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RtoP Weekly: 8 – 12 October 2018

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This week in focus: the RtoP and Indigenous Peoples

Each year, on or around 12 October, many countries around the world mark the day in which Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas. Spain celebrates the Día de la Hispanidad or Hispanic Day; many Latin American countries celebrate El Día de la Raza or the Day of Race; and the United States celebrates Columbus Day. In recent years, there has been a movement gaining traction in many countries to instead change the name of this day in order to honor the indigenous populations of the Americas, including their cultures, peoples, and histories in light of the grim fate many of the populations faced under centuries of colonial and non-indigenous rule. For example, in Costa Rica, 12 October now marks El Encuentro de Culturas, or the Encounter of Cultures, while some US states now mark Indigenous Peoples Day.

For centuries, many indigenous groups in these areas suffered from what some have argued could be considered ethnic cleansing and/or other atrocities. In this vein, the intersection of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) norm and the role of the international community in protecting populations, including indigenous peoples today, is an interesting topic. This week, as many people around the world mark this day, under any name, we present one author’s view for your consideration.

Please note: The views and opinions expressed reflect those of the author, and not the ICRtoP, nor its members.

In Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and Unreported Struggles: Conflict and Peace (2017), Shayna Halliwell examines the RtoP norm in the protection of indigenous peoples, in particular those living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh. Within the text, she outlines the ongoing struggles of indigenous groups in CHT, taking note of both the historical context and the current global political situation. She asserts that despite violent actions alleged against the Bangladeshi military, which violate the government-supported 1991 CHT Peace Accord, a lack of political will and the portrayal of resistance efforts as rebellion has prevented timely and decisive action from being taken by Bangladesh or the international community in order to protect these populations from atrocities.

Halliwell goes on to argue that a paradigm shift in the understanding and recognition of indigenous rights would require the international community to acknowledge and better protect these populations. Part of this, she claims, is appropriately ascribing and recognizing the agency and right to self-determination of indigenous peoples and groups more widely among the international community. This paradigm shift is “an alternative understanding,” Halliwell argues, and “has the opportunity to take hold while the [RtoP] principle is still young” and rooted in the will of victims and civil society to resist persecution and atrocity crimes. The author sees the RtoP principle as being young, malleable, and with a transformation, a viable tool towards addressing human rights, humanitarian, and security situations within the UN’s atrocity prevention approach.

To read Shayna Halliwell’s full chapter, entitled, “The Responsibility to Protect Indigenous Peoples? An Analysis of R2P’s Potential Application in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh,” please click here.


What to Watch:

Cameroon: Cameroon polls close, vote counting begins in key election (The Washington Post)
Cameroonians went to the polls on Sunday, 7 October to cast their ballots for what many anticipate will be another re-election of Paul Biya. Although official election results cannot not be released until a constitutionally mandated two week period has passed, opposition candidate Maurice Kamto claimed an early victory. Violence and instability in the Anglophone regions caused concern prior to the election, and the outcome will inevitably impact the country’s peace and security as well, as evidenced by the demonstrations by young Cameroonians already occurring.

Syria: Syria buffer zone free of heavy arms as militants  face deadline (Arab News)
The deal reached last month between Turkey and Russia to create a demilitarized zone in Idlib, Syria is now cleared of heavy arms, ahead of deadline. However, even though the National Liberation Front (NLF) successfully removed all heavy weapons as agreed, the next step, withdrawing of all militants from the area, will present a more difficult task, according to observers. The agreement states all militants must be removed from the area by next week, including the region’s leading force, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), many of whom are determined to continue exerting influence in the war.

Yemen: Calls for accountability as Yemen suffers genocide by starvation (Business Day)
Famine in armed conflict has the potential to be prosecuted as a war crime, or a crime against humanity, if it is state orchestrated and used as a weapon of war. The famine in Yemen is referred to as “genocide by starvation,” one of the reasons being Saudi Arabia’s block of the Port of Hodeidah that intentionally disrupted humanitarian aid being delivered to millions of Yemenis. Despite the ongoing conflict, calls are being made for accountability under international humanitarian law.


But Also Don’t Miss:

Burma: Myanmar “Unwilling” to Probe Rohingya Abuse, UN Must Act: Rights Envoy
UN Special Rapporteur to Myanmar stated that the government “is unable to discharge its obligation to conduct credible, thorough, and independent investigations and prosecutions,” urging the UN to refer the situation to the ICC.

China: China legalizes Xinjiang internment camps
China legalized its “re-education camps” for Uighur Muslims after it long denied their existence. Concerns over the alleged human rights violations against the group and calls for the government to halt its campaign continue to intensify.

DRC: In DR Congo, UN Security Council says December polls are ‘historic opportunity’ for country
The UN Security Council’s mission to the DRC focused electoral transparency, but failed to address the issue of creating space for civil society and freedom of political expression prior to December’s elections.

Mali: “Real Climate of Fear and Insecurity in Country’s North And Centre,” Says Expert
The UN Independent Expert on Human Rights in Mali says, “Mali has not fulfilled its sovereign role in protecting property and people and bringing perpetrators of criminal acts to justice,” urging the international community to support Mali to “fulfill its obligation to the protection of people.”

Nigeria: Probe of Rights Abuses in Nigeria Ends Soon, Says ICC
ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, announced that the Court’s preliminary investigation in Nigeria over alleged grave human rights violations is progressing and the investigative team will hopefully come to a determination soon.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Hope in Guinea, Disappointment in Togo, Impunity in Burundi
RtoP in parts of Africa is seemingly stalled with Guinean 2009 massacre victims dissatisfied with the lack of accountability in the country, Togolese disappointed with the failure of transitional justice mechanisms, and Burundians seeing impunity for rights violations.

Sudan: Sudan Call launch campaign against Al Bashir re-election
Opposition parties and armed movements launched “The Sudan Call,” a political campaign with the goal “to topple the regime [of Al-Bashir] and not to arrange any kind of soft landing.”


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RtoP Weekly: 1 – 5 October 2018

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This week in focus: ACT Code of Conduct

The prevention of atrocity crimes is at the core of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). Although States hold the primary responsibility to protect populations, the international community also has a responsibility to take timely and decisive action, including through the various preventive tools available in order to assist or protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing (“atrocity crimes”). Sadly, due in part to gridlock in the UN Security Council, the international community has failed to uphold its RtoP obligations in many conflicts throughout the world, including most recently in Syria and Myanmar.

