Category Archives: genocide

#RtoPWeekly 8-12 May

New study finds ISIL killed or kidnapped almost 10,000 Yazidis in 2014

A new study published by the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Medicine this week has shown that the Islamic State (ISIL) killed or kidnapped almost 10,000 Yazidis during the attack on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq in 2014. Valeria Cetorelli, a demographer from John Hopkins University and the London School of Economics and Political Science, and lead researcher on the study has been conducting investigations on the number of people affected by this onslaught on the Yazidi population for possible use in a potential future trial to hold the perpetrators of such atrocities accountable. According to her research, ISIL killed approximately 3,100 Yazidis during the attack on Mount Sinjar and forcibly enslaved almost 7,000 people, forcing them into sex slavery or to become fighters in 2014 alone. These totals amounted to the death or enslavement of at least 2.5 percent of the minority group population by the time that Cetorelli carried out her initial interviews with Yazidis in camps for displaced persons in 2015.

Children that have escaped ISIL captivity and are now living in such camps for displaced persons have recently given testimonies on their treatment by ISIL militants while they were in captivity. According to their testimonies, ISIL abducted hundreds of young boys and forcibly held and trained them in camps to become fighters and suicide bombers. Human Rights Watch has estimated that 3,500 of them still remain captive in Iraq and Syria. In total, UN investigators have estimated that over 5,000 Yazidis have been killed and approximately 7,000 women have been forced into sex slavery.

The evidence of the atrocities carried out against the Yazidis gathered by legal experts and UN investigators is also intended to serve as documentation for the purpose of a future trial to bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice. Among the many calls for accountability, Amal Clooney, an international human rights lawyer, has been trying to bring ISIL to trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the crimes carried out against the Yazidis. Clooney and Nadia Murad, a Yazidi survivor of the attack who was enslaved by ISIL and escaped, have continuously urged the United Nations Security Council and the entire international community, including the Iraqi government, to cooperate for the purpose of a UN investigation into the ISIL’s atrocities against the Yazidis.

On 15 June 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a report entitled, “‘They came to destroy’: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis,” in which the Council reported that the atrocities committed by ISIL against the Yazidi population amounted to genocide and multiple crimes against humanity and war crimes.


Catch up on developments in…


Burundi
CAR
DRC
Iraq
Libya

Mali
South Sudan
Syria
Yemen


Burundi:

Former Burkina Faso president, Michel Kafando, has been appointed the new UN envoy for Burundi. In addition, the EU has called for inclusive dialogue under the mediation of the Ugandan President with the former Tanzanian President as a facilitator. The EU has stated that these meetings are essential for the restoration of peace in Burundi.


Central African Republic:

After dozens of attacks on workers delivering aid in the Central African Republic, the UN humanitarian office said on 5 May that four international humanitarian organizations have temporarily suspended activities in northern CAR. The staff from these organizations will move to Bangui, the country’s capital, and may withdraw completely if threats of violence persist. Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called for increased support of children in the “forgotten crisis,” adding that displacement has made children particularly vulnerable to “health risks, exploitation and abuse.”

A UN convoy was attacked by the “anti-Balaka” armed group near Yogofongo village on 9 May. Officials said four peacekeepers were killed and at least eight were wounded, while one remains missing. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attacks against the convoy and called on CAR authorities to investigate them in order to ensure swift justice.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

On Monday, the UN stated that the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is “dramatically deteriorating” as ethnic violence continues to spread and drive people from their homes. Last week alone, around 100,000 people were uprooted in the Kasai region, increasing the number of displaced to nearly 1.3 million. An estimated average of 4,600 people flee their homes daily in the DRC.


Iraq:

According to a 7 May report by ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities are responsible for the internal displacement of Sunni Turkmen, with the intent to compel them to return to towns controlled by the Popular Mobilization Forces’ Shia units (Hashd al-Sha’abi or PMF). Displaced Turkmen have reported that KRG authorities in Kirkuk have detained and abused them in order to coerce them to leave the region.

Lama Fakih, Deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, declared in the 7 May report that “all Iraqis have the right to live in safety, and forcing displaced Turkmen families out of their homes to parts of the country where they would be in danger is particularly egregious,” adding that “KRG forces should cease harassing Turkmen and unlawfully forcing them to leave Kirkuk.” Human Rights Watch has reported abuses against Sunni Turkmen in other places, including Fallujah and Nineveh.

Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, reported on 9 May that there are currently approximately 360,000 Iraqi civilians caught in the fight between the Iraqi forces and the Islamic State in the north-west Mosul, adding that “emergency assistance and basic services are being provided by humanitarian partners” to those families arriving in Badoush in northeast Iraq. Mr. Dujarric stressed that there is a high number of casualties in Mosul hospitals as well, with over twelve thousand people being hospitalized since 17 October.


Libya:

The International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda presented her thirteenth report on the situation in Libya on 8 May to the United Nations Security Council. Recalling the climate of impunity and spread of human rights violations, she deplored that ordinary citizens have to suffer.

The Prosecutor briefed the Security Council about the relevant ICC investigations as the arrest warrant against Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled, former Head of the Internal Security agency under Muammar Gaddafi, was unsealed on 24 April. Khaled is allegedly responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 2011 uprisings in Libya. The arrest warrant was declassified in hopes of facilitating the arrest and surrender of Mr. Al-Tuhamy, and therefore Bensouda urged all states to cooperate with his arrest. She also called upon the Libyan government to take action and surrender Saif al-Islam Gaddafi to the ICC. In 2015, a Libyan court in Tripoli sentenced him and seven other former government officials to death. Gaddafi appears to have been released from prison, though his whereabouts remain unclear. Finally, regarding the case against Abdulah al-Senussi, she recalled the lack of compliance to fair trials standards while his case was being appealed before the Libyan Supreme Court.

Bensouda also added that because peace in Libya has been undermined by the serious crimes committed by government authorities, the country has also become a marketplace for trafficking and organized crime. Bensouda declared that the ICC is carefully examining the feasibility of opening an investigation into migrant-related crimes in Libya, and that her Office has the firm commitment to collect information related to serious and widespread crimes allegedly committed against migrants attempting to transit through Libya.


Mali:

The deterioration of the security and human rights situation in Mali has undermined the 2015 peace agreement struck between the Malian government and two coalitions of armed groups, according to an analysis released by the Worldwide Movement for Human Rights (FIDH) on 11 May. Indeed, the recent violent clashes have enabled the expansion of terrorist groups and created a climate of insecurity. FIDH stated in the report that there is an urgent need to strengthen the UN mission in the country and fight against impunity. FIDH and its member organization the Association malienne des droits de l’homme will be at the United Nations headquarters in New York from 7 to 13 May to discuss these issues and present their recommendations.


South Sudan:

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than two million children have been forced to flee their homes in South Sudan as a result of the civil war. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has deployed its peacekeeping troops in the Upper Nile region to support the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

The United Nations Security Council has condemned the 3 May attack on UNMISS, calling for immediate adherence to the permanent ceasefire addressed in the August 2015 peace deal.

The South Sudanese Army (SPLA) said that its forces captured the headquarters of the opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) on 5 May, allegedly reversing all gains made by the rebels in the past months. In addition, President Kiir has replaced his previous army chief, Paul Malong, with General James Ajongo Mawut, former deputy chief of general staff for administration and finance.


Syria:

During the Astana talks held in Kazakhstan last week, Russia and Iran signed a memorandum with Turkey that called for a “pause in fighting and airstrikes for six months in and around the rebel-held areas, unhindered aid deliveries, and the return of displaced civilians.” Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy to Syria, referred to the memorandum as an “important, promising, positive step in the right direction.” The six-month agreement bans all attacks in the agreed “de-escalation” zones, apart from attacks targeted against the Islamic State and the Nusra Front, and it also allows for humanitarian assistance in the agreed areas.

However, the memorandum was not signed by either the Syrian government or the non-state actors to the conflict, with Walid al-Moallem, the Syrian Foreign Minister, declaring on 8 May that the Syrian government does “not accept a role for the United Nations or international forces to monitor the agreement.” On 10 May, Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, announced plans to meet this week with US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson in order to discuss the situation in Syria and both countries’ role in the conflict.


Yemen:

Jamie McGoldrick, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, urged on 7 May for “safe, unconditional, and sustained” humanitarian aid in the country. He also stressed that it is “imperative that humanitarians reach people in need without obstacle, wherever they may be.” There are currently approximately 17 million Yemenis in need.

On Tuesday, 9 May, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported that the cholera outbreak in Yemen is worsening. Shinjiro Murate, head of the MSF mission in Yemen, stressed that the organization is “very concerned that the disease will continue to spread and become out of control,” also calling for “humanitarian assistance [that] needs to be urgently scaled up to limit the spread of the outbreak and anticipate other potential outbreaks.” The WHO reported 2,022 occurrences of cholera in Yemen just within the last fortnight, with at least 34 deaths among them.

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Filed under Burundi, DRC, genocide, International Criminal Court, Justice, Libya, Reconciliation, RtoP, Second Pillar, Yemen

#RtoPWeekly 1-5 May

Human rights issues to be reviewed at UN Human Rights Council

ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a new report this week calling on all UN Member States to denounce the Philippines’ deadly “war on drugs”, which has resulted in the killing of over 7,000 people in less than a year. Since President Rodrigo Duterte took power in June 2016, numerous nongovernmental organizations, including HRW, as well as various UN and media sources have reported cases of extrajudicial killings, which, as HRW has argued, may amount to crimes against humanity. In light of these reports, as well as those of cases of torture, enforced disappearances, and violations of children’s and reproductive health rights, among other issues, HRW has called on all UN Member States to “urge the Philippines to support an international investigation into the killings, given the Philippine government’s own failure to impartially investigate or prosecute those responsible.”

