocity Crimes
A new joint report by the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) outlined the gross and widespread impact of the Iraqi conflict on civilians. The report includes staggering figures outlining the extent of civilian suffering, with 18,802 civilians killed, 36,245 wounded, and 3.2 million displaced since January 2014.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) appears to be responsible for much of the violence. The report underscores that ISIL has continued to target and systematically persecute different ethnic and religious communities, acts which demonstrate the group’s aim of “suppressing, permanently expelling, or destroying some communities.” According to the UN, these and other violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by ISIL could “amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide.”
However, the UN also collected evidence that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and other pro-government forces have also committed human rights violations, including unlawful killings and abductions. The Government has also restricted access to safe areas for those fleeing the violence. Such reports were bolstered this week by Amnesty International, who documented evidence that Peshmerga forces and Kurdish militias have destroyed thousands of homes in attempts to enact revenge on Arab communities for their “perceived support” of ISIL.
The UN noted that the Government of Iraq is responsible for holding perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity accountable, and in this regard again urged the government to become party to the International Criminal Court and grant Iraqi courts jurisdiction over these international crimes. The report further stressed the need for the Government to ensure that human rights and basic humanitarian needs were met in territories liberated from ISIL.
ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch called for the Myanmar Government to unconditionally release all political prisoners. According to organizations of former political prisoners, there are 128 individuals currently serving sentences for political offenses, with another 472 facing politically motivated charges. The government arrested 23 of these 472 after the 8 November election.
The Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT) and the Legal Aid Network released a report highlighting sexual violence against ethnic women and their “systematic cover up” by the Burmese army. The organizations noted that such crimes amounted to war crimes, and underscored their fear that impunity for such acts could become a “catalyst for the recurrence of gross human rights violations in the future.”
The UN Security Council is currently in Burundi for meetings with the government, representatives of political parties, civil society, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is unclear whether this visit will help the Council overcome its divisions on how to respond to the escalating crisis, as members disagree on the legitimacy of President Nkurunziza’s third term and whether to authorize the AU’s decision to deploy a 5,000-strong peacekeeping force.
Last Friday, a court sentenced the former Burundian defense minister and three others to life in prison for their role in the coup attempt of May 2015.
Central African Republic:
The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), after an emergency food security assessment, announced that 2.5 million, or half the population in CAR, faces hunger–a figure that has doubled over the past year. WFP’s Deputy Director for CAR, Guy Adoua, stressed that this “is not a run-of-the-mill emergency”, and called for $41 million from donors to deal with the crisis.
Democratic Republic of the Congo:
The DRC government announced that it would prosecute militia leader Germain Katanga, who had been expected to leave a Kinshasa prison on Monday after completing a sentence handed down by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The DRC’s Justice Minister claimed that Katanga had been implicated in cases “just as serious” as the one for which he was convicted by the ICC, including his reported role in the killing of nine UN peacekeepers in 2005.
The MONUSCO Force Commander, General Jean Baillaud, declared that South African peacekeepers had responded slowly and “inadequately” to an ethnically-motivated FDLR attack against the Nande population in Miriki on 7-8 January.The attack left 17 Nande dead.
Israeli military vehicles reportedly entered Gaza’s borders on Tuesday, opening apparently aimless fire. No fatalities were reported. Tensions continue to rise in the West Bank after Israeli forces killed a Palestinian teenager who had himself reportedly stabbed a pregnant Israeli woman.
Sunni legislators walked out of the Iraqi Parliament on Tuesday to protest the government’s inadequate response to sectarian violence in Diyala, a year after ISIL was expelled from the province. Shiite militias were accused of setting fire to at least seven Sunni mosques, killing at least 23, last week. In other attacks, two separate road bombs in Baghdad and Ramadi killed at least fifteen and injured nine.
Libya’s Presidential Council, made up of representatives from the country’s warring factions, has announced its list of names to be nominated to be Libya’s new unity government. The Council said it had agreed on a Cabinet composed of 32 positions which would be filled by representatives from across the country. The list was sent to the internationally-recognized parliament in Tobruk for approval, though not all of the Presidency Council in Tunis have signed it.
ISIL militants attacked oil terminals in Ras Lanuf once again on 21 January, setting fire to oil storage tanks. A pipeline leading from an oil field to the Es Sider terminal was also once again targeted. One ISIL militant released a statement claiming that attacks on other ports would follow, including in Tobruk.
On 18 January, officials from Mali met with Tuareg-led rebels for talks in Algiers. Malian officials called for swift implementation of the peace deal signed last year in order to bring peace and combat a resurgence of terrorist attacks and Islamist militant groups. For his part, the Tuareg-led rebel leader, Bilal Ag Cherif, called for progress on the security arrangement provisions of the deal, including a role for Tuaregs in local patrols.
Three Malian police officers were ambushed and killed by gunmen in central Mali. This is the latest development in a recent upsurge in attacks on Mali’s army and UN peacekeeping forces (MINUSMA) by militant groups. This and other attacks have made MINUSMA the most dangerous peacekeeping mission in the world. Two thirds of MINUSMA forces are focused on the task of escorting aid convoys and securing the aid camps, and according to a recent UN Secretary-General report, a majority of these convoys in northeastern Mali are hit with some sort of explosive devices. This hinders the convoys and humanitarian aid from reaching people, especially children, in these regions that desperately require assistance.
