Category Archives: UN

#RtoPWeekly 15-19 May

UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect holds panel series to inform preparations for upcoming report on RtoP

On Thursday, 18 May, the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect and the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) co-organized a panel discussion in Geneva on “Mainstreaming an atrocity prevention lens in international human rights mechanisms.” This is the second of three such events to be held with Member States in preparation of the upcoming 2017 UN Secretary-General’s report on the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP).

Next week, on 24 May, UN Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect Ivan Simonovic will chair the final panel in the series, which will be held at UN headquarters in New York. The final panel will focus on “Accountability for the prevention of atrocity crimes and UN mandated peace missions.”

The UN Secretary-General has released a report on RtoP annually since 2009. Each year the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) provides summaries and other educational tools on the annual report. For more information on the UN and RtoP, as well as to view the previous reports and tools, please click here.


Catch up on developments in…

CAR
Cote d’Ivoire
Iraq
Libya
Mali

Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan
Syria
Yemen


Central African Republic:
On 14 May, the UN mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reported another attack had occurred on its base in the city of Bangassou. According to MINUSCA, the violence was mostly targeted against the Muslim civilians in the region and resulted in the death and injuries of several civilians and soldiers. The UN mission added that the attacks were conducted by a wide coalition, including the anti-Balaka armed group. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for investigations into the incident “in order to swiftly bring those responsible to justice.” Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) reported that it had treated 21 wounded at the hospital in Bangassou within a few hours of the attack.

According to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report issued on 15 May, Ugandan peacekeeping forces deployed in the Central African Republic (CAR) have allegedly been responsible for the sexual abuse and exploitation of at least 13 women in CAR since 2015. Last year, the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights reported 14 cases of rape by the Ugandan peacekeeping forces in CAR. Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, declared that “Ugandan and African Union authorities should conduct proper investigations, punish those responsible, and make sure that the women and girls who were sexually abused or exploited get the services they need.” HRW called on MINUSCA to withhold from recruiting Ugandan peacekeepers until the facts have been established and accountability has been provided.


Cote d’Ivoire:

In a statement issued on 16 May, the UN Secretary-General welcomed “the return to calm in Côte d’Ivoire following the unacceptable acts of violence committed by soldiers of the Forces Armées de Côte d’Ivoire (FACI) over the past few days” and complimented “the Government of Côte d’Ivoire for its efforts to address the unrest and restore security.”


Iraq:

According to ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) on 18 May, the Iraqi army and other security forces in the region have recently forced over three hundred families in the Hammam al-Alil and Hajj Ali camps for displaced people to return to areas in western Mosul that are still under threat of Islamic State (ISIL) violence, while also being deprived of water, food, and electricity. The decision was taken in order to arrange for the arrival of new families into the camps, yet humanitarian workers and the UN have evaluated that the camps still have the capacity to receive new families without the forced removal. Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at HRW, asserted that these families “should not be forcibly returned to unsafe areas and areas that lack adequate water, food, electricity, or health facilities.”


Libya:

Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has encouraged EU member states to strengthen Libya’s border management, where the EU has been conducting patrols for several months in an effort to prevent migrants and contraband from reaching European coasts. Mogherini stated that a militarized border is an effective barrier to smuggling boats launched into the Mediterranean Sea, and would act as a control mechanism against the movement of migrants. Her statement was a response to a letter issued by Germany and Italy last week, which had requested the presence of an EU mission on the border between Libya and Niger, despite the existing training provided by the EU for rescuing people around its territory. Meanwhile, the condition of Libyan migrants fleeing the country, specifically for people smuggled and trafficked, has continued to raise concerns in the international community. Migrants have been subjected to poor detention conditions, insufficient food, beatings, forced labor, and sexual violence, among others.


Mali:

Last year, the United Nations asked Canada to provide urgently needed equipment and personnel to the UN mission in Mali, but as of yet the country has delayed giving a response, resulting in some UN Member States expressing their impatience. On 12 May, the Canadian Prime Minister, Mr. Justin Trudeau, explained that the Canadian government will take the “appropriate” time required to decide as to whether Canada will send peacekeepers to Mali. Trudeau emphasized the importance of ensuring sure that his country would contribute to the mission with the proper approach, training, and equipment before engaging Canadian citizens in a peacekeeping operation.

On 14 May, four Red Cross employees were kidnapped by unidentified armed individuals in Mali while conducting a survey of the humanitarian situation. The negotiations took place immediately, and therefore the abductors released a Malian humanitarian aid worker the next day. The country has been plagued by rebel and Islamist groups, which have conducted attacks in recent months against the Malian government and its allies. Targeted attacks on humanitarian workers are becoming more frequent, resulting in the threatening, injuring, and kidnapping of humanitarian personnel. Last month, the Red Cross had to suspend operations in northern Kidal following a burglary in its office, while three other Red Cross employees were abducted by the militant Islamist Group, Ansar Dine. In that respect, the UN has stated that it may deploy an intervention force of Senegalese troops to deal with the insecurity in Mali.


