Tag Archives: Iraq

#R2P Weekly 19 – 23 February 2018

UN rails against Syria’s “monstrous campaign of annihilation” in Eastern Ghouta
The United Nations is pleading for a halt to one of the deadliest air assault campaigns of the Syrian conflict, as Syrian government forces have reportedly continued to attack Eastern Ghouta for over five straight days, killing more than 335 civilians, in what the UN has called a “massacre”. On 19 February, Syrian forces intensified their bombardment of the last remaining rebel-held enclave near the capital, allegedly indiscriminately killing more than 100 civilians that day alone, and marking one of the deadliest attacks in three years. Moreover, in just the past few days, Syrian government forces and its allies have reportedly conducted 420 airstrikes and dropped 140 barrel bombs in Eastern Ghouta. While the Syrian government claims that there are few civilians left in Eastern Ghouta, according to the UN, almost 400,000 people remain trapped in the area.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres maintains that the Syrian government’s bombing campaign has turned Eastern Ghouta into “hell on earth” and has called for an immediate halt to the fighting. Similarly, both Panos Moumtzis, the UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, as well as High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, have urged all parties to strictly adhere to their international humanitarian obligations and to take all feasible measures to protect civilians. They have further underscored that “International humanitarian law was developed precisely to stop this type of situation, where civilians are slaughtered in droves in order to fulfill political or military objectives”. The High Commissioner railed at the “monstrous campaign of annihilation”.

Earlier this month, Sweden and Kuwait introduced a draft resolution, requesting that the UN Security Council (UNSC) vote “as soon as possible” on the proposed 30-day ceasefire in Syria, which would allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid and medical evacuation. During intense negotiations and in a concession to Russia, the draft resolution was later amended to specify that the proposed ceasefire would not apply to the Islamic State (ISIL) or Al-Qaeda. The UNSC vote, which was originally scheduled for Thursday, was later delayed and set to take place on Friday, 23 February.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq
Libya 
Mali

 

Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan
Syria 
Venezuela
Yemen

 

Burma/Myanmar:

On 23 February, a bomb killed two people and injured 22 others at a bank in the northern city of Lashio. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but violent incidents carried out by armed ethnic groups are not uncommon in the northern part of the country. UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee warned in a statement this month of the need to focus not only on the Rohingya crisis, but to also focus on the general ethnic strife of the country.

The Canadian government has imposed sanctions on Burmese General Maung Maung Soe, citing his alleged complicity in the violations of rights of the Rohingya population. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland also stated that the acts committed against the Rohingya constitute ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The European Union (EU) is also preparing sanctions against Burmese generals involved in the systematic abuse of human rights against the Rohingya, Reuters has reported. European diplomats also announced the EU’s desire to strengthen the arms-embargo currently in place on Burma.

Burma has agreed to resettle the 6,000 Rohingya stranded in no man’s land, an unclaimed piece of land near the Tombru border between Burma and Bangladesh. While most of the Rohingya refugees have fled to the Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh, some are stranded in this area as a result of the Bangladeshi government denying their entrance to the country. The decision comes after Bangladeshi and Burmese authorities visited the impromptu camps to encourage Rohingya refugees to return to Burma.


 

Burundi:

UN Development Programme Representative to Burundi Garry Coville reported that one in three Burundian people will require humanitarian assistance in 2018, a 20 percent increase from last year’s needs. Coville stated that the socio-economic situation in the country, as well as the increase of natural disasters, will exacerbate the need for humanitarian aid.

Opposition groups in Burundi are accusing the government of allegedly intimidating and forcing citizens to register to vote in the upcoming constitutional referendum. The government has allegedly set up checkpoints, mostly run by the party’s youth militia wing, the Imbonerakure, to verify registration papers. Other residents stated that local authorities have allegedly threatened to withhold fertilizers and not provide health insurance validation if citizens are not registered. Burundi’s First Vice President acknowledged that some members of the Imbonerakure might have abused their power, but denied any other allegations.


 

Central African Republic:

Ursula Mueller, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), called on the international community to increase its support to the humanitarian response in the Central African Republic (CAR) after her visit to the country. While the funding for humanitarian programs has decreased in the last three years, the number of internally displaced persons in the country has doubled to 694,000 in the last year. Mueller emphasized the need to strengthen the protection of civilians during her meetings with national authorities and key stakeholders. Independent Expert on the human rights situation in the CAR Marie-Thérèse Keita Bocoum also urged for an open dialogue between factions, the need to establish judicial mechanisms, and for an increase in humanitarian assistance in the country, citing the 2.2 million people in need of aid.


 

Democratic Republic of the Congo:
The Independent National Electoral Commission (Ceni) of the DRC has revealed new electronic voting machines for the upcoming referendum later this year. The machines will allow the voter to touch the photo of a candidate, which then prints a marked ballot paper that the voter must place inside a ballot box. Additionally, the machines are only available in French, the official language of the country, but not in the four other recognized national languages. Opposition groups, however, have rejected the machines, citing concerns over easy manipulation of votes. The Catholic Church has called on the government to allow international experts to certify the machines, while the US firmly opposes an electronic vote.

Switzerland has imposed sanctions on 14 individuals allied with the DRC’s President Joseph Kabila. These sanctions, which include asset freezes and travel bans, largely replicate the sanctions already imposed by the European Union.

On 20 February, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warned of a looming humanitarian disaster of colossal proportions in the southeastern area of the DRC. The province of Tanganyika has been the stage of conflict and violence between different ethnic groups as well as between government and militia forces, with UNHCR partners reporting 800 protection incidents in just the first two weeks of February. The atrocities include attacks against villages, abductions, and gender-based violence, including rape. Head of Operations for the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) Jean-Philippe Chauzy has also raised concerns over the dire humanitarian situation in the DRC, stating that the international community cannot stay dormant to the country’s situation. Chauzy reported that malnutrition levels in the Kasai province have risen by 750 percent as a result of the constant displacement due to violence. In response, the European Commission, alongside the UN and the Dutch government, will co-host a donor conference on 13 April focusing on funding for humanitarian relief in the DRC.

Over the weekend, unidentified armed men killed two aid workers and kidnapped another one in the eastern province of North Kivu in the DRC, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported. The workers were part of the NGO Hydraulique sans Frontières, which provides technical support in water-related projects in developing countries. OCHA warned of the security situation in the region, citing the 2017 December attack when a rebel group killed 15 UN Peacekeepers and injured 53 others.


 

Gaza / West Bank:

During a briefing to the UN Security Council, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that no Plan B exists for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, affirming the UN’s support to a two-state solution. In the same meeting, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process Nikolay Mladenov called on the international community to continue to support the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), while also urging for the return of control over Gaza to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Mahmoud Abbas, President of the PA, who was also present at the meeting, proposed an international peace conference later this year to solve the situation. However, Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon stated that the only way to solve the problem is through direct negotiations between the two parties.

On 21 February, Egypt re-opened the Rafah crossing point along its border with Gaza for four days only. While thousands of Gaza residents are on the authorized travel list, mainly composed of medical patients and students, it is likely that only a few thousand will make it out in the allotted time.

After a rocket fired from Gaza hit the southern part of Israel over the weekend, Israeli warplanes struck 18 Hamas facilities on Monday, 19 February. No casualties were reported, but the exchange is seen as the most serious escalation since 2014. Hamas officials, however, have stated they do not wish for a further escalation of the situation.


 

Iraq:

The Islamic State (ISIL) claimed responsibility for a deadly attack against Iraq’s Shiite-led Popular Mobilization Units on 19 February, killing at least 27 people southwest of Kirkuk.

ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that on 19 February, a court in Baghdad convicted 11 women from Turkey and one woman from Azerbaijan for non-violent crimes under Iraq’s counter-terrorism law, sentencing ten to life in prison and one to to death. Six months ago, approximately 1,400 foreign women and children, along with ISIL fighters, surrendered to Iraqi security forces. Charges leveled against these women include: entering Iraq illegally; aiding or abetting ISIL; and membership in ISIL. Despite these defendants having access to lawyers during interrogations, unlike earlier cases, HRW maintains that their trials were unfair. Additionally, HRW claims that in these cases, the women received the harshest possible sentences for what appears to be either marriage to an ISIL member or a coerced border crossing. Accordingly, HRW asserts that Iraqi authorities ought to develop a national prosecutorial strategy and prioritize prosecuting those accused of being most responsible for the most serious crimes. To that end, HRW is of the view that authorities should consider alternatives to criminal prosecution for those suspected only of membership in ISIL, without any evidence of other serious crime.


