Renewed clashes in South Sudan results in urgent calls for action to protect civilians
“This is the time to massively reinforce UN action. When a Government cannot or will not protect its people, and when warring parties seem more intent on enriching and empowering themselves at the expense of their people, the international community has a responsibility to act.” —UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaking to reporters on the situation in South Sudan, 11 July 2016.
The Secretary General’s condemnation of the violence in the South Sudanese capital of Juba as well as his call for increased action by the UN and international community has been echoed in several corridors. While a ceasefire declared on 11 July by President Salva Kiir and his rival, Vice-President Riek Machar, has largely held, the international community is debating the proper course of action to ensure not only a return of violence but a transition to a legitimate and fruitful peace.
On 8 July, an argument between soldiers of the SPLA, loyal to President Kiir, and soldiers of the SPLA-IO, loyal to Vice-President Machar, at a checkpoint in Juba started a gunfight, which soon spiraled out of control into six days of fighting and violence. Over 36,000 people have been displaced from their homes, with at least 300 killed, including civilians “reportedly targeted based on their ethnicity.” Additionally, UN personnel and compounds also came under fire in actions that may amount to charges of war crimes.
The Secretary General is urging the Security Council to take action on three fronts: the imposition of an immediate arms embargo on South Sudan; targeted sanctions against individuals attempting to derail the peace process; and for the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to be reinforced. African regional organizations have gone even further, with the African Union Peace and Security Council and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) not only calling for an increase in troops from the region but also the creation of a force-intervention brigade.
In lieu of the threat of a return to the devastating civil war between the SPLA and SPLA-IO from 2013-2015, which left over 100,000 dead, the UN is urging both parties to move forward with the implementation of the peace agreement signed on 27 August 2015. The UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, has urged “the Transitional Government of National Unity of its responsibility to protect its populations, irrespective of their ethnicity or political affiliation…[and] the urgent need to end impunity in South Sudan and bring to justice all those responsible for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law”, reminding both parties to the conflict of their agreement to establish a hybrid court to prosecute cases of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, as well as well as other serious crimes under international law.
Civil society organizations, including Amnesty International and The Global Centre for R2Pamong others, have reiterated and strengthened the calls for a decisive response to the violence, with GCR2P stating that “both parties must uphold their responsibility to protect and adhere to the cessation of hostilities.” Among the points made calling for action in the face of the violence, Amnesty International advocated for the African Union to undertake the measures needed to establish the hybrid court as a means for accountability and “to end the culture of impunity that continues to feed this cycle of violence.”
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Myanmar nationalists protested in the streets of Yangon on 10 July, urging the government to refer to the Muslim Rohingya population as “Bengali.” Recently, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi banned officials from referring the the Islamic population of the Rakhine state as either “Rohingya” or “Bengali” to avoid ethnic tensions.
On 14 July, Myanmar’s Minister for Religion warned the ultra-nationalist Buddhist group, Ma Ba Tha, to refrain from hate speech against Muslims. The anti-Muslim nationalist group is losing its influence as Myanmar’s elite religious council denounced themselves from Ma Ba Tha, and several senior members left the extremist group.
On 13 June, an unknown gunmen shot and killed former Member of Parliament and BBC journalist Hafsa Mossi in Bujumbura. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the assassination, reiterating “the need to intensify efforts to find a negotiated settlement to the crisis in Burundi.”
Peace talks were stalled in Burundi when five major political parties boycotted a second round of talks in Arusha, Tanzania on 12 June. Representatives from the parties disapproved of the decision to invite certain Burundians accused of human rights violations during the attempted coup last year.
Central African Republic:
At the Security Council, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Herve Ladsous, noted that CAR faces a “security climate that remains fragile and reversible,” despite considerable progress over the recent two years of political transition. The latest Secretary-General’s report recommended updates to MINUSCA’s mandate, particularly regarding the protection of civilians. Ladsous welcomed the CAR government’s efforts in tackling impunity and developing a mutual accountability framework.
UNHCR stated that more than 6,000 people from the Central African Republic have fled into neighboring Chad and Cameroon since mid-June. This year’s fighting has affected an additional 25,000 to 30,000 people in CAR.
The UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human RIghts (OHCHR) have released a new joint report, which has found that some progress has been made in the fight against rape in the country, but it is “not enough”. The report calls for the strengthening of prevention measures and greater accountability for perpetrators of sexual violence.
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:
The government of the DPRK has closed its only direct diplomatic channel with the United States (its mission to the UN in New York) following the sanctions that the US imposed on Kim Jong-un and other leading DPRK officials for human rights violations last week.
Democratic Republic of Congo:
UN Deputy Secretary-General (DSG) Jan Eliasson briefed the Security Council late last week and warned that political tensions are rising and the democratic space is shrinking in the DRC as a result of the electoral impasse and delays in the electoral process. DSG Eliasson argued that credible and inclusive political dialogue amongst DRC stakeholders is the only realistic way to defuse the situation.
Israel opened a major Gaza Strip crossing on Wednesday for the first time in nine years. The Erez crossing, the second border crossing in Gaza, will allow for the transfer of vehicles carrying goods. An Israeli defense ministry spokesman said “The measure has been taken to facilitate the work of Palestinian importers and thus help the economy of the Gaza Strip.”
This week, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, Michael Lynk, is visiting Amman, Jordan to gather information on the situation of human rights in Palestine for the first time. Israel has failed to respond to Lynk’s request to travel to the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
The Israeli government approved a budget of $13 million for the construction of more Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory are considered illegal under international law and have been repeatedly condemned by the UN.
In what has been considered the key first step to retake Mosul, Iraqi forces captured the Qayyarah Airbase West, about 60 kilometers south of the city. Iraqi forces then captured the town of Ajhala, north of the airbase. In doing so, they managed to link up along the Tigris river with troops from the Nineveh Liberation Operation, which had started its offensive on the opposite side of the river in March.
Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced this week that the US would be sending an additional 560 troops to Iraq to help in the offensive. However, the U.S. also signed a memo with the Peshmerga defence forces of the northern autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq to directly give them financial and military aid, skirting Baghdad as the middleman. The aid is said to include directly paying the salary for many Peshmerga fighters, who have not been payed for several months.
Human Rights Watch released a new report detailing the daily horrors of Iraqi villagers living under ISIL occupation for 21 months. The report describes a system of control predicated on summary executions, torture and collective punishment of villagers.
On 11 July, powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr announced plans for a “massive” protest on Friday to demand the establishment of a technocratic government, replacing the current system where ministries are given out based on party affiliation. The next day, the Iraqi government called for a cessation of anti-government “reform” protests over fears of being unable to provide adequate security.
On 12 July, a car bomb in the northern Baghdad Shia neighborhood of al-Rashidiya killedeleven people and wounded a further thirty-two. Another ISIL-car bomb killed at least eight people at a police checkpoint in the al-Rashidiya district, north of Baghdad on Wednesday.
Two days later, ISIL confirmed that Omar al-Shishani, the group’s Minister of War, has been killed in Iraq. The group claims he died “in the town of Sharqat as he took part in repelling the military campaign on the city of Mosul”. The date of his death has not been given but it is considered a blow to the terrorist organization, with Omar “the Chechen” being considered one of their most prized strategists and propaganda pieces for foreign recruitment.
The UN Special Envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, said on 13 June that Libya’s new army could be regionalized. The decentralized army is aimed at easing tensions between the UN-backed unity Government of National Accord (GNA) in the West and the rival governmental forces led by General Khalifa Hafta in the east. Formation of separate military councils in Libya’s west, east, and southern regions is being discussed.
A mass grave and secret prison used by ISIL was found by Libyan forces in the town of Sirte.
On Tuesday, violent protests in the city of Gao in Northern Mali left four civilians dead and 31 others wounded. Malian authorities had banned the demonstrations and security forces reportedly fired tear gas and live ammunition to disperse the protesters. Some involved claimed to have been demonstrating to call for justice in the implementation of the Malian peace process and to denounce the interim government and measures taken in which former militants are integrated into the regular Malian military. On Wednesday, protesters once more took to the streets, but this time to call for the resignation of the state’s governor and the national security minister in light of Tuesday’s incident. The government vowed to open an inquiry into the events. The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) released a statement condemning the violence and encouraging the government to ensure the population is better familiarized with the peace agreement.
