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#R2PWeekly: 14 August – 18 August 2017

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

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

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


 

Catch up on developments in…

CAR
DRC
Iraq
Kenya
Libya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Syria
Yemen


Central African Republic:

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


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

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


Iraq:

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

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


Kenya:

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


Libya:

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

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


Mali:

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


Nigeria:

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

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

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


South Sudan:

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

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


Syria:

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

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


Yemen:

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

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#R2PWeekly: 7 August – 11 August 2017

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Kenya: Protests over election hacking claims turn deadly

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

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

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

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


 

Catch up on developments in…

Burundi
CAR
DRC
Gaza/West bank
Iraq

Libya

Mali
South Sudan
Syria
Yemen

Burundi:

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

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


Central African Republic:

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


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

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

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


Gaza/West Bank:

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

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


Iraq:

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

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


Libya:

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


Mali:

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

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


South Sudan:

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


Syria:

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

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

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

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


Yemen:

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

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

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#R2PWeekly: 31 July – 4 August 2017

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Kenyan Election Official Murdered
Ahead of Highly Contentious Elections 

Kenya election

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

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

Source of above photo: Baz Ratner/Reuters


Catch up on developments in…

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


Burundi:

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

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


Central African Republic:

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

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


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

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

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


Iraq:

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

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


Nigeria:

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


South Sudan:

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

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

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


Sudan/Darfur:

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


Syria:

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

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

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


Yemen:

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

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

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#R2PWeekly: 24 July – 28 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please click here to read the full article.


Catch up on developments in…

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


 

Burundi:

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

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


Central African Republic:

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


Cote d’Ivoire:

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


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

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

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


Gaza/West Bank:

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


Iraq:

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

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


Kenya:

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


Libya:

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


Nigeria:

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

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


South Sudan:

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


Syria:

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

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

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


Yemen:

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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#R2PWeekly: 26 June – 30 June 2017

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US-led Coalition Airstrikes Contribute to Civilian Deaths in Syria

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

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

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

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

Source of above photo: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters


Catch up on developments in…

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

 

 


Burma/ Myanmar:

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


 Burundi:

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


Central African Republic:

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


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

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

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


Gaza/West Bank:

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


 Iraq:

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


Mali:

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

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


Nigeria:

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

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


South Sudan:

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


Sudan/Darfur:

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


Yemen:

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

 

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#R2PWeekly: 19 June – 23 June 2017

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

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

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

Source of above photo: UN News Centre


Catch up on developments in…

Burundi
DRC
Iraq
Libya
Mali
South Sudan
Syria
Yemen

 


Burundi:

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

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

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


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

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

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

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


Iraq:

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

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


Libya:

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


Mali:

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

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


South Sudan:

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

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


Syria:

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

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

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


Yemen:

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

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

 

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#R2PWeekly: 12 June – 16 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Source of above photo: The Washington Post


Catch up on developments in…

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


Burma/ Myanmar:

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


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


Central African Republic:

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

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


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


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


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

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


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


Libya:

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


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

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

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#R2PWeekly: 5 June – 9 June 2017

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Number of Civilian Deaths in Mosul on the Rise

As the number of civilian deaths continues to rise in Mosul, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported that the latest information suggests that US-led coalition and Iraqi forces have not taken the necessary precautions to prevent civilian casualties during the campaign against the Islamic State (ISIL) in the city. Evidence has shown that Iraqi forces employed large explosive munitions during attacks, which are known to pose an “excessive risk to civilians” when used in densely-populated neighborhoods. Additionally, several attacks caused disproportionate civilian harm in comparison to the military advantage gained, potentially violating international law. One specific example listed was an attack on 17 March, when US airstrikes killed 200 civilians while targeting only two ISIL fighters. Another two documented US-led coalition or Iraqi attacks occurred with no clear presence of ISIL militants in the area, but resulted in the deaths of at least 13 civilians. HRW has asserted that during efforts to secure Mosul, anti-ISIL forces should take “all feasible precautions” to minimize civilian casualties and injuries, including in “choice of weaponry in heavily populated areas.”

Furthermore, Iraqi government forces have allegedly carried out dozens of extrajudicial executions over concerns that the victims were affiliated with ISIL. Experts have suspected that Iraqi forces perpetrated the killings, as at least 26 blindfolded and handcuffed bodies were found in firmly government-controlled areas in Mosul, according to 4 June reports. Reuters has reported previously this year on bodies being seen floating down the Tigris River over several months, having reportedly originated from government-controlled towns in Iraq. This has raised the possibility that extrajudicial killings have been ongoing. Extrajudicial killings in conflict constitute war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity if conducted systematically.

