Attacks on Hodeidah, Yemen endanger an already fragile environment
Despite intense negotiations between UN officials and members of the Saudi-led coalition forces endeavoring to peacefully resolve fighting around Hodeidah, Yemen, the coalition began attacking the city on 13 June. The attack comes as an attempt by the coalition forces to seize the Houthi-held region and return it to Yemeni-government rule. The UN and numerous humanitarian aid groups remain concerned over the attack which risks damaging the infrastructure and port that currently supplies the vast majority of food and aid to the country. Indeed, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, says that “250,000 people may lose everything – even their lives.”
Saudi-led coalition forces remained within 10km of the city while negotiations were underway.
Martin Griffiths, UN Envoy to Yemen, arrived in the country on 2 June to propose that the Houthis cede control of the city to the UN, in an attempt to avert the likely “bloodbath” attack. The war-torn country is home to hundreds of thousands of people who already face starvation and an intense cholera outbreak, what is arguably one of the severest humanitarian crises at the time.
Despite the initiation of the attack on Wednesday, The Norwegian Refugee Council reported on 14 June that the Hodeidah port remains open. The port serves as a crucial lifeline, as the “main entry point for food and aid” to the whole of Yemen.
Saudi-led coalition forces are fighting against Houthi rebel forces within Yemen, whom it accuses of acting as a proxy force of Iran. The Saudi-led coalition supports the Yemeni president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Of over 10,000 civilian casualties killed in the Yemeni civil war since 2015, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has noted that almost two thirds were as a direct result of Saudi-led coalition air attacks. There are already 2 million internally displaced people in Yemen, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and over 20,000 people have fled the country to seek shelter refugee camps in Somalia, Jordan, and Ethiopia.
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On 8 June, the Burmese government held a meeting at the presidential palace to discuss, amongst others, the situation of the Rakhine State, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with the UNHCR and the UNDP, national security, and international relations.
On 11 June, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that monsoon rains destroyed many refugee shelters in Bangladesh, which host one million Rohingya refugees from Burma. So far, 9,000 refugees have been affected and the number continues to grow.
Britain’s Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson, stated that he had spoken with Prime Minister Suu Kyi and also urged her to implement measures for safe return as soon as possible now that Burma has agreed to the UN supervising the return of the refugees, and that an investigation be carried out on the alleged atrocities.
Central African Republic:
On 11 June, the UN announced the death of another UN Peacekeeper. The attack also left another injured during regular patrol outside of Bambari. It is the second death of MINUSCA forces in two weeks. UN Officials warned that attacks against Peacekeeping forces may constitute a war crime.
On 11 June, UNSG Guterres described Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump’s meeting as “a promising development for global peace and security.” Guterres also highlighted that the way towards peace and denuclearization is with cooperation, compromise, and a common goal. He also drew attention to the fact that the North Korean humanitarian situation is far from ideal, as the UN estimates that 40 percent of the population requires assistance.
On 12 June, the long-awaited historic summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump took place in Singapore. They signed a statement where Jong-un reaffirmed his commitment to complete North Korea’s denuclearization and, in exchange, Trump agreed to “provide security guarantees” to North Korea, halting military exercises with South Korea. The statement keeps the countries engaged, but it fails to resolve any issues, lacking a specific plan of action or timeline.
On 14 June, US Secretary of State Pompeo denied the sanction relief on North Korea, suggested by DPRK state media. According to Pompeo, these sanctions will not disappear until North Korea denuclearizes.
Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) DRC Country Director, Ulrika Blom, published a call to action in order to protect the people of the DRC and prevent a regional crisis. Humanitarian aid to the DRC is severely underfunded, leaving many Congolese displaced, without shelter, and without adequate food supply. Blom noted regional clashes between armed groups, tribal warfare, and unrest are causing people to flee their homes both internally, and across borders. Such large-scale displacement and instability, she warns, will inevitably affect regional politics and humanitarian aid responses.
On 8 June, the ICC Appeals Chamber acquitted Former Vice President, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Appeals Court ruled that Bemba was convicted based on crimes outside the scope of charges and that the Trial Chamber made errors in assessing whether or not he had taken all reasonable and necessary measures to prevent, repress, or punish the commission of his subordinates of the crimes that were within the scope of the case. Bemba was originally sentenced to 18 years in prison for two counts of crimes against humanity, and three counts of war crimes.
