#R2PWeekly: 14 August – 18 August 2017

Rtop weekly

Thousands of refugees forced back to uncertain security situation in Syria
The militant group Hezebollah escorted 3,000 Syrian refugees and rebels from Lebanon to Syria’s Qalamoun region on Monday, 14 August. The escort followed an evacuation operation also directed by Hezbollah about a month ago, which sent approximately 7,000 Syrians to the Idlib province in Syria. The UN has warned of the uncertain security situation facing the returnees and has indicated that many of them have been forced to move to satisfy political demands.

More than 1 million Syrian refugees have been registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon’s capital of Beirut, and approximately 500,000 others are believed to be in other parts of the country. There are increasing concerns among Syrian refugees in Beirut that the Lebanese government is trying to push them back to Syria. “The pressure to leave is mounting, they want us to pretend that everything is OK [in Syria], that we are more vulnerable here than we would be there. The Lebanese don’t want us. It’s an uncomfortable time,” said Nabil al-Homsi, a long-term refugee in Lebanon. Bassam Khawaja, a Lebanon researcher for ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch, said: “We’re very concerned about the lack of safeguards or any process in place to ensure that these returns are completely voluntary. Any forced or coerced returns would be a violation of Lebanon’s obligations under international law.”

Furthermore, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq stated on Monday that over 50,000 Syrians, mostly women and children, are stranded at the border of Syria and Jordan, an area where airstrikes are common these days. Haq added that there are scarce supply of food and healthcare, and around 4,000 people are living solely on water and flour. “The UN calls on all parties to the conflict to take the necessary steps to prevent further harm to the frightened and highly vulnerable individuals stranded at the border,” said Haq.


 

Catch up on developments in…

CAR
DRC
Iraq
Kenya
Libya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Syria
Yemen


Central African Republic:

30 civilians, including six Red Cross personnel, were killed in Gambo last week after clashes between state militia and a rebel group. The clashes took place just 47 miles from Bangassou, a town witness to heavy bloodshed. President of the Central African Red Cross Antoine Mbao-Bogo condemned the attacks and urged peace, calling “on all parties to take steps to spare the civilian population, and to respect all humanitarian workers.” The dramatic increase in violence has made the Central African Republic one of the worst places to be a child, according the United Nations International Children’s’ Emergency Fund (UNICEF). During a press briefing in Geneva, UNICEF spokesperson Donaig Le Du noted that the number of internally displaced people has increased from 444,000 to 600,000. Le Du added that the ongoing violence is the prime factor for such a huge number of displaced civilians.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Numerous reports released by UN agencies has underscored the severe food depravity currently engulfing the region. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) and World Food Programme (WFP), the number of those suffering from pre-famine level food shortages and in need of immediate humanitarian assistance has risen from 5.9 million in June 2016 to 7.7 million in June 2017. Furthermore, the UNFAO report underlined that persistent conflict in the Kasai region has deterred possibility for harvesting. In addition, the conflict has reportedly displaced approximately 3.7 million people nationwide.


Iraq:

Thousands of civilians have fled Tal Afar after airstrikes launched by Iraqi warplanes struck the Islamic State (ISIL) controlled town in preparation for an upcoming ground assault. The Iraqi army, federal police, and special forces units are expected to participate in the operation to recapture Tal Afar. The Shia armed group known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces is also expected to join the operation. Shia militants did not participate to a large extent during the fight in Mosul, a Sunni majority city, but they have vowed to take on a bigger role in the operation to recapture Tal Afar, a mostly Shia town prior to the conflict. Turkish officials have raised concerns of further sectarian conflict, as once the territories are liberated, Shia or Kurdish forces might push out Sunni Arabs from the area.

Civilians who have escaped Tal Afar have described severed shortages of food and water inside the town. “Most people drink water that’s not clean. The majority are surviving on that and a bit of bread,” said Alia Imad, a mother of three that paid $300 to a smuggler to help them escape. Lise Grande, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, said that humanitarian conditions in the town are “very tough” and added “thousands of people are leaving, seeking safety and assistance. Families escaping northeast are trekking 10 and up to 20 hours to reach mustering points. They are exhausted and many are dehydrated when they finally arrive.”


Kenya:

Violence broke out almost immediately after incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta was named victor of the general elections by election authorities last week, claiming at least 24 lives. In response to the violence following Kenya’s elections, the UN urged calm, calling on opposition leader Raila Odinga to send a message of peace to his followers. Odinga, however, has challenged the results of the election, alleging the results have been distorted by the technology used to count votes, and has pledged to take the case to the Supreme Court.


Libya:

On Wednesday, 16 August, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that recently obtained video footage allegedly shows forces linked to the Libyan National Army (LNA) in eastern Libya performing summary executions of seven captives and desecrating their bodies. The executioners in the videos are likely to be members of forces led by Mahmoud al-Werfalli, who is now wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for murder as a war crime. Al-Werfalli is wanted for allegedly killing 33 people in and around Benghazi from June 2016 to July 2017. “The ICC warrant for al-Werfalli is a wake-up call to other abusive commanders in Libya that one day their serious crimes could land them in a prison cell in The Hague,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at HRW.

