Category Archives: South Sudan

#RtoPWeekly: 24 – 28 April 2017

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ICRtoP releases new infographic on the situation in Burundi

Burundi Infografic

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

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

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

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


Catch up on developments in…

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


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

Burundi:

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


Central African Republic:

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


Democratic Republic of Congo:

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

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


Iraq:

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

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

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


Kenya:

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


Libya:

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

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


Mali:

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


Nigeria:

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

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


South Sudan:

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

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

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

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

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


Sudan:

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

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

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

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

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


Syria:

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

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

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

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


Yemen:

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

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

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

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

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

#RtoPWeekly: 17-21 April 2017

ICRtoP releases new educational tool exploring
RtoP’s regional relevance in Africa

The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) serves as a key resource to increase understanding of the Responsibility to Protect amongst civil society, government and regional organization actors, the UN, and the general public. Our vast range of educational tools has been used by diverse audiences throughout the world and has had a direct impact on strengthening the global awareness of RtoP.

To contribute towards this goal of strengthening awareness of and action on atrocity prevention, the ICRtoP has released a new educational tool exploring the regional relevance of the norm: The Responsibility to Protect in Africa.

This document provides an overview of RtoP’s relevance to the region in focus, exploring the efforts made by regional organizations, and discussing relevant country situations. The educational tool also provides examples of the contributions made by civil society to advance the norm.  The ICRtoP has also released additional region specific tools focusing the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the Asia-Pacific Region. The ICRtoP will release new educational tools on the Americas and Europe soon.

To view the latest infographic on the Responsibility to Protect in Africa, please click here.

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


Catch up on developments in…

Burundi
CAR
DRC
Iraq
Libya
Mali

Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen
Other


Burundi:

On 18 April, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, expressed concern about the recent increase in forced disappearances in Burundi, allegedly conducted by government-affiliated militias such as the Imbonerakure. He also condemned the Imbonerakure militia’s chants calling upon members to impregnate women and kill members of the opposition, which the group had performed at several rallies across the country recently. The High Commissioner noted that calls to violence such as these confirm previous accounts of oppression at the hands of government-affiliated groups.

That same day, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) announced plans to send a large amount of food aid to Burundi in an attempt to resolve an imminent humanitarian crisis there. The current political instability has negatively affected food production within the country since 2015.


Central African Republic:

On 13 April, Medécins sans Frontieres (MSF) reported that its teams had witnessed brutal and systematic acts of violence targeting civilians in the several weeks prior, including summary executions and mutilation. In the same report, MSF stated that recent fracturing and infighting amongst the parties previously involved in the 2014-15 conflict has enhanced the current wave of violence.

A new investigation by an independent Swedish film team revealed that several survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of French UN peacekeepers within the Central African Republic had received no assistance from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), despite being promised support. Many of the victims, including one who was allegedly impregnated at 14 by one of the soldiers, have expressed frustration with the UN for providing them with neither support nor justice since the incidents occurred in 2015.

Ugandan troops have begun officially withdrawing from CAR, claiming their mission to pursue Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been accomplished, although Kony remains active. The LRA and its leader were well-known for their brutality and practice of kidnapping children to become fighters and sex slaves, a punishable war crime.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

In a video report released on 17 April, a BBC team found evidence of mass graves in DRC, where armed forces have been accused of indiscriminate killings against civilians. Additionally, UN investigators have found 17 new mass graves and have called upon DRC’s government to conduct investigations into the civilian deaths, which were allegedly performed by government troops. There have also been reports of government forces raping women and children while going into private homes in search of militia members. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called upon the DRC government to launch a formal investigation, insisting that the International Criminal Court would conduct its own independent investigation should the DRC government fail to do so.


Iraq:

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, stated that the scale of displacement in the country has already stretched relief efforts to their “operational capacity,” as more than 493,000 people have fled the fighting in Mosul. According to estimates, at least 500,000 civilians still remain trapped in ISIL-controlled areas in western Mosul, including about 400,000 in the densely populated Old City.

Iraqi forces have accused the Islamic State (ISIL) of using chemical weapons during the fight for the city this past week. However, Iraqi officials gave no details about the kind of poison gas allegedly used by the terrorist group and affirmed that injuries were minor. So far, the Islamic State has not responded to the charges.

On 20 April, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command coordinating the fight against ISIL in Mosul declared that Iraqi forces had completed the liberation of the al-Thawra and Nasr neighborhoods, which are located near the western Old City. Additionally, Read Shakir Jawdat, the head of Iraq’s federal police, gave an official statement that Iraqi forces had killed a senior ISIL operative who had apparently been in charge of chemical weapons for the group.


Libya:

On 17 April, UN Secretary-General António Guterres asserted that Libya is at risk of devolving back into conflict and instability due to increasing military escalation and ongoing political stalemate in the country. Fighting has continued to plague the eastern oil crescent and security in the country remains uncertain, only adding to the tension. Guterres noted that the Islamic State (ISIL) no longer controls territory in Libya, but militants with ties to the group have been sighted and are allegedly targeting members of the international community found within Libya.


Mali:

The recently formed alliance of jihadist groups in Mali, Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, has continued its spate of attacks on the Malian army, French forces, and UN personnel. On 17 April, a vehicle belonging to the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) was struck by an improvised landmine, leaving two peacekeepers and one civilian wounded. The group has claimed responsibility for this attack as well as another on MINUSMA in the Kidal region.

Similarly, from January to March 2017, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recorded 28 cases of humanitarian access constraints in Mali, primarily occurring in the north of the country. Over two-thirds of the incidents involved attacks on humanitarian personnel, equipment, or infrastructure.

OCHA has predicted that 1 in 5 Malians, or 3.8 million people, will be food insecure and will require assistance in the country’s lean season, which falls between June and August this year. The total includes an additional one million people from last year. The food insecurity threat is reportedly worsened by the continued displacement of civilians, with over 45,000 displaced since 2012.


Nigeria:

Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) has reported that the northern Nigerian town of Rann is the center of a critical humanitarian crisis. MSF teams in the area noted a critical lack of water, unsanitary conditions, and almost no access to medical care. One MSF staffer remarked that “falling sick in Rann is almost a death sentence.”

14 April marked the third anniversary of the kidnapping of the 276 Chibok Girls. Despite government claims of negotiations and other efforts to return the girls, roughly 200 still remain missing along with numerous other victims of Boko Haram kidnappings.The defence minister has stated that it could take years for the military to locate and free the remaining captives.

Insufficient funding for food relief in Nigeria may lead to the most populous country in Africa becoming the source of another large scale refugee crisis, according to the country’s chief humanitarian coordinator. Nigeria is one of  four countries, along with Yemen, Somalia, and South Sudan, that have been noted by the UN as being part of the largest humanitarian crisis in the organization’s history. In total, there are a combined 20 million in need of humanitarian aid in the region. In February, the UN sought a combined $4.4 billion by the end of March to deliver urgently needed aid to the four countries, but has so far received only 15 percent of the necessary funding. The funding gap has left the UN World Food Program’s (WFP) operation in Nigeria facing an impending shut-down of services.

Nigeria was reelected as chair of the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping for the 45th time. Nigeria has held the position since 1972.


South Sudan:

A United Nations official has called for the enhanced protection of civilians in South Sudan after fighting between the government and opposition forces in Raga, Waat, and Wunkur led to an increased level of violence against citizens in those regions. Additionally, the UN peacekeeping mission in the country (UNMISS) has reported that the number of displaced citizens arriving at UN compounds has reached a total of 38,746. Finally, a release by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stated that many humanitarian workers in South Sudan have had to relocate as a result of violent attacks against them. OCHA reported on 18 April that South Sudan has become an extremely dangerous place for aid workers due to violence, disease, and famine. 82 aid workers have been killed there in total – nine in the past month alone.

Moustapha Soumaré, the acting Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, has called for the cessation of hostilities in South Sudan, stressing the need for a political solution of the conflict. In a joint statement on 17 April, six South Sudanese political opposition groups urged the international community to acknowledge that a genocide is occurring in the country and to hold the government of President Salva Kiir accountable for its alleged war crimes.

Arjan Hehenkamp, the General Director of the Medecins sans Frontieres, stated on 17 April that the UN is not holding to its protection of civilians (POC) mandate when it is aiding only those residing in designated POC sites. Hehenkamp insisted that the UN needs to extend its protection to civilians outside of POC sites, which currently only hold about 200,000 civilians in need of assistance.


Sudan:

The Popular Defense Forces (PDF) militia raided a civilian market in West Kordofan on Tuesday under the pretext of enforcing permit regulations. The government militia allegedly confiscated large amounts of goods, food stuffs, and at least 15,000 US dollars worth of cash from local citizens.

The National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), the government’s primary security apparatus, banned without reason an event that was to be held at El Ahfad University for Women against the oppression of women. The No to Oppression of Women Initiative, the group organizing the event, said this week that over 45,000 women had complaints filed against them under the Public Order Act and that 15,000 were subjected to flogging as a result last year. The activists allege that the laws are “naturally discriminatory against women”  and are used arbitrarily by Sudanese security forces.

The presence of explosive remnants of war (ERW) in Darfur continues to be a major threat to civilians, particularly children. Last Wednesday, two young brothers, ages seven and eleven, were reportedly killed instantly when they came across and unexploded grenade while herding goats. Elsewhere in Darfur, the UNAMID’s Ordnance Disposal Office (ODO) deployed a team to conduct a general explosive hazard assessment near a small town, resulting in the identification and disposal of 33 explosive devices, including a 250kg bomb.

