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#R2PWeekly: 24 – 28 October 2016

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Informal UNGA meeting calls for emergency session on Syria, urges international community to uphold responsibility to protect civilians

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The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), at the request of over 70 Member States, gathered for an informal meeting on 20 October to discuss the ongoing conflict and deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Syrian Arab Republic. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened his remarks at the meeting by noting his grave concern over the UN Security Council’s failure to take timely action to promote peace and security in Syria, allowing regional rivalries to take priority over the needs of the Syrian people. The Secretary-General also noted that several parties involved in the conflict have committed violations of human rights and international law that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

During the meeting, at least six Member States, including Canada, Botswana, and Switzerland, directly echoed the Secretary-General’s appeal for Syria and the international community to uphold their responsibility to protect populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura, and several Member States noted that while the recent humanitarian pause in Russian and Syrian military action in Aleppo is a step in the right direction, it falls short of the actions necessary to allow for both the creation of evacuation corridors and unimpeded access to deliver humanitarian and medical aid to civilians.

Many Member States argued that only a political solution can end the nearly six-year-long conflict and an emergency session of the UNGA should be called in order to implement a peaceful cessation of hostilities and initiate a political transition in Syria. The General Assembly has only convened 10 emergency sessions in the history of the United Nations, the last of which took place in 2009 regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The conflict has killed nearly 500 civilians, more than a quarter of which were children, and injured an additional 2,000, since the Syrian government, in conjunction with Russia and Iran, began renewed efforts to retake territory from opposition forces last month. On Wednesday alone, a purported Russian or Syrian airstrike killed at least 14 children and seven teachers and injured at least 75 others when it struck a school complex near the city of Idlib. Despite international efforts, including calls for a renewed cessation of hostilities in Aleppo and the issuance of facilitation papers to allow access to UN aid trucks, Russia has announced it is not planning any more humanitarian pauses in the country.

Source for above photo of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the informal meeting of the seventy-first session of the General Assembly on the situation in Syria: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
Cote d’Ivoire
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq
Libya
Kenya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen
Other


Burma/Myanmar:

On 22 October, Burmese armed forces demanded that the United Wa State Army (UWSA) withdraw its forces from any areas under the administration of the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) in and around the town of Mongla in eastern Shan State. Residents have already begun to flee the area in light of the Army’s 24 October ultimatum date having passed.

On 24 October, the repatriation of refugees from Thailand to Burma began with the voluntary return of 68 people from camps along the Thai-Burma border. For the past 30 years, Thailand has hosted over 100,000 refugees from Burma who fled their homes to escape the civil war in the country, with many of the refugees belonging to the Karen, Mon and Shan minority ethnic groups. The UNHCR has hailed the start of repatriation as a milestone in one of the world’s most protracted displacement situations.

The following day, the UN called for an investigation as allegations continue to be brought forward that state security forces, operating in Rakhine State, are continuing in a campaign of violence and repression against the stateless Rohingya minority. Up to 15,000 people have been displaced by the actions of security forces in the wake of the 9 October attack on border outposts in the region. Burmese officials have stated that they have killed 30 “attackers”, while rights groups claim that the majority of the dead have been civilians, who are also subjected to the burning of villages and arbitrary arrests. Human Rights Watch has called upon the Burmese government to allow aid to reach the region and those displaced, claiming that the government is currently blocking all aid to the area.


Burundi:

On Wednesday, Burundi officially informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the country’s decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Some African politicians welcomed the Burundian withdrawal from the ICC, including the president of Sudan who encouraged other African countries to do the same. Just days later, South Africaannounced its decision to follow the example set by Burundi. The ICC has asked Burundi and South Africa to reconsider their withdrawals from the institution and has urged them to work together with the Court to end impunity and protect human rights. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Botswana released a statement  reaffirming its support for the ICC and expressing “regret” over South Africa’s decision to withdraw. However, Gambia also announced its intended withdrawal from the Court on Wednesday.

On Monday, it was discovered that the Interior Ministry of Burundi issued an order to withdraw permits and ban activities of several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the country after accusing the organizations of taking sides and working to evoke hostility towards the government. The general secretary of FOCODE, one of the recently banned NGOs, said that the ban is a “threat to civil freedom and a threat to freedom of association”.

Several NGOs, including ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch, published an open letter on Wednesday to the Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives of Member States of the United Nations in Geneva and New York regarding the situation in Burundi. The letter encourages a suspension of Burundi from the UN Human Rights Council if it fails to cooperate with the UN Commission of Inquiry in the country, as allegations of severe violations of human rights need to be investigated and the government has refused to cooperate with the UN system.


Central African Republic:

On Monday, hundreds of people gathered to protest against MINUSCA, the UN mission in the country, accusing the mission of not doing enough to protect civilians. The protesters alsoclaimed that MINUSCA is supporting the rebels. People threw stones and shouted at the troops who, according to a witness, responded with warning shots. Eventually armed groups and peacekeepers exchanged fire, resulting in at least three dead protesters and several injured, including four peacekeepers. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence the following day and welcomed action taken by the government to ensure accountability for the perpetrators.


Cote d’Ivoire:

ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for the government of Côte d’Ivoire to respect the rights of those opposed to the newly drafted constitution, stating that civilians have the right to express dissenting opinions on the document. This follows actions by security forces to disperse protests and gatherings against the constitution, including the detainment of dissenters and opposition leaders; however, some protests occurred without incident.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

The World Food Programme has released an Emergency Dashboard for October 2016, indicating that there are approximately 1.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 429,613 refugees currently within the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Gaza/West Bank:

The European Commission has released a Fact Sheet for October 2016, which indicates that there are approximately 1.6 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Gaza, East Jerusalem, and parts of Area C; of those in need, approximately 60,000 people were displaced from the 2014 Gaza Strip conflict.


Iraq:

Islamic State (ISIL) allegedly executed 284 men and boys on Thursday and Friday of last week in the city of Mosul. The deceased were allegedly from the approximately 550 families that ISIL forcibly moved from villages into Mosul to be used as human shields. The extremist group then used a bulldozer to bury the bodies in a mass grave near Mosul’s defunct College of Agriculture.

Nearly 1,000 civilians living near the city of Mosul have sought medical treatment citing breathing problems linked to toxic gases from a sulphur plant that ISIL allegedly set on fire. No deaths have been reported so far as a result of the incident. The fire is thought to be aimed at deterring advancing Iraqi and US-led coalition forces.

New evidence has emerged that ISIL killed 50 former police officers on Sunday who were being held captive in a building in Mosul. Bodies of an additional 70 civilians were found in their homes in a village just outside the city, while another 15 civilians were killed and thrown into a river. The perpetration of these latest atrocities is reportedly an attempt to continue the spread of terror as Iraqi and US-led coalition forces begin to converge on the city.

Hundreds of ISIL fighters, deemed “suicide squads”, have arrived in Mosul from their Syrian stronghold in Raqqa to defend the city against the Iraqi army and US-led coalition. The foreign fighters have been seen wearing explosive belts, arming bridges with bombs, and are said to have prepared several vehicles with suicide bombs.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has provided over 1,000 reproductive health consultations to women fleeing Mosul since the Iraqi and US-led coalition offensive began earlier this month. UNFPA has postured 25 reproductive health teams and 20 maternal health facilities as part of its humanitarian response in Mosul.

More than 1,000 civilians living in the Tob Zawa village near the city of Mosul have been safelymoved by Iraqi special forces to nearby refugee camps this week. At least 9,000 people have been displaced since the operation began on 17 October.


Kenya:

On 24 October, members of the extremist group, al Shabaab, attacked a hotel located in the town of Mandera in northeast Kenya, killing 12 people.

ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for a probe into police killings in Kenya as about 1,200 deaths have been blamed on security forces in the last five years. The organization also reported that around 34 people have been forcibly disappeared by security forces in counter-terrorism operations in the last two years, noting that, so far, only one police officer has been held accountable.


Libya:

Late last week, Italian Coast Guard forces reported seeing a speedboat labelled “Libyan Coast Guard” attack a boat overcrowded with refugees off the coast of Libya, using sticks as weapons. At least four refugees fell into the water and drowned and up to 25 people are missing. The European Union has previously initiated a plan to train Libyan forces to manage their own sea rescue operations. Following the report on this incident, a German aid group has urged the EU to rethink the decision in order to protect refugees.


Mali:

Germany has agreed to assist the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) with military helicopters if no other country decides to help, as the Netherlands and Indonesia are withdrawing their military transportation support. The German Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the reason for their pledge is their conviction on the importance of stabilizing Mali.


Nigeria:

On 23 October, the Nigerian military confirmed that at least 83 Nigerian soldiers are missing following an attack by Boko Haram in the northeastern part of the country. Superior firepower by the extremist group forced many of the soldiers to flee on foot into the Niger River where many are feared to have drowned.

