Recommendations from ICRtoP Regional Initiatives
At the 2nd meeting of the Global Action Against Mass Atrocity Crimes (GAAMAC), in Manila, Philippines, ICRtoP’s Megan Schmidt delivered a speech during the workshop “Sub-regional initiatives as a support to national architectures.” Schmidt’s speech focused on the ICRtoP’s regional work in Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, and pulled the main themes that have emerged from such workshops and trainings. She also discussed three common gaps and challenges that civil society organizations have raised when discussing efforts to move RtoP forward at the national level. Finally, Schmidt shared recommendations for national capacity building that have been articulated by ICRtoP members and partners throughout the world.
Click here to read the speech in full.
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Burma’s new democratic majority parliament sat for the first time on Monday 1 February. The elected members of the NLD party are comprised of teachers, poets, writer, doctors, and more than 100 former political prisoners.
At a summit of AU heads of state, the regional body abandoned its plan to send peacekeeping troops to Burundi after failing to garner enough support to overcome Burundi’s lack of consent. Instead, the AU will send a high-level delegation to continue dialogue and consultations about a possible deployment. Opposition groups are additionally requesting the African Union to impose economic sanctions in order to obligate President Pierre Nkurunziza to engage in political dialogue.
According to Amnesty International, emerging satellite images display mass graves near the capital city of Bujumbura, believed to be holding the bodies of 50 people killed during the political turmoil in December. Witnesses claimed that the violence was perpetrated primarily by government forces, supporting other evidence of mass atrocities and human rights violations. Ivan Simonovic, U.N. assistant secretary general for human rights, stressed the necessity to increase the number of human rights monitors in Burundi. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also responded to the situation in Burundi by stating: “The longer this situation continues, the more people will be killed and affected.” According to Radio France Internationale, U.N. Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon is considering a visit to Burundi before the end of February.
On Monday 1 February, three grenade explosions occurred in the capital of Burundi, Bujumbura. According to BBC news, at least four people were wounded.
In a leaked confidential report to the UN Security Council, the UN Panel of Experts on sanctions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) accused Rwanda of recruiting and training Burundian rebels to overthrow President Nkurunziza. The U.N. experts, who interrogated Burundian combatants that had strayed into the DRC, stated that the rebels claimed to have received training from Rwanda in military tactics and the use of assault rifles and machine guns, grenades, anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Rwanda denies the accusations.
Central African Republic:
Another sexual allegation against foreign peace officers has emerged from CAR. The claim involved five girls and a boy, all between the ages of seven and 16 when the abuse took place. The abusers are suspected to be from Georgia, France, and the EU.
Additionally, investigators from Human Rights Watch have also accused more UN peacekeepers of raping or sexually exploiting at least eight women and girls between October and December 2015 in CAR. The abuses uncovered, which includes gang rape, allegedly involved MINUSCA peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of Congo which currently has around 800 soldiers in the CAR. The victims were living in camps for internally displaced peoples in Bambari. Some also claimed they had engaged in sexual relations with peacekeepers out of desperation, in exchange for food or money.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian stated on Sunday that France will withdraw its troops from the Central African Republic over the course of this year. France had initially deployed 1,600 troops in December 2013 to help establish peace between the ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka, but now has less than 900 remaining in the country. However, Mr. Le Drian stated that some troops will remain in the CAR even after the French mission formally concludes.
The Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF) in the CAR has released $9 million for lifesaving aid for 2.3 million people currently in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. This will include aid benefiting refugees and displaced persons, as well as the communities that host them, by improving their access to basic human necessities and services and through programs aimed at reducing violence in communities.
The ICC stated that it would deliver its verdict on 21 March in the trial of the former Congolese vice president, Jean-Pierre Bemba, who stands accused of three counts of war crimes and two counts of crimes against humanity committed over 14 years ago by around 1,500 members of his private army in the CAR. Bemba sent his troops into the CAR in order to suppress a coup against the then-president, Ange-Felix Patasse, and whilst there, his troops allegedly murdered, raped, and pillaged. ICC prosecutors claim Bemba had authority and control over his troops when they committed these atrocities, an allegation denied by Bemba’s defense team.
Democratic Republic of the Congo:
In a press briefing on Thursday 29 January 2016, UNHCR spokesman Leo Dobbs explained how violence in eastern regions of the DRC has driven tens of thousands out of their homes. At least 15,000 civilians have sought refuge in UNHCR and IOM establishments since November. Following the killing of 14 people by suspected FDLR militants on 7 January, 21,000 civilians, primarily women and children, fled their homes in and around Miriki village. Meanwhile, OCHA reports 1.5 million civilians have been displaced in the DRC, and that 7.5 million (approximately 9% of the entire population), suffer from hunger.
A new brief from Small Arms Survey on the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) concludes that the FDLR has been severely weakened and no longer poses a threat to Rwanda. Nevertheless, the brief warns that the FDLR still poses an ideological threat, if not a military one, and that given the rebels’ past resilience, actors should avoid postponing or downgrading efforts to combat the group.