The head of the Darfur Civil Society Platform insisted that government statements asserting that the security situation in Darfur has improved are false, instead alleging that the region is controlled by militias who act with impunity.

The government and security structure of North Darfur implemented new plans to resolve the security problem and rampant banditry in the region on Wednesday. The emergency measures seem to target both criminal elements and abuse by government forces banning, among other things, the presence of armed vehicles inside cities and markets.


Syria:

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Sunday that a suicide bomber attacked an evacuation convoy in Syria on 15 April. The convoy was carrying citizens fleeing from the towns of Fua and Kefraya, two pro-government villages, and the attack resulted in 126 deaths, including 68 children. As of now, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack. On 18 April, Rupert Colville, the spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the attack could amount to war crime and should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

On Wednesday 19 April, the evacuation of civilians from Foua and Kefraya and the two opposition-held towns of Zabadani and Madaya finally resumed after being disrupted by the suicide attack. The evacuations were agreed to by the Syrian government, as President Bashar al-Assad insists that evacuating civilians from the main rebel-held areas is the best way to end the conflict. However, the deal, currently at the first stage, has been repeatedly delayed.

Also on Wednesday, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that the deadly nerve agent sarin was used in the chemical attack in the village of Khan Sheikhoun, in northern Syria, which killed 86 civilians.

Russia aims to hold talks with the United States and the United Nations before the Geneva talks resume next week, in an effort to renew the Syrian peace process. Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said on Monday that the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has agreed to attend, while US officials still have to confirm their participation.


Yemen:

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has joined many other groups and agencies calling on both sides of the conflict to take action to protect food security in Yemen and  to avoid any actions that would affect the ability of Hodeidah to function as a key port of entry. The special briefing, titled “Instruments of Pain: Conflicts and Famine in Yemen,” emphasized that the imminent famine in Yemen is not a result of natural disaster but of man-made catastrophe and conscious action. In an interview given Sunday, a high-ranking spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition’s forces in Yemen claimed that the coalition’s primary concerns are for the protection of civilians.

In a joint report, Save the Children and the Watchlist on Children in Armed Conflict have called on the UN to place Saudi Arabia back on the list of those responsible for grave violations of children’s rights in conflict. Saudi Arabia, which was originally on the list for a short period in 2016, is accused by the groups of doing immense harm to the civilian population of Yemen, in particularly children, by bombing and  damaging medical facilities and infrastructure. In a separate civil society report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Houthi forces to cease their use of landmines in the conflict. Landmines were broadly banned by the international community two decades ago for their indiscriminate effect on civilian populations and were banned by Yemen in particular in 1998. However, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines’ (ICBL) “Landmine Monitor” initiative estimated that 988 people were wounded or killed by landmines and other explosive remnants of war in Yemen in 2015.

In other developments, there are concerns that small communities of Jews who have remained in Yemen, especially in the Houthi held capital of Sa’ana, may have been victims of ethnic cleansing on the part of the Houthi rebels.


What else is new?

In the Spring 2017 edition of Courier, ICRtoP member Stanley Foundation discussed how The Gambia could be taken as an example of multilateral action and of the Responsibility to Protect norm being used to prevent atrocities and avert conflict. According to the article, The Gambia showcases hope for other countries and the prevention of conflict.

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Filed under Burundi, CARcrisis, DRC, Human Rights, Justice, RtoP, South Sudan, Sudan, UN, Weekly Round-Up, 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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#RtoPWeekly: 3-7 April 2017

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

S Sudan Infografic image

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

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

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


Catch up on developments in…

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

Kenya
Libya
Mali
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen


Burma/Myanmar:

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

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

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


Burundi:

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


Central African Republic:

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


DPRK:

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


Democratic Republic of Congo:

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

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

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


Gaza/West Bank:

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

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

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


Iraq:

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

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

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


Kenya:

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

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


Libya:

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


Mali:

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

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


South Sudan:

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

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


Sudan:

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

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

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


Syria:

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

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

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


Yemen:

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

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

#RtoPWeekly: 27-31 March 2017

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Civilian death toll rises as fighting to retake Mosul from ISIL intensifies

RtoPW 27-31 March

Fighting between Islamic State (ISIL) forces and the Iraqi military has intensified in recent weeks as the latter has pushed towards the Old City area of Mosul, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have remained trapped in the densely populated area. The reported number of civilian deaths in the city has dramatically increased in the past two weeks. Mayor Hussein Ali Khajem stated that more than 150 people have been killed in violent clashes and airstrikes in Mosul since 20 March, including numerous women and children. Other sources put the civilian death toll even higher, reaching over 200, at least 130 of which are believed to have been killed by airstrikes on residential buildings in the New Mosul neighborhood. The Iraqi Civil Defence has reportedly pulled 136 bodies from the rubble from the same area of the city. It is unknown how many of the bodies, if any, may have been ISIL combatants.

The threat posited by airstrikes has increasingly become the most dangerous feature of the conflict for civilians in the city. Iraqi officers have reportedly told media sources that as the fighting against ISIL has increased in intensity, the US-led coalition has quickened decisions on whether to strike targets within the city. US military officials have insisted that there has been no change to the rules of engagement regarding distinction and proportionality, but have also said that US military advisers with the Iraqi forces have been given a greater unilateral ability to call in airstrikes since the beginning of the push for Mosul in December.

As more information has become available about the collapse of homes believed to have been caused by US-led coalition airstrikes on 17 March, the number of civilian casualties caused by the airstrikes has steadily risen, with some sources estimating it to be from 200 to 250. Residents have alleged that there was ample reason for both the Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition to believe there was a significant civilian presence in the area, claiming that leaflets asking civilians to stay in their homes rather than risk fleeing during the intense street-to-street fighting had been distributed. If the estimated number of civilian casualties proves to be accurate, this strike will be one of the deadliest US military strikes for civilians in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

On Tuesday, the top US commander in Iraq stated that his initial assessment of the evidence from the incident indicated that the alleged US airstrike probably had a role in the building collapse and the resulting civilian deaths, but also said his personal impression was that ISIL had at least some role in the casualties. He also insisted that further investigation is needed. Several conflicting reports of the incident blamed ISIL for the casualties, with some alleging the blast that leveled the building was a result of an ISIL truck-bomb or from IED booby-traps. Others have suggested it was the result of compounding actions by the conflict forces. ISIL has also been accused of forcing civilians into the building and intentionally provoking the airstrike.

The Islamic State’s use of civilians in Mosul as human shields has been well documented, and has prompted UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, to condemn the group as “cowardly and disgraceful.” Civilians have also been killed and wounded by ISIL booby-traps, IEDs, shelling, and snipers. The High Commissioner noted that due to the known use of civilians as human shields by ISIL, the use of airstrikes on ISIL positions carries the potential for a disproportionately lethal impact on civilians. As a result, the High Commissioner called on the Iraqi military and its US-led coalition allies to reconsider their tactics in order to ensure the risk to civilians is reduced to the absolute minimum in accordance with international law, particularly as the fighting draws closer to the most densely populated areas of the city.

Source for above photo of civilians awaiting the distribution of aid in Mosul: Ivor Prickett/The New York Times


Catch up on developments in…

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


Burma/Myanmar:

The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on 24 March regarding the ongoing human rights crisis in Burma. The resolution, among other things, dispatched “an independent, international fact-finding mission” to investigate the serious human rights violations that allegedly have taken place in Burma at the hands of the military and security forces, particularly those in Rakhine State. The resolution stressed the need for sexual and gender-based violence experts to be included in the mission. Moreover, it extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma for one more year. The Burmese government is opposed to the resolution’s operative paragraph dispatching the fact-finding mission within the country, as well as the resolution in general.


Burundi:

Several non-governmental organizations within Burundi have called for an immediate end to the alleged human rights violations occurring within the country. The group of NGOs, including the Human Rights Defenders of Burundi (DDH) through its SOS-Torture campaign, has claimed that law enforcement officers have conducted several extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and torture, and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of citizens. In addition, human rights activists have insisted that there has been a recent upsurge in political and ethnic violence in Burundi. The Collective of Lawyers of civil parties and victims’ families of human violations in Burundi reportedly submitted 124 new individual complaints to the International Criminal Court (ICC) against the government of Burundi regarding specific allegations of human rights abuses on Monday. The organization also submitted a collective mandate regarding general “crimes committed by the Government,” which was signed by over 400 families accusing the government of committing human rights abuses against their relatives.

A civil society organization collective named “Halte au Troisième Mandat” (“Halt to the Third Term”) is continuing its campaign against President Nkurunziza’s third term, which surpasses the constitutionally mandated two-term limit for presidents. On 26 March, the collective released a statement to the press in which they insisted “terror and resignation are progressively taking hold in Burundi” as a direct result of the government’s “bloody repression” of their protests.


Central African Republic:

Armed groups attacked at least three villages in the central Bambari region of CAR this week, where a contingent of the UN peacekeeping force is based. The attacks resulted in the deaths of 50 people and have left several more injured. The Unity of African People, a faction of the mainly Muslim Seleka movement, has been accused of perpetrating the attack, although the UAF denies involvement. Such raids are remnants of the civil war in CAR and are indicative of the CAR government’s inability to effectively transition to peace.


