Category Archives: Prevention

#RtoPWeekly: 6 – 10 March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DPRK
DRC
Iraq
Kenya
Libya

Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sri Lanka
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen


Burma/Myanmar:

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

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


Burundi:

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


Central African Republic:

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

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


DPRK:

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


Democratic Republic of Congo:

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

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

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


Iraq:

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

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

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

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

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


Kenya:

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


Libya:

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


Mali:

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

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

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

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


Nigeria:

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

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

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

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


South Sudan:

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

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

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


Sri Lanka:

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


Sudan:

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

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


Syria:

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

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

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

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

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


Yemen:

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

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

#RtoPWeekly: 20 – 24 February

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

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

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

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

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

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


Catch up on developments in…

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


Burundi:

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

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

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


Central African Republic:

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


Democratic Republic of Congo:

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

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


Gaza/West Bank:

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


Iraq:

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

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

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


Libya:

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


Mali:

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


Nigeria:

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

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

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


South Sudan:

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

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

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

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


Sudan:

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

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

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


Syria:

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

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

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


Yemen:

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


What else is new?

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

 

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#RtoPWeekly: 30 January – February 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch up on developments in…

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

Central African Republic:

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

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


Democratic Republic of Congo:

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

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


Gaza/West Bank:

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


Iraq:

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

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


Libya:

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

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


Nigeria:

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

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


South Sudan:

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

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

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

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

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


Sri Lanka:

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


Sudan:

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

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


Syria:

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

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

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

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


Yemen:

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

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

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

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


What else is new?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Challenges

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

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

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

Response

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

UK parliament

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

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

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

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

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

Measuring success

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

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

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

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

 

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Q and A on the United States’ Atrocity Prevention Board

Today’s infographic to honor Genocide Awareness Month is a Q and A on the U.S.’s Atrocity Prevention Board. Read the full infographic to find out how the APB works, who’s involved, and how to make it better.

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Learn about National Mechanisms to prevent atrocity crimes

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

 

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Read the full infographic here.

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A quick guide to the UN’s Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes

To honor Genocide Awareness Month, we are releasing a set of infographics designed to be used as educational tools on atrocity crimes and their prevention/response. Click here for a quick guide to the UN’s Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes.

 

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Read the full infographic here.

 

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Remembering Srebrenica

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the commission of genocide in Srebrenica in which, under the protection of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) the Bosnian Serb Army (BSA) brutally killed over 8,000 Muslim men and boys, throwing their bodies into mass graves, and then reburying them in secondary graves in order to hide these heinous crimes. The forces sexually abused countless women and deported the elderly, women and children against their will. The horrific crimes under the eye of the UN marked yet another failure to protect civilians from atrocity crimes. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice have both affirmed that crimes committed in 1995 amount to genocide.

Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide. Photo Credit: Brianna Burt.

Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide. Photo Credit: Brianna Burt.

While many countries and leaders throughout the world are using this solemn anniversary to honor the victims and reflect on the lessons learned from this tragedy, some political leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), including the President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, continue to deny that the genocide occurred. This denial has impacted how the UN sought to commemorate the anniversary as a UN Security Council (UNSC) draft resolution brought forward by the United Kingdom, which would have recognized the crimes as genocide as well as included strong references to RtoP, was vetoed by the government of Russia. This veto followed calls from actors such as Mladen Ivanic, Chairmen of the Presidency, who urged the UNSC not to adopt a resolution commemorating the genocide.

Undeniably, the international community has worked hard to change its norms, structures, and responses in an effort to avert another Srebrenica. However, Russia’s 8 July 2015 veto of the commemoration resolution, as well as failures to halt atrocities in Syria, South Sudan, and Burma, among others, shows that not all lessons from the past have been learned.  As United Kingdom Ambassador Peter Wilson highlights, “We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of twenty years ago. We must act where we have early warning. We must find greater unity in this Council and use all of the tools at our disposal to do so.”  

