Category Archives: ICRtoP Members

#RtoPWeekly: 6 – 10 March

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New Evidence Suggests Saudi-led Coalition Endangering Civilians with Use of Banned Cluster Munitions in Yemen

New evidence this week collected and corroborated by Amnesty International indicates that the Saudi-led coalition has continued the use of banned cluster munitions in Yemen. In the most recent strike using the inherently indiscriminate weapons systems, the Saudi-led coalition is believed to have fired multiple bomblet-laden rockets into residential areas in the city of Sa’da, injuring two civilians and causing material damage. The attack was the third such attack using Brazilian made ASTROS II surface-to-surface cluster munitions documented by Amnesty International in the country.

Cluster munitions are weapons that scatter multiple smaller explosive sub-munitions over an expansive area with indiscriminate effects. Cluster munitions are additionally problematic as sub-munitions frequently fail to detonate upon landing, but remain live, effectively creating de facto minefields. The inherently indiscriminate nature of cluster munitions makes them a dangerous threat to civilians and most of all children. Civilians accounted for 92% of cluster munitions casualties between 2010 and 2014, half of whom were children. Due to their nature as weapons inherently harmful to civilian populations, cluster munitions were banned by the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), which has been ratified by 100 states.

Neither Brazil, Saudi Arabia, nor Yemen are party to the CCM treaty however that does not free any of the parties from their lawful obligations to protect civilians from harm and refrain from the use of indiscriminate weapons or attacks under customary international humanitarian laws of war. As such, the Saudi-led coalition’s use of cluster munitions in crowded cities and populated areas could conceivably constitute war crimes.

Cluster munitions from other countries of origin have also been used by the Saudi-led coalition in attacks that have caused civilian casualties. Last year it was uncovered that some of the bombs being utilized by the Saudi-led coalition were British-produced BL-755 cluster munitions sold and exported prior to the UK’s self-imposed unilateral ban on the weapons and before its ratification of the CCM. The United States, which remains opposed to the CCM and has refused to sign the treaty, has also provided Saudi Arabia with cluster munitions and other arms in multi-billion-dollar arms trade deals. US manufactured bombs were used in several strikes causing civilian casualties last year, including a strike on a mosque that reportedly killed a 15-year old boy and a reported strike on a fishing village.

In 2016, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented at least 16 attacks on populated areas using ground or air launched cluster munitions in Yemen, killing and wounding dozens.  The attacks were part of the broader campaign of the Saudi-led coalition that has killed nearly 800 civilians in 58 unlawful airstrikes, according to HRW. In January the UN announced that the total civilian death toll from the conflict in Yemen broke 10,000.

*** Please note that there will be no RtoPWeekly 13 – 17 March due to the opening of the 61st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women at UN Headquarters in New York. However, we will resume publication with an update on these events and the crisis situations around the world the following week, 20 – 24 March. 


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DPRK
DRC
Iraq
Kenya
Libya

Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sri Lanka
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen


Burma/Myanmar:

On Thursday, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to create an international Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate serious human rights violations in the country. The 47 members of the Council, which is currently holding its main annual session in Geneva, could adopt a resolution establishing the CoI before the session ends earlier this month.

Amnesty International and twelve other international human rights organizations submitted a joined letter to the Council last Friday in support of the recommendation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and Ms. Lee, to set up a CoI to investigate the alleged violations in Rakhine state during the security forces’ “clearance operations”, which, according to the 3 February 2017 OHCHR report, may “very likely” amount to crimes against humanity. The letter adds that previously established commissions on the issue have failed to investigate the alleged human rights violations.


Burundi:

On Saturday, thousands of people gathered in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, to protest against UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the facilitator in the inter-Burundian crisis, William Mkapa. The government of Burundi wrote a letter to the UN Security Council (UNSC) claiming that the Secretary-General’s recent report on human rights violations in the country contains some unconfirmed facts.
Victims of the 2015 crisis in Burundi decided they are ready to collaborate with the International Criminal Court’s Commission of Inquiry and give their testimonies on what happened.
Later in the week, international and Burundian NGOs urged the UNSC to impose targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes against individuals responsible for ongoing serious human rights violations in Burundi. Human Rights Watch has claimed that the Burundian government is obstructing the UN Security Council and others, such as the African Union, which should “compel the Security Council to take strong action”.


Central African Republic:

The UN peacekeeping mission in the CAR has openly warned a rebel movement from impeding humanitarian access, claiming that any threat to civilians and peacekeepers is considered a war crime. According to Human Rights Watch reports, new armed groups have recently been emerging in the already volatile CAR.

According to aid agencies in the CAR, clashes between armed groups in the town of Bambari could soon escalate to into a “full-blown” conflict, resulting in thousands of civilians being forced to flee from their homes and triggering a humanitarian disaster. A new court in the CAR will work in tandem with the International Criminal Court to seek accountability for grave human rights violations committed in the country.


DPRK:

The International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have expressed their support for the latest reports of a group of independent experts on accountability for human rights violations in North Korea and have called for the immediate application of the recommendations of the experts. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW, added “The North Korean government and its leaders should face justice for their crimes against humanity, which continue to this day.”


Democratic Republic of Congo:

The Congolese government transitions continue to be delayed with the government again claiming that elections are too expensive and the country cannot financially afford them. The European Union (EU) warned the DRC that it will impose more sanctions if political and military leaders keep stalling or if they block a deal with the opposition. These sanctions would include freezing assets of officials and imposing travel bans on those involved in human rights abuses, inciting violence, and/or obstructing peace in the transfer of power. In December, the EU and the United States issued sanctions when a clash left 50 people dead.

Sexual violence has been on the rise in the DRC, with over 3,000 complaints received in 2016, versus 2,414 in 2015. However, this increase can be perceived as a positive step for the reporting of such acts, as it is said to be justified by the increase of the involvement of the military in addressing cases of rape. Rape victims are now feeling more comfortable filing complaints.

Later in the week, it was reported that the DRC has rejected the call from the UN to further investigate civilian killings in the central Kasai and Lomani provinces, stating that they are already conducting investigations which have included the findings of three mass graves claimed by militiamen from Kamwina Nsapu.


Iraq:

Iraq’s Interior Ministry has reported that 14,000 people fled western Mosul on Thursday, 3 March, amounting to the largest wave of internally displaced people (IDPs) since the US-backed operation in the city was launched on 19 February.

Also on 3 March, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reported that about 15,000 children have fled the city of Mosul, where government forces continue to fight the Islamic State (ISIL). The UNICEF Regional Emergency Advisor, Bastien Vigneau, said that the agency is providing immediate aid to children arriving from Mosul at the Hamam al Alil camp, 20km away from the city. Moreover, he underlined that, since the military operations against ISIL began on 17 October 2016, at least 874 unaccompanied or separated children have been identified.