This week, the Nigerian government announced that on 31 October it will meet with community leaders from the Niger Delta region as well as representatives of several of the armed groups fighting in the area in the hopes of ending the fighting in the region. However, on 25 October, the same day as the aforementioned announcement, the Niger Delta Avengers, one of such armed groups in the Niger River Delta, announced that they had attacked an oil pipeline in the region.


South Sudan:

The head of the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has announced that she will step down at the end of November after serving as the UN Special Representative to South Sudan for two years. On Monday, she said that the road ahead for South Sudan would be difficult, but she is hopeful that peace will come to the war-torn country.

Amnesty International released a report on Monday, examining the serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law carried out by government forces during the breakout of violence in Juba in July. The report is based on over 90 interviews conducted over three months following the re-ignition of the conflict in the country. The witnesses describe ethnic-based killings, rapes, and abuse.

According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), at least 67 aid workers have been killed since the conflict in South Sudan broke out in 2013. OCHA also reported that more than 640 incidents where humanitarian aid access was blocked were reported in the first nine months of this year. The humanitarian agency condemned the violence and called for a quick response to hold the guilty accountable for their actions.

Over the last several weeks, there has been an increase of ethnic hate speech and threats of violence, mutilation, and murder in South Sudan. On Wednesday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a warning that if these incitements of violence are allowed to continue there’s a high risk of mass atrocities erupting in the country. He urged the community and top political leaders in the country to take decisive action to ensure no horrendous crimes will be committed.

On Wednesday, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced in a statement the release of about 145 child soldiers who had been recruited by the Cobra Faction and the SPLA-IO, two armed rebel groups fighting the South Sudanese government. In the statement, UNICEF also noted that approximately 16,000 children are still being held as soldiers in armed groups and called on the parties to cease the recruiting of children to their armies.


Sudan/Darfur:

Sudan Call, the opposition to Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP), has threatenedto initiate a large-scale protest in the coming year with the goal of overthrowing the existing government. The threat follows the opposition’s boycott of a National Dialogue agreement amongst the ruling party and its allies that set the groundwork for a future constitution of Sudan. The two parties have been unable to reach an agreement leading to a humanitarian truce and the implementation of requisite confidence building measures.


Syria:

Security developments
A three-day “humanitarian” ceasefire between regime and rebel forces has broken down as clashes in Aleppo continued over the weekend. The unilateral agreement was announced by the Syrian government and Russia to allow for both residents and rebels to leave the city. However, the agreement did not last long enough for aid agencies to obtain the requisite security agreements necessary to evacuate injured civilians and rebels refused to give up their positions.

The United Kingdom’s Minister of Defense announced on Tuesday that an additional 20 security personnel will be deployed to Syria in an effort to reboot a program to train moderate opposition forces for an upcoming offensive to retake territory from the Islamic State (ISIL). It is suspected that an operation to retake the city of Raqqa will become the focus pending the outcome of the operation to retake Mosul in Iraq.

US-led coalition strikes in Syria have killed at least 300 civilians since 2014 according to a new report released by Amnesty International on Tuesday. The organization publicly investigated available information such as news reports, satellite imagery, and photo and video evidence related to 11 aerial attacks that have been carried out since September 2014. The US State Department has not yet responded to Amnesty’s inquiry regarding the report.

An airstrike on a school complex in Aleppo killed at least 35 civilians, including 22 children and 6 teachers, on Wednesday. The attack was a part of a series of strikes conducted by either Russian or Syrian war planes in the city of Idlib. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) expressed outrage over the attack, noting that, if deliberate, the attack should be treated as a war crime.

The humanitarian situation
The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinatorstated this week that at least 400 civilians, including many children, have been killed in Aleppo in the last month. The statement, delivered to the UN Security Council at a briefing on the crisis in Syria, noted that the UN was unable to deliver humanitarian assistance and coordinate civilian evacuations due to objections from two armed opposition groups.

Political developments
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-UN joint investigative mechanism, also called the Jim, released a report on Friday confirming that the Syrian government is responsible for an attack in Idlib province in March 2015, which involved the use of chemical weapons. The attack allegedly used a device dropped from a high altitude which released a deadly agent into the air, likely chlorine. Russia has thus far thwarted attempts in the Security Council by the US, France, and the UK to impose sanctions on Syria for the use of chemical weapons in the ongoing crisis.


Yemen:

The Saudi-led coalition released a statement last week, which said that the Houthi rebels repeatedly violated the 72-hour ceasefire launched at midnight the day before. The truce was supposed to last for three days, but, according to the statement, it had already been breached more than 40 times by the rebels, leading the Saudi-led coalition to respond by launching missiles on Yemen. Attacks from both sides killed at least 11 people on the first day of the truce, including at least three civilians. A government source said he was grateful for the efforts of Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the UN envoy, as he tried to broker peace between the rebels and the government, but he also confirmed that the attempt was unsuccessful as the rebels violated the truce several times. On Saturday, the UN envoy urged all parties to extend the truce, but the call was not heeded; the ceasefire ended after 72 hours without renewal.

On Tuesday, the UN special envoy to Yemen handed an outline for a peace plan to the Houthi rebels, who currently hold control in the capital on the country. According to a politician affiliated with the rebels, the plan included relieving the president of his duties and instead implementing a transitional period of one or two years before introducing presidential elections. According to a copy of the proposal seen by media, the information given by the politician is accurate as the main idea of the proposal seems to be the establishing of a new government containing less divisive people. The day after the delivery of the peace plan the Yemeni army attacked areas held by the rebels.

The UN food relief agency (WFP) has expressed concerns regarding the deteriorating situation in Yemen as food security is running low and child malnutrition is rising. The regional director of the WFP said that hunger is increasing and “people have exhausted all their survival strategies”. Women and children are the most vulnerable, especially as some areas of the country are difficult to reach for food distribution.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a Humanitarian Snapshot this week, showing the impact of the conflict in Yemen. The Snapshot reveals a devastating toll on the population as food insecurity is worsening, health facilities are reaching their limits, and those engaged in the conflict continually breach the rules of international law when it comes to the protection of civilians.


What else is new?

The Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (APR2P) has published the latest issue of its premier journal on RtoP, Global Responsibility to Protect. This issue, Volume 8, Issue 4, features articles discussing challenges and recommendations for the next UN Secretary-General, the connections between RtoP, refugees, and IDPs, and other important topics on the norm. To read the latest issue please click here.

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#R2PWeekly: 6 – 10 June 2016

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Crimes against Humanity Occurring in Eritrea

On 8 June, The UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea released a report stating that widespread crimes against humanity have been committed in the country over the past 25 years since its independence in 1991. The report’s findings are based on testimonies from 833 Eritreans. 45,000 written submissions were received during the second investigation this past year, revealing common themes of an orchestrated government campaign to refute the Inquiry’s claims. The crimes found to have been committed include enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, persecution, rape, murder, and other acts aimed at maintaining an authoritarian rule in Eritrea. The Commission found the Eritrean government, military commanders, and members of the National Security Office to be directly responsible for the crimes and the enslavement of almost 400,000 Eritreans. Notably, since the Commission of Inquiry’s last report published in June 2015, the authors underscored that “no improvement was found in the human rights situation in Eritrea.”

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400,000 people, nearly five percent of the population, have fled Eritrea due to the country’s indefinite military and national service programs. Under Eritrean law, each citizen must serve 18 months in national service, yet many serve for an indefinite period, with the report noting the use of conscription as a means of forced labor.  5,000 Eritreans per month attempt to flee the country, despite the danger of facing border guards with orders to shoot to kill people leaving the country. There were 47,025 Eritreans  seeking asylum in Europe in 2015, making the group the second-largest group of asylum seekers. As one expert journalist noted, ““Denied a chance to express themselves at home, Eritreans continue to vote with their feet, which is as strong a confirmation of the commission’s findings as any.”

All governments, including the Eritrean government, have a responsibility to protect their populations from genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing. When a state is unable or, as the CoI determined in its report, is itself the perpetrator of such crimes, the international community has a key role to play and must take timely and decisive action to ensure that populations are protected from mass atrocity crimes. The CoI report articulates a range of recommendations for the government, various UN bodies, Member States, and the African Union to implement to halt the commission of crimes against humanity, ensure justice for victims, and establish the policies and mechanisms needed to prevent future atrocities. As Eritrea is an authoritarian state with no democratic institutions, the resulting power vacuum creates “a climate of impunity for crimes against humanity to be perpetrated,” says Mike Smith, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry. As such, the Commission of Inquiry recommended that the African Union establish a mechanism for accountability, as well as for the Security Council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court. It further suggests the Council impose travel bans and asset freezes; for the Human Rights Council to support a structure within OHCHR with a protection and promotion mandate; and for member states to assist Eritrea to strengthen its judiciary and reform its security sector.
Read the Commission’s report and full recommendations here.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
Central African Republic
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq
Kenya
Libya
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen
Other


Burma/Myanmar:

The Arakan state government has said it will begin taking count of the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) residing in camps within three of the state’s townships. The government had not previously accounted for Muslims in the state during the 2014 census due to their refusal to identify as Bengali. However, some Muslim villagers are still refusing to participate in the census because neither their nationality nor religion will be displayed on the identification card.

