Category Archives: DRC

#RtoPWeekly: 20 – 24 February

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Sudan: UN Expert calls on government to protect civilians in Darfur

nonosiThe United Nations Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan, Aristide Nononsi, finished a 12-day trip tothe Darfur region of Sudan, speaking out about his findings this week. During his trip, Mr. Nononsi visited Adi Kong, a villagein the west of the Darfur region and spoke with the civilians living there. Voicing the concerns of the people of Adi Kong, Mr. Nononsi said they remain “anxious about the security situation in the area” and lack access to basic services like water, education, and health care. In his statement, Mr. Nononsi also made clear that it is necessary that the government, with the aid of its international partners, uphold their responsibility to protect civilians in the community.

During the same trip, Mr. Nononsi also traveled to the Sorotony Camp in the northern Darfur region, one of the many camps housing the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the violence, where he found the security situation of those living in the camps to be “precarious”. Residents of the camp are continuously threatened by armed and criminal elements both inside and outside the camp. The lack of an adequate criminal justice mechanism and law enforcement institutions in the camp has seriously jeopardized the rule of law and put the residents at extreme and frequent risk of right violations and violence. In particular, Mr. Nononsi emphasized the situation faced by women in the Sorotony Camp, and the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence. Between 27 January and 18 February nine rapes were reported in the camp and many other cases of sexual violence have gone unreported due to fear and the social stigmatization of rape. The correlation between impunity and the prevalence of sexual violence in the camp led Mr. Nononsi to make a statement urging “the Government, which bears the primary responsibility to protect civilians within its territory, to promptly conduct investigations to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Mr. Nononsi addressed other human rights issues as well at the conclusion of his 12-day visit including encouraging the government release several civil society activists currently under arbitrary arrest and held without trial, one of whom may be held in retaliation for his contribution to the Amnesty International report alleging the use of chemical weapons by the government in Darfur last year, according to local media sources.

The situation in Darfur has become practically synonymous with humanitarian tragedy in the ongoing conflict that will be entering into its fourteenth year in 2017. Allegations of atrocity crimes and other human rights abuses committed against the civilian population of Darfur by the government and armed forces of Sudan have often been levied against the regime during its campaign against rebel forces in the western territory.  Rampant impunity has only worsened the situation as the state authorities have refused to exercise any of the five outstanding arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court for Sudanese nationals, including two separate warrants for President Omar al-Bashir for atrocity crimes in Darfur. The weakness of the rule of law in the country has also extended into the daily lives of the civilian population, particularly, as noted by Mr. Nononsi, in the camps for displaced persons in Darfur, where sexual violence, banditry and murder without justice have become commonplace.

Source for above photo of President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe


Catch up on developments in…

Burundi
CAR
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq 
Libya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen
Other


Burundi:

Alice Nzomukunda, the former Second Vice President of Burundi between 2005 and 2006, returned to the country on Monday after previously fleeing due to her criticism of the ruling government for corruption and abuse of its people. Her return is expected to have a positive impact on the government, which faced many accusations of abuses since the beginning of Nkurunziza’s third term in office, despite the constitutional two-term limit.

On 16 February 2017, Joyce Anelay, the British Minister in charge of human rights, announced that the UK will provide 2 million British pounds to Burundi after visiting the center in charge of victims of sexual-based violence in Burundi, SERUK.

Six civil society organizations associated with the Burundian government organized protests in the capital of Bujumbura as well as the town of Gitega on Saturday to protest the fourth round of Burundi peace talks in Tanzania. Exiled members of CNARED, the main Burundi opposition coalition, actively participated in the protests.


Central African Republic:

A joint statement issued by the UN, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the African Union (AU), the Organization of La Francophonie (IOF), and the European Union condemned the acts of violence committed by armed groups in Bambari, as these actions have worsened the already alarming humanitarian situation there. The parties also demanded that these groups cease hostilities immediately. The UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, MINUSCA, also reinforced its presence in the city with additional troops, including a Quick Reaction Unit and Special Forces, in reaction to the increasing rebel activity in and around Bambari.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

On Monday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Re’ad Al Hussein, called upon the DRC to stop all human rights violations. He expressed that the military does not fix the root causes of conflict between the government and local militias; instead, it is only succeeding in endangering innocent civilians. In a video leaked this past weekend, government soldiers can be seen shooting citizens presumed to belong to the Muenza Nsapu village militia, an example of the types of attacks the UNCHR described. Zaid also stated that the government is responsible for ensuring its security forces protect human lives, rather than actively harming civilians. The DRC is currently ignoring demands for an independent investigation into the alleged executions of unarmed civilians by DRC troops in the Kasai region after a video emerged on social media of the soldiers shooting men and women.

On Sunday, Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari told reporters the DRC is moving away from a solely military solution, stating that “the state is envisaging political, traditional and humanitarian solutions on the ground.”


Gaza/West Bank:

On Monday, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) claimed in a press release that a total of seven death sentences – three at sentencing and four others on appeal – had been handed down by military courts in Gaza to civilians for alleged collaboration with Israel. Thus far in 2017 the military courts have sentenced 11 to death, with seven new convictions and four upheld from the previous year, creating a total of 103 death sentences in the Gaza Strip since 2007. In Amnesty International’s yearly report for 2016-17, entitled The State of the World’s Human Rights, allegations were imposed upon both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority ranging from summary executions, unlawful imprisonment, torture and failure to combat impunity for these and other crimes. Amnesty International also highlighted these crimes as endemic threats to civilians in the Occupied Territories.


Iraq:

On Monday, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) published documented cases of gender-based violence committed by Islamic State (ISIL) military forces against six Sunni Arab women living under ISIL rule. Several local and international organizations are trying to provide adequate mental health care and psychological support to the victims of sexual-violence, but aid-workers say that understaffed medical centers and inadequate psychological services are transforming the current situation into a complex and long-term challenge.

As Iraqi forces advance south and west of Mosul in the final stage of the battle to recapture the city from ISIL, aid organizations are seeking to set up emergency camps in order to absorb the hundreds of thousands of civilians that are expected to flee the city. However, as the renewed fighting is likely to displace up to 400,000 people, mostly children, the spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Matthew Saltmarsh, said during a press briefing in Geneva that it will be nearly “impossible to accommodate such large numbers on existing land.” At present, the UNHCR has eight camps open or completed, which are ready to welcome people already suffering from shortages of food, water, fuel and medicine, with another camp under construction.

The US military commander in Iraq has affirmed that he believes that US-backed Iraqi military forces will be able to retake both Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqqa within the next six months. On Thursday, the Iraqi Counterterrorism service (CTS) and units of the interior ministry known as Rapid Response descended upon and stormed the ISIL-held airport of Mosul as well as the nearby Ghazlani military complex. Gaining control of this strategic site was allegedly one of the “major achievements that the Iraqi forces were hoping to get” in the first phase of their advance into western Mosul.


Libya:

On Monday, Libya’s Red Crescent recovered the corpses of 74 refugees from the beaches of Zawiya, a city located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The demoralizing recovery follows the controversial refugee plan meant to stem the flow of refugees from Libya, which European Leaders agreed upon earlier this month. The bodies allegedly came from a shipwrecked raft, which was later found on the same stretch of shore, according to the Red Crescent’s spokesperson.


Mali:

The first joint military patrol left Gao Thursday morning in the first step to fulfilling the 2015 UN-brokered peace agreement between the rival factions in the country. The patrol was comprised of soldiers from the Malian army, Tuareg separatist militias, and pro-government militias, as well as forces from the UN peacekeeping mission and the French stabilization mission in Mali. Last month, while preparations were underway for what was to be the first of the joint military patrols mandated under the 2015 agreement, militants attacked the town of Gao and killed 77 people. With the successful deployment of the first joint patrol on Thursday, more are expected to take place in the coming weeks.


Nigeria:

Following further communal violence between Christian farmers and Muslim herders this week, resulting in 14 deaths, the government declared a 24 hour curfew in an effort to protect lives and the rule of law in the central regions of the country.

In its yearly report entitled The State of the World’s Human Rights, Amnesty International has accused the Nigerian government of a heavy-handed crackdown while combating extremism in the country, including forced disappearances and human rights abuses against journalists and the media, amongst others. Nigerian armed forces responded to these allegations with sharp denial and accusations of fabrication by Amnesty International.

Additionally, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel stated this week that more than seven million people are at risk of starvation in Nigeria’s northeastern region, which has been subject to the greatest levels of fighting between military and insurgency groups. Currently, the UN estimates $1.5 billion USD is needed to combat food insecurity in the region, and aims to have one-third of that total raised from donor states by the end of February 2017.


South Sudan:

The United Nations-mandated commission on Human Rights in South Sudan has called for “an international, independent, investigative mechanism for South Sudan to be set up” even before a hybrid court is set up, to look into and gather evidence of crimes committed throughout the conflict in the country.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir publicly called upon members of the country’s opposition and partners to the 2015 peace deal this week to leave aside doubts and join him and his administration in the restoration of peace by uniting the population.

On Monday, the UN reported that in the northern central regions of South Sudan people are dying of starvation. The UN has issued a formal declaration of famine for parts of the country. The World Food Program (WFP) in South Sudan labeled the famine “man-made” due to the political and social turmoil since 2013. Unless food is provided, it is estimated 5.5 million people will experience extreme food shortage by this summer. As of today, it is estimated that 100,000 people are at risk of starvation, while 1 million are on the brink of famine. According to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the UN needs $4.4 billion USD by the end of March to avert a famine catastrophe in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, and Yemen, but have only raised $90 million thus far.

In recent weeks, outgoing Chairperson of the African Union, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has expressed and reiterated increased concern for the deteriorating security situation in South Sudan, causing even more issues for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees.


Sudan:

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N) announced on Wednesday, that the recent clashes with government forces in the contested South Kordofan region, which began Monday, have stopped. However, the SPLM-N has also alleged that government artillery has continued to shell SPLM-N positions in violation of the ceasefire. Both sides have remained formally supportive and committed to a ceasefire in the region while simultaneously each alleging that the other side has violated it.

On Tuesday, one of the rebel factions in Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Movement for Peace and Development (SLM-PD), became the most recent signatory to last October’s National Dialogue Document. The Document is intended to pave the way for a new permanent constitution for the state, but has been boycotted by many key opposition groups until such a time as confidence-building measures are implemented.

The decisions of the United Kingdom and other European Union (EU) states to engage with the government of Omar al-Bashir in efforts to curb the flow of migration into the European continent, has raised criticism from politicians on both sides of the aisle in London. The All Party Group for Sudan and South Sudan, a collective political campaigning group of Members of Parliament and members of the House of Lords from across party lines, released an advisory report last week, questioning the UK Parliament’s direction towards greater cooperation with the Sudanese government. The group argued that increased engagement with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is still the subject of outstanding arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court and whose government has been accused of numerous human rights abuses, jeopardizes the reputation of both the UK and the EU as forces supportive of human rights on the international stage.


Syria:

On 23 February, the latest round of UN-sponsored Syria peace talks began in Geneva. Ahead of these new negotiations, 40 human rights and other organizations said on Tuesday that, in order to reach a stable and long-lasting political solution for the Syrian people, participants should prioritize key human rights issues. These issues are namely to end unlawful attacks; to ensure humanitarian access and safe evacuation of civilians; to guarantee an appropriate mechanism for justice; and to reform the actual Syrian security sector. However, this round of negotiations has not begun under the best auspices. The ceasefire brokered by Turkey, Russia and Iran during the recent multilateral meeting in the Kazakh capital of Astana is already falling apart. The lack of ability to enforce a stable and long-term ceasefire and the weakening of rebel positions are making it increasingly less likely that there will be an agreed-upon political transition in Syria. The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, also expressed low expectations for major progress during this planned round of negotiations. Conflicting agendas are not only dividing the government and the opposition, but also the different rebel groups from one another, as their positions have been weakened by infighting over the past month.

On Thursday, when the talks began, the rebel faction surprisingly called for “face-to-face discussions” with government representatives. As Salem al-Maslet, spokesman for the High Negotiation Committee (HNC), the umbrella group representing the opposition, has said, “it would save time and be proof of seriousness instead of negotiating in [separate] rooms”.

On Tuesday, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria Ali Al-Za’tari urged all parties to the conflict to promptly ensure safe passage for an estimated 5,000 civilians trapped in and around the town of Al-Bab in northern Syria. The UN has expressed “deep concern” over their fate, since that area remains under the control of the Islamic State (ISIL).


Yemen:

Vicious fighting continued this week between the warring parties in the Yemeni conflict along the coast of the Red Sea. Government forces have been driving towards the rebel-held port city of Al Hudaydah since capturing Mokha to the south, bringing the frontlines closer to the vital conduit for UN-supervised aid that passes through the city. Unexploded rockets have already landed inside the port of Al Hudaydah and airstrikes have destroyed many critical roadways and bridges, significantly impeding the transport of much-needed commodities, according to a statement on Tuesday by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick. Mr. McGoldrick also said in the statement that he was deeply concerned about the increased militarization along the western coast and the direct toll it is having on civilians.


What else is new?

The Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum (CPPF) has released a new manual on atrocity prevention and the Responsibility to Protect. This manual, entitled “Atrocity Prevention in a Nutshell: Origins, Concepts and Approaches,” outlines key concepts and considerations on approaches to genocide and atrocity prevention. It is broken down into different sections, each highlighting an important aspect to atrocity prevention and response.  To read the full manual, please click here.

 

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Filed under Burundi, DRC, Human Rights, ICRtoP Members, Libya, Nigeria, Prevention, RtoP, Security Council, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Syria Ceasefire, UN, Weekly Round-Up, Yemen

#RtoP Weekly: 13 February – 17 February

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Burma set to investigate abuses against Rohingya Muslims

Following the report published last week by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights signaling the incessant perpetration of gross human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine State, the Burmese government has announced that it will set up an investigation into allegations of police abuses committed during the military crackdown in the state since October 2016.

The plight of the Rohingya minority in the country, whose very existence has been denied by the Burmese government, have increasingly raised alarms in the international community. In late January 2017, the government of Bangladesh revived a plan, which was first suggested in 2015, regarding the possibility to transfer Rohingya refugees to an uninhabited, undeveloped coastal island, called Thengar Char. Brad Adams, the executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, said that the proposal to relocate people to an island “that is deluged at high tide and submerged during the monsoon season” is both “cruel and unworkable”. According to what the plan envisages, it is unclear as to whether all Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh would be transferred, or only the new arrivals.

On Wednesday, the Burmese military finally put an end to the clearance operations in Rakhine State, which the United Nations (UN) affirm “may amount to crimes against humanity”. The newly appointed security adviser, Thaung Tun, said that “the situation in northern Rakhine has now stabilized […] the curfew has been eased and there remains only a police presence to maintain the peace”. However, the violence perpetrated during the last four months has renewed international criticism of Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been accused of having inadequately addressed the matter. In particular, she has either remained silent on the worsening situation or participated in official denials issued from the military.

Source for above photo: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters via The Guardian


Catch up on developments in…
Burundi
CAR
DPRK
DRC
Iraq 
Libya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen

Burundi:

Burundi’s Home Affairs minister, Pascal Barandagiye, said at a hearing with a UN refugee agency (UNHCR) representative in Burundi that figures released by the UNHCR about Burundians fleeing the country are false, and that “those who are said to flee the country are people suffering from hunger, who leave the country to search for food and then return back.”