On 16 May, the Nigerian Army claimed responsibility for the arrest of Abubaka Haram, a top Boko Haram commander known as ‘Pepper’, who was suspected to be involved in several terrorist activities in Yobe State and the neighboring region. European countries have resolved the crisis in Nigeria, but the humanitarian and migration situation is increasingly unstable.
Given the ongoing military operations, the governor of the state of Borno has decided not to close the camps in the area by the end of May, as was initially expected. He considered it not yet safe to allow people to return to their homes while Boko Haram continues to carry out attacks and bombings in the region.


South Sudan:

According to a UN aid plan that was presented in Geneva on 15 May, humanitarian agencies are seeking $1.4 billion USD in humanitarian assistance for refugees from South Sudan that have fled to neighboring countries. As of now, only 14 percent of the plan has been funded. The humanitarian situation in the country continues to worsen, with “a combination of conflict, drought and famine leading to further displacement.”


On 14 May, a representative of the United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) briefed the Sudanese government regarding a 3 May meeting between two Sudanese armed groups that had been seeking a path to stable peace in Darfur. The representative reported that the groups expressed their support for a peace settlement with the government. In light of this information, a delegation of the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) held a meeting on 15 May in order to discuss the recent developments with Sudanese government officials, as the 30 June withdrawal date of the mission draws ever closer. During the meeting, the Sudanese representatives updated the AUPSC on the latest security, political, and humanitarian developments, and the delegation reiterated its support for government efforts in achieving peace and stability.

On 17 May, the Sudanese President, Mr. Omar al-Bashir, was invited by Saudi Arabia to the upcoming Arab-Islamic-American Summit, which will discuss issues such as terrorism and trade, among others. The Summit will be attended by the United States President, Mr. Donald Trump, as well as the leaders of several countries named under Mr. Trump’s proposed travel ban. The international community will be monitoring the summit regarding the hopeful arrest of the Sudanese President, since Bashir is currently wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Ms. Fatou Bensouda, the ICC Prosecutor, has urged the United Nations Security Council to take action and for all ICC states present at the summit to arrest Bashir.


Syria:

On Monday, 15 May, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that a second US-led airstrike on the city of Albu Kamal, currently controlled by the Islamic State (ISIL), had resulted in the deaths of 23 civilians. The SOHR reported a similar attack the day before that had also been conducted by the US-led coalition on the ISIL held provinces of Raqqa. In a statement issued on 17 May, the US-led coalition against ISIL denied it had been responsible for the strikes in Albu Kamal.

Also on 15 May, the US State Department claimed that the Syrian government had built a crematorium close to the Saydnaya Military Prison in Syria in an effort to cover up the alleged mass atrocities that have been taking place there. Stuart Jones, acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department, asserted that the Syrian regime could be killing up to 50 detainees a day. He stated that the US would “bring evidence forward to the international community” regarding these claims.

On 17 May, the sixth round of the UN-supported negotiations for the crisis in Syria occurred in Geneva, as a part of the efforts for a political solution to the conflict. Among the parties that participated in the talks were the United Nations Special Envoy for the Syria crisis, Staffan de Mistura; the United Nations Deputy Special Envoy for Syria, Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy; as well as the Syrian government delegation and US representatives. The alleged use of a crematorium by the Syrian regime and the satellite images that supported this charge were among the topics brought by the US to the discussion.


Yemen:

On 17 May, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that about two hundred people have recently died due to the cholera outbreak in Yemen. Mohammed Al-Assadi, UNICEF’s representative in the country, declared that three thousand new potential cholera cases are being documented every day.

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Filed under CARcrisis, Cote d'Ivoire, ICRtoP Members, International Criminal Court, Libya, Nigeria, Peacekeeping, RtoP, Syria, UN, 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: 27-31 March 2017

Untitled

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 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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#RtoPWeekly: 30 January – February 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch up on developments in…

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

Central African Republic:

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

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


Democratic Republic of Congo:

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

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


Gaza/West Bank:

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


Iraq:

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

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


Libya:

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

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


Nigeria:

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

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


South Sudan:

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

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

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

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

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


Sri Lanka:

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


Sudan:

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

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


Syria:

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

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

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

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


Yemen:

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

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

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

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


What else is new?

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

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

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

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#R2PWeekly: 15 – 19 August 2016

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

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

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

Read the Secretary-General’s full report here.

See the ICRtoP’s infographic on the report here.

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


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar

Burundi

CAR

DRC

Gaza/West Bank

Iraq

Libya

Nigeria

South Sudan

Sudan/Darfur

Syria

Yemen

 


Burma/Myanmar:

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


Burundi:

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


Central African Republic:

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

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


Democratic Republic of Congo:

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

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


Gaza/West Bank:

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


Iraq:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Libya:

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

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


Mali:

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

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


Nigeria:

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

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

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


South Sudan:

Developments in the fighting

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

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

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

Investigations into abuses and misconduct

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

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

Political developments

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

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

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

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

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


Sudan/Darfur:

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

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

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


Syria:

Developments in the Fighting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political Developments

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

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

The Humanitarian Situation

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

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

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


Yemen:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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