Syrian Peace Talks Set to Resume in Geneva on Monday
The UN Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, announced that the Geneva peace talks, meant to end the five-year Syrian civil war and which collapsed in February, would resume on Monday, 14 March. De Mistura hopes that Monday’s talks between the Syrian government and the rebel opposition will be more substantive than those in February. Topics on the agenda will include the formation of a transitional administration, the creation of a new constitution, and elections (both presidential and parliamentary). It appears that humanitarian access and violations of the two-week ceasefire will not be discussed, in line with the UN’s wishes that the parties focus on a political settlement. The Syrian government has already confirmed its attendance, while the High Negotiations Committee, the main rebel coalition, has only said that it would “likely” join after it completed an internal assessment of the two-week old ceasefire. The talks are set to recess on 24 March.
All parties to the conflict in Syria have a responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. As the most recent UN Commission of Inquiry report of February 2016 states, there has been an “exponential” rise in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria. The civilian population has borne the “brunt of the pain and suffering”, while the perpetrators have been “shielded from accountability”—facts underscoring both the inadequacy of the international community’s response and the urgency of the Geneva peace talks.
For more information on Syria and the Responsibility to Protect, click here.
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Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Arakan Army, an ethnic armed group in Myanmar, attacked Myanmar government troops twice last week. The Arakan Army is not included in the nationwide ceasefire deal between the government and eight ethnic armed groups.
The Burundi government has mandated that all foreigners in the country register themselves in order to be able to issue biometric ID cards. This move has been met with suspicion, especially by Rwandans, who fear that this will be used to track and victimize foreigners.
The UNHCR noted that the number of refugees in Burundi has surpassed 250,000 as people continue to flee violence. Neighbouring countries, including Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have received the largest amount of individuals.
Last Friday marked the launch of a new Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Burundi. Relatively little is known about the future work and mandate of the Commission, only that it shall look at the period between Burundi’s independence and 2008 and exclude the current crisis taking place in the country.
The United Nations Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB) completed its first country visit. The experts concluded that the Burundian government should make further efforts to improve the human rights situation in the country. One expert, Christof Heyns, noted that “the future of Burundi – internally and as part of the international community – will depend on its performance in the field of human rights.” A second visit is planned in June and a final report is due in September.
Central African Republic:
On 6 March, armed men killed 12 people in different villages near the central town of Bambari. Though the UN had declared Bambari a “weapons-free zone” last year, the anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka still maintain a presence in the town.
The UN and other multilateral organizations expressed their support for the newly elected president, Faustin-Archange Touadéra. They further welcomed the president’s intention to promote dialogue and national reconciliation.
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:
The HRC is expected to adopt a resolution condemning the DPRK’s human rights abuses. The draft, co-sponsored by the EU and Japan, will be discussed at the 31st session of the Council and address issues such as summary executions and the rape and torture of political prisoners, claims vigorously contested by the DPRK government.
Democratic Republic of the Congo:
The DRC has agreed to extradite to Rwanda Ladislas Ntaganzwa, a former mayor indicted on suspicions of his alleged involvement in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Mr. Ntaganzwa was one of nine high-profile fugitives still at large after the Rwandan genocide. He has been accused of murder, rape, extermination, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, and genocide.
On Tuesday, Denis Mukwege, the DRC’s famous rape-care doctor, presented a petition signed by almost 200 organizations to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The petition makes several demands, including for the UN to publish a secret list of 617 suspected perpetrators of rape and other human rights abuses in the DRC from 1993-2003. It further asks the UN’s support for the creation of a special court to try individuals for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Violence erupted in several separate incidents across Israel/Palestine this week. On Monday, Israeli forces shot and injured a Palestinian man near the Gaza/Israeli border. On Tuesday, a Palestinian terrorist went on a stabbing spree and killed 11 people. Violence continued on Wednesday, as two Palestinians opened fire on a bus in Jerusalem. Finally, the Israeli military shot and killed a Palestinian man at a checkpoint near Qaqilya after he attempted to stab security forces.
