Yemen: Over 140 Killed in Airstrikes on Funeral Ceremony
On 8 October, airstrikes hit a funeral ceremony for a Houthi rebel commander in Sana’a, the Houthi-controlled capital city of Yemen. According to UN officials, the strikes killed over 140 people and injured over 525 others. The rebels have blamed the attack on the Saudi-led coalition, which initially denied its involvement in any operations in the area at the time, but has since announced an investigation into the “regrettable and painful” attack.
Following the incident, thousands of demonstrators protested the strikes in Sana’a on Sunday. The UN and other international organizations condemned the attack and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also called for a”prompt and impartial investigation‚ of this incident” to ensure the perpetrators are held accountable. A spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross stated, “We deplore this outrageous loss of civilian life.” Human Rights Watch called the attack “an apparent warcrime.” The European Union and the United States have also denounced the attack, with the US adding that its security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a “blank check.”
According to the latest data from the UN, between the beginning of the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in support of the internationally-recognized Yemeni government in March 2015 through 30 September 2016, the conflict has killed over 6,600 people, including 4,014 civilians, and has displaced over three million people. A further 7,000 civilians have been injured.
Source for above photo of the destroyed community hall where the funeral was held: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters via Human Rights Watch
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On Monday, an estimated 24 people died in attacks on outposts near the Burmese border with Bangladesh. Security forces have poured into the villages surrounding the area where the attacks took place, imposing a curfew and conducting raids, while firing on those fleeing. ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned that such actions could lead to further destabilization of the area. The UN envoy for Myanmar has also expressed deep concern for the attacks and urged both security forces and civilians to show restraint and exercise caution to avoid continued violence.
Late last week, a Burundian official said that the country will withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The announcement of the withdrawal came a few months after the ICC decided to investigate the violence in the country sparked by the re-election of the president. A spokesman from the ICC said the court has not yet received any official information on Burundi’s withdrawal. However, on Wednesday, lawmakers in Burundi largely voted to support the withdrawal. Out of 110 lawmakers, 94 voted in favor of the plan. If the country moves forward with the plan, Burundi would be the first country to ever withdraw from the court.
On Monday, the Burundian government banned three UN investigators linked to last month’s report on human rights violations in the country. A UN spokesperson stressed the importance of countries cooperating with the UN’s human rights mechanism. France condemned the decision and said it harmed the credibility of Burundi’s promise to respect human rights. The government also held a meeting to review the activities of UN staff in Burundi, resulting in the suspension of local activities of the UN human rights office there.
Unidentified gunmen killed three people in a bar on Monday, according to an official. One of the victims was a ruling party official and another was a school principal.
On Wednesday, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) released a factsheet on the crisis in Burundi. Amongst other things, the document shows that over 295,000 Burundian refugees are currently residing in neighboring countries.
Central African Republic:
Aid agencies have reported that fighting between armed groups has blocked aid deliveries to about 120,000 people in CAR who are in need of food. The UN humanitarian coordinator, Fabrizio Hochschild, said that the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, MINUSCA, has managed to halt the fighting, but attacks on aid workers still occur. More than 16 attacks on humanitarian actors were reported in September.
On Monday, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, briefed the Security Council on the situation in the Central African Republic and introduced the Secretary-General’s report on developments in the country. He pledged the full support of the Mission to the government and its endeavors for reform and improvement in the country. He also stressed the need for backing from the international community as the situation in the country is still fragile.
On Wednesday, militia fighters from the Seleka rebel group attacked a village hosting refugees displaced from previous violence. The fighters killed 13 civilians and injured several more before UN peacekeepers were able to repel them.
Democratic Republic of Congo:
Clashes between government forces and rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) killed at least 10 people, including 8 civilians, on Monday in the town of Beni. The rebel group has long sought to take control of swaths of territory and natural resources in North Kivu province and other regions of the northeast.
UN Special Representative of the Secretary General and Head of MONUSCO, Maman Sidikou, indicated on Tuesday that large scale violence in the DRC is imminent amidst increasing political tensions and civil unrest. Sidikou’s concerns stem largely from an electoral process that has been delayed until December 2018 as government officials point to the need for increased voter registration in order to hold an inclusive election.
A drive-by shooting at a Jerusalem train station killed at least three people were and injured six others on Sunday. The gunmen indiscriminately fired at a group of civilians before being killed by police in a shootout.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on Monday sealed Palestinian access to Israel from both Gaza and the West Bank for a period of 48 hours ahead of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. An additional 3,000 police officers have been deployed in Jerusalem.
