Category Archives: Human Rights

#RtoP Weekly: 13 February – 17 February

Untitled

Burma set to investigate abuses against Rohingya Muslims

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

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

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

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


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

Burundi:

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

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

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


Central African Republic:

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


DPRK:

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


Democratic Republic of Congo:

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

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


Iraq:

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

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


Libya:

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


Mali:

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

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

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


Nigeria:

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

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

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


South Sudan:

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

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


Sudan:

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


Syria:

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

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

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

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

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


Yemen:

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

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

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

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

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

#RtoPWeekly: 30 January – February 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch up on developments in…

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

Central African Republic:

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

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


Democratic Republic of Congo:

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

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


Gaza/West Bank:

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


Iraq:

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

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


Libya:

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

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


Nigeria:

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

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


South Sudan:

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

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

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

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

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


Sri Lanka:

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


Sudan:

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

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


Syria:

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

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

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

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


Yemen:

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

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

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

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


What else is new?

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

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

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

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

#R2PWeekly: 23 – 27 May 2016

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

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

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

Read the full workshop report here.


Catch up on developments in…

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


Burma/Myanmar:

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

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


Burundi:

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

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

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

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


Central African Republic:

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

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

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


Democratic Republic of Congo:

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

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

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


Gaza/West Bank:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Iraq:

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

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

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

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


Kenya:

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

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

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


Libya:

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

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


Nigeria:

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


South Sudan:

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

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

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

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

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


Sri Lanka

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


Sudan/Darfur:

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

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


Syria:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Yemen:

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

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

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

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


What else is new?

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

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

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

Rights Up Front and Civilian Protection: An Uneven First Year

This November marks one year since Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the momentous “Rights Up Front” action plan to put the protection of civilians and their human rights at the forefront of the UN agenda.

Born out of the tragedy witnessed in the final months of Sri Lanka’s civil war, and the “systemic failure” that characterized the United Nation’s response, the initiative is meant to ensure that the inaction seen in Sri Lanka, Rwanda, and Srebrenica is never repeated.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) meets with Mr. Charles Petrie, Assistant Secretary-General, Independent Review Panel on Sri Lanka.UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

By emphasizing timely reporting and early warning, Rights Up Front seeks to prevent human rights abuses before they rise to the level of mass atrocities.  Where prevention fails, the UN’s main priority will be the protection of civilians. In many ways, this is simply a reiteration of the core purpose of the UN. However, Rights Up Front is unique in that it offers a six-point plan directed at the UN Secretariat, funds, and agencies to institute changes that will lead to tangible improvements in prevention and response.

According to the Secretary-General’s summary of Rights Up Front, the six points are as follows:

1: Integrating human rights into the lifeblood of the UN so all staff understand their own and the Organization’s human rights obligations.

2: Providing Member States with candid information with respect to peoples at risk of, or subject to, serious violations of human rights or humanitarian law.

3: Ensuring coherent strategies of action on the ground and leveraging the UN System’s capacities to respond in a concerted manner.

4: Clarifying and streamlining procedures at Headquarters to enhance communication with the field and facilitate early, coordinated action.

5: Strengthening the UN’s human rights capacity, particularly through better coordination of its human rights entities.

6: Developing a common UN system for information management on serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law.

Given the focus on the protection of civilians and prevention of mass atrocities, the initiative has clear potential for reinforcing the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). Indeed, RtoP was directly referenced in the Deputy Secretary-General’s informal remarks on Rights up Front to the General Assembly in December 2013. One year later, there have been some positive signs that Rights Up Front is starting to take hold, including the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS)’s unprecedented ‘open-gate’ policy to protect civilians in South Sudan. However, the recently revealed controversies surrounding the United Nations/African Union Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) suggest that the UN could once again be repeating the very mistakes that the initiative was designed to prevent.

 

Rights Up Front in South Sudan: An Imperfect Success Story

The record on Rights Up Front’s implementation has been mixed. While a system-wide plan such as this is bound to take time to run its course, there are some early examples of qualified successes, as well as some unacceptable failures.

The ‘success ledger’ includes the decision of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to open its gates to tens of thousands of civilians fleeing inter-ethnic violence between the Dinka and Nuer after the outbreak of civil war in December 2013.  The former Special Representative to the Secretary General reflected on the decision, confirming its adherence to Rights Up Front and stating “The fact that we opened our gates actually has saved very many thousands of people’s lives… There will be incredible challenges going forward with this decision, but it was the right one. It remains the right one.”

UNMISS provides water to civilians seeking shelter in one of its bases in Juba after outbreak of violence in December 2013. UN Photo/UNMISS.

Likewise, Oxfam’s head of humanitarian policy and campaigns, Maya Mailer, opined on how this development demonstrates progress in the mission’s policy towards the protection of civilians. She reflected on the mission, and its heavy state-building focus, as it was back in 2009, recalling that “…while the UN mission had a mandate from the UN Security Council to protect civilians, that came way down a long list of other priorities.” Mailer mentions both RtoP and Rights Up Front as potential influential factors in this shift.

Although the long-term safety of civilians seeking shelter in what are now being called Protection of Civilian sites is far from assured, this impromptu decision made in the face of an imminent massacre provides hope that the protection of civilians is indeed being prioritized among UN missions.

 

Darfur Controversy Risks Repeating the Mistakes of the Past

Nevertheless, it is easy to have one’s optimism dashed when observing recent events in the Darfur region of Sudan. Back in April, Foreign Policy broke a story alleging that through chronic underreporting, UNAMID had systematically covered up attacks on civilians and UN peacekeepers carried out by forces acting on behalf of the Government of Sudan (GoS).

One example among the many includes a brazen attack by Sudanese troops and pro-government militias on a UN base in Muhajeria in April 2013. Though this particular violation occurred before Rights Up Front was initiated, to date, no one has been held accountable for the attack that left one Nigerian peacekeeper dead, and several more injured. Indeed, UNAMID still refuses to even acknowledge the government’s involvement, instead blaming “unidentified armed assailants.”