ISIL has also been directly responsible for civilian casualties, with UN Human Rights Chief Zeid bin Ra’ad al-Hussein noting ISIL’s particular brutality during an assault last week when the group left the bodies of 163 civilians lying in the streets. According to the UN on 6 June, the civilians had been directly targeted to prevent them from fleeing Mosul, and many hid among the piles of bodies in an effort to survive. Additionally, as US-led coalition and Iraqi forces move into the final phase of securing the city, ISIL has reportedly resorted to using civilians as human shields. Priyanka Motaparthy, Senior Emergencies Researcher at HRW, stated on 6 June that any future Iraqi or US-led coalition strikes should take the possibility of human shields into account.

other than direct action by armed groups, other aspects of the conflict have created an at-risk scenario for civilians. For example, Iraqi and US officials have stated that the maze-like narrow alleys in the old parts of the city make it extremely difficult to evacuate civilians. Furthermore, the UN estimated on 3 June that nearly 200,000 people face a severe food and water crisis in the city. Iraqi Major General Najim Abdullah al-Jubouri said on 3 June it will take at least another month before the liberation of Mosul is achieved, but his forces have halted attacks temporarily in order to create a safe passage out of the city for civilians fleeing from ISIL and the violence.

Source of above photo: VOA News

 


Catch up on developments in…

Burundi
CAR
DRC
Libya
Nigeria
South Sudan
Syria
Yemen

 


Burundi:
On 5 June, the Burundi government accused the EU of seeking to destabilize security in Burundi, citing documents apparently implicating the EU delegation in a failed coup in May 2015 by actively financing entities that sought to destabilize the Burundi Government. The EU has publicly denounced these allegations, stating they are “based on a deliberately wrong interpretation of a program to support human rights defenders.”


 

Central African Republic:

The latest UN Mapping Report released this week documented the gravity of the humanitarian crisis in CAR, discussing evidence of the grave human rights violations in the country occurring from 2003 to 2015. The Report will serve as a key tool in holding perpetrators accountable in country’s Special Criminal Court, as well as in specific cases reserved for the International Criminal Court.

On 7 June, the UN peacekeeping force in CAR, responsible for containing ethnic and resource driven violence, urged the dismissal of the over 100 peacekeeping troops accused of sexual abuse if the situation does not improve. A memo detailing the “deteriorating” situation in CAR was sent to a military official at the UN headquarters, but details of the memo were not disclosed to the public.


 

Democratic Republic of the Congo:
On 7 June, the UN increased pressure on the DRC government to investigate the abduction and murder of UN investigator Zaida Catalan, who had been investigating crimes against international humanitarian law and human rights in the country. Human rights groups have suspected Congolese troops to be responsible, suspicions that have been exacerbated as the DRC has sought to close the investigation.


 

Libya:
On 2 June, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Libya, Maria Ribeiro, called for increased protection and humanitarian assistance for internally displaced persons (IDPs) throughout the country. Ribeiro expressed specific alarm regarding allegations of abuse of IDPs and of humanitarian aid in the Tawargha IDP camp in Tripoli.


 

Nigeria:

The “Northern Youth Groups,” a coalition of activist groups in northern Nigeria, signed a statement on 6 June calling for the forced expulsion of all Igbo Nigerians from the region. The Igbo represent one of the three main ethnic groups in the country. Nigerian leaders have publicly criticized the statement and some have called for the arrest of the signatories.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported that it will reduce its delivery of emergency aid to 400,000 people in northeast Nigeria due to funding shortfalls, according Peter Lundberg, the UN’s Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria on Wednesday. The region has struggled with a lack of adequate food due to attacks by Boko Haram.

On 7 June, Boko Haram launched an attack on the city of Maiduguri that resulted in 13 deaths, making it the group’s deadliest attack in Nigeria in several months. This comes after Nigerian authorities claimed last year that Boko Haram had been effectively removed from the country.


 

South Sudan:
ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the UN to more fully address the situation in South Sudan, where civil war has forced one million people into displacement. HRW also says more should be done to help those with disabilities, citing the 250,000 with disabilities living in displacement camps. The latest HRW report indicates that both sides to the conflict have allegedly “committed abuses that may qualify as war crimes and crimes against humanity,” including “beatings and torture, enforced disappearances, rape and gang rape, extrajudicial executions and killings.”