The Buddhist extremist group Ma Ba Tha held their annual summit on 4 June in Yangon. Known as The Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, the anti-Muslim group consistently urges the government to protect Buddhism and strictly implement the citizenship law of 1982 denying Rohingya Muslims citizenship.


Burundi:

Burundi police opened fire on a protest by schoolchildren on 3 June, who were rallying against the detainment of 11 high schoolers arrested for defacing a photo of President Pierre Nkurunziza. Though authorities released six students on Tuesday, five remain to face prosecution. UNICEF has expressed its concern over the arbitrary arrests and called on Burundi to ensure the right of children’s education.

A Burundian journalist was arrested while visiting friends on 5 June. Egide Ndayisenga worked at Bonesha FM, a radio station shut down in May 2015 for conspiring with generals who opposed President Pierre Nkurunziza.


Central African Republic:

The remains of 18 people killed by peacekeepers from the Republic of Congo in the Central African Republic were found in a mass grave near a peacekeeping camp in Boali. Found in February 2016, the bodies have been identified as anti-Balaka members arrested by peacekeepers in March 2014. Human Rights Watch is calling on the Congolese government to take action against the guilty soldiers serving in the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA.

In a note from the Secretary-General on 8 June, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discussed the investigations launched by the UN in response to the allegations against peacekeepers. The Secretary-General’s note assures the peacekeepers serving in MINUSCA were investigated promptly and 20 implicated Congolese peacekeepers were disciplined and banned from future service in UN peacekeeping operations. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expects full disciplinary and judicial action to be taken by the Republic of Congo to hold the perpetrators accountable.

France suspended five of its peacekeepers due to violence against civilians during their mission in the Central African Republic. The violence, which occurred in early 2014, was not linked to the widespread allegations of sexual abuse. Four other peacekeepers not complicit but aware of the attacks were given disciplinary action as well.

UN officials announced on 3 June that Burundi police units stationed in the Central African Republic will not be replaced. The decision to terminate the police mission was made “given the current allegations of serious and ongoing human rights violations in Burundi,” said peacekeeping advisor Stefan Feller. 840 military troops will continue serving in the Central African Republic mission.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

Thousands flocked to Kinshasa on Saturday to celebrate President Joseph Kabila’s birthday and show their support for him. At the rally, another high party official made a suggestion to hold a referendum on the extension of the president’s rule, a pronouncement which is likely to fuel suspicions that Kabila may be attempting to stay in power beyond the constitutional two-term limit.

The UN, African Union (AU), European Union (EU), and the International Organization of La Francophonie (IOF) have reaffirmed their support, in a joint statement, for the political dialogue in the DRC and have urged all stakeholders to work together for its sustained success. They also encouraged the government to uphold its commitment to protecting the human rights and freedoms enshrined in the DRC’s Constitution, including the release of political prisoners.


Gaza/West Bank:

Israel is holding discussions with the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the investigation into possible war crimes during the 2014 50-day war with Gaza. While no details have been given, the dialogue indicates a shift from Israel’s former refusal to cooperate with the ICC on the basis that Palestine can not be considered a sovereign state under an international court.

Israeli minister Uri Ariel has plans to fully annex Area C of the West Bank, currently under total Israeli military control. Numbers on the Arab population of Area C remain a mystery, with the UN estimating as many as 297,500 and Israel estimating as low as 50,000.

Israel has approved the construction of 82 new settlement homes in a neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, and the new permits raise tensions following the Arab-Israeli peace talks held in Paris last week.

Palestine will hold talks with French Special Envoy Pierre Vimont to discuss the suggestions made during last week’s peace talks in Paris.

Two Palestinian gunmen opened fire in a popular food and retail center in Tel Aviv across from Israel’s Defense Ministry on 8 June, killing 4 and wounding a dozen others. Hamas has welcomed the attack, but no Palestinian group has yet taken responsibility for the killings. In response to the attack, Israel strongly increased its military presence in the West Bank and revoked the travel permits of 83,000 West Bank Palestinians, cancelling the recent policy to ease travel for Palestinians in the month of Ramadan.


Iraq:

On 5 June, Iraqi forces and allied militia took control of several suburbs of Fallujah to the south, with the only side of Fallujah that remained to be secured being the western bank of the Euphrates. On Wednesday, Iraqi forces officially entered into Fallujah for the first time in two years. While met with initial success, the offensive to retake Fallujah temporarily had been halted over humanitarian concerns and is expected to be slowed as the Iraqi army meets more resistance from ISIL and deals with the 50,000 civilians being used as human shields.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has released information corroborating witness reports that ISIL fighters are shooting civilians attempting to flee the ISIL-held city of Fallujah prior to the start of a government offensive to retake the city. As of the start of the week, 6 June, 18,000 people have managed to flee from Fallujah and the surrounding area, while another 50,000 remain trapped in the city.

Allegations have arisen that hundreds of civilians may have recently been tortured by Shia militias on their push to retake Fallujah. Local officials have confirmed that militias took roughly 600 people as prisoners in fighting over the previous weekend. The Iraqi government has recently attempted to assure the public against abuses by these militias, announcing the formation of a human rights committee to investigate all allegations.

Iraqi forces uncovered a mass grave containing 400 bodies found to the northwest of Fallujah. The bodies are believed to be those of Iraqi troops captured by ISIL.

On 6 June, bomb blasts across Baghdad killed 23 people. Three separate attacks took place in the north, south, and west of Baghdad, and come in the wake of a separate bombing on Sunday that killed 9 people. On 7 June, 10  people died from a car bomb in the Iraqi city of Karbala. The attack injured a further 25 people in the city, which is one of the holiest to Shi’ite Muslims due to its famed Imam Hussein Shrine. ISIL has claimed responsibility. On Thursday, two suicide-bombings in Baghdad claimedthe lives of 30 people.


Kenya:

On Monday, protests against Kenya’s election body left at least one person dead and others wounded in the city of Kisumu, while others also demonstrated in Nairobi. The next day, Kenya’s government banned all protests against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), calling them “unlawful demonstrations.”

On Wednesday, President Kenyatta proposed establishing a bipartisan committee within parliament to consider the issue. At first, opposition leaders rejected the idea, but after talking to church leaders, who have been acting as mediators, the opposition softened its position saying, “We are now saying at least he has recognized the need to discuss IEBC but that alone is not enough.” They also added that if they feel their concerns are not being considered, then protests would recommence.


Libya:

On 9 June, Libyan forces captured the ISIL stronghold city of Sirte. ISIL fighters reportedly shaved off their beards to avoid persecution before retreating from the city. Libyan forces faced little resistance as they pushed into the city of about 5,000 ISIL soldiers. Soldiers celebrated as army tanks pulled into the town’s central Zafarana square, used by ISIL as a podium for public beheadings and killings. Sirte’s capture caps the end of a month-long battle between Libyan military and Islamic State fighters.

In a six point plan, the Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, Martin Kobler, underlined the need for a unified government in Libya against a common enemy of terrorist groups, such as ISIL.

The EU urged the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution allowing EU naval forces to intercept ships smuggling arms into Libya. EU ships have seized migrant-smuggling ships in the Mediterranean successfully in the past.

In a new interview, Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj welcomed help from the international community in Libya’s fight against terrorism but rejected foreign military intervention. Sarraj stated that foreign intervention would “offend national pride and run contrary to Libya’s principles.”


Nigeria:

The court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) fined Nigeria $3.25 million on Wednesday for the “barbaric, illegal, and unconstitutional” extrajudicial killings of eight civilians and wounding of 11 other individuals, who were shot by government forces in the capital in 2013. The fine is to be paid to the victims and families in compensation for their losses.

Nigerian authorities have suspended military attacks in the Niger Delta region to allow for talks with oil militants, the Niger Avengers. Thousands have fled the conflict between the military and oil militants in the region. On Wednesday, the Niger Delta Avengers announced via Twitter that it would not negotiate with any committee from the government. The group has also claimed to have blown up a Chevron pipeline near the Dibbi flow station in the Niger Delta, which a local community leader confirmed.


