Category Archives: Uncategorized

#R2P Weekly 19 – 23 February 2018

UN rails against Syria’s “monstrous campaign of annihilation” in Eastern Ghouta
The United Nations is pleading for a halt to one of the deadliest air assault campaigns of the Syrian conflict, as Syrian government forces have reportedly continued to attack Eastern Ghouta for over five straight days, killing more than 335 civilians, in what the UN has called a “massacre”. On 19 February, Syrian forces intensified their bombardment of the last remaining rebel-held enclave near the capital, allegedly indiscriminately killing more than 100 civilians that day alone, and marking one of the deadliest attacks in three years. Moreover, in just the past few days, Syrian government forces and its allies have reportedly conducted 420 airstrikes and dropped 140 barrel bombs in Eastern Ghouta. While the Syrian government claims that there are few civilians left in Eastern Ghouta, according to the UN, almost 400,000 people remain trapped in the area.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres maintains that the Syrian government’s bombing campaign has turned Eastern Ghouta into “hell on earth” and has called for an immediate halt to the fighting. Similarly, both Panos Moumtzis, the UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, as well as High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, have urged all parties to strictly adhere to their international humanitarian obligations and to take all feasible measures to protect civilians. They have further underscored that “International humanitarian law was developed precisely to stop this type of situation, where civilians are slaughtered in droves in order to fulfill political or military objectives”. The High Commissioner railed at the “monstrous campaign of annihilation”.

Earlier this month, Sweden and Kuwait introduced a draft resolution, requesting that the UN Security Council (UNSC) vote “as soon as possible” on the proposed 30-day ceasefire in Syria, which would allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid and medical evacuation. During intense negotiations and in a concession to Russia, the draft resolution was later amended to specify that the proposed ceasefire would not apply to the Islamic State (ISIL) or Al-Qaeda. The UNSC vote, which was originally scheduled for Thursday, was later delayed and set to take place on Friday, 23 February.


Catch up on developments in…

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

 

Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan
Syria 
Venezuela
Yemen

 

Burma/Myanmar:

On 23 February, a bomb killed two people and injured 22 others at a bank in the northern city of Lashio. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but violent incidents carried out by armed ethnic groups are not uncommon in the northern part of the country. UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee warned in a statement this month of the need to focus not only on the Rohingya crisis, but to also focus on the general ethnic strife of the country.

The Canadian government has imposed sanctions on Burmese General Maung Maung Soe, citing his alleged complicity in the violations of rights of the Rohingya population. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland also stated that the acts committed against the Rohingya constitute ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The European Union (EU) is also preparing sanctions against Burmese generals involved in the systematic abuse of human rights against the Rohingya, Reuters has reported. European diplomats also announced the EU’s desire to strengthen the arms-embargo currently in place on Burma.

Burma has agreed to resettle the 6,000 Rohingya stranded in no man’s land, an unclaimed piece of land near the Tombru border between Burma and Bangladesh. While most of the Rohingya refugees have fled to the Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh, some are stranded in this area as a result of the Bangladeshi government denying their entrance to the country. The decision comes after Bangladeshi and Burmese authorities visited the impromptu camps to encourage Rohingya refugees to return to Burma.


 

Burundi:

UN Development Programme Representative to Burundi Garry Coville reported that one in three Burundian people will require humanitarian assistance in 2018, a 20 percent increase from last year’s needs. Coville stated that the socio-economic situation in the country, as well as the increase of natural disasters, will exacerbate the need for humanitarian aid.

Opposition groups in Burundi are accusing the government of allegedly intimidating and forcing citizens to register to vote in the upcoming constitutional referendum. The government has allegedly set up checkpoints, mostly run by the party’s youth militia wing, the Imbonerakure, to verify registration papers. Other residents stated that local authorities have allegedly threatened to withhold fertilizers and not provide health insurance validation if citizens are not registered. Burundi’s First Vice President acknowledged that some members of the Imbonerakure might have abused their power, but denied any other allegations.


 

Central African Republic:

Ursula Mueller, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), called on the international community to increase its support to the humanitarian response in the Central African Republic (CAR) after her visit to the country. While the funding for humanitarian programs has decreased in the last three years, the number of internally displaced persons in the country has doubled to 694,000 in the last year. Mueller emphasized the need to strengthen the protection of civilians during her meetings with national authorities and key stakeholders. Independent Expert on the human rights situation in the CAR Marie-Thérèse Keita Bocoum also urged for an open dialogue between factions, the need to establish judicial mechanisms, and for an increase in humanitarian assistance in the country, citing the 2.2 million people in need of aid.


 

Democratic Republic of the Congo:
The Independent National Electoral Commission (Ceni) of the DRC has revealed new electronic voting machines for the upcoming referendum later this year. The machines will allow the voter to touch the photo of a candidate, which then prints a marked ballot paper that the voter must place inside a ballot box. Additionally, the machines are only available in French, the official language of the country, but not in the four other recognized national languages. Opposition groups, however, have rejected the machines, citing concerns over easy manipulation of votes. The Catholic Church has called on the government to allow international experts to certify the machines, while the US firmly opposes an electronic vote.

Switzerland has imposed sanctions on 14 individuals allied with the DRC’s President Joseph Kabila. These sanctions, which include asset freezes and travel bans, largely replicate the sanctions already imposed by the European Union.

On 20 February, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warned of a looming humanitarian disaster of colossal proportions in the southeastern area of the DRC. The province of Tanganyika has been the stage of conflict and violence between different ethnic groups as well as between government and militia forces, with UNHCR partners reporting 800 protection incidents in just the first two weeks of February. The atrocities include attacks against villages, abductions, and gender-based violence, including rape. Head of Operations for the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) Jean-Philippe Chauzy has also raised concerns over the dire humanitarian situation in the DRC, stating that the international community cannot stay dormant to the country’s situation. Chauzy reported that malnutrition levels in the Kasai province have risen by 750 percent as a result of the constant displacement due to violence. In response, the European Commission, alongside the UN and the Dutch government, will co-host a donor conference on 13 April focusing on funding for humanitarian relief in the DRC.

Over the weekend, unidentified armed men killed two aid workers and kidnapped another one in the eastern province of North Kivu in the DRC, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported. The workers were part of the NGO Hydraulique sans Frontières, which provides technical support in water-related projects in developing countries. OCHA warned of the security situation in the region, citing the 2017 December attack when a rebel group killed 15 UN Peacekeepers and injured 53 others.


 

Gaza / West Bank:

During a briefing to the UN Security Council, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that no Plan B exists for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, affirming the UN’s support to a two-state solution. In the same meeting, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process Nikolay Mladenov called on the international community to continue to support the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), while also urging for the return of control over Gaza to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Mahmoud Abbas, President of the PA, who was also present at the meeting, proposed an international peace conference later this year to solve the situation. However, Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon stated that the only way to solve the problem is through direct negotiations between the two parties.

On 21 February, Egypt re-opened the Rafah crossing point along its border with Gaza for four days only. While thousands of Gaza residents are on the authorized travel list, mainly composed of medical patients and students, it is likely that only a few thousand will make it out in the allotted time.

After a rocket fired from Gaza hit the southern part of Israel over the weekend, Israeli warplanes struck 18 Hamas facilities on Monday, 19 February. No casualties were reported, but the exchange is seen as the most serious escalation since 2014. Hamas officials, however, have stated they do not wish for a further escalation of the situation.


 

Iraq:

The Islamic State (ISIL) claimed responsibility for a deadly attack against Iraq’s Shiite-led Popular Mobilization Units on 19 February, killing at least 27 people southwest of Kirkuk.

ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that on 19 February, a court in Baghdad convicted 11 women from Turkey and one woman from Azerbaijan for non-violent crimes under Iraq’s counter-terrorism law, sentencing ten to life in prison and one to to death. Six months ago, approximately 1,400 foreign women and children, along with ISIL fighters, surrendered to Iraqi security forces. Charges leveled against these women include: entering Iraq illegally; aiding or abetting ISIL; and membership in ISIL. Despite these defendants having access to lawyers during interrogations, unlike earlier cases, HRW maintains that their trials were unfair. Additionally, HRW claims that in these cases, the women received the harshest possible sentences for what appears to be either marriage to an ISIL member or a coerced border crossing. Accordingly, HRW asserts that Iraqi authorities ought to develop a national prosecutorial strategy and prioritize prosecuting those accused of being most responsible for the most serious crimes. To that end, HRW is of the view that authorities should consider alternatives to criminal prosecution for those suspected only of membership in ISIL, without any evidence of other serious crime.


 

Libya:

Seven years after Libya’s revolution, the humanitarian crisis in the country continues to persist and the forecast for 2018 is bleak. Current events, including the elections tentatively scheduled for late 2018, have the potential to reignite an armed conflict rather than lead to a unified Libya, especially in the absence of a constitution and the fact that no single faction appears strong enough to stabilize the country. Indeed, it seems that election-related violence has already begun. Moreover, this power vacuum and the looming possibility of returning to civil war, creates fertile ground for the Islamic State (ISIL) and Al Qaeda-aligned groups to recover from their 2016 and 2017 setbacks and return time and again. According to reports, ISIL is already rising again, and currently disrupting oil production and expanding its reach southward. Additionally, ISIL is allegedly using Libya as its primary base in Africa, where it receives foreign fighters from Europe and the Middle east, and from where it plans and coordinates attacks against the West. Disarray in the country could also make the humanitarian situation even worse, by preserving a slavery economy, destabilizing neighboring states, and intensifying migration to Europe.


Mali:

Infighting between the government of Mali and ethnic Tuaregs in the north over which side is responsible for the failure to produce security or economic benefits for the northern tribe could lead to civil war. This could in turn create an opening for terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), to further entrench their operations in northern Mali.

In central Mali, nearly 400 schools have already closed since Islamist militants expanded their operations and attacks toward the more densely populated Segou and Mopti regions. It also appears that the jihadists are targeting French schools, claiming they “want Koranic schools” instead. Worse still, it seems as though the campaign of violence is gaining support from local communities who feel that they have been marginalized by the government, which they also view as ineffective. Fatou Dieng Thiam, who heads the UN mission’s office in Mopti claims that in addition to militants organizing prayer sessions and telling people to stop paying government taxes, the militants are also “threaten[ing] every symbol of the state: teachers, administrative officers, mayors.” ICRtoP partner Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also documented several cases of rights violations where Malian forces have been involved in their own violations which is creating its own unique cycle of violence.


 

Nigeria:

Four years after Boko Haram kidnapped more than 270 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok, Boko Haram militants attacked a school in Dapchi, Yobe State on 19 February. While it was originally thought that the students and teachers fled before Boko Haram arrived, three days after the attack at least 13 girls are still missing and two were found dead. However, officials have been reluctant to call this a kidnapping, as about 76 of the girls who had fled were later found hiding in surrounding villages, so officials say it may still be possible to find those who are still missing. Still, one parent told the BBC they had seen a truck full of students being taken away. Security services continue to search the area to locate the missing girls.

On 19 February, Nigeria’s justice ministry said that 205 Boko Haram suspects had been convicted on charges related to their involvement with the militant Islamist group. The mass trial marks the end of the second stage of the country’s largest legal challenge against Boko Haram. Jail terms range from three to 60 years. Rights groups have criticized how the Nigerian authorities have handled some of these cases, claiming that some detainees had been held without trial since 2010. Still, the justice ministry also noted that 526 people allegedly affiliated with Boko Haram were released for rehabilitation and said that 73 cases were adjourned.


 

South Sudan:

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that approximately 200,000 refugees from South Sudan will arrive in Sudan during 2018. As the five-year conflict continues, OCHA warns of the need for a long-term strategy, rather than just an emergency response. The organization emphasized plans to provide more durable infrastructure to refugee camps and assistance to host communities.

Two clans in the eastern state of Jonglei in South Sudan have reached a peace agreement, ending a violent conflict over land that has killed 37 people in the past two months. The parties agreed to create a buffer zone, where government security forces will keep the two clans apart.

The South Sudan Peace talks failed to reach an agreement by 16 February as was previously hoped. Hirut Zemene, deputy chair of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Council of Ministers reported that arranging security and sharing responsibility were the two major items under consideration. While no specific date for continuing the peace talks has been set, Zemene hoped that the break would be short and that talks would resume soon, so as to maintain the momentum and finalize pending issues. However, the government delegation, after its return to Juba, reiterated its rejection to the proposals presented by the opposition forces and blamed them for stalling the talks. The government particularly opposed the plan to dissolve the security sector and transfer power to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and to the Regional Protection Force. On the other hand, the opposition forces blamed the government for the failure of the peace talks, citing the government’s strict demands such as refusing to demilitarize Juba and rejecting to reconstruct the army.  On 21 February, more than 200 civil society groups issued a statement urging the IGAD, the African Union, and the international community to increase pressure on all parties to reach an agreement in the next phase of negotiations in March.

A new UN report exposed the “chilling effect” on freedom of expression in South Sudan, citing 60 confirmed incidents where journalists had either been killed, beaten, or arrested. The report also described the restrictions placed upon media outlets, including blocked websites and denying entry to 20 foreign reporters. The head of UNMISS, David Shearer, further reported that the journalists and entities who were targeted were deemed to be critical of the government.


 

Sudan:

The Governor of Central Darfur Ja’afar Abdel-Hakam announced that a security forum would take place in Nertiti next month, bringing together the security committees of North, South and Central Darfur. The purpose of the forum will be to discuss security issues and the impact of the disarmament campaign in the region. Sudan’s Vice President Abdel-Rahman also reported that large numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees have returned to Darfur, following an improved security situation in the country. He urged the committee in charge of overseeing the return to provide more assistance to all five states in Darfur. Additionally, during Pramila Patten’s visit to Darfur, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict commended the efforts of the government to end sexual violence in the area. However while meeting with Ms. Patten, Special Prosecutor of Darfur Crimes, Al-Fatih Mohamed Tayfor, accused the United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) of allegedly hiding Mission staff involved in sexual offenses.

On 18 February, the Sudanese government released over 80 political opponents and activists who partook in the protests over the rising prices of bread last month. The opposition party, the National Umma Party (NUP), welcomed the release but called on the government to release the remaining detainees, and also called for the repeal of laws that restrict the freedom of expression and assembly. The NUP also accused the government of holding the remaining detainees as hostages, citing the Sudanese government’s press statement announcing that the remaining prisoners would be released as long as the demonstrations and vandalism stopped in the country. ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) also urged the government to release the remaining detainees, and noted that Sudanese groups monitoring the release reported that only 50 people were released, not 80 as the government claimed.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/North led by al Hilu (SPLM-N al-Hilu) allegedly attacked SPLM-N forces led by Agar (SPLM-N Agar) in the Blue Nile state on Saturday 17 February. The two factions used to be part of a united opposition force against the Sudanese government until they clashed last year over the right to self-determination and other organizational issues.

The Enough Project in Sudan distributed an open letter to UN commissioners citing issues with the Sudanese government’s suppression of peaceful protests, arbitrary arrests, and detentions. The letter asked the UN commissioners to request the Sudanese government to respect their citizens’ right to protest and to refrain from using force against protesters. In addition, the letter also asked that the Sudanese government allow detainees legal counsel and family visitation rights. The Enough Project and the other signatories to the letter have also requested that the government conduct an immediate, independent and impartial investigation into all allegations of excessive use of force against peaceful protesters and into the ill-treatment and torture of the detainees.


Syria:
Seven years of conflict in Syria has left more than 465,000 dead, over 1,000,000 injured, and at least 12,000,000 displaced.

On 16 February, the US and Turkey agreed to hold talks in order to de-escalate the situation in Syria, particularly to avoid clashes in the northern city of Manbij. Previously, Turkey had said it would attack US-backed Kurdish forces in the city, while the US had threatened of an aggressive response.

On 20 February, Syria’s “Popular Forces” entered Afrin to counter Turkey’s attack against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), raising the possibility of clashes between Syria and Turkey. While Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey Mr. Bekir Bozdağ has apparently warned Syria of “disastrous consequences” should the Syrian government send forces to support the YPG, Syria’s government has called Turkey’s offensive on Afrin a “blatant attack” on its sovereignty.


 

Venezuela:

On 20 February, Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) called on Member States to impose harsher sanctions on Venezuela, including sanctions “against the regime itself”. Until now, sanctions had focused only on individual members of the Venezuelan government.

