Tag Archives: Democratic Republic of the Congo

#RtoPWeekly: 13 – 17 November 2017

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Catch up on developments in…

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


Burma/Myanmar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Burundi:

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

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

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


Central African Republic:

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

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


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

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


Iraq:  

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


Libya:

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

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

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


Nigeria:

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


 Philippines:

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

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


South Sudan:

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


Syria:

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

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

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


Venezuela:

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

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

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#R2PWeekly: 23 – 27 October 2017

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Russia vetoes extension of mandate for joint UN-OPCW
chemical weapons inquiry in Syria

On 17 November, the mandate of the Joint Investigation Mechanism (JIM), the impartial investigation set in motion to find those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria, created jointly by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), will expire. The investigation was created in August 2015. However, Russia has recently threatened to veto the extension of the JIM’s mandate. Russia supported the creation of the JIM in 2015 and has supported the extension of its mandate in the past, which is why it would be inconsistent for them to veto this time. However, Russia, along with China, has vetoed matters in the UNSC related to the use of chemical weapons before, and has allegedly been increasingly critical of the findings from the investigations. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the JIM still has a lot of work to do, and, in May, the organization reported the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons as being widespread and systematic, thereby possibly amounting to crimes against humanity. As of 15 September 2017, 114 States have expressed support for the Accountability Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Code of Conduct, and furthermore, 96 States support the French and Mexican initiative, which proposes that States in the UNSC refrain from the use of veto in cases of mass atrocities. Ole Solvang, the deputy emergencies director at HRW, expressed fear that a Russian blockade of the mandate would send a signal of impunity to those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria and lead to further use of the banned weapons.

On Tuesday, Russia nonetheless chose to veto the extension of the JIM mandate. This was the ninth time Russia vetoed action to be taken against the Syrian government. Russia has previously rejected a report conducted by UN human rights investigators, which found the Syrian government responsible for the chemical attacks in Khan Sheikhoun in April. Reportedly, Russia continually pushed for an extension of the vote on the mandate until after the findings from the JIM had been assessed, but had insufficient support, leading to the veto of the extension of the JIM’s mandate. Sherine Tadros, Head of Amnesty International’s UN office in New York, commented on this calling it a “routine abuse of the veto,” which is the “equivalent of a green light to war crimes.”


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DRC

Iraq
Kenya 
Philippines
Syria
Yemen 

Other

Burma/Myanmar

After reviewing the situation in Burma, the United States (US) is set to withdraw its military assistance to Burmese units and officers who have been involved in the violence related to the ongoing Rohingya crisis. The imposition of sanctions on Burmese authorities is also being considered. In an official statement, the US State Department called for accountability for all crimes committed in this context.

On 24 October, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch published their submission to the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee outlining the crisis. The submission listed specific accounts of the atrocities including multiple accounts of sexual violence against women and children. The submission called on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and UN Member States to take action without delay.

France and the UK have circulated a draft resolution calling on the Burmese government to cease military operations in the Rakhine State and grant immediate access to UN agencies and other aid partners working to address the worsening humanitarian crisis. The draft condemned the violence occurring on both sides, including references to the 25 August Rohingya rebel attacks. However, the draft has been met with opposition from China, a neighbor and ally of Burma.

Switzerland has increased aid to Rohingya refugees from 1.8 million to 8 million Swiss francs. The Humanitarian Aid Department of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has provided tents, emergency supplies, and funding to operations run by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, the World Food Programme, and other non-governmental organizations.

Bangladesh sent a delegation to initiate talks with Burmese officials regarding the safe return of over 600,000 Rohingya migrants on 23 October. This delegation will seek the safe return of the Rohingya migrants to their homes in Rakhine State as quickly as possible.


Burundi:
The European Union (EU) has renewed sanctions against Burundi until 31 October 2018. These sanctions include asset freezes and travel bans against four people whose actions, according to the EU, undermine democratic governance and obstruct the search for a peaceful solution in Burundi. Since the beginning of the crisis, the EU has called on parties to refrain from committing violent acts and to tackle impunity for perpetrators. The European organization considered the continued deterioration of the situation in the country as justification for the sanctions renewal.

Central African Republic:

In a recent visit to the country, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned about the existing religious divide in the CAR and has called for the engagement of the international community to solve the crisis. He restated the need to strengthen the UN Mission in the country (MINUSCA) and to ensure a thorough reconciliation process, while calling on religious leaders to spread a message of peace. During UN Day, the Secretary-General also honored peacekeepers who were recently killed in attacks in the CAR.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

The UN has declared a Level III Emergency in the DRC along with Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. This activation recognizes the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in the country and aims to ensure that the aid system scales up its response. As the Norwegian Refugee Council stated, the recognition of a Level III Emergency remarks that the humanitarian assistance provided to date has been insufficient.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned that the number of internal displaced persons (IDP) in the country since 2015 has risen to 3.9 million, and approximately 428,000 have been displaced in the last three months alone. With the state of current militia activities and ethnic and political violence in the country, the agency has said that the risk of further displacement remains high. The security situation has made sustaining livelihoods very difficult for the population, and many are becoming increasingly dependent on aid. UNHCR also noted that out of the 236.2 million USD needed to provide assistance to refugees and IDPs, only a fifth of it has been received.


Iraq:
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has found that confrontations on 16 October in Tuz Khurmatu, a town near Kirkuk, between the Kurdish Regional Government’s (KRG) Peshmerga forces and forces from the Iraqi government conducted indiscriminate firing, which resulted in the injuring of at least 51 civilians and the deaths of 5 others, according to three medical workers located in a Turkish-run hospital. According to the same reports, civilian dwellings were hit by mortars and projectiles. It was not possible for HRW to get information on possible civilian casualties from any other areas close to Kirkuk. HRW called on the Iraqi authorities to investigate allegations of civilian properties being destroyed and to prosecute those responsible. Reports from Amnesty International supported these findings and showed evidence of broad scale impacts on civilians and their properties from the violent confrontations in Tuz Khurmatu. Satellite images, photos, videos, and testimonies reportedly demonstrate evidence of civilian houses being looted, burned, and  demolished, causing tens of thousands of people to flee, now in fear of returning. The direct attacks on civilian properties allegedly took place predominantly in Kurdish areas of the multi-ethnic city. While the witnesses interviewed by Amnesty were unable to determine if the indiscriminate attacks they witnessed were attributable to Kurdish or Iraqi forces, attacks have reportedly also been launched on Kurdish refugee crowds.

On Wednesday, the KRG proposed to install an immediate ceasefire, to freeze the results of the recent referendum, and to begin an open dialogue with the federal government, based on the Iraqi constitution. However, the Iraqi Prime Minister has ordered his forces to retake all disputed territory, signaling the military offensive is likely to continue regardless of these recent Kurdish efforts to resolve crisis peacefully.


Kenya:

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and African Union (AU) Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat have released a joint statement calling for peace during this week’s Kenyan presidential election re-run. The statement said that authorities must refrain from using violence and respect civil rights. The AU and the UN said they will also monitor the situation.

Diplomats from the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, among others, have also warned of insecurity ahead of the presidential election re-run and have called for an end to the violence and multiple threats targeting electoral commissioners. Opposition leader Odinga has called for a mass protest on Thursday, the day of the elections.

On Wednesday, 25 October, a day before the election, the Supreme Court failed to take a petition to postpone the election re-run. The petition, filed by three Kenyan citizens, including a human rights activist, said that officials were not able to ensure that the election was free, fair, and credible. The Supreme Court did not take the case because only two out of the seven judges attended the meeting, while at least five judges are required for a quorum. Some judges who did not attend claimed to have not been in attendance due to insecurity.

With the presidential election re-run taking place at the time of publication, there have already been reports of clashes taking place between police officers and protesters.


Philippines:
The European Union (EU) has reported this week that President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs has deteriorated the human rights situation in the Philippines tremendously. The EU has cited Duterte’s statements that incite the police to take aggressive approaches when dealing with drug users and pushers.


Syria:

The Syrian government regime has tightened its siege in the eastern Ghouta region near Damascus in recent months, reportedly blocking access to around 400,000 civilians from receiving essential goods, such as food and medicine. Consequently, the number of infant deaths has risen dramatically, with children as young as one month old dying from lack of milk and food. Eastern Ghouta is one of the de-escalation zones created by a Russian- and Turkish-brokered deal, however, the Syrian government continues to impose and tighten blockades on the area. Activist Raed Srewel referred to the situation as “the worst kind of criminality” and expressed that a UN initiative to solve this is needed to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.

The city of Al-Qaratayn, which had previously been retaken from Islamic State (ISIL) by Syrian forces, was retaken by ISIL early this month, which controlled the city for nearly three weeks. Since then, an alarming number of casualties have been documented. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SORH) has reported that at least 128 persons, both soldiers and civilians, were executed by ISIL during its 20-day long siege of Al-Qaratayn. ISIL executed the victims under the charge of “communication and espionage in favor of the regime forces.” These numbers have been confirmed as Syrian government forces managed to retake the city over the weekend. Further information released Tuesday suggested that children were among the casualties. According to reports from civilians, government forces performed the same patterns of action, executing civilians due to suspected collaboration with ISIL during their control of the city. The city has reportedly shifted hands many times during the year.

On Monday, The Russian Defense Ministry reportedly compared the recent military offensive to retake Raqqa from ISIL by the US-led coalition to the bombing of the German city of Dresden in 1945. According to the Ministry, more than 200,000 people lived in Raqqa before the conflict, while only 45,000 remain today. The US-led coalition said it takes all possible precautions to avoid civilian casualties, but has previously accepted responsibility for the deaths of more than 600 civilians in Syria and Iraq since 2014. However, as previously reported in the ICRtoP weekly, this number has been reported to be much higher by human rights groups, among them the SOHR (for more information please click here).


Yemen:

This week, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed met with senior Saudi Arabian and Yemeni officials during a four-day visit to the Saudi capital of Riyadh to discuss his initiatives to end the violence in Yemen through a political solution. By the end of his visit, Mr. Ahmed commented that the parties were “exploring significant steps that each side can take to restore confidence and move towards a viable negotiated settlement.” These steps include a renewed ceasefire and a return to diplomatic negotiations.


What else is new?
ICRtoP member HRW, along with the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa and the Fondation pour l’égalité des chances en Afrique, have launched a campaign to bring former President Yahya Jammeh from the Gambia to justice for his alleged human rights abuses during his presdency in the country. Jammeh ruled the country for 22 years before losing the elections in December 2016 and seeking exile in Equatorial Guinea. His government has allegedly been implicated in arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and torture. Targeted killings also reportedly occurred during his rule, including the alleged killings of opposition leader Solo Sandeng in April 2016 and newspaper editor Deyda Hydara in 2004.

On 9 November, ICRtoP member the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation will be launching the latest entry in its Sheri P. Rosenberg Policy Papers in Prevention series, entitled, “A Shifting Paradigm: Social media and the changing nature of conflict and conflict response,” featuring author Christopher McNaboe. Please click here for more information on the event and how to RSVP.

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#R2PWeekly: 9 – 13 October 2017

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Concern grows over impact of security situation on
civilians in the DRC as elections pushed to 2019
Several non-governmental organizations, including ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW), have pushed for increased sanctions by the European Union (EU) and the United States on President Kabila’s financial associates and family members. The sanctions are reportedly aimed at showing Kabila that his “unconstitutional abuse of power” has real consequences. The International Contact Group for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, which includes the UN, the EU and the US, will meet on 12 October in The Hague to discuss the humanitarian crisis.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for MONUSCO, Maman Sambo Sidikou, has briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in the country. He warned the Council about the rising political uncertainty brought by the fact that elections will most likely not be held before the end of 2017. Sidikou also noted that the conditions necessary to hold elections are the “implementation of confidence-building measures, the opening of political space, and the full respect of human rights.” The UN has also warned that civil society activists, journalists, and political opponents are subjected to intimidation, violence, and harassment for their opinions regarding the political process. Sidikou also highlighted the impact of the security situation on civilians, with 8.5 million people in need of assistance and almost 4 million internally displaced.