Estimates have shown that the number of deaths related to the “war on drugs” may have reached 8,000. However, Philippine police have disputed those totals, as well as the alleged extrajudicial killings. In addition, Ramon Apolinario, the Philippine’s Police Deputy Director General, has declared that the killings are also a result of infighting between drug dealing groups. However, Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, has argued that “[T]he recent discovery of a secret detention cell, where drug suspects were being detained without charge, in conditions which may amount to cruel and inhuman treatment, suggests that further violations by police may be occurring, which have not yet been uncovered.”

Next week, on Monday, 8 May, the Philippines will be one of 14 countries to be examined under the latest Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Among the issues that will be discussed during the review is the large number of alleged extrajudicial killings in the country. Phelim Kine, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, has stated that, “The UN review of the Philippines is critical because of the sheer magnitude of the human rights calamity since President Duterte took office last year,” adding that “Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ has been nothing less than a murderous war on the poor.” UPRs are conducted on all 193 UN Member States and the Philippines’ last UPRs were carried out in 2008 and 2012. However, this will be the country’s first UPR since Duterte has taken office.

President Rodrigo Duterte has ignored calls for a government investigation into the extrajudicial killings and has declared that he shall not be “intimidated” by a possible referral to the International Criminal Court. In April, Jude Sabio, a lawyer from the Philippines, filed a 77-page complaint to the International Criminal Court against President Duterte and other government officials accusing them of repeated extrajudicial killings that may amount to crimes against humanity.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
Cote d’Ivoire
DRC
Kenya
Libya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Syria
Yemen


Burma/Myanmar:
During a press conference in Brussels on 2 May with the European Union diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi rejected the Commission of Inquiry dispatched by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate the state’s alleged crimes against the Rohingya people, which may amount to crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. Aung San Suu Kyi argued that the suggested resolution is “not keeping with what is happening on the ground,” further adding that “those recommendations which will divide further the two communities in Rakhine we will not accept, because it will not help to resolve the problems that are arising all the time.”

Burundi:

According to the UN’s World Food Program (WFP), a convoy of food aid that had been blocked from entering Burundi on 3 May has been returned to Rwanda. Burundi authorities had prevented the shipment from entering due to “security issues.” The aid would have supplied enough food for about 112,000 people.


Central African Republic:

This week, ICRtoP member Human Right Watch reported that armed groups fighting for control of a central Ouaka province in the Central African Republic (CAR) have targeted civilians in several attacks over the past three months. These attacks, which are apparently retaliation-driven, have left at least 45 people dead and at least 11,000 displaced. The clashes are between the ethnic Fulani Union for Peace in the CAR (UPC) and the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the CAR (FPRC), both of which are seeking to become the dominant power in the region.

Recent resurging violence in the CAR has left full villages emptied and destroyed, with Medecins Sans Frontieres emphasizing that civilians are being attacked in the country at “levels not seen in years.” Despite the increasing needs, humanitarian funding for the year for the country is at only 10 percent. UN officials say the “disastrous” lack of support hurts the possibility of peace.

The US and its African allies have officially terminated their search for Joseph Kony, the infamous leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army and director of over 100,000 murders and atrocities in central Africa over the past few decades, as many analysts claim that Kony’s influence has now been drastically reduced. Kony was one of the first people the International Criminal Court had indicted for crimes against humanity but he still has yet to be caught, and therefore many experts worry that the removal of troops will leave many people in the CAR at risk.


Cote d’Ivoire:

On 1 May, the UN announced its intention to complete its peacekeeping engagement with Côte d’Ivoire, concluding a 13-year effort. According to the UN, the efforts of the UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI) have culminated in the restoration of peace and stability in the country, which had been particularly fragile after the post-2010 election crisis. UNOCI is in the process of ensuring the sustainability of the peacekeeping successes achieved thus far and will close the doors of its mission permanently on 30 June.


Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:

Ms. Catalina Devandas Aguilar, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, became the first UN official for Human Rights to have visited the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on Wednesday, May 3. Special Rapporteur Aguilar met with the Foreign Ministry Ambassador for Human Rights Ri Hung Sik in Pyongyang and is arranged to have more meetings with government officials in an effort to promote the rights of persons with disabilities in the country.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

On 1 May, the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) indefinitely postponed voter registration in two provinces of the central Kasai region after the brutal killing of Philippe Iyidimbe, an Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) official, on 3 April. The state has accused the Kamwina Nsapu rebel militia of carrying out the murder. The UN has previously accused the Nsapu militia of using child soldiers and committing several other atrocities in the country.


Kenya:

Kenya’s government has continuously shown harsh hostility to human rights activists in the country, according to a report by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). The government allegedly has blamed rights groups in the country for President Uhuru Kenyatta’s former International Criminal Court (ICC) indictment for crimes against humanity, which have since been dropped. The same report alleged that violence, kidnapping, murder, and torture are amongst the methods used by the state in retribution against the activists it has deemed responsible.


Libya:

During a joint press conference on 1 May with his Libyan counterpart, Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs Sebastian Kurs stated that Libya can only resolve its problem of “illegal immigration” into Europe in a climate of political and economic stability, adding that refugees saved from perilous situations during their travels should not be guaranteed entry to European countries. ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch issued an open letter to Kurs on 3 May, declaring his statements as feeding the “misinformed and xenophobic narratives in Europe” and that they will only result in worse conditions for Libyan refugees.

In a “diplomatic breakthrough” on 2 May, the head of Libya’s UN-backed government, Fayez al Sarraj, met with General Khalifa Haftar, the head of the rival faction supported by the country’s Parliament, in an effort to outline an agreement and resolve tensions. This most recent meeting marks the second its kind since Sarraj was named the designated Prime Minister in late 2015. No official statement was made after the meeting, but it is expected that new elections will be held in the upcoming several months.


Mali:

According to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, at least one person was killed and nine wounded in an attack on its camp near the city of Timbuktu on 4 May. There was no direct claim of responsibility, but al Qaeda-affiliated rebel groups have conducted attacks in the past against the Malian government and its allies, so these groups are being looked at as possible culprits.


Nigeria:

Amnesty International denounced on 3 May the increasing arrests and intimidation of bloggers and demonstrators across Nigeria. While underscoring the authorities’ determination to suppress the right of freedom of expression, it urged the government to respect international human rights law in protecting this right.


South Sudan:

An advance party of peacekeepers, specially mandated to use force to protect civilians, arrived in Juba on 1 May. The 13-member group will provide support for engineering operations and help to prepare camp sites for the rest of the peacekeepers. The group’s enhanced mandate was given by the UN Security Council after last year’s violent clashes in Juba escalated the country’s civil war and resulted in hundreds of deaths. The group will be reinforced in the upcoming months.

On 30 April, the African Union (AU) voiced its “deep concerns” over the increased violence in South Sudan and called on the warring parties to abstain from escalating tensions. The AU representative declared that these groups, including the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition, are endangering civilians despite declaring they seek to defend them. Further, the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) called on the South Sudanese army to immediately cease attacks in the Upper Nile region, saying the state army is responsible for the violence that displaced 25,000 civilians.

On 29 April, the UN urged the government of South Sudan, as well as the other warring parties in the war-torn nation, to cease hostilities and uphold their responsibilities to protect civilians in the face of the recent government offensives in various parts of the country.


Syria:

According to a report released on Monday by ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch, the sarin gas attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun is a part of a series of “widespread and systematic” chemical attacks since December 2016 by the Syrian forces. According to investigations, the Syrian forces continue to attack civilian targets, such as hospitals and medical workers. These alleged crimes may amount to war crimes. During April alone, there have been 10 such alleged government attacks on hospitals and similar facilities.


Yemen:

On Tuesday, 2 May, a group of United States congressmen urged US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and the government administration to reconsider their support for a Saudi-led coalition attack on Hodeidah, the Houthi-controlled port in Yemen, due to the devastating humanitarian consequences such an attack would create. A similar letter was issued by 55 members of the US Congress on 10 April by 55, which urged President Trump’s administration to obtain the US Congress’s authorization for any military action in Yemen.

On Monday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights warned of the repercussions that such an attack would have on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the region, including a severe increase in the loss of civilian lives.

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Filed under Burma, Burundi, CARcrisis, Cote d'Ivoire, DRC, genocide, Human Rights, Justice, Kenya, Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, RtoP, Syria, Third Pillar, United States, Yemen

#RtoPWeekly: 10-14 April 2017

The world reacts to chemical attack in Syria as civilians continue to suffer

On 4 April, a chemical gas attack in Khan Shaykhun, a town in Syria’s Idlib Governorate, killed more than 80 civilians. Shortly thereafter, images of victims showing symptoms associated with exposure to nerve gas, namely suffocation, foaming at the mouth, convulsions, constricted pupils, and involuntary defecation, as reported by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), led UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Kim Won-Soo to comment that, if confirmed, this could constitute the worst chemical attack in Syria since the war began in 2011.

The news sparked strong reactions by throughout the international community, which gathered in the UN Security Council Chamber on 5 April to discuss which steps to take next. At the same time, the Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) officially announced that the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mission (JIM) had started to gather and analyze information from all available sources to establish facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals in the country. At first, all Member States cohesively placed blame for the attack on Syrian government forces, expressing unanimous outrage for what was called “a new low, even for the barbaric Assad regime” by US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley.

Following these statements and appalled by the deadly consequences of the latest chemical attack, the international community was quick to react in the emergency session of the UN Security Council on 5 April. As the US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley warned, when the international community proves unable to act collectively, states are compelled to “take their own action”. Shortly after her statement, the United States publicly announced that 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles had been fired at Al Shayrat airfield in Syria, from where the planes carrying the alleged chemical weapons are said to have been launched. The unilateral response implemented by the US represents an unprecedented step in its engagement in the Syrian civil war.

Many Member States have hailed the US response as the end of “an era of impunity” for the Syrian government, while others have claimed that Syria is a victim of aggression, describing the recent US attack on the Shayrat military airbase as a “blatant aggression” against a sovereign state.