The Democratic Unity Roundtable, a coalition of Venezuelan opposition parties, announced on 21 February that they would not participate in the presidential election scheduled for 22 April. The opposition stated that the election lacked the necessary conditions for a free and fair result, and further claimed that the election was premature and that it was intended to provide a mirage of legitimacy to President Nicolás Maduro’s government. President Maduro responded by announcing his intentions to also hold municipal and state legislative council elections the same day. The opposition stated that it would reconsider its decision if certain conditions were met.

According to a closely-watched university study, Venezuelans lost on average 11 kilograms in body weight during 2017 as compared to only 8 kilograms during 2016. The study, which was conducted by three Venezuelan universities, provides one of the few statistical analyses of the economic crisis and food shortage in the country, amid a government information void. The report also stated that over 69 percent of Venezuelans have said they have woken up hungry in the previous three months because of lack of funds to buy food.


 

Yemen:

On 16 February, United Nations Secretary‑General António Guterres announced the appointment of Martin Griffiths of the United Kingdom as his Special Envoy for Yemen.

A proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia is occuring in Yemen. On 20 February, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley asserted that a United Nations report had “identified missile remnants, related military equipment and military unmanned aerial vehicles that are of Iranian origin and were brought into Yemen after the imposition of the targeted arms embargo”, demanding that the Security Council act. Apparently, Reuters has seen a draft UN resolution, which urges the Security Council to take action against Iran over sanctions violations and which also urges the Security Council to condemn Iran for failing to stop is ballistic missiles from falling into the hands Yemen’s Houthi rebel group. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has rejected the accusations against Iran, and Russia appears to have opposed a bid to condemn Iran.

Battlefield losses have pushed Houthis to public conscription, annulling voluntary recruitment. Houthi militia leaders are set to review and possibly simplify conditions for recruitment. According to observers, the “simplification” of terms could include abolishing age limits and allowing children to join.

On 21 February, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) called on the United Kingdom, as the penholder on Yemen at the Security Council, to either demonstrate that it can lead the Council to take meaningful action on Yemen, or hand over the responsibility to another Council member. Suze van Meegen, NRC’s Protection and Advocacy Adviser on Yemen, further asserted that “Another weak presidential statement will have little effect on the ground, if any at all” and went on to say that “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world deserves more than just an ‘expression of concern’.” In that regard, the NRC maintains that the Security Council should break its eight-month silence on Yemen by adopting a binding resolution in which it demands a complete lifting of the blockade and a cessation of hostilities.

 

 

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#R2P Weekly: 12 February – 16 February 2018

Syria: Aid finally reaches Eastern Ghouta after death toll rises above 200 in four day assault

Syria picture

As the death toll from a four-day assault on Eastern Ghouta rose above 200 last week, the UN Security Council met behind closed doors on Thursday, 8 February to discuss the worsening humanitarian crisis in the country. However, Russia rejected Assistant Secretary-General and UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis Panos Moumtzis’ appeal for a month-long humanitarian ceasefire in Syria as “unrealistic”. The UN has said that since calling for the ceasefire on 6 February, bombings in the country have intensified and the suffering of civilians in Syria has worsened. On Saturday 10 February, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that between 4 – 9 February, Syrian airstrikes, as well as those of its allies, had killed 230 civilians, which, depending on the circumstances, may constitute war crimes. The High Commissioner also called for “urgent international action.” In an official statement released on 12 February, Ali al-Za’tari, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, also described the recent surge in violence as “some of the worst fighting of the entire conflict” and asserted that the “escalation is taking its cruelest toll on civilians… with reports of hundreds of civilian deaths and injuries, massive displacement and the destruction of civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities.” Even though Russia maintains veto power at the Security Council, Sweden has insisted that it must nevertheless try to gain support for a ceasefire. As Sweden has asserted, “when international law, including humanitarian law is violated on a daily basis, it is our duty to act”.

Finally, on 14 February, after weeks of appeals from the UN, the Eastern Ghouta region received its firsthumanitarian aid delivery. However, much more is needed and will be difficult to deliver without a cessation of fighting in the area. In the meantime, the humanitarian situation remains one of the worst the world has seen.

Source for above photo: Reuters/Bassam Khabieh


Catch up on developments in…

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

Nigeria
Philippines
SouthSudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Venezuela
Yemen
Other

 


 

Burma/Myanmar:

Complicity in International Crimes: In an interview on 14 February, UN Special Envoy on Human Rights in Burma, Yanghee Lee, expressed the possibility of a future international tribunal finding State Chancellor Aung San Suu Kyi guilty of being complicit in crimes against humanity. Ms. Lee also said that there are clear hallmarks of genocide in the country. The Burmese government has barred Mrs. Lee from entering
entering Burma, citing her alleged bias in favor of the Rohingya minority group.

Killings demand our action and attention: A new report released this week alleges the killing of ten Rohingya Muslims in Burma by Buddhist villagers and government troops. The report draws on interviews with victims as well as with the alleged perpetrators of the crimes. Buddhist villagers and Burmese soldiers admitted to burning and looting the village, arresting the ten men, digging their graves, and subsequently killing them. The report also contains disturbing pictures and accounts of the raid in the city of Inn Din in Rakhine State. In response, Deputy Chief of UN Political Affairs Miroslav Jenca told the UN Security Council that reports of grave human rights abuses “demand our attention andaction.”

Ceasefire Agreement: On 13 February, two armed ethnic groups signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Accord (NCA), a ceasefire and peace process agreement with the Burmese government first signed by other parties to the conflict in 2015. The new signatories will also participate in the upcoming Panglong Peace Conference, which will focus on federalism and the formulation of new principles for the country.


Burundi

Referendum on Constitutional Amendments: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has criticized President Nkurunziza’s attempt to make constitutional amendments through a proposed referendum, which would allow the president to hold two seven-year terms and would also change the ethnic quotas required between the Hutus and Tutsis. These requirements were outlined in the hard-won Arusha Peace Accord that ended the civil war and has allowed for ten years of peace in Burundi.

Crackdown on Campaigning: On 13 February, the police force in Burundi posted a video threatening to arrest anyone who prematurely campaigns against the upcoming referendum. The allotted time for campaigning is two weeks before the vote, which it is scheduled to take place in May. Police also reported the arrest of four students and one teacher, who were campaigning door to door for people to vote “no”. Opposition forces condemned the crackdown on campaigning and further claimed police were only arresting those campaigning against the proposed measure.


Central African Republic:

UNICEF Failure to Support Alleged Victims: In early 2017, an award-winning investigation by the Swedish television program, Mission Investigate, exposed the UN Children Fund’s (UNICEF) negligence of its mandate to protect underage victims of alleged sexual abuse by UN Peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. Following the release of the results of the investigation this week, UNICEF has recognized its failure to provide support to the victims and has announced increased efforts to address the institutional failure.

Constant Attacks:  On Monday, a new report detailed how the increasing violence and constant attacks in CAR are indications of a growing general humanitarian crisis. Attacks by armed groups in CAR are increasing dramatically in a reported effort to secure territories before the rainy season begins in April. The violence has directly resulted in record numbers of displaced civilians.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:
Ethnic Violence: As of 13 February, ethnic violence between the Hema and Lendu groups in the DRC’s Ituri Province has reportedly displaced approximately 200,000 people in the past two months. Over 22,000 refugees have fled to Uganda, and many of those fleeing are risking their lives in the arduous journey. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that at least four refugees drowned while crossing Lake Albert, which separates the two countries. Refugees are fleeing the DRC because of people burning houses, pillaging villages, recruiting people against their own will, and kidnapping. Militias are also allegedly raping girls and women. One half of those who have fled are children. The current violence comes in light of the uncertainty surrounding President Joseph Kabila’s decision to stay in power past the end of his previous term.

Sexual Abuse by Peacekeepers: On 14 January, the UN reported that it registered 18 cases of alleged sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers in the DRC during 2017. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has pledged to take a tougher stance on allegations of misconduct by the blue helmets. Similarly, the South African military opened an investigation into allegations of misconduct and sexual exploitation committed by its peacekeepers in the DRC, indicating that “corrective actions” would be taken if the allegations are found to be true. The UN requested that the investigation be completed within 90 days.

UN Deaths: US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley asked the DRC’s Foreign Minister to deliver a message to President Joseph Kabila regarding the actions taken against individuals on a list provided by the US connected to the murder of two UN investigators in March 2017. A UN Inquiry found that a group of Congolese, likely militia members, murdered the two investigators, but did not rule out the possibility of other suspects. In October 2017, the trial of the suspects in the DRC was suspended, pending the arrival of four UN experts to assist in the investigations. Since then, no serious action has been taken, the US complained.


Gaza / West Bank:

Medical Permits: In a joint statement on 13 February, human rights organizations, including ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW), condemned the record-low rate of medical treatment permits issued by Israel for Palestinians. In 2017, Israel approved only 54 percent of the requested permits – the lowest rate since the World Health Organization began collecting data. The organizations called on Israel to lift its blockade on Gaza, particularly to allow the freedom of movement for people with health problems.


Iraq:

Reconstruction: Iraqi officials have indicated that it will cost at least 88 billion USD to rebuild Iraq in the aftermath of its three-year war with the Islamic State (ISIL). Jassim Mohammed al-Jaaf, Iraq’s Minister of Migration and Displacement stressed that “The priority now is to bring back normal life to Iraq’s cities” so that the 2.6 million Iraqis who remain displaced can return home – or choose to stay in a  new city. At the ministerial meeting of the Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq (KICRI), held on 14 February in Kuwait, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asserted that the UN was firmly committed to the reconstruction process in Iraq. Additionally, the government of Kuwait confirmed that Iraq also received $30 billion in pledges to fund its reconstruction efforts. Still, according to Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Iraq’s Foreign Minister, the funds fall short of what is needed.

Explosives left behind: The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) is also leading efforts to clear massive amounts of explosive material in Mosul and other cities.

Mass Grave: On 8 February, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that it located a mass grave near the village of Bardiya in Iraq. New evidence suggests that the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Asayish security forces from the West Tigris branch may have carried out mass executions of alleged ISIL detainees, possibly killing hundreds. Authorities must urgently investigate war crimes allegations and hold to account those responsible.

Child Soldiers: A new study conducted by the United Nations University, found that at least 10 major armed groups operating in Syria and Iraq – not just ISIL – have recruited and used child soldiers.

NATO: Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Jens Stoltenberg, announced on 15 February that NATO would expand its military training mission in Iraq, which could involve up to 200 personnel.


Kenya:

Illegal Deportation: Kenya’s High Court ruled that the deportation of opposition lawyer Miguna Miguna was illegal. The Kenyan government arrested Miguna and charged him with treason for partaking in the mock inauguration of opposition leader Raila Odinga. On 7 February, Kenya deported Miguna back to Canada, where he maintains dual citizenship. The Court now demands the government present Miguna’s passport to the Court within seven days. The Interior Ministry responded that it will appeal the ruling.

Media Crackdown: On 9 February, Canada expressed its concern over current human rights violations in Kenya, as well as concern over the crack down on the media. The Canadian government also urged the Government of Kenya to respect the law and “uphold its Constitution, to allow freedom of expression and to respect court orders, including those that order the release of those granted bail”. Canada also said that a free media is essential in a democracy.


Libya:

Further attacks against mosques : On 9 February, an explosive device detonated at the Saad Ben Obadah mosque in Benghazi, killing at least two people and wounding up to 129 more. According to the Libyan human rights group, Human Rights Solidarity (HRS), the preliminary information shows that “the perpetrators of this crime had the intention to inflict the greatest harm on the innocent civilians during the Friday Prayer.” Noting the lack of concern of local authorities to investigate the killings and bombings, HRS called on the United Nations to conduct a thorough international investigation into the bombing.

A potential step towards elections: Earlier this month, Ghassan Salamé, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya  (UNSMIL) said he hoped for parliamentary and presidential elections in the country by the end of 2018, but also warned that conditions were not yet ready for polling. Some analysts similarly warned that elections could complicate the situation even further. However, a 14 February ruling by Libya’s Supreme Court could pave the way for a referendum on a draft constitution, which is in turn a part of the UN’s Libyan Political Agreement. While the road forward will not be smooth, this could jump-start a process towards reconciliation in the country.

Right to vote at UNGA: For the third year in a row, Libya has lost its right to vote within the UN General Assembly (UNGA) as a result of unpaid dues amounting to approximately $6.6 million. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has indicated that once Libya pays its debts, it will regain its right to vote.


Mali:

Civilian landmine deaths: On 9 February, a passenger vehicle hit a landmine while travelling between Dera and Konna, killing five civilians and wounding 18 more. This incident occurred just two weeks after 26 civilians were killed in a similar incident in the same central Mali area.

Sahel Region: Spain is concerned about the possible influx of Islamic State (ISIL) fighters into the Sahel Region, which is made up of Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, and Niger. These countries suffered attacks, which have claimed thousands of lives and displaced hundreds of thousands more. According to Alfonso Dastis, Spain’s Foreign Minister, “It’s clear that the security situation in … Mali is not improving.” In December, Spain increased the number of military personnel in Mali from 140 to 292.


Nigeria:

Boko Haram releases hostages: According to the Nigerian government, Boko Haram released three university lecturers and ten women, who it had kidnapped in 2017. This release comes after President Muhammadu Buhari authorized the International Committee of the Red Cross to facilitate negotiations. All 13 people are now in the custody of the Department of State Security Services and will be provided healthcare assistance.


Philippines:

Incitement to Commit War Crimes: In a press briefing on Friday, 9 February, President Rodrigo Duterte said he would train members of the indigenous community as paramilitary fighters and pay an amount of $384 per each communist rebel they successfully kill. Human rights groups, such as ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch, as well as indigenous activists have denounced the statement as inciting the military to perform war crimes.

Calls for Gender-Based Violence: In last week’s speech in Malacañang, President Duterte ordered soldiers to shoot female guerrilla fighters “in the vagina,” a statement that reportedly drew laughter from the crowd. Unfortunately, this is not the first comment Duterte has made supporting sexual or gender-based violence. In 2016, President Duterte joked about wishing to have had participated in the rape of an Australian missionary who was gang-raped and killed in a prison riot in 1989, as well as allegedly telling soldiers that even under martial law, he will protect them if they committed rape.

Body Cameras for Police: On 14 February, the Philippine police announced the adoption of body cameras and other measures in an effort to reduce violence in anti-narcotic operations. The announcement comes after the International Criminal Court launched a preliminary investigation into the alleged crimes committed by President Duterte’s war on drugs. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency also reported in the conference that more than 4,000 individuals had been killed between 1 July 2016 and 8 February 2018 by police forces in anti-drug raids and operations.


South Sudan:

Increasing Numbers of Refugees: The Chairman of the Technical Coordination Committee for Refugee Affairs in Sudan’s White Nile State has reported that the number of South Sudanese refugees in that state reached 150,000. Currently, the state accommodates refugees in 8 camps, with two in the Al-Gabalain area and the rest in Al-Salam. However, he also called for more camps due to the increased refugee flow.

UN-Mandated Force Grows: More troops have arrived in South Sudan’s capital to form part of the Regional Protection Force (RFP), a UN Security Council mandated-force to provide protection for Juba’s routes and facilities. 270 Rwandans joined RFP’s existing personnel numbering 600 on Saturday, 10 February. The spokeswoman for the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) announced that the force will eventually grow to 4,000 people. Policy analyst Ting Mayai has said that the new troops should be deployed in other parts of South Sudan, rather than the relatively stable Juba. However, the UNMISS chief stated that the growth of the RFP will free existing UNMISS peacekeepers to cover areas outside of Juba.

James Gatdet Dak Sentence: On Monday, South Sudan sentenced James Gatdet Dak, the former spokesman of rebel leader Riek Machar, to death for treason and incitement against the government. His former lawyer said the sentencing violated the ceasefire signed in December, which called for the release of all prisoners and detainees.

