A Group of U.S. Legislators Plan to Introduce a
Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act
U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), supported by a group of other legislators, plans to introduce legislation in Congress permanently authorizing the U.S. Atrocity Prevention Board (APB) and concentrating U.S. government efforts on early prevention of violent conflict and atrocities as an essential part of the United States’ national security strategy.
Along with permanently authorizing the APB, the proposed Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act would continue the APB’s engagement of high level government officials through its inter-agency nature and maintain the APB’s role in preventing violence through the continuation of programs in places like the Central African Republic and Burundi. The Act would also go further and finally authorize funding for atrocities prevention through the Complex Crises Fund, which has been appropriated since 2010, but has never been authorized. Additionally, it would provide training in conflict and atrocities prevention to Foreign Service Officers, which would help them to not only mitigate violence, but also to recognize early warning signs, which could save both lives and funding. Furthermore, the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act would strengthen the APB’s connection to Congress and its leadership and oversight, as well as require a report to Congress by the Director of National Intelligence, including a review of at-risk countries annually to ensure that APB’s atrocities prevention measures are informed by the realities faced on the ground.
The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a Quaker lobby organization working towards the promotion of the public interest, has been monitoring the APB situation closely. To find more information and to urge your senators to co-sponsor the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act click on the link on the FCNL page here.
Find more information on how civil society can engage with the U.S. Atrocity Prevention Board and other existing national RtoP initiatives throughout the world with ICRtoP’s brief here.
In 2012, U.S. President Obama created the Atrocities Prevention Board in order to ensure that the prevention of mass atrocities would be considered a “core national security interest and core moral responsibility of the U.S.” The APB is currently an inter-agency committee, which is lead by the White House, but includes representatives from several different government Departments, USAID, the CIA, the US Mission to the UN, and others. The APB is mandated to assess the U.S. government’s anti-atrocity capabilities and to recommend reforms. However, although the APB has put forward meaningful contributions to the U.S. government’s anti-atrocity measures, concerns over its impermanent status and lack of a strong connection with Congress are troubling.
Catch up on developments in…
Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The National League for Democracy, the party of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is currently negotiating the future composition of the government with the military, talks which could possibly include a deal that would allow her to become president. However, the military has indicated that a suspension of the Constitutional clause barring Aung San Suu Kyi from assuming the presidency is unlikely. Burma’s Parliament announced that it would hold elections to select the president on 17 March.
On Saturday, 6 February, a grenade attack in Bujumbura killed four and wounded ten.
Rwanda’s government is denying allegations that it has been training refugees from Burundi with the aim of removing President Nkurunziza. Ms. Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda’s Foreign Minister, accused the UN of attempting to “scapegoat” Rwanda in order to dismiss the fact that Burundi’s crisis is one of its “own making.”
The ICGLR’s executive secretary, Ntumba Luaba, expressed concerns about the current situation in Burundi, stating that “all must be done to avoid a civil war in Burundi.” The Burundian crisis will be discussed at the summit of heads of State and Government of the ICGLR on Friday in the capital of Angola, Luanda.
Central African Republic:
A new report by Amnesty International, titled Mandated to Protect, Equipped to Succeed? Strengthening Peacekeeping, examines failures of the UN’s peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA) in the CAR. The report addresses variables such as training, equipment, coordination, and the number of civilian and uniformed personnel in the mission. Amnesty notes that “MINUSCA’s presence in CAR has saved many lives and prevented much bloodshed, but the extreme violence that erupted in Bangui in September 2015 exposed the mission’s weaknesses. However, today, it still lacks the resources it needs to adequately protect civilians.”
Following the allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation carried out by international peacekeeping troops in the CAR, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Jane Holl Lute to coordinate efforts to address the “systemic issues, fragmentation, and other weaknesses” which were identified by the report on 17 December 2015 by the High-Level External Independent Review Panel on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by International Peacekeeping Forces in the Central African Republic. The Republic of Congo has also launched an investigation into the earlier allegations of sexual abuse involving children against the country’s troops serving as UN peacekeepers in the CAR.
MINUSCA decided on Tuesday that it would maintain the 12,800 person ceiling of its military/law enforcement wing and increase the number of corrections officers in the CAR. The Security Council also requested that the Secretary General continuously review MINUSCA’s military, police, and corrections resources. Set to expire in April, MINUSCA has prioritized taming the increase in violence witnessed in since last fall.
The second round of presidential elections will take place in CAR this weekend. Ahead of these elections, the UN’s latest report, which will be released later this month, details horrible human rights violations in Bangui during the violence that erupted at the end of 2015. The report recommends ending impunity and prosecuting the perpetrators of past and present crimes, ending armed groups’ attacks on civilians, reforming the CAR armed forces, and the implementation of disarmament, violence reduction, and protection of civilians and victims programs, as well as many others.
Democratic Republic of the Congo:
As Congolese election approaches, political tension between President Joseph Kabila and opposition parties continues to escalate. The opposition parties want to secure that the Congolese government does not make any changes in the Constitution that would extend presidential term of Mr. Kabila.