Lessons Learned in Fostering a Culture of Prevention at the UN

In 1999, Kofi Annan released his report on the “Fall of Srebrenica” in which he highlighted the UN’s failures in responding to Srebrenica and identified lessons to be drawn from the genocide. The report stressed that different actors within the UN, including the peacekeeping mission and Member States, failed to adequately communicate and share intelligence. According to the report, members of the battalion “were aware of sinister indications,” but “did not report more fully the scenes that were unfolding around them.” Additionally, the report explained that the UN failed to fully understand the Serb war aims, partly because of inadequate and inaccurate reporting.

The failures in Srebrenica were a driving factor for the dramatic reconsideration of how the UN conducts its peacekeeping operations as well as directly influenced the development of the Responsibility to Protect ( RtoP) to serve as the primary framework for the prevention of future atrocities. Along with the development of RtoP, other key advances include the Human Rights Up Front initiative, the appointment of the Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, the creation of the Peacebuilding Commission, and the Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes.

Lessons Learned in Fostering a Culture of Response at the United Nations

The UN’s failure to protect civilians from the horrific atrocity crimes committed in Srebrenica—as well as other mass atrocities— led the organization to conduct its own soul searching with regards to its capacity to protect populations. The Secretary-General’s 1999 Srebrenica report urged Member States to address several challenges that the Srebrenica genocide uncovered, including the gap between mandates and means, how and when to use force, as well as the principle of impartiality even when faced with a risk of genocide. Around the same time, the UNSC passed its first thematic resolution on the protection of civilians (POC) and authorized the first-ever POC mandate in a UN peacekeeping operation (the UN Mission in Sierra Leone).

Similar to the 1999 Srebrenica report, the Brahimi Report also expressed concerns in regards to creating high protection expectations, emphasizing that “if an operation is given a mandate to protect civilians, therefore, it also must be given the specific resources needed to carry out the mandate.” In regards to the UN’s past reluctance to use force in fear of not adhering to the principle of impartiality, the Report stressed, “no failure did more damage to the standing credibility of UN peacekeeping in the 1990s than its reluctance to distinguish victim from aggressor.”  It further stated that UN peacekeepers “who witness violence against civilians should be presumed to be authorized to stop it…”

Since the first POC mandate, and the release of the Brahimi Report, the UNSC has authorized more robust POC mandates in different crises, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mali, and the Central African Republic. Furthermore, the Council’s thematic resolutions on POC began to stress that “protection activities must be given priority with decisions about the use of available capacity and resources.” Indeed, the protection of civilians has become a core activity of many UN missions, including those with Chapter VII authorizations. The UN Force Intervention Brigade in the DRC also added another dimension to the protections of civilians, as it had the authority to take offensive action in order to neutralize armed groups. Certainly, during the past 20 years, there have been significant changes in the way in which the UN responds to armed conflicts, as well as the means and capabilities it is willing to provide to missions for the purpose of protecting civilians.

Making “Never Again” a Reality

Despite these advances, the 20th anniversary of Srebrenica is also an opportunity to reflect on what the UN has not done to prevent and respond to atrocities. War crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide continue to be perpetrated throughout the world, including in Syria, Darfur, and Burma, among countless other countries and regions. Such conflicts illustrate both that the culture of prevention has yet to firmly and consistently take hold and that states are failing to live up to their responsibility to protect populations.

For example, on the protection of civilians front, the 2014 Office of Internal Oversight Services report found “persistent pattern of PKOs [peacekeeping operations] not interfering with force when civilians are under imminent attack.” Out of 507 reported by missions with POC mandates in which civilians were at threat from 2010-2013, a paltry 101 (20 percent) had garnered an immediate response.

The recent report of the High-Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations also echoes some of the same 15-year old concerns highlighted by both the 1999 report on Srebrenica and the Brahimi Report. In particular, the 2015 report emphasized that although there has been progress in promoting the protection of civilians, there are still significant gaps between what is asked of peace operations and what they can actually deliver. Furthermore, the Report highlighted that although many missions are operating in extremely hostile environments, “the challenges and implications of this new operating environment have not yet been well-defined or internalized.”