Peace Talks Deteriorate: On 9 February 2018, the South Sudanese government refused to agree to terms requiring punitive measures for officials deemed to be undermining the peace process. The government representatives refused to sign the Declaration of Principles, which is meant to be the guiding force for the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) talks to reinstate the 2015 peace agreement. Additionally, on 12 February, the country’s opposition party allied to Riek Machar boycotted the peace talks, stating that the alleged attacks by the government against opposition forces on Monday in the town of Nyatot constituted a violation of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. The government’s spokesperson responded that the blame falls on the opposition for instigating the clash.


Sudan/Darfur:

Permanent IDP Camps: The government in South Darfur State has announced plans to transform International Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps into permanent towns. While speaking about the El-Sereif Camp in particular, the governor of South Darfur said IDPs would have access to residential plots inside the camp, while maintaining the right to stay or return to their villages of origin. Since 2003, there are 2.7 million people living in displacement camps.

Arrests of Opposition Leaders: The Sudanese government has continued to arrest opposition leaders, the Sudan Tribune reports. Hours after opposition calls for more protests against the rising prices of goods in the capital city of Khartoum, security forces arrested a member of the Ba’th party and a member of the Civil Society Initiative. The EU has condemned the detention without charge of opposition leaders and activists, calling for their immediate release or trail. The US Embassy in Sudan has also expressed concerns over the arrests.

Support for Demobilization and Reintegration: The Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) Commission has announced that the US will join their donor country list supporting its programs in Sudan. The DDR’s main goal is to demobilize and reintegrate current and former combatants to civilian life. For example, it has established a camp for rebel fighters and Sudanese army forces in South Darfur.


Syria:
Child Soldiers: A new study conducted by the United Nations University found that at least 10 major armed groups operating in Syria and Iraq – not just the Islamic State (ISIL) – recruit and use child soldiers.

Human Rights and Fair Trials: Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have recently detained Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee el-Sheikh, two British nationals suspected of torturing and executing western hostages. HRW stressed that the capture of these ISIL suspects should “jump-start international discussions on ensuring justice for [ISIL’s] horrific crimes” but cautioned that the trials must be fair and respect due process, as well as permit genuine victim participation. HRW also argued that the men should be prosecuted in foreign countries that are able to exercise jurisdiction, as local courts in Syria are not currently able to ensure basic due process. To date however, no country has agreed to prosecute the foreign fighters.


Venezuela:

Brazil Braces for an Increase in Refugees: Brazil has announced an increase in funding and army presence at its northern border to control the influx of Venezuelan refugees. The local government reported that around 40,000 Venezuelan refugees currently live in the Brazilian capital of the northern state of Roraima.


Yemen:

Escalation in fighting takes toll on civilians: On 12 February, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, voiced alarm at the escalating hostilities in Yemen and the resulting civilian casualties that continue unabated. The High Commissioner reported that at least 5,974 civilians have been killed and nearly 10,000 injured since the civil war began in March 2015. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) acknowledges that the number of civilian deaths could indeed be higher. The same day, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reported that in Yemen, there have been a total of 9,245 conflict-related civilian deaths and 52,807 injuries to since the beginning of the civil war. Between 1 and 8 February alone,  OHCHR verified that at least 27 people had been killed and 76 were injured. The High Commissioner expressed particular concern over this “upsurge in fighting in the south-western Governorate of Taizz”, where “civilians are under fire on all sides” and where “the conflict is not just escalating but inescapable”.

Humanitarian Assistance: On 12 February, MSF reported that an estimated 22.2 million Yemeni people are in need of humanitarian or protection support. On 13 February, Col. Turki Al-Maliki, a spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition, indicated  that between March 2015 and February 2018,  the coalition gave permission a total of 18,557 times to allow for evacuation and humanitarian operations by land, sea and air. The same day,  the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, also welcomed Saudi Arabia’s and the United Arab Emirates’ pledge of $1 billion to support humanitarian action in Yemen.

Peace Talks: On 9 February, the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported that Oman would host a new round of Yemeni peace talks once the new Special Envoy to the Secretary-General on Yemen was appointed. Col. Turki Al-Maliki, while asserting that the coalition “seeks peace,” , also maintained that the coalition would not change its peace strategy under any circumstances, including following the appointment of the new UN envoy. Muhammad Al-Bukhaithi, Deputy Dead of the Department of External Relations of Houthis and member of the group’s political bureau, also confirmed Houthis were “open for negotiations with all parties to the conflict” and reportedly also confirmed in an interview with MEMO in October 2017 that Oman could “play a key role in stopping the war if they have the will to play a neutral and frank role with the Saudi regime.” On 14 February, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismaïl Ould Cheikh Ahmed, held a rare meeting in Abu Dhabi with leaders of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) to encourage them to join peace talks.

Child Soldiers: During a press conference in Riyadh on 13 February, Col. Turki Al-Maliki accused Houthis of recruiting child soldiers, despite international condemnation and in violation of international law.

Human Rights and Fair Trials: Amnesty International reported on 15 February, that a woman and two men were forcibly disappeared, ill-treated, and then sentenced to death in a grossly unfair trial by a court in Houthi-controlled Sana’a for allegedly aiding an enemy country. Amnesty argued that these sentences must be quashed immediately as “Sentencing anyone to death after such deeply flawed proceedings is a clear violation of international law”. Furthermore, according to Amnesty, the trial also followed several grave violations and crimes under international law, some of which may amount to war crimes.


Other:

Violence following Guinean elections: Following eight years of delays, on 4 February 2018, Guinea held its first local elections since the end of military rule. However, violence erupted soon after the elections, and young people reportedly took to the streets after opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo denounced “massive fraud” in the vote. While the electoral commission has not yet announced the election results, at least seven people have been killed in post-election clashes and over 70 arrests have been made. On 12 February, Guinea’s government warned against ethnic violence between the Malinke and Peul groups, and the Minister of National Unity and Citizenship claimed the government would “create a commission to identify anyone inciting ethnic hatred and violence.”

 

 

 

 

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February 16, 2018 · 12:01 pm

#R2P Weekly: 5 February – 9 February 2018

ICC opens preliminary examinations into situations in Venezuela and the Philippines

On 8 February, the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened preliminary examinations into the situations in Venezuela and in the Philippines. A preliminary examination determines if a situation meets the legal criteria for a full investigation by the ICC. Both the Philippines and Venezuela are parties to the Rome Statute.

The preliminary examination in the Philippines will assess alleged crimes committed since 1 July 2016. Under the slogan of the “war on drugs”, President Duterte’s administration has allegedly committed extrajudicial killings and mass murder against people involved in drug trafficking and drug use. The government reports that the killings are a result of suspects resisting the police. Human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, however, have concluded that the police murdered suspects when confronting them. President Duterte has previously denounced the Court as useless and has expressed interest in withdrawing as a signatory to the Court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute.

Similarly, the ICC will examine alleged crimes committed in Venezuela since April 2017, when protests and demonstrations swamped the country.  Venezuelan forces have allegedly used excessive force against demonstrators, used torture and ill-treatment against political detainees, and arbitrarily prosecuted civilians in civil courts. A group of protestors has also been accused of using excessive force against police, resulting in deaths and injuries


Catch up on developments in… 
 
Burma/Myanmar 
Burundi 
CAR 
DRC 
Gaza/ West Bank 
Iraq 
Kenya 
Libya 
Mali 

Nigeria 
Philippines 
South Sudan 
Sudan/Darfur 
Syria 
Venezuela 
Yemen 
Other 


Burma/Myanmar: 
 
Forced Starvation: On 7 February, Amnesty International (AI) reported that the Burmese military was forcibly starving the Rohingya population. AI asserted that the Burmese military has blocked access to rice fields, burned down local markets, and has also restricted humanitarian aid to northern Rakhine State. Accordingly, AI indicated that one of the main reasons the Rohingya are fleeing is due to the inability to find food and supplies. In a joint meeting with the President of the Swiss Confederation Alain Berset, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called on the international community to maintain the pressure on the Burmese government for a solution to the Rohingya situation. The Prime Minister stated that the root of the problem, as well as the solution, lies in Burma. She also urged the implementation of the recommendations made by Kofi Annan’s Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. 
 
Regional Conflict: The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, advised that Burma’s continued persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority could bleed into a larger regional conflict. The High Commissioner also asserted that the recent wave of violence which began in August and which sparked the refugee crisis was the culmination of a 50-year history of violence against the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State. Zeid also expressed concern as to the weakening state of democracy across Asia. 


Burundi 
 
Politically motivated killings: The human rights group Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH) released a report, in which it detailed cases of disappearances, torture, and killings in Burundi. According to the report titled “Do not Play with Fire”, 500 people were killed in 2017 and 10,000 are still detained. Apparently, some of these people were accused of either practicing witchcraft or were said to have been killed due to land-related issues. However, APRODH is of the view that these allegations were false and that these killings were actually politically motivated. Moreover, in all documented cases, these people died at the hands of the police, military, or Imbonerakure. Head of APRODH, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, also reported on the use of torture and overcrowded prison conditions. Burundi’s Human Rights Minister denied the accusations contained in the report. 
 
Call for National Unity: On the 27th anniversary of the adoption of the Charter of National Unity, whereby different ethnic groups in Burundi agreed to live in peace, President Pierre Nkurunzizacalled for unity in the country. Unity, he said, acts as a “shield against discrimination”. The Burundian President also indicated that the Burundian government has created, inter alia, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and National Council for National Unity and Reconciliation. 
 
Urgent Funding Needed: The UN warns that Burundi is at risk of becoming a ‘forgotten crisis’. With the number of individuals fleeing on the rise, the UN is attempting to gather more aid partners to launch a funding appeal. The funding would help to ensure those displaced and living in refugee camps would receive food, education, and protection from sexual and gender-based violence. Although the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, does not encourage refugees to return to Burundi at this time, some refugees decided to return home and are facing economic pressure and food insecurity. 


Central African Republic:

Conviction: Rodrigue Ngaibona, a former warlord and leader of the anti-Balaka militia, has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Human rights groups describe this as a first step toward justice.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Elections: Josh Tshibangu, a colonel who threatened to remove Joseph Kabila from office was extradited from Tanzania and is awaiting prosecution. Josh Tshibangu released a video last month on social media calling on Kabila to step down within 45 days. Kabila’s refusal to step down after his term ended in December of 2016 has sparked violence in the DRC. Tshibangu was detained in Tanzania and will be prosecuted for rebellion. However, on 7 January, DRC’s Minister of Communications Lambert Mende announced that President Kabila would not seek reelection in the elections scheduled for later this year.

Ethnic Violence: The escalating ethnic violence between the Hema and Lendu groups in the northeastern part of the DRC has left 30 people dead and forced 5,000 to flee, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said. The tension between these two ethnic groups is not new, however; in the late 1990s, the conflict between them caused 400,000 people to be displaced. UNHCR monitors in the region also report the burning of many villages around the area.

Individual Sanctions: The US, as well as the UN and France, have imposed sanctions against DRC general Muhindo Akili Mundos and three commanders of the rebel forces. The general is accused of cooperating with rebel groups and failing to intervene in mass killings and abductions. US sanctions prohibit US citizens and businesses from engaging in commercial activities with these individuals and freezes their assets in US territory.


Gaza / West Bank:

Gaza: The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that critical facilities in Gaza will run out of emergency fuel in the next ten days. The fuel supports generators and vehicles that provide life-saving services, such as water, sanitation, and health facilities. Approximately two million Palestinians, of whom half are children, have electricity for less than eight hours a day. In response, the UAE pledged $2 million dollars, which according to the World Health Organization will help keep facilities running for several months. Egypt also temporarily opened the Rafah Border Crossing (its crossing at the border with Gaza) on 7 February. The Egyptian government has only opened this crossing twice in more than a decade, due to security concerns over Islamist insurgents. The move should help alleviate some suffering in the densely-populated area. However, the border will close again on the evening of 9 February. (AG)

West Bank: On 4 February 2018, Israel announced that it was planning to legalize the settlement outpost Havat Gilad, which is located in the West Bank. This move comes after Rabbi Raziel Shevah, a resident there,  was shot to death last month by someone driving by in a car. Israel also demolished a school, which was funded by the EU, in the West Bank. The stated reason for the demolition was that the school was built illegally, without the proper permits.


Iraq: 
 
The United States Reduces Troops: While there are an estimated 7,000 American troops in Iraq, the US has reportedly begun to pull many of them out following Iraq’s declaration of victory over the Islamic State (ISIL). Army Col. Ryan Dillon told the AP that “Continued coalition presence in Iraq will be conditions-based, proportional to the need and in coordination with the government of Iraq”. This move indicates a shift in mission and comes about three months before Iraqi parliamentary election, set to be held on 12 May 2018, in which paramilitary groups closely tied to Iran are believed to play a decisive role.  According to US Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, “Great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security”. Still, the US appears to be renewing pressure on its allies to establish a formal NATO mission in Iraq to ‘train-and-advise’ Iraqi forces to ensure that ISIL militants do not re-emerge.   
 
Continuing ISIL threat:  There are reports that the Islamic State (ISIL) has been rebuilding power in Iraq ever since Iraqi government forces and the Kurdish peshmerga began to fight in October 2017 over the disputed city of Kirkuk. Since then, reports indicate that ISIL has been launching daily attacks and is responsible for killing at least 390 Iraqi civilians. Data collected by monitoring groups also indicates that ISIL or unidentified fighters carried out 440 bombings, clashes, assassinations, abductions, and suicide attacks, over the course of the past 100 days or so. An expert report circulated to the Security Council on 6 February, confirms that, despite having lost most of its territory, ISIL continues to pose a “significant and evolving threat around the world”.” The following day, on 7 February, the Iraqi Armed Forces announced a major operation aimed at clearing ISIL from the country’s northeastern desert region, close to its border with Iran. Iraqi authorities also stated this operation targeted an emerging armed group, named the “White Banners”. 
 
Collective Punishment and Forcible Displacement: On 4 February, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that Iraqi forces were “waging collective punishment on civilians”. In particular, officials, camp management, and three international organizations confirmed that Iraqi forces forcibly displaced at least 235 Iraqi families, suspected of having ISIL relatives, in early January. Moreover, as most of these families were being rounded up without warning and displaced to Duqaq camp (near the city of Kirkuk),  HRW also reported that groups within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) forced some parents to leave their children behind and also destroyed some of their homes. Furthermore, some interviewees told HRW that local police working in Duqaq camp have confiscated their families’ identity papers to ensure they cannot flee. A lawyer and a human rights worker in Hawija indicated to HRW that there were no provincial or federal orders to displace these families. It is a fundamental tenet of international law that collective punishment is strictly forbidden – punishment for crimes may only be imposed after a fair trial, which determines individual guilt. Moreover, international humanitarian law strictly prohibits forced displacement of civilians, except in limited cases where it is necessary to protect civilians or for military necessity. Under international criminal law, it is also war crime to order unlawful displacements during times of conflict. Unlawful forced displacement can similarly amount to a crime against humanity if it is done on a widespread or systematic basis. Iraqi authorities must take immediate steps to investigate these alleged crimes.


Kenya: 
 
Aftermath of Raila Odinga’s unofficial swearing-in ceremony:  
Two of the four television stations, which were suspended on 30 January ahead of the mock inauguration of Raila Odinga, were back on air as of Monday 5 January. This comes after a Kenya High Court Ruling on 1 February, which ordered the government to lift the suspension on all independent tv stations. 
 
Miguna Miguna, a Kenyan-born lawyer who swore in Raila Odinga at his unofficial inauguration on 30 January, was apprehended and charged with treason. After his arrest, ICRtoP partner Human Rights Watch called upon Kenyan authorities to obey a court order and urgently produce Miguna before a court, since he had already been in custody longer than 24 hours, in violation of Kenyan law. The court also ordered that Miguna be bailed after his hearing. Instead ,however, on 7 February, Kenya deportedMiguna back to Canada, where he maintains dual citizenship. Kenyan authorities have since issued a statement claiming that under the old constitution Kenyans couldn’t hold dual citizenship, thus when Miguna obtained a Canadian passport in 1998 he renounced his Kenyan nationality. However, Article 17 of the Constitution, which was updated in 2010, is very clear: a Kenyan born citizen cannot have their citizenship revoked unless it was acquired by fraud, if they or their parents were already a citizen of another country, or if the person was older than eight when they were found in Kenya. 


