“Outdated Interpretations of the Charter Should Not Be Used to Excuse Inaction”
States Express Support for RtoP at Security Council Open Debate on UN Charter
On Monday 15 February, the UN Security Council held an open debate on “Respect for the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations as a key element for the maintenance of international peace and security.” As predicted by Security Council Report, states presented diverging views on the Charter’s emphasis on both human rights and sovereignty. While certain states, notably Venezuela (President of the Security Council in February) argued that the principle of non-interference should not be violated, others—including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon—noted that it is “violence and conflict—and not our attempt to help Member States prevent it—that threatened State sovereignty.”
Though Ban acknowledged that states bear the primary responsibility to prevent conflict and protect human rights, he noted that some Member states either lack the capacity to do so or are themselves violating these human rights. When this is the case, Ban reiterated that the UN can help Member States meet these challenges and uphold their Responsibility to Protect (RtoP)—and in doing so, will “seek to reinforce sovereignty, not challenge or undermine it.”
Other interventions, including those of Spain, Uruguay, Panama, Costa Rica, Hungary, and the EU, agreed with Ban that upholding RtoP is in line with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. Both Spain and Costa Rica underscored that sovereignty infers responsibility, with Uruguay adding that the principle of non-interference does not exempt states from complying with their moral and legal duty to protect populations from atrocity crimes. These states also argued that it was time to build consensus on the practical implementation of RtoP, including through assisting states, under Pillar II, to fulfill their primary RtoP. Indeed, as the UK noted, “we should not let outdated interpretations of the Charter be used to excuse inaction” in the face of new international threats, as the situation in Syria demonstrates.
An important step in upholding both RtoP and the principles and purposes of the Charter would be limiting the use of the veto in situations of atrocity crimes. A high number of states, including Spain, Egypt, France, UK, Peru, India, Uruguay, Bangladesh, Liechtenstein, Latvia, Turkey, and Hungary, expressed their dissatisfaction with the misuse of the veto. Many of these same states underscored their commitment to the “Code of Conduct regarding Security Council action against genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity” and/or the French/Mexican political declaration on the use of the veto.
Catch up on developments in…
Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The U.N. announced that 3,000 civilians were forced to leave their homes due to current tension between two ethnic rebel groups, theRestoration Council for Shan State (RCSS) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) in Burma’s northern state of Shan.
The Rwandan government announced Friday morning that it would immediately begin the relocation process for some 70,000 Burundian refugees to other host countries. The decision (which strongly contradicts the government’s stance as of two weeks ago) follows a UN Report from last week that suggested the Rwandan government had provided two months of military training to Burundian refugees seeking to overthrow the regime in their homeland.
On 11 February, two grenade attacks took place in the capital of Burundi, Bujumbara. According to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), 55 people have been treated. A few days later, on 15 February, a series of grenade blasts also occurred in the city. MSF reported that more than 60 people have been treated since those blasts.
Central African Republic:
A fire on Wednesday, February 10 in a Batangafo camp for displaced persons consumed the homes of 560 families and injured five.
The UN has begun to investigate new allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeeping forces in CAR, confirming four new allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation in 2014 and 2015 against minors in the Ngakobo displaced persons camp. Farhan Haq, the UN spokesperson, announced the planned repatriation of Congolese peacekeepers after the previous allegations of sexual abuse against some of their troops. The government of the DRCannounced on 18 February that they would be undertaking an investigation into the abuses. Meanwhile, the UN announced that it is working to ensure that the victims involved in these sexual abuse and exploitation allegations have access to the assistance they need. They further declared that the UN would begin to post details of allegations of abuse–and countries’ responses to the claims–online.
On 14 February, the second round of the presidential election was held in CAR. As citizens went to the polls, about 2,000 UN peacekeepers were deployed in the capital, with another 8,000 deployed in the more anarchic outer provinces. Unlike the first round, there was no gunfire in the streets and UN peacekeepers have reported little trouble. Two former prime ministers, both Christian, are contesting the presidential run-off. Vote-counting has officiallybegun in Bangui and this election is seen as a crucial step to restoring peace in the country after two years of sectarian violence. Preliminary results from Sunday’s presidential run-off indicate that Faustin-Archange Touadera is leading in the polls.
In a new report to be presented at the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the DPRK, Marzuki Darusman, stated that virtually no improvement has been seen in the DPRK’s human rights abuses since the 2014 Commission of Inquiry Report. In this regard, Darusman underscored the urgency of finding the best way to hold perpetrators accountable. Though he reiterates the need for the Security Council to refer the DPRK to the International Criminal Court, he also urged for creativity in the “mechanisms of accountability.” These could include the General Assembly creating a tribunal “to prosecute crimes for which international law does not permit amnesty”; and a special Security Council-appointed committee of experts to determine the best approach under international law.