The electoral commission has said that elections cannot be held until at least April 2019. In a recent statement, the commission argued that it needs around seventeen months to pass a new law “drawing elected representatives’ constituencies, obtaining voting materials and recruiting personnel”. The delay undermines the 31 December 2016 agreement made between President Kabila and the opposition parties, in which the opposition agreed that Kabila could stay in power with the condition that new elections would be scheduled before the end of 2017.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DRC
Iraq
Kenya 
Libya
Mali

Philippines
Nigeria
South Sudan 
Sudan
Syria
Venezuela
Yemen

 


Burma/Myanmar:

The UN Human Rights (OHCHR) office released a report on 11 October that outlined interviews conducted with Rohingya migrants who fled the violence in Rakhine State. The OHCHR reported that the alleged violence perpetrated by the Burmese military and Rakhine Buddhist militants against the Rohingya is “coordinated and systematic”. The witness accounts described a number of alleged human rights violations against the Muslim minority, including extrajudicial killings, ethnic cleansing, gender violence, and torture. The report also indicated that the violence may have been coordinated in an attempt to prevent migrants from returning to their homes after fleeing Rakhine by allegedly destroying crops, livestock, and other property. Furthermore, the report outlined reports of Burmese forces targeting Rohingya leaders in education, religion, and culture in the region. The OHCHR remains “gravely concerned” about the situation in Burma.

The government of Bangladesh announced on 11 October the formation of the “Citizen’s Commission for Investigating Genocide and Terrorism in Burma”. The group of 35 Bangladeshi citizens will investigate the credibility of reports of genocide in Rakhine State. Their report is expected to be released in early February.

Bangladesh announced its plan to build a refugee camp that will house more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees. The arrival of more than half a million Rohingya Muslims since 25 August has put an immense strain on the existing camps where there are growing fears of a disease outbreak. Bangladesh authorities want to expand the refugee camp in Kutupalong.

Aerial footage taken of a Bangladesh refugee camp in Cox Bazar shows the growing spread of shacks and makeshift tents as more Rohingya refugees continue to pour across the border seeking refuge.


Burundi:

Amnesty International has warned that Burundian refugees in Tanzania are being threatened with forced repatriation if they do not voluntarily apply to return to Burundi. Authorities have claimed that the security situation in Burundi has improved and that there is no reason for refugees not to return to their country of origin. Tanzanian officials have also reportedly been coercing refugees to return, while cuts in the UN Refugee Agency’s funds have left refugee camps short of assistance, leaving most refugees no option but to return.

Burundian Catholic bishops have called for inclusive dialogue to find a solution to the crisis in the country. Joachim Ntahondereye, the chief of the episcopal conference in Burundi, has said that dialogue is in the interest of all parties to the conflict and that war must be avoided. Burundian bishops have opposed President Nkurunziza since his controversial re-election for a third term, who described the move as illegal and as a threat to the fragile stability of the country. Burundi’s population is 62 percent Catholic and some protesters against the president have carried religious Catholic crosses in the demonstrations.


Central African Republic:

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in the CAR has calledfor increased funding for the Humanitarian Response Plan to avoid an escalation of the crisis that could threaten the stability of the whole region. The plan, which is aimed at protecting civilians who are targeted by armed groups, has only been funded by 30 percent of its original budget, compromising the assistance for half of the 2.4 million Central Africans that need it.

Thousands of refugees have fled the renewed violence in the CAR to neighboring Cameroon as UN aid agencies struggle to meet their needs. Gado refugee camp, where most Central Africans are seeking refuge, is currently sheltering 25,000 refugees, compared to the 1,000 that it sheltered in January. Moreover, health workers in the camp warn that children arriving at the camp show signs of severe malnutrition or are badly wounded by fighters when leaving the CAR for Cameroon.

UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng has raised an alarm on the escalation of the violence in a recent visit to the country. Dieng emphasized the importance of holding the perpetrators of crimes accountable to ensure the non-recurrence of crimes, and stated that the UN’s goal is to “explore ways to reduce inter-community tensions and ensure the protection of civilian populations.”

Stéphane Dujarric, UN Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, has said that new allegations of sexual abuse by the UN peacekeeping mission in the CAR (MINUSCA) have surfaced. The abuse is reported to have happened in the town of Bambari against a minor by UN peacekeepers. The alleged victim has received psychological and medical assistance and the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services has started an inquiry that will be referred to the CAR for further investigation.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

An attack on a UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) base in North Kivu this past Monday morning has killed two UN peacekeepers and injured several others. The Allied Democratic Forces are suspected to have carried out the attack and MONUSCO has deployed a new brigade in order to reinforce its presence and protect the population. This attack comes a month after another attack killed a UN peacekeeper in Mamundioma. The UN has created a board of inquiry to investigate the incident and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has noted that the attacks might constitute war crimes. Guterres has also urged armed groups to drop their weapons and Congolese authorities to carry out a proper investigation and hold the perpetrators accountable.


Iraq:

Since 2014, more than 5 million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes due to the conflict with the Islamic State (ISIL) in the country, according to the UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, on Wednesday. As fighting to recapture territory from ISIL has intensified during recent months, the numbers of displaced civilians within Iraq has risen significantly. More than half a million people fled Mosul during the recapture of the city late last year.


Kenya:

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga has pulled out of the 26 October election rerun. According to Odinga, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has refused to discuss the reforms proposed in order for the elections to be fair and free. The withdrawal left a situation of uncertainty in the country since the constitution says that no election can take place with only one candidate.

Kenya’s High Court ruled on Wednesday that a minor candidate could run in October’s presidential election after the withdrawal of Odinga’s candidacy. Besides Kenyatta and Odinga, none of the candidates who ran in the past election received more than one percent of the vote. The Supreme Court, however, had earlier ruled that the petitioner and the responder are the only ones who can stand in a rerun in the case of a challenging electoral outcome.

On Wednesday, more protests erupted after the parliament, which is dominated by the Jubilee party, passed a law stating if a candidate withdraws from the election, the other automatically wins the presidency.

A day after, the government banned protests in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu following weeks of demonstrations. Fred Matiangi, the security minister, said that the decision comes to protect the lives and properties of Kenyans as it identifies the demonstrations as a danger to public safety. The National Super Alliance had called for daily protests beginning next week in an effort to put pressure on electoral officials.


Libya:

Early this week, it was reported that the recent wave of violent clashes in Sabratha rose the death toll to 43 and wounded as many as 340. Additionally, the city’s hospital was damaged in the fighting and is reportedly only partially functioning. The Ministry of Health reported in September that the wounded were being treated either at private clinics or at hospitals abroad.

On Tuesday, the UNSC delivered a presidential statement reopening a Libyan-led political process, as submitted by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The initiative is a Libyan-led peace process that includes the establishment of a unity government and an action plan that, among other things, includes preparations for the creation of a constitution.


Mali:

The UN Security Council (UNSC) has called on all parties to implement essential provisions from the peace agreement between the Malian government and the Plateforme and Coordination armed groups. The UNSC noted that the continuous delays have raised concerns over the security situation in Mali that could give rise to potential threats to terrorism and transnational organized crime throughout the Sahel.

Due to continuous violence and displacement in Mali, 165,000 children are expected to suffer from severe malnutrition within the next year, with an estimated 142,000 children already affected this year. The violence in northern Mali has caused disruptions in health services and access to water and sanitation, causing a greatest risk to children, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Although French peacekeepers have worked to stabilize Mali since 2013, there have been calls for intensified efforts to “build the resilience of families through improved food security, prevention and treatment of severe acute malnutrition”.


Nigeria:

On Monday, the Nigerian government began trials against more than 1,600 suspected Boko Haram members. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have notedthat fair trials for Boko Haram suspects are imperative. However, Amnesty International Nigeria’s Media Manager, Isa Sanusi, has reported that there are thousands of cases of arbitrary arrests where no evidence was provided and individuals were detained for years. Amnesty has also expressed concern in regards to the trials being held behind closed doors, stating that it prevents suspects from receiving access to public hearings.


Philippines:

ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) has stated that the Philippines’ grave human rights violations during its campaign against drugs should result in being removed from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The HRW Geneva advocacy director, John Fisher, noted the importance of a UNHRC member to “uphold the highest standards of human rights, and cooperation with the council”, something that Fisher believes President Rodrigo Duterte is not fulfilling. Fisher also addressed the issue of President Duterte denying the reported extrajudicial killings (EJKs) taking place in the country, stating that Duterte is following a “convenient” definition of EKJs based on the previous administration.

President Rodrigo Duterte announced his shift of small drug war targets to bigger networks and suppliers. Duterte said he will remove police from handling the drug war and instead place the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in charge. He admitted that there are lower death tolls during the PDEA’s operations than during police operations. Although it is unclear if his change in plan was due to international pressure, he specifically addressed the European Union’s focus on the rising death tolls during his speech.


South Sudan:

The Center for Peace and Justice (CPJ) has warned warring parties to not focus on division of wealth and power sharing during the upcoming peace revitalization forum organized by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional bloc that brings together Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. The CPJ has said that the discussion must prioritize solving the country’s conflict by addressing the suffering of civilians who are targeted by the warring parties themselves.


Sudan:

UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, Idriss Jazairy, has stated his approval of the United States’ (US) recent decision to lift sanctions against Sudan. Jazairy believes that this is a step in the right direction to fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda, specifically Goal 1, to eradicate poverty. However, both American and Sudanese actors have called on the United States to continue pressuring President Omar al-Bashir and his government to support peace and democratic changes, as well as ending the armed conflicts in Sudan.


Syria:

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported, that since the beginning of Operation Inherent Resolve in 2014, the US-led coalition has allegedly “unintentionally killed” at least 685 civilians in its military action against the Islamic State (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. However, other independent sources, such as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SORH), have reported numbers much higher. In an article published late last week, HRW argued for the responsibility of the US-led coalition towards these victims, who the coalition have reportedly regarded as collateral damage. HRW argued that the parties involved in the US-coalition have the responsibility to support the surviving victims of their actions with both symbolic gestures, such as a public apology, as well as materially, such as compensation payments.


Venezuela:

Colombian police from Cucutá, a town close to the border with Venezuela, have found a mass grave in Venezuelan territory. An investigation is set to begin soon, but authorities have given no information on which country will conduct it. Several non-governmental organizations and community members have denounced disappearances or killings of people who deal with smuggling on the border. Many criminal organizations operate throughout the more than 2,000 kilometers of border between Venezuela and Colombia.


Yemen:
On Wednesday, Reuters brought attention to the Saudi-led coalition’s military activity in the Red Sea, especially around the Houthi-controlled port Hodeidah, which they pursue with the aim of blocking weapons from reaching the Houthi rebels by ships. The military activity reportedly started in 2015, and Western governments approved the activity allegedly as a way to weaken the Houthi fighters and support the internationally recognized government. However, the blockade also stops ships from delivering essential goods, such as food and medical supplies, to Yemeni civilians, which has been of concern to the UN and international aid groups since the beginning of the blockade. Millions of Yemenis still suffer the consequences from this. According to the report, the Saudi-led blockade impeded or severely delayed ships carrying aid supplies and commercial goods from reaching Yemeni ports, even when the UN had cleared the vessels and assured that no weapons were found. Last week, Saudi ambassador to the UN Abdallah Al-Mouallimi denied that the coalition was blocking commercial shipments with food and medicine, stating that such acts would be self-contradictory since Saudi Arabia is donating humanitarian aid to Yemen. Meanwhile, the internationally recognized government of Yemen has also implemented forms of blockades, such as when the government notified the UN of its decision to block a Houthi-held oil port due to its “illegal status” last summer. Therefore, the Houthi-held areas especially suffer from a lack of essential goods due to the blockades.