 South Sudan:

On 7 June, the leaders of the two previously warring parties in South Sudan, President Salva Kiir and the newly re-appointed Vice President Riek Machar, released an op-ed in the New York Times calling for the creation of a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission. They further stated that “In contrast to reconciliation, disciplinary justice — even if delivered under international law — would destabilize efforts to unite our nation by keeping alive anger and hatred among the people of South Sudan.” In this regard, they called on the international community to reconsider the establishment of an international tribunal, a key component of the August peace deal. The proposal was rejected by many, with Human Rights Watch calling it a “self-serving attempt to evade justice”.

On 3 June, South Sudanese military intelligence personnel working with the national security service abducted two students at Juba University. The University has served as a hub for those who are critical of the current South Sudanese leadership, with this only being the latest in a series of abductions by security services. Those who are taken tend to be held for at least a month with no access to their families or legal representation. As of yet, the location or charges against the two students are unknown.


Sudan/Darfur:

On 3 June, UNHCR highlighted the plight of people still fleeing from fighting and indiscriminate government attacks in the South Kordofan State of Sudan. This past weekend marked five years since the fighting started in that region. Since that time, over 250,000 refugees have fled to South Sudan from the epicenter of the fighting, the Nuba mountains. 2016 has seen 7,500 new refugees so far.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/North (SPLM-N)  acknowledged that the Sudanese government had captured several strategic points in the Jebel Kigu region of the Blue Nile State. However, the SPLM-N also claims to have successfully repelledseveral more recent government assaults last Friday, leading to the death of 25 government soldiers.

Continuing discussions which began last week in Doha, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM-MM) rebel groups held a series of indirect discussion in the Chadian capital, Ndjamena, on how they can join the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), finally coming to terms of peace with the Sudanese government.

On 5 June, an attack by militiamen on the Sudanese military, in Kutum in North Darfur, killed three Sudanese soldiers.


Syria:

On 4 June, in what is being dubbed the “race for Raqqa”, Syrian government forces crossed into Raqqa province thanks to heavy gains made in an offensive backed by Russian air support. Earlier last week, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) expanded their offensive in the north of Raqqa province to also strike west towards another strategic airbase while simultaneously launching a new offensive on the ISIL-controlled Manbij pocket in northern Aleppo, which if taken would cut off the terrorist group’s main artery for the ebb and flow of foreign fighters. As of Thursday, the SDF had reached the militants last main route in and out of the area. ISIL forces also began retreating from their frontline positions north of Aleppo as rebel groups staged a counter-offensive against the terrorist group.

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) asked the Turkish government to open their borders to the steadily growing number of Syrians displaced by the increased fighting in northern Aleppo, on 2 June. Roughly 100,000 Syrians have already been taking shelter from the conflict on the Syrian side of the border in the area and are now trapped due to the uptick in fighting between rebel-forces and ISIL. In the wake of this request, the UN fears that an additional 200,000 Syrians could be displaced by the SDF offensive against the ISIL-held city of Manbij.

On 3 June, in the wake of the US and others beginning to plan airdrops on besieged areas of Syria, the Syrian government has announced they will allow the UN and the Red Cross to bring humanitarian aid overland into at least 11 of 19 previously-designated besieged areas in the month of June. Eight other areas received separate approval for medical and school supplies as well as milk for young children. However, the UN is still calling the current Syrian government’s approved access, to 23 of the 34 areas on the UN’s deliveries list, inadequate.

In a televised speech on Tuesday made before the new Syrian parliament, President Assad promised that the Syrian government would “liberate” every part of Syria and publicly hardened the bargaining stance of his government at the Geneva peace talks, stressing that Syria would be under the leadership of a “unity government” and not a “transitional governing body”.

Sihanouk Dibo, the presidential advisor to the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), on 5 June, made public that they had been invited by UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura to Geneva and will subsequently take part in the next round of peace talks. The talks, colloquially referred to as Geneva III, have so far excluded the PYD due to Turkish security concerns, despite the large amounts of territory the group controls in northern Syria as well as their success against ISIL.

On 5 June, barrel bombs- oil drums or cylinders packed with explosives and shrapnel- killed 53 people in the city of Aleppo. An additional eight people died from rebel shelling of government held areas of the city. These airstrikes come in the wake of others that killed 29 people, some with barrel bombs, at the end of last week as well as an overall tripling of Russian air strikes in Syria that took place over the past several days. Meanwhile, on Monday airstrikes carried out in the ISIL-held town of Al-Asharah, in Deir Ezzor province killed 17 people as they were shopping in a public market on the opening day of Ramadan. Still more airstrikes on Wednesday struck three hospitals in Aleppo, killing 20 people as the government offensive on the city intensifies. This brings the total number of medical facilities targeted in the last two months up to 17, with only 7 hospitals still operating in Aleppo.


Yemen:

Saudi Arabia has refused to accept the findings of a report issued by the UN last week that heavily criticized the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. On 2 June, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon put the Saudi-led coalition on the annual blacklist of states and armed groups that violate children’s rights during conflicts, stating that coalition airstrikes were behind 60% (510 in total) of children’s deaths in 2015. The report also blacklisted the Houthi group and forces loyal to the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Nevertheless, after complaints from Saudi officials, the UN took Saudi Arabia off the child blacklist, announcing it would conduct a joint review with the Saudi-led coalition to examine all instances that originally led to Saudi Arabia being placed on the list. Civil society groups, including Human Rights Watch, denounced the removal, with HRW’s children’s rights advocacy director, Jo Becker, stating that “the secretary-general’s decision flies in the face of overwhelming evidence that violations by the Saudi-led coalition have killed and maimed hundreds of children in Yemen.”

On 6 June, the UN envoy to the Yemen peace talks in Kuwait, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, announced that the Houthi-rebels and Saudi-backed government have both agreed to release all child prisoners. While it is not known how many child prisoner either side is holding, recent reports by Human Rights Watch and UNICEF have condemned both sides for using child soldiers and for the 900 children killed and 1,500 wounded in 2015 alone.

On 4 June, the UN condemned the recent attacks in Taiz which killed 11 people, with the UN Secretary-General Bai Ki-moon reminding all parties to the conflict that that targeting civilian areas is a violation of international humanitarian law.

In accordance with the agreement reached earlier this week, Saudi Arabia has transferred 54 child prisoners, captured in offensives against the Houthi rebels, over to the Yemeni government. The government went on to announce that the children would be quickly freed.


What else is new?

On 3 June, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released his annual report on children and armed conflict for the year of 2015. The report noted in detail what the Secretary-General called the shocking scale of violations in conflict zones, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The report noted that an ever-increasing number of children are finding themselves in situations of conflict and are suffering abuses and violations of their rights. The report further calls upon Member States to make, “as a matter of priority, changes in policies, military procedures and legislation, where necessary, to prevent violations and protect children.” The full report can be found here.

On 24 June, Leeds Beckett University and the University of Leeds will co-host the final workshop in their three year Economic and Social Research Council funded series on the Responsibility to Protect & Prosecute. This workshop will focus on United Nations Reform and RtoP. To find out more about the event and how to attend, please click here.

On 9 June, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) released their annual Peoples Under Threat and Index Map for 2016. The map’s stated purpose it to help identify those populations which are at the greatest risk of genocide, mass political killings or systematic violent repression. The report highlights in particular the relationship between the current refugee crisis and persecution, demonstrating the connection between the two and how it is likely to increase. The Index can be viewed here.


Above photo: Human Rights Watch.”EU: Migrants Seeking Opportunity or Refugees Seeking Protection?”

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The Responsibility to Protect: a new norm to make ‘Never again’ a reality

Re-blogged from IJCentral.

This post was written for the IJ Central blog by Megan Schmidt, ICRtoP Outreach Officer, and Amelia Wolf, ICRtoP Social Media Coordinator and Blogger. 

 In the aftermath of the Holocaust, there was a resounding global outcry for the world to never again bear witness to mass murder.  But the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia, and the crimes against humanity committed in Kosovo, East Timor, and Darfur, were gruesome reminders that the international community has failed to make this aspiration a reality.  From these tragedies came a historic shift in international relations: governments agreed that sovereignty would no longer be used as a shield to massacre populations and that there is, in fact, a moral obligation to prevent and halt the most horrific crimes known to humankind.  It was in 2005 at the World Summit at United Nations (UN) Headquarters, that governments unanimously endorsed the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P), committing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

Civil society, which includes non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academic institutions, and the media, has a critical role to play in ensuring that governments uphold their responsibility to protect populations from mass atrocities.  Since 2005, civil society support for RtoP has continued to increase, with more organizations raising awareness of RtoP and calling on their governments, regional organizations, and the international community to take action to prevent and halt these most serious crimes.

But, what is RtoP exactly?