More recently, ICRtoP member, The African Centre for Peace and Justice Studies has documented a “brutal campaign of counter-insurgency” led by the pro-government Rapid Support Forces throughout Darfur. The campaign of violence has been marked by aerial bombardments and ground assaults that have targeted civilians with increasing intensity since earlier this year. In spite of this, UNAMID continues to afford minimal priority to reporting on and ensuring accountability for such acts. This is evident in the most recent UNAMID controversy, in which allegations that the mission improperly investigated a mass rape in the town of Tabit has led to further accusations that it is covering-up the government’s transgressions.

Ostensibly, UNAMID has made the decision to omit mention of GoS involvement in attacks due to a lack of concrete first-hand evidence.  However, observers have pointed out that it is more likely that UNAMID’s lack of reporting was done to appease Khartoum, a government that is renowned for its obstruction of international peacekeeping efforts and the quest to achieve accountability for past atrocities committed by its leaders. Most notable among them is President Omar Al Bashir, who is wanted for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.

UNAMID leadership visit victims of ambush

Tanzanian UNAMID soldiers listen solemnly to a debriefing after an ambush by “unidentified assailants” that left 7 peacekeepers dead. UN Photo/ Albert González Farran.

If, as Human Rights Watch has suggested, Darfur represents a test-case for implementation of Rights Up Front, then it exposes some key areas in which it has been lacking. The incomplete reporting of GoS attacks indicates that UNAMID staff might not fully understand their human rights obligations or how to properly uphold them, as demanded in the first action point. Furthermore, it leads to a breakdown in the candid reporting to member states required for proactive and strategic engagement, as specified in point number two.  The fact that the mission has not issued a public report on human rights since 2009 reinforces this narrative. As ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda chided “UN reports are an important and increasingly unique source of public information about the situation in Darfur, and must be held to the highest standard for the sake of the victims…” 

This is especially important as improper reporting can also hamper the ability of the Secretary-General to carry out his ‘Article 99’ responsibilities to accurately pass information to the Security Council to inform their decisions on matters related to international peace and security. This in turn affects the ability of the Council to adjust mandates in a way that reflects the reality on the ground, depriving the mission of necessary resources and additional Chapter VII measures that may be required to protect civilians. Thus, the ability to leverage the UN System’s capacities to respond in a concerted manner, as specified in the third action point, is also compromised.

The Secretary-General has since responded to allegations with an internal investigation, and recently stated that he will take “all necessary steps to ensure full and accurate reporting by [the joint mission],” adding that “keeping silent or under-reporting on incidents involving human rights violations and threats or attacks on UN peacekeepers cannot be condoned under any circumstances.”

These developments are troubling, as they are a repeat of the patterns that led to the UN’s ineffectiveness in Sri Lanka. In spite of the positive progress in South Sudan, the case of Darfur suggests that the UN has yet to “fully learn the lessons of the past”, as instructed by Ban Ki-moon upon his announcement of Rights Up Front.

 

Strengthening Rights Up Front Implementation

For the potential of Rights Up Front to be realized, the UN will have to address the lingering deficiencies that jeopardize efforts to protect civilians. In August 2014, Daniel Bekele of HRW urged that:

“With the surge in Sudanese government-led attacks on civilians, credible public reporting on the situation in Darfur is more important than ever…The UN should not allow this core aspect of its work to be degraded, especially when the Secretary-General has pledged to put ‘Rights up Front’ in the UN’s work.”

Philippe Bolopion bluntly warned that the example of Darfur “should be a wake-up call to other U.N. missions, whether in Mali, CAR [the Central African Republic], Libya, or South Sudan, that proactive and transparent reporting on human rights violations, regardless of the perpetrators, is a core function of the mission…”

However, while it is important to ensure that timely and accurate information is reported, for example, through regular ‘horizon-scanning’ exercises, the political will to act on this information is also essential. In September 2014, the International Peace Institute held its annual Trygve Lie Symposium, this year focusing on Rights Up Front. As was mentioned by Helen Clark, action on the initiative depends on “speaking truth to power to the Security Council,” but also on the willingness of member states to act.

In this sense, it will also be necessary to build, “a broad coalition” involving a “range of regional groups,” so as to catalyze momentum among member states, urge the Security Council to take action, and garner support for funding and logistical contributions to UN missions. Panelists at the IPI symposium lamented such action as becoming increasingly difficult, though it underpins the viability of all UN efforts.

 

The Role of RtoP in Rights Up Front

With their many shared objectives, it is also essential to discuss the role of RtoP in strengthening Rights Up Front implementation. In her assessment of Rights Up Front for Opinio Juris, Kristen Boon made an important point regarding this relationship. While RtoP has indeed been cited as an important precursor, and the two are often mentioned in the same context, there has been little attempt to elaborate on specific measures under the RtoP toolkit that can reinforce the initiative. The same can be said about the ability of Rights Up Front to ensure more consistent application of the norm.

Pillay visits UNMISS

Former High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng give a joint-press conference on South Sudan. UN Photo/Isaac Billy.

The 2014 Secretary-General report on RtoP focused on international assistance to states to uphold RtoP (aka Pillar II), and provides the most direct linkage to Rights Up Front. The report welcomed Rights Up Front as an avenue for improving the UN’s ability to fulfill its second pillar responsibilities by improving early action and emphasizing the collective responsibility of the UN. In a separate section, the report identifies a role for the Human Rights Council (HRC), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and other relevant organs in encouraging states to uphold their primary responsibility by addressing human rights concerns.

Still, the report stops short of identifying particular aspects of each initiative that could serve to strengthen implementation of the other, or how relevant UN bodies, such as the HRC and the Office of the Special Representative to the Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG) can complement one another in fulfilling RtoP or Rights Up Front.

A clearer articulation of this relationship could perhaps build on the recommendations for improved coordination made by the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng at the HRC’s High-Level Panel on the Prevention of Genocide in March 2014. For example, Dieng recommended that the HRC adopt the OSAPG’s Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes to further guide its work. Such changes could help mainstream an atrocities lens throughout the UN system, and ensure that human rights abuses do not rise to the level of atrocity crimes.

