New Evidence Suggests Saudi-led Coalition Endangering Civilians with Use of Banned Cluster Munitions in Yemen
New evidence this week collected and corroborated by Amnesty International indicates that the Saudi-led coalition has continued the use of banned cluster munitions in Yemen. In the most recent strike using the inherently indiscriminate weapons systems, the Saudi-led coalition is believed to have fired multiple bomblet-laden rockets into residential areas in the city of Sa’da, injuring two civilians and causing material damage. The attack was the third such attack using Brazilian made ASTROS II surface-to-surface cluster munitions documented by Amnesty International in the country.
Cluster munitions are weapons that scatter multiple smaller explosive sub-munitions over an expansive area with indiscriminate effects. Cluster munitions are additionally problematic as sub-munitions frequently fail to detonate upon landing, but remain live, effectively creating de facto minefields. The inherently indiscriminate nature of cluster munitions makes them a dangerous threat to civilians and most of all children. Civilians accounted for 92% of cluster munitions casualties between 2010 and 2014, half of whom were children. Due to their nature as weapons inherently harmful to civilian populations, cluster munitions were banned by the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), which has been ratified by 100 states.
Neither Brazil, Saudi Arabia, nor Yemen are party to the CCM treaty however that does not free any of the parties from their lawful obligations to protect civilians from harm and refrain from the use of indiscriminate weapons or attacks under customary international humanitarian laws of war. As such, the Saudi-led coalition’s use of cluster munitions in crowded cities and populated areas could conceivably constitute war crimes.
Cluster munitions from other countries of origin have also been used by the Saudi-led coalition in attacks that have caused civilian casualties. Last year it was uncovered that some of the bombs being utilized by the Saudi-led coalition were British-produced BL-755 cluster munitions sold and exported prior to the UK’s self-imposed unilateral ban on the weapons and before its ratification of the CCM. The United States, which remains opposed to the CCM and has refused to sign the treaty, has also provided Saudi Arabia with cluster munitions and other arms in multi-billion-dollar arms trade deals. US manufactured bombs were used in several strikes causing civilian casualties last year, including a strike on a mosque that reportedly killed a 15-year old boy and a reported strike on a fishing village.
In 2016, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented at least 16 attacks on populated areas using ground or air launched cluster munitions in Yemen, killing and wounding dozens. The attacks were part of the broader campaign of the Saudi-led coalition that has killed nearly 800 civilians in 58 unlawful airstrikes, according to HRW. In January the UN announced that the total civilian death toll from the conflict in Yemen broke 10,000.
*** Please note that there will be no RtoPWeekly 13 – 17 March due to the opening of the 61st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women at UN Headquarters in New York. However, we will resume publication with an update on these events and the crisis situations around the world the following week, 20 – 24 March.
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On Thursday, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to create an international Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate serious human rights violations in the country. The 47 members of the Council, which is currently holding its main annual session in Geneva, could adopt a resolution establishing the CoI before the session ends earlier this month.
Amnesty International and twelve other international human rights organizations submitted a joined letter to the Council last Friday in support of the recommendation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and Ms. Lee, to set up a CoI to investigate the alleged violations in Rakhine state during the security forces’ “clearance operations”, which, according to the 3 February 2017 OHCHR report, may “very likely” amount to crimes against humanity. The letter adds that previously established commissions on the issue have failed to investigate the alleged human rights violations.
On Saturday, thousands of people gathered in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, to protest against UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the facilitator in the inter-Burundian crisis, William Mkapa. The government of Burundi wrote a letter to the UN Security Council (UNSC) claiming that the Secretary-General’s recent report on human rights violations in the country contains some unconfirmed facts.
Victims of the 2015 crisis in Burundi decided they are ready to collaborate with the International Criminal Court’s Commission of Inquiry and give their testimonies on what happened.
Later in the week, international and Burundian NGOs urged the UNSC to impose targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes against individuals responsible for ongoing serious human rights violations in Burundi. Human Rights Watch has claimed that the Burundian government is obstructing the UN Security Council and others, such as the African Union, which should “compel the Security Council to take strong action”.
The UN peacekeeping mission in the CAR has openly warned a rebel movement from impeding humanitarian access, claiming that any threat to civilians and peacekeepers is considered a war crime. According to Human Rights Watch reports, new armed groups have recently been emerging in the already volatile CAR.