The Responsibility to Protect is a new international norm founded on the prevention of four crimes – genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing.  At the 2005 World Summit, which was the largest ever gathering of heads of state, all governments endorsed RtoP, making a commitment to protect their populations from these crimes.  The responsibility to protect populations starts first and foremost with the state.  Governments hold the primary responsibility to ensure the safety and security of their people, and to protect them from these horrific crimes.  The international community also has a responsibility. Neighboring countries as well as other governments, regional organizations, and the UN have an obligation to help states meet their protection obligations.  And should a state be unable to prevent RtoP crimes, or is in fact the perpetrator, the international community has a responsibility to take timely and decisive action to halt the commission of mass atrocities.

Despite growing support for RtoP, many misunderstandings remain. Some still confuse RtoP with the concept of humanitarian intervention, a principle that was fleetingly popular in the 1990s and focused on the right of a state to intervene in another country’s affairs.  This is far from what RtoP means.  RtoP is not based on the right of any state but on the responsibility of all governments to protect their populations from the most egregious crimes.  Another common misconception of RtoP is that the norm is just about the use of force, when in fact it is not only based on the prevention of mass atrocities, but includes a range of political, economic, and humanitarian tools for actors at all levels to implement to meet this goal, with military force as an option only when peaceful means have failed.  It’s important to remember too that RtoP actually places more restrictions on the use of force, since military measures can only be used when authorized by the UN Security Council, in accordance with the UN Charter.

How to get involved?

Civil society has always been a driving force for the protection of populations and the advancement of the norm. With the articulation of the Responsibility to Protect, NGOs, academics and the media had a way to hold their governments and other states accountable for the prevention of mass violence. World leaders made a promise in 2005, and would have to make good on their commitments.

Building understanding of the norm by educating the public, governments, and regional actors is crucial to the prevention of RtoP crimes.  In an effort to ensure that the world is aware of this historic commitment and the responsibilities it entails, NGOs have and can continue to implement a wide range of educational and awareness raising initiatives.  Organizations have published journals focused on RtoP and related thematic issues, developed toolkits and informative documents on the norm, conducted research on the prevention of and response to RtoP crimes, and used social media to provide up-to-the-minute information on RtoP discussions and crisis situations.

As the Responsibility to Protect starts first and foremost with the state, civil society organizations can advocate for the strengthening of national and regional capacities to prevent RtoP crimes.  Organizations can take a wide range of action to achieve this goal and assist governments in upholding their responsibilities. This includes calling on politicians to make RtoP references, encouraging states to adopt legislation to protect the rights of vulnerable populations and ensure equality for all, and pushing governments to enhance or establish domestic and regional mechanisms to prevent mass atrocities.

Some organizations focus more specifically on monitoring and documenting country developments, and through their field presence, are equipped to provide early warning of potential crises.  NGOs can also dispatch fact-finding missions to uncover the truth in situations where conflict has begun.  These organizations can then alert actors at the national, regional, and international levels of potential or imminent threats to populations.  Especially in cases where there is no domestic or international presence, NGOs may be uniquely placed to act as “watchdogs” for human rights violations.

If tensions arise within or between communities, civil society can encourage all parties to negotiate to find a peaceful and sustainable non violent resolution or support the mediation efforts of others, such as national or regional actors, or the UN.  These groups can also train peacekeepers and the security sector so that they are able to identify risks of RtoP crimes and respond preventively if populations are under threat of mass atrocities.

The Responsibility to Protect does not stop just because a conflict does.

Historically, NGOs have played pivotal roles in post-crisis reconstruction to not only rebuild after mass atrocities have been committed, but to assist in conflict resolution efforts that prevent states from descending back into violence.  This can mean analyzing past cases to learn from failures and assess best practices, as well as developing RtoP indicators that would allow actors to better understand the risks to mass atrocities.  Reconciliation efforts are also crucial following a conflict, and NGOs often take part in strategizing and assisting with such peace processes, placing critical emphasis on the importance of ensuring equal representation and protection of rights for minority populations and vulnerable groups.

Joining these global efforts will help ensure that the world does not look away in the face of mass atrocities.  We can all agree that genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing must be prevented, but what is crucial is that actors at all levels commit to making this a reality.

You can hold your government and other world leaders, regional organizations and the UN accountable to their 2005 promise to protect populations from these horrific crimes. The Responsibility to Protect can be an effective tool to advocate for rapid responses to dire situations and long-term measures to stave off conflicts in the future. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “The Responsibility to Protect is a concept whose time has come”.

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Shocking report details the UN’s failure to protect the people of Sri Lanka

A United Nations (UN) report alleging the failure of the international body to uphold its responsibilities to protect civilians threatened by massive human rights violations during the Sri Lankan civil war was released on 14 November 2012, and quickly spurred impassioned reactions from civil society and UN actors. For many, the Report of the Secretary-General’s Internal Review Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka confirmed their earlier claims that the UN did not act rapidly or robustly to protect the people of Sri Lanka. For others, the report was a shocking reality check that the international community still has a long way to go to build the necessary political will and capacity to respond to these deadly conflicts.

Large-scale civilian suffering during the civil war

The final stages of the Sri Lankan civil war, from August 2008 until May 2009, saw a dramatic escalation of violence between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), known as the Tamil Tigers, who had been fighting to establish the state of Tamil Eelam in the north of the country since the late 1970s. Violence was concentrated in the Wanni, a northern region, and clashes trapped hundreds of thousands of civilians without access to basic necessities or humanitarian aid.

At the time, several civil society organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, criticized the UN for its limited efforts to hold the Sri Lankan government accountable for likely war crimes and crimes against humanity. As noted in the report, the UN evacuated its staff in the Wanni in September 2008 when the government announced it would not be able to guarantee their security, and after that was largely unable to gain access to distribute humanitarian relief aid. With the end of the war in May 2009 came widespread calls to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to investigate the perpetrators of mass atrocities and UN efforts to protect civilians.  After a Panel of Experts, established by the UNSG, reported in April 2011 that many UN agencies and officials had not done enough to protect civilians, the UNSG created the Internal Review Panel on UN actions in Sri Lanka, which is responsible for the recently released report.

UN fails to protect Sri Lankan population

The report concludes that though the government and LTTE were primarily responsible for “killings and other violations” committed against the civilians trapped in the Wanni, the “events in Sri Lanka mark a grave failure of the UN to adequately respond to early warnings and to the evolving situation during the final stages of the conflict and its aftermath, to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of civilians and in contradiction with the principles and responsibilities of the UN.”

The report criticizes the UN for its overall lack of action on the crisis, condemning the evacuation of UN staff without protestation as a “serious failure”. According to the report, the UN system as a whole did not put enough political pressure on the government, and left its staff on the ground ill-prepared to deal with the escalating crisis. The report also draws attention to the fact that, though the UN officials had data on the number of civilian deaths and evidence that the government, in many cases, was responsible, they only reported on the violations committed by the LTTE. According to officials at the time, they were reluctant to release information about the government’s involvement out of fear it would further hinder their access to the population in the Wanni. The sole exception was a public statement issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on 13 March 2009, in spite of strong criticism by most UN senior officials, which reported on the number of casualties and declared that actions by the government and LTTE “may constitute international crimes, entailing individual responsibility, including for war crimes and crimes against humanity”.  The report concludes that “in fact, with its multiplicity of mandates and areas of expertise, the UN possessed the capabilities to simultaneously strive for humanitarian access while also robustly condemning the perpetrators of killings of civilians.”

According to the report, the low level of commitment to civilian protection in Sri Lanka was exacerbated by the inaction of Member States, who failed to take up the escalating crisis in the Security Council, Human Rights Council and General Assembly. To what extent was the commitment governments made in 2005 endorsing their collective responsibility to protect populations from crimes against humanity and war crimes considered during the crisis? The report notes that though RtoP was raised in the context of the war, states were unable to agree on how the norm could help the international community halt the ongoing violence. The report concludes that governments “failed to provide the Secretariat and UN [Country Team] with the support required to fully implement the responsibilities for protection of civilians that Member States had themselves set for such situations.”

Civil society and former UN officials clash over the report’s findings

Civil society organizations swiftly responded to the report, calling for accountability and to use the example of Sri Lanka as an impetus to strengthen UN protection capacities. On 14 November Amnesty International’s José Luis Díaz called the report a “wake-up call for UN member states that have not pushed hard enough for an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes committed by both Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE in the last phase of the war.”  Philippe Bolopion of Human Rights Watch agreed, stating that the report serves as “a call to action and reform for the entire UN system.”  Additionally, Bolopion noted that “The UN’s dereliction of duty in Sri Lanka is a stark reminder of what happens when human rights concerns are marginalized or labeled as too political”.