A panel of inquiry met to discuss a Nigerian army raid which killed at least 60 people belonging to a minority Shiite sect called the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) in December 2015. The army’s chief of staff claimed that the soldiers had acted appropriately during this raid, though the IMN claims that hundreds, not dozens, of its members were killed. A Human Rights Watch report, for its part, affirms that the raid killed at least 300 people, with many buried in mass graves. Members of IMN are also set to give testimony to the panel, which has the authority to impose fines and compensation payments.
President Buhari blamed corrupt officials for hindering the fight against Boko Haram, two of whom have allegedly stolen money meant to equip soldiers. A prominent Boko Haram leader, Jarasu Shira, and ten other followers were reportedly arrested in Borno State on Wednesday morning.
A joint report released by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and OHCHR found that all sides in the civil war had committed grave and indiscriminate attacks against civilians, including “hundreds of extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, gang-rapes, sexual slavery, forced abortion, massive child soldier recruitment.” The report lamented the prevalence of impunity for such serious violations, which could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, stating that “despite the severity of the human rights and humanitarian law violations perpetrated by both sides to the conflict, there are no tangible accountability mechanisms beyond the rhetoric of the main belligerents.” Read the full report here.
The United Nations is calling for $1.3 billion in humanitarian aid for 5.1 million people in South Sudan experiencing severe and life-threatening situations. Currently, the civil war has displaced over 2.3 million, while endemic diseases have been spreading across the state at an alarming rate. In another sign of the extent of the crisis, UNMISS announced that the number of South Sudanese seeking shelter at the six UN bases around the country had topped 200,000.
Recent fighting has erupted in Yambio, the capital of South Sudan’s former state of Western Equatoria, with at least five people are reported dead. In the past few weeks, Yambio town has been the location of sustained fighting between the South Sudanese army and the local militia groups, notably the South Sudan National Liberation Movement (SSNLM). A spokesperson for UNMISS told a local radio station that an estimated 2000 people had taken refuge at an NGO compound near the UN base.
UNAMID has expressed its concern over a recent surge of fighting in Jebel Marra between government and rebel forces, reporting that five bombs had been dropped in Nertiti.
The National Intelligence and Security Service has stated that comprehensive efforts are being made to repudiate the spread of extremist ideologies within the nation, as a number of Sudanese youth have already traveled to Libya to join ISIL, some of whom have been killed. Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) counterinsurgency troop, previously deployed to stifle rebel groups in Darfur and in the southern states, have recently been accused of committing human rights abuses in the area. These accusations have been denied by the government.
Peace talks that were set to begin on 25 January may be delayed “a day or two”, according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Opinions on who should be represented at the talks continue to be divided, with Turkey announcing on Wednesday that it was opposed to the inclusion of Kurdish groups. In explanation, Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu stated that his country saw no distinction between Kurdish militias fighting in Syria and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey. The Syrian High Negotiations Committee, the negotiating body of the Syrian opposition, announced that it would be represented by rebel fighter, Assad al-Zoubi, but declared that it would boycott the peace talks if the Moscow-based opposition attends. The UN announced that it would not issue invitations to the talks until parties agreed on which rebel groups should be represented.
Russian airstrikes have continued in Syria days before the anticipated start of peace talks. Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria, taken in conjunction with actions by the Syrian government, have reportedly helped to recapture 250 towns and villages from ISIL. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has stated that Russian airstrikes have killed 893 extremist fighters and 1000 civilians.
In a joint statement, the United Nations, the World Food Programme (WFP), UNHCR, as well as multiple human rights organizations have deplored the fact that the conflict in Syria will soon enter its sixth year. With over 260,000 deaths since 2011 and 13.5 million Syrians in need of assistance within the country, leaders are appealing for access for humanitarian organizations to bring relief. Indeed, in Madaya alone, five died this week of starvation, bringing the total number who have died from hunger this month to 32 despite recent humanitarian aid deliveries. However, fresh aid deliveries arrived at four besieged towns on Wednesday, including Madaya, Fuaa, Kafraya, and Zabadani.
The Yemeni Defense Ministry announced that a spate of airstrikes throughout Yemen had killed at least 35 between Sunday and Monday. Further air strikes on oil facilities, conducted by the Saudi-led coalition, killed nine and wounded at least 30 near Ras Isa port. In another incident, a car bomb in Aden killed at least four.
After the most recent bombing of a hospital in Saada, Médicins Sans Frontières declared that Yemenis had stopped going to hospitals because they are seen as “targets” in the civil war.
After a meeting with the Yemeni Vice President and Prime Minister Bahah, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon reiteratedhis call for all parties to the conflict to commit to a ceasefire so that the delayed peace talks could be resumed.
What else is new?
A special court will be set up in The Hague in order to try members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) for war crimes against ethnic minorities and political opponents during the 1999-2000 war in Kosovo. Although many Serbs have been tried and convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), their Kosovar counterparts have yet to stand trial.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) held its first pre-trial hearing on Thursday in the Dominic Ongwen case. Ongwen, a leader in the Lord’s Resistance Army, is charged with 67 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. ICC judges will decide whether there is sufficient evidence against Ongwen to precede to trial. Learn more about the case from the Coalition for the International Criminal Court here.
The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect released the latest issue of its “R2P Monitor.