In this regard, many issues have recently been raised concerning the legality of the US attack, as well as why this reaction has been elicited now in comparison to other previous uses of deadly chemical weapons throughout the conflict. However, what is indisputable is that after over six years, the conflict  in Syria has already claimed the lives of more than 450,000 people, internally displaced over 6.3 million civilians, and forced more than 5 million Syrians to flee their country as refugees. Furthermore, human rights groups continue to report on the use of banned weapons in areas of the country where civilians are still besieged. This is the time to call on all parties to uphold their RtoP populations from horrific atrocities. This includes calling on the UN Security Council to overcome infighting and internal divisions to allow legal and timely responses to the crises and refraining from exercising veto powers in situations of atrocity crimes.


The above is an edited excerpt from a new blog post written by Francesca Cocomero for the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP). To read the full blog post, please click here.

Source of above photo: Reuters via BBC News

 Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq
Libya

Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen

Burma/Myanmar:

During the 9 October army crackdown on the Muslim minority Rohingya population in Burma, government authorities reportedly arrested 13 Rohingya children. UNICEF has claimed that they are still under detention. It is not clear if the juveniles will be released, nor has it has been established whether the conditions of their detention have complied with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its additional provisions for the protection of children charged with crimes, ratified by Burma.


Burundi:

Human rights activists have voiced their concern regarding footage showing the youth wing of Burundi‘s ruling CNDD-FDD party, the Imbonerakure, calling for the intimidation of the group’s political opponents and threatening to rape all women linked to the opposition.

Two collectives of rights groups allied with the Burundian government argue that the inter-Burundian dialogue facilitated by the East African Community (EAC) iis no longer necessary due to “remarkable social, political, and economic improvements that have already been achieved.” In addition, Liberat Mfumukeko, EAC Secretary General, has dismissed a report discussing Burundi’s worsening human-rights situation presented by the Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General, Jamal Benomar, to the UN Security Council.


Central African Republic:

President Jacob Zuma of South Africa and his visiting Central African Republic counterpart, Faustin-Archange Touadera, agreed to strengthen bilateral relations and reaffirmed the urgent need for armed groups fighting in CAR to lay down their arms and take part in reforms, including disarmament and reintegration.

The US began its first delivery of $8 million worth of nonlethal assistance to CAR, which is expected to include 16 more trucks and communications equipment. It also announced it is withdrawing its troops from a regional task force hunting the Lord’s Resistance Army.

On 12 April the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a statement sanctioning two CAR militia officers “for engaging in actions that threaten the peace, security, or stability of the Central African Republic (CAR)” by blocking their property in the US and prohibiting US citizens “from engaging in transactions with them.”


Democratic Republic of Congo:

Security forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo fired teargas and arrested over 80 people in an attempt to repress small protests across the country calling for the implementation of the New Year’s Eve Agreement, which called for a power-sharing deal in the government. DRC’s crisis was further exacerbated after militants attacked symbols of the state and released scores of prisoners from jail, which could worsen the terror afflicting the country.

On Wednesday, 12 April, Said Djinnit, the United Nations envoy for Africa’s Great Lakes region, encouraged the UN Security Council to help strengthen the fight against illegal armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo, namely the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).

The EU has announced it will provide €47 million in assistance to the Greater Lakes, Southern Africa, and Indian Ocean regions. €32 of this will go to the Greater Lakes region specifically as it currently holds more than a million refugees, 430,000 of which are found in the DRC.


Gaza/West Bank:

On 7 April, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) condemned the recent hangings of the three Palestinians in Gaza. The military court explicitly accused them of “collaboration with the occupier,” amounting to a charge of treason. The Office urged “the authorities in Gaza to… comply with Palestine’s obligations under international law.”


Iraq:

An Iraqi military spokesman, Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, said the Islamic State (ISIL) now controls less than 7 percent of Iraq, a tremendous success compared to 2014, when the group controlled 40 percent of Iraqi territory. However, ISIL’s influence can still be felt, such as in its killing of more than 40 civilians trying to flee Mosul last week, including many women and children.

On 10 April, the United Nation emergency food relief agency, the UN World Food Programme (WFP), said that deepening food insecurity in Iraq could leave more than half the country’s population facing “unprecedented levels” of vulnerability. In cooperation with the Iraqi government, WFP prepared a Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis, in which it underscored the need to improve access to education, for girls in particular, as important actors in the fight against hunger.

Due to the 5 million euro contribution provided by the European Commission Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has increased its humanitarian response in Iraq. The UNFPA will provide health services to more than 700,000 conflict-affected women and girls and will develop its Rapid Response Mechanism Consortium to give first line relief items to more than 120,000 newly displaced women from Mosul.


Libya:

The director of the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) stated on 11 April that refugees and migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean through Libya are being bought and sold in modern-slave markets in the southern city of Sabha. People are held captive for about two to three months on average. Refugees and migrants are especially targeted by armed groups and people-smuggling networks, which typically extort extra money in exchange for allowing them to continue or risk being killed. The situation is especially perilous for women, with many accounts of forced prostitution and rape.


Mali:

Last Thursday, the head of the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations called the security situation in Mali “alarming,” particularly due to the increase in sophistication of extremist attacks being executed by the most active terrorist groups in the country. These groups, including Al Qaeda and now the Islamic State, are forming a makeshift alliance in the area.

“This convergence of threats is particularly worrying in a context where often the presence of the State is weak or sometimes nonexistent,” Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, told the UN Security Council earlier this month.


Nigeria:

On Thursday, 13 April, the day before the third anniversary of the abduction of 276 students from the Chibok Girls School, President Muhammadu Buhari stated that the government is negotiating with Boko Haram to secure the release of the students, as well as other captives of the group.

On 2 April, government security forces pushed tens of thousands of impoverished civilians out of their makeshift town of Otodo Gbame, and burned many of the structures down. The move was highly criticized by human rights groups such Amnesty International, which insisted the use of “brutal force and thugs” constituted a “clear violation of rights.”


South Sudan:

Following attacks on civilians and aid workers in South Sudan, the head UN humanitarian official in the country urged the government and opposition to ensure the safety of civilians and humanitarians. The government of South Sudan has openly condemned  the involvement of peacekeepers from outside the region, arguing it goes against a resolution of the UN Security Council calling for a “regional protection force.” Further, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) claimed that it has been prevented from accessing the town of Pajok, where it hoped to assess the humanitarian situation. The mission urged the South Sudanese government to immediately allow it access “so it can fully implement its mandate, including to protect civilians” from the “indiscriminate” attacks occurring there.

Civil rights groups have raised concerns over ethnic cleansing in South Sudan as militia members explicitly sought out and killed at least 10 people from the Lou and Fertit ethnic groups in the northwestern town of Wau.


Sudan:

In northern Darfur, gunmen have killed and wounded several civilians during a series of raids on small villages in the area. Additionally, there were several reports of government abuses over the past week. On 11 April, soldiers allegedly beat civilians looking for water in North Darfur. In an incident on Sunday, police fired upon a crowd in a west Darfur displacement camp when a protest broke out, resulting in two deaths. Government authorities insisted that the protestors were in possession of grenades, necessitating the force, although the truth of this statement is not known.

The Enough Project has linked funding from the European Union to the brutal treatment of refugees and migrants by the Sudanese regime through Rapid Support Forces. The EU aid is meant to halt the flow of refugees traveling from or through Sudan into Europe, but many believe it enables the government to commit horrible abuses. Thus, the authors of the “Border Control from Hell” report have criticized the EU’s funding as tacit support for an abusive regime. The full report can be found here.

Lawyers representing South Africa’s government appeared before the International Criminal Court on 7 April to defend against a finding of noncompliance for the country’s failure to arrest Sudanese Omar al-Bashir in 2015. The ruling of the judges is expected on a later date.


Syria:

On Monday, 10 April, the G7 group met in Lucca, Italy to discuss a unified approach regarding the use of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians, allegedly at the hands of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as how to pressure Russia to distance itself from Assad. However, after a two-day session of meetings, the group failed to agree on a proposal by Britain for sanctions against Russia. The Italian Foreign Minister, Angelino Alfano, said the member states did not want to alienate Russia, instead preferring to engage in political dialogue with the country.


Yemen:

Amidst heavy conflict between government and rebel forces on Monday, 10 April, an errant bomb resulted in the deaths of three civilians and the wounding of two others. A security official has insisted that the bomb was actually intended for the convoy of General Ali Muqbel Saleh, commander of the 33rd Armored Brigade.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) appealed to the world community to supply urgently needed funding in hopes of saving the millions faced with imminent famine and starvation in Yemen. According to a spokesperson for the UNHCR in Yemen, the millions of affected people are failing to secure their most basic needs, a situation she calls “catastrophic.” The UN’s World Food Program (WFP) has announced that it will increase its emergency food operations in Yemen to ease the crisis, which is “close to a breaking point,” according to WFP’s Country Director in Yemen.

The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and international sanctions, Idriss Jazairy, has called for the lifting of the blockade on Yemen to allow the necessary access for the humanitarian aid required by over 80 percent of the population. The Special Rapporteur raised particular concern regarding the situation in the port city of Hodeidah, as it is a point of entry for supplies into the country.

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#RtoPWeekly: 3-7 April 2017

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ICRtoP marks Genocide Awareness Month, continuing infographic series with updates on crisis situations from around the world

S Sudan Infografic image

Many of these country-specific situations, including those previously mentioned, are monitored by the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) due to their nature as potential atrocity crime scenarios and consequently their relevance to the responsibility to protect. As part of its monitoring effort, ICRtoP has produced updated crises summaries for each of the 15 country-specific situations in infographic format. In observance of Genocide Awareness Month, ICRtoP will be releasing several of these new summaries, beginning with South Sudan on 7 April, alongside ICRtoP’s regular weekly news update, the R2PWeekly. By drawing attention to and spreading knowledge of these crises before they devolve into occurrences of atrocity crimes, and by enabling civil society to effectively advocate for RtoP normalization and adherence, ICRtoP hopes to ensure that political actors will never again fail to protect populations from genocide or other atrocity crimes due to a lack of political will.

