Category Archives: Reconciliation

#RtoPWeekly 8-12 May

New study finds ISIL killed or kidnapped almost 10,000 Yazidis in 2014

A new study published by the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Medicine this week has shown that the Islamic State (ISIL) killed or kidnapped almost 10,000 Yazidis during the attack on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq in 2014. Valeria Cetorelli, a demographer from John Hopkins University and the London School of Economics and Political Science, and lead researcher on the study has been conducting investigations on the number of people affected by this onslaught on the Yazidi population for possible use in a potential future trial to hold the perpetrators of such atrocities accountable. According to her research, ISIL killed approximately 3,100 Yazidis during the attack on Mount Sinjar and forcibly enslaved almost 7,000 people, forcing them into sex slavery or to become fighters in 2014 alone. These totals amounted to the death or enslavement of at least 2.5 percent of the minority group population by the time that Cetorelli carried out her initial interviews with Yazidis in camps for displaced persons in 2015.

Children that have escaped ISIL captivity and are now living in such camps for displaced persons have recently given testimonies on their treatment by ISIL militants while they were in captivity. According to their testimonies, ISIL abducted hundreds of young boys and forcibly held and trained them in camps to become fighters and suicide bombers. Human Rights Watch has estimated that 3,500 of them still remain captive in Iraq and Syria. In total, UN investigators have estimated that over 5,000 Yazidis have been killed and approximately 7,000 women have been forced into sex slavery.

The evidence of the atrocities carried out against the Yazidis gathered by legal experts and UN investigators is also intended to serve as documentation for the purpose of a future trial to bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice. Among the many calls for accountability, Amal Clooney, an international human rights lawyer, has been trying to bring ISIL to trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the crimes carried out against the Yazidis. Clooney and Nadia Murad, a Yazidi survivor of the attack who was enslaved by ISIL and escaped, have continuously urged the United Nations Security Council and the entire international community, including the Iraqi government, to cooperate for the purpose of a UN investigation into the ISIL’s atrocities against the Yazidis.

On 15 June 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a report entitled, “‘They came to destroy’: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis,” in which the Council reported that the atrocities committed by ISIL against the Yazidi population amounted to genocide and multiple crimes against humanity and war crimes.


Catch up on developments in…


Burundi
CAR
DRC
Iraq
Libya

Mali
South Sudan
Syria
Yemen


Burundi:

Former Burkina Faso president, Michel Kafando, has been appointed the new UN envoy for Burundi. In addition, the EU has called for inclusive dialogue under the mediation of the Ugandan President with the former Tanzanian President as a facilitator. The EU has stated that these meetings are essential for the restoration of peace in Burundi.


Central African Republic:

After dozens of attacks on workers delivering aid in the Central African Republic, the UN humanitarian office said on 5 May that four international humanitarian organizations have temporarily suspended activities in northern CAR. The staff from these organizations will move to Bangui, the country’s capital, and may withdraw completely if threats of violence persist. Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called for increased support of children in the “forgotten crisis,” adding that displacement has made children particularly vulnerable to “health risks, exploitation and abuse.”

A UN convoy was attacked by the “anti-Balaka” armed group near Yogofongo village on 9 May. Officials said four peacekeepers were killed and at least eight were wounded, while one remains missing. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attacks against the convoy and called on CAR authorities to investigate them in order to ensure swift justice.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

On Monday, the UN stated that the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is “dramatically deteriorating” as ethnic violence continues to spread and drive people from their homes. Last week alone, around 100,000 people were uprooted in the Kasai region, increasing the number of displaced to nearly 1.3 million. An estimated average of 4,600 people flee their homes daily in the DRC.


Iraq:

According to a 7 May report by ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities are responsible for the internal displacement of Sunni Turkmen, with the intent to compel them to return to towns controlled by the Popular Mobilization Forces’ Shia units (Hashd al-Sha’abi or PMF). Displaced Turkmen have reported that KRG authorities in Kirkuk have detained and abused them in order to coerce them to leave the region.

Lama Fakih, Deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, declared in the 7 May report that “all Iraqis have the right to live in safety, and forcing displaced Turkmen families out of their homes to parts of the country where they would be in danger is particularly egregious,” adding that “KRG forces should cease harassing Turkmen and unlawfully forcing them to leave Kirkuk.” Human Rights Watch has reported abuses against Sunni Turkmen in other places, including Fallujah and Nineveh.

Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, reported on 9 May that there are currently approximately 360,000 Iraqi civilians caught in the fight between the Iraqi forces and the Islamic State in the north-west Mosul, adding that “emergency assistance and basic services are being provided by humanitarian partners” to those families arriving in Badoush in northeast Iraq. Mr. Dujarric stressed that there is a high number of casualties in Mosul hospitals as well, with over twelve thousand people being hospitalized since 17 October.


Libya:

The International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda presented her thirteenth report on the situation in Libya on 8 May to the United Nations Security Council. Recalling the climate of impunity and spread of human rights violations, she deplored that ordinary citizens have to suffer.

The Prosecutor briefed the Security Council about the relevant ICC investigations as the arrest warrant against Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled, former Head of the Internal Security agency under Muammar Gaddafi, was unsealed on 24 April. Khaled is allegedly responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 2011 uprisings in Libya. The arrest warrant was declassified in hopes of facilitating the arrest and surrender of Mr. Al-Tuhamy, and therefore Bensouda urged all states to cooperate with his arrest. She also called upon the Libyan government to take action and surrender Saif al-Islam Gaddafi to the ICC. In 2015, a Libyan court in Tripoli sentenced him and seven other former government officials to death. Gaddafi appears to have been released from prison, though his whereabouts remain unclear. Finally, regarding the case against Abdulah al-Senussi, she recalled the lack of compliance to fair trials standards while his case was being appealed before the Libyan Supreme Court.

Bensouda also added that because peace in Libya has been undermined by the serious crimes committed by government authorities, the country has also become a marketplace for trafficking and organized crime. Bensouda declared that the ICC is carefully examining the feasibility of opening an investigation into migrant-related crimes in Libya, and that her Office has the firm commitment to collect information related to serious and widespread crimes allegedly committed against migrants attempting to transit through Libya.


Mali:

The deterioration of the security and human rights situation in Mali has undermined the 2015 peace agreement struck between the Malian government and two coalitions of armed groups, according to an analysis released by the Worldwide Movement for Human Rights (FIDH) on 11 May. Indeed, the recent violent clashes have enabled the expansion of terrorist groups and created a climate of insecurity. FIDH stated in the report that there is an urgent need to strengthen the UN mission in the country and fight against impunity. FIDH and its member organization the Association malienne des droits de l’homme will be at the United Nations headquarters in New York from 7 to 13 May to discuss these issues and present their recommendations.


South Sudan:

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than two million children have been forced to flee their homes in South Sudan as a result of the civil war. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has deployed its peacekeeping troops in the Upper Nile region to support the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

The United Nations Security Council has condemned the 3 May attack on UNMISS, calling for immediate adherence to the permanent ceasefire addressed in the August 2015 peace deal.

The South Sudanese Army (SPLA) said that its forces captured the headquarters of the opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) on 5 May, allegedly reversing all gains made by the rebels in the past months. In addition, President Kiir has replaced his previous army chief, Paul Malong, with General James Ajongo Mawut, former deputy chief of general staff for administration and finance.


Syria:

During the Astana talks held in Kazakhstan last week, Russia and Iran signed a memorandum with Turkey that called for a “pause in fighting and airstrikes for six months in and around the rebel-held areas, unhindered aid deliveries, and the return of displaced civilians.” Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy to Syria, referred to the memorandum as an “important, promising, positive step in the right direction.” The six-month agreement bans all attacks in the agreed “de-escalation” zones, apart from attacks targeted against the Islamic State and the Nusra Front, and it also allows for humanitarian assistance in the agreed areas.

However, the memorandum was not signed by either the Syrian government or the non-state actors to the conflict, with Walid al-Moallem, the Syrian Foreign Minister, declaring on 8 May that the Syrian government does “not accept a role for the United Nations or international forces to monitor the agreement.” On 10 May, Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, announced plans to meet this week with US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson in order to discuss the situation in Syria and both countries’ role in the conflict.


Yemen:

Jamie McGoldrick, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, urged on 7 May for “safe, unconditional, and sustained” humanitarian aid in the country. He also stressed that it is “imperative that humanitarians reach people in need without obstacle, wherever they may be.” There are currently approximately 17 million Yemenis in need.

On Tuesday, 9 May, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported that the cholera outbreak in Yemen is worsening. Shinjiro Murate, head of the MSF mission in Yemen, stressed that the organization is “very concerned that the disease will continue to spread and become out of control,” also calling for “humanitarian assistance [that] needs to be urgently scaled up to limit the spread of the outbreak and anticipate other potential outbreaks.” The WHO reported 2,022 occurrences of cholera in Yemen just within the last fortnight, with at least 34 deaths among them.

