Category Archives: Myanmar

#R2PWeekly: 15 – 19 August 2016

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

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

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

Read the Secretary-General’s full report here.

See the ICRtoP’s infographic on the report here.

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


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar

Burundi

CAR

DRC

Gaza/West Bank

Iraq

Libya

Nigeria

South Sudan

Sudan/Darfur

Syria

Yemen

 


Burma/Myanmar:

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


Burundi:

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


Central African Republic:

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

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


Democratic Republic of Congo:

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

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


Gaza/West Bank:

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


Iraq:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Libya:

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

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


Mali:

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

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


Nigeria:

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

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

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


South Sudan:

Developments in the fighting

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

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

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

Investigations into abuses and misconduct

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

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

Political developments

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

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

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

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

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


Sudan/Darfur:

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

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

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


Syria:

Developments in the Fighting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political Developments

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

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

The Humanitarian Situation

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

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

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


Yemen:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Filed under Burma, Burundi, CARcrisis, DRC, Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, RtoP, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Syria Ceasefire, UN, Uncategorized, UNMISS, Yemen

#R2P Weekly: 8 – 12 August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Catch up on developments in…

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

 


Burma/Myanmar:                           

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


Burundi:

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


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

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

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


Gaza/West Bank:

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


Iraq:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Libya:

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

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

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

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


Mali:

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

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

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

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


Nigeria:

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

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


South Sudan:

Political Developments

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

Developments in the Fighting

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

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

The Humanitarian Situation

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

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


Sudan/Darfur:

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

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


Syria:

Developments in the Fighting

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

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

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

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

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

The Humanitarian Situation

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

Political Developments

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

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


Yemen:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Filed under Burundi, DRC, Libya, Myanmar, RtoP, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, UN, Uncategorized, Yemen

#R2PWeekly: 23 – 27 May 2016

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

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

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

Read the full workshop report here.


Catch up on developments in…

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


Burma/Myanmar:

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

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


Burundi:

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

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

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

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


Central African Republic:

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

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

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


Democratic Republic of Congo:

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

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

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


Gaza/West Bank:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Iraq:

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

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

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

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


Kenya:

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

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

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


Libya:

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

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


Nigeria:

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


South Sudan:

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

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

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

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

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


Sri Lanka

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


Sudan/Darfur:

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

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


Syria:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Yemen:

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

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

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

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


What else is new?

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

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

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

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

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

Myanmar UN

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

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

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

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

 

Proposed Laws and the National Census Exacerbate Human Rights Concerns

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

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

 

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

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

Meiktila Mosque

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Responsibility to Protect in Myanmar

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

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

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

Police officers guard a Muslim residential area in Mandalay

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

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

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

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

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

 

Myanmar’s Democratic Transition: Entry Point for Assistance?

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

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

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Whose side is the government on? Targeting of the Rohingya in Myanmar/Burma Leaves Civil Society Demanding Action

On 3 June 2012, the killing and reported rape of a Buddhist woman followed by the massacre of ten Muslims traveling in Rakhine state marked the beginning of a series of violent attacks against the Rohingya communities, their townships and residents in Myanmar/Burma causing widespread destruction of Muslim neighborhoods, mosques and villages and massive displacement. Human Rights Watch‘s (HRW) report All You Can Do is Pray, documents a number of violent incidences against the Rohingya, a minority Muslim population that has long been discriminated against in Myanmar/Burma and the region, since the attacks; including government backed “crimes against humanity” committed against them during a campaign of “ethnic cleansing”. Despite the government appointed Rakhine Commission’s attempt to provide recommendations for improving the ethnic tensions between the Rohingya and the Buddhist populations in Myanmar/Burma, the report failed to effectively tackle the discrimination against the Rohingya. Instead, authorities continue to reinforce the segregation of this population through discriminatory laws and practices that underpin their lack of citizenship and their mistreatment, while also ignoring the violent attacks on Muslim neighborhoods that have continued.

Civil society and UN actors point to the government’s involvement

Under the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), it is the primary responsibility of the state to protect all populations from crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, genocide and war crimes, but in Myanmar/Burma, the government is not assuming this role. To alleviate this tension between the Rohingya minority and the Buddhist population, the Rahkine Commission, a 27 member body which was appointed in August 2012 to examine the causes of the violence between the groups, called for a doubling of security forces in Rakhine State. This is concerning given the number of reports pointing to the involvement of those tasked to restore order – the government, local security forces (including police, inter-agency border control and the army) – in the victimization of the Rohingya. At the United Nations (UN) level, UN Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights situation in Burma, Mr. Tomás Ojea Quintana has said Muslims were clearly targeted with brutal efficiency during attacks on property and the killing of a several Rohingyas. He went on to confirm he received reports of “state involvement in some acts of violence”, including military and police standing by while atrocities are committed as well as evidence of direct involvement of supporting well organized Buddhist gangs in their attacks. One of Burma Campaign UK‘s, latest reports concluded that the targeting of the Rohingya – which includes attacks based solely on identity and the implementation of a number of discriminatory laws, such as the 1982 Citizenship Law denying the population citizenship – violates at least eight international human rights laws and treaty obligations. The UN and a number of civil society organizations, including Amnesty International (AI) and Burma Campaign UK, have expressed concern over the lack of recommendations of the Commission to address issues related to impunity, and the discriminatory laws, as well as the state’s failure to stop “incitement of hatred and violence against Muslims.” The government has failed to address the root causes of the clashes between the groups and implement effective policies to tackle intolerance and promote religious and societal harmony, which, as the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) declares, shows that the government, is “failing their duty of the Responsibility to Protect.”

