Category Archives: UNMISS

#RtoPWeekly 27 February – 3 March

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

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

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

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

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

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


Catch up on developments in…

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


Burma/Myanmar:

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

Burundi:

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

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

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

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

Central African Republic:

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

Democratic Republic of Congo:

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

Gaza/West Bank:

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

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

Iraq:

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

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

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

Libya:

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

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

Mali:

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

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

Nigeria:

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

South Sudan:

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

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

Sudan:

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

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

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

Yemen:

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

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

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

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

What else is new?

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

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Filed under Burma, Burundi, CARcrisis, DRC, Human Rights, Myanmar, RtoP, Security Council, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, UN, Uncategorized, UNMISS, Weekly Round-Up, Yemen

#R2PWeekly: 15 – 19 August 2016

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

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

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

Read the Secretary-General’s full report here.

See the ICRtoP’s infographic on the report here.

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


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar

Burundi

CAR

DRC

Gaza/West Bank

Iraq

Libya

Nigeria

South Sudan

Sudan/Darfur

Syria

Yemen

 


Burma/Myanmar:

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


Burundi:

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


Central African Republic:

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

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


Democratic Republic of Congo:

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

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


Gaza/West Bank:

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


Iraq:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Libya:

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

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


Mali:

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

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


Nigeria:

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

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

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


South Sudan:

Developments in the fighting

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

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

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

Investigations into abuses and misconduct

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

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

Political developments

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

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

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

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

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


Sudan/Darfur:

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

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

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


Syria:

Developments in the Fighting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political Developments

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

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

The Humanitarian Situation

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

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

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


Yemen:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Rights Up Front and Civilian Protection: An Uneven First Year

This November marks one year since Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the momentous “Rights Up Front” action plan to put the protection of civilians and their human rights at the forefront of the UN agenda.

Born out of the tragedy witnessed in the final months of Sri Lanka’s civil war, and the “systemic failure” that characterized the United Nation’s response, the initiative is meant to ensure that the inaction seen in Sri Lanka, Rwanda, and Srebrenica is never repeated.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) meets with Mr. Charles Petrie, Assistant Secretary-General, Independent Review Panel on Sri Lanka.UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

By emphasizing timely reporting and early warning, Rights Up Front seeks to prevent human rights abuses before they rise to the level of mass atrocities.  Where prevention fails, the UN’s main priority will be the protection of civilians. In many ways, this is simply a reiteration of the core purpose of the UN. However, Rights Up Front is unique in that it offers a six-point plan directed at the UN Secretariat, funds, and agencies to institute changes that will lead to tangible improvements in prevention and response.

According to the Secretary-General’s summary of Rights Up Front, the six points are as follows:

1: Integrating human rights into the lifeblood of the UN so all staff understand their own and the Organization’s human rights obligations.

2: Providing Member States with candid information with respect to peoples at risk of, or subject to, serious violations of human rights or humanitarian law.

3: Ensuring coherent strategies of action on the ground and leveraging the UN System’s capacities to respond in a concerted manner.

4: Clarifying and streamlining procedures at Headquarters to enhance communication with the field and facilitate early, coordinated action.

5: Strengthening the UN’s human rights capacity, particularly through better coordination of its human rights entities.

6: Developing a common UN system for information management on serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law.

Given the focus on the protection of civilians and prevention of mass atrocities, the initiative has clear potential for reinforcing the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). Indeed, RtoP was directly referenced in the Deputy Secretary-General’s informal remarks on Rights up Front to the General Assembly in December 2013. One year later, there have been some positive signs that Rights Up Front is starting to take hold, including the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS)’s unprecedented ‘open-gate’ policy to protect civilians in South Sudan. However, the recently revealed controversies surrounding the United Nations/African Union Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) suggest that the UN could once again be repeating the very mistakes that the initiative was designed to prevent.

 

Rights Up Front in South Sudan: An Imperfect Success Story

The record on Rights Up Front’s implementation has been mixed. While a system-wide plan such as this is bound to take time to run its course, there are some early examples of qualified successes, as well as some unacceptable failures.

