Category Archives: Post-Conflict

#RtoPWeekly: 10-14 April 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Source of above photo: Reuters via BBC News

 Catch up on developments in…

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

Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen

Burma/Myanmar:

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


Burundi:

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

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


Central African Republic:

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

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

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


Democratic Republic of Congo:

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

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

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


Gaza/West Bank:

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


Iraq:

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

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

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


Libya:

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


Mali:

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

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


Nigeria:

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

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


South Sudan:

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

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


Sudan:

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

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

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


Syria:

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


Yemen:

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

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

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

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Filed under Burma, Burundi, CARcrisis, Cote d'Ivoire, DRC, genocide, Human Rights, ICRtoP Members, International Criminal Court, Justice, Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Peacekeeping, Post-Conflict, Prevention, Reconciliation, Second Pillar, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Syria Ceasefire, Timely and Decisive Action, UN, United States, Weekly Round-Up

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

#RtoPWeekly: 6 – 10 March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DPRK
DRC
Iraq
Kenya
Libya

Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sri Lanka
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen


Burma/Myanmar:

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

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


Burundi:

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


Central African Republic:

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

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


DPRK:

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


Democratic Republic of Congo:

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

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

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


Iraq:

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

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

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

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

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


Kenya:

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


Libya:

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


Mali:

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

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

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

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


Nigeria:

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

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

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

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


South Sudan:

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

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

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


Sri Lanka:

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


Sudan:

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

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


Syria:

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

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

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

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

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


Yemen:

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

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

‘Denying the Means’: Small Arms Proliferation and Mass Atrocities

In a previous post, Alexandra Hiniker of ICRtoP member, PAX, wrote a guest blog exploring the links between humanitarian disarmament and the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), with a particular focus on cluster munitions.  She highlighted relevant assistance strategies that affect the ability of a state to uphold its primary obligation to protect populations. The piece was an entry that helped to illuminate the critical connection between RtoP implementation and another area within the peace and security agenda.

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A Libyan weapons cache that was looted after the fall of Qadaffi. Sean Smith/The Guardian.

Equally important are efforts to stem the flow and illicit transfer of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW).  A holistic approach to preventing the proliferation of this weaponry can also contribute to the overall goal of atrocities prevention.

Nowhere has this been made clearer than in Libya, where the collapse of the Qadaffi government and the security vacuum that has ensued has led to a state awash in legacy weapons that have spread throughout the Sahel-Sahara region and beyond. Many of these destinations also happen to be areas where the commission of atrocities have been well-documented.

 

Libya’s Insecure Stockpile

As a previous ICRtoP blog explains, post-revolution Libya verges on civil war, with the widespread proliferation of militias and a central government too weak and divided to restore order. In a state that has been described as one of the “largest arms purchasing countries in the world,” containing a stockpile consisting of tens of thousands of weapons, looting and diversion of arms by both militias and corrupt government officials has been rampant.

Indeed, the magnitude of the problem after the 2011 fall of Qaddafi led Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch to comment that he has “never seen weapons proliferation like Libya,” which has occurred on a scale  “…many times greater than other conflicts.”

The hemorrhaging of weapons is in direct violation of the arms embargo that the United Nations Security Council instituted after passing Resolution 1970 in 2011. A recent report submitted to the Security Council by a panel of experts on Libya released in March of 2014 details the extent of the violations.  It is striking for the fact that experts traced the flow of weapons leaving Libya to 14 other countries in the Sahel-Sahara region and the Levant.

Notable for this blog, is the ominous conclusion that “In terms of end users, while various types of individuals and armed entities are benefitting from the dissemination of Libyan arsenals…the materiel is likely to enhance the capacity of terrorist groups…”  This appears to have played out in tragic fashion most prominently in Mali and Syria.

 

 Libyan Arms Fuel Regional Conflicts

Mali is perhaps the most well known example of intra-regional transfer of weapons in the Sahel, where Tuareg rebels that participated in the Libyan revolution are believed to have brought back an abundance of conventional weaponry that fuelled the country’s instability in 2012.

Ansar_Dine_Rebels_-_VOA

Ansar Dine fighters in northern Mali. VOA

The panel of experts report explains that weapons from Libya reached Mali by land via neighbouring Niger, but also through Algeria and Tunisia.  The main traffickers include armed groups in northern Mali such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa and Ansar Dine.

These extreme elements have been linked to numerous atrocities, including “rape, use of child soldiers, and pillaging of hospitals, schools, aid agencies, and government buildings…” in addition to “abductions and wilful killings of civilians as well as hostage taking.”

The nightmare in Syria that has been raging for three years and claimed the lives of nearly 200,000 also seems to have been inflamed by weapons from Libya. The report indicates that Syrian and Libyan nationals who are sympathetic to the Syrian opposition have utilized a network of arms dealers to finance and transfer weapons, allegedly cutting through Turkey, Qatar, and Lebanon by way of sea, land, and air.

It is conceivable that these weapons may have been used in, or made the commission of a number of atrocities possible. This is particularly so for extreme segments of the opposition who, largely due to the influx of weapons, are becoming “better equipped than other armed groups.”  This is a worrisome development underscored by the recent expansion of The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also referred to as ISIS or IS) from Syria into Iraq, and the resulting trail of atrocities that have been committed.

The Mali and Syria examples show that  when left unchecked, illicit transfers of SALW can and likely will find their way into other active crises, where according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, old insecurities lead to “…increased demand for and proliferation of small arms and light weapons,”  that tend to exacerbate the situation further.

 

SALW Linked to the Commission of Atrocities

As the deadly effects of SALW proliferation become acutely clear in places like Mali and Syria, the international community has begun to identify it as a major challenge to atrocities prevention. While it must be noted that the flow of arms from Libya is by no means the sole, or even the greatest cause of violence in these crises, they are what have been called atrocity ‘enablers.’

In 2012, Robert Zuber of the Global Action to Prevent War spoke to the relationship between arms flows and the commission of atrocities, noting that, “Illicit arms inflame conflicts that might otherwise be resolvable, including conflicts that have the potential to incite major violations of human rights, and even rise to the level of mass atrocities.”  He also stressed how the circulation of arms makes it more difficult for a government to dispense its primary responsibility to protect civilians.

Security Council Meeting on Small arms

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop convenes a high-level meeting on the issue of Small Arms and Light Weapons. UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

SALW proliferation is well within the purview of the groundbreaking Arms Trade Treaty, which recently surpassed the number of ratifications required for legal implementation. The treaty contains a key provision that forbids any transfer of weapons by a state party if there is reason to believe they could be used in the commission of atrocities.