Burundi is starting to call back its citizens after officials have announced that the country is safe after having months of civil unrest. It is calling upon those citizens who fled during the unrest to neighboring countries such as Uganda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This call for refugees happened on the eve of peace talks, scheduled for 16 February to 18 February. According to the Burundian president’s office earlier this week, the government would conduct the next round of talks in Arusha, Tanzania in the context of the inter-Burundian dialogue. However, later in the week the Burundi government refused to send representatives to these talks. The government spokesperson stated that Burundi will not negotiate with those who disturb their justice and noted that some of the members of the delegation are wanted in Burundi for offenses against the state.

While Burundi states that it is making peaceful progress, critics of the government who remain in the country have said that their work is becoming increasingly difficult to do due to further restrictions on civil society. These journalists and human rights activists are worried for their own safety as well as those whose human rights are being violated and state that these people are terrified to speak out.


Central African Republic:

On Saturday the UN mission in CAR (MINUSCA) shot at fighters from the Popular Front for the Renaissance of Central African Republic (FPRC) advancing towards the town of Bambari, reportedly killing a top militant and three other fighters. Later in the week a MINUSCA spokesman stated that a death toll had not been confirmed, but it is confirmed that the FPRC’s top commander, Joseph Zonduko, was killed.
A senior UN humanitarian official denounced forceful entry by armed individuals into a hospital in the Central African Republic’s restive PK5 neighbouhood with the intention to kill some of the patients, emphasizing that this is the second incident at the health facility, situated in the capital, Bangui, in the last five days.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch condemned the execution of 32 civilians, possibly more, due to clashes in the country. With all this conflict, the appointment of a chief prosecutor for the Special Criminal Court on 15 February marks an important step towards accountability and peace. The court will be staffed by national and international judges and prosecutors to prosecute human rights violations that have taken place since 2013.


DPRK:

On Monday, the UN Human Rights Council released a report of a group of independent experts designated by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to hold North Korea accountable for the human rights violations perpetrated in the country, which, the experts argue, amount to crimes against humanity.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

The UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC voiced its concern about the constant conflict in the Kasai provinces where violent atrocities are being committed by the Kamuina Nsapu militia, including recruiting and using child soldiers. UN and humanitarian partners in the DRC have appealed for nearly $750 million to aid 6.7 million people this year. On Tuesday, the UN human rights office announced that more than 100 people had been killed between 9 and 13 February in Dibaya.

On Thursday, the DRC government announced that it will not have the funds to afford a new presidential election, which was agreed to happen this year. Budget Minister Pierre Kangudia said the cost, $1.8 billion, was too expensive. Current President Joseph Kabila’s term ended in late 2016, but opponents have accused him of delaying polls to remain in power. The DRC has not had a smooth transfer of power for more than 55 years. The 2017 election plan initially reduced tensions in the country, but with this latest news tensions have reignited. The African Union, United Nations, European Union, and International Organization of La Francophonie have issued a joint statement of increasing concern for the implementation of the election plan agreement, which outlined a peaceful transition of power.


Iraq:

On Saturday, Iraqi security forces fired tear gas and rubber-coated bullets at thousands of  supporters of an influential Shia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, who were demonstrating in the area of Baghdad’s Green Zone, pressing for electoral reform. Four protesters and one policeman were killed, and many were injured.

On Thursday, Islamic State (ISIL) claimed responsibility for having blown up a car packed with explosives in the south of Baghdad, killing 48 people and wounding dozens more. On Wednesday, a suicide bomber detonated a truck in the suburb of Sadr City, killing 15 people and wounding around 50, while only a day earlier, another car bomb explosion in southern Baghdad killed four people.


Libya:

On Friday, the Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Libya, met in Geneva to address the ongoing flows of refugees and migrants in Libya, calling for a comprehensive approach at the international level. They highlighted that “untold numbers of people” face “grave human rights violations and abuses”, such as extortion, torture and sexual violence.


Mali:

Government officials reported late Monday and early Tuesday that communal violence in the Ke-Macina area killed at least 13 over the weekend. However, residents of the area claimed the number of deaths was at least 30. Local sources also said that members of the Bambara community attacked the Fulani community, who they accuse of collaboration with extremist groups that have destabilized the country. By Wednesday, the official government numbers had risen to 20 with 16 injured and 600 displaced by the fighting.

Elsewhere, state security forces pushed into Dialoubé locality in the central Mopti region over the weekend, ousting the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) aligned extremist group that had controlled the area. Military officials claim to have arrested around 20 suspected members of the group and to have killed one area resident who refused to stop at a checkpoint.

Despite setbacks, actors remain committed to implementation of the peace plan outlined in the agreement signed in May-June 2015. The working group overseeing the implementation of the Malian peace plan stated that implementation will continue and that joint patrols will begin by the end of February. The statement came only weeks after a devastating attack by terror groups on a military base in Gao as the first tripartite patrol was preparing to depart.


Nigeria:

Communal violence between largely Christian farmers and largely Muslim nomadic herders has displaced 27,000 in Kaduna state since September. The Nigerian government’s disaster response organization has officially stated that 200 have been killed while local church officials claim the number may be as high as 800.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has reported a drastic reduction in cases of malnutrition in children under five in areas they provide food relief. At an ICRC clinic in southern Borno state an average of 10 cases were reported a month since December compared to 110-120 cases a month last summer. Despite this ICRC and other humanitarian organizations are concerned about possible famine like condition in areas still inaccessible to them. The UN has also forecasted the potential for catastrophic famine conditions in Nigeria, particularly affecting children, and the UN Food and Agricultural Program is warning of food shortages for 11 million in June through August, 120,000 of whom may face famine like conditions.

The US administration has reportedly made promises to the Nigerian government about increasing cooperation and aid in the Nigerian fight against Boko Haram and other terror groups, including the increased sale of arms to the Nigerian military. Previous US administrations have been resistant to arms sales to Nigeria due to deep concerns regarding human rights abuses by the government and armed forces.


South Sudan:

The UN Security Council has strongly condemned continued fighting across South Sudan, particularly incidents in the Equatoria and Upper Nile regions, and warned that attacks on civilians could renew calls for sanctions. The Council called on all parties to cease hostilities immediately. Thousands of civilians have been fleeing as violence in the Equatoria region has intensified. The aid workers on the ground have stated that thousands of refugees are entering Uganda every day due to the fighting between different factions and the South Sudanese military. Refugees have reported that government soldiers are torturing, kidnapping, raping, and executing women and girls around Kajo-Keji County. Officials in South Sudan also say army troops raped at least six women and girls, some at gunpoint. There has been an increase in rape by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), sparking outrage and raised tension between the government and other countries aiding in humanitarian efforts. However, South Sudanese internally displaced persons have opposed the re-deployment of the Kenyan peacekeepers, claiming their involvement fueled clashes in Juba.

President Salva Kiir dismissed charges that he and the SPLA Chief of General Staff, Paul Malong Awan, have turned the national army into a tribal institution. Later in the week, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), one of the rebel groups fighting Sudanese government forces in Darfur, called on the African Union High Level Implementation panel to consult with opposition groups before convening any meeting on the peace process. It was also reported that a South Sudanese general has resigned from the army, accusing the country’s president of “ethnic cleansing.”


Sudan:

A presidential spokesperson has reaffirmed the Sudanese government’s commitment to signing a comprehensive ceasefire and humanitarian access deal following the proposal by the US envoy. However, the spokesperson also stated the government remains equally committed to retaliatory action against perceived aggression.
This week, the UN International Children’s Fund (UNICEF)  launched an appeal for  $110 million to aid two million acutely malnourished children throughout Sudan.


Syria:

Syrian rebels and Turkish troops, as well as Syrian government forces, have entered Islamic State (ISIL) held Al-Bab, the group’s last stronghold in Syria, engaging in heavy clashes with the terrorist group. On Saturday, the Turkish military released a statement reporting that at least 43 ISIL fighters were “neutralized” and that the Free Syrian Army (FSA), supported by Turkish Land Forces, eventually hit 245 ISIL targets, including headquarters and defense positions. On Tuesday, the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildrim said that Turkey-backed rebels have largely taken control of the town of Syria’s Al-Bab from ISIL combatants. However, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Islamic State remained in control of the northern Syrian town.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch has claimed that Syrian Government forces allegedly used chemical weapons targeting opposition-controlled areas of Aleppo during the battle to retake the city in late 2016. From 7 November to 13 December, government helicopters purportedly dropped chlorine bombs in residential areas of Aleppo, killing nine civilians, including children, and injuring about 200.

As more than 60,000 civilians are trapped in the four Syrian towns of Al-Zabadani, Al-Fu’ah, Kefraya and Madaya, on Monday, a senior United Nations relief official called on all parties to come to a viable agreement, allowing for immediate humanitarian access. People in the four towns suffer from daily violence and deprivation, as well as malnutrition and lack of proper medical care. In a news release, Ali Al-Za’tari, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, stressed that the situation is likely to spark a humanitarian catastrophe.

On Wednesday, the spokesman of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which includes rebel groups and political opponents of President Assad, said that it wants to negotiate with the Syrian government about a political transition at peace talks scheduled to begin next week in Geneva. While underlining that the HNC still sticks to its position that President Assad can have no role in the transition, it welcomes the creation of a governing body tasked with overseeing the process.

The United Nations in Geneva will host a new body charged with preparing prosecutions of war crimes committed in Syria. At a minimum, the body will be tasked with preparing files for prosecutions that could be used by states or the International Criminal Court in bringing forward such prosecutions. Andrew Clapham, Professor of International Law at Geneva’s Graduate Institute said that “the focus is on collecting evidence and building criminal cases before the trail goes cold.” He further pointed out that many national courts could also bring perpetrators to account using the resulting dossiers.


Yemen:

A Saudi-led coalition airstrike targeting the home of a local tribal leader reportedly killed nine women and one child, in addition to wounding dozens, as they attended a funeral. Initial reports from Houthi officials also claimed that the attack included a second follow-up strike that hit first responders. A previous airstrike reported to have occurred last Friday, also killed a school administrator as well as two students when a makeshift gas station less than 200 metres from a school was targeted by coalition warplanes, according to Human Rights Watch. The rights group also stated that the attack on the gas station, which local witnesses said has previously fueled Houthi fighting vehicles, occurred during the beginning of the school day when students were walking to school and at a time when no combatant vehicles were present. The Saudi-led coalition issued a statement on Monday reiterating their commitment to protecting civilians and touting the steps it has taken to minimize civilian casualties.

Elsewhere, a suicide car bomb in a Houthi-controlled town reportedly killed three, including a child, and wounded eight others.

The fighting has had a significant impact on civilian property and infrastructure worsening the humanitarian impact of the conflict. Medecins Sans Frontières has reported that civilians are facing significant supply shortages and that the ongoing violence has caused major damage to hospitals in the Taiz area. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that as fighting in Al-Mokha City in Taiz continued last weekend, 8,000 people fled the violence to the neighbouring Al-Hudaydah governorate where WHO is providing emerging trauma care to those displaced across several districts.

UN Secretary-General Guterres called for a resurrection of the peace negotiations in Yemen for the sake of the suffering civilians, many of whom are now considered by the UN to be at severe risk of famine. Seven previous ceasefires brokered by the UN have failed, as have previous rounds of peace talks. Mr. Guterres also reaffirmed his support for the current UN peace envoy to Yemen days after the Houthi rebels asked the UN chief not to renew the current envoy’s mandate. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reportedly called for a truce in Yemen on Wednesday, potentially indicating a willingness to deescalate the tensions with Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia that have been fueling the conflict in Yemen.

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Filed under Burma, Burundi, CARcrisis, DRC, Human Rights, Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Peacekeeping, RtoP, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Syria Ceasefire, UN, United States, Weekly Round-Up, Yemen

#RtoPWeekly: 30 January – February 3

UntitledSecretary-General and other top UN officials denounce
discriminatory migration policies

Following the announcement of the recent Executive Order in the United States regarding immigration, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres released a statement on Tuesday denouncing any policies founded in discrimination based on religion, ethnicity or nationality as both “ineffective” and “against the fundamental principles and values on which our societies are based.” Mr. Guterres also noted that discriminatory migration policies breed fear, anger and the very violence they claim to prevent. Above all, Mr. Guterres expressed his particular concern regarding decisions around the world that have jeopardized the integrity of the international refugee protection regime, preventing refugees from receiving the protections they are in desperate need of and are entitled to under international law.

Secretary-General Guterres, who previously served as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has stressed the importance of the pursuit of peace and has repeatedly underscored the primacy of prevention and diplomacy in international peace and security, stating during his first official address as the UN chief that, “peace must be our goal and our guide.”  Speaking with media at UN Headquarters on Wednesday Mr. Guterres specifically addressed the actions of the US prohibiting migration and refugees from specific countries and expressed belief that the measure should be reversed. Recalling the written statement he had made the day prior, Secretary-General Guterres emphasized that the measures put in place by the US administration are not the way to protect the US, or any country, from the threat of terrorism. He went on to firmly state that “these measures should be removed sooner rather than later.”

The Secretary-General’s calls have been also echoed by other officials and experts within the UN. On Wednesday, five independent human rights experts released a joint statement through the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The UN Special Rapporteurs on migrant rights, racism, human rights and counter-terrorism, torture and freedom of religion jointly expressed their expert opinion that the US policy is discriminatory, a “significant setback for those who are obviously in need of international protection,” and risks violating international humanitarian and human rights law. The current UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, also made an impassioned plea for solidarity and compassion for refugees fleeing devastation in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere. Mr. Grandi said “The world has to go back to solidarity, has to think again of these people – not with fear, not with suspicion, but with open arms, with an open mind, with an open heart.”

Earlier this week the Mr. Grandi also expressed his deep concern over the uncertainty now faced by thousands of refugees in the process of resettlement in the United States due to the ban. The High Commissioner noted that in the first week of the Executive Order alone, 800 of some of the most vulnerable refugees were turned away from the US after already being cleared to restart their lives in the country. In total, the UNHCR (Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees) estimates that 20,000 refugees could have been resettled over the 120 days prohibited by the Executive Order. Recalling the history of the US as a leader in the protection of refugees, the High Commissioner voiced clearly his hopes that the “US will continue its strong leadership role and its long history of protecting those who are fleeing conflict and persecution.”

The UNHCR released a new infographic this week on Refugee Resettlement facts, focusing on the process within the US and globally. To view the UNHCR’s infographic, please click here.

Catch up on developments in…

CAR
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq
Libya
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sri Lanka
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen 
Other

Central African Republic:

President Museveni of Uganda called on all regional leaders participating in the fight against the remainders of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to better cooperate with regional forces. While noting that the regional forces have reduced the LRA’s capabilities enough that they no longer attack military targets, he also noted that the group’s continued attacks on civilian and soft targets is an embarrassment for the governments unable to protect their citizens. Earlier in the week acting the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for CAR reported that the Ouaka province is at major risk of civilian casualties should conflict spillover from neighboring regions.

Top UN officials have approved an allocation of 6 million USD from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to support responses to new violent emergencies in the CAR. Part of this will allow the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to reach 36,800 people facing food insecurity due to the violence in recent months.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

The UN has stated that human rights abuses rose by over 30 percent in the DRC in 2016, with a documented total of 5,190 human rights violations across the country. The increase is allegedly tied to election-related repression and increased activities of several armed groups.