 

Libya:

Seven years after Libya’s revolution, the humanitarian crisis in the country continues to persist and the forecast for 2018 is bleak. Current events, including the elections tentatively scheduled for late 2018, have the potential to reignite an armed conflict rather than lead to a unified Libya, especially in the absence of a constitution and the fact that no single faction appears strong enough to stabilize the country. Indeed, it seems that election-related violence has already begun. Moreover, this power vacuum and the looming possibility of returning to civil war, creates fertile ground for the Islamic State (ISIL) and Al Qaeda-aligned groups to recover from their 2016 and 2017 setbacks and return time and again. According to reports, ISIL is already rising again, and currently disrupting oil production and expanding its reach southward. Additionally, ISIL is allegedly using Libya as its primary base in Africa, where it receives foreign fighters from Europe and the Middle east, and from where it plans and coordinates attacks against the West. Disarray in the country could also make the humanitarian situation even worse, by preserving a slavery economy, destabilizing neighboring states, and intensifying migration to Europe.


Mali:

Infighting between the government of Mali and ethnic Tuaregs in the north over which side is responsible for the failure to produce security or economic benefits for the northern tribe could lead to civil war. This could in turn create an opening for terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), to further entrench their operations in northern Mali.

In central Mali, nearly 400 schools have already closed since Islamist militants expanded their operations and attacks toward the more densely populated Segou and Mopti regions. It also appears that the jihadists are targeting French schools, claiming they “want Koranic schools” instead. Worse still, it seems as though the campaign of violence is gaining support from local communities who feel that they have been marginalized by the government, which they also view as ineffective. Fatou Dieng Thiam, who heads the UN mission’s office in Mopti claims that in addition to militants organizing prayer sessions and telling people to stop paying government taxes, the militants are also “threaten[ing] every symbol of the state: teachers, administrative officers, mayors.” ICRtoP partner Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also documented several cases of rights violations where Malian forces have been involved in their own violations which is creating its own unique cycle of violence.


 

Nigeria:

Four years after Boko Haram kidnapped more than 270 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok, Boko Haram militants attacked a school in Dapchi, Yobe State on 19 February. While it was originally thought that the students and teachers fled before Boko Haram arrived, three days after the attack at least 13 girls are still missing and two were found dead. However, officials have been reluctant to call this a kidnapping, as about 76 of the girls who had fled were later found hiding in surrounding villages, so officials say it may still be possible to find those who are still missing. Still, one parent told the BBC they had seen a truck full of students being taken away. Security services continue to search the area to locate the missing girls.

On 19 February, Nigeria’s justice ministry said that 205 Boko Haram suspects had been convicted on charges related to their involvement with the militant Islamist group. The mass trial marks the end of the second stage of the country’s largest legal challenge against Boko Haram. Jail terms range from three to 60 years. Rights groups have criticized how the Nigerian authorities have handled some of these cases, claiming that some detainees had been held without trial since 2010. Still, the justice ministry also noted that 526 people allegedly affiliated with Boko Haram were released for rehabilitation and said that 73 cases were adjourned.


 

South Sudan:

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that approximately 200,000 refugees from South Sudan will arrive in Sudan during 2018. As the five-year conflict continues, OCHA warns of the need for a long-term strategy, rather than just an emergency response. The organization emphasized plans to provide more durable infrastructure to refugee camps and assistance to host communities.

Two clans in the eastern state of Jonglei in South Sudan have reached a peace agreement, ending a violent conflict over land that has killed 37 people in the past two months. The parties agreed to create a buffer zone, where government security forces will keep the two clans apart.

The South Sudan Peace talks failed to reach an agreement by 16 February as was previously hoped. Hirut Zemene, deputy chair of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Council of Ministers reported that arranging security and sharing responsibility were the two major items under consideration. While no specific date for continuing the peace talks has been set, Zemene hoped that the break would be short and that talks would resume soon, so as to maintain the momentum and finalize pending issues. However, the government delegation, after its return to Juba, reiterated its rejection to the proposals presented by the opposition forces and blamed them for stalling the talks. The government particularly opposed the plan to dissolve the security sector and transfer power to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and to the Regional Protection Force. On the other hand, the opposition forces blamed the government for the failure of the peace talks, citing the government’s strict demands such as refusing to demilitarize Juba and rejecting to reconstruct the army.  On 21 February, more than 200 civil society groups issued a statement urging the IGAD, the African Union, and the international community to increase pressure on all parties to reach an agreement in the next phase of negotiations in March.

A new UN report exposed the “chilling effect” on freedom of expression in South Sudan, citing 60 confirmed incidents where journalists had either been killed, beaten, or arrested. The report also described the restrictions placed upon media outlets, including blocked websites and denying entry to 20 foreign reporters. The head of UNMISS, David Shearer, further reported that the journalists and entities who were targeted were deemed to be critical of the government.


 

Sudan:

The Governor of Central Darfur Ja’afar Abdel-Hakam announced that a security forum would take place in Nertiti next month, bringing together the security committees of North, South and Central Darfur. The purpose of the forum will be to discuss security issues and the impact of the disarmament campaign in the region. Sudan’s Vice President Abdel-Rahman also reported that large numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees have returned to Darfur, following an improved security situation in the country. He urged the committee in charge of overseeing the return to provide more assistance to all five states in Darfur. Additionally, during Pramila Patten’s visit to Darfur, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict commended the efforts of the government to end sexual violence in the area. However while meeting with Ms. Patten, Special Prosecutor of Darfur Crimes, Al-Fatih Mohamed Tayfor, accused the United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) of allegedly hiding Mission staff involved in sexual offenses.

On 18 February, the Sudanese government released over 80 political opponents and activists who partook in the protests over the rising prices of bread last month. The opposition party, the National Umma Party (NUP), welcomed the release but called on the government to release the remaining detainees, and also called for the repeal of laws that restrict the freedom of expression and assembly. The NUP also accused the government of holding the remaining detainees as hostages, citing the Sudanese government’s press statement announcing that the remaining prisoners would be released as long as the demonstrations and vandalism stopped in the country. ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) also urged the government to release the remaining detainees, and noted that Sudanese groups monitoring the release reported that only 50 people were released, not 80 as the government claimed.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/North led by al Hilu (SPLM-N al-Hilu) allegedly attacked SPLM-N forces led by Agar (SPLM-N Agar) in the Blue Nile state on Saturday 17 February. The two factions used to be part of a united opposition force against the Sudanese government until they clashed last year over the right to self-determination and other organizational issues.

The Enough Project in Sudan distributed an open letter to UN commissioners citing issues with the Sudanese government’s suppression of peaceful protests, arbitrary arrests, and detentions. The letter asked the UN commissioners to request the Sudanese government to respect their citizens’ right to protest and to refrain from using force against protesters. In addition, the letter also asked that the Sudanese government allow detainees legal counsel and family visitation rights. The Enough Project and the other signatories to the letter have also requested that the government conduct an immediate, independent and impartial investigation into all allegations of excessive use of force against peaceful protesters and into the ill-treatment and torture of the detainees.


Syria:
Seven years of conflict in Syria has left more than 465,000 dead, over 1,000,000 injured, and at least 12,000,000 displaced.

On 16 February, the US and Turkey agreed to hold talks in order to de-escalate the situation in Syria, particularly to avoid clashes in the northern city of Manbij. Previously, Turkey had said it would attack US-backed Kurdish forces in the city, while the US had threatened of an aggressive response.

On 20 February, Syria’s “Popular Forces” entered Afrin to counter Turkey’s attack against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), raising the possibility of clashes between Syria and Turkey. While Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey Mr. Bekir Bozdağ has apparently warned Syria of “disastrous consequences” should the Syrian government send forces to support the YPG, Syria’s government has called Turkey’s offensive on Afrin a “blatant attack” on its sovereignty.


 

Venezuela:

On 20 February, Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) called on Member States to impose harsher sanctions on Venezuela, including sanctions “against the regime itself”. Until now, sanctions had focused only on individual members of the Venezuelan government.