Following his acquittal on war crimes and crimes against humanity, the ICC ordered the release of Jean-Pierre Bemba on 11 June. The former VP faces sentencing in his appeals trial for witness tampering, but his release concerns many who believe his freedom could impact the elections scheduled later this year in the DRC. The judge was clear, however, that his release is temporary, pending the determination of the second case for which he stands up to five years in detention. Elise Keppler of HRW’s International Justice Initiative said that the ruling raises questions about the ICC’s credibility and may shock many who survived the violence in CAR.
Coalition member Human Rights Watch called for the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry to investigate the alleged attacks on Palestinian medical workers at the Gaza border by Israeli forces. Deliberate targeting of civilians and medical workers could amount to war crimes, particularly when targeted against civilians “who posed no imminent threat to life,” Human Rights Watch has noted in relation to the Gaza protests.
At a meeting on 9 June, the Israeli cabinet failed to adopt new decisions regarding proposals on how to deal with the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, claims that Israel is the country that is doing the most, despite the 11 year-long blockade it has put on the Gaza strip, which has caused a humanitarian crisis in the region.
Meanwhile, on 13 June the UN General Assembly passed a resolution which “blamed the Israelis for the casualties” seen in Gaza since Palestinian protests began on 30 March. Despite the US and Israel being critical of the lack of inclusion of Hamas-based criticism in the resolution, it has been seen by many as a “moral victory.” Palestinian Ambassador, Riyad H. Mansour, urged that Palestine needs “protection of [its] civilian population.” While the resolution is not legally binding, and a similar legally-binding resolution put forward to the Security Council was vetoed by the US, it nonetheless displays the US and Israel’s overwhelming “isolation” relating to the conflict at the UN.
On 9 June, a huge fire engulfed the warehouse that is storing the ballot boxes from Iraq’s parliamentary election which took place on 12 May. The fire represents a deliberate “plot to sabotage the country and its democratic process,” says Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, as it comes just before a planned recount of all votes following accusations of election foul play.
On 11 June, the Iraqi court issued arrest warrants for four suspected perpetrators, including policemen and an Independent High Elections Commission employee, Al Jazeera reports. Further, the current parliament proposed that nine judges take over the leadership of the Independent High Elections Commission. Haider al-Abadi is rejecting a call to repeat the elections, despite his third place election result. He reminded the country that the decision is one for the “judiciary, not politicians” and Parliament would not have the power to cancel the election anyway.
On 12 June, first and second-place election winners Moqtada al-Sadr and Hadi al-Amiri announced their political blocs will create an alliance for the future government. They have announced that they “would keep the door open for other winning blocs to join them in forming a new government.” Their alliance is “a Nationalist one,” which al-Abadi may yet join.
The Iraqi Government has estimated that around $90 billion is required to rebuild Iraq in the wake of the previous 15 years of war in the region. At a donor conference in February, Iraq’s allies pledged only $30 billion to aid the reconstruction effort.
Human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, continue to call for General Khalifa Hiftar to open humanitarian corridors and allow civilians still trapped within the city of Derna to leave before the Libyan National Army advances further into the city. On 11 June, Amnesty released a report stating their fears that civilians would be caught up in a “bloody street battle” if advances continue.
Meanwhile on 11 June, a US Navy ship assisted and rescued a group of migrants off the Libyan coast. While Italy refuses to take migrants, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, has pledged to accept those rescued at sea, stating that “it is our obligation to help avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a ‘safe harbor’ to these people.”
On 12 June, the UN Security Council extended the Libya arms embargo for another year. Both of Libya’s governments have called for the arms embargo to be lifted, on the basis that they want to “create an army and police force to defend against crime” and need arms. The opposition, however, maintains that an effort must be made to seize the millions of arms already circulating among civilians and militias before any more weapons should be imported.
The UNSG published a report on the situation in Mali which includes some of the findings and recommendations recently put forward by the independent strategic review of the MINUSMA. The report states that the protective environment, particularly in the center of Mali, continued to deteriorate during the reporting period. Indeed, during this time 43 civilians were killed and 24 were injured in targeted attacks and conflicts among communities, with many others displaced.
On 8 June, thousands of Malians protested in Bamako against President Keita. The civil opposition movement, Trop c’est trop, organized the march to denounce proposed constitutional amendments which would give excessive powers to the president.
On 9 June, security forces informed Efe International News Agency that two attacks perpetrated by alleged jihadists in Mopti killed three Malian soldiers and wounded nine others. The International Crisis Group confirmed jihadist groups are settled along the Niger-Mali border are utilizing the instability and insecurity of the country in their favor.
On 14 June, President Buhari assured that “Nigeria will continue to deepen relationships with her allies, particularly those with whom her shares mutually beneficial interests.” During his meeting with the Ambassador of Ethiopia, he highlighted the importance of security and economic development for any country and that was why he has been visiting Nigeria’s immediate neighbors.