On Sunday, heavy clashes between Iraqi forces and ISIL in western Mosul brought the number of people fleeing the fighting up to 45,000. Amid this spike in displacement figures, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is setting up new camps and expanding existing ones to shelter new arrivals. The newly opened Chamakor camp is ready to receive 6,600 people, according to a spokesperson of the UN agency. Currently, the UN has reported that there are 211,572 Iraqis displaced by the fighting in Mosul, excluding the 50,000 people already displaced since the military operations were launched.

Moreover, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, visited the Girls and Women Support and Treatment Centre in Dohuk Governorate, in northern Iraq, where she met with survivors of rape and other abuses committed by ISIL. In calling for a multipronged approach from the global to the local levels to aid the survivors and their families, Ms. Bangura has discussed the need for such support with political and religious Kurd and Iraqi authorities.

On the ground, the military situation has evolved rapidly, with Iraqi forces moving deeper into western Mosul and edging closer to the Grand Nouri mosque, where the ISIL’s “caliphate” was proclaimed in July 2014. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has flown to the city to congratulate the troops, whose progress “has eclipsed the expectations of battle planners”. The Head of the elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) said on Thursday that the 100,000-strong array of Iraqi forces aims to push back ISIL militants from Mosul within a month.
As the US-led Iraqi military offensive to retake the western part of the city continues, the humanitarian coordinator for the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, Lise Grande, said that up to 450,000 people are expected to arrive to the camps in the following days. She warned that there may not be enough space to accommodate all those fleeing their homes.


Kenya:

The Kenyan government signaled this week that it may withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), after arguing that the ICC is biased against Africans.


Libya:

On Tuesday, the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that fighting between rival people-smuggling gangs on Libya’s coast has killed 22 sub-Saharan Africans and wounded more than 100 people. These deaths come in addition to the 140 bodies found on Libyan beaches earlier this year, while there have been 477 deaths at sea on the route from Libya to the European Union.


Mali:

The peace process in Mali has been impeded as tensions continue to escalate between rival armed groups within the former rebel alliance, which is party to the 2015 peace agreement. Factions of the group have criticized the administration selected as the interim authority in Timbuktu and have prevented the installation of the interim authorities. Forces reportedly surrounded the city on Monday, preventing entry or exit. Witnesses also reported sporadic gunfire throughout the day. Timbuktu, along with other northern cities Kidal and Gao, is set to have an interim authority to pave the way for an election once the peace has been restored and the security situation has been stabilized.

Despite these setbacks, the UN, the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the European Union (EU) congratulated the parties to the peace process for recent progress and urged them to continue with diligent efforts to resolve the obstacles in the region around Timbuktu. Additionally, the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) is reportedly hopeful and has claimed that internal displacement in Mali could be resolved by the end of 2017 so long as there is not a resurgence in violence.

An attack on a military base killed eleven Malian soldiers in the most recent attack in the escalating campaign of violence by terror groups in the country seeking to interfere with the peace process.The process and the multi-actor peacekeeping forces may soon be under increased threat from the extremist groups in the country who have reportedly merged into a single organization and pledged allegiance to the leadership of Al Qaeda. The new group, comprised of formerly separate organizations, such as Ansar Dine, al-Mourabitoun, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has reportedly taken the name Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, which translates to Support of Islam and Muslims. It is yet unknown how this group plans to respond to the progress in the peace process made last week with the beginning of joint patrols. The announcement of the merger has caused some of Mali’s neighbours to take increased concern with the security situation in the country and Niger has reportedly declared a state of emergency in regions near its border with Mali out of fear of potential spillover.

The frequent recruitment and use of children as armed combatants and suicide bombers is becoming an increasing concern for peacekeeping operations and tempering the interest of prospective contributors of peacekeeping forces. The government of Canada, who has previously expressed interest in meaningful engagement with UN missions in Africa and who has been pushed by France to replace the contribution of Denmark that ended in December with 600 soldiers and 150 police, is reportedly re-accessing the idea of deploying forces to take part in the Mali mission due to concerns over the situation posed by child soldiers.


Nigeria:

Just days before the visit of the UN Security Council (UNSC) led by Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, Permanent Representative of the UK to the UN and President of the UNSC for March, three suicide bombings believed to have been orchestrated by the Boko Haram insurgency targeted a gas station in Maiduguri, destroying several fuel tankers. While the only casualties were the bombers themselves, one elderly woman, one teenage girl and a teenage boy, their deaths mark more lives taken by Boko Haram’s strategy of coerced suicide bombings that often target women and girls for forced recruitment. According to the Group Foundation for the Defence of Democracies (FDD), 123 women and girls have been used as suicide bombers, many against their will, by Boko Haram since the beginning of the group’s female bomber-based terror strategy in 2014. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Boko Haram has kidnapped around 2,000 women and girls since 2009, subjecting them to rape, slave labour, and forced marriages.

Documents reportedly obtained by British media outlets reveal that the Nigerian government under former President Goodluck Jonathan rejected an offer by the UK to rescue the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls in 2014. In a mission named Operation Turus by the Royal Air Force, British planes conducted aerial reconnaissance over Nigeria for several months charting the movement of Boko Haram. The RAF reportedly had located the girls within the first few weeks and had gathered enough actionable intelligence to mount a rescue mission but the offer to rescue the girls was reportedly rejected by the Nigerian government under then-President Goodluck Jonathan. As of today 195 of the 276 girls remain missing. Former President Jonathan formally denied the allegations through a statement issued by his media aide on Sunday.

The Nigerian military also found itself denying reports this week when spokespeople issued a statement disputing the findings in Amnesty International’s yearly report for 2016. Amnesty has accused Nigerian military and police for the use of excessive force and unlawful killings against pro-Biafra activists.

Ambassador Rycroft’s delegation stated after their visit to the countries in the Lake Chad Basin, which included a stop in Maiduguri, that the only viable long term solution for peace and stability in Nigeria was through development. The UNSC ambassadors met with women sheltering in a camp of roughly 7,000 displaced persons who recounted the killings of their husbands and the abuse they had suffered at the hands of Boko Haram insurgents. Inadequate security for women and girls means they are still frequently victimized if they leave the camps.


South Sudan:

A South Sudanese opposition (SPLA-IO) official has said that SPLA-IO troops clashed with pro-government forces in Eastern Equatoria state after the latter allegedly attempted to attack their base. Lieutenant General Thomas Cirillo Swaka, a former army general who quit his position last month, announced he has formed a new anti-government rebel group, emphasizing resistance to the rule of incumbent President Salva Kiir.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, claimed that thousands of South Sudanese people will starve unless relief workers gain access to vulnerable populations and funds are increased. According to the UN, South Sudan’s government is blocking food aid and restricting UN peacekeepers. South Sudan has also increased the cost of aid work permits to $10,000, despite the fact that it is the first time the world has experienced such large scale famine in six years. On Monday, emergency food aid rations were dropped in famine-stricken areas of the country by the World Food Programme. About 1.5 million refugees have fled the fighting and famine in South Sudan to its neighbouring countries, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Thursday.

