UN Human Rights Council adopts resolution condemning human rights violations and setting up Commission of Inquiry in Burundi
The UN Independent Investigation in Burundi (UNIIB), established by a December 2015 Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution, released its final report on the situation in the country on 20 September. The UNIIB report detailed “abundant evidence of gross human rights violations” committed by the Burundian government and individuals associated with it, including seemingly deliberate actions which could amount to crimes against humanity and which are within the government’s power to halt. Due to this evidence and Burundi’s history of inter-ethnic violence and impunity for human rights violations, the report warned that “the danger of the crime of genocide also looms large.” The UNIIB experts urged the government, the United Nations, the African Union, as well as other international actors to take a series of steps to preserve the peace in the country achieved through the 2005 Constitution and Arusha Accord. Such steps include setting up an international Commission of Inquiry (CoI); the involvement of independent, international judicial mechanisms; reconsidering Burundi’s HRC membership; and, in the event that human rights violations continue to be committed and the Burundian government remains steadfast in its refusal of the deployment of a UN police force authorized by a July 2016 UN Security Council resolution, the possible invocation of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.
Burundi’s Minister for External Affairs rejected the UNIIB report and its findings in a statement to the UN General Assembly last week, referring to the report and its findings as “purposefully and politically exaggerated reports on alleged human rights violations.” He also noted, that “it is imperative that any human rights assessment of the country be executed with caution,” as, he claimed, falsified information had been used to show Burundi “in a bad light.” He added that Burundi will produce a forthcoming survey on human rights issues in the country in response to the UNIIB report.
Similarly, Burundi, which is a member of the HRC and spoke as the concerned country during the Council’s interactive dialogue last week, also rejected the report as “based on contained falsehoods, lies, and manipulations,” and called all Members of the Council to vote against a draft resolution on the human rights situation in the country. However, on 30 September, the UN Human Rights Council carried out a vote, which led to the adoption of a resolution, condemning the human rights violations in the country and setting up a one year Commission of Inquiry. The CoI is tasked with investigating the violations in Burundi since April 2015 and identifying the alleged perpetrators of such abuses in order to ensure accountability for those responsible. After the adoption, Burundi argued that the resolution did not provide any assistance to Burundi or its people, claiming that it “contained many lies and unchecked claims.”
On the other hand, international human rights organizations, such as FIDH, lauded the Human Rights Council’s resolution as “responsible action to try and prevent the worst as the country is sliding further towards violence and the risk of genocide is real.” Anschaire Nikoyagize, President of Ligue ITEKA, called the Council’s resolution, “the strongest it could formulate within its mandate” and a senior researcher in Human Rights Watch’s Africa division hailed the establishment of the CoI as “an important step toward ending impunity for the grave crimes committed in the country.” Echoing such remarks, lawyers from the officially mandated group acting on behalf of 60 families of victims of alleged extrajudicial executionspraised the resolution and the establishment of the CoI as an important step for justice.
Source for above photo of UN Human Rights Council: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
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On Monday over 10,000 civilians protested the intensified violence between the Kachin Independence Army and the national military, with demonstrators calling for an end to the crisis and condemning acts such as the rape of women during conflict.
Over 2,000 people were displaced in central Shan State following clashes between the Burmese Army and the Shan-State Army South, one of the eight ethnic armed groups that signed a ceasefire with the government a year ago. It was reported that a drug rehabilitation center was attacked by the Burmese Army, as was a hill where SSA-S troops were deployed, resulting in fighting between the sides.
On Tuesday the President signed legislation overturning a decades old law, the Emergency Provisions Act, that had been previously used to suppress political dissidents. This has been viewed as an additional step taken by the government to support the transition to democracy.
On Thursday last week, police arrested one of the few opposition party leaders left in Burundi and accused him of collaborating with armed gangs. A spokesman for the opposition coalition said on Tuesday that police released the leader after only a few days incarcerated.
On Monday, the UN promised the East African Community that they would help and assist the organization in its work to pursue peace within Burundi as the political unrest continues.