The ‘success ledger’ includes the decision of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to open its gates to tens of thousands of civilians fleeing inter-ethnic violence between the Dinka and Nuer after the outbreak of civil war in December 2013.  The former Special Representative to the Secretary General reflected on the decision, confirming its adherence to Rights Up Front and stating “The fact that we opened our gates actually has saved very many thousands of people’s lives… There will be incredible challenges going forward with this decision, but it was the right one. It remains the right one.”

UNMISS provides water to civilians seeking shelter in one of its bases in Juba after outbreak of violence in December 2013. UN Photo/UNMISS.

Likewise, Oxfam’s head of humanitarian policy and campaigns, Maya Mailer, opined on how this development demonstrates progress in the mission’s policy towards the protection of civilians. She reflected on the mission, and its heavy state-building focus, as it was back in 2009, recalling that “…while the UN mission had a mandate from the UN Security Council to protect civilians, that came way down a long list of other priorities.” Mailer mentions both RtoP and Rights Up Front as potential influential factors in this shift.

Although the long-term safety of civilians seeking shelter in what are now being called Protection of Civilian sites is far from assured, this impromptu decision made in the face of an imminent massacre provides hope that the protection of civilians is indeed being prioritized among UN missions.

 

Darfur Controversy Risks Repeating the Mistakes of the Past

Nevertheless, it is easy to have one’s optimism dashed when observing recent events in the Darfur region of Sudan. Back in April, Foreign Policy broke a story alleging that through chronic underreporting, UNAMID had systematically covered up attacks on civilians and UN peacekeepers carried out by forces acting on behalf of the Government of Sudan (GoS).

One example among the many includes a brazen attack by Sudanese troops and pro-government militias on a UN base in Muhajeria in April 2013. Though this particular violation occurred before Rights Up Front was initiated, to date, no one has been held accountable for the attack that left one Nigerian peacekeeper dead, and several more injured. Indeed, UNAMID still refuses to even acknowledge the government’s involvement, instead blaming “unidentified armed assailants.”

More recently, ICRtoP member, The African Centre for Peace and Justice Studies has documented a “brutal campaign of counter-insurgency” led by the pro-government Rapid Support Forces throughout Darfur. The campaign of violence has been marked by aerial bombardments and ground assaults that have targeted civilians with increasing intensity since earlier this year. In spite of this, UNAMID continues to afford minimal priority to reporting on and ensuring accountability for such acts. This is evident in the most recent UNAMID controversy, in which allegations that the mission improperly investigated a mass rape in the town of Tabit has led to further accusations that it is covering-up the government’s transgressions.

Ostensibly, UNAMID has made the decision to omit mention of GoS involvement in attacks due to a lack of concrete first-hand evidence.  However, observers have pointed out that it is more likely that UNAMID’s lack of reporting was done to appease Khartoum, a government that is renowned for its obstruction of international peacekeeping efforts and the quest to achieve accountability for past atrocities committed by its leaders. Most notable among them is President Omar Al Bashir, who is wanted for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.

UNAMID leadership visit victims of ambush

Tanzanian UNAMID soldiers listen solemnly to a debriefing after an ambush by “unidentified assailants” that left 7 peacekeepers dead. UN Photo/ Albert González Farran.

If, as Human Rights Watch has suggested, Darfur represents a test-case for implementation of Rights Up Front, then it exposes some key areas in which it has been lacking. The incomplete reporting of GoS attacks indicates that UNAMID staff might not fully understand their human rights obligations or how to properly uphold them, as demanded in the first action point. Furthermore, it leads to a breakdown in the candid reporting to member states required for proactive and strategic engagement, as specified in point number two.  The fact that the mission has not issued a public report on human rights since 2009 reinforces this narrative. As ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda chided “UN reports are an important and increasingly unique source of public information about the situation in Darfur, and must be held to the highest standard for the sake of the victims…” 

This is especially important as improper reporting can also hamper the ability of the Secretary-General to carry out his ‘Article 99’ responsibilities to accurately pass information to the Security Council to inform their decisions on matters related to international peace and security. This in turn affects the ability of the Council to adjust mandates in a way that reflects the reality on the ground, depriving the mission of necessary resources and additional Chapter VII measures that may be required to protect civilians. Thus, the ability to leverage the UN System’s capacities to respond in a concerted manner, as specified in the third action point, is also compromised.