According to a recent report released by the UN Commission of Human Rights on Monday, South Sudan is experiencing ethnic cleansing and is on the verge of genocide. The UN Commission on Human Rights has stated that there has been a massive increase in human rights violations in the recent months and has called for further investigation. Villagers have accused government soldiers of going on a rampage in Oming area this week. However, Imatong State’s’ governor denied any of these allegations.


Sri Lanka:

The United Nations has criticized Sri Lanka’s “worryingly slow” progress on accountability for war crimes committed during the country’s civil war, which ended in 2009, during which thousands of Tamil civilians were killed by the country’s military. As serious abuses appear to remain widespread, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has called for accountability and justice in order to achieve a lasting peace.


Sudan:

Amnesty International has maintained its call for investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Sudanese military in Darfur. Amnesty has called on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to launch a formal investigation into the alleged use of the illegal weapons on the civilian populations within Sudan.

On Thursday, President Omar al-Bashir pardoned 259 imprisoned rebel fighters in a move the president’s office claimed was intended to foster an environment for a lasting peace agreement. Three days prior, a spokesman for the army confirmed reports that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N), the rebel group that has been engaged in open conflict with the government forces in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions since 2011, had released 127 prisoners. The military spokesman called the move positive progress in the process towards peace.


Syria:

The Geneva peace talks have achieved some concrete results during last week. After the government delegation claimed that the High Negotiation Committee (HNC) opposition group was holding the talks “hostage”, as they disagreed over adding terrorism amongst the other items on the agenda. On Friday, the UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura announced the conclusion of the intra-Syrian talks, having secured a finalized agenda for another round to be held later this month. The opposition delegation has accepted the addition to the already existing three items on the agenda – the creation of an accountable government, the draft of a new constitution, and UN-supervised free and fair elections – an additional one related to strategies of counter-terrorism, security governance, and medium-term confidence building measures.

Meanwhile, the Russian-backed Syrian army said on 3 March it has recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra from the Islamic State (ISIL), after the terrorist group seized the city for the second time in a year during a surprise advance in December 2016. ISIL had already been driven out from Palmyra eight months before.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Sunday that more than 66,000 people have been forced to flee fighting in northern Aleppo, ravaged in recent weeks by dual offensives on ISIL. An Al-Jazeera’s reporter, Natasha Ghoneim, said that in Gaziantep, on the Turkey-Syria border, there was a “growing humanitarian crisis”.
On Monday, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed mainly Kurdish group, have cut the last main road out of Rappa, the de-facto capital of ISIL, “completing the encirclement of Daesh by land”, a Kurdish military source said.

On Thursday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights said the US-led coalition launched airstrikes that killed 23 civilians, including eight children, in the countryside around the northern city of Raqqa. The warplanes struck the village of al-Matab, the Observatory underlined, adding that many air raids has also targeted areas east of the city. Moreover, the World Health Organization (WTO) has warned about the impact of these attacks on medical facilities and staff, adding that the country’s healthcare system is collapsing due to ongoing fighting.

Also on Thursday, a senior Trump administration official said that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to host a 68-nation meeting in Washington on 22-23 March, in order to discuss strategies to fight the Islamic State.


Yemen:

The UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) was able to, for the first time since the beginning of the conflict,  deliver eight tons of medical supplies to the beleaguered medical facilities in Yemen’s third largest city, Taiz. The WHO estimates that 350,000 people are in current urgent medical aid in Taiz. The city has been besieged by rebel Houthi forces for nearly two years, causing shortages of food, water, and medicine and forcing the closure of 37 of the city’s 40 hospitals. The import and transportation of much needed supplies into Yemen, which is 90% reliant on imports for food and fuel, has been hampered by commercial ship fears of attack and the destruction of many of the port city’s key infrastructures.

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Filed under Burma, Burundi, CARcrisis, DRC, Human Rights, ICRtoP Members, Kenya, Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Peacekeeping, Post-Conflict, Prevention, RtoP, Security Council, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, United States, Weekly Round-Up, Yemen

#RtoPWeekly: 20 – 24 February

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

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

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

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

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

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


Catch up on developments in…

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


Burundi:

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

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

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


Central African Republic:

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


Democratic Republic of Congo:

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

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


Gaza/West Bank:

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


Iraq:

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

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

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


Libya:

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


Mali:

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


Nigeria:

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

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

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


South Sudan:

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

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

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

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


Sudan:

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

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

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


Syria:

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

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

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


Yemen:

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


What else is new?

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

 

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

#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: 12 – 16 September 2016

Untitled
ICRtoP Releases Summary and Educational Tools on
2016 UNGA Dialogue on RtoP

On 6 September 2016, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) held its eighth annual informal, interactive dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P) at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The dialogue followed the August release of the UN Secretary-General’s (UNSG) eighth, and final, report on RtoP entitled, “Mobilizing collective action: The next decade and the responsibility to protect.”

68 Member States and one regional organization delivered statements on behalf of 95 governments. The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, represented by Mr. Gus Miclat of the Initiatives for International Dialogue, as well as three ICRtoP members –The Global Centre for R2PThe Asia-Pacific Centre for R2P, and The Canadian Centre for R2P – delivered interventions. Over the course of the dialogue, Member States reaffirmed their commitment to RtoP and supported the Secretary-General’s vision for mobilizing collective action. In doing so, Member States supported a variety of initiatives to overcome current barriers to implementation. Echoing past dialogues, but with increased support, 37 Member States as well as the European Union (EU), collectively representing 59 States, spoke of the need for veto restraint. This concern manifested itself through support of either/both of the complimentary initiatives led by the governments of France and Mexico, and the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group (ACT). Many States as well as the Group of Friends of RtoP (GoF) and EU also proposed ways in which the UNGA could support RtoP in the coming decade, calling for a new UNGA resolution on RtoP and/or the formalization of the dialogue on the UNGA agenda. Emphasizing the title of the report, 11 Member States and the GoF called for the next UNSG to prioritize RtoP, with many others highlighting the need to further mainstream the norm. Finally, many Member States made note of the changing landscape of the past-decade, citing the rise of non-state actors in the commission of mass atrocity crimes as well as the continued disregard for international law, with many calling for ensuring accountability for perpetrators and more support for the International Criminal Court.

The ICRtoP has produced a number of educational materials about the UNSG report and UNGA dialogue, including a summary of both the 2016 report and dialogue, an infographic highlighting the major themes raised in the meeting, and an updated page on the UN and RtoP, which includes information on all UNGA dialogues.

View the ICRtoP’s summary of the UNSG report here.
View the ICRtoP’s summary of the UNGA dialogue here.
View the ICRtoP’s infographic highlighting key themes here.
View the ICRtoP’s UN and RtoP page here.
To read interventions delivered at the UNGA dialogue, visit here.