The representatives of the Guarantors of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the region (PSC Framework) held a meeting in Ethiopia, on 27 January, in which they considered efforts to address instability in eastern DRC, including support to the neutralization of armed groups. The representatives also discussed dialogue processes in the DRC and Burundi. However, political parties failed to agree on a new peace deal agreement, which has been in progress since the beginning of the year. The representatives reportedly could not agree on the method of appointing a new Prime Minister and experts worry the likelihood of organizing a nationwide poll by the end of the year will be extremely difficult and costly.


Gaza/West Bank:

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), made claims based on an internal report, accusing Israel of “unlawful” and “systematic killings” of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. The assembly called on the 324 parliamentarians from 47 countries to support the possibility of launching a formal investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC).


Iraq:

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported the disappearance and torture of minors by the regional government of Kurdistan. Over 180 boys under the age of 18 are purportedly being held without being charged according to HRW estimates. Furthermore, the government has not informed the children’s families, increasing the probability of being disappeared.

The UN envoy for Iraq, Jan Kubis, said this week that Iraq’s liberation from the Islamic State (ISIL) is soon to come, but fighting and massive challenges will continue. Kubis also stated that Iraq will need substantial and sustainable international support and any scaling-down of engagement will only repeat past mistakes. Kubis also noted his concerns over ISIL’s continued targeting of civilians, adding that they will be at extreme risk when fighting in western sections of Mosul begins. Human Rights Watch also claimed in a report on Thursday that groups within Iraqi military forces known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) have been involved in the abuse, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearances of men fleeing Mosul, carrying out secret screenings in unidentified detention centers.


Libya:

Over the weekend, German diplomats reported that the private camps used by human traffickers to hold refugees and migrants are rife with cases of rape, torture and execution. The leaked memo detailed evidence compiled by the German Foreign Ministry of, what they called, “concentration-camp-like” conditions. The report comes days before the beginning of a special European Union (EU) summit of heads of state in Malta on Friday where the European migrant situation is to be discussed. On Wednesday Human Rights Watch (HRW)called on the EU and the heads of state meeting in Malta to put human rights and the protection of migrants from future abuses in Libya. The UN-backed Prime Minister of Libya also said on Wednesday that his government would consider allowing NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) or EU ships to operate in national waters in cooperation with Libyan coastguard operations.

Elsewhere in Libya, forces loyal to Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, the self-declared Libyan National Army (LNA), continued combat operations in an effort to retake Benghazi. The LNA reported that their forces had suffered heavy casualties, but the civilian impact from the offensive is currently unknown.


Nigeria:

Nigerian police have reported that clashes between mostly Christian Mumuye farmers and mostly Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed six people and resulted in the razing of 80 houses in Taraba state in central Nigeria. The violence began on Friday and continued through the weekend into Tuesday, when Mumuye youth reportedly attacked a Fulani village. Ethno-religious tensions in Taraba state escalated earlier in January when the state’s governor was quoted by media urging Christian farmers to fight back against those he dubbed terrorists.

The situations faced by civilians in the country’s embattled north has become whollyunacceptable, according to local media outlets and humanitarian agencies on the ground such as Médecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). Food and medicine shortages, caused in no small part by corruption in the government-run humanitarian sector, has left camp residents in dire situations, with MSF reporting that in a camp visited in July 66 percent of children were emaciated and 1,200 graves had recently been dug. Residents in one camp protested conditions and claimed that they were able to eat only once a day and that inadequate shelter and medical care had made disease rampant. Security is also a concern with surveys of internally displaced people in the camps, the majority of whom are women and children, found two thirds of camp residents reported that guards are engaging in sexual abuses against the very civilians they were tasked with defending. Of the 1.8 million internally displaced people in Nigeria, many are children. Over 30,000 of these children have been separated from their parents while fleeing the fighting.


South Sudan:

Renewed violence broke-out in the city of Malakal in the upper Nile region this week as rebels and government forces engaged in heavy fighting causing civilians in the area to flee for safety. The UN mission in South Sudan noted great concern over the intensification of violence and called on both parties to cease hostilities, with observers warning of the potential for the breakdown of the security situation into an all-out war. The clashes are a continuation and escalation of sporadic fighting that occurred in Malakal last week.

The expansion of the fighting in Malakal to Wau Shilluk, a town to the north, forced the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to halt humanitarian operations for thousands of displaced persons and evacuate 14 staff to safer locations.

Fighting reported to have broken out between government and rebel soldiers in a town on the southern border with Uganda also forced many civilians to flee into the neighboring state this week.

Following the joint statement released by the UN and African Union (AU) on 29 January, which expressed deep concern regarding the current violence and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), a leading civil society organization in South Sudan, called on the UN, AU and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to move from statements to action in South Sudan. CEPO maintains an active and ongoing mapping of violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed in South Sudan’s ongoing civil war on their website. Exiled rebel leader Riek Machar, currently residing in South Africa, supported the joint calls of the UN, African Union and IGAD to end the conflict, but disagreed with the calls for dialogue until a reinstatement of the ceasefire is reached.

The Enough Project has released a report on corruption in the South Sudanese military and the pursuit of profits and powers as fuel for violence and conflict in the country, entitled “Weapons of Mass Corruption: How corruption in South Sudan’s military undermines the world’s newest country.” The report identifies incidents of fraud and other forms of corruption amongst military officials as being a major obstacle to the assurance of peace and the protection of civilians from violence in the country.


Sri Lanka:

Torture and impunity for such heinous acts continues to be a serious concern in Sri Lanka,according to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez. Several organizations have released press statements regarding Mr. Mendez’s report and criticizing the collapse of the system in the country meant to investigate and prosecute torture.


Sudan:

New reports of violence in Darfur have arisen this week, as well as details of an allegedrevenge attack carried out by government forces on the civilians of Nertiti, which resulted in the deaths of nine people at the beginning of January and injured 69 others. UNAMID, the joint UN and African Union mission in Darfur, has been criticized by locals for allegedly failing to intervene in the reported attack despite having a base of operations in the town.

In commemoration of the 12 year anniversary of the “Port Sudan Massacre,” activists from eastern Sudan called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the incident from 29 January 2005 that is alleged to have involved the killing approximately of 20 unarmed protesters by government forces.


Syria:

The UN World Food Programme resumed air drops to besieged Deir al-Zor on Tuesday, where roughly 93,500 citizens are believed to still be trapped. Syrian and Russian forces have increased the intensity of their offensive on rebel and Islamic State (ISIL) held portions of the city, with Russian air force bombers reportedly hammering ISIL positions with unguided bombs. Despite this, the siege lines have yet to significantly change as the humanitarian need for the nearly 100,000 trapped civilians grows more desperate as access to clean water has been eliminated.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that a midnight airstrike on Wednesday in the city of Idlib hit offices of the Syrian Red Crescent, injuring several staffers, including the director of the local branch. It is still unclear which forces are responsible for the strike.

On Thursday, the US military reported that 11 civilians were killed in four separate airstrikes by the US-led Coalition in Iraq and Syria between 25 October and 9 December last year. An attack on 7 December near Raqqa, Syria proved the most lethal for civilians as a Coalition airstrike hit a building allegedly containing ISIL combatants, killing seven civilians. The statement claims that the total number of civilians killed since the beginning of the air campaign is 199, but this number drastically conflicts with independent monitoring groups such as Airwars, who have totalled the civilian death toll at 2,358. According to US military data, the Coalition has conducted 17,861 airstrikes since the beginning of the operation, 6,868 of which have struck in Syria.

The UN-orchestrated peace negotiations in Geneva have been delayed until late February according to Russian sources. However, the UN has not yet confirmed this delay. The US and Saudi Arabia are reported to have come to an agreement on cooperating to establish safe zones in Syria, but no further details have yet emerged.


Yemen:

A US raid on alleged al Qaeda allies last Sunday caused an unknown amount of civilian casualties, with conflicting reports. US military officials have said 14 militants were killed and one commando killed with others injured. Medics on scene reported a total of 30 fatalities, including 10 women and three children including, reportedly, the eight-year old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, who was targeted and killed by US drones in 2011. On Thursday, the USadmitted to the likelihood civilians, including children, had been killed by their raid, but were silent on the number believed killed. US naval bombardment on positions believed to be held by al-Qaeda continued into Thursday according to Yemeni security officials.

UN experts have warned that airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen may amount to war crimes. The expert panel reviewed 10 attacks between March and October 2016 that are believed to have killed at least 292 civilians. The panel found that in all cases the Saudi-led forces did not meet the minimum standards of proportionality and precautions for attack found in international law. The experts said that despite their inability to travel to Yemen that they had achieved the highest achievable standard of proof and were near certain of their findings. The panel also expressed concern over actions of the Houthi rebels that may also amount to war crimes.

On Monday, rockets reportedly fired by Houthi rebels into Saudi Arabia on Mondaydamaged a UN building. In condemning the attack the on the De-escalation and Coordination Committee building UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed noted that the building attacked was supposed to host the committee that will oversee the cessation of hostilities and report on violations.

Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) released a report on the healthcare situation in Yemen this week. The report, entitled “Yemen: Healthcare Under Siege in Taiz,” focuses on the events occurring in the embattled city, but MSF officials say the situation in Taiz is representative of Yemen as a whole. MSF reported that both sides of the conflict have regularly demonstrated a lack of respect for the protection of civilians and healthcare workers and facilities. The UN also stated that Yemen is exposed to the risk of widespread famine and food shortages once the city’s limited stores of stable foods are depleted, likely within the next 3 months. Torture, murder and abuse of migrants by traffickers and kidnappers in Yemen as also beenreported.


What else is new?

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has published a new report on the implementation of the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention). In 2016, ICRC surveyed capacity for the protection of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in 25 African states and identified how states could best meet their responsibilities towards displaced persons. The findings are summarized in the new report, “Translating the Kampala Convention into Practice: a stocktaking exercise,” which is available here for free PDF download or for hard-copy purchase.

ICRtoP member the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR) is co-sponsoring a panel discussion on the relationship between legal accountability and the prevention of atrocity crimes on Thursday 9th February. The event is entitled “Accountability and Prevention of Mass Atrocities: International Criminal Justice as a Tool for Prevention” and will be hosted at the New York City Bar Association. For more information on this event or to register your attendance, please click here.

The Yale MacMillan Center will also be hosting an event from 16-17 February, entitled “Humanitarian Intervention and the Responsibility to Protect.” Both days of programing will be held at Yale University in New Haven, CT. For more information please click here.

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Filed under African Union, Burma, CARcrisis, DRC, Human Rights, ICRtoP Members, Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Peacekeeping, Prevention, RtoP, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, UN, Weekly Round-Up, Yemen

#R2PWeekly: 15 – 19 August 2016

untitledUN Secretary-General Releases Annual Report on the Responsibility to Protect

ef283cc8-01e9-4fa0-9516-276b23f5207c.pngWith the UN’s annual informal dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect set to take place this September, UN Secretary-General (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon released his final annual report on the Responsibility to Protect on 16 August, entitled “Mobilizing collective action: The next decade of the responsibility to protect”.  In the document, the UNSG takes note of the accomplishments surrounding the advancement of RtoP, as well as identifies the failures of the international community to prevent and respond to atrocity crimes. He brings attention to the increasingly challenging context facing the world, where both State and non-State actors constitute threats to populations, and to international peace and security. The report provides a range of recommendations for actors at all levels, and notes that coordinated action is needed now more than ever to produce tangible results to prevent and halt atrocity crimes. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon therefore urges Member States to renew their commitment to RtoP and “to take the principled and practical steps necessary” to protect populations.

As the ICRtoP seeks to raise awareness and understanding of RtoP amongst actors at all levels, we have created an informative infographic on the latest UNSG report, which summarizes the major themes and key issues raised in the document. The ICRtoP will also be releasing a summary of the report ahead of the dialogue.

Read the Secretary-General’s full report here.

See the ICRtoP’s infographic on the report here.

For more information on past UNSG reports and General Assembly dialogues, please visit our UN and RtoP page here.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar

Burundi

CAR

DRC

Gaza/West Bank

Iraq

Libya

Nigeria

South Sudan

Sudan/Darfur

Syria

Yemen

 


Burma/Myanmar:

On Tuesday, authorities in Myanmar closed 457 cases against activists due to requests from President Htin Kyaw and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi. Hundreds of activists have been freed from prison this year as part of the president’s amnesty.


Burundi:

The UN Committee on Torture found an alarming increase in torture cases in Burundi since last April and voiced concern over “genocidal rhetoric” used by the country’s senior officials. “The spike in torture cases we have seen in Burundi since the onset of the crisis is extremely alarming and must be urgently addressed by the Burundian government,” said an Amnesty International Director. The Committee made strong recommendations and issued a “wake-up call” to the Burundian government.


Central African Republic:

MINUSCA peacekeepers arrested and detained 10 men from the ex-Seleka armed group on 14 August. The peacekeepers stopped seven armed vehicles carrying 35 men, 25 of which managed to flee arrest. Two of the arrested men, Abdoulaye Hissene and Haroun Gaye, are former warlords from the radical 2013 Seleka rebellion. UN forces also reported that they recovered a “significant quantity of weapons and munitions” following the standoff.

On Thursday, ex-Seleka militias issued a threat to the CAR government, that if the group’s imprisoned members were not released within two days, they would “face robust action”.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

Rebel groups killed at least 64 people in a massacre in the town of Beni on the night of 13 August. The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed Islamist Ugandan group, is believed to have carried out the machete attack in revenge for military operations in the area.

Three days of mourning were declared on Monday, and protests erupted in response to the failure of President Joseph Kabila’s government to ensure safety in North Kivu just three days after Kabila visited the region. Clashes during the protests later resulted in the death of one protester and one police officer on Wednesday.


Gaza/West Bank:

On Tuesday,  Israeli security forces shot and killed a Palestinian teenager during clashes that erupted in the Fawwar security camp near the city of Hebron. According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, there were dozens of other Palestinian casualties as a result of Israeli gunfire.


Iraq:

On Sunday, Iraqi President Fuad Masum certified the death sentences handed down last week to 36 people for the massacre of 2,398 security personnel at the Speicher military base in June 2014.

On Monday, after two days of battle, Kurdish Peshmerga troops fighting an offensive against ISIL south of Mosul managed to seize roughly 58 square miles and a dozen villages and have reached Kanhash, the western side of the Gwer bridge. The bridge, once repaired, will help the Peshmerga and Iraqi forces to open a new front against ISIL in the overall offensive to retake Mosul. Iraqi forces also seized four more villages around the Qayyara airbase, which is being transformed into the command-center for the assault on Mosul.

The Iraqi Parliament has decided to allow a massive restructuring of Prime Minister Abadi’s cabinet to move forward, approving five of his six nominations for vacant spots. The structure of the PM’s cabinet has been the source of a political crisis since this past February as he attempted to dismiss most of them on allegations of corruption in favor of technocrats. The approval has alleviated much of this pressure in the face of the upcoming assault on Mosul. The move is also being welcomed by the US envoy to the anti-ISIL coalition.

A series of bomb and sniper attacks in Baghdad and the surrounding area killed six and injured 20 others this week.

ISIL allegedly executed 25 civilians in the town of Hawijah on Monday, claiming they had engaged in collaboration with the Iraqi government.

On Tuesday, ISIL assaulted an Iraqi border post on the country’s border with Jordan, killing nine.


Libya:

On Tuesday, Libyan forces claimed to have taken one of the last districts in Sirte captured by ISIL  militants. Progress of Libya’s Tripoli-based, U.N.-backed government has been aided by U.S. airstrikes.