Gunmen killed two soldiers and stole a military vehicle over the weekend at a military checkpoint near the Malian border with Burkina Faso.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a report this week detailing the “famine-like conditions” in Borno State, which were recently discovered by humanitarian convoys bringing aid to the hard-to-reach areas, including some still experiencing conflict. The report found that there are emergency levels of severe acute malnutrition in the region, especially for 275,000 people living in 15 satellite camps across the state. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) have accused the UN of failing to respond to the food crisis in Borno State quickly enough to save lives. Hundreds of people are reportedly already dying each day in the region where Boko Haram attacks have devastated farming, which was feeding Nigeria prior to the insurgency. A majority of the displaced people living among the community in the state capital of Maiduguri are without any access to food or medical aid.
The fight against Boko Haram
At least 25 suspected Boko Haram militants died during an attack on a Nigerian military battalion in northern Borno State on Tuesday. One soldier died in the fighting and 11 others were wounded as the army successfully repelled the attack.
A vigilante group reportedly discovered and captured six suspected Boko Haram terrorists, including a senior leader, in Lagos late last week. This subsequently led to their arrest and a transfer of custody to Nigeria’s Department of State Services on Monday.
Cameroon has decided to reopen its border with Nigeria after reporting that the threat of Boko Haram attacks in the region has subsided enough to return to commercial activities.
Gunmen suspected to be Fulani herdsmen have killed at least 81 people in attacks on farming villages in Benue State in Nigeria within the past two weeks. The state government is currently working with security agencies to stem the violence between the herders and mostly Christian farmers over grazing lands which has gone on for decades.
Nigerian President Buhari has decided to send a special military task force of around 1,000 troops to the northern state of Zamfara to combat the growing threat of cattle rustlers in the region. The groups of cattle rustlers are allegedly to blame for the deaths of hundreds of people in the region within the past three years.
The Niger Delta
Security sources have reported that the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) have blown up ExxonMobil’s Qua Iboe crude oil terminal, the largest crude oil stream in Nigeria. However, Exxon Mobil Corp has denied these claims.
US Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski visited Colombo this week and commended Sri Lanka’s recent steps towards “democratization and reconciliation”. He cited the bill establishing an office to investigate missing persons, the release of lands previously held by the country’s military, and the ratification of the convention on disappearances, among others.
On 9 July, the former chairman of the Darfur Regional Authority (DRA) Tijani al-Sissiannounced that the presidential decree which would end the mandate of the DRA and establish commissions and mechanisms to complete the remaining items of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) would be made soon. The DRA’s creation came about through the DDPD, signed by the Sudanese government and former rebel Liberation and Justice Movement, and the Justice and Equality Movement-Dabajo in 2011 and 2013, respectively. It had a four-year mandate to implement the DDPD, being extended by one year, but its remaining commissions will soon be overseen by the presidency.
On 10 July, 2 people died in an air raid in northern Darfur. The village of Tereng saw multiple barrel-bombs – barrels packed with explosives and shrapnel – dropped on it during the assault.
On 12 July, the International Criminal Court (ICC) referred both Djibouti and Uganda to the UN Security Council for failing to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir while he was on their respective territories. President Bashir currently has a warrant issued by the court and, as members of the court, both Djibouti and Uganda bear responsibility for fulfilling the warrant, which they failed to do. The UNSC has the capability to sanction both countries over the matter. Meanwhile, President al-Bashir will travel on 16 July to the 27th African Union Summit in the Rwandan capital of Kigali. Rwandan President Paul Kagame has stated that his government will not arrest President Bashir and that “President al-Bashir is welcomed in Kigali at any time. He will be free in his second home country. We will not respond to the ICC calls to arrest him. We will not take any action of such type against him.” Rwanda, though not a member of the ICC, has obligations to cooperate with the court as a member of the UN.