In addition, Resolution 2117 was adopted in 2013 by the Security Council on the thematic issue of Small Arms and Light Weapons with the aim of encouraging practical steps to prevent their illicit transfer and misuse. The resolution was largely informed by a 2013 report by the Secretary-General on small arms that stressed the destabilizing impact of arms from Libya in the Sahel-Sahara region and the Levant, pinpointing both Mali and Syria as being particularly impacted.

The resolution further established the connection between SALW and RtoP, recognizing that, “…the misuse of small arms and light weapons has resulted in grave crimes,” and reaffirmed the importance of the Responsibility to Protect in preventing these violations.

 

International Efforts to Prevent Proliferation

Given the correlation between SALW proliferation and the commission of atrocities, it is critical that the international community take steps to stem the flow of arms from one conflict zone to another.

Implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty, which is scheduled to go into effect in December 2014, will be crucial in this regard.  It can ensure states achieve more effective stockpile management, including by improving physical security, record keeping, reporting, and other national and international measures to prevent diversion of arms through illicit channels.

Similarly, Resolution 2117 highlights the role of UN peacekeeping in providing national authorities with assistance in stockpile management and the implementation of civilian disarmament programs. It also encourages states to fully abide by UN-sanctioned arms embargos in an effort to curb violations such as those seen in Libya.

Further action was highlighted by participants at the recent Biennial Meeting of States on Illicit Trade in Small Arms in June 2014, which stressed implementation of existing mechanisms such as the 2001 Programme of Action on Small Arms and utilization of the International Tracing Instrument. Participants encouraged states to:

“…continue strengthening stockpile management, including physical security measures, particularly in conflict and post-conflict situations…” They also called for international assistance and capacity-building to harness new tracing and tracking technologies.

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Destruction of Small Arms during Disarmament ceremony in Cote d’Ivoire. UN Photo/Basile Zoma

The recent launch of a pilot programme called the Small Arms Project being implemented in six communities in the Sahel-Sahara region by the European Union and ECOWAS demonstrates what potential action can look like. The programme is aimed at:

“…raising community awareness on the dangers associated with the illicit proliferation of small arms and armed violence; strengthening the capacity of security institutions and communities to enhance safety and above all encouraging voluntary weapons surrender/collection in return for community based development projects.”

 

Understanding Key Relationships for Improved Implementation

The importance of this type of assistance is clearly illustrated by the Libya case. Efforts to disarm militias and account for the legacy weapons of the Qadaffi government have been half-hearted and inefficient, leading to proliferation that has fueled highly volatile crises in places like Mali and Syria. The 2014 Secretary-General’s Report on second pillar international assistance recognizes the importance of effective action to deny would-be perpetrators the means to commit crimes, and further demonstrates the link between disarmament and atrocities prevention.

If the Responsibility to Protect is to be effectively implemented, its relationship between other peace and security dimensions will need to be explored further. Both Alexandra Hiniker’s and this piece on RtoP and disarmament identify overlapping goals and concerns. Continued research and exploration of how this area, as well as others within the peace and security field, can be leveraged to complement one another will be a key consideration as RtoP moves into its second decade of existence, and towards more concrete discussions on implementation.

 

For more information on individual atrocity situations, read our crisis pages. For more on the relationship between The Arms Trade Treaty and the Responsibility to Protect, read our Blog ‘When Arms get in the Wrong Hands. The Arms Trade Treaty and Implications for Upholding the Responsibility to Protect.’

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Three Years On, Libya Still Providing Lessons for RtoP Implementation

NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya to prevent the imminent slaughter of Benghazi’s civilians, threatened by Moammar Qadaffi and his forces, was hailed by many as the first real test-case for implementation of the third pillar of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) – and a successful one at that. However, the intervention also sparked controversy and raised important lessons about the norm’s implementation. Most prominently, many UN Member States expressed concern that through the course of pursuing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, the mandate to protect civilians morphed into something that more closely resembled regime change.

A rebel mans an anti-aircraft gun in Ras Lanuf

A rebel manning an anti-aircraft gun during the 2011 civil war. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic.

This has since led to debates surrounding Security Council monitoring, and the relationship between RtoP and regime change. Three years later, as Libya sits on the precipice of civil war, it appears more lessons have emerged regarding the oft-neglected importance of providing states with post-crisis assistance to prevent the reoccurrence of atrocity crimes, as well as the necessity of employing RtoP measures that straddle the various pillars.

Libya on the Brink

Currently, Libya faces the genuine risk of sliding into civil war. Since Qadaffi’s overthrow, the country’s militias have run rampant, with no effective central government or security force to rein them in. Often, these militias have provided the only security guarantee for many of Libya’s tribes and city-states, while informal cooperation – and often competition – with the regular security forces is common.

Although a delicate balance of power previously kept the militias from engaging in all out fighting against one another, the election of a new Parliament on June 25th, 2014 dealt a significant blow to Libya’s Islamists. Instead of accepting the results peacefully, Islamists and their Misrata-based allies began a siege of Tripoli and its airport. The goal of the assault was to wrest it from the control of the Zintan-based militias they perceived to be Qadaffi sympathizers leading a counter-revolution. The alliance, named ‘Libyan Dawn’, has gone on to reconvene the former General National Congress in Tripoli, in opposition to the newly formed House of Representatives sitting in Tobruk. Simultaneously, the city of Benghazi has plunged into factional fighting as former Qadaffi General, Khalifa Haftar unilaterally launched operation ‘Libyan Dignity’, with the stated intention of ejecting Islamist militants that allegedly pose a threat to Libyan national identity.

As it stands, Libya therefore currently has two opposing governments sitting in different parts of the country, each backed by their own respective armed groups, but neither with any real authority. Militia violence continues to engulf several of Libya’s major cities, with recent reports  from groups like Human Rights Watch noting that since taking control of Tripoli and its airport, Libya Dawn elements have turned their aggression on civilian populations. Given this reality, the risk of mass atrocities is perhaps greatest since the 2011 uprising.

Humanitarian Consequences and Unfolding Atrocities

The recent bout of fighting between rival militias has had devastating consequences for Libya’s civilians. Recent figures provided by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimate that over 1,000 Libyans have perished, while 107,028 are internally displaced and an additional 150,000 have sought refuge abroad.  Meanwhile, those remaining in conflict zones are experiencing frequent shortages of food, water, gasoline, and electricity.