Human Rights Watch exhorted the international community to not allow the DPRK’s nuclear activities to overshadow its series of human rights abuses and stressed the importance of holding the Kim dynasty accountable for “the grave violations and crimes against humanity” committed in the DPRK.
Democratic Republic of the Congo:
ADF-Uganda reportedly killed six and kidnapped 14 others near Eringeti. The rebel group has killed over 500 in eastern DRC since October 2014.
Mahmoud Daher, director at the World Health Organization’s Palestinian office, was preventedfrom leaving Gaza on Thursday due to a mandate by Hamas. The group, which has controlled Gaza since 2007, announced two weeks ago that international organizations would be required to obtain an “exit-permit” issued by Hamas in order to enter Israel. While the WHO had previously been exempt from the permit, this recent development indicates an attempt by Hamas to control the UN’s movements and activities.
Amidst reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi opened the Rafah crossing from Palestine into Egypt on Saturday, allowing 2,800 Palestinians to enter. The border was again closed on Monday.
The U.S. State Department announced that it believes that ISIL used mustard gas in both Syria and Iraq last year.
The Government of Iraq is eliminating 30% of fighters from the Popular Mobilization Forces, a paramilitary umbrella group composed mostly of Shiite militias. The government claims that the cuts, enacted because of the fall in Iraq’s oil revenue, would not affect the fight against ISIL.
Human Rights Watch has released a 104-page report entitled, “‘I Just Sit and Wait to Die’: Reparations for Survivors of Kenya’s 2007-2008 Post-Election Sexual Violence,” which claims that the Kenyan government has failed in its responsibility to provide basic assistance to rape survivors of the country’s 2007-2008 post-election violence. The report is based on interviews with 163 female and nine male survivors and witnesses of rape or other sexual violence during that time.
On 15 February, the UN-backed Libyan Presidency Council of rival factions proposed a revised formation of the government of national unity line-up to be approved by the country’s House of Representatives. Approval of the cabinet under the current prime-minister-designate, Fayez al-Sarraj, would be an important step forward in the peace process to resolve Libya’s current political disarray. The UN special envoy called on the Representatives “to do what is right for Libya and and its people” and endorse the recent nomination. On 16 February, Libya’s internationally recognized parliament decided to postpone a vote on the proposed national unity government for seven days. The original vote had been due on Monday evening, but many MPs expressed that they were not happy with having to decide so quickly without knowing much about the proposed ministers. Furthermore, the parliament has asked Sarraj to appear before them for a vote of confidence on his cabinet.
UN officials have condemned the recent attack against a MINUSMA camp in Kidal on 12 February, which killed at least seven Guinean peacekeepers and wounded 30 others. A spokesperson for the Secretary-General released a statement stressing that attacks targeting UN peacekeeping personnel constitute war crimes under international law and also called for the perpetrators to be held accountable. Ansar Dine, an extremist group with links to al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the attack.
German President Joachim Gauck visited Mali soon after the attacks on 13 February and announced that Germany would send 650 soldiers to Mali where 200 German soldiers are already working with the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) to train local troops to combat extremist militants.
After a series of attacks by Boko Haram, UN experts have urged the Nigerian government to ensure that the areas which the government has already claimed are freed from Boko Haram are actually safe for the return of the displaced.
Cameroon special forces retook the town of Goshi in northeastern Nigeria from Boko Haram and freed about 100 Cameroonians and Nigerians held hostage by the extremist group. The operation also seized weapons, vehicles, and ammunition, and destroyed several bomb factories and Boko Haram training centers in the town.
A new report from International Alert and UNICEF shows that women and girls who have returned to their communities after being freed from Boko Haram by Nigerian military efforts are being ostracized and rejected upon their return. Some community members fear that those returning may have been radicalized by Boko Haram and could try to recruit others. Furthermore, some of the women returning are pregnant or have given birth to children of Boko Haram fighters. The community and even some of the mothers themselves are uncertain of these children with “bad blood”. The rejection of these women and girls is an example of an unintended consequence of the military’s push to liberate territory held by the group and demonstrate the ways in which atrocity crimes affect women and girls differently.
At the commencement of the US training assistance program for 750 soldiers from selected units of the Nigerian army on 17 January, the US Ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle, stated that Nigeria cannot win the war against terrorist insurgencies without assistance from other countries and emphasized the need for other nations to support Nigeria.
A conflict in South Sudan’s Wau state between the army and armed opposition factions caused hundreds of people to flee their homes early this week. According to residents, both sides of the conflict were involved in the destruction, which consisted of burning down huts and engaging in armed confrontation.
Violence broke out at a UNMISS protection base in Malakal between Dinka and Shilluk youths, and involved small arms, machetes, and other weapons. The UN reiterated that attacks against civilians and UN premises could constitute war crimes.