Meanwhile, others reacted to the UN’s decision to evacuate its staff from the Wanni region. In reading the report, Edward Mortimer, who serves on the Advisory Council of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice and who formerly served as Director of Communications in the Executive Office of the UN, declared that he believed the UN left when they were most needed. The report, Mortimer stated, would show that the “UN has not lived up to the standards we expect of it…”

Benjamin Dix, a UN staff member in Sri Lanka that left the war zone, recalled his own doubts at the time, saying that he “believe[d] we should have gone further north, not evacuate south, and basically abandon the civilian population with no protection or witness….As a humanitarian worker questions were running through my mind – What is this all about? Isn’t this what we signed up to do?

Sir John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs at the time of the crisis and one of those whom the report blames for underreporting the government’s responsibility for the violence, defended the UN’s actions. Holmes told BBC that “the idea that if we behaved differently, the Sri Lankan government would have behaved differently I think is not one that is easy to reconcile with the reality at the time.”  In an attempt to provide clarity on the UN’s decision not to report casualty figures, UN spokesperson in Colombo, Sri Lanka at the time, Gordon Weiss, stated that, “It was an institutional decision not to use those [casualty lists] on the basis that those could not be verified and of course they couldn’t be verified because the government of Sri Lanka wasn’t letting us get anywhere near the war zone.” However, his remarks starkly contrast the findings of the report.

Some took the opportunity to remind that the report highlighted the ultimate failure of the Sri Lankan government to protect its population from mass atrocities.Steven Ratner, a professor at University of Michigan’s Law School, stated, “the UN failed, but the Sri Lankan government is ultimately most responsible…They are the ones who have not begun a bona fide accountability process.”  Echoing this, Amnesty International’s José Luis Díaz noted that “The report clearly illustrates the Sri Lankan government’s lack of will to protect civilians or account for very serious violations. There is no evidence that has changed.

Report shows challenges in implementation must not lead to inaction

The Secretary-General’s report not only shows the need to uphold the responsibility to protect populations in Sri Lanka by preventing a culture of impunity for crimes against humanity and war crimes, it emphasizes the critical gaps that the international community must address to strengthen its political will and overall capacity to respond to emerging and ongoing situations of RtoP crimes.

With regard to the Responsibility to Protect norm, the report concludes that, “The concept of a ‘Responsibility to Protect’ was raised occasionally during the final stages of the conflict, but to no useful result. Differing perceptions among Member States and the Secretariat of the concept’s meaning and use had become so contentious as to nullify its potential value. Indeed, making references to the Responsibility to Protect was seen as more likely to weaken rather than strengthen UN action.” This finding serves as a sober reminder to governments, UN officials and the international community as a whole that though we continue to address important questions about how to implement the Responsibility to Protect, these disagreements must never hinder our commitment to react when populations are in dire need of assistance.  The report as a whole underlines the prevailing importance of the prevention of and rapid response to RtoP crimes and violations by highlighting a tragic example of the consequences when the protection of populations is not prioritized.

The initial establishment of the Panel and the Secretary-General’s decision to make its findings public show a commitment to holding perpetrators of the crimes committed in Sri Lanka accountable. However, as Human Rights Watch’s Philippe Bolopion said, “While Ban deserves credit for starting a process he knew could tarnish his office, he will now be judged on his willingness to implement the report’s recommendations and push for justice for Sri Lanka’s victims.”  The UNSG stated that the report’s findings have “profound implications for our work across the world, and I am determined that the United Nations draws the appropriate lessons and does its utmost to earn the confidence of the world’s people, especially those caught in conflict who look to the Organization for help.”  We can only hope that this report will act as a much needed impetus to reform the system as a whole to better respond to protect populations from the most horrific crimes known to humankind.

 

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What’s Next for Syria?

On 20 July, with only 13 hours left before the expiration of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) mandate, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted Resolution 2059 drafted by the United Kingdom and cosponsored by France and Germany.  The Resolution restructured the mandate to facilitate dialogue between the opposition and the Syrian regime in accordance with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s July 2012 report on UNSMIS, and extended the mandate for a “final” 30 days with a possible renewal if there is a cessation of the use of heavy weapons and a decrease in violence by all parties.

Despite the renewal of the UNSMIS mandate, divisions amongst Council Members remain a barrier to implementation of further diplomatic, political, economic and, as a last resort, military measures by the UNSC aimed at halting the violence in Syria. While much of the debate within the international community has remained focused on what steps the UNSC, specifically, should take to halt the violence, the Council’s lack of decisive action has led commentators to make recommendations for measures to be taken by national- and regional-level actors.

Exploring Options for Syria

Reflecting on the deteriorating crisis, civil society organizations, regional actors, commentators and specialists in fields related to conflict and mass atrocity prevention have provided a wide range of “next steps” for Syria.

As the expiration of the UNSMIS mandate rapidly approached, several international actors provided suggestions for a restructured mandate. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in a letter to UNSC Ambassadors stressed the importance of strengthening the UNSMIS mandate and urged Council members to include within the mission an intensified human rights component with specialists to act as “impartial ‘eyes and ears’ of the international community.” FIDH noted, “Upholding human rights and working to protect civilians in Syria is an imperative that goes beyond the political differences of members of the Security Council. We call on the Security Council to fulfill this shared responsibility to Syrian civilians.” FIDH also urged the UNSC to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Similar suggestions were put forth by Amnesty International (AI) following the 19 July double-veto. AI also called for the inclusion of an adequately staffed human rights component as well as providing expertise in related fields and resources to document and report findings and progress. AI wrote, “The failure today of the UN Security Council to deliver better human rights protection for Syrians will embolden those responsible for the crimes and violence wracking the country.”

While FIDH and AI have discussed measures to improve UNSMIS, other international actors and commentators have focused specifically on how a political transition would be orchestrated.

Steven Heydemann, senior advisor at the US Institute of Peace‘s Middle East Initiatives, in his article “The end game in Syria,” brings light to a transformation of perspectives by international actors due to recent developments, saying, “These trends all point to one conclusion: the end of the Assad regime is drawing nearer. The relevant question is no longer whether the regime will fall, but when and, even more importantly, how.”

Similarly, Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, in his article “The Solution in Syria Must Be Political” stressed that a “Yemen-style” solution is the most plausible as it would stop the bloodshed- the main goal of all actions being taken in Syria. This process would involve a temporary transfer of power, followed by a UN-Arab League-mediated dialogue on the political future of Syria. This, however, has its drawbacks as a transition of this style would likely grant amnesty to Assad, as seen with the political process in Yemen.

Also arguing in favor of a political solution, and reflecting on the discord between UNSC members in “No room for foreign military intervention in SyriaJohn Hubbel Weiss, associate professor of History at Cornell University,argues that any attempt to act under Chapter VII of the Charter would only be vetoed by Russia, as was seen on 19 July. Instead, he believes that the only way to convince Assad to take a less-violent course of action is if the Syrian population and civil society from within the country call for and/or take action themselves.

While some still believe that there are feasible options for bringing an end to the crisis in Syria, either through the facilitation of a political transition or implementation of more robust measures, others do not believe it is possible for the international community to successfully and effectively operationalize stronger measures than what has been implemented thus far.

How Russia Divided the World”, an article written by Michael Ignatieff, an original member of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) which initially articulated the Responsibility to Protect in 2001, presents a grim outlook for the future of Syria and RtoP more broadly. Ignatieff states that the divisions within the opposition leave no opportunities for successful military intervention, such as air strikes, safe havens or buffer zones and, that because there is not an established power to take authority once the Assad regime falls, there is no sense in toppling the regime via military measures.

Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at Australian National University and a visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute, was no more optimistic in his article “A Syrian intervention must be weighed against the costs.” He claimed that it was unlikely for diplomatic and political measures to be successful, and instead, military measures, such as air strikes or no fly zones, were increasingly “the only way to fulfill our responsibility.” Yet he delved deeper to state that, although military intervention may be the only tool left untested in Syria, military tactics may not be feasible or halt violence. White sees another barrier to implementing further measures if the RtoP entails a responsibility to assist post-crisis, and states that “If so, we have a problem, because the West has no capacity to shape Syria’s trajectory after Assad.”

In response to White’s argument, Tim Dunne and Sarah Teitt from the Asia-Pacific Centre for R2P, an ICRtoP Steering Committee Member, published “Firing blanks at R2P.” Dunne and Teitt reiterated the idea that coercive military measures are not the solution to ending the crisis, and went further to suggest that a resolution was slowly becoming viable, “not through the overt threat or use of force but through tireless diplomacy on the part of the UN and through unrelenting scrutiny by humanitarian NGOs.”

