Tag Archives: DPRK

#RtoP Weekly 8 – 13 July 2018

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UNGA holds Formal Debate on the RtoP

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

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

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

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


Catch up on developments in…

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


Burma/Myanmar:

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

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

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


Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:

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


Gaza / West Bank:

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


Iraq:

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

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

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


Libya:

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


Nigeria:

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

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


South Sudan:

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

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


Sudan:

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

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

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


Syria:

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

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

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


Venezuela:

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


Yemen:

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

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

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


Other:

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

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

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

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#RtoP Weekly : 17 – 22 June 2018

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 RtoP in the UN General Assembly

It is a busy and exciting time at the ICRtoP, as we wrote to you in our Weekly a fortnight ago, the first formal debate on the RtoP in the UN General Assembly since 2009 will be taking place 25 June. As such we have been preparing for the debate and are looking forward to advocating for the inclusivity, importance, and perpetuity of RtoP’s inclusion on the UN Agenda.

Secretary-General Guterres has remained committed to conflict and atrocity prevention over his tenure, and the upcoming debate and side events next week in New York will provide Member States an opportunity to develop formal, on-the-record statements and encourage further dialogs on the doctrine’s domestication and implementation. As the Secretary General noted at the Oslo Forum this past week, the number of countries involved in conflict and number of people killed in conflicts increasing at significant rates, preventative action is “more necessary than ever.”

**Please note that there will be no RtoPWeekly 22 – 29 June due to the Formal Debate on the RtoP in the UN General Assembly. However, we will resume publication with an update on these events, including the Secretary General’s Report on the RtoP, the debate, and the crisis situations around the world the following week, 30 June – 6 July.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
DPRK
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq
Kenya
Libya 

Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan
Syria
Venezuela
Yemen


Burma/Myanmar:

A photojournalist travelled with the UN Children’s Fund and interviewed 14 Rohingya refugee women survivors of brutal sexual violence. On 18 June, he published a photo-essay in his personal blog where he explains how the issue of rape is still a taboo in Rohingya society. The blog also highlights how the shame that rape carries decreases the prospects of victims to marry or remarry close to zero. UNICEF also collected testimonies from various victims whose children have been called the “forgotten victims of war” by Secretary General Guterres.

Prior to World Refugee Day on 20 June, a report by the UN stated that a record number of people were displaced, and noted the Rohingya was one of the largest groups of refugees.


DPRK:

On 20 June, the follow up after the historic summit demonstrated flaws as James Mattis, the US Defence Secretary, claimed to be unaware of the steps of the alleged process of dismantling nuclear weapons by North Korea, nor does know when the next meeting discussing denuclearization will be held.


DRC:

Following his release from detention at the ICC, Former VP Bemba returned to Belgium, where he owns a home, the International Justice Initiative reported on 18 June. The ICC and Belgium signed an agreement in 2014 allowing for the interim release of detainees into their territory. As part of his release conditions, Bemba had to provide his address and contact information to authorities, in addition to agreeing to surrender himself immediately if required by the trial chamber.


Gaza/West Bank:

In retaliation for the release of incendiary kites by Palestinian protesters, the Israel Defense Forces struck nine targets in Gaza in through air strikes on 19 June. Concern continues over Israel’s “excessive use of force.”

On 20 June, Palestinians in Gaza fired “several dozen rockets and mortar bombs” into Israel. No Israeli casualties were reported. Hamas spokesperson noted that the strikes were in line with a “bombardment for bombardment” policy they have implemented, and that strikes were in “retaliation for an earlier Israeli air strike.”

Injured Palestinian protesters continue to face barriers to healthcare access due to the 11 year Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza. Hospitals have extremely limited access to medical supplies and only one third of injured people had exit permits approved to travel out-with Gaza for life-saving treatment. Instead, many lacking treatment have just faced a “slow death,” Al Jazeera reports.


Iraq: 

The wives of ISIS fighters continue to face prosecution for terrorism in Iraqi courts, following the defeat of ISIS in the country. PBS reports that while Iraq wants to extradite the women back to their home countries, such as Russia, the governments are refusing to accept them. If women with children are convicted, the children will remain in prison with them until they reach school age, when they will be sent to orphanages in Iraq. Coalition member, Human Rights Watch, is expressing concern over the lack of fair trials for these women and also the lack of consideration of individual circumstances in each case, particularly as those charged face the death penalty as punishment.


Kenya:

On 19 June the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) released a report that 60 percent of sexual violence cases that were reported during the 2017 General Election were perpetrated by security officers. The KNHCR also noted that many of the crimes went unreported due to a lack of trust in law enforcement agencies.


Libya: 

Fighting continues as the Libyan National Army attempts to take over the city of Derna. The LNA claims to claims to have captured 75% of the city, DW News reported on 18 June. Over 2,183 families have fled so far, according to the UN Migration Agency. Conditions are expected to continue deteriorating as the conflict continues.

A study released by Airways and New America reports that, since October 2011, 2,158 air strikes have taken place in Libya, by US, UAE, French and Egyptian forces. The report claims that strikes killed 395 civilians.


Mali:

On 14 June, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations highlighted the importance of consolidating democracy in Mali through the upcoming Presidential elections that will be held on 29 July. He also stressed that Mali should implement the 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation after the elections, as it will help towards the peaceful resolution of disputes.

On 18 June, members of local human rights NGOs informed EFE about 25 civilian bodies found in a mass grave in the region of Mopti, in central Mali. More than half of them were identified as part of a list of arrested people by FAMA, which suggests an “extrajudicial execution” committed by soldiers. AI and HRW have also recently denounced FAMA for their alleged abuses against Malian civilians with the pretext of counter-terrorist struggle. On 19 June, Mali’s defence minister Coulibaly admitted that its armed forces were implicated in the killings of the 25 civilian bodies found in three mass graves. Coulibaly instructed military prosecutors to open an inquiry to fight impunity and promote the enforcement of humanitarian conventions and international rights.


Nigeria:

On 16 June, the UNSG condemned the killing in the north-eastern Nigerian area of Damboa by six suicide bombers allegedly conducted by Boko Haram. This attack took the life of 30 people and targeted the Eid al-Fitr celebrations by Muslims which mark the end of Ramadan. Guterres reminds that attacks which affect civilians go against international humanitarian law and he demands Nigeria to find the people responsible for the massacre and that they are brought to justice.


South Sudan:

President Salva Kiir rejected an offer for his peace talks with Dr. Riek Machar to be hosted in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in favor of a more neutral location, South Sudanese officials announced a week prior to the anticipated discussion. There were concerns about an IGAD country hosting the peace talks, with alleged competition and interests between Ethiopia, Kenya, and Sudan, as each country offered to host the negotiations. Instead, Michael Makuei, Information Minister and government spokesperson, said that President Kiir would prefer to travel to South Africa to meet with Dr. Machar, where the former has been on house arrest since 2016. In spite of protestation from the South Sudanese government, the peace talks between President Kiir and Dr. Machar took place in Addis Ababa on 20 June, though little about the discussion or its outcome is known at the time of writing.

In efforts to impose economic effects on officials, the Trump Administration announced “network sanctions” against the families and commercial ties of  South Sudan’s leaders last week. The proposal, advocated for by John Prendergast and The Sentry, urges Kenyan and Ugandan leaders to investigate ties and seize relevant assets. As of 19 July, Kenya has resisted the push from the US saying it “will only act within the context of international practices through the United Nations conventions and the Bretton Woods institutions.” The Trump Administration, which is keen to end the conflict in South Sudan, believes that officials in Nairobi and Kampala have not done enough to curb illicit money flowing through their system.


Sudan/Darfur:

Since 15 June, the Jebel Marra area of Darfur saw increased violence, including indiscriminate shelling by government forces, tribal clashes, and by villagers against displaced farmers, according to Netherlands based Radio Dabanga. In the Rokoro locality, they reported of indiscriminate shelling by government forces in addition to the detention and beating of several teenage boys. Meanwhile, a tribal conflict south of Abu Jubeiha city left two dead and dozens more wounded until police and security forces intervened and stopped the violence on 16 June. Police forces also intervened in the attacks in South Darfur, in which hostile villagers retaliated against displaced farmers hoping to settle and cultivate the land. 17 were injured. Violent attacks also wounded returnees on 19 June, when a group of over 70 armed militants fired upon farmers returning to cultivate their land, reinforcing the need for secure, safe conditions and the collection of arms if government officials are as serious about implementing a voluntary return program to Darfur.

The detention of Humanitarian Azrag Hasan Humeid on 18 June also incited protection concerns. Humeid, who started a youth initiative aimed at helping families through small enterprise ventures in East Darfur, was arrested upon the return from a trip to Khartoum and transferred to Ed Daein. An anonymous source suspects that his membership in a minority tribal group in the region, as well as the unfavorable position the leading National Congress Party has against civil society initiatives, contributed to his arrest.

ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, delivered another biannual report to the Security Council (UNSC) on the situation in Darfur. She noted that after 13 years, and 27 reports, the victims of the violence in Darfur had still yet to see any steps taken towards bringing the perpetrators of the alleged crimes to justice. She called for the UNSC to supporting the effective implementation of its own Resolution which referred the Darfur situation to the Court in the first place.


Syria:

Syria’s state-run news agency, Sana, accused a US-led coalition of conducting air strikes on 17 June which killed 52 people. The  Syrian Observatory for Human Rights verified the number of deaths. The US Operation Inherent Resolve, denies the reports, claiming that Israeli forces conducted the strikes.

The UN Commission of Inquiry released a report on 20 June accusing the Assad regime of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Eastern Ghouta earlier this year. The targeting of civilian areas, denial of food and medicine to civilians and attempts to starve 265,000 people all amount to breaches of international law.

On 21 June however, the New York Times revealed that the UN report in fact omitted crucial details that were included in an earlier draft that they received a copy of. The earlier draft placed more direct blame on the Assad regime for use of chemical weapons. A member of the Commission however stated that more evidence was required to back up claims in the earlier draft which they would continue to look into

The Citizen reported on 21 June that in the last three days alone 12,000 Syrians had to “flee their homes” as a result of continuing attacks by the Assad regime on rebel-held areas of Daraa in the south.


Venezuela:

On 19 June, Jorge Valero, Ambassador of Venezuela in the UN, rejected the report on human rights on Venezuela that the UN plans to publish. They accuse the UN of relying on unverified information and that it “lacks scientific rigor”. This coincides with the publication of UNHCR’s report on Global Trends in Forced Displacement, which ranked Venezuela fourth in the list of countries of origin for new asylum seekers in 2017. The number of Venezuelans requesting international protection was 111,600 in 2017, triple the numbers registered in 2016.


Yemen:

Despite talks between Houthis and the UN Envoy to Yemen occurring over the weekend regarding a UN administrative take-over of Hodeidah, Martin Griffiths reportedly left the country without comment. It is unclear so far whether they reached a peaceful agreement.

Reuters reported on 19 June that the Saudi-led coalition invading Hodeidah captured large swathes of the port city from Iran-aligned Houthi fighters. Residents are reporting that “water has been cut off” to many homes and “death and destruction” is everywhere.

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#RtoP Weekly : 10 – 15 June 2018

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Attacks on Hodeidah, Yemen endanger an already fragile environment

Despite intense negotiations between UN officials and members of the Saudi-led coalition forces endeavoring to peacefully resolve fighting around Hodeidah, Yemen, the coalition began attacking the city on 13 June. The attack comes as an attempt by the coalition forces to seize the Houthi-held region and return it to Yemeni-government rule. The UN and numerous humanitarian aid groups remain concerned over the attack which risks damaging the infrastructure and port that currently supplies the vast majority of food and aid to the country. Indeed, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, says that “250,000 people may lose everything – even their lives.”

Saudi-led coalition forces remained within 10km of the city while negotiations were underway.

Martin Griffiths, UN Envoy to Yemen, arrived in the country on 2 June to propose that the Houthis cede control of the city to the UN, in an attempt to avert the likely “bloodbath” attack. The war-torn country is home to hundreds of thousands of people who already face starvation and an intense cholera outbreak, what is arguably one of the severest humanitarian crises at the time.

Despite the initiation of the attack on Wednesday, The Norwegian Refugee Council reported on 14 June that the Hodeidah port remains open. The port serves as a crucial lifeline, as the “main entry point for food and aid” to the whole of Yemen.

Saudi-led coalition forces are fighting against Houthi rebel forces within Yemen, whom it accuses of acting as a proxy force of Iran. The Saudi-led coalition supports the Yemeni president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Of over 10,000 civilian casualties killed in the Yemeni civil war since 2015, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has noted that almost two thirds were as a direct result of Saudi-led coalition air attacks. There are already 2 million internally displaced people in Yemen, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and over 20,000 people have fled the country to seek shelter refugee camps in Somalia, Jordan, and Ethiopia.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
CAR

DPRK
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq
Libya
Mali 
Nigeria
Philippines
South Sudan
Sudan
Syria
Yemen
Other 


Burma/Myanmar:

On 8 June, the Burmese government held a meeting at the presidential palace to discuss, amongst others, the situation of the Rakhine State, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with the UNHCR and the UNDP, national security, and international relations.

On 11 June, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that monsoon rains destroyed many refugee shelters in Bangladesh, which host one million Rohingya refugees from Burma. So far, 9,000 refugees have been affected and the number continues to grow.

Britain’s Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson, stated that he had spoken with Prime Minister Suu Kyi and also urged her to implement measures for safe return as soon as possible now that Burma has agreed to the UN supervising the return of the refugees, and that an investigation be carried out on the alleged atrocities.


Central African Republic:

On 11 June, the UN announced the death of another UN Peacekeeper. The attack also left another injured during regular patrol outside of Bambari. It is the second death of MINUSCA forces in two weeks. UN Officials warned that attacks against Peacekeeping forces may constitute a war crime.


DPRK:

On 11 June, UNSG Guterres described Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump’s meeting as “a promising development for global peace and security.” Guterres also highlighted that the way towards peace and denuclearization is with cooperation, compromise, and a common goal. He also drew attention to the fact that the North Korean humanitarian situation is far from ideal, as the UN estimates that 40 percent of the population requires assistance.

On 12 June, the long-awaited historic summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump took place in Singapore. They signed a statement where Jong-un reaffirmed his commitment to complete North Korea’s denuclearization and, in exchange, Trump agreed to “provide security guarantees” to North Korea, halting military exercises with South Korea. The statement keeps the countries engaged, but it fails to resolve any issues, lacking a specific plan of action or timeline.

On 14 June, US Secretary of State Pompeo denied the sanction relief on North Korea, suggested by DPRK state media. According to Pompeo, these sanctions will not disappear until North Korea denuclearizes.


DRC:

Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) DRC Country Director, Ulrika Blom, published a call to action in order to protect the people of the DRC and prevent a regional crisis. Humanitarian aid to the DRC is severely underfunded, leaving many Congolese displaced, without shelter, and without adequate food supply. Blom noted regional clashes between armed groups, tribal warfare, and unrest are causing people to flee their homes both internally, and across borders. Such large-scale displacement and instability, she warns, will inevitably affect regional politics and humanitarian aid responses.

On 8 June, the ICC Appeals Chamber acquitted Former Vice President, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Appeals Court ruled that Bemba was convicted based on crimes outside the scope of charges and that the Trial Chamber made errors in assessing whether or not he had taken all reasonable and necessary measures to prevent, repress, or punish the commission of his subordinates of the crimes that were within the scope of the case. Bemba was originally sentenced to 18 years in prison for two counts of crimes against humanity, and three counts of war crimes.

Following his acquittal on war crimes and crimes against humanity, the ICC ordered the release of Jean-Pierre Bemba on 11 June. The former VP faces sentencing in his appeals trial for witness tampering, but his release concerns many who believe his freedom could impact the elections scheduled later this year in the DRC. The judge was clear, however, that his release is temporary, pending the determination of the second case for which he stands up to five years in detention. Elise Keppler of HRW’s International Justice Initiative said that the ruling raises questions about the ICC’s credibility and may shock many who survived the violence in CAR.


Gaza/West Bank:

Coalition member Human Rights Watch called for the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry to investigate the alleged attacks on Palestinian medical workers at the Gaza border  by Israeli forces. Deliberate targeting of civilians and medical workers could amount to war crimes, particularly when targeted against civilians “who posed no imminent threat to life,” Human Rights Watch has noted in relation to the Gaza protests.

At a meeting on 9 June, the Israeli cabinet failed to adopt new decisions regarding proposals on how to deal with the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, claims that Israel is the country that is doing the most, despite the 11 year-long blockade it has put on the Gaza strip, which has caused a humanitarian crisis in the region.

Meanwhile, on 13 June the UN General Assembly passed a resolution which “blamed the Israelis for the casualties” seen in Gaza since Palestinian protests began on 30 March. Despite the US and Israel being critical of the lack of inclusion of Hamas-based criticism in the resolution, it has been seen by many as a “moral victory.” Palestinian Ambassador, Riyad H. Mansour, urged that Palestine needs “protection of [its] civilian population.” While the resolution is not legally binding, and a similar legally-binding resolution put forward to the Security Council was vetoed by the US, it nonetheless displays the US and Israel’s overwhelming “isolation” relating to the conflict at the UN.


Iraq:

On 9 June, a huge fire engulfed the warehouse that is storing the ballot boxes from Iraq’s parliamentary election which took place on 12 May. The fire represents a deliberate “plot to sabotage the country and its democratic process,” says Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, as it comes just before a planned recount of all votes following accusations of election foul play.

On 11 June, the Iraqi court issued  arrest warrants for four suspected perpetrators, including policemen and an Independent High Elections Commission employee, Al Jazeera reports. Further, the current parliament proposed that nine judges take over the leadership of the Independent High Elections Commission. Haider al-Abadi is rejecting a call to repeat the elections, despite his third place election result. He reminded the country that the decision is one for the “judiciary, not politicians” and Parliament would not have the power to cancel the election anyway.