On Thursday, two car bombs were detonated by ISIL militants in a suicide attack in western Sirte. The explosions killed 10 people and left many more wounded. After the attack, a raid was launched by pro-government forces, killing three ISIL militants.


Mali:

Hundreds of refugees, including Fulani nomads, have fled the conflict in Mali and arrived across the border in Mauritania. Many of the refugees, including women and children, have claimed that Malian soldiers beat and abused them. There is also evidence indicating that many of the refugees may have faced gender-based violence while they were still in Mali.

Police opened fire on a group of protesters in the capital city of Bamako on Wednesday, killing at least one person and injuring several others. The group of people was protesting against the arrest on Monday of Mohamed Youssouf Bathily, also known as Ras Bath, a talk show host who has criticized the government.


Nigeria:

Boko Haram has released a new video featuring a lone gunman with around 50 of the Chibok schoolgirls who were abducted in April 2014. The extremist group is thought to still hold over 200 of the 276 girls taken from the school, and many of them are feared to have been sexually abused and forced to marry or convert to Islam. In the video, the gunman calls for the release of captured fighters in exchange for the girls’ release. He also claims that some of the girls have died in airstrikes. The Nigerian government says it is in touch with the militants responsible for the video and is seeking to question Ahmed Salkida, the journalist who posted the video.

On Monday, Boko Haram killed five civilian traders who were travelling with a Nigerian immigration staff convoy on Monday when the militants ambushed the convoy on the road to Maiduguri.

Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) troops have reportedly killed 27 Boko Haram militants and apprehended 11 others in a town near the Cameroon-Nigeria border.


South Sudan:

Developments in the fighting

45 people died in Unity State over the weekend as armed youth attacked government forces in the area. Due to this and other recent clashes, the area is seeing gross amounts of displacement.

Over the weekend, several newly appointed members of the recently created Yei State died in an ambush believed to have been carried out by the SPLM-IO.

The SPLM-IO has leveled accusations against the SPLA of painting its vehicles in the colors of the UN so as to attack SPLM-IO positions in the vicinity of the capital, Juba.

Investigations into abuses and misconduct

ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released its latest report on the violence that swept Juba in July 2016, detailing soldiers killing and raping civilians as well as looting and destroying property.  In response, HRW is calling for an arms embargo and additional targeted sanctions against individuals accountable for the crimes. The report is collaborated by the work of the Associated Press, who through several interviews, learned of how marauding SPLA troops in Juba raped both foreign and local aid workers and executed locals. The report also claims that the UN peacekeeping force stationed less than a mile from the incident refused to send help. In response, the UN has begun an independent investigation to determine whether or not UN peacekeepers did not respond to calls for help to prevent sexual violence against both foreigners and locals.

South Sudan has gone on to  announce it has launched its own investigations over allegations made against SPLA soldiers that they engaged in acts of rape and looting during violence in the capital of Juba in July. 19 soldiers have already been arrested, though South Sudan has refused to state if they are in the SPLA or SPLM-IO. They face charges of murder, random shooting, and looting.

Political developments

On Monday, the South Sudanese government announced it would genuinely look over the UN’s plan to have an additional 4,000 troops in the country and then followed with the announcement that the final decision would rest with the South Sudanese Parliament on whether or not to accept the additional troops. The 4,000 troops would be in addition to the already 12,000 troops there with UNMISS. The parliament has previously rejected such a move.

However, late last week, the UNSC passed a resolution which will send the 4,000 additional troops to specifically secure the capital of Juba. South Sudan is still hoping to be able to negotiate over the exact size, weapons, mandate and troop contributing countries, including barring neighboring countries from committing troops.

Two years ahead of schedule and, despite not yet having seen through the full implementation of the peace deal which ended the civil war, South Sudanese Presindent Kiir has called for early elections in South Sudan to take place. In justifying the position, Mr. Kiir stated “I believe we need a new mandate and trust from the people” and that he fears others will and are attempting to become President through undemocratic means.

On the one year anniversary of the signing of the peace agreement to end the civil war in South Sudan, Amnesty International released a statement urging South Sudan and the African Union to fulfill the terms of the peace agreement and bring those accountable to justice by establishing a hybrid court for South Sudan to investigate and prosecute individuals suspected of committing genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. As of yet, little to no progress has been made.

Officials of the SPLM-IO have confirmed that former Vice President and leader of the SPLM-IO, Riek Machar, has fled South Sudan for another country for fear of his life. While no confirmation has been given to his exact whereabouts, a spokesperson has stated that he remains in the region. Mr. Machar has not been seen since he fled Juba amid the fighting in early July.


Sudan/Darfur:

On Saturday, the Sudanese government bombed the outskirts of the capital of South Kordofan State, Kadugli, in violation of a declared six-month ceasefire.

The following day, the peace talks set out in the AU-Roadmap for Peace in Sudan between the Sudanese government and the opposition and several rebel groups broke down. Both sides accused one another of causing the sudden collapse in the still nascent peace talks, which were set to establish a permanent ceasefire and national reconciliation process. The point of contention that led to the breakdown of the peace talks appearsto be the delivery of humanitarian aid to rebel-held areas and who would control it.

The United States is calling for the immediate release of fifteen individuals detained after they met with the US Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, Donald Booth, in late July. Sudan’s Foreign Minister has denied that any such detentions have taken place.


Syria:

Developments in the Fighting

180 civilians were killed over the weekend, with an overwhelming majority of the deaths taking place in or around Aleppo. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has stated that in the past fifteen days of fighting, 327 civilians have been killed within Aleppo Province. The rapid increase in civilian deaths over the weekend coincided with a fresh rebel offensive in the southwest of Aleppo over the weekend, which ended in all positions seized being lost by Monday.

On Sunday, an ISIL suicide bomber killed at least 35 rebels on a bus close to the Atmeh border crossing with Turkey.

ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW), in its new report, is warning that the joint Russian and Syrian air campaign in Syria has been using incendiary weapons in its aerial campaign. HRW has documented multiple attacks since June which have included the use of incendiary weapons, which are banned under the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, of which Russia is a signatory.

This week, Russia, for the first time in the conflict, began using Iranian airbases to launch bombers for airstrikes in Syria. While long range bombers have been used by Russia throughout the government’s involvement in Syria, their positioning in Iran cuts travel time to Idlib and Aleppo provinces by 60% and represents a deepening of Russia’s ties and role in the region. As the strikes have continued throughout the week, the US is attempting to determine if the move is in violation of a UNSC Resolution restricting military interactions between Iran and the rest of the world.

On Tuesday, fighting broke out between Kurdish Security Forces and a pro-government Syrian militia in northeastern Syria in the city of Hasakah. The fighting, which continued through Wednesday, included the Syrian government’s use of aircraft to bomb Kurdish positions for the first time.

The deadly airstrike campaigns from the weekend continued on Tuesday, killing 19 civilians in eastern Aleppo. 12 rebels also died in an airstrike on their convoy as they attempted to enter eastern Aleppo.

On Wednesday, according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, airstrikes in Idlib city killed 25 people, including 15 civilians. There has been a recent intensification of air and artillery strikes against rebel positions, both in Aleppo and Idlib provinces, as the government attempts to halt rebel reinforcements to the assault in south-west Aleppo City by the rebels.

Political Developments

On Monday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that the United States and Russia are closing in on an agreement to jointly target militant groups in Aleppo. The US has made no comment over the remarks.

China has reached a “consensus” on delivering humanitarian aid to Syria after Guan Youfei, director of the Office for International Military Cooperation of China’s Central Military Commission, met with senior Syrian and Russian military officials in Damascus on Tuesday.

The Humanitarian Situation

The complete capture of Manbij by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) over the weekend has led to the freeing of 2,000 civilians previously used by ISIL as human shields. ISIL’s remaining forces had used them as human shields while retreating from the city.

In a new report, Amnesty International has released its latest figures on how many political prisoners have died in Syrian government prisons since the start of the conflict in 2011. The report, which through interviews with sixty-five former prisoners detailing a system of rape and physical abuse, puts the total number of dead at 17,723, or a rate of ten people a day or three-hundred a month.

On Thursday, amid growing frustration with the worsening humanitarian situation in Syria. UN Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura ended his weekly meeting after only eight minutes. The past month has seen a massive drop in humanitarian access, with not a single humanitarian convoy reaching a besieged area in the past month.


Yemen:

Over the weekend, at least 10 children were killed in an airstrike on a school in Yemen’s northwestern province. The Saudi-led coalition is suspected for the bombardment.

Yemeni pro-government troops have reportedly recaptured the cities of Zinjibar and Jaar in the southern province of Abyan. The two cities were seized by al-Qaida last year amongst the chaos of Yemen’s civil war.

On Monday, at least seven people died as the result of an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition on a Médecins Sans Frontières-supported hospital in northern Yemen.

The following day, an airstrike on a residential area northeast of Sana’a killed 17 civilians, mostly women and children. The warplanes reportedly belonged to the Saudi-led coalition forces.

Houthi shelling killed seven people in southern Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, according to Saudi state television.

 

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#R2P Weekly: 8 – 12 August

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“Catastrophe” Looming in Aleppo as Humanitarian Situation Continues to Deteriorate 

 Aleppo, known as Syria’s second city, continues to suffer dire humanitarian consequences as a result of the ongoing civil war in Syria. On 7 July, after an intense military campaign, the Syrian government managed to encircle rebel-held eastern Aleppo and begin a siege of the city, effectively leaving the roughly 300,000 citizens with two choices: catastrophe or surrender. Since the beginning of the siege, the residents have been victim to brutal conditions that have left food and supplies running low, while hospitals crumble under repeated airstrikes from Russia and Syria. Speaking to the situation, Cameron Hudson, Director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of genocide at the United States Holocaust Museum, stated quite bluntly: “The world is facing another Srebrenica moment.”

However, on Saturday, the rebel coalition of Jaysh al-Fatah, which includes the newly rebranded al-Nusra, managed to break the siege of eastern Aleppo. Afteraleppo several days of fighting, they overran government positions and bases in the southwest of the city. Though the siege has technically been broken, the forces have failed to open up a safe corridor for civilians to escape or for use in delivering humanitarian aid. Furthermore, the fighting has now left the government-controlled western portion of Aleppo, home to 1.5 million people, cut off from the outside world. The UN has warned that the fighting has only led to the possibility of replicating the humanitarian crisis unfolding in eastern Aleppo, effectively stretching to encompass the entire city.

On Monday, the UN Security Council (UNSC) held an informal meeting on the humanitarian situation in Aleppo, hearing first-hand accounts of the suffering and situation of civilians in the city. The US Ambassador called on the Council to send a clear signal that all sieges in Syria need to end, calling on Russia to end its part in their facilitation. Russia, in response, has stated that the resumption of peace talks on Syria should not be hinged on the possibility of a ceasefire in Aleppo, stating peace talks must resume immediately with no preconditions.

Aleppo’s rapid plunge into battle has killed dozens of civilians over the past several weeks, displaced thousands, and cut off clean water and electricity to 2 million people. Both the original siege of eastern Aleppo and this week’s rapid uptick in fighting have taken place against a backdrop of international and domestic condemnation and humanitarian concern. Several human rights organizations have detailed how civilians under siege have suffered under the worst conditions seen in the war. Physicians for Human Rights, an NGO that tracks abuses against medical workers, has called last week the worst for medical facilities in Aleppo since the start of the war. They continued, noting that “destroying hospitals is tantamount to signing thousands of death warrants for people now stranded in eastern Aleppo.”

In the wake of these unprecedented assaults on medical facilities, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for the UN Security Council to ask the Secretary-General to conduct an independent inquiry, citing that deliberate attacks against medical facilities are undeniably violations of the laws of war and should be prosecuted as war crimes. Furthermore, of the 35 remaining doctors within eastern Aleppo, 15 have attached their names to a letter written to US President Obama asking for an intervention to stop the bombing of hospitals, attacks which the doctors call deliberate in nature.

As the doctors’ letter was made public, Russia announced a daily three-hour ceasefire, which went into effect on Thursday from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. local time to allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid. However, despite the announcement, fighting has continued in the city. Furthermore, most observers consider the window of movement presented by the ceasefire as inadequate or impossible to deliver the needed humanitarian aid to the city. UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien has continued his call for a weekly 48-hour ceasefire for Aleppo. Meanwhile, the fighting persists, including with the possible use of chlorine gas dropped by government forces on rebel-held positions in Aleppo this week, which reportedly killed four and injured many others. Such an act – if confirmed – would constitute a war crime, according to the UN special envoy for Syria. However, on both sides, Aleppo continues to suffer, with both portions of the divided city yet to receive humanitarian aid or have secure access to the outside world.

Source for the above photo: The Guardian via Ahrar al Sham, ISW, Archicivilians, Al Jazeera


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq
Libya
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen
Other

 


Burma/Myanmar:                           

Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has set the date for the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference to begin on 31 August. The five-day conference will host multiple armed ethnic groups in efforts to hold peace talks to end the ongoing violence in Myanmar. However, three ethnic armies have rejected the national military’s call to disarm and have refused to lay down their arms to participate in the Peace Conference. The three groups, the Arakan Army (AA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Palaung State Liberation Front/ Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA), did not sign last year’s ceasefire agreement.


Burundi:

The UN Committee on Torture has expressed grave concern after four Burundian lawyers were threatened with disbarment for contributing to a report by the Committee on Burundi, which is set to be released on Friday. A Burundi prosecutor has alleged multiple offenses against the lawyers, including being involved in an attempted coup. The same day, the Burundi government stated it would not participate in any further dialogue with the UN Committee.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

On 7 August, armed groups killed at least 14 people in separate attacks in the troubled eastern region of Kivu. In the deadliest attack, members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) torched 60 houses in the village of Kibirizi, killing seven people. Mai-Mai tribal militants were also implicated in attacks that left seven more dead and scorched a total of 150 homes in villages throughout northern Kivu.

A senior Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher, Ida Sawyer, has been blocked by the DRC government from continuing work in the country. Sawyer’s work permit was revoked in “the government’s latest attempt to curtail human rights reporting during a period of increased government repression,” according to HRW.


Gaza/West Bank:

On Tuesday, Israel announced that a Palestinian official working for the UN Development Program is charged with assisting Hamas. Waheed Al Borsh allegedly confessed to using the international aid organisation in order to build a jetty for Hamas naval forces. This is the second incident of this nature. Last week, Israeli security officials discovered evidence suggesting that the head of World Vision was diverting money from the charity to Hamas. These allegations have prompted increased scrutiny of Gaza aid groups.


Iraq:

August 9th marked the two-year anniversary of the first US airstrikes against ISIL. Since that time, the US-led international coalition against ISIL has made 14,000 airstrikes against the terrorist organization, with the overwhelming majority undertaken by the US in Iraq.

Mercy Corps has released a statement warning that in addition to the estimated 70,000 people who have been displaced in recent fighting between Iraqi forces and ISIL in central Iraq, the group expects a further 200,000 people to become displaced over the next two weeks as they flee their homes for safety prior to the government assault on Mosul.

Over the weekend, ISIL allegedly executed 61 civilians in the town of Hawijah, in Iraq’s northern Kirkuk province, for attempting to flee from ISIL captivity. The dead are believed to belong to the estimated 1,900-3,000 civilians that ISIL is believed to be forcibly holding for use as human shields in the area after their capture last week.