Cote d’Ivoire:

On 24 March, the UN peacekeeping chief, Herve Ladsous, said he expects peacekeeping operations in Cote d’Ivoire to end by March of 2018. That same week, it was reported that former Ivorian First Lady, Simone Gbagbo, was acquitted of committing crimes against humanity by Cote d’Ivoire’s high court. Human Rights Watch asserted that the decision highlights the flaws of the country’s judicial process and further emphasizes the importance of the International Criminal Court’s continuing case against her regarding similar crimes during the 2011 post-election crisis.


DPRK:

On 24 March, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution addressing the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This echoes the statement of Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson during the Council meeting in which the resolution was adopted, where Mr. Eliasson explicitly stated that both the DPRK and the international community as a whole have the “responsibility to protect [DPRK’s] population from the most serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights.” Furthermore, the resolution strengthened the capacity of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Seoul, which continues to monitor human rights abuses within DPRK. The improvements to the Seoul office include the addition of international criminal justice experts, whose specific function will be developing plans for the future prosecution of DPRK leaders and officials responsible for human rights crimes. Finally, the resolution extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur of the situation of human rights in the DPRK for an additional year.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

Violence has continued to escalate this past weekend in Kasai, a notably poor and remote region in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as 42 police officers were decapitated by the regional militia group Kamuina Nsapu. Instances of both armed violence and political tensions within the country have been increasing at an alarming rate.

On 28 March, Congolese police used tear gas and opened fire into the air in order to scatter hundreds of opposition supporters in Kinshasa. The demonstrators had formed public protests after talks between President Joseph Kabila’s government and the opposition party collapsed. Many critics insist President Kabila has intentionally delayed the country’s elections in order to remain in power. The event has escalated tensions within the country, raising the possibility of renewed violence.

On 29 March, the UN announced that bodies discovered recently in Kasai are in fact the two missing UN staff recently kidnapped in the DRC, along with the body of their Congolese interpreter. The staff members were investigating large-scale human rights violations in the region. Ida Sawyer, Central African director at Human Rights Watch, said the disappearances reflect the violence currently going on in the Kasai region of DRC. The UN will launch an investigation into the killings and urges the Congolese government to do so as well.


Mali:

The main faction of Tuareg-led rebels in Mali and other opposition groups declared their intention to boycott talks with the government on 1 April concerning the implementation of the 2015 peace agreement. On Tuesday, some of the groups agreed to take part after receiving additional assurances from the government. It is unknown if the rest of the opposition intends to do the same.

Medecin Sans Frontieres (MSF) has released a new report that is highly critical of the politicization of humanitarian aid by several domestic and international actors in Mali. The incorporation of humanitarian aid into the country’s political and security efforts is seen by many groups as promoting the government’s political agenda, and therefore, MSF has warned that there may be risks to doing so. Particularly, aid could be rejected by these opposition groups and, as a result, humanitarian organizations could be attacked if they are seen as partisan forces. MSF has argued that the common practice of using of armed escorts by humanitarian workers and the use of civilian vehicles by the military aggravate the risk of these attacks occurring, further hindering the delivery of the much needed aid in the country.


Nigeria:

In a move believed to be aimed at winning grassroots trust and support, a Boko Haram faction in northeast Nigeria has reportedly vowed not to harm civilians so long as they do not cooperate with state security forces. However, numerous witnesses have reported that Boko Haram has continued to kill civilians. The group remains a threat to civilians, contrary to the government’s claims that the group was “technically defeated” in Nigeria. Furthermore, unstable and lethal explosive devices from previous clashes between the military and Boko Haram continue to plague the Nigerian countryside.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Nigerian authorities to take more action in rescuing the hundreds of children that have been abducted and continue to be held captive by Boko Haram. In particular, HRW has called on the government to publicly acknowledge the 501 missing children abducted from Damasak two years ago when the Nigerian military and their Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) pushed Boko Haram out of the town. As the abductions have never been publicly acknowledged by the government, it is not believed that any concerted action has been taken to rescue them.


South Sudan:

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi and the Ugandan government jointly urged the international community for large-scale and immediate support for the thousands of South Sudanese refugees who continue to arrive in Uganda every day. In addition, after UN Secretary-General Guterres urged South Sudan to prioritize the needs of its people, the country’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Joseph Moum Majak Ngor Malok, reassured the Security Council that his government would cooperate with the UN to resolve the issues affecting his country. However, mass displacement in the country has continued as the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) initially estimated 60,000 South Sudanese refugees would flee the country in 2017, but this estimate has been exceeded in the first three months of 2017 alone. The UNHCR anticipates even more refugees this year.

The Sudanese government is due to open a new humanitarian corridor to deliver food assistance to the people of South Sudan. At this time, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been dropping tons of food to aid thousands of displaced citizens and their communities. The South Sudanese Red Cross is on the ground helping to distribute the supplies. Unfortunately, an aid worker expressed his concern that even if citizens had money to buy food, they would not be able to use this money in the current situation. As a result, airdrops have been the only option in some regions, such as Maar in the Jonglei Province.

The UN called for an open investigation for the six aid workers that were ambushed and killed in South Sudan on Saturday. The UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF) stated it is in shock following the killing of the aid workers. The workers were from UNICEF’s partner organization, the Grassroots Empowerment and Development Organization (GREDO), which works “to support children released from armed groups.” Aid agencies say that humanitarian aid in South Sudan could be delayed due to the attack of these six aid workers.

According to the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, sexual violence in the country has reached “epic proportions.” Regional leaders issued a joint statement expressing concern over the humanitarian crisis and urging the parties to stop hostilities.

South Sudanese rebels loyal to former First Vice President Riek Machar have claimed they have captured the Kajo-Keji county headquarters in Yei River state after clashing with government troops and killing 14 soldiers. The Eastern Africa’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has condemned the proliferation of armed groups in South Sudan and called upon these groups to renounce violence as a means to solve the issues in the country. The South Sudanese government has rejected the participation of troops from countries outside the region in the regional protection forces. However, President Salva Kiir has accepted the call for a unilateral ceasefire.


Sudan:

Clashes between militia and state security personnel have continued in Sudan, as well as violent crimes like murder, robbery, kidnapping, and rampant sexual assault and gender-based violence. Clashes in North Darfur resulted in the death of a police officer and the injuring of six others last saturday. Additionally, on 27 March, militiamen attacked and robbed a group of mourners while traveling between the North Darfur capital of El Fasher and the town of Tawila.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Jordan this week to either deny entry or arrest President Omar al-Bashir prior to his entry to the country for the Arab League meeting on Wednesday. Despite the warnings from HRW and other organizations that failure to arrest Bashir would be a violation of their obligations under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Jordan became the most recent ICC member state to fail to arrest Omar al-Bashir when he entered their sovereign territory. Bashir has two outstanding warrants issued by the ICC for a total of eight counts of atrocity crimes, including three counts of genocide. Representatives for South Africa are expected to appear before the Court next Friday to account for their government’s failure to arrest Bashir when he entered South Africa in June 2015 to attend a summit of the African Union. The lawyers for the South African government are expected to submit arguments against a finding of non-compliance.

The UN Secretary-General’s recent report on children in armed conflict in Sudan, which was released last Friday, has found that the numbers of children recruited into the conflict by the warring parties decreased in the most recent reporting period. However, the report also noted that children are still killed, injured, and victimized by sexual violence and exploitation as result of the conflict. During the reporting period from March 2011 to December 2016, roughly 1,300 children were killed or maimed as result of the conflict, mostly in Darfur. Darfur was also an area of high occurrence of sexual violence and exploitation against children, with at least 372 victims during the same period.

Burkina Faso has announced it will be withdrawing its 850 troops currently serving with the UN mission in Darfur (UNAMID). The Sudanese government will reportedly be paying for the costs of the withdrawal, according to a statement delivered by the Foreign Minister of Sudan.


Syria:

On Sunday, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced they had captured the Tabqa airbase west of Raqqa from the Islamic State (ISIL), resulting in the first major victory for the Kurdish group.

As the fifth round of peace talks resumed in Geneva, opposition forces launched the biggest offensive in the last 18 months against the Syrian army in Damascus and north of Hama. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that several clashes were ongoing in the countryside north of the city, where government forces were trying to retake territory. In Geneva, the Syrian opposition’s chief negotiator in the talks, Nasr al-Hariri, accused the government of not being committed to peace because several civilian buildings have been targeted by the State air force since the beginning of the last round of talks. Consequently, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, admitted that he is not expecting breakthroughs, but all parties have at least agreed upon the agenda, which is a mark of progress in itself. On 29 March, the Syrian opposition and a senior Russian diplomat agreed upon the need to stabilize the fragile ceasefire implemented on 30 December 2016. Cessation of hostilities is seen as crucial to any hope of progress in the Geneva peace talks. However, as bloodshed in the country continues, Western diplomats are skeptical about any practical outcome the talks could reach.

Meanwhile, as fighting intensifies, the UN said around 300,000 people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance in Damascus. “Starvation is just around the corner,” affirmed UN humanitarian adviser on Syria Jan Egeland, adding that civilians have not received any supplies at the hands of the UN since October in Douma, and not since June of last year in the Kafr Batna area.