Libya: 
 
Human Trafficking: The Panel of Experts on Libya submitted a confidential report to the Security Council on 5 February, in which it found human trafficking to be on the rise in Libya and raised concern “over the possible use of state facilities and state funds by armed groups and traffickers to enhance their control of migrations routes”. The Panel of Experts is currently assessing whether the Special Deterrence Force (SDF) leadership was “aware of the collusion and trafficking being conducted within its ranks”. The report appears to indicate however, that the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) has not been able to assert authority in eastern Libya. A minister of the GNA also admitted that “the armed groups are stronger than the authorities in handling the flow of migrants”. 
 
ICC: Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a Libyan commander wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) ever since August 2017 and most recently sought for the alleged summary execution of dozens of people, turned himself into the Libyan military police on 7 February. This move apparently came about as a result of ICC pressure on his leader, General Khalifa Haftar. However, al-Werfalli was released on Thursday 8 February, after protesters demonstrated on the streets against any legal action being taken against him. 
 


Mali

Proliferation of Weapons and DDR: In an interview in Mali’s capital Bamako on Friday 2 February, Mahamet Saleh Annadif, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Mali and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), said that the explosives, mines, shells and weapons that they are currently seeing in Mali are more developed than they have been in the past. The violence in Mali and has not ceased despite French and American military forces involvement in the area. In fact the violence has increased since January. Clearly then, civilians in Mali continue to face danger due to the proliferation of armed groups and widespread availability of weapons. To achieve peace in Mali, the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process must be a priority. Armed groups must comply and renounce violence. While continuing terrorist threats also raise concerns over the feasibility of implementing DDR, it is not an excuse to indefinitely postpone a vital step in the peace agreement. Among other consequences, the failure to comply with DDR has kept Mali in a cycle of violence and undermines social cohesion in the country. Progress must be made to implement the 2015 peace agreement, and international actors could use different means of pressure to unlock the DDR process, including sanctions.

Terrorism: There is also evidence of Islamic State (ISIL) and Al-Qaeda activity in West Africa’s Sahel region. According to local officials, at least four civilians were killed in northern Mali on 4 February, in a suspected terrorist attack.


 Nigeria: 
 
Boko Haram: On 5 February 2018, the Minister of Defence Mansur Dan Ali announced that troops conducting a military operation of Lafiya Dole in the Sambisa Forest rescued at least 30,000 women and children, who had been held hostage by Boko Haram for the past two years. In addition, the troops seized arms, ammunition, and a bomb-making factory from the territory Boko Haram was occupying. However, on 7 February, Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Sheku, released a new video in which he threatened further violence in the northeastern region of Nigeria.   


Philippines: 
 
Arms Sales: Human rights groups have raised concerns over the Canada-Philippines helicopter deal, after the Philippines announced the helicopters would be used in international security operations. Delfin Lorenzana, the Philippine’s Defence Secretary, stated, however, that the government would only use them for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts. During an event in the US, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commented that Canada has clear laws regarding the sale of arms and military vehicles to other countries. Canada said it would review the deal and ensure that the deal abides by those rules.


South Sudan: 
 
Peace Talks: Despite the boycott from the government delegation, the South Sudan Peace Talks began in Addis Ababa on Monday 5 February. At first, the South Sudanese government decided to be present and demanded more representation in the talks, after receiving only 12 seats. However, on 7 February, the government ended its boycott, after the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the body brokering the talks, allowed the entire delegation to participate. The IGAD urged the parties to come together and find long-term solutions to the conflict. The Talks will focus on the implementation of a permanent ceasefire, as well as developing a realistic timeline for elections in the country. The government also reaffirmed its rejection of a plan that enables a two army system in the country. 
 
Arms Restrictions: After the US imposed an arms restriction on South Sudan last week, the South Sudanese government recalled its ambassador to the United States. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman told South Sudan in Focus, however, that the move was not a final recall. First Vice President Taban Deng Gai warned that the arms restrictions could weaken the government and help armed groups in the country. The Vice President also reminded the US of Russia and China’s willingness to block any similar measures in the UN Security Council. 
 
Child Abductions: In South Sudan children are being abducted and trafficked without consequences. The UN child protection team confirmed that there have been child abductions in Unity, Central EquatoriaJonglei, Upper Nile, and Western Equatoria. An opposition governor blamed the government for the increased kidnappings, accusing the government of attempting to advance its military agenda by creating a wedge between clans. South Sudan is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits abductions and trafficking. Tut Bangout, an aid worker in Akobo, does not think the violence will stop because no one is working or earning money, and children are being used for trade. 
 
Child Soldiers: On 5 February ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on the continuous recruitment and use of child soldiers, some as young as 13 years-old, by government forces and rebel groups in South Sudan. During November and December 2017, HRW interviewed two dozen current and former child soldiers, who reported on the harsh conditions and traumas of their experience. While both parties once again promised UNICEF that it would demobilize child soldiers by the end of January 2018, HRW indicated that neither had followed through on this commitment. However, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), reported that rebel groups released approximately 300 child soldiers on 7 February in the city of Yambio. This is only the first phase of a project lead by UNMISS in partnership with UNICEF that plans to reintegrate more than 700 children into civilian life. 
 
End of Cholera Outbreak: On a positive note, on 7 February South Sudan announced the end to its longest cholera outbreak, after seven weeks of no new cholera cases. The outbreak started in June 2016, with 20,000 reported cholera cases and 436 deaths by the end of 2017. The government partnered with several regional and international organizations to provide vaccines, treatment, and clean water. World Health Organization Acting Representative to South Sudan, Evans Liyosi, commended South Sudan for its efforts but warned of the many risks factors that remain in the country. 


Sudan/Darfur: 
 
Peace Talks: On 3 February 2018, Sudan’s Envoy for the Diplomatic Contact and Negotiation Amin Hassan Omer, arrived in Addis Ababa to meet with the African mediation to discuss the Roadmap agreement. The talks are meant to broker peace between the African government and the SPLM-N rebels in the Blue Nile and the South Kordofan, also known as the Two Areas. A government spokesperson said the mediation developed a consolidated documented, which reconciled the views of both parties. 
 


Syria:

This week, Syrian civilians have experienced some of the most frightening days of the seven-year-long war. Dozens of people are missing and the dead are still being counted.

Chemical weapons attack: One day after the Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed that one of its warplanes was shot down over rebel-held Idlib province, for which former al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham reportedly claimed responsibility, a bomb believed to contain chlorine was dropped on Idlib on Sunday 4 February. Afterwards, at least nine people were treated for breathing difficulties. The Syrian opposition claims the bomb was dropped by a government helicopter, has condemned the “barbaric onslaught by the Russian occupation and the Assad regime forces targeting mainly civilians and residential neighbourhoods” and has called upon the Security Council to take immediate action. On Monday 5 February, the Security Council met to discuss the situation in Syria. Nikki Haley, United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told Council members that it had “reports that the Assad regime had used chlorine gas against its people multiple times in recent weeks, including just yesterday”. UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamit, also briefed the Security Council and asserted that the Security Council must meaningfully respond to evidence of the use, or likely use, of banned chemical weapons in Syria and affirmed our “collective responsibility to ensure that those responsible are held to account”. By contrast, Russia dismissed the recent allegations of chlorine as propaganda. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria is currently probing multiple reports that bombs containing weaponized chlorine have been used against civilians.

Conventional weapons attacks: This week, Russian and Syrian forces have also intensified conventional weapons attacks in the region, apparently targeting civilian neighbourhoods, including hospitals. Several sources reported that airstrikes launched on Sunday 4 February killed at least 20 people in Idlib, 24 people in the Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus, nine civilians in the town of Arbin; seven civilians in the town of Beit Sawa; and six civilians in the town of Kafranbel. Paulo Pinheiro, head of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said that “These reports are extremely troubling, and make a mockery of the so-called ‘de-escalation zones’ intended to protect civilians from such bombardment”.

United States Engagement: On the front lines in Syria, the US and Turkey – NATO allies – may be heading for possible armed confrontation. Two senior American generals arrived at the front line, just outside the city of Manbij on 7 February. Turkish forces were just 20 yards away, on the other side of no-man’s land. Overall coalition commander, Lt. Gen. Paul Funk has stated “You hit us, we will respond aggressively. We will defend ourselves”. On 7 February, the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve coalition against ISIL also accused pro-government forces in Syria of initiating an “unprovoked attack against well-established Syrian Democratic Forces headquarters” in Deir al-Zour province. In response, the US-led coalition bombed pro-Syrian forces, killing more than 100 fighters.

Assault on Afrin: This week, Turkey was also accused of recruiting and training thousands of former ISIL fighters to aid with its military assault against Kurds in Afrin. To date, Turkey’s cross-border offensive, which includes uncompromising airstrikes against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) has displaced approximately 16,000 people. Some Syrians are calling the offensive a “massacre” and are pleading with the international community to “stop the killing of the civilians”, to “stop the airstrikes and war against us”, and hope the international community will hold Turkey accountable.


Venezuela:

Elections: The Venezuelan election commission announced the 22 April as the new date for the 2018 snap presidential election. The date came about as a result of negotiations between the government and opposition forces, President of the electoral commission Tibisay Lucena said.  The government also announced that only three weeks would be allotted for campaigning, between 2 April and 19 April. President Nicolás Maduro announced his desire to run for reelection, while many opposition leaders are still in jail or banned from participating in the election. (AG)

Humanitarian Aid: Venezuela’s health care system is in deteriorating conditions. The Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela estimates a medicine shortage of approximately 85 percent. The hyperinflation and the scarcity of goods drive numerous Venezuelans to acquire medicine in the black market, where many medicines risk being expired. Head of the public health advocacy group Codevida Francisco Valencia reported that many hospitals have no electricity and thousands of doctors have left the country to pursue better opportunities elsewhere. President Maduro continues to refuse entry of humanitarian aid into the country.


Yemen: 
 
Control of Aden: On 31 January, a day after forces loyal to the Southern Transitional Council (STC) seized control of Aden, Saudi Arabia and the UAE sent delegates to defuse hostilities and put a cease-fire in place. Still, in Aden, many residents are suspicious of the UAE’s growing presence. Hesham Alghannam, a Saudi researcher at the University of Exeter, believes that Yemen’s government-in-exile is also partly to blame for the violence in Aden and “should submit its resignation if it is unable to manage the battle against the Houthis and provide services to the citizenry at the same time”. 
 
Control of Hodeidah: On 6 February, after two weeks of intense fighting against the Houthi rebels, the Yemeni military, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, reportedly recaptured the key town of Hays, located in the Hodeidah province. Speaking on condition of anonymity, Yemeni officials say that the fighting killed at least 85 people. Two days later, it appears as though the Yemeni military has also retaken control Mount Dharawiya, located in the Baqim district of Saada province, which will enable government forces to control a crucial supply route from Hodeidah to the northern front.   
 
Military Occupation: On 8 February, in an exclusive interview with Reuters, Yemeni Nobel Peace laureate Tawakkol Karman, called for an end to the “military occupation” in her country by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She told reporters that “The Saudi-Emirati occupation … betrayed the Yemenis and sold them out, exploiting the coup of the Houthi militia backed by Iran on the legitimate government, to exercise an ugly occupation and greater influence”. The Saudi-led coalition and the UAE have not yet responded to requests for comment. 


Other: 
 
On 3 February, ICRtoP’s Steering Committee member Gus Miclat was elected as chair of the East Asia Democratic Forum (EADF), a regional network of civil society organizations and individuals dedicated to promoting democracy. 

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#R2P Weekly: 29 January – 2 February 2018

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Burma: New evidence of mass graves in Rakhine State

The Associated Press (AP) has reported the presence of at least five mass graves in the village of Gu Dar Pyin in Rakhine State in Burma. AP interviewed Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and examined their reportedly clandestine photos and videos from their experiences. Refugees from the village made claims of an attack by government forces on 27 August 2017, which survivors have described began when soldiers stormed the village and opened fire arbitrarily. The soldiers allegedly carried weapons, as well as shovels and containers filled with acid. Later, when survivors came back to look for their families, they reportedly found a village burned to the ground with corpses strewn across the area, as well as impromptu mass graves with burned bodies in an assumed attempt by military forces of covering their actions. Mohammad Karim, a Rohingya man from Gu Dar Pyin, also presented AP with a time-stamped video showing the described destruction and killings. The video purportedly shows one corpse with the skin melted away and limbs scattered around it, according to AP reports. Survivors allegedly discovered three mass graves in the north part of the village, including a pond with the capacity for about 80 people. The other mass graves were reportedly smaller and located on former latrine holes. The Burmese government has denied access to Rakhine State, but satellite images of the area have confirmed the destruction of the village. Furthermore, AP’s latest investigation is not the first to assert the presence of mass graves. In December, Burmese authorities confirmed one mass grave in the village of Inn Dinn, but claimed that the bodies within the grave were of terrorists and pledged accountability for the perpetrators.

Since 1982, the government has continued to deny citizenship to the Rohingya, a mostly Muslim minority in the predominantly Buddhist country of Burma. In 2012 and 2016, violent clashes between Buddhist nationals and the Rohingya forced many to flee. However, the situation escalated in mid-August 2017, when members of the resistance group, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), attacked 20 Burmese police post, leaving 71 people dead. The government responded with systematic violent attacks against Rohingya villages, resulting in a massive influx of Rohingya refugees fleeing to Bangladesh. Estimates suggest that at least one-third of the 1.2 million Rohingya people from Burma are now considered refugees.

The Burmese government has denied the mass killings and the burning down of villages in Rakhine State. However, it has not rejected the use of force against Rohingya terrorists. For example, on 14 September 2017, the government reported 40 percent of Rohingya villages are empty, but stated that the people who left were terrorists or were connected to terrorism. Several human rights groups, the United Nations, and the European Union have condemned the treatment of the Rohingya and urged the Burmese government, which includes Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi, to act responsibly. They have also requested access for observers and humanitarian aid workers to the area. The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has called the situation in Burma a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Still, UN officials are hesitant to call the actions of the Burmese government forces genocide until an international tribunal investigates the facts. However, the UN has warned that all the signs of genocide are present.

In September 2017, the Burmese government created the Rakhine Advisory Commission, led by Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, with a mandate to find solutions to the ethnic conflict in Rakhine State. The Commission concluded with a report carrying 88 recommendations, such as calling for the freedom of movement of the Rohingya and for an end to forced segregation, but also stressed the citizenship issue as the main obstacle. The government said it will comply with the Commission’s recommendations, but no tangible actions have been taken.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
CAR
DRC
Gaza/ West Bank
Iraq
Kenya
Libya 
Mali

Nigeria
Philippines
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Venezuela
Yemen
Other

 


Burma/Myanmar:

On 31 January, CARE International warned that the wellbeing of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh would deteriorate in the upcoming rainy season. Refugee camps could face floods and landslides. Approximately 900,000 people are estimated to live in the refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar region.

Canada’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, Bob Rae,  outlined in his Interim Report the need for a comprehensive humanitarian and political solution to the plight of the Rohingya. Rae also urged members of the international community to actively improve the conditions of refugee camps in Bangladesh. He further called on the Burmese government to ensure the safety of the Rohingya once repatriated and to allow neutral observers into Rakhine State. Lastly, Rae advocated for accountability, and for those who have committed crimes to be brought to justice.


Central African Republic:

On 26 January, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reported that peacekeepers were working with authorities in the CAR to alleviate suffering from the displacement crisis.

According to MINUSCA, fierce fighting in the CAR’s northwest region has forced 65,000 people, mostly women and children, to flee to the city of Paoua. The number of internally displaced persons in the country reportedly 60 percent higher than it was last year. Adrian Edwards of the UN refugee agency said that these numbers are the highest they have been in the past four years.

On 30 January, the UN Security Council unanimously renewed an arms embargo against the CAR for another year, and also set out new criteria that could potentially lead to new sanctions. In the French-drafted resolution, the Security Council also condemned incitement to violence on religious or ethnic grounds, and indicated that anyone who perpetrates such crimes would face sanctions. Accordingly, this resolution could lead to targeted sanctions against those involved in anti-Muslim or anti-Christian violence in the country.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Violence in the DRC that began in December 2017 has forced more than 10,000 people to flee to neighboring Uganda. Upon arrival, some of these refugees have claimed that in the DRC men are being killed and women are being raped. In the past week alone, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that more than 8,000 people have fled from the eastern part of the DRC to neighboring countries. In particular, almost 7,000 Congolese have fled to Burundi, while 1,200 crossed over to Tanzania. The UNHCR has expressed its gratitude for those countries who have taken in refugees, but is also concerned about the effect that the high influx of refugees is placing on the limited resources of camps.