The Secretary-General has since responded to allegations with an internal investigation, and recently stated that he will take “all necessary steps to ensure full and accurate reporting by [the joint mission],” adding that “keeping silent or under-reporting on incidents involving human rights violations and threats or attacks on UN peacekeepers cannot be condoned under any circumstances.”

These developments are troubling, as they are a repeat of the patterns that led to the UN’s ineffectiveness in Sri Lanka. In spite of the positive progress in South Sudan, the case of Darfur suggests that the UN has yet to “fully learn the lessons of the past”, as instructed by Ban Ki-moon upon his announcement of Rights Up Front.

 

Strengthening Rights Up Front Implementation

For the potential of Rights Up Front to be realized, the UN will have to address the lingering deficiencies that jeopardize efforts to protect civilians. In August 2014, Daniel Bekele of HRW urged that:

“With the surge in Sudanese government-led attacks on civilians, credible public reporting on the situation in Darfur is more important than ever…The UN should not allow this core aspect of its work to be degraded, especially when the Secretary-General has pledged to put ‘Rights up Front’ in the UN’s work.”

Philippe Bolopion bluntly warned that the example of Darfur “should be a wake-up call to other U.N. missions, whether in Mali, CAR [the Central African Republic], Libya, or South Sudan, that proactive and transparent reporting on human rights violations, regardless of the perpetrators, is a core function of the mission…”

However, while it is important to ensure that timely and accurate information is reported, for example, through regular ‘horizon-scanning’ exercises, the political will to act on this information is also essential. In September 2014, the International Peace Institute held its annual Trygve Lie Symposium, this year focusing on Rights Up Front. As was mentioned by Helen Clark, action on the initiative depends on “speaking truth to power to the Security Council,” but also on the willingness of member states to act.

In this sense, it will also be necessary to build, “a broad coalition” involving a “range of regional groups,” so as to catalyze momentum among member states, urge the Security Council to take action, and garner support for funding and logistical contributions to UN missions. Panelists at the IPI symposium lamented such action as becoming increasingly difficult, though it underpins the viability of all UN efforts.

 

The Role of RtoP in Rights Up Front

With their many shared objectives, it is also essential to discuss the role of RtoP in strengthening Rights Up Front implementation. In her assessment of Rights Up Front for Opinio Juris, Kristen Boon made an important point regarding this relationship. While RtoP has indeed been cited as an important precursor, and the two are often mentioned in the same context, there has been little attempt to elaborate on specific measures under the RtoP toolkit that can reinforce the initiative. The same can be said about the ability of Rights Up Front to ensure more consistent application of the norm.

Pillay visits UNMISS

Former High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng give a joint-press conference on South Sudan. UN Photo/Isaac Billy.

The 2014 Secretary-General report on RtoP focused on international assistance to states to uphold RtoP (aka Pillar II), and provides the most direct linkage to Rights Up Front. The report welcomed Rights Up Front as an avenue for improving the UN’s ability to fulfill its second pillar responsibilities by improving early action and emphasizing the collective responsibility of the UN. In a separate section, the report identifies a role for the Human Rights Council (HRC), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and other relevant organs in encouraging states to uphold their primary responsibility by addressing human rights concerns.

Still, the report stops short of identifying particular aspects of each initiative that could serve to strengthen implementation of the other, or how relevant UN bodies, such as the HRC and the Office of the Special Representative to the Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG) can complement one another in fulfilling RtoP or Rights Up Front.

A clearer articulation of this relationship could perhaps build on the recommendations for improved coordination made by the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng at the HRC’s High-Level Panel on the Prevention of Genocide in March 2014. For example, Dieng recommended that the HRC adopt the OSAPG’s Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes to further guide its work. Such changes could help mainstream an atrocities lens throughout the UN system, and ensure that human rights abuses do not rise to the level of atrocity crimes.

 

One Year On, Critical Assessment Needed

While Rights Up Front is a promising initiative, noteworthy for rallying the efforts of the UN behind the human rights cause, implementation has been checkered so far. UNMISS’ open-gate policy in South Sudan is a positive example of a flexible response that prioritized the imminent protection needs of civilians. On the other hand, the debacle in Darfur has exposed weaknesses in human rights reporting, and an overall lack of transparency that runs counter to the noble intentions of Rights Up Front. To truly learn the lessons of the past and maximize civilian protection, an honest and more in-depth assessment of the initiative and its implementation is needed as its one-year anniversary arrives.