Central African Republic:
On Friday, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for CAR expressed concern and reported that the humanitarian situation is worsening in Kaga Bandoro as a result of a deterioration in security. Attacks are resulting in humanitarian actors fleeing the country, leaving thousands of civilians in need of aid.
According to the government, an armed gang murdered the nation’s top army commander on Tuesday as he was going to drop off his son at school. The rebels also shot the 14-year-old son who is being treated at a hospital.The UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, condemned the attack and promised to assist with investigations. On Thursday, it was reported that armed groups killed eleven civilians, and injured 14, in clashes following the murder of the official.
On Monday, a new draft version of the Constitution showed a change to an article of the document which has been a long-standing issue and one that was central to past crises in the country, including the 2010 post-election violence. The Constitution currently states that both parents of the president must be “Ivoirian by origin,” a measure that was taken to exclude the candidacy of current president Alasane Ouattara from past elections. In the new constitution draft this article now states that only one parent must be Ivoirian by origin, among other changes, and there will be a public referendum on the document on 30 October.
Democratic Republic of Congo:
Political and security developments
The United States has imposed sanctions on two security force officers associated with deadly clashes with civilian protesters throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo. Gabriel Amisi, army commander of the western region of the country, and John Numbi, former national police inspector have been identified as individuals who have participated in the disruption and suppression of democratic processes in the DRC. Amisi and Numbi have been added to US Department of Treasury’s Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN) which blocks their assets and prohibits US persons from dealing with them.
The head of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s electoral commission has stated that the presidential election is likely to be delayed by two years until December 2018. The statement noted that the required voter registry would not be complete until July 31, 2017 and that the government would require an additional 504 days to organize the vote. The statement follows deadly clashes last month between DRC security forces and civilians who fear that President Joseph Kabila is delaying the election in a bid to consolidate power for an unconstitutional third term presidency. It is believed that over 50 protesters were killed in the clashes in September. Kabila has denied that he is clinging to power and states that the delays are to ensure that about 10 million more people are able to vote in the election.
The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo issued a demand to MONUSCO on Tuesday for the removal of 750 South Sudanese soldiers who have taken refuge in UN camps within east DRC near the city of Goma. Citizens of Goma fear a repeat of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 in which refugees taken in by the DRC later became extremist rebels who committed mass murder against them. While the South Sudanese soldiers have been disarmed and there have been no reported incidents, DRC civilians fear that the government of South Sudan will exercise a “right of pursuit” of their soldiers, thus exposing DRC to a new wave of conflict.
The Palestinian High Court has ruled in favor of the exclusion of Hamas-run Gaza from participating in upcoming municipal elections. The decision has effectively ruled out the first political showdown between Hamas and Fatah, the governing party of the West Bank, since 2007.
Palestine’s Permanent Observer to the UN, Riyad Mansour, called on Tuesday at a meeting of the Palestine Rights Committee for the UN Security Council to continue its consideration of a draft resolution to end the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the cessation of the comprehensive blockade on the Gaza Strip. Mansour pointed to an upcoming Arria Formula meeting as well as open debate with Member States as steps in the right direction toward the revival of a two-state solution but stopped short of referring to these actions as sufficient.
The United States has openly criticized Israel’s planned construction of a new wave of settlements in the West Bank. The announcement to establish new settlements in the Palestinian territories elicited harsh rhetoric from an Obama administration that has in recent weeks shown tremendous support for Israel via a $38 billion USD weapons deal and a strong US presence at the funeral of former Israeli leader Shimon Peres. The US fears that continued construction of settlements will further erode the path to a peaceful two-state solution with Palestine.
An Israeli aircraft attacked Hamas targets located in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday following a rocket attack sent from the Palestinian enclave into the Israeli border town of Sderot. The airstrike targeted Hamas and a security complex and resulted in non-life threatening injuries to one passerby. The shelling continues Israel’s policy of military response to any attack perpetrated by Hamas in Gaza.
Another rocket was fired from Gaza into southern Israel on Thursday, leading Israel to continue its course of heavy-handed response by firing tank shells into southern areas of the Gaza Strip. No injuries were reported.
