The plight of the Rohingya minority in the country, whose very existence has been denied by the Burmese government, have increasingly raised alarms in the international community. In late January 2017, the government of Bangladesh revived a plan, which was first suggested in 2015, regarding the possibility to transfer Rohingya refugees to an uninhabited, undeveloped coastal island, called Thengar Char. Brad Adams, the executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, said that the proposal to relocate people to an island “that is deluged at high tide and submerged during the monsoon season” is both “cruel and unworkable”. According to what the plan envisages, it is unclear as to whether all Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh would be transferred, or only the new arrivals.
On Wednesday, the Burmese military finally put an end to the clearance operations in Rakhine State, which the United Nations (UN) affirm “may amount to crimes against humanity”. The newly appointed security adviser, Thaung Tun, said that “the situation in northern Rakhine has now stabilized […] the curfew has been eased and there remains only a police presence to maintain the peace”. However, the violence perpetrated during the last four months has renewed international criticism of Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been accused of having inadequately addressed the matter. In particular, she has either remained silent on the worsening situation or participated in official denials issued from the military.
Source for above photo: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters via The Guardian
Burundi’s Home Affairs minister, Pascal Barandagiye, said at a hearing with a UN refugee agency (UNHCR) representative in Burundi that figures released by the UNHCR about Burundians fleeing the country are false, and that “those who are said to flee the country are people suffering from hunger, who leave the country to search for food and then return back.”
Burundi is starting to call back its citizens after officials have announced that the country is safe after having months of civil unrest. It is calling upon those citizens who fled during the unrest to neighboring countries such as Uganda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This call for refugees happened on the eve of peace talks, scheduled for 16 February to 18 February. According to the Burundian president’s office earlier this week, the government would conduct the next round of talks in Arusha, Tanzania in the context of the inter-Burundian dialogue. However, later in the week the Burundi government refused to send representatives to these talks. The government spokesperson stated that Burundi will not negotiate with those who disturb their justice and noted that some of the members of the delegation are wanted in Burundi for offenses against the state.
While Burundi states that it is making peaceful progress, critics of the government who remain in the country have said that their work is becoming increasingly difficult to do due to further restrictions on civil society. These journalists and human rights activists are worried for their own safety as well as those whose human rights are being violated and state that these people are terrified to speak out.
On Saturday the UN mission in CAR (MINUSCA) shot at fighters from the Popular Front for the Renaissance of Central African Republic (FPRC) advancing towards the town of Bambari, reportedly killing a top militant and three other fighters. Later in the week a MINUSCA spokesman stated that a death toll had not been confirmed, but it is confirmed that the FPRC’s top commander, Joseph Zonduko, was killed.
A senior UN humanitarian official denounced forceful entry by armed individuals into a hospital in the Central African Republic’s restive PK5 neighbouhood with the intention to kill some of the patients, emphasizing that this is the second incident at the health facility, situated in the capital, Bangui, in the last five days.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch condemned the execution of 32 civilians, possibly more, due to clashes in the country. With all this conflict, the appointment of a chief prosecutor for the Special Criminal Court on 15 February marks an important step towards accountability and peace. The court will be staffed by national and international judges and prosecutors to prosecute human rights violations that have taken place since 2013.
On Monday, the UN Human Rights Council released a report of a group of independent experts designated by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to hold North Korea accountable for the human rights violations perpetrated in the country, which, the experts argue, amount to crimes against humanity.
The UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC voiced its concern about the constant conflict in the Kasai provinces where violent atrocities are being committed by the Kamuina Nsapu militia, including recruiting and using child soldiers. UN and humanitarian partners in the DRC have appealed for nearly $750 million to aid 6.7 million people this year. On Tuesday, the UN human rights office announced that more than 100 people had been killed between 9 and 13 February in Dibaya.
On Thursday, the DRC government announced that it will not have the funds to afford a new presidential election, which was agreed to happen this year. Budget Minister Pierre Kangudia said the cost, $1.8 billion, was too expensive. Current President Joseph Kabila’s term ended in late 2016, but opponents have accused him of delaying polls to remain in power. The DRC has not had a smooth transfer of power for more than 55 years. The 2017 election plan initially reduced tensions in the country, but with this latest news tensions have reignited. The African Union, United Nations, European Union, and International Organization of La Francophonie have issued a joint statement of increasing concern for the implementation of the election plan agreement, which outlined a peaceful transition of power.