A dispute between Iraq and Turkey developed this week over the presence of approximately 1,500 Turkish soldiers in northern Mosul ahead of a pending offensive to retake the strategic city from ISIL later this year. Tensions arose as Turkish officials stated their intention to keep their troops in Iraqi territory until after a successful Mosul offensive occurs.
Three different bombings across the capital city of Baghdad killed at least 10 people on Sunday. ISIL claimed responsibility for the largest bombing, which killed five and wounded 22 Shia pilgrims celebrating the holy month of Muharram. Two separate attacks in southern Baghdad killed five people and wounded 15 others.
Reports have emerged showing that a drone booby-trapped by ISIL exploded in northern Mosul, killing two Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and badly wounding two members of the French special forces earlier this month in northern Mosul. A spokesman for the Kurdish defense forces noted that ISIL has attempted to conduct drone attacks on at least two prior occasions.
On Monday, Kenyan opposition officials continued to reiterate claims that the Interior ministry, the National Registration Bureau, and Huduma Centres have been secretly registering voters in areas dominated by the Jubilee coalition government in order to give the ruling coalition an advantage in the coming general election. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has denied these claims.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) released a report on Thursday calling on Kenya not to close the Dadaab refugee camp, which is the world’s largest refugee camp, housing over 350,000 people. MSF stressed that Somalia, where the majority of the refugees in the camp are from, is not yet safe to return to. The Kenyan government has remained decisive and claims the country will close the camp as it is believed to pose a security threat to the people of Kenya.
On Tuesday, a military official reported that Libyan forces are advancing into the last area in Sirte that is still controlled by ISIL. The fighting for the town has been ongoing for months between the UN-backed government and ISIL, but is now reaching the final stages. The military campaign is backed by US airstrikes, which intensified in Sirte this week in an effort to push back ISIL.
On Saturday, a senior member of the Tuareg militant group Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) died after his car exploded in the northern city of Kidal. The CMA entered into a power-sharing agreement with the pro-government Gatia militia in February, however, regardless of the agreement, sporadic violence between the groups has continued.
On Monday, an attempted suicide-attack took place in the city of Timbuktu. The assailant attempted to ambush a patrol of Swedish peacekeepers from the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA), but only managed to kill himself. The attacker was the only casualty.
Niger has announced that it will host a base for 650 German troops. The German soldiers will be part of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in neighboring Mali, where they will help in securing northern Mali from further militant attacks.
A car bomb killed eight and wounded 15 others in Maiduguri this week when the car collided with a taxi in a convoy on its way to Gamboru. Travellers within the state of Borno often travel between cities in military-organized convoys for increased protection from Boko Haram ambushes.
Police opened fire on a Shia Muslim Ashura procession in the town of Funtua, killing at least nine people after clashes broke out when police tried to block the procession.
On Thursday, Boko Haram released 21 of the missing Chibok schoolgirls who were kidnapped two years ago. The militants handed the girls over to Nigerian authorities after successful negotiations led by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss government. The terms of the deal are still unknown.
Rumors of President Salva Kiir’s death started floating around social media on Tuesday. Tensions arose as the reports of Kiir’s death spread and the UN warned of increasing violence. Hours after the rumors surfaced, a presidential spokesperson dismissed the news as “wishful thinking” and assured the president is alive and in good health. The statement did not quell the unrest in the country and therefore the president took to the streets in show of strength.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for rebel leader Riek Machar reported that the former Vice President would travel to South Africa after having fled South Sudan to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday that the pledge made by President Kiir last month to allow another 4,000 peacekeepers to join the previous 12,000 in the country has not yet been put into action.
The South Sudanese government has been criticized for restricting accessibility for aid deliveries. On Monday, the World Food Program said that the latest obstacle facing humanitarian actors is the recent suspension of airdrops of food aid as the humanitarian crisis in the country continues to worsen.
Over the weekend, armed groups killed 127 civilians on a road as they were fleeing violence in the town of Yei. The government has claimed that the raid was “ethnically based” as all of those targeted belonged to the Dinka community. The attacked convoy carried more than 200 people who were trying to find refuge from the fighting.
On Monday, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) released a statement calling for the fighting to end immediately as reports of violent crimes committed against civilians in the country, including women and children, are “deeply disturbing”. UNMISS released yet another statement on Wednesday, where they again expressed their extreme concern for the increased reports of armed conflicts and clashes in certain regions of the country. The mission condemned the violence and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities. UNMISS is currently still restricted from accessing certain areas where fighting has erupted and is working to get those restrictions lifted.