The Government of the DRC and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) reached an agreement on resuming cooperation against illegal armed groups.
After receiving intelligence of a possible Palestinian attack in Israel, the Israeli military imposed restrictions on access to Ramallah. The measures, which bar residents from leaving Ramallah and non-residents from entering the city, came after a Palestinian police officer shot three Israeli soldiers near an Israeli settlement.
Israeli forces demolished 24 Palestinian buildings, including ten constructed with funding from the European Union, in a village in the West Bank. Israel claimed the buildings were illegal, as it had declared the area a military zone in the 1970s. However, human rights groups have challenged Israel’s claim, countering that it is “illegal to establish a military zone in occupied territory.”
In the latest in a string of stabbings and shootings, Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian who had been attempting to stab the soldiers in the West Bank.
While the US-led coalition against ISIL seems to be weakening the group militarily, civilians are still suffering the consequences of war. The Iraqi government was forced to end salaries to workers in ISIL-controlled areas because the radical group was taxing the workers’ income and using the proceeds to subsidize its activities, leaving hundreds left without an income. Many of ISIL’s supply routes have been compromised by US forces, which has taken a toll on the group, but has also left scarce resources for civilians. Police and other officials report that 20,000 civilians have fled over the Hamrin mountain ranges in the last few months, battling through cold weather and hunger.
The U.S.-led coalition fighting against ISIL is planning to recapture Mosul this year with the help of the Iraqi government. Should they be successful, their next goal would be to then drive the extremists out of their stronghold in Raqqa, Syria. Re-taking Mosul would be a massive strategic gain in the battle against ISIL occupation in Iraq and Syria.
In a resolution, the European Parliament recognized that ISIL’s crimes against the Yazidis, Christians, and other religious and ethnic minorities constitute genocide. The EU Parliament called on the Security Council to make a similar recognition.
African Union members expressed their support for a Kenyan proposal pushing for withdrawal from the ICC at the Addis Ababa summit, citing the Court’s alleged unfair targeting of African leaders. Since its founding in 2002, out of the 9 countries the ICC has opened inquiries on, all but one have been African. Kenya’s president was tried in a failed case at the ICC and the case against his deputy, William Ruto, has been faltering. This comes amid the beginning of the latest ICC trial against the former Cote d’Ivoire president, Laurent Gbagbo, for alleged war crimes.
The joining of the UK with France, the US, and Italy to participate in potential direct military intervention in Libya is likely dependent upon whether efforts to establish a viable national unity government in Libya will succeed in the coming weeks. This comes amid recent statements from French and US officials about the possible need for intervention in the country. French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that ISIL fighters in Libya pose a “major risk to Europe” as they could possibly hide among refugees traveling from Libya to Italy. On 2 February, the coalition of nations fighting ISIS met in Rome to discuss the group’s growing stronghold in Libya. US Secretary of State John Kerry called for the US and its European allies to help Libya’s military and increase security training for Libyan forces to help create a secure environment for the new unity government to operate in.
ISIL recently released images of the alleged execution of three people in the group’s stronghold, Sirte, Libya. They were accused of being spies and at least one of them was executed by a man in a wheelchair. Other photos also show a man being prepared for crucifixion and another tied up and crucified.
The African Union closed its summit in Addis Ababa by stating that, while it was concerned over ISIL gaining ground in Libya, the time was not right for a military solution in the country. The AU also set up a new Libya Task Force composed of fives heads of state to assist in the process of forming a new unity government. The AU also appointed a new special envoy to Libya and met with the UNSMIL chief, Martin Kobler, who urged them to play a bigger role in Libya. After talks in Algiers with the Algerian minister in charge of Maghreb affairs, Kobler again urged for a quick formation of a Libyan national unity government and reportedly said that such a government should be installed in Tripoli.
A $166 million UN-backed humanitarian appeal to aid 1.3 million people in Libya is barely one percent funded almost two months after its launch, according to the UN. Only two donors have contributed 2.1 million in humanitarian funding as the international community has focused its efforts on mobilizing support for the Government of National Accord (GNA). While such efforts should be applauded, the UN stressed that the humanitarian needs of the people must also be addressed and cannot wait for the resolution of the political situation.
Humanitarian workers in Mali have appealed for $354 million in order to help 1 million conflict affected people from mostly northern and central Mali. The funds will be used to help the international humanitarian community with assistance from the Malian government to increase access to food, water, education, shelter, protection, and more to support the work of 40 humanitarian organizations already working on over 127 projects throughout the country.
A Boko Haram raid in Dalori, a village in northeastern Nigeria, has killed up to as many as 65 to 100 people. The raid included suicide bombers which attacked those trying to flee, the abduction of children, and the burning to the ground of up to 300 homes, including the burning alive of those inside. The government claims the death toll was 65 with around 130 injured, but residents claim that the real number of dead is closer to 100. Furthermore, some residents have complained that Nigerian authorities did not arrive to the scene fast enough to be able to assist in fighting the attackers off.