In response, the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Group of UN Member States created an initiative in 2015, a Code of Conduct (CoC), to encourage members and potential members of the UN Security Council to refrain from the use of the veto or voting against resolutions in situations in which atrocities may occur or are ongoing. To date, 117 UN Member States and Permanent Observers have signed on in support of the CoC, including nine Member States currently serving on the Security Council. However, despite this high number of supporters, UNSC inaction remains an obstacle for the international community to fulfill its RtoP.

In this vein, the ICRtoP has released a new backgrounder on the CoC. Please view it here.

To view additional information on the ACT CoC and other veto restraint initiatives, please click here and here.


What to Watch:

Artificial Intelligence, Social Media, and the RtoP: Mapping the Artificial Intelligence, Networked Hate, and Human Rights Landscape (Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies)
ICRtoP Member MIGS has published a report on the use of artificial intelligence in social media regulation, focusing on the role these. As more states look towards imposing regulations on social media companies and platforms, the debate over content removal straddles that of using it to prevent hate speech, but also as a tool for documenting evidence and justice in cases of rights abuses. The report calls on the tech industry and policy makers to narrow the gap between policy, research, and using artificial intelligence as a tool for the protection and promotion of human rights and social good.

Côte d’Ivoire: ICC Prosecutors Urge Judges to Continue Ivory Coast Trial (International Criminal Court)
Former Côte d’Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo requested that the International Criminal Court (ICC) “acquit him of crimes against humanity and to release him after seven years in prison.” His lawyers argued that prosecutors have not been able to prove any of the four charges of crimes against humanity and urged for his immediate release. However, despite his efforts, ICC prosecutors say that “there is evidence upon which any trial chamber acting reasonably could find the accused guilty of the charges” and is strong enough to continue.

Philippines: At least three more communications vs. Duterte filed at ICC – CHR (CNN)
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte admitted that he authorized extrajudicial killings during his administration’s war on drugs, something he had long denied. As a result, many organizations, including ICRtoP Coalition Member Human Rights Watch, claim “should encourage the ICC to review the complaints against the President,” in addition to receiving three new complaints on Duterte’s war on drugs this week. Even though the President withdrew the country from the ICC last March, its withdrawal will not be effective until March 2019, allowing the Court jurisdiction.

Syria: Continued updates on human rights violations in Syria (September) (Syrian Network for Human Rights)
ICRtoP member SNHR has released a report finding that 41 individuals died in September after being tortured by Syrian regime forces. The report notes that the regime is practicing torture systematically, “to extremely brutal degrees.” The Chairman of the SNHR calls for the implementation of the RtoP, as the government continues to fail in protecting its population. In addition to these findings, a second September report found that 687 arbitrary arrests occurred in September, with the Syrian accountable for 87% of them. The report urges the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council to implement its resolutions on enforced disappearances and monitor arbitrary arrests, respectively.


But Also Don’t Miss:

Burma: Myanmar’s Neighbors Urge Accountability For Rohingya Violence
ASEAN foreign ministers called on Burma “to give full mandate to an independent commission of inquiry” for investigating and holding all responsible for the atrocities against the Rohingya accountable.

Burundi: Aid Groups Denounce Burundi’s 3-Month Ban on NGOs
Burundi suspended the work of NGOs for 90 days, imposing new regulations that many call potentially politically and ethnically motivated, but also preventing humanitarian aid deliverance.

DRC: OpEd: UN Security Council visit to DRC opportunity to open up the civic space ahead of December polls
Ahead of the UN Security Council’s visit to the DRC, Amnesty International called on the Council to urge Congolese officials to allow political expression ahead of December’s elections.

DRC: Upsurge in Killings in ‘Ebola Zone’ International Criminal Court Should Investigate Beni Massacres
Human Rights Watch urges the ICC to include the massacres and attacks by armed groups in Beni territory in its investigation, as well as calling on MONUSCO, the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the DRC, to increase its protection of civilians.

Libya:  Libya is a war zone. Why is the EU still sending refugees back there?
The EU continues to send refugees to centers in Tripoli, Libya, despite it being a war zone. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is unable to provide services having no access to its centers.

Mali: More Than 20 Tuaregs Killed In Mali: sources
Armed groups allegedly killed more than 20 Tuareg civilians in Mali as violence continues in the country, in what officials say was a targeted and “well-planned attack.”

Venezuela: Landmark UN Rights Council Resolution
The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on Venezuela, expressing “deep concern about human rights violations” and called for the government to open up to humanitarian assistance.

Venezuela: Statement of the Prosecutor of the ICC, Mrs. Fatou Bensouda, on the referral by a group of six States Parties regarding the situation in Venezuela
ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, issued a statement on the referral of the situation in Venezuela by Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, and Peru, saying the Court will continue its preliminary examination to determine if there are grounds for a formal investigation.


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Tag or mention us! Use #ICRtoP or @ICRtoP to share your RtoP news and updates, or for a chance to be featured by ICRtoP.

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RtoP Weekly: 24 – 28 September 2018

untitledGoing in Depth On: RtoP included once again on the UN General Assembly Agenda

24633289-ecc0-499f-855b-05238fbaff59.pngOn Friday, 21 September 2018, UN Member States voted to adopt the agenda for 73rd session of the UN General Assembly. This included a supplementary item entitled “the responsibility to protect and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” with a vote of 93 States in favor, 16 against, and 17 abstentions.

With this move forward, the UN General Assembly will once again hold a formal debate on the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), ensuring States have the opportunity to further consider the norm and the work of the UN Special Advisers on Genocide Prevention and RtoP, as compared to the informal, interactive dialogue format of previous years. As the 2018 formal debate on RtoP on 25 June and 2 July clearly showed, formal debates allow more time for interventions, increasing the opportunities for increased discussion and a more involved dialogue on the topic, and also provide an opportunity for formal, on-the-record statements and an exchange of ideas and knowledge on preventing atrocities.

The ICRtoP and the Global Centre on the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) have worked in close coordination in the last weeks to advocate for the inclusion of RtoP on the formal agenda of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly. We welcome this great step forward in the continuation of discussion on RtoP at the United Nations.


What We’ve Been Watching:

Asia Pacific: Youth Summit on Atrocity Prevention (Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect)

ICRtoP Steering Group and Coalition member, the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (APR2P) recently held a conference to train the next generation of leaders in atrocity prevention and RtoP principles. As a result participants “committed to establishing a ‘regional network of youth leaders for atrocity prevention,’ and called for the appointment of a youth focal point in each country within the region to advocate for atrocity prevention and R2P at the local level.” The Youth Summit combines two top priorities of UNSG Guterres: conflict and atrocity prevention and youth involvement.