On 12 June, first and second-place election winners Moqtada al-Sadr and Hadi al-Amiri announced their political blocs will create an alliance for the future government. They have announced that they “would keep the door open for other winning blocs to join them in forming a new government.” Their alliance is “a Nationalist one,” which al-Abadi may yet join.

The Iraqi Government has estimated that around $90 billion is required to rebuild Iraq in the wake of the previous 15 years of war in the region. At a donor conference in February, Iraq’s allies pledged only $30 billion to aid the reconstruction effort.


Libya:

Human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, continue to call for General Khalifa Hiftar to open humanitarian corridors and allow civilians still trapped within the city of Derna to leave before the Libyan National Army advances further into the city. On 11 June, Amnesty released a report stating their fears that civilians would be caught up in a “bloody street battle” if advances continue.

Meanwhile on 11 June, a US Navy ship assisted and rescued a group of migrants off the Libyan coast. While Italy refuses to take migrants, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, has pledged to accept those rescued at sea, stating that “it is our obligation to help avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a ‘safe harbor’ to these people.”

On 12 June, the UN Security Council extended the Libya arms embargo for another year. Both of Libya’s governments have called for the arms embargo to be lifted, on the basis that they want to “create an army and police force to defend against crime” and need arms. The opposition, however, maintains that an effort must be made to seize the millions of arms already circulating among civilians and militias before any more weapons should be imported.


Mali:

The UNSG published a report on the situation in Mali which includes some of the findings and recommendations recently put forward by the independent strategic review of the MINUSMA. The report states that the protective environment, particularly in the center of Mali, continued to deteriorate during the reporting period. Indeed, during this time 43 civilians were killed and 24 were injured in targeted attacks and conflicts among communities, with many others displaced.

On 8 June, thousands of Malians protested in Bamako against President Keita. The civil opposition movement, Trop c’est trop, organized the march to denounce proposed constitutional amendments which would give excessive powers to the president.

On 9 June, security forces informed Efe International News Agency that two attacks perpetrated by alleged jihadists in Mopti killed three Malian soldiers and wounded nine others. The International Crisis Group confirmed jihadist groups are settled along the Niger-Mali border are utilizing the instability and insecurity of the country in their favor.


Nigeria:

On 14 June, President Buhari assured that “Nigeria will continue to deepen relationships with her allies, particularly those with whom her shares mutually beneficial interests.” During his meeting with the Ambassador of Ethiopia, he highlighted the importance of security and economic development for any country and that was why he has been visiting Nigeria’s immediate neighbors.


Philippines:

The House of Representatives of the Philippines approved a bill which aims to provide full protection to children in armed conflict. It declares children below the age of 18 as “zones of peace” and gives them certain rights in situations of armed conflict. These rights include, amongst others, the right to life, survival and development, special respect and protection against any form of abuse, and the right to be treated as victims.


South Sudan:

Over the past week peace talks between President Salva Kiir and SPLM-IO leader, Dr. Riek Machar,show promise with Khartoum offering to host the talks between the two leaders. Both leaders are insisting a right to self-defense, causing concern that the talks may result in escalated violence.


Sudan/Darfur:

The Sudanese government denied plans to forcibly evict the internally displaced from camps in Darfur. On 9 June, the Sudan Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) has announced, however, several options for IDPs; voluntary return, integration into their local communities, or resettlement in another location of their choosing. This came along announcements of 400,000 voluntary returns of IDPs this year to date, making a total of 1.9million people residing in one of the 39 remaining IDP camps. According to the report released by ReliefWeb (linked) the HAC has not announced a timeline or plan of action for the various return and integration plans.

With the situation on the ground shifting, the joint mission between UNAMID and the AU must change, said UN Under Secretary General, Jean-Pierre Lacroix in a Security Council meeting on 11 June. Shifting its peacekeeping priorities to Jebel Marra, the location of continued conflict, and addressing the humanitarian issues as needed throughout Darfur. The newly proposed two-year strategy would continue peacekeeping operations to ensure the protection of civilians, mediation of conflicts, and humanitarian aid, but also include a shifting focus towards early recovery and development focusing on long-term projects and solutions.

An AU communique on 12 June announced the extension of the joint UNAMID mission in Darfur for 12 months, following the Joint Special Report by the AU Chairperson and UNSG. The Council also addressed the ongoing attacks in Jebel Marra, which has resulted in attacks against and the displacement of civilians. The region remains under humanitarian concern, and that security, land ownership, and public services delivery remain of concern. The communique also stressed that returns must be voluntary, safe, and in dignity, as stipulated by international standards. The Joint Special Report proposed dissolving the mission in June 2020, but the AU was clear that consideration must be given to the political and security situation, gradually paring down operations to remove the threat of a security vacuum.


Syria:

In a development for the prevention of international impunity for atrocity crimes, Germany’s Federal Court of Justice issued an international warrant of arrest for Syria’s Air Force Intelligence Chief, Jamil Hassan, on 9 June. The charges issued are in relation to his alleged ordering of forces under his command to murder, torture and perpetrate sexual violence against Syrian detainees between 2011 and 2014. Secretary General of The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) stated that “Germany is prepared to make its contribution to the legal reappraisal of these serious human rights crimes.” The principle of universal jurisdiction within international law allows the prosecution of such crimes to be pursued anywhere, regardless of where the acts were physically committed. While Syria has not ratified the Rome Statute and therefore is not under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, Hassan could theoretically be tried in the UN Court of Justice, permitting that Syria does not veto such action in the Security Council.

In a statement released on 10 June, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, expressed his condemnation of last week’s airstrikes allegedly committed by Russian Jets, which targeted the rebel-held town of Zardan. The White Helmets reported that the attacks resulted in at least 47 civilian deaths. The UN is calling for a full investigation into the strikes.

The Islamic State (ISIL) mass executed 90 of its own members in Syria due to them being “reluctant about the defense battles against Syrian army,” Iraqi News reported on 14 June. Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on 13 June that while he is “giving the political process a chance” with regards the supposed liberation of the southwest region currently held by rebels, but will “liberate it by force” if diplomacy does not prove successful.

Proposals for the creation of a constitutional committee for Syria will be discussed on 18-19 June by senior Iranian, Russian and Turkish officials and UN representatives. The meeting will take place in Geneva, and is aimed to “rewrite the Syrian constitution, paving the way for new elections as part of a post-war political reform.”

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons determined that the chemical Sarin was in fact used in an attack in Latamina on 24 March 2017, in which at least 32 people were injured. Although the OPCW did not assign blame, but it is urged that government forces were attacking the area at the time. The OPCW did however assign blame on the Syrian government for using Sarin in a different attack in Khan Sheikhoun a few days after the Latamina attack.


Yemen:

On 14 June Amnesty expressed concern over the arrest of key human rights activist and Executive Director of Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, Abdulrasheed al-Faqih, by Yemeni security forces. They note that if the arrest is solely on the basis of his invaluable human rights work then “he must be released immediately and unconditionally.”


Other:

On 31 May ICRtoP coalition member, Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) published a handbook for Parliamentarians on preventing violent extremism and mass atrocities. The handbook, written by Phil Gurski, in collaboration with the Stanley Foundation and Parliamentarians for Global Action, was born out of the November 2017 Milan Forum.

The Dominican Republic became the 117th signatory to the ACT Code of Conduct on 1 June. The Code of Conduct calls upon all members of the Security Council, in particular the P5, to refrain from using the veto in cases of mass atrocity situations. A full list of signatories can be found here.

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#R2P Weekly: 5 February – 9 February 2018

ICC opens preliminary examinations into situations in Venezuela and the Philippines

On 8 February, the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened preliminary examinations into the situations in Venezuela and in the Philippines. A preliminary examination determines if a situation meets the legal criteria for a full investigation by the ICC. Both the Philippines and Venezuela are parties to the Rome Statute.

The preliminary examination in the Philippines will assess alleged crimes committed since 1 July 2016. Under the slogan of the “war on drugs”, President Duterte’s administration has allegedly committed extrajudicial killings and mass murder against people involved in drug trafficking and drug use. The government reports that the killings are a result of suspects resisting the police. Human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, however, have concluded that the police murdered suspects when confronting them. President Duterte has previously denounced the Court as useless and has expressed interest in withdrawing as a signatory to the Court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute.

Similarly, the ICC will examine alleged crimes committed in Venezuela since April 2017, when protests and demonstrations swamped the country.  Venezuelan forces have allegedly used excessive force against demonstrators, used torture and ill-treatment against political detainees, and arbitrarily prosecuted civilians in civil courts. A group of protestors has also been accused of using excessive force against police, resulting in deaths and injuries


Catch up on developments in… 
 
Burma/Myanmar 
Burundi 
CAR 
DRC 
Gaza/ West Bank 
Iraq 
Kenya 
Libya 
Mali 

Nigeria 
Philippines 
South Sudan 
Sudan/Darfur 
Syria 
Venezuela 
Yemen 
Other 


Burma/Myanmar: 
 
Forced Starvation: On 7 February, Amnesty International (AI) reported that the Burmese military was forcibly starving the Rohingya population. AI asserted that the Burmese military has blocked access to rice fields, burned down local markets, and has also restricted humanitarian aid to northern Rakhine State. Accordingly, AI indicated that one of the main reasons the Rohingya are fleeing is due to the inability to find food and supplies. In a joint meeting with the President of the Swiss Confederation Alain Berset, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called on the international community to maintain the pressure on the Burmese government for a solution to the Rohingya situation. The Prime Minister stated that the root of the problem, as well as the solution, lies in Burma. She also urged the implementation of the recommendations made by Kofi Annan’s Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. 
 
Regional Conflict: The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, advised that Burma’s continued persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority could bleed into a larger regional conflict. The High Commissioner also asserted that the recent wave of violence which began in August and which sparked the refugee crisis was the culmination of a 50-year history of violence against the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State. Zeid also expressed concern as to the weakening state of democracy across Asia. 


Burundi 
 
Politically motivated killings: The human rights group Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH) released a report, in which it detailed cases of disappearances, torture, and killings in Burundi. According to the report titled “Do not Play with Fire”, 500 people were killed in 2017 and 10,000 are still detained. Apparently, some of these people were accused of either practicing witchcraft or were said to have been killed due to land-related issues. However, APRODH is of the view that these allegations were false and that these killings were actually politically motivated. Moreover, in all documented cases, these people died at the hands of the police, military, or Imbonerakure. Head of APRODH, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, also reported on the use of torture and overcrowded prison conditions. Burundi’s Human Rights Minister denied the accusations contained in the report. 
 
Call for National Unity: On the 27th anniversary of the adoption of the Charter of National Unity, whereby different ethnic groups in Burundi agreed to live in peace, President Pierre Nkurunzizacalled for unity in the country. Unity, he said, acts as a “shield against discrimination”. The Burundian President also indicated that the Burundian government has created, inter alia, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and National Council for National Unity and Reconciliation. 
 
Urgent Funding Needed: The UN warns that Burundi is at risk of becoming a ‘forgotten crisis’. With the number of individuals fleeing on the rise, the UN is attempting to gather more aid partners to launch a funding appeal. The funding would help to ensure those displaced and living in refugee camps would receive food, education, and protection from sexual and gender-based violence. Although the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, does not encourage refugees to return to Burundi at this time, some refugees decided to return home and are facing economic pressure and food insecurity. 


Central African Republic:

Conviction: Rodrigue Ngaibona, a former warlord and leader of the anti-Balaka militia, has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Human rights groups describe this as a first step toward justice.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Elections: Josh Tshibangu, a colonel who threatened to remove Joseph Kabila from office was extradited from Tanzania and is awaiting prosecution. Josh Tshibangu released a video last month on social media calling on Kabila to step down within 45 days. Kabila’s refusal to step down after his term ended in December of 2016 has sparked violence in the DRC. Tshibangu was detained in Tanzania and will be prosecuted for rebellion. However, on 7 January, DRC’s Minister of Communications Lambert Mende announced that President Kabila would not seek reelection in the elections scheduled for later this year.

Ethnic Violence: The escalating ethnic violence between the Hema and Lendu groups in the northeastern part of the DRC has left 30 people dead and forced 5,000 to flee, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said. The tension between these two ethnic groups is not new, however; in the late 1990s, the conflict between them caused 400,000 people to be displaced. UNHCR monitors in the region also report the burning of many villages around the area.

Individual Sanctions: The US, as well as the UN and France, have imposed sanctions against DRC general Muhindo Akili Mundos and three commanders of the rebel forces. The general is accused of cooperating with rebel groups and failing to intervene in mass killings and abductions. US sanctions prohibit US citizens and businesses from engaging in commercial activities with these individuals and freezes their assets in US territory.


Gaza / West Bank:

Gaza: The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that critical facilities in Gaza will run out of emergency fuel in the next ten days. The fuel supports generators and vehicles that provide life-saving services, such as water, sanitation, and health facilities. Approximately two million Palestinians, of whom half are children, have electricity for less than eight hours a day. In response, the UAE pledged $2 million dollars, which according to the World Health Organization will help keep facilities running for several months. Egypt also temporarily opened the Rafah Border Crossing (its crossing at the border with Gaza) on 7 February. The Egyptian government has only opened this crossing twice in more than a decade, due to security concerns over Islamist insurgents. The move should help alleviate some suffering in the densely-populated area. However, the border will close again on the evening of 9 February. (AG)

West Bank: On 4 February 2018, Israel announced that it was planning to legalize the settlement outpost Havat Gilad, which is located in the West Bank. This move comes after Rabbi Raziel Shevah, a resident there,  was shot to death last month by someone driving by in a car. Israel also demolished a school, which was funded by the EU, in the West Bank. The stated reason for the demolition was that the school was built illegally, without the proper permits.


Iraq: 
 
The United States Reduces Troops: While there are an estimated 7,000 American troops in Iraq, the US has reportedly begun to pull many of them out following Iraq’s declaration of victory over the Islamic State (ISIL). Army Col. Ryan Dillon told the AP that “Continued coalition presence in Iraq will be conditions-based, proportional to the need and in coordination with the government of Iraq”. This move indicates a shift in mission and comes about three months before Iraqi parliamentary election, set to be held on 12 May 2018, in which paramilitary groups closely tied to Iran are believed to play a decisive role.  According to US Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, “Great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security”. Still, the US appears to be renewing pressure on its allies to establish a formal NATO mission in Iraq to ‘train-and-advise’ Iraqi forces to ensure that ISIL militants do not re-emerge.   
 
Continuing ISIL threat:  There are reports that the Islamic State (ISIL) has been rebuilding power in Iraq ever since Iraqi government forces and the Kurdish peshmerga began to fight in October 2017 over the disputed city of Kirkuk. Since then, reports indicate that ISIL has been launching daily attacks and is responsible for killing at least 390 Iraqi civilians. Data collected by monitoring groups also indicates that ISIL or unidentified fighters carried out 440 bombings, clashes, assassinations, abductions, and suicide attacks, over the course of the past 100 days or so. An expert report circulated to the Security Council on 6 February, confirms that, despite having lost most of its territory, ISIL continues to pose a “significant and evolving threat around the world”.” The following day, on 7 February, the Iraqi Armed Forces announced a major operation aimed at clearing ISIL from the country’s northeastern desert region, close to its border with Iran. Iraqi authorities also stated this operation targeted an emerging armed group, named the “White Banners”. 
 
Collective Punishment and Forcible Displacement: On 4 February, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that Iraqi forces were “waging collective punishment on civilians”. In particular, officials, camp management, and three international organizations confirmed that Iraqi forces forcibly displaced at least 235 Iraqi families, suspected of having ISIL relatives, in early January. Moreover, as most of these families were being rounded up without warning and displaced to Duqaq camp (near the city of Kirkuk),  HRW also reported that groups within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) forced some parents to leave their children behind and also destroyed some of their homes. Furthermore, some interviewees told HRW that local police working in Duqaq camp have confiscated their families’ identity papers to ensure they cannot flee. A lawyer and a human rights worker in Hawija indicated to HRW that there were no provincial or federal orders to displace these families. It is a fundamental tenet of international law that collective punishment is strictly forbidden – punishment for crimes may only be imposed after a fair trial, which determines individual guilt. Moreover, international humanitarian law strictly prohibits forced displacement of civilians, except in limited cases where it is necessary to protect civilians or for military necessity. Under international criminal law, it is also war crime to order unlawful displacements during times of conflict. Unlawful forced displacement can similarly amount to a crime against humanity if it is done on a widespread or systematic basis. Iraqi authorities must take immediate steps to investigate these alleged crimes.


Kenya: 
 
Aftermath of Raila Odinga’s unofficial swearing-in ceremony:  
Two of the four television stations, which were suspended on 30 January ahead of the mock inauguration of Raila Odinga, were back on air as of Monday 5 January. This comes after a Kenya High Court Ruling on 1 February, which ordered the government to lift the suspension on all independent tv stations. 
 
Miguna Miguna, a Kenyan-born lawyer who swore in Raila Odinga at his unofficial inauguration on 30 January, was apprehended and charged with treason. After his arrest, ICRtoP partner Human Rights Watch called upon Kenyan authorities to obey a court order and urgently produce Miguna before a court, since he had already been in custody longer than 24 hours, in violation of Kenyan law. The court also ordered that Miguna be bailed after his hearing. Instead ,however, on 7 February, Kenya deportedMiguna back to Canada, where he maintains dual citizenship. Kenyan authorities have since issued a statement claiming that under the old constitution Kenyans couldn’t hold dual citizenship, thus when Miguna obtained a Canadian passport in 1998 he renounced his Kenyan nationality. However, Article 17 of the Constitution, which was updated in 2010, is very clear: a Kenyan born citizen cannot have their citizenship revoked unless it was acquired by fraud, if they or their parents were already a citizen of another country, or if the person was older than eight when they were found in Kenya. 