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Filed under Burundi, DRC, genocide, International Criminal Court, Justice, Libya, Reconciliation, RtoP, Second Pillar, Yemen

#RtoPWeekly: 10-14 April 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Source of above photo: Reuters via BBC News

 Catch up on developments in…

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

Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen

Burma/Myanmar:

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


Burundi:

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

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


Central African Republic:

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

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

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


Democratic Republic of Congo:

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

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

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


Gaza/West Bank:

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


Iraq:

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

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

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


Libya:

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


Mali:

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

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


Nigeria:

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

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


South Sudan:

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

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


Sudan:

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

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

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


Syria:

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


Yemen:

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

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

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

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

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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“Convert, Pay, Flee, or Be Killed” Iraq’s Minorities Under Threat

The rapid advance of the Islamist militant group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that began in June of 2014 shocked the international community due to its ferocity and the sheer inability of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to stop the group’s progress. ISIS has now taken control of significant portions of north-western Iraq, declaring its goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate through Iraq and Syria.  

ISIS fighters, pictured on a militant website verified by AP. AP File.

Throughout the ISIS onslaught and the ISF counter-offensive, civilian populations have suffered gravely. Among the most troubling consequences are the targeting and expulsion of ethnic and religious minorities, as well as mass displacement that has affected nearly 1.2 million Iraqis. The United Nations, civil society groups, and the wider international community have expressed extreme dismay at the unfolding situation, sounding alarm bells over the commission of atrocities and the worsening humanitarian situation.

The recent announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama that he had authorized airstrikes and humanitarian airdrops, in part to protect the Yazidi minorities stranded and besieged on Mount Sinjar, is reflective of the dire situation. Many have hailed this move, as well as the offer of various forms of assistance by European governments, as necessary measures to prevent the imminent genocide of the Yazidi population, and a clear example of upholding the second pillar of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). Encouraging as this is, premature celebration would be naïve, as much work remains to solve the political impasse and humanitarian emergency that prevents the Iraqi state from upholding its primary protection obligations.

ISIS Targeting Iraq’s Minorities

Since the early days of the ISIS advance, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch has documented  the persecution of minority groups in great detail. In a statement released in July, the organization noted the “killing, kidnapping, and threatening” of religious and ethnic minorities in Mosul and the surrounding area. Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson warned that “Being a Turkman, a Shabak, a Yazidi, or a Christian in ISIS territory can cost you your livelihood, your liberty, or even your life.” She went on to state that “ISIS seems intent on wiping out all traces of minority groups from areas it now controls in Iraq.”

Violence against Iraq’s minorities is alarming for the fact that such targeting is identified as an indicator for determining the risk of genocide under the Analysis Framework released by the Office of the Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide.  Indeed, ISIS has gone about destroying religious and cultural relics deemed heretical, while most of the Christian population have fled Mosul after the July 19th ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a tax, flee or be killed. This practice has spread to other Iraqi towns in recent days, as ISIS has begun to challenge the Kurdish Regions of Iraq, resulting in more devastating consequences for minority groups.

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Displaced Yazidis participate in demonstration at the Iraqi-Syrian border August 13, 2014. Reuters/Youssef Boudlal

The smoking gun that triggered a more proactive international response was the attack on the town of Sinjar that left approximately 25,000 Yazidi Iraqis trapped in the Sinjar Mountains. Before rescue efforts began, stranded Yazidis faced the very real risk of being slaughtered by ISIS as they attempted to leave, while those who remained were cut-off from adequate food and water supplies.  ISIS is believed to have killed several hundred Yazidis and threats from the Islamist group and other sympathetic Sunnis continue.

While it has been reported that many Yazidis have since been rescued, other accounts claim that those too weak to leave – namely children, the elderly, and the sick – remain immobilized on the mountain. Iraq’s Christian population faces similar dangers, as Qaraqosh – the  largest Christian town in Iraq – was recently overrun, creating 200,000 additional refugees that have faced the same ultimatum as those in and around Mosul.

UN Officials Respond to Mass Atrocities, Invoke RtoP

These worrisome developments have prompted a number of UN experts to express grave concern. The Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák has since stated that “All possible measures must be taken urgently to avoid a mass atrocity and potential genocide within days or hours – civilians need to be protected on the ground and escorted out of situations of extreme peril.” She added that “the responsibility to protect populations at risk of atrocity crimes falls both on the Iraqi Government and the international community.”