Gender and Crimes Against Humanity: Will the new crimes against humanity treaty protect women and LGBTI persons? (Open Democracy)

An Op-Ed from Open Democracy argues that the use of an outdated definition of “gender” may not protect all individuals in the new UN draft treaty on Crimes Against Humanity. The treaty language currently matches that in the Rome Statute, which refers to gender in a binary aspect, that individuals are either “male or female.” While scholars, lawyers, and human rights officials at the UN and ICC prosecutors office understand “gender” to be inclusive, there are concerns that some may take advantage of the outdated language, creating a gap in the protection of sexual and gender identity minorities.

Yemen: Human Rights Council Should Stand Firm on Yemen (Human Rights Watch)

Coalition member, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urges the UN Human Rights Council to renew the Group of Experts’ mandate to investigate war crimes in the country. HRW documented numerous abuses committed by Houthi rebel forces including arbitrary detention, taking hostages, enforced disappearances, and torture. HRW also found evidence of detainees being refused medical service. The findings, severity, and extent of the crimes no doubt inform the organization’s platform in continuing to advocate for accountability of all parties in Yemen.


But Also Don’t Miss:

Burma: UK and France Host High-Level Event on the Rohingya Crisis
On Monday, the UK and France conducted a meeting on the Rohingya crisis in Burma, calling for urgent action of the international community, access of the UNDP and the UNHCR in the most severely affected regions, and the implementation of the Rakhine Advisory Commission recommendations.

Burma: UN Human Rights Council Backs Atrocity Victims
The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution for the creation of a mechanism to prepare cases for prosecution in Burma.

Cameroon: Can Elections Be Held in the Restive Anglophone Regions?
Thousands continue to flee their homes in the Anglophone regions causing concern over the legitimacy of the upcoming Presidential election, with Presidential Candidate Joshua Osih acknowledging, “the problem is the marginalization and injustices thatlead to that secession. The secession will not necessarily solve that problem.”

DRC: Human rights situation and the activities of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The UN Human Rights Council was briefed on the situation in the DRC, with the importance of OHCHR and MONUSCO working together on early warning and early response with UN Peacekeeping.

The Gambia: A Conversation on Truth and Reconciliation in The Gambia
Decades after atrocity crimes were committed, seeking accountability is still important to Gambians looking to build an inclusive and resilient society.

Libya: Libya ceasefire halts month-long battle in Tripoli
The government announced another ceasefire agreement with armed groups, halting the latest bout of violence that displaced an estimated 25,000 from their homes over the past month.

South Sudan: A new report estimates that more than 380,000 people have died in South Sudan’s civil war
A US Department of State and US Institute for Peace jointly-commissioned study estimates the death toll in South Sudan’s conflict to be upwards of 382,000, placing the scale of the conflict on par with that of Syria.

Venezuela: An Alternative for Venezuela: the International Criminal Court
Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Paraguay, and Canada have asked the ICC to open an investigation into Crimes Against Humanity in Venezuela. This is the first time that States are collectively referring a situation in another country for an ICC investigation.

Yemen: Civilian deaths in Yemen up by 164% as United States recertifies support for the war
The International Rescue Committee reported that civilians continue to suffer in the Yemeni conflict, with death rates increasing 164% over the summer months.


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RtoP Weekly: 17 – 21 September 2018

untitledGoing in Depth On: Burma

The UN Fact-Finding Mission on Burma released its full report this week, in which it detailed the human rights violations, including atrocity crimes, that took place over the course of the past several years. The report, which was presented to the UN Human Rights Council on 18 September, focused mainly on the abuses against the Rohingya population, but also detailed and examined the United Nations’ own response to the human rights situation. Grave breaches of international human rights, including crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide, were detailed, and the Mission concluded that there was evidence enough for the UN Security Council (UNSC) to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In response to the Mission’s presentation, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet asked for the establishment of an independent and impartial international mechanism to prepare criminal proceedings over the violations against the Rohingya, and for the Human Rights Council (HRC) to make a resolution to bring the issue before the General Assembly to “expedite fair and independent trials in national and international courts.” NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, welcomed her announcement and urged the HRC to establish this accountability mechanism and prepare cases for prosecution.

Investigators also critiqued the organization’s own failure to protect the Rohingya. The report noted the failure of UN agencies and actors in implanting its Human Rights Up-Front Approach, finding that personnel trying to take action for implementing a human rights agenda in the country were silenced or criticized for trying to do so. Some UN bodies and staff showed no willingness to cooperate and work together to address the human rights challenges in Burma, which might have prevented the mass atrocity situation faced by the Rohingya. As such, the report asks for a “comprehensive, independent inquiry into the United Nations’ involvement.”

Other international bodies have taken steps to address the atrocity crimes in Burma. With the ICC ruling it has jurisdiction over the alleged forced deportation of Rohingya into Bangladesh, Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor for the ICC, issued a statement announcing the Court would begin a preliminary examination on the matter. This preliminary examination will assess the evidence and information in order to determine whether or not a formal investigation can be opened. As Burma is not a signatory of the Rome Statute, the Court only has jurisdiction over crimes that occurred in Bangladesh.

With the Burmese government and UN agencies beginning to implement their MOU for the repatriation of Rohingya, further attention is also being paid to the current state of affairs in the Rakhine. Returnees allegedly face  harassment if caught by the Border Guard Force. Refugees attempting to visit their homes reported torture and being forced to lie to the press that they were well-treated. Human Rights Watch and the Arakan Project interviewed several men who reported beatings, burning, electric shocks, and cutting, as well as being held in detention in deplorable conditions.

Amidst all the developments and news out of Burma the past few weeks, the discussions and debates over human rights, preventing atrocity crimes, and how to address them are likely to solicit a fair amount of attention at UNGA and side events over the course of the next few weeks.


What We’ve Been Watching:

RtoP and UNGA73:

On 17 August a cross-regional group of nine member states (Afghanistan, Denmark, Guatemala, Japan, Netherlands, Romania, Rwanda, Ukraine and Uruguay) submitted a request for the inclusion of a supplementary item entitled “the responsibility to protect and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” (A/73/192) on the UNGA Agenda for the 73rd session. On Wednesday, 19 September, the UN General Committee adopted this suggestion by a vote of 17 to 4, with 5 abstentions. As of the time of writing, no member states called for a vote on the issue. The General Assembly with adopt its new session agenda on 21 September.