Libya: 
 
Human Trafficking: The Panel of Experts on Libya submitted a confidential report to the Security Council on 5 February, in which it found human trafficking to be on the rise in Libya and raised concern “over the possible use of state facilities and state funds by armed groups and traffickers to enhance their control of migrations routes”. The Panel of Experts is currently assessing whether the Special Deterrence Force (SDF) leadership was “aware of the collusion and trafficking being conducted within its ranks”. The report appears to indicate however, that the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) has not been able to assert authority in eastern Libya. A minister of the GNA also admitted that “the armed groups are stronger than the authorities in handling the flow of migrants”. 
 
ICC: Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a Libyan commander wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) ever since August 2017 and most recently sought for the alleged summary execution of dozens of people, turned himself into the Libyan military police on 7 February. This move apparently came about as a result of ICC pressure on his leader, General Khalifa Haftar. However, al-Werfalli was released on Thursday 8 February, after protesters demonstrated on the streets against any legal action being taken against him. 
 


Mali

Proliferation of Weapons and DDR: In an interview in Mali’s capital Bamako on Friday 2 February, Mahamet Saleh Annadif, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Mali and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), said that the explosives, mines, shells and weapons that they are currently seeing in Mali are more developed than they have been in the past. The violence in Mali and has not ceased despite French and American military forces involvement in the area. In fact the violence has increased since January. Clearly then, civilians in Mali continue to face danger due to the proliferation of armed groups and widespread availability of weapons. To achieve peace in Mali, the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process must be a priority. Armed groups must comply and renounce violence. While continuing terrorist threats also raise concerns over the feasibility of implementing DDR, it is not an excuse to indefinitely postpone a vital step in the peace agreement. Among other consequences, the failure to comply with DDR has kept Mali in a cycle of violence and undermines social cohesion in the country. Progress must be made to implement the 2015 peace agreement, and international actors could use different means of pressure to unlock the DDR process, including sanctions.

Terrorism: There is also evidence of Islamic State (ISIL) and Al-Qaeda activity in West Africa’s Sahel region. According to local officials, at least four civilians were killed in northern Mali on 4 February, in a suspected terrorist attack.


 Nigeria: 
 
Boko Haram: On 5 February 2018, the Minister of Defence Mansur Dan Ali announced that troops conducting a military operation of Lafiya Dole in the Sambisa Forest rescued at least 30,000 women and children, who had been held hostage by Boko Haram for the past two years. In addition, the troops seized arms, ammunition, and a bomb-making factory from the territory Boko Haram was occupying. However, on 7 February, Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Sheku, released a new video in which he threatened further violence in the northeastern region of Nigeria.   


Philippines: 
 
Arms Sales: Human rights groups have raised concerns over the Canada-Philippines helicopter deal, after the Philippines announced the helicopters would be used in international security operations. Delfin Lorenzana, the Philippine’s Defence Secretary, stated, however, that the government would only use them for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts. During an event in the US, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commented that Canada has clear laws regarding the sale of arms and military vehicles to other countries. Canada said it would review the deal and ensure that the deal abides by those rules.


South Sudan: 
 
Peace Talks: Despite the boycott from the government delegation, the South Sudan Peace Talks began in Addis Ababa on Monday 5 February. At first, the South Sudanese government decided to be present and demanded more representation in the talks, after receiving only 12 seats. However, on 7 February, the government ended its boycott, after the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the body brokering the talks, allowed the entire delegation to participate. The IGAD urged the parties to come together and find long-term solutions to the conflict. The Talks will focus on the implementation of a permanent ceasefire, as well as developing a realistic timeline for elections in the country. The government also reaffirmed its rejection of a plan that enables a two army system in the country. 
 
Arms Restrictions: After the US imposed an arms restriction on South Sudan last week, the South Sudanese government recalled its ambassador to the United States. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman told South Sudan in Focus, however, that the move was not a final recall. First Vice President Taban Deng Gai warned that the arms restrictions could weaken the government and help armed groups in the country. The Vice President also reminded the US of Russia and China’s willingness to block any similar measures in the UN Security Council. 
 
Child Abductions: In South Sudan children are being abducted and trafficked without consequences. The UN child protection team confirmed that there have been child abductions in Unity, Central EquatoriaJonglei, Upper Nile, and Western Equatoria. An opposition governor blamed the government for the increased kidnappings, accusing the government of attempting to advance its military agenda by creating a wedge between clans. South Sudan is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits abductions and trafficking. Tut Bangout, an aid worker in Akobo, does not think the violence will stop because no one is working or earning money, and children are being used for trade. 
 
Child Soldiers: On 5 February ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on the continuous recruitment and use of child soldiers, some as young as 13 years-old, by government forces and rebel groups in South Sudan. During November and December 2017, HRW interviewed two dozen current and former child soldiers, who reported on the harsh conditions and traumas of their experience. While both parties once again promised UNICEF that it would demobilize child soldiers by the end of January 2018, HRW indicated that neither had followed through on this commitment. However, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), reported that rebel groups released approximately 300 child soldiers on 7 February in the city of Yambio. This is only the first phase of a project lead by UNMISS in partnership with UNICEF that plans to reintegrate more than 700 children into civilian life. 
 
End of Cholera Outbreak: On a positive note, on 7 February South Sudan announced the end to its longest cholera outbreak, after seven weeks of no new cholera cases. The outbreak started in June 2016, with 20,000 reported cholera cases and 436 deaths by the end of 2017. The government partnered with several regional and international organizations to provide vaccines, treatment, and clean water. World Health Organization Acting Representative to South Sudan, Evans Liyosi, commended South Sudan for its efforts but warned of the many risks factors that remain in the country. 


Sudan/Darfur: 
 
Peace Talks: On 3 February 2018, Sudan’s Envoy for the Diplomatic Contact and Negotiation Amin Hassan Omer, arrived in Addis Ababa to meet with the African mediation to discuss the Roadmap agreement. The talks are meant to broker peace between the African government and the SPLM-N rebels in the Blue Nile and the South Kordofan, also known as the Two Areas. A government spokesperson said the mediation developed a consolidated documented, which reconciled the views of both parties. 
 


Syria:

This week, Syrian civilians have experienced some of the most frightening days of the seven-year-long war. Dozens of people are missing and the dead are still being counted.

Chemical weapons attack: One day after the Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed that one of its warplanes was shot down over rebel-held Idlib province, for which former al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham reportedly claimed responsibility, a bomb believed to contain chlorine was dropped on Idlib on Sunday 4 February. Afterwards, at least nine people were treated for breathing difficulties. The Syrian opposition claims the bomb was dropped by a government helicopter, has condemned the “barbaric onslaught by the Russian occupation and the Assad regime forces targeting mainly civilians and residential neighbourhoods” and has called upon the Security Council to take immediate action. On Monday 5 February, the Security Council met to discuss the situation in Syria. Nikki Haley, United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told Council members that it had “reports that the Assad regime had used chlorine gas against its people multiple times in recent weeks, including just yesterday”. UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamit, also briefed the Security Council and asserted that the Security Council must meaningfully respond to evidence of the use, or likely use, of banned chemical weapons in Syria and affirmed our “collective responsibility to ensure that those responsible are held to account”. By contrast, Russia dismissed the recent allegations of chlorine as propaganda. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria is currently probing multiple reports that bombs containing weaponized chlorine have been used against civilians.

Conventional weapons attacks: This week, Russian and Syrian forces have also intensified conventional weapons attacks in the region, apparently targeting civilian neighbourhoods, including hospitals. Several sources reported that airstrikes launched on Sunday 4 February killed at least 20 people in Idlib, 24 people in the Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus, nine civilians in the town of Arbin; seven civilians in the town of Beit Sawa; and six civilians in the town of Kafranbel. Paulo Pinheiro, head of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said that “These reports are extremely troubling, and make a mockery of the so-called ‘de-escalation zones’ intended to protect civilians from such bombardment”.

United States Engagement: On the front lines in Syria, the US and Turkey – NATO allies – may be heading for possible armed confrontation. Two senior American generals arrived at the front line, just outside the city of Manbij on 7 February. Turkish forces were just 20 yards away, on the other side of no-man’s land. Overall coalition commander, Lt. Gen. Paul Funk has stated “You hit us, we will respond aggressively. We will defend ourselves”. On 7 February, the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve coalition against ISIL also accused pro-government forces in Syria of initiating an “unprovoked attack against well-established Syrian Democratic Forces headquarters” in Deir al-Zour province. In response, the US-led coalition bombed pro-Syrian forces, killing more than 100 fighters.

Assault on Afrin: This week, Turkey was also accused of recruiting and training thousands of former ISIL fighters to aid with its military assault against Kurds in Afrin. To date, Turkey’s cross-border offensive, which includes uncompromising airstrikes against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) has displaced approximately 16,000 people. Some Syrians are calling the offensive a “massacre” and are pleading with the international community to “stop the killing of the civilians”, to “stop the airstrikes and war against us”, and hope the international community will hold Turkey accountable.


Venezuela:

Elections: The Venezuelan election commission announced the 22 April as the new date for the 2018 snap presidential election. The date came about as a result of negotiations between the government and opposition forces, President of the electoral commission Tibisay Lucena said.  The government also announced that only three weeks would be allotted for campaigning, between 2 April and 19 April. President Nicolás Maduro announced his desire to run for reelection, while many opposition leaders are still in jail or banned from participating in the election. (AG)

Humanitarian Aid: Venezuela’s health care system is in deteriorating conditions. The Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela estimates a medicine shortage of approximately 85 percent. The hyperinflation and the scarcity of goods drive numerous Venezuelans to acquire medicine in the black market, where many medicines risk being expired. Head of the public health advocacy group Codevida Francisco Valencia reported that many hospitals have no electricity and thousands of doctors have left the country to pursue better opportunities elsewhere. President Maduro continues to refuse entry of humanitarian aid into the country.


Yemen: 
 
Control of Aden: On 31 January, a day after forces loyal to the Southern Transitional Council (STC) seized control of Aden, Saudi Arabia and the UAE sent delegates to defuse hostilities and put a cease-fire in place. Still, in Aden, many residents are suspicious of the UAE’s growing presence. Hesham Alghannam, a Saudi researcher at the University of Exeter, believes that Yemen’s government-in-exile is also partly to blame for the violence in Aden and “should submit its resignation if it is unable to manage the battle against the Houthis and provide services to the citizenry at the same time”. 
 
Control of Hodeidah: On 6 February, after two weeks of intense fighting against the Houthi rebels, the Yemeni military, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, reportedly recaptured the key town of Hays, located in the Hodeidah province. Speaking on condition of anonymity, Yemeni officials say that the fighting killed at least 85 people. Two days later, it appears as though the Yemeni military has also retaken control Mount Dharawiya, located in the Baqim district of Saada province, which will enable government forces to control a crucial supply route from Hodeidah to the northern front.   
 
Military Occupation: On 8 February, in an exclusive interview with Reuters, Yemeni Nobel Peace laureate Tawakkol Karman, called for an end to the “military occupation” in her country by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She told reporters that “The Saudi-Emirati occupation … betrayed the Yemenis and sold them out, exploiting the coup of the Houthi militia backed by Iran on the legitimate government, to exercise an ugly occupation and greater influence”. The Saudi-led coalition and the UAE have not yet responded to requests for comment. 


Other: 
 
On 3 February, ICRtoP’s Steering Committee member Gus Miclat was elected as chair of the East Asia Democratic Forum (EADF), a regional network of civil society organizations and individuals dedicated to promoting democracy. 

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#RtoPWeekly: 22 – 26 January 2018

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Mali in focus: UN takes action toward peace and stabilization

At a briefing this week, the UN Security Council threatened sanctions against parties in Mali who obstruct or delay the full implementation of the 2015 peace agreement, unless the parties showed progress by the end of March.

Since the 2012 Malian coup d’etat, Mali has been in turmoil. The government overthrow resulted in a power vacuum that was ultimately filled by an Islamic insurgency. Though a French-led war eventually ousted the insurgents from power in 2013, jihadists remain active in the region. In June 2015, Malian rivals signed a peace agreement, and on 23 January, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed the Council regarding last week’s adoption of a timeline by the committee monitoring the peace agreement. On 23 January, Lacroix also urged Mali’s government to hold presidential elections in July as scheduled. Lacroix stressed to the Security Council that “The upcoming presidential elections will mark the beginning of a new chapter in the stabilization of Mali”. Lacroix further warned that time was short and that the human rights and humanitarian situations in Mali were worsening, while insecurity was growing in the country.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also announced his decision this week to establish the International Commission of Inquiry for Mali, which was envisioned by the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. The Secretary-General selected Ms. Lena Sundh (Sweden) as the Commission’s Chair, and also appointed Mr. Vinod Boolell (Mauritius) and Mr. Simon Munzu (Cameroon) to serve as Commissioners.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DPRK
DRC
Gaza/ West Bank
Iraq
Kenya

Libya 
Nigeria
Philippines
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Venezuela
Yemen


Burma/Myanmar:

On 25 January, former UN ambassador Bill Richardson resigned from Burma’s Advisory Board on the Rohingya Crisis. Richardson complained that the board was disregarding human rights complaints and was acting as a “cheerleading squad” for State Chancellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s policies. Moreover, Mr Richardson reported tbat Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi reacted negatively when the former Government of New Mexico asked her about the two imprisoned Reuters reporters.

The Rohingya Muslim refugees fear leaving Bangladesh to return to Burma. The original date set for repatriation of the Rohingya to Burma was scheduled to be on or around 23 January 2018. However, the Rohingya refugees fear returning to Burma. David Mathieson, who has been working on the Rohingya issue for years criticized the repatriation agreement. He explained that after what the Rohingya have been through they should not be expected to be happy about returning to Burma. Rohingya leaders have set conditions for their repatriation to Burma.They are demanding that military personnel are held accountable for the alleged killings and rapes. The leaders also requested the release of detained Rohingya who have been accused of counter-insurgency.

On 23 January, UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards indicated that the lack of safeguards in place and the restriction to humanitarian aid agencies, continues to be a hurdle for a viable, voluntary, and safe return of refugees to Burma. Edwards called on the Burmese government to implement the recommendations made by the Rakhine Advisory Commission – a panel chaired by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan – including those recommendations related to the freedom of movement and a solution to legal and citizenship status of Muslim communities.


Burundi:

The Association for the Defense of Women’s Rights (ADDF) reported 16 cases of gender-based violence since the beginning of 2018. In the past two weeks, five women were burned by their husbands in the western province of Citibitoke.  The President of the Cibitoke High Court asserted that the perpetrators received severe sanctions, while affirming the Court’s goal of staying at the forefront of punishing these types of crimes. Yet, locals continue to complain that courts are slow in prosecuting these cases and that impunity persists.

Protesters in Burundi continue to speak out and engage in nonviolent protests against the government’s new law that withdraws money from the salaries of workers for the elections that are scheduled to take place in 2020. The federal government has called for dialogue around this law in Burundi. Civil worker have voiced their opposition to this. Human rights activists are not optimistic that this law will change because of the current leadership in Burundi. The oppressive law could potentially result in an uprising against the law.


Central African Republic:

On 23 January, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) reported that 688,700 people had been internally displaced by the end of 2017. This number represents 60 percent more than in 2016 and amounts to the highest level of forcible displacement since the conflict began in 2013. The conflict in the north-west of the country contributed to the rise in numbers. According to local authorities, the fighting has killed 487 people. The UNHRC also stated that almost half of the population will suffer from food insecurity in 2018.

In its January 2018 report, CARE listed the Central African Republic as one of the ten under-reported crises of 2017. Armed groups control approximately 70% of CAR. At least 1.1 million people have been displaced since the conflict began.


Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:

CARE, the Switzerland-based NGO, described the situation in the DPRK as the least reported humanitarian crisis of 2017. The media has focused more on the nuclear situation, but not on the devastating humanitarian state. The UN estimates that 70 percent of the population lacks access to nutritious food. According to CARE, there were only 51 reports on the humanitarian crisis of the country, as opposed to the 7,017 reports on the flooding in Peru — the tenth least reported crisis.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

On 21 January, Congolese Security forces opened fire at an Anti-Joseph Kabila protest. The protesters were calling for the President, Joseph Kabila to step down, as his term ended in December 2016. Police officers opened fire and used tear gas on the protestors. Nine were killed and 49 were injured. MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, reported that 94 people were arrested nationwide. The government has banned protests. However, the Catholic Church, with support of the Muslim community, called for protests against Kabila.

On 23 January, the DRC’s Minister for Human Rights, the UN, and the EU condemned the government crackdown on protests and urged for the prosecution of those police who had opened fire on anti-government protesters. The DRC government, on the other hand, blamed “vandals and bystanders” who threw stones at the security forces.

As Catholic leaders called for protests against President Kabila’s rule, the DRC government limited access to the internet. The latest internet blackout occurred on 21 January, for a period of 48 hours. Activists warn that law No. 013/2002, which allows governments to control communications in the interests of national security, has been instrumental in cracking down on internet accessibility.


Gaza / West Bank:

In mid-January, the United States announced its decision to reduce its originally planned $125 million contribution to UNRWA by $65 million. On 22 January, UNRWA stated that these funding cuts could create further conflict in the Middle East, and could also inhibit UNRWA’s ability to continue funding schools and clinics in the Gaza strip. Belgium announced its pledge to donate $23 million over the course of three years.

On 25 January, the UN Security Council held a meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. At the beginning of the meeting Nickolay Mladenov (Special Coordinator) briefed the Council.


Iraq:

Iraq’s election date is officially set for 12 May. On 22 January, Iraq’s parliament voted to approve this date, which was originally proposed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The successful candidate will have the immense task of rebuilding the country in the aftermath of a three-year war with the Islamic State (ISIL).

On 22 January, the European Union (EU) Foreign Affairs Council endorsed a new strategy for Iraq. The EU’s objectives are focused on the following key areas: a) Preserving the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq, as well as its ethnic and religious diversity; and b) Strengthening the Iraqi political system by supporting Iraqi efforts to establish a balanced, inclusive, accountable and democratic system of government.

On 22 January, Russia invited Iraq to attend the Syria peace talks set to take place in Sochi at the end of the month.