The UN has blamed warring factions for exacerbating the country’s hunger crisis. According the UN Food and Agriculture Organization director Jose Graziano da Silva, donors have found little reason to continue supplying resources to South Sudan due to the inability of the parties to the conflict to secure peace.


 

Syria:

On Tuesday, 6 June, the US-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) started a major offensive to retake Raqqa, the de facto capital of Islamic State (ISIL) in Syria. SDF spokesman Talal Silo told Reuters that US-led coalition forces are working side by side with the SDF. According to the US-led coalition, around 3 to 4 thousand ISIL fighters are likely hiding in Raqqa and have built defenses for the upcoming battle.
Humanitarian aid organization International Rescue Committee (IRC) estimated that 200,000 civilians are still trapped inside the city, and ISIL snipers and mines are killing any who try to flee. IRC warned that civilians could be used by the militants as human shields if they remain.

On 26 May, the United States’ Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act was passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Act is meant to ensure “accountability for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria against innocent civilians,” regardless of what side of the conflict allegedly committed the crimes.


 

Yemen:
On 2 June, the formally recognized Yemeni government, along with its supporting Saudi-led coalition, announced tight restrictions on the number of journalists and human rights workers that would be allowed into Yemen. The move has been criticized as reducing the ability to deliver desperately needed aid to ailing Yemeni civilians.

According to a Houthi spokesman on 6 June, the group has publicly rejected the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, as a peace negotiator between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition on accusations of bias. Mr. Ahmed has been denied access to Houth-controlled areas as well. The group’s rejection of Mr. Ahmed comes after the UN Special Envoy called for a Houthi withdrawal from the city of Hodeidah, as well as for the Houthis to send revenue from the city’s port to a neutral party in exchange for calling off a Saudi-led coalition military operation on Hodeidah.

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#RtoPWeekly: 29 May – 2 June 2017

Untitled

Increasing violence in the DRC leaves 922,000 displaced

and prompts action by NGOs and EU

24cefa68-ec23-4909-80b8-16b3e42ff5feOn 1 June, 262 Congolese and nine international non-governmental organizations co-signed a statement calling upon the UN Human Rights Council to create a specialized Commission of Inquiry into the ongoing violence in the Central Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), an ICRtoP member and signatory of the statement, Congolese forces have allegedly used excessive force against members of the Kamuina Nsapu movement since August 2016, including the alleged killing of apparently unarmed women and children. Additionally, UN investigators have found at least 42 mass graves in the area since conflict broke out in the region. ICRtoP members the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and International Refugees Rights Initiative (IRRI) were also among the organizations adding their name to the statement.

Similarly, the European Union noted that the ongoing violence and alleged human rights abuses in the Central Kasai and Kasai regions prompted the regional organization to impose sanctions on nine prominent DRC officials this past week. According to the EU’s statement announcing the sanctions, which include asset freezes and travel bans, these particular officials are believed to have “contributed to acts constituting serious human rights violations in the DRC, by planning, directing or committing them.”

The renewed ethnic and politically-motivated conflict in the DRC has continued to increase in intensity, forcing over 922,000 DRC civilians to flee their homes in 2016, according to the annual Global Report on Internal Displacement released by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) this past week. IDMC revealed that the DRC had the highest recorded number of displaced civilians of any country last year, a number that seems only likely to grow if President Joseph Kabila neglects to hold the elections mandated by the peace agreement reached last year.

However, experts on the situation hope the EU sanctions will force the DRC government to take action and stabilize the conflict, as the continuation of EU monetary support for the elections is contingent on President Kabila holding to the agreement. Meanwhile, the 35th session of the UN Human Rights Council begins on 6 June in Geneva, but it remains to be seen if the body will discuss creating a Commission of Inquiry during that time.

Source of above photo: Reuters/Thomas Mukoya


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/ Myanmar
CAR
Iraq
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan
Syria
Yemen


Burma/ Myanmar:

A video newly released this past weekend showed suspected Burmese soldiers beating, interrogating, and threatening to kill captives. Based on the alleged soldiers’ accents, uniforms, and dialogue in the video, experts believe that the incident likely took place in Shan State, where conflict between rebels and government forces has been ongoing. Human rights advocacy groups have urged Burma’s government to investigate and hold the perpetrators accountable. However, representatives for both the military and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi refused to give any information regarding the video when questioned on 30 May.

The UN has designated a three-member team to investigate alleged mass rapes and killings against Rohingya Muslims in Burma. According to a UN statement, the team is also meant to investigate allegations of arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearances, forced displacement, and unlawful destruction of property by security forces. However, the government has strongly expressed its reluctance to facilitate fact-finding missions in the past.