Catch up on developments in…

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


Burma/Myanmar:

Aung San Suu Kyi made visits to leaders of the United Kingdom and United States this week, including a meeting with British Prime Minister, Theresa May on Tuesday, and US President, Barack Obama, on Wednesday. In her meeting with PM May, the two discussed British support for the people of Burma, with the Prime Minister expressing concern of the commission of human rights abuses by Myanmar’s military. After her meeting with President Obama, which marked her first visit to the country since her party’s electoral victory, the US President announced that he is prepared to lift American sanctions on Burma due to the further democratization of the country in past months. However, a senior US official said that some sanctions would remain in place, such as an arms ban, “in order to ensure that the military remains a partner in the democratic transition.” Human rights organizations haveurged the US to maintain such military sanctions until the military and its allies respect human rights and democratic norms.


Burundi:

It was reported on Thursday that a former army officer and his family were killed as a result of a grenade attack, with local residents stating that the attack may have resulted from the former officer’s links to the government.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

Late last week, the DRC released eight pro-democracy activists and 170 other prisoners, some of which were found guilty of “insurrection, acts of war and political offences,” according to the ministerial release order signed by the country’s justice minister. The government’s release of the prisoners was in response to opposition parties’ demands as a pre-condition for their participation in the dialogue taking place in the capital. However, on Monday, opposition parties walked out of the talks after the government proposed that local elections should occur before presidential elections, claiming that their stance on the order in which elections will be held is non-negotiable. A government spokesman said that such an act is only a negotiating tactic and that the dialogue is not over.

The UN mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, reportedly rescued another 268 people from a national forest in the country’s northeast. Riek Machar, South Sudan’s main opposition leader fled South Sudan into the DRC after fierce fighting in Juba and over 750 of his supporters have followed him across the border. Officials are concerned over the stability of the region with the arrival of Machar and his supporters as the DRC government currently has limited control over its restive border regions and heavily depends on MONUSCO for security assistance. South Sudan has accused MONUSCO of supporting Machar in the conflict and have condemned the UN mission’s actions.


Gaza/West Bank:
 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a video late last week that claims Palestinians want to “ethnically cleanse” the West Bank of Jews, and that Jews would be banned from living in a future Palestinian state. Palestinians have denied these claims and US officials have condemned the Prime Minister’s accusations. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also expressed that he was disturbed by the PM’s statement that opposition to the Israeli settlements is “tantamount to ethnic cleansing.”

On Thursday, the Israeli air force carried out strikes on three Hamas locations within the Gaza Strip after a rocket was fired into Israel on Wednesday. Later that day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon referenced the attacks, warning that leaders on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “do not serve the cause of peace.”


Iraq:

As the Iraqi military prepares for an offensive on Mosul, ISIL’s defacto capital in the country, the US has announced it will provide up to $181 million in humanitarian aid to assist with the expected consequences of the military action. The United Nations anticipates that up to one million people will flee their homes as a result of the offensive, which is expected to launch as soon as next month.

The US also announced that Iraqi forces, with the support of the US-led Coalition, have retaken almost half of the land previously held by ISIL.


Libya:

The British Foreign Affairs Committee released its report on Wednesday following an investigation into the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya.The report found that the launch of the military intervention was based on “inaccurate intelligence” and “erroneous assumptions.” Furthermore, the report asserts that the British government, under then-Prime Minister David Cameron, “failed to identify that the threat to civilians was overstated and that the rebels included a significant Islamist element,” which contributed to the political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal (warfare), humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations and the growth of ISIL in North Africa.”

On Tuesday, Martin Kobler, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya,warned that although political space has opened up in the country, political divisions among the parties to the conflict are worsening. He added, “Today more than ever, strong action is needed to convince Libyan stakeholders to build institutions that are open, participatory and able to address the needs of all of its citizens.”


Mali:

Unidentified gunmen killed three soldiers and injured two others late last week in an ambush near the town of Boni in the Mopti region of central Mali.


South Sudan:

The Sentry released a groundbreaking report following its investigation into the networks led by President Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar, in which the organization found a link “between systemic corruption and violent conflict, including the mass atrocities committed during the civil war.” The report’s findings indicate that those in power and leading these networks have amassed tremendous wealth as a result of rampant corruption, with officials financially benefiting from the continuation of the war and humanitarian crises that have erupted as a result.

The government of South Sudan has responded to the release of this report by threatening legal action against the organization, with the presidential spokesman stating that there will be steps taken to sue The Sentry. Action has also been taken against national newspaper, the Nation Mirror, allegedly for having published information on the report. The prominent paper has since been shut down, with no indication on how long this will last and causing increased concern for media freedom in the country.

Mercy Corps has stated that, unless humanitarian support is drastically and urgently increased, an estimated 40,000 people will be at risk of dying in Unity State from starvation that has been fuelled in part by the ongoing conflict in the country. In addition to those at risk of death, an estimated 4.8 million are directly impacted by the hunger crisis.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council held consultations on Wednesday to discuss the status of the Regional Protection Force, with Member States expressing concern over recent statements made by members of the South Sudanese government that went against commitments to the force. The Council met with President Kiir while in South Sudan earlier this month, and agreed to a joint statement that expressed acceptance of the force. Some governments stated at the 14 September UNSC meeting that if this commitment is not upheld then the Council must consider stronger measures, such as an arms embargo. The same day, it was reported that President Kiir stated that the UN was working to support his rivals as UN actors assisted in the transportation of Riek Machar to receive medical care, and thus the organization was “not part of the solution.”

On Thursday, the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan expressed its concern for the state of human rights in the country, including harassment and intimidation of civil society and journalists, and the commission of sexual violence against civilians.


Sudan/Darfur:

Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir is set to visit Shattaya, a locality in which 150 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have reportedly recently returned to their homes.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has reported 298 new Sudanese arrivals last month in South Sudan, bringing the year’s total to 9,291 so far. Around 90 percent of the arrivals were women and children.


Syria:

On Monday, a nationwide ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia took effect in Syria at 7.pm. local time. This is the second such attempt by the global powers this year. The ceasefire is an attempt to allow badly needed humanitarian aid to reach previously cut off populations and, if the ceasefire holds, the US and Russia plan to begin coordinating efforts targeting the Islamic State (ISIL) and Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, formerly called Jabhat al-Nusra, who are not included in the truce. Prior to the ceasefire, neither the Syrian government forces nor any of the rebel groups had formally declared to respect the agreement, but representatives from both sides indicated that they would. However, at the deadline for the cessation of hostilities, the government said it would respect the ceasefire, but maintain the right to defend itself from attack.

Only a few hours before the ceasefire took effect, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a public appearance at a mosque in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus which was recently recovered from rebels after a four-year siege. While there, he promised that the government would take the land back from “terrorists” and rebuild Syria.