The above is an excerpt from a recent ICRtoP blog post. To read the full post, please click here.

To view ICRtoP’s latest infographic on the situation in South Sudan, please click here.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DPRK
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq

Kenya
Libya
Mali
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen


Burma/Myanmar:

The Muslim insurgency group operating under the name Harakah al-Yaqin (Arabic for “faith movement”), founded by Rohingyas residing in Saudi Arabia, has been held responsible for attacks against alleged government informers. The insurgents were originally supported by much of the Rohingya population in Burma, but such support was eventually lost as the violence resulting from recent attacks has dramatically increased. The group has been linked with “terrorist organisations from the Middle East,” according to a government spokesperson.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s head of government, denied in a recent interview with BBC that ethnic cleansing is taking place against the Rohingya Muslim population in the country, stating the phrase “ethnic cleansing” was “too strong an expression to use” for the human rights situation occurring in the country.

On 3 April, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Burma. According to the report, “4,000 people remain internally displaced in northern Rakhine,” while humanitarian access “remains severely restricted.”


Burundi:

Amizero y’Abarundi (Hope of Burundians), a political alliance within Burundi, has reported that 60 people were arbitrarily arrested in the country from 20 to 26 March. The group accused the National Intelligence Service (SNR) and state police officers of carrying out these human rights violations and others, such as state mandated torturing of Amizero y’Abarundi’s own members.


Central African Republic:

The UN Security Council voiced its support for Central African Republic President Faustin Archange Touadera’s efforts to restore State authority, as well as for the African Union-led mediation initiative to find a political solution to the ongoing conflict  in the country. The Interim Humanitarian Coordinator for CAR, Michel Yao, expressed his great concern about the protection of civilians and the systematic targeting of vulnerable communities at the hands all parties to the conflict: “This dangerous trend blurs the nature of the conflict and is highly reprehensible under international law.”


DPRK:

A UNICEF report published in March 2017 regarding the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea revealed that the country is in the “midst of a protracted, entrenched humanitarian situation”, where “around 18 million people, or 70 percent of the population, including 1.3 million under-five children depend on the Public Distribution System (PDS) for rations of cereal and potatoes.” The report discusses the lack of “access to basic health services”, and other “crucial unmet food, nutrition, health, and water, sanitation and hygiene needs” the people have. These basic human needs are not being provided for by the DPRK government.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

The UN Security Council renewed and extended the mandate of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) until 31 March 2018, which included reducing the operation’s troop ceiling by about 3,600 military personnel.

It was reported that 13 mass graves have been found since early March, all within the central Kasai province, increasing the number of mass graves found since August to 23. The UN is not allowed to investigate these graves by declaration of the DRC government. However, Fatou Bensouda, a prosecutor of the ICC, holds that the recent brutal killing of a UN expert team and other violence in the DRC could be war crimes under her court’s jurisdiction.

Residents in key DRC cities joined a general strike called by the group of opposition parties known as Rassemblement (Rally). The strike was organized in an effort to force President Joseph Kabila to finally adopt a three-month old power sharing deal and permit elections in Lubumbashi and Kinshasa, the capital. President Kabila announced that an election will occur and the opposition leader will be announced quickly. He further warned against foreign aid involvement by asserting, “This process is the work of the Congolese, financed by the Congolese people themselves, without any foreign interference.”


Gaza/West Bank:

On 30 March, the Israeli government authorized a new settlement to be built in the West Bank, which will consist of approximately 220 acres of land in the center of the region. This authorization is the first of its kind to occur in the region in more than two decades, and has laid the groundwork for further expansion in the future. Many consider such settlements in the area to be in violation of international law.

On 6 April, Hamas convicted and executed three Palestinians, accusing them for collaboration with Israel. Human Rights Watch condemned the hangings and called for “respect for international norms and the rule of law”.

On 2 April, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a new report arguing that the Israeli military’s recent blocking of access to and from the Gaza Strip of human rights workers calls into question the efficacy and validity behind the investigation into the alleged human rights abuses going on in the territory. HRW has called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to take note of such restrictions within its preliminary examination of the situation, when determining the integrity of the Israeli investigations.


Iraq:

In Mosul, an increasing number of children have been left with life-changing injuries during the battle to retake the city from the Islamic State (ISIL). Hospitals in northern Iraq are struggling to cope with the number and scale of these casualties.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged the international community to better coordinate their efforts to help those in Mosul who have “suffered enormously and go on suffering.” According to UN estimates, 11 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance in the country, with more than 285,000 of those individuals displaced purely due to the military operations in Mosul. For this reason, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called for $76.3 million in its IOM-Iraq 2017 Funding Appeal, of which about $28.8 million will be allocated to the Mosul Crisis Response for 2017.

The Special Representative of the Secretary General and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), Ján Kubiš, condemned the multiple suicide attacks carried out by ISIL on Tuesday in the Sunni heartland of Tikrit. At least 31 civilians were killed and dozens were wounded in the bombings.


Kenya:

In eastern Kenya, authorities arrested seven Somali men that have been suspected of operating a human trafficking ring. The men were caught smuggling refugees from Dadaab to Nairobi. Police were given permission to hold the men for ten days to complete investigations. The Dadaab refugee camp has been criticized for becoming training grounds for al-Shabab militants of Somalia.

Kenyan activists welcomed a High Court ruling that gives parliament 60 days to ensure a third of its members are women, following a lengthy struggle to increase women’s political representation in the largely patriarchal society.


Libya:

Arjan Hehenkamp, the General Director of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and head of the group’s Libya mission, said on Monday that the agreement between Italy and Libya to fight the smuggling of people in the north African country will enable migrants to be returned to camps where they are held against their will, extorted, and presumably abused. He further stressed that seven of the camps around Tripoli can be described as detention centers, which are controlled by militias and ruled by violence and abuse.


Mali:

In what is believed to be their second operation since their merger into a single group, the Jihadist forces now comprising the “Group to Support Islam and Muslims” (GSIM) attacked a gendarmerie post, killing three security personnel and seizing weapons and munitions. An attack that killed 11 soldiers in the same area in the beginning of March is also believed to have been committed by GSIM.

Opposition parties have made tentative progress towards ending their boycott of the peace process discussions. At the national peace summit that ended earlier this week, representatives agreed to a resolution calling for negotiations with leaders of the Islamist groups in the country. The Jihadist groups originating in the country’s north were the only factions not to sign the 2015 peace deal, and while negotiating with the groups may provoke international criticism, many hope it will also prove a valuable step forward in bringing all actors on board with the beleaguered peace process.


South Sudan:

Norway, the UK, and the US have issued a statement supporting the combined efforts of the African Union (AU), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the UN to end the conflict in South Sudan and for President Kiir to declare a unilateral ceasefire. President Kiir called on all ethnic groups to join his administration and work for peace without discrimination, underlining that the dialogue process is open for the armed groups if they renounce violence.

More than 3,000 South Sudanese fled into neighboring Uganda after government soldiers attacked the border town of Pajok, killing men, women, and children indiscriminately, refugees said. The UN refugee agency says that the Ugandan Bidi Bidi refugee camp currently hosts more than 270,000 refugees purely from South Sudan.


Sudan:

Two independent journalists, Phil Cox and Daoud Hari, have recounted their harrowing story of the six weeks they spent as captives of Darfuri militia groups and the Sudanese government. Their capture was prompted by their attempts to investigate the situation in the Jebel Marra and the allegations of the government’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. Amnesty International first reported on evidence showing the use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra and has argued that the abusive treatment of the two journalists is further proof of government misconduct in the region.

EU ambassadors have praised officials in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum for their opening of a new humanitarian corridor into South Sudan through Sudanese territory. The first ground convoy of UN relief transports reportedly used the new corridor to deliver aid on 30 March. Khartoum has also reportedly said it has not ruled out opening additional aid corridors to deliver much needed relief in the upcoming months of the rainy season.

President Omar al-Bashir, the subject of two outstanding arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court for multiple counts of genocide and crimes against humanity, heavily criticized the court as a tool of western influence and advocated for the establishment of a regional African court of justice. Bashir has eluded arrest and trial on several occasions when ICC member states have failed to arrest him while he was inside their borders. The most recent failure of Jordan to arrest Bashir last week evoked sharp criticism from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who emphasized the failure to act as both a violation of Jordan’s commitments and a “weakening [of] the global struggle against impunity, and for justice.”


Syria:

On Tuesday, 4 April, what is now known to be the worst chemical gas attack in the Syrian civil war was carried out in the rebel-held town of Idlib in north-western Syria. The attack resulted in the deaths of scores of civilians, including at least 11 children. A Syrian military source insisted the government did not use any such weapons, and the Russian defense ministry denied it carried out any air strikes in the vicinity. However, it remains unlikely that any other party had access to chemical weapons or would have any reason to conduct the attack.

On 5 April, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States presented a draft resolution aimed at holding the perpetrators accountable, and calling for an investigation. However, fellow UN Security Council member Russia has already denied that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was to blame for these attacks, and consequently objected to the Resolution. That same day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres addressed the Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region, calling on the international community to increase support for the victims of the conflict. Donors eventually pledged a combined $6 billion for critical humanitarian programs in 2017 and another $3.7 billion for 2018 in support of Syrian people. Financial support remains critical for the survival of those in Syria, UN agencies have insisted.

On 7 April, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated the chemical attacks in Syria made it clear that Assad was unfit to govern the country any longer, and as such, the Pentagon is currently discussing possible military action against the Syrian forces. Explicit action by the US has not been taken as of writing.