Amnesty International and FIDH said in a joint briefing on Wednesday that South Sudan must allow justice to the victims of crimes in the midst of the fighting. The organizations are calling for the proposed Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS) to be established to ensure accountability for human rights violations and other crimes committed during the conflict in the country. The court would be a combination of both domestic and international law and would include both South Sudanese and international personnel.
Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir has announced the extension of a ceasefire in the Darfur conflict through the end of 2016, as well as his intent to create a national constitution. Opposing factions such as the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the various organs of the Sudanese Liberation Movement have denounced the ceasefire and constitution as unilateral, exclusionary political rhetoric serving only parties that are members of or aligned with President Al-Bashir.
The Director of the UN mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has appealed to the Sudanese government to allow UN peacekeepers more access to remote regions of the country, where its populations are affected by armed conflict. Currently, UN patrols must notify the government ahead of any movements are made so that “necessary security measures” can be put in place.
A report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre indicated that between 5,500 and 12,500 people fleeing violence in the Western Jebel Marra region of Sudan, predominantly women and children, have arrived in refugee camps in Nertiti between 1 September and 10 October. Intermittent clashes between government forces and the Sudanese Liberation Movement-Abdul Wahid (SLM-AW) are cited as the root cause of the migration.
The Russian parliament voted last Friday to ratify a treaty with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad to authorize the indefinite presence of Russian troops within Syria. Russia has a strong military presence in the Middle East nation with bases in Latakia and Tartus supporting both air and naval operations.
French President Francoise Hollande has stated that Russia could face war crimes for its continuous aerial assault of Aleppo and other Syrian cities. The statement comes after Russia vetoed a resolution co-authored by France and Spain calling for an immediate cessation of airstrikes in Aleppo. Russian President Vladimir Putin has since cancelled his planned visit to Paris.
The Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, echoing sentiments from his European counterparts, stated on Wednesday that Russia should be investigated for war crimes in Syria. Johnson went on to call for anti-war demonstrations outside Russia’s embassy in London.
A fresh round of multilateral peace talks regarding the crisis in Syria are set to begin on Saturday. The discussions will take place in Lausanne, Switzerland and will be attended by representatives from the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and likely Qatar. The presence of the latter three countries indicates that the talks may focus on the need for non-extremist opposition militants to cease collaboration with terrorist groups such as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formally known as the al-Nusra Front.
The humanitarian situation
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) released a report on Tuesday indicating that only 11 ambulances are in operational condition in Aleppo for a population of 250,000. The report also notes that bombing has destroyed five ambulances, while an additional 8 emergency rescue vehicles are out of order due to maintenance and parts that cannot be obtained as a result of the ongoing crisis.
A new wave of Russian airstrikes killed 25 civilians, including 4 children, and caused significant damage to residential areas in Aleppo on Tuesday. Rebel fire on a primary school in the southern city of Daraa also killed six civilians on Tuesday, five of which were school children.
Airstrikes conducted by Russian and Syrian warplanes continued in eastern Aleppo on Thursday. Over 20 air strikes killed at least 13 civilians in the region, bringing the death toll for the week thus far to approximately 145. Rebel gunfire on regime-held positions killed at least 8 civilians this week while a rocket accidentally hit a school and subsequently killed several children.
On Friday, the UN envoy to Yemen said he expected a 72-hour truce to be announced in the coming days. The government announced their consent to implement the truce, with the condition that Houthi militias provide access for humanitarian aid to the city of Taiz. No truce has yet been implemented.
Cross-border shelling by Houthi rebels killed one person and wounded a mother and her child on Friday according to the Saudi Arabian officials.
A Pentagon spokesperson said two missiles, fired from Houthi-controlled areas, targeted a US warship off the coast of Yemen on Sunday and again on Wednesday. In both instances, the missiles missed their target and hit the surrounding water. On Thursday, the US carried out its first direct military action on the Houthi rebels, launching strikes aimed at radar that had been used in the Houthi attacks on the US ship.
What else is new?
The NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security published an open letter to Permanent Representatives to the UN on Thursday regarding the upcoming Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security (WPS). The letter, which is signed by 254 organizations, including the ICRtoP, from across 55 different countries, urges representatives to provide details on the progress that their countries have made in regards to previous commitments to WPS and it also provides recommendations for future steps countries might take in certain areas, such as “women’s participation in preventing and resolving conflict and post conflict rebuilding” and “addressing humanitarian crises through a gender lens”.