Fighting near Tripoli airport

Fighting near Tripoli airport leaves a trail of billowing smoke. Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images.

Amnesty International called attention to the indiscriminate nature of the violence, stressing that “The warring parties in Tripoli and Benghazi have displayed a wanton disregard for the safety of ordinary civilians who have found themselves mercilessly pinned down by indiscriminate shelling with imprecise weapons.” Citing the rising civilian death toll and the damage to civilian infrastructure, they warn that the failure to distinguish between military and civilian targets is punishable as a war crime under international law.

Notably, a local civil society organization called Lawyers for Justice in Libya has indicated that on top of the suffering caused by fighting, activists and civil society advocates are being targeted for assassination on a frequent basis, while both state and non-state detention facilities rampantly use torture against detainees, with little hope of due process. The group has warned that “the Libyan state’s ongoing tolerance of such grave acts may constitute a crime against humanity,” and has reminded the newly elected House of Representatives of their responsibilities and legal obligations under international law to prevent such action, and prosecute perpetrators.

The Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights confirmed reports of torture and other abuses. The Office echoed warnings that such violations could constitute war crimes, stating “The direct perpetrators of any such crimes in Libya, as well as commanders who ordered or failed to stop the commission of such crimes, could be prosecuted, including by the International Criminal Court (ICC).”

Calls for Action and Forthcoming Assistance

The situation in Libya has deteriorated to the point that on August 13th the democratically elected government called on the UN to take action to protect civilians and help build state institutions. While specific protection measures were not mentioned, Libyan government officials have since suggested that a UN peacekeeping force tasked with disarming militias is needed. France seems to agree with this assessment, calling for “exceptional support” to Libya, and warning that the country could fall into chaos without UN intervention.

However, there appears to be little appetite for this on behalf of the UN and other members of the Security Council. Indeed, Bernadino Leon, the incoming head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has stressed that “…more conflict, more use of force will not help Libya get out of the current chaos.” Instead, he emphasized that Libya needs “a lot of international support” to back “Libyans who want to fight chaos … through a political process.

Likewise, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently elaborated on this sentiment stating, “There is no space for violence in the political transition process…Concerns must be addressed through inclusive political dialogue, including with those in Tobruk, Misrata, Tripoli, Benghazi and elsewhere.”

Accordingly, recent revelations that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates allegedly launched airstrikes against Islamist targets have been met with condemnation by both the Council and neighbouring states.

Security Council Meeting: The situation in Libya. Vote, 15 in favor.

Head of UNSMIL Bernardino Leon briefs the Security Council on the situation in Libya. UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

On August 27th, the UNSC unanimously adopted Resolution 2174, which further confirmed the preference to settle the conflict through inclusive political dialogue. Additionally, as head of UNSMIL, Leon has sought to use his good offices to broker a ceasefire – an effort that may finally be yielding results. However, more coercive measures were also laid bare, as Resolution 2174 modified the sanctions regime established in Resolution 1970 to target those responsible for inciting current violence, though the Council has yet to release a new list of names for inclusion.

As for NATO’s involvement, the trans-Atlantic organization has been considering sending military assistance to the Libyan state for some time, but seems to have delayed these plans due to the volatile security situation. However, at the recent NATO Summit that took place in Wales, the organization confirmed its support for UNSMIL’s ceasefire efforts, and reiterated its willingness to provide assistance for security and defense institution building, as well as to forge a partnership under the Mediterranean Dialogue.

 

 New Lessons for Implementation of the Responsibility to Protect

Several atrocity indicators, as outlined in the Analysis Framework laid out by the Office of the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, have persisted since the NATO intervention of 2011. These include, but are not limited to: a permissive environment created by ongoing armed conflict, the presence of multiple armed groups and militias, impunity for past crimes, a history of mass human rights violations, and a lack of credible judicial, human rights, and security institutions.  These indicators underscore the importance of international assistance in completing Libya’s transition, as well as for preventing and halting fresh atrocities.

In his 2012 report ‘The Responsibility to Protect: Timely and Decisive Response,’ Ban Ki-moon noted that  “Putting an end to the four specified crimes and violations in a particular situation should be the beginning of a period of social renewal and institutional capacity-building aimed at making future violence less likely.”

 The Secretary-General goes on to explain the importance of “building the institutions, legislation, practices and attitudes to lessen the likelihood of…[atrocity] reoccurrence.” This demonstrates that action taken by the international community to halt atrocities can and must also be used as to assist the state and strengthen its capacity to uphold its primary Responsibility to Protect.

It also means that the Responsibility to Protect does not end once an atrocity situation does. Rather, it is an ongoing effort that requires the steadfast support of the international community. The case of Libya demonstrates this plainly, as insufficient attention to post-crisis institution-building has led to a Libyan state too weak to prevent the reoccurrence of atrocities.  As Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch has bluntly stated, “The international community that played such a pivotal role in abetting the revolution is failing in its duty to save it.”

Update: A previous version of this article mistakenly indicated that Qatar had allegedly launched airstrikes. The article has been revised to indicate Egypt and the UAE as the responsible parties. 

 

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RtoP and Rebuilding: Preventing atrocities through post-conflict reconstruction

In the lead up to the World Summit, then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, noted that “roughly half of the countries that emerge from war lapse back into violence within five years.” RtoP was first put forward in the report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, with advocates embracing it as a full spectrum of responsibilities from prevention, to reaction and rebuilding. When governments unanimously endorsed RtoP in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, the “responsibility to rebuild” was not included (presumably because rebuilding was to be the focus of the newly created Peacebuilding Commission), but rebuilding obviously plays a large part in preventing a return to conflict and the commission of atrocity crimes. This leaves us asking – What is the responsibility of actors in post-atrocity situations? With a number of states – Libya, te d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka, and Kenya – emerging from bloodshed in recent years, it is important to understand how actors can effectively contribute to the rebuilding process.

What does post-crisis reconstruction after mass atrocities entail? 