In the wake of the recent blacklisting of the Saudi-led coalition by the United Nations, Matthew Rycroft, the permanent representative of the United Kingdom to the UN, reported that his government uses “extremely stringent measures” to ensure that the weapons sold to the coalition by the UK “are used correctly.” Reportedly, the UK’s biggest weapon’s client is Saudi Arabia, who purchased weapons worth four billion dollars during the past two years. However, the issue is heavily disputed within the UK; for example, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly condemned the government’s weapons sales to the coalition.

In this week’s UN Security Council briefing on Yemen, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed urged the members of the Security Council to pressure the parties to the conflict in Yemen to embrace a comprehensive peace deal, emphasizing that an agreement to secure access to humanitarian aid cannot be the end goal of efforts to protect the Yemeni civilians. In his briefing, Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed argued that the influential political parties to the conflict have an interest in prolonging the war, and thereby maintain a profitable position in which they have control. Furthermore, Director of Operations at the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) John Ging noted that the humanitarian response plan for Yemen, which has to reach 12 million people in need, is currently only 55 percent funded.

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#R2PWeekly: 14 August – 18 August 2017

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Thousands of refugees forced back to uncertain security situation in Syria
The militant group Hezebollah escorted 3,000 Syrian refugees and rebels from Lebanon to Syria’s Qalamoun region on Monday, 14 August. The escort followed an evacuation operation also directed by Hezbollah about a month ago, which sent approximately 7,000 Syrians to the Idlib province in Syria. The UN has warned of the uncertain security situation facing the returnees and has indicated that many of them have been forced to move to satisfy political demands.

More than 1 million Syrian refugees have been registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon’s capital of Beirut, and approximately 500,000 others are believed to be in other parts of the country. There are increasing concerns among Syrian refugees in Beirut that the Lebanese government is trying to push them back to Syria. “The pressure to leave is mounting, they want us to pretend that everything is OK [in Syria], that we are more vulnerable here than we would be there. The Lebanese don’t want us. It’s an uncomfortable time,” said Nabil al-Homsi, a long-term refugee in Lebanon. Bassam Khawaja, a Lebanon researcher for ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch, said: “We’re very concerned about the lack of safeguards or any process in place to ensure that these returns are completely voluntary. Any forced or coerced returns would be a violation of Lebanon’s obligations under international law.”

Furthermore, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq stated on Monday that over 50,000 Syrians, mostly women and children, are stranded at the border of Syria and Jordan, an area where airstrikes are common these days. Haq added that there are scarce supply of food and healthcare, and around 4,000 people are living solely on water and flour. “The UN calls on all parties to the conflict to take the necessary steps to prevent further harm to the frightened and highly vulnerable individuals stranded at the border,” said Haq.


 

Catch up on developments in…

CAR
DRC
Iraq
Kenya
Libya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Syria
Yemen


Central African Republic:

30 civilians, including six Red Cross personnel, were killed in Gambo last week after clashes between state militia and a rebel group. The clashes took place just 47 miles from Bangassou, a town witness to heavy bloodshed. President of the Central African Red Cross Antoine Mbao-Bogo condemned the attacks and urged peace, calling “on all parties to take steps to spare the civilian population, and to respect all humanitarian workers.” The dramatic increase in violence has made the Central African Republic one of the worst places to be a child, according the United Nations International Children’s’ Emergency Fund (UNICEF). During a press briefing in Geneva, UNICEF spokesperson Donaig Le Du noted that the number of internally displaced people has increased from 444,000 to 600,000. Le Du added that the ongoing violence is the prime factor for such a huge number of displaced civilians.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Numerous reports released by UN agencies has underscored the severe food depravity currently engulfing the region. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) and World Food Programme (WFP), the number of those suffering from pre-famine level food shortages and in need of immediate humanitarian assistance has risen from 5.9 million in June 2016 to 7.7 million in June 2017. Furthermore, the UNFAO report underlined that persistent conflict in the Kasai region has deterred possibility for harvesting. In addition, the conflict has reportedly displaced approximately 3.7 million people nationwide.


Iraq:

Thousands of civilians have fled Tal Afar after airstrikes launched by Iraqi warplanes struck the Islamic State (ISIL) controlled town in preparation for an upcoming ground assault. The Iraqi army, federal police, and special forces units are expected to participate in the operation to recapture Tal Afar. The Shia armed group known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces is also expected to join the operation. Shia militants did not participate to a large extent during the fight in Mosul, a Sunni majority city, but they have vowed to take on a bigger role in the operation to recapture Tal Afar, a mostly Shia town prior to the conflict. Turkish officials have raised concerns of further sectarian conflict, as once the territories are liberated, Shia or Kurdish forces might push out Sunni Arabs from the area.

Civilians who have escaped Tal Afar have described severed shortages of food and water inside the town. “Most people drink water that’s not clean. The majority are surviving on that and a bit of bread,” said Alia Imad, a mother of three that paid $300 to a smuggler to help them escape. Lise Grande, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, said that humanitarian conditions in the town are “very tough” and added “thousands of people are leaving, seeking safety and assistance. Families escaping northeast are trekking 10 and up to 20 hours to reach mustering points. They are exhausted and many are dehydrated when they finally arrive.”


Kenya:

Violence broke out almost immediately after incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta was named victor of the general elections by election authorities last week, claiming at least 24 lives. In response to the violence following Kenya’s elections, the UN urged calm, calling on opposition leader Raila Odinga to send a message of peace to his followers. Odinga, however, has challenged the results of the election, alleging the results have been distorted by the technology used to count votes, and has pledged to take the case to the Supreme Court.


Libya:

On Wednesday, 16 August, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that recently obtained video footage allegedly shows forces linked to the Libyan National Army (LNA) in eastern Libya performing summary executions of seven captives and desecrating their bodies. The executioners in the videos are likely to be members of forces led by Mahmoud al-Werfalli, who is now wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for murder as a war crime. Al-Werfalli is wanted for allegedly killing 33 people in and around Benghazi from June 2016 to July 2017. “The ICC warrant for al-Werfalli is a wake-up call to other abusive commanders in Libya that one day their serious crimes could land them in a prison cell in The Hague,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at HRW.

Meanwhile, three international aid groups, Doctors Without Borders (Medecins sans Frontieres), Save the Children, and Germany’s Sea Eye, have suspended migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean, due to constant threats from Libyan coastguards. Boats of Libyan coastguards have continuously clashed with aid NGO vessels and sometimes even opened fire. The coast guard claims that the open fire was to assure control over the rescue operation. “In general, we do not reject [NGO] presence, but we demand from them more cooperation with the state of Libya … they should show more respect to the Libyan sovereignty,” said coastguard spokesman Ayoub Qassem on Sunday. NGO ships have played an increasing role in migrant rescues, saving more than a third of migrants in 2017 compared to less than one percent in 2014.


Mali:

Two separate attacks on the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) have killed at least eight this week. The first attack took place in Timbuktu, where five MINUSMA personnel, one civilian and one police officer were killed. The second attack occurred 130 miles south of Timbuktu in Douenza, where a police guard and peacekeeper were killed. No one has claimed responsibility. The UN Secretary General’s office released a statement noting “attacks targeting United Nations peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law.”


Nigeria:

Early Friday morning, the Nigerian military raided a UN camp in Maiduguri, a region that is often the site of violence due to the presence of Boko Haram. According to a military statement, it had raided the area because of its violent inclinations and did not have a particular target. The raid at the UN camp lasted three hours as the military searched the premise. The raid comes after the military accidentally killed 90 civilians during an offensive on Boko Haram in January.

Boko Haram’s offensive continues to wage on, with another attack on two villages reported on Tuesday. This is the fifth attack in the past two weeks. To date, there is no official statement on how many have been killed in the most recent attack. In addition, at least 30 were killed and another 80 injured in a suicide attack in the Konduga district, a region that often witnesses suicide attacks by Boko Haram. Three women are suspected to have been the perpetrators of the attack.

President Muhammadu Buharu’s extended absence from the country has frustrated Nigerians, who have now called on him through protests to either return to the country or resign as President. Protestors were met with tear gas and bullets, and while there has been no report of injury, authorities say they are still investigating the incident. The now called “Resume or Resign” movement has been in place since 7 August, and crowds will gather on Wednesday to mark the President’s 100 day absence.


South Sudan:

In an attempt to appease the raging civil war, President Salva Kiir has released 30 political prisoners after he first declared their amnesty in May. Most of the former political prisoners were detained for their support of the opposition leader Riek Machar. President Kiir hopes that the release will alleviate the opposition in a civil war that has displaced nearly 25 percent of the 12 million residents.

Just a week after the government captured the rebel stronghold of Pagak, opposition forces have taken the town back. Civilians of Pagak describe the government’s “terrorizing” of the region, despite the government’s claims that it is liberating the region from rebel rule. The government’s offensive on Pagak had received criticism because of its violation of the ceasefire that had been in place since May. Opposition spokesman Lam Paul Gabriel says that the taking back of Pagak from the government is a sign of strength.


Syria:

On 12 August, a group of armed people killed seven members of The Syrian Civil Defence group, also known as the White Helmets, in Idlib, which is mostly controlled by the al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front. The victims were all shot in the head with pistols equipped with silencers, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and an anonymous activist. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the attack might be “aimed to harm the image of the Nusra Front and to show that Idlib is not safe.” The activist speculated that Islamic State (ISIL) fighters carried out the attack as ISIL sleeper cells have been discovered in the area recently. Members of the White Helmets, mostly civilian volunteers, are well known for rescuing civilians in dangerous rebel-held areas since 2013, and were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016. The US said in a statement that it was “saddened and horrified” by the attack. “These cowardly acts of masked men took the lives of civilian volunteers who work tirelessly as first responders in order to save lives in incredibly dangerous environments,” said the US state department. The French Foreign Ministry and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also condemned the attack.

Regarding accountability for war crimes in Syria, Carla del Ponte, a member of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said on Sunday that the Commission has gathered enough evidence to convict President Bashar al-Assad of war crimes. Last week, del Ponte resignedfrom her role as she believes the Commission “is not backed by any political will.” When asked if there was enough evidence for Assad to be convicted of war crimes, she replied that there was, but added that blockage in the Security Council through the use of vetoes has rendered special prosecutors unable to bring the perpetrators to justice.


Yemen:

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of suspected cases of cholera in Yemen has exceeded 500,000, with at least 1,975 deaths since late April. WHO said that although the overall caseload has declined since July, there are still approximately 5,000 people infected per day. Yemen’s health system is struggling to cope with the currently largest cholera crisis in the world, with over half of the medical facilities closed due to the two-year civil war between government forces and the rebel Houthi movement.

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#R2PWeekly: 7 August – 11 August 2017

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Kenya: Protests over election hacking claims turn deadly

43d34139-bcd3-45a2-ba91-76dbe147c960After results began streaming in this week, Kenyan opposition leader and presidential candidate Raila Odinga, who has repeatedly warned of the likelihood for election hacking, has urged his supporters not to accept the election results, claiming that the polls were hacked to support the current president, Uhuru Kenyatta. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which tabulates the voting in Kenya’s presidential election, has not yet declared official results, but initial IEBC reports have shown President Uhuru Kenyatta to have the lead with an alleged 54 percent of the vote with 94 percent of the votes accounted for. Odinga has called these numbers “fictitious”. However, his allegations have not been confirmed by local election officials and the IEBC is set to investigate the claims made by Odinga.