The Democratic Unity Roundtable, a coalition of Venezuelan opposition parties, announced on 21 February that they would not participate in the presidential election scheduled for 22 April. The opposition stated that the election lacked the necessary conditions for a free and fair result, and further claimed that the election was premature and that it was intended to provide a mirage of legitimacy to President Nicolás Maduro’s government. President Maduro responded by announcing his intentions to also hold municipal and state legislative council elections the same day. The opposition stated that it would reconsider its decision if certain conditions were met.

According to a closely-watched university study, Venezuelans lost on average 11 kilograms in body weight during 2017 as compared to only 8 kilograms during 2016. The study, which was conducted by three Venezuelan universities, provides one of the few statistical analyses of the economic crisis and food shortage in the country, amid a government information void. The report also stated that over 69 percent of Venezuelans have said they have woken up hungry in the previous three months because of lack of funds to buy food.


 

Yemen:

On 16 February, United Nations Secretary‑General António Guterres announced the appointment of Martin Griffiths of the United Kingdom as his Special Envoy for Yemen.

A proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia is occuring in Yemen. On 20 February, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley asserted that a United Nations report had “identified missile remnants, related military equipment and military unmanned aerial vehicles that are of Iranian origin and were brought into Yemen after the imposition of the targeted arms embargo”, demanding that the Security Council act. Apparently, Reuters has seen a draft UN resolution, which urges the Security Council to take action against Iran over sanctions violations and which also urges the Security Council to condemn Iran for failing to stop is ballistic missiles from falling into the hands Yemen’s Houthi rebel group. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has rejected the accusations against Iran, and Russia appears to have opposed a bid to condemn Iran.

Battlefield losses have pushed Houthis to public conscription, annulling voluntary recruitment. Houthi militia leaders are set to review and possibly simplify conditions for recruitment. According to observers, the “simplification” of terms could include abolishing age limits and allowing children to join.

On 21 February, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) called on the United Kingdom, as the penholder on Yemen at the Security Council, to either demonstrate that it can lead the Council to take meaningful action on Yemen, or hand over the responsibility to another Council member. Suze van Meegen, NRC’s Protection and Advocacy Adviser on Yemen, further asserted that “Another weak presidential statement will have little effect on the ground, if any at all” and went on to say that “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world deserves more than just an ‘expression of concern’.” In that regard, the NRC maintains that the Security Council should break its eight-month silence on Yemen by adopting a binding resolution in which it demands a complete lifting of the blockade and a cessation of hostilities.

 

 

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#R2P Weekly: 5 February – 9 February 2018

ICC opens preliminary examinations into situations in Venezuela and the Philippines

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

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

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


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

Nigeria 
Philippines 
South Sudan 
Sudan/Darfur 
Syria 
Venezuela 
Yemen 
Other 


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


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


Central African Republic:

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


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

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

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

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


Gaza / West Bank:

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

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


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


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


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


Mali

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

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


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


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


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


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


Syria:

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

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

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

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

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


Venezuela:

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

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


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


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

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#R2P Weekly: 29 January – 2 February 2018

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Burma: New evidence of mass graves in Rakhine State

The Associated Press (AP) has reported the presence of at least five mass graves in the village of Gu Dar Pyin in Rakhine State in Burma. AP interviewed Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and examined their reportedly clandestine photos and videos from their experiences. Refugees from the village made claims of an attack by government forces on 27 August 2017, which survivors have described began when soldiers stormed the village and opened fire arbitrarily. The soldiers allegedly carried weapons, as well as shovels and containers filled with acid. Later, when survivors came back to look for their families, they reportedly found a village burned to the ground with corpses strewn across the area, as well as impromptu mass graves with burned bodies in an assumed attempt by military forces of covering their actions. Mohammad Karim, a Rohingya man from Gu Dar Pyin, also presented AP with a time-stamped video showing the described destruction and killings. The video purportedly shows one corpse with the skin melted away and limbs scattered around it, according to AP reports. Survivors allegedly discovered three mass graves in the north part of the village, including a pond with the capacity for about 80 people. The other mass graves were reportedly smaller and located on former latrine holes. The Burmese government has denied access to Rakhine State, but satellite images of the area have confirmed the destruction of the village. Furthermore, AP’s latest investigation is not the first to assert the presence of mass graves. In December, Burmese authorities confirmed one mass grave in the village of Inn Dinn, but claimed that the bodies within the grave were of terrorists and pledged accountability for the perpetrators.

Since 1982, the government has continued to deny citizenship to the Rohingya, a mostly Muslim minority in the predominantly Buddhist country of Burma. In 2012 and 2016, violent clashes between Buddhist nationals and the Rohingya forced many to flee. However, the situation escalated in mid-August 2017, when members of the resistance group, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), attacked 20 Burmese police post, leaving 71 people dead. The government responded with systematic violent attacks against Rohingya villages, resulting in a massive influx of Rohingya refugees fleeing to Bangladesh. Estimates suggest that at least one-third of the 1.2 million Rohingya people from Burma are now considered refugees.

The Burmese government has denied the mass killings and the burning down of villages in Rakhine State. However, it has not rejected the use of force against Rohingya terrorists. For example, on 14 September 2017, the government reported 40 percent of Rohingya villages are empty, but stated that the people who left were terrorists or were connected to terrorism. Several human rights groups, the United Nations, and the European Union have condemned the treatment of the Rohingya and urged the Burmese government, which includes Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi, to act responsibly. They have also requested access for observers and humanitarian aid workers to the area. The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has called the situation in Burma a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Still, UN officials are hesitant to call the actions of the Burmese government forces genocide until an international tribunal investigates the facts. However, the UN has warned that all the signs of genocide are present.

In September 2017, the Burmese government created the Rakhine Advisory Commission, led by Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, with a mandate to find solutions to the ethnic conflict in Rakhine State. The Commission concluded with a report carrying 88 recommendations, such as calling for the freedom of movement of the Rohingya and for an end to forced segregation, but also stressed the citizenship issue as the main obstacle. The government said it will comply with the Commission’s recommendations, but no tangible actions have been taken.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
CAR
DRC
Gaza/ West Bank
Iraq
Kenya
Libya 
Mali

Nigeria
Philippines
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Venezuela
Yemen
Other

 


Burma/Myanmar:

On 31 January, CARE International warned that the wellbeing of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh would deteriorate in the upcoming rainy season. Refugee camps could face floods and landslides. Approximately 900,000 people are estimated to live in the refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar region.

Canada’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, Bob Rae,  outlined in his Interim Report the need for a comprehensive humanitarian and political solution to the plight of the Rohingya. Rae also urged members of the international community to actively improve the conditions of refugee camps in Bangladesh. He further called on the Burmese government to ensure the safety of the Rohingya once repatriated and to allow neutral observers into Rakhine State. Lastly, Rae advocated for accountability, and for those who have committed crimes to be brought to justice.


Central African Republic:

On 26 January, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reported that peacekeepers were working with authorities in the CAR to alleviate suffering from the displacement crisis.

According to MINUSCA, fierce fighting in the CAR’s northwest region has forced 65,000 people, mostly women and children, to flee to the city of Paoua. The number of internally displaced persons in the country reportedly 60 percent higher than it was last year. Adrian Edwards of the UN refugee agency said that these numbers are the highest they have been in the past four years.

On 30 January, the UN Security Council unanimously renewed an arms embargo against the CAR for another year, and also set out new criteria that could potentially lead to new sanctions. In the French-drafted resolution, the Security Council also condemned incitement to violence on religious or ethnic grounds, and indicated that anyone who perpetrates such crimes would face sanctions. Accordingly, this resolution could lead to targeted sanctions against those involved in anti-Muslim or anti-Christian violence in the country.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Violence in the DRC that began in December 2017 has forced more than 10,000 people to flee to neighboring Uganda. Upon arrival, some of these refugees have claimed that in the DRC men are being killed and women are being raped. In the past week alone, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that more than 8,000 people have fled from the eastern part of the DRC to neighboring countries. In particular, almost 7,000 Congolese have fled to Burundi, while 1,200 crossed over to Tanzania. The UNHCR has expressed its gratitude for those countries who have taken in refugees, but is also concerned about the effect that the high influx of refugees is placing on the limited resources of camps.