As a result of the recent violence in neighboring South Sudan, on 12 July, the Sudanese government began to make preparations for what they expect will be a new and large influx of South Sudanese refugees. Sudan already hosts 221,000 South Sudanese refugees, with UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) calling on all of South Sudan’s neighbors to keep their borders open to all those who may soon be seeking asylum.
On 13 July, Sudan’s Minister of Information Ahmed Bilal Othman stated that Sudan is willing toreschedule the final session of the general assembly of the National Dialogue, currently set for 6 August, for a later date, if those groups that oppose the Dialogue are willing to sign the AU Roadmap for Peace. This move would allow rebel and opposition groups currently excluded from the peace process to now be included.
Developments in the Fighting
On 8 July, ISIL shot down a Russian helicopter near Palmyra, killing 2 Russian pilots. There have so far only been twelve reported deaths of Russian forces operating in Syria. That same day, a combination of shelling and airstrikes in north-west Syria left over 60 civilians dead. Thirty-four civilians died, as well as a further 200 injured, when rebels began shelling government-held areas of Aleppo in response to having their supply-line into the city cut off. At least twenty-two civilians died in government airstrikes in the town of Darkush, with a further six dying on the Castello Road leading into rebel-held Aleppo.
On 9 July, Syrian government forces captured the town of Maydaa, east of Damascus, after a two-week long campaign. Maydaa had been, up until its capture, the easternmost portion of territory held by the rebels in their pocket in Eastern Ghouta.
The next day, a rebel attempt to retake their supply line into Aleppo, the Castello Road, failed as the government repelled the attack, killing at minimum twenty-nine rebels. The Castello Road leads into the rebel-controlled eastern half of Aleppo, which has effectively been under siege since last Thursday when government forces secured the surrounding hilltops overlooking the road. There are estimated to be 200,000-300,000 people still living in the eastern half of Aleppo. On 12 July, the UN began calling for humanitarian access as well as to be allowed to start evacuating civilians warning of the possibility of a severe humanitarian crisis. Currently, the UN and several other agencies only have enough food stored to feed145,000 people for one month. Having as of yet failed to reopen their supply lines, rebel-groups launched an offensive inside the city of Aleppo at dawn on 11 July, with a barrage of over 300 shells being fired into government-held Aleppo. However, gains have been minimal as they have come up against heavy air support on behalf of the Syrian government.
On 11 July, airstrikes in a diesel market in northwestern Syria killed 8 people.
On 12 July, Syria extended its original 72 hour ceasefire for another three-day period. This is the second such extension of the ceasefire and comes despite continued fighting on the ground in several areas leaving it with little actual effect. Later that same day, eight peopledied in airstrikes on a refugee camp near the Jordanian border. The airstrikes are believed to have mainly killed family members of the Eastern Lions rebel group, which is fighting ISIL. While no claim of responsibility has been made, Western officials have stated it appears Russian aircraft committed the attack, with cluster munitions believed to have been used.
Eleven civilians, including three children, died in airstrikes in the town of Ariha Idlib province on 13 July. The town is under the control of the Army of Conquest, a coalition of islamist rebel groups that includes al-Nusra.
UN Delivering Aid
On 10 July, the UN started an airlift campaign of humanitarian aid to the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli, bringing in forty tons of food on the first day. There are 250,000 people living in the city, who have gone without access to food or other materials for 6 months, due to the area being labeled as a “hard-to-reach-area” by the UN. Over the next month the UN expects to make a total of 25 flights delivering aid to the city.
On 14 July, the first aid convoy in over a month reached the besieged al Waer suburb of the city of Homs.
On 10 July, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad met with a delegation of members of the European Parliament, laying the blame for terror attacks in Europe at the feet of western governments’ actions in Syria. Speaking to the delegation, headed by the Vice Chairman of the EP’s Foreign Affairs Committee Javier Couso, Assad stated “The problems Europe faces today of terrorism, extremism and waves of refugees are caused by some western leaders’ adoption of policies which do not serve their people…Especially when those leaders give support and political cover to terrorist groups inside Syria.”