The UN has estimated that nearly 40,000 civilians, mostly women and children, have been displaced over the past week by fighting to the northwest of the Syrian city of Hama. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that people have begun to flee Hama and the districts of Homs, Latakia, and Tartous. On Thursday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the number of Syrian refugees now exceeds 5 million, while he also estimated that 6.3 million people are internally displaced. Turkey hosts the highest number of Syrian refugees, numbering nearly 3 million people.


Yemen:

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on Sunday arguing that a recent attack on a refugee boat off the coast of Yemen, which resulted in the deaths of around 40 people, likely constitutes a war crime. HRW also noted that the Saudi-led coalition is the only party to the conflict with access to the military aircraft allegedly used in the attack. The report was also critical of the system for investigations established by the Saudi-led coalition and expressed doubt that the inquiry requested by Somalia, an ally of the coalition, will have meaningful results. HRW has reportedly documented 62 unlawful airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition that are believed to have killed nearly 900 civilians in total. It is unknown what impact this event will have on the decision the US government is expected to soon make on a proposal to increase its intelligence and logistical support for the Saudi-led coalition.

Residents in Taiz reported on Sunday that a girl was killed by a Houthi sniper in the eastern portion of the city where clashes between government and rebel forces have already killed dozens. President Hadi has reportedly declared that 80% of Yemen is now under his government’s control and that the offensive against the Houthis will continue until they are forced to the negotiating table. The contested port city of Hodeidah remains the Houthis’ last stronghold position and the primary target of the government and Saudi-led coalition’s offensive.

On Thursday, the UN Special envoy for Yemen urged the UN Security Council to apply pressure on all parties in the conflict in Yemen to engage in diplomatic and political negotiations to end the ongoing bloodshed. The past week marked the second anniversary of the beginning of the Saudi-led bombing campaign in the Yemeni conflict. UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien released a statement marking the anniversary in which he said that the thousands of civilians killed in the conflict, including over 1,400 children, shows “the magnitude of the tragedy unfolding in Yemen.” Mr. O’Brien went on to discuss the looming man-made famine in the country and the need of two-thirds of the Yemeni population for humanitarian aid. Mr. O’Brien called on all parties to the conflict to start a political dialogue to prevent the imminent humanitarian catastrophe.

The UN children’s agency (UNICEF) also released a report marking the second year of the escalated conflict in which it noted that there has been a markable increase in the number of girls forced into child marriages in Yemen since the conflict escalated. UNICEF estimates that now more than two-thirds of girls are married off before the age of 18 in Yemen and that more that 44% of girls and women are married under the age of 15 in some parts of the country.

The UN has begun to look for alternative ports to deliver vital food and medicine to Yemen should Hodeidah come under attack. The UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, has said that despite the urgency for the 17 million Yemenis facing imminent famine conditions, humanitarian access has been hampered by a massive funding gap of over $2 billion USD, as well as by the intense fighting along the western coast. The International Committee of the Red Cross estimated that the international community has, at most, three to four months to save two-thirds of Yemen’s population from starvation. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, 17 million Yemenis live in a state of severe food insecurity as result of “ruthless war tactics against civilians by both parties to the conflict.” This figure is equal to about two-thirds of the entire country’s population.

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#RtoP Weekly: 20 – 24 March

Rtop weekly
ICRtoP makes joint statement at 61st session of the
Commission on the Status of Women
 
On 16 March 2017, Ms. Sharon Bhagwan Rolls delivered a joint statement on behalf of the ICRtoP and our partners, the World Federalist Movement (WFM), femLINKpacific, and the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), at the general discussion of the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which was held at the United Nations in New York.
To read the full statement, please click here.

Catch up on developments in…
Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DPRK
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq
Libya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen

Burma/Myanmar:

During a statement to the 34th session of the Human Rights Council on 13 March, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, Ms. Yanghee Lee, emphasized the degree to which the continuous state of killings and serious human rights violations taking place in Burma are impacting civilians there. She particularly noted the escalation of conflict in the Kachin and Shan states, where several thousands of people have been forced to flee, and where Ms. Lee herself had been barred from visiting by the government. Additionally, she described others’ personal accounts of human rights abuses on the Rohingya population, allegedly at the hands of government forces. Ms. Lee stressed the necessity for new, “prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial” investigations into the serious human rights violations occurring in the country.


Burundi:

The chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights violations in Burundi, Dr. Fatsah Ouguergouz, says the commission is alarmed about the increasing level of human rights abuses in Burundi that have been brought to their attention. Such abuses include violations of the right to life and physical integrity, forced disappearances, and torture, with thousands of abuses being reported from all areas of the country. Human rights experts in Burundi are worried about the judicial immunity that the perpetrators of these crimes seem to be enjoying. Furthermore, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has estimated that at least 27,000 Burundians fled the country between 1 January and 9 March 2017. The total number of refugees who have fled Burundi since April 2015, mainly to neighboring countries, stands at 391,700.


Central African Republic:

The United Nations humanitarian office has stated that only 5% of the nearly $400 million request for humanitarian aid for the Central African Republic has been funded this year, leaving half of the CAR’s population in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. Many civilians are only given half of their food rations. Violence has continued in the CAR since 2013, despite the successful democratic elections held in the country last year. Many remote areas remain outside of government control, and thus the sectarian-based conflict continues. The UN has asserted that international political support and increased resources to the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR (MINUSCA) are essential to the sustainable resolution of the conflict.


DPRK:

Human Rights Watch (HRW) organized two panel discussions on 9 and 10 March in Geneva alongside the 34th session of the Human Rights Council. These discussions focused primarily on promoting accountability for human rights violations within the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and included a group of human rights experts, UN officials, and three escapees from North Korea, among others. Human Rights Watch and the experts suggested that the High Commissioner for Human Rights office in Seoul, which documents abuses in the neighboring DPRK, should be given greater authority when strategizing on how to prosecute DPRK leaders responsible for serious human rights violations. Part of the increased autonomy would be the inclusion of international criminal justice experts at the Seoul office. John Fisher, the Geneva director at Human Rights Watch, reiterated the importance of bringing to justice to the North Korean leaders responsible for the alleged crimes.

On 13 March, the DPRK rejected a UN review of its human rights record, as hostilities between North and South Korea have increased and further closed off opportunities for dialogue. During the UN Human Rights Council session on abuses in DPRK, human rights experts called for action against perpetrators of crimes against humanity.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

According to the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on 15 March, two UN officials have disappeared in Kasai-Central, one of the most conflict-prone regions of the DRC. The two UN officials were investigating allegations of soldiers murdering dozens of unarmed civilians in the region, including children, when they were kidnapped. Calls to investigate the army came after videos surfaced recently in which it appeared Congolese soldiers were walking down a rural road and shooting passing civilians. Meanwhile, on 18 March, seven Congolese Army officers were arrested and charged with war crimes in association with the highly controversial video.

The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) expressed grave concern over reports of high numbers of deaths, including of women and children, in Kananga between 14 and 17 March. MONUSCO is concerned by the Kamwina Nsapu militiamen’s attacks against DRC state institutions and symbols, but also the disproportionate use of force by the security and defense forces and the targeting of civilians.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on 21 March, the number of refugees fleeing from the DRC is increasing, with the latest refugee count at 460,923. A report from the UN Secretary-General says violence in previously stable areas, such as Tanganyika and the Kasai and Lomami provinces, has also increased. The UN is calling on the DRC to implement the political agreement signed in December 2016, which has continued to stall.
Amnesty International released a report this week in which they urge the DRC to: promptly investigate human rights violations conducted by security forces during protests; lift all unlawful bans on protests and demonstrations; engage in a reform of the National Intelligence Service and establish an oversight mechanism; step up efforts – in collaboration with UN forces – to protect civilians in the area of armed conflict; and address inter-ethnic conflicts.

On 22 March, former DRC Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba was sentenced to a year in jail and fined 300,000 Euros for bribing witnesses during his war crimes trial in an unprecedented case before the International Criminal Court.


Gaza/West Bank:

During his report last week at the 34th session of the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Mr. Michael Lynk, underscored the continuous human rights violations that take place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The human rights abuses, among other violations of international law, include the “excessive use of force, collective punishment, forced displacement, and restrictions on the freedom of movement.” Mr. Lynk also drew attention to Israeli human rights organizations focused on alleviating human rights abuses stemming from the occupation, and that these activists “are enduring an increasingly hostile public atmosphere in Israel and from the settlement movement, stoked by the Israeli political leadership and the media, as well as obstructive legislation enacted or being considered.” The Special Rapporteur made specific recommendations for action to the Government of Israel for the resolution of the human rights violations, including ending the Gaza blockade and allowing the free movement of people in the area.


Iraq:

As the Mosul battle continues, Major-General Maan al-Saadi of Iraq’s elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) said Iraqi security forces have succeeded in seizing control of about 17 of 40 western districts of Iraq’s second largest city from the Islamic State (ISIL). However, Iraqi forces faced strong resistance from snipers and mortar rounds as they advanced to conquer Mosul’s Old City and Iron Bridge, a strategic passage through the River Tigris, on Monday. During the operation, the Iraqi federal police stated government forces had killed ISIL’s military commander of the Old City, Abu Abdul Rahman al-Ansary.

On Saturday, Iraqi forces asserted they had captured the al-Kur and al-Tawafa neighborhoods, which has allowed for the creation of a corridor for civilians to safely leave the city.
As aid agencies are bracing for the possibility that about 320,000 civilians may flee the western part of Mosul in coming weeks, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, Lise Grande, said the crisis is pushing “all of us to our limits.” Iraqis fleeing Mosul are already struggling to find shelter in poorly-equipped and overcrowded refugee camps, and have begun to head to the east side of the city where most of their relatives are settled.