Meanwhile, three international aid groups, Doctors Without Borders (Medecins sans Frontieres), Save the Children, and Germany’s Sea Eye, have suspended migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean, due to constant threats from Libyan coastguards. Boats of Libyan coastguards have continuously clashed with aid NGO vessels and sometimes even opened fire. The coast guard claims that the open fire was to assure control over the rescue operation. “In general, we do not reject [NGO] presence, but we demand from them more cooperation with the state of Libya … they should show more respect to the Libyan sovereignty,” said coastguard spokesman Ayoub Qassem on Sunday. NGO ships have played an increasing role in migrant rescues, saving more than a third of migrants in 2017 compared to less than one percent in 2014.


Mali:

Two separate attacks on the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) have killed at least eight this week. The first attack took place in Timbuktu, where five MINUSMA personnel, one civilian and one police officer were killed. The second attack occurred 130 miles south of Timbuktu in Douenza, where a police guard and peacekeeper were killed. No one has claimed responsibility. The UN Secretary General’s office released a statement noting “attacks targeting United Nations peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law.”


Nigeria:

Early Friday morning, the Nigerian military raided a UN camp in Maiduguri, a region that is often the site of violence due to the presence of Boko Haram. According to a military statement, it had raided the area because of its violent inclinations and did not have a particular target. The raid at the UN camp lasted three hours as the military searched the premise. The raid comes after the military accidentally killed 90 civilians during an offensive on Boko Haram in January.

Boko Haram’s offensive continues to wage on, with another attack on two villages reported on Tuesday. This is the fifth attack in the past two weeks. To date, there is no official statement on how many have been killed in the most recent attack. In addition, at least 30 were killed and another 80 injured in a suicide attack in the Konduga district, a region that often witnesses suicide attacks by Boko Haram. Three women are suspected to have been the perpetrators of the attack.

President Muhammadu Buharu’s extended absence from the country has frustrated Nigerians, who have now called on him through protests to either return to the country or resign as President. Protestors were met with tear gas and bullets, and while there has been no report of injury, authorities say they are still investigating the incident. The now called “Resume or Resign” movement has been in place since 7 August, and crowds will gather on Wednesday to mark the President’s 100 day absence.


South Sudan:

In an attempt to appease the raging civil war, President Salva Kiir has released 30 political prisoners after he first declared their amnesty in May. Most of the former political prisoners were detained for their support of the opposition leader Riek Machar. President Kiir hopes that the release will alleviate the opposition in a civil war that has displaced nearly 25 percent of the 12 million residents.

Just a week after the government captured the rebel stronghold of Pagak, opposition forces have taken the town back. Civilians of Pagak describe the government’s “terrorizing” of the region, despite the government’s claims that it is liberating the region from rebel rule. The government’s offensive on Pagak had received criticism because of its violation of the ceasefire that had been in place since May. Opposition spokesman Lam Paul Gabriel says that the taking back of Pagak from the government is a sign of strength.


Syria:

On 12 August, a group of armed people killed seven members of The Syrian Civil Defence group, also known as the White Helmets, in Idlib, which is mostly controlled by the al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front. The victims were all shot in the head with pistols equipped with silencers, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and an anonymous activist. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the attack might be “aimed to harm the image of the Nusra Front and to show that Idlib is not safe.” The activist speculated that Islamic State (ISIL) fighters carried out the attack as ISIL sleeper cells have been discovered in the area recently. Members of the White Helmets, mostly civilian volunteers, are well known for rescuing civilians in dangerous rebel-held areas since 2013, and were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016. The US said in a statement that it was “saddened and horrified” by the attack. “These cowardly acts of masked men took the lives of civilian volunteers who work tirelessly as first responders in order to save lives in incredibly dangerous environments,” said the US state department. The French Foreign Ministry and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also condemned the attack.

Regarding accountability for war crimes in Syria, Carla del Ponte, a member of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said on Sunday that the Commission has gathered enough evidence to convict President Bashar al-Assad of war crimes. Last week, del Ponte resignedfrom her role as she believes the Commission “is not backed by any political will.” When asked if there was enough evidence for Assad to be convicted of war crimes, she replied that there was, but added that blockage in the Security Council through the use of vetoes has rendered special prosecutors unable to bring the perpetrators to justice.


Yemen:

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of suspected cases of cholera in Yemen has exceeded 500,000, with at least 1,975 deaths since late April. WHO said that although the overall caseload has declined since July, there are still approximately 5,000 people infected per day. Yemen’s health system is struggling to cope with the currently largest cholera crisis in the world, with over half of the medical facilities closed due to the two-year civil war between government forces and the rebel Houthi movement.

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