 

One Year On, Critical Assessment Needed

While Rights Up Front is a promising initiative, noteworthy for rallying the efforts of the UN behind the human rights cause, implementation has been checkered so far. UNMISS’ open-gate policy in South Sudan is a positive example of a flexible response that prioritized the imminent protection needs of civilians. On the other hand, the debacle in Darfur has exposed weaknesses in human rights reporting, and an overall lack of transparency that runs counter to the noble intentions of Rights Up Front. To truly learn the lessons of the past and maximize civilian protection, an honest and more in-depth assessment of the initiative and its implementation is needed as its one-year anniversary arrives.

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Filed under African Union, Human Rights, Peacekeeping, Prevention, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, UNMISS

No Protection without Participation: The Responsibility to Include Displaced Women

On October 28, 2014, the Security Council held its annual open debate on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) focusing on women as refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). The urgency of this matter cannot be understated, as the world reaches a grim milestone.

Security Council meeting on Women and peace and  security

Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the Security Council meeting on Women and peace and security. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

Currently, the global population of displaced sits at approximately 50 million people – the largest number since the Second World War. What’s more appalling is that an astounding 80 percent of this population consists of women and children.

It was noted throughout the debate that in this context, women are at risk of a range of human rights abuses. These include gender-based discrimination in access to economic resources, education and employment, poor reproductive health care, and exclusion from decision-making and participation in most peace processes.

Furthermore, women are particularly vulnerable to sexual and gender based violence (SGBV). Recalling Security Council Resolution 1820, rape and other forms of sexual violence are recognized as a threat to international peace and security, as well as serve as indicators of and/or constitute potential genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, making this an important issue for both the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) and WPS.

The debate was part of the ongoing effort to evaluate implementation of Resolution 1325, a landmark Security Council decision that followed many incremental precedents in the advancement of women’s human rights, and subsequent resolutions that make up the WPS framework. The discussions held at this session made it clear that, while progress has been made with regards to upholding women’s rights and ensuring equal participation, there is still much progress to be made, especially as it concerns women who are refugees or IDPs.  The experience of women IDPs in countries plagued by atrocities such as Syria, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan demonstrate the stunning lack of progress, as well as a failure of national authorities to uphold their primary responsibility to protect displaced persons within their borders.

 

Horrifying Conditions for Displaced Women

The latest Secretary-General’s report on Women’s Peace and Security takes special note of the plight of displaced women. The report explains that driving factors such as discriminatory gender norms, a lack of access to livelihoods and basic services, as well as unequal citizenship rights leave women and girls especially vulnerable to a range of rights violations.

Among the risks mentioned are exposures to sex and labour trafficking, SGBV, and early and forced marriage. In addition, women are experiencing a curtailment of their rights in relation to dress, travel, education and employment – particularly in areas where extremism is rampant.

The Secretary-General’s report notes several countries as being particularly affected, including atrocity-ridden Syria, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Reports emerging from these countries bring the Secretary-General’s warnings to life, and shed light on the dire situations faced by displaced women.

For example, in South Sudan, the Special Representative on Sexual Violence, Zainab Hawa Bangura told horrific tales of sexual violence that will “…haunt South Sudan for generations to come” and include “rapes, gang rapes, rapes with guns and bullets and sexual slavery,” committed by forces loyal to both Salva Kiir and Riek Machar.  Many of these have occurred in the supposed safety of UNMISS Protection of Civilian sites and IDP camps.

In the Central African Republic, the International Displacement Monitoring Centre reports that “where 20 per cent of the country’s population is internally displaced, 68 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18.” They also note that access to education has been severely restricted, decrying that “ In Bossangoa region, education has ground to a halt almost completely, and in the country as  whole more than 70 per cent of potential pupils – at least 450,000 children – are currently out of school.”

Views of the Zaatri Refugee Camp

Syrian Refugees Crossing into the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. UN Photo/Mark Garten.

In Syria, the Assistant UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that displacement has been “accompanied by gender-based crimes, deliberate victimization of women and children and a frightening array of assaults on human dignity.”

A July 2014 Human Rights Watch report documented the abuses inflicted on women fleeing the frontlines of the country’s civil war. The organization warned that “Women in Syria have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, physically abused, harassed, and tortured during Syria’s conflict by government forces, pro-government militias, and armed groups opposed to the government.”

The examples from these countries are but a sample of the very real dangers faced by displaced women and girls, and the risks that they will become victims of RtoP crimes.

 

RtoP and Women’s Participation in the Context of Displacement

The deplorable conditions facing displaced women in South Sudan, Syria, and CAR represent a wider failure of national authorities to uphold their obligations to adequately protect IDPs and refugees within their borders.

Indeed, the broad range of rights abuses faced by displaced women are identified by the new  Framework of Analysis for the Prevention of Atrocity Crimes, recently published by the Joint Office for the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, as being a precursor to the commission of atrocity crimes.

The framework explains that of particular concern are “violations of civil and political rights” that may include “…severe restrictions to economic, social and cultural rights, often linked to patterns of discrimination or exclusion of protected groups, populations or individuals.”

Furthermore, as noted above, Resolution 1820 recognized for the first time that sexual violence could potentially constitute three of the four mass atrocity crimes and violations under RtoP, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The Framework of Analysis also warns that increasing acts of sexual violence “may indicate an environment conducive to the commission of atrocity crimes, or suggest a trajectory towards their perpetration. “

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UNAMID police facilitate English classes for displaced women in Darfur. UN Photo/Albert González Farran.

While a range of actions need to be in focus when addressing these crimes, a partial explanation of the failure to curb these violations is the exclusion of women from decision-making–including on policies regarding IDPs/refugees and peace processes in general. This exclusionary trend is at odds with the commitments set out in the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Beijing Platform for Action, and in particular, the Women, Peace and Security agenda, including Resolutions 1325 and 2122.