Yemen:

Fighting remains tense throughout Yemen as the Saudi-led coalition increased the number of airstrikes on rebel positions and supply depots over the weekend. The potential impact of these strikes on non-combatants is unknown at this time. Additionally, the government forces and its allies are believed to be preparing for a major ground offensive on the currently Houthi-held city of Hodeidah. Two government brigades have reportedly been positioned to the north and the south of the city, raising concerns of an impending assault. Meanwhile, the UN has continued its calls on all parties to the conflict to safeguard Hodeidah, as it is a critical port city that has historically been the entry point for roughly 80% of food imports into Yemen. Hodeidah is also a densely populated urban area with several thousands of civilians residing in the area, meaning any military action within its vicinity has a high likelihood of causing significant civilian harm.

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Remembering Srebrenica

The Srebrenica genocide, and our collective failure to prevent it, was a major factor in the development of the Responsibility to Protect. Learn more with today’s infographic below.

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Burundi: The Genocide at a Glance

The next addition to our series of infographics honoring  Genocide Awareness Month gives you a quick glance at a past genocide: Burundi

burundi

To read the full infographic, click here.

 

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Darfur ICC Referral Turns 10: Reflections on the Troubled Path to Accountability

March 31st, 2015 marks ten years since the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1593 referring the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court. Ten years later, little progress has been made in the pursuit of peace and justice. The Sudanese leadership, including President Omar al-Bashir who was indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity, has yet to be brought before the Court. Worryingly, many commentators are warning of a new threat of genocide as the government carries out a brutal “scorched-earth” counter-insurgency campaign against rebel groups.

ICRtoP Blog and Social Media Coordinator Matthew Redding had the privilege of speaking to our partners at the International Justice Project (IJP) to discuss the ICC referral and the challenges and opportunities associated with its implementation. Read on to learn how these impact efforts to ensure accountability for atrocities committed in Darfur, and in turn, to uphold the Responsibility to Protect Darfuris from future violence.

 

To begin with, let’s start with a brief overview of what the IJP believes are the main obstacles that have prevented the International Criminal Court (ICC) from bringing those indicted for atrocity crimes to justice after Resolution 1593 first referred the situation in Darfur to the Court in 2005?

 

Those who believe that a huge step forward was taken with the ratification of the Rome Statute are correct. As of now, 123 nations have committed themselves to supporting a permanent court with its own jurisprudence and an independent existence. However, the ratification of the treaty and its coming into force and effect as of 2002, did not end the struggle for international justice. Among other things, there will perhaps always be a tension between sovereignty and the status of sitting heads of states on the one hand, and the reach of international justice on the other.

1024px-Omar_al-Bashir,_12th_AU_Summit,_090131-N-0506A-342

Omar al-Bashir at the 12th African Union Summit. US Navy Photo/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt/Released.

This is evidenced by the fact that the two most controversial cases at the Court – charges against the president of Kenya and those against the president of Sudan – have been mired in controversy, and at this point must be regarded as unsuccessful proceedings.

In that context, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that there has been significant political, ideological, and diplomatic opposition, couched in jurisprudential terms, to the prosecution of Omar al-Bashir for genocide.

Additionally, whether it is a matter of the will of states or fiscal conservatism, the two referrals from the UN Security Council, including Darfur, have not been accompanied by financial support for their prosecution. Indeed, the Court has had to weather years of “zero budget growth” that produces general inadequacies in staffing and funding for the prosecution, defense function and victim participation. So on the whole, some of the obstacles to preventing the Bashir case are precisely those kinds of rough waters one should have expected the Court to encounter, while others are particular to the Darfur situation and Bashir case. Some member states of the Arab League and the African Union in particular have placed other interests ahead of the challenge of combating genocide.

Any observer who believes the mere existence of the Court and treaty are sufficient in and of themselves to guarantee justice is prizing hope over experience.

 

There are those who suggest that the backlash against the ICC referral, for example, Omar al Bashir’s decision to expel humanitarian organizations for their alleged cooperation with the Court, means that in some instances justice should be deferred for the sake of peace and stability. Others have suggested that Bashir has succeeded in politicizing the investigation in a manner that has only allowed him to tighten his grip on power. What does IJP have to say about these claims, and the overall relationship between justice and conflict resolution?

 

The peace or justice debate relies on a false premise. That premise is that peace and justice are somehow mutually exclusive and that either can be obtained at the expense of the other. It is difficult to conceive, for example, after years of interaction with the Darfurian diaspora and with Sudanese and other sympathizers, that there will ever be peace in Darfur without some true accounting for the genocide that transpired. On the other hand, timing can often be crucial.

It is widely accepted that the timing of the ICC investigation and warrants against Joseph Kony did interfere with a legitimate peace process. This criticism has been frequently articulated by friends of the Court in Uganda. However, few of them would argue that there was never going to be an appropriate time to bring warlords like Kony to account under the statute. Returning to Darfur, the attempt for an Article 16 deferral in 2008 on the grounds of a sincere peace initiative in Sudan was a ruse, and ultimately seen as one by the international community. The countless efforts “at peace” – and the consistent failures – have nothing to do with any attempts at prosecuting Bashir. Indeed, a stronger argument can be made that the failure to bring Bashir to account in The Hague has instead encouraged the ruling clique in Khartoum to believe that mass atrocities are a viable policy option, and has led to enhanced attacks in the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, and throughout Sudan, and ultimately making it more likely that the two Sudans would divide.

As to the point of “politicization”, it is true that Bashir has been adept at politicizing his circumstance. For some time, he played the “Islamist card”, letting certain Western countries believe that he could be a source of intelligence and a bulwark against violent Jihadis and terrorists. He argued to anti-Western forces that the ICC process is a western colonial project, and he has suggested that it is also an anti-Muslim, anti-Arab institution. At the end of the day, all such allegations can only be addressed in a fair and open trial in which the question of Bashir’s culpability, and that of his lieutenants who have been charged, are tested against well-settled principles of international humanitarian law in a process that for more than half a century has been widely accepted as fair.

In short, we reject any theoretical or practical opposition between justice and peace, and think that rigorous commitment to justice and sincere and common sense efforts at peace must go hand in hand and are not irreconcilable.

 

In December of last year, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda announced that she was “shelving” her investigation due to frustrations over the lack of cooperation shown by the United Nations Security Council. What effect does this decision have on future prospects for justice in Darfur? Why is cooperation between the ICC and the Security Council so important?

 

Let us start by saying IJP continues to have full confidence in Fatou Bensouda. She is an honest, professional, dedicated prosecutor who is being hamstrung by the failure of the international community to fully support her efforts in the Bashir case. That said, we were unhappy with her use of the word “hibernation” in her appearance at the Security Council in December 2014, not because it was an inaccurate term, but because it was twisted by enemies of the Court and comforters of Bashir to mean that the ICC had given up its efforts at prosecution with respect to the Bashir case and Darfur situation.

fatou bensouda ICC

Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda. Photo via Journalists for Justice.

We fully understand that she was functioning under the circumstances in which the Security Council had given her virtually no support in the ten years since Resolution 1593 in the form of council, advice, fiscal assistance, or robust cooperation (we should note that other members of the international community, including several members of the ICC Assembly of States Parties, had failed to arrest Bashir when he was on their territories), and that tensions within the P-5, particularly with respect to the Chinese and Russians, meant that even the informal powers of persuasion of the Council had not been robustly employed to assist in bringing Bashir to account. Since Bensouda’s speech, the Court ruled that because this is a Security Council referral, both Sudan and all other member states of the United Nations are obligated to assist in cooperating with respect to the Bashir case. This marks an important milestone, and it will be important to see whether the Security Council and other regional and subregional organizations are willing to take a stand in support of justice.

 

What measures can the Security Council take to help enforce arrest warrants issued by the ICC? If the Security Council continues to waver over Darfur, what alternatives are there?

 

The measures that the Security Council can take are straightforward. It can be more comprehensive in the sanctions that it imposes on all members of the Sudanese government and leadership in terms of travel and holding resources abroad. It can insist that member states arrest Bashir, and could establish a sanctions regime for those who fail to arrest him when he travels. Minimally, it could urge member states to uphold their duties with respect to cooperation with the ICC. In other words, the Security Council could live up to its mandate under the UN Charter and insist that an accused, albeit a sitting head of state, be brought to account before a recognized Court, in connection with which it has statutory responsibilities for the most serious crimes that persons can commit against each other.

 

What does the renewed spectre of atrocities seen in the government’s latest “counter-insurgency” campaign, along with UN reports that up to 400,000 were displaced in 2014 alone, demonstrate about the Court’s ability to prevent future atrocities in a country where an investigation is ongoing?

 

We think it’s self-evident from what we’ve said before that the continued failure of the Security Council, some members of the Assembly of States Parties, and many members of the international community to rigorously assist the Court in pursuing justice in Darfur, strikes at the very heart of the integrity of modern ideas about humanitarian justice. It also strikes at the heart of international obligations in cases of genocide where the duty of the international community to “prevent and to punish” is clear. Some have argued that the great lesson of World War II was a commitment for the world not to be a bystander in the face of genocide. It can fairly be said with respect to Sudan that alongside Bashir, who faces charges of genocide, are the rest of us who face Bashir, who might meet charges of having stood silent and not exercised sovereign and other responsibilities to bring him to account.

 

What “lessons learned” can be drawn from this case, and how can these be applied to improve the effectiveness of international justice as a tool for responding to and preventing the commission of mass atrocities? For example, what can be done in cases where a lack of regional support for an ICC investigation leads to obstruction or non-compliance?