President Salva Kiir is planning to announce a transitional government of national unity on Friday, although opposition leader Riek Machar, refuses to attend the event. Reports indicate that the new government will comprise of 16 ministers and will result in the settlement of many territorial disputes, which has been a critical barrier in achieving peace. President Kiir also issued a decree reappointing Machar as first vice president. The decree fulfils an important condition of the August peace agreement, as it restores Machar to the position he held in 2013, before the breakout of the civil war.
According to the United Nations, conflict between the Sudanese government and rebels in a mountainous area in Darfur has caused 73,000 people to flee their homes over the course of a month. This number has risen from 38,000, due to the additional 30,000 people who have fled to a base managed by UNAMID in Sortony. Civilians have been leaving their homes in Jebel Marra since mid-January, when the armed conflict between the government and the SLA escalated and they face “dire” humanitarian circumstances. Another primary camp for the displaced is located in Tawilla, which has received 18,000 IDPs since mid-January.
On 16 February, the Darfur Regional Authority and the UN signed an agreement totalling $88.5 million in development projects. These projects, which are to be funded by the State of Qatar, will help to start off the longer term objectives of the Darfur Development Strategy (DDS) to provide viable development solutions and peace dividends in Darfur.
After a meeting in Munich late last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the major powers of the international community had agreed to a “cessation of hostilities” and to the immediate delivery of aid in Syria. However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia would not stop its airstrikes due to ISIL and Al Qaeda group Al Nusra not being a part of the truce.
Indeed, reports emerging from Syria indicate that the ceasefire, set to begin at the end of this week, will be difficult to implement. 50 civilians were killed earlier this week when missiles hit five medical centers and two schools in rebel-held Syrian territory. Fourteen people were killedwhen missiles struck a town near the Turkish border, hitting a school sheltering families fleeing the conflict as well as a children’s hospital. In a separate attack, missiles hit another hospital in the province of Idlib, killing at least seven staff members and patients and possibly eight Doctors Without Borders personnel. The attacks occurred as Syrian troops backed by Russian forces continued their move towards the rebel stronghold of Aleppo. A UN spokesman called the strikes a “blatant violation of international laws,” while France and Turkey have labeled them war crimes. Britain, for its part, stated that they could amount to war crimes and must be investigated.
President Bashar al-Assad has declared that “no one” has the ability to create the circumstances for a successful truce, as “a cease-fire must mean stopping terrorists from strengthening their positions.” UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura arrived in Damascus on Monday to discuss further plans concerning the ceasefire and the resumption of peace talks to take place late next week.
The Munich meeting did, however, have an effect on the delivery of humanitarian assistance, as aid has reached five besieged towns in Syria. Approximately 100 trucks began delivering emergency food and medical aid to tens of thousands of people across the country on Wednesday.
In the meantime, the Syrian Center for Policy Research (SCPR) published a report declaring that the five-year-long civil war has claimed 470,000 lives, as opposed to the widely known 250,000 UN figure. Out of the total number of fatalities, 400,000 were a result of direct conflict, with the remaining 70,000 caused by inadequate health services, lack of access to food, clean water, housing and sanitation.
Additionally, in a statement released on 12 February 2016, the UN Special Advisors on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect, Adama Dieng and Jennifer Welsh, expressed their unease concerning the lack of civilian protection during the deepening crisis in Syria. The Special Advisors stated that the Syrian population is in desperate need of protection, as they are subjected to indiscriminate air strikes on a daily basis. Moreover, Dieng and Welsh have welcomed the commitment made by members of the International Syrian Support Group (ISSG) to immediately apply UNSC Resolution 2254 at the fullest capacity and use their influence to ensure sustained humanitarian access amid the goal of a cessation of hostilities by the end of this week.
In the last two weeks, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has gained control of five more towns throughout Yemen. The chaos introduced by the civil war has created an effective platform for AQAP to regain the control it had lost back in 2012.
The UN Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, Adama Dieng and Jennifer Welsh respectively, have released a joint statement on the situation in Yemen calling on the international community, and especially the UN Security Council, to take action in order to protect civilians and civilian infrastructures, which have continued to be targeted by all parties since the escalation of conflict over a year ago. Evidence indicates that some of the many violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed by all sides may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity, and the Special Advisers called for the parties to be held accountable for their actions. Furthermore, the Special Advisers asked for the control of arms flow to actors who may use them in ways which would breach international humanitarian law and warned of the consequences that the spillover of the conflict across borders could have on fuelling religious and sectarian divides in the region.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) declared that Houthi militias and forces are implicated in grave violations which could amount to war crimes, including the systematic killings of civilians, systematic destruction of health and education stations, and continuous blocking of humanitarian aid.
What else is new?
The Washington Post’s “In Theory” blog hosted a series of articles this week on the Responsibility to Protect, which can all be found here.
You can now enjoy free access to a selection of articles on “The Responsibility to Protect and the Arab World: An Emerging International Norm?”
Above photo: Security Council Debates Respect for Principles and Purposes of UN Charter (UN Photo/Rick Bajornas).