Central African Republic:

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on 30 May, at least 68,000 persons have been displaced this month alone due to the upsurge in militia violence, adding that the total numbers of displaced throughout the country have reached levels not seen since August 2014. During his visit to several conflict-prone towns in CAR on 31 May, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour warned that armed groups are committing “atrocious attacks” against peacekeepers, women, and children at ever more frequent levels, and forces deployed to combat the armed groups lack sufficient resources.


Iraq:

On Tuesday, 30 May, two car bomb attacks killed at least 27 and wounded more than 100 people in Baghdad. The Islamic State (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the first attack, which was planned for late at night in order to target families celebrating Ramadan and have a “maximum impact.” The explosion killed at least 16 people, including children. Iraqi analyst Ali Hadi Al-Musawi told Al Jazeera that defeats in open conflict have made ISIL desperate to remain relevant, thus resorting to more targeted attacks against civilians.

As the liberation of Mosul from ISIL forces entered its final phase on Tuesday, the UN urged nearly 200,000 civilians to flee the ISIL-controlled part of the city, where they remain in great danger. The UN’s top humanitarian official in Iraq, Lise Grande, said the evacuation notice was not compulsory and the Iraqi government would seek to protect civilians who remained. Furthermore, the UN has been planning for the liberation of Hawija, the next town that Iraqi government forces may try to liberate from ISIL. The UN has built eight emergency camps near the area and is constructing more.


Nigeria:

On 26 May, six children were abducted from their school in Lagos by Boko Haram militants. The abduction of young children in Nigeria by the group has become a common occurrence since 2009, with the victims often becoming forced laborers, sex slaves, or suicide bombers. The latest incident follows the group’s recent release of 82 Nigerian girls, who have reportedly been transferred to a rehabilitation center in Abuja to receive psychological and medical treatment.


South Sudan:

13 South Sudanese soldiers appeared before a military court on 30 May for charges brought against them regarding a July 2016 attack in Juba, the South Sudanese capital. The soldiers were allegedly responsible for the rape of five foreign aid workers and the death of a civilian in a rebel-controlled area of the city. The trial will likely be watched closely as it will be a test of the South Sudanese government’s ability to try war crimes.


Sudan:

In the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) latest report, The World’s Most Neglected Displacement Crises, the NRC has stated that almost four million Sudanese civilians have been forcibly displaced during the past 14 years of violence between the Sudanese government and opposition forces, leading to a humanitarian crisis that is left largely untreated. Jan Egeland, the Secretary-General of the NRC, said many of the displaced have been forced to flee their homes several times due to intense violence, and that their vulnerability to being targeted becomes greater with each displacement.


Syria:

Airstrikes and rocket attacks, allegedly at the direction of the US-led coalition and an armed Kurdish group, respectively, have been blamed for the deaths of 13 civilians in Raqqa on 28 May, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It is likely the attacks were directed at Islamic State (ISIL) forces, as Raqqa has become the de facto stronghold for the organization in Syria and both groups are involved in conflict with ISIL there. The Observatory further reported that  US-led coalition air strikes killed at least 225 civilians between 23 April and 23 May, including numerous children, equaling the highest monthly civilian death toll for the coalition’s operations in Syria to date.


Yemen:

UN Humanitarian Chief Stephen O’Brien said on Tuesday that Yemen is now in the throes of the world’s largest food insecurity crisis, with 17 million people in the country struggling to secure food and around 7 million being “one step away from famine.” O’Brien added that the food crisis in Yemen is not a coincidence or a result of natural disaster, but “a result of inaction– whether due to inability or indifference – by the international community.”

The famine has been further exacerbated by the continuing conflict between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels. According to a Yemeni government official, the government and the Houthis have been seeking to negotiate a deal that had originally been presented by UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. The plan notably includes turning the port of Hodeidah over to a neutral party. The Yemeni government has threatened to attack Hodeidah, where a majority of humanitarian supplies and food enter the country, if the Houthis refuse to turn the port over to a neutral observer. Should such an attack occur, it would likely worsen the crisis further.

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#RtoPWeekly: 22 May – 26 May 2017

Displacement in CAR at worst levels since 2013, with almost 100,000 displaced and hundreds killed in May

In what the UN Humanitarian Office (OCHA) has called the worst level of displacement in the Central African Republic since civil war broke out in 2013, a cumulative 440,000 civilians had been forcibly displaced by the end of April due to renewed conflict in the country. Officials from OCHA have estimated that an additional 100,000 people could be displaced by the end of May, a number that becomes ever more likely as militia violence continues to spread to several prominent cities in the country.