The Special Advisers to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide and The Responsibility to Protect, Adama Dieng, and Jennifer Welsh also condemned the attacks, warning that such acts “constitute grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity” Ominously, they also cautioned that “The reports we have received of acts committed by the “Islamic State” may also point to the risk of genocide.” Like other UN officials, they have called on regional and global actors to provide support to help avert further atrocity crimes.

Secretary-General meeting President elect of the Republic of Iraq. UN Photo.

Additionally, the Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov drew special attention to the plight of vulnerable women, girls and boys after reporting that “Atrocious accounts on the abduction and detention of Yazidi, Christian, as well as Turkomen and Shabak women, girls and boys, and reports of savage rapes, are reaching us in an alarming manner.” The two jointly condemned these acts of sexual violence as potential war crimes and crimes against humanity, while joining other UN officials in invoking RtoP.

 

RtoP’s Second Pillar in Action

While the term ‘Responsibility to Protect’ was not used directly in authorizing airstrikes in Iraq, the action taken by the U.S. and others was requested by the Iraqi Government, and done—at least in part—with the intent of preventing an imminent genocidal threat to civilians.  For all intents and purposes, the assistance offered constitutes a second pillar response to a mass atrocity situation.

As ICRtoP’s recent publication on the matter explains, pillar two can indeed include the use of force when requested by a sovereign state; though this is usually subordinated to capacity-building measures that allow states to uphold their primary protection obligations. The latter has been pledged by the UK and Germany and includes financial and non-lethal aid to the Iraqi army, in addition to France’s offer to transfer arms to the Kurds.

Prominent RtoP scholars and advocates have confirmed the legitimacy of the U.S. intervention, lauding it as an appropriate measure to protect Iraq’s minorities.  For example, Gareth Evans wrote in an article titled “The Right Iraqi Invasion” that:

The United States’ action is completely consistent with the principles of the international responsibility to protect (R2P) people at risk of mass-atrocity crimes…The US military intervention touches all the necessary bases of legality, legitimacy and likely effectiveness in meeting its immediate objectives.

Similarly, Alex Bellamy clarified the intervention’s second pillar nature by stating:

This US action to help protect Iraq’s civilians from ISIS sits squarely under pillar two of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle, which relates to the international community’s responsibility to assist states to fulfill their responsibility to protect their populations…The use of force comes in response to a specific request for assistance from a member state—helping a state fulfill its R2P (as mentioned in paragraph 138 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome on R2P) and assisting a state under stress (paragraph 139 of the same agreement).”

Certainly, such assistance is a positive development for the Yazidi population, and a welcome example of the international community embracing its second pillar responsibilities. However, many challenges remain to permanently defeat the ISIS threat and to ensure all civilians are protected in Iraq.

 

A More Effective Pillar II Response

There is widespread acknowledgement that at the heart of the crisis is the political division between Sunni, Shia, and Kurds that has been fermented by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s sectarian form of governance, and prevented any unified response to extremism. In recognizing this reality, Obama reiterated a key tenant of the U.S. strategy when he authorized military action, stating that ultimately there can be “no military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.”

It is worth noting again that while current U.S. action falls within the second pillar of RtoP, there are also non-military protection measures that can be taken. While this includes the financial and logistical assistance provided by European countries, additional contributions can include dialogue and mediation assistance to help Iraqis overcome divisive issues obscuring the path to reconciliation. It is also important that actors assess how their assistance affects the likelihood of the further commission of atrocity crimes, and that action is taken accordingly.

In this vein, the recent Security Council resolution that extended the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) recognized the importance of dialogue and reconciliation and stressed the need for continued support to the Iraqi people, civil society and the Government in this regard.

International Crisis Group also recommends that “International recognition of Maliki’s legitimacy, or that of any successor, should be contingent on statesmanship, namely immediate and consequential movement on the reforms expected of him for years,” thus ensuring that the patterns of exclusion and repression are not repeated.

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Iraqi Yazidis receive assistance at the Newroz refugee camp. UK DFID.

RtoP’s second pillar also outlines a role for international actors to assist Internally Displace Persons when the capacity of the state to protect these groups is weak or non-existent. To this end, Amnesty International has encouraged an expanded effort to provide relief,  statingThe Iraqi central government, the Kurdish Regional Government, donor countries and international agencies must take concerted action to provide safe shelter and humanitarian assistance to men, women and children of all backgrounds forced to flee in the face of such ferocious brutality.”