Mass atrocities – genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing – are the most extreme forms of violence and often literally destroy a country by leaving it with collapsing infrastructure and destabilized political, judicial and legal systems. These institutions often need to be rebuilt from scratch and on top of this, the social fabric – how members of a society interact with each other – breaks down, and mistrust and suspicion predominate between the fractured communities.  As can be expected then, rebuilding is a complicated and multi-faceted process, and includes a range of measures that can be taken by actors at all levels to assist in reconstruction. Such measures may include fostering political inclusiveness and promoting national unity, reforming legislation, ratifying relevant treaties, promoting human rights, monitoring elections, improving judicial processes, reintegrating ex-combatants and others into productive society, curtailing the availability of small arms, providing psychological support and reparations to victims, and establishing truth and reconciliation commissions. It is critical that these efforts not only serve to bring security to a country or region, but also address the causes of the conflict and mistrust between communities.  Without this complete approach, it is likely that continued suspicion could fester, risking a return to the deadly cycle of violence. What this demonstrates is that no single measure in the rebuilding process stands alone, but rather that all action must be linked to ensure a holistic approach that achieves long-term stability.

Responsibility to Rebuild in Practice

But what does rebuilding look like in practice?  As the cases of Libya, Côte d’Ivoire and Sri Lanka show, post-conflict countries are fragile and the tasks before them complex, as each state faces unique challenges based on its past, the causes of the conflict, and the level of destruction experienced.

Libya: Weapons continue to destabilize a nation and the region

The international community upheld its responsibility to protect populations in Libya by taking swift and coordinated efforts to halt the bloodshed and imminent threat to the people of Benghazi at the hands of the Gaddafi government, which had resorted to force against what began as a peaceful popular uprising. However, rebuilding remains an ongoing challenge as the countless weapons, which flooded the nation during the crisis following the arming of the opposition by outside states, continues to destabilize security in Libya and surrounding countries. While measures were taken to secure anti-aircraft missiles, nearly every adult male carries a weapon, and countless more arms that went missing have turned up in the hands of rebel forces in Mali. This is not to say the government and international community have done nothing since the crisis – both have remained engaged in the justice process by attempting to eliminate impunity through the national judiciary and the International Criminal Court, and have provided economic support, with the European Union giving an economic package to combat post-crisis challenges and the United States unfreezing assets worth US $32 billion. Yet as Ramesh Thakur argues, the challenges we see today demonstrate that more needs to be done to prevent revenge killings, reprisal attacks and the return to mass violence by establishing security and law and order and disarming the country.

Côte d’Ivoire: The struggle for justice and reconciliation 

Meanwhile, Côte d’Ivoire continues to struggle to rebuild by holding perpetrators accountable following the disputed 2010 presidential election between former President Laurent Gbagbo and recognized election winner Alassane Ouattara that left hundreds dead, thousands displaced and descended the country into war. Since the crisis, claims of one-sided justice have emerged – further perpetuating divisions between communities and causing an increase in attacks. Pro-Ouattara forces were quick to seek justice by arresting Gbagbo on 11 April 2011. They re-established key institutions such as courthouses and prisons, and assured that all responsible for atrocities would be held accountable. Yet, as Human Rights Watch (HRW) points out, tensions remain as the special unit established to investigate crimes has charged more than 150 people, but all only from Gbagbo’s supporters. If continued, this would ignore the risks associated with giving one side of the conflict a free pass for committing atrocities, which could have devastating outcomes for the people and the country. As HRW states, “the impunity of today leads to the crimes tomorrow”.

Sri Lanka: “Exclusive development” renews tensions

Following the 30-year civil war that arose out of ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority and ultimately destroyed the country’s infrastructure, halted development, and resulted in the commission of RtoP crimes – including 40,000 killed in the last months of the conflict – the Sri Lankan government began to rebuild. The government has driven development by addressing housing needs and providing safe drinking water and electricity. With the building of highways and airports, the government has begun to extend transportation and develop the tourism industry. These efforts, however, have not been without their challenges.  Firstly is the fact that some areas of the country remain devastated and uncultivated, leading, as International Crisis Group (ICG) points out, to renewed tensions between communities as some Tamils believe the development process has been selective and the government has undertaken efforts to impose Sinhala culture on Tamil communities across the country.  Then there’s the issue of accountability, with HRW noting that the government has resisted taking meaningful steps to investigate and prosecute government forces for alleged war crimes and failed to implement most of the accountability-related recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. ICG recommends that the international community increase pressure on the government to make it more accountable and to expand the democratic political role for the Tamil minority. The failure to address these social aspects of rebuilding may risk reviving Sri Lanka’s violent past.

Preventing atrocities in the long-term

Just as every crisis is unique, so is every path for reconstruction.  While the process of rebuilding a society following atrocity crimes remains an imprecise science, what these cases demonstrate is that there needs to be a holistic approach where security, justice and reconciliation and sustainable development are able to be achieved. The responsibility of all actors is not just to act to prevent or respond to imminent threats but assist in rebuilding efforts to ensure that populations are not threatened by the reoccurrence of atrocities.  As the UN Secretary-General reminds in his 2009 report on RtoP, “The surest predictor of genocide is past genocide,” so we need to be sure that the world’s attention goes well beyond stopping the most immediate threats, and includes long-term commitments to preventing atrocities.

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WHEN ARMS GET IN THE WRONG HANDS: Arms trade and the implications for upholding the Responsibility to Protect

The trade of virtually all goods is regulated and controlled; however, no global standard exists for the international trading of arms. As we speak, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is meeting for the final negotiations on an international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The idea of a treaty was introduced at the UN in 2006 in the form of a draft resolution. In 2009, the UNGA adopted Resolution 64/48 to convene a UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty to stop the lethal consequences of the uncontrolled trade of arms which have included hundreds of thousands of deaths, women raped at gunpoint and children recruited into armed groups; not to mention the many injured, tortured, abused or taken hostage. As the United Nations Secretary General has argued, “violence against civilians is…unquestionably abetted by the free flow of weapons…we urgently need a robust and comprehensive agreement that addresses the humanitarian impact of the poorly regulated trade in arms.” From 18-28 March 2013, the UNGA will negotiate the final text of the Treaty. Many civil society groups and members of the NGO coalition, Control Armsincluding Vision Gram International and Africa Peace Forum have stated that the document being discussed is a weaker version of the original proposal with loopholes that undermine the effectiveness of the treaty, including ambiguity in the use of terms such as “trade” and “transfer” and lower standards of control for ammunition. Nonetheless, many states and civil society organizations are positive that, if passed, the Treaty will be a step forward in achieving more security and protection.

UN Secretary General at the Opening of the Final Conference on The Arms Trade Treaty.