The UNHCR is also concerned about the impact that violence is having on the civilian population in the DRC. Notably, violence in the DRC is impacting children in horrific ways. Militias have recruited more than 3,000 children to fight. Moreover, UNICEF has documented 800 accounts of sexual abuse against children. Tajudeen Oyewale, acting head of UNICEF in the DRC, stressed that “it is simply a brutal situation for children with no end in sight”. UNICEF is attempting to ensure that humanitarian aid still reaches children in the DRC. The UN stabilization mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has also reported that in the Kasai region there has been an alleged increase in summary executions. Allegedly, 64 percent of the summary killings have been carried out by state actors.

On 27 January, armed men ambushed a group of MONUSCO peacekeepers, killing one Pakistani peacekeeper. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the killing and urged all armed groups to lay down their arms.

President Joseph Kabila stated that he would not step down before the 23 December 2018 elections, despite protests calling for his resignation. After September 2016 protests resulted in several deaths, protests in the DRC were officially outlawed. MONUSCO has repeatedly reminded authorities in the DRC of the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression. President Kabila indicated that in the near future he would introduce a law to “reframe” the right to protest for “those who wish to express themselves”.


Gaza / West Bank:

Israel’s defense forces warned that funding cuts to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) could threaten Israeli security. Military officials fear that the lack of funding could add to the already growing unrest. The military officials believe that UNRWA workers aid, more than they damage, Israel’s security.


Iraq:

Even after the declared defeat of the Islamic State (ISIL), the stability of Iraq remains fragile. In addition to government corruption and economic despair, the country continues to cope with an ever-increasing threat of violent sectarianism between the Sunni and Shiite populations. Accordingly, the upcoming 12 May elections present a pivotal moment for Iraq, but could also threaten to unravel hard-fought gains in the country. As of now, it seems that the two main candidates standing for election are current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, both from the same Shi’ite Dawa party.

Airstrikes continued in Iraq this week as well. According to reports, a botched US-led coalition airstrike allegedly killed eight Iraqi people and injured 20 more in Al-Anbar province on Saturday 28 January. Local police claim that the Coalition wrongfully targeted civilians and police after Iraqi forces confused police vehicles as part of a terrorist convoy. On Thursday 1 February, Turkey’s armed forces also reported that airstrikes conducted earlier in the week against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets in northern Iraq killed 49 militants.


Kenya:

On 26 January, Kenya’s opposition released what it claimed to be “authentic” evidence showing that Raila Odinga, Kenya’s opposition leader, was the rightly elected President. Odinga’s team did not release any information as to how they received the results. Furthermore, the electoral commission in Kenya did not validate these results. According to the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights, 92 people were allegedly killed during the political unrest after the election in August 2017.

Raila Odinga swore himself in as the “people’s president” on 30 January at Uhuru Park. His candidate for Deputy President Kalonzo Musyoka, however, was not present. The highly controversial ceremony comes after the National Super Alliance (the opposition movement known as ‘NASA’) boycotted October’s rerun presidential election, in which current President Kenyatta won with a low voter turnout. Officials from Kenyatta’s government warned on 28 January that no gathering could take place; yet, police forces did not intervene in the event. After the inauguration, Kenyatta issued a statement declaring the ceremony illegal. Hours after his inauguration, Odinga took to Twitter to thank his supporters, saying that “We have arrived in Canaan; thank you for staying course with us.”

In response to the ceremony, Al Jazeera reported that the government took independent TV stations off the air ahead of the ceremony on Tuesday morning. The chairman of the Kenya Editors Guild also stated that the government cautioned senior editors not to cover the event. However, on 1 February, Kenya’s High Court suspended the government’s ban for 14 days until the Court addresses the case. The shutdown has lasted for three days, but there are no signs of compliance by the government with the Court’s decision. The three shut-down TV stations manage two-thirds of all Kenya’s TV audience.


Libya:

Two days after the twin car bombing in Benghazi killed 35 people and injured dozens more on 23 January, reports began to emerge on social media that 10 people had been summarily executed outside the mosque where the bombing took place.  Moreover, Libyan residents reported that five bodies were found in Benghazi’s Laithi neighborhood on 26 January, and medical sources similarly reported that three people who appear to have been summarily killed were found in Derma. On 27 January, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) announced that it was “appalled” by the alleged retributory killings, and further stated that “The brutal pattern of violence must end. Those in effective control of fighters and those ordering, committing such crimes are liable under international law.”

The UN is also attempting to revive the stalled 2015 peace plan for Libya, as reported on 29 January. While recognizing the complex legislative, political, and security challenges,  UN officials, including special representative Ghassan Salame, have said they nevertheless want to assist Libya in holding elections by the end of 2018. Smail Chergui, Commissioner of the African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council, stated that the UN and the AU would work together to promote reconciliation and prepare the necessary conditions for elections. However, the AU warned against rushing to elections.

Nearly two months have elapsed since videos began to emerge showing refugees being sold as slaves in Libya. On 29 January, Moussa Faki, Chairperson of the AU, reported that more than 13,000 migrants have been repatriated from Libya since the beginning of December 2017. It appears that Niger and Rwanda have also offered refuge to those who cannot be returned to their countries of origin. However, on 31 January, for no apparent reason, Libya’s Illegal Immigration Agency decided to shut down four immigrant reception centers in western Libya, housing thousands of mostly African migrants rescued in the Mediterranean.

On 1 February, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that armed groups in Benghazi were preventing at least 3,700 internally displaced families from returning to their homes, accusing these people of either “terrorism” or “supporting terrorism”. Additionally, HRW interviewed several displaced people, who said that groups affiliated with the Libyan National Army forces (LNA) have tortured, arrested, and forcibly disappeared family members who remained in Benghazi.

This week, the UN Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reported that 378,000 children were in need of humanitarian assistance and that the situation in Libya continues to deteriorate. UNICEF is appealing for 20 million USD to scale up its humanitarian assistance response. On 29 January, unexploded ordinances also appear to have killed three children.


Mali:

On 25 January, a civilian vehicle ran over a landmine in central Mali, killing 26 people, including children. The victims were traveling from northern Burkina Faso to Mali for a weekly market. A Malian security source said that “terrorists use these mines to spread fear”. However, no one has claimed responsibility for the blast. On 27 January, the UN Security Council strongly condemned the “barbaric and cowardly terrorist attack”. The Security Council also stressed the need to increase efforts to combat terrorism and violent extremism, and urged all States, in accordance with their international legal obligations, to cooperate with the Governments of Mali and Burkina Faso to bring the perpetrators to justice. On 29 January, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita also canceled plans to attend an AU summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and declared three days of mourning “in tribute to all those who have lost their lives in the last few days in terrorist attacks”.

On 29 January, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a report in which it had recorded 133 cases of humanitarian access constraints in Mali in 2017. This was the highest number OCHA had ever recorded in Mali.


Nigeria:

BBC Monitoring tracked Boko Haram’s attacks in 2017, and on 25 January, the BBC reported that Boko Haram killed more than 900 people last year. Furthermore, in 2017, Boko Haram was allegedly responsible for 90 armed attacks and 59 suicide bombings. The group targeted villages, militaries, mosques and internally displaced people fleeing the violence.

Since the beginning of the year, fighting between farmers and herdsman over land in five states of Nigeria has killed over 168 people and has resulted in thousands being displaced. In an attempt to combat this growing violence, Nigeria’s military has launched air raids, reportedly killing at least 35 people on 30 January. Amnesty International’s Nigeria Director, Osal Ojigho, has condemned the unlawful use of deadly force and declared that “The government must overturn its response to these deadly clashes to avoid the crisis getting out of control”.


Philippines:

On Monday 29 January, the Philippine Justice Department charged three police officers with the murder of Kian Loyd delos Santos, a 17-year old boy, who was killed in August 2017, in the midst of a drug war. Allegedly, the officers killed him because they believed he was a drug pusher. After his death, the Catholic church led the opposition against President Duterte’s brutal drug policy. In response to the protests that erupted after Mr. delos Santo’s killing, President Duterte installed a civilian-led drug enforcement officer. However, in December 2017, the police once again regained control of the drug war.


South Sudan:
 
The UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng called on the governments of Uganda and Kenya to stop contributing to the conflict in South Sudan. Dieng also stated that there were large quantities of weapons flowing through Kenya and Uganda into South Sudan. He warned that although the primary responsibility for the protection of populations lies with the government, the international community also has a duty to prevent atrocities.

