Updates from the ICRtoP: national and international atrocity prevention initiatives
It may have been a while since you’ve seen an RtoP Weekly from us. We apologize for putting our newsletter on hold, but we’re excited to announce we will be resuming of our weekly updates on RtoP-related situations from around the world.
2018 has already proven to be a busy and exciting year for the Responsibility to Protect. Recently, ICRtoP staff traveled to Kampala, Uganda to participate in the third Global Action Against Mass Atrocity Crimes conference (GAAMAC III), where representatives of governments, international and regional organizations, relevant UN offices, civil society, and academia gathered to exchange and discuss best practices for “Empowering Prevention”. Furthermore, ahead of GAAMAC III, the ICRtoP partnered with the Ugandan National Committee for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide and Mass Atrocities and Human Rights Network-Uganda to co-host a pre-GAAMAC CSO (civil society organization) Symposium, which featured discussions and panels focused on approaches in mass atrocity prevention, particularly in dealing with the past and deficits of governance, the Rule of Law, and democracy at the national level. Please find the symposium communique here.
Furthermore, in the coming weeks, the Global Network of R2P Focal Points will convene its eighth annual meeting in Helsinki and the UN General Assembly will convene the first formal debate on the Responsibility to Protect since 2009 on 25 June 2018. Both the convening of the Focal Points meeting and the formal UNGA debate provide great opportunities for Member States to engage with one another on best practices for atrocity prevention. The UNGA debate on RtoP, in particular, provides an historic opportunity for Member States to discuss the norm formally and to develop on-the-record statements, necessitating greater discourse and consideration of RtoP and its implementation within capitals and therefore outside of the UN. This should therefore raise the potential for increased implementation and domestication of RtoP.
For more information on this and all things RtoP, please visit our website here.
On 31 May, Burma and the UN announced deal for the return of Rohingya Muslim refugees to the country, but many are still concerned about gaps in the memo and reported ongoing violence against the Rohingya. The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees alerted that “conditions are not conducive for voluntary return yet,” but they will be working with the government to make improvements. In fact, Kunt Ostby, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Burma, stated that the two key conditions for the UN to allow repatriation were, 1) an assured citizenship for the Rohingya and 2) assurance that they will not have the fear of being attacked. Rohingya have also expressed fears that it does not do enough to guarantee their safety.
On June 6, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by the Government of Myanmar, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP). It addresses the UN system’s support to creating suitable circumstances in order to provide refugees a voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return from Bangladesh and their effective non-violent reintegration into the country. The UNSG Guterres also encouraged Burma to take “decisive steps to implement the agreement” and restated his call for an end to violence.
In an unexpected turn, President Pierre Nkurunziza announced on 7 June that he would not run for another term, and would support the new Executive who will be elected in 2020. The results from May’s referendum on presidential term limits caused concern that Nkurunziza would try and extend his tenure to 2034, in spite of the violence and ethnic tension that resulted from his reelection in 2015.
Central African Republic:
Child Soldiers International confirmed on 5 June that many children who were released by armed groups in CAR have voluntarily joined rebel groups. While the organization believes that the majority of children are kidnapped, but many see membership in a rebel group as an option for a better life or to avenge the death of a loved one.
An attack by armed militants on 6 June resulted in the death of a UN Peacekeeper from Tanzania. Secretary General Guterres condemned the killing, and urged authorities to investigate the attack so the perpetrators could be brought to justice. He also reiterated his support for MINUSCA and its mission to protect civilians and help stabilize the country. So far four UN Peacekeepers have been killed in action this year.
Al Jazeera reported on 28 May that Israeli troops are deliberately using snipers to target volunteer medical teams tending to injured unarmed Palestinians during “Great March of Return” demonstrations in Gaza. The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition also expressed concerned over “interferences with delivery of healthcare, obstruction of medical transport, and denial of impartial care to wounded civilians.” The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OHCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory released on 31 May a “humanitarian snapshot” showing the total casualties during protests.
The death of 21-year old medic, Razan Al Najjar, who was reportedly shot and killed by an Israeli sniper on 1 June, has sparked further outcry from human rights groups. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Jamie McGoldrick, reminded the international community that “healthcare workers must be allowed to perform their duties without fear of death or injury” in a recent statement. Unless there is an “imminent threat of death or serious injury,” use of lethal force is illegal under human rights law. The death toll from the demonstrations has reached 119.
Two rival UN Security Council Resolutions ascribing blame for the situation in Gaza, proposed by parties on opposing sides of the conflict were vetoed last week, The Independent reported on 2 June. Such fundamental disagreements at the UN are continuing to delay the international community’s response to the ongoing atrocities.
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is set to meet with the Israeli cabinet this week to decide on an action plan for Gaza, with a view to easing the humanitarian crisis. Proposals to be discussed include a UN infrastructure reconstruction program funded by the UN and the international community.