Though the Nigerian government still maintains that it has achieved a “technical defeat” of Boko Haram, in January 2016alone, Boko Haram attackers firebombed Dalori and suicide bombers killed 25 in Chibok and 10 in Gombi. Human Rights Watch argues that Boko Haram’s loss of control over key towns does not mean that the government should use this ‘technical defeat’ as an excuse to press people back to their homes, which could remain unsafe. HRW also provided satellite imagery showing that over 40% of Dalori had suffered burn scars and building damages after the the latest attack.
Days after the Dalori attack, the Nigerian military claimed it had used a drone to bomb a logistics base belonging to Boko Haram which could have possibly hit an ammunition and fuel depot and dealt a “major setback” to the group. The military said that 286 such operations were carried out by the air force last month in a “sustained aerial bombardment.”
In a press statement, the Security Council condemned the attacks committed by Boko Haram as “horrific terrorist attacks” and “called on all States to cooperate in bringing the perpetrators to justice.”
Russia rejected the recommendations made by a UN panel last week to place an arms embargo on South Sudan and sanctions on President Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar, stating that such measures would not be conducive to the peace process.
A report submitted to the AU by the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) reports that the South Sudanese government had killed approximately 50 people in October. Government forces had stuffed the individuals into a shipping container in blistering heat. Despite the ceasefire negotiated in the August peace deal, the report documents at least five violations of the agreement similar to this one.
Furthermore, as the government and rebels delay forming a transitional government to end the ongoing civil war, people in the Western Equatoria region are experiencing widespread starvation.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will visit Sri Lanka from 6-10 February in the midst of uncertainty on the country’s permittance of an international judicial mechanism to investigate and try the alleged atrocity crimes committed during the country’s civil war with the separatist group, the Tamil Tigers.
The UN now estimates that renewed clashes between the government and rebels in Jebel Marra, a mountainous region of Darfur, have caused approximately 44,700 people to flee their homes over the past two weeks alone. The UN cautioned that the numbers are likely to change as better data becomes available.
Sudan’s national dialogue conference in Khartoum earlier this week recommended that the Darfur administrative referendumbe postponed. The idea for the referendum initially spawned from the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), which entails that the permanent status of Darfur be determined via a nationwide referendum. It was originally scheduled to occur from 11-13 April 2016, but the chairman of the dialogue’s Freedoms and Rights Committee says they will be submitting a document for postponement to the general secretariat of the dialogue conference.
The initial preparatory meeting for the UN-led Syrian peace talks in Geneva was finally held on Friday 29 January 2016. Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, announced that he had met with a “substantial” delegation from the Syrian government. De Mistura then declared the official launch of the peace talks on Monday, amid significant advances by the Assad government near Aleppo, helped by 320 Russian airstrikes.
A branch of the Syrian opposition, the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee (HRC), also met with de Mistura, but underscored that it was only in Geneva to assess the government’s intentions, not for negotiations, at least until the government ended its sieges and airstrikes on rebel-occupied territory. As a so-called gesture of goodwill, the governmentallowed aid to enter into rebel-held sections of Damascus on Tuesday.
Nevertheless, de Mistura announced a temporary suspension of the talks on Wednesday, a short two days after their official launch. The UN envoy cited the government’s unwillingness to allow humanitarian aid into rebel-held towns as an obstruction to serious talks, but hoped that negotiations would resume no later than 25 February. However, it is unclear whether Russia and the Assad government will be more willing to negotiate in three weeks than they are now, given their recent gains on the battlefield. Indeed, the pause came on the same day that the Syrian army recaptured Nubul and Zahra, two Shiite towns in Northern Aleppo held by rebels for three years.
Meanwhile, at least 50 people were killed and 100 wounded in bombings attributed to ISIL on Sunday, and King Abdullah of Jordan announced that his country was at a “boiling point” after the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.
Human Rights Watch revealed that Houthi forces have been preventing food and medical aid to civilians in Taizz for months. Houthi guards seized the food, water, and cooking gas at checkpoints. Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director, stated: “Seizing property from civilians is already unlawful, but taking their food and medical supplies is simply cruel.” Médecins Sans Frontières noted that its 17 January entry into Taizz was the first time it was able to bring medical aid into the city in months.
In response to a recent UN report, the Saudi-led Arab coalition formed an independent team of experts to investigate military operations that have led to civilians casualtie. Nevertheless, human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, expressed concerns about the reliability of the Saudi-led Arab coalition team of experts and called for the establishment of an international and impartial commission to investigate the possible war crimes. The UK’s International Development Select Committee requested David Cameron, Prime Minister of the UK, to suspend the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia due to the likelihood that the arms were being used to commit violations of international humanitarian law. Moreover, the Committee echoed the call to form an independent commission to investigate Saudi-led military operations.
Al-Qaeda militants reportedly re-claimed the town of Azzan, in the Shabwa region of Yemen on Monday morning.
What else is new?
This week, the Global Action Against Mass Atrocity Crimes (GAAMAC) held its second meeting in Manila, Philippines. Read the agenda of the conference here.