On Tuesday, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, lauded the “significant drop in violence” in the 24 hours following the start of the ceasefire. He said, “Sources on the ground, which do matter, including inside Aleppo city, said the situation has dramatically improved with no air strikes.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that it had not received any reports of any combatants or civilians killed by fighting within any of areas the regions where the ceasefire is in effect.

By Wednesday, even with the successful holding of the ceasefire, no humanitarian aid had been delivered to Aleppo due to a lack of security guarantees. The UN attempted to negotiate for the safety of 20 aid trucks and their drivers. Mr. Mistura said, “There is always in these cases attempts to politicize humanitarian aid. So the government has been putting some conditions which I will not elaborate on and the opposition—at the receiving end in eastern Aleppo—have been putting some conditions.” He added that the deliveries would only be made when those conditions were met. By late Wednesday night, the US and Russiaannounced a 48 hour extension of the ceasefire, as UN officials continued to negotiate for the security of the aid convoys. However, within less than 24 hours, US and Russian officials accused their counterparts of violating the ceasefire agreement. Nonetheless, reports of relative calm continued from Aleppo and other areas covered by the truce, while aid convoys remained halted at the Turkish border on Thursday, continuing to await security guarantees.


Yemen:

The UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen declared that he “remains deeply disturbed by the unrelenting attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure” in the country, this statement coming after a Saudi-led coalition strike on a well killed 30 civilians last Saturday. It was said that the attack occurred after the machinery being used by workers drilling for water was mistaken for a rocket launcher. In addition to those civilians being killed by direct fire, photos have shown the horrific impact the war has had on children as 1.5 million are facing malnutrition according to UNICEF.


What else is new?:

Dr. James Waller, Academic Programs Director for the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation will hold an event on Thursday, 29 September in New York City to promote his newest book, entitled Confronting Evil: Engaging in our Responsibility to Prevent Genocide. The event will take place in room 1302 of the International Affairs Building at Columbia University from 12-2pm. If you would like to attend, please send a short RSVP tojack.mayerhofer@auschwitzinstitute.org to confirm your attendance.

The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies will be holding a conference entitled, “Assaulting Cultural Heritage: ISIS’s Fight to Destroy Diversity in Iraq and Syria” on 26 September. To learn more about the event, including how to register, click here.

 

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The challenges of engaging national governments with RtoP and atrocity prevention: confessions of a British RtoP advocate

By Alexandra Buskie, Policy and Advocacy Manager, United Nations Association – UK. UNA-UK is a Steering Committee Member of the ICRtoP.

 

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Over the past 4 years, the United Nations Association – UK (UNA-UK) has been working on a dedicated policy and advocacy programme “to strengthen understanding, support and leadership for the Responsibility to Protect principle in the UK’s policy, parliamentary and public arenas”. This has been no small ambition. Engaging the UK Government on RtoP and atrocity prevention has represented huge challenges and success has been difficult to measure. What follows is a reflection on these challenges, how we have sought to respond to them and what we have counted as incremental steps towards a stronger national engagement with the principle in practice.

Challenges

First is the challenge of outreach and understanding; RtoP is written in the UN’s vocabulary.  If you are trying to explain it to someone who does not have the basic level of knowledge of what you mean by “an international principle”, then you are in for a long ride. Learning about RtoP means memorising a sea of acronyms, jargon and historical development, when really; the end goal of the principle is pretty obvious: to stop the organised massacre of people before it begins and respond appropriately if you are too late. RtoP is also still misunderstood as referring solely to military intervention. No matter how many times RtoP advocates say it is not, this is still the prevailing belief. “Military intervention” provokes more interest than “capacity building” and people find it simpler to debate. This is a huge obstacle to getting real discussion on how to implement RtoP properly, particularly in the public realm, but also in the UK parliament and in some major humanitarian NGOs.

Second is the substantive challenge of getting RtoP and atrocity prevention into the national policy vocabulary. Being an RtoP advocate in a Western national context can sometimes feel a bit like being a violinist turning up for a brass band rehearsal;  you can be good at playing but no one quite understands why you are there. Haven’t we already supported the RtoP principle? Isn’t this a UN thing? Aren’t we already doing conflict prevention and stabilisation? Making the argument that the UK should seek to uphold RtoP in its national and foreign policies and be a visible leader on this issue has been a slog. The UK’s focus has been on fostering and encouraging international support for the principle amongst UN member states; i.e. keeping up the momentum. There is nothing wrong with that. But at some point, encouraging others isn’t  enough. How are you setting an example? Are you walking the talk? Can you share lessons from your experience to help others? This mind-set has been difficult to cultivate for RtoP at the national level due to the persistent lack of clear case studies and evidence of what has worked for others.

Third, and building on the last, is the policy challenge of demonstrating RtoP’s value added. What proof do you, as an RtoP advocate, have that the government is not doing enough to support the norm? This is not really a challenge unique to RtoP but to policy and advocacy more generally. The UK is supportive of RtoP at the UN (in both the Security Council and the General Assembly) it has an RtoP Focal Point, and the Government is a major funder of the Joint Office of the Special Advisers for Genocide Prevention and RtoP, as well as the Global Centre for RtoP. What more should it be doing? How should it be doing it? What evidence do you have that it is not doing it, under a different name, like the protection of civilians or preventing sexual violence in conflict? This has been the most significant challenge for UNA-UK in its work on RtoP. It’s all fine and well to say the UK should mention RtoP and atrocity prevention in its national policy, but what difference does that, or should that, really make to how the government implements policy?

Response

These challenges have developed over time in the same order as they are described above. As a result, the content of UNA-UK’s programme has shifted, first focusing mostly on outreach and improving knowledge and understanding, then moving to the more substantial policy questions.

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A view of the Elizabeth Tower. Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament.

Our first response was to try to educate and raise awareness. We produced features and guides on RtoP that unpacked the three pillars and gave examples of what they meant in practice. I toured the UK, speaking at universities and local UNA groups from Exeter to Aberdeen. We monitored parliamentary debates online in order to gauge the level of understanding in parliament (low), then published a parliamentary briefing and held meetings in parliament with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the UN that sought to give parliamentarians more detail.

We also led small-scale campaigns asking our supporters to sign onto advocacy letters to the Government, requesting information on the work of the RtoP Focal Point or on the UK’s approach to protecting the Rohingya in Burma. We lead a longer-term campaign on UK foreign policy in the lead up to the elections and encouraged our supporters to input to a public consultation the new Government’s National Security Strategy. All of this included a call to implement RtoP at the national level, citing this as a way for the UK to strengthen its global role.