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, visits displacement camps in Myanmar’s Rakhine State UN Photo/David Ohana

Quelling ethnic tension: Beyond the Commission’s recommendations

Civil society organizations have been at the forefront of demanding action and issuing recommendations to quell ethnic tensions, which vary from calling for the implementation of comprehensive reconciliation plans, urging the international community to pressure the government to reverse discriminatory policies, establishing an in-country office UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and addressing the humanitarian situation with unrestrictive access for aid delivery. The most debated issues are how to end impunity and resolve the statelessness of the Rohingya population caused by the 1982 Citizenship Law, which does not recognize Rohingyas as one of the 135 legally recognized ethnic groups in Myanmar/Burma.

Calls for ensuring justice and putting an end to impunity

According to ALTSEAN-Burma, and Minority Rights Group International (MRG), the Commission has failed to hold accountable those responsible for the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas. Echoing this, Mr. Quintana stresses that holding to account those responsible will also be an integral part of restoring relations of trust and harmony between different ethnic and religious communities.” Group such as AI and GCR2Phave recommended impartial investigations to tackle the culture of impunity while HRW has more controversially called for “an independent international commission to investigate crimes against humanity.” At the government level, the United Kingdom is a little apprehensive to undertake such bold action, stopping short of proposing to set up an independent international investigation, but rather asking for the Myanmar/Burma government to conduct an “independent investigative work” to assess “whether ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity have been committed” – a step Burma Campaign UK believes is useless unless it is an “international” investigation. Mr. Quintana, concerned about how accountability will be ensured going forward, supports AI‘s suggestions that in addition to ending impunity a “comprehensive reform of the security forces, including the establishment of robust accountability mechanisms, adequate vetting systems and training on relevant international standards, is also essential.”

Deciding on what it means to be Burmese

While accountability for past crimes is vital, preventing further tensions requires addressing the root causes of the problem as well. At the heart of the issue is the government’s 1982 Citizenship Act, which denies the Rohingya population national citizenship. Under international human rights standards no person can be left stateless and therefore this denied access is a form of discrimination that needs to be urgently addressed. As if statelessness was not enough, there are a number of other restrictive laws and tight regulations, including restrictions on travel, birth, death, immigration, migration, marriage and land ownership, that target the Rohingya and deny them basic rights guaranteed in international law. Civil society organizations, such MRG, were hoping the Commission would call for a review of the 1982 Citizenship Law; however, the government made it clear it has no intention to do so. In fact, the authorities seem adamant to continue the policies reinforcing the Two-Child Policy that controls the growth of the Rohingya population, an action that HRW declares “could amount to crimes against humanity” and as such must be publicly revoked immediately. Burma Campaign UK‘s approach is different, believing that a cultural change is just as important as the reversal of the discriminatory laws. According to the organization, the society needs to decide what it means to be Burmese and “there needs to be an acceptance that Burma is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country and people from different ethnic groups can live side by side.”

The Responsibility to Assist

RtoP outlines that it is also the responsibility of the international community to assist in building the capacity of states to ensure the protection of populations against any of the four crimes and violations. For the Asia-Pacific Center for the Responsibility to Protect, this should be in the way of building the capacity of Myanmar’s/Burma’s authorities to manage ethnic relations and inter-faith communal dialogue. Others, like the GCR2P, are calling for the international community to pressure the government to prioritize the development of a comprehensive reconciliation plan to engage ethnic minorities. Targeting the European Union, Burma Campaign UK, and MRG have urged the bodynot to lift sanctions against the government and have encouraged that diplomatic relations with Myanmar/Burma must remain limited. Meanwhile, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the persecution and violence of the Rohingyas, and requesting the revocation of the discriminatory polices. Regardless of the action that has been taken or called for, as Burma Campaign UK points out, the international community must remind the government of their international commitment to the responsibility to protect, and to put pressure where needed to demand action to protect populations.

Going forward: Protection free of discrimination

While RtoP outlines the obligations of all governments and the international community to to protect populations from atrocities, in the case of Myanmar/Burma, amounting evidence suggests more needs to be done to ensure such protection. As UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, said in his March 25 statement on the crisis, there is a considerable risk of further violence if measures are not put in place to prevent this escalation.” As many civil society groups have said, both the international community and the Myanmar/Burma authorities need to come together and implement measures to prevent future crimes and address the underlying issues that foster the continued discrimination against the Rohingya; however, exactly how this is to be done remains unclear and debated. As AI declares, what is certain is that “the Myanmar authorities are responsible for ensuring protection of people, their homes and livelihoods. While doing so, they must ensure protection of all communities without discrimination.”

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