Even though Iraq has officially declared victory over ISIL, the battle is far from over. Reports indicate that ISIL fighters continue to attack Iraqi soldiers on a daily basis.

As of 25 January, researchers estimate that Iraqi forces have detained approximately 20,000 suspected ISIL members, including Nizam Al Deen Al Rifa (the “Black Box”), Mufti Abu Omar  (the “Butcher of Mosul”), and foreign fighters who flocked to ISIL, like Tarik Jadaoun (known as  Abu Hamza Al Belji.


Kenya:

The National Super Alliance (NASA) refuses to recognize the 26 October election and is forging ahead with its plan to swear in Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka on 30 January. According to Cherangany MP Joshua Kuttuny, this could cause chaos.

On 25 January, Kenya’s Attorney General Githu Mugai asked the country’s High Court to rule the swearing in of opposition leader Raila Odinga as ilegal. The motion is categorized as urgent and will be heard on the same day. NASA, the opposition-led movement, also announced the organization of the People’s Assembly to demand new elections. Earlier this month, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres assigned former Nigerian President Obasanjo to mediate talks between the two parties.


Libya:

On 21 January, the Libyan Special Deterrent Force arrested 61 people involved in the attack on Mitiga International Airport last week.

On 22 January, Ghassan Salame, UN envoy to Libya indicated that preparations for the Libyan National Conference – one of four stages of the UN’s post-conflict transition plan – were proceeding smoothly. Salame also added that once Libya’s Supreme Court gives the “green light” and voter registration is sufficiently high, there would be a referendum on the constitution.

That same day, during a meeting in Tripoli with Maria do Valle Ribeiro (UN Deputy Special Representative and Deputy Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), the UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez Serraj called for communication and cooperation between the government of Libya and international organizations in order to quickly restore social order. Serraj also indicated his willingness to facilitate the work of UNSMIL in various regions throughout Libya.

This week, during the first forum of municipalities of Libya, 109 Libyan mayors threatened to declare civil disobedience and form a national government, should political division in Libya continue.

A double car bombing in Benghazi killed at least 33 people, including civilians and military personnel, on Tuesday 23 January. The first bomb struck outside a mosque in the central Al Salmani district as worshippers were leaving evening prayers. The second explosion, which occurred approximately 10 to 15 minutes later, was detonated nearby and also hit an ambulance and cause a greater number of casualties. No one has claimed responsibility yet. ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) pointed out that deliberately targeting civilians or civilian objects, including mosques, or carrying out attacks with knowledge that they are likely to result in indiscriminate or disproportionate death or injury to civilians could amount to a war crime.

On 25 January, videos began to emerge on social media appearing to show at least 10 people being shot dead in Benghazi at the same site as the twin bombings. UNSMIL condemned these “brutal and outrageous summary executions”, identified the gunman as Mahmoud al Werfalli (a special forces commander wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly carrying out several similar killings), and demanded that Werfalli be immediately handed over to the ICC.

Videos showing African migrants being tortured in Libya, have also gone viral and have drawn widespread international condemnation. On 23 January, the Libyan Foreign Ministry of “condemn[ed] in the strongest terms the criminal and disgraceful acts allegedly carried out on Libyan soil against some people.” The Foreign Ministry also called on the legal and security departments to investigate these videos and to “permanently investigate any indecent acts against the dignity of African migrants”. Leonard Doyle, spokesperson for the UN’s  International Organization for Migration (IOM), also asserted that “As images of modern-day slavery in Libya are impugning the conscience of our political leaders, it must be recognized as part of a bigger, systemic problem.”

On 25 January, UNSMIL initiated the Humanitarian Response Plan for 2018, worth approximately $313 million.


Nigeria:

Earlier this month, a mass burial was held in Benu for the 73 people killed in communal violence between semi-nomadic herdsmen (mainly from the Fulani ethnic group) and farmers (mostly Christian). A bloody conflict over fertile land is taking on increased political significance. On 22 January, the EU Parliament called on the Government of Nigeria to negotiate a national policy framework to protect the interests of both herders and farmers.

Nigeria’s Department of State Services (DSS) has allegedly confirmed the presence of an Islamic State (ISIL) network in Nigeria.

Leonard Doyle, spokesperson for the UN’s  International Organization for Migration (IOM), said  that “As images of modern-day slavery in Libya are impugning the conscience of our political leaders, it must be recognized as part of a bigger, systemic problem.” In December 2017 alone, the IOM returned at least 2,000 Nigerian survivors from Libya. However, experts and survivors have indicated that returnees are being dropped back into the epicenter of Nigeria’s sex-trafficking industry.

A research report released on 25 January, indicated that Boko Haram killed more than 900 people in 2017. This runs contrary to President Muhammadu Buhari’s assertion that the militants had been defeated.


Philippines:

On 22 January, Alan Cayetano, Philippine’s Foreign Affairs Secretary, accused ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) of distorting the number of killings as a result of President Duterte’s “drug war”. Cayetano stated that HRW is politicizing the issue, without conducting proper research or investigation. However, this is not the first time Duterte’s government has attacked NGOs who criticize his government. Duterte has also targeted members of the press and UN officials.


South Sudan:

UN Peacekeepers will return to a UN base located in the south of the country — in rebel-held territory — for the first time since 2013, UN mission chief David Shearer informed. 43 troops evacuated in 2013 after armed men invaded the base and three peacekeepers died. The move comes after residents of the area requested a UN presence. According to Shearer, instead of a permanent UN base, peacekeepers will fly in for a few days every week, taking “a more nimble and proactive approach”.

The Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Henrietta H. Fore, concluded her visit to South Sudan last week. The ongoing conflict in South Sudan has resulted in the displacement of 2.4 million children. Ms. Fore, met a young child who was forced into the fighting at age 10. This is one child out of 19,000 children that have been recruited into the conflict. Malnourishment numbers have also reached 250,000. The upcoming dry season is expected to intensify the conflict.

Christopher Trott, the Special Envoy from the UK to the Sudan and South Sudan called for the violence to stop. In his statement to the Rwanda Times, Trott praised Rwanda’s mediation efforts in South Sudan. He also encouraged the Rwandan President, who will take leadership of the African Union on 28 January, to remain focused on peace in South Sudan.

On 24 January, UN Humanitarian Chief Ursula Mueller reported to the UN Security Council that approximately 1.5 million people in South Sudan are on the brink of famine, while 20,000 already live in famine. The food situation will worsen – as a result of the conflict, people are not able to plant or harvest. The UN requested $1.7 billion in order to meet the humanitarian needs in South Sudan.

Freedom House’s latest annual report ranked South Sudan as the second to last least democratic country in the world, with Syria taking first place. The report stated that the broad presidential powers of Salva Kiir, the lack of independence of the legislative and the judicial branch, the broken legal system, as well as the influence of the military in political affairs contributes to the lack of democracy in the country.


Sudan/Darfur:

Protests against the government continue in Sudan. On 19 January,  protests against rising prices resulted in a police crackdown with gas bombs and batons. Thabo Mbeki, the former President of South Africa is calling for meetings with the opposition forces in Sudan to discuss the protests in Khartoum. This is not the first time that Thabo Mbeki has intervened to broker peace in Sudan. In 2016, two years after the Sudan Appeal Alliance, which was an organization consisting of different opposition groups in Sudan, he worked to create a peace agreement which later failed.

On 24 January, the government of Sudan and rebel groups in Darfur acknowledged the possibility of attending another round of peace talks in Germany. Both parties agreed to continue talking but certain conditions had to apply first. The Sudanese government was open to dialogue on the continuation of the African roadmap — an agreement made by both parties to end the conflict and establishing an inclusive constitutional conference —, but not with the group named Revolutionary Form (SRF). On the other hand, the SRF demanded the release of people arrested in the anti-government protest last this week.


Syria:

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s full “Remarks on the Way Forward for the United States Regarding Syria” are available here.

On Saturday 20 January, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the start of an air and ground military operation in Afrin – a Turkish controlled enclave in northwestern Syria, where approximately 800,000 civilians reside. According to Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, the goal of the operation is to create a 20-mile deep “secure zone” in Afrin, which President Erdogan maintains is essential for Turkey’s security and Syria’s territorial integrity. In particular, President Erdogan, fears that the Kurdish YPG group (which Turkey considers to be a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed PKK party in Turkey) is establishing a corridor along Turkey’s border. In this regard, Erdogan has stated that Turkey would “wipe out this corridor step-by-step, starting from the west,” and that the Afrin operation would be “followed by Manbij”. The Turkish offensive, codenamed “Operation Olive Branch” began with dozens of airstrikes on Saturday, and reportedly killed at least 18 civilians that day. Despite U.S. calls for restraint, on Sunday 21 January, Turkish troops, supported by rebel factions, crossed into Syria and began a ground assault against the American-backed Kurdish YPG militia. According to the commander of one rebel group, 13,000 fighters were involved. Again on 24 January, as the Turkish military continued to bomb Kurdish positions for a fifth day, President Erdogan threatened to extend the offensive operation to Manbij. While the U.S. does not have troops in Afrin, it does in Manbi. Accordingly, if Turkey does indeed push on from Afrin to Manbi, the US  may soon need to decide whether to reduce its support for the Kurdish rebels (which would likely be viewed as a betrayal) or risk direct or indirect conflict with Turkey, another NATO member. Since Turkey launched its attack in Afrin, the UN says that approximately 5,000 people have been displaced. Despite pleas for restraint, Turkey’s President vowed to “crush” the YPG militia.

The UNHCR released a statement on 21 January, in which it reported that 15 Syrians froze to death during a storm Thursday night (18 to 19 January), while trying to cross the mountainous border into Lebanon. According to UNHCR, these tragic deaths highlight the dire risks that people are willing to take to escape the situation in Syria.

On 22 January, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that five people have also been killed in artillery fire in Damascus. The Syrian government’s official news agency, SANA, confirmed the report and indicated that those killed in the attack were civilians. No group has claimed responsibility.

SOHR has also reported that at least 13 people, including children, suffered difficulty breathing in a suspected chemical attack by the Syrian regime. The alleged chlorine gas attacks are said to have occurred in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus. On 23 January, at a Paris meeting for diplomats from 29 country pushing for sanctions, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asserted that regardless of “Whoever conducted the attacks, Russia ultimately bears responsibility for the victims in East Ghouta and countless other Syrians targeted with chemical weapons” since “There is simply no denying that Russia, by shielding its Syrian ally, has breached its commitments to the US as a framework guarantor.” Tillerson also demanded that Russia stop vetoing UN Security Council resolutions designed to increase humanitarian access and reduce fighting. On 24 January, Russia and Syria accused the US of lying.

On 22 January, Mark Green, Administrator of United States Agency for International Development (USAID), made an unannounced visit to Raqqa, Syria. US Central Command General, Joseph Votel, also accompanied Green. Bearing witness, Green indicated that “The devastation goes back as far as you can see” and that it was “almost beyond description”. But Green also saw signs of hope and resilience. Green also noted that the civilian mission was for “stabilization not reconstruction” and that the US’s part would be to help civilians return home by clearing roadside bombs, removing rubble, and restoring essential services, including water and electricity.

This week, Russia invited Iraq to attend the Syria peace talks set to take place in Sochi at the end of the month. Meanwhile, a separate round of Syrian peace talks – jointly hosted by Russia, Turkey, and Iran – are currently underway in Astana, Kazakhstan.

On 23 January, Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) spokesperson released a statement that the US-led coalition launched precision strikes against ISIL, which killed up to 150 militants. ISIL did not confirm the attack.


Venezuela:

Oscar Perez and six others were killed by the Venezuelan government for their protest and dissent against the government. Last June, Perez allegedly shot at the Venezuelan Supreme Court from a helicopter that had a sign encouraging the country to rebel. Perez was a police officer and became something of a symbol of the protests in Venezuela. After the government shut down the protests, Perez and his followers continued to speak out against the government. The Venezuelan government labeled Perez and his followers as a gang that was attempting to harm the people.

On 23 January, the Venezuelan National Assembly announced snap elections, to be held on 30 April. President Maduro also announced that he would seek reelection. However, many civil society groups doubt the legitimacy of the upcoming vote, because opposition leaders are still in exile, jailed, or barred from running,

In response to Maduro’s announcement, the Lima Group – a group of Latin American countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Peru, and Mexico – criticized the move and stated that an election could lack legitimacy under the current conditions in the country.


Yemen:

The UN special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is reportedly  set to resign at the end of February. The UN has allegedly already appointed Martin Griffiths of the UK (and current director of the European Institute of Peace) to the post.

In a statement issued by the Southern Transitional Council on 21 January, the Southern Resistance Forces (SRF) – an armed separatist group allied with the UAE – declared “a state of emergency in Aden and announce[d] that it has begun the process of overthrowing the legitimate government and replacing it with a cabinet of technocrats”. However, in the statement SRF did not provide any details as to how to planned to topple Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi’s government.

In an article released on 22 January, the Washington Post numerically details the civilian toll of Yemen’s conflict, in which more than 10,000 people have been killed, 50,000 people have been wounded, and 2 million have been displaced.

The UN has labeled the situation in Yemen as the “worst man-made humanitarian of current times”. Approximately 75% of Yemen’s population (22.2 million people) is in need of humanitarian assistance after more than two years of unrelenting conflict in the country, including 11.3 people in acute need who urgently require aid to survive. On 21 January, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) launched the 2018 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan, which is the largest consolidated humanitarian appeal for Yemen to date. The $2.96 billion project aims to provide direct, lifesaving assistance and protection to 13.1 million people.

On 22 January, the Saudi-led coalition committed to providing $1.5 billion in new humanitarian aid for Yemen. This announcement comes at a time where Saudi Arabia and its allies are facing increased criticism over the staggering toll that Yemen’s war has had on civilians. Monday’s coalition airstrikes reportedly resulted in the deaths of nine people.  Saudi Arabia also said it would create “safe-passage corridors” to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid across the war-torn country.

On 22 January, amid a new wave of violence, Russia reportedly called for a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Yemen, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pledged he would pursue dialogue with the Iran-back Houthi rebels, among others. Lavrov also insisted that “It [was] essential that the participants in the conflict give up their attempts to solve the existing problems by force.”

On 23 January, Saudi-led air strikes in northern Yemen reportedly killed at least nine civilians, including four children, bringing the total number of people killed in military operations in the past two days to 30.

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#RtoPWeekly: 3-7 April 2017

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ICRtoP marks Genocide Awareness Month, continuing infographic series with updates on crisis situations from around the world

S Sudan Infografic image

Many of these country-specific situations, including those previously mentioned, are monitored by the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) due to their nature as potential atrocity crime scenarios and consequently their relevance to the responsibility to protect. As part of its monitoring effort, ICRtoP has produced updated crises summaries for each of the 15 country-specific situations in infographic format. In observance of Genocide Awareness Month, ICRtoP will be releasing several of these new summaries, beginning with South Sudan on 7 April, alongside ICRtoP’s regular weekly news update, the R2PWeekly. By drawing attention to and spreading knowledge of these crises before they devolve into occurrences of atrocity crimes, and by enabling civil society to effectively advocate for RtoP normalization and adherence, ICRtoP hopes to ensure that political actors will never again fail to protect populations from genocide or other atrocity crimes due to a lack of political will.

The above is an excerpt from a recent ICRtoP blog post. To read the full post, please click here.

To view ICRtoP’s latest infographic on the situation in South Sudan, please click here.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DPRK
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq

Kenya
Libya
Mali
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen


Burma/Myanmar:

The Muslim insurgency group operating under the name Harakah al-Yaqin (Arabic for “faith movement”), founded by Rohingyas residing in Saudi Arabia, has been held responsible for attacks against alleged government informers. The insurgents were originally supported by much of the Rohingya population in Burma, but such support was eventually lost as the violence resulting from recent attacks has dramatically increased. The group has been linked with “terrorist organisations from the Middle East,” according to a government spokesperson.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s head of government, denied in a recent interview with BBC that ethnic cleansing is taking place against the Rohingya Muslim population in the country, stating the phrase “ethnic cleansing” was “too strong an expression to use” for the human rights situation occurring in the country.

On 3 April, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Burma. According to the report, “4,000 people remain internally displaced in northern Rakhine,” while humanitarian access “remains severely restricted.”


Burundi:

Amizero y’Abarundi (Hope of Burundians), a political alliance within Burundi, has reported that 60 people were arbitrarily arrested in the country from 20 to 26 March. The group accused the National Intelligence Service (SNR) and state police officers of carrying out these human rights violations and others, such as state mandated torturing of Amizero y’Abarundi’s own members.


Central African Republic:

The UN Security Council voiced its support for Central African Republic President Faustin Archange Touadera’s efforts to restore State authority, as well as for the African Union-led mediation initiative to find a political solution to the ongoing conflict  in the country. The Interim Humanitarian Coordinator for CAR, Michel Yao, expressed his great concern about the protection of civilians and the systematic targeting of vulnerable communities at the hands all parties to the conflict: “This dangerous trend blurs the nature of the conflict and is highly reprehensible under international law.”


DPRK:

A UNICEF report published in March 2017 regarding the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea revealed that the country is in the “midst of a protracted, entrenched humanitarian situation”, where “around 18 million people, or 70 percent of the population, including 1.3 million under-five children depend on the Public Distribution System (PDS) for rations of cereal and potatoes.” The report discusses the lack of “access to basic health services”, and other “crucial unmet food, nutrition, health, and water, sanitation and hygiene needs” the people have. These basic human needs are not being provided for by the DPRK government.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

The UN Security Council renewed and extended the mandate of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) until 31 March 2018, which included reducing the operation’s troop ceiling by about 3,600 military personnel.

It was reported that 13 mass graves have been found since early March, all within the central Kasai province, increasing the number of mass graves found since August to 23. The UN is not allowed to investigate these graves by declaration of the DRC government. However, Fatou Bensouda, a prosecutor of the ICC, holds that the recent brutal killing of a UN expert team and other violence in the DRC could be war crimes under her court’s jurisdiction.