 

Before directly answering this final question, we think it important to address the sub-textual issue of the response of the AU and some African states to the charges against Bashir. Initially, it has been said that some resistance to the Bashir case is the result of African states concerned that currently all “situations” before the Court are in Africa. We think that this is a red herring. The 34 African states that have ratified the Rome Statute constitute the most robust regional response to the Rome project. Furthermore, despite various controversies – ideological, jurisprudential, and diplomatic – not a single African state has sought to withdraw from the treaty. The elevation of Fatou Bensouda to the position of Chief Prosecutor, and the fact that the ASP is currently lead by President Sadiki Kaba, further suggests that Africa is indeed deeply engaged with the Court (if a decade from now, all situations are in Africa, this may be a different kind of picture).

Haboob Chase in Darfur

A Rwandan member of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) stands guard. UN Photo/Albert González Farran.

With respect to regional efforts, there is a great deal of controversy surrounding the advent of an African Court of Justice and Human Rights. Far from being a negative development, this reveals movement in the direction of the idea of complementarity that lies at the core of the Preamble and Article 1 of the Rome Statute. While IJP is opposed to the concept of immunity for sitting heads of state, which is part of the statute, on the whole, this African court should be viewed as a positive development, and the self-righteous response to it – even from some supporters of the ICC – is inappropriate.

This is not to ignore the fact that there are some leaders within the African continent who may very well feel personally threatened by the ICC, but this is, as we noted, a very logical and expected response from those who seek impunity. We mention this because one lesson learned can be to continue to be flexible and to take seriously the concept of universality in responding to initiatives from other parts of the world, and in many instances, to expect some opposition from vested interests in the robust application of justice.

Although the IJP was founded by two lawyers, Raymond Brown and Wanda Akin, who represent victims in the Darfur situation and Bashir case, we have been forced to learn new skills and to collaborate in the context of our representation. We are, for example, private citizens untrained in diplomacy, and yet we have had to learn in the last decade how to interact creatively with representatives of states – many of them non-lawyers, and many of them only minimally exposed to the details of the justice project with which we have spent a lifetime. We have collaborated with organizations who function in different environments, but with common objectives, such as the Pan African Lawyers Union, with whom as recently as November 2014, alongside the International Refugee Rights Initiative, we gathered and interacted with African human rights activists to explore challenges facing the Court.

We have also expanded our own work into an area sometimes known as “transitional justice”, which has involved developing a means of chasing Bashir (BashirWatch coalition) and working with universities to develop mechanisms for combating the understandable diasporian-wide depression affecting Darfurian diaspora. We have also become more engaged with our own government – with members of Congress and friends within the Executive branch – to encourage the US to assert more leadership, and perhaps even amend its own laws to permit the US to exercise more effective leadership in favor of justice and in opposition to genocide. We continue to teach at the university and law school levels and make public appearances to speak to a wide variety of groups and organizations on behalf of the Darfurian people. We have expanded the reach of our own Darfurian contacts, including within the Darfur People’s Association of New York, the Darfur Rehabilitation Project, and other advocacy groups, and finally, we have exposed a generation of undergraduate and graduate students, new professionals, and public leaders to these issues on an intimate level.

With ten years having passed since Resolution 1593, and still no accused in the dock, we encourage others to similarly advocate and send letters to their own governments promoting leadership on Darfur. A redacted version of our letter can be found here. Finally, thank you to the ICRtoP for providing this opportunity, and for its longstanding commitment to pursuing justice.

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Buffer Zones and Local Freezes: What Hope for Ending Syria’s Civil War?

It is a stain on the collective conscience of the international community that after nearly four years of fighting, 200,000 killed and 10 million displaced, there is still little hope for an imminent end to Syria’s civil war. Regional and international efforts to end the conflict, documented in great detail in our ‘Crisis in Syria’ page, have had limited impact.

The rare consensus that allowed the Security Council to pass resolutions 2165 permitting cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid, and 2118 calling for the destruction of the Assad regime’s chemical arsenal, were welcome developments. However, in practice, it has done little to relieve the suffering of civilians still caught in the slaughter.

SRSG at SC Stakeout

Staffan De Mistura as SRSG for Afghanistan. UN Photo/Mark Garten.

Instead, the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS or IS) has regionalized the war, bringing wanton destruction and the threat of genocide to neighbouring Iraq, while Turkey’s borders are currently threatened by the ISIS siege of Kobane.

Already, the conflict has consumed two astute international negotiators – Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi – both sent to Syria as joint UN/Arab League Special Envoys, and both unable to stem the bloodshed. The third to try his hand is Staffan De Mistura, a veteran diplomat who has served as the head of the UN missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The siege of Kobane and the appointment of De Mistura have both brought with them new proposals for a gradual ease in the fighting aimed at creating space for a political solution. The Turkish proposal to create a ‘buffer zone’ along the Syria-Turkey border, and De Mistura’s local ‘freeze’ represent the latest attempts to change the conflict’s trajectory.

While similar in their aims, they differ in operational terms. Both, however, have invited criticism and praise that underscore the complexity of the conflict and any solution to it. The potential for these plans to bring immediate relief to civilians and a long-term settlement is measured through the vocal response of civil society and other influential voices below.

Buffer Zone: Bastion of Safety or Invitation to Bloodshed?

On October 10, 2014, the Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP or R2P) expressed deep concern over ISIL’s offensive in Kobane, particularly for ethnic and religious minorities who have been the targets of ISIL’s murderous campaign throughout Iraq and Syria. The advisers warned that:

“ISIL and other armed groups have reportedly committed grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity…the situation in Kobane raises the credible prospect that the population is at imminent risk of being subjected to similar acts.”

The US and its allies have heeded calls for international action to prevent the slaughter of Kobane’s civilians, launching airstrikes on ISIL targets inside the city. However, there is broad agreement that more is needed.

Though scant on details, the Turkish requests for a protected “buffer zone”, if approved, could significantly change the dynamic on the ground. If implemented, the plan would see US aircraft utilizing the Incirlik Airbase in Turkey to launch strikes reaching from north of Aleppo to the town of Kobane to prevent further ISIS incursions. Simultaneously, Turkish special forces would enter Kobane to provide support to Syrian opposition fighters and its leaders, who would be free to use the zone to consolidate their efforts.

The plan also has a protective element to it. It seeks to prevent what UN officials have warned could become another Srebrenica by providing a safe haven for civilians who have been forced to flee or who remain caught in the fighting. In an interview with Syria Deeply, Ambassador Frederic Hof, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, praised the idea for both its humanitarian and political appeal, suggesting that:

“There are very strong humanitarian justifications to be able to protect people inside Syria rather than see them race across borders as refugees.” He also adds, “…there needs to be the growth of decent, legitimate governance in Syria, governance that would ultimately be extended to all Syrians,” recommending that a buffer zone in Kobane could be the starting place.

Likewise, in an article for Foreign Affairs, J. Trevor Ulbrick acknowledged the urgency of the situation for Kobane’s civilians, justifying a buffer zone in RtoP terms. Ulbrick holds that:

The situation in northern Syria, where ISIS has attacked the citizens of Kobane with impunity, seems to fall squarely under R2P. The Assad regime is either unwilling or unable to protect the Kurdish civilians living there, who are now under imminent threat of being massacred by ISIS on the basis of their ethnicity.”

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Twin Explosions in Kobane, October 8, 2014. Flickr/Karl-Ludwig Poggemann.

Still, others are much more cautious and suggest a buffer zone may in fact run counter to the objective of civilian protection. For example, in another Syria Deeply interview, Elizabeth Ferris also raised the spectre of Srebrenica – though to remind of the tragic consequences of the UN’s inability to prevent a Serbian massacre in the supposed ‘safe zone’. She explains, “Any time you mix military action with the protection of civilians, you put them in danger. The Assad regime could argue that they are a military target and a threat to the regime.”

Similarly, in the Brookings Institute’s Lawfare blog, Ashley Deeks argues that couching the buffer zone in humanitarian terms, rather than the collective self-defence argument that currently underpins coalition operations, could undermine the tacit agreement with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, giving him “a stronger argument for claiming that the United States is engaged in an armed attack against it and for using force to protect its territorial integrity.” If indeed the ‘Article 51’ collective self-defense argument falls apart, there are also important implications for the legality of a buffer zone, which would then need Security Council approval to fulfill this requirement and to be considered as an action falling under the realm of RtoP.*

With reports that the U.S., France, and Britain are coming closer to accepting such a plan, all of these possibilities must be weighed carefully.

Local ‘Freeze’: Brave New Initiative or Same Old Formula?

The local ‘freeze’ proposed by Staffan De Mistura is another initiative that is currently on the table. The plan would look something like this: the government and opposition would agree to a UN-mediated de-escalation of the violence by ‘freezing’ the conflict in the iconic city of Aleppo. This would allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to beleaguered populations, and a semblance of normalcy to be restored. Ultimately, it is hoped that the model can be transposed to other key cities to create the political space for a national peace process. It can also demonstrate the possibility of shifting the narrative of the conflict from the military to political.

De Mistura views the plan as going beyond simply “talking” about peace at the international level, to taking incremental steps to achieve a “bottom-up” solution. According to the UN Envoy, both the Assad government and the Syrian opposition are seriously considering the initiative.

Like a buffer zone, the freeze has invited optimism along with skepticism. Much of the latter stems from observing previous ceasefire agreements that have failed to produce results. A report commissioned by the London School of Economics and the Syrian civil society organization Madani analyzed four locally negotiated ceasefires in Homs, Aleppo, Barzeh and Ras Al-Ain.

The report outlines the salient factors that led to ceasefire collapse, including: military and strategic manipulation of the agreement to gain concessions; negotiations conducted in bad faith and with a lack of trust; the existence of war profiteers and other spoilers who stand to gain from prolonging the violence; the absence of an independent mediator; and the lack of a larger peace process in which to frame the ceasefire.

Many are concerned that De Mistura’s plan will suffer from similar setbacks. For example, Joseph Bahout, a visiting fellow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace believes:

“The regime appears to be interested in ‘easing’ pressure on certain fronts, so that it can send its elite forces from one place to another…Alleviating the suffering of people is a good thing, but [de Mistura’s proposal] is a ‘time out,’ which the regime needs, before a resumption of hostilities takes place.”