Resolution 1325 served as a landmark document, marking the UN Security Council’s recognition of the unique effects of conflict on women, and that their voices must be included in all stages of the peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding process. Through the adoption of Resolution 2122, the Council sought to strengthen the WPS agenda by explicitly focusing on the need to take further action to ensure women’s participation in all stages of conflict prevention and response. Without the recognition and inclusion of women, it is widely acknowledged that any strategy implemented will be “faulty” and unsustainable.

Thus, states hosting a displaced population have an urgent responsibility to protect women from these crimes, while the international community has a responsibility to provide assistance when authorities are failing as spectacularly as in the cases above. However, due to the indispensable nature of women’s involvement, protection cannot be fully achieved without their active participation and the facilitation of these efforts.

 

Ending Abuse through Gendered Strategies

Both civil society advocates and member states that participated in the open debate have offered recommendations that could help ensure protection obligations are upheld, and that the voices of women are included in the design and implementation of policies for the protection of the displaced.

In their civil society statement delivered at the WPS debate, the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security called for a comprehensive and gender-sensitive protection effort for women in displaced situations.  They stressed that:

“…women must fully participate and be consulted systematically in decision-making, across all displacement settings, in humanitarian programming, and, of course, in the broader political, security and peace processes.”  To these ends, the provision of political and financial support, as well as specialized training to civil society and women’s human rights defenders were recommended.

The Permanent Representative of Lithuania highlighted  the importance of ensuring personnel involved in the protection of IDPs are well-versed in gender-sensitivity by “providing gender awareness training to peacekeepers, field staff and humanitarian actors, appointing gender advisors, and developing concrete indicators to assess implementation of gender mainstreaming policies.”

Suggesting examples of best practices, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet identified steps that have been taken to incorporate a gender perspective into IDP protection in peacekeeping operations.

UNAMID Civil Affairs Officers Meet IDP Camp Residents. UN Photo/Olivier Chassot.

One such practice was UNAMID’s establishment of a Women’s Protection Network in Darfuri IDP camps to elicit their participation in formulating protection strategies.  Another was the UNMISS advocacy efforts that led to a gendered approach to IDP camp management, including the appointment of female camp managers.

An important recurring theme was the extension of women’s empowerment to the socioeconomic sphere, as horizontal inequalities exacerbated by displacement create the conditions that leave women vulnerable to exploitation. They are also considered a common indicator of atrocity risk under the Special Advisers’ Framework of Analysis.

As the Nordic countries remarked in their joint statement delivered by Sweden, “Gender inequalities lie at the heart of the issue. Gender equality in political, economic, and social life is a goal in itself and also contributes to preventing sexual violence and armed conflict.” Recommendations made by states for reducing inequalities, including by improving access to services and livelihoods, are therefore critical.

No Protection without True Participation

By implementing gendered protection strategies, and ensuring the full participation of women in all matters related to the protection of IDPs, a double purpose is being served. Not only are national and international actors doing their part to satisfy obligations laid out in the WPS agenda, but they are taking steps towards fulfilling their responsibility to prevent and respond to mass atrocities. Furthermore, they are upholding their responsibilities to help improve the capacity of national actors to live up to their primary RtoP obligations.

As Edmond Mulet stated “We have a responsibility to better protect women, but protection cannot exist without genuine understanding of women’s rights and acceptance of their full participation, as demanded by resolution 1325 and all subsequent mandates on women, peace, and security.”

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Myanmar’s Controversial Census, Discriminatory Laws Further Stoke Atrocity Fears

Myanmar’s Rohingya population currently faces a worrisome combination of grave human rights conditions and a dire humanitarian crisis. For decades, the Muslim minority have been marginalized under the military junta and remain so since the country began undertaking some democratic reforms beginning in 2011. However, since 2012 the situation has become markedly worse following the violence and forced displacement inflicted upon them by Buddhist mobs in Rakhine state. An ICRtoP post from August of last year provides an overview of the deadly violence, detailing government participation and the response of civil society organizations.

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UN Special Adviser on Myanmar meets with Buddhists, and Muslim refugees in March 2013. AP Photo/Khin Maung Win.

Since last covering the crisis, the situation remains largely unimproved and indeed appears to be worsening. 140,000 Rohingya have been forced into cramped displacement camps, criticised by international aid groups for their languid conditions. Some observers have even evoked the imagery of a “concentration camp”  to describe them. Many more Rohingya have fled, embarking on perilous journeys to neighbouring Malaysia and Thailand where they are exposed to the dangers of trafficking and other abuses.

Violent attacks continue, as for instance in January of 2014, when 40 men, women and children were killed in northern Rakhine, and as recently as a week ago when Buddhists mobs looted and attacked Muslim shops and mosques in Mandalay, killing 2 and injuring many more. Compounding all of this is the government’s decision to order the suspension of Médecins Sans Frontières’ (MSF) operations in Rakhine State, cutting off a major source of humanitarian assistance and health care for displaced Rohingya. Other aid groups have since come under attack, further limiting assistance to populations in need.

Marginalization and persecution also continue, as Rohingya are denied the right to citizenship by the state. Restrictions on freedom of movement and policies for population control, including a two-child policy, also feature as official state decree. Such treatment is enforced by the state security forces and endorsed by the country’s majority Buddhist population, encouraged by extreme nationalist factions such as the 969 movementwho are convinced that Muslims threaten to overtake Buddhists as the dominant religious group.

 

Proposed Laws and the National Census Exacerbate Human Rights Concerns

The most recent Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar continued to express deep concern for the situation of the Rohingya. Recent developments do little to assuage such concerns. First, the government recently sponsored a discriminatory bill advocated by the 969 movement through way of petition that received 2.5 million signatures, many of which are believed to have been obtained forcefully. The bill places restrictions on religious conversion and inter-faith marriage, both policies seen to be aimed at placating the anti-Muslim sentiments of the 969 movement by unlawfully preventing the further spread of Islam. In response, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom and Belief has called on the government to scrap the bill, claiming “State interferences into the right to change one’s religion or belief are per se illegitimate and incompatible with international human rights standards.”

