UN Warns of Increased Likelihood of “Full-Throttle Sectarian Violence” in Iraq
In the backdrop of the devastating ISIL bombing on Sunday that killed 250 people, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, warned of the possibility of a new chapter of sectarian violence in Iraq. Speaking on 5 July, Mr. Zeid stated, “ISIL needs to be defeated, and defeated soon.” However, Zeid continued, “The way we react, in Iraq and elsewhere, will in many ways decide whether ISIL benefits from its indiscriminate acts of mass murder, or is ultimately destroyed by them.”
Mr. Zeid’s concerns for a return of sectarian violence do not solely lie in the rubble of the Karada market but in the graves of the dozens of Sunni Iraqis believed to have been killed recently by Shia militias, collectively known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). On 1 June, over 8,000 villagers escaping the village of Saqlawiyah reached government lines held by the Kataaib Hezbollah militia of the PMF. Among those who fled, 900 have gone missing and 49 are believed to have been immediately executed or died under torture by Kataaib Hezbollah.
Reports of abuse by the elements of the PMF have been rampant. Their tactics allegedly include kidnappings, torture, executions, massacres, and forced evictions. In January, Human Rights Watch accused the PMF of committing war crimes in the fight against ISIL and noted that “again civilians are paying the price for Iraq’s failure to rein in the out-of-control militias”.
As the Iraqi government formally incorporated the PMF into the state security apparatus on 7 April 2015, it shares responsibility for its behavior. The Prime Minister of Iraq has set up a special human rights committee to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by the PMF, although Mr. Zeid has urged for more serious measures to end impunity and hold those who are responsible for the abuses accountable. Such a step — as well as others intended to curb sectarian violence, such as building the capacity of the Popular Mobilization Commission tasked with overseeing the PMF — could help Iraq to fulfill its primary responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing.
For more information on the reported abuses of Shia militias, please click here.
Catch up on developments in…
Central African Republic
A mob burned down a Mosque in Rangoon on Sunday. This is the second such attack in under a week in predominantly Buddhist Burma. Authorities have reportedly made no arrests.
Nineteen NGOs demanded increased action to combat hate speech and religiously motivated violence in Burma.
On Tuesday, the government of Burundi rejected a claim made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid al Hussein as “negative” and “false”. Zeid had reported that the violence in Burundi was ethnically motivated and could escalate into a conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi populations.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Burundi’s intelligence services have tortured dissidents, including beating prisoners with hammers. HRW urged the Security Council to deploy international police to the country and set up an international commission of inquiry.
Central African Republic:
On Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’as Al Hussein warned that the situation in CAR was worsening, notably due to recent unrest in Bangui and other parts of the country.
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:
On Wednesday, the United States announced that it was imposing sanctions on leading North Korean officials, including Kim Jong-un, for human rights violations. The designations follow a report from the US State Department naming individuals most responsible for the abuses, which include forced labor, extrajudicial killings, and torture. The US Treasury Department blacklisted the officials, freezing their assets and blocking them from any transactions with American citizens.
The UN has named Argentine lawyer Tomas Ojea Quintana to succeed Marzuki Darusman as its new Special Rapporteur on human rights in the DPRK.
Democratic Republic of Congo:
The DRC has selected the digital security firm, Gemalto, to supply the country’s National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) with 22,000 mobile biometric voter enrollment kits in order to support an update of the national registry of voters.
On Sunday, 250 people died in an ISIL suicide-bombing in the Karada market district of Baghdad. The attack is the single deadliest in Iraq since 2003, with hundreds more injured. In the wake of the attack, the outburst of public anger has brought Iraq’s security measures into question, causing Iraqi Interior Minister Mohammed Ghabban to resign and new security measures to be ordered. Also on Sunday, ISIL reportedly killed 8 of its own fighters as well as 7 residents of the city of Hawijah in southwestern Kirkuk. Later, an attack on the al-Salam camp for internally displaced persons, located south of Baghdad, killed 3 and left fifteen wounded.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi government announced the capture of several villages from ISIL in its push to the airbase at Qayara, 40 miles south of Mosul. However, in the wake of seizing Fallujah from ISIL, the Iraqi government’s capture and occupation of the city has reportedly begun to take on sectarian undertones. Despite orders and pledges to the contrary, Shia militia members who aided in the siege of Fallujah, have been seen freely moving in the city center, while Shiite banners, graffiti, and posters have been plastered on the main highway overpass in Fallujah. Some Iraqi commanders in Fallujah have come forward with accusations that the militia members burned houses to the ground in the city, bringing to fruition the fears of the Iraqi government.