Residents in key DRC cities joined a general strike called by the group of opposition parties known as Rassemblement (Rally). The strike was organized in an effort to force President Joseph Kabila to finally adopt a three-month old power sharing deal and permit elections in Lubumbashi and Kinshasa, the capital. President Kabila announced that an election will occur and the opposition leader will be announced quickly. He further warned against foreign aid involvement by asserting, “This process is the work of the Congolese, financed by the Congolese people themselves, without any foreign interference.”


Gaza/West Bank:

On 30 March, the Israeli government authorized a new settlement to be built in the West Bank, which will consist of approximately 220 acres of land in the center of the region. This authorization is the first of its kind to occur in the region in more than two decades, and has laid the groundwork for further expansion in the future. Many consider such settlements in the area to be in violation of international law.

On 6 April, Hamas convicted and executed three Palestinians, accusing them for collaboration with Israel. Human Rights Watch condemned the hangings and called for “respect for international norms and the rule of law”.

On 2 April, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a new report arguing that the Israeli military’s recent blocking of access to and from the Gaza Strip of human rights workers calls into question the efficacy and validity behind the investigation into the alleged human rights abuses going on in the territory. HRW has called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to take note of such restrictions within its preliminary examination of the situation, when determining the integrity of the Israeli investigations.


Iraq:

In Mosul, an increasing number of children have been left with life-changing injuries during the battle to retake the city from the Islamic State (ISIL). Hospitals in northern Iraq are struggling to cope with the number and scale of these casualties.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged the international community to better coordinate their efforts to help those in Mosul who have “suffered enormously and go on suffering.” According to UN estimates, 11 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance in the country, with more than 285,000 of those individuals displaced purely due to the military operations in Mosul. For this reason, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called for $76.3 million in its IOM-Iraq 2017 Funding Appeal, of which about $28.8 million will be allocated to the Mosul Crisis Response for 2017.

The Special Representative of the Secretary General and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), Ján Kubiš, condemned the multiple suicide attacks carried out by ISIL on Tuesday in the Sunni heartland of Tikrit. At least 31 civilians were killed and dozens were wounded in the bombings.


Kenya:

In eastern Kenya, authorities arrested seven Somali men that have been suspected of operating a human trafficking ring. The men were caught smuggling refugees from Dadaab to Nairobi. Police were given permission to hold the men for ten days to complete investigations. The Dadaab refugee camp has been criticized for becoming training grounds for al-Shabab militants of Somalia.

Kenyan activists welcomed a High Court ruling that gives parliament 60 days to ensure a third of its members are women, following a lengthy struggle to increase women’s political representation in the largely patriarchal society.


Libya:

Arjan Hehenkamp, the General Director of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and head of the group’s Libya mission, said on Monday that the agreement between Italy and Libya to fight the smuggling of people in the north African country will enable migrants to be returned to camps where they are held against their will, extorted, and presumably abused. He further stressed that seven of the camps around Tripoli can be described as detention centers, which are controlled by militias and ruled by violence and abuse.


Mali:

In what is believed to be their second operation since their merger into a single group, the Jihadist forces now comprising the “Group to Support Islam and Muslims” (GSIM) attacked a gendarmerie post, killing three security personnel and seizing weapons and munitions. An attack that killed 11 soldiers in the same area in the beginning of March is also believed to have been committed by GSIM.

Opposition parties have made tentative progress towards ending their boycott of the peace process discussions. At the national peace summit that ended earlier this week, representatives agreed to a resolution calling for negotiations with leaders of the Islamist groups in the country. The Jihadist groups originating in the country’s north were the only factions not to sign the 2015 peace deal, and while negotiating with the groups may provoke international criticism, many hope it will also prove a valuable step forward in bringing all actors on board with the beleaguered peace process.


South Sudan:

Norway, the UK, and the US have issued a statement supporting the combined efforts of the African Union (AU), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the UN to end the conflict in South Sudan and for President Kiir to declare a unilateral ceasefire. President Kiir called on all ethnic groups to join his administration and work for peace without discrimination, underlining that the dialogue process is open for the armed groups if they renounce violence.

More than 3,000 South Sudanese fled into neighboring Uganda after government soldiers attacked the border town of Pajok, killing men, women, and children indiscriminately, refugees said. The UN refugee agency says that the Ugandan Bidi Bidi refugee camp currently hosts more than 270,000 refugees purely from South Sudan.


Sudan:

Two independent journalists, Phil Cox and Daoud Hari, have recounted their harrowing story of the six weeks they spent as captives of Darfuri militia groups and the Sudanese government. Their capture was prompted by their attempts to investigate the situation in the Jebel Marra and the allegations of the government’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. Amnesty International first reported on evidence showing the use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra and has argued that the abusive treatment of the two journalists is further proof of government misconduct in the region.

EU ambassadors have praised officials in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum for their opening of a new humanitarian corridor into South Sudan through Sudanese territory. The first ground convoy of UN relief transports reportedly used the new corridor to deliver aid on 30 March. Khartoum has also reportedly said it has not ruled out opening additional aid corridors to deliver much needed relief in the upcoming months of the rainy season.

President Omar al-Bashir, the subject of two outstanding arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court for multiple counts of genocide and crimes against humanity, heavily criticized the court as a tool of western influence and advocated for the establishment of a regional African court of justice. Bashir has eluded arrest and trial on several occasions when ICC member states have failed to arrest him while he was inside their borders. The most recent failure of Jordan to arrest Bashir last week evoked sharp criticism from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who emphasized the failure to act as both a violation of Jordan’s commitments and a “weakening [of] the global struggle against impunity, and for justice.”


Syria:

On Tuesday, 4 April, what is now known to be the worst chemical gas attack in the Syrian civil war was carried out in the rebel-held town of Idlib in north-western Syria. The attack resulted in the deaths of scores of civilians, including at least 11 children. A Syrian military source insisted the government did not use any such weapons, and the Russian defense ministry denied it carried out any air strikes in the vicinity. However, it remains unlikely that any other party had access to chemical weapons or would have any reason to conduct the attack.

On 5 April, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States presented a draft resolution aimed at holding the perpetrators accountable, and calling for an investigation. However, fellow UN Security Council member Russia has already denied that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was to blame for these attacks, and consequently objected to the Resolution. That same day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres addressed the Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region, calling on the international community to increase support for the victims of the conflict. Donors eventually pledged a combined $6 billion for critical humanitarian programs in 2017 and another $3.7 billion for 2018 in support of Syrian people. Financial support remains critical for the survival of those in Syria, UN agencies have insisted.

On 7 April, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated the chemical attacks in Syria made it clear that Assad was unfit to govern the country any longer, and as such, the Pentagon is currently discussing possible military action against the Syrian forces. Explicit action by the US has not been taken as of writing.


Yemen:

Fighting remains tense throughout Yemen as the Saudi-led coalition increased the number of airstrikes on rebel positions and supply depots over the weekend. The potential impact of these strikes on non-combatants is unknown at this time. Additionally, the government forces and its allies are believed to be preparing for a major ground offensive on the currently Houthi-held city of Hodeidah. Two government brigades have reportedly been positioned to the north and the south of the city, raising concerns of an impending assault. Meanwhile, the UN has continued its calls on all parties to the conflict to safeguard Hodeidah, as it is a critical port city that has historically been the entry point for roughly 80% of food imports into Yemen. Hodeidah is also a densely populated urban area with several thousands of civilians residing in the area, meaning any military action within its vicinity has a high likelihood of causing significant civilian harm.

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#RtoPWeekly: 27-31 March 2017

Untitled

Civilian death toll rises as fighting to retake Mosul from ISIL intensifies

RtoPW 27-31 March

Fighting between Islamic State (ISIL) forces and the Iraqi military has intensified in recent weeks as the latter has pushed towards the Old City area of Mosul, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have remained trapped in the densely populated area. The reported number of civilian deaths in the city has dramatically increased in the past two weeks. Mayor Hussein Ali Khajem stated that more than 150 people have been killed in violent clashes and airstrikes in Mosul since 20 March, including numerous women and children. Other sources put the civilian death toll even higher, reaching over 200, at least 130 of which are believed to have been killed by airstrikes on residential buildings in the New Mosul neighborhood. The Iraqi Civil Defence has reportedly pulled 136 bodies from the rubble from the same area of the city. It is unknown how many of the bodies, if any, may have been ISIL combatants.

The threat posited by airstrikes has increasingly become the most dangerous feature of the conflict for civilians in the city. Iraqi officers have reportedly told media sources that as the fighting against ISIL has increased in intensity, the US-led coalition has quickened decisions on whether to strike targets within the city. US military officials have insisted that there has been no change to the rules of engagement regarding distinction and proportionality, but have also said that US military advisers with the Iraqi forces have been given a greater unilateral ability to call in airstrikes since the beginning of the push for Mosul in December.

As more information has become available about the collapse of homes believed to have been caused by US-led coalition airstrikes on 17 March, the number of civilian casualties caused by the airstrikes has steadily risen, with some sources estimating it to be from 200 to 250. Residents have alleged that there was ample reason for both the Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition to believe there was a significant civilian presence in the area, claiming that leaflets asking civilians to stay in their homes rather than risk fleeing during the intense street-to-street fighting had been distributed. If the estimated number of civilian casualties proves to be accurate, this strike will be one of the deadliest US military strikes for civilians in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

On Tuesday, the top US commander in Iraq stated that his initial assessment of the evidence from the incident indicated that the alleged US airstrike probably had a role in the building collapse and the resulting civilian deaths, but also said his personal impression was that ISIL had at least some role in the casualties. He also insisted that further investigation is needed. Several conflicting reports of the incident blamed ISIL for the casualties, with some alleging the blast that leveled the building was a result of an ISIL truck-bomb or from IED booby-traps. Others have suggested it was the result of compounding actions by the conflict forces. ISIL has also been accused of forcing civilians into the building and intentionally provoking the airstrike.

The Islamic State’s use of civilians in Mosul as human shields has been well documented, and has prompted UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, to condemn the group as “cowardly and disgraceful.” Civilians have also been killed and wounded by ISIL booby-traps, IEDs, shelling, and snipers. The High Commissioner noted that due to the known use of civilians as human shields by ISIL, the use of airstrikes on ISIL positions carries the potential for a disproportionately lethal impact on civilians. As a result, the High Commissioner called on the Iraqi military and its US-led coalition allies to reconsider their tactics in order to ensure the risk to civilians is reduced to the absolute minimum in accordance with international law, particularly as the fighting draws closer to the most densely populated areas of the city.

Source for above photo of civilians awaiting the distribution of aid in Mosul: Ivor Prickett/The New York Times


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DPRK
DRC
Cote d’Ivoire
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen


Burma/Myanmar:

The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on 24 March regarding the ongoing human rights crisis in Burma. The resolution, among other things, dispatched “an independent, international fact-finding mission” to investigate the serious human rights violations that allegedly have taken place in Burma at the hands of the military and security forces, particularly those in Rakhine State. The resolution stressed the need for sexual and gender-based violence experts to be included in the mission. Moreover, it extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma for one more year. The Burmese government is opposed to the resolution’s operative paragraph dispatching the fact-finding mission within the country, as well as the resolution in general.


Burundi:

Several non-governmental organizations within Burundi have called for an immediate end to the alleged human rights violations occurring within the country. The group of NGOs, including the Human Rights Defenders of Burundi (DDH) through its SOS-Torture campaign, has claimed that law enforcement officers have conducted several extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and torture, and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of citizens. In addition, human rights activists have insisted that there has been a recent upsurge in political and ethnic violence in Burundi. The Collective of Lawyers of civil parties and victims’ families of human violations in Burundi reportedly submitted 124 new individual complaints to the International Criminal Court (ICC) against the government of Burundi regarding specific allegations of human rights abuses on Monday. The organization also submitted a collective mandate regarding general “crimes committed by the Government,” which was signed by over 400 families accusing the government of committing human rights abuses against their relatives.

A civil society organization collective named “Halte au Troisième Mandat” (“Halt to the Third Term”) is continuing its campaign against President Nkurunziza’s third term, which surpasses the constitutionally mandated two-term limit for presidents. On 26 March, the collective released a statement to the press in which they insisted “terror and resignation are progressively taking hold in Burundi” as a direct result of the government’s “bloody repression” of their protests.


Central African Republic:

Armed groups attacked at least three villages in the central Bambari region of CAR this week, where a contingent of the UN peacekeeping force is based. The attacks resulted in the deaths of 50 people and have left several more injured. The Unity of African People, a faction of the mainly Muslim Seleka movement, has been accused of perpetrating the attack, although the UAF denies involvement. Such raids are remnants of the civil war in CAR and are indicative of the CAR government’s inability to effectively transition to peace.


Cote d’Ivoire:

On 24 March, the UN peacekeeping chief, Herve Ladsous, said he expects peacekeeping operations in Cote d’Ivoire to end by March of 2018. That same week, it was reported that former Ivorian First Lady, Simone Gbagbo, was acquitted of committing crimes against humanity by Cote d’Ivoire’s high court. Human Rights Watch asserted that the decision highlights the flaws of the country’s judicial process and further emphasizes the importance of the International Criminal Court’s continuing case against her regarding similar crimes during the 2011 post-election crisis.


DPRK:

On 24 March, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution addressing the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This echoes the statement of Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson during the Council meeting in which the resolution was adopted, where Mr. Eliasson explicitly stated that both the DPRK and the international community as a whole have the “responsibility to protect [DPRK’s] population from the most serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights.” Furthermore, the resolution strengthened the capacity of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Seoul, which continues to monitor human rights abuses within DPRK. The improvements to the Seoul office include the addition of international criminal justice experts, whose specific function will be developing plans for the future prosecution of DPRK leaders and officials responsible for human rights crimes. Finally, the resolution extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur of the situation of human rights in the DPRK for an additional year.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

Violence has continued to escalate this past weekend in Kasai, a notably poor and remote region in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as 42 police officers were decapitated by the regional militia group Kamuina Nsapu. Instances of both armed violence and political tensions within the country have been increasing at an alarming rate.

On 28 March, Congolese police used tear gas and opened fire into the air in order to scatter hundreds of opposition supporters in Kinshasa. The demonstrators had formed public protests after talks between President Joseph Kabila’s government and the opposition party collapsed. Many critics insist President Kabila has intentionally delayed the country’s elections in order to remain in power. The event has escalated tensions within the country, raising the possibility of renewed violence.

On 29 March, the UN announced that bodies discovered recently in Kasai are in fact the two missing UN staff recently kidnapped in the DRC, along with the body of their Congolese interpreter. The staff members were investigating large-scale human rights violations in the region. Ida Sawyer, Central African director at Human Rights Watch, said the disappearances reflect the violence currently going on in the Kasai region of DRC. The UN will launch an investigation into the killings and urges the Congolese government to do so as well.


Mali:

The main faction of Tuareg-led rebels in Mali and other opposition groups declared their intention to boycott talks with the government on 1 April concerning the implementation of the 2015 peace agreement. On Tuesday, some of the groups agreed to take part after receiving additional assurances from the government. It is unknown if the rest of the opposition intends to do the same.

Medecin Sans Frontieres (MSF) has released a new report that is highly critical of the politicization of humanitarian aid by several domestic and international actors in Mali. The incorporation of humanitarian aid into the country’s political and security efforts is seen by many groups as promoting the government’s political agenda, and therefore, MSF has warned that there may be risks to doing so. Particularly, aid could be rejected by these opposition groups and, as a result, humanitarian organizations could be attacked if they are seen as partisan forces. MSF has argued that the common practice of using of armed escorts by humanitarian workers and the use of civilian vehicles by the military aggravate the risk of these attacks occurring, further hindering the delivery of the much needed aid in the country.


Nigeria:

In a move believed to be aimed at winning grassroots trust and support, a Boko Haram faction in northeast Nigeria has reportedly vowed not to harm civilians so long as they do not cooperate with state security forces. However, numerous witnesses have reported that Boko Haram has continued to kill civilians. The group remains a threat to civilians, contrary to the government’s claims that the group was “technically defeated” in Nigeria. Furthermore, unstable and lethal explosive devices from previous clashes between the military and Boko Haram continue to plague the Nigerian countryside.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Nigerian authorities to take more action in rescuing the hundreds of children that have been abducted and continue to be held captive by Boko Haram. In particular, HRW has called on the government to publicly acknowledge the 501 missing children abducted from Damasak two years ago when the Nigerian military and their Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) pushed Boko Haram out of the town. As the abductions have never been publicly acknowledged by the government, it is not believed that any concerted action has been taken to rescue them.


South Sudan:

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi and the Ugandan government jointly urged the international community for large-scale and immediate support for the thousands of South Sudanese refugees who continue to arrive in Uganda every day. In addition, after UN Secretary-General Guterres urged South Sudan to prioritize the needs of its people, the country’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Joseph Moum Majak Ngor Malok, reassured the Security Council that his government would cooperate with the UN to resolve the issues affecting his country. However, mass displacement in the country has continued as the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) initially estimated 60,000 South Sudanese refugees would flee the country in 2017, but this estimate has been exceeded in the first three months of 2017 alone. The UNHCR anticipates even more refugees this year.

The Sudanese government is due to open a new humanitarian corridor to deliver food assistance to the people of South Sudan. At this time, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been dropping tons of food to aid thousands of displaced citizens and their communities. The South Sudanese Red Cross is on the ground helping to distribute the supplies. Unfortunately, an aid worker expressed his concern that even if citizens had money to buy food, they would not be able to use this money in the current situation. As a result, airdrops have been the only option in some regions, such as Maar in the Jonglei Province.

The UN called for an open investigation for the six aid workers that were ambushed and killed in South Sudan on Saturday. The UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF) stated it is in shock following the killing of the aid workers. The workers were from UNICEF’s partner organization, the Grassroots Empowerment and Development Organization (GREDO), which works “to support children released from armed groups.” Aid agencies say that humanitarian aid in South Sudan could be delayed due to the attack of these six aid workers.

