Tag Archives: IDPs

#RtoPWeekly: 29 May – 2 June 2017


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
South Sudan

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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No Protection without Participation: The Responsibility to Include Displaced Women

On October 28, 2014, the Security Council held its annual open debate on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) focusing on women as refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). The urgency of this matter cannot be understated, as the world reaches a grim milestone.

Security Council meeting on Women and peace and  security

Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the Security Council meeting on Women and peace and security. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

Currently, the global population of displaced sits at approximately 50 million people – the largest number since the Second World War. What’s more appalling is that an astounding 80 percent of this population consists of women and children.

It was noted throughout the debate that in this context, women are at risk of a range of human rights abuses. These include gender-based discrimination in access to economic resources, education and employment, poor reproductive health care, and exclusion from decision-making and participation in most peace processes.

Furthermore, women are particularly vulnerable to sexual and gender based violence (SGBV). Recalling Security Council Resolution 1820, rape and other forms of sexual violence are recognized as a threat to international peace and security, as well as serve as indicators of and/or constitute potential genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, making this an important issue for both the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) and WPS.

The debate was part of the ongoing effort to evaluate implementation of Resolution 1325, a landmark Security Council decision that followed many incremental precedents in the advancement of women’s human rights, and subsequent resolutions that make up the WPS framework. The discussions held at this session made it clear that, while progress has been made with regards to upholding women’s rights and ensuring equal participation, there is still much progress to be made, especially as it concerns women who are refugees or IDPs.  The experience of women IDPs in countries plagued by atrocities such as Syria, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan demonstrate the stunning lack of progress, as well as a failure of national authorities to uphold their primary responsibility to protect displaced persons within their borders.


Horrifying Conditions for Displaced Women

The latest Secretary-General’s report on Women’s Peace and Security takes special note of the plight of displaced women. The report explains that driving factors such as discriminatory gender norms, a lack of access to livelihoods and basic services, as well as unequal citizenship rights leave women and girls especially vulnerable to a range of rights violations.

Among the risks mentioned are exposures to sex and labour trafficking, SGBV, and early and forced marriage. In addition, women are experiencing a curtailment of their rights in relation to dress, travel, education and employment – particularly in areas where extremism is rampant.

The Secretary-General’s report notes several countries as being particularly affected, including atrocity-ridden Syria, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Reports emerging from these countries bring the Secretary-General’s warnings to life, and shed light on the dire situations faced by displaced women.

For example, in South Sudan, the Special Representative on Sexual Violence, Zainab Hawa Bangura told horrific tales of sexual violence that will “…haunt South Sudan for generations to come” and include “rapes, gang rapes, rapes with guns and bullets and sexual slavery,” committed by forces loyal to both Salva Kiir and Riek Machar.  Many of these have occurred in the supposed safety of UNMISS Protection of Civilian sites and IDP camps.

In the Central African Republic, the International Displacement Monitoring Centre reports that “where 20 per cent of the country’s population is internally displaced, 68 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18.” They also note that access to education has been severely restricted, decrying that “ In Bossangoa region, education has ground to a halt almost completely, and in the country as  whole more than 70 per cent of potential pupils – at least 450,000 children – are currently out of school.”

Views of the Zaatri Refugee Camp

Syrian Refugees Crossing into the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. UN Photo/Mark Garten.

In Syria, the Assistant UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that displacement has been “accompanied by gender-based crimes, deliberate victimization of women and children and a frightening array of assaults on human dignity.”

A July 2014 Human Rights Watch report documented the abuses inflicted on women fleeing the frontlines of the country’s civil war. The organization warned that “Women in Syria have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, physically abused, harassed, and tortured during Syria’s conflict by government forces, pro-government militias, and armed groups opposed to the government.”

The examples from these countries are but a sample of the very real dangers faced by displaced women and girls, and the risks that they will become victims of RtoP crimes.


RtoP and Women’s Participation in the Context of Displacement

The deplorable conditions facing displaced women in South Sudan, Syria, and CAR represent a wider failure of national authorities to uphold their obligations to adequately protect IDPs and refugees within their borders.

Indeed, the broad range of rights abuses faced by displaced women are identified by the new  Framework of Analysis for the Prevention of Atrocity Crimes, recently published by the Joint Office for the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, as being a precursor to the commission of atrocity crimes.