Protection of Civilians and International Law: Grey Zones: Is International Law Fit for Purpose to Protect Civilians? (Justice in Conflict)

Mark Lattimer, the Executive Director of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, recently published The Grey Zone: Civilian Protection Between Human Rights and the Laws of War examined the question of if international law was adequate in protecting civilians as armed conflicts continue to arise across the globe. As conflicts continue to include non-state actors, “international armed groups,” and often involve civilians, situations arise that international law, such as the Geneva Convention, its Protocols, and human rights treaties “couldn’t have envisioned.” Owing to this grey area, the book argues that we must reframe the question, “rather than identifying gaps in the law, the challenge is to determine which set of laws or legal regimes apply.”

Liberia: At UN, President Should Back Justice (Human Rights Watch)

80 NGOs, including ICRtoP coalition members World Federalist Movement – Institute for Global Policy and Human Rights Watch, released a letter calling on Liberian President George Weah to support justice for mass atrocity crimes committed during the country’s civil war, which ended in 2003. Despite the conflict ending 15 years ago, Liberia has yet to take steps to initiate the prosecution for the widespread crimes against civilians. The timing of this letter is also apt, as a Liberian District Representative and Presidential Candidate, Jeremiah K. Koung, rejected a report calling for the creation of a War and Economic Crimes Court earlier in the week.


But Also Don’t Miss:

Burundi: Burundi threatens to quit UN Human Rights Council, sue critics
After facing growing criticism in the Human Rights Council over its cooperation with the OHCHR Commission of Inquiry, including by High Commissioner Bachelet, the country says it reserves its right to withdraw from the Council.

Cameroon: Violence Continues to Disrupt Life in Many Parts of Cameroon
Clashes between separatists and military forces in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon continue to threaten civilians, causing many to flee their homes.

China: China holds one million Uighur Muslims in concentration camps 
The UN reported that in China, one million Uighur Muslims have been displaced to concentration-like camps “for indoctrination”, exposing the risk of a potential ethnic cleansing in the country.

Iraq: Turkey/Iraq: Strikes May Break Laws of War
Turkish military operations against the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in Iraq should be investigated,  according to Human Rights Watch, as their research found that four operations killed at least seven civilians.

Nicaragua: The ongoing political crisis in Nicaragua is putting populations at risk of potential crimes against humanity (Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect)
The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect warns that the crisis in Nicaragua could result in crimes against humanity, and urges the OAS, the UN, and the national government to work together to ensure accountability.

Nigeria: Flawed Trials of Boko Haram Suspects (Human Rights Watch)
Human Rights Watch said that the process of prosecuting Boko Haram members in Nigeria is showing many “legal shortcomings,” and that authorities are failing to prioritize those who have committed atrocities.

South Sudan: South Sudanese government must bring soldiers under control, urges UN mission chief, as peacekeeper is shot and injured
Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), David Shearer, spoke critically of the South Sudanese government and military officials after the fatal shooting of a UN Peacekeeper, and blamed a lack of command and control following the peace deal.

South Sudan: South Sudan war crimes: UN calling for forming hybrid court
The UN Human Rights Council called on the government of South Sudan to establish a hybrid-tribunal to try for crimes of ethnic cleansing, sexual violence, and use of child soldiers.

Syria: Agreement over buffer zone to spare civilians in Syria’s Idlib welcomed by top UN officials
Turkey and Russia agreed to establish a demilitarized zone in Idlib, Syria, in order to protect civilians in the area. UNSG Guterres commended the agreement and urged warring parties to allow for safe humanitarian access throughout the country.

Venezuela: Joint statement by UNHCR and IOM on the appointment of Mr. Eduardo Stein, as a Joint Special Representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the region
UNHCR and IOM announced the appointment of Mr. Stein, as a Joint Special Representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, who will promote coordination among all stakeholders and a regional approach to the migration crisis among governments.

Yemen: Saudi-led coalition cuts off crucial supply route in blow to Houthi rebels
Following the resumption of airstrikes, the Saudi-led coalition cut access along the main road between the port of Hodeidah and the capital Sanaa, threatening the delivery of humanitarian aid throughout the country.


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#RtoP Weekly: 5 – 10 August 2018

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Impunity for Rights Violators in Cote d’Ivoire

Côte d’Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara granted amnesty to over 800 people implicated in serious human rights violations in the 2010-2011 post-election crisis, a decision many feel denied justice to victims and their families. President Ouattara excluded members of the military and armed groups that committed “blood crimes” from amnesty, around 60 people, in spite of Ivorian judges indicting far more than that over the past seven years of proceedings. This has left many confused and concerned about who will indeed face justice for the crimes committed.

After the 2010-2011 post-election crises, Côte d’Ivoire took steps to rebuild and reconcile its fractured country, establishing a National Commission of Inquiry and prosecuting actors on both sides of the conflict. As it is party to multiple international and regional treaties, including the Geneva Conventions and Rome Statute, Côte d’Ivoire has a legally binding obligation to investigate and prosecute the atrocity crimes, but the amnesty measures granted by President Ouattara directly contradict the spirit of truth, justice, and reparations that the treaties represent.

Many major international human rights and humanitarian organizations have denounced the decision, with 11 organizations releasing a joint statement saying, “there should be no amnesty for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations committed in Côte d’Ivoire’s 2010-11 post-election crisis.” The statement also noted that Côte d’Ivoire’s own history shows that impunity for atrocity crimes can enable further violations and test the resilience of already-fragile states of stability.

*** Please note that there will be no RtoPWeekly this month, but we will resume publication with an update on these events and crisis situations around the world in September. 

 


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi 
CAR
DRC

Gaza/West Bank
Iraq
Libya 

Nigeria
South Sudan

Syria
Venezuela
Yemen
Other


Burma/Myanmar:

The United Kingdom assumed the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council on 1 August and established the Rohingya refugee crisis as a priority for the Council this month. The UK Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Karen Pierce, also mentioned the importance of following up on the events occurring in Burma and continuing to make progress on the implementation of the MoU, allowing UN agencies to start talks with the Burmese and Bangladeshi governments to “make a credible plan to bring refugees back home in security, dignity, and safety.”

Japanese and Burmese representatives held a meeting on 6 August to discuss possible solutions for the ongoing Rohingya refugee crisis. The Japanese Foreign Minister suggested establishing a new commission to conduct a free and transparent examination into the alleged human rights abuses in Rakhine State.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) High Commissioner, Filippo Grandi, asked governments from the Asia-Pacific region to show solidarity regarding the Rohingya and offer more support and protection “until solutions are found for refugees.” He also of the importance of working towards a comprehensive solution in order to allow people from the Rakhine State to stay in Burma and not be forced to leave their homes to begin with.