On 4 July, Minority Rights Group (MRG) warned in a new report that Iraq may be facing the disappearance of its minorities. Tens of thousands of minorities have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled after thirteen years of civil war and sectarian conflict. The report pays particular attention to the Iraqi Christian population, which has declined from 1.4 million in 2003 to 250,000 today, while also highlighting the plight of the Yezidi, Kaka’i, Shia Turkmen, and Shabak peoples.
In Nairobi on Monday, around 300 people protested the killings of a human rights lawyer, Willy Kimani, and two other men. On Wednesday, hundreds of protesters gathered once more in Nairobi and set a police station on fire, where Kimani and the others were originally held after their abduction and where they were later killed. Four police officers based at the police station are currently in custody and the site is being treated as a crime scene.
In a new report this week, Amnesty International detailed the horrors experienced by migrants and refugees at the hands of Libyan traffickers. Victims were predominantly from sub-Saharan Africa, and their testimonies include stories of death, sexual violence, religious persecution, torture and starvation.
On Friday, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) released its monthly report for June 2016, stating that 49 civilian casualties occurred last month, including 18 deaths and 31 injuries.
According to Malian authorities, two gunmen killed two gendarmes and wounded a soldier late Friday night in Menaka, a town in northeastern Mali.
850 peacekeepers from Burkina Faso, including 21 women, are set to join the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA), according to the country’s defense ministry.
An accident during a MINUSMA training exercise killed two Dutch soldiers and wounded another on Wednesday in Mali. This brings the total deaths of peacekeepers in Mali to at least 103 since the deployment of the mission in April 2013.
Late last week, the UN warned that tens of thousands of children would die of malnutrition this year in northeastern Nigeria if they do not receive aid soon.
On Monday, suspected members of the Niger Delta Avengers oil militant group blew up two pipelines in southern Nigeria belonging to the US-based Chevron and the Nigerian state oil company. President Buhari pleaded with the oil militants and others in a statement on Wednesday to “give Nigeria a chance”, promising to keep the country together regardless of the divisions across the country.
The Nigerian military shot and killed two female suicide bombers on Tuesday in the town of Monguno in northeastern Nigeria as they attempted to detonate their explosives in the vicinity of people displaced from the fighting in the country. Although the soldiers killed the women, some of the women’s explosives did detonate, injuring two civilians. A third bomber in another area was successful in exploding her bomb, but the blast resulted in no other casualties. The military also killed four suspected Boko Haram fighters in an unrelated ambush the same day around Kukawa, also in the northeast of the country.
On 5 July, South Sudan’s armed opposition (the SPLA-IO) warned that recent killings of its members could derail the peace agreement signed in August 2015. The SPLA-IO listed and detailed five cases in which its officers allegedly died at the hands of government agents.
The government’s official narrative on the source of recent fighting in Wau state is being challenged, with reports now surfacing, which place the blame on the Sudan’s People Liberation Army (SPLA). Eyewitnesses to the violence have begun reporting that members of the SPLA and youth from an ethnically Dinka neighborhood began attacking neighborhoods belonging to the Fartit ethnic group. The official narrative states that the violence was due to a new rebel group attempting to seize the town. The UN estimates that 70,000 people have been displaced by the fighting that left at least 43 dead, including 39 civilians and 4 police officers.
On 2 July, the newly appointed Governor of Wau state, Andrea Mayar Achor, made public his plans for how to restore stability to the area, which saw massive levels of fighting on 25 June that forced tens of thousands to flee. The plan calls for three stages: 1) stabilizing the security situation in order for the displaced to return, which includes free movement for humanitarian organizations; 2) the holding of public dialogues on what happened during the civil war and how the community can move forward; and 3) the start of a reconciliation process.
Following the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ comments last week expressing his concerns about Sri Lanka’s slow progress in the investigation of war crimes and human rights abuses during the country’s civil war, the Sri Lankan government announced on Wednesday that it would set up a special court to hear allegations of wartime abuses by next year.
