Category Archives: Kenya

#RtoPWeekly 1-5 May

Human rights issues to be reviewed at UN Human Rights Council

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

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

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

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


Catch up on developments in…

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


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

Burundi:

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


Central African Republic:

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

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

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


Cote d’Ivoire:

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


Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:

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


Democratic Republic of Congo:

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


Kenya:

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


Libya:

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

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


Mali:

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


Nigeria:

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


South Sudan:

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

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

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


Syria:

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


Yemen:

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

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

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

#RtoPWeekly: 24 – 28 April 2017

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ICRtoP releases new infographic on the situation in Burundi

Burundi Infografic

The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) continues to mark Genocide Awareness Month with a series of infographics and blog posts with updates on current crisis situations from around the world.

This week, the ICRtoP has released a new infographic on the situation in Burundi. This document provides an overview of the country’s past conflicts and the impacts that history, ethnic tensions, and key actors within the country and throughout the international community have on the situation. With this infographic and all of ICRtoP’s educational tools, the ICRtoP seeks to contribute to the goal of strengthening awareness of and action on atrocity prevention.

To view the latest infographic on the situation in Burundi, please click here.

To view all of ICRtoP’s educational tools, please click here.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DRC
Iraq
Kenya
Libya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen


Burma/Myanmar:
On 24 April, the Burmese government and the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S) sought to agree on a venue for a national-level political dialogue in Shan State. Public political dialogue is a mandatory step of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), which seeks to end the ethnic-based conflict in the state. As of now, the groups have been unable to come to an agreement.

Burundi:

Civil society organizations within Burundi have urged all of the country’s exiled citizens to organize protests from 26 April onward against egregious human rights violations occurring in the country, including an increasing amount of extra-judicial executions and forced disappearances. Organizers of the protests have stated that citizens within Burundi cannot take part for fear of being killed or tortured.


Central African Republic:

On 20 and 21 April, the government of the Central African Republic held talks with representatives of 14 armed groups in an effort to speed up disarmament. The move is unprecedented for the country, as CAR has been plagued by violence for years. According to the head of the disarmament process for the UN peacekeeping mission in Central Africa (MINUSCA), progress has been substantial and the National Plan for Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) has been outlined in detail.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report released on 21 April, children in the Greater Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are being severely impacted by the extreme violence occurring there. More than 1.5 million children are at risk of death or injury, with about 600,000 already displaced from their homes. According to the UNICEF representative in the DRC, hundreds of children have already been targeted, with several reports of the detention, raping, and execution of underage civilians.

The DRC’s government has released a video to reporters that shows members of the Kamuina Nsapu militant group executing the two UN investigators whose bodies were found in Kasai-Central province last month. US citizen Michael Sharp and Swedish national Zaida Catalan were investigating reported mass graves in the DRC and were explicitly told in the video that they would be led to the graves, yet were executed by the militant group instead. The UN has stated that it is “utterly horrified” by the video.


Iraq:

On Sunday 23 April, Islamic State (ISIL) fighters attacked a police base in Hamam al-Ali, 30km from Mosul, killing at least three policemen. Reporters from a local television channel said that at least two suicide attackers entered the facility before detonating their payloads.

Meanwhile, civilians are finally returning home in Mosul, as Iraqi forces retake neighborhoods from ISIL in the western part of the city. However, water shortages continue to plague those portions of the city, and UN humanitarian partners have begun to truck water in during the past few days. Emergency food and hygiene supplies have been distributed to families close to the front lines, but the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq is currently only 17% funded out of its $958 million goal, and therefore more financial help is needed in order to reach civilians.

On Tuesday 25 April, the Turkish government launched airstrikes against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters in northern Iraq and northeast Syria, killing at least 24 people. The attack was launched in order to prevent the group from sending “terrorists, arms, ammunition, and explosives to Turkey,” according to a government statement. Fighters from the PKK, Rojava Defence Units (YPG), and Peshmerga group were all killed in the attack.


Kenya:

Kenya’s ruling Jubilee Party will again seek to formally select candidates for elections in August. Last week’s primaries were plagued by conflict, violent protests, and accusations of ballot rigging, resulting in the party postponing the elections. The government of Kenya has promised to take “decisive action” in order to halt the increased violence over the primaries, but did not specify what that action would entail.


Libya:

Italy has brokered a diplomatic breakthrough in regards to finally putting an end to the political violence in Libya. The meeting, overseen by the Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, has for the first time brought together the presidents of the Libyan House of Representatives, Ageela Saleh, and the Libyan State Council, Abdulrahman Sewehli.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has unsealed an arrest warrant for Libya’s former security chief, Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled. The ICC is accusing him of carrying out war crimes and crimes against humanity against opposition forces fighting the country’s former leader, Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011. The Court’s prosecutor said that prisoners across Libya were subjected to beatings, electrocution, and acts of sexual violence and rape, which the prosecutor stated were consistent with a policy designed by the state to quash the political opposition. Khaled, the court stressed, had the authority to implement Gaddafi’s orders.


Mali:

On 24 April, the ICRtoP member International Crisis Group drafted an open letter to the UN Security Council regarding the security situation in Mali and the upcoming renewal of the UN’s mandate there. International Crisis Group includes several recommendations on how the Council can best adapt the current UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) to the evolving situation on the ground, including increasing the capacity of the civil and political divisions.


Nigeria:

Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) has accused Cameroonian authorities of forcefully repatriating Nigerian refugees, an action that violates international refugee laws and potentially puts the group at great physical risk. MSF insisted that Boko Haram insurgents were still active in the southeastern bordering regions of Nigeria to which the refugees had been forcefully relocated.