On 24 January, US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, stated that the conflict in South Sudan is deteriorating because of the country’s the leaders. She called on the Security Council to implement an arms embargo against South Sudan in an attempt to slow the violence. Ambassador Haley also called on the African Union (AU) to establish a hybrid court for South Sudan, and also for Uganda and Kenya to work harder to facilitate peace. She called South Sudan an unfit partner to the UN Security Council. In the following days, the AU also called for sanctions against those disrupting the peace process in the country. South Sudan called on the envoy from the United States to discuss the comments.


Sudan/Darfur:

The violent crackdown by government forces on peaceful protests continues in Sudan. The Sudan Tribune reported the use of teargas and batons against civilians in the latest protest on Wednesday. The protests reportedly began over price hikes and the implementation of austerity measures.

Consequently, the European Union (EU) urged the Sudanese government to release opposition leaders and human rights activists arrested during the protests. Sources estimate that more than 170 activists have been arrested. The EU also called on the government to respect the freedom of the media and to stop the seizures of newspapers.

On 30 January, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/North (SPLM-N al-Hilu), one of the two factions of the rebel group SPLM-N in Sudan, extended the cease-fire for four more months starting on 1 February in the areas of South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. The leader of the SPLM-N al-Hilu Abdel-Azizi stated that the extension is a show of goodwill for the upcoming peace talks with the Sudanese government in Addis Ababa. The talks will take place at the beginning of the February, however, SPLM-N Agar, the other faction of the rebel group, will not participate in the talks.


Syria:

Attacks on rebel-held territory continued this week in Syria. Since Sunday 28 January, suspected Russian-backed airstrikes by Syria’s government reportedly killed at least 35 people. Fighting also continued in Afrin. As of 31 January, Turkey claimed to have killed at least 712 fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and ISIL since the beginning of Operation Olive Branch. Turkey further claimed that 63 members of YPG and ISIL were ‘neutralized’ on 30 January alone. The city of Manbij is also on edge. Indeed, if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan follows through with his pledge to clear Turkish forces from all of the northern Syrian border, Turkey would likely have to face confrontation with the US, it’s NATO ally. On Sunday 28 January, General Joseph L. Votel, commander of the US Central Command, stated that the US would not withdraw from Manbij.  Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesperson for the American coalition confirmed General Votel’s remarks. This week, French President Emmanuel Macron also warned Turkey that its operation should not become an excuse to invade Syria.

Accordingly, violence in Syria overshadowed the Russian-sponsored “Congress of Syrian National Dialogue”, which took place in Sochi from 29-30 January (the ‘Sochi talks’). Furthermore, the majority of Syria’s rebel groups boycotted the Sochi talks, and a group of opposition delegates who had decided to come ultimately refused to leave the airport after taking offense at the event’s logo which featured only the flag of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. While the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, attended the Sochi talks, on the condition that the constitutional drafting process would remain in Geneva, the majority of the 1,500 delegates in attendance were pro-Assad. The Sochi talks ended with a few vague resolutions. Delegates agreed to set up a 150-member constitutional drafting committee that would be based in Geneva, put forward names of people to they would like to see on the Committee, invited absent groups to name representatives as well, and endorsed a democratic path forward through elections. Ultimately, however, a final agreement will need to be reached in Geneva, with UN support, regarding the constitutional committee’s powers and procedure, as well as criteria for selecting its members. According to Vladimir Putin, the Sochi talks were designed to break the impasse in negotiations and end the seven-year civil war. However, analysts believe that Russia’s real goal was to reshape the diplomatic process to fit the political and military reality (that Assad is still in power) and replace the US as the most engaged global power.


Venezuela:

Venezuelan opposition groups will be meeting with their government in the Dominican Republic to demand electoral safeguards for the elections that are scheduled to take place in April.  They are demanding a “balanced” election counsel and want Venezuelans living abroad to be able to vote. The opposition is also demanding that their members be allowed to run. Opposition leaders Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles are not allowed to run in the elections. Lopez’s party will not be involved in the talks.

On 26 January, the UN Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) warned of increasing malnutrition rates among children in Venezuela. The economic crisis in the country severely limits the amount and quality of food of Venezuelan families. Due to limited official data, the agency could not provide precise numbers. However, the organization Caritas reported in August 2017 that 15.5 percent of children suffered from some level of wasting, while 20 percent were at risk. UNICEF urged for a short-term response to counter malnutrition.


Yemen:

Migrants and refugees continue to use Yemen as a transitory hub, despite the prevalent armed conflict and humanitarian crisis in the country, which exposes these people to a heightened risk of human rights violations. For instance, on 26 January, the UN reported that at least 30 refugees drowned, when a boat carrying 152 people, including 101 Ethiopians and 51 Somalis, capsized off the coast of Aden, Yemen. Allegedly, smugglers who were operating the overcrowded vessel also opened fire on the passengers.
On 25 January, UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed a $1 billion pledge by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to support humanitarian action in Yemen, as well as their pledge to raise $500 million more from regional donors. Additionally, Secretary-General Guterres welcomed the Saudi-led coalition’s delivery of 180,000 liters of fuel to the northern province of Marib.

However, infighting between former allies of the Saudi-led coalition (which have been fighting the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in northern Yemen) came to a head this week. Previously, on 21 January, southern leaders, aligned with the Southern Transitional Council (STC) had set a one-week deadline for Yemen’s President, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to dismiss the cabinet. As the deadline neared, fighting erupted on Sunday 28 January, between armed separatists aligned with the STC (backed by the UAE) and forces loyal to President Hadi (backed by Saudi Arabia). As the STC seized several government offices in the strategic port city of Aden that day, Yemen’s prime minister, Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr, accused the STC of staging a “coup”. Then on Tuesday 30 January, after two days of clashes, separatists loyal to the STC appear to have seized control of Aden, including the area around the presidential palace. Some news reports also suggested that Yemen’s Prime Minister and several senior government officials that were holed up in the palace were preparing to flee to Saudi Arabia. According to hospital sources, the fighting killed at least 10 people, and wounded 30 more. On 30 January, UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told reporters that the UN’s relief officials were “extremely concerned by the violence that [they’d] seen over the last couple of days”, called on “all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law” and indicated that “it’s paramount that civilians are protected and that the wounded are afforded safe medical care and that all sides facilitate life-saving access”.


Other:

On 29 January, UN agencies reported that conflict is the underlying common factor of countries suffering from food insecurity. The report, which monitors 16 countries, emphasized the presence of acute hunger in South Sudan, Yemen, and Syria. The UN agencies highlighted the importance of access for humanitarian support to the affected areas.

 

 

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#RtoPWeekly: 22 – 26 January 2018

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Mali in focus: UN takes action toward peace and stabilization

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

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

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


Catch up on developments in…

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

Libya 
Nigeria
Philippines
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Venezuela
Yemen


Burma/Myanmar:

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

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

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


Burundi:

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

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


Central African Republic:

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

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


Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:

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


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

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

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

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


Gaza / West Bank:

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

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


Iraq:

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

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

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

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

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


Kenya:

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

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


Libya:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nigeria:

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

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

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

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


Philippines:

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


South Sudan:

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

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

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

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

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


Sudan/Darfur:

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

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


Syria:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Venezuela:

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

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

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


Yemen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#RtoPWeekly: 27 November – 1 December

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New Report Details Alleged Systematic Human Rights Abuses by Venezuelan Security Forces Throughout 2017

On 29 November, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Venezuelan rights group, the Penal Forum, released a report denouncing the alleged systematic use of brutal treatment and torture by the Venezuelan government against its political opponents and protesters. The organizations detail the reported subjection of 314 people to human rights abuses at the hands of security force officials between April and September 2017, a period that HRW stated quickly became one of the most repressive in Venezuela’s recent history.

Information about the abuse was gained from the interviews of victims, their families, and medical and legal professionals, as well as physical evidence such as medical reports, photographs, and video footage. According to such evidence, various torture methods were allegedly used on victims, including: frequent violent beatings, hanging by their feet for extended periods of time, denial of food and water, and other physical and psychological abuse.

The country saw much political dissent in April and beyond as President Nicolas Maduro’s administration was accused of usurping certain legislative powers through the Supreme Court, and many protests reportedly turned violent during that time. However, the report details that the nature of the abuses and the use of certain political phrases by the abusers suggests the civilians were being purposely targeted and punished for their political views, rather than in an effort to enforce the law or disperse protests. In most cases, the abuses allegedly occurred on those who were already detained, or those who were forcibly removed from their homes. Additionally, HRW reported that evidence showed high-level officials had actively downplayed allegations of human rights abuses, effectively ensuring impunity for those directly involved.