In order to respond to the second challenge and demonstrate that RtoP and atrocity prevention should be part of our national policy discussions, we commissioned reports, convened expert roundtables and looked to the example of other states. Some felt that RtoP had turned into a “toxic brand” at the UN after Libya, so we went to New York to hear from the horses’ mouths. We took a cross-party parliamentary delegation to Washington, talked with those involved in the establishment and day-to-day working of the US Atrocities Prevention Board and tried to learn from their experience.  All this has been an attempt to provide the evidence that the UK should be a leader and an example internationally, matching best practice by identifying atrocity prevention as a core national interest.

But as a civil society organisation, we can only go so far, which is why the third challenge is so tricky. Only the Government can properly assess how its policies are taking the need to prevent atrocities into account. We are calling for a cross-Government review that would evaluate the UK’s capacity to identify and respond to the threat of atrocity crimes. However, I can understand why the government is hesitant on this request. The UK is working hard to integrate its foreign, development and defence policies through the creation of a National Security Council, it has a strong track-record on supporting human rights and has been a key architect in identifying peace and justice as a core part of the Sustainable Development Goals. Is this not already a successful approach to atrocity prevention? What evidence is there that the UK would have acted any differently towards a country at risk of atrocity crimes in the past, had it mentioned the words “atrocity crimes” or “RtoP” in its policy documents? These are counterfactuals that are difficult to prove without more in-depth studies.

Measuring success

…is probably the biggest challenge faced by policy advocates in any field. For the RtoP programme, we set ourselves some clear policy goals, arguing that the Government should:

  • acknowledge publicly and in relevant strategies that preventing atrocities is in the national interest, ensuring that policy is geared to support RtoP and atrocity prevention goals;
  • ensure that indicators on genocide and atrocity crimes are incorporated into early warning systems, country analysis and policy formation;
  • improve cross-departmental action on RtoP by reviewing capacity to prevent and respond to atrocity crimes, including by implementing best practice for the RtoP Focal Point.

NSSSo far, we can claim small steps towards these goals. The UK’s 2015 National Security Strategy (NSS) referred to using “UN mechanisms, such as the Responsibility to Protect” to drive global change and uphold International Humanitarian Law. This was a big improvement on the last NSS, which did not include a reference to RtoP at all. We believe the Government is actively thinking about how to continue to strengthen its early warning systems. Parliamentary interest in RtoP has also increased. The House of Lords held its first-ever debate on RtoP last year and there has been an rise in the number of parliamentary questions in both Houses relating to the Government’s approach to atrocity crimes prevention. The work of NGOs on atrocity and genocide prevention, such as Protection Approaches and Waging Peace, has also picked up, proliferating and building on the message that the UK should be a leader on this issue.

As one of the few NGOs working on RtoP in the UK over the past few years, I feel that we can claim some impact on this shifting attitude towards RtoP from something solely in the purview of the UN, to a principle that should be considered nationally too. There is still much work to be done. Disagreements remain, particularly around the extent to which an atrocity prevention policy lens has an impact or adds value. As advocates for building international and national capacities to prevent the worst crimes imaginable, we need to focus on impact over nomenclature and on value-added over name-checks. National efforts will be a lot more robust if we build a publicly-available pool of case studies that demonstrates, from the strategic level in capital to the field, that thinking seriously about atrocity prevention makes a real difference to the protection of human rights and to people’s lives.

 

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Infographic on Atrocity Prevention Networks

Our latest infographic showcases the various atrocity prevention networks that exist, including the R2P Focal Points Network and the Latin American Network on Genocide Prevention. Learn more below.

 

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Learn about National Mechanisms to prevent atrocity crimes

In our second infographic to honor Genocide Awareness Month, learn about what countries in the Great Lakes region of Africa are doing at the national level to prevent atrocity crimes.

 

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Read the full infographic here.

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#R2P10: What Can Your Organization Do To Advance the Responsibility to Protect in 2015?

As part of the #R2P10 blog series, ICRtoP has prepared an infographic detailing ways that civil society organizations interested in advancing the Responsibility to Protect can use the 10th anniversary of its adoption as an opportunity to mobilize support at the national, regional, and international levels to strengthen approaches for the prevention and response to mass atrocities. Read on below! (click the image for an enlarged view).

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RtoP at 10 What do you think of our advocacy points? Have anything to add? What is your organization doing to mark the 10th anniversary of the Responsibility to Protect? Let us know by commenting below, or reaching out to us on Twitter  and Facebook. Also, be sure to check out our updated ‘Civil Society and RtoP’ educational tool  for suggestions on how CSOs can directly contribute to upholding protection obligations. 

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#R2P10: Reflections on the Responsibility to Protect at 10, Part 1: A Norm for Our Times

The following is the first entry in ICRtoP’s new ongoing ‘RtoP at 10’ blog series. The series invites civil society and academic experts to examine critical country cases, international/regional perspectives, and thematic issues that have been influential in the development of the norm over the past 10 years, and that will have a lasting impact going forth into the next decade.

Below is the first of a three part introduction  courtesy of Dr. Alex Bellamy, Executive Director of the Asia Pacific Center for the Responsibility to Protect. In part one, Dr. Bellamy provides an overview of RtoP’s normative development before delving into the “Unfinished Conceptual Work” that remains. Read on to learn more.

 

A Norm for Our Times

Few ideas have travelled further, faster, than the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). In the ten years since its adoption by world leaders at the 2005 World Summit, RtoP has become a central part of the way we think about, and respond to, genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Whatever one thinks of its merits, it cannot be said that RtoP has failed to make itself relevant.

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Rwandans fleeing the genocide to neighboring Tanzania in 1994. UNHCR Photo.

RtoP has progressed farthest in its normative development. In its first ten years, the principle has established itself as a political norm. Today, we expect that states will protect their populations from the four atrocity crimes and are critical of them when they fail. Equally, we expect that the international community will do whatever it can to protect people from atrocities when their own state manifestly fails to do so.It was not always thus.

In the 1990s, the UN created a “Protection Force” for Bosnia that was not mandated to protect civilians and drew down its forces from Rwanda when genocide struck; in the 1980s, the international community was absent entirely when the Guatemalan government unleashed genocide on the Mayans; and in the 1970s, the international community sanctioned Vietnam for ending the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia that had claimed the lives of a quarter of that country’s population.

Today we expect better. More than two-thirds of the UN’s Member States voted to “deplore” the UN Security Council’s failure to protect Syrians from the tidal wave of abuse and mass killing that has afflicted their country since 2011. RtoP has appeared in more than thirty UN Security Council resolutions, in resolutions of the General Assembly’s third and fifth committees as well as its plenary sessions, in a series of informal Assembly dialogues and in Human Rights Council resolutions (see them all here). Over the course of these debates, conceptual uncertainty and determined opposition to RtoP have been gradually whittled away, replaced by a now broadly held understanding of what RtoP is that commands the support of a significant majority of states from every corner of the world.