On Saturday, there was an arson attack on a synagogue near an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. The synagogue hosted a memorial dedicated to the three Jewish teenagers kidnapped and killed during the summer of 2014, one of many events inciting the 2014 Israeli-Gaza conflict.
A 15-year old Palestinian boy was shot and killed after throwing rocks at Israeli vehicles in the West Bank on Wednesday. Since October, 27 Israelis and an American citizen have been killed by Palestinians. 157 Palestinians have been killed in the same time by Israeli forces, including 101 militants. Other Palestinians have reportedly been killed in their own demonstrations against the state of Israel.
Turkish and Israeli representatives met on Wednesday in Geneva in hopes of rapprochement. Significant topics are likely to include Turkey’s desire for Israel to lift the Gaza blockade, and Israel’s request for Turkey to shut down Hamas offices within its borders.
ISIL executed 300 supposed “Iraqi police personnel, army troopers and civilian activists” by firing squad in Mosul, an act apparently intended to prevent a potential uprising of people in the militant-held city. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government is currently working to deploy 4,500 troops in preparation for an offensive to retake Mosul.
Airstrikes executed Sunday by a party yet to be revealed targeted a hospital in east Libya. Four casualties have been reported, including a nurse, her 10-year-old child, and two fighters of the anti-government Shura Council.
The UK’s Royal Air Force has already been flying missions over Libya to prepare for a potential future invitation by a Libyan national unity government, once it has been formed, to help Libyan state troops to stabilize the country and combat ISIL in Libya. However, the foreign minister, Tobias Ellwood, did stress that British troops would not enter Libya to hold or take any ground and that “it would be illegal to send any support until a government is in place and an invitation is given to us to provide assistance in the training of their armed forces.” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry agreed, claiming that Libya must form a unified government before Western allies intervene against ISIL fighters in Libya and that it “has to be a Libyan-led” process.
Additionally, the Pentagon is lobbying for $200 million in the 2017 U.S. budget for counter-terrorism operations in Libya.
Efforts to form the national unity government in Libya continue to be troubled by differences over the defense portfolio. The internationally-recognized government has recently set a new deadline giving the UN-supported Presidential Council an extra week to come to an agreement on the lineup for the new, smaller cabinet.
The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, called upon the UN Member States for “unity and action” at a meeting of the UN Security Council on 9 February in order to combat the threat of ISIL, which he called “one of the major challenges of our time to international peace and security.” Mr. Feltman also noted that in order to do so, it was necessary to a) address the group’s political and socio-economic standings, and b) counter ISIL’s financing and recruitment of violent, extremist foreign fighters through preventative and criminalization efforts.
On 5 February, militants attacked a UN police base in the city of Timbuktu. After detonating a vehicle in one of the entrances to the base, a fight ensued, with Malian and UN peacekeeping forces eventually retaking the police base. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has claimed responsibility for the attack, in which a Malian commander and four militants were killed.
The Azawad Movements and Platform armed groups have signed a peace deal. The deal focused mainly on the management of Kidal, which will be shared jointly between the two groups. Although the Malian government does not recognize full autonomy for Azawad, it did say that it would devolve more authority in the region.
Three Malian soldiers were killed by a landmine in the Mopti region in Mali, while two more were wounded and sent to the hospital. Although no group has claimed responsibility, Al-Qaeda-linked militants have been fighting Malian army in the region, which is very close to the border with Burkina Faso. Another attack by suspected Islamist militants in the Mopti region killed two civilians and a customs officer and burned a car at a customs post on 11 February.
Nigeria’s Department of Secret Service (DSS) announced that it had arrested an alleged ISIL recruiter in Nigeria. The DSS claims that two Nigerians are already training in Libya. Furthermore, the DSS captured seven suspected members of a breakaway group of Boko Haram, the leader of which has previously pledged allegiance to the head of ISIL.
Two female suicide bombers killed 58 people and injured at least 78 others at a camp of about 50,000 people displaced by Boko Haram violence in north-eastern Nigeria. The majority of those injured or killed were mostly women and children. A third woman equipped with bombs had also entered the camp with the others, but surrendered herself to authorities and refused to detonate her explosives after she had seen her parents and siblings in the camp.
40,000 people are being starved to death in South Sudan war zones. The UN released a report on Monday accounting the worst conditions yet in the continuing 2-year civil war, including possible war crimes, such as the blockading of food supplies. 25% of the population, or 2.8 million people, is in need of immediate aid. Meanwhile, President Kiir and opposition leader Machar missed a second deadline to form a transitional government. International mediators criticized both Kiir and Machar for a lack of willingness to compromise, expressing fear that South Sudan would become a failed state. Some analysts have warned that the economy could collapse within a matter of weeks if a unity government is not formed.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, was in Sri Lanka this week for four days to begin investigations and meet victims of the human rights violations committed during the civil war in the country, as well as government officials, civil activists, and religious leaders.