The UNHCR is also concerned about the impact that violence is having on the civilian population in the DRC. Notably, violence in the DRC is impacting children in horrific ways. Militias have recruited more than 3,000 children to fight. Moreover, UNICEF has documented 800 accounts of sexual abuse against children. Tajudeen Oyewale, acting head of UNICEF in the DRC, stressed that “it is simply a brutal situation for children with no end in sight”. UNICEF is attempting to ensure that humanitarian aid still reaches children in the DRC. The UN stabilization mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has also reported that in the Kasai region there has been an alleged increase in summary executions. Allegedly, 64 percent of the summary killings have been carried out by state actors.

On 27 January, armed men ambushed a group of MONUSCO peacekeepers, killing one Pakistani peacekeeper. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the killing and urged all armed groups to lay down their arms.

President Joseph Kabila stated that he would not step down before the 23 December 2018 elections, despite protests calling for his resignation. After September 2016 protests resulted in several deaths, protests in the DRC were officially outlawed. MONUSCO has repeatedly reminded authorities in the DRC of the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression. President Kabila indicated that in the near future he would introduce a law to “reframe” the right to protest for “those who wish to express themselves”.


Gaza / West Bank:

Israel’s defense forces warned that funding cuts to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) could threaten Israeli security. Military officials fear that the lack of funding could add to the already growing unrest. The military officials believe that UNRWA workers aid, more than they damage, Israel’s security.


Iraq:

Even after the declared defeat of the Islamic State (ISIL), the stability of Iraq remains fragile. In addition to government corruption and economic despair, the country continues to cope with an ever-increasing threat of violent sectarianism between the Sunni and Shiite populations. Accordingly, the upcoming 12 May elections present a pivotal moment for Iraq, but could also threaten to unravel hard-fought gains in the country. As of now, it seems that the two main candidates standing for election are current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, both from the same Shi’ite Dawa party.

Airstrikes continued in Iraq this week as well. According to reports, a botched US-led coalition airstrike allegedly killed eight Iraqi people and injured 20 more in Al-Anbar province on Saturday 28 January. Local police claim that the Coalition wrongfully targeted civilians and police after Iraqi forces confused police vehicles as part of a terrorist convoy. On Thursday 1 February, Turkey’s armed forces also reported that airstrikes conducted earlier in the week against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets in northern Iraq killed 49 militants.


Kenya:

On 26 January, Kenya’s opposition released what it claimed to be “authentic” evidence showing that Raila Odinga, Kenya’s opposition leader, was the rightly elected President. Odinga’s team did not release any information as to how they received the results. Furthermore, the electoral commission in Kenya did not validate these results. According to the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights, 92 people were allegedly killed during the political unrest after the election in August 2017.

Raila Odinga swore himself in as the “people’s president” on 30 January at Uhuru Park. His candidate for Deputy President Kalonzo Musyoka, however, was not present. The highly controversial ceremony comes after the National Super Alliance (the opposition movement known as ‘NASA’) boycotted October’s rerun presidential election, in which current President Kenyatta won with a low voter turnout. Officials from Kenyatta’s government warned on 28 January that no gathering could take place; yet, police forces did not intervene in the event. After the inauguration, Kenyatta issued a statement declaring the ceremony illegal. Hours after his inauguration, Odinga took to Twitter to thank his supporters, saying that “We have arrived in Canaan; thank you for staying course with us.”

In response to the ceremony, Al Jazeera reported that the government took independent TV stations off the air ahead of the ceremony on Tuesday morning. The chairman of the Kenya Editors Guild also stated that the government cautioned senior editors not to cover the event. However, on 1 February, Kenya’s High Court suspended the government’s ban for 14 days until the Court addresses the case. The shutdown has lasted for three days, but there are no signs of compliance by the government with the Court’s decision. The three shut-down TV stations manage two-thirds of all Kenya’s TV audience.


Libya:

Two days after the twin car bombing in Benghazi killed 35 people and injured dozens more on 23 January, reports began to emerge on social media that 10 people had been summarily executed outside the mosque where the bombing took place.  Moreover, Libyan residents reported that five bodies were found in Benghazi’s Laithi neighborhood on 26 January, and medical sources similarly reported that three people who appear to have been summarily killed were found in Derma. On 27 January, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) announced that it was “appalled” by the alleged retributory killings, and further stated that “The brutal pattern of violence must end. Those in effective control of fighters and those ordering, committing such crimes are liable under international law.”

The UN is also attempting to revive the stalled 2015 peace plan for Libya, as reported on 29 January. While recognizing the complex legislative, political, and security challenges,  UN officials, including special representative Ghassan Salame, have said they nevertheless want to assist Libya in holding elections by the end of 2018. Smail Chergui, Commissioner of the African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council, stated that the UN and the AU would work together to promote reconciliation and prepare the necessary conditions for elections. However, the AU warned against rushing to elections.

Nearly two months have elapsed since videos began to emerge showing refugees being sold as slaves in Libya. On 29 January, Moussa Faki, Chairperson of the AU, reported that more than 13,000 migrants have been repatriated from Libya since the beginning of December 2017. It appears that Niger and Rwanda have also offered refuge to those who cannot be returned to their countries of origin. However, on 31 January, for no apparent reason, Libya’s Illegal Immigration Agency decided to shut down four immigrant reception centers in western Libya, housing thousands of mostly African migrants rescued in the Mediterranean.

On 1 February, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that armed groups in Benghazi were preventing at least 3,700 internally displaced families from returning to their homes, accusing these people of either “terrorism” or “supporting terrorism”. Additionally, HRW interviewed several displaced people, who said that groups affiliated with the Libyan National Army forces (LNA) have tortured, arrested, and forcibly disappeared family members who remained in Benghazi.

This week, the UN Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reported that 378,000 children were in need of humanitarian assistance and that the situation in Libya continues to deteriorate. UNICEF is appealing for 20 million USD to scale up its humanitarian assistance response. On 29 January, unexploded ordinances also appear to have killed three children.


Mali:

On 25 January, a civilian vehicle ran over a landmine in central Mali, killing 26 people, including children. The victims were traveling from northern Burkina Faso to Mali for a weekly market. A Malian security source said that “terrorists use these mines to spread fear”. However, no one has claimed responsibility for the blast. On 27 January, the UN Security Council strongly condemned the “barbaric and cowardly terrorist attack”. The Security Council also stressed the need to increase efforts to combat terrorism and violent extremism, and urged all States, in accordance with their international legal obligations, to cooperate with the Governments of Mali and Burkina Faso to bring the perpetrators to justice. On 29 January, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita also canceled plans to attend an AU summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and declared three days of mourning “in tribute to all those who have lost their lives in the last few days in terrorist attacks”.

On 29 January, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a report in which it had recorded 133 cases of humanitarian access constraints in Mali in 2017. This was the highest number OCHA had ever recorded in Mali.


Nigeria:

BBC Monitoring tracked Boko Haram’s attacks in 2017, and on 25 January, the BBC reported that Boko Haram killed more than 900 people last year. Furthermore, in 2017, Boko Haram was allegedly responsible for 90 armed attacks and 59 suicide bombings. The group targeted villages, militaries, mosques and internally displaced people fleeing the violence.

Since the beginning of the year, fighting between farmers and herdsman over land in five states of Nigeria has killed over 168 people and has resulted in thousands being displaced. In an attempt to combat this growing violence, Nigeria’s military has launched air raids, reportedly killing at least 35 people on 30 January. Amnesty International’s Nigeria Director, Osal Ojigho, has condemned the unlawful use of deadly force and declared that “The government must overturn its response to these deadly clashes to avoid the crisis getting out of control”.


Philippines:

On Monday 29 January, the Philippine Justice Department charged three police officers with the murder of Kian Loyd delos Santos, a 17-year old boy, who was killed in August 2017, in the midst of a drug war. Allegedly, the officers killed him because they believed he was a drug pusher. After his death, the Catholic church led the opposition against President Duterte’s brutal drug policy. In response to the protests that erupted after Mr. delos Santo’s killing, President Duterte installed a civilian-led drug enforcement officer. However, in December 2017, the police once again regained control of the drug war.


South Sudan:
 
The UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng called on the governments of Uganda and Kenya to stop contributing to the conflict in South Sudan. Dieng also stated that there were large quantities of weapons flowing through Kenya and Uganda into South Sudan. He warned that although the primary responsibility for the protection of populations lies with the government, the international community also has a duty to prevent atrocities.

On 24 January, US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, stated that the conflict in South Sudan is deteriorating because of the country’s the leaders. She called on the Security Council to implement an arms embargo against South Sudan in an attempt to slow the violence. Ambassador Haley also called on the African Union (AU) to establish a hybrid court for South Sudan, and also for Uganda and Kenya to work harder to facilitate peace. She called South Sudan an unfit partner to the UN Security Council. In the following days, the AU also called for sanctions against those disrupting the peace process in the country. South Sudan called on the envoy from the United States to discuss the comments.


Sudan/Darfur:

The violent crackdown by government forces on peaceful protests continues in Sudan. The Sudan Tribune reported the use of teargas and batons against civilians in the latest protest on Wednesday. The protests reportedly began over price hikes and the implementation of austerity measures.

Consequently, the European Union (EU) urged the Sudanese government to release opposition leaders and human rights activists arrested during the protests. Sources estimate that more than 170 activists have been arrested. The EU also called on the government to respect the freedom of the media and to stop the seizures of newspapers.

On 30 January, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/North (SPLM-N al-Hilu), one of the two factions of the rebel group SPLM-N in Sudan, extended the cease-fire for four more months starting on 1 February in the areas of South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. The leader of the SPLM-N al-Hilu Abdel-Azizi stated that the extension is a show of goodwill for the upcoming peace talks with the Sudanese government in Addis Ababa. The talks will take place at the beginning of the February, however, SPLM-N Agar, the other faction of the rebel group, will not participate in the talks.


Syria:

Attacks on rebel-held territory continued this week in Syria. Since Sunday 28 January, suspected Russian-backed airstrikes by Syria’s government reportedly killed at least 35 people. Fighting also continued in Afrin. As of 31 January, Turkey claimed to have killed at least 712 fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and ISIL since the beginning of Operation Olive Branch. Turkey further claimed that 63 members of YPG and ISIL were ‘neutralized’ on 30 January alone. The city of Manbij is also on edge. Indeed, if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan follows through with his pledge to clear Turkish forces from all of the northern Syrian border, Turkey would likely have to face confrontation with the US, it’s NATO ally. On Sunday 28 January, General Joseph L. Votel, commander of the US Central Command, stated that the US would not withdraw from Manbij.  Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesperson for the American coalition confirmed General Votel’s remarks. This week, French President Emmanuel Macron also warned Turkey that its operation should not become an excuse to invade Syria.

Accordingly, violence in Syria overshadowed the Russian-sponsored “Congress of Syrian National Dialogue”, which took place in Sochi from 29-30 January (the ‘Sochi talks’). Furthermore, the majority of Syria’s rebel groups boycotted the Sochi talks, and a group of opposition delegates who had decided to come ultimately refused to leave the airport after taking offense at the event’s logo which featured only the flag of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. While the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, attended the Sochi talks, on the condition that the constitutional drafting process would remain in Geneva, the majority of the 1,500 delegates in attendance were pro-Assad. The Sochi talks ended with a few vague resolutions. Delegates agreed to set up a 150-member constitutional drafting committee that would be based in Geneva, put forward names of people to they would like to see on the Committee, invited absent groups to name representatives as well, and endorsed a democratic path forward through elections. Ultimately, however, a final agreement will need to be reached in Geneva, with UN support, regarding the constitutional committee’s powers and procedure, as well as criteria for selecting its members. According to Vladimir Putin, the Sochi talks were designed to break the impasse in negotiations and end the seven-year civil war. However, analysts believe that Russia’s real goal was to reshape the diplomatic process to fit the political and military reality (that Assad is still in power) and replace the US as the most engaged global power.


Venezuela:

Venezuelan opposition groups will be meeting with their government in the Dominican Republic to demand electoral safeguards for the elections that are scheduled to take place in April.  They are demanding a “balanced” election counsel and want Venezuelans living abroad to be able to vote. The opposition is also demanding that their members be allowed to run. Opposition leaders Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles are not allowed to run in the elections. Lopez’s party will not be involved in the talks.

On 26 January, the UN Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) warned of increasing malnutrition rates among children in Venezuela. The economic crisis in the country severely limits the amount and quality of food of Venezuelan families. Due to limited official data, the agency could not provide precise numbers. However, the organization Caritas reported in August 2017 that 15.5 percent of children suffered from some level of wasting, while 20 percent were at risk. UNICEF urged for a short-term response to counter malnutrition.


Yemen:

Migrants and refugees continue to use Yemen as a transitory hub, despite the prevalent armed conflict and humanitarian crisis in the country, which exposes these people to a heightened risk of human rights violations. For instance, on 26 January, the UN reported that at least 30 refugees drowned, when a boat carrying 152 people, including 101 Ethiopians and 51 Somalis, capsized off the coast of Aden, Yemen. Allegedly, smugglers who were operating the overcrowded vessel also opened fire on the passengers.
On 25 January, UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed a $1 billion pledge by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to support humanitarian action in Yemen, as well as their pledge to raise $500 million more from regional donors. Additionally, Secretary-General Guterres welcomed the Saudi-led coalition’s delivery of 180,000 liters of fuel to the northern province of Marib.

However, infighting between former allies of the Saudi-led coalition (which have been fighting the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in northern Yemen) came to a head this week. Previously, on 21 January, southern leaders, aligned with the Southern Transitional Council (STC) had set a one-week deadline for Yemen’s President, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to dismiss the cabinet. As the deadline neared, fighting erupted on Sunday 28 January, between armed separatists aligned with the STC (backed by the UAE) and forces loyal to President Hadi (backed by Saudi Arabia). As the STC seized several government offices in the strategic port city of Aden that day, Yemen’s prime minister, Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr, accused the STC of staging a “coup”. Then on Tuesday 30 January, after two days of clashes, separatists loyal to the STC appear to have seized control of Aden, including the area around the presidential palace. Some news reports also suggested that Yemen’s Prime Minister and several senior government officials that were holed up in the palace were preparing to flee to Saudi Arabia. According to hospital sources, the fighting killed at least 10 people, and wounded 30 more. On 30 January, UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told reporters that the UN’s relief officials were “extremely concerned by the violence that [they’d] seen over the last couple of days”, called on “all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law” and indicated that “it’s paramount that civilians are protected and that the wounded are afforded safe medical care and that all sides facilitate life-saving access”.


Other:

On 29 January, UN agencies reported that conflict is the underlying common factor of countries suffering from food insecurity. The report, which monitors 16 countries, emphasized the presence of acute hunger in South Sudan, Yemen, and Syria. The UN agencies highlighted the importance of access for humanitarian support to the affected areas.

 

 

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#RtoPWeekly: 22 – 26 January 2018

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Mali in focus: UN takes action toward peace and stabilization

At a briefing this week, the UN Security Council threatened sanctions against parties in Mali who obstruct or delay the full implementation of the 2015 peace agreement, unless the parties showed progress by the end of March.

Since the 2012 Malian coup d’etat, Mali has been in turmoil. The government overthrow resulted in a power vacuum that was ultimately filled by an Islamic insurgency. Though a French-led war eventually ousted the insurgents from power in 2013, jihadists remain active in the region. In June 2015, Malian rivals signed a peace agreement, and on 23 January, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed the Council regarding last week’s adoption of a timeline by the committee monitoring the peace agreement. On 23 January, Lacroix also urged Mali’s government to hold presidential elections in July as scheduled. Lacroix stressed to the Security Council that “The upcoming presidential elections will mark the beginning of a new chapter in the stabilization of Mali”. Lacroix further warned that time was short and that the human rights and humanitarian situations in Mali were worsening, while insecurity was growing in the country.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also announced his decision this week to establish the International Commission of Inquiry for Mali, which was envisioned by the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. The Secretary-General selected Ms. Lena Sundh (Sweden) as the Commission’s Chair, and also appointed Mr. Vinod Boolell (Mauritius) and Mr. Simon Munzu (Cameroon) to serve as Commissioners.


