The UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, established last year by the Human Rights Council (HRC), provided on 19 June an oral report to the HRC about the human rights issues that have continued to pervade Burundi. The report detailed various human rights violations including torture, gender-based violence, forced disappearances with ransom demands, and unlawful executions. According to the report, these violations were committed by law enforcement and members of the National Intelligence Service, who targeted anti-government sympathizers, though ethnicity has also allegedly been a driving factor.
The Commission was first created in September 2016 in order to identify and ensure accountability for atrocity crimes committed since April 2015, with the Chairman of the Commission, Fatsah Ouguergouz, confirming “the scope and gravity of human rights violations and abuses” in Burundi since that time. The Burundian government, however, has accused the Commission of bias and being influenced by the European Union. The final report will be presented in September, at which time the Commission will decide whether the crimes violate international law.
On 20 June, Assistant Secretary-General Taye-Brook Zerihoun urged the international community to assist peacebuilding efforts to the Security Council during an update on the situation in Burundi. Continued reports of “targeted arrests, arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment of real or perceived opposition members” have fueled a renewed effort to initiate a cooperative political dialogue in the region. A lack of effective cooperation between the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Burundian government has resulted in the stagnation of the peacebuilding efforts.
Democratic Republic of the Congo:
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has urged elections to be conducted in the DRC immediately, while declaring that the political future of the country and Africa as a whole is in “grave danger.” DRC President Joseph Kabila has yet to vacate his office despite agreements to step down in 2016, and efforts to organize elections have deteriorated since then. President Kabila has stated that elections will take place by the end of 2017, but asserted they will not be held if doing so “would result in further chaos.” Meanwhile, the DRC is experiencing an ongoing insurgency as the Kamuina Nsapu forces maintain a prolonged uprising against security forces in the Kasai region.
A report released by the Catholic Church in Congo on 20 June stated that over 3,300 people have been killed as the situation in the Kasai region deteriorates. It is a sharp increase from the previously reported death toll of 400. Additionally, the government-backed coalition Bana Mura has “shot dead, hacked or burnt to death, and mutilated hundreds of villagers” in the region, according to Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 20 June. The High Commissioner further detailed examples of atrocity crimes being committed by both the Kamuina Nsapu and Bana Mura forces, including deliberate attacks and mutilations of children as young as two.
Alexis Thambwe Mwamba, the Justice Minister in the DRC, has rejected calls for an independent investigation in the Kasai region by stating: “Carrying out an investigation that excludes the Congolese authorities would be unacceptable. It would be as if we were not an independent country.” The High Commissioner for Human Rights had previously called for an independent investigation after the DRC failed to agree to a joint investigation.
Iraqi forces have continued their advance into old Mosul, the final district in the city held by the Islamic State (ISIL). The Iraqi army estimates that there are no more than 300 ISIL fighters remaining in the city. However, about 100,000 civilians, including 5,000 children, are still trapped with little food, water or medical treatment, and ISIL fighters continue to use those civilians as human shields and have killed hundreds who tried to escape in the past three weeks. Furthermore, the maze-like and narrow alleys and old buildings continue to slow down the coalition’s offense, as International Rescue Committee reported: “The buildings of the old town are particularly vulnerable to collapse even if they aren’t directly targeted, which could lead to even more civilian deaths.” Sabah al-Numan, spokesman of the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), stated: “The operation now is about street fighting. Air and artillery strikes will be limited because the area is heavily populated and the buildings fragile.”
On 21 June, ISIL destroyed the Grand al-Nuri Mosque, a prominent Iraqi landmark that is over 850 years old. The mosque is also the place where ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate in 2014. Analysts have stated that the destruction of the mosque indicates ISIL is on the edge of collapse and is no longer capable of resisting the Iraqi government forces’ attacks.
On 19 June, the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) ratified an agreement brokered by the UN that would allow the displaced population of the city of Tawergha to return to their homes, according to ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW). Militias had attacked and demolished Tawergha in 2011, leading to a mass evacuation of the residents, and the armed groups have prevented their return since they were forcibly displaced. The attack was believed to be a retaliatory act against the Tawergha residents for supporting then-leader Muammar Gaddafi during the 2011 conflict. Currently, around 40,000 former residents of Tawergha are allegedly being prevented from returning to their homes by civil and military authorities. Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW, stated: “While the priority is to end the six-year-old collective punishment of people from Tawergha, the victims from both sides should also see justice for the crimes they have suffered.”