Meanwhile in northern Nigeria, Boko Haram has been blamed for two attacks on 24 April resulting in eight deaths. The suicide bombers comprised most of the casualties.


South Sudan:

Governors from 14 states in South Sudan, along with other government officials, held a peace and security forum aiming to strengthen security, enhance information sharing, and deploy joint security forces along “volatile… hotspot zones.” Andrea Mayar Acho, the governor of South Sudan’s Wau state, announced that the government is now taking drastic measures against the deteriorating security within Wau town.

The World Bank and the African Development Bank agreed to give South Sudan $106 million to pay for food imports in an effort to fight starvation in the country. Additionally, another food assistance package has been dispatched from Sudan to the needy population in South Sudan, including about 807 tons of food.

On 23 April, the human rights director for the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) stated that no one has been detained in connection to the recent violence in Wau town, where at least 16 civilians were killed and more than 23,000 have been displaced. The UNMISS human rights director also spoke out against the lack of accountability for crimes perpetrated during the ongoing conflict in South Sudan, stating that it remains one of the major challenges the country currently faces.

ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch expressed its concern about the lack of news on the fate of two South Sudanese activists who disappeared from Nairobi three months ago.

On 25 April, the US urged the Security Council to impose additional sanctions and an arms embargo on South Sudan. During the proposal, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley stated, “We must not wait for more deaths, more displacement, and more destruction before we have the courage to act,” suggesting an embargo would pressure South Sudanese authorities to end the civil war. Russia and China have opposed this embargo.


Sudan:

A report released by the Small Arms Survey earlier this month on the role of paramilitaries and militias in Sudan estimated that 46% of conflict incidents involved the targeting of civilians by political militias, with the greatest frequency involving pro-government groups.

New clashes between government militias and the Sudan Liberation Movement headed by Abdelwahid El Nur (SLM-AW) fighters broke out in Jebel Marra over last weekend. SLM-AW claims the fighting was the result of an offensive launched by government forces. Government planes allegedly bombed at least 15 villages, resulting in countless houses catching fire. Civilian casualties are as of yet unknown. A spokesman with the Darfur Displaced and Refugees Association called on the UN and associated humanitarian groups to immediately take action and pressure Khartoum to halt its aerial bombardment of villages in Darfur.

A former Janjaweed militia commander, who had been arrested by Sweden’s War Crimes Unit for crimes against humanity in early April, has reportedly provided testimony implicating the government in aiding and abetting the campaign of ethnic cleansing in Darfur carried out by the militias. In a piece released on Friday, Eric Reeves, a Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, called Darfur the most “successful” genocide in the past century, due in part to the continued problem of impunity for those committing the crime.

This past week, the Governor of South Darfur gave an ultimatum to the displaced persons residing in camps around the town of Gireida: accept annexation into the town or return to their previous home territories. Either option would end the residents entitlement to much needed humanitarian aid. Residents have rejected the ultimatum for legal reasons, arguing the annexation is tantamount to a land-grab by the government and its militias, as well for security reasons, noting that continued insecurity in their places of origin prevent their return.

On 24 April, the joint UN – African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) celebrated the completion of a nine year effort to clear Forobaranga locality in West Darfur of explosive remnants of war (ERW), which remain a significant risk faced by civilian populations, in particular children, even decades after the conflict for which they were used.


Syria:

On 21 April, the first phase of a civilian population transfer deal concluded after a two-day halt, with an added agreement to release hundreds of government detainees also completed, according to government news media and rebel representatives. A total of 8,000 civilians from the villages of Foua and Kefraya and almost 3,000 residents from the rebel-held areas of Zabadani and Madaya have been formally evacuated. The deal aims to transfer about 30,000 people from conflict-prone areas over a period of 60 days.

On Sunday, the Syrian army, boosted by Russian airstrikes and Iranian-backed militias, recaptured territories seized by rebels last year, including the town of Halfaya and other nearby villages. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that government troops began advancing into those areas when rebel groups withdrew following intense battles and airstrikes.

On Monday 24 April, the United States imposed sanctions on 271 employees of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center whom authorities deemed responsible for producing the chemical weapons used during the attack in Khan Sheikhoun earlier this month. Steven Mnuchin, the United States Secretary of the Treasury, said the sanctions will send a strong message that the US will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons by any actor, and that it intends to hold the Assad regime accountable for such “unacceptable behavior.”

On Tuesday, 25 April, a suspected US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) airstrike killed at least 11 people, including seven children, as they were trying to flee Syria’s northern Raqqa province, which was taken by the Islamic State (ISIL) in January 2014. Two days later on 27 April, an alleged Russian and Syrian airstrike was launched on several districts in Idlib province, killing at least 19 people, the Syrian Civil Defense group said.


Yemen:

ICRtoP member Oxfam International has called on donor states to increase the humanitarian funding being provided to Yemen in light of the burgeoning humanitarian crisis in the country. The agency also added its voice to the call against any escalation of conflict by either side, specifically a possible Saudi-led coalition military assault on the critical port city of Hodeidah. On Tuesday, a group of protesters reached the city after completing an over 200-kilometer and several-week march. The protest called for unrestricted aid delivery to Yemen and the protection of the port city as a humanitarian zone.

Numerous organizations have expressed great concern over the potential assault on Hodeidah, which may occur as early as the end of May, as it may very well trigger a famine in the surrounding provinces by cutting off a key point of entry for food and other aid. The Small Arms Survey has also reported that part of the Saudi-led coalition’s ground forces possibly taking part in the operation is comprised of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces, which has been implicated in numerous atrocities in Sudan. The group’s rumored involvement has led to concerns that the deployment of these “shock troops” will result in immediate harm and abuses of civilians in the city.