Catch up on developments in…

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

Libya 
Nigeria
Philippines
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Venezuela
Yemen


Burma/Myanmar:

On 25 January, former UN ambassador Bill Richardson resigned from Burma’s Advisory Board on the Rohingya Crisis. Richardson complained that the board was disregarding human rights complaints and was acting as a “cheerleading squad” for State Chancellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s policies. Moreover, Mr Richardson reported tbat Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi reacted negatively when the former Government of New Mexico asked her about the two imprisoned Reuters reporters.

The Rohingya Muslim refugees fear leaving Bangladesh to return to Burma. The original date set for repatriation of the Rohingya to Burma was scheduled to be on or around 23 January 2018. However, the Rohingya refugees fear returning to Burma. David Mathieson, who has been working on the Rohingya issue for years criticized the repatriation agreement. He explained that after what the Rohingya have been through they should not be expected to be happy about returning to Burma. Rohingya leaders have set conditions for their repatriation to Burma.They are demanding that military personnel are held accountable for the alleged killings and rapes. The leaders also requested the release of detained Rohingya who have been accused of counter-insurgency.

On 23 January, UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards indicated that the lack of safeguards in place and the restriction to humanitarian aid agencies, continues to be a hurdle for a viable, voluntary, and safe return of refugees to Burma. Edwards called on the Burmese government to implement the recommendations made by the Rakhine Advisory Commission – a panel chaired by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan – including those recommendations related to the freedom of movement and a solution to legal and citizenship status of Muslim communities.


Burundi:

The Association for the Defense of Women’s Rights (ADDF) reported 16 cases of gender-based violence since the beginning of 2018. In the past two weeks, five women were burned by their husbands in the western province of Citibitoke.  The President of the Cibitoke High Court asserted that the perpetrators received severe sanctions, while affirming the Court’s goal of staying at the forefront of punishing these types of crimes. Yet, locals continue to complain that courts are slow in prosecuting these cases and that impunity persists.

Protesters in Burundi continue to speak out and engage in nonviolent protests against the government’s new law that withdraws money from the salaries of workers for the elections that are scheduled to take place in 2020. The federal government has called for dialogue around this law in Burundi. Civil worker have voiced their opposition to this. Human rights activists are not optimistic that this law will change because of the current leadership in Burundi. The oppressive law could potentially result in an uprising against the law.


Central African Republic:

On 23 January, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) reported that 688,700 people had been internally displaced by the end of 2017. This number represents 60 percent more than in 2016 and amounts to the highest level of forcible displacement since the conflict began in 2013. The conflict in the north-west of the country contributed to the rise in numbers. According to local authorities, the fighting has killed 487 people. The UNHRC also stated that almost half of the population will suffer from food insecurity in 2018.

In its January 2018 report, CARE listed the Central African Republic as one of the ten under-reported crises of 2017. Armed groups control approximately 70% of CAR. At least 1.1 million people have been displaced since the conflict began.


Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:

CARE, the Switzerland-based NGO, described the situation in the DPRK as the least reported humanitarian crisis of 2017. The media has focused more on the nuclear situation, but not on the devastating humanitarian state. The UN estimates that 70 percent of the population lacks access to nutritious food. According to CARE, there were only 51 reports on the humanitarian crisis of the country, as opposed to the 7,017 reports on the flooding in Peru — the tenth least reported crisis.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

On 21 January, Congolese Security forces opened fire at an Anti-Joseph Kabila protest. The protesters were calling for the President, Joseph Kabila to step down, as his term ended in December 2016. Police officers opened fire and used tear gas on the protestors. Nine were killed and 49 were injured. MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, reported that 94 people were arrested nationwide. The government has banned protests. However, the Catholic Church, with support of the Muslim community, called for protests against Kabila.

On 23 January, the DRC’s Minister for Human Rights, the UN, and the EU condemned the government crackdown on protests and urged for the prosecution of those police who had opened fire on anti-government protesters. The DRC government, on the other hand, blamed “vandals and bystanders” who threw stones at the security forces.

As Catholic leaders called for protests against President Kabila’s rule, the DRC government limited access to the internet. The latest internet blackout occurred on 21 January, for a period of 48 hours. Activists warn that law No. 013/2002, which allows governments to control communications in the interests of national security, has been instrumental in cracking down on internet accessibility.


Gaza / West Bank:

In mid-January, the United States announced its decision to reduce its originally planned $125 million contribution to UNRWA by $65 million. On 22 January, UNRWA stated that these funding cuts could create further conflict in the Middle East, and could also inhibit UNRWA’s ability to continue funding schools and clinics in the Gaza strip. Belgium announced its pledge to donate $23 million over the course of three years.

On 25 January, the UN Security Council held a meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. At the beginning of the meeting Nickolay Mladenov (Special Coordinator) briefed the Council.


Iraq:

Iraq’s election date is officially set for 12 May. On 22 January, Iraq’s parliament voted to approve this date, which was originally proposed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The successful candidate will have the immense task of rebuilding the country in the aftermath of a three-year war with the Islamic State (ISIL).

On 22 January, the European Union (EU) Foreign Affairs Council endorsed a new strategy for Iraq. The EU’s objectives are focused on the following key areas: a) Preserving the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq, as well as its ethnic and religious diversity; and b) Strengthening the Iraqi political system by supporting Iraqi efforts to establish a balanced, inclusive, accountable and democratic system of government.

On 22 January, Russia invited Iraq to attend the Syria peace talks set to take place in Sochi at the end of the month.

Even though Iraq has officially declared victory over ISIL, the battle is far from over. Reports indicate that ISIL fighters continue to attack Iraqi soldiers on a daily basis.

As of 25 January, researchers estimate that Iraqi forces have detained approximately 20,000 suspected ISIL members, including Nizam Al Deen Al Rifa (the “Black Box”), Mufti Abu Omar  (the “Butcher of Mosul”), and foreign fighters who flocked to ISIL, like Tarik Jadaoun (known as  Abu Hamza Al Belji.


Kenya:

The National Super Alliance (NASA) refuses to recognize the 26 October election and is forging ahead with its plan to swear in Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka on 30 January. According to Cherangany MP Joshua Kuttuny, this could cause chaos.

On 25 January, Kenya’s Attorney General Githu Mugai asked the country’s High Court to rule the swearing in of opposition leader Raila Odinga as ilegal. The motion is categorized as urgent and will be heard on the same day. NASA, the opposition-led movement, also announced the organization of the People’s Assembly to demand new elections. Earlier this month, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres assigned former Nigerian President Obasanjo to mediate talks between the two parties.


Libya:

On 21 January, the Libyan Special Deterrent Force arrested 61 people involved in the attack on Mitiga International Airport last week.

On 22 January, Ghassan Salame, UN envoy to Libya indicated that preparations for the Libyan National Conference – one of four stages of the UN’s post-conflict transition plan – were proceeding smoothly. Salame also added that once Libya’s Supreme Court gives the “green light” and voter registration is sufficiently high, there would be a referendum on the constitution.

That same day, during a meeting in Tripoli with Maria do Valle Ribeiro (UN Deputy Special Representative and Deputy Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), the UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez Serraj called for communication and cooperation between the government of Libya and international organizations in order to quickly restore social order. Serraj also indicated his willingness to facilitate the work of UNSMIL in various regions throughout Libya.

This week, during the first forum of municipalities of Libya, 109 Libyan mayors threatened to declare civil disobedience and form a national government, should political division in Libya continue.

A double car bombing in Benghazi killed at least 33 people, including civilians and military personnel, on Tuesday 23 January. The first bomb struck outside a mosque in the central Al Salmani district as worshippers were leaving evening prayers. The second explosion, which occurred approximately 10 to 15 minutes later, was detonated nearby and also hit an ambulance and cause a greater number of casualties. No one has claimed responsibility yet. ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) pointed out that deliberately targeting civilians or civilian objects, including mosques, or carrying out attacks with knowledge that they are likely to result in indiscriminate or disproportionate death or injury to civilians could amount to a war crime.

On 25 January, videos began to emerge on social media appearing to show at least 10 people being shot dead in Benghazi at the same site as the twin bombings. UNSMIL condemned these “brutal and outrageous summary executions”, identified the gunman as Mahmoud al Werfalli (a special forces commander wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly carrying out several similar killings), and demanded that Werfalli be immediately handed over to the ICC.

Videos showing African migrants being tortured in Libya, have also gone viral and have drawn widespread international condemnation. On 23 January, the Libyan Foreign Ministry of “condemn[ed] in the strongest terms the criminal and disgraceful acts allegedly carried out on Libyan soil against some people.” The Foreign Ministry also called on the legal and security departments to investigate these videos and to “permanently investigate any indecent acts against the dignity of African migrants”. Leonard Doyle, spokesperson for the UN’s  International Organization for Migration (IOM), also asserted that “As images of modern-day slavery in Libya are impugning the conscience of our political leaders, it must be recognized as part of a bigger, systemic problem.”

On 25 January, UNSMIL initiated the Humanitarian Response Plan for 2018, worth approximately $313 million.


Nigeria:

Earlier this month, a mass burial was held in Benu for the 73 people killed in communal violence between semi-nomadic herdsmen (mainly from the Fulani ethnic group) and farmers (mostly Christian). A bloody conflict over fertile land is taking on increased political significance. On 22 January, the EU Parliament called on the Government of Nigeria to negotiate a national policy framework to protect the interests of both herders and farmers.

Nigeria’s Department of State Services (DSS) has allegedly confirmed the presence of an Islamic State (ISIL) network in Nigeria.

Leonard Doyle, spokesperson for the UN’s  International Organization for Migration (IOM), said  that “As images of modern-day slavery in Libya are impugning the conscience of our political leaders, it must be recognized as part of a bigger, systemic problem.” In December 2017 alone, the IOM returned at least 2,000 Nigerian survivors from Libya. However, experts and survivors have indicated that returnees are being dropped back into the epicenter of Nigeria’s sex-trafficking industry.

A research report released on 25 January, indicated that Boko Haram killed more than 900 people in 2017. This runs contrary to President Muhammadu Buhari’s assertion that the militants had been defeated.


Philippines:

On 22 January, Alan Cayetano, Philippine’s Foreign Affairs Secretary, accused ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) of distorting the number of killings as a result of President Duterte’s “drug war”. Cayetano stated that HRW is politicizing the issue, without conducting proper research or investigation. However, this is not the first time Duterte’s government has attacked NGOs who criticize his government. Duterte has also targeted members of the press and UN officials.


South Sudan:

UN Peacekeepers will return to a UN base located in the south of the country — in rebel-held territory — for the first time since 2013, UN mission chief David Shearer informed. 43 troops evacuated in 2013 after armed men invaded the base and three peacekeepers died. The move comes after residents of the area requested a UN presence. According to Shearer, instead of a permanent UN base, peacekeepers will fly in for a few days every week, taking “a more nimble and proactive approach”.

The Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Henrietta H. Fore, concluded her visit to South Sudan last week. The ongoing conflict in South Sudan has resulted in the displacement of 2.4 million children. Ms. Fore, met a young child who was forced into the fighting at age 10. This is one child out of 19,000 children that have been recruited into the conflict. Malnourishment numbers have also reached 250,000. The upcoming dry season is expected to intensify the conflict.

Christopher Trott, the Special Envoy from the UK to the Sudan and South Sudan called for the violence to stop. In his statement to the Rwanda Times, Trott praised Rwanda’s mediation efforts in South Sudan. He also encouraged the Rwandan President, who will take leadership of the African Union on 28 January, to remain focused on peace in South Sudan.

On 24 January, UN Humanitarian Chief Ursula Mueller reported to the UN Security Council that approximately 1.5 million people in South Sudan are on the brink of famine, while 20,000 already live in famine. The food situation will worsen – as a result of the conflict, people are not able to plant or harvest. The UN requested $1.7 billion in order to meet the humanitarian needs in South Sudan.

Freedom House’s latest annual report ranked South Sudan as the second to last least democratic country in the world, with Syria taking first place. The report stated that the broad presidential powers of Salva Kiir, the lack of independence of the legislative and the judicial branch, the broken legal system, as well as the influence of the military in political affairs contributes to the lack of democracy in the country.


Sudan/Darfur:

Protests against the government continue in Sudan. On 19 January,  protests against rising prices resulted in a police crackdown with gas bombs and batons. Thabo Mbeki, the former President of South Africa is calling for meetings with the opposition forces in Sudan to discuss the protests in Khartoum. This is not the first time that Thabo Mbeki has intervened to broker peace in Sudan. In 2016, two years after the Sudan Appeal Alliance, which was an organization consisting of different opposition groups in Sudan, he worked to create a peace agreement which later failed.

On 24 January, the government of Sudan and rebel groups in Darfur acknowledged the possibility of attending another round of peace talks in Germany. Both parties agreed to continue talking but certain conditions had to apply first. The Sudanese government was open to dialogue on the continuation of the African roadmap — an agreement made by both parties to end the conflict and establishing an inclusive constitutional conference —, but not with the group named Revolutionary Form (SRF). On the other hand, the SRF demanded the release of people arrested in the anti-government protest last this week.


Syria:

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s full “Remarks on the Way Forward for the United States Regarding Syria” are available here.

On Saturday 20 January, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of an air and ground military operation in Afrin – a Turkish controlled enclave in northwestern Syria, where approximately 800,000 civilians reside. According to Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, the goal of the operation is to create a 20-mile deep “secure zone” in Afrin, which President Erdogan maintains is essential for Turkey’s security and Syria’s territorial integrity. In particular, President Erdogan, fears that the Kurdish YPG group (which Turkey considers to be a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed PKK party in Turkey) is establishing a corridor along Turkey’s border. In this regard, Erdogan has stated that Turkey would “wipe out this corridor step-by-step, starting from the west,” and that the Afrin operation would be “followed by Manbij”. The Turkish offensive, codenamed “Operation Olive Branch” began with dozens of airstrikes on Saturday, and reportedly killed at least 18 civilians that day. Despite U.S. calls for restraint, on Sunday 21 January, Turkish troops, supported by rebel factions, crossed into Syria and began a ground assault against the American-backed Kurdish YPG militia. According to the commander of one rebel group, 13,000 fighters were involved. Again on 24 January, as the Turkish military continued to bomb Kurdish positions for a fifth day, President Erdogan threatened to extend the offensive operation to Manbij. While the U.S. does not have troops in Afrin, it does in Manbi. Accordingly, if Turkey does indeed push on from Afrin to Manbi, the US  may soon need to decide whether to reduce its support for the Kurdish rebels (which would likely be viewed as a betrayal) or risk direct or indirect conflict with Turkey, another NATO member. Since Turkey launched its attack in Afrin, the UN says that approximately 5,000 people have been displaced. Despite pleas for restraint, Turkey’s President vowed to “crush” the YPG militia.

The UNHCR released a statement on 21 January, in which it reported that 15 Syrians froze to death during a storm Thursday night (18 to 19 January), while trying to cross the mountainous border into Lebanon. According to UNHCR, these tragic deaths highlight the dire risks that people are willing to take to escape the situation in Syria.

On 22 January, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that five people have also been killed in artillery fire in Damascus. The Syrian government’s official news agency, SANA, confirmed the report and indicated that those killed in the attack were civilians. No group has claimed responsibility.

SOHR has also reported that at least 13 people, including children, suffered difficulty breathing in a suspected chemical attack by the Syrian regime. The alleged chlorine gas attacks are said to have occurred in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus. On 23 January, at a Paris meeting for diplomats from 29 country pushing for sanctions, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asserted that regardless of “Whoever conducted the attacks, Russia ultimately bears responsibility for the victims in East Ghouta and countless other Syrians targeted with chemical weapons” since “There is simply no denying that Russia, by shielding its Syrian ally, has breached its commitments to the US as a framework guarantor.” Tillerson also demanded that Russia stop vetoing UN Security Council resolutions designed to increase humanitarian access and reduce fighting. On 24 January, Russia and Syria accused the US of lying.