The Kurdish High Representative in the United Kingdom has formally requested the assistance of the UK Defense Secretary against a potential large chemical attack by ISIL. The request specifically calls for equipment such as gas masks to protect peshmerga forces from mortars containing chlorine and mustard agents, which they say ISIL has used on about 20 different occasions. The peshmerga forces currently have 400 gas masks to protect the approximately 30,000 soldiers participating in the upcoming offensive to retake Mosul.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq has issued a warning to Turkey to remove over 2,000 troops from Iraqi soil or risk the waging of a regional war between the two nations. Turkey sent troops into regions of northern Iraq last year to combat ISIL and Kurdish forces without the consent of the Iraqi government. The Turkish parliament has since voted to extend their military presence in Iraq, while the Iraqi government has since passed a resolution which recognizes the Turkish troops as “occupation forces”.
The humanitarian situation
A flash update released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on Saturday regarding the ongoing crisis in Mosul has revealed that over 15,000 IDPs have left the Debaga refugee camp since the beginning of September. Many have returned to their villages in Haji Ali and Al-Qayarrah, while others have relocated to Laylan refugee camp to be closer to their villages in Hawiga in anticipation of improving living conditions. However, the report also notes that construction of shelter for 36,000 IDPs in Ninewah and Salah al-Din governorates is currently underway ahead of an anticipated new wave of displacement resulting from the imminent offensive by Iraqi military forces to retake Mosul from ISIL.
At least 14 civilians were killed and several were injured in three separate suicide bombings perpetrated by ISIL on Monday. The bombings took place near markets and religious processions in various neighborhoods of Baghdad.
An airstrike mistakenly killed at least 20 pro-government Sunni tribal fighters in Qayarrah on Wednesday. It is not clear at this time if the strike was carried out by Iraqi or US-led coalition aircraft.
ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch appealed for the Iraqi government to bar any armed forces who have perpetrated war crimes from participating in the upcoming offensive to retake the strategic city of Mosul from ISIL. The statement specifically highlighted incidents in 2014 in which the Popular Mobilization Forces, an allied militant group working with the Iraqi government forces, executed prisoners of war, mutilated corpses, and forcibly displaced civilians during the operation to retake Fallujah.
Following months of protests, all members of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC)resigned on Wednesday. Protests by opposition accused the IEBC of being unable to be unbiased in its electoral preparations.
Al-Shabab launched an attack targeting Christians in the north-east of the country, leaving six people dead. The attack was conducted to force Christians out of the predominantly Muslim region.
Amnesty International reported on Friday about enhanced fighting and increased airstrikes in Benghazi during the last week. The organization gathered testimony from 130 families and hundreds of foreign nationals trapped in the district of Ganfouda. These civilians are struggling to survive as roads are blocked by fighting, leaving families at risk of starvation and resulting in decreased access to medicines, which are soon to expire. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, several bombs launched from ISIL-held areas into Benghazi’s city center killed three civilians and wounded more than a dozen, according to Libyan officials. Martin Kobler, Special Representative to the UN Secretary-General and head of the UN Mission, UNSMIL, said in a news release on Thursday that the protection of civilians is the priority and called for a humanitarian pause in the fighting to allow access for aid deliveries and safe passage for those civilians who wish to leave the area.
According to a military official, the UN-backed Unity government recovered territory in Sirte, previously a ISIL stronghold, after fighting on Monday. The operation to take back the city was launched in May this year.
On Saturday, thousands of civilians took to the street to protest an electoral law passed by Parliament in September. The law more than doubles the amount of money that candidates are required to pay to to run for president. Some protesters held up banners showing support for exiled former President Toure, who has been living in Senegal after his removal from power by a military coup.
An attack in the northeast of the country on Monday killed two peacekeepers and wounded eight others. No one has claimed responsibility yet for the attack. The UN Secretary-General denounced the violence, and called for action to hold perpetrators to account once possible.Two days later, three soldiers were killed in Timbuktu after hitting a landmine.
The Nigerian Army reiterated its claim that it has defeated Boko Haram in the country and that violence that continues are “minor skirmishes” by the group.