On Sunday, a triple-suicide-bombing carried out by ISIL near Qayyara, 50 km north of Mosul, killed 10 Iraqi security members.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry has stated that Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi survived an attempted assassination, by mortar attack, while surveying troops preparing for the liberation of Mosul.

On Wednesday, unidentified militants blew up an oil well in the province of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. The same day, several separate attacks on the outskirts of Baghdad left ten people dead and scores wounded. The majority of the deaths took place in the town of Latifiyah, where four soldiers and three civilians died when a suicide-bomber struck an army checkpoint.

On Thursday, a car-bomb in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah killed two policemen.


Libya:

On Tuesday, Libyan and US officials confirmed the presence of US special operations troops on the ground helping Libya’s unity government fight ISIL.

In a joint statement released on Wednesday, Western countries expressed concern about tensions around the Zueitina oil port. The states, which include the U.S., France and Britain, urged for a return of oil and gas infrastructure control to the government.

This week, Libyan pro-government forces liberated most of the city of Sirte, which has been under the control of ISIL since 2015. Libyan forces were able to seize the Ouagadougou complex – the jihadist group’s headquarters – with the help of airstrikes from U.S. drones and fighter jets. Moktar Khalifa, mayor of Sirte, reportedly stated that “Sirte is 70 percent free, it will soon be completely free.”

On Thursday, it was reported that French special forces have withdrawn from Benghazi.


Mali:

A string of attacks that began over the weekend in Mali and lasted into Monday, have left several people dead, including one UN peacekeeper. Several other peacekeepers sustained injuries on Sunday when their vehicle struck a mine buried in the road.

In a separate event, an Ansar Dine member died in an attack on the Malian army that also left five soldiers missing and possibly drowned as five bodies have been recovered from a nearby river, but whose identities have yet to be confirmed.

On Tuesday, clashes erupted between ex-rebels from the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) and members of the pro-government group, GATIA. The fighting continued through Wednesday.

In a recent interview, Mali’s ex-foreign minister, Tiebile Drame, called for a national dialogue to take place. Mr. Drame is currently the president of the main opposition party in Mali, the Party for National Renaissance (PARENA). While welcoming the peace agreement signed in 2015, he has cited the recent uptick in violence in urging the government to convene a national dialogue.


Nigeria:

On 9 August, gunmen dressed as priests killed three Nigerian Army soldiers in Nigeria’s southern oil state of Bayelsa.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended the EU’s recent 50 million Euro contribution to the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), led by the Lake Chad Basin countries. Ban also commended the work of the MNJTF countries “for the significant progress achieved in combating the terrorist threat posed by Boko Haram.”


South Sudan:

Political Developments

After the announcement that South Sudan had agreed to the deployment of a regional force by the  Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), on Sunday, the US began circulating a draft resolution to the UNSC that would provide a mandate for a 4,000 member deployment to secure the capital of Juba. However, South Sudan has both rejected the US’s proposal, which also includes an arms embargo, and has denied that South Sudan had been consulted on or agreed to such a regional force. Over the past week, South Sudan has noticeably decreased its cooperation with the UN, seizing the passports of 86 UN workers and denying the UN access to any part of the country south of the capital, which is in clear violation of the UN’s operating arrangement in the country.

Developments in the Fighting

On 7 August, the governor of Gbudue, Patrick Zamoi, survived an assassination attempt in which gunmen opened fire on his convoy.

On 9 August, the SPLA and SPLM-IO forces loyal to ex-First Vice President Machar engaged in fighting in the town of Yei, near South Sudan’s border with Uganda. The fighting erupted after SPLM-IO forces allegedly seized control of Lasu county, located to the southwest of Yei.

The Humanitarian Situation

On 8 August, Amnesty International publicly released its submission, entitled “South Sudan: Conflict and Impunity”, for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of South Sudan, which will take place in November. In the submission, Amnesty International attempts to highlight the failings of the human rights regime in South Sudan as well as the overall state of impunity that exists for any who commit violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the country.

On 10 August, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) released its latest report on the outflows of refugees from South Sudan. The NRC warns that the number of South Sudanese fleeing to Uganda has reached the pace of 2,000 per day, with 70,000 already having fled in the past 20 days.The NRC expects that at least another 80,000 will flee by the end of the year.


Sudan/Darfur:

On 8 August, Sudanese President Bashir announced that he will free all political prisoners prior to the start of the General Conference of the National Dialogue on 10 October in the lead up to the official signing of the AU-Roadmap for Peace by the opposition. Sudan Call, an umbrella group representing several Sudanese rebel movements, signed the AU-Roadmap Agreement for Peace in Sudan the same day. The signing has been heralded by the Troika, the United States, United Kingdom and Norway, as “a laudable commitment to ending the conflicts in Sudan and moving towards a process of dialogue as a basis for lasting peace in their country.” Immediately after the signing, negotiations began over an initial and eventual permanent ceasefire between the government and the signatories as well as for the delivery of humanitarian aid to rebel-held regions.

On Monday, five people died in a Sudanese government airstrike on the town of Kabe in Darfur’s Jebel Marra region. Another child died in renewed bombings the following day.


Syria:

Developments in the Fighting

As the battle for Aleppo continues, the city is seeing the influx of hundreds of foreign fighters. On Monday, Iranian media announced that more Shi’ite militia fighters from from both Lebanon and Iraq are soon set to arrive in the area, with 1,000 Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon alleged to have already arrived on Sunday.

Over the weekend, several airstrikes on hospitals in Idlib province left 10 people dead, while incendiary bombs, believed to be dropped by Russia, struck Idlib city.

On Sunday, ISIL launched an attack involving multiple suicide bombers on the US-backed rebel group, New Syrian Army (NSA), at the al Tanf border crossing between Syria and Iraq.

After 69 days,the US-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) have managed to completely free the city of Manbij in northern Syria from ISIL. As Manbij begins to look towards a post-ISIL future, more than 60 local Arab tribes have begun meetings to discuss the future of the city.

On 10 August, Russian air strikes targeting the capital of ISIL’s supposed caliphate, Raqqa, allegedly killed at least 30 people and left close to 100 wounded. Seperately, 11 people died in airstrikes by the Syrian government on the town of Ariha in Idlib province.

The Humanitarian Situation

On 8 August, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released the latest tally of the dead in Syria’s 5-year civil war. The Observatory stated that from March 2011 – 1 August 2016, 292,817 people had died in the conflict.

Political Developments

Turkey will shortly be sending a negotiating team to Russia to discuss the ongoing war in Syria, including the possibility of a ceasefire, increased delivery of humanitarian aid, and a reigniting of the political process to end the war. Despite appearing to be on opposite sides in the conflict, Turkey and Russia are attempting a normalization of relations after a steady deterioration over the past year.

Having reached an agreement last August to assist the Syrian government in the country’s civil war, Russian President Vladimir Putin has submitted a plan to the Russian legislature that would approve the indefinite residence of the Russian air force in Syria.


Yemen:

On Sunday, four children were reportedly killed and three more were injured in Yemen’s Nihm district, which lies east of the capital. UNICEF has deplored the killing of these children and has urged all belligerent parties to adhere to international humanitarian law and avoid civilian infrastructure.

On Tuesday, UNICEF released a statement claiming that 1,121 children have perished since March 2015, as a result of the ongoing conflict in Yemen.

Airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition in Sana’a killed at least 14 civilians early this week. Jets targeted a potato factory in the Nahda district, situated inside an army maintenance camp. On Thursday, in the third day of airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition, warplanes reportedly struck the Al-Dailami airbase and a military school, both in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a.

Yemen’s prime minister has praised the support of the United Arab Emirates throughout recent conflict and fledgling peace talks.

This week, the U.S. stated its intention to rearm Saudi Arabia with $1.5 billion in military equipment, including with technical and intelligence support, in order to support the war against shiite militias in Yemen.

 

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#R2PWeekly: 23 – 27 May 2016

UntitledThe Role of Atrocity Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect in Development Cooperation

On 22-23 March 2016, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and USAID, assisted by the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, convened a workshop entitled “The Role of Atrocity Prevention and Responsibility to Protect in Development Cooperation”. The event, held in Kampala, Uganda, brought together development practitioners, government representatives and civil society actors from throughout East Africa working in a range of sectors including human rights, development, and atrocity prevention.The workshop was the first of its kind to focus on the operational relationship between development cooperation and atrocity prevention.

It was convened to, inter alia, identify links between development cooperation and atrocity prevention; introduce RtoP-relevant early warning tools and highlight their relevance for development cooperation; and strategize on practical examples of how development cooperation policies and projects can help to address risk factors relevant for atrocity crimes.

Read the full workshop report here.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
Central African Republic
DRC
Iraq
Kenya
Libya
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sri Lanka
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen
Other


Burma/Myanmar:

According to Kachin and Shan community leaders, the Burmese Army killed and subsequently burned the bodies of several people in northern Shan State. Villagers stated that three people from Noung Kwan village were taken by the  Army  to a small mountain and then killed. An additional five bodies were discovered in the area. The Burma Army accused the dead villagers of being SSA-N members.

The Burmese Army admitted it was struggling to repatriate more than 100,000 Myanmar refugees along the border. The UNHCR has stated that repatriation must be conducted in line with its benchmarks of safety and the willingness of the refugees. However, complicating the repatriation process is the prevalent unwillingness of the refugees to return to Myanmar.


Burundi:

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights presented a report earlier this month to the African Union (AU), which was released publicly late last week. In the report, the AU human rights group called for more military and rights observers and an international police force to be sent to Burundi in order to improve security in the country and guarantee the “protection of people in those areas most affected by violence and which continue to witness it”.

On Saturday, peace talks facilitated by the East African Community (EAC) began in Arusha under former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa. Things started off shakily with the absence of several key opposition politicians, including some politicians and civil society representatives in exile. Some have accused President Nkurunziza of only inviting those groups not opposed to his regime. Indeed, after four days of peace talks meant to be an “inter-Burundi dialogue”, the opposition labeled the talks a “monologue” as the government still refused to speak with key members of the umbrella opposition group, CNARED, which has been recognized by the AU and EAC as the “legitimate voice of the opposition”.

The UN Independent Investigation in Burundi  announced that it has completed a deployment of a team of human rights monitors on the ground in Burundi and neighboring countries where Burundian refugees have fled. The team plans to present their final report in September 2016 to the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council.

On Wednesday, gunmen killed three people, including retired army Col. Ruyifiyi Lucien, the chief of judicial police, and a guard at the ruling party’s offices. Since January, at least 130 assassination cases have been investigated in Burundi in continuing violence associated with the extension of President Nkurunziza’s time in office.


Central African Republic:

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) announced that it would suspend its operations in part of the Central African Republic after an attack by armed men on its employees in Kouki left one person dead.

Leaders of the ex-Seleka militant group have said that the armed rebel group would only hand over their weapons if some of its members are appointed to positions in the government.

The head of MINUSCA has promised to do everything possible to reach a goal of “zero occurrence” of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by MINUSCA troops through a “rebirth” of peacekeeping. In order to achieve this, he said UN member states must train and equip their troops properly to handle the brutal conditions in the country.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

On Thursday, thousands took to the streets nationwide to protest against current President Kabila in defiance of a government ban on the demonstrations in some places. Although demonstrations were authorized in Kinshasa, they were banned in places such as in the North Kivu province and Lubumbashi City. Human Rights Watch has claimed that the government has “sought to silence dissent with threats, violence, and arbitrary arrests” and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has demanded that government authorities allow the demonstrations.

Maman Sidikou, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, has released a statement expressing great concern regarding the increasing political tensions in some areas of the DRC and has urged both the majority and opposition parties to “reawaken” their patriotism “to place the interests of the country above any other consideration.” On Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also strongly expressed his concerns over the uncertainty surrounding the electoral process. He further urged all parties to express their views in a peaceful manner and to exercise restraint ahead of demonstrations planned for 26 May and encouraged all political stakeholders to fully cooperate with the AU Facilitator for the National Dialogue in the DRC.

A high-level delegation consisting of representatives from the UN, AU, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), is currently in the DRC in an effort to neutralize the active rebel groups in the country.


Gaza/West Bank:

On 20 May, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon announced his resignation, stating the governing party had been seized by “extremist and dangerous elements”.

On 23 May, Israel  resumed deliveries to the Gaza Strip of cement for home reconstruction by private persons, ending a 45-day-old ban it imposed after accusing Hamas of seizing the majority of the shipments.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has renewed  his rejection of a French peace plan, telling the visiting French prime minister that peace cannot be made at international conferences but only through direct negotiations. The French are planning to hold ministerial-level talks on June 3 as a first step in reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, which ceased in April 2014. At first, the talks would not include Israel and Palestine but only the US, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union, and other Arab and European nations. The Palestinians, meanwhile, have welcomed the French effort.

On 25 May, the United Nations envoy for the peace process in the Middle East warned the Security Council that, as the scenario on the ground worsens, simply regretting the failure of a two-state solution has become the status-quo. Noting that the will for peace clearly exists, Mr. Mladenov stated that it is the lack of political will and bold leadership that is holding back the peace process between Israel and Palestine. Mr. Mladenov said that the beginning of May saw the largest increase of violence between Israel and Hamas in two years.

On 26 May, Israel launched airstrikes against several targets in the Gaza strip in retaliation for rockets fired hours earlier into Israel. Arabic media reported that Ajnad Beit Al-Maqdis, a Salafist group operating in the Gaza Strip, claimed responsibility for firing the rockets. However, Israel holds Hamas responsible for any acts of perceived aggression that originate in Gaza.

On 23 May, the World Health Organization (WHO) called for an investigation into alleged abuses by Israel of mental, physical and environmental health rights. Israel was the only country singled out during the WHO’s yearly assembly. The reports are to focus on “the impact of prolonged occupation and human rights violations on mental, physical and environmental health.”


Iraq:

On 23 May, the Iraqi Prime Minister announced the start of a major government offensive to retake Fallujah from ISIL.  The initiative is expected to serve as a precursor to a long awaited offensive on the northern ISIL-held city of Mosul. Speaking on Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says there is “a great risk” to roughly 50,000 civilians in Fallujah, particularly those heading towards the frontlines. The UN has stated its desire to see the creation of a “safe-corridor” for civilians.

In the first signs of progress in the offensive, the Iraqi government and supporting militias have taken the town of Karma from ISIL; roughly 16 kilometers (10 miles) northeast of Fallujah. The capture means that Iraqi forces essentially control the entire area east of the city.

On 23 May, at least 2 people were killed and 4 injured in a bomb attack that hit a market south of Baghdad. On 24 May, Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces repelled an attack near the northern city of Kirkuk. On 25 May, several bombings in Baghdad killed 12. The worst bombing took place in Tarmiya, 30 miles north of Baghdad, where a house exploded as troops entered, killing five troops and wounding three others. Seperately, a bomb went off in a commercial area of Baghdad’s southern Abu Disher neighborhood, killing three  and wounding 10. Two other bombs went off in the northern district of Saba al-Bor and the town of Mishahda, killing four people and wounding 16.

According to a senior official in the Kurdish Directorate of Displacement and Migration (DDM), the number of internally displaced Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Kurdistan has reached 1.67 million. There are 40 camps in the region for the displaced but the majority have been renting living quarters privately.


Kenya:

At least one person has died in the city of Kisumu in western Kenya during opposition protests calling for the current electoral commission members to resign ahead of the upcoming 2017 presidential election due to their alleged bias in favor of the ruling Jubilee coalition.