On Saturday, Iraqi security forces fired tear gas and rubber-coated bullets at thousands of supporters of an influential Shia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, who were demonstrating in the area of Baghdad’s Green Zone, pressing for electoral reform. Four protesters and one policeman were killed, and many were injured.
On Thursday, Islamic State (ISIL) claimed responsibility for having blown up a car packed with explosives in the south of Baghdad, killing 48 people and wounding dozens more. On Wednesday, a suicide bomber detonated a truck in the suburb of Sadr City, killing 15 people and wounding around 50, while only a day earlier, another car bomb explosion in southern Baghdad killed four people.
On Friday, the Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Libya, met in Geneva to address the ongoing flows of refugees and migrants in Libya, calling for a comprehensive approach at the international level. They highlighted that “untold numbers of people” face “grave human rights violations and abuses”, such as extortion, torture and sexual violence.
Government officials reported late Monday and early Tuesday that communal violence in the Ke-Macina area killed at least 13 over the weekend. However, residents of the area claimed the number of deaths was at least 30. Local sources also said that members of the Bambara community attacked the Fulani community, who they accuse of collaboration with extremist groups that have destabilized the country. By Wednesday, the official government numbers had risen to 20 with 16 injured and 600 displaced by the fighting.
Elsewhere, state security forces pushed into Dialoubé locality in the central Mopti region over the weekend, ousting the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) aligned extremist group that had controlled the area. Military officials claim to have arrested around 20 suspected members of the group and to have killed one area resident who refused to stop at a checkpoint.
Despite setbacks, actors remain committed to implementation of the peace plan outlined in the agreement signed in May-June 2015. The working group overseeing the implementation of the Malian peace plan stated that implementation will continue and that joint patrols will begin by the end of February. The statement came only weeks after a devastating attack by terror groups on a military base in Gao as the first tripartite patrol was preparing to depart.
Communal violence between largely Christian farmers and largely Muslim nomadic herders has displaced 27,000 in Kaduna state since September. The Nigerian government’s disaster response organization has officially stated that 200 have been killed while local church officials claim the number may be as high as 800.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has reported a drastic reduction in cases of malnutrition in children under five in areas they provide food relief. At an ICRC clinic in southern Borno state an average of 10 cases were reported a month since December compared to 110-120 cases a month last summer. Despite this ICRC and other humanitarian organizations are concerned about possible famine like condition in areas still inaccessible to them. The UN has also forecasted the potential for catastrophic famine conditions in Nigeria, particularly affecting children, and the UN Food and Agricultural Program is warning of food shortages for 11 million in June through August, 120,000 of whom may face famine like conditions.
The US administration has reportedly made promises to the Nigerian government about increasing cooperation and aid in the Nigerian fight against Boko Haram and other terror groups, including the increased sale of arms to the Nigerian military. Previous US administrations have been resistant to arms sales to Nigeria due to deep concerns regarding human rights abuses by the government and armed forces.
The UN Security Council has strongly condemned continued fighting across South Sudan, particularly incidents in the Equatoria and Upper Nile regions, and warned that attacks on civilians could renew calls for sanctions. The Council called on all parties to cease hostilities immediately. Thousands of civilians have been fleeing as violence in the Equatoria region has intensified. The aid workers on the ground have stated that thousands of refugees are entering Uganda every day due to the fighting between different factions and the South Sudanese military. Refugees have reported that government soldiers are torturing, kidnapping, raping, and executing women and girls around Kajo-Keji County. Officials in South Sudan also say army troops raped at least six women and girls, some at gunpoint. There has been an increase in rape by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), sparking outrage and raised tension between the government and other countries aiding in humanitarian efforts. However, South Sudanese internally displaced persons have opposed the re-deployment of the Kenyan peacekeepers, claiming their involvement fueled clashes in Juba.
President Salva Kiir dismissed charges that he and the SPLA Chief of General Staff, Paul Malong Awan, have turned the national army into a tribal institution. Later in the week, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), one of the rebel groups fighting Sudanese government forces in Darfur, called on the African Union High Level Implementation panel to consult with opposition groups before convening any meeting on the peace process. It was also reported that a South Sudanese general has resigned from the army, accusing the country’s president of “ethnic cleansing.”
