#RtoPWeekly: 6 – 10 February 2017

UN Special Adviser condemns human rights violations against Rohingya population by state security forces

On 6 February, the United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, issued a statement condemning the alarming human rights violations committed against the Muslim Rohingya population in northern Rakhine State by Burmese security forces. The statement follows the recent release of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHR) latest report on the situation, which documents the testimonies of over 220 Rohingya refugees, interviewed between 12 and 21 January in Bangladesh. On Thursday, two senior United Nations officials also stated that more than 1,000 Rohingya civilians were killed during the army crackdown, of which the humanitarian consequences have been greatly underestimated by the country’s presidential spokesman, Zaw Htay.

The latest OHCHR report includes testimonies of grave human rights violations, including mass gang-rape, killings of babies, and forced disappearances, while the UN Special Adviser called on the government to fulfill its responsibility to protect the population against these “atrocious and punishable acts”. Mr. Dieng also expressed his disappointment about the recent investigation conducted by the Government Commission over these crimes, which stated to have found nothing to substantiate the claims.

Defining the Commission as a non-credible option to further undertake new investigations, the Special Adviser also called for a “totally independent and impartial body” staffed with international observers, to be allowed access to report on and document the whole range of “long-standing discriminatory practices and policies against the Rohingya Muslims,” in order to put in place conditions that would “support peaceful coexistence among different communities in Rakhine State.”

On 8 February, Pope Francis also spoke in defense of the right of Burma’s Rohingya Muslims to “live their faith” and condemned the country’s government for its campaign of persecution, which is forcing them to flee. Charu Lata Hogg, an associate fellow with the Asia Programme at Chatham House, has said that “Pope Francis’ comments should serve as a wakeup call to the international community.”

Source for above photo: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Catch up on developments in…

Gaza/West Bank

South Sudan
Sri Lanka


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has warned that conditions in camps for Burundian refugees in countries of asylum are deteriorating and more land is urgently needed to accommodate the growing number of new refugee arrivals. The UNHCR stated that the number of Burundians fleeing political violence is expected to reach 500,000 this year as the UN seeks out more land for refugee camps in neighboring countries. Some UN human rights experts also reported over 60 cases of enforced disappearances in Burundi from November to December 2016.

Central African Republic:

A senior United Nations humanitarian official called for the protection of civilians and unhindered relief access to the town of Bocaranga after an outbreak of violence between two armed groups in the area this week. The violence has killed and injured civilians as well as displaced some 9,000 people.

Democratic Republic of Congo:

Opposition groups in the DRC are expecting talks with the government to begin next week despite the death of the group’s leader, Etienne Tshisekedi. Opposition supporters expressed concern that Tshisekedi’s death could endanger the transition agreement recently signed with the government. This agreement would allow President Kabila to lead a transitional government for a year, after which new elections would be held.

Gaza/West Bank:

Al Mezen Center for Human Rights has reported that Israeli forces have launched airstrikes and intensified artillery bombardments on the Gaza strip. On Thursday, an Israeli airstrike in Gaza allegedly killed two civilians and wounded five others after rockets were fired from the Sinai Peninsula and intercepted mid-flight by Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ missile defence system. Attacks have allegedly hit civilian farms and affected other nearby civilian properties and spread panic among the population due to the reminiscent quality of the current intensification to that of the prelude to the last major Israeli offensive on Gaza in the summer of 2014. Israeli ministers have expressed their views of the situation on the border with Gaza in escalatory rhetoric. Education Minister Naftali Bennett expressed on Tuesday that open conflict is, in his view, inevitable.

UN Secretary-General Guterres has criticized the bill passed by the Israeli parliament retroactively legalizing 4,000 settlement homes previously erected on Palestinian land as a violation of international law. In addition to the UN, the European Union, League of Arab States, and Israeli allies, notably Germany, have also criticized the bill as a violation of international law.


On Wednesday, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the Islamic State’s (ISIL) continued occupation of hospitals in Mosul, including the al-Salam hospital, is further endangering civilians’ lives in the battle against Iraqi-led forces trying to retake the city.


Kenya’s High Court has blocked the government from shutting down Dadaab refugee camp and forcibly repatriating 260,000 Somali refugees. The government has claimed that the camp has “lost its humanitarian nature” and is now a hub for terrorism and crime. The government has also stated that the decision to close the camp was made in order to protect Kenyans from such threats.


On Sunday, Libya’s coast guard said it has intercepted 1,131 migrants near the city of Sabratha since January 27. Migrants include people from Syria, Tunisia, Libya and Palestinian territories.

The outcomes of the Valletta Summit, held on Friday, show the shortcomings of the European Union’s (EU) attempt to curb the refugee flows coming from Libya, aid groups said, underlining that the EU is completely abandoning humanitarian values and misrepresenting the situation in the African country. Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) also said that the summit proved EU leaders were “delusional” about Libya.

On Tuesday, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, called on Libya and on the international community to protect migrants from sexual violence. She reiterated the UN Secretary-General’s recommendation, which specifies that sexual violence is a form of persecution that warrants refugee status.


Defense intelligence analysts have reported that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and affiliated groups may be moving to escalate violence against UN, French, national military and large civilian targets in order to impede the peace process in northern Mali. This perspective takes into account the attack on a shared military base in Gao last month that appeared to target the preparations for a tripartite joint military patrol that is part of the northern Mali peace agreement.

Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Chad and Niger have agreed to joint operations to combat terrorism and violent extremist groups in the Sahel region. The group plans to await UN Security Council approval and a UN resolution before establishing the force.