The UN raised concerns over the alarming number of demolitions of Palestinian homes and other buildings by Israel. The demolished sites had been built for reconstruction purposes with funding from international donors. A UN official noted that, in just the first ten weeks of 2016, “we have already surpassed the total number of humanitarian aid items destroyed or confiscated in all of 2015.”
On Sunday, an ISIL militant drove a fuel truck packed with explosives into a security checkpoint near Baghdad, killing at least 47 people and wounding many others. ISIL claimed responsibility shortly after through social media and their news outlet Amaq. Of the 47 people killed, 39 were civilians. The UN has reported that 670 Iraqis were killed in February, two-thirds of them being civilians.
The U.S. and Iraq are conducting operations in preparation for the largest confrontation to date with ISIL, with the goal of re-taking Mosul by the end of the year. While the fight is scheduled to be months away, U.S.-backed Iraqi ground forces and airstrikes have already began to isolate the insurgents by cutting off supply routes to weaken the militants. U.S. Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State, Brett McGurk, announced that the preparations for battle are currently underway but cautioned that the fight would be “complicated.”
Kenyan police have arrested four men on suspicion of trying to leave Kenya to join Islamic State in Libya. The country’s authorities are concerned that the increase in citizens joining ISIL could indicate that the extremist group may be trying to establish a presence in Kenya. So far, at least 20 Kenyans have joined ISIL in Libya and the Middle East. Kenya is simultaneously battling to stop the recruitment of youths to Somalia’s al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda linked extremist group, which already includes hundreds of Kenyans.
Tunisian officials report that militants attacked a military installation near the Libyan border, killing at least 27 people early Monday morning. Many believe militants associated with ISIL were behind the attack, raising fears that the terrorist group aims to extend its presence to neighboring Tunisia. Following the attacks, Tunisian security forces seized a large supply of weapons.
Libyan officials reported that ISIL militants had killed 3 security guards at a checkpoint between Sirte and Misrata on Wednesday. A Sirte local also reported that an airstrike had killed three children and wounded their mother.
Abdul Qadr al-Najdi, who identified himself in an interview with the SITE monitoring group as the “new leader of Islamic State in Libya”, claimed that the jihadist militant group there is getting “stronger every day.” He further warned that although the faction in Libya is “still young”, it is already making ground in imposing religious laws in line with those enforced in ISIL-controlled areas of Syria and Iraq.
The African Union has announced that it would send a mission to Mali within the coming weeks to investigate whether it should set up a counter-terrorism force to aid the Malian, French, and UN troops already in the country. The Malian government and some MINUSMA officials have called for more support in the fight against jihadist militant groups in the northern part of the country. Although the UN force has 10,000 troops, some critics claim its capabilities to bring peace are hindered by the mission’s lack of an aggressive counter-terrorism mandate, leaving it vulnerable to attacks and unable to hunt down militants. The UN Security Council discussed an expansion of the UN mandate during their visit to Mali earlier in the week, but the possible AU mission could be an alternative to such an option. Some Security Council members, such as France, believe MINUSMA’s mandate is already extensive enough.
The UN Security Council traveled to Mali over the weekend to push for the swift implementation of the peace agreement by all parties. The Security Council met with representatives of the armed groups in Bamako as well as with local government officials, civil society, and religious leaders in Mopti and Timbuktu.
200 Malian jihadists between the ages of 16 and 30 have agreed to disarm as part of a government and civil society de-radicalization program. Some of these young men had participated in attacks in the Mopti region as recently as last year as members of the Macina Liberation Front. The program does not pay the young men to leave armed groups but does provide them with free meals.
Initiatives by the Nigerian military to clear a series of Boko Haram camps have reportedlykilled dozens.