A presidential spokesperson has reaffirmed the Sudanese government’s commitment to signing a comprehensive ceasefire and humanitarian access deal following the proposal by the US envoy. However, the spokesperson also stated the government remains equally committed to retaliatory action against perceived aggression.
This week, the UN International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launched an appeal for $110 million to aid two million acutely malnourished children throughout Sudan.
Syrian rebels and Turkish troops, as well as Syrian government forces, have entered Islamic State (ISIL) held Al-Bab, the group’s last stronghold in Syria, engaging in heavy clashes with the terrorist group. On Saturday, the Turkish military released a statement reporting that at least 43 ISIL fighters were “neutralized” and that the Free Syrian Army (FSA), supported by Turkish Land Forces, eventually hit 245 ISIL targets, including headquarters and defense positions. On Tuesday, the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildrim said that Turkey-backed rebels have largely taken control of the town of Syria’s Al-Bab from ISIL combatants. However, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Islamic State remained in control of the northern Syrian town.
On Monday, Human Rights Watch has claimed that Syrian Government forces allegedly used chemical weapons targeting opposition-controlled areas of Aleppo during the battle to retake the city in late 2016. From 7 November to 13 December, government helicopters purportedly dropped chlorine bombs in residential areas of Aleppo, killing nine civilians, including children, and injuring about 200.
As more than 60,000 civilians are trapped in the four Syrian towns of Al-Zabadani, Al-Fu’ah, Kefraya and Madaya, on Monday, a senior United Nations relief official called on all parties to come to a viable agreement, allowing for immediate humanitarian access. People in the four towns suffer from daily violence and deprivation, as well as malnutrition and lack of proper medical care. In a news release, Ali Al-Za’tari, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, stressed that the situation is likely to spark a humanitarian catastrophe.
On Wednesday, the spokesman of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which includes rebel groups and political opponents of President Assad, said that it wants to negotiate with the Syrian government about a political transition at peace talks scheduled to begin next week in Geneva. While underlining that the HNC still sticks to its position that President Assad can have no role in the transition, it welcomes the creation of a governing body tasked with overseeing the process.
The United Nations in Geneva will host a new body charged with preparing prosecutions of war crimes committed in Syria. At a minimum, the body will be tasked with preparing files for prosecutions that could be used by states or the International Criminal Court in bringing forward such prosecutions. Andrew Clapham, Professor of International Law at Geneva’s Graduate Institute said that “the focus is on collecting evidence and building criminal cases before the trail goes cold.” He further pointed out that many national courts could also bring perpetrators to account using the resulting dossiers.
A Saudi-led coalition airstrike targeting the home of a local tribal leader reportedly killed nine women and one child, in addition to wounding dozens, as they attended a funeral. Initial reports from Houthi officials also claimed that the attack included a second follow-up strike that hit first responders. A previous airstrike reported to have occurred last Friday, also killed a school administrator as well as two students when a makeshift gas station less than 200 metres from a school was targeted by coalition warplanes, according to Human Rights Watch. The rights group also stated that the attack on the gas station, which local witnesses said has previously fueled Houthi fighting vehicles, occurred during the beginning of the school day when students were walking to school and at a time when no combatant vehicles were present. The Saudi-led coalition issued a statement on Monday reiterating their commitment to protecting civilians and touting the steps it has taken to minimize civilian casualties.
Elsewhere, a suicide car bomb in a Houthi-controlled town reportedly killed three, including a child, and wounded eight others.
The fighting has had a significant impact on civilian property and infrastructure worsening the humanitarian impact of the conflict. Medecins Sans Frontières has reported that civilians are facing significant supply shortages and that the ongoing violence has caused major damage to hospitals in the Taiz area. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that as fighting in Al-Mokha City in Taiz continued last weekend, 8,000 people fled the violence to the neighbouring Al-Hudaydah governorate where WHO is providing emerging trauma care to those displaced across several districts.
UN Secretary-General Guterres called for a resurrection of the peace negotiations in Yemen for the sake of the suffering civilians, many of whom are now considered by the UN to be at severe risk of famine. Seven previous ceasefires brokered by the UN have failed, as have previous rounds of peace talks. Mr. Guterres also reaffirmed his support for the current UN peace envoy to Yemen days after the Houthi rebels asked the UN chief not to renew the current envoy’s mandate. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reportedly called for a truce in Yemen on Wednesday, potentially indicating a willingness to deescalate the tensions with Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia that have been fueling the conflict in Yemen.