On 12 July, Physicians for Human Rights and the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), in a joint-release, stated that sixty-five people have died from starvation in the Syrian government’s year-long siege of the town of Madaya, with another twenty-one dying from landmines, sniper-fire and easily-treatable chronic diseases. Despite five UN aid convoys having reached the town since January, the report states that twenty-seven people have still died from starvation in that time-period as the Assad regime has made frequent deliveries impossible while regularly raiding the aid convoys before allowing them in the city. The UN has been unable to access the town since April.
That same day, a newly released British parliamentary report stated that “there is historical evidence [that ISIL] received funding from within Arab Gulf states.” While not claiming that any states directly donated to ISIL, the report concludes that early on many of the Gulf States had a lax policy of allowing individuals, including some close to royal families in the region, to donate to the group, with early views casting them as protectors of Sunnis in Iraq and Syria.
On 13 July, Ahmet Uzumcu, the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), demanded to know from the government of Syria why it has four undeclared warfare agents, with indications of an additional five, despite previous statements declaring the destruction or removal of the country’s chemical stockpile. In January, the OPCW had announced that all of Syria’s declared chemical weapons stocks had been destroyed.
President Assad gave a rare interview on 13 July, sitting down with NBC News. The interview covered the war in Syria, ISIL, the United States, and his own legacy, with Assad claiming “it won’t take more than a few months” for his forces to retake the whole of Syria, further dismissing the role of the US in Syria and claiming the country had no real intention of tackling terrorism. The full interview can be seen here.
On 14 July, US Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Moscow where he will be meeting with Russian officials in hopes of brokering a new military pact between the two nations in Syria. If approved, the pact would dramatically change the dynamic of the relationship between the two countries actions in Syria. The two powers would operate out of a joint-command center in Amman, Jordan, where they would share intelligence and targeting information, and coordinate their actions, with Russia only bombing “vetted” targets, and certain areas being established as off-limits. Russia would further be expected to pressure Assad to stop his own bombing campaign against what the US sees as moderate rebels, and into allowing aid unfettered into besieged area. The full text of the proposed agreement can be read here.
On 8 July, Yemeni government forces seized a ship off the coast of Somalia loaded with weapons and ammunition believed to be bound for the Houthi-controlled Al-Mukha District.
Human Rights Watch released a report on 10 July accusing the Saudi-led coalition of deliberately targeting civilian economic infrastructure, including multiple factories, warehouses and power stations. The report details airstrikes on 13 facilities since March 2015 that killed 30 civilians, destroying stockpiles of food and medicine. HRW stated that “taken together, the attacks on factories and other civilian economic structures raise serious concerns that the Saudi-led coalition has deliberately sought to inflict widespread damage to Yemen’s production capacity.”
On 12 July, the Houthi rebel coalition announced that they would be returning to Kuwait for the resumption of peace talks on 15 July. They further announced that they will do so without asking for any preliminary conditions. In contrast, Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Malik al-Mekhlafi of Yemen’s internationally recognized government reiterated the position made by President Hadi over the previous weekend, stating that they would not return to peace talks in Kuwait without a timetable and guarantees for a political transition already made. President Hadi has threatened to boycott the resumption of peace talks, claiming their current structure legitimizes the Houthi rebels who overthrew his government. United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, has requested a personal meeting with President Hadi in hopes of salvaging the peace process.
On 12 July, a landmine killed a Saudi soldier patrolling along the Kingdom’s southern border with Yemen. Roughly one hundred Saudi soldiers and civilians have died along the border since March last year. In response, Saudi forces launched several artillery barrages and air strikes on Houthi positions along the border, while moving more troops to the border and attacking on the ground in several positions.
On 13 July, forty-four people died in fighting across the country over the previous twenty-four hours as Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed touched down in the capital of Sanaa to meet with the Houthis before the resumption of peace talks in Kuwait. The fighting took place on multiple fronts across the country, with forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized government edging close to Sanaa.
What else is new?
On 28 June, The Hague Institute for Global Justice and The Brookings Institution held the second annual Madeleine K. Albright Lecture on Global Justice. The lecture featured former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, who reflected on the development of RtoP, interrelated themes, and the state of global affairs. Watch the full video from the lecture here.