It is not confirmed with certainty when or how the assault on Hodeidah will occur, but anonymous sources inside the military reportedly told media that the assault would most likely begin with a heavy aerial bombardment to clear the way for ground forces. Both the Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition have made numerous statements indicating their intent to retake the city through force. The Yemeni government claimed on Wednesday that it had advised the UN to assume monitoring and supervision of the port, which would ensure weapons would not be smuggled into the country through the city, but government authorities reportedly received no clear answer from the UN regarding this tactic. The UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, reportedly told media on 26 April that negotiations are currently underway to shelter the port from attack and that the UN is hopeful to restart talks before the end of May.

Ahead of the High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Response in Yemen held in Geneva on Tuesday, the UN Development Plan (UNDP) called for “strong support from international partners to ease the suffering of the people of Yemen.” The UN convened the conference, co-hosted by Switzerland and Sweden, to address the urgent need of millions of Yemenis who are on the imminent brink of famine. In what Secretary-General Guterres called a “very encouraging signal,” the conference managed to solicit roughly half of the $2.1 billion needed from donor states when it drew $1.1 billion in pledges.

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

#RtoPWeekly: 3-7 April 2017

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

S Sudan Infografic image

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

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

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


Catch up on developments in…

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

Kenya
Libya
Mali
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen


Burma/Myanmar:

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

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

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


Burundi:

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


Central African Republic:

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


DPRK:

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


Democratic Republic of Congo:

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

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

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


Gaza/West Bank:

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

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

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


Iraq:

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

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

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


Kenya:

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

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


Libya:

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


Mali:

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

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


South Sudan:

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

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


Sudan:

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

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

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


Syria:

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

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

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


Yemen:

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

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#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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The Power of the Private Sector – An Untapped Source of Atrocity Prevention

The following is a guest blog written by Conor Seyle, Deputy Director of Research and Development at the One Earth Future Foundation (OEF). OEF’s ‘ Responsibility to Protect and Business’ program focuses on the under-appreciated role that the private sector can play in assisting the state and civil society actors in the prevention of mass atrocities. This blog explores this dynamic, with a focus on the relationship between the private sector and civil society organizations, offering some concrete recommendations for overcoming traditional barriers to cooperation for the common interest of preventing atrocity crimes.

 

For many working to advance the causes of peace and human rights, the idea of cooperating with the private sector is met with skepticism at best, and hostility at worst.  One illustration of this mistrust can be found in an article published in 2000, which spent eleven closely-argued pages describing the various ways that corporations could be complicit in human rights abuses.  Typically, this suspicion comes from both awareness of the way that corporations have contributed to human rights violations in the past, and a concern that businesses are profit-motivated to the exclusion of all else.  This analysis is unfortunately short-sighted.

It’s certainly the case that businesses are profit-motivated: Milton Friedman once famously declared that The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits,” but this self-interest can also lead companies to support peace and stability.  In particular, when considering the case of the crimes considered collectively under the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) and the enormous impact that these crimes can have on stability and economic activity, this provides a compelling reason why the private sector should be willing and able to play a role in reducing conflict and supporting peace.

These practical reasons are in addition to the very human pressures that business leaders will be under to support peace and the reduction of atrocities. The four mass atrocity crimes that are specifically called out under RtoP are seen to be among the most abhorrent. Many business leaders are likely to share the general agreement that anything that can be done to stamp them out should be attempted.

 

The Case of Kenya and other Precedents

One key example of private sector action is found in Kenya.  Following the post-election violence of 2007-08, in which intertribal violence led to more than 1,300 deaths, Kenyans were left deeply traumatized.  In addition to their personal shock, the reverberation of the crisis was also felt in the pocketbooks of Kenyans: GDP growth dropped by more than three quarters.  As a result, in the lead up to the 2012-13 elections, a number of Kenyan institutions began to strategize on what they could do to prevent a reoccurrence of conflict.  OEF interviews with members of Kenyan business and civil society have pointed to the key role played by the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA).

TrendsPerCapitaGDP-01

Laura Guibert and Gabriel Perez-Quiros, “Measuring the Economic Cost of the 2007/08 Post-Election Violence in Kenya,” https://editorialexpress.com/cgi-bin/conference/download.cgi?db_name=CSAE2013&paper_id=75

KEPSA members were interested in preventing a reoccurrence of violence for both personal and economic reasons, and as an umbrella association of private sector actors, KEPSA was able to take steps to prevent conflict as a collective force.  KEPSA organized a coordinated messaging campaign to promote a sense of a unified Kenya and to drown out any messages supporting factionalism.  In addition, KEPSA members participated directly in the politics of peace through legislative advocacy, supporting the country’s first public presidential debates, and through private diplomacy directed specifically at the presidential candidates encouraging them to support peace.

This illustrates several significant roles that private sector actors may be unusually well-suited to play in the prevention of RtoP crimes.  To the extent that business leaders in a country are seen as primarily profit-motivated, this projects a sense of neutrality and detachment from the underlying political dynamics of the conflict.  For similar reasons, public messaging campaigns and advocacy by private sector actors can add weight and legitimacy to an existing movement towards peace.  In addition, because of the key role of telecommunications in organizing modern conflict, telecommunications companies can have a more direct role to play: in Kenya, telecom giant Safaricom deployed a series of filters designed to block text messages with messages of hate and the incitement of violence.

At this point, many readers may respond with skepticism: if the value of businesses and business leaders is so obvious, then why aren’t they already at the table?  The fact is, many already are – in addition to the case of Kenya, a 2000 report by International Alert documented the role of the private sector in resolving conflict in South Africa, Northern Ireland, and the Philippines, as well as elsewhere.  However, this phenomenon is by no means widespread and universal.

