#RtoPWeekly: 13 – 17 November 2017


Catch up on developments in…

South Sudan


According to Philippine presidential spokesman Harry Roque, Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Burma, did not refer to the Rohingya people by name while addressing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit on 13 November. Aung San Suu Kyi stated that her country was working to implement suggestions from the UN Commission led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and reparations for the displaced would “begin within three weeks” after Burmese and Bangladeshi governments signed an agreement on 24 October.

A spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May said that the situation in Rakhine State “looks like ethnic cleansing.” The Foreign Minister of Britain, Mark Field, also expressed his concern over the situation in Burma, stating that the military is to blame for the crisis. The British government suspended their military training program with Burmese forces earlier this year as a result of the Rohingya crisis.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for a sustainable solution to the Rohingya crisis. He told the Southeast Asian heads of states that he will ask his special envoy to find diplomatic efforts in which Canada can help resolve the issue. For the time being, Trudeau plans to continue his country’s support to humanitarian and political efforts to allow for the eventual return of Rohingya refugees who have fled the country.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US cannot agree with the UN’s findings that the situation in Rakhine State is ethnic cleansing until more evidence and information is collected. He called for an investigation into the violence against the Rohingya, and said there are a number of “characteristics of crimes against humanity” in Rakhine State. Tillerson also advocated against sanctions, and announced that the US will donate another $47 million in humanitarian aid for refugees.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the Burmese military denied reports of ethnic cleansing and abuse claims in the Rakhine State, despite alleged significant evidence to the contrary. The Burmese report found no deaths of innocent civilians; all those who were killed were terrorists. Activists are calling for an independent international investigation in order to find those responsible for the crimes, despite the findings of the Burmese report.

Human Rights Watch released a further report focusing on the alleged systematic sexual violence carried out by military forces in Burma. HRW interviewed 52 Rohingya women and girls whose accounts all alleged that they were raped by uniformed members of the Burmese military and that the sexual violence is far more widespread and systematic than originally believed.

Experts from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, as well as from the South Asian human rights organization, Fortify Rights, have reported that the situation in Rakhine State could be considered a genocide. The groups reached this conclusion based on over 200 interviews conducted within the past year. Cameron Hudson, director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, said that the Rohingya people have “suffered attacks and systematic violations for decades.”


On 9 November, International Criminal Court (ICC) judges authorized the Chief Prosecutor to open an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity that occurred in the country from April 2015 to October 2016. The decision was issued under seal on 25 October, two days before Burundi withdrew its membership from the ICC, to protect victims and potential witnesses. Allegedly, the crimes were committed by state agents and, since Burundi was a State Party to the Rome Statute during the time when the crimes occurred, the country has the duty to cooperate with the Court on the investigation even after their withdrawal.

However, Justice Minister Aimee Laurentine Kanyana said that Burundi was not notified of the ICC’s decision to open an investigation before their departure. Kanyana has also criticized that the decision was announced through the media and has said that the decision violates the Rome Statute. As a consequence, the Minister said that Burundi will not cooperate with the Court. The presidents of Tanzania and Uganda also criticized the ICC’s decision to open the investigation.

Around 400,000 Burundian refugees who fled the country fear for their security if they return. Most relocated in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, and both the presidents of Burundi and Tanzania have asked refugees to return home, claiming that security conditions have improved. Amnesty International, however, disagrees. Amnesty reported in September that refugees who return to Burundi are at risk of death or violence from security forces and the Imbonerakure, a youth political wing, that allegedly commit human rights violations against those believed to be opponents. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) also stated the conditions in Burundi continue to provoke increasing refugee flows to neighboring countries.

Central African Republic:

Najat Rochdi, Deputy Special Representative for MINUSCA, denounced the humanitarian crisis in the CAR and said that only 39 percent of the 500 million USD plan for 2017 is funded. She also said the deterioration of the conflict since May 2017 has made humanitarian assistance difficult to reach those who need it.

On 11 November, a grenade killed seven and injured twenty at a concert in Bangui. The concert was organized to foster social cohesion and reconciliation. As retaliation, heavy gunfire erupted after the attack in the PK5 neighborhood, a Muslim enclave in the mostly Christian city. Prime Minister Simplice Mathieu Sarandji called on the population to not slide back into violence following the attacks.

Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Ahead of anti-government demonstrations called by the opposition, the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) called on the government to respect the freedom of demonstration and of assembly that are enshrined in the constitution of the country. MONUSCO also said security forces should respect the principles of proportionality, necessity, and legality, and called on demonstrators to refrain from the use of violence.


Iraqi security forces found mass graves which could contain almost 400 bodies in an area they recently retook from the Islamic State (ISIL) near the town of Hawija. A local shepherd reported that ISIL allegedly took captives to the area to shoot them or to light them on fire.


Security forces found 28 bodies west of Tripoli on 11 November. The corpses allegedly showed signs of torture. The area of Wershiffana has seen a spike in violence in recent weeks between pro-government forces and armed militant groups who tend to remain loyal to Gaddafi. The bodies of those killed have yet to be returned to their families.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad Ibn Al Hussein, reported on the large number of migrants held in horrendous conditions in detention facilities. In his press release, Zeid mentioned the EU intercepting and returning migrants to the Libyan Coast Guard is exacerbating the issue. He also called upon the Libyan government to take concrete steps to try to address the human rights violations that take place in those centers. Italy and Germany have disagreed with the UN’s statement, and have defended the practice of returning migrants to Libyan authorities, saying it “has saved lives.”

Human rights lawyers presented evidence to the International Criminal Court (ICC) that identified Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter and his forces as responsible for murder, torture, and persecution. There is already an investigation of one of Hifter’s subordinates in process. There is also an arrest warrant out for another subordinate who allegedly killed 33 captives “in cold blood.”


Amnesty International called upon Nigerian authorities to cease the demolition and forced eviction of the Otodo-Gbame and Ilubirin communities in Lagos State. The evictions left 30,000 individuals homeless, 17 missing, and 11 dead. The evictions since March 2016 have allegedly occurred without compensation, notice, or consultation.


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with President Rodrigo Duterte about the human rights concerns in the Philippines. He mentioned the importance of the rule of law and how alleged extrajudicial killings in the country are one of Canada’s greatest concerns.

US President Donald Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte allegedly did not discuss human rights violations, extrajudicial killings, and Duterte’s strict anti-drug campaign within the country when they met this week. Trump said the two have a “great relationship.”

South Sudan:

President Salva Kiir said that he will allow free passage in the country to humanitarian organizations. The move comes after months of international demands and a warning from the United States that South Sudan would lose its financial and diplomatic support if the government did not permit passage.


Russia and the United States said in a joint statement they will continue their efforts to fight the Islamic State (ISIL) in Syria, but there is no military solution to the conflict. They also said they support the de-escalation zones in Syria, and called on UN Member States to increase humanitarian contributions for victims.

Amnesty International accused the Syrian government of imposing sieges on densely populated civilian areas since the beginning of the conflict. It said that the government uses starvation as a warfare method, by blocking or arbitrarily restricting access to basic goods, including food, medicine, water, electricity and fuel. Amnesty says the Syrian government also blocks humanitarian organizations from entering those besieged areas. As a consequence, many civilians are at the brink of starvation or die from causes that could be treated with the adequate equipment. Amnesty called on States to support the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism that was recently established by the UN in order to assist in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible.

Airstrikes in a market of the rebel-held town of Atareb, in northern Syria, killed at least 53. The perpetrators of the strikes are currently unknown, but are alleged to have been carried out by Russian or Syrian government planes. Located in the Aleppo province, the town is part of the “de-escalation” zone established by Russia, Turkey, and Iran, but the constant clashes continue and humanitarian assistance is limited. The airstrikes destroyed the market completely and many children are among the victims. The town is also home to thousands of internally displaced people from the conflict.


On 13 November, the UN Security Council held an Arria Formula meeting on the situation in Venezuela. Many Member States argued the crisis in the country poses a threat to international peace and security and that the Council must hold a meeting on the situation. Many also called on the government of Venezuela to release political prisoners, to investigate alleged human rights violations committed by national security forces in protests between April and July of 2017, and to prosecute those responsible. Russia, China, Bolivia, and Egypt, boycotted the meeting and said the issue should be resolved without foreign interference.

On the same day, the European Union said the gubernatorial elections of last month showed irregularities, and approved economic sanctions and an arms embargo to the country.

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