Such accusations have brought on renewed fears of post-election violence similar to that of 2007, when protests in the street over an alleged “stolen election” turned deadly between the two largest ethnic groups in Kenya — the Kikuyu and Luo peoples. The following ethnic violence resulted in as many as 1,400 deaths in 2007 and 2008. The previous crisis finally came to an end on 28 February 2008, when both sides of the conflict signed a deal brokered by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. During the 2007 crisis, Uhuru Kenyatta was accused of ordering an armed gang called the Mungiki to target Luo communities, and his case was referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC). His charges was later withdrawn due to insufficient evidence.

While Odinga has urged for peace and calm, he has also emphasized “I don’t control the people”. Violence has since spread out across the country. In Kisumu, a stronghold for Odinga and his supporters, authorities have reportedly used tear gas on protestors demonstrating in the streets and in Nairobi, police killed two “looters” on Wednesday, claiming that they are taking advantage of the protesting to steal. According to a regional police commander, security forces also killed at least one protester on Wednesday during clashes in Kisii County, around 300 kilometers west of Nairobi. In the southeastern Tana River region, police said five men with knives attacked a vote tallying station and killed one person inside. The police later killed two of the suspects and have continued to search for the other suspects involved.

Source of above photo: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters via Council on Foreign Relations


 

Catch up on developments in…

Burundi
CAR
DRC
Gaza/West bank
Iraq

Libya

Mali
South Sudan
Syria
Yemen

Burundi:

The UN Security Council has noted with “deep concern” the recent political deterioration in Burundi, which has led to an increase in the number of refugees, reports of torture, and forced disappearances. The Security Council, in response to the allegations, has urged the Burundian government and all relevant parties to actively seek to put an end to the violence, meanwhile applauding the efforts of neighboring countries for their attempts to alleviate the violence currently engulfing the region. In addition, the Council also emphasized the importance of the Arusha Agreement signed in 2002, the credibility of which is being weakened by the current violence.

The President of the Security Council has threatened sanctions against all parties impeding Burundi’s peace process. Members of the Council have expressed concern “over the lack of progress in this dialogue” and have urged the government and all other parties to take effective measures.


Central African Republic:

UN Chief Stephen O’Brien has warned that the Central African Republic has shown signs of genocide. “We must act now, not pare down the UN’s effort, and pray we don’t live in regret,” O’Brien stated regarding the escalating violence in CAR primarily between Christian armed groups and the majority Muslim rebel group Seleka. UN peacekeeping chief Jean Pierre Lacroix is currently considering whether to deploy more troops at the request of the UN Security Council following the renewed tensions.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

The UN has urged the DRC government to renew its effort in holding all parties accountable for the series of massacres in the past three months that have left 250 dead, including 62 children. According to a report by ICRtoP memeber Human Rights Watch, about 100 survivors escaped the violence in the Kasai region into neighboring Angola. The violence is suspected to be a retaliatory offense after the leader of the Kamuina Nsapu was killed last August.

Fourteen members of the Bundu dia Kongo rebel group, which opposes President Kabila’s unconstitutional extension of his presidency, have been killed in clashes with security forces in Kinshasa. During the exchange, a police officer was also killed. The clash followed the BDK’s attack on the central prison, from where the group freed its leader, Ne Muanda Nsemi among 4,000 others in May. The recent violence at the hands of BDK, as well as other opposition groups, has provoked the government to block images from being shared on social media.


Gaza/West Bank:

On 8 August, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned Israel for stripping Palestinians’ residency throughout the years, an act that violates international law and could amount to a war crime. Since Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, authorities have revoked residency status of at least 14,595 Palestinians from East Jerusalem, according to the Interior Ministry. Most of the revocations are due to  the inability to prove a “center of life” in Jerusalem; however, in recent years, revocation has allegedly been used as punishment for Palestinians accused of attacking Israelis. Moreover, revocations have also allegedly also been used as collective punishment on suspect’s relatives. People whose residency status has been canceled described being unable to work legally, obtain birth certificates for their children, or visit ill relatives abroad, as they are concerned of being refused to return to the area once they left.

Deportation or forced transfers of any part of the population of an occupied territory could amount to war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, said HRW in the same report. Although Palestinian permanent residents in Jerusalem could apply for citizenship, most of them have reportedly refused to do so as it would mean pledging allegiance to Israel in their view. HRW emphasized that international humanitarian law expressly forbids an occupying power from compelling people under occupation to pledge loyalty or allegiance to it.


Iraq:

On 8 August, UN humanitarian aid coordinator for Iraq Lise Grande reported that aid providers are preparing for the evacuation of thousands of civilians and are moving to areas where the next operations against the Islamic State (ISIL) are expected to take place, such as Tal Afar, near Mosul, Hawija in Kirkuk province to the southeast, and the western Anbar province. Grande also added that although the battle of Mosul is over, “the humanitarian crisis in Mosul is not,” adding that around 3.3 million people remain displaced in Iraq, with 700,000 people from Mosul alone.

As Residents of Mosul return to the ruined city, hidden ISIL fighters are reportedly emerging from tunnels and ruins, threatening the safety of the returnees. “West Mosul is still a military zone as the search operations are ongoing for suspects, mines and explosive devices,” a military spokesman said, indicating that the area is still not safe for civilians. Furthermore, bodies of ISIL fighters still lie on the streets of West Mosul, as civilians would rather bury their neighbors’ bodies first, while the police and the military also refuse to remove those bodies. “Let them rot in the streets of Mosul after what they did here,” one soldier said.


Libya:

Residents of Derna in eastern Libya have faced severe shortages of basic necessities, including medical supplies, as Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) has tightened their siege of the city. LNA is currently fighting the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council (DMSC) that controls Derna, which is a coalition of Islamist militants and ex-rebels. “Supplies are depleted and nothing is getting into the city,” said one resident, adding, “There is a total blockade with no entry or exit. They only allow you to leave as a displaced person.”


Mali:

The United Nations has expressed concern following reports of numerous human rights violations that have taken place since June in the Northern Mali region. The human rights division of the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) has noted a total of 34 violations, ranging from torture and kidnapping to mass graves.

The violence has been followed by an escalation in attacks on aid workers; these attacks have caused the deaths of at least 100 peacekeepers in recent months and have interrupted the mission’s duties 70 times just this year, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have temporarily ended their operations in the region due to the escalation of violence.


South Sudan:

The South Sudanese army has taken over a rebel-controlled area in Pagak, according the spokesman for the rebel group, Lam Paul Gabriel. The capturing of the rebel stronghold has forced thousands to flee, including civilians. However, the rebels remain confident despite the setback, emphasizing that “taking the headquarters is not the end of the war.” The civil war was first ignited after President Kiir fired Riek Machar, then Vice President, in 2013, causing uproar amongst those loyal to Machar, who now represents the opposition. The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has reinforced its presence in the region, installing 4,000 additional troops primarily to provide protection in Juba, the nation’s capital, as well as other UN operations and civilian locations. The need for additional personnel is in large part due to the persistent conflict in the region, between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) which aligns with President Kiir against the opposition loyal to Machar.


Syria:

 
On Sunday, Carla del Ponte, a member of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, have resigned from her role since she believes the commission “is not backed by any political will.” Del Ponte added she has no power “as long as the Security Council does nothing.” The UN Commission of Inquiry said the investigation would continue after the resignation of del Ponte, stating: “It is our obligation to persist in its work on behalf of the countless number of Syrian victims of the worst human rights violations and international crimes known to humanity.” However, there is still no sign of any court being established to try war crimes in Syria. The Security Council has also showed no signs of referring the case to the International Criminal Court.

Regarding the battle to against the Islamic State (ISIL) forces, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday that the Syrian government and allied forces have successfully recaptured the last major town in Homs province from ISIL and are preparing to advance into the group’s stronghold in east Syria. Both the Russian-backed Syrian government forces and US-backed Kurdish forces are fighting ISIL in Syria, and the group is losing its territories rapidly.

On 9 August, US-led coalition airstrikes allegedly killed at least 29 civilians, including 14 children, in Raqqa within 24 hours, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Despite saying that it is making extraordinary efforts to avoid killing civilians, coalition airstrikes have allegedly killed at least 600 civilians in Iraq and Syria since 2014, with human rights groups saying the real total is much higher.

Meanwhile, after increasing bombardments on Tuesday, Syrian rebels are bracing for the government forces’ assault on their last enclave in Damascus, an insurgent spokesman said. According to residents, many civilians have already left the area due to continuous bombardments, but there are still pathways out of the city for any civilians remaining.


Yemen:

According to ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch, Houthi rebels have fired artillery into crowded areas in Taizz, a city controlled by government-affiliated forces; these attacks have reportedly killed at least 30 civilians in 10 days. Yemeni government forces are also accused of firing artillery into populated areas outside the city. HRW urged both sides to immediately halt these indiscriminate attacks, adding that the laws of war prohibit indiscriminate attacks that strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.

Furthermore, at least 10,000 people have died due to the Saudi-led coalition’s closure of Sanaa airport since 2016, Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said on Wednesday. Thousands of patients, who could have been saved, were unable to fly abroad for medical treatment and consequently lost their lives, said Mutasim Hamdan, the NRC’s director in Yemen. The NRC estimated that before the war, approximately 7,000 patients went abroad for medical treatment every year, and now 20,000 people are in need for life-saving treatment.

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#R2PWeekly: 31 July – 4 August 2017

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Kenyan Election Official Murdered
Ahead of Highly Contentious Elections 

Kenya election

Christopher Msando, an official responsible for observing the upcoming Kenyan presidential election, was founddead only ten days before the contentious election is set to take place. Msando was the acting director for Information and Communications Technology at the country’s election commission, the creation of which was celebrated by many local civil society groups and NGOs as a sign that Kenya was achieving a lasting and legitimate democracy. Unfortunately, the expectation of a peaceful political transition was devastated, as officials reported that Msando’s body was found with signs of torture and mutilation.
His apparent murder has sparked concern and undermined the already low public morale regarding the immensely critical elections. Some experts are publicly questioning the general legitimacy of the elections, as the results are expected to be very close and thus the outcome could be influenced by violence like the kind used against Msando. As the acting director for his department, Msando had announced plans to use technology that would reduce the possibility of a corrupt election, leading experts to question if he was targeted to enable tampering of the results.

Despite the demoralizing setback, the Kenyan public has shown a greater political interest in this year’s elections than in those of the past, according to political experts, and there is still hope for a legitimate election to be borne out on 8 August.

Source of above photo: Baz Ratner/Reuters


Catch up on developments in…

Burundi
CAR
DRC
Iraq
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen


Burundi:

Tanzanian President John Magufuli has called upon the more than 240,000 Burundian refugees currently residing in Tanzania to voluntarily return to Burundi, stating that their country has been effectively stabilized. The call has sparked criticism from experts who believe that Burundi remains a dangerous place for civilians, and many worry that Magufuli’s words would provide a basis to bully Burundian refugees into returning home. Contrary to Magufuli’s words, a report released in May by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) indicated that Burundi has remained unstable since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intentions to secure a third term in office by altering the constitution. Furthermore, the UN commission of inquiry on Burundi has noted the “persistence of serious human rights violations in a climate of widespread fear.”