Burundi:

Prior to the 39th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC), civil society organizations (CSOs) released a letter on 8 August, calling on the body to return the Commission of Inquiry for Burundi. The letter, which Coalition member Human Rights Watch released, outlines the ongoing necessity of the Council’s work to monitor, document, and report on the human rights situation ahead of the 2020 elections and encourage the government’s cooperation and adherence to relevant UN special mechanisms, treaties, and presence in the country.


Central African Republic:

Three UN Peacekeepers from the Republic of Congo were found guilty of the murder of 11 civilians while they were on mission in the Central African Republic. In spite of the gravity of their crimes, the perpetrators only received three-year sentences, leaving human rights organizations dismayed at the lost opportunity to promote justice, accountability, and end impunity for atrocity crimes. Human Rights Watch called it a “slap on the wrist,” and noted that the case not only sets a dangerous precedent for how these cases are handled, but also that the many of the family and community members felt justice was not served.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Moise Katumbi, former Governor of Katanga and one of President Kabila’s biggest opponents, announced his intention to return to the DRC on 3 August, despite the likelihood of his arrest. Katumbi, who went into self-imposed exile in 2016, planned on submitting his presidential candidacy. The discrepancy in treatment between Jean-Pierre Bemba and Katumbi’s returns by President Kabila continues to raise suspicion about the credibility of the elections, as Katumbi was ultimately refused entry into the DRC on 7 August and unable to submit his candidacy.

President Joseph Kabila did not file for an unconstitutional and term-defying re-election. Registration closed on 8 August ending years of speculation about the strength of its democracy. The ruling coalition instead nominated former Minister of the Interior Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. Ramazani, a close ally of Kabila, was sanctioned by the EU in 2017 for alleged human rights violations. Other candidates officially include Jean-Pierre Bemba, Felix Tshisekedi, and Vital Kamerhe.


Gaza / West Bank:

Gaza peace talks continue to progress between Israel and Hamas. The potential deal would allow Palestinians more access to goods, airports, and crossings in exchange for Hamas ceasing to use incendiary kites. Airstrikes launched by Israel on 9 August “struck dozens of targets” in the Gaza strip, killing at least three Palestinians, risking derailment of the ongoing peace negotiations.

The Jerusalem Post reported on 5 August that “three people were wounded when the Israeli Defence Forces opened fire at Palestinians” protesting at the border with Israel on Sunday.

Israeli cabinet member, Zeev Elkin, stated on 6 August that “Egypt is no less responsible” for the dire humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza. As UN mediation over Gaza continues, some Egyptian officials have stated that they “would resist any attempt” by Israel to push the responsibility for the situation on to Cairo.


Iraq:

On 3 August, The Guardian reported on the “collective trauma, grief, and loss” plaguing the children of Mosul due to living through constant war throughout their childhoods. Save the children affirms the need for psycho-social assessments and support for all children impacted.

According to an Al Jazeera report produced on 8 August, many wives of ISIL fighters in Iraq whose husbands have been killed or imprisoned now fear attacks if they return  to Mosul. One commented that “if you’ve been branded as an ISIL family, it’s too dangerous to return.”


Libya:

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)  estimates that over “100 bodies of Europe-bound migrants” escaping violence in Libya have been found by Libya’s coast guard since the beginning of 2018, with around 12,600 “intercepted or rescued” within that same time frame, according to a report released on 6 August.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) launchedtheir “reconciliation is good” media campaign on 6 August to raise citizen awareness about peaceful conflict resolution and the importance of rejecting violence in Libya. The initiative seeks to educate civilians about the need for “a culture of tolerance, respect for human rights, cultural diversity, solidarity and the rejection of violence.”


Nigeria:

On 2 August, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) denounced the forced returns of Nigerian asylum seekers and refugees from Cameroon. Over 800 Nigerian refugees and asylum seekers have suffered from forced returns from Cameroon since the beginning of 2018. UNHCR asked the Cameroonian government to stop forced returns and respect its obligations under international law.


South Sudan:

On Friday, 3 August, President Salva Kiir announced his intention to sign the latest peace agreement, which features a power sharing deal reinstating Dr. Riek Machar as First Vice President. He added that he willingly made compromises in order to ensure all parties involved would respect the agreement, and is optimistic about its implementation since it was negotiated without pressure from the international community. Opposition forces in South Sudan also voiced their intentions to continue debates over the future of South Sudan, saying they were not keen on signing the peace agreement, but did so with the assurance that future debate and negotiations for power-sharing and political reform. Parties signed the peace deal on Sunday, 5 August.

South Sudan expert, Douglas Johnson, has commented on the likelihood of the agreement’s implementation and success, providing an analysis of the agreement’s contents. The UN Mission in South Sudan’s (UNMISS) Chief, David Shearer, also commended the deal, and urged all sides to continue negotiations for integrating and developing comprehensive security plans to ensure its success.


Syria:

Since 2011, the Syrian government has reportedly conducted attacks on over 450 hospitals, which would be a severe breach of international law. Emergency medicine has been “driven underground,” to the point that “cave hospitals” are being built to avoid air strikes destroying crucial infrastructure.

The US-led coalition in Eastern Syria is preparing training and security projects in efforts to initiate a “stabilization” process in the area. This includes training locals to look for improvised explosive devices and training police to deal with prisons for “former ISIS members” is being instituted.

A map produced by Al Jazeera on 7 August provides a useful demonstration as to which parties control the various territories in Syria after the most recent government offensive in the South-Western region.


Venezuela:

On 1 August, Peru’s Foreign Minister acknowledged the possibility of asking the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for a preliminary investigation into Venezuela regarding reported human rights violations.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) announced on 7 August that approximately 117,000 Venezuelans have claimed asylum in 2018, surpassing the total number of Venezuelan asylum seekers last year. The Agency also welcomed Brazil’s decision to reopen its borders to arrivals.

Ecuador declared a humanitarian state of emergency on 8 August as new arrivals from Venezuela have climbed to 4,200 a day. The measure aims to expedite medical, social, and immigration assistance to new arrivals.


Yemen:

On 5 August, ongoing fighting between pro-government and rebel forces in Hodeidah resulted in over 80 deaths and 100 injuries. Parties hope the city’s port will not close, cutting off aid supplies to Yemen.

On 9 August a Saudi-led airstrike hit a school bus in the Saada province, killing 43 people and injuring 77. The Red Cross (ICRC) noted that most victims were “under the age of 10.” The bus was travelling through a market at the time it was hit.