The Srebrenica genocide also highlighted other areas in peace operations in need of improvement, including immunity for peacekeepers. Though the 1999 Srebrenica report stated that “it is not possible to say with any certainty that stronger actions by the Dutchbat would have saved lives, and it is even possible that such efforts could have done more harm than good,” a Dutch court said in July 2014 that the Netherlands was liable for the deaths of more than 300 victims of Srebrenica. Nevertheless, accountability for peacekeepers, particularly in the wake of new accusations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, is virtually non-existent. Indeed, organizations such as the Stimson Center continue to urge the UN to “undertake a comprehensive and independent evaluation of the approach undertaken by the UN Secretariat to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse” in peacekeeping operations. (See the ICRtoP’s recent statement in this regard.)

Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide. Photo Credit: Brianna Burt.

Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide. Photo Credit: Brianna Burt.

In addition, stark challenges remain with regards to the UNSC acting to respond in the face of atrocity crimes. This stems explicitly from the continued misuse by Russia and China to wield their veto power when the Council seeks to condemn and act to protect civilians, as most notably evidenced in response to the ongoing crisis in Syria and most recently during the Srebrenica commemoration. As stressed by United States Ambassador Samantha Power, “Twenty years ago the international community failed to protect the people taking refuge in Srebrenica, and the result was genocide. Today, because of Russia’s refusal to call what happened in Srebrenica by its rightful name, genocide, the Council is again failing to live up to its responsibility.”

Civil society organizations have started initiatives that aim to address many of these challenges, including by urging UNSC members to refrain from the use of the veto in mass atrocity cases, as well as highlighting the importance of prevention and effective response. The international community must continue to address the lessons it has drawn from the Srebrenica genocide and take further steps to prevent and respond to mass atrocities.  If not, civilians across the world facing the risk of such horrific crimes and violations will continue to suffer, as did the victims of Srebrenica.

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Filed under Peacekeeping, Prevention, RtoP, srebrenica, UN

Children in Armed Conflict: A War Crime We Have the Responsibility to Prevent

The following is a guest blog from ICRtoP member Child Soldiers International. Child Soldiers International works to end the military recruitment of children and their use in hostilities, as well as other human rights abuses resulting from their association with armed forces or groups. They promote the release of children, seek their successful return to civilian life, and call for accountability for those who recruit and use them.

More than 50 parties to armed conflict are listed by the UN Secretary-General for recruiting and using children in armed conflict in a variety of capacities. And this list is not exhaustive. The recruitment and use of children by armed forces and armed groups is not only a disturbingly widespread practice: when perpetrated against children under 15 years of age it is a war crime.

Ensuring accountability for such war crimes, along with crimes against humanity and genocide is an essential part of upholding the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), as well as establishing a basis for sustainable peace and reconciliation. The International Criminal Court (ICC), which came into force in 2002, is the first permanent international judicial body mandated to investigate the commission of atrocity crimes and try alleged perpetrators when judicial mechanisms prove insufficient at the national level. Read on for excellent insight from Child Soldiers International on the importance of accountability and rehabilitation in ending the use and recruitment of child soldiers.

Rebel fighters surrender to FARDC

Child soldiers separated from the Mai Mai militia after surrendering to FARDC in the DRC. UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti

Accountability as Prevention

At Child Soldiers International, we believe that accountability for child recruitment is a crucial component of any strategy aimed at eradicating the use of child soldiers. States have a duty to investigate alleged violations committed by all parties to an armed conflict and prosecute those alleged to be responsible with a view to providing remedies to victims, and preventing the repetition of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

However, too many perpetrators continue to evade accountability: such impunity not only denies victims justice and reparations, but it also produces an environment conducive to the continuing perpetration of these crimes. Accountability is an essential component of prevention, and prevention is the most important aspect of the Responsibility to Protect.