That RtoP has largely won the battle of ideas about whether the community of states should protect populations from atrocity crimes, and the most appropriate framework for doing so is evident not just in the avalanche of resolutions and government statements, but in practice too. The international community is foregrounding the protection of populations like never before. In addition to referring to RtoP in the context of comprehensive resolutions addressing protection crises in countries such as Libya, Cote d’Ivoire, Darfur and Yemen and resolutions condemning atrocities and reminding actors of their responsibilities, as in the case of Syria, the UN Security Council has begun to specifically task its operations with the job of helping states to protect populations in countries such as South Sudan, Mali and the Central African Republic. Sometimes, as in efforts to prevent the escalation of violence in Kenya and Guinea, or to prevent its recurrence as in Kyrgyzstan, RtoP has proven to be one of the major catalysts for international action.

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What is the Responsibility to Protect? Click the infographic for a full view.

The principle also played a central role in elevating international attention to the chronic protection crisis in North Korea, to the point where, for the first time, the UN’s General Assembly, Human Rights Council and Security Council are all now seized of the issue. Shining a light on the crimes committed by that government and its agents has not only prompted that government to make some concessions, it has also made it more difficult for others to support it. There are unverified reports that late last year China handed a small group of North Korean refugees not back to Pyongyang, as has been its policy, but to the authorities in South Korea. If true, that would be a significant change of heart. Such progress on the human rights situation in the North Korea was unthinkable just a short time ago.

Together, these developments have made states more aware of their protection responsibilities. They have also made it less likely that perpetrators will “get away” with committing genocide and other atrocity crimes and more likely that the international community will take measures to protect vulnerable populations.

But having established itself as an international norm, RtoP now faces the challenge of making more of a difference to people’s lives, more of the time. As a practical doctrine, RtoP will be judged not on its ability to inspire warm words and comfortable resolutions but on the extent to which it helps bring real improvements for vulnerable populations. It already has been associated with a more resolute international attitude towards mass atrocity crimes. For example, the international community has not recoiled from Mali and the CAR, despite deliberate attacks on peacekeepers there, and in late 2012 the UN decided to open its gates and protect imperiled civilians in South Sudan.

At the same time, the dramatic rise of internal displacement, the Security Council’s failure to respond decisively to the tragedies in Syria and Sri Lanka, the international community’s inability to hold Libya together, and ongoing crises in South Sudan, Darfur, and the DRC that daily threaten the civilian population, remind us that there is no room for complacency. We need to redouble our efforts to implement what states agreed in 2005.  To do that, in the coming decade we will need to address the unfinished conceptual, institutional and operational work of building RtoP.

 

Unfinished Conceptual Work

Experience in the first ten years has revealed the need for the further conceptual development of RtoP. First, and perhaps most importantly, there is the question of non-state armed groups. As agreed in 2005, RtoP is a state-based principle, yet it has become painfully clear that in many parts of the world the principle threat to civilian populations comes not from states but from non-state armed groups such as the “Islamic State”, Boko Haram, the Lord’s Resistance Army and al-Shabaab.  The picture is further complicated by the fact that non-state armed groups can also sometimes play significant roles as protectors of civilian populations, as the Kurds’ stoic defense of Kobane recently demonstrated.  Not only do we need to further clarify the relationship between RtoP and non-state armed groups, we should also elucidate carefully the operational relationship between atrocity prevention and doctrines associated with counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency.

Isis fighters, pictured on a militant website verified by AP.

Islamic State fighters pictured on a militant website verified by AP. AP File.

This brings us to a related set of questions posed by extremely violent societies where the boundaries between “normal” or “everyday” violence and atrocity crimes are blurred. In these contexts, which include societies where violence linked to organized crime is so common that rates of violent death exceed those recorded in countries experiencing civil war and those where sexual and gender based violence is so endemic as to stretch our capacity to record it, the multiplication of individual crimes amount to patterns of violence not dissimilar to crimes against humanity. The relationship between RtoP and endemic violence needs to be carefully examined but there seems to be a prima facie case for thinking that, at the very least, efforts to reduce endemic violence ought to be considered part of RtoP’s agenda for prevention.

A third set of outstanding conceptual questions relate to the individual responsibility to protect. Thus far, RtoP’s common currency has been the collective: the state’s responsibility to protect; the international community’s duty to assist and take timely and decisive action when needed. Yet these collectivities are comprised of individuals and the courses of action they follow are determined by individual choices. Atrocities occur because military and political leaders choose to authorize them and armed individuals choose to commit them. Sometimes they might choose not to. The international community responds effectively to these crimes because officials choose to highlight them and political leaders choose to invest material and political capital in prevention and response. Equally, of course, they may choose not to. By their actions, countless bystanders can make it easier or more difficult for targeted individuals to survive.

Ultimately, like all social norms, whether RtoP becomes a daily “lived reality” depends on whether individuals in all parts of the world choose to make it so. In the face of genocide and mass atrocities, everyone – and not just those in the affected areas – has a choice to make about whether to employ their talents to help protect others, whether to stand aside in ambivalence, or whether to assist the perpetrators.  RtoP establishes a moral imperative for individuals to do what they can to protect others from atrocities. We need to better understand individual decision-making, the varied contributions that individuals can make, and the factors that push them in these different directions. Civil society should figure large in this work.

 

Be sure to check out Dr. Bellamy’s Reflections on RtoP at 10,  Part 2: Unfinished Institutional Work for insight on RtoP’s formalization into international and regional mechanisms for atrocity prevention. 

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Civil Society Reflections on the Sixth General Assembly Dialogue on RtoP

On September 8, 2014, the UN General Assembly held its 6th annual informal, interactive dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect and the thematic issue of Pillar II international assistance. The following day, the ICRtoP Steering Committee also met for its annual meeting. Blog and Social Media Coordinator Matthew Redding sat down with some of our Steering Committee members, including Alex Bellamy, Executive Director of the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (APCR2P), Donald Deya, Chief Executive Officer of the Pan-African Lawyer’s Union (PALU) and current Chair of the ICRtoP Steering Committee, and William Pace, Executive Director of the World Federalist Movement- Institute for Global Policy (WFM-IGP) to get their unique perspectives on the General Assembly dialogue.

 

Regional Voices

In the wake of the dialogue, the ICRtoP was fortunate enough to obtain reflections on common themes and key statements from Steering Committee members representing diverse regions of the globe. With APCR2P’s focus on promoting RtoP in the ASEAN region through initiatives such as the High Level Advisory Panel on the Responsibility to Protect in Southeast Asia, Alex Bellamy highlighted some developments seen from these member states. 20140908_162219

 “We’ve definitely seen stronger participation. In past years, we’ve had a difficult time persuading member states to participate. ASEAN states usually haven’t been forthcoming and now they’re expressing their views. This year we had 5 of 10, which is I think the highest number we’ve had. Of those, Indonesia, Philippines, and Thailand were incredibly strong. They were as strong a supporter of RtoP as any European or any other proponent of RtoP would be.