Similarly, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Iraq, Bruno Geddo, said that the worst is yet to come, as about 400,000 Iraqi civilians are still trapped in the ISIL-held Old City of Western Mosul and are running short on food and other basic provisions as the battle continues. Geddo also reported that the number of civilians streaming out of the city is increasing at an average of 8,000 to 12,000 people per day.

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch reported that a mass grave in Khafsa, a village near Mosul, could include the bodies of up to 25,000 civilians executed by ISIL since spring 2014, according to witnesses.


Libya:

Forces commanded by General Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to regain control of the country’s eastern oil terminals, which had been seized earlier this month by the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB), a rival group. Around nine people were killed during the attack, as Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) retreated from the oil ports.

Meanwhile, as tensions continued to escalate across the country, Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Libya and the head of the UN Support Mission in the country (UNSMIL), called on all parties to put Libya’s future ahead of their “own narrow interests”, refraining from violence and extremism. He also urged for democratic bodies and ideals to be respected, condemning serious human rights and humanitarian law violations committed during the fighting.

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch accused the Libyan National Army (LNA) of having committed war crimes, including killing civilians and desecrating the bodies of fighters of the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC), a group opposing the LNA. Civilians have been fleeing the Ganfouda neighborhood in Benghazi since the attacks began, heading al-Sabri and Souq Elhout neighborhoods in downtown Benghazi.


Mali:

On 19 March, the head of the UN mission in Mali reported that the situation in the country remains precarious, particularly in the north, as UN and other forces on the side of the peace process are continually attacked by non-signatory terror groups. Over 70 security forces members of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) have died in the pursuit of peace and stability in the region. The concern over the uncertain security situation in the north was also noted by the UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali, Suliman Baldo, to the Human Rights Council on Tuesday. Mr. Baldo reported that the continued state of insecurity in the north has contributed to: children’s lack of access to an education; dangers to civilians due to uncontrolled armed actors and military actions that “strayed from international standards”; mass displacement; and further radicalization of youth. Mr. Baldo noted that progress in transitional justice had been made with the opening of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, but that the justice system was still unable to truly tackle the problem of impunity.


Nigeria:

An amnesty and reintegration program for former militants in Nigeria is currently facing major shortfalls in funding, which is affecting the ability of the program to uphold the promises made to ex-combatants.

On 18 March, one of the Chibok schoolgirls appealed to the international community to take action to rescue the 195 remaining captives of Boko Haram since their abduction nearly two years ago.

Thousands fled a Nigerian fishing community on 19 March after police reportedly enforced evictions in violation of a court order issued in January. The surprise action, which culminated in the destruction of the homes of roughly 47,000 people, reportedly included the use of tear gas and live ammunition by the police to disperse the crowds that had gathered to block the path of the bulldozers.

An organization of Nigerians, who were reportedly upset with Amnesty International’s efforts to reach justice for human rights violations conducted by the military and security forces, besieged and occupied Amnesty’s office on 21 March in a protest calling for the rights monitor to cease operations in the country. Local rights groups and attorneys have come to the organization’s defence, with some condemning the protest and others calling for the government to deploy security teams to dislodge the illegal occupiers and protect Amnesty International’s office.

A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner of Refugees has expressed concern over Cameroon’s continued forced return of Nigerian asylum seekers, despite the recent tripartite agreement between the UNHCR, Cameroon, and Nigeria that includes a provision mandating voluntary return. The forced return of asylum seekers is refoulement and therefore a major violation of the international refugee law agreements that Cameroon has ratified.

Multiple blasts occurred on 22 March in a migrant camp for internally displaced persons in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, which has been at the center of the violence of the Boko Haram insurgency. The explosions killed between three and four people and wounded up to 20.


South Sudan:

On 16 March, Lt. Gen. Thomas Cirillo Swaka, the leader of the National Salvation Front (NAS), a new South Sudanese rebel group, urged for South Sudan’s peace process to be restarted.

The head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) urged the international community to unite and put pressure on the rival South Sudanese leaders to exert the political will for the parties to cease hostilities and build peace. According to the Under-Secretary-General for peacekeeping operations, Herve Ladsous, during an address delivered in Juba, South Sudan, additional Regional Protection Forces (RPF) will be deployed in the next few weeks. The Security Council approved the deployment of 4,000 troops last year after violence again erupted in Juba, including mass occurrences of rape and assaults on civilians, but the force has been delayed due to resistance from domestic political actors. Mr. Ladsous said during his Tuesday speech in Juba that the UN would “spare no effort to speed up the [deployment] process.” Mr. Ladsous also urged all parties to work towards a nonviolent resolution to the conflict, emphasizing that the political option is the only possibility for lasting and stable peace.

On 19 March, the UNHRC named the crisis in South Sudan the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis, as 1.6 million people have been displaced or have fled to neighboring countries in the past eight months. The ongoing famine in South Sudan is “man-made” and a result of conflict between armed groups, with more deaths being caused by violence than starvation alone.

Dozens of South Sudan army (SPLA) soldiers abandoned their positions on 20 March and joined the armed opposition Brigadier Gen. Meanwhile, Bishop Erkolano Lodu Tombe, President of Caritas South Sudan and Bishop of Yei, has warned the country is in a state of collapse with millions of people facing mass starvation.


Sudan:

The UN African Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) supported the launch of the Community Peace Initiative in West Darfur, which is designed to foster local dispute settlement and build better relations between tribal groups. UNAMID Sector West, Acting Head of Office, Ms. Takako Ugaya, commended the move, saying it showed the government’s commitment towards ensuring lasting peace in West Darfur.


Syria:

On Thursday, alleged U.S. jets struck a mosque full of worshippers near Damascus, killing at least 42 civilians and wounding dozens. The U.S. confirmed it carried out an airstrike but denied killing civilians, claiming the attack was intended to target an al-Qaeda meeting. The spokesman for U.S. Central Command, Colonel John Thomas, said that the building they targeted was 15 meters from a mosque that is still standing. Moreover, Eric Pahon, the Pentagon spokesman, underlining that it was the building where al-Qaeda fighters had been educated and indoctrinated, said the Pentagon will investigate any credible allegation it receives in relation to civilian fatalities.

Meanwhile, the Syrian army’s High Command said on Friday that Israeli jets attacked a military target near Palmira, eventually breaching Syrian air space and aiding the Islamic State (ISIL). The attack prompted Syrian forces to retaliate with ground-to-air missiles, in one of the most serious incidents between the two countries since the civil war broke out in March 2011. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed the airstrikes were intended for Hezbollah, the Lebanese group which is fighting alongside the Syrian government.

The fighting in Damascus continues, as the rebels launched their second attack in three days. The offensive began on Wednesday at 0300 GMT, and targeted a government-held area in northeastern Damascus. The spokesman of the rebel group Failaq al-Rahman, Wael Alwan, said that rebel forces finally restored all the points they withdrew from on Monday, and have started to storm the Abassiyin garages.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday that an alleged U.S.-led coalition airstrike hit a school in the ISIL-held city of Raqqa, killing more than 30 civilians. The activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) said at least 50 families found shelter in that building.

Furthermore, as negotiations resume in the Swiss city of Geneva, civil society groups claim their voices are “not being heard” and push for greater representation in the ongoing Syrian peace talks. They have already participated in the Civil Society Support Rooms (CSSR) in Geneva, a mechanism set up by the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, and aimed at implementing civil society demands. Whilst civil society activists are constantly sidelined and targeted on the ground in Syria, they tirelessly provide relief aid and medical assistance to civilians, as well as press for justice and democracy in the country.


Yemen:

A civilian boat carrying refugees from Yemen to Sudan was attacked  by an Apache helicopter late last Thursday. Thus far, 42 dead have been confirmed. Rebels have accused a Saudi-led coalition of being responsible, whereas the Saudi coalition has previously suggested the rebels use small boats to smuggle arms. For its part, the Saudi-led coalition has claimed it was not operating in the area at the time.  The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, formally condemned the attack on Monday and called on all parties to the conflict to conduct inquiries and ensure accountability for the attack.

After the attack, the Saudi-led coalition requested the UN assume supervision of the port city of Hodeidah, which is roughly 48 kilometres from the location of the boat when it was attacked. Hodeidah has been the center of fierce fighting between the Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government with Saudi-led coalition backing. The UN responded to the request earlier this week through spokesman Farhan Haq by noting it is the very clear legal obligation of all parties to the conflict that they protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and that this responsibility cannot be shifted onto other entities. Hodeidah is noteworthy for being a major port city that services nearly 70% of Yemen’s population; however, it has been almost entirely shut down due to the insecurity and infrastructure damage caused by the fighting and Saudi-led coalition airstrikes. The port city is a potentially life saving corridor for millions of Yemenis who are almost entirely reliant on imported food and supplies, and thus Mr. Haq stated it was “essential that all parties to the conflict facilitate unhindered access” to the port.

The current food crisis in Yemen leaves over 14 million people facing the threat of starvation and famine according to the UN, making it the largest of the top four humanitarian crises, which also includes Somalia, Sudan, and Nigeria. Last week, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released an infographic marking the second year of the escalation of violence. Among other statistics, the OCHA reported that in the last two years the import of medicine has dropped 70%, food prices have increased 26%, and nearly 11,000 cases of gender-based violence and 1,275 uses of children by parties to the conflict have occurred.

