Concern grows over impact of security situation on
civilians in the DRC as elections pushed to 2019
Several non-governmental organizations, including ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW), have pushed for increased sanctions by the European Union (EU) and the United States on President Kabila’s financial associates and family members. The sanctions are reportedly aimed at showing Kabila that his “unconstitutional abuse of power” has real consequences. The International Contact Group for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, which includes the UN, the EU and the US, will meet on 12 October in The Hague to discuss the humanitarian crisis.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for MONUSCO, Maman Sambo Sidikou, has briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in the country. He warned the Council about the rising political uncertainty brought by the fact that elections will most likely not be held before the end of 2017. Sidikou also noted that the conditions necessary to hold elections are the “implementation of confidence-building measures, the opening of political space, and the full respect of human rights.” The UN has also warned that civil society activists, journalists, and political opponents are subjected to intimidation, violence, and harassment for their opinions regarding the political process. Sidikou also highlighted the impact of the security situation on civilians, with 8.5 million people in need of assistance and almost 4 million internally displaced.
The electoral commission has said that elections cannot be held until at least April 2019. In a recent statement, the commission argued that it needs around seventeen months to pass a new law “drawing elected representatives’ constituencies, obtaining voting materials and recruiting personnel”. The delay undermines the 31 December 2016 agreement made between President Kabila and the opposition parties, in which the opposition agreed that Kabila could stay in power with the condition that new elections would be scheduled before the end of 2017.
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The UN Human Rights (OHCHR) office released a report on 11 October that outlined interviews conducted with Rohingya migrants who fled the violence in Rakhine State. The OHCHR reported that the alleged violence perpetrated by the Burmese military and Rakhine Buddhist militants against the Rohingya is “coordinated and systematic”. The witness accounts described a number of alleged human rights violations against the Muslim minority, including extrajudicial killings, ethnic cleansing, gender violence, and torture. The report also indicated that the violence may have been coordinated in an attempt to prevent migrants from returning to their homes after fleeing Rakhine by allegedly destroying crops, livestock, and other property. Furthermore, the report outlined reports of Burmese forces targeting Rohingya leaders in education, religion, and culture in the region. The OHCHR remains “gravely concerned” about the situation in Burma.
The government of Bangladesh announced on 11 October the formation of the “Citizen’s Commission for Investigating Genocide and Terrorism in Burma”. The group of 35 Bangladeshi citizens will investigate the credibility of reports of genocide in Rakhine State. Their report is expected to be released in early February.
Bangladesh announced its plan to build a refugee camp that will house more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees. The arrival of more than half a million Rohingya Muslims since 25 August has put an immense strain on the existing camps where there are growing fears of a disease outbreak. Bangladesh authorities want to expand the refugee camp in Kutupalong.
Aerial footage taken of a Bangladesh refugee camp in Cox Bazar shows the growing spread of shacks and makeshift tents as more Rohingya refugees continue to pour across the border seeking refuge.
Amnesty International has warned that Burundian refugees in Tanzania are being threatened with forced repatriation if they do not voluntarily apply to return to Burundi. Authorities have claimed that the security situation in Burundi has improved and that there is no reason for refugees not to return to their country of origin. Tanzanian officials have also reportedly been coercing refugees to return, while cuts in the UN Refugee Agency’s funds have left refugee camps short of assistance, leaving most refugees no option but to return.
Burundian Catholic bishops have called for inclusive dialogue to find a solution to the crisis in the country. Joachim Ntahondereye, the chief of the episcopal conference in Burundi, has said that dialogue is in the interest of all parties to the conflict and that war must be avoided. Burundian bishops have opposed President Nkurunziza since his controversial re-election for a third term, who described the move as illegal and as a threat to the fragile stability of the country. Burundi’s population is 62 percent Catholic and some protesters against the president have carried religious Catholic crosses in the demonstrations.
Central African Republic:
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in the CAR has calledfor increased funding for the Humanitarian Response Plan to avoid an escalation of the crisis that could threaten the stability of the whole region. The plan, which is aimed at protecting civilians who are targeted by armed groups, has only been funded by 30 percent of its original budget, compromising the assistance for half of the 2.4 million Central Africans that need it.
Thousands of refugees have fled the renewed violence in the CAR to neighboring Cameroon as UN aid agencies struggle to meet their needs. Gado refugee camp, where most Central Africans are seeking refuge, is currently sheltering 25,000 refugees, compared to the 1,000 that it sheltered in January. Moreover, health workers in the camp warn that children arriving at the camp show signs of severe malnutrition or are badly wounded by fighters when leaving the CAR for Cameroon.
UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng has raised an alarm on the escalation of the violence in a recent visit to the country. Dieng emphasized the importance of holding the perpetrators of crimes accountable to ensure the non-recurrence of crimes, and stated that the UN’s goal is to “explore ways to reduce inter-community tensions and ensure the protection of civilian populations.”
Stéphane Dujarric, UN Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, has said that new allegations of sexual abuse by the UN peacekeeping mission in the CAR (MINUSCA) have surfaced. The abuse is reported to have happened in the town of Bambari against a minor by UN peacekeepers. The alleged victim has received psychological and medical assistance and the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services has started an inquiry that will be referred to the CAR for further investigation.
Democratic Republic of the Congo:
An attack on a UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) base in North Kivu this past Monday morning has killed two UN peacekeepers and injured several others. The Allied Democratic Forces are suspected to have carried out the attack and MONUSCO has deployed a new brigade in order to reinforce its presence and protect the population. This attack comes a month after another attack killed a UN peacekeeper in Mamundioma. The UN has created a board of inquiry to investigate the incident and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has noted that the attacks might constitute war crimes. Guterres has also urged armed groups to drop their weapons and Congolese authorities to carry out a proper investigation and hold the perpetrators accountable.
Since 2014, more than 5 million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes due to the conflict with the Islamic State (ISIL) in the country, according to the UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, on Wednesday. As fighting to recapture territory from ISIL has intensified during recent months, the numbers of displaced civilians within Iraq has risen significantly. More than half a million people fled Mosul during the recapture of the city late last year.
Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga has pulled out of the 26 October election rerun. According to Odinga, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has refused to discuss the reforms proposed in order for the elections to be fair and free. The withdrawal left a situation of uncertainty in the country since the constitution says that no election can take place with only one candidate.
Kenya’s High Court ruled on Wednesday that a minor candidate could run in October’s presidential election after the withdrawal of Odinga’s candidacy. Besides Kenyatta and Odinga, none of the candidates who ran in the past election received more than one percent of the vote. The Supreme Court, however, had earlier ruled that the petitioner and the responder are the only ones who can stand in a rerun in the case of a challenging electoral outcome.
On Wednesday, more protests erupted after the parliament, which is dominated by the Jubilee party, passed a law stating if a candidate withdraws from the election, the other automatically wins the presidency.
A day after, the government banned protests in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu following weeks of demonstrations. Fred Matiangi, the security minister, said that the decision comes to protect the lives and properties of Kenyans as it identifies the demonstrations as a danger to public safety. The National Super Alliance had called for daily protests beginning next week in an effort to put pressure on electoral officials.
Early this week, it was reported that the recent wave of violent clashes in Sabratha rose the death toll to 43 and wounded as many as 340. Additionally, the city’s hospital was damaged in the fighting and is reportedly only partially functioning. The Ministry of Health reported in September that the wounded were being treated either at private clinics or at hospitals abroad.
On Tuesday, the UNSC delivered a presidential statement reopening a Libyan-led political process, as submitted by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The initiative is a Libyan-led peace process that includes the establishment of a unity government and an action plan that, among other things, includes preparations for the creation of a constitution.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) has called on all parties to implement essential provisions from the peace agreement between the Malian government and the Plateforme and Coordination armed groups. The UNSC noted that the continuous delays have raised concerns over the security situation in Mali that could give rise to potential threats to terrorism and transnational organized crime throughout the Sahel.
Due to continuous violence and displacement in Mali, 165,000 children are expected to suffer from severe malnutrition within the next year, with an estimated 142,000 children already affected this year. The violence in northern Mali has caused disruptions in health services and access to water and sanitation, causing a greatest risk to children, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Although French peacekeepers have worked to stabilize Mali since 2013, there have been calls for intensified efforts to “build the resilience of families through improved food security, prevention and treatment of severe acute malnutrition”.
On Monday, the Nigerian government began trials against more than 1,600 suspected Boko Haram members. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have notedthat fair trials for Boko Haram suspects are imperative. However, Amnesty International Nigeria’s Media Manager, Isa Sanusi, has reported that there are thousands of cases of arbitrary arrests where no evidence was provided and individuals were detained for years. Amnesty has also expressed concern in regards to the trials being held behind closed doors, stating that it prevents suspects from receiving access to public hearings.
ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) has stated that the Philippines’ grave human rights violations during its campaign against drugs should result in being removed from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The HRW Geneva advocacy director, John Fisher, noted the importance of a UNHRC member to “uphold the highest standards of human rights, and cooperation with the council”, something that Fisher believes President Rodrigo Duterte is not fulfilling. Fisher also addressed the issue of President Duterte denying the reported extrajudicial killings (EJKs) taking place in the country, stating that Duterte is following a “convenient” definition of EKJs based on the previous administration.
President Rodrigo Duterte announced his shift of small drug war targets to bigger networks and suppliers. Duterte said he will remove police from handling the drug war and instead place the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in charge. He admitted that there are lower death tolls during the PDEA’s operations than during police operations. Although it is unclear if his change in plan was due to international pressure, he specifically addressed the European Union’s focus on the rising death tolls during his speech.
The Center for Peace and Justice (CPJ) has warned warring parties to not focus on division of wealth and power sharing during the upcoming peace revitalization forum organized by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional bloc that brings together Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. The CPJ has said that the discussion must prioritize solving the country’s conflict by addressing the suffering of civilians who are targeted by the warring parties themselves.
UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, Idriss Jazairy, has stated his approval of the United States’ (US) recent decision to lift sanctions against Sudan. Jazairy believes that this is a step in the right direction to fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda, specifically Goal 1, to eradicate poverty. However, both American and Sudanese actors have called on the United States to continue pressuring President Omar al-Bashir and his government to support peace and democratic changes, as well as ending the armed conflicts in Sudan.
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported, that since the beginning of Operation Inherent Resolve in 2014, the US-led coalition has allegedly “unintentionally killed” at least 685 civilians in its military action against the Islamic State (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. However, other independent sources, such as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SORH), have reported numbers much higher. In an article published late last week, HRW argued for the responsibility of the US-led coalition towards these victims, who the coalition have reportedly regarded as collateral damage. HRW argued that the parties involved in the US-coalition have the responsibility to support the surviving victims of their actions with both symbolic gestures, such as a public apology, as well as materially, such as compensation payments.
Colombian police from Cucutá, a town close to the border with Venezuela, have found a mass grave in Venezuelan territory. An investigation is set to begin soon, but authorities have given no information on which country will conduct it. Several non-governmental organizations and community members have denounced disappearances or killings of people who deal with smuggling on the border. Many criminal organizations operate throughout the more than 2,000 kilometers of border between Venezuela and Colombia.
On Wednesday, Reuters brought attention to the Saudi-led coalition’s military activity in the Red Sea, especially around the Houthi-controlled port Hodeidah, which they pursue with the aim of blocking weapons from reaching the Houthi rebels by ships. The military activity reportedly started in 2015, and Western governments approved the activity allegedly as a way to weaken the Houthi fighters and support the internationally recognized government. However, the blockade also stops ships from delivering essential goods, such as food and medical supplies, to Yemeni civilians, which has been of concern to the UN and international aid groups since the beginning of the blockade. Millions of Yemenis still suffer the consequences from this. According to the report, the Saudi-led blockade impeded or severely delayed ships carrying aid supplies and commercial goods from reaching Yemeni ports, even when the UN had cleared the vessels and assured that no weapons were found. Last week, Saudi ambassador to the UN Abdallah Al-Mouallimi denied that the coalition was blocking commercial shipments with food and medicine, stating that such acts would be self-contradictory since Saudi Arabia is donating humanitarian aid to Yemen. Meanwhile, the internationally recognized government of Yemen has also implemented forms of blockades, such as when the government notified the UN of its decision to block a Houthi-held oil port due to its “illegal status” last summer. Therefore, the Houthi-held areas especially suffer from a lack of essential goods due to the blockades.
In the wake of the recent blacklisting of the Saudi-led coalition by the United Nations, Matthew Rycroft, the permanent representative of the United Kingdom to the UN, reported that his government uses “extremely stringent measures” to ensure that the weapons sold to the coalition by the UK “are used correctly.” Reportedly, the UK’s biggest weapon’s client is Saudi Arabia, who purchased weapons worth four billion dollars during the past two years. However, the issue is heavily disputed within the UK; for example, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly condemned the government’s weapons sales to the coalition.
In this week’s UN Security Council briefing on Yemen, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed urged the members of the Security Council to pressure the parties to the conflict in Yemen to embrace a comprehensive peace deal, emphasizing that an agreement to secure access to humanitarian aid cannot be the end goal of efforts to protect the Yemeni civilians. In his briefing, Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed argued that the influential political parties to the conflict have an interest in prolonging the war, and thereby maintain a profitable position in which they have control. Furthermore, Director of Operations at the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) John Ging noted that the humanitarian response plan for Yemen, which has to reach 12 million people in need, is currently only 55 percent funded.