On Tuesday, a Kenyan court charged nine men for their roles in an earlier protest. The country’s main opposition group, called the Coalition of Reform and Democracy (CORD), has claimed that police shot and killed two others in self defense during protests in the city of Siaya. President Uhuru Kenyatta has said that if the opposition wants reform of the electoral commission, they should use constitutional measures to achieve it.

On Wednesday, CORD announced that it would suspend the weekly protests against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in order to give a chance to recent calls for talks to resolve the issue. The suspension of the protests is set to expire on 5 June if the government does not agree to talks.


Libya:

On 22 May, Libyan diplomats began urging restraint over a US plan to arm and train the country’s militias again to battle the growing Islamic State threat, fearing a repeat of the  Pentagon-led program that ended with only a few hundred trained fighters and U.S. weapons in the hands of Islamist militias in Libya.

Europe’s intentions to support Libya’s new UN-backed government have stumbled as France and Germany resist a leading role in the reconstruction of Libya. Both the EU and NATO have pledged their support and stated that they stand at the ready to help the unity government, if requested. However, both Germany and France are advocating that the UN must be the first ones to move, expressing caution over another NATO-led mission into Libya.


Nigeria:

The UN has warned that security and humanitarian conditions are worsening in southeast Niger where hundreds of thousands are now hosted, including many who have fled Boko Haram and the violence in Nigeria. Around 157,000 refugees from Nigeria are living in 135 makeshift camps around a 200 kilometer stretch of a highway in Niger that runs parallel to the Nigerian border and Komadougou River. Of $112 million needed for 2016 by the 22 aid agencies serving the Diffa region in southeast Niger, only around $20 million has been raised.


South Sudan:

On 20 May, South Sudan’s Council of Ministers in the Transitional Government of National Unity announced that all prisoners of war would be released.

On 23 May, the EU released a report criticizing “all parties” in South Sudan for human rights abuses and killings of civilians. The EU has been working with the UN as well as engaging in an arms embargo and visa bans. This criticism comes in light of the international communitywithholding the transfer of funds to South Sudan for reconstruction due to the lack of progress in forming a unity government and the ongoing abuses.

On 22 May, South Sudan’s deputy head of diplomatic mission to Khartoum,  Kau Nak Maper, said the governments of the two countries have agreed to resume the meetings of the Joint Political and Security Committee (JPSC) on 6 June in Khartoum.  The UNSC had recently emphasized this as a requirement to move forward on formalizing security at the shared border.

In a recently released report, Human Rights Watch has highlighted how South Sudanese government soldiers have carried out a wide range of often-deadly attacks on civilians in and around the western town of Wau. The report details how soldiers have killed, tortured, raped, and detained civilians and looted and burned down homes.The abuses in the Western Bahr el Ghazal region took place during government counterinsurgency operations that intensified after an August 2015 peace deal.

On 24 May, the Enough Project released its latest policy brief detailing how the government’s “violent kleptocracy” became a root cause for the atrocities and instability.


Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has announced that it will set up an office to investigate the disappearance of over 20,000 people who are still missing seven years after the end of decades of fighting in the country in 2009. Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said that the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) will be tasked with making recommendations for compensation and legal processes for families of the deceased.


Sudan/Darfur:

On 22 May, the UN announced that Sudan has “de facto expelled” a senior United Nations humanitarian affairs official after refusing to renew his “stay permit” for another year. Mr Freijse has become the fourth senior UN official to be expelled from Sudan over the past two years.

On 22 May, eight people were killed in an attack on a mosque near El Geneina, the capital of Sudan’s West Darfur State.


Syria:

On 26 May, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released a new report calculating the number of deaths in the Syrian civil war. The total of 282,283 includes: 81,436 civilians, comprised of 14,040 children and 9,106 women. Deaths within the Free Syrian Army  accounted for 48,568 ,while jihadists deaths totaled 47,095. The Observatory documented the deaths of 101,662 pro-regime fighters, including 56,609 government soldiers. Another 3,522 of the deaths have gone unidentified. Another recent report, released by the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, stated that 60,000 people have died in government detention facilities since the start of the war. At least 20,000 of the deaths are said to have happened at one location, the government’s notorious Sednaya prison near Damascus.

In February, the “Supporting Syria and the Region” conference in London was hailed as raising the largest amount for a humanitarian crisis in a single day. But a new report from Concern shows that only a fraction of those funds have since materialized. The report highlights how 94% of donors have not turned their pledges into actual commitments, with only three nations having actually fully committed their funding pledges.

On 24 May, Syrian aid workers at the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul askedthe international community for more protection from deadly attacks, Nearly 10,000 doctors have fled the country since the beginning of the conflict and only 1,000 are left in rebel areas.

On 22 May, the Free Syrian Army gave the regime a 48-hour deadline on Saturday to halt violence against the group’s strongholds in the suburbs of Damascus or they would abandon the “cessation of hostilities” agreement. The next day, however, Russia called for a truce in the suburbs of Damascus to begin on Tuesday and last for 72 hours. On 25 May, Russia further announced that it has agreed to temporarily restrain itself from airstrikes against al-Nusra in an attempt to give other rebel groups time to distance themselves from the al-Qaeda backed group’s positions.

On 23 May, bombs rocked the Syrian coastal cities of Jableh and Tartous, killing more than 100. Scores of others were wounded in the at least five suicide attacks and two car bombs, for which ISIL has claimed responsibility. The Syrian coastal areas have long been government strongholds and have remained relatively untouched by the civil war.

Qatar helped negotiate a ceasefire on Tuesday between two warring rebel groups outside of Damascus. Around 500 people have been killed since April, when fighting broke out between rival Eastern Ghouta-based rebel groups, Jaish al-Islam and Failaq al-Rahman. The division was taken advantage of by the government to retake several strategic areas. Jaish al-Islam is part of the HNC alliance of rebel groups, while Failaq al-Rahman is believed to receive support from al-Nusra.

On 24 May, the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), to which the Kurdish YPG belong, launchedan operation to recapture land between the SDF stronghold in Tel Abyad near the Turkish border and ISIl’s de facto capital in Syria in Raqqa. However, despite earlier claims that this was part of a large scale operation against Raqqa, a SDF spokesperson stated, “The current battle is only to liberate the area north of Raqqa. Currently there is no preparation … to liberate Raqqa, unless as part of a campaign which will come after this campaign has finished.” Syrian Kurdish officials have stated that  Arabs should be the ones to lead an assault on the predominantly Arab city.


Yemen:

The U.N. envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmedn stated that peace talks aimed at ending fighting in Yemen are making progress. Though the Yemeni government had pulled out of the peace negotiations in Kuwait with the Shia Houthi rebels last week, on Saturday authorities agreed to return to Kuwait. However, as the negotiators went back to Kuwait, airstrikes struck  the capital, Sanaa.

After meetings on Wednesday, Ahmed expressed hope that the warring factions in Yemen’s civil war were moving closer to agreement, with discussions moving forward on various military and security concerns including troop withdrawals and movements. The main sticking point in the talks remain the formation of a government to oversee a transition. However, a report published by  Chatham House stated that the UN-led peace process is modeled on solving a conflict between two distinct coalitions, and is not structured to reflect Yemen’s underlying nexus of local history, tribal grievances and internecine rivalries.

A new report from Amnesty International has highlighted the growing danger of internally displaced people in Yemen returning home to de facto ‘minefields’. On its most recent mission to northern Yemen, Amnesty International found evidence of US, UK and Brazilian cluster munitions used by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces. The use of cluster bombs is banned under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, to which the UK is a State Party. After the report’s release, the UK has sought assurance from its Saudi allies that this is not the case. UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told MPs there was currently no evidence Saudi Arabia had used cluster bombs.

On 22 May, Yemeni troops killed 13 al-Qaeda fighters in a raid outside the southern city of Mukalla, which was ruled by al-Qaeda until last month. However, Yemeni forces were themselves a target when a twin bombing by ISIL killed 45 army recruits in Aden the next day. A suspected Saudi-led coalition airstrike killed 11 people when it struck a family’s home in the southern Yemen town of el-Mahala. Also on Wednesday, a suspected Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit a mineral water factory in Lahij.


What else is new?

A special event highlighting the plight of Syrian civilians will be held at the Parliament of Canada, Ottawa from 5:30-7:00 pm in Room 362, East Block. This event is organized by MIGS, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Prevention of Genocide and other Crimes against Humanity, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. On display will be “Caesar’s Photos: Inside Syria’s Secret Prisons,” an exhibit made up of photos of detainees from Syrian Regime prisons. The photos will be shown earlier in the day at Ottawa University’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre beginning at 11:00 am. An evening reception will take place from 7:30-9:00 pm as well.

In advance of the World Humanitarian Summit, The Elders, Amnesty International, and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect created a video message urging the UN Security Council to voluntarily restrain from using their veto and adopting a Code of Conduct on resolutions pertaining to preventing or responding to atrocity crimes.

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Children in Armed Conflict: A War Crime We Have the Responsibility to Prevent

The following is a guest blog from ICRtoP member Child Soldiers International. Child Soldiers International works to end the military recruitment of children and their use in hostilities, as well as other human rights abuses resulting from their association with armed forces or groups. They promote the release of children, seek their successful return to civilian life, and call for accountability for those who recruit and use them.

More than 50 parties to armed conflict are listed by the UN Secretary-General for recruiting and using children in armed conflict in a variety of capacities. And this list is not exhaustive. The recruitment and use of children by armed forces and armed groups is not only a disturbingly widespread practice: when perpetrated against children under 15 years of age it is a war crime.

Ensuring accountability for such war crimes, along with crimes against humanity and genocide is an essential part of upholding the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), as well as establishing a basis for sustainable peace and reconciliation. The International Criminal Court (ICC), which came into force in 2002, is the first permanent international judicial body mandated to investigate the commission of atrocity crimes and try alleged perpetrators when judicial mechanisms prove insufficient at the national level. Read on for excellent insight from Child Soldiers International on the importance of accountability and rehabilitation in ending the use and recruitment of child soldiers.

Rebel fighters surrender to FARDC

Child soldiers separated from the Mai Mai militia after surrendering to FARDC in the DRC. UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti

Accountability as Prevention

At Child Soldiers International, we believe that accountability for child recruitment is a crucial component of any strategy aimed at eradicating the use of child soldiers. States have a duty to investigate alleged violations committed by all parties to an armed conflict and prosecute those alleged to be responsible with a view to providing remedies to victims, and preventing the repetition of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

However, too many perpetrators continue to evade accountability: such impunity not only denies victims justice and reparations, but it also produces an environment conducive to the continuing perpetration of these crimes. Accountability is an essential component of prevention, and prevention is the most important aspect of the Responsibility to Protect.

Yet, time and again, accountability is dismissed as an obstacle to peace and stability. ‘Pragmatic’ considerations are often invoked – including by child protection agencies – to justify amnesties or de facto immunity for authors of child recruitment in order to secure the release of children from the ranks of armed forces and armed groups, for example. However, we believe that peace is neither achievable, nor sustainable without accountability. This has been repeatedly demonstrated in the context of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where impunity and integration into the armed forces of suspected perpetrators have simply fuelled further instability and consequent child recruitment.

While amnesties may be pursued for the sake of peace, stability or demobilisation efforts, it is well established (and it is a long standing UN policy) that they cannot be extended to individuals suspected of crimes under international law considered under RtoP – including war crimes like the use and recruitment of children in hostilities, as well as crimes against humanity and genocide.

Accountability and the ICC

When national authorities fail to take action, the International Criminal Court (ICC) offers potential recourse.In December 2014 we welcomed the conviction of former Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo before the ICC. Mr Lubanga was found guilty of the crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 into his militia, the Patriotic Force for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), and using them to participate actively in hostilities. In its first judgment, the ICC signalled that these crimes warranted international attention and would not go unpunished.

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Thomas Lubanga on trial at the ICC. Lubanga was ultimately found guilty of the war crime of the use and recruitment of child soldiers. Reuters.

We have observed the deterrent effect of this conviction: in the DRC, where Mr Lubanga’s militia was operating, our partners negotiating the release of children from armed groups report that some commanders who have become aware of Mr Lubanga’s conviction are now fearful of the threat of criminal prosecution and have begun releasing children more systematically.

Similarly, in April 2012 we hailed the conviction of former Liberian President, Charles Ghankay Taylor, before the Special Court for Sierra Leone as a clear message from the international community that those who “aid and abet” armed groups that recruit and use children can and will be brought to justice. Mr Taylor was found guilty of a range of crimes under international law, including recruiting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities. In 2007, the Court had already convicted Alex Tamba Brima, Ibrahim Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, including the recruitment and use of children.

There is huge potential for the ICC to send similar strong messages that these war crimes will no longer be tolerated. It is encouraging to see that it is currently dealing with several other cases of alleged crimes relating to child soldiers, including that of former militia leader Bosco Ntaganda, also from the DRC.

A Former Child Soldier at The Hague

Another ICC case that relates to the issue of child soldiers is that of Dominic Ongwen. A former commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Ongwen was abducted as a child in his native Uganda, spent two decades in the LRA and was brought before the ICC last month. He is the only former child soldier appearing before the Court so far. The charges he faces do not relate to any role he had in the recruitment or use of children; they cover numerous attacks on civilians in 2004 and 2005. However, some are asking whether, as a former child soldier, Mr Ongwen should receive more leniency than other war crime suspects.

Dominic Ongwen’s precise age is unclear. Some reports say that he was abducted while walking to school as a 10-year-old. He himself reported being abducted at 14. In any event, no one is denying that Mr Ongwen, as a child, was the victim of a crime which tore him apart from his family environment and shaped the rest of his life.

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Victor Ongwen makes his first appearance at the ICC accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. AFP.

It is alleged that he subsequently rose through the ranks of the LRA and became a senior commander involved in the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes. In 2005 the ICC had issued an arrest warrant for Vincent Otti, Joseph Kony, Dominic Ongwen and two other senior LRA members. In January, some 10 years later, one of those arrest warrants was realised when Mr Ongwen was transferred to the ICC.

His being a former child soldier raises the question about how such defendants can be justly treated in either national or international courts. This has caused some debate, particularly in Uganda where some community leaders and lawyers argue that former child soldiers are not wholly responsible for their actions.

The offences Mr Ongwen is charged with were committed during his adulthood. Using his own stated age, the offences under consideration allegedly took place when he was approximately 29 years old. Indeed the ICC has no jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by someone who was under the age of 18 at the time (Rome Statute, Article 26). Mr Ongwen’s past experience as a child soldier may be relevant for his legal defence; however, without prejudice to other factual and legal issues, his being a victim of a similar crime is not a defence in itself. His status as a former child soldier may be more relevant at the sentencing stage, should he be found guilty. Once the Court establishes the correct sentence to impose on an offender, it must then consider whether it should be reduced to take into account the offender’s personal mitigating circumstances.

Rebel fighters surrender to FARDC

Demobilized child soldiers in the DRC. UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti.

It cannot be underestimated how significant these might be in Mr Ongwen’s case. Being abducted as a 10-year-old and experiencing the peripatetic and terrifying life of the LRA’s campaigns cannot but have had a lasting effect on any child. Many children associated with armed forces and armed groups will have endured severe beatings and sexual violence, and will have witnessed killings. Some will have victimised others. Extremely traumatic experiences within these groups are associated with marked emotional distress, behavioural difficulties and traumatic stress symptoms. Children’s ways of coping will be affected by whether they were able to demobilise, and by their post-conflict experiences. Those likely to fare better in the longer term are those who on return to their communities can receive family, peer and community understanding, support, acceptance and forgiveness. However, Mr Ongwen never went back: he grew into adulthood without being exposed to non-violent familial and community socialisation and developmental experiences.