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Filed under African Union, Human Rights, Peacekeeping, Prevention, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, UNMISS

South Sudan Ethnic Violence Exposes Key Challenges for Implementing RtoP

Inter-ethnic violence has gripped the Jonglei State of the Republic of South Sudan in recent weeks, threatening a descent into campaigns of targeted ethnic cleansing in the world’s newest nation.

Aerial View of Pibor County, Jongeli State, South Sudan (UN Photo/Isaac Billy)

Between 30 December and 4 January, the Lou Nuer ethnic group carried out a massive raid against the Murle ethnic group that reportedly left over 3,000 dead, including many women and children (This figure has yet to be confirmed by the United Nations). The raid has prompted a spate of revenge attacks, with the Murle ethnic group launching reprisals on 9 January, 13 January, and 16 January.

According to ICRtoP member Minority Rights Group International (MRG), while the attacks have been described as cattle raids between rival ethnic groups, the violence has instead taken on the dynamic of “repeated revenge attacks”. In August 2011, an attack by the Murle ethnic group left 600 Lou Nuer killed and close to 1,000 injured. As such, MRG says that the attacks “have deeper underlying causes” than cattle raids, and are “related to poverty, competition for scarce resources, the ubiquity of small arms left over from a decades-long war and marginalization of ethnic minorities.”

A 31 January post from United to End Genocide’s blog describes what the cycle of violence looked like on the ground in South Sudan:

During the most recent attacks in January, the Lou Nuer utilized scorched earth tactics, burning fields, homes, and villages. While the armed elements of these tribes have repeatedly clashed, the primary victims of the violence are women, children, and the elderly.

The attacks have led to a dire humanitarian situation in Jonglei State. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) (Doctor’s Without Borders) reported on 3 January, in the midst of the Lou Nuer raid, that thousands were forced to flee and seek refuge where they had no access to food, water, or medical supplies. The MSF press release also detailed how two of their healthcare facilities in the Pibor region – two of the three facilities that are essential for up to 160,000 people – were looted and attacked. On 4 January, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said that fighting had “pushed the food security situation to crisis levels”.

Despite launching a coordinated aid effort in Jonglei on 7 January, the UN  stated on 20 January that over 120,000 civilians in South Sudan remained in need of aid. According to a 19 January press conference in Juba, South Sudan by Hilde F. Johnson, the Special Representative to the Secretary-General (SRSG) for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the situation remained tense. Continued hate speech and ethnic violence is reportedly, “putting thousands of lives at risk and threatening the stability of the whole area”.

Government of South Sudan, UNMISS Respond to the Violence

As the armed column of 6,000 Lou Nuer descended upon Murle villages, the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) dispatched a battalion of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to the Pibor region in an effort to prevent the attack. Reports later emerged that GoSS forces opened fire on the advancing Lou Nuer column in order to dissuade it from attacking, and that the South Sudanese Vice President, Riek Machar, had traveled to the region to seek an end to the inter-ethnic tensions.

Viewed through an RtoP lens, the GoSS’s actions can seen as an attempt to uphold the first pillar of the responsibility to protect, namely the primary responsibility of the state to protect its citizens from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

However, as per the UN Secretary General’s 2009 report, Implementing the Responsibility to Protect, when a state is unable to meet this responsibility, RtoP’s second pillar provides that the UN and its members help States build capacity to prevent the four RtoP crimes, and assist those which are under stress before crises and conflicts break out.

Concerned with the “serious risk to civilians” posed by the advancing Lou Nuer, UNMISS also dispatched a battalion of its troops to Pibor. As the UN Deputy Coordinator for South Sudan stated, UNMISS’s preventive deployment in cooperation with the SPLA was, “in support of the Government of South Sudan’s primary responsibility to protect.”

In the aftermath of the Lou Nuer raid, the GoSS took further measures to address the violence, with the Council of Ministers declaring Jonglei a humanitarian disaster area and urging, “all the international relief agencies including the UN agencies to take an urgent humanitarian assistance to the Lou Nuer, the Murle and other affected areas in the state” on 5 January. The GoSS also stated that they would dispatch troops to the region, and intended to establish a high level committee to bring reconciliation between the two ethnic communities.