A confrontation between soldiers and two female suicide bombers on Tuesday resulted in the death of one bomber and the surrender of the other. The incident is a continuation of a disturbing trend of the use of women and young girls as suicide bombers by Boko Haram, raising concerns that the terrorist group is forcing kidnapped civilians to become living weapons. UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs  Jeffrey Feltman has said recently that Boko Haram remains a threat, but has been significantly weakened by internal feuding and a loss of funding.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has released the regional report on Nigeria for January 2017. UNHCR reported over 1.7 million Nigerians have become displaced as a result of the conflict, and an additional 200,000 have fled to neighboring countries. The report also noted that UNHCR operations in Nigeria are currently facing a 99% funding gap in 2017 at the point of publication. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization also predicted in a report that 120,000 of the 11 million Nigerians facing food shortages will suffer catastrophic famine-like conditions as a result of the conflict with Boko Haram.

South Sudan:

South Sudan’s government has announced a plan to stem the violence across the country by 2020 through President Kiir’s call for national dialogue in the country. However, Mr. Kiir has also instructed the country’s defense minister to execute soldiers who commit human right abuses and atrocities, resulting in further violence within the country.

More than 52,000 people fled to Uganda from South Sudan in January amid fighting that the UN special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, warned could amount to mass atrocities as violence continues. Mr. Dieng has also called for action before the impact of the violence in the young country becomes irreversible. Reportings of killings of civilians, destruction of homes, rape, and many other crimes has lead critics to question President Salva Kiir’s promise to end violence and bring back peace. The chairman of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) is also dismayed about the continuous violence. In a statement, he stressed the importance of unity amongst the government, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the international community.

Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, said on Tuesday that the country needs more time to properly investigate war crimes allegations from the nation’s previous civil war, which resulted in the deaths of up to 100,000 people.


The leadership of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), the group that has been fighting the government in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions for years, stated that they are still willing to discuss the delivery of US humanitarian aid to the region, but have rejected the role of the government in controlling the distribution. US diplomats have been leading an effort to establish a plan for humanitarian access in the region with consent from both the government and the rebel group.

The Government of South Kordofan has established a committee for the deployment of humanitarian aid within the state as part of the engagement plan between Khartoum and Washington to work towards lifting the sanctions against Sudan. Civil society commentators have criticized the decision by the US to back-off on sanctions against Sudan, arguing that they are still needed in order to bring about meaningful political change to the government structure in the country.


Despite US President Trump’s commitment for more safe zones in Syria, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi stated on Wednesday that he does not see the proper conditions in the country for the implementation of such zones and called instead for investing on peace talks.

On Monday, Syrian government forces from the south and Turkish-backed rebels from the north encircled the Islamic State-held city of al-Bab. This advance is likely to trigger a confrontation between the two factions, the first since Turkey launched its “Euphrates Shield” operation in August 2016.

On the same day, representatives from Russia, Turkey, and Iran began a technical meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, to discuss the implementation of a ceasefire, ahead of the UN-sponsored Geneva peace talks to be held on 20 February. However, deep divisions between Moscow and Tehran about the possible participation of the United States are likely to hamper the talks. Moreover, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, said that, as long as Islamic State (ISIL), al-Nusra, and other terrorist groups are present on the ground, a political solution for Syria will be not achievable.
On Thursday, Russian airstrikes accidentally killed three Turkish soldiers and wounded 11 others during an operation against ISIL in northern Syria. The unintended clash promptly urged the Russian President Vladimir Putin to express its condolences to the Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, blaming the misdirected strikes on poor coordination between Moscow and Ankara.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International issued a report revealing torture and mass killings carried out in Syria’s Saydnaya prison. Witness testimonies claim that 13,000 civilians have been secretly tortured and hanged between 2011 and 2015.

Airstrikes in Idlib on Tuesday killed 23 people, including civilians. It is unclear if those airstrikes were carried out by the Russian or Syrian government forces or by the US-led coalition.


This week, the government of Yemen has requested a reassessment of US commando operations in the country, including the botched operation last month that killed numerous civilians, including children, and for closer cooperation with the US government in future operations. Human rights monitor Reprieve has reported the civilian death toll of the aforementioned US operation to be 23,  according to witnesses.

Yemeni forces also announced on Wednesday that they had fully seized the coastal city of Mocha and cleared it of Houthi forces and have shifted priority to landmine clearance and restoring peace and security in the neighborhoods.

The British High Court is expected to make a ruling within the next few weeks on the domestic legality of the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. The London-based Campaign Against the Arm Trade (CAAT) has brought a legal case against the government of the UK to halt the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. British-made armaments are allegedly being used in the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen, according to CAAT, that has regularly resulted in civilian casualties with some sources claiming one out of every three airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition have struck civilian targets.

On Wednesday, Oxfam stated that the complicity of foreign governments, including of the United Kingdom, in the conflict in Yemen has accelerated the country’s approach to severe famine. The condemnation came the same day that the UN released a new humanitarian plan for Yemen in Geneva and appealed to world governments for $2.1 billion USD for emergency lifesaving relief in Yemen. The UN has called the situation in Yemen “catastrophic and rapidly deteriorating,” with 3.3 million people acutely malnourished as a result of the conflict.

The security situation in Yemen has also led to UN fears for the safety of refugees in the country. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) launched a campaign Tuesday to dissuade migrants and refugees, primarily from Somalia and Ethiopia, from travelling to or through Yemen due to the high levels of criminal abuse and violations faced by refugees in the conflict-afflicted country. UNHCR has expressed that, while Yemen is party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the ongoing state of war and insecurity in the country does not provide an environment conducive for asylum. UNHCR also stated that the lack of security for both UNHCR and partner personnel, as well as refugees, has made it particularly difficult to fulfill its mandate in Yemen.

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