A study of multinational corporations operating during the Israeli-Lebanon war found that many of the business leaders interviewed felt a real commitment to peace and an awareness of how damaging conflict was to their business.  The primary reasons they weren’t stepping forward to participate in peacemaking came down to three issues: a perception that it wasn’t their role, a perception that they wouldn’t be welcome at the table, and a sense that they didn’t know what they could specifically do to help.  In short, even the business leaders who wanted to do something weren’t sure they were welcome, and didn’t know exactly what they could do to help.

 

Civil Society’s Bridge-building Role

This suggests that there is a clear, and pressing, role for civil society organizations (CSOs) interested in peace and the prevention of mass atrocities: acting as a bridge between private sector actors and peacemaking processes.  There are a few concrete recommendations that we can make at this stage:

  1. Start to think of private-sector actors as partners.  Right now, the absence of private-sector entities in many peacemaking processes is a result of mutual confusion and inaction from both parties.  CSOs can help to fight this just by considering local industry and multinational corporations operating locally as stakeholders that should be reached out to.  One of the most important things CSOs can do is simply start to consider the idea that private sector partners will be valuable, and develop the necessary associated outreach.

 

KenyasSafaricomandPartners-textually.org

An advertisement for the peaceful public messaging campaign supported by Safaricom.

An important part of this outreach will be to develop concrete recommendations for what businesses can do.  While many companies are likely to be responsive to the idea that peace is supportive of their interests, they’re also likely to be just as much at sea about what they can do as many CSOs will be.  Consider several roles: history suggests that some of the most powerful roles are as a convener, direct engagement in private diplomacy, and public messaging campaigns to help develop peace movements.  However, these roles will need to be fit to the specific local context of the conflict: there’s no one-size solution to violence, and in the same way, there’s no one path for private-sector engagement.

 

  1. Work with and through business associations. The experience of KEPSA in Kenya illustrates the power of business associations rather than individual companies.  Many of the concerns of private-sector businesses have to do with a perception that they will be punished by the market or by competitors for time and money spent on things other than business activities, or a concern about getting involved in political activity outside their core interests.  Business associations neatly solve these problems: they are by their nature political actors already, and have the ability to be the face of a movement in a way that can allow individual businesses to play a positive role without worrying about the potential negative publicity that might accrue.

 

  1. Avoid the trap of thinking about the private sector only as a funder. The thief Willie Sutton supposedly said that he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is,” and it’s easy for civil society organizations to look at well-funded companies from the same utilitarian point of view.  Business leaders are used to being approached to invest in new projects, and they’re likely to look on new requests for funding with a jaundiced eye.  In addition, limiting their role to simply funders robs CSOs of the ability to tap into the diverse political and direct benefits that businesses can offer to peacebuilding.  CSOs interested in business engagement are likely to have significantly more impact if they focus on operations and activities that private sector entities can do instead of just treating them as funders.

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    Infographic courtesy of Andrea Jovanovic/One Earth Future Foundation

In some ways, bringing businesses into the fold as proactive contributors to peace and the prevention of RtoP violations will require a shift in thinking from both civil society and businesses.  I was at an OSCE workshop on peace in Ukraine in late 2014, and I asked one of the other attendees why there were only civil society organizations and not businesses in the room.  She gave me a quizzical look and replied “oh, those guys only care about making money.”

The idea that this is exactly the reason why they would want to help resolve the conflict as soon as possible hadn’t yet percolated through the discussion.  Changing that is an issue of changing cultures, which is never easy.  If it can be accomplished, though, then this could represent a new and major step forward in resolving potential and ongoing conflicts that are ripe for the commission of atrocity crimes.

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Filed under CivSoc, Elections, Guest Post, Kenya

All eyes on upcoming elections as Kenya works to prevent the recurrence of atrocities

The people of Kenya are just days away from casting their ballots on 4 March in the country’s first election since the 2007 presidential race which resulted in unprecedented ethnic violence, leaving over 1000 people dead and 600,000 more displaced.  A country with over 70 distinct ethnic groups – the five largest being Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Kalenjin, and Kamba – Kenya’s past elections have largely witnessed voting along ethnic lines. This year, eight candidates are running, among them Uhuru Kenyatta and his running-mate, William Ruto, both of whom have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their alleged role in the commission of crimes against humanity following the 2007 elections. While the Kenyan government has undertaken a range of measures to prevent a repeat of 2007’s deadly crisis, including the adoption of a new constitution to redistribute political power, the training of police and civil society to identify and monitor  hate speech, and educating the Kenyan population on the newly established electoral process , civil society organizations have raised alarm to the sizeable risk of violence that remains.  As several NGOs, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), have reported,  Kenya has already experienced election-related inter-communal attacks that left over 400 dead and upwards of 118,000 displaced during 2012 and early 2013.  This election, which is expected to be extremely close and require a second round, known as a “run off” (scheduled for 11 April), will prove a great test for the Kenyan government as it works to uphold its responsibility to protect its population from the recurrence of mass atrocities, as well as ensure a free, fair and transparent presidential race.