UN Secretary General at the Opening of the Final Conference on The Arms Trade Treaty. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The Arms Trade: Impacting the Security Sector

The arms trade is a globalized and lucrative business – Oxfam International estimates that between 2008 and 2011, the trade was worth more than $9.7bn. There is an incredibly strong link between poor arms control, access to conventional weapons and the increased likelihood of intra-state violence, which can lead to the commission of mass atrocities. The presence of illegal arms and armed elements is one of the eight indicators of the Office of the UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide‘s analysis framework which assists in determining whether there may be a risk of genocide in a given situation. As small arms and ammunition can be easily transferred, stolen or diverted, they are frequently the weapons of choice in armed conflicts. Thus, regulating their trade and stopping their illegal diversion can have a powerful impact on a state’s ability to prevent mass atrocities. According to Dr. Robert Zuber, of Global Action to Prevent War (GAPW), the presence of large amounts of arms creates an unpredictable security situation and undermines state control of the security sector;

The irresponsible transfer of weapons and ammunition and proliferation of illicit small arms have direct implications for our ability to secure our streets…[and on] the ability of governments to discharge many of its important functions including the primary responsibility to protect civilians from violence.”

MONUSCO

Weapons retrieved from rebels by the UN’s mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in coordination with the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in DRC. Credit: UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti

In addition to contributing to cycles of violence, the presence of illicit arms in the hands of non-state actors and rebel groups complicates regional and international efforts to strengthen a state’s capacity to fulfill its primary responsibility to protect. What’s more, though it’s clear that governments need to minimize the spread of illicit weapons to uphold their commitment to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes, in many cases, it is the state, itself, that is complicit in the conflict and the spread and use of illegal arms.

Perpetuating the Violence

The responsibility to minimize the spread of weapons is not limited to countries in conflict. The five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, or the ‘P5’ – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – are the world’s largest arms traders. Amnesty Internationals report entitled “Major Powers Fueling Atrocities: Why the World Needs a Robust Arms Trade Treaty,” demonstrates how all five countries have “engaged in arms deals that fueled atrocities”. China‘s state-owned companies, for example, supplied weapons to the Gaddafi regime in Libya as well as ammunition for small arms used by security forces and militia in Darfur; while Russia supplies weapons to Syria, Myanmar and Sudan that have been used to attack civilians. The government of Russia, which has admitted to supplying Syrian forces with weapons, has blocked several UN resolutions aimed at halting the violence by imposing an arms embargo and sanctions on Syria and says it will continue to supply weapons to the regime. Meanwhile Saudi Arabia and Qatar are delivering arms to the opposition forces, which some say could prolong the increasingly deteriorating humanitarian crisis and civil war. While some Western states originally pushed Russia to stop its arms trade to Syria, the United Kingdom and France  are now calling for the European Union to lift its arms embargo on Syria so they can send weapons to the rebels. Though the United States has argued that more weapons in Syria would do more damage, it has promised not to get in the way of other governments supplying arms to the rebels. This flow of weapons to the Syrian opposition has sparked a debate, with many arguing that these measures, undertaken by the international community to uphold protection obligations, actually perpetuate more violence. As one human rights blogSelf Evident Truth, puts it:

So long as the superpowers…arm the world with small arms, their approval of the responsibility to protect has little meaning.”

The importance of disarmament

In addition to preventing conflict, the regulation of the arms trade is an important step in securing a safe environment in post-crisis situations. According to Ray Acheson, Chair of civil society organization Reaching Critical Will, “the excess weapons available throughout the world continue…impeding the post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction”. This has been devastatingly illustrated in the case of Libya, as remaining weapons in the hands of thousands of militias have hampered the state’s control over the security sector, exacerbating the country’s already unstable situation. This case also showed the importance of preventing the spread of weapons in post-conflict countries as reports emerged that missing weapons from Libya may have appeared in the hands of Islamist rebels in Mali. Human Rights Watch recently stated that;

Urgent efforts to secure anti-aircraft missiles from Libya…blinded western governments to the danger of other weapons going missing and fueling conflicts in Mali…it takes a tiny fraction of the weapons missing in Libya to supercharge a conflict like Mali.”

Thus, amid attempts to protect populations in Libya, a lack of oversight of the flow of weapons throughout the country may have actually played a part in fueling conflict in Mali by providing easily accessible arms to northern-based rebel groups.

Civil society calls for stronger references to Atrocity Crimes in ATT

Article 3 in the latest draft of the ATT, on “Prohibited Transfers”, requires that a state party not authorize a transferfor the purpose of facilitating the commission genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes.According to Reaching Critical Will’s ATT Monitor, this language demonstrates that governments agree that arms must not be transferred to a state where there is a risk of gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. While this is a start, Africa Peace Forum states that under the treaty the “states’ obligation to refuse transfers if they assess there is a substantial risk that the transfer would result in human rights and humanitarian law violations are legally ambiguous.” Meanwhile, according Amnesty International, these references are too narrow and the definition of war crimes is extremely limited. Reaching Critical Will, argues“a circumstance in which a state would apply to import arms specifically for the purpose of committing genocide or any of the other crimes listed is a rather high threshold for prohibition.” Oxfam adds that, “the draft Article as it relates to genocide falls far short of the duty to prevent genocide by taking action before it happens…As currently drafted…Article 3.3 will apply only where genocide has already taken place.” Such language risks undermining the very foundation on which RtoP is based: the prevention of atrocities.

Amnesty International has suggested revisions to the text to support a preventative framework, stating that, “a State Party shall not authorize a transfer of conventional arms within the scope of this Treaty if the transfer would facilitate the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or a consistent pattern of serious violations of international human rights law.”

Going forward with or without a treaty

The link between the flow of illicit weapons and the increasing likelihood of RtoP crimes as well as the devastating impact of access to weapons on a state’s ability to protect its population show the urgent need for regulations on the trade of arms, which the ATT can provide. However, it is also important to note that even if the Treaty is not adopted, willing governments can take measures to oversee the safe sale of arms and civil society can advocate for such measures. While a strong Arms Trade Treaty could greatly reduce serious human rights violations and contribute to the general reduction of conflict throughout the world, a weaker treaty might be worse than no treaty at all. The important truth is that with fewer weapons available, governments will be one step closer to being better able to uphold their responsibility to protect their populations from RtoP crimes; it is up to activists, civil society organizations, the media, and policymakers everywhere to make this a reality.