Volunteers discovered over a thousand dead bodies of ISIL fighters in Mosul, as they attempt to clear up the Old City, Al Jazeera reported on 31 May. The group of around 30 volunteers is working to rehabilitate the area, although experts predict that it “could take a decade” before Mosul is fully cleared. Rebuilding efforts are hampered by the remnants of “unexploded artillery” and “complex booby traps” that still pose a potentially life-threatening risk to volunteers.
The Iraq election probe continues; on 5 June Iraq’s current Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi, banned all high-ranking people working within Iraq’s election commission from leaving the country, citing that criminal charges may be pursued against some of them due to purported election rigging. Al-Abadi asserted that, while there are alleged violations by party members, the election commission “bears the largest share of the responsibility.” On 7 June, the Iraqi Parliament ordered a total recount of the ballots and fired all officials within the Electoral Commission who oversaw the election process.
Indeed fears are being raised of expected backlash from growing tensions between Iran and the US that will potentially destabilize Iraq, Al Jazeera reports. While pro-Iran militias helped to defeat ISIL in Iraq, the US allegedly “wants to limit” Iranian influence in Iraq, including in its currently fragile politics. Iran also favors a new Iraqi government sympathetic to Iranian interests. However Shia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon coalition won the most election seats; he envisages an Iraq with absolutely no “foreign interference.” With the current political unrest, formation of a government is likely to be somewhat delayed.
The New York Times plans to return “The ISIS Files” recovered from Iraq which help to piece together “how a terrorist group like ISIS was able to control such a large area for as long as it did.” Journalists involved in the removal of the documents from Iraq claimed that it was best to gather and remove the documents from Iraq, where they were “at risk of being destroyed.”
On 31 May, Antonio Guterres appointed Karim Khan to head the investigative team “tasked with collecting and preserving evidence of serious crimes committed” by ISIL in Iraq. However, Human Rights Watch expressed concern over the limited mandate of the UN investigation, which only authorizes investigation into alleged ISIL-perpetrated crimes committed in Iraq, and not anti-ISIL forces. A UNSC resolution adopted in September last year approved the investigation.
United Nations Migration Agency reported almost 900 individuals fled the region of Derna on 30-31 May due to continued shelling severely affecting local population, with 17 recorded dead in the area since 16 May.
On 4 June, the Libyan National Army (LNA) allegedly entered Derna to retake the town from militant group Derna Mujahideen Shura Council. The advance into several neighborhoods comes after “heavy shelling and air strikes” in recent weeks by the Libyan National Army, under the command of General Khalifa Hiftar, Reuters reports. The council is comprised of anti-Hiftar fighters and Islamists.
United Nations Refugee Agency released coverage on 1 June regarding over a dozen refugees coming from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, who were attacked and recaptured by human traffickers as they tried to escape a detention center south of Tripoli on 23 May. Survivors explained that they were subjected to “torture, abuse and exploitation” by the traffickers, some for up to three years. UNHCR Spokesperson, William Spindler, notes that this is “not an isolated case.” He claims that many refugees attempting to escape war and persecution in other neighboring African countries are being subjected to similar detention conditions at the hands of traffickers, in and around Bani Walid.
On 2 June, Secretary General Guterres asked for “calm and restraint” after incidents in Mali’s capital, where the police allegedly used tear gas to break up opposition supporters who wanted to march through Bamako with the aim of calling for more transparency before the presidential elections held next month. He also highlighted the importance of inclusive political dialogue as it is a key element for the protection of fundamental human rights and freedom of expression.
On 5 June, Nigeria’s National Assembly threatened to impeach Muhammadu Buhari over killings in the country, questionable fight against corruption, and his appointees’s actions seen as “persecuting his opponents” unless certain conditions are met. The first condition states, “The Security Agencies must be given marching orders to curtail the sustained killing of Nigerians across the country and protect lives and properties of Nigerians, as this is the primary duty of any responsible Government.” Conditions also include for the National Assembly to liaise with International Communities through the IPU, APU, ECOWAS, CPA, Parliament, Pan African Parliament, EU, UN, US Congress, and UK Parliament to secure their democracy.
On 7 June, President Duterte declared that martial law countrywide “is not feasible” as it will lead to a “divided nation.” This statement comes as a clarification after his latest comments about making “radical changes in the coming days” because “too many crimes” were happening in the country.
On 4 June, IGAD officials said it is now up to President Salva Kiir and SPLM-IO leader Dr. Riek Machar to meet in order to advance the South Sudan peace process. This call for a face-to-face meeting between the two leaders comes at a time when lack of trust is at a low, and both insist they cannot work with one another. The date for such a meeting is unclear, though it must be decided by the IGAD heads of state meeting prior to July’s AU meeting.