The joint report, “Crackdown on Dissent: Brutality, Torture, and Political Persecution in Venezuela,” can be accessed in its entirety here.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DRC
Iraq
Kenya
Libya

Philippines
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen
Other

Burma/Myanmar:

The governments of Bangladesh and Burma have reportedly reached an agreement regarding the return of Rohingya migrants to Rakhine State. Under the agreement, there will be no limit to the number of migrants who can return to their homes, and those who choose to come back to Burma will not face any legal repercussions unless they are found to have ties to terrorism. Additionally, both sides have agreed that no refugees will be forced to return to Rakhine State by either country.

Despite the agreement, the UN Refugee Agency has stated that conditions in Rakhine State remain unsafe for the return of the refugees, noting specifically a lack of stable security and humanitarian access in the region. The Refugee Agency stated that it is willing to help both governments find sustainable solutions to the crisis.

The UN Human Rights Council is expecting to hold a special session on the human rights crisis in Rakhine State early next week.


Burundi:

According to ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch, Burundi’s ambassador to the UN Albert Shingiro has allegedly made public threats against members of the UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) that has been investigating human rights abuses in Burundi. The alleged threats are based on the perception that the CoI’s investigation has resulted in the “defamation and attempted destabilization of Burundian institutions.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called these perceived threats “unacceptable.” Further, officials from the CoI have recently concluded that there is evidence of crimes against humanity allegedly being committed in Burundi, at which the International Criminal Court has opened a related investigation.

With support from the East African Community, the fourth round of the inter-Burundian dialogue to resolve the Burundi crisis is currently being held in Arusha from 26 November to 8 December. Sentiment regarding the session has been mixed, specifically among civil society members in Burundi. Many experts have praised the dialogue for being inclusive and bringing together a variety of government sectors, religious leaders, and civil society organizations. However, some civil society members argue that they have been excluded from the dialogue, specifically those who are critical of Burundi’s government.


Central African Republic:
The UN has released a statement strongly condemning the 26 November attack against UN peacekeepers in CAR in which one peacekeeper was killed and three injured. The anti-Balaka militant group is alleged to have carried out the attack. In the statement, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the attack could constitute a war crime and called for the government to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

On 28 November, the Security Council released a statement advocating for increased transparency, credibility, and inclusivity of elections in the DRC in order to maintain a peaceful electoral process. The statement also emphasized the need for all parties and their supporters to refrain from committing and inciting violence during the electoral process.


Iraq:

In a recently released statement, the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria has said that at least 800 civilians have been killed in airstrikes in both countries since its campaign began in 2014. The number of casualties given by the US-led coalition is much lower than those documented by prominent monitoring and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, with some estimates as high as 6,000 total civilian casualties.


Kenya:

During the presidential swearing-in ceremony this past week, Uhuru Kenyatta vowed to be more inclusive and overcome division during his upcoming term. The ceremony was heavily boycotted by the opposition and two protesters reportedly died during clashes with the police. Tensions have continued to increase as the opposition candidate Raila Odinga has declared his own plans to be sworn in as president in the upcoming weeks.


Libya:

The Libyan government has reportedly launched an investigation into the alleged slave trade within the country. The newly created investigation is in response to international outrage following a video apparently showing African migrants being sold to Libyans as slaves.


Philippines:

On 22 November, President Rodrigo Duterte announced his plans to expand the country’s police force in the administration’s war on drugs, leading human rights groups such as Amnesty International to decry the move as potentially creating many more unlawful civilian deaths. James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, stated that a better solution includes a “public health-based drug policy that respects human rights and the rule of law.”


 South Sudan:

On 29 November, the International Rescue Committee and the Global Women’s Institute at George Washington University reported that the number of gender-based crimes occurring in South Sudan is double the global average. Out of the women surveyed, 65 percent claimed they were victims of physical or sexual violence, with the reports alleging violence from both government and opposition forces. The largest number of reports of sexual violence surfaced from the UN-controlled territory in Juba.


Sudan/Darfur:

On 27 November, Sudanese authorities arrested Musa Hilal, a powerful militant leader who is suspected of human rights abuses in Darfur. As a former ally of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Hilal had led the government-allied Janjaweed militia, which had been accused of carrying out ethnic cleansing and genocide in the region. Hilal’s arrest came after clashes with Sudanese forces near his hometown in North Darfur.


Syria:

According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Russian air strikes are responsible for 53 civilian casualties in eastern Syria, including 21 children. The attack occurred on 27 November and hit the village of Al-Shafah, which is currently controlled by the Islamic State (ISIL). Russia has denied their forces had targeted the village.

The UN in Geneva is expecting to hold the eighth round of talks on Syria. Although Assad’s regime has not selected a delegate, there are high hopes that there will be a breakthrough with the talks. Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, stated that he will refuse any preconditions set by any party before the talks, and that the dialogue will be guided by the 2015 Security Council resolution “mandating a political transition for Syria.”

On 28 November, Under-Secretary-General of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism Vladimir Voronkov told the Security Council that the international community must step in to handle the problem of foreign terrorist operatives returning to their home countries after their respective defeats in Iraq and Syria. Voronkov noted that no Member State is immune to this threat, even those located far away from conflict zones, since extremist fighters can travel elsewhere to recruit. Even with certain travel measures preventing the flow of extremist militants from entering neighboring regions, they are still attempting to move to high conflict areas such as Yemen, Libya, and Afghanistan. Additionally, the Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the UN stated that although ISIL, Al-Qaida, and other militant groups are being weakened, their use of internet propaganda has increased their reach, enabling them to gain sympathizers around the world.


Yemen:

The Saudi-led coalition has eased the blockade against humanitarian aid into the country, including allowing a UN aid ship carrying food supplies to dock at the port of Saleef after waiting outside the city for two weeks. The shipment of food aid is the first of its kind to be permitted to enter Yemen since the blockade was imposed. Reportedly placed to prevent Houthi-led rebels from acquiring weapons, the blockade has worsened the food and aid situation for millions of Yemenis at risk of starvation and illness. The UN has stated that Yemen remains in desperate need of humanitarian aid.


Other:

What can be learned about the media and occurrences of mass atrocity? In collaboration with the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) at Concordia University, Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication is hosting an international round table titled “Media and Mass Atrocity: the Rwanda Genocide and Beyond.” The event is running from 1-3 December at Carleton University in Ottawa, ON, with members of the public welcome. For more information and to purchase tickets, please click here.

The Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University is accepting applications for a Senior Program Coordinator. The role is responsible for furthering CWGL’s work toward combating gender-based inequality, including developing advocacy strategies and programs while leading CWGL’s research in economic policy and human rights. Additionally, CWGL is also accepting applications for Program Research Interns and Communications Interns. Applications for internship positions are due before 11 December.

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#RtoPWeekly: 13 – 17 November 2017

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Catch up on developments in…

Burma
Burundi
CAR
DRC
Iraq
Libya
Nigeria 
Philippines
South Sudan
Syria 
Venezuela 


Burma/Myanmar

According to Philippine presidential spokesman Harry Roque, Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Burma, did not refer to the Rohingya people by name while addressing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit on 13 November. Aung San Suu Kyi stated that her country was working to implement suggestions from the UN Commission led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and reparations for the displaced would “begin within three weeks” after Burmese and Bangladeshi governments signed an agreement on 24 October.

A spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May said that the situation in Rakhine State “looks like ethnic cleansing.” The Foreign Minister of Britain, Mark Field, also expressed his concern over the situation in Burma, stating that the military is to blame for the crisis. The British government suspended their military training program with Burmese forces earlier this year as a result of the Rohingya crisis.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for a sustainable solution to the Rohingya crisis. He told the Southeast Asian heads of states that he will ask his special envoy to find diplomatic efforts in which Canada can help resolve the issue. For the time being, Trudeau plans to continue his country’s support to humanitarian and political efforts to allow for the eventual return of Rohingya refugees who have fled the country.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US cannot agree with the UN’s findings that the situation in Rakhine State is ethnic cleansing until more evidence and information is collected. He called for an investigation into the violence against the Rohingya, and said there are a number of “characteristics of crimes against humanity” in Rakhine State. Tillerson also advocated against sanctions, and announced that the US will donate another $47 million in humanitarian aid for refugees.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the Burmese military denied reports of ethnic cleansing and abuse claims in the Rakhine State, despite alleged significant evidence to the contrary. The Burmese report found no deaths of innocent civilians; all those who were killed were terrorists. Activists are calling for an independent international investigation in order to find those responsible for the crimes, despite the findings of the Burmese report.