Kenya’s 2007 disputed election: a political and humanitarian crisis

SG Meeting

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre, head table), flanked by Kofi Annan (left, head table), former United Nations Secretary-General, and Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, participate in a meeting to end the two-week old deadly violence sparked by recent disputed results of the presidential elections, with the major parties to the conflict.
Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The presidential election of December 2007 swept Kenya into a wave of ethnically charged violence following the contested announcement of incumbent Mwai Kibaki as president over the predicted favorite to win, Raila Odinga. The declaration of Kibaki as president, followed by the swiftness of his inauguration a handful of hours later, triggered widespread and systematic violence characterized by ethnically targeted killings, which evidence later showed to be largely pre-meditated by politicians and community leaders. Crimes committed included crimes against humanity – one of the four crimes and violations that all governments, including Kenya, committed to preventing and halting when endorsing the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P). The international community acted rapidly to keep the volatile situation from deteriorating by deploying former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to serve as international mediator and head of the African Union Panel of Eminent Personalities.  The outcome of the Panel’s efforts was a power-sharing government that committed to address the long term issues and root causes of the conflict.

Pre-election preparation and reform: enough to prevent a repeat of 2007?

A range of preventive actions have been taken by the government, UN agencies, and civil society to prevent a repeat of the tragic violence that plagued Kenya five years ago.  Civil society and media representatives convened a forum organized by the Nairobi Peace Initiative – Africa and the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, in Nairobi in early February 2013 to share their work to ensure peaceful elections, and discuss the concerns surrounding the poll with the goal of generating a collective voice and strategy for civil society and media.  At the national level, Kenyan authorities have trained hundreds of police and peace organization representatives in monitoring media and speech to bring attention to hateful language that can incite violence.  With the support of translators the monitors can identify hate speech in a range of dialects and, through partnerships with phone service providers, track phone messages too.

Monitoring will be crucial to determine the election results so organizations like the Carter Center, the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda, and the Elections Observation Group, as well as the East African Community and the African Union, have dispatched teams to oversee the upcoming poll.

UN officials and agencies have been vocal and active as well, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calling on all leaders to “abide by legal mechanisms and to send a clear message to supporters that violence of any kind would be unacceptable.”  The Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Adama Dieng, was in Nairobi in early February where he recalled the responsibility of the Kenyan authorities to protect and noted the need to ensure a swift response by the international community to prevent a repeat of 2007.  His office was there to work with the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region to support Kenya’s National Committee on the Prevention of Genocide, which included holding a five-day workshop on RtoP and the prevention of inter-communal violence. To ensure that all preparations are underway in the event of displacement, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, created a humanitarian contingency, with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons calling on the government and international community to do everything possible to prevent massive displacement.

The government itself has adopted numerous reforms to create the environment needed for peaceful and fair elections and to address the country’s deep seeded grievances.  While these actions should be commended, remaining challenges and incomplete reforms have left many NGOs questioning if the government’s response will be enough.

Constitutional reform

Following a 2010 referendum, Kenya adopted a new constitution to prevent ethnically charged politics and check the power of the executive.  This has been done by giving greater power and resources to local political leaders through the creation of what International Crisis Group (ICG) calls a “new level of governance”– the establishment of 47 districts each with their own governor, senator and assembly. The government has also adopted measures to ensure full geographic (and therefore ethnic) support for the president-elect by creating new voting rules that require the winning candidate to receive more than half of all votes and at least 25% in 24 of the newly established counties.  While these new rules will serve to spread power and responsibility to a range of politicians, the majority of Kenyans have not received the information needed to understand the new Constitution and voting rules, as the Kenyan Human Rights Commission (KHRC) found in its report entitled Countdown to the March 2013 General Elections.  Through conducting polls and interviews throughout the country, KHRC’s research indicated that increased and continuous civic education is crucial “to secure an informed public for future elections.”

The devolution of presidential power is also meant to keep the nation from erupting into large scale violence; however the new counties and positions could very well create the likelihood for localized conflict.  This is in part due to the increased influence that local politicians will hold, which may lead “many local leaders seek to preserve the system of ethnic patronage that devolution was intended to remove.  As a result, the mobilization of ethnic grievances to garner political support remains rampant,” as the Global Centre for R2P (GCR2P) points out. These findings were echoed in ICG’s report entitled Kenya’s 2013 Elections, where the organization elaborates on how the constitutional changes can lead to risk of violence, stating that “although the new level of governance should give communities, including minorities, a greater say (…), it could also transfer political competition, violence and corruption down and create new minorities and new patterns of marginalization.”

Strengthening the security sector

Efforts were also undertaken to address the failures of the police to protect in the aftermath of the last elections. During the violent crisis, the government responded with excessive force, with Amnesty International (AI) recalling the role of police in “killing and injuring protestors and raping and sexually assaulting women and girls, particularly in opposition areas.”  The government subsequently established an ambitious framework which, as the International Center for Policy and Conflict in Africa noted, was meant to “establish and elaborate an effective system of democratic regulation and oversight of security services;” however, as AI points out, the framework has not been implemented to the fullest, and the capacity of security personnel remains an inherent problem, placing civilians at risk of violence yet again.

Little has been done practically to bring to justice those responsible for violent crimes committed following the previous election, and AI has stated that steps have actually been taken to cover up and politically manipulate cases against security personnel.  As a result, while conducting on the ground research, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has heard from countless Kenyans that “they view the police as ineffective and corrupt.” As the elections approach, police also remain understaffed and ill-equipped, with the Council on Foreign Relations reporting that the Kenyan force has about 70,000 police, “or roughly 160 per 100,000 residents, which is less than three-quarters of the 220 per 100,000 recommended by the United Nations.”  These forces will be stretched to their limits when tasked with patrolling the polling stations, which could exceed 40,000 nationwide.

Ending impunity

Upholding accountability for crimes committed during the 2007 election remains a critical challenge for Kenya, and one that has already had an impact on the elections.  HRW also pointed out that little has been done nationwide to arrest and prosecute civilians responsible for attacks on people and property, leaving those responsible for 2007 election-related violence free to repeat their actions.