The House of Representatives of the Philippines approved a bill which aims to provide full protection to children in armed conflict. It declares children below the age of 18 as “zones of peace” and gives them certain rights in situations of armed conflict. These rights include, amongst others, the right to life, survival and development, special respect and protection against any form of abuse, and the right to be treated as victims.
Over the past week peace talks between President Salva Kiir and SPLM-IO leader, Dr. Riek Machar,show promise with Khartoum offering to host the talks between the two leaders. Both leaders are insisting a right to self-defense, causing concern that the talks may result in escalated violence.
The Sudanese government denied plans to forcibly evict the internally displaced from camps in Darfur. On 9 June, the Sudan Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) has announced, however, several options for IDPs; voluntary return, integration into their local communities, or resettlement in another location of their choosing. This came along announcements of 400,000 voluntary returns of IDPs this year to date, making a total of 1.9million people residing in one of the 39 remaining IDP camps. According to the report released by ReliefWeb (linked) the HAC has not announced a timeline or plan of action for the various return and integration plans.
With the situation on the ground shifting, the joint mission between UNAMID and the AU must change, said UN Under Secretary General, Jean-Pierre Lacroix in a Security Council meeting on 11 June. Shifting its peacekeeping priorities to Jebel Marra, the location of continued conflict, and addressing the humanitarian issues as needed throughout Darfur. The newly proposed two-year strategy would continue peacekeeping operations to ensure the protection of civilians, mediation of conflicts, and humanitarian aid, but also include a shifting focus towards early recovery and development focusing on long-term projects and solutions.
An AU communique on 12 June announced the extension of the joint UNAMID mission in Darfur for 12 months, following the Joint Special Report by the AU Chairperson and UNSG. The Council also addressed the ongoing attacks in Jebel Marra, which has resulted in attacks against and the displacement of civilians. The region remains under humanitarian concern, and that security, land ownership, and public services delivery remain of concern. The communique also stressed that returns must be voluntary, safe, and in dignity, as stipulated by international standards. The Joint Special Report proposed dissolving the mission in June 2020, but the AU was clear that consideration must be given to the political and security situation, gradually paring down operations to remove the threat of a security vacuum.
In a development for the prevention of international impunity for atrocity crimes, Germany’s Federal Court of Justice issued an international warrant of arrest for Syria’s Air Force Intelligence Chief, Jamil Hassan, on 9 June. The charges issued are in relation to his alleged ordering of forces under his command to murder, torture and perpetrate sexual violence against Syrian detainees between 2011 and 2014. Secretary General of The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) stated that “Germany is prepared to make its contribution to the legal reappraisal of these serious human rights crimes.” The principle of universal jurisdiction within international law allows the prosecution of such crimes to be pursued anywhere, regardless of where the acts were physically committed. While Syria has not ratified the Rome Statute and therefore is not under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, Hassan could theoretically be tried in the UN Court of Justice, permitting that Syria does not veto such action in the Security Council.
In a statement released on 10 June, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, expressed his condemnation of last week’s airstrikes allegedly committed by Russian Jets, which targeted the rebel-held town of Zardan. The White Helmets reported that the attacks resulted in at least 47 civilian deaths. The UN is calling for a full investigation into the strikes.
The Islamic State (ISIL) mass executed 90 of its own members in Syria due to them being “reluctant about the defense battles against Syrian army,” Iraqi News reported on 14 June. Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on 13 June that while he is “giving the political process a chance” with regards the supposed liberation of the southwest region currently held by rebels, but will “liberate it by force” if diplomacy does not prove successful.
Proposals for the creation of a constitutional committee for Syria will be discussed on 18-19 June by senior Iranian, Russian and Turkish officials and UN representatives. The meeting will take place in Geneva, and is aimed to “rewrite the Syrian constitution, paving the way for new elections as part of a post-war political reform.”
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons determined that the chemical Sarin was in fact used in an attack in Latamina on 24 March 2017, in which at least 32 people were injured. Although the OPCW did not assign blame, but it is urged that government forces were attacking the area at the time. The OPCW did however assign blame on the Syrian government for using Sarin in a different attack in Khan Sheikhoun a few days after the Latamina attack.
On 14 June Amnesty expressed concern over the arrest of key human rights activist and Executive Director of Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, Abdulrasheed al-Faqih, by Yemeni security forces. They note that if the arrest is solely on the basis of his invaluable human rights work then “he must be released immediately and unconditionally.”
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.