According to the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, sexual violence in the country has reached “epic proportions.” Regional leaders issued a joint statement expressing concern over the humanitarian crisis and urging the parties to stop hostilities.

South Sudanese rebels loyal to former First Vice President Riek Machar have claimed they have captured the Kajo-Keji county headquarters in Yei River state after clashing with government troops and killing 14 soldiers. The Eastern Africa’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has condemned the proliferation of armed groups in South Sudan and called upon these groups to renounce violence as a means to solve the issues in the country. The South Sudanese government has rejected the participation of troops from countries outside the region in the regional protection forces. However, President Salva Kiir has accepted the call for a unilateral ceasefire.


Sudan:

Clashes between militia and state security personnel have continued in Sudan, as well as violent crimes like murder, robbery, kidnapping, and rampant sexual assault and gender-based violence. Clashes in North Darfur resulted in the death of a police officer and the injuring of six others last saturday. Additionally, on 27 March, militiamen attacked and robbed a group of mourners while traveling between the North Darfur capital of El Fasher and the town of Tawila.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Jordan this week to either deny entry or arrest President Omar al-Bashir prior to his entry to the country for the Arab League meeting on Wednesday. Despite the warnings from HRW and other organizations that failure to arrest Bashir would be a violation of their obligations under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Jordan became the most recent ICC member state to fail to arrest Omar al-Bashir when he entered their sovereign territory. Bashir has two outstanding warrants issued by the ICC for a total of eight counts of atrocity crimes, including three counts of genocide. Representatives for South Africa are expected to appear before the Court next Friday to account for their government’s failure to arrest Bashir when he entered South Africa in June 2015 to attend a summit of the African Union. The lawyers for the South African government are expected to submit arguments against a finding of non-compliance.

The UN Secretary-General’s recent report on children in armed conflict in Sudan, which was released last Friday, has found that the numbers of children recruited into the conflict by the warring parties decreased in the most recent reporting period. However, the report also noted that children are still killed, injured, and victimized by sexual violence and exploitation as result of the conflict. During the reporting period from March 2011 to December 2016, roughly 1,300 children were killed or maimed as result of the conflict, mostly in Darfur. Darfur was also an area of high occurrence of sexual violence and exploitation against children, with at least 372 victims during the same period.

Burkina Faso has announced it will be withdrawing its 850 troops currently serving with the UN mission in Darfur (UNAMID). The Sudanese government will reportedly be paying for the costs of the withdrawal, according to a statement delivered by the Foreign Minister of Sudan.


Syria:

On Sunday, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced they had captured the Tabqa airbase west of Raqqa from the Islamic State (ISIL), resulting in the first major victory for the Kurdish group.

As the fifth round of peace talks resumed in Geneva, opposition forces launched the biggest offensive in the last 18 months against the Syrian army in Damascus and north of Hama. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that several clashes were ongoing in the countryside north of the city, where government forces were trying to retake territory. In Geneva, the Syrian opposition’s chief negotiator in the talks, Nasr al-Hariri, accused the government of not being committed to peace because several civilian buildings have been targeted by the State air force since the beginning of the last round of talks. Consequently, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, admitted that he is not expecting breakthroughs, but all parties have at least agreed upon the agenda, which is a mark of progress in itself. On 29 March, the Syrian opposition and a senior Russian diplomat agreed upon the need to stabilize the fragile ceasefire implemented on 30 December 2016. Cessation of hostilities is seen as crucial to any hope of progress in the Geneva peace talks. However, as bloodshed in the country continues, Western diplomats are skeptical about any practical outcome the talks could reach.

Meanwhile, as fighting intensifies, the UN said around 300,000 people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance in Damascus. “Starvation is just around the corner,” affirmed UN humanitarian adviser on Syria Jan Egeland, adding that civilians have not received any supplies at the hands of the UN since October in Douma, and not since June of last year in the Kafr Batna area.

The UN has estimated that nearly 40,000 civilians, mostly women and children, have been displaced over the past week by fighting to the northwest of the Syrian city of Hama. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that people have begun to flee Hama and the districts of Homs, Latakia, and Tartous. On Thursday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the number of Syrian refugees now exceeds 5 million, while he also estimated that 6.3 million people are internally displaced. Turkey hosts the highest number of Syrian refugees, numbering nearly 3 million people.


Yemen:

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on Sunday arguing that a recent attack on a refugee boat off the coast of Yemen, which resulted in the deaths of around 40 people, likely constitutes a war crime. HRW also noted that the Saudi-led coalition is the only party to the conflict with access to the military aircraft allegedly used in the attack. The report was also critical of the system for investigations established by the Saudi-led coalition and expressed doubt that the inquiry requested by Somalia, an ally of the coalition, will have meaningful results. HRW has reportedly documented 62 unlawful airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition that are believed to have killed nearly 900 civilians in total. It is unknown what impact this event will have on the decision the US government is expected to soon make on a proposal to increase its intelligence and logistical support for the Saudi-led coalition.

Residents in Taiz reported on Sunday that a girl was killed by a Houthi sniper in the eastern portion of the city where clashes between government and rebel forces have already killed dozens. President Hadi has reportedly declared that 80% of Yemen is now under his government’s control and that the offensive against the Houthis will continue until they are forced to the negotiating table. The contested port city of Hodeidah remains the Houthis’ last stronghold position and the primary target of the government and Saudi-led coalition’s offensive.

On Thursday, the UN Special envoy for Yemen urged the UN Security Council to apply pressure on all parties in the conflict in Yemen to engage in diplomatic and political negotiations to end the ongoing bloodshed. The past week marked the second anniversary of the beginning of the Saudi-led bombing campaign in the Yemeni conflict. UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien released a statement marking the anniversary in which he said that the thousands of civilians killed in the conflict, including over 1,400 children, shows “the magnitude of the tragedy unfolding in Yemen.” Mr. O’Brien went on to discuss the looming man-made famine in the country and the need of two-thirds of the Yemeni population for humanitarian aid. Mr. O’Brien called on all parties to the conflict to start a political dialogue to prevent the imminent humanitarian catastrophe.

The UN children’s agency (UNICEF) also released a report marking the second year of the escalated conflict in which it noted that there has been a markable increase in the number of girls forced into child marriages in Yemen since the conflict escalated. UNICEF estimates that now more than two-thirds of girls are married off before the age of 18 in Yemen and that more that 44% of girls and women are married under the age of 15 in some parts of the country.

The UN has begun to look for alternative ports to deliver vital food and medicine to Yemen should Hodeidah come under attack. The UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, has said that despite the urgency for the 17 million Yemenis facing imminent famine conditions, humanitarian access has been hampered by a massive funding gap of over $2 billion USD, as well as by the intense fighting along the western coast. The International Committee of the Red Cross estimated that the international community has, at most, three to four months to save two-thirds of Yemen’s population from starvation. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, 17 million Yemenis live in a state of severe food insecurity as result of “ruthless war tactics against civilians by both parties to the conflict.” This figure is equal to about two-thirds of the entire country’s population.

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#RtoP Weekly: 20 – 24 March

Rtop weekly
ICRtoP makes joint statement at 61st session of the
Commission on the Status of Women
 
On 16 March 2017, Ms. Sharon Bhagwan Rolls delivered a joint statement on behalf of the ICRtoP and our partners, the World Federalist Movement (WFM), femLINKpacific, and the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), at the general discussion of the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which was held at the United Nations in New York.
To read the full statement, please click here.

Catch up on developments in…
Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DPRK
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq
Libya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen

Burma/Myanmar:

During a statement to the 34th session of the Human Rights Council on 13 March, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, Ms. Yanghee Lee, emphasized the degree to which the continuous state of killings and serious human rights violations taking place in Burma are impacting civilians there. She particularly noted the escalation of conflict in the Kachin and Shan states, where several thousands of people have been forced to flee, and where Ms. Lee herself had been barred from visiting by the government. Additionally, she described others’ personal accounts of human rights abuses on the Rohingya population, allegedly at the hands of government forces. Ms. Lee stressed the necessity for new, “prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial” investigations into the serious human rights violations occurring in the country.


Burundi:

The chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights violations in Burundi, Dr. Fatsah Ouguergouz, says the commission is alarmed about the increasing level of human rights abuses in Burundi that have been brought to their attention. Such abuses include violations of the right to life and physical integrity, forced disappearances, and torture, with thousands of abuses being reported from all areas of the country. Human rights experts in Burundi are worried about the judicial immunity that the perpetrators of these crimes seem to be enjoying. Furthermore, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has estimated that at least 27,000 Burundians fled the country between 1 January and 9 March 2017. The total number of refugees who have fled Burundi since April 2015, mainly to neighboring countries, stands at 391,700.


Central African Republic:

The United Nations humanitarian office has stated that only 5% of the nearly $400 million request for humanitarian aid for the Central African Republic has been funded this year, leaving half of the CAR’s population in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. Many civilians are only given half of their food rations. Violence has continued in the CAR since 2013, despite the successful democratic elections held in the country last year. Many remote areas remain outside of government control, and thus the sectarian-based conflict continues. The UN has asserted that international political support and increased resources to the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR (MINUSCA) are essential to the sustainable resolution of the conflict.


DPRK:

Human Rights Watch (HRW) organized two panel discussions on 9 and 10 March in Geneva alongside the 34th session of the Human Rights Council. These discussions focused primarily on promoting accountability for human rights violations within the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and included a group of human rights experts, UN officials, and three escapees from North Korea, among others. Human Rights Watch and the experts suggested that the High Commissioner for Human Rights office in Seoul, which documents abuses in the neighboring DPRK, should be given greater authority when strategizing on how to prosecute DPRK leaders responsible for serious human rights violations. Part of the increased autonomy would be the inclusion of international criminal justice experts at the Seoul office. John Fisher, the Geneva director at Human Rights Watch, reiterated the importance of bringing to justice to the North Korean leaders responsible for the alleged crimes.

On 13 March, the DPRK rejected a UN review of its human rights record, as hostilities between North and South Korea have increased and further closed off opportunities for dialogue. During the UN Human Rights Council session on abuses in DPRK, human rights experts called for action against perpetrators of crimes against humanity.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

According to the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on 15 March, two UN officials have disappeared in Kasai-Central, one of the most conflict-prone regions of the DRC. The two UN officials were investigating allegations of soldiers murdering dozens of unarmed civilians in the region, including children, when they were kidnapped. Calls to investigate the army came after videos surfaced recently in which it appeared Congolese soldiers were walking down a rural road and shooting passing civilians. Meanwhile, on 18 March, seven Congolese Army officers were arrested and charged with war crimes in association with the highly controversial video.

The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) expressed grave concern over reports of high numbers of deaths, including of women and children, in Kananga between 14 and 17 March. MONUSCO is concerned by the Kamwina Nsapu militiamen’s attacks against DRC state institutions and symbols, but also the disproportionate use of force by the security and defense forces and the targeting of civilians.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on 21 March, the number of refugees fleeing from the DRC is increasing, with the latest refugee count at 460,923. A report from the UN Secretary-General says violence in previously stable areas, such as Tanganyika and the Kasai and Lomami provinces, has also increased. The UN is calling on the DRC to implement the political agreement signed in December 2016, which has continued to stall.
Amnesty International released a report this week in which they urge the DRC to: promptly investigate human rights violations conducted by security forces during protests; lift all unlawful bans on protests and demonstrations; engage in a reform of the National Intelligence Service and establish an oversight mechanism; step up efforts – in collaboration with UN forces – to protect civilians in the area of armed conflict; and address inter-ethnic conflicts.

On 22 March, former DRC Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba was sentenced to a year in jail and fined 300,000 Euros for bribing witnesses during his war crimes trial in an unprecedented case before the International Criminal Court.


Gaza/West Bank:

During his report last week at the 34th session of the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Mr. Michael Lynk, underscored the continuous human rights violations that take place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The human rights abuses, among other violations of international law, include the “excessive use of force, collective punishment, forced displacement, and restrictions on the freedom of movement.” Mr. Lynk also drew attention to Israeli human rights organizations focused on alleviating human rights abuses stemming from the occupation, and that these activists “are enduring an increasingly hostile public atmosphere in Israel and from the settlement movement, stoked by the Israeli political leadership and the media, as well as obstructive legislation enacted or being considered.” The Special Rapporteur made specific recommendations for action to the Government of Israel for the resolution of the human rights violations, including ending the Gaza blockade and allowing the free movement of people in the area.


Iraq:

As the Mosul battle continues, Major-General Maan al-Saadi of Iraq’s elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) said Iraqi security forces have succeeded in seizing control of about 17 of 40 western districts of Iraq’s second largest city from the Islamic State (ISIL). However, Iraqi forces faced strong resistance from snipers and mortar rounds as they advanced to conquer Mosul’s Old City and Iron Bridge, a strategic passage through the River Tigris, on Monday. During the operation, the Iraqi federal police stated government forces had killed ISIL’s military commander of the Old City, Abu Abdul Rahman al-Ansary.

On Saturday, Iraqi forces asserted they had captured the al-Kur and al-Tawafa neighborhoods, which has allowed for the creation of a corridor for civilians to safely leave the city.
As aid agencies are bracing for the possibility that about 320,000 civilians may flee the western part of Mosul in coming weeks, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, Lise Grande, said the crisis is pushing “all of us to our limits.” Iraqis fleeing Mosul are already struggling to find shelter in poorly-equipped and overcrowded refugee camps, and have begun to head to the east side of the city where most of their relatives are settled.

Similarly, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Iraq, Bruno Geddo, said that the worst is yet to come, as about 400,000 Iraqi civilians are still trapped in the ISIL-held Old City of Western Mosul and are running short on food and other basic provisions as the battle continues. Geddo also reported that the number of civilians streaming out of the city is increasing at an average of 8,000 to 12,000 people per day.

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch reported that a mass grave in Khafsa, a village near Mosul, could include the bodies of up to 25,000 civilians executed by ISIL since spring 2014, according to witnesses.


Libya:

Forces commanded by General Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to regain control of the country’s eastern oil terminals, which had been seized earlier this month by the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB), a rival group. Around nine people were killed during the attack, as Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) retreated from the oil ports.

Meanwhile, as tensions continued to escalate across the country, Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Libya and the head of the UN Support Mission in the country (UNSMIL), called on all parties to put Libya’s future ahead of their “own narrow interests”, refraining from violence and extremism. He also urged for democratic bodies and ideals to be respected, condemning serious human rights and humanitarian law violations committed during the fighting.

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch accused the Libyan National Army (LNA) of having committed war crimes, including killing civilians and desecrating the bodies of fighters of the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC), a group opposing the LNA. Civilians have been fleeing the Ganfouda neighborhood in Benghazi since the attacks began, heading al-Sabri and Souq Elhout neighborhoods in downtown Benghazi.


Mali:

On 19 March, the head of the UN mission in Mali reported that the situation in the country remains precarious, particularly in the north, as UN and other forces on the side of the peace process are continually attacked by non-signatory terror groups. Over 70 security forces members of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) have died in the pursuit of peace and stability in the region. The concern over the uncertain security situation in the north was also noted by the UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali, Suliman Baldo, to the Human Rights Council on Tuesday. Mr. Baldo reported that the continued state of insecurity in the north has contributed to: children’s lack of access to an education; dangers to civilians due to uncontrolled armed actors and military actions that “strayed from international standards”; mass displacement; and further radicalization of youth. Mr. Baldo noted that progress in transitional justice had been made with the opening of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, but that the justice system was still unable to truly tackle the problem of impunity.


Nigeria:

An amnesty and reintegration program for former militants in Nigeria is currently facing major shortfalls in funding, which is affecting the ability of the program to uphold the promises made to ex-combatants.

On 18 March, one of the Chibok schoolgirls appealed to the international community to take action to rescue the 195 remaining captives of Boko Haram since their abduction nearly two years ago.

Thousands fled a Nigerian fishing community on 19 March after police reportedly enforced evictions in violation of a court order issued in January. The surprise action, which culminated in the destruction of the homes of roughly 47,000 people, reportedly included the use of tear gas and live ammunition by the police to disperse the crowds that had gathered to block the path of the bulldozers.

An organization of Nigerians, who were reportedly upset with Amnesty International’s efforts to reach justice for human rights violations conducted by the military and security forces, besieged and occupied Amnesty’s office on 21 March in a protest calling for the rights monitor to cease operations in the country. Local rights groups and attorneys have come to the organization’s defence, with some condemning the protest and others calling for the government to deploy security teams to dislodge the illegal occupiers and protect Amnesty International’s office.

A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner of Refugees has expressed concern over Cameroon’s continued forced return of Nigerian asylum seekers, despite the recent tripartite agreement between the UNHCR, Cameroon, and Nigeria that includes a provision mandating voluntary return. The forced return of asylum seekers is refoulement and therefore a major violation of the international refugee law agreements that Cameroon has ratified.

Multiple blasts occurred on 22 March in a migrant camp for internally displaced persons in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, which has been at the center of the violence of the Boko Haram insurgency. The explosions killed between three and four people and wounded up to 20.


South Sudan:

On 16 March, Lt. Gen. Thomas Cirillo Swaka, the leader of the National Salvation Front (NAS), a new South Sudanese rebel group, urged for South Sudan’s peace process to be restarted.

The head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) urged the international community to unite and put pressure on the rival South Sudanese leaders to exert the political will for the parties to cease hostilities and build peace. According to the Under-Secretary-General for peacekeeping operations, Herve Ladsous, during an address delivered in Juba, South Sudan, additional Regional Protection Forces (RPF) will be deployed in the next few weeks. The Security Council approved the deployment of 4,000 troops last year after violence again erupted in Juba, including mass occurrences of rape and assaults on civilians, but the force has been delayed due to resistance from domestic political actors. Mr. Ladsous said during his Tuesday speech in Juba that the UN would “spare no effort to speed up the [deployment] process.” Mr. Ladsous also urged all parties to work towards a nonviolent resolution to the conflict, emphasizing that the political option is the only possibility for lasting and stable peace.