Furthermore, the recent national census has now added to the potential discord, due to its controversial inclusion of data on religion, ethnicity and citizenship that groups such as International Crisis Group (ICG) warned would exacerbate inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions.  A last minute government decision to remove “Rohingya” as an official ethnicity, instead allowing the option to identify as “Bengali,” was the result of such tensions. The decision was largely taken due to threats of violence and census boycotts by Rakhine state Buddhists and the 969 movement, who objected to the Rohingya’s inclusion. Bowing to this pressure and labelling Rohingya as Bengali has been a common method used to paint the group as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. Speaking to this, The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect criticised the decision, stating that “Denying Rohingyas the ability to self-identify on the census…reinforces the dangerous perception that Rohingya are ethnic outsiders.”

 

Civil Society Warns of Myanmar’s “March to Genocide”

Many NGOs are raising alarm bells over the abuses being committed in Myanmar. For example, Bangkok-based ICRtoP member Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-BURMA) has done valuable work documenting human rights abuses through publications such as their “monthly bulletin”. The bulletin for the month of June, 2014 warns that “In Arakan [Rakhine] State, regime security forces and extremist Buddhist Rakhine continued discriminatory policies and open attacks on Rohingya communities.” The bulletin lists a number of incidents involving unlawful arrests, looting, and physical violence committed against Rohingya and their property.

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A woman and her child walk past a damaged mosque after clashes in Meiktila. AFP/BBC photo.

Fortify Rights’ February 2014 report examined leaked documents that confirm and detail state-supported policies of persecution, primarily targeting the Rohingya. Their findings led them to conclude that:

The government policies…systematically single-out Rohingya as a group on the basis of their ethnicity, religion, and at times gender, stripping them of a range of human rights, including the rights to non-discrimination, health, nationality, and freedom of movement. The degree of deprivation is so severe that it would qualify as “persecution” as a crime against humanity under international law

In March, 2014, ICRtoP member United to End Genocide also commissioned a report, ominously titled “Marching to Genocide in Burma” based on a recent fact-finding mission. After witnessing the suffering of the country’s Rohingya, they made the alarming claim that “Nowhere in the world are there more known precursors to genocide than in Burma today.

In yet another instance, Human Rights Watch reported in April of 2013 that “The Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement.

 

The Responsibility to Protect in Myanmar

These findings make it clear that the government of Myanmar is failing its primary obligations to protect the Rohingya from a series of atrocity crimes. Sustained pressure and response from both national and international actors can convince the government to change course, end restrictive, discriminatory policies, and play a more active role in mitigating violence and hatred towards the Rohingya.

ICRtoP member U.S. Campaign for Burma has taken the initiative to encourage the U.S. government to use its rapprochement with Myanmar as an entry point to influence change. Such advocacy led the House of Representatives to pass House Resolution 418, urging the Burmese government to end the persecution of ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims.

Likewise, United to End Genocide has launched a public campaign aimed at the U.S. President and Congress. The campaign calls on the U.S. government to pressure the Myanmar government to rescind their expulsion of MSF, demand a credible and independent investigation into violence against the Muslim minority in lieu of the flawed Rakhine Inquiry Commission, and to update their sanctions list to include those responsible for the most recent violence. The campaign seems to have resonated in Congress, as the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee recently called for a range of punitive measures against the government of Myanmar that includes visa bans, an end to U.S.-Myanmar military cooperation, and potential economic sanctions.

Police officers guard a Muslim residential area in Mandalay

Police officers guarding a Muslim residential area in Mandalay. Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters.

The broader international community also has a key role to play. Given the potential for the census results to inflame further violence, ICG recommends that census donors accept responsibility for their lack of due diligence in ensuring a sound process, and encourage Myanmar’s government to reconsider the release of the results, given the sensitive political realities.  Refugees International has also recommended donors establish a “crisis cell” in cooperation with Myanmar’s Minister of Immigration and Population, Minister for the President’s Office, and the UN resident humanitarian coordinator to respond to any crisis associated with the census.

In addition, Fortify Rights has called on the international community to urge the government to abide by recommendations of the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights, abolish local orders that restrict the basic human rights of Rohingya, and communicate to all national, local and community authorities that these practices are not to be encouraged or enforced.

Importantly, they also recommend the provision of “financial, technical, and advocacy support” for local human rights defenders. This constituent could be crucial in changing the government’s current course, and indeed a growing swell of civil society resistance from prominent groups such as the 88 Generation Student Group is increasing domestic pressure to end abusive and discriminatory practices.

There is some indication that this pressure is working, as the government has introduced a pilot program for validation of citizenship that may offer Rohingya a path to naturalization. However, the viability of this program is in question after controversy over the census. It has also been noted that such support runs the risk of putting these groups in danger, as overt assistance may be seen as reinforcing the Buddhist narrative that their way of life is under threat from both Muslims and the international community. Therefore, donors should be calculated in their support programming.

 

Myanmar’s Democratic Transition: Entry Point for Assistance?

Given the democratic transition occurring in Myanmar, it is easy to focus on this good news story and forget about the conditions making life for the country’s Rohingya insufferable. However, just as the country’s political opening has created the space for extremist voices; it also provides opportunity to foster a true democratic culture. The international community’s reengagement can be used as an entry point to provide assistance under the second pillar of RtoP, thus providing incentives and capacity-building for the government of Myanmar to uphold its primary responsibility. Addressing the question of citizenship and abolishing all current and proposed government policies that limit basic human rights would be a positive first step.

For more information on the crisis in Myanmar and how the Responsibility to Protect applies, visit our crisis page and our ‘At a Glance’ feature.

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Crisis in Nigeria: A Case for RtoP’s Second Pillar

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Protesters take to the streets of Abuja to demand the release of the abducted girls. AFP/Getty Images.