Yet, time and again, accountability is dismissed as an obstacle to peace and stability. ‘Pragmatic’ considerations are often invoked – including by child protection agencies – to justify amnesties or de facto immunity for authors of child recruitment in order to secure the release of children from the ranks of armed forces and armed groups, for example. However, we believe that peace is neither achievable, nor sustainable without accountability. This has been repeatedly demonstrated in the context of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where impunity and integration into the armed forces of suspected perpetrators have simply fuelled further instability and consequent child recruitment.

While amnesties may be pursued for the sake of peace, stability or demobilisation efforts, it is well established (and it is a long standing UN policy) that they cannot be extended to individuals suspected of crimes under international law considered under RtoP – including war crimes like the use and recruitment of children in hostilities, as well as crimes against humanity and genocide.

Accountability and the ICC

When national authorities fail to take action, the International Criminal Court (ICC) offers potential recourse.In December 2014 we welcomed the conviction of former Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo before the ICC. Mr Lubanga was found guilty of the crimes of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 into his militia, the Patriotic Force for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), and using them to participate actively in hostilities. In its first judgment, the ICC signalled that these crimes warranted international attention and would not go unpunished.

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Thomas Lubanga on trial at the ICC. Lubanga was ultimately found guilty of the war crime of the use and recruitment of child soldiers. Reuters.

We have observed the deterrent effect of this conviction: in the DRC, where Mr Lubanga’s militia was operating, our partners negotiating the release of children from armed groups report that some commanders who have become aware of Mr Lubanga’s conviction are now fearful of the threat of criminal prosecution and have begun releasing children more systematically.

Similarly, in April 2012 we hailed the conviction of former Liberian President, Charles Ghankay Taylor, before the Special Court for Sierra Leone as a clear message from the international community that those who “aid and abet” armed groups that recruit and use children can and will be brought to justice. Mr Taylor was found guilty of a range of crimes under international law, including recruiting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities. In 2007, the Court had already convicted Alex Tamba Brima, Ibrahim Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, including the recruitment and use of children.

There is huge potential for the ICC to send similar strong messages that these war crimes will no longer be tolerated. It is encouraging to see that it is currently dealing with several other cases of alleged crimes relating to child soldiers, including that of former militia leader Bosco Ntaganda, also from the DRC.

A Former Child Soldier at The Hague

Another ICC case that relates to the issue of child soldiers is that of Dominic Ongwen. A former commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Ongwen was abducted as a child in his native Uganda, spent two decades in the LRA and was brought before the ICC last month. He is the only former child soldier appearing before the Court so far. The charges he faces do not relate to any role he had in the recruitment or use of children; they cover numerous attacks on civilians in 2004 and 2005. However, some are asking whether, as a former child soldier, Mr Ongwen should receive more leniency than other war crime suspects.

Dominic Ongwen’s precise age is unclear. Some reports say that he was abducted while walking to school as a 10-year-old. He himself reported being abducted at 14. In any event, no one is denying that Mr Ongwen, as a child, was the victim of a crime which tore him apart from his family environment and shaped the rest of his life.

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Victor Ongwen makes his first appearance at the ICC accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. AFP.

It is alleged that he subsequently rose through the ranks of the LRA and became a senior commander involved in the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes. In 2005 the ICC had issued an arrest warrant for Vincent Otti, Joseph Kony, Dominic Ongwen and two other senior LRA members. In January, some 10 years later, one of those arrest warrants was realised when Mr Ongwen was transferred to the ICC.

His being a former child soldier raises the question about how such defendants can be justly treated in either national or international courts. This has caused some debate, particularly in Uganda where some community leaders and lawyers argue that former child soldiers are not wholly responsible for their actions.