Human Rights Watch released a further report focusing on the alleged systematic sexual violence carried out by military forces in Burma. HRW interviewed 52 Rohingya women and girls whose accounts all alleged that they were raped by uniformed members of the Burmese military and that the sexual violence is far more widespread and systematic than originally believed.

Experts from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, as well as from the South Asian human rights organization, Fortify Rights, have reported that the situation in Rakhine State could be considered a genocide. The groups reached this conclusion based on over 200 interviews conducted within the past year. Cameron Hudson, director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, said that the Rohingya people have “suffered attacks and systematic violations for decades.”


Burundi:

On 9 November, International Criminal Court (ICC) judges authorized the Chief Prosecutor to open an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity that occurred in the country from April 2015 to October 2016. The decision was issued under seal on 25 October, two days before Burundi withdrew its membership from the ICC, to protect victims and potential witnesses. Allegedly, the crimes were committed by state agents and, since Burundi was a State Party to the Rome Statute during the time when the crimes occurred, the country has the duty to cooperate with the Court on the investigation even after their withdrawal.

However, Justice Minister Aimee Laurentine Kanyana said that Burundi was not notified of the ICC’s decision to open an investigation before their departure. Kanyana has also criticized that the decision was announced through the media and has said that the decision violates the Rome Statute. As a consequence, the Minister said that Burundi will not cooperate with the Court. The presidents of Tanzania and Uganda also criticized the ICC’s decision to open the investigation.

Around 400,000 Burundian refugees who fled the country fear for their security if they return. Most relocated in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, and both the presidents of Burundi and Tanzania have asked refugees to return home, claiming that security conditions have improved. Amnesty International, however, disagrees. Amnesty reported in September that refugees who return to Burundi are at risk of death or violence from security forces and the Imbonerakure, a youth political wing, that allegedly commit human rights violations against those believed to be opponents. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) also stated the conditions in Burundi continue to provoke increasing refugee flows to neighboring countries.


Central African Republic:

Najat Rochdi, Deputy Special Representative for MINUSCA, denounced the humanitarian crisis in the CAR and said that only 39 percent of the 500 million USD plan for 2017 is funded. She also said the deterioration of the conflict since May 2017 has made humanitarian assistance difficult to reach those who need it.

On 11 November, a grenade killed seven and injured twenty at a concert in Bangui. The concert was organized to foster social cohesion and reconciliation. As retaliation, heavy gunfire erupted after the attack in the PK5 neighborhood, a Muslim enclave in the mostly Christian city. Prime Minister Simplice Mathieu Sarandji called on the population to not slide back into violence following the attacks.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Ahead of anti-government demonstrations called by the opposition, the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) called on the government to respect the freedom of demonstration and of assembly that are enshrined in the constitution of the country. MONUSCO also said security forces should respect the principles of proportionality, necessity, and legality, and called on demonstrators to refrain from the use of violence.


Iraq:  

Iraqi security forces found mass graves which could contain almost 400 bodies in an area they recently retook from the Islamic State (ISIL) near the town of Hawija. A local shepherd reported that ISIL allegedly took captives to the area to shoot them or to light them on fire.


Libya:

Security forces found 28 bodies west of Tripoli on 11 November. The corpses allegedly showed signs of torture. The area of Wershiffana has seen a spike in violence in recent weeks between pro-government forces and armed militant groups who tend to remain loyal to Gaddafi. The bodies of those killed have yet to be returned to their families.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad Ibn Al Hussein, reported on the large number of migrants held in horrendous conditions in detention facilities. In his press release, Zeid mentioned the EU intercepting and returning migrants to the Libyan Coast Guard is exacerbating the issue. He also called upon the Libyan government to take concrete steps to try to address the human rights violations that take place in those centers. Italy and Germany have disagreed with the UN’s statement, and have defended the practice of returning migrants to Libyan authorities, saying it “has saved lives.”

Human rights lawyers presented evidence to the International Criminal Court (ICC) that identified Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter and his forces as responsible for murder, torture, and persecution. There is already an investigation of one of Hifter’s subordinates in process. There is also an arrest warrant out for another subordinate who allegedly killed 33 captives “in cold blood.”


Nigeria:

Amnesty International called upon Nigerian authorities to cease the demolition and forced eviction of the Otodo-Gbame and Ilubirin communities in Lagos State. The evictions left 30,000 individuals homeless, 17 missing, and 11 dead. The evictions since March 2016 have allegedly occurred without compensation, notice, or consultation.


 Philippines:

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with President Rodrigo Duterte about the human rights concerns in the Philippines. He mentioned the importance of the rule of law and how alleged extrajudicial killings in the country are one of Canada’s greatest concerns.

US President Donald Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte allegedly did not discuss human rights violations, extrajudicial killings, and Duterte’s strict anti-drug campaign within the country when they met this week. Trump said the two have a “great relationship.”


South Sudan:

President Salva Kiir said that he will allow free passage in the country to humanitarian organizations. The move comes after months of international demands and a warning from the United States that South Sudan would lose its financial and diplomatic support if the government did not permit passage.


Syria:

Russia and the United States said in a joint statement they will continue their efforts to fight the Islamic State (ISIL) in Syria, but there is no military solution to the conflict. They also said they support the de-escalation zones in Syria, and called on UN Member States to increase humanitarian contributions for victims.

Amnesty International accused the Syrian government of imposing sieges on densely populated civilian areas since the beginning of the conflict. It said that the government uses starvation as a warfare method, by blocking or arbitrarily restricting access to basic goods, including food, medicine, water, electricity and fuel. Amnesty says the Syrian government also blocks humanitarian organizations from entering those besieged areas. As a consequence, many civilians are at the brink of starvation or die from causes that could be treated with the adequate equipment. Amnesty called on States to support the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism that was recently established by the UN in order to assist in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible.

Airstrikes in a market of the rebel-held town of Atareb, in northern Syria, killed at least 53. The perpetrators of the strikes are currently unknown, but are alleged to have been carried out by Russian or Syrian government planes. Located in the Aleppo province, the town is part of the “de-escalation” zone established by Russia, Turkey, and Iran, but the constant clashes continue and humanitarian assistance is limited. The airstrikes destroyed the market completely and many children are among the victims. The town is also home to thousands of internally displaced people from the conflict.


Venezuela:

On 13 November, the UN Security Council held an Arria Formula meeting on the situation in Venezuela. Many Member States argued the crisis in the country poses a threat to international peace and security and that the Council must hold a meeting on the situation. Many also called on the government of Venezuela to release political prisoners, to investigate alleged human rights violations committed by national security forces in protests between April and July of 2017, and to prosecute those responsible. Russia, China, Bolivia, and Egypt, boycotted the meeting and said the issue should be resolved without foreign interference.

On the same day, the European Union said the gubernatorial elections of last month showed irregularities, and approved economic sanctions and an arms embargo to the country.

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#R2PWeekly: 23 – 27 October 2017

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Russia vetoes extension of mandate for joint UN-OPCW
chemical weapons inquiry in Syria

On 17 November, the mandate of the Joint Investigation Mechanism (JIM), the impartial investigation set in motion to find those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria, created jointly by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), will expire. The investigation was created in August 2015. However, Russia has recently threatened to veto the extension of the JIM’s mandate. Russia supported the creation of the JIM in 2015 and has supported the extension of its mandate in the past, which is why it would be inconsistent for them to veto this time. However, Russia, along with China, has vetoed matters in the UNSC related to the use of chemical weapons before, and has allegedly been increasingly critical of the findings from the investigations. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the JIM still has a lot of work to do, and, in May, the organization reported the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons as being widespread and systematic, thereby possibly amounting to crimes against humanity. As of 15 September 2017, 114 States have expressed support for the Accountability Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Code of Conduct, and furthermore, 96 States support the French and Mexican initiative, which proposes that States in the UNSC refrain from the use of veto in cases of mass atrocities. Ole Solvang, the deputy emergencies director at HRW, expressed fear that a Russian blockade of the mandate would send a signal of impunity to those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria and lead to further use of the banned weapons.