At the government level, impunity has been stated to be at the heart of the 2007 crisis, with the final report of the Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence calling for the creation of a domestic special tribunal.  After two failed government attempts to establish the tribunal, Kofi Annan sent to the ICC the names of a dozen suspects deemed most responsible, leading to the opening of an investigation by the Court’s then-Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo.  From this investigation, six of the suspects, referred to in the media as the “Ocampo six”, were summoned to appear before the Court, ultimately resulting in the confirmation of charges for four of the “Ocampo Six”, including candidate Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto.  The ICC indictments have influenced the presidential campaigns with the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) reporting that some are describing the polls as “a referendum against or for the ICC”.  The indictments have also resulted in an unexpected political alliance with the formation of the Kenyatta-Ruto ticket, as the two men are Kikuyu and Kalenjin respectively, two ethnic groups which violently targeted the other in 2007. Civil society organizations, including the International Commission of Jurists-Kenya (ICJ-Kenya), the Kenyan Human Rights Commission (KHRC), and the International Center for Policy and Conflict, fought to keep Kenyatta and Ruto from running, arguing that their candidacy violated the integrity clause of the new Constitution.  The Kenyan High Court, however, disagreed, ruling that it would not intervene, ultimately giving the two men the green light to participate.  This ruling has led many to wonder about the practicality of a Kenyatta/Ruto presidency, with ICJ-Kenya noting in their report entitled If Uhuru Kenyatta or William Ruto is Elected President or Deputy President, that such a presidency would cripple the government because the country would be left with leaders who are unable to carry out their vast domestic duties due to repeated trips to the Hague.  As of 27 February, the trial dates remained up in the air as the Chief Prosecutor for the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, indicated that she would accept a postponement of the trials to August.  Kenyatta and Ruto had been slated to begin their trials on 10 and 11 April respectively, with 11 April being election run-off date.

What do these risks mean for the elections and the people of Kenya?

As FIDH notes, the pre-election environment has been “marked by political parties and alliances’ mobilization of the population along ethnic lines, the re-activation or creation of illegal gangs and militia groups (…), cases of civilians arming themselves as a preventive measures, the use of hate speech or inflammatory coded language by politicians, vernacular radio stations as well as through social media: in other words, all the ingredients that led to the 2007/2008 violence.”  But 2013 does not need to be a repeat of the cycle of violence that has plagued the country.  As put by ICG, “the people deserve better.  (…) they deserve the change to vote without fear and elect leaders committed to reform and ready to serve society as a whole rather than the narrow interests of elites.”

While the Kenyan government should be commended for the steps taken, more can certainly be done at the domestic and international levels to ensure free and fair elections and uphold the state’s responsibility to protect from mass atrocity crimes.  This can include publicly committing to respect election rules and, as KHRC’s research found, providing civic education about the electoral process.  As HRW recommends, the government can take direct measures through the deployment of police “in adequate numbers to areas of potential conflict and ensure that they perform their duties impartially and with full respect of the law”.  This point was echoed by the GCR2P, who also noted that state authorities should “warn all Kenyans (…) that they will be held responsible for inciting, aiding or perpetrating mass atrocity crimes.”  For actors at the regional and international levels, ICG has called on leaders to send messages urging against “political interference with the elections and especially against the use of or incitement to violence”.  These are just some of the many steps the government of Kenya and the international community can take to prevent the spread of post-election violence.  These preventive efforts drive at the very heart of RtoP, which not only calls for states to halt mass atrocities, but to protect from genocide, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing happening again.  The people of Kenya deserve the opportunity to elect a new president without the fear of mass atrocities; the time for preventive action is now.

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The RtoP and the ICC: Complementary in Prevention, Assistance and Response

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has delivered its first ever verdict with a finding of guilty in the case of the Prosecutor vs. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo on 14 March 2012.

In light of this, and with the ICC playing differing but integral roles in responding to mass atrocities in recent situations like Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, we’d like to expand on the relationship between the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) and the ICC. In this effort, we asked several ICRtoP member organizations, including the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists, Citizens for Justice and Accountability, the International Refugee Rights Initiative, and the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy to provide their reflections on the relationship.

The Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) are two interconnected initiatives that seek to ensure that the world responds to mass atrocities and hold perpetrators of these egregious crimes accountable. At their core, however, the RtoP and the ICC are complementary in seeking to prevent these crimes from occurring altogether.

Both the RtoP and ICC articulate the primary responsibilities of states. The Rome Statute of the ICC provides that it is the primary responsibility of national authorities to investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for the commission of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

George Kegoro, Executive Director of the Kenya Section – International Commission of Jurists, explains this further: “The ICC is a ‘court of last resort’ – that is, its mandate is to prosecute only when domestic avenues have been exhausted, and where a State is unable or unwilling to prosecute those individuals responsible for the gravest of crimes.”

Similarly, RtoP bestows the primary responsibility to protect civilians from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing – the four ‘RtoP crimes’ – to the state. As William Pace, the Executive Director of the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy (WFM-IGP), a founding Steering Committee Member of the ICRtoP and the Coalition for the ICC, notes, this synergy dates back to the march towards the creation of the ICC, as “RtoP emerged massively from the Rome Statute process – the same crimes, complementarity, national and international responsibility.”

However, as has been witnessed in countless situations, some states fail to uphold their obligations. In instances where states are willing but unable to protect populations, the second pillar of RtoP – international assistance and capacity-building – asserts that the United Nations (UN), its Member States, regional organizations, and civil society have a role to play in ensuring that those states receive the assistance necessary to assume their RtoP.