The offences Mr Ongwen is charged with were committed during his adulthood. Using his own stated age, the offences under consideration allegedly took place when he was approximately 29 years old. Indeed the ICC has no jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by someone who was under the age of 18 at the time (Rome Statute, Article 26). Mr Ongwen’s past experience as a child soldier may be relevant for his legal defence; however, without prejudice to other factual and legal issues, his being a victim of a similar crime is not a defence in itself. His status as a former child soldier may be more relevant at the sentencing stage, should he be found guilty. Once the Court establishes the correct sentence to impose on an offender, it must then consider whether it should be reduced to take into account the offender’s personal mitigating circumstances.

Rebel fighters surrender to FARDC

Demobilized child soldiers in the DRC. UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti.

It cannot be underestimated how significant these might be in Mr Ongwen’s case. Being abducted as a 10-year-old and experiencing the peripatetic and terrifying life of the LRA’s campaigns cannot but have had a lasting effect on any child. Many children associated with armed forces and armed groups will have endured severe beatings and sexual violence, and will have witnessed killings. Some will have victimised others. Extremely traumatic experiences within these groups are associated with marked emotional distress, behavioural difficulties and traumatic stress symptoms. Children’s ways of coping will be affected by whether they were able to demobilise, and by their post-conflict experiences. Those likely to fare better in the longer term are those who on return to their communities can receive family, peer and community understanding, support, acceptance and forgiveness. However, Mr Ongwen never went back: he grew into adulthood without being exposed to non-violent familial and community socialisation and developmental experiences.

Understanding and empathy towards victims of armed conflict must also be extended to those who emerge from such war-ravaged childhoods to commit crimes, even on a scale such as this. We believe that Mr Ongwen should not avoid justice because of his childhood experiences. However, it would be a potential injustice not to take into account his traumatic experiences when determining an appropriate sentence, should he be found guilty.

Case Studies for the Responsibility to Protect

Several lessons for RtoP can be gleaned from the cases above. First, accountability is the primary responsibility of national authorities, but failing this, can be achieved with the assistance of the international community, or through an ICC investigation. Accountability for crimes under international law such as the recruitment and use of child soldiers is essential for ending the cycle of violence and impunity that can lead to the re-commission of such crimes, as evidenced by the deterrent effect seen in the DRC.

In addition, as demonstrated by the Ongwen case, the RtoP extends to other post-conflict initiatives aimed at preventing future outbreaks of violence that can lead to the commission of atrocities. When dealing with child soldiers, it is critical for States to implement demobilization programmes that also include proper support that will aid the return to psychological well-being in emotionally distressed child soldiers. This, and associated work with their families and communities to facilitate their acceptance and forgiveness on return, is more likely to ensure peace in the longer term.

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Filed under DRC, First Pillar, International Criminal Court, Justice, Prevention, Reconciliation, Uganda

Election Violence in Nigeria is not Inevitable

When Nigeria went to the polls in 2011, a period of intense post-election violence left over 800 dead and thousands more displaced. Given that past incidents of violence are seen as an indicator of the potential for future bloodshed, many fear that a similar outcome will come to pass when the now postponed elections are held on March 28th 2015. In addition, concerns over technical deficiencies, intense political rivalries exacerbated by ethnic and religious cleavages, and the menacing Boko Haram threat, are said to be creating a ‘perfect storm’  that could see the country erupt into another round of fighting. The recent announcement of the delay has compounded the situation further, with opposition candidates viewing it as an attempt to “…subvert Nigeria’s democratic process”. 

Nigeria Elections

Protests in Abuja over the postponement of the election. AP Photo/Olamikan Gbemiga

In this climate, the risk of atrocity crimes is immense. Civilians could find themselves threatened by Boko Haram’s attempts to disrupt the electoral process, heavy-handed retaliation from the Nigerian military, inter-communal or religious post-election violence, or some deadly combination of all of these.