In recent days, there has been unprecedented international attention on the Boko Haram threat in Nigeria. Largely spurred by the appalling kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok and the ensuing social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls, popular pressure has forced western governments to take notice and answer the Nigerian government’s request for assistance in their efforts to combat Boko Haram and rescue the kidnapped girls.

Such action is consistent with pillar II of the responsibility to protect (RtoP), which calls on the international community to provide assistance and capacity-building to states that are under stress and unable to protect their civilian population from mass atrocity crimes. Nigeria is a strong case for RtoP’s second pillar, as numerous sources have warned the despicable acts occurring in the country can amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In a United Nations Security Council (UNSC)press statement, the Council condemned the Boko Haram attacks and stressed that “all perpetrators of such acts must be held accountable at national or international levels, and that some of those acts may amount to crimes against humanity under international law.”

Amnesty International echoed these concerns, based on interviews with residents, lawyers, human rights campaigners, and hospital staff, as well as satellite imagery. Netsanet Belay, Research and Advocacy Director for Africa stated that:

The escalation of violence in north-eastern Nigeria in 2014 has developed into a situation of non-international armed conflict in which all parties are violating international humanitarian law.  We urge the international community to ensure prompt, independent investigations into acts that may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

 

International Action

The 2009 Secretary-General’s Report “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect” suggests that pillar II assistance can take any of the following forms: (a) encouraging States to meet their responsibilities under pillar one; (b) helping them to exercise this responsibility;  (c) helping them to build their capacity to protect ; and (d) assisting states “under stress before crises and conflicts break out.” The report lays out a variety of tools for delivery that range from education and training, diplomacy, and development assistance, to military support and consent-based peacekeeping.

The type of assistance that has been forthcoming so far is mostly in line with the military option. This includes intelligence, surveillance, and technical support for hostage negotiations and counter-terrorism efforts offered by the UK, US, France, and China. On April 17, France hosted a security summit gathering regional African heads of state from Nigeria, Chad, Benin, Cameroon and Niger. Here, regional cooperation and information and intelligence sharing were emphasized as crucial mechanisms in the fight against Boko Haram.

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The Paris Summit for Security in Nigeria. Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images.

While these developments are welcomed, it would be wise to heed warnings about the limitations of such action. This type of technical military assistance – while a good short-term measure for rescuing the kidnapped girls – does not address the structural weaknesses of the Nigerian state, or the dubious human rights record of their security forces.

 

The Limitations of Military Assistance in Nigeria

Sarah Margon of Human Rights Watch offered a searing indictment of the government’s military response that reveals a stark conundrum:

The tactics of the government security forces are barely more palatable than those of the militants themselves. Nigerian security forces are known for raiding local communities, executing men in front of their families, arbitrarily arresting and beating people, burning residential property and stealing money while searching homes.

Meanwhile, in writing for UN Dispatch, Mark Leone Goldberg stressed the multi-dimensional nature of the crisis:

“#StrengthenInstitutionsofGovernance doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as #BringBackOurGirls but the fact is, the inability to deliver healthcare, security, education, and other basic services fuels the instability that gives rise to militant groups like Boko Haram

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A Nigerian soldier patrolling the streets of Baga in Borno State, April 30, 2013. Pius Utomi Ekpei AFP/Getty Images.

This demonstrates the complex challenge that faces efforts to assist the Nigerian state in combating Boko Haram and bringing stability to the country. In this sense, what is required is what is referred to in the 2009 Secretary-General’s report as “conflict-sensitive” development analysis to alleviate, and not exacerbate, conditions that may lead to mass atrocity crimes. Approaching the crisis through this lens reveals a need for what the Secretary-General describes as “…assistance programmes that are carefully targeted to build specific capacities within societies that would make them less likely to travel the path to crimes relating to the responsibility to protect.

In the case of Nigeria, provision of technical military assistance without sufficient attention to the egregious conduct of the state security forces, or underlying societal issues that  create the breeding ground for radicalism, risks becoming a mere “band-aid” solution. Worse, it may intensify conditions leading to mass human rights violations.

 

Conflict-Sensitive Pillar II Assistance: Recommendations from Civil Society

For truly effective pillar II assistance that will strengthen the Nigerian state’s ability to uphold its RtoP while simultaneously addressing root causes, several ICRtoP members and civil society groups have provided useful recommendations.

In the article mentioned above, Coalition member HRW recommends that in assisting the Nigerian government, the United States should follow their own federal due diligence laws to ensure that no military personnel accused of human rights violations are involved in operational planning or initiatives, while encouraging the Nigerian government to conduct impartial investigations of any personnel that have been involved in such crimes. According to Magnon, “To do any less might make the situation worse — and make the U.S. complicit in Nigeria’s abuses.” The same can be said for other states offering assistance.

International Crisis Group has called on Nigeria’s international partners to support domestic initiatives such as a Far North Development Commission, anti-corruption campaigns, small business investment and other programs that address poverty, youth unemployment and women’s lack of empowerment. Doing so will “switch from a mainly military approach to the challenge from Boko Haram, and radicalism in general, to one more attuned to root causes.” This is essential, as it has been noted that corruption and underdevelopment motivate Boko Haram’s youth recruits more than an extreme Islamist agenda.

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A UNDP-supported Nigerian school. Bridget Ejegwa/UNDP

From a regional standpoint, African civil society group African Women’s Development and Communication’s Network called on regional organizations such as the African Union and ECOWAS to provide “…substantive support to the Nigerian Government to address the underlying systemic issues, including the climate of violence and insecurity in which groups like Boko Haram thrive,” highlighting the importance of ensuring safe spaces for education and justice for crimes committed in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

A local Nigerian organization, The Network on Police Reform in Nigeria also stressed a multi-disciplinary approach to combating Boko Haram, while making specific recommendations to “engage the communities with a view to restoring/building public confidence and cooperation with the police/security forces,” emphasizing the crucial role of civil society in cultivating positive relationships.