On 5 July, the EU released a draft proposal of how it will divert 100 million Euros of development aid into military border control measures in migrant transit countries such as Sudan. The money would likely go to the Sudanese government militia, the Rapid Support Force (RSF), who currently serve as border guards. Part of the Sudanese national and intelligence security services, the RSF largely consists of former members of the Janjaweed, a Sudanese Arab militia responsible for taking part in the genocide in Darfur.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) has announced it has serious concerns over the four month ceasefire in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile states. The SPLM-N views the ceasefire, announced on 17 June, as the result of US pressure and as only “a declaration of intent”, as a true ceasefire would require monitoring and enforcement mechanisms.
On 4 July, a subset of the Sudan Liberation Movement proposed a new ceasefire in Darfur to be monitored by the UN-AU hybrid peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID). The rebels have put forward the ceasefire proposal in hopes of having humanitarian aid delivered to the region of Jebel Marra, which has experienced several months of intense fighting.
Also this week, in a reversal from earlier statements, the leader of the opposition National Umma Party (NUP), al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, stated that the opposition groups comprising the umbrella group Sudan Call forces will likely sign the African Union High Implementation Panel’s Roadmap Agreement for Peace in Sudan in several days
On 4 July, fighting broke out between the Sudanese military and Rizeigat Savannah militiamen in east Darfur. The fighting left several casualties.
On 5 July, the Syrian Kurds and their Arab allies declared the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli to be the capital of the new federal system they are establishing in northern Syria. Elections are currently planned for three months after the approval of the social contract, which is already leading to increased tensions with the Syrian government.
Meanwhile, President Bashar al-Assad put forward the composition of the new Syrian government, to be headed by former Electricity Minister Imad Khamis. Despite changes in personnel in over half of the positions, there has been no trace of inclusion of any opposition figures or groups in the composition of the new government.
Amnesty International released a brief accusing five rebel groups in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo of committing war crimes and multiple other violations of international humanitarian law.
On 2 July, a two year old local truce between rebels and the Syrian government collapsed in the town of Jayrud with airstrikes that killed 43 people. The truce had led to the area becoming a safe haven, with thousands of internally displaced Syrians living there. Meanwhile, on 6 July, the Syrian government announced a 72 hour ceasefire would go into effect at 1:00 AM on Wednesday to coincide with the Eid al-Fitr holiday. Nevertheless, the government cut off the sole rebel supply road into Aleppo the next day.
The SDF has opened up a trade corridor in northern Aleppo province between those territories it controls and those under the rule of ISIL. Territories held by the parties are separated by a 2 km long neutral area. The SDF claims that the decision, reached on 25 May, is one that will allow civilians under ISIL-rule to move freely out of their territories and ensure that they receive enough food and supplies.
On 2 July, al-Nusra took the leader of a Western-backed rebel group, the Jaish al-Tahrir brigade, hostage along with 40 of his troops in northern Syria. The brigade had formed in February as a coalition of Free Syrian Army groups in order to stop the push of ISIL near the Turkish border. al-Nusra has targeted the leaders of Western-backed groups in the past, in the hopes that the groups would then dissolve.
On 4 July, the estimate of civilians who have fled the ISIL-held northern Syrian city of Manjib reached 13,000. Moreover, on Monday ISIL repelled an attack by the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) near Manbij and managed to retake previously lost territory in the counter-attack.
On Monday, the Saudi government intercepted a ballistic missile, believed to be fired by the Houthi rebels at the southern Saudi city of Abha. This marks the fourth attempt to fire a ballistic missile into Saudi territory since the ceasefire agreement in April.
A suspected drone strike in the south Yemen province of Shabwa killed three al-Qaeda fighters on Saturday. Meanwhile, rocket fire, believed to be from Houthi rebels, allegedly killed seven children in the central Yemeni city of Marib on Monday. The city is currently held by the internationally recognized Yemeni government, while the Houthi rebels continue to control the hinterland to the west and north of the city.
At least 26 people died in an al-Qaeda attack on a Yemeni military base attached to the international airport in the southern port city of Aden on Wednesday. Six Yemeni soldiers and 20 militants died.
What else is new?
21 African civil society groups and international organizations with a presence in Africa released a short but compelling activist video today entitled “AU: Activists Challenge Attacks on ICC.” Some African leaders have repeatedly charged the ICC with targeting Africa and, in the past year, the African Union has been discussing possibly calling for African ICC States Parties to withdraw from the Court. As Ibrahim Tommy, a Sierra Leone activist, says in the video: “The big clash [these days] is over African leaders, the powerful few, who really want impunity for themselves, versus the vast majority, in fact all of the victims of Africa’s continent who want justice every day.”