Similarly, the Assembly of States Parties of the ICC adopted a resolution at the May-June 2010 Kampala Review Conference which premised that the Court and its members, the States Parties to the Rome Statute, should provide the tools needed to assist states who were willing but unable to fulfill their Statute responsibilities. One such example of this was provided by Sulaiman Jabati, Executive Secretary of the Freetown, Sierra Leone-based Citizens for Justice and Accountability  (COJA), who said that the ICC should “expand its outreach activities in countries that have early warning signs for potential conflict.” In this sense, RtoP and the ICC are both complementary in calling for the provision for international assistance to ensure states uphold their primary responsibilities.

RtoP and the ICC are also complementary in instances where states are found both unable and unwilling to meet their responsibilities. The Rome Statute provides that when a state does not meet its primary obligations to prosecute individuals responsible for the commission of Statute crimes, it will ensure situations are investigated, warrants are issued, and those in its custody are prosecuted.

Similarly, when a state is found unable and unwilling to uphold its responsibility to protect civilians, the norm provides that the responsibility to protect those civilians yields to the UN and its Member States in cooperation with regional organizations.

Libya and Côte d’Ivoire: The ICC in the RtoP Toolkit

As the recent cases of Libya and Côte d’Ivoire have demonstrated, the Court is firmly engrained under RtoP’s third pillar – timely and decisive response – as a tool used to respond to situations where mass atrocities are threatened or have occurred, as well as to prevent further atrocities from being committed through deterrence.

In response to the situation in Libya, where the regime of the now-deceased Colonel Muammar Gaddafi committed widespread atrocities against civilian protesters beginning from 17 February onwards, the RtoP framework guided early and unprecedented action to avert further crimes against civilians. An ICC referral was one of the broad range of measures taken to halt the threat of crimes in this context.

On 26 February, the UN Security Council (UNSC) passed Resolution 1970, in which it referred the Libyan case to the ICC and imposed other non-coercive measures to respond to the crackdown. Pace calls the Resolution 1970, “one of the finest ever of the UNSC, and the process leading to the 15-0 decision [result of the vote] among the best examples of how the international community should maintain international peace and security.”

The investigation that ensued resulted in the indictments of Muammar Gaddafi, his son, Saif Gaddafi, and former intelligence chief, Abdullah Senussi, which were announced by the Court while the conflict raged on. But, as Dismas Nkunda, Co-Director of the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI), suggests, the indictments being made while Libya was in the midst of a conflict were problematic. “The arrest warrants before the fall of Gaddafi regime played into the discourse being propagated by the African Union,” states Nkunda, “that the ICC was more interested in trying African leaders,” than finding peace in the country.

Furthermore, Nkunda said the process raised serious concerns on the African continent about the independence of the ICC from the influence of the UNSC, particularly as, “the Libyan case was seen to be biased against one side of the conflict.” Disquiet over the impartiality of the Court has thus led to concerns over the selective application of the RtoP, Nkunda said, which may prove problematic for both the norm and the institution moving forward.

Despite these concerns, the Court remains actively involved in Libya. After Saif’s arrest in November 2011, the ICC has been engaged with Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) on the issue of his trial. It had been reported that the Court would allow Libya to try Gaddafi’s son, but as of 25 January 2012, no decision had yet to be made by the ICC.

As of November 2011, the Court remained involved in Libya as it continues to build its case against Saif Gaddafi and Senussi and investigates allegations that all parties to the conflict, including anti-Gaddafi forces, committed war crimes and/or crimes against humanity. The 2 March 2012 report of the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry into Libya, and its handing over of a list to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), Navil Pillay, of suspected perpetrators, could mean continued involvement for the Court moving forward as well.

The Court also played an important role in the response to the post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire between 28 November 2010 and 11 April 2011, during which widespread human rights violations and crimes against humanity were alleged to have been committed.

As the situation in the country intensified in March and April 2011, the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC warned on 6 April that an investigation could be triggered as a result of reports of widespread and systematic killings. On 4 October 2011, in the aftermath of hostilities, the ICC exercised its jurisdiction in the country and authorized an investigation into allegations of such violations committed by all parties to the conflict.

Months after his arrest on 11 April 2011, on 30 November 2011 former President Laurent Gbagbo was transferred to the Court – the first head of state to be in the custody of the ICC – and will stand trial for his in alleged involvement in crimes against humanity over the course of the civil conflict. It was also announced on 22 February 2012 that the Court would expand the scope of its investigation into the country to the 2002-2010 period.

According to Kegoro, while the initial involvement of the Court in Côte d’Ivoire (and Libya as well) was both appropriate and justifiable – in that it had an immediate effect of publicly championing an end to impunity and the promotion of the rule of law – the true impact of the ICC is at a, “fledgling state”.

Assessing how the ICC intervention has affected the prevention of further atrocities and regional stability and the peace will require on-going monitoring and evaluation, both during ICC trial processes and after the decisions,” Kegoro said. While he noted that prosecution of perpetrators of the most serious crimes can have a deterrent impact, “the societal implications of ICC interventions and decisions is something that will only be shaped and understood over time.”

Kegoro concluded by adding that, “The long-term impact of the ICC, especially on African nations, is something that needs to be carefully assessed,” particularly in the wake of the Court’s involvement and the implementation of RtoP in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire.

Peace vs. Justice?

As the ICC was involved in Libya during the conflict, but formally announced its investigation into the situation in Côte d’Ivoire only after hostilities had ceased, debate has arisen over the timeliness of the employment of the ICC as a tool to respond to mass atrocities under the RtoP framework. The debate also touches on a more general discussion of whether justice for victims of atrocity crimes can be pursued while attempting to secure a peaceful resolution to a conflict or vice versa. This is more commonly known as the peace vs. justice debate.