Advocates for military intervention –in various forms- have voiced their ideas as well. One commentator on military measures is Ausama Monajed, Executive Director of the Strategic Research and Communication Centre (SRCC), who puts forth a set of steps in his article “The Price of Apathy: Why the World Must Intervene in Syria” that the international community should take to immediately halt the bloodshed, including arming the rebels, establishing safe zones inside bordering countries, and creating buffer zones along the Syrian border. These steps are what Monajed refers to as a “viable alternative” and what he believes will lead to and trigger an increase in mass defections, which could serve to facilitate the fall of the Assad regime and an end to the conflict. He believes that those who still advocate for the imposition of sanctions to “bankrupt Assad” should take heed that Russia and Iran remain “staunch, wealthy allies.”

Despite the enduring deadlock within the UNSC regarding further implementation of preventive measures, an array of tools to halt the violence in Syria remains at the disposal of regional, national and civil society actors. In this sense, the Responsibility to Protect remains a crucial framework through which to view the crisis and assess achievable and effective tools to protect populations.

With the establishment of UNSMIS, the international community took action in a timely and decisive manner, to ensure an observer presence on the ground. However, divisions within the Council continue to pose a great barrier to UNSC authorization of further non-military and if necessary, military measures, to protect civilians from mass atrocity crimes. With a 30 day renewal of UNSMIS, the Council must work creatively to overcome their differences, and be prepared to respond collectively to the situation in a flexible, timely manner.

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Ceasefire Violations Abound As UN Deploys Monitors in Syria

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has unanimously moved to oversee the Syrian ceasefire in two separate resolutions since 14 April, but continued reports of violations by Syrian security forces and attacks by the opposition have called into question the sustainability of the fragile six-point peace plan of joint United Nations-League of Arab States Special Envoy Kofi Annan.

Adopting Resolution 2042 on 14 April, all members of the Council agreed to dispatch an advance team of up to 30 unarmed United Nations monitors to assess whether the Syrian government and the opposition were respecting the ceasefire. And while Syrian Ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja’afari, said his country would “spare no expense” to ensure the success of the Annan plan, violence escalated a day after the Council’s decision was made, with Syrian forces and heavy weaponry remaining in cities across the country. Amnesty International called the passing of the resolution positive, but underwhelming, noting the constant breach of trust by the Syrian government.

By 19 April, with reports of ceasefire violations by the government nearly every day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that the Syrian government had failed to adhere to the ceasefire plan, and that, there has been no meaningful progress on the ground.” Attempting to salvage Annan’s peace plan and ensure greater implementation on the ground in Syria, the Secretary-General proposed an expansion of the monitoring mission mandated by Resolution 2042 of up to 300 unarmed monitors, and the establishment of a new mission, the United Nations Support Mission in Syria (UNSMIS).

Developments followed quickly at the Security Council, with the 15-member body unanimously endorsing the expansion of the monitoring mission to 300 unarmed observers with Resolution 2043 on 21 April. In an interesting turn of events, it was the Russian delegation – which has twice vetoed Security Council action on Syria (on 4 October 2011 and 4 February 2012), as well as voted against a General Assembly resolution – that circulated the Resolution, which calls for the expeditious deployment of the monitors, unimpeded access for them, cooperation between the UN and Syria to provide for air transportation assets, and the ability of the monitors to communicate with individuals without retaliation against those individuals.

Members of the UN Security Council unanimously approve Resolution 2042 on 14 April. (UN Photo/Rick Bajornas)

Reports of government-perpetrated violence in Homs and Damascus continued to emerge immediately after the passing of Resolution 2043, leading UN officials to call for a full cessation of violence and Security Council Members to urge the rapid deployment of more monitors to the country on 24 April.

Ten days after the advanced observer team was mandated by the Council, only 11 monitors were active in the country. Ahmad Fawzi, the spokesperson for Kofi Annan, said on 27 April that the full advance team of 30 monitors would be deployed by Monday, 30 April, but Syrian activists have expressed concerns with the slow deployment process. The mission also faces complications on the ground as a result of Syria’s lack of cooperation and non-compliance. The Syrian government has reportedly refused to allow any monitors that are nationals of any of the countries in the 14-member “Friends of Syria” group, and a government spokesperson also stated on 15 April that it would need to be involved in “all steps on the ground” by UN monitors, raising concerns over the ability of the monitors to have unhindered access in the country.

Recent reports suggest that a game of cat and mouse has ensued in Syria between security forces and the UN monitors, with gunfire and shelling by government security forces occurring immediately after the observers toured cities like Homs and Hama, which have seen some of the most destructive violence by government mortar fire.

On 25 April, Special Envoy Annan called the recent flares of violence “unacceptable and reprehensible”, and confirmed that the Syrian government has still yet to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from major cities and towns. This was echoed by the Secretary-General on 26 April, who expressed his alarm at continued attacks by government forces against civilian populations and demanded Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s President, comply with the ceasefire. A day later, the Secretary-General appointed Norwegian General Robert Mood as head of UNSMIS, who urged for help and cooperation” by all sides to end the violence.

An advanced group of UN monitors tour Homs on 21 April. (UN Photo/Neeraj Singh)

As violence in Syria continues, including devastating explosions in Hama and deadly blasts in Idlib, and hopes falter for the successful implementation of Annan’s peace plan, Western and Arab countries have begun to talk of the need for contingency planning if the Assad government does not cease attacks and withdraw troops and heavy weaponry from cities.

At the Friends of Syria meeting on 19 April, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for the imposition of an arms embargo, as well as stricter sanctions against the country to ensure Syrian compliance with Annan’s six-point plan. On 25 April France’s Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé, also stressed the need for contingency planning, stating that Paris would be pushing for a Chapter VII resolution at the Council, which could include punitive sanctions against the Assad regime, if Syria did not fully implement the peace plan by May. The Arab League has also stated on 26 April that it will call on the UN Security Council to take “immediate action to protect Syrian civilians” at an upcoming Council meeting, with Nabil el-Araby, the League’s Secretary General, stressing the need to rapidly deploy the full monitoring force to Syria.

Despite the continued violence in the wake of the deployment of UN monitors, some analysts are urging caution in writing off Annan’s plan, especially as the monitoring mission has yet to be deployed in full. Mark Lynch, Associate Professor at George Washington University and author of a blog on the Middle East at Foreign Policy Magazine online, urges against abandoning Annan’s plan in favour of military intervention, stating:

“The painstakingly constructed international consensus in support of diplomacy and pressure should not be abandoned before it has even had a chance. Nobody expects the current diplomatic path to quickly or easily end the conflict in Syria, but military intervention does not offer a compelling alternative…It is highly unlikely that Bashar al-Assad or his regime will voluntarily comply with a ceasefire, and even more unlikely that they will surrender power.  But international diplomacy does not depend on Assad’s good intentions. Instead, it aims to demilitarize the conflict and create the political space for change driven by Syrians disgusted by the destruction of their country.” 

Daniel Serwer, professor at John Hopkins School of Advance International Studies and blogger at peacefare.net, noted, ensuring the 300 monitors are deployed as rapidly as possible will be crucial to success:

“If they are going to have an impact, the observers will need to acquire it after full deployment over a period of weeks, working diligently with both protesters and the regime to ensure disengagement and to gain respect for Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan. This they can do, but only by being forthright in their assessments of what is going on, determined in their efforts to go where they want when they want and honest in communicating their observations to both the Syrian and the international press.”

Writing in the Christian Science Monitor, George A. Lopez, sees the long-term utility of the monitoring mission, despite the continued violence:

“Assad’s increased bombardment of city areas before the monitors’ arrival has generated cynicism and criticism of this UN effort as irrelevant….But the monitoring presence is not futile. Rather, the monitors’ documentation and related work, especially in making consistent demands of all fighting parties to end particular actions, can decrease the killing. The monitors provide a first, small crack in the previously closed door of Syrian repression.”

The deployment of monitors by international and regional organizations is one of the many tools available to the international community under the third pillar of the Responsibility to Protect framework. If such missions receive the cooperation of the host government of the country in which they are deployed, as well as the requisite capabilities and support from the international community, they can investigate and report on violations, which may effectively deter attacks against civilians in the context of a ceasefire between armed belligerents.

If, however, the threat or commission of mass atrocities in the context of a country-specific situation continues in spite of a deployment of monitors, the third pillar of the RtoP provides for a range of diplomatic, economic, legal, and military measures that national, regional, and international actors can implement to stem such atrocities. Proactively assessing the effectiveness of measures employed to protect civilians, as well as contingency planning in the wake of the failure of such measures, is thus critical in responding to situations of ongoing mass crimes. Such planning does not mean that a particular measure will be written off, or that another will be favoured as a course of action moving forward. Instead, it indicates that the international community is prepared to mobilize the necessary will and resources to effectively respond to massive human rights violations in a flexible, timely manner.