Such recommendations are representative of a range of options that are more long-term and deep-rooted than military assistance alone.  They satisfy the different forms of second pillar assistance identified in the 2009 Secretary-General’s report, with a focus on such interconnected  issues  as socio-economic development, improving access to justice and the rule of law, and reform of the security sector. The latter was recently reaffirmed as a critical tool for conflict prevention in a UNSC resolution and linked directly to the state’s ability to uphold RtoP by Ban Ki-moon. This is particularly relevant in the Nigerian context, and in delivering appropriate second pillar assistance, context is everything.

For a detailed overview of the conflict in Nigeria within the context of the Responsibility to Protect, visit our recently updated crisis page.

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Clarifying the Protection Debate in the Crimean Peninsula

Russian Intervention and Justification

Recently, the world has watched tensely as the situation in the Crimean territory of Ukraine reached a dangerous point of volatility. Upheaval that began with the EuroMaidan protests led to the ouster of Russian-backed President Yanukovych, who was swiftly replaced by an interim coalition government.  Long a strategic and symbolically important region, Russia wasted little time descending on the autonomous Crimean Peninsula.  The rhetoric of Russian authorities would suggest that the intervention was necessary for the protection of the Russian-speaking population, allegedly threatened by ultranationalist elements of the new Ukrainian government. In early March, President Vladimir Putin appealed for the use of military force in such terms:

In connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine, the threat to the lives of citizens of the Russian Federation, our compatriots, and the personnel of the armed forces of the Russian Federation on Ukrainian territory (in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea) … I submit a proposal on using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine until the normalization of the socio-political situation in the that country,

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Unidentified soldiers believed to be from Russia on patrol at Simferopol Airport in the Crimea Peninsula. Elizabeth Arrott/VOA

In the opening session of the UN Human Rights Council, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov echoed the protection argument:

“I reiterate, we are talking here about protection of our citizens and compatriots, about protection of the most fundamental of the human rights – the right to live, and nothing more,”

The recent referendum paved the way for an official Russian annexation of its former territory, assured to Ukraine in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum after previously being given by Nikita  Khrushchev in 1954.

 

Russia’s Past Misuse of RtoP vs. Current Rhetoric

Commentators in various media outlets have been quick to denounce Russia’s legal justification for the intervention. Many have likened Russia’s rhetoric to the language used to justify their actions in Georgia during 2008. At that time, Russian leaders explicitly linked their motives to the Responsibility to Protect. Then, Lavrov clearly stated:

According to our Constitution there is also responsibility to protect – the term which is very widely used in the UN when people see some trouble in Africa or in any remote part of other regions…the laws of the Russian Federation make it absolutely unavoidable to us to exercise responsibility to protect.

Such articles have rightly emphasized that, as in Georgia, Russia’s actions in Ukraine do not constitute an RtoP-style intervention. For starters, the interpretation of RtoP endorsed by all countries at the 2005 World Summit pertains only to the four mass atrocity crimes of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Thus far, there is no evidence that any of these crimes have occurred or are in imminent danger of occurring in relation to ethnic Russians. Furthermore, any military intervention must also be authorized by the Security Council.  In this case, Russia has acted unilaterally.

While it is important to clarify that Russia’s actions cannot be justified in RtoP terms, it is equally important to note that Russian leaders have not made specific reference to RtoP. When they attempted this rhetorical approach in 2008, they faced strong backlash from state and civil society advocates of the norm. An examination of Russian rhetoric throughout the current crisis reveals that, instead, the language has focused on preventing violence and protecting the human rights of Russians. Explicit mention of RtoP has been noticeably absent.  In its current phase – when one of the primary challenges facing RtoP is its normalization into international politics – such discursive subtleties are significant.

 

Violations of International Law and the Threat to Minorities

This is not to say that Russia’s intervention is moral or indeed legal. The intervention is a flagrant violation of an international diplomatic agreement, namely the Budapest Memorandum. This agreement committed Russia and other signatories (Ukraine, The United States and the United Kingdom) to refraining from the use of force to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in accordance with the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 and Article 2 of the United Nations Charter. Furthermore, as an occupying force Russia must abide by international humanitarian and human rights law regarding their conduct under such circumstances. Any violation committed by local authorities or proxy forces can in fact be considered Russia’s responsibility. The conditions under which the secession referendum was held has also raised questions over the validity and legitimacy of the results.

Press Conference by Permanent Representative of Ukraine, with leaders of minority groups in Ukraine.

Press Conference by Permanent Representative of Ukraine, with leaders of minority groups in Ukraine. UN Photo.

The case can certainly be made that minorities are under threat in Crimea, though not necessarily groups identified by Russian authorities. While the Ukrainian government’s decision to repeal a law ensuring Russian language rights was controversial, it has since been reinstated. However, there is a real concern that Crimea’s Muslim Tatar population – long the subject of persecution and even mass deportation under Stalin – may face backlash and discrimination for their support of the Ukrainian government, as the result of Russian annexation. ICRtoP member Minority Rights Group Internationalhas already documented incidents reminiscent of those experienced under the Soviet regime. A recent press release warned:

“Minorities and indigenous peoples, in particular the Crimean Tatars, an indigenous community of approximately 300,000 in the peninsula, are becoming more and more exposed to intimidation and violence. Recently, doors of Crimean Tatar residents were marked by X, a sign evoking memories of their 1944 deportation to Central Asia during the Stalin regime.”

The release continues to note media involvement in inciting discrimination, as well as evidence of increased militarization witnessed in the formation of Crimean self-defence groups. Human Rights Watch has also been monitoring these developments, warning of unaccountable militant groups that have been implicated in acts of torture and disappearances. Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director stressed:

“Crimean authorities are allowing illegal and unidentified armed units to run the show in the peninsula, and to commit crimes that go uninvestigated and unpunished, as if there is a legal vacuum.”

In such an environment of impunity, with ethnic tensions running high and the ever-present risk of Russian and Ukrainian military action, a peaceful settlement to the conflict is essential for avoiding an escalation in violence.