Bahout also notes the lack of a parallel peace process as an impediment to the plan’s effectiveness. Such concerns should be considered seriously, for as Noah Bonsey of International Crisis Group warns, “Ceasefires don’t have an inherently positive value…Bad cease-fires end up costing more lives.”

Free Syrian Army soldier walking among rubble in Aleppo. Voice of America News/Scott Bobb.

Regardless of the risks, the lack of alternatives has led others, such as Coalition members PAX and Human Rights Watch, to view the freeze as the only viable way forward. PAX, in a recent policy brief on the subject, recognized that there are indeed risks associated, including the potential to manipulate the agreement for strategic gains. But under the proper conditions, it can also improve human security and allow for the development of local governance structures by civil society actors.

For this to occur, PAX cites a few crucial ingredients that have been missing from past ceasefire efforts. These include: UN third-party monitoring to ensure compliance with the terms of the freeze, including through sanctions if necessary; significant and sustainable improvement of the humanitarian situation; support and promotion of inclusive and responsive local government; securing buy-in and commitment of all local commanders in Aleppo; and a political framework that links the freeze to a broader peace process.

Steps such as these could potentially set the freeze apart from other failed initiatives. However, the damage done by previous ceasefire violations still hangs heavy. Indeed, the Syria National Coalition has reportedly stated it would reject the plan unless it is backed by a Chapter VII resolution and tied to a concrete peace plan such as the stalled Geneva talks. This reflects the reluctance to trust a government that has been all too willing to renege on past agreements. It also clearly shows that any chance for implementation will rely heavily on De Mistura’s ability to skillfully negotiate the terms with both parties.

No Perfect Solutions

Both of the above proposals follow the similar logic of creating zones of protection and stability that will ripple outwards, demonstrating the possibility of good governance and political agreement in the war-ravaged nation. However, De Mistura’s plan relies much more on consensus and cooperation, while a buffer zone is far more coercive in nature. Both utilize important RtoP tools, including mediation, humanitarian assistance, and potentially, the use of force for the immediate protection of civilians. However, as in any RtoP case, the proper course of action should depend on a careful analysis of the situation and the potential consequences of any intervention, in accordance with the UN Charter. Crucially, the precautionary “Do no harm” principle must continually be minded.

Ultimately, both plans bring with them the potential of failure and unintended consequences. However, the international community can no longer dither, and certainly the people of Syria can no longer wait. The sad reality is, as Alex Bellamy rightfully professes, “The time for perfect solutions is long past.”

 

* The Responsibility to Protect norm, as agreed to in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, does not sanction a unilateral military response or a response by a “coalition of the willing.” Any military response under RtoP must be authorized by the Security Council. 

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“Convert, Pay, Flee, or Be Killed” Iraq’s Minorities Under Threat

The rapid advance of the Islamist militant group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that began in June of 2014 shocked the international community due to its ferocity and the sheer inability of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to stop the group’s progress. ISIS has now taken control of significant portions of north-western Iraq, declaring its goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate through Iraq and Syria.  

ISIS fighters, pictured on a militant website verified by AP. AP File.

Throughout the ISIS onslaught and the ISF counter-offensive, civilian populations have suffered gravely. Among the most troubling consequences are the targeting and expulsion of ethnic and religious minorities, as well as mass displacement that has affected nearly 1.2 million Iraqis. The United Nations, civil society groups, and the wider international community have expressed extreme dismay at the unfolding situation, sounding alarm bells over the commission of atrocities and the worsening humanitarian situation.

The recent announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama that he had authorized airstrikes and humanitarian airdrops, in part to protect the Yazidi minorities stranded and besieged on Mount Sinjar, is reflective of the dire situation. Many have hailed this move, as well as the offer of various forms of assistance by European governments, as necessary measures to prevent the imminent genocide of the Yazidi population, and a clear example of upholding the second pillar of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). Encouraging as this is, premature celebration would be naïve, as much work remains to solve the political impasse and humanitarian emergency that prevents the Iraqi state from upholding its primary protection obligations.

ISIS Targeting Iraq’s Minorities

Since the early days of the ISIS advance, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch has documented  the persecution of minority groups in great detail. In a statement released in July, the organization noted the “killing, kidnapping, and threatening” of religious and ethnic minorities in Mosul and the surrounding area. Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson warned that “Being a Turkman, a Shabak, a Yazidi, or a Christian in ISIS territory can cost you your livelihood, your liberty, or even your life.” She went on to state that “ISIS seems intent on wiping out all traces of minority groups from areas it now controls in Iraq.”

Violence against Iraq’s minorities is alarming for the fact that such targeting is identified as an indicator for determining the risk of genocide under the Analysis Framework released by the Office of the Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide.  Indeed, ISIS has gone about destroying religious and cultural relics deemed heretical, while most of the Christian population have fled Mosul after the July 19th ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a tax, flee or be killed. This practice has spread to other Iraqi towns in recent days, as ISIS has begun to challenge the Kurdish Regions of Iraq, resulting in more devastating consequences for minority groups.

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Displaced Yazidis participate in demonstration at the Iraqi-Syrian border August 13, 2014. Reuters/Youssef Boudlal

The smoking gun that triggered a more proactive international response was the attack on the town of Sinjar that left approximately 25,000 Yazidi Iraqis trapped in the Sinjar Mountains. Before rescue efforts began, stranded Yazidis faced the very real risk of being slaughtered by ISIS as they attempted to leave, while those who remained were cut-off from adequate food and water supplies.  ISIS is believed to have killed several hundred Yazidis and threats from the Islamist group and other sympathetic Sunnis continue.

While it has been reported that many Yazidis have since been rescued, other accounts claim that those too weak to leave – namely children, the elderly, and the sick – remain immobilized on the mountain. Iraq’s Christian population faces similar dangers, as Qaraqosh – the  largest Christian town in Iraq – was recently overrun, creating 200,000 additional refugees that have faced the same ultimatum as those in and around Mosul.

UN Officials Respond to Mass Atrocities, Invoke RtoP

These worrisome developments have prompted a number of UN experts to express grave concern. The Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák has since stated that “All possible measures must be taken urgently to avoid a mass atrocity and potential genocide within days or hours – civilians need to be protected on the ground and escorted out of situations of extreme peril.” She added that “the responsibility to protect populations at risk of atrocity crimes falls both on the Iraqi Government and the international community.”

The Special Advisers to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide and The Responsibility to Protect, Adama Dieng, and Jennifer Welsh also condemned the attacks, warning that such acts “constitute grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity” Ominously, they also cautioned that “The reports we have received of acts committed by the “Islamic State” may also point to the risk of genocide.” Like other UN officials, they have called on regional and global actors to provide support to help avert further atrocity crimes.

Secretary-General meeting President elect of the Republic of Iraq. UN Photo.

Additionally, the Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov drew special attention to the plight of vulnerable women, girls and boys after reporting that “Atrocious accounts on the abduction and detention of Yazidi, Christian, as well as Turkomen and Shabak women, girls and boys, and reports of savage rapes, are reaching us in an alarming manner.” The two jointly condemned these acts of sexual violence as potential war crimes and crimes against humanity, while joining other UN officials in invoking RtoP.

 

RtoP’s Second Pillar in Action

While the term ‘Responsibility to Protect’ was not used directly in authorizing airstrikes in Iraq, the action taken by the U.S. and others was requested by the Iraqi Government, and done—at least in part—with the intent of preventing an imminent genocidal threat to civilians.  For all intents and purposes, the assistance offered constitutes a second pillar response to a mass atrocity situation.

As ICRtoP’s recent publication on the matter explains, pillar two can indeed include the use of force when requested by a sovereign state; though this is usually subordinated to capacity-building measures that allow states to uphold their primary protection obligations. The latter has been pledged by the UK and Germany and includes financial and non-lethal aid to the Iraqi army, in addition to France’s offer to transfer arms to the Kurds.

Prominent RtoP scholars and advocates have confirmed the legitimacy of the U.S. intervention, lauding it as an appropriate measure to protect Iraq’s minorities.  For example, Gareth Evans wrote in an article titled “The Right Iraqi Invasion” that:

The United States’ action is completely consistent with the principles of the international responsibility to protect (R2P) people at risk of mass-atrocity crimes…The US military intervention touches all the necessary bases of legality, legitimacy and likely effectiveness in meeting its immediate objectives.

Similarly, Alex Bellamy clarified the intervention’s second pillar nature by stating:

This US action to help protect Iraq’s civilians from ISIS sits squarely under pillar two of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle, which relates to the international community’s responsibility to assist states to fulfill their responsibility to protect their populations…The use of force comes in response to a specific request for assistance from a member state—helping a state fulfill its R2P (as mentioned in paragraph 138 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome on R2P) and assisting a state under stress (paragraph 139 of the same agreement).”

Certainly, such assistance is a positive development for the Yazidi population, and a welcome example of the international community embracing its second pillar responsibilities. However, many challenges remain to permanently defeat the ISIS threat and to ensure all civilians are protected in Iraq.

 

A More Effective Pillar II Response

There is widespread acknowledgement that at the heart of the crisis is the political division between Sunni, Shia, and Kurds that has been fermented by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s sectarian form of governance, and prevented any unified response to extremism. In recognizing this reality, Obama reiterated a key tenant of the U.S. strategy when he authorized military action, stating that ultimately there can be “no military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.”

It is worth noting again that while current U.S. action falls within the second pillar of RtoP, there are also non-military protection measures that can be taken. While this includes the financial and logistical assistance provided by European countries, additional contributions can include dialogue and mediation assistance to help Iraqis overcome divisive issues obscuring the path to reconciliation. It is also important that actors assess how their assistance affects the likelihood of the further commission of atrocity crimes, and that action is taken accordingly.