The framework explains that of particular concern are “violations of civil and political rights” that may include “…severe restrictions to economic, social and cultural rights, often linked to patterns of discrimination or exclusion of protected groups, populations or individuals.”

Furthermore, as noted above, Resolution 1820 recognized for the first time that sexual violence could potentially constitute three of the four mass atrocity crimes and violations under RtoP, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The Framework of Analysis also warns that increasing acts of sexual violence “may indicate an environment conducive to the commission of atrocity crimes, or suggest a trajectory towards their perpetration. “

English classes for displaced women

UNAMID police facilitate English classes for displaced women in Darfur. UN Photo/Albert González Farran.

While a range of actions need to be in focus when addressing these crimes, a partial explanation of the failure to curb these violations is the exclusion of women from decision-making–including on policies regarding IDPs/refugees and peace processes in general. This exclusionary trend is at odds with the commitments set out in the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Beijing Platform for Action, and in particular, the Women, Peace and Security agenda, including Resolutions 1325 and 2122.

Resolution 1325 served as a landmark document, marking the UN Security Council’s recognition of the unique effects of conflict on women, and that their voices must be included in all stages of the peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding process. Through the adoption of Resolution 2122, the Council sought to strengthen the WPS agenda by explicitly focusing on the need to take further action to ensure women’s participation in all stages of conflict prevention and response. Without the recognition and inclusion of women, it is widely acknowledged that any strategy implemented will be “faulty” and unsustainable.

Thus, states hosting a displaced population have an urgent responsibility to protect women from these crimes, while the international community has a responsibility to provide assistance when authorities are failing as spectacularly as in the cases above. However, due to the indispensable nature of women’s involvement, protection cannot be fully achieved without their active participation and the facilitation of these efforts.


Ending Abuse through Gendered Strategies

Both civil society advocates and member states that participated in the open debate have offered recommendations that could help ensure protection obligations are upheld, and that the voices of women are included in the design and implementation of policies for the protection of the displaced.

In their civil society statement delivered at the WPS debate, the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security called for a comprehensive and gender-sensitive protection effort for women in displaced situations.  They stressed that:

“…women must fully participate and be consulted systematically in decision-making, across all displacement settings, in humanitarian programming, and, of course, in the broader political, security and peace processes.”  To these ends, the provision of political and financial support, as well as specialized training to civil society and women’s human rights defenders were recommended.

The Permanent Representative of Lithuania highlighted  the importance of ensuring personnel involved in the protection of IDPs are well-versed in gender-sensitivity by “providing gender awareness training to peacekeepers, field staff and humanitarian actors, appointing gender advisors, and developing concrete indicators to assess implementation of gender mainstreaming policies.”

Suggesting examples of best practices, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet identified steps that have been taken to incorporate a gender perspective into IDP protection in peacekeeping operations.

UNAMID Civil Affairs Officers Meet IDP Camp Residents. UN Photo/Olivier Chassot.

One such practice was UNAMID’s establishment of a Women’s Protection Network in Darfuri IDP camps to elicit their participation in formulating protection strategies.  Another was the UNMISS advocacy efforts that led to a gendered approach to IDP camp management, including the appointment of female camp managers.

An important recurring theme was the extension of women’s empowerment to the socioeconomic sphere, as horizontal inequalities exacerbated by displacement create the conditions that leave women vulnerable to exploitation. They are also considered a common indicator of atrocity risk under the Special Advisers’ Framework of Analysis.

As the Nordic countries remarked in their joint statement delivered by Sweden, “Gender inequalities lie at the heart of the issue. Gender equality in political, economic, and social life is a goal in itself and also contributes to preventing sexual violence and armed conflict.” Recommendations made by states for reducing inequalities, including by improving access to services and livelihoods, are therefore critical.

No Protection without True Participation

By implementing gendered protection strategies, and ensuring the full participation of women in all matters related to the protection of IDPs, a double purpose is being served. Not only are national and international actors doing their part to satisfy obligations laid out in the WPS agenda, but they are taking steps towards fulfilling their responsibility to prevent and respond to mass atrocities. Furthermore, they are upholding their responsibilities to help improve the capacity of national actors to live up to their primary RtoP obligations.

As Edmond Mulet stated “We have a responsibility to better protect women, but protection cannot exist without genuine understanding of women’s rights and acceptance of their full participation, as demanded by resolution 1325 and all subsequent mandates on women, peace, and security.”

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