However, despite the presence of these risk factors, electoral violence is not inevitable.  As Ban Ki-moon noted in his 2013 thematic report ‘Responsibility to Protect: State Responsibility and Prevention’, the absence of atrocities in countries that display one or more risk factors stems, at least in part, from sources of national resilience. For example, the 2013 election in Kenya demonstrates how a country that has previously experienced atrocity crimes at the polls can learn from this and take preventive measures to avoid repeating the cycle of violence.

There are encouraging signs that Nigerians, regional players, and the international community are learning the lessons of Nigeria’s 2011 election by taking steps to mitigate the risk of atrocities and prevent the recurrence of electoral violence. The below sections detail the unique threats faced by Nigeria, the relationship between elections and mass atrocities, and civil society recommendations for further preventive action that can be taken with the hopes of sparing the country more carnage.

 

The Looming Threat of Electoral Violence

In a recent Center for Security and International Studies (CSIS) report, Jennifer Cooke and Richard Downie categorized Nigeria’s risk of violence as having roots in political, technical and security-based aspects. Politically, the upcoming election is as contested as ever, with two main candidates emerging as strong contenders.  The incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and his main opponent, Muhammahdu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), stand a relatively equal chance of clinching the presidency.

This type of contest makes for heated rhetoric, and sometimes violent action – particularly when elections are tinged with an ethnic or religious tone. The showdown between Jonathan and Buhari is often dangerously depicted as a showdown between Nigeria’s mainly Christian South and the Muslim North.  In Nigeria, disparities in access to land, services and jobs also figure along these lines, and many view power as the only way to ensure equal access for one’s regional, ethnic or religious group.

These divisions have already led to low-level instances of violence, for example in attacks on APC candidates and a bombing of a Goodluck Jonathan campaign bus. Other dangerous incidents include the use of intimidation tactics and hate speech, for example, one state governor who referred to the opposition as “cockroaches” amid chants to “kill them” from supporters.

Such tensions are sure to increase if the election results are not viewed credibly. However, technical hiccups have already surfaced that could negatively impact the outcome. Comfort Ero of International Crisis Group (ICG) explains that with regards to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) tasked with administering and overseeing the elections:

“…the electoral commission is still struggling to get permanent voter cards to more than 15 million registered voters (about 22% of the electorate). It has asked voters to collect them instead, which for many will necessitate an arduous journey.”

The affected areas are those that have been hit hardest by Boko Haram, including Yobe, Adamawa, and Borno states. In these areas, forced displacement could also prevent an additional 1.5 million from participating in the polls. Given that these states are considered bastions of support for Buhari, it could lead to disputes over the election’s results if not adequately addressed.

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Members of the Nigerian State Security Services. Wikimedia Commons/Beeg Eagle.

Lastly, the security challenge posed by Boko Haram adds an additional layer of friction. In recent weeks, the extremist group has stepped up attacks drastically, perhaps most horrifically in Baga where groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documented “large-scale destruction” amid fears that up to 2,000 civilians may have been killed. In addition, the group has conducted a number of suicide bombings, attempted to claim crucial territory in the city of Maidaguri, and regionalized its insurgency by making incursions into neighbouring Niger and Cameroon.

The escalation in violence led INEC to determine that, “The risk of deploying young men and women and calling people to exercise their democratic rights in a situation where their security cannot be guaranteed is a most onerous responsibility…Consequently the commission has decided to reschedule the elections thus.” This decision was ostensibly taken to give the military an additional six weeks to tackle the Boko Haram threat.

However, in the past the Nigerian security forces have demonstrated spectacular ineptitude in their efforts to counter Boko Haram, mostly due to pervasive corruption, mutiny, poor equipment, and low morale. More often than not, the army has added to the suffering through aggressive counter-terror tactics and human rights abuses that have further endangered civilian populations. The APC has also made accusations of politicisation, pointing to instances of restrictions on their campaigning activities and an unwillingness to properly investigate attacks against their supporters. Assertions that the delay is of more a political gambit than an outright concern for the safety of Nigerians can only add to these concerns.