Zeid has called for the government to quickly locate the thousands of civilians which were reported missing during the civil war, but the government claims that most of those missing are likely dead. Tamil politicians provided the UN with a list of around 4,000 names which had been reported missing during the conflict, but many Tamil civilians have been missing since being abducted by pro-government militias or taken from their homes by police or military personnel. After almost 30 years of conflict and the loss of tens of thousands of lives, progress has been made in Sri Lanka, but the country still has its challenges is still “in the early stages of renewal” according to Mr. Zeid. Amid the issues plaguing the country and the President’s claims that the accountability mechanisms for past crimes would be handled domestically even after the country had co-sponsored the adoption of a UN Human RIghts Council resolution including foreign judges, investigators, in such a judicial mechanism, Mr. Zeid said the implementation of that resolution were high on his agenda.
Additionally, the Sri Lankan government appointed to parliament a former army chief, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, whose forces are accused in war crimes after a seat was vacated by the death of the incumbent. Human Rights Watch points out that this appointment contradicts the government’s pledge to accountability and suggests that “the government may protect senior military leaders suspected of widespread abuses.” President Sirisena gave Fonseka a full pardon for his criminal conviction in March 2015 and promoted him, and the Sirisena government has also previously protected and promoted other implicated military commanders such as the promotion to chief of army staff of Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias in May 2015.
The UN announced that the tens of thousands of civilians affected by the armed conflict between the government and opposition forces in Jebel Marra are now in dire circumstances and in need of immediate aid. 34,000 have been displaced recently as a result of fighting between the President Bashir regime and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA-AW). In one case, eleven displaced children died of malnutrition while attempting to take shelter on one of Jebel Marra’s mountains. 161 children are currently at risk of the same fate.
Increased sieges by the Syrian government on Aleppo, as well as heavy airstrikes provided by Russia, forced tens of thousands of people to flee towards the Turkish border last weekend. Turkish aid trucks and ambulances rushed to the Syrian side of the border on Sunday to assist the thousands of civilians affected. Turkey has been providing refuge to Syrians since the crisis began and has now given asylum to an estimated 2.5 million Syrians. However, Turkey has thus far closed its borders to the 35,000 previous residents of Aleppo, despite pleas from the EU to accept them.
Previously, control of the area around Aleppo had been split between the government and rebels groups. As the government encroaches into rebel-held territory, however, UN officials have expressed worry that the last line of transportation to the Turkish border, as well as food supplies to 300,000 insurgents and civilians, could be cut off. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described the situation in Aleppo and other parts of Syria as ‘grotesque’ while calling for those responsible for the possible war crimes and crimes against humanity to be brought to justice.
At a meeting of world powers in Munich on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pushed for an immediate ceasefire and aid to be sent to civilians in an attempt to make progress in the peace process. However, Russia’s involvement in the war has effectively ended the stalemate and given Assad more sway than perhaps at any point since the uprisings began in 2011, casting the resumption of the peace talks later in February increasingly in doubt. Russia has suggested beginning a ceasefire on 1 March, an idea dismissed by the U.S., who countered that such a date would give Assad enough time to decimate Syria’s moderate rebel forces.
A United Nations report published on Monday describes the plight of thousands of detainees held by the Syrian government and rebel groups in official and makeshift detention centres throughout the five-year-war. The report details detainees being unlawfully imprisoned, tortured, beaten to death, subjected to tactics of “extermination” and other inhuman acts. The investigation conducted by the international organization found that government officials intentionally maintained poor conditions in order to systematically create life-threatening situations. Furthermore, killings and deaths occurred at a high frequency and with the aid of state resources. Consequently, the UN report states that “the government has committed the crimes against humanity of extermination, murder, rape or other forms of sexual violence, torture, imprisonment, enforced disappearance and other inhuman acts … based on the same conduct, war crimes have also been committed.”
However, a watchdog group has challenged the statistics compiled by the UN, claiming that the IO has severely underestimated the amount of besieged Syrians, a topic at the centre of the peace talks that were abruptly halted last week and postponed until 25 February. The Siege Watch report says that there are currently 1.09 million people trapped in 46 besieged areas as opposed to the 18 claimed by the UN.
Additionally, a suicide car bomb exploded in Damascus near a busy vegetable market, hitting a police officer’s club. The attack, claimed by ISIL, has killed nine police officers and wounded 20 according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. IS was responsible for multiple bombings last month that left 71 dead.
An airstrike executed by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition hit a cement factory north of Sana Wednesday evening, killing more than 15 people, including civilians. Just days prior, Saudi government officials had agreed to investigate aerial bombings in Yemen and promised to improve its military strategy in order to prevent further civilian casualties.
After being refused access for months to Taix, the UN’s World Health Organization finally managed to deliver medicine and supplies to address urgent needs in the country.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, after a meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, said it might be possible to “to try to engage in some productive conversations about how to bring that [Yemen] conflict to a close” over the next few weeks.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon added his voice to those pressuring the United Kingdom to stop its arms sales to Saudi Arabia due to its alleged violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen. Ban noted that “We need states that are party to [the] arms trade treaty to set an example in fulfilling one of the treaty’s main purposes – controlling arms flows to actors that may use them in ways that breach international humanitarian law.”
What else is new?
The Global Observatory has released a recent report by Alex J. Bellamy entitled, “Time to Rethink Protection as Syrian Mistakes Echo Sri Lanka