 

Looking Ahead: Overcoming the Security Council Impasse for Peaceful Settlement

With Russia’s involvement in the conflict, it will be difficult to pass any Security Council resolution.  A previous draft urged the protection of the sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, while also committing parties to protect the rights of minorities. Unsurprisingly, Russia exercised its veto to strike down the motion. ICRtoP member The World Federalist Movement – Institute of Global Policy issued a statement to General Assembly (GA) member states regarding the use of the veto as set out in Article 27 of the UN Charter, and urged action in the face of its misuse:

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A view of the electronic board displaying the votes of member states at a General Assembly Plenary Session on Ukraine. UN Photo.

The veto is not to be used when a permanent member is party to a dispute before the Security Council. The veto of 15 March 2014 is another example of permanent members using the veto contrary to the purposes and principles, letter and spirit of the UN Charter…It is imperative the larger membership instruct and confront the Security Council when it takes decisions not in accordance with the UN Charter.”

On March 27, 2014 a resolution put forward by Ukraine and 50 co-sponsors was approved by the GA, supporting Ukraine’s position and deeming the referendum that led to Russian annexation invalid.

Other measures to de-escalate the crisis have been taken by UN and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) officials. A team of UN human rights monitors have been dispatched and the OSCE has officially announced an observer mission. Furthermore, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has reportedly reached a preliminary agreement with the Ukrainian government on the establishment of an international commission aimed at resolving the crisis. Such measures could contribute to a peaceful settlement and avoid wider human rights abuses.

 

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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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Spotlight on the World Federation for the United Nations Associations

We are delighted to introduce to you a new Spotlight series on the ICRtoP blog, where you will be able to learn more about Coalition members and their ongoing activities and initiatives to advance the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P) norm. 

The World Federation for the United Nations Associations (WFUNA), an ICRtoP member since 2009, launched its Responsibility to Protect Program in 2011. ICRtoP spoke with Laura Spano, RtoP Program Officer at WFUNA, who provided some insight into the goals of and challenges associated with WFUNA’s work on the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP).

WFUNA strives to deepen the understanding of the RtoP norm and highlight its potential as a guide for national policy amongst NGOs around the world. WFUNA’s RtoP program provides this increased awareness to mobilize civil society to advocate for their national leaders to operationalize the norm. As Spano told us, “The main goal of the program is to mobilize and push for the political will to prevent and act in the face of mass atrocities.

WFUNA represents and coordinates a membership base of over 100 national United Nations Associations (UNAs), which link citizens to the United Nations by emphasizing the relevance of UN developments at the local level through teaching, advocacy, and exchange programs. Among other areas of collaboration, WFUNA has teamed up with several UNAs in different regions around the world to create activities about and build support for RtoP. The program seeks to empower UNAs to target advocacy to four key groups: civil society, the academic community, politicians and the media.

To this end, WFUNA conducts capacity-building trainings for NGOs in these regions, in partnership with national UNAs and others, including, on occasion, the ICRtoP. These trainings provide a comprehensive background on RtoP and on the role of actors in implementing the norm and expand on how civil society can continue raising awareness and engage in effective advocacy. WFUNA also maintains an online platform to facilitate collaboration across regions as well as the exchange of expertise and best practices from outreach, advocacy and teaching activities. “Working with UNAs allows WFUNA’s programs to generate a more nuanced national understanding of the norm as the UNAs have a good understanding of domestic policy gaps and where progress is needed,” said Spano. In addition, partnering with national UNAs, which often already have well-established networks of civil society actors in the country, streamlines the dissemination of information on RtoP and hence increases awareness of the norm. “Ideally, once we run our initial training,” Spano stated, “the UNA has enough knowledge to take the norm forward in a national context with the assistance and support of WFUNA.”

Progress is visible after just one year. WFUNA and UNA partners, in particular UNA-ArmeniaUNA-Georgia and UNA-DRC,  have trained 48 NGOs, produced a number of  articles on the norm, 5 toolkits which were translated into five languages, and produced a documentary feature on the current situation in the Middle East and the RtoP norm, which was broadcasted on national Armenian television.

Dag Hammarskjold Symposium: Youth from UNA-Uganda, UNA-Tanzania and UNA-Kenya discuss the importance of RtoP in East Africa.  Credit: WFUNA

Dag Hammarskjold Symposium: Youth from UNA-Uganda, UNA-Tanzania and UNA-Kenya discuss the importance of RtoP in East Africa. Credit: WFUNA

Another key component of the RtoP program in 2011 and 2012 was the Dag Hammarskjöld Symposium Series, which provided a regional forum to engage key stakeholders in the RtoP debate. Participants looked specifically at the tension between state sovereignty, the role of intervention, and the implications for the RtoP norm. The Series reached four continents with conferences in Kenya in June 2011, China in December 2011, Venezuela in February 2012 and India in October 2012.

During our conversation with Ms. Spano, she discussed the impact of the crisis situations in Libya and Syria on global opinion towards the norm, saying that WFUNA saw an increase in debate on the implementation of measures to respond to RtoP crimes, and a resulting “divergence in ideas and understandings of the norm from conference participants.”  Consequently, WFUNA’s work shifted, as appropriate, from its initial, primary focus on awareness-raising to narrower discussions to clarify misconceptions and assess the challenges associated with implementation. Nonetheless, Spano noted that across all regions, she saw a tangible increase in knowledge of the norm and its principles, which has allowed for more comprehensive discussions on RtoP tools to prevent atrocity crimes. According to Spano, the enduring challenge is to ensure that all actors understand that “the foundation of RtoP is really about prevention.”

WFUNA will continue to challenge misinterpretations of RtoP and ensure that the norm is understood by civil society, academics, politicians and the media, as well as other relevant actors. To stay up to date on WFUNA’s work with UNAs all throughout the world, be sure to visit their website.

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Filed under CivSoc, Human Rights, ICRtoP Members, Prevention, RtoP, Spotlight Post, UN