Other:

Women offer and occupy a unique role in peacekeeping, and their meaningful participation has been proven as beneficial to the process, yet their deployment numbers in UN Peacekeeping missions remain low. PassBlue released a status update and insight into the situation, analyzing recruitment methods, and barriers to entry including gender-bias in the countries from which they come.

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#RtoP Weekly: 15-20 July 2018

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The Rome Statute at 20 and International Justice Day 

Each year on 17 July, the world celebrates International Justice Day (IJ Day) and the adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on this day in 1998. This year, IJ Day takes on particular significance, as the world marks the treaty’s 20th anniversary. In celebration of this historic day, actors from all levels came together this week to commemorate the progress made over the past two decades within the international justice system and the fight for accountability for victims of atrocities across the world.

ICRtoP partner, the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), the world’s largest civil society partnership working for the advancement of international justice, has compiled remarks commemorating this important anniversary from some of the leading international justice voices throughout the world, including: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres; UN High Commissioner for Human Rights H.E. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein; Mr. William Pace, Convener of the CICC; and Mr. Donald Deya, CEO of the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU)and Chair of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, among others. Mr. Deya stated:

“As we mark the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute, the international community is provided with a timely opportunity to reflect on how far we have come, but also how far we still must go to end impunity and better protect populations from atrocity crimes, particularly in ensuring the transition from commitments to action. Experience has shown that seeking justice for victims is not easy, but it is vital to the prevention of their recurrence. With this in mind, we all must take advantage of this historic opportunity to reaffirm our commitment towards international justice by working together to strengthen national, regional, and international atrocity prevention tools to reinforce accountability for perpetrators and uphold our obligations under the Responsibility to Protect.”

To view the full list of remarks, please click here.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
CAR 
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq
Libya 

Mali
South Sudan
Sudan
Syria
Yemen


Burma/Myanmar:

On 17 July, Burma’s 2018 Peace Conference in Panglong concluded with 14 more basic principles adopted as the second part of a peace accord. The new principles, which address politics, economy, society, environment, and land, were signed by leaders of the government, military, and armed groups. On that same day, William Lacy Swing, Director of the International Organization on Migration (IOM), urged the global community to remain focused on the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh with roughly one million refugees living in Cox’s Bazar “in danger of becoming the wretched of the earth, homeless, and without a future.”


Central African Republic:

Tensions continue in CAR with a Christian militant group promoting violence between religious and ethnic groups. A brief lapse occurred when Muslim communities disassociated with these acts of violence, but MINUSCA identified nearly 70 cases of abuse and rights violations over the second week of July.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

On Friday, 13 July, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) Spokesperson, Charley Yaxley, told reporters that the UN Refugee Agency had obtained access to the Ituri province. Many displaced Congolese report returning only to find their homes, villages, and public building burned to the ground. Returnees also report armed groups killing people indiscriminately. Due to the lack of functioning infrastructure and dire humanitarian aid and protection funding situation, there are many concerns over public health and food security. The document, released later in the week can be viewed here.


Gaza / West Bank:

Two young boys are among those confirmed killed by Israel’s latest round of air raids, which hit a rooftop in Gaza where they were playing on 14 July, according to Al Jazeera. While the targeting of civilians is illegal under international law, international groups are concerned that civilian casualties resulting from Israeli military attacks are in fact not “mistakes,” but are deliberate. The Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, confirmed on 17 July, that the killing of Razan al-Najjar, a Palestinian medical worker providing treatment to peaceful Palestinian protesters on the Israeli border, was deliberate. This finding correlates with al-Najjar’s previous accounts of being targeted by Israeli security forces at the border before her death.

The ceasefire agreement that began on 15 July between Israel and Palestinian combatants remains in effect.


Iraq:

Demonstrations which began last week, fueled by “dissatisfaction with corruption and services,” and calls for a more balanced spread of oil wealth, continued across the south of Iraq with injuries recorded of both civilian protesters and government forces. According to Al Jazeera, protest violence led to at least seven deaths and dozens wounded.

The partial recount of the May election, plagued by allegations of corruption and fraud, is still ongoing despite beginning on 9 July, over a week ago.


Libya:

Ghassan Salame, the UN Envoy to Libya, notes that the “status quo in Libya cannot be sustained” and efforts to prevent “frequent and intense outbreaks of violence” must be pursued, following the sharp increase of conflict-related civilian deaths in May/June from March/April.


Mali:

On 16 July, Tuareg militia informed that 14 people were killed in an attack the day before, allegedly committed by Islamist militants in eastern Mali. Their intention is to generate terror amongst civilians prior to the upcoming presidential election. In an interview with Jamal Mrrouch, coordinator of Doctors Without Borders in Mali, published the same day, the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in recent years was explained. Several factors ranging from the lack of rain and the inability to harvest to the insecurity and instability of the country contribute to the deterioration. “Insecurity pushes the population to a limit situation”, he states Mrrouch.

During the press briefing on Nicaragua, Mali, and Kashmir on 17 July, the Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) indicated an alarming upward trend in the number of civilians being driven out of their homes “either after being directly targeted themselves, because of the community they belong to, or after deadly attacks on members of their community in neighbouring villages.” As a result, there has been a widespread displacement of vulnerable civilians. The UNHCHR welcomed the Government of Mali’s efforts in intervening in this precarious situation and calls on it to continue on this same path to prevent future grave abuses of human rights.


South Sudan:

The UN Security Council voted on 13 July to renew sanctions against South Sudan in addition to  imposing a new arms embargo through 31 May 2019. US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, spoke on behalf of the Council and Resolution stating, “if we’re going to help the people of South Sudan, we need the violence to stop. And to stop the violence, we need to stop the flow of weapons to armed groups, that they are using to fight each other and to terrorize the people.” The Foreign Affairs Minister stated the sanctions will not solve the crisis, nor are officials pleased about the sanctions. Peace talks are scheduled to continue next week amidst reports of violations that may amount to atrocity crimes.


Sudan:

The UN Security Council voted to extend the UNAMID mandate in the Sudan, but reduced it’s personnel numbers by roughly half, keeping the police force stable. This vote follows the previous announcement of scaling back the mission in the Sudan over the course of the next two years, providing there are no significant changes to the on-the-ground security situation.

SLM leader, Minni Minawi, stated on 15 July that the peace process in Darfur is contradictory to what UNAMID and Qatari officials announced. He claims that Sudanese officials fabricated the ceasefire agreement’s success in order to mislead international public opinion and that the violence is ongoing.