UNHCR reported on Friday that ongoing military operations have trapped about 100,000 civilians in Yei, a previously peaceful town in South Sudan. During September people fled from surrounding villages to the area, avoiding raids, deadly attacks and looting, but now have no means to leave as acts of violence are increasing around them and humanitarian needs are overlooked. The South Sudanese government denied reports on fighting around the area but a commander for the SPLA-IO said on Tuesday that clashes with the government forces took place around several towns, for example Yei. He also urged people to get out of the area as the rebels wish to avoid hurting civilians.
Over the weekend officials said that unknown assailants killed 12 civilians of the Dinka Bor tribe and wounded eight more. Survivors and police said the attack took place outside of Juba, less than 200 meters from the closest army. No suspects have been arrested, but witnesses said the attackers spoke in the Nuer dialect.
According to South Sudanese refugees in Uganda, people are dying in refugee camps as increased cases of acute diarrhea and malaria are reported. Children are dying from poor health services and bad conditions.
After weeks of negotiations, authorities in South Sudan on Sunday accepted the resolution of the UN Security Council on the deployment of additional 4,000 peacekeepers in the country.
The White House national security adviser met with South Sudan’s Vice President on Tuesday where the US stressed the urgency of internationally supported investigations into the July attack on aid workers in the country. It was also made clear that the perpetrators of the attack must be identified and held accountable. The US also accused the South Sudanese government of obstructing the work of the UN mission. South Sudanese officials described the meeting as a success.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the Center for Civilians in Conflict released a new report on the failures of the UN peacekeeping operation in South Sudan, raising concerns that peacekeepers have been unable to learn from past mistakes. The report shows how UN peacekeepers abandoned their posts and used tear gas on civilians during the July fighting. The information is based on several interviews with both South Sudanese civilians and UN mission officials.
The Sudanese government denied on Thursday allegations of their use of chemical weapons against civilians, including women and children, in the remote region of Jebel Marra in Darfur. Sudanese army spokesman Ahmed Khalifa al-Shami has stated that the claims outlined in an Amnesty International investigative report are false. Several opposition groups, including the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), have called for the international community to prosecute criminals utilizing illegal chemical weapons.
Informal negotiations between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) concluded without accord on Sunday. The two warring factions previously drafted a cessation of hostilities agreement to end fighting in the states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan but continue to disagree on humanitarian access routes. The Sudanese government has rejected the SPLM-N demand for 20% of humanitarian aid to be delivered through the Ethiopian border town of Assossa.
The UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeeping Operations, Herve Ladsous, appealed to the Sudanese government on Tuesday to cooperate with future investigations regarding the possession of chemical weapons. Ladsous noted both that the UN has found no evidence that Sudan has utilized chemical weapons against opposition in Jebel Marra region of Darfur and that UNAMID is unable to investigate the situation due to lack of access to areas where hostilities are occurring.
Two people have been killed by four unidentified gunmen in South Darfur. The shooting took place outside of the administrative headquarters of the al-Malam locality.
The humanitarian situation
A United States delegation visited Darfur on Monday and Tuesday to assess the humanitarian situation in the region. The delegation met with various parties including UN members, IDPs, and civil society leaders to assess how American aid benefits those in the throes of the crisis. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to Darfur in the world.
Political and security developments
The United States has suspended talks with Russia regarding the crisis in Syria. The US has cited Russian collaboration with Syrian government forces in brutal aerial assaults that have killed hundreds of civilians, including women and children, in recent days as the reason for ending communication with the Kremlin. Russia has responded by withdrawing from a disarmament agreement which required both the US and Russia to dispose of approximately 34 tons of plutonium, a material used to create nuclear weapons.
France and Spain have drafted a UN Security Council agreement for the immediate cessation of hostilities in Aleppo. The resolution specifically calls for suspension of all flights around the city and an end to all fighting on the ground. The initiative for UN-sponsored truce monitoring proposed in the resolution was met with ridicule from Russian representatives as they implied it was unlikely to create peace in the area as the current mechanism in Geneva has failed to achieve the same goal.