The same day, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, called on governments to impose economic sanctions against leaders on both sides of the South Sudan crisis. He reaffirmed that humanitarian aid was still being provided, but voiced an opinion that the perpetrators of violence did not seem to be bothered by the welfare of the South Sudanese people and were concerned more with their own personal economic interest.
The Carnegie Corporation released the latest episode of their “Peacebuilders” podcast on 5 June, discussing the crisis in South Sudan. They discuss how South Sudan was hoped to be a symbol of international cooperation, but instead how the country has regressed into conflict and is now a humanitarian crisis without an end in sight, bringing about the implementation of multiple securitization approaches and tactics in order to find a durable solution.
A report by the Associated Press on 6 June stated they had learned of 14 unreleased human rights reports by the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission in South Sudan, the independent watch-dog charged with monitoring the current cease-fire agreements, and diplomats from the US, UK, and UN. The unreleased reports allegedly contain evidence that soldiers continue to commit atrocity crimes such by killing, raping, and destroying property. While the reports detail violations by both sides, they describe deliberate targeting of the military against civilians. Edmund Yakani, Executive Director for Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, said that IGAD and AU leaders need to take action as “silence on the violations on encourages further violations.”
The Sudanese Communist Party issued a statement on 31 May against the downscaling of UNAMID operations, stating that it would have negative consequences on the people of Darfur. The party called on the UN Security Council and international human rights organizations to take action to protect the people and property in the region. Additionally they called on the Human Rights Council to take action in order to ensure justice by bringing rights violators to court.
According to a Reuters article released on 2 June, the Syrian government is committed to recapturing territory in the Southwest, currently held by insurgents. Walid al-Moualem, foreign minister, says the US must pull out of the southeastern Tanf base.
Amnesty International’s report, “War of Annihilation,” released on 5 June investigates the devastating effects of conflict in Raqqa between ISIL & US Coalition forces. While Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Advisor at Amnesty, recognizes the commission of war crimes by ISIL, she notes that this does not relieve coalition forces “of their obligations to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians.” The report asserts that Coalition strikes appear to be “disproportionate or indiscriminate” and potentially constitute war crimes, before recommending further investigation.
Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly plans to meet with the President of the DPRK, Kim Jong-Un. While both countries largely face international isolation, Assad mentions of the meeting that his administration “will as ever fully support all policies and measures of the DPRK leadership” and “strengthen and develop the friendly ties with the DPRK.”
On 4 June, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for Venezuela to be suspended from the Organization of American States (OAS) as a consequence of the country’s May presidential vote that resulted in the re-election of President Nicolás Maduro. At the OAS headquarters, Pompeo told representatives of the 35 member countries that Maduro was not acting under constitutional order and failed to follow OAS responsibilities, displaying “unmistakable bad faith and exhausting options for dialogue under current conditions.” Moreover, Pompeo urgedincreasing sanctions against Maduro’s government in addition to its suspension from the OAS which implies penalties such as the suspension from aid granted by the Inter-American Development Bank.
On the 5 June Resolution on the Situation of Venezuela, the OAS declared that “ the electoral process as implemented in Venezuela, which concluded on 20 May 20 2018, lacks legitimacy, for not complying with international standards, for not having met the participation of all Venezuelan political actors, and for being carried out without the necessary guarantees for a free, fair, transparent and democratic process.” This resolution takes the first steps towards the historic suspension of a South American country from the OAS.
The European Commission announced on 7 June it would give £35.1m in emergency aid to help thousands of affected by the severe economic crisis. “This package will improve the Venezuelan people’s access to food and nutrition, as well as basic services like water, sanitation and hygiene”, stated Neven Mimica, Europe’s Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development.
The UN Refugee Agency published “Yemen’s Critical Requirements” detailing that 22.2 million people require assistance in the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” in Yemen. Priorities include “protection space for refugees” and “advocacy against unlawful detention.”
Saudi-led coalition forces are now within 8km of Hodeidah, a Houthi-held territory. Martin Griffiths, UN Envoy to Yemen, arrived in the country on 2 June to propose that the Houthis cede control of the city to the UN. The proposal comes amid fears that the city’s population of 400,000 will be put in substantial danger from a likely “bloodbath” between Houthi and Saudi-led coalition forces. Any destruction of infrastructure would obstruct crucial aid supplies that the country’s population is heavily reliant on. Griffiths is likely to discuss the situation of Hodeidah at his Security Council briefing on 18 June.
On 31 May ICRtoP coalition member, Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) published a handbook for Parliamentarians on preventing violent extremism and mass atrocities. The handbook, written by Phil Gurski, in collaboration with the Stanley Foundation and Parliamentarians for Global Action, was born out of the November 2017 Milan Forum.
The Dominican Republic became the 117th signatory to the ACT Code of Conduct on 1 June. The Code of Conduct calls upon all members of the Security Council, in particular the P5, to refrain from using the veto in cases of mass atrocity situations. A full list of signatories can be found here.