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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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Kony 2012 and the Responsibility to Protect

On 5 March, Invisible Children (IC) released their viral sensation, “Kony 2012“, which called for the arrest of Joseph Kony, the commander-in-chief of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his role in the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes against civilian populations in Uganda.

IC’s Kony 2012 sought to raise awareness about the past atrocities of the LRA and their continued crimes against civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan. It was also a call for action, with a particular emphasis on increasing pressure on policymakers in the United States government, which deployed 100 soldiers in October 2011 to assist Uganda, the DRC, CAR, and South Sudan in their military efforts against the LRA.

Spreading like wildfire on Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter, the video also attracted much criticism. IC was charged with oversimplifying the LRA conflict and omitting the voices of northern Ugandans by Mark Kersten and Patrick Wegner, two bloggers at Justice in Conflict with experience working in LRA-affected areas in Uganda. Mahmoud Mamdani, a professor at Makere University in Kampala, Uganda, deplored IC’s focus on a military solution to the LRA. Alex De Waal, director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University, targeted the video for “peddling dangerous and patronizing falsehoods that it is up to the United States to help solve the problem of the LRA.

In response, IC issued a Q&A rebuttal to these critiques on their website, and have since released a second video, entitled “Kony 2012: Part II: Beyond Famous”, which the organization states, “offers a closer look at the LRA and explores the solutions put forward by leaders of the currently-affected areas of CAR, DRC, and South Sudan, where local communities continue to live under the constant threat of LRA violence.”

The idea behind Kony 2012 is not new,” the narrator of the video states as the video opens. “In 2005, world leaders unanimously agreed at the United Nations to uphold the Responsibility to Protect. This states that every single person on the planet has inherent rights that should be defended against the worst crimes against humanity, first by our own countries, and then by the global community, no matter where we live.”

Flashing pictures of Syria and Sudan, and transitioning to the focus on the atrocities committed by the LRA in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan, the film states, “Although most of the world has agreed to this in theory, in far too many cases, we have failed to live up to our promise…This is why we made this film.”

RtoP, Kony 2012, and Beyond

IC has situated the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P) at the heart of their film, and premised their recommendations – continued and/or increased military participation by the United States in LRA-affected regions to assist the regional forces of Uganda, the DRC, CAR, and South Sudan, and sustained political support for the initiatives of these countries and regional organizations, like the African Union (AU), to remove Joseph Kony from the battlefield by either arresting him or killing him – on the norm as well.

This post will thus expand on the discussion of RtoP, and examine this new, international norm in the context of the LRA conflict and its application in response to threatened and actual atrocities against civilians in the region.

RtoP’s scope is narrow, but deep, meaning that it applies only to the threat or occurrence of four specific crimes – genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleanings – but provides for a wide range of measures that extend beyond military intervention, including preventive diplomacy, economic sanctions, monitoring missions, and the involvement of regional and international justice mechanisms. The primary responsibility to protect populations from these crimes lies first at the national level, but regional and international actors also have a responsibility to provide assistance and capacity-building to individual governments in upholding this responsibility. In the event of a failure by a state to uphold its protection obligations, these actors have a responsibility to use political, economic, humanitarian, and if necessary, military tools available within the RtoP framework  to prevent and respond to threats of mass atrocities.

The LRA Conflict and RtoP

Kony and the senior commanders of the LRA stand accused of committing widespread war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, enslavement, sexual enslavement, rape, mutilation, intentionally directing attacks against civilian populations, pillaging, and the abduction and forced enlistment of children. As unanimously endorsed by UN Member States in  2005, paragraphs 138-139 of the World Summit Outcome Document articulate that war crimes and crimes against humanity are two of the four crimes under the RtoP framework.

As Coalition Steering Committee member Human Rights Watch (HRW) documents in their Q&A on Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, the impact of the operations of the LRA in northern Uganda, where their insurgency began in 1987, was disastrous for civilians, and has induced long-term implications:

“The human toll has been most severe in northern Uganda. Between 1987 and 2006, at least 20,000 Ugandan children were abducted. More than 1.9 million people were displaced from their homes into camps and tens of thousands of Ugandan civilians died…Addressing the aftermath of the war and displacement, however, remains a massive challenge.”

But since being pushed out of Uganda by the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) in 2006, the LRA has moved into the neighbouring countries of the DRC, the CAR, and South Sudan. According to HRW, the LRA “remains an immediate menace” to those populations:

“Since September 2008 the LRA has killed more than 2,600 civilians and abducted more than 4,000 other people, many of them children. More than 400,000 people have been displaced from their homes; very few have any access to humanitarian assistance.”

A particular episode in late 2008 and early 2009, the December to January “Christmas Massacres”, highlights the terror and criminality of the LRA. After refusing to sign on to the Juba peace process in 2008, in response to the December 2008 “Operation Lightning Thunder” – a joint offensive by Uganda, the DRC and South Sudan, and supported by the United States – the LRA retaliated with vicious attacks in northern DRC between 24 December 2008 and 13 January 2009. The group also allegedly carried out a massacre of 321 people in the same region of DRC a year later in December of 2009, and abducted 250 others.

Joseph Kony, leader of Lord's Resistance Army, and target of IC's Kony 2012 advocacy campaign. (Photo: Stuart Price/Associated Press)

The LRA is thus allegedly responsible for the widespread commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in at least two countries, Uganda and the DRC. And while their numbers have supposedly dwindled in light of increased regional military pressure, civilians remain at risk. As a 28 July 2011 report from Coalition Steering Committee member Oxfam International, We are entirely exploitable’: The lack of protection for civilians in Eastern DRC’, states, the majority of people polled in an LRA-affected region felt less safe in 2011 than in 2010.

The report details that in the communities surveyed in Eastern DRC, the LRA was described as the main perpetrator of killings, torture, and abductions as well as of looting, destruction of crops and rape.

In light of the litany of past abuses by the LRA, and the continued threat of mass atrocities posed by the organization in its current areas of operation, the Responsibility to Protect remains an important framework through which national, regional, and international actors can focus their efforts of protecting populations.

However, as critics of Kony 2012 have noted, while the atrocities committed by the LRA are egregious, the group is just one part of the conflict that has spanned over 25 years and across four countries in Central Africa.