On 18 May, the UN Deputy Special Representative in the Central African Republic, Diane Corner, reported that at least one armed militia group in the country had access to heavy weapons, such as mortars and grenade launchers, as well as “more sophisticated military tactics,” and that the groups were using these weapons during increasingly frequent attacks. The groups have targeted several towns in the past two weeks using enhanced equipment, including Bria, Bangassou, and Alindao, inflicting incredible damage on civilians. In what Social Affairs Minister Virginie Baikoua called a “catastrophe,” the recent militia attacks and looting in the town of Bria resulted in more than 41,400 of the city’s 47,500 residents fleeing to the nearest UN base for shelter, equaling almost 90 percent of the city’s population.

The renewed sectarian and ethnic-based violence in the country has resulted in a reported 300 deaths since only 8 May, including those of at least six UN peacekeeping officials. According to Corner, the majority of those deaths occurred during the recent attack on the UN mission in Bangassou, where anti-Balaka fighters “pinned down” peacekeepers before directly targeting Muslim civilians in the city.

The situation prompted UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein to release a statement on 16 May condemning the attack on Bangassou and others, noting with particular alarm that violence was spreading into previously peaceful regions of the CAR.

As such, Ms. Baikoua joined the Humanitarian Coordinator in the Central African Republic, Najat Rochdi, in expressing their mutual unease with the renewed violence, declaring that civilians have been “paying the highest cost” during the recent attacks. Earlier this month, Ms. Baikoua and Ms. Rochdi jointly praised regional humanitarian agencies for stepping in to assist the several thousands of displaced and injured civilians desperately in need of aid due to the attacks, but also acknowledged that it would be difficult to maintain such a tremendous response while the conflict continued. For the foreseeable future, civilians inside and near these violent regions remain at great risk.

Catch up on developments in…

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

 


Burma/ Myanmar:

On 23 May, Burma’s military publicly rejected allegations made by the UN regarding atrocity crimes toward the Rohingya Muslim population in the country. The military said that the allegations, which include references to gang-rapes, savage beatings, and the murder of Rohingya civilians by soldiers, are “false and fabricated,” according to its own investigations. The military further claimed that the results of the investigations came from interviews of 3,000 villagers and 184 military officers and troops.


Burundi:

On 19 May, Amnesty International called upon the East African Community (EAC) to prioritize resolving the human rights crisis in Burundi at the EAC’s summit on 20 May. Amnesty International added that the EAC needed to provide the “political leadership and commitment” necessary to ending the ongoing violations, which allegedly include “unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests, and enforced disappearances.” At the event, a representative for the Inter-Burundi Dialogue gave a progress report regarding the security and political situation in Burundi, which was accepted by the EAC despite details of the report not being disclosed to the public.


Cote d’Ivoire:

The Economic Community of West African Countries (ECOWAS) and the African Union have joined UN officials in condemning the recent violent revolt by Forces Armées de Côte d’Ivoire (FACI) soldiers. The three organizations jointly stated on 18 May that the uprising threatened the hard-won peace in the country, adding that it is imperative to maintain dialogue and proper legal channels as the means to resolving such disputes. Officials from each of the three organizations have expressed their support Cote d’Ivoire’s president, Alassane Ouattara.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

On 22 May, the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) began a year-long effort to provide basic necessities to the 27,000 displaced civilians in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to Boubacar Seybou, head of IOM’s office in Goma, the armed conflict responsible for the displacement has also caused many humanitarian agencies to evacuate the area, citing extensive security and funding concerns, but the resulting vacuum of humanitarian assistance has only left even more people vulnerable. IOM’s efforts have been significantly funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), which contributed an amount equaling $183,000 USD and has pledged additional funding throughout the following year.


Gaza/West Bank:

According to the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency on 22 May, Israeli forces allegedly fired upon and injured at least 11 Palestinians that were taking part in the protests in West Bank in support of the strikes of Palestinian prisoners seeking an improvement of the conditions in Israeli prisons. Currently, there are ongoing protests of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.


Iraq:

According to the latest report from ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW), the government-allied Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) allegedly detained at least 100 men while they were fleeing from the conflict. According to victims, PMF soldiers blindfolded, interrogated, and beat them with thick metal cables while they were detained for up to 15 days. These latest accusations are similar to HRW’s previously reported cases of detention and torture allegedly at the hands of the PMF. The latter has continued to maintain that “PMF hands over captured ISIS suspects to state security forces who have a mandate to screen suspects,” but these statements are contrary to HRW’s findings.

