RtoP Weekly: 8 – 12 October 2018


This week in focus: the RtoP and Indigenous Peoples

Each year, on or around 12 October, many countries around the world mark the day in which Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas. Spain celebrates the Día de la Hispanidad or Hispanic Day; many Latin American countries celebrate El Día de la Raza or the Day of Race; and the United States celebrates Columbus Day. In recent years, there has been a movement gaining traction in many countries to instead change the name of this day in order to honor the indigenous populations of the Americas, including their cultures, peoples, and histories in light of the grim fate many of the populations faced under centuries of colonial and non-indigenous rule. For example, in Costa Rica, 12 October now marks El Encuentro de Culturas, or the Encounter of Cultures, while some US states now mark Indigenous Peoples Day.

For centuries, many indigenous groups in these areas suffered from what some have argued could be considered ethnic cleansing and/or other atrocities. In this vein, the intersection of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) norm and the role of the international community in protecting populations, including indigenous peoples today, is an interesting topic. This week, as many people around the world mark this day, under any name, we present one author’s view for your consideration.

Please note: The views and opinions expressed reflect those of the author, and not the ICRtoP, nor its members.

In Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and Unreported Struggles: Conflict and Peace (2017), Shayna Halliwell examines the RtoP norm in the protection of indigenous peoples, in particular those living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh. Within the text, she outlines the ongoing struggles of indigenous groups in CHT, taking note of both the historical context and the current global political situation. She asserts that despite violent actions alleged against the Bangladeshi military, which violate the government-supported 1991 CHT Peace Accord, a lack of political will and the portrayal of resistance efforts as rebellion has prevented timely and decisive action from being taken by Bangladesh or the international community in order to protect these populations from atrocities.

Halliwell goes on to argue that a paradigm shift in the understanding and recognition of indigenous rights would require the international community to acknowledge and better protect these populations. Part of this, she claims, is appropriately ascribing and recognizing the agency and right to self-determination of indigenous peoples and groups more widely among the international community. This paradigm shift is “an alternative understanding,” Halliwell argues, and “has the opportunity to take hold while the [RtoP] principle is still young” and rooted in the will of victims and civil society to resist persecution and atrocity crimes. The author sees the RtoP principle as being young, malleable, and with a transformation, a viable tool towards addressing human rights, humanitarian, and security situations within the UN’s atrocity prevention approach.

To read Shayna Halliwell’s full chapter, entitled, “The Responsibility to Protect Indigenous Peoples? An Analysis of R2P’s Potential Application in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh,” please click here.

What to Watch:

Cameroon: Cameroon polls close, vote counting begins in key election (The Washington Post)
Cameroonians went to the polls on Sunday, 7 October to cast their ballots for what many anticipate will be another re-election of Paul Biya. Although official election results cannot not be released until a constitutionally mandated two week period has passed, opposition candidate Maurice Kamto claimed an early victory. Violence and instability in the Anglophone regions caused concern prior to the election, and the outcome will inevitably impact the country’s peace and security as well, as evidenced by the demonstrations by young Cameroonians already occurring.

Syria: Syria buffer zone free of heavy arms as militants  face deadline (Arab News)
The deal reached last month between Turkey and Russia to create a demilitarized zone in Idlib, Syria is now cleared of heavy arms, ahead of deadline. However, even though the National Liberation Front (NLF) successfully removed all heavy weapons as agreed, the next step, withdrawing of all militants from the area, will present a more difficult task, according to observers. The agreement states all militants must be removed from the area by next week, including the region’s leading force, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), many of whom are determined to continue exerting influence in the war.

Yemen: Calls for accountability as Yemen suffers genocide by starvation (Business Day)
Famine in armed conflict has the potential to be prosecuted as a war crime, or a crime against humanity, if it is state orchestrated and used as a weapon of war. The famine in Yemen is referred to as “genocide by starvation,” one of the reasons being Saudi Arabia’s block of the Port of Hodeidah that intentionally disrupted humanitarian aid being delivered to millions of Yemenis. Despite the ongoing conflict, calls are being made for accountability under international humanitarian law.

But Also Don’t Miss:

Burma: Myanmar “Unwilling” to Probe Rohingya Abuse, UN Must Act: Rights Envoy
UN Special Rapporteur to Myanmar stated that the government “is unable to discharge its obligation to conduct credible, thorough, and independent investigations and prosecutions,” urging the UN to refer the situation to the ICC.

China: China legalizes Xinjiang internment camps
China legalized its “re-education camps” for Uighur Muslims after it long denied their existence. Concerns over the alleged human rights violations against the group and calls for the government to halt its campaign continue to intensify.

DRC: In DR Congo, UN Security Council says December polls are ‘historic opportunity’ for country
The UN Security Council’s mission to the DRC focused electoral transparency, but failed to address the issue of creating space for civil society and freedom of political expression prior to December’s elections.

Mali: “Real Climate of Fear and Insecurity in Country’s North And Centre,” Says Expert
The UN Independent Expert on Human Rights in Mali says, “Mali has not fulfilled its sovereign role in protecting property and people and bringing perpetrators of criminal acts to justice,” urging the international community to support Mali to “fulfill its obligation to the protection of people.”

Nigeria: Probe of Rights Abuses in Nigeria Ends Soon, Says ICC
ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, announced that the Court’s preliminary investigation in Nigeria over alleged grave human rights violations is progressing and the investigative team will hopefully come to a determination soon.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Hope in Guinea, Disappointment in Togo, Impunity in Burundi
RtoP in parts of Africa is seemingly stalled with Guinean 2009 massacre victims dissatisfied with the lack of accountability in the country, Togolese disappointed with the failure of transitional justice mechanisms, and Burundians seeing impunity for rights violations.

Sudan: Sudan Call launch campaign against Al Bashir re-election
Opposition parties and armed movements launched “The Sudan Call,” a political campaign with the goal “to topple the regime [of Al-Bashir] and not to arrange any kind of soft landing.”


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