The humanitarian situation
At least seven civilians were killed in airstrikes on the M10 hospital in rebel-held territory of eastern Aleppo on Monday. The hospital has been targeted three times in the past six days and is now completely out of service. Several bunker buster bombs have also forced an underground hospital in the city of Homs to suspend medical services to civilians.
At least 34 people, including 11 children, were killed in a suicide bombing perpetrated by the Islamic State in the city of Hasakah on Monday. The attack took place at a wedding where ISIL was targeting members of a Kurdish political party.
Oxfam has issued a press release stating that an estimated 1.5 million civilians have been without running water in Aleppo since last Friday. Continuous waves of offensive Russian-Syrian military action have ravaged key water and electricity infrastructure. Civilians are now forced to rely on bottled water from undependable aid convoys and local wells which may be contaminated. A representative from Oxfam stated that targeting water supply in any capacity amounts to a war crime.
The UN Special Envoy in Syria, Staffan de Mistura, called upon Russian and Syrian government forces on Thursday to avoid the complete and total destruction of rebel-held eastern Aleppo. Mistura issued a public warning that the city could be completely devastated by year’s end should the current wave of violence persist. At least 376 people have been killed and 1,266 wounded in the last two weeks in Aleppo.
Since the collapse of peace talks last month, civilian casualties are increasing, with the UN reporting that more than 4,000 civilians have been killed since March 2015. Both the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels are blamed for the rapid increase in civilian deaths, but blame also falls on the US government. Human rights groups are increasing the pressure on US to stop their military support for Saudi Arabia.
The civil war in Yemen continues with daily airstrikes and a sea blockade aimed at hurting the Houthi rebels. On Friday, a shell fired from Yemen killed a Saudi Arabian border guard and wounded three civilians, according to the authorities. On Monday, two bombs fired by rebels killed six civilians, three of them children, and injured eight as they hit a market in Taiz, according to military and medical sources.
The UN warned that the blockade is stopping shipments of aid into Yemen, causing starvation in the country. On Tuesday, it was reported that the government decision from last month to reorganize the central bank may lead to food shortages getting even worse as traders said it makes it harder to bring in supplies. The UN hascalled for humanitarian workers to be given free access as more than half of the 28 million Yemeni population do not have enough food and the population is on the brink of famine.
Airstrikes from Houthi rebels hit an Emirati aid ship on Saturday that contained medical aid and other supplies for civilians in Yemen. A spokesman for the rebels called the aid ship a “legitimate target” since they view anything belonging to the Saudis and Emiratis as belonging to the enemy. A statement from the foreign ministry of the United Arab Emirates called the incident an “act of terrorism”.
On Sunday, the Shiite rebel alliance, who are controlling Yemen’s capital, appointed the former governor of Aden as their new Prime Minister as the first step to form a “national salvation” government. On Tuesday, the rebels also voiced new demands for the continuation of peace talks with the government, including the resignation of the president and that an agreement on the presidency must be reached between the two parties. The UN rejected the rebels effort to set up a rival government and assured continued support of the internationally recognized administration of President Hadi.
What else is new?
On Thursday, the UN Security Council unanimously nominated Mr. Antonio Guterres of Portugal to serve as the international organization’s next Secretary-General. The General Assembly will likely meet next week to approve of his appointment to the position. Mr. Guterres was formerly the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, as well as the Prime Minister of Portugal. The UNSC’s decision follows unprecedented efforts to make the selection process more transparent, and increased advocacy to diversify leadership through the appointment of a qualified female candidate as the UN has yet to be led by a woman.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) hosted a meeting in Geneva that brought together African delegations and representatives from the African Union to discuss and agree upon final steps to address the Rwandan refugee situation that was the result of civilians fleeing ethnically charged violence in the country from 1959 to 1998. The meeting follows seven years of negotiations on the issue.
The African Task Force on the prevention of mass atrocities, an initiative of ICRtoP member the Budapest Centre for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities will present their report “African Regional Communities and the Preventions of Mass Atrocities” in Addis Ababa on Tuesday, October 11.