Understanding and empathy towards victims of armed conflict must also be extended to those who emerge from such war-ravaged childhoods to commit crimes, even on a scale such as this. We believe that Mr Ongwen should not avoid justice because of his childhood experiences. However, it would be a potential injustice not to take into account his traumatic experiences when determining an appropriate sentence, should he be found guilty.

Case Studies for the Responsibility to Protect

Several lessons for RtoP can be gleaned from the cases above. First, accountability is the primary responsibility of national authorities, but failing this, can be achieved with the assistance of the international community, or through an ICC investigation. Accountability for crimes under international law such as the recruitment and use of child soldiers is essential for ending the cycle of violence and impunity that can lead to the re-commission of such crimes, as evidenced by the deterrent effect seen in the DRC.

In addition, as demonstrated by the Ongwen case, the RtoP extends to other post-conflict initiatives aimed at preventing future outbreaks of violence that can lead to the commission of atrocities. When dealing with child soldiers, it is critical for States to implement demobilization programmes that also include proper support that will aid the return to psychological well-being in emotionally distressed child soldiers. This, and associated work with their families and communities to facilitate their acceptance and forgiveness on return, is more likely to ensure peace in the longer term.

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An Indispensable Protection Tool? Assessing the Force Intervention Brigade in the DRC

Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has defied the efforts of international peacemakers for far too long. UN and regional interventions have had only a limited impact on bringing long-term peace and stability to a country that has been wracked by ongoing militia violence, foreign interference, abject poverty, a weak state, and other factors that have combined to create one of the world’s most intractable wars and persistent atrocity situations.

M23 Withdraw from Goma

M23 withdrawal from Goma. UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti.

In recent years, eastern DRC has seen the worst of the fighting, most notably in 2012 when the 23 March Movement (M23) rebel group swept through the region, capturing Goma and committing a trail of abuses along the way. The United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) was heavily criticized for its perceived ineffectualness in preventing the onslaught.

Partly as a response to such criticism and with a determination to prevent further suffering of the civilian population at the hands of DRC’s numerous militias, the Security Council passed resolution 2098 authorizing the momentous Force Intervention Brigade (FIB). The first of its kind, the force received an unprecedented offensive mandate and was unambiguously tasked with neutralizing armed groups.

Its rapid victory against M23 temporarily vindicated MONUSCO for its failure to prevent the rebel group’s rise, and has important implications for future peacekeeping missions with a chapter VII mandate to protect civilians. However, the alleged compromise of the UN’s traditional values of impartiality and non-use of force, along with concerns over humanitarian fallout and the long-term effectiveness of FIB have come into question. Such concerns, highlighted below, must be given consideration when assessing the brigade and its potential as a model for similar offensive operations and as a tool for implementing the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP).

 

The Intervention Brigade after M23

Since the initial victory against M23, the euphoria surrounding the FIB’s accomplishments has dissipated and been replaced with a more cautious evaluation of its role, particularly as it pertains to impartiality, the potential humanitarian fallout, and the long-term viability of such an offensive mandate.

Loss of Impartiality –  In a recent article for African Arguments, Christoph Vogel gave an account of the FIB’s performance and warned that, in relation to operations against other armed groups such as the Masisi-based APCLS , “The indirect collaboration with one negative force aimed at neutralising another puts the FIB’s, MONUSCO’s, and more generally, the UN’s impartiality in to question.”

This perception has been further underscored by the many delays in pursuing the Hutu-dominated Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militia, adding to suspicions that “…the FIB was largely created at the instigation of SADC to help its fellow-SADC member state, DRC, defeat the M23, which was backed by its enemy Rwanda.”

The neutrality of the FIB, and by association, MONUSCO as a whole, was also questioned in a report released by the International Peace Institute examining the legal ramifications of the brigade’s offensive mandate. The report concluded that due to its active involvement in combat activity, the force could indeed be considered a party to the conflict. This effectually renders MONUSCO’s protected status under international humanitarian law null and void. The loss of legal protection is indicated to have implications for the military and civilian staff alike, as both could potentially become legitimate targets for military action and even potential prosecution under international law.

In addition, the report also flagged the fact that the UN mission has generally remained mum over the well-documented human rights abuses committed by FARDC. It states that, “the Intervention Brigade’s mandate can be seen to privilege security issues over impartiality and human rights protection. It focuses on armed groups rather than the FARDC, which is a key part of the “cycle of impunity” and ongoing conflict…”

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MONUSCO Intervention Brigade on patrol in Kiwanja. UN Photo/Clara Padovan.

For obvious reasons, such complications could have serious implications for the mission’s ability to carry out its protection mandate. Accusations of partiality must be addressed if the force is to effectively fulfill its civilian protection mandate without politicization or being otherwise used as a tool to selectively fight the battles of its troop-contributing countries. Furthermore, the implications of being considered a party to DRC’s conflict could have a deterrent effect on states contributing or considering personnel contributions to the peacekeeping force.

Humanitarian Fallout – When the FIB was first announced, there was a flurry of civil society concern over the potential humanitarian impact that increased military activity could have on eastern DRC, including from ICRtoP member Oxfam International, which had one of the largest presences in North Kivu at the time.

Indeed, Medecins Sans Frontieres took an exceptionally tough stance against the brigade’s blurring of military and civilian activities, stating that it no longer wanted any military component of MONUSCO operating near its health facilities for fear of being targeted.

Thankfully, the humanitarian crisis that was envisioned by concerned organizations never came to pass. However, such fears have not been sufficiently assuaged. As long-awaited military operations against the FDLR loom, new calls for protection of civilians have arisen. According to Florent Mèhaule, head of the sub-office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in South Kivu,

“One of the key issues in South Kivu could be humanitarian access due to both physical constraints and security… such an offensive will probably hamper any kind of access [to] negotiations with armed groups. In addition to difficult access, the weak humanitarian presence in the potential military operations’ areas will make it harder to quickly scale up large humanitarian operations if required.”

Possibilities such as this are reasonable concerns, and reports that OCHA and the UN refugee agency are currently working with MONUSCO, as well as local aid agencies, to develop contingency planning are welcomed.

Long-term solution needed – The final consideration is the degree to which military action is being narrowly viewed as the most important component in the struggle to bring stability to the region. Several NGOs and other experts have been quick to note that placing too much faith in this option could be counter-productive, if not harmful. For example, the Norwegian Refugee Council has stressed that:

 “Military operations alone cannot bring much-needed durable solutions to the long-standing problems which have troubled the region and its people for twenty years. The international community must focus on the deeper, uncomfortable issues that have defeated all efforts to bring peace to Eastern DRC until now.”

MONUSCO Uruguayan Peacekeepers intensify Patrol in Pinga

An Uruguayan member of MONUSCO speaking to civilians in Pinga. UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti.

The organization has called for more investment in non-military measures, such as mediation between armed actors and support to local civil society organizations. Importantly, NRC and other groups have pointed to the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework (PSCF) for the Great Lakes Region as an important referent for addressing the conflict’s root causes. A coalition of NGOs working in eastern DRC have made calls for an national oversight body to ensure Congolese authorities implement its commitments to the PSCF, further adding that:

“The operations of the new MOUNSCO Intervention Brigade” should be “clearly linked to the realization of the PSCF. This should include encouraging the UN Security Council to seriously consider suspension of the Brigade if it does not perform well or if the Congolese government does not make sufficient progress in implementing its PSCF commitments, particularly the development of a national security sector reform map.”

 

A Model for Future Intervention?

As the deadline that SADC and the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region set for disarmament of the FDLR has come and gone, it is now said that military action to neutralize the group is “inevitable.” Given that the FDLR has been accused of numerous atrocities, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, proactive action to end this threat to DRC’s civilians is a positive use of peace enforcement under RtoP.

The FIB itself is a potentially useful model, given the effect that providing it with a unique and unambiguous mandate had on defeating M23, as well as in its less noted contribution to victory against the Ugandan Islamist Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Indeed, in his recent strategic review of MONUSCO the Secretary-General called the force “indispensible” in protecting civilians when Congolese authorities failed to do so.

Recalling the Office of Internal Oversight Service’s report released in March 2014, if the Security Council decides to pursue a similar option in the future, it could be an answer to the report’s findings that UN peacekeepers almost never use force for the protection of civilians, due to reasons such as unclear mandates and a lack of resources.

However, MONUSCO must be cautious in utilizing this tool. The concerns highlighted above represent real discomfort with the UN taking such an aggressive approach – a sentiment that has been shared by many UN member states that are leery of abandoning the organization’s traditional focus on consent, impartiality and the non-use of force.

In the DRC context, recommendations for monitoring and ensuring compliance with human rights standards, contingency planning to mitigate humanitarian fallout and to maximize civilian protection, as well as linking the FIB’s activities with broader peace efforts, should be heeded. On a more systemic level, the upcoming Secretary-General’s High-Level Review of Peacekeeping Operations, offers a chance to further assess the FIB’s performance, gleaning the positive lessons learned  and reconciling them with the legitimate concerns held by many NGOs and UN member states.

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UN Peacekeeping: New Trends and Implications for Civilian Protection

UN Peacekeeper day Congo

International UN Peacekeeping Day celebration in DR Congo. MONUSCO/Myriam Asmani

International peacekeeping is a vital tool in the United Nations’ proverbial ‘toolbox’ for upholding its Responsibility to Protect (RtoP).  May 29 was celebrated as International UN Peacekeeping Day to the refrain of “Force for the Future,”  kicking off a six-month initiative to raise political support for the modernization of UN peacekeeping with the hopes of further realizing its value and cost-effectiveness, and meeting the present realities faced by today’s ‘blue helmets’.

In the words of the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edward Mulet, “The world is changing. The threats are changing. The levels of conflict are changing in many places in the world…so we have to adapt and we have to evolve and we have to learn how to deal with these new challenges.”

These new challenges are linked to a number of features of modern conflict. Today’s conflicts tend to be intra-as opposed to inter-state, and disproportionately affect civilians populations who are often targeted by armed groups. Conflicts are becoming more complex and multi-dimensional, as are the threats they produce. Furthermore, it is common for operations to be launched in the midst of a conflict, where there is in fact no peace to keep. These developments are challenging the precepts that characterise what has been called the ‘holy trinity’ of ‘classical peacekeeping,’ namely: host-government consent, impartiality, and minimal use of force.

Protection of Civilians (PoC) and Other Evolving Trends

A recent report by the United Nation’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) on the implementation of Protection of Civilian (PoC) mandates in UN peacekeeping operations touches on an important evolutionary characteristic of “modern” operations. The report notes that to date, thirteen UN peacekeeping missions have included a robust PoC mandate – nine of which are current. In addition, several have included an “all means necessary” stipulation under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

The PoC agenda evolved from the same discourse that spawned RtoP and shares much of the underpinning legal and moral justification. Indeed, the two agendas reinforce each other in many ways. However, it is important to note that PoC and RtoP remain separate areas. A crucial distinction is that RtoP is narrowly focused on the four mass atrocity crimes of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. RtoP does not extend beyond these crimes, though it does extend to situations outside of armed conflict. On the other hand, PoC is narrowly focused on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, but applies to a larger range of human rights violations than just the four crimes. For more information on the distinctions and similarities between the two agendas, visit ICRtoP’s PoC information page.

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Brazilian peacekeeper on patrol in Haiti. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class David A. Frech/Released)

Along with the proliferation of PoC mandates and Chapter VII authorizations, developments in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) may be indicative of another new trend. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2098 established the UN ‘Force Intervention Brigade’ (FIB) in DRC, providing MONUSCO with the capacity and authorization to proactively engage in the protection of civilians through disarmament of Congo’s many armed groups, unambiguously approving the use of force with “targeted offensive operations.” The brigade played a decisive role in the defeat of the M23 movement last year. However, as it stands now, this remains an exceptional case and indeed was only agreed to by Russia and China on this condition.

 

How effective have PoC Mandates Been?

While it is important to continuously adapt to new challenges, it is also important to assess how these are being implemented in actuality.

On the issue of civilian protection, OIOS found several obstacles to the effective implementation of PoC mandates. Strikingly, the report found that, for a number of reasons, force is almost never used to protect civilians – even as a last resort and with legal authorization to do so. Such reasons include the interpretive viewpoint of mission commanders, an aversion to putting troops in harm’s way, a shortage of troops and resources, fear of consequence for the misuse of force, and confusion over how the notion of consent applies in instances where government forces appear to be instigating or perpetrating violence against civilians.

OIOS made a number of recommendations for improving this record, importantly pointing to the necessity of bridging operational understanding at all levels to mend the broken “chain” of activities designed to protect civilians. It also recommended reporting to the Security Council in the event that instructions are not fully carried out in regards to civilian protection, along with improved coordination between peacekeeping and humanitarian entities.

 

Security Council Holds Open Debate on New Trends in UN Peacekeeping

The open debate held on June 11, 2014 brought together troop, police and finance-contributing countries (TCCs, PCCs, and FCCs respectively) to discuss these findings, as well as other recent trends in UN peacekeeping.

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Head of Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous, inspects an Unmanned/Unarmed Aerial Vehicle (UAV) for use in eastern DRC. MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti

A concept note that preceded the debate highlighted technological innovations that have presented the UN with new tools for carrying out their mandates more effectively. This includes the use of Unarmed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UUAVs) and new medical and engineering equipment. Such technological innovation is said to“… contribute to the fuller implementation of mandates by peacekeepers and improved safety and security of personnel, as well as better situational awareness.” 

The note also mentions that missions have become much more multi-dimensional in nature, with military, police and civilian components deployed by various international actors existing simultaneously. This covers the full spectrum of intervention, from the brokering and monitoring of a ceasefire, to disarmament, reconciliation, peacebuilding and statebuilding activities.

Thus far, these have been implemented within a “fragmented policy and legal framework”, making consensus and standard guidance crucial – particularly as the time-honored principles of neutrality, consent and minimal use of force are being challenged.

Different Perspectives on Peacekeeping Developments

While 47 delegates made statements during the debate, a few samples from major TCC, PCC, and FCCs illustrate the scope of concerns.

As the third largest African troop and police contributing country, as well as the current Chair of the Security Council Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations, Rwandan Ambassador Eugene-Richard Gasana touched on some key issues. The Ambassador voiced his support for robust peacekeeping mandates stating:

“Given the nature of current threats to peacekeeping, Rwanda believes that the deployment of robust peacekeepers is essential to not only effectively protect civilians but also to protect themselves in increasingly hostile and volatile environments.”

However, he qualified this statement with the warning that:

“…we cannot expect peacekeepers to engage in robust peacekeeping tasks without necessary preparation and resources. If we do not have the ability to insert forces and to conduct casualty and medical evacuations or airlifts, then we have major problems and should not have deployed in the first place.”

On the question of new technologies, Gasana recognized its value as a key enabler, but simultaneously cautioned that, regarding the use of UUAV’s, “Questions still exist regarding control of information collected, confidentiality, and third party impartiality.” The concern over use and legalities were common themes among many member states.