A deadly terrorist attack killed five people on 18 June at a resort outside Bamako, the capital of Mali. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes after the group formed an alliance with other extremist militant groups in Mali. Authorities killed four of the perpetrators and arrested five others. French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country has stationed troops in Mali to assist the UN peacekeeping mission in combating extremist militant groups, has reaffirmed his full support to Mali’s government and its security efforts.
On 21 June, the Security Council passed a resolution enabling the deployment of a transnational military coalition to counter terrorist forces in the Sahel region. France, a vocal supporter of the resolution, called the resolution a “landmark.” However, the resolution currently remains unfinanced, as the Security Council will not agree to pull funds from the UN peacekeeping budget; France is urging financial cooperation to fulfill the resolution’s objectives.
A report released by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHRC) on 19 June showed that there are 65.6 million forcibly displaced persons around the world at the end of 2016, the highest number ever recorded by the agency. UNHRC High Commissioner Filippo Grandi has urged countries to assist South Sudan by bolstering security and providing aid. Grandi does note, though, that peacebuilding efforts aimed at ending the civil war is the most sustainable solution. Grandi further noted that while South Sudan suffers from a “combination of violence, ethnic strife, lack of development, climatic factors and international neglect,” the country’s refugees are neglected by the international community because they do not reach “places where refugees become visible” and highly publicized, such as Europe, Australia, and the United States.
According to a report released by the UN on 21 June, an increase in humanitarian assistance has effectively pulled South Sudan away from famine. However, the number of people at risk for starvation has risen within the last month, illustrating that the country is still very much at risk. According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification report (IPC), the number of people at facing imminent starvation has risen to six million, up from 5.5 million just a month ago.
On Saturday, 17 June, the Syrian army declared a 48-hour ceasefire to support “reconciliation efforts,” as the UN is starting a fresh round of Syria peace talks on 10 July in Geneva. Russia later said it would also hold a peace talk on the same day in Astana, Kazakhstan. There have been several rounds of talks between government and rebel representatives that have been mediated by both the UN and Russia since last year.
After the ceasefire expired on Monday, Syrian government forces resumed bombardments in rebel held areas of the city of Deraa, according to witnesses and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The government forces’ offensive on Deraa has intensified and more troops have arrived in the city, according to rebels and city residents. If the government troops capture rebel-held parts of Deraa and the few kilometers between it and the border with Jordan, it would divide the rebel areas in southeast Syria.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Wednesday for special consideration to be taken for civilians still trapped in the city of Raqqa, which the US-led coalition is seeking to liberate from ISIL. Guterres asserted there are civilians that have been deprived of food and medical aid for years and that he was “deeply alarmed” by the situation. Furthermore, the UN reports that ISIL fighters continue to use civilians as human shields and to shoot families who try to escape. “It is critical for all parties to facilitate improved humanitarian access to allow aid to reach those in urgent need of life-saving assistance without delay,” Guterres added.
On Saturday, Yemen’s Saudi-backed government agreed to a UN plan to keep the Houthi-held port of Hodeidah out of the civil war and to resume government salary payments. The UN has proposed that Hodeidah, a port that handles around 80 percent of Yemen’s food imports, should be turned over to a neutral party. However, a spokesperson for the Houthis said the UN was encouraging the Saudi-led alliance to resume its strikes and that they have the right and legality to respond to any aggression. The Saudi-led coalition has accused the Houthis of using Hodeidah to smuggle in weapons, but the Houthis have denied such allegations.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, 22 June, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the United Arab Emirates of financing, arming, and training Yemeni forces that allegedly tortured detainees during operations against the Yemeni branches of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIL). HRW reported that the UAE maintains the operation of two secret prisons in southern Yemen where officials are allegedly responsible for forced disappearances and where prisoners continue to be detained despite release orders. Prisoners have reported enduring torture such as heavy beating, sexual assault, and death threats to them and their families.