On 22 May, Jan Kubis, the head of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq, told the UN Security Council that the Islamic State’s (ISIL) days in Iraq “are numbered” and that the city of Mosul, which is ISIL’s last base in Iraq, is close to liberation.


Libya:

The “Libya Quartet,” which is composed of the African Union, the Arab League, the European Union (EU), and the UN, met in Brussels on 22 May to discuss the migration issue stemming from Libya and other countries, while the number of refugees and asylum seekers kept in Libyan detention centers increases. Libya has opened a dozen detention centers where thousands of migrants are currently being held. In that regard, the United Nations called for the Libyan government to close its refugee detention centers due to the inhumane conditions in which the refugees and migrants are held.


Mali:

Nine days after the abduction of the humanitarian aid workers in Mali, two peacekeepers of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA) in Mali were killed and a third wounded during an ambush in the Kidal region on 23 May. The attack took place near a town called Aguelhok, where the United Nations troops were patrolling. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres paid tribute to the peacekeepers who lost their lives, regretting the violent attacks from extremist groups which halt the peace process. As targeted attacks on humanitarian workers and peacekeepers are on the rise, Mr. Guterres called for states to provide adequate means to cope with the difficulties faced on the ground where terrorist groups and criminal networks operate.


Nigeria:

On 20 May, 82 of the 276 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted in 2014 by the extremist group Boko Haram were reunited with their families in Abuja. The Nigerian government has acknowledged that mediation efforts by the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) assisted with the girls’ release. Boko Haram is responsible for the abduction of thousands of people during the last 8 years and for more than 20,000 deaths.


South Sudan:

A 19 May joint report by the Human Rights Division of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) revealed evidence of human rights violations and abuses against civilians, acts the organizations believe may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity. The report states that parties on both sides of the conflict, including pro-government forces, have committed extensive human rights violations rooted in ethnic tensions, and that the ongoing nature of the abuses indicates a high level of impunity for the perpetrators. According to the report, which had been compiled from a July 2016 to January 2017 investigation into the conflict in the town of Yei, pro-government forces were responsible for at least 114 civilian deaths and the forced displacement of tens of thousands during that period.


Sudan:

On 23 May, rebel group the Sudan Liberation Movement headed by Minni Minnawi (SLM-MM) claimed that Sudanese forces in Darfur had arrested an SLM-MM senior commander, Mr. Gomma Mandi Issa. Although the Sudanese army had not confirmed the detention, the SLM-MM stated that Issa was apprehended during a violent clash that had erupted on 19 May between the Sudanese forces and the rebel group. A representative of Sudan’s Armed Forces, Mr. Ahmed Khalifa el Shami, confirmed on 22 May that both sides inflicted losses while the conflict surged over the weekend. The United Nations African Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has not yet released a statement on the latest developments.


Syria:

On 20 May, around 3,000 people, including 700 rebels, were evacuated from Waer district in Homs under a Russian-supervised operation. Rebel fighters had been granted safe passage by the government to retreat to other rebel-held areas in Syria. The operation started two months ago and has the goal of evacuating more than 12,000 civilians and 3,000 rebels in total, according to the provincial governor Talal Barazi. Furthermore, around one to six hundred Russian soldiers will be deployed in Waer to protect any remaining residents or those who wish to return home.

On 22 May, fighting broke out in Daraa, despite having been previously designated one of the four “de-escalation zones” during ceasefire meetings in Astana, Kazakhstan earlier this month. According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Syrian government forces fired 11 missiles, while members of the al-Qaeda-linked Levant Liberation Committees attacked government-controlled parts of the city. Conflict has never truly ended in the “de-escalation zones,” and the clash on 22 May has become one of the most severe conflicts since the Astana deal was struck. According to the state news agency SANA, the Syrian government claimed that it “respects the Astana deal but has vowed to retaliate to any violation.”


Yemen:

On 23 May, US Special Forces troops killed seven al-Qaeda fighters in Yemen during an intelligence-gathering raid. In a statement, US Central Command said the al-Qaeda militants were killed “through a combination of small-arms fire and precision air strikes” and that the Yemeni government had supported the operation. There were no immediate reports of civilian casualties according to a US official, yet two sources claimed that the operation killed five members of the main tribe in the area, who are all civilians, and that six others were injured.

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