On 1 August, the Burundian senate voted against abiding by a resolution passed by the European Parliament in early July, which had renewed the European Union’s commitment to suspend financial assistance to the Burundi government. The initial vote by the European Parliament came last year after EU officials accused the Burundi government of doing little to deter the politically instability affecting the country. Members of the Burundian senate have insisted that the resolution passed by the EU did not reflect the “real situation in Burundi.”


Central African Republic:

Around two thousand Muslim civilians have taken refuge in a cathedral in Bangassou in an effort to protect themselves from an ongoing assault by the Christian-majority anti-Balaka militia. The cathedral is being protected by a UN peacekeeping force but has apparently been targeted by militias very recently, causing local human rights experts to fear for the civilians’ safety. The majority of Bangassou’s population has fled the ongoing violence.

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix recently visited CAR and noted the extremely deteriorated security and human rights situation in the country, particularly in cities most affected by the violence, such as Bangassou and Bria. Lacroix also expressed concern about the town of Zemio, which is relatively close to Bangassou and which is currently on the brink of collapsing into a similar situation as its neighbor. Lacroix stated that the recent removal of US and Ugandan troops from the region may have left a power vacuum in which “hostile ‘self-defense’ groups” were able to thrive, and that a lack of thorough peace negotiations would only serve to worsen the situation.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Police forces have arrested at least 100 protesters that were demanding President Kabila step down from power by the end of the year. Opposition protests have been banned since this past September on the basis of security concerns, according to DRC authorities. On 2 August, Maman Sidikou, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the country and head of the UN stabilization mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), expressed concern about the recent spate of arbitrary detentions and restriction on peaceful assembly. Sidikou added that the DRC authorities particularly targeted members of the media.

On 2 August, MONUSCO accepted the surrender of Ntabo Ntaberi Cheka, the founder and leader of the Nduma Defence of Congo/Cheka armed militia. The group was allegedly responsible for the rape of at least 387 civilians, including 55 girls and nine boys, during a series of attacks in July and August 2010. It has also been implicated several times by the UN for its practice of recruiting child soldiers, with at least 150 known cases of using underage soldiers. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict in the DRC Virginia Gamba welcomed the surrender, claiming that Cheka was personally responsible for the “killing, maiming, abducting, raping and recruiting [of] children,” and called upon the rest of the Nduma Defence of Congo/Cheka to end its practice of using child soldiers.


Iraq:

On Sunday, 30 July, Iraqi intelligence officials said they blocked attempts by the Islamic State (ISIL) to launch suicide attacks on revered Shi’ite Shrines in Karbala and Najaf. According to the officials, who spoke under anonymity, recent meetings between Iraq and Russia have increased intelligence sharing and enabled both countries to launch the joint air strikes that halted the planned suicide bombings.

Iraqi forces are reportedly preparing to attack Tal Afar, a city 40 km west of Mosul, where between 1,500 to 2,000 ISIL fighters and their families are said to have taken refuge since Mosul fell as the Iraqi stronghold. Iraqi Major General Najm al-Jabouri predicted an easy victory over ISIL forces in Tal Afar, as the fighters are “very worn out” and in low morale from the recent battles, according to intelligence reports. Furthermore, although ISIL used vast numbers of civilians as human shields to slow Iraqi forces’ advance in Mosul, Jabouri stated that the risk of a similar tactic in Tal Afar is low since few civilians remain in the city.


Nigeria:

The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) has announced plans to step up its emergency response efforts in Nigeria to assist those who have been displaced by Boko Haram. According to IOM on 1 August, of the one million people who have fled the militant group to date, half are children and more than 130,000 are infants.


South Sudan:

David Shearer, the head of the UN mission in South Sudan, reached an agreement on 30 July with the government of South Sudan to deploy regional protection forces in order to protect civilians and provide humanitarian assistance to civilians suffering from the ongoing civil war. Since the war began five years ago, tens of thousands have died and at least two million have been displaced.

According to a 1 August report by ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW), South Sudan’s government has failed to deter crimes against humanity in the form of murder, rape, and forced displacement, as well as failed to uphold justice for those accountable. In the report, HRW named numerous individuals in the government – such as President Salva Kiir, ex-Vice President Riek Machar, former army chief of staff Paul Malong, and six other army commanders – that it believes ought to face punishment for their alleged role in the raging conflict that has engulfed the country. HRW called for the Commission of Human Rights to conduct an investigation into these members of government, following the UN Human Rights Council mandating the Commission to preserve evidence in March.

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix met with government officials in South Sudan this week to discuss how to best promote peace in the region. Lacroix explained that the conflict plaguing South Sudan must end in order to begin the peace process, as any attempt at peace negotiations have little chance of success while fighting continued. During the meeting, Lacroix also applauded the efforts of other parties assisting the country in its peace negotiations efforts, including the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) as well as neighboring countries, such as Uganda.


Sudan/Darfur:

The joint UN and AU mission in Darfur (UNAMID) held training on 1 August for members of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) to emphasize the importance of child rights and the protection of children in armed conflict. The training is apparently part of a Darfur-wide effort to improve the knowledge of armed forces and groups about standards and principles of child protection in armed conflict, and is meant to supplement the efforts already underway since 2009 to end the recruitment of child soldiers in the country. Boubacar Dieng, Head of UNAMID’s Child Protection Unit, stated that building trust between SAF members and surrounding communities, particularly internally displaced persons, was paramount to achieving a lasting piece in Darfur.


Syria:

Around 7,000 Syrians, including about one thousand militants, have begun to move from the Lebanese town Arsal and surrounding areas back to Syria’s northwestern rebel-held Idlib province, where they will be allowed to settle under the deal struck by the Sunni Islamist Nusra Front and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. The deal also allows captured Hezbollah militants to be released back to Lebanese territory. According to former residents of Arsal, most of the Syrian refugees originally fled to the city when the Syrian army, backed by Hezbollah, took over their towns over three years ago. Now many refugees no longer feel safe in Arsal camps, where Hezbollah has extended greater influence.

Khaled Raad, a member of the Arsal Refugees’ Coordination Committee of the Lebanese government, stated that tens of thousands of displaced Syrians still have no plans to leave Arsal, as war and military rule await them in Idlib. According to Raad, many of the Syrian refugees have calculated that it is safer to stay in Lebanon, despite restrictions on movement and employment in the country, as well as threats of imprisonment. “There are people who say Idlib is going to become a second Mosul, and I would rather stay in Lebanon and go to prison than move there,” Raad stated. The UN Refugee Agency in Lebanon stated that there are anywhere from 50 to 80 thousand Syrian refugees in the Arsal region.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have continued to advance and are on the brink of fully capturing the southern neighborhoods of Raqqa from the Islamic State (ISIL), a Kurdish official publicly stated on 1 August. The official confirmed that although the resistance from ISIL fighters has been fierce, around 90 percent of the southern area has been liberated. A spokesman for the US coalition, Col. Ryan Dillon, indicated that ISIL’s defence has been less coherent in Raqqa compared to Mosul, and they have a clear inability to address the multiple advances from the SDF. On Monday, 31 July, the World Health Organization described the situation in Raqqa as “particularly worrying,” saying the city’s main healthcare facilities have been closed due to airstrikes and that there are critical shortages of medicinal supplies and equipment.


Yemen:

Muammar al-Iryani, a minister serving in the Yemeni government, said on Monday that the government “will not accept that Houthi control of [the] Hodeidah port continues,” and accused Houthis of using the port to smuggle in weapons and of collecting custom duties on goods. Iryani reiterated that the government has agreed to a plan proposed by the UN to turn Hodeidah, from which 80 percent of food imports enter the area, to a neutral third party. The Houthis denied the accusations and indicated that they are ready for the implementation of the UN plan if the government pays back long-delayed salaries of state workers and resumes commercial flights from Sanaa.

Meanwhile, Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen is blocking deliveries of jet fuel to UN aid planes, which are responsible for bringing humanitarian aid to the rebel-held capital Sanaa, said Auke Lootsma, the country director of the UN Development Programme. Lootsma added that the Saudi-led coalition has repeatedly been accused of blocking aid to Yemen, but acknowledged that aid efforts have also been obstructed by delays and refusals of visas by both the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels. An outbreak of meningitis in Yemen has further exacerbated the humanitarian crisis situation in the country, where cholera and famine are already prevailing. Lootsma insisted that there is “no end in sight” to the war in Yemen and that time is running out to aid the ailing population, about 70 percent of which is in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

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#R2PWeekly: 24 July – 28 July 2017

Rtop weekly

 

Preventing and addressing armed conflict:
The role of women in the implementation of the Responsibility to Protect

The international community continues not only to be challenged by its failure to prevent armed conflicts before they occur, but also in addressing them in a timely and effective manner. The ongoing crises in Burundi, Syria and Yemen, to highlight a few, emphasize the need for renewed leadership and engagement in putting prevention up front.

A wide range of treaties and norms are available to address the root causes of armed conflict and prevent its recurrence. In 2015 the United Nations carried out high-level reviews of its Peacebuilding Architecture, UN Peace Operations and the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security agenda. The subsequent synthesis of these three reports provides a basis for renewed efforts in preventing armed conflicts, including the prevention of mass atrocity crimes.

The reviews drew linkages between the implementation of the Responsibility to Protect norm, the inclusion of women in peacebuilding and peacekeeping, and the ratification and implementation of the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court as tools and mechanisms for the prevention of armed conflict and ensuring lasting peace. They also underscored that systematic violations of human rights, in particular of women’s rights, and prevailing impunity for mass atrocity crimes, are among the root causes of armed conflicts and their recurrence. Further, they reminded us that participation of women constitutes a crucial dimension of broadening inclusion for sustaining peace and that peace negotiations and accords that are truly locally owned and inclusive of civil society and women have at least a 50% greater chance to succeed than those that do not.

The Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) norm offers a range of measures to reinforce national sovereignty and prevent the commission of mass atrocity crimes. RtoP is now widely understood to include three pillars of responsibility: (1) the responsibility of states to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes (genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing); (2) the wider international community’s responsibility to encourage and assist individual states in meeting that objective; and (3) If a state is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take appropriate collective action, in a timely and decisive manner and in accordance with the UN Charter.

Implementing RtoP is needed now more than ever if the international community is determined to prevent mass atrocities once and for all. Ensuring that the scope of the Responsibility to Protect norm includes a gender and accountability lens will further address the root causes of mass atrocity crimes, hence enhancing the RtoP preventive efforts. Through preventing discrimination and the violation of women’s rights, national stakeholders support the long-term prevention of atrocity crimes and their recurrence.

Furthermore, linking RtoP with the UN’s Women, Peace and Security agenda reinforces the international community’s ability to assist states to fulfill their responsibility to protect, under pillar two of the norm. United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1325, which gave rise to the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, was a landmark decision in addressing the gender gap in the peace and security arena. It recognized not only that women and girls are disproportionally affected by armed conflicts, but also that women are poorly represented in formal peacebuilding and peacemaking processes.

This excerpt is from an article written by Jelena Pia-Comella, Deputy Executive Director of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, featured in the latest edition of the Liberal International Human Rights Bulletin. 

Please click here to read the full article.


Catch up on developments in…

Burundi
CAR
Cote d’Ivoire
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq
Kenya
Libya
Nigeria
South Sudan
Syria
Yemen


 

Burundi:

Last week, in an effort to prove that Burundi is now peaceful and safe, President Pierre Nkuruniza urged the more than 250,000 Burundi refugees currently in Tanzania to return to Burundi. The message came during a meeting with Tanzanian President John Magufuli, who also stated that he desires for Burundian refugees “to voluntarily return home.” The UN and local human rights groups have said the violence has continued, despite the joint statement of the leaders.