According to aid agencies in the CAR, clashes between armed groups in the town of Bambari could soon escalate to into a “full-blown” conflict, resulting in thousands of civilians being forced to flee from their homes and triggering a humanitarian disaster. A new court in the CAR will work in tandem with the International Criminal Court to seek accountability for grave human rights violations committed in the country.
The International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have expressed their support for the latest reports of a group of independent experts on accountability for human rights violations in North Korea and have called for the immediate application of the recommendations of the experts. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW, added “The North Korean government and its leaders should face justice for their crimes against humanity, which continue to this day.”
The Congolese government transitions continue to be delayed with the government again claiming that elections are too expensive and the country cannot financially afford them. The European Union (EU) warned the DRC that it will impose more sanctions if political and military leaders keep stalling or if they block a deal with the opposition. These sanctions would include freezing assets of officials and imposing travel bans on those involved in human rights abuses, inciting violence, and/or obstructing peace in the transfer of power. In December, the EU and the United States issued sanctions when a clash left 50 people dead.
Sexual violence has been on the rise in the DRC, with over 3,000 complaints received in 2016, versus 2,414 in 2015. However, this increase can be perceived as a positive step for the reporting of such acts, as it is said to be justified by the increase of the involvement of the military in addressing cases of rape. Rape victims are now feeling more comfortable filing complaints.
Later in the week, it was reported that the DRC has rejected the call from the UN to further investigate civilian killings in the central Kasai and Lomani provinces, stating that they are already conducting investigations which have included the findings of three mass graves claimed by militiamen from Kamwina Nsapu.
Iraq’s Interior Ministry has reported that 14,000 people fled western Mosul on Thursday, 3 March, amounting to the largest wave of internally displaced people (IDPs) since the US-backed operation in the city was launched on 19 February.
Also on 3 March, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reported that about 15,000 children have fled the city of Mosul, where government forces continue to fight the Islamic State (ISIL). The UNICEF Regional Emergency Advisor, Bastien Vigneau, said that the agency is providing immediate aid to children arriving from Mosul at the Hamam al Alil camp, 20km away from the city. Moreover, he underlined that, since the military operations against ISIL began on 17 October 2016, at least 874 unaccompanied or separated children have been identified.
On Sunday, heavy clashes between Iraqi forces and ISIL in western Mosul brought the number of people fleeing the fighting up to 45,000. Amid this spike in displacement figures, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is setting up new camps and expanding existing ones to shelter new arrivals. The newly opened Chamakor camp is ready to receive 6,600 people, according to a spokesperson of the UN agency. Currently, the UN has reported that there are 211,572 Iraqis displaced by the fighting in Mosul, excluding the 50,000 people already displaced since the military operations were launched.
Moreover, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, visited the Girls and Women Support and Treatment Centre in Dohuk Governorate, in northern Iraq, where she met with survivors of rape and other abuses committed by ISIL. In calling for a multipronged approach from the global to the local levels to aid the survivors and their families, Ms. Bangura has discussed the need for such support with political and religious Kurd and Iraqi authorities.
On the ground, the military situation has evolved rapidly, with Iraqi forces moving deeper into western Mosul and edging closer to the Grand Nouri mosque, where the ISIL’s “caliphate” was proclaimed in July 2014. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has flown to the city to congratulate the troops, whose progress “has eclipsed the expectations of battle planners”. The Head of the elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) said on Thursday that the 100,000-strong array of Iraqi forces aims to push back ISIL militants from Mosul within a month.
As the US-led Iraqi military offensive to retake the western part of the city continues, the humanitarian coordinator for the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, Lise Grande, said that up to 450,000 people are expected to arrive to the camps in the following days. She warned that there may not be enough space to accommodate all those fleeing their homes.
The Kenyan government signaled this week that it may withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), after arguing that the ICC is biased against Africans.
On Tuesday, the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that fighting between rival people-smuggling gangs on Libya’s coast has killed 22 sub-Saharan Africans and wounded more than 100 people. These deaths come in addition to the 140 bodies found on Libyan beaches earlier this year, while there have been 477 deaths at sea on the route from Libya to the European Union.