On 22 January, Mark Green, Administrator of United States Agency for International Development (USAID), made an unannounced visit to Raqqa, Syria. US Central Command General, Joseph Votel, also accompanied Green. Bearing witness, Green indicated that “The devastation goes back as far as you can see” and that it was “almost beyond description”. But Green also saw signs of hope and resilience. Green also noted that the civilian mission was for “stabilization not reconstruction” and that the US’s part would be to help civilians return home by clearing roadside bombs, removing rubble, and restoring essential services, including water and electricity.

This week, Russia invited Iraq to attend the Syria peace talks set to take place in Sochi at the end of the month. Meanwhile, a separate round of Syrian peace talks – jointly hosted by Russia, Turkey, and Iran – are currently underway in Astana, Kazakhstan.

On 23 January, Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) spokesperson released a statement that the US-led coalition launched precision strikes against ISIL, which killed up to 150 militants. ISIL did not confirm the attack.


Venezuela:

Oscar Perez and six others were killed by the Venezuelan government for their protest and dissent against the government. Last June, Perez allegedly shot at the Venezuelan Supreme Court from a helicopter that had a sign encouraging the country to rebel. Perez was a police officer and became something of a symbol of the protests in Venezuela. After the government shut down the protests, Perez and his followers continued to speak out against the government. The Venezuelan government labeled Perez and his followers as a gang that was attempting to harm the people.

On 23 January, the Venezuelan National Assembly announced snap elections, to be held on 30 April. President Maduro also announced that he would seek reelection. However, many civil society groups doubt the legitimacy of the upcoming vote, because opposition leaders are still in exile, jailed, or barred from running,

In response to Maduro’s announcement, the Lima Group – a group of Latin American countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Peru, and Mexico – criticized the move and stated that an election could lack legitimacy under the current conditions in the country.


Yemen:

The UN special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is reportedly  set to resign at the end of February. The UN has allegedly already appointed Martin Griffiths of the UK (and current director of the European Institute of Peace) to the post.

In a statement issued by the Southern Transitional Council on 21 January, the Southern Resistance Forces (SRF) – an armed separatist group allied with the UAE – declared “a state of emergency in Aden and announce[d] that it has begun the process of overthrowing the legitimate government and replacing it with a cabinet of technocrats”. However, in the statement SRF did not provide any details as to how to planned to topple Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi’s government.

In an article released on 22 January, the Washington Post numerically details the civilian toll of Yemen’s conflict, in which more than 10,000 people have been killed, 50,000 people have been wounded, and 2 million have been displaced.

The UN has labeled the situation in Yemen as the “worst man-made humanitarian of current times”. Approximately 75% of Yemen’s population (22.2 million people) is in need of humanitarian assistance after more than two years of unrelenting conflict in the country, including 11.3 people in acute need who urgently require aid to survive. On 21 January, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) launched the 2018 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan, which is the largest consolidated humanitarian appeal for Yemen to date. The $2.96 billion project aims to provide direct, lifesaving assistance and protection to 13.1 million people.

On 22 January, the Saudi-led coalition committed to providing $1.5 billion in new humanitarian aid for Yemen. This announcement comes at a time where Saudi Arabia and its allies are facing increased criticism over the staggering toll that Yemen’s war has had on civilians. Monday’s coalition airstrikes reportedly resulted in the deaths of nine people.  Saudi Arabia also said it would create “safe-passage corridors” to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid across the war-torn country.

On 22 January, amid a new wave of violence, Russia reportedly called for a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Yemen, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pledged he would pursue dialogue with the Iran-back Houthi rebels, among others. Lavrov also insisted that “It [was] essential that the participants in the conflict give up their attempts to solve the existing problems by force.”

On 23 January, Saudi-led air strikes in northern Yemen reportedly killed at least nine civilians, including four children, bringing the total number of people killed in military operations in the past two days to 30.

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#RtoPWeekly: 27 November – 1 December

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New Report Details Alleged Systematic Human Rights Abuses by Venezuelan Security Forces Throughout 2017

On 29 November, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Venezuelan rights group, the Penal Forum, released a report denouncing the alleged systematic use of brutal treatment and torture by the Venezuelan government against its political opponents and protesters. The organizations detail the reported subjection of 314 people to human rights abuses at the hands of security force officials between April and September 2017, a period that HRW stated quickly became one of the most repressive in Venezuela’s recent history.

Information about the abuse was gained from the interviews of victims, their families, and medical and legal professionals, as well as physical evidence such as medical reports, photographs, and video footage. According to such evidence, various torture methods were allegedly used on victims, including: frequent violent beatings, hanging by their feet for extended periods of time, denial of food and water, and other physical and psychological abuse.

The country saw much political dissent in April and beyond as President Nicolas Maduro’s administration was accused of usurping certain legislative powers through the Supreme Court, and many protests reportedly turned violent during that time. However, the report details that the nature of the abuses and the use of certain political phrases by the abusers suggests the civilians were being purposely targeted and punished for their political views, rather than in an effort to enforce the law or disperse protests. In most cases, the abuses allegedly occurred on those who were already detained, or those who were forcibly removed from their homes. Additionally, HRW reported that evidence showed high-level officials had actively downplayed allegations of human rights abuses, effectively ensuring impunity for those directly involved.

The joint report, “Crackdown on Dissent: Brutality, Torture, and Political Persecution in Venezuela,” can be accessed in its entirety here.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DRC
Iraq
Kenya
Libya

Philippines
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen
Other

Burma/Myanmar:

The governments of Bangladesh and Burma have reportedly reached an agreement regarding the return of Rohingya migrants to Rakhine State. Under the agreement, there will be no limit to the number of migrants who can return to their homes, and those who choose to come back to Burma will not face any legal repercussions unless they are found to have ties to terrorism. Additionally, both sides have agreed that no refugees will be forced to return to Rakhine State by either country.

Despite the agreement, the UN Refugee Agency has stated that conditions in Rakhine State remain unsafe for the return of the refugees, noting specifically a lack of stable security and humanitarian access in the region. The Refugee Agency stated that it is willing to help both governments find sustainable solutions to the crisis.

The UN Human Rights Council is expecting to hold a special session on the human rights crisis in Rakhine State early next week.


Burundi:

According to ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch, Burundi’s ambassador to the UN Albert Shingiro has allegedly made public threats against members of the UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) that has been investigating human rights abuses in Burundi. The alleged threats are based on the perception that the CoI’s investigation has resulted in the “defamation and attempted destabilization of Burundian institutions.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called these perceived threats “unacceptable.” Further, officials from the CoI have recently concluded that there is evidence of crimes against humanity allegedly being committed in Burundi, at which the International Criminal Court has opened a related investigation.

With support from the East African Community, the fourth round of the inter-Burundian dialogue to resolve the Burundi crisis is currently being held in Arusha from 26 November to 8 December. Sentiment regarding the session has been mixed, specifically among civil society members in Burundi. Many experts have praised the dialogue for being inclusive and bringing together a variety of government sectors, religious leaders, and civil society organizations. However, some civil society members argue that they have been excluded from the dialogue, specifically those who are critical of Burundi’s government.


Central African Republic:
The UN has released a statement strongly condemning the 26 November attack against UN peacekeepers in CAR in which one peacekeeper was killed and three injured. The anti-Balaka militant group is alleged to have carried out the attack. In the statement, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the attack could constitute a war crime and called for the government to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

On 28 November, the Security Council released a statement advocating for increased transparency, credibility, and inclusivity of elections in the DRC in order to maintain a peaceful electoral process. The statement also emphasized the need for all parties and their supporters to refrain from committing and inciting violence during the electoral process.


Iraq:

In a recently released statement, the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria has said that at least 800 civilians have been killed in airstrikes in both countries since its campaign began in 2014. The number of casualties given by the US-led coalition is much lower than those documented by prominent monitoring and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, with some estimates as high as 6,000 total civilian casualties.


Kenya:

During the presidential swearing-in ceremony this past week, Uhuru Kenyatta vowed to be more inclusive and overcome division during his upcoming term. The ceremony was heavily boycotted by the opposition and two protesters reportedly died during clashes with the police. Tensions have continued to increase as the opposition candidate Raila Odinga has declared his own plans to be sworn in as president in the upcoming weeks.


Libya:

The Libyan government has reportedly launched an investigation into the alleged slave trade within the country. The newly created investigation is in response to international outrage following a video apparently showing African migrants being sold to Libyans as slaves.


Philippines:

On 22 November, President Rodrigo Duterte announced his plans to expand the country’s police force in the administration’s war on drugs, leading human rights groups such as Amnesty International to decry the move as potentially creating many more unlawful civilian deaths. James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, stated that a better solution includes a “public health-based drug policy that respects human rights and the rule of law.”


 South Sudan:

On 29 November, the International Rescue Committee and the Global Women’s Institute at George Washington University reported that the number of gender-based crimes occurring in South Sudan is double the global average. Out of the women surveyed, 65 percent claimed they were victims of physical or sexual violence, with the reports alleging violence from both government and opposition forces. The largest number of reports of sexual violence surfaced from the UN-controlled territory in Juba.


Sudan/Darfur:

On 27 November, Sudanese authorities arrested Musa Hilal, a powerful militant leader who is suspected of human rights abuses in Darfur. As a former ally of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Hilal had led the government-allied Janjaweed militia, which had been accused of carrying out ethnic cleansing and genocide in the region. Hilal’s arrest came after clashes with Sudanese forces near his hometown in North Darfur.


Syria:

According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Russian air strikes are responsible for 53 civilian casualties in eastern Syria, including 21 children. The attack occurred on 27 November and hit the village of Al-Shafah, which is currently controlled by the Islamic State (ISIL). Russia has denied their forces had targeted the village.

The UN in Geneva is expecting to hold the eighth round of talks on Syria. Although Assad’s regime has not selected a delegate, there are high hopes that there will be a breakthrough with the talks. Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, stated that he will refuse any preconditions set by any party before the talks, and that the dialogue will be guided by the 2015 Security Council resolution “mandating a political transition for Syria.”

On 28 November, Under-Secretary-General of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism Vladimir Voronkov told the Security Council that the international community must step in to handle the problem of foreign terrorist operatives returning to their home countries after their respective defeats in Iraq and Syria. Voronkov noted that no Member State is immune to this threat, even those located far away from conflict zones, since extremist fighters can travel elsewhere to recruit. Even with certain travel measures preventing the flow of extremist militants from entering neighboring regions, they are still attempting to move to high conflict areas such as Yemen, Libya, and Afghanistan. Additionally, the Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the UN stated that although ISIL, Al-Qaida, and other militant groups are being weakened, their use of internet propaganda has increased their reach, enabling them to gain sympathizers around the world.


Yemen:

The Saudi-led coalition has eased the blockade against humanitarian aid into the country, including allowing a UN aid ship carrying food supplies to dock at the port of Saleef after waiting outside the city for two weeks. The shipment of food aid is the first of its kind to be permitted to enter Yemen since the blockade was imposed. Reportedly placed to prevent Houthi-led rebels from acquiring weapons, the blockade has worsened the food and aid situation for millions of Yemenis at risk of starvation and illness. The UN has stated that Yemen remains in desperate need of humanitarian aid.


Other:

What can be learned about the media and occurrences of mass atrocity? In collaboration with the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) at Concordia University, Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication is hosting an international round table titled “Media and Mass Atrocity: the Rwanda Genocide and Beyond.” The event is running from 1-3 December at Carleton University in Ottawa, ON, with members of the public welcome. For more information and to purchase tickets, please click here.

The Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University is accepting applications for a Senior Program Coordinator. The role is responsible for furthering CWGL’s work toward combating gender-based inequality, including developing advocacy strategies and programs while leading CWGL’s research in economic policy and human rights. Additionally, CWGL is also accepting applications for Program Research Interns and Communications Interns. Applications for internship positions are due before 11 December.

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#RtoPWeekly: 13 – 17 November 2017

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Catch up on developments in…

Burma
Burundi
CAR
DRC
Iraq
Libya
Nigeria 
Philippines
South Sudan
Syria 
Venezuela 


Burma/Myanmar

According to Philippine presidential spokesman Harry Roque, Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Burma, did not refer to the Rohingya people by name while addressing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit on 13 November. Aung San Suu Kyi stated that her country was working to implement suggestions from the UN Commission led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and reparations for the displaced would “begin within three weeks” after Burmese and Bangladeshi governments signed an agreement on 24 October.

A spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May said that the situation in Rakhine State “looks like ethnic cleansing.” The Foreign Minister of Britain, Mark Field, also expressed his concern over the situation in Burma, stating that the military is to blame for the crisis. The British government suspended their military training program with Burmese forces earlier this year as a result of the Rohingya crisis.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for a sustainable solution to the Rohingya crisis. He told the Southeast Asian heads of states that he will ask his special envoy to find diplomatic efforts in which Canada can help resolve the issue. For the time being, Trudeau plans to continue his country’s support to humanitarian and political efforts to allow for the eventual return of Rohingya refugees who have fled the country.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US cannot agree with the UN’s findings that the situation in Rakhine State is ethnic cleansing until more evidence and information is collected. He called for an investigation into the violence against the Rohingya, and said there are a number of “characteristics of crimes against humanity” in Rakhine State. Tillerson also advocated against sanctions, and announced that the US will donate another $47 million in humanitarian aid for refugees.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the Burmese military denied reports of ethnic cleansing and abuse claims in the Rakhine State, despite alleged significant evidence to the contrary. The Burmese report found no deaths of innocent civilians; all those who were killed were terrorists. Activists are calling for an independent international investigation in order to find those responsible for the crimes, despite the findings of the Burmese report.

Human Rights Watch released a further report focusing on the alleged systematic sexual violence carried out by military forces in Burma. HRW interviewed 52 Rohingya women and girls whose accounts all alleged that they were raped by uniformed members of the Burmese military and that the sexual violence is far more widespread and systematic than originally believed.

Experts from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, as well as from the South Asian human rights organization, Fortify Rights, have reported that the situation in Rakhine State could be considered a genocide. The groups reached this conclusion based on over 200 interviews conducted within the past year. Cameron Hudson, director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, said that the Rohingya people have “suffered attacks and systematic violations for decades.”


Burundi:

On 9 November, International Criminal Court (ICC) judges authorized the Chief Prosecutor to open an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity that occurred in the country from April 2015 to October 2016. The decision was issued under seal on 25 October, two days before Burundi withdrew its membership from the ICC, to protect victims and potential witnesses. Allegedly, the crimes were committed by state agents and, since Burundi was a State Party to the Rome Statute during the time when the crimes occurred, the country has the duty to cooperate with the Court on the investigation even after their withdrawal.

However, Justice Minister Aimee Laurentine Kanyana said that Burundi was not notified of the ICC’s decision to open an investigation before their departure. Kanyana has also criticized that the decision was announced through the media and has said that the decision violates the Rome Statute. As a consequence, the Minister said that Burundi will not cooperate with the Court. The presidents of Tanzania and Uganda also criticized the ICC’s decision to open the investigation.

Around 400,000 Burundian refugees who fled the country fear for their security if they return. Most relocated in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, and both the presidents of Burundi and Tanzania have asked refugees to return home, claiming that security conditions have improved. Amnesty International, however, disagrees. Amnesty reported in September that refugees who return to Burundi are at risk of death or violence from security forces and the Imbonerakure, a youth political wing, that allegedly commit human rights violations against those believed to be opponents. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) also stated the conditions in Burundi continue to provoke increasing refugee flows to neighboring countries.


Central African Republic:

Najat Rochdi, Deputy Special Representative for MINUSCA, denounced the humanitarian crisis in the CAR and said that only 39 percent of the 500 million USD plan for 2017 is funded. She also said the deterioration of the conflict since May 2017 has made humanitarian assistance difficult to reach those who need it.

On 11 November, a grenade killed seven and injured twenty at a concert in Bangui. The concert was organized to foster social cohesion and reconciliation. As retaliation, heavy gunfire erupted after the attack in the PK5 neighborhood, a Muslim enclave in the mostly Christian city. Prime Minister Simplice Mathieu Sarandji called on the population to not slide back into violence following the attacks.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Ahead of anti-government demonstrations called by the opposition, the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) called on the government to respect the freedom of demonstration and of assembly that are enshrined in the constitution of the country. MONUSCO also said security forces should respect the principles of proportionality, necessity, and legality, and called on demonstrators to refrain from the use of violence.