Michael Kafando, the UN Special Envoy to Burundi, urged inclusive dialogue during a meeting on 26 July in light of the political conflict that continues to pervade Burundi. As a “prerequisite” to any peaceful solution, Kafando emphasized the need for inclusive dialogue at the request of both domestic actors and neighboring countries that share concern for exiled opposition parties. Mr. Kafando noted with urgency the Burundi government’s need to comply with the needs of opposition factions.


Central African Republic:

A Moroccan peacekeeper from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in CAR (MINUSCA) was killed in an attack allegedly carried out by the Christian-majority anti-Balaka militia. The attack occurred in the city of Bangassou, which has been notorious for its rising levels of violence in the past several months, and may be retaliatory in nature. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has condemned the attack and called for an investigation.


Cote d’Ivoire:

Recent military uprisings have ignited concern in local authorities regarding the security and stability levels in Cote d’Ivoire. The government effectively disabled the UN mission in Cote d’Ivoire on 30 June, and the mission itself expressed confidence that the country would be able to capitalize on the stability. Despite this confidence, military uprisings have reportedly been regular occurrences, with troops formerly associated with the rebel group Forces Nouvelles allegedly being responsible. Human rights groups are watching the potentially deteriorating situation with caution.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed met with President Joseph Kabila on Tuesday in a coordinated effort to “support and encourage” inclusive elections and development. The meeting occurred amid a report by the UN Joint Human Rights Office in Congo (UNJHRO) accusing the DRC government of creating mass graves in the Kasai region, which has been beset with violence. The report detailed: “As of June 30, 2017, UNJHRO had identified a total of 42 mass graves in these three provinces [of Kasai], most of which would have been dug by [Congolese army] elements following clashes with proposed militia members.” Additionally, UNJHRO announced in early July that it had discovered what appears to be more mass graves, bringing the total found to around 80.

The DRC government has maintained that it has no connection to the mass graves, instead insisting that the rebel militias are responsible. Despite this, fears of a widespread ethnic conflict reminiscent of the country’s civil war have begun to resurface. The UN Human Rights Council will be forming a team in the coming weeks to probe the region’s human rights record.


Gaza/West Bank:

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, warnedon Tuesday that ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem is at “grave risk” of escalating into a religious conflict that would ultimately engulf the rest of the region. Mladenov urged Israel to fulfill its responsibility of upholding international human rights law and humanitarian law, reiterating that settlements in Jerusalem run against international law and norms, while also urging Palestinian leaders to avoid provocative statements that would aggravate the situation. Additionally, power struggles between the two Palestinian factions of Fatah and Hamas have further deteriorated the human rights situation in Gaza, with Mladenov insisting that, “Whatever the political differences between the Palestinian factions, it is not the people of Gaza who should pay the price.”


Iraq:

Geert Cappelaere, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, called on 22 July for the “immediate care and protection” of children in-war torn Mosul, which has been recently liberated from the Islamic State (ISIL). Cappelaere stated that while the worst of the violence may be over, many children in the city and surrounding region continue to suffer, as children in shock continue to be found in debris or hidden tunnels in Mosul and many have lost their families while fleeing. “Many children have been forced to fight and some to carry out acts of extreme violence,” Cappelaere stated.

Meanwhile, the 16th Division, a US-trained Iraqi army division, has allegedly executed dozens of men during the final phase of its battle with ISIL in Mosul, according to ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) on 27 July. HRW has called the executions a war crime and urged the US government to suspend all support for the 16th division. “Given the widespread abuses by Iraqi forces and the government’s abysmal record on accountability, the US should take a hard look at its involvement with Iraqi forces,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.


Kenya:

According to polls conducted this week, neither candidate in Kenya’s upcoming presidential election has enough voter support to secure a first-round win. The vote will decide whether incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is seeking a second term and has previously been accused of crimes against humanity after the 2007-2008 election crisis, will remain in power, or whether Raila Odinga, leader of the opposition and a former prime minister, will become the new Kenyan president. According to experts, the increased likelihood of a second round of votes has decreased voter confidence in the election’s stability.


Libya:

Libya’s UN-backed prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, and the rival opposition leader, military commander General Khalifa Haftar, committed to a ceasefire and agreed to hold elections after a French-led peace negotiation on 25 July. The agreement included a commitment to “refrain from any use of armed force for any purpose that does not strictly constitute counter-terrorism,” according to a joint statement by the two parties. Also included in the statement was a commitment to “building the rule of law” in the country, as numerous armed groups have risen and taken advantage of Libya’s political chaos since longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi stepped down in 2011. The Islamic State (ISIL) has been among one of the armed groups taking advantage of Libya’s power vacuum when the group occupied the city of Sirte in 2015, but ISIL was then defeated by forces allied with the UN-backed Libyan government. Recently, forces from the nearby city of Misrata have increased patrol levels as troops have observed movements by ISIL in the south of Sirte, namely regrouping efforts and threats of attacks.


Nigeria:

Nigeria’s military has blamed an unexpected gathering of homeless civilians for a botched airstrike that killed 112 people. According to one military official, Major General John Enenche, the military forces responsible for the airstrike did not expect to group to congregate in the area, which is being used as a camp for internally displaced persons fleeing from Boko Haram. Enenche claimed that the military believed the mass of people to be Boko Haram insurgents; however, according to Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), the camp was registered and run by the military and therefore it is unclear why forces would have mistaken the people to be insurgents, rather than displaced persons.

Two internally displaced people (IDP) camps in Maiduguri were attacked on 24 July 2017 by suicide bombers working with Boko Haram. At least eight civilians were killed in the attacks, with another 15 being injured. In its increasing use of female suicide bombers, the terrorist group has been successful in its attack campaign in the region. These specific attacks occurred only a few days after Nigeria’s army Chief of Staff issued a 40-day deadline for Nigerian troops to locate Boko Haram’s leader and effectively eliminate the group.


South Sudan:

Riek Machar, exiled leader of the opposition group in South Sudan, has refused to agree to a ceasefire and instead called for new peace negotiations to take place outside of the country’s borders. The ceasefire was an effort to alleviate South Sudan’s current civil war, which first erupted in 2013 after President Kiir relieved Machar of his duties and armed factions began forming around ethnic lines. Machar is currently being held in South Africa to avoid further exacerbating tensions in South Sudan, which has been looked at closely during the ongoing war by the UN and other rights groups for a possible genocide. The South Sudanese government has also been blamed for using money to bolster troops rather than alleviate the famine affecting the country.


Syria:

After the US announced its decision to halt support to rebel groups, the Syrian government said Monday that this could be a start towards ending the six-year civil war. Syria’s national reconciliation minister Ali Haidar said the government planned to reach more “reconciliation agreements” with rebels in the de-escalation zones established by Russia. Haidar further indicated that the Syrian government sees the US move to halt support as more an admission of failure than a policy shift.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have successfully suppressed insurgents in western Syria, and rebels and civilians were given choices to either evacuate or comply with government ruling. The Syrian government describes such deals as a “workable model” to bring the country closer to peace. However, the opposition said the deal is simply a tactic of forcibly displacing people who oppose Assad. In response to critics, Haidar said many people have returned to their homes after local deals ended the fighting.
Furthermore, the defence ministry of Russia said military police forces have been sent to de-escalation zones in Eastern Ghouta, on the edge of the Syrian capital Damascus, and to an area in the southwest of the country. This is the first time foreign police forces have been despatched to help establish the de-escalation zones.

In the fight with the Islamic State (ISIL), on Saturday, 22 July, Syrian government forces and their allies have recaptured territory from ISIL southeast of the group’s stronghold Raqqa, which is a rare advance for Syrian government forces in that area since it is close to the area controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). SDF has continued to advance into Raqqa, and the US-led coalition is increasing assistance to the Raqqa Civilian Council, which was formed by SDF in order to govern Raqqa after its liberation from ISIL. After meeting with members of the council on 23 July, the US-led coalition said it is prepared to work with the council to secure gains made in Raqqa and that the council is doing “great work” in assisting displaced residents. Still, the council said it needed more assistance to address the challenges in the city.


Yemen:

On 24 July, the executive directors of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the World Food Programme (WFP) visited cities held by both the government and Houthi rebels in Yemen, where war, cholera, and famine have claimed thousands of people’s lives and displaced millions. The war between the Saudi-backed government and Iran-backed rebels has resulted in the blockading of ports along Yemen’s coastline, so that millions have been cut off from access to food and medicine, and less than half of Yemen’s medical facilities are functional. With the cholera outbreak being solely responsible for 1,800 deaths and 370,000 infected, the need for these medical facilities is stronger than ever. The UN organizations estimated that 10 million civilians are in acute need of life-saving aid due to the outbreak and looming famine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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#R2PWeekly: 26 June – 30 June 2017

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US-led Coalition Airstrikes Contribute to Civilian Deaths in Syria

SDF forces in Syria
On Monday, 26 June, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) reportedly captured al-Qadisia, a western district of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State (ISIL) in Syria. US-led coalition airstrikes have been assisting SDF throughout the Raqqa campaign against ISIL, but the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday that coalition airstrikes in and around Raqqa have also purportedly killed nearly 700 civilians this year.

Furthermore, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that US-led coalition airstrikes killed 57 people in a single attack targeting a prison operated by ISIL on Monday. Civilian prisoners are believed to make up the majority of the casualties from the strike. The prison is located in al-Mayadeen, an eastern Syrian town where US intelligence officials believe ISIL has likely moved most of its leaders. Colonel Joe Scrocca, coalition director of public affairs, said that the airstrike mission was “meticulously planned and executed to reduce the risk of collateral damage and potential harm to noncombatants,” adding that the allegations will be assessed by the group’s civilian casualty team.

Meanwhile, US intelligence officials reported they had observed activities that seemed to indicate preparations for a chemical attack were underway in Syria’s Shayrat airfield, the same airfield that Syrian government forces are reported to have used in April to allegedly launch a chemical attack that caused more than 80 deaths in Khan Sheikhoun. White House press Secretary Sean Spicer said late Monday that Syrian forces would “pay a heavy price” if they launched another chemical attack. US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reported on Wednesday that the Syrian government appears to have heeded the warning for now.

Despite the controversy on how its airstrikes are affecting civilians, the US-led coalition is moving forward with plans to make Raqqa safe once ISIL is effectively removed. On Wednesday, US-led coalition special envoy Brett McGurk met with the Raqqa Civil Council, which is designed to rule Raqqa after the coalition liberates the city. McGurk and other coalition officials said they would “support first removing mines, lifting rubble, maintenance of schools, then electricity stations and water,” according to Omar Alloush, a member of the Raqqa Civil Council.

Source of above photo: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters


Catch up on developments in…

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

 

 


Burma/ Myanmar:

ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) has noted the particular absence of Burma from the United States-affiliated list of governments that use child soldiers. Burma reached an agreement with the UN in 2012 to steadily end its use of child soldiers, but HRW has documented new recruitments of children into the military as of this year. According to Jo Becker, the child’s rights advocacy director at HRW, Burma’s removal from the list reduces the pressure necessary to produce change in the country, and reduces the credibility of the list in pointing out what countries are violating international law.


 Burundi:

Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General Michel Kafando is expected to brief Burundi officials on how to bolster cooperation between the UN and Burundi during his first visit to the country. Burundi’s Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Aimé Nyamitwe expressed confidence ahead of the Special Advisor’s visit, stating that the Burundi government believes Kafando understands the challenges facing Africa and how to combat them. His visit comes after the Burundi government accused the previous advisor, Jamal Benomar, of bias against the country’s interests.