 

Elections as a Trigger for Mass Atrocities

While elections have not been shown to be a direct cause of atrocities, political transitions that occur in times of instability have a tendency to exacerbate underlying tensions and act as a ‘trigger’. This was demonstrated in several states that recently experienced election-related violence in Africa, including Kenya in 2007, Zimbabwe in 2008, Cote d’Ivoire, and to a lesser extent, Guinea, in 2010.

The United Nations Office for the Prevention of Genocide’s ‘Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes’ explains that “Census, elections, pivotal activities related to those processes, or measures that destabilize them,” should be carefully monitored for the potential to foment atrocity crimes, particularly where a major shift in the political power of a group takes place. However, as noted above, violence is not inevitable if preventive measures are taken.

The 2013 presidential election in Kenya offers a positive example of how state officials, civil society, media representatives, and international donors can work together to ensure free and fair elections, counter hate speech and violent incitement, inform the public through conflict-sensitive reporting, and undertake other peacebuilding activities to prevent the outbreak of widespread violence.

Some of these precautions are being taken in Nigeria. For example, the leading presidential candidates have all signed the Abuja Declaration Accord, publically committing themselves to non-violence and peaceful navigation of the electoral process. Local civil society organizations such as the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room, are working around the clock to monitor and report on instances of violence and incitement during the campaigning and on Election Day.

Secretary_Kerry_Meets_With_Nigerian_Presidential_Challenger_Buhari_For_Conversation_About_Upcoming_Election_(16364324705)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meeting with Presidential Challenger Buhari. U.S. Department of State photo.

The international community is also stepping up, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently travelled to Nigeria to speak with the presidential candidates, threatening travel restrictions and other measures should they stoop to the commission of violent acts. The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, has also warned that the court will be monitoring the election and that “No one should doubt my resolve, whenever necessary, to prosecute individuals responsible for the commission of ICC crimes.” Lastly, the African Union has approved a 7,500-strong regional force to assist the Nigerian authorities in their fight against Boko Haram.

But there is more that can be done. For the presidential candidates, Comfort Ero calls on them to tone down their rhetoric, publically denounce incitement from their supporters, and use the courts and other constitutional means to pursue any grievances. For this, CSIS stresses the importance of abiding by the Abuja Declaration Accord, recommending its widespread circulation and enforcement, potentially through a national peace committee.

To the security services, CSIS add that “Nigeria’s security agencies have a responsibility to perform their duties in a strictly impartial manner, to act with restraint, and to strike a balance between providing safe conditions for voting to take place and appearing to “militarize” the process …” ICRtoP member the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect urges Nigeria and regional governments involved in the fight against Boko Haram to finalize and coordinate joint operational plans. Indeed, if the Nigerian military is to uphold its promise to dismantle all Boko Haram bases in northeastern Nigeria in the next six weeks, regional cooperation will likely prove indispensable.

Lastly, the Fund for Peace and Search for Common Ground recently released a joint letter stressing the role of the media, civil society and the private sector in continuing to monitor and report on inflammatory rhetoric, including through social media, delivering messages of peace, leveraging positive relationships with candidates, and establishing a mechanism for mediation in the event of disputed results. Importantly, the critical support of the international community is called upon to reinforce these activities and provide a constant reminder to concerned parties that violence has no place in the electoral process.

 

Preventing Election Violence a Collective Responsibility

It has been rightly stated that the primary responsibility to prevent election violence lies with presidential candidates themselves. However, other national, regional, and international actors have an equally important role to play. While there are encouraging signs of RtoP preventive action being taken, the delay in elections makes it all the more important that efforts to encourage calm and ensure that credible elections are held in a timely and peaceful manner are redoubled.  Should stakeholders waver in their responsibility, the results could be even more catastrophic than in 2011. In this event, as has been pointed out, “Boko Haram will be the only winner…”

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Filed under Nigeria, Prevention, RtoP