Iraq:  

Iraqi security forces found mass graves which could contain almost 400 bodies in an area they recently retook from the Islamic State (ISIL) near the town of Hawija. A local shepherd reported that ISIL allegedly took captives to the area to shoot them or to light them on fire.


Libya:

Security forces found 28 bodies west of Tripoli on 11 November. The corpses allegedly showed signs of torture. The area of Wershiffana has seen a spike in violence in recent weeks between pro-government forces and armed militant groups who tend to remain loyal to Gaddafi. The bodies of those killed have yet to be returned to their families.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad Ibn Al Hussein, reported on the large number of migrants held in horrendous conditions in detention facilities. In his press release, Zeid mentioned the EU intercepting and returning migrants to the Libyan Coast Guard is exacerbating the issue. He also called upon the Libyan government to take concrete steps to try to address the human rights violations that take place in those centers. Italy and Germany have disagreed with the UN’s statement, and have defended the practice of returning migrants to Libyan authorities, saying it “has saved lives.”

Human rights lawyers presented evidence to the International Criminal Court (ICC) that identified Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter and his forces as responsible for murder, torture, and persecution. There is already an investigation of one of Hifter’s subordinates in process. There is also an arrest warrant out for another subordinate who allegedly killed 33 captives “in cold blood.”


Nigeria:

Amnesty International called upon Nigerian authorities to cease the demolition and forced eviction of the Otodo-Gbame and Ilubirin communities in Lagos State. The evictions left 30,000 individuals homeless, 17 missing, and 11 dead. The evictions since March 2016 have allegedly occurred without compensation, notice, or consultation.


 Philippines:

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with President Rodrigo Duterte about the human rights concerns in the Philippines. He mentioned the importance of the rule of law and how alleged extrajudicial killings in the country are one of Canada’s greatest concerns.

US President Donald Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte allegedly did not discuss human rights violations, extrajudicial killings, and Duterte’s strict anti-drug campaign within the country when they met this week. Trump said the two have a “great relationship.”


South Sudan:

President Salva Kiir said that he will allow free passage in the country to humanitarian organizations. The move comes after months of international demands and a warning from the United States that South Sudan would lose its financial and diplomatic support if the government did not permit passage.


Syria:

Russia and the United States said in a joint statement they will continue their efforts to fight the Islamic State (ISIL) in Syria, but there is no military solution to the conflict. They also said they support the de-escalation zones in Syria, and called on UN Member States to increase humanitarian contributions for victims.

Amnesty International accused the Syrian government of imposing sieges on densely populated civilian areas since the beginning of the conflict. It said that the government uses starvation as a warfare method, by blocking or arbitrarily restricting access to basic goods, including food, medicine, water, electricity and fuel. Amnesty says the Syrian government also blocks humanitarian organizations from entering those besieged areas. As a consequence, many civilians are at the brink of starvation or die from causes that could be treated with the adequate equipment. Amnesty called on States to support the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism that was recently established by the UN in order to assist in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible.

Airstrikes in a market of the rebel-held town of Atareb, in northern Syria, killed at least 53. The perpetrators of the strikes are currently unknown, but are alleged to have been carried out by Russian or Syrian government planes. Located in the Aleppo province, the town is part of the “de-escalation” zone established by Russia, Turkey, and Iran, but the constant clashes continue and humanitarian assistance is limited. The airstrikes destroyed the market completely and many children are among the victims. The town is also home to thousands of internally displaced people from the conflict.


Venezuela:

On 13 November, the UN Security Council held an Arria Formula meeting on the situation in Venezuela. Many Member States argued the crisis in the country poses a threat to international peace and security and that the Council must hold a meeting on the situation. Many also called on the government of Venezuela to release political prisoners, to investigate alleged human rights violations committed by national security forces in protests between April and July of 2017, and to prosecute those responsible. Russia, China, Bolivia, and Egypt, boycotted the meeting and said the issue should be resolved without foreign interference.

On the same day, the European Union said the gubernatorial elections of last month showed irregularities, and approved economic sanctions and an arms embargo to the country.

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

By Francesca Cocomero

Syria

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.

However, the 4 April attack is not the first time in which chemical attacks committed in the country have been accredited to the Syrian government as a blatant act of aggression against its own population. In August 2013, the government was has also been blamed for two chemical attacks launched on the opposition-controlled Damascus suburbs of Eastern and Western Ghouta. At least 1,400 people died, including many women and children. Victims of the attacks reported marked symptoms consistent with exposure to nerve gas.

Syria 1

The establishment of the JIM on 7 August 2015 has been an essential investigative and accountability tool for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The JIM’s third report, released on 24 August 2016, has asserted that the Syrian regime is responsible for the chemical attacks carried out in the villages of Talmenes and Sarmin in the Idlib Governorate, in April 2014 and March 2015 respectively. Similarly, the report also found the Islamic State (ISIL) responsible for a chemical attack carried out in the city of Marea, 50 miles from Aleppo, which reportedly included the use of mustard gas.

In light of this well-documented evidence, 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. In the words of the British Prime Minister Theresa May, the Assad regime’s “destructive folly” has met an appropriate response. Similarly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande stated that “President Assad alone bears responsibility for this development,” adding that that US President  Donald Trump had responded to a war crime. President Trump received support also from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who firmly stated that the use of chemical weapons will never be tolerated, and from the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who “highly appreciated” the Trump administration’s commitment to maintaining global order at a time in which the threat posed by weapons of such destruction is “growing more serious in East Asia”.

On the other hand, the Russian representatives have claimed that interest in the attack has been entwined with the “anti-Damascus campaign” some members of the Security Council have been harboring and ultimately rejected the draft resolution presented by the United Kingdom, United States and France, which condemned the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. In the same vein, Syrian government representatives have argued that Syria is a victim of aggression perpetrated by both Security Council Member States and the terrorist groups operating under their instructions, 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. Indeed, the latest US response is the very first such attack in the country on the internationally-recognized government by a foreign military since the beginning of the conflict. As the International Peace Institute’s (IPI) Ameya Naik has pointed out, in Syria the UN is confronted with an uncooperative head of state, who is strongly supported by veto-wielding members of the Security Council, namely Russia and China. In more than six years, the UN has struggled to negotiate a stable and long-lasting political solution aimed at protecting civilians and providing humanitarian assistance to besieged areas and, now, even to ensure accountability for the atrocities caused by the use of chemical weapons. According to Naik, while the veto may explain why no robust action has been taken in Syria, it does not provide exhaustive explanation on why so many states continue to accord the Assad regime a “presumption of legitimacy”, notwithstanding its extensively documented history of repression.

The answer to this question probably lies in that, being the UN an organization of sovereign states, there is a general and understandable hesitation to ensure any dilution in their right to independence from outside interference. Based on this assumption, Naik further affirms that “the only remaining basis on which international action in Syria could even be contemplated is if sovereignty was deemed to be compromised by non-compliance with international norms”, as in the case of a chemical attack. Attempts to suggest such a link have been made by the internationally-recognized norm of the “Responsibility to Protect” (RtoP), which calls on the international community to intervene, including by means of military force, among other peaceful tools, in order to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes.

Paul Williams, Co-Founder of the Public International Law & Policy Group (PILPG), has suggested that the RtoP norm could serve as a legal basis to justify the US attack on the Syrian airbase. Although it must be noted that the United Nations Charter does not contain any provision authorizing the unilateral use of force of one state against another, unless this use of force has been conducted in accordance to the right of self-defense, or specifically authorized by a Security Council resolution, Williams emphasizes that the failure of the Security Council to officially grant this authorization “does not obliterate the principle of the Responsibility to Protect”. According to Williams, given the nature of the Syrian crisis, the already verified extent of Syrian President Assad’s atrocity crimes, and the fact that the parties have failed to negotiate a political solution to the conflict since 2012, the international community should be allowed to use military force to prevent the Assad regime from continuing to carry out such henous crimes against the Syrian population.

Additionally, in light of the current legal constraints enshrined in the UN Charter, it has also been questioned whether the US strike could be likely to change international law in the long term. While codification of a new norm can take decades, the widespread international consensus about the US’ unilateral intervention and the general agreement against the use of chemical weapons could allow a new principle to be accepted into practice becoming part of customary law, according to Jan Lemnitzer, Assistant Professor at the Center for War Studies at the University of Southern Denmark. However, Lemnitzer also points out that the development of a norm justifying a country’s wishes to unilaterally punish another for its use of weapons of mass destruction could have adverse effects on the credibility and authority of the UN Security Council.

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.

Source for above photos: Reuters via BBC News

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

By Josh Morency

April is Genocide Awareness Month, a time for reflection and memorial and when the often repeated phrase of “never again” must be seriously assessed and recommitted to. Through the last century, April has continued to be a month of tragedy and atrocity, with many of the worst genocides having begun, occurred, or marked significant moments during this period. For example, on 24 April 1915, the Ottoman Empire began the process of the Armenian Genocide through mass arrests of notable Armenian intellectuals and community leaders on Red Sunday. To this day, 24 April is commemorated as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. It was also in April, decades later, that the Nazi regime began its systemic campaign of discrimination and oppression of European Jews in the form of business boycotts and exclusionary civil service laws. The date of Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, also most often falls within April in the Gregorian calendar. Finally, on 17 April, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime seized control of Cambodia and began its systemic and brutal campaign of genocide that killed millions between 1975 and 1979. It is these tragedies, and others, that we remember, their millions of victims we commemorate, and the pledge of “never again” that we reflect upon during Genocide Awareness Month.

Unfortunately, it is upon reflection that we remember the countless times “never again” has failed to be anything more than a pleasant turn of phrase, devoid of any meaningful action or obligation. Most powerfully, we recall that in the final decade of the 20th century the world saw further genocides that occurred without significant action or timely response by the international community. In both Rwanda and Srebrenica, the warning signs and risk indicators were present in the countries well before the massacres began, as were UN peacekeeping missions. Yet in both these tragedies, failure to pay attention to the indicators of risk and a lack of political will on the part of the international community resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians.

Prior to the outbreak of the genocide in April 1994, Rwanda was in a period of temporary and exceptionally fragile stability brought about by the signing of the Arusha Accords in August 1993, which were meant to bring an end to the country’s civil war. However, animosity between the belligerents, the primarily Hutu central government and the primarily Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), raged just below the surface. The UN Security Council saw fit to deploy the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) in 1993 to support the implementation of the Accords. Despite its presence, UNAMIR was constrained by a tight and unyielding mandate, as well as by a lack of support from UN member states and the offices of the UN in New York, and it was either incapable or disallowed from acting to prevent the violence within its UN-mandated capabilities. Even when an informant from the Hutu Interahamwe militia provided the UN force commander, Maj-Gen. Romeo Dallaire, with actionable intelligence that the government and military were providing the Interahamwe group with training and arms, as well as the location of the arms stockpiles in Kigali, the UN Secretary-General and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations prevented UNAMIR from taking action. When President Juvénal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down in the air over Kigali by unknown actors on 6 April 1994, killing him and the Burundian President, the perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide were already mobilized and their campaign of violence was instantaneous. By the end of the next day, hundreds of Tutsis, moderate Hutus, members of the political opposition, and ten Belgian peacekeepers escorting the Prime Minister were all killed by rampaging genocidaires. Over the next several days, tens of thousands of Rwandans were murdered while the UN and foreign states focused their own forces toward evacuating foreign nationals. UNAMIR command struggled to do what it could to protect civilian lives with its limited resources, such as numerous requests for additional troops and a clear mandate to end the bloodshed, but these calls remained unfulfilled. Instead, Belgium withdrew its contingent a week into the violence, and several days later the total force of UNIMAR was reduced to 270. In little over a month, half a million had been killed in a wave of genocidal violence that would continue until the RPF’s military victory in July.

A year later in 1995, a similar scenario occurred with the genocide in Srebrenica, during which 8,000 Bosnian Muslim males aged 12 to 77 were slaughtered by the Serbian forces under Ratko Mladic in less than a week. Again, like the situation in Rwanda, international actors remained inactive in the face of overwhelming evidence and warning signs of an impending massacre. When the Bosnian civil war began in 1992, Bosnian Serb forces quickly and brutally launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the east. The Bosnian Muslims that survived this first wave flooded into Srebrenica and two other towns. The advance of the Bosnian Serb army of paramilitaries on Srebrenica in 1993 prompted the commander of the UN forces in Bosnia to formally place Srebrenica, and the now tens of thousands of civilians being sheltered in the town, under the protection of the UN force. On 16 April of that year, Srebrenica was declared the first of six safe-zones in Bosnia. Yet despite these initial assurances, the enthusiasm of Member States to meaningfully commit to protecting Bosnian Muslims proved lukewarm at best. The number of troops requested to protect the safe areas was reduced from 34,000 to 7,600 as the Member States balked at the heavy commitment under the initial proposal. As a result of this decision, only a small and lightly armed UN force, the approximately 400 soldiers of the DUTCHBAT battalion, was present to protect Srebrenica when the forces of Ratko Mladic bore down on the small town in June 1995, which at that point was providing shelter to over 40,000 men, women and children. Despite significant warnings of the impending massacre, such as a public statement by Mladic and other leaders of the Bosnian Serbs declaring their intention to destroy the Bosnian Muslim population, as well as promises made by Mladic’s political counterpart, Radovan Karadzic, to the Bosnian Serb assembly a year prior that there would be “blood up to the knees” if his army marched on Srebrenica, the international community’s response was either far too late, wholly inadequate, or both.

Mladic’s forces began shelling the town on 6 July. The bombardment lasted for two days while requests from DUTCHBAT for air support were denied. On 9 June, the Bosnian Serb forces began to move towards the town, taking 30 Dutch soldiers hostage and prompting DUTCHBAT forces to retreat. By the morning of 12 July, Srebrenica had been surrendered to the Serb paramilitary forces. Over the next 30 hours, buses arrived to deport 23,000 women and children while the Serb forces separated out all males between the ages of 12 and 77. About 15,000 men escaped into the mountains during this period but were subsequently shelled by Mladic’s forces. The next day, the massacre of the captured men and boys began at sites around Srebrenica, and Dutch forces exchanged 5,000 refugees sheltering at their base for 14 of their soldiers held hostage by the Bosnian Serbs. By 16 June, over 7,000 men and boys had been murdered, and more would be hunted down and killed in the surrounding countryside during in the following weeks.

If any positivity can be found in the inability of the international community to prevent these mass murders, it is that such failure inspired the commissioning of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty in 2000 and its subsequent report, The Responsibility to Protect, in 2001. The Responsibility to Protect is just as important and relevant to the world today as it was during those crises. Today, there are numerous concerning situations around the world from an atrocity prevention perspective and that urgently require action. In Burma, the current crisis faced by the Rohingya population in Rakhine State is marked by numerous risk indicators of genocide and crimes against humanity. Political and cultural conflict has locked both Sudan and South Sudan in a state of continued civil war, producing environments highly conducive for the development of atrocity crimes. Globally, the rise of large-scale radical extremism has mired many countries in similar states of unrest, conflict, and war crimes.

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

Recalling the first address of Secretary-General Guterres to the Security Council in January 2017 in which he called upon Member States to “commit to a surge in diplomacy for peace,” it is important that during this Genocide Awareness Month we remember that “prevention is not merely a priority, but the priority” (emphasis added). As Secretary-General Guterres rightly indicated in his address, the international community, the UN and, most importantly, states must work to prevent conflicts and crises. When recalling the failures of prevention, intervention, and protection in Rwanda and Srebrenica, we are reminded of the importance of the Secretary-General’s call on the Security Council to be more active in its duty to assure world peace and to make better use of the options under Chapter VI and other resources at its disposal. ICRtoP is glad that the new Secretary-General is committed to prevention and recognizes its own importance in preventing atrocities. Moreover, ICRtoP hopes that when Member States, civil society, and other actors consider the Secretary-General’s statement that “if we live up to our responsibilities, we will save lives, reduce suffering, and give hope to millions,” they are reminded of the responsibility of all states to protect all populations from all forms of atrocity crimes. Let us hope that in observance of this Genocide Awareness Month and in memory of the millions of victims of genocide in the past century, all states will accept their responsibility to protect populations from atrocity crimes, and that the vow of never again may finally be realized.

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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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