The peace process in Mali has been impeded as tensions continue to escalate between rival armed groups within the former rebel alliance, which is party to the 2015 peace agreement. Factions of the group have criticized the administration selected as the interim authority in Timbuktu and have prevented the installation of the interim authorities. Forces reportedly surrounded the city on Monday, preventing entry or exit. Witnesses also reported sporadic gunfire throughout the day. Timbuktu, along with other northern cities Kidal and Gao, is set to have an interim authority to pave the way for an election once the peace has been restored and the security situation has been stabilized.
Despite these setbacks, the UN, the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the European Union (EU) congratulated the parties to the peace process for recent progress and urged them to continue with diligent efforts to resolve the obstacles in the region around Timbuktu. Additionally, the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) is reportedly hopeful and has claimed that internal displacement in Mali could be resolved by the end of 2017 so long as there is not a resurgence in violence.
An attack on a military base killed eleven Malian soldiers in the most recent attack in the escalating campaign of violence by terror groups in the country seeking to interfere with the peace process.The process and the multi-actor peacekeeping forces may soon be under increased threat from the extremist groups in the country who have reportedly merged into a single organization and pledged allegiance to the leadership of Al Qaeda. The new group, comprised of formerly separate organizations, such as Ansar Dine, al-Mourabitoun, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has reportedly taken the name Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, which translates to Support of Islam and Muslims. It is yet unknown how this group plans to respond to the progress in the peace process made last week with the beginning of joint patrols. The announcement of the merger has caused some of Mali’s neighbours to take increased concern with the security situation in the country and Niger has reportedly declared a state of emergency in regions near its border with Mali out of fear of potential spillover.
The frequent recruitment and use of children as armed combatants and suicide bombers is becoming an increasing concern for peacekeeping operations and tempering the interest of prospective contributors of peacekeeping forces. The government of Canada, who has previously expressed interest in meaningful engagement with UN missions in Africa and who has been pushed by France to replace the contribution of Denmark that ended in December with 600 soldiers and 150 police, is reportedly re-accessing the idea of deploying forces to take part in the Mali mission due to concerns over the situation posed by child soldiers.
Just days before the visit of the UN Security Council (UNSC) led by Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, Permanent Representative of the UK to the UN and President of the UNSC for March, three suicide bombings believed to have been orchestrated by the Boko Haram insurgency targeted a gas station in Maiduguri, destroying several fuel tankers. While the only casualties were the bombers themselves, one elderly woman, one teenage girl and a teenage boy, their deaths mark more lives taken by Boko Haram’s strategy of coerced suicide bombings that often target women and girls for forced recruitment. According to the Group Foundation for the Defence of Democracies (FDD), 123 women and girls have been used as suicide bombers, many against their will, by Boko Haram since the beginning of the group’s female bomber-based terror strategy in 2014. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Boko Haram has kidnapped around 2,000 women and girls since 2009, subjecting them to rape, slave labour, and forced marriages.
Documents reportedly obtained by British media outlets reveal that the Nigerian government under former President Goodluck Jonathan rejected an offer by the UK to rescue the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls in 2014. In a mission named Operation Turus by the Royal Air Force, British planes conducted aerial reconnaissance over Nigeria for several months charting the movement of Boko Haram. The RAF reportedly had located the girls within the first few weeks and had gathered enough actionable intelligence to mount a rescue mission but the offer to rescue the girls was reportedly rejected by the Nigerian government under then-President Goodluck Jonathan. As of today 195 of the 276 girls remain missing. Former President Jonathan formally denied the allegations through a statement issued by his media aide on Sunday.
The Nigerian military also found itself denying reports this week when spokespeople issued a statement disputing the findings in Amnesty International’s yearly report for 2016. Amnesty has accused Nigerian military and police for the use of excessive force and unlawful killings against pro-Biafra activists.
Ambassador Rycroft’s delegation stated after their visit to the countries in the Lake Chad Basin, which included a stop in Maiduguri, that the only viable long term solution for peace and stability in Nigeria was through development. The UNSC ambassadors met with women sheltering in a camp of roughly 7,000 displaced persons who recounted the killings of their husbands and the abuse they had suffered at the hands of Boko Haram insurgents. Inadequate security for women and girls means they are still frequently victimized if they leave the camps.
A South Sudanese opposition (SPLA-IO) official has said that SPLA-IO troops clashed with pro-government forces in Eastern Equatoria state after the latter allegedly attempted to attack their base. Lieutenant General Thomas Cirillo Swaka, a former army general who quit his position last month, announced he has formed a new anti-government rebel group, emphasizing resistance to the rule of incumbent President Salva Kiir.