In a recent op-ed published in the Washington Times entitled The Other Half of the Kony Equation, Maria Burnett and Elizabeth Evenson, both HRW employees, also highlight the problematic record of the Uganda government’s involvement during the fight against the LRA. Noting that the LRA emerged in large part due to the marginalizing policies of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni towards the people of northern Uganda, Burnett and Evenson state, “On a lesser scale than those of the LRA, crimes by government forces nevertheless included deliberate killings, routine beatings, rapes, and prolonged arbitrary detention of civilians.”

They assert that there has been no justice for victims of these abuses by the UPDF, with the government stating that those responsible have been investigated and prosecuted, but not publicly releasing any information on the trials. And nearly seven years after releasing the indictments for the top LRA leadership, Burnett and Evenson also state that the ICC has not examined abuses by the UPDF or the Museveni government, which has, “eased pressure on Ugandan authorities to hold their forces to account.”

This remains a crucial issue for Adam Branch, a senior research fellow at the Makere Institute of Social Research in Uganda and professor at San Diego State University, in his op-ed for Al-Jazeera, Kony Part II: Accountability, not awareness. Reflecting on IC’s focus on the efforts of Ugandan and regional forces, Branch states:

“[…] The new strategy ignores the Ugandan military’s abysmal human rights record in neighbouring countries, of great concern if Uganda is to take the lead role in the campaign…Kony Part II aligns itself closely with the ICC’s Moreno-Ocampo, who has shown himself nothing if not unaccountable to the victims to whom he claims to bring justice. Moreno-Ocampo has been perfectly willing to offer impunity to the Ugandan government in order to secure the government’s co-operation in the ICC investigation of the LRA, ignoring the demands from Ugandan human rights activists that the ICC indict both sides, instead of taking sides.”

These concerns over the alleged abuses perpetrated by the Ugandan government strike at the core of RtoP: All states made a commitment to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing in their endorsement of the norm at the 1005 World Summit. As such, in the context of the LRA conflict, the individual governments bear the primary responsibility for the prevention of these most egregious crimes. Regional and international actors, in recalling their responsibility to protect, must also be available to assist these nations in ensuring the safety of civilian populations.

Responding to the LRA Conflict

Kony 2012 Part II details IC’s four-point “Comprehensive Approach” to stopping Kony and the LRA in 2012, which highlights IC’s civilian protection initiatives in the region, including establishing radio stations that can broadcast and warn civilians against potential attacks, efforts to ensure the peaceful surrender of LRA soldiers, the importance of engaging in post-conflicting reconstruction and rehabilitation in LRA-affected areas, and finally, the arrest of top LRA leadership.

The video states, “Unless Kony and his top commanders surrender, or are arrested, their atrocities will not stop.” This stems from their assertion that negotiations between governments opposed to the LRA have failed to bring about an end to violence, and that the group has consistently used peace negotiations as a means to resupply and rebuild, often through carrying out mass abductions.

Joseph Kony (centre, in white) surrounded by leadership officials of the LRA, including the now-deceased Vincent Otti. (Photo: Reuters)

As such, Kony 2012 Part II calls for the international community to strengthen the ongoing military efforts of the African Union (AU) and regional governments (Uganda, the DRC, South Sudan, and the CAR), which IC states is, “the best way to apprehend top LRA leadership.”

Since 2008, these governments have coordinated militarily against the LRA, conducting joint operations in an attempt to apprehend or kill Joseph Kony and cease atrocities against civilians. Aside from the concerns raised over alleged abuses of human rights committed by the UPDF and other national armies in the region, these troops also suffer from a lack of necessary equipment, including heavy-lift and transport helicopters, and effective training, which has hampered their individual and coordinated military responses to the LRA. Such gaps in capabilities have thus made it difficult for these countries to effectively uphold their primary responsibility to protect civilians from LRA attacks.

Recognizing this, international actors have moved to bolster these efforts. The United States, dispatched 100 military advisers to the region in October 2011 to provide “information, advice, and assistance” to the national armies of Uganda, the DRC, the CAR, and South Sudan. And in March 2012, the African Union announced that it would move to form a 5,000-troop strong brigade, drawing from troops from Uganda, the DRC, the CAR, and South Sudan, to synergize their efforts in seeking to stop Kony through coordinated military action.

But Wegner at Justice in Conflict notes that despite these actions, and the potential for greater coordination by regional governments, the African Union, and the United States, the use of force has yet to be successful in the fight against the LRA:

“Military operations have so far failed to stop the LRA….Rather, they provoked retaliations and civilian casualties. During the UPDF led offensives to stop the LRA in northern Uganda and southern Sudan (now South Sudan), the LRA managed to outmanoeuvre the UPDF and spread the conflict consecutively to previously peaceful parts of the north and eventually even to eastern Uganda where civilians bore the brunt of the fury of the LRA.”

The United Nations also has various peacekeeping missions present in the region, including a UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), which has the authorization by the UN Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to use force to protect civilians, and is deployed in LRA-affected areas in the DRC.  But HRW notes that:

“The UN’s various initiatives regarding the LRA have lacked coordination and impact. While the UN missions have attempted to respond to LRA threats to civilians, it has rarely been a top priority for any of the missions and resources are often directed elsewhere.”

Civil society organizations, particularly those working on the ground in LRA-affected areas, have an all-too important role to play in the effort to protect civilians. Groups that monitor the movements of the LRA and provide early warning of attacks may ensure better civilian protection on the ground, and can alert the actors involved of the risk of imminent atrocities.  Civil society is also integral to the ongoing assessment of coordinated efforts against the LRA, and raising awareness regarding the progress of civilian protection in the region. Their work with victims and affected communities is also crucial to facilitating rehabilitation and post-conflict reconstruction, which are necessary to build a sustainable peace in LRA-affected areas.

As the international community works to protect populations from these massive human rights violations, it is crucial to reiterate the narrow, but deep scope of the RtoP. All states agreed to the responsibility to protect their populations from the crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. Furthermore, the norm provides for a broad range of political, economic, humanitarian, and if necessary, military measures that actors at all levels, including civil society, individual states, regional and sub-regional organizations, and the United Nations can implement to assist individual governments in upholding their responsibility to protect. If civilians remain at risk in spite of such measures being employed, actors at all levels must assess the tools available to them under the RtoP framework to ensure atrocities are prevented and effective civilian protection is provided.