Central African Republic:

On 26 June, Red Cross worker Joachim Ali was shot and killed by an armed militia group in the town of Bangassou, part of a region that has seen intense violence for several weeks. He is the second Red Cross worker to have fallen victim to the ongoing conflict, and his death occurred after the failure of the peace accord recently struck between the various armed militias in CAR and the government.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

The Bana Mura militia has emerged as a considerable threat in the DRC. Originally arising as a rival to the Kamuina Nsapu anti-government rebel group, Bana Mura is reportedly armed and supported by the DRC government. According to the UN, Bana Mura is largely responsible for the increased level of attacks in the Kasai region over the past few months, renewing both tensions and civilian casualties. Witnesses have told UN officials that DRC soldiers had accompanied Bana Mura fighters in the attacks and had even directed some of the group’s actions.

Rights groups in the DRC have sought to aid rape victims in the country to speak out about their experiences. Most of the 50,000 rape and sexual violence cases reported over the past couple decades are suspected to have been carried out systematically by both DRC soldiers and rebel fighters as part of the conflict plaguing the DRC. The UN has specifically noted the DRC’s alarming levels of sexual violence in the past.


Gaza/West Bank:

On Tuesday, 27 June, the Israeli army bombed three locations in Gaza, according to Palestinian security sources and witnesses. The bombing caused damage but no casualties were reported. A spokesperson for the Israeli army acknowledged that the bombings were performed as retribution for a “projectile fire” allegedly launched from the Hamas-governed region. However, Hamas has denied performing any such airstrikes. The current tension comes after both Hamas and Israeli officials expressed last month that they had no interest in escalating conflict in the region.


 Iraq:

On Thursday, 29 June, Iraqi forces declared they had successfully defeated the Islamic State’s (ISIL) self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq. The declaration came after Iraqi forces recaptured the ruined Grand al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, a symbolic move as al-Nuri was the place ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had asserted his group’s caliphate in 2014. During the recapturing of the mosque, civilians living nearby were evacuated through corridors by Iraqi and US-led troops. However, despite the Iraqi forces’ success in Mosul, ISIL still controls territory to the west and south of the city, a region that encompasses hundreds of thousands of people. Additionally, the cost of the ongoing battle in Mosul has been enormous, with the violence being responsbile for thousands of civilian deaths. About 900,000 people have fled from the violence, equaling nearly half the city’s population before conflict broke out, according to aid groups. Those trapped in the city, estimated at around 50,000 people by the Iraqi military last week, are used as human shields by ISIL and are in desperate situation with scarce food, water, and medicine.


Mali:

A branch of al Qaeda in Mali has released Swedish hostage Johan Gustafsson after 6 years of captivity. Gustafsson was first kidnapped in a restaurant in Timbuktu along with two others. Sweden maintained its policy of not paying ransoms for hostages but would not release the details of the negotiations that led to Gustafsson’s release.

French President Emmanuel Macron recently spoke to Algerian leader Abelaziz Bouteflika in regards to their agreement in 2015 to assist the peace process in Mali. Part of the accord required Algeria to help identify and “draw a line” for the separatist movement that has riveted Mali. However, Mali has yet to contain the separatists. The peace process is expected to take years, despite the peacekeeping mission’s presence.


Nigeria:

Nine were killed in Maiduguri, Nigeria, in what is suspected to be multiple suicide attacks orchestrated by Boko Haram. A suicide attack near the University of Maiduguri killed one security officer and injured two others. Another attack near the Jere region killed eight others and injured 11.

The United States 2017 Trafficking Report has listed Nigeria as one of several countries that actively employed child soldiers in violent military actions from April 2016 to March 2017. Particularly, in Nigeria, violations include the continued use of children to help support militias and “widespread sexual exploitation of Borno State women and girls displaced by Boko Haram.”


South Sudan:

The government of South Sudan has begun denying aid workers passage into rebel-held regions, asserting that the move is an effort to protect the workers. However, the restriction is also meant to protect the government’s interests, as a government spokesperson claimed on 29 June that if the workers were attacked while traveling in the conflict regions, the government would be blamed. Since May, aid groups have been prohibited from traveling to the most conflicted areas in South Sudan on at least four occasions, but the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted on Wednesday that aid workers have been allowed to travel to government-held areas during that time. Experts believe the government may be purposely restricting aid delivery to civilians in rebel-held areas.


Sudan/Darfur:

On 29 June, the UN Security Council unanimously voted to drastically reduce the number of peacekeeping troops in the Darfur region of Sudan. The move, which was an effort to reduce the extreme cost of maintaining peacekeeping in the region, will remove about 44 percent of the UN forces in Darfur. Sudan’s government has also been pushing for the removal of the UN and African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) by insisting that violence in Darfur has been greatly reduced recently. The same UNSC resolution expressed “serious concern” about the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, including increased instances of “extrajudicial killings, the excessive use of force, abduction of civilians, acts of sexual and gender-based violence, violations and abuses against children, and arbitrary arrests and detentions.”


Yemen:

On 24 June, UN-backed Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government claimed that it had begun an investigation into reports that United Arab Emirates (UAE)-backed forces have been holding detainees in secret prisons in southern Yemen, in which prisoners have been tortured and abused. Such claims correspond to previous reports from ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) last week, that 49 people, including children, were arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared in liberated areas of southern Yemen within the last year, with at least 38 detainees having been arrested by UAE-backed security forces. Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed bin Daghr has said that a six-member committee will investigate “human rights allegations in liberated areas… and sends its report to the prime minister within 15 days.”

 

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#R2PWeekly: 19 June – 23 June 2017

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Peace accord in CAR breaks down hours after its signing with
renewed violence in Bria
Earlier this week, officials from the government of the Central African Republic met with representatives from the major rebel groups in the country in an effort to formalize a path to peace. The discussion culminated in an “immediate ceasefire” accord on Monday, 19 June, which guaranteed the rebel groups political representation in exchange for their ending of violence and blockades against the CAR government and civilians. The effort to secure a formal peace in CAR was prompted by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ declaration this month about rapidly deteriorating security and stability in the country. Therefore, the parties to the accord seemed to be committed to transparency when they explicitly called for monitoring by the international community as part of the agreement.

However, mere hours after the agreement was signed, violence broke out yet again in the CAR town of Bria, which rebel group clashes have continuously plagued since 2013. Tuesday’s violence included the looting and burning of residents’ houses, leading to around 100 casualties, although the toll is expected to rise. A spokesman for the Popular Front for the Rebirth of CAR, a group formerly affiliated with the Muslim Seleka coalition, asserted that his group must protect itself from attacks despite signing the accord. It remains unclear which armed group is being blamed for renewing the violence in the city.

However, experts in the country had been pessimistic about the agreement’s chances of success since even before its signing. According to the President of the Central African League of Human Rights, Joseph Bindoumi, the most recent peace deal was just one of many that had also previously fallen through, and therefore he did not believe the armed groups saw the current deal as actually binding. Lewis Mudge, a researcher in the African Division of ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch, had questioned if the leaders of the rebel groups even had enough control over their men to force them to stand down from the violence. It is unclear when the two sides will seek to create another deal, if any.

Source of above photo: UN News Centre


Catch up on developments in…

Burundi
DRC
Iraq
Libya
Mali
South Sudan
Syria
Yemen

 


Burundi:

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, established last year by the Human Rights Council (HRC), provided on 19 June an oral report to the HRC about the human rights issues that have continued to pervade Burundi. The report detailed various human rights violations including torture, gender-based violence, forced disappearances with ransom demands, and unlawful executions. According to the report, these violations were committed by law enforcement and members of the National Intelligence Service, who targeted anti-government sympathizers, though ethnicity has also allegedly been a driving factor.

The Commission was first created in September 2016 in order to identify and ensure accountability for atrocity crimes committed since April 2015, with the Chairman of the Commission, Fatsah Ouguergouz, confirming “the scope and gravity of human rights violations and abuses” in Burundi since that time. The Burundian government, however, has accused the Commission of bias and being influenced by the European Union. The final report will be presented in September, at which time the Commission will decide whether the crimes violate international law.

On 20 June, Assistant Secretary-General Taye-Brook Zerihoun urged the international community to assist peacebuilding efforts to the Security Council during an update on the situation in Burundi. Continued reports of “targeted arrests, arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment of real or perceived opposition members” have fueled a renewed effort to initiate a cooperative political dialogue in the region. A lack of effective cooperation between the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Burundian government has resulted in the stagnation of the peacebuilding efforts.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has urged elections to be conducted in the DRC immediately, while declaring that the political future of the country and Africa as a whole is in “grave danger.” DRC President Joseph Kabila has yet to vacate his office despite agreements to step down in 2016, and efforts to organize elections have deteriorated since then. President Kabila has stated that elections will take place by the end of 2017, but asserted they will not be held if doing so “would result in further chaos.” Meanwhile, the DRC is experiencing an ongoing insurgency as the Kamuina Nsapu forces maintain a prolonged uprising against security forces in the Kasai region.

A report released by the Catholic Church in Congo on 20 June stated that over 3,300 people have been killed as the situation in the Kasai region deteriorates. It is a sharp increase from the previously reported death toll of 400. Additionally, the government-backed coalition Bana Mura has “shot dead, hacked or burnt to death, and mutilated hundreds of villagers” in the region, according to Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 20 June. The High Commissioner further detailed examples of atrocity crimes being committed by both the Kamuina Nsapu and Bana Mura forces, including deliberate attacks and mutilations of children as young as two.

Alexis Thambwe Mwamba, the Justice Minister in the DRC, has rejected calls for an independent investigation in the Kasai region by stating: “Carrying out an investigation that excludes the Congolese authorities would be unacceptable. It would be as if we were not an independent country.” The High Commissioner for Human Rights had previously called for an independent investigation after the DRC failed to agree to a joint investigation.


Iraq:

Iraqi forces have continued their advance into old Mosul, the final district in the city held by the Islamic State (ISIL). The Iraqi army estimates that there are no more than 300 ISIL fighters remaining in the city. However, about 100,000 civilians, including 5,000 children, are still trapped with little food, water or medical treatment, and ISIL fighters continue to use those civilians as human shields and have killed hundreds who tried to escape in the past three weeks. Furthermore, the maze-like and narrow alleys and old buildings continue to slow down the coalition’s offense, as International Rescue Committee reported: “The buildings of the old town are particularly vulnerable to collapse even if they aren’t directly targeted, which could lead to even more civilian deaths.” Sabah al-Numan, spokesman of the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), stated: “The operation now is about street fighting. Air and artillery strikes will be limited because the area is heavily populated and the buildings fragile.”

On 21 June, ISIL destroyed the Grand al-Nuri Mosque, a prominent Iraqi landmark that is over 850 years old. The mosque is also the place where ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate in 2014. Analysts have stated that the destruction of the mosque indicates ISIL is on the edge of collapse and is no longer capable of resisting the Iraqi government forces’ attacks.


Libya:

On 19 June, the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) ratified an agreement brokered by the UN that would allow the displaced population of the city of Tawergha to return to their homes, according to ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW). Militias had attacked and demolished Tawergha in 2011, leading to a mass evacuation of the residents, and the armed groups have prevented their return since they were forcibly displaced. The attack was believed to be a retaliatory act against the Tawergha residents for supporting then-leader Muammar Gaddafi during the 2011 conflict. Currently, around 40,000 former residents of Tawergha are allegedly being prevented from returning to their homes by civil and military authorities. Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW, stated: “While the priority is to end the six-year-old collective punishment of people from Tawergha, the victims from both sides should also see justice for the crimes they have suffered.”