In regards to Indonesia, Bellamy noted their reaffirmation that “…they’ve always been supportive of RtoP, that they’re a champion of it, and that they are firmly committed to it.”  On Thailand’s statement, he drew particular attention to the mention of “…the empowerment of women and the importance of gender perspective,” while enthusiastically recalling that “The Philippines also had a strong endorsement of RtoP and expressed their desire to move the agenda forward towards implementation.”

On a less positive note, Bellamy referred to Malaysia’s statement, which showed that “Malaysia is cautious, it’s always been cautious. It’s concerned about things like conditionality, its concerned when it sees what it perceives as attempts to expand the concept. There was no movement in what Malaysia said this year from last year and the year before that…so we need to spend more time engaging with Malaysia.”

However, this was tempered with a reminder of the importance of Myanmar’s participation, “Myanmar was the 5th to contribute and I think it’s a really good sign. The following day, their legal advisor attended the launch of the High-Level Report on Mainstreaming RtoP in Southeast Asia and said that this [RtoP] was now customary international law. So Myanmar accepts the principle, but of course, there are all sorts of issues regarding their political transition – specifically in relation to the Rohingya situation, where there is deeply embedded discrimination against that group…It’s really encouraging that Myanmar is participating and it just shows how well embedded RtoP is becoming. It’s not surprising that they’re cautious, but it reminds that we still need to engage them more.”

Representing an organization that works closely with the African Union on legal and human rights issues, Donald Deya of PALU expressed somewhat mixed views on the African participation in this year’s dialogue.

Deya recalled that “In previous years the African Union Mission to the United Nations has made a statement, so I was disappointed to see that this year they did not.” Deya compared the absent AU presence with the strong European Union statement he believed the AU should have also delivered, given the large number of RtoP cases located on the African continent.

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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivering his remarks at the opening of the GA dialogue.

He also added that he would have liked to see more statements from African countries in general, particularly from Kenya “…which is one of the areas in which the international community’s RtoP intervention has been successful.”

However, Deya was sure to mention that he was happy with the few African countries that did make statements. For example, when recalling Cote d’Ivoire’s  comments, he asserted that it was “…very useful, and of course their acknowledgement that assistance has been important from the international community in terms of pillar I and pillar II was also welcomed.”

 

RtoP Implementation at the UN

An important aspect of RtoP’s evolution is how it is prioritized and applied by the major organs of the UN, in particular the Security Council and the General Assembly. Speaking on behalf of the WFM-IGP – an organization that works tirelessly to improve the effectiveness of these bodies to ensure they better serve the world’s peoples – Bill Pace reflected on RtoP’s development at this level:

 “I am optimistic from the GA [General Assembly] meeting that governments are taking RtoP more seriously every year. This includes the Security Council, in spite some of the controversies over misuse, selective application, or inappropriate enforcement.”

Pace noted that there is certainly room for improvement given these controversies, and added that:

“Over the next decade, I hope the democracies of the UN system will continue to press the permanent and elected members of the Security Council to do peace enforcement and peacekeeping on a much more efficient, and non-selective level. In that regard the permanent members of the Security Council must be pressured to refrain from using the veto in situations where mass atrocity crimes under international law are being committed.” Encouragingly, the dialogue provided Pace with some hope, as he stated, “I am personally optimistic that the General Assembly and the Security Council are moving in that direction.”

 Importantly, he provided a reminder that next year will be the 10th anniversary of the 2005 World Summit and mentioned that, “The assessment we will be doing at the UN and within the GA may result in RtoP moving from an informal dialogue into a more formal agenda item that may be discussed and have a resolution every year.” He added that the Coalition would be actively involved in efforts to strengthen RtoP within the General Assembly.

 

General Reflections

Each interview concluded with some general thoughts on the dialogue, including some stand-out statements, and speculation on what the event means for RtoP moving forward. Bellamy singled out Iran as a surprisingly “fantastic” statement, noting that:

Iran has contributed before and has always been broadly supportive, though cautious. The positive thing about Iran’s statement is that there was no caution at all. This might be because of the subject matter and that international assistance is less controversial than pillar III and pillar I, but I think it’s also a sign that the consensus on RtoP is getting more deeply embedded.”

Bellamy also reflected on the evolving consensus and deepening shared understanding of what RtoP is, “A couple of missions talked about sequencing, but not very many and certainly much fewer than the year before. Also, nobody was disputing what RtoP is, what the three pillars are, what crimes it related to, or what the development mechanisms are.”

Bellamy ended with a couple of positive observations, concluding that “…now the debate really is shifting to this question of implementation, or what to do in practice, and not what the principle is and whether or not the Assembly is committed. Even Cuba and Venezuela have toned it down in terms of their comments, and I think this shows that there is a consensus and that the debate is indeed moving forward.”

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ICRtoP Steering Committee in discussions with the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng.

Deya agreed with Bellamy on several points, noting that, “…there has been progress in the sense that a couple of years ago the level of suspicion and even outright hostility was quite palpable, and the number of states expressing these sentiments was quite high. But a lot of the skepticism has changed to support, even if it is conditional support.” 

He also agreed that consensus is deepening, stating that“…there is a sense of resignation where there is no longer a question of whether RtoP exists at the UN or the community of states. It’s more or less a comment on how we can do it better.” Deya also made note of the softening stance of traditional opponents such as Cuba and Iran, agreeing that Iran’s statement in particular was “quite positive.”

Additionally, Deya made an important point on the increased involvement of civil society, observing that “one of the things that has happened under the current joint office and the two current Special Advisers [on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect]  is that they have given more scope to civil society.”

As a sign of this progress, he recalled that there was “…more opportunity to address the interactive debate than ever before, with 4 civil society organizations that were allowed to speak.” Perhaps more importantly, he also noted “…the whole process of being consulted extensively by Dr. Welsh on the drafting of the Secretary-General’s report and the mobilization of the Coalition and its members is very positive. “

Pace recalled a different statement as being particularly notable. He expressed that there had been worry over Russia’s position, given current hostilities in Ukraine. However, ultimately he believed that the Russian statement “…was actually much better than expected.”

Pace’s concluding thoughts were a poignant way to summarize the dialogue. He took note of the broad participation from roughly 70 countries, some of which spoke for up to 28 countries in their region. He called the day-long event “quite an achievement” that demonstrated “growing political will,” evident in the diminishing number of skeptics in the General Assembly. Pace then provided a solemn reminder that the goal of RtoP and its measures under the various pillars is to bring about a reality where mass atrocities are an exception, rather than the rule and where application of the norm is a non-issue.

 

A detailed overview of the dialogue and a full listing of member state, regional and civil society statements are available via the ICRtoP website.

The opinions expressed in these interviews are those of the individuals featured, and do not represent the position of the ICRtoP.

 

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