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Filed under African Union, CivSoc, DRC, Human Rights, International Criminal Court, Joseph Kony, Kony 2012, Lord's Resistance Army, Post-Conflict, Prevention, Regional Orgs, RtoP, Security Council, South Sudan, Third Pillar, Uganda, UN

al-Senussi Arrest: Conflicting Extradition Requests, Concerns About Libya’s Justice System

 Abdullah al-Senussi, a former Libyan Colonel and Chief of Military Intelligence under the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, and wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), was arrested in Mauritania on 18 March by Mauritanian and French officials.

Abdullah al-Senussi was arrested by in Mauritania on 18 March 2012. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on two counts of crimes against humanity for his role in the Libyan government's crackdown against protesters last February. (Photo: Paul Hackett/Reuters)

The arrest has led to conflicting calls for al-Senussi’s extradition from the ICC, France, and Libya. The Court has called for Mauritania’s cooperation, based on UN Security Council Resolution 1970 (in which the situation in Libya was referred to the ICC), in surrendering al-Senussi to the Hague for investigation into his role in the commission of crimes against humanity in the country last year,.

press statement from the Office of the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, indicated that the government was pressing for al-Senussi’s extradition to France to serve the life sentence that was handed down to him in abstentia for his role in the bombing of flight UTA 772, which claimed the lives of 170 people on 18 September 1989.

Meanwhile, Libya’s provisionally-ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) has urged Mauritania to extradite al-Senussi to face justice in Libya, and dispatched its Deputy Prime Minister, Mustafa Abu Shagour, and a delegation of senior officials on 20 March to press for a decision. Libyan officials have expressed that their Courts are ready to hold a trial for al-Senussi.

According to an Al Jazeera report on 21 March, Shagour acknowledged that he had reached an agreement with Mauritanian officials that would see al-Senussi transferred to Libya, despite continued pressure from Paris. Mauritania has not yet confirmed this decision.

These developments come as as civil society expresses the urgent need to transfer al-Senussi to the ICC, rather than to face justice in Libya. ICRtoP member organization Human Rights Watch, and others including Amnesty International, members of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) called for such action without delay.

Regarding Mauritania’s responsibilities, the CICC reminded on 19 March that Security Council Resolution 1970 encouraged states to cooperate with the Court’s investigation into Libya, including the arrest and surrender of suspects:

“Although Mauritania is not a State party to the Rome Statute – ICC’s founding treaty – United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1970 – which referred the situation in Libya to the ICC – while recognizing that “States not party to the Rome Statute had no obligation under the Statute”, urged “all States and concerned regional and other international organizations to cooperate fully with the Court and the Prosecutor.”

The CICC’s release goes on to state:

“While the Libyan authorities retain pri­mary jurisdiction over crimes committed in their territory, they are legally bound to facilitate the transfer of the suspects to the ICC, unless Pre-Trial Chamber I (PTC) decides that the case is no longer admissible before the Court because the Libyan authorities are investigating or prosecuting the same individuals for the same crimes at national level.”

But, as Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Advisor, Donatella Rovera, stated in a press release on 19 March 2012, concerns remain over Libya’s ability to ensure a fair trial for al-Senussi:

“The news of al-Senussi’s arrest is an important moment for the victims of his alleged crimes in Libya. But Libya’s court system does not function and its justice system remains weak and unable to conduct effective investigations into alleged crimes against humanity, none of which are crimes under Libyan law. The ICC remains the best-placed mechanism for accountability in Libya.”

This has been echoed by Human Rights Watch and FIDH, who have also raised concerns over Libya’s troubled transition into the post-Gaddafi era, which includes the fact that thousands remain in detention under the control of militias, with widespread allegations of torture and ill-treatment. Both organizations have thus impressed upon the need for al-Senussi to be sent to the ICC instead of being tried in Libya.

Protesters demonstrate against the ongoing militia violence and pervasive lawlessness in Tripoli, Libya. (UN Photo/Iason Foounten)

However, No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ), an Italian non-governmental organization that runs a transitional justice program in Libya, has called specifically for al-Senussi to be tried in Libya. In a 17 March press release, the organization stated:

We take this opportunity to recall the wishes of the victims, and of the people of Libya, that both Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and Mr Senussi be tried in Libya, to face justice in the same place in which they allegedly waged their brutal attacks. According to the principle of complementarity, the ICC has jurisdiction only if the Libyan authorities are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute the crimes of which they have been accused. Libya is certainly willing, as they have proved by requesting Mauritania to transfer Mr Senussi to face charges before the Libyan courts.”

NPWJ followed this call by encouraging the international community to provide assistance to Libya as it seeks to be able to try both Abdullah al-Senussi and Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who, also wanted by the ICC, was arrested by militias from Zintan on 19 November 2011, and remains in custody in Libya. If, however, Libyan authorities were found unable to try al-Senussi, NPWJ said it would join other civil society organizations in calling for Mauritania to transfer the former Gaddafi-era official to the ICC.

The debate over where to extradite al-Senussi has thus reinforced the necessity of a holistic approach to international assistance in Libya’s post-conflict transition.

As Libya’s new authorities push for al-Senussi to be tried in their courts, concerns over the state of the judiciary and reported conditions in detention centers are a striking reminder of the potential risks of al-Senussi’s extradition to the country. Overall, the present situation raises serious questions about the ability of the post-Gaddafi system to deliver a fair trial that bestows justice to the victims of government-perpetrated crimes during the revolt.

At the May-June 2010 Kampala Review Conference of the ICC, the Court’s Assembly of States Parties (ASP) adopted a resolution which premised that states willing but unable to fulfill their Statute responsibilities in investigating and prosecuting individuals accused of Rome Statute crimes should be provided with the necessary tools needed to do so. If Mauritania does proceed with al-Senussi’s extradition to Libya, international assistance by the Court, members of the ASP, and civil society will be crucial to ensuring that the trial meets international standards.

The state of the judicial system and its capacity to hold fair, domestic trials reflect the broader challenge confronted by the new Libya as it struggles to consolidate security, build the rule of law, and promote respect for human rights – all integral in upholding its primary responsibility to protect its populations. Consistent with the second pillar of the RtoP, the international community must be prepared to provide assistance and capacity-building to the new Libyan authorities as the transition continues.

Click here for our post on the relationship between RtoP and the ICC.

Click here for our look at the anniversary of the Libyan protests and the challenges faced by the NTC in the post-Gaddafi transition.

Click here for our feature on the Responsibility to Protect in the aftermath of Libya, with voices from our civil society member organizations.

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Filed under CivSoc, Human Rights, International Criminal Court, Libya, National Transitional Council, Post-Conflict, RtoP, Security Council, UN