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, claimed that thousands of South Sudanese people will starve unless relief workers gain access to vulnerable populations and funds are increased. According to the UN, South Sudan’s government is blocking food aid and restricting UN peacekeepers. South Sudan has also increased the cost of aid work permits to $10,000, despite the fact that it is the first time the world has experienced such large scale famine in six years. On Monday, emergency food aid rations were dropped in famine-stricken areas of the country by the World Food Programme. About 1.5 million refugees have fled the fighting and famine in South Sudan to its neighbouring countries, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Thursday.
According to a recent report released by the UN Commission of Human Rights on Monday, South Sudan is experiencing ethnic cleansing and is on the verge of genocide. The UN Commission on Human Rights has stated that there has been a massive increase in human rights violations in the recent months and has called for further investigation. Villagers have accused government soldiers of going on a rampage in Oming area this week. However, Imatong State’s’ governor denied any of these allegations.
The United Nations has criticized Sri Lanka’s “worryingly slow” progress on accountability for war crimes committed during the country’s civil war, which ended in 2009, during which thousands of Tamil civilians were killed by the country’s military. As serious abuses appear to remain widespread, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has called for accountability and justice in order to achieve a lasting peace.
Amnesty International has maintained its call for investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Sudanese military in Darfur. Amnesty has called on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to launch a formal investigation into the alleged use of the illegal weapons on the civilian populations within Sudan.
On Thursday, President Omar al-Bashir pardoned 259 imprisoned rebel fighters in a move the president’s office claimed was intended to foster an environment for a lasting peace agreement. Three days prior, a spokesman for the army confirmed reports that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N), the rebel group that has been engaged in open conflict with the government forces in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions since 2011, had released 127 prisoners. The military spokesman called the move positive progress in the process towards peace.
The Geneva peace talks have achieved some concrete results during last week. After the government delegation claimed that the High Negotiation Committee (HNC) opposition group was holding the talks “hostage”, as they disagreed over adding terrorism amongst the other items on the agenda. On Friday, the UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura announced the conclusion of the intra-Syrian talks, having secured a finalized agenda for another round to be held later this month. The opposition delegation has accepted the addition to the already existing three items on the agenda – the creation of an accountable government, the draft of a new constitution, and UN-supervised free and fair elections – an additional one related to strategies of counter-terrorism, security governance, and medium-term confidence building measures.
Meanwhile, the Russian-backed Syrian army said on 3 March it has recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra from the Islamic State (ISIL), after the terrorist group seized the city for the second time in a year during a surprise advance in December 2016. ISIL had already been driven out from Palmyra eight months before.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Sunday that more than 66,000 people have been forced to flee fighting in northern Aleppo, ravaged in recent weeks by dual offensives on ISIL. An Al-Jazeera’s reporter, Natasha Ghoneim, said that in Gaziantep, on the Turkey-Syria border, there was a “growing humanitarian crisis”.
On Monday, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed mainly Kurdish group, have cut the last main road out of Rappa, the de-facto capital of ISIL, “completing the encirclement of Daesh by land”, a Kurdish military source said.
On Thursday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights said the US-led coalition launched airstrikes that killed 23 civilians, including eight children, in the countryside around the northern city of Raqqa. The warplanes struck the village of al-Matab, the Observatory underlined, adding that many air raids has also targeted areas east of the city. Moreover, the World Health Organization (WTO) has warned about the impact of these attacks on medical facilities and staff, adding that the country’s healthcare system is collapsing due to ongoing fighting.
Also on Thursday, a senior Trump administration official said that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to host a 68-nation meeting in Washington on 22-23 March, in order to discuss strategies to fight the Islamic State.
The UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) was able to, for the first time since the beginning of the conflict, deliver eight tons of medical supplies to the beleaguered medical facilities in Yemen’s third largest city, Taiz. The WHO estimates that 350,000 people are in current urgent medical aid in Taiz. The city has been besieged by rebel Houthi forces for nearly two years, causing shortages of food, water, and medicine and forcing the closure of 37 of the city’s 40 hospitals. The import and transportation of much needed supplies into Yemen, which is 90% reliant on imports for food and fuel, has been hampered by commercial ship fears of attack and the destruction of many of the port city’s key infrastructures.