In this vein, the recent Security Council resolution that extended the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) recognized the importance of dialogue and reconciliation and stressed the need for continued support to the Iraqi people, civil society and the Government in this regard.

International Crisis Group also recommends that “International recognition of Maliki’s legitimacy, or that of any successor, should be contingent on statesmanship, namely immediate and consequential movement on the reforms expected of him for years,” thus ensuring that the patterns of exclusion and repression are not repeated.

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Iraqi Yazidis receive assistance at the Newroz refugee camp. UK DFID.

RtoP’s second pillar also outlines a role for international actors to assist Internally Displace Persons when the capacity of the state to protect these groups is weak or non-existent. To this end, Amnesty International has encouraged an expanded effort to provide relief,  statingThe Iraqi central government, the Kurdish Regional Government, donor countries and international agencies must take concerted action to provide safe shelter and humanitarian assistance to men, women and children of all backgrounds forced to flee in the face of such ferocious brutality.”

The recent UN declaration that Iraq has reached a third level humanitarian emergency was made in hopes that it will “facilitate mobilization of additional resources in goods, funds and assets to ensure a more effective response to the humanitarian needs of populations affected by forced displacements.” It is now mostly up to the international community to provide this support.

Uniting to Protect Iraq’s Civilians

In Iraq, there remains a dual challenge of ensuring the immediate protection needs of threatened populations, and achieving a long-term political solution backed by a unified government, representative of all segments of society.  Maliki’s recent decision to step down after tension over the selection of Haidar Al-Abadi as his replacement is a positive sign of progress. Further pressure from the international community is needed to encourage Iraq’s leaders to set aside political and sectarian grievances and unite for the common cause of defending Iraq’s civilians from the extremist threat and averting an all out civil war. As UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres warnedThere is no way humanitarians can clean up the mess made by politicians. What they really need is peace.

For more information on the crisis in Iraq, see the country pages by ICRtoP and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

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The Case of José Efraín Ríos Montt: Hitting the Reset Button on Justice in Guatemala

When former Guatemalan leader, José Efraín Ríos Montt, was found guilty of genocide on 10 May, it was a historical moment not only in the country, but for the world. It was the first time a former leader had been put on trial and convicted of genocide – one of the four crimes and violations within the Responsibility to Protect frameworkby a national, rather than international, court. For the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, a Guatemala-based organization founded by survivors of the state’s military campaign against indigenous villages 12 years ago, the conviction was “an opportunity to recuperate the truth that has been denied to our families and to the Guatemalan society…it was an opportunity to confront the past and address the root causes of the discrimination” they had suffered. Human Right Watch‘s Americas Director, José Miguel Vicanco, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) also welcomed the verdict, with USHMM stating that it “sent a powerful message…to the world that nobody, not even a former head of state, is above the law when it comes to committing genocide.” It was a victory for justice and the ongoing fight against impunity as well as another step towards healing for the victims and society – until the Guatemalan Constitutional Court overturned the conviction on 20 May . We are now left to wonder where the case stands, what this will mean for the victims and what effect this will have on justice and reconciliation in Guatemala.

Atrocities committed – the crimes and the verdict

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A woman from the Mayan population of Quiche region of Guatemala – an indigenous group in Guatemala who have felt persecuted for decades. UN Photo/John Olsson

An estimated 200,000 people were killed and over 1 million displaced during Guatemala’s 36 year-long civil war, which spanned from 1960-1996, with some 83% of the victims being indigenous Ixil Maya. Ríos Montt was sentenced by Guatemala’s top court to 80 years in prison for his role as the “intellectual author” of the killing of 1,771 people and the displacement of tens of thousands during his 17 months as president between 1982 and 1983. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the key question throughout the trial was whether Ríos Montt intentionally targeted Ixil Mayan communities while conducting the counterinsurgency campaign waged against guerillas operating in the Ixil region. Despite strong evidence against him, which included testimony by over 100 witnesses – including psychologists, military personnel, and victims -who told horrific stories of killings, sexual violence and the destruction of communities, Ríos Montt denied his role in ordering the genocide of the Mayan population, saying, “I never authorized, I never proposed, I never ordered acts against any ethnic or religious group.” Nonetheless, on 10 May, Judge Jazmin Barrios, announced that the court found Ríos Montt did plan and order the brutal campaign. In reading the summary of the verdict, Judge Barrios statedWe are completely convinced of the intent to destroy the Ixil ethnic group” which had been considered public enemies of the state and an inferior race, and concluded that the “violence against them, was not spontaneous but planned.

An imperfect trial? Prosecution challenges the Ríos Montt proceedings

With Ixil Mayan witnesses and victims testifying about massacres, torture, systematic sexual violence and the destruction of the Mayan culture, the trial, which began on 19 March, stirred up much interest and debate in Guatemala and abroad. While international human rights organizations celebrated the conviction, it was met with some controversy at home. The Constitutional Court was the target of lobbying by opponents to the verdict, including the state’s powerful business federation, Cacif, because they believed such a case tarnished the reputation of Guatemalans, equating them with the Nazis.

The trial proceedings themselves were also rife with drama and complications. From the beginning, one of Ríos Montt’s lawyers, Francisco Garcia Gudiel, challenged Judge Barrios’ legitimacy, accusing her of bias and partiality. This claim that the court was unable to deliver a fair verdict and the attempt to challenge the judges led Mr. Garcia Gudiel to be expelled on the first day, although he would be later reinstated. The issues didn’t stop there, as the rest of the defense team stormed out of the court on 18 April in protest at what they called “illegal proceedings”. The next day Mr. Garcia Gudiel was again expelled, this time for a few hours, after accusing Judge Barrios of failing to hear his legal challenges. The defense team used the second expulsion to declare to the Constitutional Court that their client was deprived of the lawyer of his choice, leading to an order that there be no sentencing until the issues had been resolved. The tribunal, however, disobeyed that order and issued their sentence of Ríos Montt’s case.According to Geoff Thale, an expert on Guatemala at the Washington Office on Latin America, as evidence presented during the trial clearly showed that Ríos Montt had ordered soldiers to burn indigenous villages and kill members of the Ixil group, his legal team’s only “tactic was to go after the judges who presided over the case.” The prosecutors consistently asserted that the defense strategy relied on constitutional challenges to delay or obstruct the trial. As the trial came to an end, defense lawyers announced that they would appeal, and appeal they did. This led to the three-to-two ruling by a panel of Constitutional judges to annul everything that had happened during the proceedings since 19 April, when Ríos Montt was briefly left without a defense lawyer and the trial should have come to a halt until the unresolved defense appeals had been resolved.

Hitting the reset button on justice?

The details of the annulment and how the trial plans to “hit the reset button” to 19 April remain unclear. The Constitutional Court has said that statements delivered in court before 19 April would stand, but all testimonies after that would be invalid, and the closing arguments would have to be given again but, as legal experts have said, repeating the final days before the same tribunal would amount to double jeopardy. As we wait to understand the possible outcomes of the Constitutional Court decision what is certain is that the decision was a blow to human rights advocates everywhere who “had called his conviction a sign that Guatemala’s courts would no longer allow impunity for the country’s powerful.” The Inter-American Court of Human Rights criticized the “abusive use of the appeal [for legal protection] as a delaying practice” to prevent human rights prosecutions. According to Minority Rights Group International, “this ruling of the Constitutional Court shows the weakness in Guatemala’s justice system,” and serves as a barrier to achieving accountability. Impunity Watch also released a critical statement on the situation, saying, “The decision of the Constitutional Court legitimizes the systematic and abusive legal procedures and formalities, widely condemned by Guatemalan society and international organizations…The politicized environment that is serving as a framework for the decision of the Constitutional Court only reinforces the country’s existing social perception that justice in Guatemala is neither independent nor impartial and that it favors those with the power and money to position themselves above the legal system.” While the attempt to seek justice is not over, the survivors and victims who gave evidence of the systematic violence may have to face a return to court, presenting a potentially serious challenge as “they may have lost their faith in the country’s legal system.”

Breakdown in trust: what does this mean for Guatemalan society?

Civil society representatives work on issues of justice and security for indigenous people in Guatemala City. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Finding Ríos Montt guilty of genocide showed the Ixil Mayan population that the violence and brutal crimes committed against them would not be accepted and that perpetrators, regardless of their level of power, would be held to account. It offered hope to victims of atrocities around the world that justice can be served. Before the announcement of the annulment, Impunity Watch celebrated and declared that “this is an example of how justice should be the vehicle to generate social trust in the state. It can end violence, polarization and conflict.”

Amnesty International believes that, by overturning the historical verdict, the Constitutional Court has snatched away the rights of the Ixil Mayan people to truth, justice and reparations. According to the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, the annulment has taken place in the context where business elites and groups linked to the military, which was responsible for carrying out the violence, rejected the sentence. By rejecting the original verdict, and in turn supporting human rights perpetrators, these groups have encouraged social polarization, and present another barrier to reconciliation within the country. As Manfredo Marroquin, the President of Accion Cuidadana, a non-governmental organization committed to building democracy in Guatemala, puts it, “Impunity remains the only law of force in Guatemala” where the extreme weakness of the justice system makes the country “a major threat to regional democratic coexistence.”

The future of the Ríos Montt case

While no one knows what will happen next, we do know, as UN Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, reiterated, that ”the victims of the atrocities committed during the civil war in Guatemala and their families have waited many years for justice…[and] Justice delayed is justice denied.” We have seen in far too many countries what happens when states fail to bring those responsible for serious and massive human rights violations to justice – tensions, discrimination, and continued conflict. As Mr. Dieng reminded us, only with justice and accountability for atrocity crimes “can Guatemala consolidate its peace process and build trust and confidence among its diverse population. Such trust and the credibility of its institutions are indispensable for the prevention of future abuses”.

For more information on the trial, visit the Ríos Montt Trial website.

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