An arms monitor has reportedly uncovered evidence indicating Iran has been providing the Yemeni Houthi rebels with advanced military weaponry. The monitor has supposedly been able to link Iranian manufacturers to the serial numbers of drones used by the Houthi rebels in “kamikaze” attacks on missile defence sites. Iran has consistently denied accusations from Saudi Arabia that it has provided support to the Houthi rebels, despite reports from regional and western sources indicating Iranian involvement with the Houthi faction has increased in the last several months.

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#RtoPWeekly: 6 – 10 March

Untitled

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 27 February – 3 March

UntitledSyria: Latest round of peace talks between government and opposition begin in Geneva

On 23 February, the Syrian government and opposition delegations gathered in Geneva to launch the fourth round of UN-sponsored intra-Syrian peace talks, led by the UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. The discussions are aimed at finding a stable and viable political solution to a conflict which has already claimed the lives of more than 450,000people within the last six years.

The Geneva peace process, which takes place on the heels of the Russian, Turkish and Iranian co-sponsored multilateralmeetings held in the Kazakh capital of Astana, resumes after three unsuccessful diplomatic attempts that failed to end the Syrian crisis in 2012, 2014 and 2016. Moreover, renewed disputes over the agenda and long-standing disagreements between the warring parties have pushed de Mistura to downplay expectations for any major progress.

Difficulties in reaching a comprehensive solution also stem from the differences in political weight that the parties bear in the current diplomatic process. While sitting at the same table for the first time in six years, the opposition delegations could not be more distant from one another across a broad range of topics. The Assad delegation, headed by Syria’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Ambassador Bashar Al-Jaafari, has gained a considerable military and political advantage following significant victories on the ground in 2016, namely the recapture of rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo. On the other hand, the opposition, bitterly divided by infighting, has continuously failed in presenting a united front in Geneva. However, both parties purportedly decided to add two fundamental issues to the agenda: the Syrian political transition, proposed by the opposition, and the fight against terrorism, proposed by President Bashar al-Assad’s negotiators.

In the meantime, on Tuesday, Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution aimed at imposing sanctions on the Syrian government over the alleged use of chemical weapons, claiming that it contradicted “the fundamental principle of presumption of innocence before the investigation is over”. It is the seventh veto Russia has put up against UNSC resolutions in the past five years in an effort to save its Syrian ally. China has also joined Moscow in vetoing six resolutions on Syria since the war began.

The following day, a UN Commission of Inquiry released a report accusing the Syrian government and its Russian ally of systematic destruction of healthcare facilities in east Aleppo, between July and December 2016. Moreover, the report held both the regime and opposition accountable for “war crimes of forced displacement,” due to the imposed the evacuation of the city for “strategic reasons” and “not for the security of civilians”. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, approximately 876 civilians were killed in Syria in February alone.


Catch up on developments in…

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


Burma/Myanmar:

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, has urged the Burmese government to take action to stop human rights violations against the Rohingya population in the country. Lee met with members of the Rohingya community during a four-day visit to parts of Bangladesh, including the capital Dhaka and the town of Cox’s Bazar, after which she recounted allegations of terrible attacks against the Rohingya people, including indiscriminate shooting, gang rapes, and other sexual violence. Ms. Lee is set to release her full report to the UN Human Rights Council on 13 March.

Burundi:

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called upon all political stakeholders in Burundi to fully commit to peace negotiations led by the East African Community (EAC). Mr. Guterres also warned President Nkurunziza against seeking a fourth term in office, as doing so risks escalating the current political conflict and sabotaging all current efforts to find a durable solution.

The UN has removed Burundi army officer Major Nicolas Budigi from MINUSCA, the UN peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic, following allegations that he committed human rights violations in Burundi in 2015.

On Tuesday, the Burundi government rejected a new report recently submitted to the UN Security Council on the political and security crisis in the country, arguing that it states unproven facts.

On 24 February, women from the East African Community (EAC) established the East African women’s solidarity movement for peace and security in the region. Their objective in the setting up of this movement is advancing African women’s solidarity and seeking peace for Burundi.

Central African Republic:

MINUSCA, the UN peacekeeping mission to the Central African Republic, has successfully forced Ali Darrass, a warlord from the Muslim-majority Seleka region, to withdraw from Bambari. However, clashes among armed groups in the country has continued to hinder the delivery of aid to thousands of displaced civilians, especially in the Ouaka province.

Democratic Republic of Congo:

The Democratic Republic of Congo has said it will investigate a video that apparently shows government troops massacring civilians in the Kasai region, but only “as a precautionary measure”. On Thursday, another UN report stated that the DRC has used excessive force against people protesting President Joseph Kabila’s stay in office. The report also claimed that 40 people were killed during this protest.

Gaza/West Bank:

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) alleged in their weekly report that Israel launched a total of eight airstrikes, involving roughly 23 separate missile strikes, throughout their reporting period, damaging six houses, one mosque, and injuring one civilian along with three Palestinian officers. PCHR also reported a total of 47 civilians arrested in military operations and raids, including four children and  six individuals at a student-organized protest. Other incidents involving civilians alleged in the report include the wounding of an eleven-year old child by a rubber-coated bullet to the neck, the wounding of a child by the detonation of a bomb remnant, and the bulldozing of civilian properties. The Israeli Defense  Forces (IDF) reportedly conducted several raids into the occupied West Bank areas around Hebron and East Jerusalem overnight and early morning on Monday and detained 21 Palestinians, including one woman and at least one minor under the age of 18. IDF spokespeople did confirm Tuesday that operations were taking place in the area when they announced the wounding of a soldier in a the settlement of Efrat.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report strongly criticizing Israel’s Unlawful Enemy Combatants law that was first introduced by the Knesset in 2002 and amended in 2008 as a violation of international humanitarian law and general legal norms of due process and rule of law. The law gives the IDF the ability to incarcerate any individual, based on the “reasonable cause” that they pose a threat to Israeli security, or if he or she is a member of “a force perpetrating hostile acts against the State of Israel.” The law provides little practical ability for judicial review and reverses the traditional burden of proof and presumption of innocence, obligating the accused to prove they are not a threat. HRW cited the case of Munir Hamada, the only one of the 16 Palestinian residents of Gaza incarcerated by Israel after its 2005 disengagement with Gaza under the law, as evidence of the weakness of judicial review available to interned civilians under the law. In the last review of his detention in December, which resulted in the court ruling in favor of another six month continuation of his indefinite incarceration, the decision was allegedly reached based on confidential intelligence reports that were not made available to Mr. Hamada’s legal counsel. In June of last year, the UN Committee Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment referenced Mr. Hamada’s case while urging Israel to repeal the law.

Iraq:

On Sunday, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) forces have detained over 900 displaced men and boys fleeing ISIS since 2014. When interviewed, the detainees’ families said that KRG and Iraqi forces did not inform them of the detainees’ whereabouts nor facilitate any communication with them. Depriving detainees of any contact with the outside world and refusing to give their families useful information is a key indicator of the occurrence of enforced disappearances, which are violations of international human rights law, and can be international crimes.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) agency said that more than 750,000 civilians living in the western sections of Mosul are facing an extremely dire humanitarian situation. The WFP’s Iraq Representative and Country Director, Sally Haydock, said families complain of skyrocketing food prices and the lack of access to food at all. So far, WFP has provided ready-to-eat food for more than 6,000 people, but has called on all parties involved in the conflict to “facilitate immediate and unimpeded humanitarian access to all Iraqis in need of assistance”.

The Iraq Chief of Mission of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Thomas Lothar Weiss, said on Tuesday that thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) are arriving at Iraqi sites after fleeing Mosul, where government forces are fighting the Islamic State (SIL). Over 28,000 people have been displaced in the zone since the battle began on 19 February, the UN stated. According to Iraq’s Ministry of Migrations and Displacement (MoMD), the number should be put at 31,000.

Libya:

The Director of the European Union (EU) border agency Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, accused NGOs of encouraging smugglers who profit from dangerous Mediterranean crossings. By rescuing migrants “ever closer to the Libyan coast”, Leggeri asserted that those groups allow traffickers to force more migrants onto “unseaworthy boats with less sufficient water and fuel than in previous years”. Aurélie Ponthieu, the humanitarian adviser on displacement at Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF), said that as a humanitarian agency, they could not wait “20 miles out to sea for boats that may pass by chance” because, she states, “there will be many more deaths”.

Earlier this month, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) published a report calling on Libya to protect children who are suffering from violence and sexual abuse at the hands of smugglers during their journeys towards Europe. The UN agency says that almost 26,000 children, most of them unaccompanied, have crossed the Mediterranean last year. In its report, UNICEF says violence is “widespread and systemic” at crossings and checkpoints.

Mali:

In a positive sign for the peace process in Mali, armed groups in the north of the country have reportedly agreed to allow interim authorities to be installed in three key towns in the north, including the town of Gao, which has been the center of the joint patrols.

UN forces have adopted a strategy of local cooperation in order to address the threat of extremist forces linked to al-Qaeda in the still-volatile north. Fighters linked to al-Qaeda are using suicide bombs, landmines, and car bombs to attack the peacekeepers and the Malians living in the town of Kidal. A commanding officer with the UN force has said cooperation between UN troops and local people has significantly improved the security situation and has already been helpful in preventing an attack which could have killed many.