The recent UN declaration that Iraq has reached a third level humanitarian emergency was made in hopes that it will “facilitate mobilization of additional resources in goods, funds and assets to ensure a more effective response to the humanitarian needs of populations affected by forced displacements.” It is now mostly up to the international community to provide this support.

Uniting to Protect Iraq’s Civilians

In Iraq, there remains a dual challenge of ensuring the immediate protection needs of threatened populations, and achieving a long-term political solution backed by a unified government, representative of all segments of society.  Maliki’s recent decision to step down after tension over the selection of Haidar Al-Abadi as his replacement is a positive sign of progress. Further pressure from the international community is needed to encourage Iraq’s leaders to set aside political and sectarian grievances and unite for the common cause of defending Iraq’s civilians from the extremist threat and averting an all out civil war. As UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres warnedThere is no way humanitarians can clean up the mess made by politicians. What they really need is peace.

For more information on the crisis in Iraq, see the country pages by ICRtoP and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

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The Case of José Efraín Ríos Montt: Hitting the Reset Button on Justice in Guatemala

When former Guatemalan leader, José Efraín Ríos Montt, was found guilty of genocide on 10 May, it was a historical moment not only in the country, but for the world. It was the first time a former leader had been put on trial and convicted of genocide – one of the four crimes and violations within the Responsibility to Protect frameworkby a national, rather than international, court. For the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, a Guatemala-based organization founded by survivors of the state’s military campaign against indigenous villages 12 years ago, the conviction was “an opportunity to recuperate the truth that has been denied to our families and to the Guatemalan society…it was an opportunity to confront the past and address the root causes of the discrimination” they had suffered. Human Right Watch‘s Americas Director, José Miguel Vicanco, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) also welcomed the verdict, with USHMM stating that it “sent a powerful message…to the world that nobody, not even a former head of state, is above the law when it comes to committing genocide.” It was a victory for justice and the ongoing fight against impunity as well as another step towards healing for the victims and society – until the Guatemalan Constitutional Court overturned the conviction on 20 May . We are now left to wonder where the case stands, what this will mean for the victims and what effect this will have on justice and reconciliation in Guatemala.

Atrocities committed – the crimes and the verdict

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A woman from the Mayan population of Quiche region of Guatemala – an indigenous group in Guatemala who have felt persecuted for decades. UN Photo/John Olsson

An estimated 200,000 people were killed and over 1 million displaced during Guatemala’s 36 year-long civil war, which spanned from 1960-1996, with some 83% of the victims being indigenous Ixil Maya. Ríos Montt was sentenced by Guatemala’s top court to 80 years in prison for his role as the “intellectual author” of the killing of 1,771 people and the displacement of tens of thousands during his 17 months as president between 1982 and 1983. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the key question throughout the trial was whether Ríos Montt intentionally targeted Ixil Mayan communities while conducting the counterinsurgency campaign waged against guerillas operating in the Ixil region. Despite strong evidence against him, which included testimony by over 100 witnesses – including psychologists, military personnel, and victims -who told horrific stories of killings, sexual violence and the destruction of communities, Ríos Montt denied his role in ordering the genocide of the Mayan population, saying, “I never authorized, I never proposed, I never ordered acts against any ethnic or religious group.” Nonetheless, on 10 May, Judge Jazmin Barrios, announced that the court found Ríos Montt did plan and order the brutal campaign. In reading the summary of the verdict, Judge Barrios statedWe are completely convinced of the intent to destroy the Ixil ethnic group” which had been considered public enemies of the state and an inferior race, and concluded that the “violence against them, was not spontaneous but planned.

An imperfect trial? Prosecution challenges the Ríos Montt proceedings

With Ixil Mayan witnesses and victims testifying about massacres, torture, systematic sexual violence and the destruction of the Mayan culture, the trial, which began on 19 March, stirred up much interest and debate in Guatemala and abroad. While international human rights organizations celebrated the conviction, it was met with some controversy at home. The Constitutional Court was the target of lobbying by opponents to the verdict, including the state’s powerful business federation, Cacif, because they believed such a case tarnished the reputation of Guatemalans, equating them with the Nazis.