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Filed under Monitoring Mission, Prevention, RtoP, Security Council, Syria, Syria Ceasefire, Third Pillar, Timely and Decisive Action, UN

FEATURE: Civil Society Reflects on Challenges for RtoP Post-Libya

To better understand the challenges posed for RtoP in the aftermath of the UN-mandated, NATO-led operation in Libya, we asked a few ICRtoP Member organizations from throughout the world to reflect and provide insight on the following questions:

  • Was the UN-mandated, NATO-led operation in Libya a step forward or a setback for the norm? What implications – positive and/or negative – does the Libya operation carry for RtoP moving forward?
  • What are the responsibilities of the international community as Libya transitions into the post-Gaddafi era? Despite the ending of the NATO mandate in Libya, should the international community continue to play a role in civilian protection?
  • Through an RtoP lens, what lessons can be learned from Libya for future cases where international action – whether non-coercive or coercive – is necessary to protect civilians?

The enlightening responses we received drew on the individual expertise of these ICRtoP Members, and brought in unique regional perspectives as well. Members who contributed were:

Rachel Gerber, Program Officer at The Stanley Foundation

Gus Miclat, Executive Director of Initiatives for International Dialogues

Robert Schütte, President of Genocide Alert

Jillian Siskind, President of Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights

Sarah Teitt, Outreach Director and China Programme Coordinator for the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Dr. Robert Zuber of Global Action to Prevent War and Armed Conflict

The full post, “Civil Society Reflects on RtoP Post-Libya“, includes our review of the international response to the situation and analysis on its implications for RtoP, as well as the reflections on the challenges for the norm post-Libya by the individuals above.

We have also published a piece to mark the one-year anniversary of the first protests in Libya, which discusses the difficulties of the transition into the post-Gaddafi era.

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Filed under African Union, Arab League, CivSoc, Gulf Cooperation Council, Human Rights, International Criminal Court, Libya, National Transitional Council, Post-Conflict, Regional Orgs, RtoP, Security Council, Syria, UN

Diplomatic Pressure Intensifies on Syria as UN General Assembly Set to Vote on New Resolution

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has scheduled a vote on 16 February at 3:00 pm EST on a new resolution concerning the situation in Syria, drafted and circulated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on 10 February. The UNGA has previously condemned the Syrian government’s crackdown against civilian protesters on 22 November and 19 December 2011, with each urging strong support for regional efforts by the League of Arab States.

The UN General Assembly, whose members met to discuss the situation in Syria on 13 February (UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

The Saudi-drafted UNGA draft resolution is similar to the one that was subject to in-depth negotiations and ultimately vetoed by Russia and China at the UN Security Council (UNSC) on 4 February.

Specifically, it calls for the UN to support the Arab League peace plan, which provides that President Bashar al-Assad delegate power to a deputy and begin a process of political transition. However, the language of the UNGA draft resolution is much stronger in condemning the violence and urging accountability for violations for human rights, “including those violations that may amount to crimes against humanity.”

It also calls on the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, to support the efforts of the League of Arab States through the appointment of a Special Envoy and technical and material assistance.

It is expected that the draft resolution will pass at the 16 February vote. There are no veto rights within the General Assembly, which has crippled efforts to respond to the situation in Syria at the Security Council. The passing of a resolution at the UNGA would increase diplomatic pressure on Assad and throw UN support behind the Arab League peace plan; however the resolution would not be legally binding for UN Member States.

The draft was circulated after a Cairo meeting of the League of Arab States on 12 February. The organization passed a resolution which formally backed the Syrian opposition, called for it to unite, and requested that the UN Security Council authorize a joint United Nations-League of Arab States peacekeeping force to protect civilians and oversee a cease-fire.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made his opposition to the idea clear by stating that his country would not support a  joint peacekeeping operation unless there was a ceasefire in place between the government and the rebel Free Syrian Army and other armed opposition. China’s Foreign Ministry stated that it supported the League of Arab States’ efforts to resolve the crisis, but did not express whether it would support peacekeepers being deployed in Syria, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, the US administration of President Barack Obama also expressed concerns with peacekeepers being deployed in Syria, among them the challenges in overcoming Russian and Chinese opposition, and gaining Syria’s consent to such a force.

There is not, however, any mention of the formation of a joint UN-League of Arab States peacekeeping force in the General Assembly draft resolution.

UN Officials Speak Out Ahead of Vote

Ahead of vote at the UNGA, UN officials continued to condemn the violence in Syria.

UN Special Advisers for the Prevention of Genocide, Dr. Francis Deng, and for the Responsibility to Protect, Dr. Ed Luck, issued a statement on 10 February condemning the recent violence in Homs, which has been reported to have claimed upwards of 300 lives. The Special Advisers warned that such indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations could constitute crimes against humanity. Dr. Luck also warned in a press statement on 14 February that the conflict in Syria was splitting along sectarian lines, with attacks occurring against specific groups.

In light of situation, the two Special Advisers urged the international community to act:

At the 2005 World Summit, Heads of State and Government made a solemn commitment to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, including their incitement. They agreed, as well, to utilize the full range of regional and global tools under the United Nations Charter to help protect populations from these crimes. Many of these measures would not require authorization by the Security Council. These would include efforts to build trust among communities within Syria, to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need, and to encourage regional cooperation in advancing human rights and preventing further rounds of violence against civilian populations.  

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay briefed the UNGA on 13 February on the situation in Syria. In her address to the Assembly, Pillay condemned the continued government crackdown in Syria, expressing her “outrage” over the serious violations of human rights that have been committed since March 2011.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay speaking to the press about the situation in Syria. (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

The High Commissioner stated at the General Assembly that the systematic nature of the government’s response to protests, including it’s shoot-to-kill policy against civilian protesters, its “massive campaign” of arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture and sexual violence, and the high number of children who have been killed by security forces, indicated that crimes against humanity had been perpetrated by Syrian forces.

Pillay again encouraged the UNSC to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court so that the crimes committed do not go unpunished. The High Commissioner also urged the international community to “act now” to uphold its obligations to protect Syrian populations from continued violations of human rights, which she noted the Syrian government had manifestly failed to do.

Push for Security Council Re-Engagement

The renewed effort to respond to the situation in Syria through the United Nations comes after Russia and China employed their vetoes to strike down a draft resolution at the Council on 4 February.

It appears, however, that France – a permanent member of the Security Council – is holding negotiations with the Russians in order to introduce a new resolution that overcomes Russia’s concerns with previous drafts tabled at the Council.

Reuters reported on 15 February that French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé hopes that a new resolution would include the creation of humanitarian corridors in Syria. Juppé argued that the humanitarian zones would serve to alleviate civilian suffering in Syria by allowing inter-governmental and non-governmental aid agencies to deliver food, water and medical services, but would likely have to be protected by armed observers or peacekeepers.

Given Russian and Chinese opposition to any form of outside military intervention in Syria over the course of the UN’s efforts to respond to the situation, such a proposition would likely encounter resistance from those Members at the UNSC.

Meanwhile, following a Russian delegation’s meeting with President al-Assad of Syria, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun announced that China would also travel to Syria with an envoy to discuss the situation with the Syrian government.

Diplomatic Efforts Come as Violence Escalates

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis continue as violence has escalated steadily since the failed UN Security Council draft resolution on 4 February. The bombardment of Homs by Syrian security and military forces has continued in recent days, and clashes between those forces and the rebel Free Syrian Army have reportedly expanded across the country. New raids were reported in Daraa as well, as the government seeks to extinguish rebellious pockets in major Syrian cities.

On 16 February, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed the calls of many of his UN colleagues by stating that there have been “certaincrimes against humanity in Syria, particularly the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas by Syrian security forces.

Stressing the need for continued international engagement in Syria despite the failure to pass a resolution at the UNSC, Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P), called for a “diplomatic surge” through the framework of the responsibility to protect in order to end the violence in Syria. Adams writes:

“Crimes against humanity are occurring in Syria…What we need now is a diplomatic surge, with Russian engagement, to overwhelm those elements in the Syrian regime who think that they can simply shoot their way out of the current crisis.”

And according to Amnesty International (AI), such a “diplomatic surge” could not come a moment too soon. In a press release, AI states that as the debate has moved from the Security Council to the General Assembly, the Syrian government has steadily stepped up its attacks, which have resulted in a rising civilian death toll. As such, Ann Harrison, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa for AI, urged the international community to “not stand idly by” as Syrian civilians continued to be targeted by the government in Homs, Hama, and Daraa, Syria.

AI and Human Rights Watch issued a joint-letter ahead of the UNGA vote, which urged the UN body’s members to vote in favour of the draft resolution and, “strongly affirm that the vast majority of states have not abandoned the people of Syria”.

Post researched and written by Evan Cinq-Mars. Editing by Rachel Shapiro and Megan Schmidt. 

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Filed under Arab League, CivSoc, Prevention, Regional Orgs, RtoP, Security Council, Syria, UN