UNMISS’s SRSG affirmed the need for continued preventive deployment by the GoSS, and has reportedly increased operations in Jonglei by flying daily reconnaissance missions and deploying troops alongside the government into areas where civilians are most at risk of attacks.

Amidst the efforts of the GoSS and UNMISS, the UN Security Council condemned the spate of attacks and urged the rival ethnic groups to, “engage in reconciliation and end the cycle of conflict.” In a press statement on the situation, the outgoing Council President, Ambassador Baso Sangqu of South Africa, deplored the loss of life and emphasized the primary responsibility of the GoSS to protect its population. The Council also commended the efforts of the GoSS and UNMISS.

Situation Exposes Key Challenges in Implementing RtoP

Despite the preventive deployment by the SPLA and UNMISS in Pibor, the armed column of Lou Nuer was able to attack Murle villages, leaving an unconfirmed death toll. Media sources have quoted a Pibor county Commissioner who alleged that 3,141 civilians had been killed in the attacks, but UN officials have yet to release any figures.

Counter-raids by the Murle ethnic group have also claimed dozens, if not hundreds, of lives over the past three weeks despite the GoSS and UNMISS dispatching troops to areas at risk of retributive violence between the two groups.

At R2P: The Next Decade, a conference organized by the Stanley Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and Carnegie Corporation of New York on 18 January, UN Secretary-General (SG) Ban Ki-moon discussed the situation and attempted to account for the shortcomings of the response. “We saw it coming weeks before,” the SG stated, “Yet we were not able to stop it – unfortunately. Nor was the government, which like others has primary responsibility for protecting its citizens.”

The Secretary-General elaborated why UNMISS in particular was unable to stop the killing, saying:

The reason was painfully simple: we were denied the use of necessary resources, in particular helicopters that would have given us mobility to bring all the UN Peacekeepers where there are no roads except by air mobility. At the critical moment, I was reduced to begging for replacements from neighboring countries and missions. With limited resources, we tried our best.

The Secretary-General was referring implicitly to the Russian Federation, which was considering withdrawing its contributions to UNMISS, and carried through with those considerations on 24 January by ordering all of the helicopters, equipment and personnel it had loaned to the UN operation be pulled out. Reporting from Reuters, Louis Charbonneau indicated Russia withdrew its contributions to UNMISS for security reasons, particularly on the basis that a utility helicopter had come under attack by South Sudanese security forces last year.

Bangladeshi UNMISS peacekeeper with UN helicopter in Jonglei State (UN Photo/Tim McKulka)

According to the Reuters report, Moscow’s grounding of its helicopters loaned to UNMISS drew  ire from UN officials and diplomats:

U.N. diplomats and officials told Reuters that one of the reasons for the slow deployment of UNMISS troops to Pibor at the time of the clashes was the Russian refusal to fly its helicopters there…One senior U.N. official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, was highly critical of Russia, saying the grounding of its helicopters was “outrageous” and that U.N. peacekeepers needed to be prepared to put up with a certain amount of risk in the interest of protecting civilians.

The Secretary-General echoed this frustration on the situation in South Sudan at R2P: The Next Decade, asking, “How do we do our job, how do we deliver on Security Council mandates, when the very members of the Council do not give us the support we need?

The ethnic violence in the country has thus exposed significant challenges in implementing the Responsibility to Protect. With the GoSS unable to uphold its responsibility to protect its population without international assistance, UNMISS sought to support national action through preventive deployment, fulfilling RtoP’s second pillar.

At the same time, however, UNMISS itself is reeling from a capacity deficit – most importantly, in flight-ready helicopters – which has obstructed the force from effectively carrying out its civilian protection mandate during the recent outbreak of inter-ethnic violence.

Thus, although the Security Council established UNMISS in a timely and decisive manner – and with a Chapter VII mandate to protect civilians by “all means necessary” – the force itself has been constrained from providing protection for the South Sudanese population.

Meanwhile, incitement between the Lou Nuer and Murle threatens further inter-ethnic violence in the country, with civilian populations remaining at risk of attack. To protect civilians from the threat of mass atrocities, all actors involved must address the challenges that have been exposed as a result of the situation. Lives depend on it, in South Sudan and beyond.

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Filed under CivSoc, Prevention, RtoP, Security Council, South Sudan, UN, UNMISS