Mali:

A deadly terrorist attack killed five people on 18 June at a resort outside Bamako, the capital of Mali. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes after the group formed an alliance with other extremist militant groups in Mali. Authorities killed four of the perpetrators and arrested five others. French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country has stationed troops in Mali to assist the UN peacekeeping mission in combating extremist militant groups, has reaffirmed his full support to Mali’s government and its security efforts.

On 21 June, the Security Council passed a resolution enabling the deployment of a transnational military coalition to counter terrorist forces in the Sahel region. France, a vocal supporter of the resolution, called the resolution a “landmark.” However, the resolution currently remains unfinanced, as the Security Council will not agree to pull funds from the UN peacekeeping budget; France is urging financial cooperation to fulfill the resolution’s objectives.


South Sudan:

A report released by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHRC) on 19 June showed that there are 65.6 million forcibly displaced persons around the world at the end of 2016, the highest number ever recorded by the agency. UNHRC High Commissioner Filippo Grandi has urged countries to assist South Sudan by bolstering security and providing aid. Grandi does note, though, that peacebuilding efforts aimed at ending the civil war is the most sustainable solution. Grandi further noted that while South Sudan suffers from a “combination of violence, ethnic strife, lack of development, climatic factors and international neglect,” the country’s refugees are neglected by the international community because they do not reach “places where refugees become visible” and highly publicized, such as Europe, Australia, and the United States.

According to a report released by the UN on 21 June, an increase in humanitarian assistance has effectively pulled South Sudan away from famine. However, the number of people at risk for starvation has risen within the last month, illustrating that the country is still very much at risk. According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification report (IPC), the number of people at facing imminent starvation has risen to six million, up from 5.5 million just a month ago.


Syria:

On Saturday, 17 June, the Syrian army declared a 48-hour ceasefire to support “reconciliation efforts,” as the UN is starting a fresh round of Syria peace talks on 10 July in Geneva. Russia later said it would also hold a peace talk on the same day in Astana, Kazakhstan. There have been several rounds of talks between government and rebel representatives that have been mediated by both the UN and Russia since last year.

After the ceasefire expired on Monday, Syrian government forces resumed bombardments in rebel held areas of the city of Deraa, according to witnesses and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The government forces’ offensive on Deraa has intensified and more troops have arrived in the city, according to rebels and city residents. If the government troops capture rebel-held parts of Deraa and the few kilometers between it and the border with Jordan, it would divide the rebel areas in southeast Syria.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Wednesday for special consideration to be taken for civilians still trapped in the city of Raqqa, which the US-led coalition is seeking to liberate from ISIL. Guterres asserted there are civilians that have been deprived of food and medical aid for years and that he was “deeply alarmed” by the situation. Furthermore, the UN reports that ISIL fighters continue to use civilians as human shields and to shoot families who try to escape. “It is critical for all parties to facilitate improved humanitarian access to allow aid to reach those in urgent need of life-saving assistance without delay,” Guterres added.


Yemen:

On Saturday, Yemen’s Saudi-backed government agreed to a UN plan to keep the Houthi-held port of Hodeidah out of the civil war and to resume government salary payments. The UN has proposed that Hodeidah, a port that handles around 80 percent of Yemen’s food imports, should be turned over to a neutral party. However, a spokesperson for the Houthis said the UN was encouraging the Saudi-led alliance to resume its strikes and that they have the right and legality to respond to any aggression. The Saudi-led coalition has accused the Houthis of using Hodeidah to smuggle in weapons, but the Houthis have denied such allegations.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, 22 June, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the United Arab Emirates of financing, arming, and training Yemeni forces that allegedly tortured detainees during operations against the Yemeni branches of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIL). HRW reported that the UAE maintains the operation of two secret prisons in southern Yemen where officials are allegedly responsible for forced disappearances and where prisoners continue to be detained despite release orders. Prisoners have reported enduring torture such as heavy beating, sexual assault, and death threats to them and their families.

 

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#R2PWeekly: 12 June – 16 June 2017

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Civilian Deaths in Raqqa Mount as US-led Coalition Forces
Push to Reclaim City from ISIL

b71f049d-7645-4915-85fa-28393b073bf5Since beginning a large-scale offensive campaign on 6 June, the US-led coalition has continued to advance in Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State (ISIL) in Syria. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a network of Kurdish and Arab militias supported by the US-led coalition, has said they have opened up a second front inside the city. The recent offensive comes after a months-long effort by the SDF to cut off Raqqa, and ISIL within it, from outside support.

However, despite the seeming success at loosening ISIL’s grasp on Raqqa, the number of civilian casualties has continued to increase as the US-led coalition’s attacks have intensified there. Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry, told the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday that US-led coalition airstrikes are responsible for a “staggering loss of civilian life” in Raqqa, having caused at least 300 civilian casualties and the displacement of 160,000 since March. If the coalition’s offensive on Raqqa succeeds, it could liberate the city’s civilians, including Yazidi women and girls, that “the group has kept sexually enslaved for almost three years as part of an ongoing and unaddressed genocide” according to Pinheiro. However, he added that the fight on terrorism must not be “undertaken at the expense of civilians.” Additionally, Pinheiro reported on efforts coordinated between the Syrian government and armed groups to evacuate civilians from conflict areas, which he asserts can “in some cases amount to war crimes” as forces have forcibly removed civilians. Civilians also continue to face a direct risk from ISIL, as those who have successfully fled from Raqqa have reported that ISIL fighters have begun killing any who try to escape, and fighters have been using civilians as human shields.

The conflict situation has indirect consequences for civilians, as well. On Tuesday, 13 June, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) called for better access to Raqqa, claiming that close to half a million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic cited several barriers that have made aid operations “costly and complex,” such as a serious lack of resources and funding, as well as the blockage of land routes by other parties which has forced the aid agency to rely solely on airlifts.

ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch has urged the US to investigate airstrikes that have allegedly targeted civilians in Syria and Iraq, expressing particular concerns about the alleged use of white phosphorus by coalition forces in airstrikes, saying it “poses a high risk of horrific and long-lasting harm” for civilians in densely populated cities like Raqqa. HRW added that “White phosphorus fragments can exacerbate wounds even after treatment and can enter the bloodstream and cause multiple organ failure”. In this vein, HRW has urged the US-led coalition to make protection of civilians a priority.

Source of above photo: The Washington Post


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/ Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
Cote d’Ivoire
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Libya
Iraq
South Sudan


Burma/ Myanmar:

Burma has rejected the UN fact-finding mission to investigate allegations of mass killings, gang rapes, and torture by security forces against the Rohingya Muslim population. Aung San Suu Kyi said on Monday that the probe “would have created greater hostility between the different communities,” adding that the Burmese government did not “feel it was in keeping with the needs of the region in which we are trying to establish harmony and understanding, and to remove the fears that have kept the two communities apart for so long.” Aung San Suu Kyi said she would only accept recommendations from an advisory commission led by former UN chief Kofi Annan.


Burundi:
A grenade explosion in the primarily opposition-supportive area of Bujumbura left one dead and nine others wounded on 14 June. Bujumbura saw major protests two years ago due to President Pierre Nkurunziza’s seeking of a third term. Anti-government protests have persisted even after Nkurunziza’s success, with the UN having estimated that the unrest has caused between 500 and 2,000 deaths and over 400,000 forced displacements in total.


Central African Republic:

The UN Special Representative for the Secretary General in CAR, Mr. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, has expressed deep concern over increased attacks on civilians and peacekeeping officers throughout the country, while emphasizing “the intensity of the attacks, their premeditated nature and the targeting of ethnic minorities” as particularly alarming. During his meeting with the UN Security Council on 12 June, Onanga-Anyanga discussed how clashes between the Muslim majority Seleka rebels and majority Christian anti-Balaka militia has pivoted the country back into conflict, and further stressed the need to “re-energize” the political process in CAR to stabilize the conflict-torn region. Additionally, he applauded the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) for successfully reducing violence in the northwest regions of CAR, despite MINUSCA’s recent criticism by warring factions in the country.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has cited daily conflicts in Bria between Christian anti-Balaka and the Muslim Seleka factions. The violence has reportedly prevented the town from sustaining a livelihood, as tens of thousands of civilians have been forced to flee. Since the Muslim coalition forcibly removed President Francois Bozize from power in 2013, thousands have been killed in the country and up to a million have been displaced.


Cote d’Ivoire:
French President Emmanuel Macron has promised to reinforce the partnership between Cote d’Ivoire and France in an effort to mitigate the security threat that extremist terrorist groups pose in the Sahel region. The cooperation on military and intelligence issues was prompted by the March 2016 attack in Cote d’Ivoire by extremist groups, which resulted in 19 deaths, including several civilians.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and other entities have requested $65 million in aid to assist the rising number of refugees currently flowing into Angola from the DRC. Clashes between militia forces in the country have displaced 1.3 million people and account for the 30,000 refugees who have now fled to Angola, though the UN estimates the number can easily rise to 50,000. UNHCR has stated that it needs $35 million to fund its planned aid operations for the rest of 2017, though currently only $10 million in aid has been received.


Gaza/West Bank:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Sunday to shut down the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which aids millions of Palestinian refugees. Netanyahu said UNRWA has perpetuated, rather than solved, the Palestinian refugee problem and that it incited anti-Israeli sentiment, asserting that the UNRWA should be “dismantled and merged with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.” Chris Gunness, UNRWA’s chief spokesman, responded this week by saying that only the General Assembly, by a majority vote, could change the agency’s mandate.

According to a report released on Monday by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, both Israel and the Palestinians have failed to bring perpetrators of war crimes to justice. The report urges both Israel and Palestine to conduct prompt, impartial, and independent investigations of all alleged violations of international human rights law. The report also mentioned a “general absence of higher-level responsibility” in Israel for violations in Gaza, and said Israeli and Palestinian authorities must ensure that victims of violations during the long-standing conflict have access to justice and reparations.


Iraq:
Iraqi forces on Tuesday reported progress in the US-backed campaign to liberate Mosul, the Islamic State’s (ISIL) last stronghold in Iraq. Iraqi forces stated they had captured a district called Zanjili, which sits just north of the city’s historic center. With the loss of Zanjili, ISIL controls only two districts in the city. The battle of Mosul has been longer than expected because ISIL has been using civilians as human shields, making it difficult for Iraqi forces to advance.


Libya:

According to the UN’s Libya Sanctions Committee report released on 9 June, the UAE has allegedly supplied military aircraft to Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), which violates UN-backed international sanctions against the regime. The LNA has refused to recognize the UN-backed government in Tripoli, and has taken control over a large part of the country during the past year. The report also showed that direct foreign support to Libyan armed groups has been increasing, despite the continuing arms embargo against them. Mohammed al-Dharat, a member of the Libyan Parliament, indicated that the UAE could not have brought equipment into Libya without help from other countries. Sulaiman al-Faqih, a member of the Libyan Political Dialogue Committee, said the UAE has violated international law and has called on the country’s Presidential Council to submit an official complaint at the UN Security Council.


South Sudan:
South Sudanese rebels have captured the Kuek region after an intense battle between the government and rebel forces. The rebel movement loyal to the former First Vice President of South Sudan Riek Machar, SPLM-IO, has officially assumed full control of the region.

Leaders of Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti attended the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) summit in Addis Ababa to discuss the South Sudanese conflict. The current First Vice President of South Sudan, Taban Deng Gai, was also in attendance, though leaders pointed out South Sudanese President Salva Kiir’s “noticeable” absence. The IGAD summit agreed that President Kiir should “strictly implement” a previously agreed upon ceasefire and that rebel groups must respect the terms of the ceasefire. The conflict has already led to the displacement of 3.7 million people and forced 5.5 million people to face food shortages.

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