Syria:

According to Al Jazeera, a large number of displaced Syrians were refused entry into the Israel-occupied Golan Heights by Israeli military on 17 July. Many people are attempting to flee the violence that has recently intensified in the Deraa and Quneitra provinces in south-western Syria. The Israeli and Jordanian borders remain firmly closed to the Syrian people, who are at continued risk of death from violence or persecution by Assad’s forces if they remain in the country.

On 17 July, airstrikes conducted by Syrian military hit a small town just four kilometres away from the Israel-occupied Golan Heights frontier. The attack killed 10 people as it hit a school that civilians were using as shelter.

Similarly, on 18 July, the Syrian government conducted another “intense overnight bombing campaign” against the densely populated town, Nawa, which is also near the frontier. At least 12 people are reported dead and hundreds wounded. A spokesman from the White Helmets reported that the only hospital in the town faced bombing on Tuesday and is rendered non-operational, according to US News.

Rebel commanders in the Dera’a province say that Russian military forces are in breach of the current ceasefire deal by not permitting some civilians – specifically those who do not support the current regime – a safe right of passage into northern rebel-held areas in Syria.

Amnesty International (AI) alleges that the US-led coalition, which conducted a four-month assault in Raqqa against ISIL fighters last year, is “deeply in denial” regarding the number of civilian deaths it caused throughout the assault, admitting to only 23 deaths. AI claims that the number is in fact in the hundreds.


Yemen:

Gulf News reported on 15 July of the “onslaught against Iran-aligned Al Houthis” in the Haradh district of north-west Yemen. According to Al Jazeera, the Hodeidah offensive conducted by the Saudi-led coalition has re-intensified following unsuccessful, UN-led peace talks between opposing parties. While it is alleged that military analysts note that the “coalition is not making much progress,” the lack of aid reaching civilians in the area and the ongoing air-strikes attacking crucial infrastructure are continuing to diminish the already dire standard of living for civilians in the Hodeidah region.

The Times Live reported that, while the Houthi-rebel chief is willing to cede control of Hodeidah to a UN-supervised committee on the basis that the Saudi-led coalition would stop its offensive and destruction of the port city,  the coalition is opposed as it would allow Houthis to remain in the city.

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#RtoP Weekly 8 – 13 July 2018

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UNGA holds Formal Debate on the RtoP

On 25 June and 2 July 2018, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) convened its first formal debate on “The Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P) and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity” since 2009 at United Nations Headquarters in New York. The debate followed the release of the tenth annual UN Secretary-General’s (UNSG) report on RtoP, and the second by Secretary-General António Guterres’, entitled “Responsibility to Protect: From Early Warning to Early Action.”

Following the opening remarks by the President of the General Assembly and the UN Secretary-General, 79 Member States and two regional organizations (the EU and the Pacific Island Group) delivered statements on behalf of 113 States. Over the course of the debate, many countries expressed their gratitude regarding the inclusion of the RtoP as a stand-alone item on the General Assembly’s agenda to be able to discuss it formally. Member States also reaffirmed their commitments to the RtoP and supported the Secretary-General’s focus on prevention and narrowing the gap between early warning and early action. In fact, 107 Member States acknowledged that the costs to “pick up the pieces after crisis” are far greater than those that go into prevention efforts. Member States additionally supported a variety of initiatives to overcome current barriers of effective implementation of the RtoP norm. For example, support for veto restraint by members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) resounded throughout the debate, with 69 Member States presenting arguments for the benefits and necessity of exercising restraint in the use of the veto in situations of atrocity crimes by Security Council Members. This concern also manifested itself through expressed support for the France-Mexico Initiative and/or the Accountability, Coherence, and Transparency (ACT Group) Code of Conduct.

Throughout the debate, 83 Member States also mentioned the importance of accountability mechanisms as a way to prevent recurrence of mass atrocity crimes, and subsequently acknowledged the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to counter impunity. Emphasizing findings in the report, many Member States gave support to the idea of including civil society in atrocity prevention measures and for denouncing violations and giving specific expertise at local, national, and international levels. Furthermore, 74 Member States expressed support for including the RtoP as a standing agenda item in the General Assembly to continue such discussions on these important topics.

The ICRtoP has produced a number of educational materials about the UNSG report and UNGA dialogue, including a summary and infographic for both the 2018 report and dialogue and an updated page on the UN and RtoP, which includes information on all UNGA dialogues. To view these material and all of the ICRtoP’s UNGA coverage, please click here.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
DPRK
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq
Libya 
Nigeria 
South Sudan 
Sudan 
Syria
Venezuela 
Yemen 
Other


Burma/Myanmar:

During the week of 2 July, the UNSG visited Bangladesh and called on all countries to step up, help, and give support to the Rohingya refugees with real action. He also described the Rohingya situation as a clear case of ethnic cleansing.

The UNHCR announced on 6 July that Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh will start receiving credit card-sized plastic IDs in the refugee camps. This will enable the consolidation of “a unified database for the purposes of protection” and recognition amongst other things. The IDs will play a crucial role in formalizing refugees’ identities and will preserve their right to voluntarily return home when the appropriate safety conditions are in place. However, on 8 July, UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee reported that the Government of Burma made no progress in eliminating systemic discrimination against the Rohingya in its domestic law to make the Rakhine safe for their return, preventing such action in the near future.

On 11 July, the third peace conference between the Burmese government, military, and ethnic minorities began. The government allowed members of the Northern Alliance to attend as well. During the opening remarks of the conference, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing called for an agreement amongst stakeholders prioritizing peace over political demands.


Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock highlighted the lack of funding available to solve the humanitarian situation in the DPRK on 11 July, and is trying to raise $111 million to meet the needs of approximately 6 million people for health, water, sanitation, and food security.


Gaza / West Bank:

On 9 July, Israel announced the closing of the Karam Abu Salem commercial border, a key passageway for goods entering the Gaza Strip. The existing blockade by Israel already imposes a significant impact on the Gazan economy, and the additional closure will prevent citizens from receiving crucial resources such as clothing and construction materials. Only limited humanitarian necessities such as wheat, flour and cooking gas will be allowed. The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, expressedconcern over this decision citing that it will likely escalate the conflict and cause more suffering of civilians in the area.


Iraq:

Save the Children released a report on 5 July entitled “Picking Up the Pieces: Rebuilding the Lives of Mosul’s Children After Years of Conflict and Violence,” exploring the “constant fear and intense sorrow” that children who have lived through the conflict have to come to terms with. Save the Children Iraq Country Director, Ana Locsin, noted that the successful rebuilding of the country and its future success will depend on “the development of its children into healthy, secure adults.”