On 19 March, the UNHRC named the crisis in South Sudan the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis, as 1.6 million people have been displaced or have fled to neighboring countries in the past eight months. The ongoing famine in South Sudan is “man-made” and a result of conflict between armed groups, with more deaths being caused by violence than starvation alone.

Dozens of South Sudan army (SPLA) soldiers abandoned their positions on 20 March and joined the armed opposition Brigadier Gen. Meanwhile, Bishop Erkolano Lodu Tombe, President of Caritas South Sudan and Bishop of Yei, has warned the country is in a state of collapse with millions of people facing mass starvation.


Sudan:

The UN African Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) supported the launch of the Community Peace Initiative in West Darfur, which is designed to foster local dispute settlement and build better relations between tribal groups. UNAMID Sector West, Acting Head of Office, Ms. Takako Ugaya, commended the move, saying it showed the government’s commitment towards ensuring lasting peace in West Darfur.


Syria:

On Thursday, alleged U.S. jets struck a mosque full of worshippers near Damascus, killing at least 42 civilians and wounding dozens. The U.S. confirmed it carried out an airstrike but denied killing civilians, claiming the attack was intended to target an al-Qaeda meeting. The spokesman for U.S. Central Command, Colonel John Thomas, said that the building they targeted was 15 meters from a mosque that is still standing. Moreover, Eric Pahon, the Pentagon spokesman, underlining that it was the building where al-Qaeda fighters had been educated and indoctrinated, said the Pentagon will investigate any credible allegation it receives in relation to civilian fatalities.

Meanwhile, the Syrian army’s High Command said on Friday that Israeli jets attacked a military target near Palmira, eventually breaching Syrian air space and aiding the Islamic State (ISIL). The attack prompted Syrian forces to retaliate with ground-to-air missiles, in one of the most serious incidents between the two countries since the civil war broke out in March 2011. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed the airstrikes were intended for Hezbollah, the Lebanese group which is fighting alongside the Syrian government.

The fighting in Damascus continues, as the rebels launched their second attack in three days. The offensive began on Wednesday at 0300 GMT, and targeted a government-held area in northeastern Damascus. The spokesman of the rebel group Failaq al-Rahman, Wael Alwan, said that rebel forces finally restored all the points they withdrew from on Monday, and have started to storm the Abassiyin garages.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday that an alleged U.S.-led coalition airstrike hit a school in the ISIL-held city of Raqqa, killing more than 30 civilians. The activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) said at least 50 families found shelter in that building.

Furthermore, as negotiations resume in the Swiss city of Geneva, civil society groups claim their voices are “not being heard” and push for greater representation in the ongoing Syrian peace talks. They have already participated in the Civil Society Support Rooms (CSSR) in Geneva, a mechanism set up by the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, and aimed at implementing civil society demands. Whilst civil society activists are constantly sidelined and targeted on the ground in Syria, they tirelessly provide relief aid and medical assistance to civilians, as well as press for justice and democracy in the country.


Yemen:

A civilian boat carrying refugees from Yemen to Sudan was attacked  by an Apache helicopter late last Thursday. Thus far, 42 dead have been confirmed. Rebels have accused a Saudi-led coalition of being responsible, whereas the Saudi coalition has previously suggested the rebels use small boats to smuggle arms. For its part, the Saudi-led coalition has claimed it was not operating in the area at the time.  The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, formally condemned the attack on Monday and called on all parties to the conflict to conduct inquiries and ensure accountability for the attack.

After the attack, the Saudi-led coalition requested the UN assume supervision of the port city of Hodeidah, which is roughly 48 kilometres from the location of the boat when it was attacked. Hodeidah has been the center of fierce fighting between the Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government with Saudi-led coalition backing. The UN responded to the request earlier this week through spokesman Farhan Haq by noting it is the very clear legal obligation of all parties to the conflict that they protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and that this responsibility cannot be shifted onto other entities. Hodeidah is noteworthy for being a major port city that services nearly 70% of Yemen’s population; however, it has been almost entirely shut down due to the insecurity and infrastructure damage caused by the fighting and Saudi-led coalition airstrikes. The port city is a potentially life saving corridor for millions of Yemenis who are almost entirely reliant on imported food and supplies, and thus Mr. Haq stated it was “essential that all parties to the conflict facilitate unhindered access” to the port.

The current food crisis in Yemen leaves over 14 million people facing the threat of starvation and famine according to the UN, making it the largest of the top four humanitarian crises, which also includes Somalia, Sudan, and Nigeria. Last week, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released an infographic marking the second year of the escalation of violence. Among other statistics, the OCHA reported that in the last two years the import of medicine has dropped 70%, food prices have increased 26%, and nearly 11,000 cases of gender-based violence and 1,275 uses of children by parties to the conflict have occurred.

An arms monitor has reportedly uncovered evidence indicating Iran has been providing the Yemeni Houthi rebels with advanced military weaponry. The monitor has supposedly been able to link Iranian manufacturers to the serial numbers of drones used by the Houthi rebels in “kamikaze” attacks on missile defence sites. Iran has consistently denied accusations from Saudi Arabia that it has provided support to the Houthi rebels, despite reports from regional and western sources indicating Iranian involvement with the Houthi faction has increased in the last several months.

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Filed under Burma, Burundi, CARcrisis, DRC, Human Rights, Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, RtoP, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, UN, Uncategorized, Yemen

#RtoPWeekly: 6 – 10 March

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New Evidence Suggests Saudi-led Coalition Endangering Civilians with Use of Banned Cluster Munitions in Yemen

New evidence this week collected and corroborated by Amnesty International indicates that the Saudi-led coalition has continued the use of banned cluster munitions in Yemen. In the most recent strike using the inherently indiscriminate weapons systems, the Saudi-led coalition is believed to have fired multiple bomblet-laden rockets into residential areas in the city of Sa’da, injuring two civilians and causing material damage. The attack was the third such attack using Brazilian made ASTROS II surface-to-surface cluster munitions documented by Amnesty International in the country.

Cluster munitions are weapons that scatter multiple smaller explosive sub-munitions over an expansive area with indiscriminate effects. Cluster munitions are additionally problematic as sub-munitions frequently fail to detonate upon landing, but remain live, effectively creating de facto minefields. The inherently indiscriminate nature of cluster munitions makes them a dangerous threat to civilians and most of all children. Civilians accounted for 92% of cluster munitions casualties between 2010 and 2014, half of whom were children. Due to their nature as weapons inherently harmful to civilian populations, cluster munitions were banned by the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), which has been ratified by 100 states.

Neither Brazil, Saudi Arabia, nor Yemen are party to the CCM treaty however that does not free any of the parties from their lawful obligations to protect civilians from harm and refrain from the use of indiscriminate weapons or attacks under customary international humanitarian laws of war. As such, the Saudi-led coalition’s use of cluster munitions in crowded cities and populated areas could conceivably constitute war crimes.

Cluster munitions from other countries of origin have also been used by the Saudi-led coalition in attacks that have caused civilian casualties. Last year it was uncovered that some of the bombs being utilized by the Saudi-led coalition were British-produced BL-755 cluster munitions sold and exported prior to the UK’s self-imposed unilateral ban on the weapons and before its ratification of the CCM. The United States, which remains opposed to the CCM and has refused to sign the treaty, has also provided Saudi Arabia with cluster munitions and other arms in multi-billion-dollar arms trade deals. US manufactured bombs were used in several strikes causing civilian casualties last year, including a strike on a mosque that reportedly killed a 15-year old boy and a reported strike on a fishing village.

In 2016, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented at least 16 attacks on populated areas using ground or air launched cluster munitions in Yemen, killing and wounding dozens.  The attacks were part of the broader campaign of the Saudi-led coalition that has killed nearly 800 civilians in 58 unlawful airstrikes, according to HRW. In January the UN announced that the total civilian death toll from the conflict in Yemen broke 10,000.

*** Please note that there will be no RtoPWeekly 13 – 17 March due to the opening of the 61st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women at UN Headquarters in New York. However, we will resume publication with an update on these events and the crisis situations around the world the following week, 20 – 24 March. 


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DPRK
DRC
Iraq
Kenya
Libya

Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sri Lanka
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen


Burma/Myanmar:

On Thursday, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to create an international Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate serious human rights violations in the country. The 47 members of the Council, which is currently holding its main annual session in Geneva, could adopt a resolution establishing the CoI before the session ends earlier this month.

Amnesty International and twelve other international human rights organizations submitted a joined letter to the Council last Friday in support of the recommendation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and Ms. Lee, to set up a CoI to investigate the alleged violations in Rakhine state during the security forces’ “clearance operations”, which, according to the 3 February 2017 OHCHR report, may “very likely” amount to crimes against humanity. The letter adds that previously established commissions on the issue have failed to investigate the alleged human rights violations.


Burundi:

On Saturday, thousands of people gathered in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, to protest against UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the facilitator in the inter-Burundian crisis, William Mkapa. The government of Burundi wrote a letter to the UN Security Council (UNSC) claiming that the Secretary-General’s recent report on human rights violations in the country contains some unconfirmed facts.
Victims of the 2015 crisis in Burundi decided they are ready to collaborate with the International Criminal Court’s Commission of Inquiry and give their testimonies on what happened.
Later in the week, international and Burundian NGOs urged the UNSC to impose targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes against individuals responsible for ongoing serious human rights violations in Burundi. Human Rights Watch has claimed that the Burundian government is obstructing the UN Security Council and others, such as the African Union, which should “compel the Security Council to take strong action”.


Central African Republic:

The UN peacekeeping mission in the CAR has openly warned a rebel movement from impeding humanitarian access, claiming that any threat to civilians and peacekeepers is considered a war crime. According to Human Rights Watch reports, new armed groups have recently been emerging in the already volatile CAR.

According to aid agencies in the CAR, clashes between armed groups in the town of Bambari could soon escalate to into a “full-blown” conflict, resulting in thousands of civilians being forced to flee from their homes and triggering a humanitarian disaster. A new court in the CAR will work in tandem with the International Criminal Court to seek accountability for grave human rights violations committed in the country.


DPRK:

The International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have expressed their support for the latest reports of a group of independent experts on accountability for human rights violations in North Korea and have called for the immediate application of the recommendations of the experts. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW, added “The North Korean government and its leaders should face justice for their crimes against humanity, which continue to this day.”


Democratic Republic of Congo:

The Congolese government transitions continue to be delayed with the government again claiming that elections are too expensive and the country cannot financially afford them. The European Union (EU) warned the DRC that it will impose more sanctions if political and military leaders keep stalling or if they block a deal with the opposition. These sanctions would include freezing assets of officials and imposing travel bans on those involved in human rights abuses, inciting violence, and/or obstructing peace in the transfer of power. In December, the EU and the United States issued sanctions when a clash left 50 people dead.

Sexual violence has been on the rise in the DRC, with over 3,000 complaints received in 2016, versus 2,414 in 2015. However, this increase can be perceived as a positive step for the reporting of such acts, as it is said to be justified by the increase of the involvement of the military in addressing cases of rape. Rape victims are now feeling more comfortable filing complaints.

Later in the week, it was reported that the DRC has rejected the call from the UN to further investigate civilian killings in the central Kasai and Lomani provinces, stating that they are already conducting investigations which have included the findings of three mass graves claimed by militiamen from Kamwina Nsapu.


Iraq:

Iraq’s Interior Ministry has reported that 14,000 people fled western Mosul on Thursday, 3 March, amounting to the largest wave of internally displaced people (IDPs) since the US-backed operation in the city was launched on 19 February.

Also on 3 March, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reported that about 15,000 children have fled the city of Mosul, where government forces continue to fight the Islamic State (ISIL). The UNICEF Regional Emergency Advisor, Bastien Vigneau, said that the agency is providing immediate aid to children arriving from Mosul at the Hamam al Alil camp, 20km away from the city. Moreover, he underlined that, since the military operations against ISIL began on 17 October 2016, at least 874 unaccompanied or separated children have been identified.

On Sunday, heavy clashes between Iraqi forces and ISIL in western Mosul brought the number of people fleeing the fighting up to 45,000. Amid this spike in displacement figures, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is setting up new camps and expanding existing ones to shelter new arrivals. The newly opened Chamakor camp is ready to receive 6,600 people, according to a spokesperson of the UN agency. Currently, the UN has reported that there are 211,572 Iraqis displaced by the fighting in Mosul, excluding the 50,000 people already displaced since the military operations were launched.

Moreover, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, visited the Girls and Women Support and Treatment Centre in Dohuk Governorate, in northern Iraq, where she met with survivors of rape and other abuses committed by ISIL. In calling for a multipronged approach from the global to the local levels to aid the survivors and their families, Ms. Bangura has discussed the need for such support with political and religious Kurd and Iraqi authorities.

On the ground, the military situation has evolved rapidly, with Iraqi forces moving deeper into western Mosul and edging closer to the Grand Nouri mosque, where the ISIL’s “caliphate” was proclaimed in July 2014. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has flown to the city to congratulate the troops, whose progress “has eclipsed the expectations of battle planners”. The Head of the elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) said on Thursday that the 100,000-strong array of Iraqi forces aims to push back ISIL militants from Mosul within a month.
As the US-led Iraqi military offensive to retake the western part of the city continues, the humanitarian coordinator for the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, Lise Grande, said that up to 450,000 people are expected to arrive to the camps in the following days. She warned that there may not be enough space to accommodate all those fleeing their homes.


Kenya:

The Kenyan government signaled this week that it may withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), after arguing that the ICC is biased against Africans.


Libya:

On Tuesday, the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that fighting between rival people-smuggling gangs on Libya’s coast has killed 22 sub-Saharan Africans and wounded more than 100 people. These deaths come in addition to the 140 bodies found on Libyan beaches earlier this year, while there have been 477 deaths at sea on the route from Libya to the European Union.


Mali:

The peace process in Mali has been impeded as tensions continue to escalate between rival armed groups within the former rebel alliance, which is party to the 2015 peace agreement. Factions of the group have criticized the administration selected as the interim authority in Timbuktu and have prevented the installation of the interim authorities. Forces reportedly surrounded the city on Monday, preventing entry or exit. Witnesses also reported sporadic gunfire throughout the day. Timbuktu, along with other northern cities Kidal and Gao, is set to have an interim authority to pave the way for an election once the peace has been restored and the security situation has been stabilized.

Despite these setbacks, the UN, the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the European Union (EU) congratulated the parties to the peace process for recent progress and urged them to continue with diligent efforts to resolve the obstacles in the region around Timbuktu. Additionally, the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) is reportedly hopeful and has claimed that internal displacement in Mali could be resolved by the end of 2017 so long as there is not a resurgence in violence.

An attack on a military base killed eleven Malian soldiers in the most recent attack in the escalating campaign of violence by terror groups in the country seeking to interfere with the peace process.The process and the multi-actor peacekeeping forces may soon be under increased threat from the extremist groups in the country who have reportedly merged into a single organization and pledged allegiance to the leadership of Al Qaeda. The new group, comprised of formerly separate organizations, such as Ansar Dine, al-Mourabitoun, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has reportedly taken the name Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, which translates to Support of Islam and Muslims. It is yet unknown how this group plans to respond to the progress in the peace process made last week with the beginning of joint patrols. The announcement of the merger has caused some of Mali’s neighbours to take increased concern with the security situation in the country and Niger has reportedly declared a state of emergency in regions near its border with Mali out of fear of potential spillover.

The frequent recruitment and use of children as armed combatants and suicide bombers is becoming an increasing concern for peacekeeping operations and tempering the interest of prospective contributors of peacekeeping forces. The government of Canada, who has previously expressed interest in meaningful engagement with UN missions in Africa and who has been pushed by France to replace the contribution of Denmark that ended in December with 600 soldiers and 150 police, is reportedly re-accessing the idea of deploying forces to take part in the Mali mission due to concerns over the situation posed by child soldiers.


Nigeria:

Just days before the visit of the UN Security Council (UNSC) led by Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, Permanent Representative of the UK to the UN and President of the UNSC for March, three suicide bombings believed to have been orchestrated by the Boko Haram insurgency targeted a gas station in Maiduguri, destroying several fuel tankers. While the only casualties were the bombers themselves, one elderly woman, one teenage girl and a teenage boy, their deaths mark more lives taken by Boko Haram’s strategy of coerced suicide bombings that often target women and girls for forced recruitment. According to the Group Foundation for the Defence of Democracies (FDD), 123 women and girls have been used as suicide bombers, many against their will, by Boko Haram since the beginning of the group’s female bomber-based terror strategy in 2014. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Boko Haram has kidnapped around 2,000 women and girls since 2009, subjecting them to rape, slave labour, and forced marriages.

Documents reportedly obtained by British media outlets reveal that the Nigerian government under former President Goodluck Jonathan rejected an offer by the UK to rescue the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls in 2014. In a mission named Operation Turus by the Royal Air Force, British planes conducted aerial reconnaissance over Nigeria for several months charting the movement of Boko Haram. The RAF reportedly had located the girls within the first few weeks and had gathered enough actionable intelligence to mount a rescue mission but the offer to rescue the girls was reportedly rejected by the Nigerian government under then-President Goodluck Jonathan. As of today 195 of the 276 girls remain missing. Former President Jonathan formally denied the allegations through a statement issued by his media aide on Sunday.

The Nigerian military also found itself denying reports this week when spokespeople issued a statement disputing the findings in Amnesty International’s yearly report for 2016. Amnesty has accused Nigerian military and police for the use of excessive force and unlawful killings against pro-Biafra activists.

Ambassador Rycroft’s delegation stated after their visit to the countries in the Lake Chad Basin, which included a stop in Maiduguri, that the only viable long term solution for peace and stability in Nigeria was through development. The UNSC ambassadors met with women sheltering in a camp of roughly 7,000 displaced persons who recounted the killings of their husbands and the abuse they had suffered at the hands of Boko Haram insurgents. Inadequate security for women and girls means they are still frequently victimized if they leave the camps.