The trial proceedings themselves were also rife with drama and complications. From the beginning, one of Ríos Montt’s lawyers, Francisco Garcia Gudiel, challenged Judge Barrios’ legitimacy, accusing her of bias and partiality. This claim that the court was unable to deliver a fair verdict and the attempt to challenge the judges led Mr. Garcia Gudiel to be expelled on the first day, although he would be later reinstated. The issues didn’t stop there, as the rest of the defense team stormed out of the court on 18 April in protest at what they called “illegal proceedings”. The next day Mr. Garcia Gudiel was again expelled, this time for a few hours, after accusing Judge Barrios of failing to hear his legal challenges. The defense team used the second expulsion to declare to the Constitutional Court that their client was deprived of the lawyer of his choice, leading to an order that there be no sentencing until the issues had been resolved. The tribunal, however, disobeyed that order and issued their sentence of Ríos Montt’s case.According to Geoff Thale, an expert on Guatemala at the Washington Office on Latin America, as evidence presented during the trial clearly showed that Ríos Montt had ordered soldiers to burn indigenous villages and kill members of the Ixil group, his legal team’s only “tactic was to go after the judges who presided over the case.” The prosecutors consistently asserted that the defense strategy relied on constitutional challenges to delay or obstruct the trial. As the trial came to an end, defense lawyers announced that they would appeal, and appeal they did. This led to the three-to-two ruling by a panel of Constitutional judges to annul everything that had happened during the proceedings since 19 April, when Ríos Montt was briefly left without a defense lawyer and the trial should have come to a halt until the unresolved defense appeals had been resolved.

Hitting the reset button on justice?

The details of the annulment and how the trial plans to “hit the reset button” to 19 April remain unclear. The Constitutional Court has said that statements delivered in court before 19 April would stand, but all testimonies after that would be invalid, and the closing arguments would have to be given again but, as legal experts have said, repeating the final days before the same tribunal would amount to double jeopardy. As we wait to understand the possible outcomes of the Constitutional Court decision what is certain is that the decision was a blow to human rights advocates everywhere who “had called his conviction a sign that Guatemala’s courts would no longer allow impunity for the country’s powerful.” The Inter-American Court of Human Rights criticized the “abusive use of the appeal [for legal protection] as a delaying practice” to prevent human rights prosecutions. According to Minority Rights Group International, “this ruling of the Constitutional Court shows the weakness in Guatemala’s justice system,” and serves as a barrier to achieving accountability. Impunity Watch also released a critical statement on the situation, saying, “The decision of the Constitutional Court legitimizes the systematic and abusive legal procedures and formalities, widely condemned by Guatemalan society and international organizations…The politicized environment that is serving as a framework for the decision of the Constitutional Court only reinforces the country’s existing social perception that justice in Guatemala is neither independent nor impartial and that it favors those with the power and money to position themselves above the legal system.” While the attempt to seek justice is not over, the survivors and victims who gave evidence of the systematic violence may have to face a return to court, presenting a potentially serious challenge as “they may have lost their faith in the country’s legal system.”

Breakdown in trust: what does this mean for Guatemalan society?

Civil society representatives work on issues of justice and security for indigenous people in Guatemala City. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Finding Ríos Montt guilty of genocide showed the Ixil Mayan population that the violence and brutal crimes committed against them would not be accepted and that perpetrators, regardless of their level of power, would be held to account. It offered hope to victims of atrocities around the world that justice can be served. Before the announcement of the annulment, Impunity Watch celebrated and declared that “this is an example of how justice should be the vehicle to generate social trust in the state. It can end violence, polarization and conflict.”

Amnesty International believes that, by overturning the historical verdict, the Constitutional Court has snatched away the rights of the Ixil Mayan people to truth, justice and reparations. According to the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, the annulment has taken place in the context where business elites and groups linked to the military, which was responsible for carrying out the violence, rejected the sentence. By rejecting the original verdict, and in turn supporting human rights perpetrators, these groups have encouraged social polarization, and present another barrier to reconciliation within the country. As Manfredo Marroquin, the President of Accion Cuidadana, a non-governmental organization committed to building democracy in Guatemala, puts it, “Impunity remains the only law of force in Guatemala” where the extreme weakness of the justice system makes the country “a major threat to regional democratic coexistence.”

The future of the Ríos Montt case

While no one knows what will happen next, we do know, as UN Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, reiterated, that ”the victims of the atrocities committed during the civil war in Guatemala and their families have waited many years for justice…[and] Justice delayed is justice denied.” We have seen in far too many countries what happens when states fail to bring those responsible for serious and massive human rights violations to justice – tensions, discrimination, and continued conflict. As Mr. Dieng reminded us, only with justice and accountability for atrocity crimes “can Guatemala consolidate its peace process and build trust and confidence among its diverse population. Such trust and the credibility of its institutions are indispensable for the prevention of future abuses”.

For more information on the trial, visit the Ríos Montt Trial website.

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