Nigeria:

A military spokesperson claimed Wednesday that nearly 8,000 people had been rescued or arrested from Boko Haram strongholds through the month of February during the ongoing counter-insurgency campaign. As civilians have fled or been extracted from areas formerly controlled by Boko Haram, allegations of abuses and atrocities committed by the military have begun to proliferate. Survivors have reported arbitrary executions and the destruction of entire villages by soldiers ostensibly searching for Boko Haram fighters hiding among unarmed civilians. The reports have added to the growing record allegations against the Nigerian military for human rights abuses.

South Sudan:

According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), roughly 32,000 South Sudanese have entered Sudan since the start of 2017, with tens of thousands more expected to arrive due to fleeing the famine. Eugene Owusu, the UN humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan, urged all parties in the conflict to ensure immediate, safe, and unhindered access across the country, a week after famine was declared in parts of the country.

Rebecca Garang, former Presidential Adviser of South Sudan, urged President Salva Kiir to step down, saying he is responsible for the famine that hit the country and war crimes. According to a prominent member of the Jieng Council of Elders, South Sudan’s Transitional Government of National Unity could remain in power until 2021, as it still requires the restoration of national security and a permanent constitution (among many other things) before any elections can take place. South Sudan’s opposition People’s Liberal Party expressed its full support of the national dialogue plan that was set forth by President Kiir in December of last year.

Sudan:

The reported whipping and deportation of refugees in Sudan has reinforced calls on the European Union (EU) to halt its cooperation with the Sudanese government under President Omar al-Bashir. Members of the European Parliament, including the Vice-Chair of the Sub-Committee on Human Rights, have raised concern over the incident and called for a formal inquiry, noting the EU’s responsibility to not be complicit in state crimes and violations of human rights.

Hassan Saleh, First Vice President of Sudan and longtime ally of President Omar al Bashir, was appointed to the newly created position of Prime Minister by the President on Wednesday. The position of Prime Minister was created as part of the constitutional amendments negotiated by some of the opposition groups in December in an effort to dilute the presidency’s near complete political powers. It is the first time Sudan has had a Prime Minister since Bahir’s 1989 coup. Saleh is the last of the original group of officers who aided Bashir’s coup to remain by his side and is thought to be the most likely successor to Bashir if he keeps his promise to step down in 2020. Saleh will be retaining his post as First Vice President.

The joint African Union-UN assistance mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has launched a new campaign in a camp in West Darfur for displaced persons, entitled “No Child Soldiers – Protect Darfur”, in order to prevent the exploitation of children as combatants by the armed forces fighting for control of Darfur.

Yemen:

The inaccessibility for humanitarian aid groups in Yemen has continued to harm civilians. IRIN News visited a makeshift camp of displaced persons driven from Taiz city by the recent fighting; two elderly adults and three children have already perished in the camp from the cold, dehydration, and starvation. Stephen O’Brien, the UN emergency relief coordinator for Yemen, met with both sides of the ongoing war during a tour of the country, and proceeded to call upon both to allow more access to the country’s ports for humanitarian aid. Mr. O’Brien’s convoy was denied access to the contested city of Taiz on Tuesday due to security reasons, despite previous assurances of safety from all parties.

On Tuesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it has had to halt deliveries of aid to the contested Red Sea port city of al Hudaydah due to a lack of security assurances and the increased bombing of the city by Saudi-led coalition warplanes. Yemeni government and coalition forces have been pushing the frontline towards al Hudaydah after taking the port city of Mokha to the south several weeks ago. Yemen is almost entirely dependent on foreign supplies, as it imports 90% of its food, and the lack of security for aid agencies and importers in the ports as well as significant infrastructure damage has almost completely cut the country off from receiving food. This shortage is occurring while some 19 million are already in need of humanitarian assistance. Numerous voices have called on both sides of the conflict to allow access for food supplies, including the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen and now the ICRC.

Also on Tuesday, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) urged all parties in the conflict in Yemen to immediately release child soldiers. The UN has asserted that between 26 March 2015 and 31 January 2016, 1,476 children have been recruited into the armed conflict. The spokesperson for OHCHR, Ramina Shamdasani, said that, according to new reports, children are recruited without the knowledge of their families and that they join the fighting after “either being misled or attracted by promises of financial rewards or social status.” Amnesty International also reported on the recruitment of young boys as soldiers by the Houthi faction, citing several eyewitness accounts of recruitment.

According to the Pentagon, the US hit supposed al-Qaeda positions with over 20 airstrikes early morning Thursday. The Pentagon spokesperson did not comment on the expected death toll, but sources on the ground estimated roughly four to nine men, whom are believed to have been members of the al-Qaeda group in Yemen. The strikes come a month after the US raid on 29 January that killed multiple civilians, including several young children.The conditions created by the ongoing war in Yemen, including sectarian tensions, unrest, criminal enterprises, and a major security vacuum, have led some to suggest it may be the ideal haven for Islamic State (ISIL) elements pushed out of Syria and Iraq.

What else is new?

The ICRtoP is one of 26 organizations urging Ambassador Nikki Haley, the US Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, to support conflict prevention and peacebuilding in a joint letter by the Prevention and Protection Working Group. To read the letter, please click here.

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#RtoPWeekly: 20 – 24 February

Untitled

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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#RtoP Weekly: 13 February – 17 February

Untitled

Burma set to investigate abuses against Rohingya Muslims

Following the report published last week by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights signaling the incessant perpetration of gross human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine State, the Burmese government has announced that it will set up an investigation into allegations of police abuses committed during the military crackdown in the state since October 2016.

The plight of the Rohingya minority in the country, whose very existence has been denied by the Burmese government, have increasingly raised alarms in the international community. In late January 2017, the government of Bangladesh revived a plan, which was first suggested in 2015, regarding the possibility to transfer Rohingya refugees to an uninhabited, undeveloped coastal island, called Thengar Char. Brad Adams, the executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, said that the proposal to relocate people to an island “that is deluged at high tide and submerged during the monsoon season” is both “cruel and unworkable”. According to what the plan envisages, it is unclear as to whether all Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh would be transferred, or only the new arrivals.

On Wednesday, the Burmese military finally put an end to the clearance operations in Rakhine State, which the United Nations (UN) affirm “may amount to crimes against humanity”. The newly appointed security adviser, Thaung Tun, said that “the situation in northern Rakhine has now stabilized […] the curfew has been eased and there remains only a police presence to maintain the peace”. However, the violence perpetrated during the last four months has renewed international criticism of Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been accused of having inadequately addressed the matter. In particular, she has either remained silent on the worsening situation or participated in official denials issued from the military.

Source for above photo: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters via The Guardian


Catch up on developments in…
Burundi
CAR
DPRK
DRC
Iraq 
Libya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen

Burundi:

Burundi’s Home Affairs minister, Pascal Barandagiye, said at a hearing with a UN refugee agency (UNHCR) representative in Burundi that figures released by the UNHCR about Burundians fleeing the country are false, and that “those who are said to flee the country are people suffering from hunger, who leave the country to search for food and then return back.”

Burundi is starting to call back its citizens after officials have announced that the country is safe after having months of civil unrest. It is calling upon those citizens who fled during the unrest to neighboring countries such as Uganda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This call for refugees happened on the eve of peace talks, scheduled for 16 February to 18 February. According to the Burundian president’s office earlier this week, the government would conduct the next round of talks in Arusha, Tanzania in the context of the inter-Burundian dialogue. However, later in the week the Burundi government refused to send representatives to these talks. The government spokesperson stated that Burundi will not negotiate with those who disturb their justice and noted that some of the members of the delegation are wanted in Burundi for offenses against the state.

While Burundi states that it is making peaceful progress, critics of the government who remain in the country have said that their work is becoming increasingly difficult to do due to further restrictions on civil society. These journalists and human rights activists are worried for their own safety as well as those whose human rights are being violated and state that these people are terrified to speak out.


Central African Republic:

On Saturday the UN mission in CAR (MINUSCA) shot at fighters from the Popular Front for the Renaissance of Central African Republic (FPRC) advancing towards the town of Bambari, reportedly killing a top militant and three other fighters. Later in the week a MINUSCA spokesman stated that a death toll had not been confirmed, but it is confirmed that the FPRC’s top commander, Joseph Zonduko, was killed.
A senior UN humanitarian official denounced forceful entry by armed individuals into a hospital in the Central African Republic’s restive PK5 neighbouhood with the intention to kill some of the patients, emphasizing that this is the second incident at the health facility, situated in the capital, Bangui, in the last five days.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch condemned the execution of 32 civilians, possibly more, due to clashes in the country. With all this conflict, the appointment of a chief prosecutor for the Special Criminal Court on 15 February marks an important step towards accountability and peace. The court will be staffed by national and international judges and prosecutors to prosecute human rights violations that have taken place since 2013.


DPRK:

On Monday, the UN Human Rights Council released a report of a group of independent experts designated by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to hold North Korea accountable for the human rights violations perpetrated in the country, which, the experts argue, amount to crimes against humanity.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

The UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC voiced its concern about the constant conflict in the Kasai provinces where violent atrocities are being committed by the Kamuina Nsapu militia, including recruiting and using child soldiers. UN and humanitarian partners in the DRC have appealed for nearly $750 million to aid 6.7 million people this year. On Tuesday, the UN human rights office announced that more than 100 people had been killed between 9 and 13 February in Dibaya.