Both Jabati and Pace were unequivocal in stating that there can be no peace in any situation without justice for crimes committed. This idea spurred Jabati’s COJA, along with a number of other civil society organization’s present at the Kampala Review Conference, to push for the ability of the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor to prioritize conflict prevention in Africa through extensive outreach programs, highlighting the importance placed on justice in the pursuit of peace in cost-conflict settings, and in the prevention of violence altogether.

Pace argues against the premise that pursuing peace and accountability for international crimes at the same time doesn’t work, and says that there has been, “no peace strategy that has worked worse” than giving major combatant leaders amnesty and transferring them to a third country with personal and financial security. Instead, the WFM-IGP Executive Director stated that while each individual situation must be evaluated independently, the recent-year examples of Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, the DRC, and Colombia, “make the case that in many conflict situations introducing international criminal justice actually helps achieve and fortify peace.”

But, drawing on the specific example of Kenya, where the ICC opened an investigation on 31 March 2010 and is currently in the process of trying four individuals it has found responsible for the 2007-2008 post-election violence, Kegoro says that the country’s experience points to the fact that the “most practicable time for ICC intervention is in post-conflict situations.

However, according to Kegoro, this was a result of the fact that Kenya had only exhibited its unwillingness to prosecute perpetrators of violence well after it had subsided; thus the ICC had little role to play during the crisis. Therefore, he states that, “there may be a set of circumstances in the future where direct ICC intervention during an armed conflict is appropriate, or even required.”

Also drawing on recent examples, Nkunda sees both positives and negatives of the Court’s involvement during armed hostilities. With the Lubanga case, Nkunda notes that the Court’s engagement during the conflict in the DRC did have a positive impact on limiting crimes, specifically in raising awareness that the practice of conscripting child soldiers was contrary to international law and that such behaviour to could lead to the docket in the Hague.

In terms of negative implications, the IRRI Co-Director points to Sudan as a glaring example, where, “the unintended but expected consequences of the Court’s decision was the expulsion of humanitarian organizations [16 aid agencies operating in Darfur were expelled in early March 2009], which heavily impacted the lives of the very people – the victims – whom the Court was trying to protect.” Furthermore, in singling out individuals as direct perpetrators of the violence, as the ICC did with the indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and others in the context of the crisis in Darfur, Nkunda notes that the actions of the Court may have served to insulate one group to become, “more deadly, since they have nothing to lose.”

Our members’ insight, drawn from their experience working in the fields of international law and conflict prevention in unique national and regional contexts, shows that much depends on the complexities of the situation at hand, but that justice should certainly not come at the expense of peace.

Deterrence and the Need for Prevention

Jabati, Kegoro, Nkunda and Pace all touted the deterrent effect of the ICC on would-be violators of Rome Statute provisions, both in conflict and post-conflict settings. At times, however, the ICC itself may not be enough to halt ongoing mass atrocities in specific cases. In both Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, a wider array of measures became necessary to protect populations, including the use of force.

The present Syrian crisis, which has claimed as many as 8,000 lives since March 2011, continues unabated as the civilians remain victim to gross human rights violations at the hands of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.  Regional and international actors must uphold their Responsibility to Protect the population of Syria by employing additional measures to effectively end the continued “collective punishment”.

In addition to a range of measures to respond to the crisis, the ICC has emerged as a potential tool to respond to the crisis through the RtoP framework. Calls have been made on a number of occasions by UNHCHR Pillay, as well as by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, and civil society organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, for the Security Council to refer Syria to the ICC. To date, however, there have been no such moves to ensure justice for the victims of the crackdown through the ICC, and the killing has largely continued unabated.

Only when tangible steps are taken to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing from occurring altogether will this cycle of atrocity and reaction be broken.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon put forth two such preventive measures in his January 2009 report, Implementing the Responsibility to Protect, by urging Member States to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and to implement national legislation against atrocity crimes.

As the report reads, “The Rome Statute seeks to develop mechanisms and processes for identifying, investigating and prosecuting those most directly responsible for crimes and violations relating to the responsibility to protectI would encourage additional States to become parties to the Statute and thus to strengthen one of the key instruments relating to the responsibility to protect.”

But the Secretary-General noted that becoming a Party to the Rome Statute, along with other relevant instruments of international law, is just the first step in the full of the responsibility to protect. Consistent with the emphasis on the primary responsibilities of states by both the RtoP and the ICC, the Secretary-General’s report states that, “these core international standards need to be faithfully embodied in international legislation,” so that impunity for any of the four RtoP crimes is not accepted nationally or globally.

Taking these steps may ensure that states meet their primary responsibilities of protecting civilians by criminalizing the four RtoP crimes under both their domestic laws and their international obligations, and may work to realize their prevention altogether.

Please see the links below for the full statements by our members:

Statement by Sulaiman Jabati, Executive Secretary of Citizens for Justice and Accountability (Freetown, Sierra Leone)

Statement made by George Kegoro, Executive Director of the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists (Nairobi, Kenya)

Response by William Pace, Executive Director of the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy, Convenor of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), and Co-Founder and Steering Committee Member of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (New York, USA)

Statement by Dismas Nkunda, Co-Director of the International Refugee Rights Initiative (Kampala, Uganda and New York, USA)

Special thanks to George Kegoro, Sulaiman Jabati, Dismas Nkunda, and William Pace. A shorter version of this post was expanded upon for this blog, and will be appearing in the upcoming print edition of World Federalist Movement News.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in these individual responses prepared by our civil society member organizations do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect.

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Filed under African Union, CivSoc, Cote d'Ivoire, Human Rights, International Criminal Court, Kenya, Libya, Post-Conflict, Prevention, Regional Orgs, RtoP, Sudan, Syria, UN