Nigeria’s former defense chief has been charged with siphoning off around $20 million earmarked for the fight against Boko Haram in order to buy a mansion and build a shopping mall.
Fighting broke out between the government of South Sudan and rebels in Nasser, a town in the Upper Nile state, on Tuesday morning. Rebel spokesperson Willian Gatjiath Deng accused government forces of attacking Ketbek early in the morning while simultaneously shelling other areas on the east bank. The government acknowledged that fighting occurred but blamed the rebel group for instigating the violence.
According to Oxfam, conditions in South Sudan are the worst they have ever been. With over 40,000 people starving, aid groups and the UN have announced that the country is on the brink of a catastrophic food crisis. While the peace accord signed in August 2015 was supposed to end the war between President Salva Kiir and former vice-president Reik Machar, progress has been slow and the conflict continues.
Darfur is in the process of conducting the region’s administrative status referendum, scheduled to be held this April. Officials in Darfur believe that the registration of about 76% of eligible voters is evidence that the referendum will be successful, despite the objections it has faced.
A Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) accused Islamist rebel groups of attacking a predominantly Kurdish residential area in Aleppo with chemical weapons. The YPG released a statement on Tuesday claiming that rebels within the opposition-held territory of Aleppo had used a yellow-colored phosphorous agent on the area of Sheikh Maqsoud. YPGfighters have reportedly been in confrontation with extremists for weeks in northern Syria, as the area continues to be the center of violence within the nation’s five-year civil war.
Warplanes bombed a fuel depot in rebel-held Aleppo at the start of the week, killing at least 13 and wounding 40. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that there were more than 70 rockets and mortar shells targeted at the predominantly Kurdish neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsoud, which has already been exposed to insurgent shelling for days. The Observatoryclaimed that the al-Nusra Front and other insurgents are responsible for the attack.
In the meantime, Russia’s Ministry of Defense has offered to give access to its Syrian bases for the purposes of aid delivery. Spokesman Igor Konashenkov stated that packages could be stored in its naval base in Tartus and planes carrying supplies could land at Russia’s air base in Latakia.
On 9 March, Yemen’s Houthi rebel groups began peace talks with Saudi Arabia for the first time since the outset of the Yemen war. The talks focus on a de-escalation of the conflict and ways to exchange prisoners. Saudi Arabia has already released seven Yemenis in return for one of its soldiers. Yemen’s deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister has reiterated his government’s desire to achieve peace, despite its recent territorial gains and continued drone attacks.
Egypt, Japan, Spain, New Zealand and Uruguay, all non-permanent members of the UNSC, are drafting a resolution demanding that attacks on hospitals cease in war zones such as Yemen. Stephen O’Brien, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, has accused all parties involved in the conflict of attacking hospitals and schools. The Saudi Ambassador, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, expressed doubts concerning the need for the UNSC resolution on Yemen. Mr. Al- Mouallimi noted that while “he is concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation in Yemen,” he does not “see the need for a Security Council resolution addressing it.”
The U.N. human rights office reported that the number of civilian casualties in Yemen is constantly increasing. Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, announced that “during February, a total of at least 168 civilians were killed and 193 injured, around two-thirds of them by Coalition airstrikes.” He added that this number is “the highest since September.” Mr. Colville requested an international investigation into the mass killing of civilians. Furthermore, the Task Force on Population Movement, led jointly by UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), released a report estimating the number of internally displaced people in Yemen to be around 2,430,178.
What else is new?
The Budapest Centre for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities is conducting a questionnaire for those in the international community who are committed to atrocity crimes prevention and the implementation of RtoP. Fill out the survey here.
Rachel Davis, the Managing Director of Shift, has written a paper for the Global Centre on the Responsibility to Protect entitled “Preventing corporate involvement in mass atrocity crimes: Implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.” Read the paper here.
Above collage: Compilation of photos from The Guardian, credit AFP/Getty/Reuters/EPA/AP. For descriptions and credits of each photo, please click here.