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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivers his remarks at the open debate on June 11, 2014. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis of the Permanent Mission of the United States spoke for the world’s largest FCC, and mirrored the concerns of other countries that insist the traditional model of peacekeeping is outdated. Like Rwanda, they were supportive of more robust peacekeeping mandates. The focus of their concern was on ensuring mandates are implemented as effectively as possible, particularly given the bleak findings of the OIOS report. Reflecting on this, the Ambassador lamented:

“At its essence, the report reveals a significant gap that has emerged between the commitments we set down on paper – which constitute a responsibility to act – and the way missions perform in practice. The larger this gap grows, the more vulnerable civilians become, and the less credible this organization and the peacekeepers representing it become.” The Ambassador urged consideration of the report’s conclusions.

Ambassador Asoke Kumar Mukerji, the Permanent Representative of India provided a different perspective. A noted skeptic of the expanding role of UN peacekeeping, India was particularly vocal in its opposition to the FIB:

In our view, such a mixing of mandates directly affects the operational effectiveness of the peacekeeping operation, exposing traditional peacekeepers to unnecessary threats from armed internal conflicts which the United Nations has not itself instigated.”  

Furthermore, India bemoaned the lack of funding and resources being volunteered for peacekeeping operations, particularly in complex and multi-dimensional environments:

On the one hand, the new mandates of UNPKOs are ambitiously drafted, running into many pages, as good governance templates. On the other hand, the very same pen-holders drafting these new mandates cavil at having to pay more money for peacekeepers tasked to implement these mandates.”

India’s comments represent a number of states who expressed similar reservations over the use of force and overly-ambitious mandates, seen as threatening classical peacekeeping.

Key Recommendations for Improvement

Though an outcome document has yet to emerge from the debate, it is possible to piece together some of the main recommendations to address concerns of TCCs, PCCs and FCCs alike. These include:

  • Inclusive consultations between the Security Council and the General Assembly to derive consensus on delicate issues, such as use of force, equipment and mission costs.
  • Providing clear mandates with standard operating procedures plainly defined.
  • Better communication at command and tactical levels to bridge the gap between planning and implementation.
  • A standard regulatory framework for the use of new technologies, such as UUAV’s.
  • Improvement of inter-mission cooperation to fill logistical and capacity gaps and leverage synergies.
  • Matching ambitious multi-dimensional mandates with adequate resource and funding commitments.
  • Continuing to recognize and create an enabling environment for activities that lead to sustainable peace and development – including incorporating a Women’s Peace and Security lens, security and justice sector reform, and dialogue and reconciliatory efforts.

Steps such as these could help reconcile the need for innovation and adaptability with the concerns of states that are leery of leading UN peacekeeping too far from its roots. Ultimately, this will ensure peacekeeping operations are better prepared and equipped to protect vulnerable civilians from mass atrocities, securing its status as a key tool in the RtoP toolkit and making it a true “Force for the Future.”

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Filed under DRC, Peacekeeping, Security Council, UN

Kony 2012 and the Responsibility to Protect

On 5 March, Invisible Children (IC) released their viral sensation, “Kony 2012“, which called for the arrest of Joseph Kony, the commander-in-chief of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his role in the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes against civilian populations in Uganda.

IC’s Kony 2012 sought to raise awareness about the past atrocities of the LRA and their continued crimes against civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan. It was also a call for action, with a particular emphasis on increasing pressure on policymakers in the United States government, which deployed 100 soldiers in October 2011 to assist Uganda, the DRC, CAR, and South Sudan in their military efforts against the LRA.

Spreading like wildfire on Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter, the video also attracted much criticism. IC was charged with oversimplifying the LRA conflict and omitting the voices of northern Ugandans by Mark Kersten and Patrick Wegner, two bloggers at Justice in Conflict with experience working in LRA-affected areas in Uganda. Mahmoud Mamdani, a professor at Makere University in Kampala, Uganda, deplored IC’s focus on a military solution to the LRA. Alex De Waal, director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University, targeted the video for “peddling dangerous and patronizing falsehoods that it is up to the United States to help solve the problem of the LRA.

In response, IC issued a Q&A rebuttal to these critiques on their website, and have since released a second video, entitled “Kony 2012: Part II: Beyond Famous”, which the organization states, “offers a closer look at the LRA and explores the solutions put forward by leaders of the currently-affected areas of CAR, DRC, and South Sudan, where local communities continue to live under the constant threat of LRA violence.”

The idea behind Kony 2012 is not new,” the narrator of the video states as the video opens. “In 2005, world leaders unanimously agreed at the United Nations to uphold the Responsibility to Protect. This states that every single person on the planet has inherent rights that should be defended against the worst crimes against humanity, first by our own countries, and then by the global community, no matter where we live.”

Flashing pictures of Syria and Sudan, and transitioning to the focus on the atrocities committed by the LRA in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan, the film states, “Although most of the world has agreed to this in theory, in far too many cases, we have failed to live up to our promise…This is why we made this film.”

RtoP, Kony 2012, and Beyond

IC has situated the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P) at the heart of their film, and premised their recommendations – continued and/or increased military participation by the United States in LRA-affected regions to assist the regional forces of Uganda, the DRC, CAR, and South Sudan, and sustained political support for the initiatives of these countries and regional organizations, like the African Union (AU), to remove Joseph Kony from the battlefield by either arresting him or killing him – on the norm as well.

This post will thus expand on the discussion of RtoP, and examine this new, international norm in the context of the LRA conflict and its application in response to threatened and actual atrocities against civilians in the region.

RtoP’s scope is narrow, but deep, meaning that it applies only to the threat or occurrence of four specific crimes – genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleanings – but provides for a wide range of measures that extend beyond military intervention, including preventive diplomacy, economic sanctions, monitoring missions, and the involvement of regional and international justice mechanisms. The primary responsibility to protect populations from these crimes lies first at the national level, but regional and international actors also have a responsibility to provide assistance and capacity-building to individual governments in upholding this responsibility. In the event of a failure by a state to uphold its protection obligations, these actors have a responsibility to use political, economic, humanitarian, and if necessary, military tools available within the RtoP framework  to prevent and respond to threats of mass atrocities.

The LRA Conflict and RtoP

Kony and the senior commanders of the LRA stand accused of committing widespread war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, enslavement, sexual enslavement, rape, mutilation, intentionally directing attacks against civilian populations, pillaging, and the abduction and forced enlistment of children. As unanimously endorsed by UN Member States in  2005, paragraphs 138-139 of the World Summit Outcome Document articulate that war crimes and crimes against humanity are two of the four crimes under the RtoP framework.

As Coalition Steering Committee member Human Rights Watch (HRW) documents in their Q&A on Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, the impact of the operations of the LRA in northern Uganda, where their insurgency began in 1987, was disastrous for civilians, and has induced long-term implications:

“The human toll has been most severe in northern Uganda. Between 1987 and 2006, at least 20,000 Ugandan children were abducted. More than 1.9 million people were displaced from their homes into camps and tens of thousands of Ugandan civilians died…Addressing the aftermath of the war and displacement, however, remains a massive challenge.”

But since being pushed out of Uganda by the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) in 2006, the LRA has moved into the neighbouring countries of the DRC, the CAR, and South Sudan. According to HRW, the LRA “remains an immediate menace” to those populations:

“Since September 2008 the LRA has killed more than 2,600 civilians and abducted more than 4,000 other people, many of them children. More than 400,000 people have been displaced from their homes; very few have any access to humanitarian assistance.”

A particular episode in late 2008 and early 2009, the December to January “Christmas Massacres”, highlights the terror and criminality of the LRA. After refusing to sign on to the Juba peace process in 2008, in response to the December 2008 “Operation Lightning Thunder” – a joint offensive by Uganda, the DRC and South Sudan, and supported by the United States – the LRA retaliated with vicious attacks in northern DRC between 24 December 2008 and 13 January 2009. The group also allegedly carried out a massacre of 321 people in the same region of DRC a year later in December of 2009, and abducted 250 others.

Joseph Kony, leader of Lord's Resistance Army, and target of IC's Kony 2012 advocacy campaign. (Photo: Stuart Price/Associated Press)

The LRA is thus allegedly responsible for the widespread commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in at least two countries, Uganda and the DRC. And while their numbers have supposedly dwindled in light of increased regional military pressure, civilians remain at risk. As a 28 July 2011 report from Coalition Steering Committee member Oxfam International, We are entirely exploitable’: The lack of protection for civilians in Eastern DRC’, states, the majority of people polled in an LRA-affected region felt less safe in 2011 than in 2010.

The report details that in the communities surveyed in Eastern DRC, the LRA was described as the main perpetrator of killings, torture, and abductions as well as of looting, destruction of crops and rape.

In light of the litany of past abuses by the LRA, and the continued threat of mass atrocities posed by the organization in its current areas of operation, the Responsibility to Protect remains an important framework through which national, regional, and international actors can focus their efforts of protecting populations.

However, as critics of Kony 2012 have noted, while the atrocities committed by the LRA are egregious, the group is just one part of the conflict that has spanned over 25 years and across four countries in Central Africa.

In a recent op-ed published in the Washington Times entitled The Other Half of the Kony Equation, Maria Burnett and Elizabeth Evenson, both HRW employees, also highlight the problematic record of the Uganda government’s involvement during the fight against the LRA. Noting that the LRA emerged in large part due to the marginalizing policies of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni towards the people of northern Uganda, Burnett and Evenson state, “On a lesser scale than those of the LRA, crimes by government forces nevertheless included deliberate killings, routine beatings, rapes, and prolonged arbitrary detention of civilians.”

They assert that there has been no justice for victims of these abuses by the UPDF, with the government stating that those responsible have been investigated and prosecuted, but not publicly releasing any information on the trials. And nearly seven years after releasing the indictments for the top LRA leadership, Burnett and Evenson also state that the ICC has not examined abuses by the UPDF or the Museveni government, which has, “eased pressure on Ugandan authorities to hold their forces to account.”

This remains a crucial issue for Adam Branch, a senior research fellow at the Makere Institute of Social Research in Uganda and professor at San Diego State University, in his op-ed for Al-Jazeera, Kony Part II: Accountability, not awareness. Reflecting on IC’s focus on the efforts of Ugandan and regional forces, Branch states:

“[…] The new strategy ignores the Ugandan military’s abysmal human rights record in neighbouring countries, of great concern if Uganda is to take the lead role in the campaign…Kony Part II aligns itself closely with the ICC’s Moreno-Ocampo, who has shown himself nothing if not unaccountable to the victims to whom he claims to bring justice. Moreno-Ocampo has been perfectly willing to offer impunity to the Ugandan government in order to secure the government’s co-operation in the ICC investigation of the LRA, ignoring the demands from Ugandan human rights activists that the ICC indict both sides, instead of taking sides.”

These concerns over the alleged abuses perpetrated by the Ugandan government strike at the core of RtoP: All states made a commitment to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing in their endorsement of the norm at the 1005 World Summit. As such, in the context of the LRA conflict, the individual governments bear the primary responsibility for the prevention of these most egregious crimes. Regional and international actors, in recalling their responsibility to protect, must also be available to assist these nations in ensuring the safety of civilian populations.

Responding to the LRA Conflict

Kony 2012 Part II details IC’s four-point “Comprehensive Approach” to stopping Kony and the LRA in 2012, which highlights IC’s civilian protection initiatives in the region, including establishing radio stations that can broadcast and warn civilians against potential attacks, efforts to ensure the peaceful surrender of LRA soldiers, the importance of engaging in post-conflicting reconstruction and rehabilitation in LRA-affected areas, and finally, the arrest of top LRA leadership.

The video states, “Unless Kony and his top commanders surrender, or are arrested, their atrocities will not stop.” This stems from their assertion that negotiations between governments opposed to the LRA have failed to bring about an end to violence, and that the group has consistently used peace negotiations as a means to resupply and rebuild, often through carrying out mass abductions.

Joseph Kony (centre, in white) surrounded by leadership officials of the LRA, including the now-deceased Vincent Otti. (Photo: Reuters)

As such, Kony 2012 Part II calls for the international community to strengthen the ongoing military efforts of the African Union (AU) and regional governments (Uganda, the DRC, South Sudan, and the CAR), which IC states is, “the best way to apprehend top LRA leadership.”

Since 2008, these governments have coordinated militarily against the LRA, conducting joint operations in an attempt to apprehend or kill Joseph Kony and cease atrocities against civilians. Aside from the concerns raised over alleged abuses of human rights committed by the UPDF and other national armies in the region, these troops also suffer from a lack of necessary equipment, including heavy-lift and transport helicopters, and effective training, which has hampered their individual and coordinated military responses to the LRA. Such gaps in capabilities have thus made it difficult for these countries to effectively uphold their primary responsibility to protect civilians from LRA attacks.

Recognizing this, international actors have moved to bolster these efforts. The United States, dispatched 100 military advisers to the region in October 2011 to provide “information, advice, and assistance” to the national armies of Uganda, the DRC, the CAR, and South Sudan. And in March 2012, the African Union announced that it would move to form a 5,000-troop strong brigade, drawing from troops from Uganda, the DRC, the CAR, and South Sudan, to synergize their efforts in seeking to stop Kony through coordinated military action.

But Wegner at Justice in Conflict notes that despite these actions, and the potential for greater coordination by regional governments, the African Union, and the United States, the use of force has yet to be successful in the fight against the LRA:

“Military operations have so far failed to stop the LRA….Rather, they provoked retaliations and civilian casualties. During the UPDF led offensives to stop the LRA in northern Uganda and southern Sudan (now South Sudan), the LRA managed to outmanoeuvre the UPDF and spread the conflict consecutively to previously peaceful parts of the north and eventually even to eastern Uganda where civilians bore the brunt of the fury of the LRA.”

The United Nations also has various peacekeeping missions present in the region, including a UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), which has the authorization by the UN Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to use force to protect civilians, and is deployed in LRA-affected areas in the DRC.  But HRW notes that:

“The UN’s various initiatives regarding the LRA have lacked coordination and impact. While the UN missions have attempted to respond to LRA threats to civilians, it has rarely been a top priority for any of the missions and resources are often directed elsewhere.”

Civil society organizations, particularly those working on the ground in LRA-affected areas, have an all-too important role to play in the effort to protect civilians. Groups that monitor the movements of the LRA and provide early warning of attacks may ensure better civilian protection on the ground, and can alert the actors involved of the risk of imminent atrocities.  Civil society is also integral to the ongoing assessment of coordinated efforts against the LRA, and raising awareness regarding the progress of civilian protection in the region. Their work with victims and affected communities is also crucial to facilitating rehabilitation and post-conflict reconstruction, which are necessary to build a sustainable peace in LRA-affected areas.

As the international community works to protect populations from these massive human rights violations, it is crucial to reiterate the narrow, but deep scope of the RtoP. All states agreed to the responsibility to protect their populations from the crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. Furthermore, the norm provides for a broad range of political, economic, humanitarian, and if necessary, military measures that actors at all levels, including civil society, individual states, regional and sub-regional organizations, and the United Nations can implement to assist individual governments in upholding their responsibility to protect. If civilians remain at risk in spite of such measures being employed, actors at all levels must assess the tools available to them under the RtoP framework to ensure atrocities are prevented and effective civilian protection is provided.

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Filed under African Union, CivSoc, DRC, Human Rights, International Criminal Court, Joseph Kony, Kony 2012, Lord's Resistance Army, Post-Conflict, Prevention, Regional Orgs, RtoP, Security Council, South Sudan, Third Pillar, Uganda, UN