On Thursday, the DRC government announced that it will not have the funds to afford a new presidential election, which was agreed to happen this year. Budget Minister Pierre Kangudia said the cost, $1.8 billion, was too expensive. Current President Joseph Kabila’s term ended in late 2016, but opponents have accused him of delaying polls to remain in power. The DRC has not had a smooth transfer of power for more than 55 years. The 2017 election plan initially reduced tensions in the country, but with this latest news tensions have reignited. The African Union, United Nations, European Union, and International Organization of La Francophonie have issued a joint statement of increasing concern for the implementation of the election plan agreement, which outlined a peaceful transition of power.


Iraq:

On Saturday, Iraqi security forces fired tear gas and rubber-coated bullets at thousands of  supporters of an influential Shia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, who were demonstrating in the area of Baghdad’s Green Zone, pressing for electoral reform. Four protesters and one policeman were killed, and many were injured.

On Thursday, Islamic State (ISIL) claimed responsibility for having blown up a car packed with explosives in the south of Baghdad, killing 48 people and wounding dozens more. On Wednesday, a suicide bomber detonated a truck in the suburb of Sadr City, killing 15 people and wounding around 50, while only a day earlier, another car bomb explosion in southern Baghdad killed four people.


Libya:

On Friday, the Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Libya, met in Geneva to address the ongoing flows of refugees and migrants in Libya, calling for a comprehensive approach at the international level. They highlighted that “untold numbers of people” face “grave human rights violations and abuses”, such as extortion, torture and sexual violence.


Mali:

Government officials reported late Monday and early Tuesday that communal violence in the Ke-Macina area killed at least 13 over the weekend. However, residents of the area claimed the number of deaths was at least 30. Local sources also said that members of the Bambara community attacked the Fulani community, who they accuse of collaboration with extremist groups that have destabilized the country. By Wednesday, the official government numbers had risen to 20 with 16 injured and 600 displaced by the fighting.

Elsewhere, state security forces pushed into Dialoubé locality in the central Mopti region over the weekend, ousting the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) aligned extremist group that had controlled the area. Military officials claim to have arrested around 20 suspected members of the group and to have killed one area resident who refused to stop at a checkpoint.

Despite setbacks, actors remain committed to implementation of the peace plan outlined in the agreement signed in May-June 2015. The working group overseeing the implementation of the Malian peace plan stated that implementation will continue and that joint patrols will begin by the end of February. The statement came only weeks after a devastating attack by terror groups on a military base in Gao as the first tripartite patrol was preparing to depart.


Nigeria:

Communal violence between largely Christian farmers and largely Muslim nomadic herders has displaced 27,000 in Kaduna state since September. The Nigerian government’s disaster response organization has officially stated that 200 have been killed while local church officials claim the number may be as high as 800.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has reported a drastic reduction in cases of malnutrition in children under five in areas they provide food relief. At an ICRC clinic in southern Borno state an average of 10 cases were reported a month since December compared to 110-120 cases a month last summer. Despite this ICRC and other humanitarian organizations are concerned about possible famine like condition in areas still inaccessible to them. The UN has also forecasted the potential for catastrophic famine conditions in Nigeria, particularly affecting children, and the UN Food and Agricultural Program is warning of food shortages for 11 million in June through August, 120,000 of whom may face famine like conditions.

The US administration has reportedly made promises to the Nigerian government about increasing cooperation and aid in the Nigerian fight against Boko Haram and other terror groups, including the increased sale of arms to the Nigerian military. Previous US administrations have been resistant to arms sales to Nigeria due to deep concerns regarding human rights abuses by the government and armed forces.


South Sudan:

The UN Security Council has strongly condemned continued fighting across South Sudan, particularly incidents in the Equatoria and Upper Nile regions, and warned that attacks on civilians could renew calls for sanctions. The Council called on all parties to cease hostilities immediately. Thousands of civilians have been fleeing as violence in the Equatoria region has intensified. The aid workers on the ground have stated that thousands of refugees are entering Uganda every day due to the fighting between different factions and the South Sudanese military. Refugees have reported that government soldiers are torturing, kidnapping, raping, and executing women and girls around Kajo-Keji County. Officials in South Sudan also say army troops raped at least six women and girls, some at gunpoint. There has been an increase in rape by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), sparking outrage and raised tension between the government and other countries aiding in humanitarian efforts. However, South Sudanese internally displaced persons have opposed the re-deployment of the Kenyan peacekeepers, claiming their involvement fueled clashes in Juba.

President Salva Kiir dismissed charges that he and the SPLA Chief of General Staff, Paul Malong Awan, have turned the national army into a tribal institution. Later in the week, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), one of the rebel groups fighting Sudanese government forces in Darfur, called on the African Union High Level Implementation panel to consult with opposition groups before convening any meeting on the peace process. It was also reported that a South Sudanese general has resigned from the army, accusing the country’s president of “ethnic cleansing.”


Sudan:

A presidential spokesperson has reaffirmed the Sudanese government’s commitment to signing a comprehensive ceasefire and humanitarian access deal following the proposal by the US envoy. However, the spokesperson also stated the government remains equally committed to retaliatory action against perceived aggression.
This week, the UN International Children’s Fund (UNICEF)  launched an appeal for  $110 million to aid two million acutely malnourished children throughout Sudan.


Syria:

Syrian rebels and Turkish troops, as well as Syrian government forces, have entered Islamic State (ISIL) held Al-Bab, the group’s last stronghold in Syria, engaging in heavy clashes with the terrorist group. On Saturday, the Turkish military released a statement reporting that at least 43 ISIL fighters were “neutralized” and that the Free Syrian Army (FSA), supported by Turkish Land Forces, eventually hit 245 ISIL targets, including headquarters and defense positions. On Tuesday, the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildrim said that Turkey-backed rebels have largely taken control of the town of Syria’s Al-Bab from ISIL combatants. However, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Islamic State remained in control of the northern Syrian town.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch has claimed that Syrian Government forces allegedly used chemical weapons targeting opposition-controlled areas of Aleppo during the battle to retake the city in late 2016. From 7 November to 13 December, government helicopters purportedly dropped chlorine bombs in residential areas of Aleppo, killing nine civilians, including children, and injuring about 200.

As more than 60,000 civilians are trapped in the four Syrian towns of Al-Zabadani, Al-Fu’ah, Kefraya and Madaya, on Monday, a senior United Nations relief official called on all parties to come to a viable agreement, allowing for immediate humanitarian access. People in the four towns suffer from daily violence and deprivation, as well as malnutrition and lack of proper medical care. In a news release, Ali Al-Za’tari, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, stressed that the situation is likely to spark a humanitarian catastrophe.

On Wednesday, the spokesman of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which includes rebel groups and political opponents of President Assad, said that it wants to negotiate with the Syrian government about a political transition at peace talks scheduled to begin next week in Geneva. While underlining that the HNC still sticks to its position that President Assad can have no role in the transition, it welcomes the creation of a governing body tasked with overseeing the process.

The United Nations in Geneva will host a new body charged with preparing prosecutions of war crimes committed in Syria. At a minimum, the body will be tasked with preparing files for prosecutions that could be used by states or the International Criminal Court in bringing forward such prosecutions. Andrew Clapham, Professor of International Law at Geneva’s Graduate Institute said that “the focus is on collecting evidence and building criminal cases before the trail goes cold.” He further pointed out that many national courts could also bring perpetrators to account using the resulting dossiers.


Yemen:

A Saudi-led coalition airstrike targeting the home of a local tribal leader reportedly killed nine women and one child, in addition to wounding dozens, as they attended a funeral. Initial reports from Houthi officials also claimed that the attack included a second follow-up strike that hit first responders. A previous airstrike reported to have occurred last Friday, also killed a school administrator as well as two students when a makeshift gas station less than 200 metres from a school was targeted by coalition warplanes, according to Human Rights Watch. The rights group also stated that the attack on the gas station, which local witnesses said has previously fueled Houthi fighting vehicles, occurred during the beginning of the school day when students were walking to school and at a time when no combatant vehicles were present. The Saudi-led coalition issued a statement on Monday reiterating their commitment to protecting civilians and touting the steps it has taken to minimize civilian casualties.

Elsewhere, a suicide car bomb in a Houthi-controlled town reportedly killed three, including a child, and wounded eight others.

The fighting has had a significant impact on civilian property and infrastructure worsening the humanitarian impact of the conflict. Medecins Sans Frontières has reported that civilians are facing significant supply shortages and that the ongoing violence has caused major damage to hospitals in the Taiz area. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that as fighting in Al-Mokha City in Taiz continued last weekend, 8,000 people fled the violence to the neighbouring Al-Hudaydah governorate where WHO is providing emerging trauma care to those displaced across several districts.

UN Secretary-General Guterres called for a resurrection of the peace negotiations in Yemen for the sake of the suffering civilians, many of whom are now considered by the UN to be at severe risk of famine. Seven previous ceasefires brokered by the UN have failed, as have previous rounds of peace talks. Mr. Guterres also reaffirmed his support for the current UN peace envoy to Yemen days after the Houthi rebels asked the UN chief not to renew the current envoy’s mandate. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reportedly called for a truce in Yemen on Wednesday, potentially indicating a willingness to deescalate the tensions with Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia that have been fueling the conflict in Yemen.

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