South Sudan:

A South Sudanese opposition (SPLA-IO) official has said that SPLA-IO troops clashed with pro-government forces in Eastern Equatoria state after the latter allegedly attempted to attack their base. Lieutenant General Thomas Cirillo Swaka, a former army general who quit his position last month, announced he has formed a new anti-government rebel group, emphasizing resistance to the rule of incumbent President Salva Kiir.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, claimed that thousands of South Sudanese people will starve unless relief workers gain access to vulnerable populations and funds are increased. According to the UN, South Sudan’s government is blocking food aid and restricting UN peacekeepers. South Sudan has also increased the cost of aid work permits to $10,000, despite the fact that it is the first time the world has experienced such large scale famine in six years. On Monday, emergency food aid rations were dropped in famine-stricken areas of the country by the World Food Programme. About 1.5 million refugees have fled the fighting and famine in South Sudan to its neighbouring countries, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Thursday.

According to a recent report released by the UN Commission of Human Rights on Monday, South Sudan is experiencing ethnic cleansing and is on the verge of genocide. The UN Commission on Human Rights has stated that there has been a massive increase in human rights violations in the recent months and has called for further investigation. Villagers have accused government soldiers of going on a rampage in Oming area this week. However, Imatong State’s’ governor denied any of these allegations.


Sri Lanka:

The United Nations has criticized Sri Lanka’s “worryingly slow” progress on accountability for war crimes committed during the country’s civil war, which ended in 2009, during which thousands of Tamil civilians were killed by the country’s military. As serious abuses appear to remain widespread, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has called for accountability and justice in order to achieve a lasting peace.


Sudan:

Amnesty International has maintained its call for investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Sudanese military in Darfur. Amnesty has called on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to launch a formal investigation into the alleged use of the illegal weapons on the civilian populations within Sudan.

On Thursday, President Omar al-Bashir pardoned 259 imprisoned rebel fighters in a move the president’s office claimed was intended to foster an environment for a lasting peace agreement. Three days prior, a spokesman for the army confirmed reports that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N), the rebel group that has been engaged in open conflict with the government forces in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions since 2011, had released 127 prisoners. The military spokesman called the move positive progress in the process towards peace.


Syria:

The Geneva peace talks have achieved some concrete results during last week. After the government delegation claimed that the High Negotiation Committee (HNC) opposition group was holding the talks “hostage”, as they disagreed over adding terrorism amongst the other items on the agenda. On Friday, the UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura announced the conclusion of the intra-Syrian talks, having secured a finalized agenda for another round to be held later this month. The opposition delegation has accepted the addition to the already existing three items on the agenda – the creation of an accountable government, the draft of a new constitution, and UN-supervised free and fair elections – an additional one related to strategies of counter-terrorism, security governance, and medium-term confidence building measures.

Meanwhile, the Russian-backed Syrian army said on 3 March it has recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra from the Islamic State (ISIL), after the terrorist group seized the city for the second time in a year during a surprise advance in December 2016. ISIL had already been driven out from Palmyra eight months before.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Sunday that more than 66,000 people have been forced to flee fighting in northern Aleppo, ravaged in recent weeks by dual offensives on ISIL. An Al-Jazeera’s reporter, Natasha Ghoneim, said that in Gaziantep, on the Turkey-Syria border, there was a “growing humanitarian crisis”.
On Monday, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed mainly Kurdish group, have cut the last main road out of Rappa, the de-facto capital of ISIL, “completing the encirclement of Daesh by land”, a Kurdish military source said.

On Thursday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights said the US-led coalition launched airstrikes that killed 23 civilians, including eight children, in the countryside around the northern city of Raqqa. The warplanes struck the village of al-Matab, the Observatory underlined, adding that many air raids has also targeted areas east of the city. Moreover, the World Health Organization (WTO) has warned about the impact of these attacks on medical facilities and staff, adding that the country’s healthcare system is collapsing due to ongoing fighting.

Also on Thursday, a senior Trump administration official said that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to host a 68-nation meeting in Washington on 22-23 March, in order to discuss strategies to fight the Islamic State.


Yemen:

The UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) was able to, for the first time since the beginning of the conflict,  deliver eight tons of medical supplies to the beleaguered medical facilities in Yemen’s third largest city, Taiz. The WHO estimates that 350,000 people are in current urgent medical aid in Taiz. The city has been besieged by rebel Houthi forces for nearly two years, causing shortages of food, water, and medicine and forcing the closure of 37 of the city’s 40 hospitals. The import and transportation of much needed supplies into Yemen, which is 90% reliant on imports for food and fuel, has been hampered by commercial ship fears of attack and the destruction of many of the port city’s key infrastructures.

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#RtoP Weekly: 13 February – 17 February

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Burma set to investigate abuses against Rohingya Muslims

Following the report published last week by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights signaling the incessant perpetration of gross human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine State, the Burmese government has announced that it will set up an investigation into allegations of police abuses committed during the military crackdown in the state since October 2016.

The plight of the Rohingya minority in the country, whose very existence has been denied by the Burmese government, have increasingly raised alarms in the international community. In late January 2017, the government of Bangladesh revived a plan, which was first suggested in 2015, regarding the possibility to transfer Rohingya refugees to an uninhabited, undeveloped coastal island, called Thengar Char. Brad Adams, the executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, said that the proposal to relocate people to an island “that is deluged at high tide and submerged during the monsoon season” is both “cruel and unworkable”. According to what the plan envisages, it is unclear as to whether all Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh would be transferred, or only the new arrivals.

On Wednesday, the Burmese military finally put an end to the clearance operations in Rakhine State, which the United Nations (UN) affirm “may amount to crimes against humanity”. The newly appointed security adviser, Thaung Tun, said that “the situation in northern Rakhine has now stabilized […] the curfew has been eased and there remains only a police presence to maintain the peace”. However, the violence perpetrated during the last four months has renewed international criticism of Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been accused of having inadequately addressed the matter. In particular, she has either remained silent on the worsening situation or participated in official denials issued from the military.

Source for above photo: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters via The Guardian


Catch up on developments in…
Burundi
CAR
DPRK
DRC
Iraq 
Libya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen

Burundi:

Burundi’s Home Affairs minister, Pascal Barandagiye, said at a hearing with a UN refugee agency (UNHCR) representative in Burundi that figures released by the UNHCR about Burundians fleeing the country are false, and that “those who are said to flee the country are people suffering from hunger, who leave the country to search for food and then return back.”

Burundi is starting to call back its citizens after officials have announced that the country is safe after having months of civil unrest. It is calling upon those citizens who fled during the unrest to neighboring countries such as Uganda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This call for refugees happened on the eve of peace talks, scheduled for 16 February to 18 February. According to the Burundian president’s office earlier this week, the government would conduct the next round of talks in Arusha, Tanzania in the context of the inter-Burundian dialogue. However, later in the week the Burundi government refused to send representatives to these talks. The government spokesperson stated that Burundi will not negotiate with those who disturb their justice and noted that some of the members of the delegation are wanted in Burundi for offenses against the state.

While Burundi states that it is making peaceful progress, critics of the government who remain in the country have said that their work is becoming increasingly difficult to do due to further restrictions on civil society. These journalists and human rights activists are worried for their own safety as well as those whose human rights are being violated and state that these people are terrified to speak out.


Central African Republic:

On Saturday the UN mission in CAR (MINUSCA) shot at fighters from the Popular Front for the Renaissance of Central African Republic (FPRC) advancing towards the town of Bambari, reportedly killing a top militant and three other fighters. Later in the week a MINUSCA spokesman stated that a death toll had not been confirmed, but it is confirmed that the FPRC’s top commander, Joseph Zonduko, was killed.
A senior UN humanitarian official denounced forceful entry by armed individuals into a hospital in the Central African Republic’s restive PK5 neighbouhood with the intention to kill some of the patients, emphasizing that this is the second incident at the health facility, situated in the capital, Bangui, in the last five days.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch condemned the execution of 32 civilians, possibly more, due to clashes in the country. With all this conflict, the appointment of a chief prosecutor for the Special Criminal Court on 15 February marks an important step towards accountability and peace. The court will be staffed by national and international judges and prosecutors to prosecute human rights violations that have taken place since 2013.


DPRK:

On Monday, the UN Human Rights Council released a report of a group of independent experts designated by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to hold North Korea accountable for the human rights violations perpetrated in the country, which, the experts argue, amount to crimes against humanity.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

The UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC voiced its concern about the constant conflict in the Kasai provinces where violent atrocities are being committed by the Kamuina Nsapu militia, including recruiting and using child soldiers. UN and humanitarian partners in the DRC have appealed for nearly $750 million to aid 6.7 million people this year. On Tuesday, the UN human rights office announced that more than 100 people had been killed between 9 and 13 February in Dibaya.

On Thursday, the DRC government announced that it will not have the funds to afford a new presidential election, which was agreed to happen this year. Budget Minister Pierre Kangudia said the cost, $1.8 billion, was too expensive. Current President Joseph Kabila’s term ended in late 2016, but opponents have accused him of delaying polls to remain in power. The DRC has not had a smooth transfer of power for more than 55 years. The 2017 election plan initially reduced tensions in the country, but with this latest news tensions have reignited. The African Union, United Nations, European Union, and International Organization of La Francophonie have issued a joint statement of increasing concern for the implementation of the election plan agreement, which outlined a peaceful transition of power.


Iraq:

On Saturday, Iraqi security forces fired tear gas and rubber-coated bullets at thousands of  supporters of an influential Shia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, who were demonstrating in the area of Baghdad’s Green Zone, pressing for electoral reform. Four protesters and one policeman were killed, and many were injured.

On Thursday, Islamic State (ISIL) claimed responsibility for having blown up a car packed with explosives in the south of Baghdad, killing 48 people and wounding dozens more. On Wednesday, a suicide bomber detonated a truck in the suburb of Sadr City, killing 15 people and wounding around 50, while only a day earlier, another car bomb explosion in southern Baghdad killed four people.


Libya:

On Friday, the Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Libya, met in Geneva to address the ongoing flows of refugees and migrants in Libya, calling for a comprehensive approach at the international level. They highlighted that “untold numbers of people” face “grave human rights violations and abuses”, such as extortion, torture and sexual violence.


Mali:

Government officials reported late Monday and early Tuesday that communal violence in the Ke-Macina area killed at least 13 over the weekend. However, residents of the area claimed the number of deaths was at least 30. Local sources also said that members of the Bambara community attacked the Fulani community, who they accuse of collaboration with extremist groups that have destabilized the country. By Wednesday, the official government numbers had risen to 20 with 16 injured and 600 displaced by the fighting.

Elsewhere, state security forces pushed into Dialoubé locality in the central Mopti region over the weekend, ousting the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) aligned extremist group that had controlled the area. Military officials claim to have arrested around 20 suspected members of the group and to have killed one area resident who refused to stop at a checkpoint.

Despite setbacks, actors remain committed to implementation of the peace plan outlined in the agreement signed in May-June 2015. The working group overseeing the implementation of the Malian peace plan stated that implementation will continue and that joint patrols will begin by the end of February. The statement came only weeks after a devastating attack by terror groups on a military base in Gao as the first tripartite patrol was preparing to depart.


Nigeria:

Communal violence between largely Christian farmers and largely Muslim nomadic herders has displaced 27,000 in Kaduna state since September. The Nigerian government’s disaster response organization has officially stated that 200 have been killed while local church officials claim the number may be as high as 800.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has reported a drastic reduction in cases of malnutrition in children under five in areas they provide food relief. At an ICRC clinic in southern Borno state an average of 10 cases were reported a month since December compared to 110-120 cases a month last summer. Despite this ICRC and other humanitarian organizations are concerned about possible famine like condition in areas still inaccessible to them. The UN has also forecasted the potential for catastrophic famine conditions in Nigeria, particularly affecting children, and the UN Food and Agricultural Program is warning of food shortages for 11 million in June through August, 120,000 of whom may face famine like conditions.

The US administration has reportedly made promises to the Nigerian government about increasing cooperation and aid in the Nigerian fight against Boko Haram and other terror groups, including the increased sale of arms to the Nigerian military. Previous US administrations have been resistant to arms sales to Nigeria due to deep concerns regarding human rights abuses by the government and armed forces.


South Sudan:

The UN Security Council has strongly condemned continued fighting across South Sudan, particularly incidents in the Equatoria and Upper Nile regions, and warned that attacks on civilians could renew calls for sanctions. The Council called on all parties to cease hostilities immediately. Thousands of civilians have been fleeing as violence in the Equatoria region has intensified. The aid workers on the ground have stated that thousands of refugees are entering Uganda every day due to the fighting between different factions and the South Sudanese military. Refugees have reported that government soldiers are torturing, kidnapping, raping, and executing women and girls around Kajo-Keji County. Officials in South Sudan also say army troops raped at least six women and girls, some at gunpoint. There has been an increase in rape by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), sparking outrage and raised tension between the government and other countries aiding in humanitarian efforts. However, South Sudanese internally displaced persons have opposed the re-deployment of the Kenyan peacekeepers, claiming their involvement fueled clashes in Juba.

President Salva Kiir dismissed charges that he and the SPLA Chief of General Staff, Paul Malong Awan, have turned the national army into a tribal institution. Later in the week, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), one of the rebel groups fighting Sudanese government forces in Darfur, called on the African Union High Level Implementation panel to consult with opposition groups before convening any meeting on the peace process. It was also reported that a South Sudanese general has resigned from the army, accusing the country’s president of “ethnic cleansing.”


Sudan:

A presidential spokesperson has reaffirmed the Sudanese government’s commitment to signing a comprehensive ceasefire and humanitarian access deal following the proposal by the US envoy. However, the spokesperson also stated the government remains equally committed to retaliatory action against perceived aggression.
This week, the UN International Children’s Fund (UNICEF)  launched an appeal for  $110 million to aid two million acutely malnourished children throughout Sudan.


Syria:

Syrian rebels and Turkish troops, as well as Syrian government forces, have entered Islamic State (ISIL) held Al-Bab, the group’s last stronghold in Syria, engaging in heavy clashes with the terrorist group. On Saturday, the Turkish military released a statement reporting that at least 43 ISIL fighters were “neutralized” and that the Free Syrian Army (FSA), supported by Turkish Land Forces, eventually hit 245 ISIL targets, including headquarters and defense positions. On Tuesday, the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildrim said that Turkey-backed rebels have largely taken control of the town of Syria’s Al-Bab from ISIL combatants. However, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Islamic State remained in control of the northern Syrian town.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch has claimed that Syrian Government forces allegedly used chemical weapons targeting opposition-controlled areas of Aleppo during the battle to retake the city in late 2016. From 7 November to 13 December, government helicopters purportedly dropped chlorine bombs in residential areas of Aleppo, killing nine civilians, including children, and injuring about 200.

As more than 60,000 civilians are trapped in the four Syrian towns of Al-Zabadani, Al-Fu’ah, Kefraya and Madaya, on Monday, a senior United Nations relief official called on all parties to come to a viable agreement, allowing for immediate humanitarian access. People in the four towns suffer from daily violence and deprivation, as well as malnutrition and lack of proper medical care. In a news release, Ali Al-Za’tari, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, stressed that the situation is likely to spark a humanitarian catastrophe.

On Wednesday, the spokesman of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which includes rebel groups and political opponents of President Assad, said that it wants to negotiate with the Syrian government about a political transition at peace talks scheduled to begin next week in Geneva. While underlining that the HNC still sticks to its position that President Assad can have no role in the transition, it welcomes the creation of a governing body tasked with overseeing the process.

The United Nations in Geneva will host a new body charged with preparing prosecutions of war crimes committed in Syria. At a minimum, the body will be tasked with preparing files for prosecutions that could be used by states or the International Criminal Court in bringing forward such prosecutions. Andrew Clapham, Professor of International Law at Geneva’s Graduate Institute said that “the focus is on collecting evidence and building criminal cases before the trail goes cold.” He further pointed out that many national courts could also bring perpetrators to account using the resulting dossiers.


Yemen:

A Saudi-led coalition airstrike targeting the home of a local tribal leader reportedly killed nine women and one child, in addition to wounding dozens, as they attended a funeral. Initial reports from Houthi officials also claimed that the attack included a second follow-up strike that hit first responders. A previous airstrike reported to have occurred last Friday, also killed a school administrator as well as two students when a makeshift gas station less than 200 metres from a school was targeted by coalition warplanes, according to Human Rights Watch. The rights group also stated that the attack on the gas station, which local witnesses said has previously fueled Houthi fighting vehicles, occurred during the beginning of the school day when students were walking to school and at a time when no combatant vehicles were present. The Saudi-led coalition issued a statement on Monday reiterating their commitment to protecting civilians and touting the steps it has taken to minimize civilian casualties.

Elsewhere, a suicide car bomb in a Houthi-controlled town reportedly killed three, including a child, and wounded eight others.

The fighting has had a significant impact on civilian property and infrastructure worsening the humanitarian impact of the conflict. Medecins Sans Frontières has reported that civilians are facing significant supply shortages and that the ongoing violence has caused major damage to hospitals in the Taiz area. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that as fighting in Al-Mokha City in Taiz continued last weekend, 8,000 people fled the violence to the neighbouring Al-Hudaydah governorate where WHO is providing emerging trauma care to those displaced across several districts.

UN Secretary-General Guterres called for a resurrection of the peace negotiations in Yemen for the sake of the suffering civilians, many of whom are now considered by the UN to be at severe risk of famine. Seven previous ceasefires brokered by the UN have failed, as have previous rounds of peace talks. Mr. Guterres also reaffirmed his support for the current UN peace envoy to Yemen days after the Houthi rebels asked the UN chief not to renew the current envoy’s mandate. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reportedly called for a truce in Yemen on Wednesday, potentially indicating a willingness to deescalate the tensions with Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia that have been fueling the conflict in Yemen.

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