Iraq began the recount of ballot votes from the 12 May election on 9 July, following accusations that vote-rigging and fraud occurred. UN representatives as well as members of political parties, embassies, and media outlets are allowed to attend the recount, which is taking place at the Baghdad International Fair.

Concerns over the high rates of prosecutions for suspected IS fighters and their suspected affiliates, including ISIS wives, remain in what are deemed to be unfair trials by many international observers. The Sun Herald reported on 9 July that over 3,000 punishments have been given in the last few weeks, with cases going through the courts at an concerningly fast rates. Unease is particularly prominent over the court’s “reliance on informants” who potentially have “personal grudges” against those on trial being considered in sentencing, and secondly the duration of some trials, which last only 10-15 minutes. One third of cases result in the death penalty.


Libya:

While General Haftar announced a couple of weeks ago that his LNA’s forces have fully captured the city of Derna, as of the beginning of July, nine women have reportedly been kidnapped in a further bid by the government military to assert its dominance in the area. Rebels deny that the LNA have control of the area. Aid groups and the UN Support Mission in Libya are concerned over the lack of acknowledgement by government forces regarding their ability to deliver basic supplies and “deliver life-saving assistance” to civilians.


Nigeria:

On 8 July, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed stressed the importance of having women in leadership positions and their participation in peace processes in order to prevent conflicts and violent extremism. Mohammed describes women’s roles as “critical” for the future of Nigeria and the pursuit of improvement of the country’s current instability.

On 9 July, the Nigerian Army released 183 children, from the ages of 7 to 18, suspected of belonging to Boko Haram into UNICEF care. The children were arrested in several northeastern states affected by terrorist violence. They will now receive medical attention and psycho-social support from UNICEF specialists before reuniting with their families.


South Sudan:

After several rounds of discussions and cease-fire violations, South Sudanese leaders came to a power-sharing peace agreement on 7 July. The new agreement establishes four Vice Presidents, one being exiled opposition leader, Dr. Riek Machar. There are hopes that the agreement brings about an end to the four year conflict. However, days later, rebels announced that they rejected the peace deal on the basis of no formal, written agreement ever being presented to or consented by Dr. Machar. They went further stating that they also believed the agreement maintained the status quo and didn’t do enough to address the reforms they saw as necessary for the country’s success.

On 10 July, the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) released a statement accusing South Sudanese government forces of pursuing a “scorched earth” policy, deliberately targeting civilians and vulnerable populations. Attacks were carried out against elderly, people with disabilities, and young children, in addition to widespread sexual violence against women and girls. UN monitors allege that the actions may amount to war crimes.


Sudan:

Fighting between government forces and rebel groups in the Jebel Marra region continue to displace hundreds of families. IDP camps saw over 450 new family arrivals since the end of Ramadan last month, with hundreds more allegedly seeking refuge in caves in the mountainous region.

The Foreign Minister voiced some criticism over actions that would delay the timeline for UNAMID troop withdrawal. The joint AU-UN peacekeeping operational timeline garnered concern from several organizations due to the ongoing instability and security situation, who called on UNAMID not to downsize, after their announcement at the end of last month. The FM sees these concerns as creating tension and doubt about the stability in the Sudan.

Peace talks have no timeline for their resumption, as of 8 July, according to the presidential Envoy. Al Bashir’s envoy said that a timeline would be discussed after consulting with the AU High-level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), but each side blames the other for the deadlock in the stalled negotiations.


Syria:

The UN estimates that around 320,000 civilians have been displaced in Southern Syria since 19 June due to ongoing fighting and air strikes. The Assad Government continues to try to take hold of the parts of the Dera’a Province that are currently held by rebels, firing deadly barrel bombs and missiles on a daily basis.  Al Jazeera reports that the area has been “completely burnt to the ground” with over 20 civilian casualties recorded.

Since mid-June around 60,000 Syrians moved towards the Jordanian border in a plea for refuge from the violence. Jordanian activists continue their campaign which began on 1 July to have the border reopened, citing that they have not abandoned the Syrian people and wish to help protect them. However, the border still remains closed to Syrians, forcing them to return to conflict-stricken areas deeper within the country.

On 11 July, Al Jazeera reported that rebels in Dera’a have agreed to hold negotiations with Russian military officials regarding a potential evacuation of fighters to northwestern, rebel-held areas in Syria. Fighters and their families are currently surrounded by government troops with few other prospects of safe survival.


Venezuela:

On 5 July, 50 countries asked Venezuela to accept humanitarian aid and assistance, and to cooperate with the Council’s human rights mechanisms to combat the increase in shortages of medicine and malnutrition in the country. Following this request, the Venezuelan Ambassador to the UN condemned the “foreign interference”, singling out the United States’ role in this “aggression”.


Yemen:

Fighting continues in the port city of Hodeidah between Saudi-led coalition forces and Houthi rebels. The UN Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, continues to work towards a peace deal between the parties, proposing the Houthis turning over control of the region to the UN. He hopes that parties will show commitment to the peace negotiation process, particularly as the situation is untenable and citizens nation-wide face total famine if the port’s infrastructure, which receives the majority (80%) of food and medicinal imports for the Yemeni people, is damaged by the violence.

The UNICEF Chief, Henrietta Fore, described on 3 July that over 2,200 children have been killed and a further 3,400 injured as a result of the ongoing conflict. There is also concern over mines scattered across the city, putting civilians lives at risk.

UN News reported on 10 July that the World Health Organization (WHO) described the health situation in Hodeidah as the “most dire in the country,” which has been made even worse by the “intensification of fighting” in the area. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) continues to urge all parties to respect international humanitarian law and refrain from targeting civilians, including migrants.


Other:

On 10 July the AU and UN held its Annual Conference on the Joint Framework for Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security. The Conference focused on regional peace and security issues and the need to achieve cohesion with national development frameworks.

Ahead of its annual meeting in August, the SADC  released a framework to mainstream women and gender into national peace and security agendas. The region continues to take steps to better increase women’s presence in decision making processes, and the Secretariat acknowledged that incorporating the WPS Agenda into its policies is beneficial to creating more peaceful and equitable societies.

Reports out of Harare, Zimbabwe seem promising, as the country is witnessing a “pre-election calm” that was not seen during former President Robert Mugabe’s tenure. The coercion, harassment, and violence against ZANU-PF opposition members and supporters, largely fueled by Mugabe himself, remains absent as political opponents agreed to an electoral Code of Conduct last month. The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) meeting saw political leaders committing to prevent pre-election practices that were present in prior elections.

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#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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