On Tuesday, Russia nonetheless chose to veto the extension of the JIM mandate. This was the ninth time Russia vetoed action to be taken against the Syrian government. Russia has previously rejected a report conducted by UN human rights investigators, which found the Syrian government responsible for the chemical attacks in Khan Sheikhoun in April. Reportedly, Russia continually pushed for an extension of the vote on the mandate until after the findings from the JIM had been assessed, but had insufficient support, leading to the veto of the extension of the JIM’s mandate. Sherine Tadros, Head of Amnesty International’s UN office in New York, commented on this calling it a “routine abuse of the veto,” which is the “equivalent of a green light to war crimes.”


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DRC

Iraq
Kenya 
Philippines
Syria
Yemen 

Other

Burma/Myanmar

After reviewing the situation in Burma, the United States (US) is set to withdraw its military assistance to Burmese units and officers who have been involved in the violence related to the ongoing Rohingya crisis. The imposition of sanctions on Burmese authorities is also being considered. In an official statement, the US State Department called for accountability for all crimes committed in this context.

On 24 October, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch published their submission to the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee outlining the crisis. The submission listed specific accounts of the atrocities including multiple accounts of sexual violence against women and children. The submission called on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and UN Member States to take action without delay.

France and the UK have circulated a draft resolution calling on the Burmese government to cease military operations in the Rakhine State and grant immediate access to UN agencies and other aid partners working to address the worsening humanitarian crisis. The draft condemned the violence occurring on both sides, including references to the 25 August Rohingya rebel attacks. However, the draft has been met with opposition from China, a neighbor and ally of Burma.

Switzerland has increased aid to Rohingya refugees from 1.8 million to 8 million Swiss francs. The Humanitarian Aid Department of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has provided tents, emergency supplies, and funding to operations run by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, the World Food Programme, and other non-governmental organizations.

Bangladesh sent a delegation to initiate talks with Burmese officials regarding the safe return of over 600,000 Rohingya migrants on 23 October. This delegation will seek the safe return of the Rohingya migrants to their homes in Rakhine State as quickly as possible.


Burundi:
The European Union (EU) has renewed sanctions against Burundi until 31 October 2018. These sanctions include asset freezes and travel bans against four people whose actions, according to the EU, undermine democratic governance and obstruct the search for a peaceful solution in Burundi. Since the beginning of the crisis, the EU has called on parties to refrain from committing violent acts and to tackle impunity for perpetrators. The European organization considered the continued deterioration of the situation in the country as justification for the sanctions renewal.

Central African Republic:

In a recent visit to the country, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned about the existing religious divide in the CAR and has called for the engagement of the international community to solve the crisis. He restated the need to strengthen the UN Mission in the country (MINUSCA) and to ensure a thorough reconciliation process, while calling on religious leaders to spread a message of peace. During UN Day, the Secretary-General also honored peacekeepers who were recently killed in attacks in the CAR.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

The UN has declared a Level III Emergency in the DRC along with Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. This activation recognizes the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in the country and aims to ensure that the aid system scales up its response. As the Norwegian Refugee Council stated, the recognition of a Level III Emergency remarks that the humanitarian assistance provided to date has been insufficient.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned that the number of internal displaced persons (IDP) in the country since 2015 has risen to 3.9 million, and approximately 428,000 have been displaced in the last three months alone. With the state of current militia activities and ethnic and political violence in the country, the agency has said that the risk of further displacement remains high. The security situation has made sustaining livelihoods very difficult for the population, and many are becoming increasingly dependent on aid. UNHCR also noted that out of the 236.2 million USD needed to provide assistance to refugees and IDPs, only a fifth of it has been received.


Iraq:
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has found that confrontations on 16 October in Tuz Khurmatu, a town near Kirkuk, between the Kurdish Regional Government’s (KRG) Peshmerga forces and forces from the Iraqi government conducted indiscriminate firing, which resulted in the injuring of at least 51 civilians and the deaths of 5 others, according to three medical workers located in a Turkish-run hospital. According to the same reports, civilian dwellings were hit by mortars and projectiles. It was not possible for HRW to get information on possible civilian casualties from any other areas close to Kirkuk. HRW called on the Iraqi authorities to investigate allegations of civilian properties being destroyed and to prosecute those responsible. Reports from Amnesty International supported these findings and showed evidence of broad scale impacts on civilians and their properties from the violent confrontations in Tuz Khurmatu. Satellite images, photos, videos, and testimonies reportedly demonstrate evidence of civilian houses being looted, burned, and  demolished, causing tens of thousands of people to flee, now in fear of returning. The direct attacks on civilian properties allegedly took place predominantly in Kurdish areas of the multi-ethnic city. While the witnesses interviewed by Amnesty were unable to determine if the indiscriminate attacks they witnessed were attributable to Kurdish or Iraqi forces, attacks have reportedly also been launched on Kurdish refugee crowds.

On Wednesday, the KRG proposed to install an immediate ceasefire, to freeze the results of the recent referendum, and to begin an open dialogue with the federal government, based on the Iraqi constitution. However, the Iraqi Prime Minister has ordered his forces to retake all disputed territory, signaling the military offensive is likely to continue regardless of these recent Kurdish efforts to resolve crisis peacefully.


Kenya:

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and African Union (AU) Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat have released a joint statement calling for peace during this week’s Kenyan presidential election re-run. The statement said that authorities must refrain from using violence and respect civil rights. The AU and the UN said they will also monitor the situation.

Diplomats from the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, among others, have also warned of insecurity ahead of the presidential election re-run and have called for an end to the violence and multiple threats targeting electoral commissioners. Opposition leader Odinga has called for a mass protest on Thursday, the day of the elections.

On Wednesday, 25 October, a day before the election, the Supreme Court failed to take a petition to postpone the election re-run. The petition, filed by three Kenyan citizens, including a human rights activist, said that officials were not able to ensure that the election was free, fair, and credible. The Supreme Court did not take the case because only two out of the seven judges attended the meeting, while at least five judges are required for a quorum. Some judges who did not attend claimed to have not been in attendance due to insecurity.

With the presidential election re-run taking place at the time of publication, there have already been reports of clashes taking place between police officers and protesters.


Philippines:
The European Union (EU) has reported this week that President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs has deteriorated the human rights situation in the Philippines tremendously. The EU has cited Duterte’s statements that incite the police to take aggressive approaches when dealing with drug users and pushers.


Syria:

The Syrian government regime has tightened its siege in the eastern Ghouta region near Damascus in recent months, reportedly blocking access to around 400,000 civilians from receiving essential goods, such as food and medicine. Consequently, the number of infant deaths has risen dramatically, with children as young as one month old dying from lack of milk and food. Eastern Ghouta is one of the de-escalation zones created by a Russian- and Turkish-brokered deal, however, the Syrian government continues to impose and tighten blockades on the area. Activist Raed Srewel referred to the situation as “the worst kind of criminality” and expressed that a UN initiative to solve this is needed to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.

The city of Al-Qaratayn, which had previously been retaken from Islamic State (ISIL) by Syrian forces, was retaken by ISIL early this month, which controlled the city for nearly three weeks. Since then, an alarming number of casualties have been documented. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SORH) has reported that at least 128 persons, both soldiers and civilians, were executed by ISIL during its 20-day long siege of Al-Qaratayn. ISIL executed the victims under the charge of “communication and espionage in favor of the regime forces.” These numbers have been confirmed as Syrian government forces managed to retake the city over the weekend. Further information released Tuesday suggested that children were among the casualties. According to reports from civilians, government forces performed the same patterns of action, executing civilians due to suspected collaboration with ISIL during their control of the city. The city has reportedly shifted hands many times during the year.

On Monday, The Russian Defense Ministry reportedly compared the recent military offensive to retake Raqqa from ISIL by the US-led coalition to the bombing of the German city of Dresden in 1945. According to the Ministry, more than 200,000 people lived in Raqqa before the conflict, while only 45,000 remain today. The US-led coalition said it takes all possible precautions to avoid civilian casualties, but has previously accepted responsibility for the deaths of more than 600 civilians in Syria and Iraq since 2014. However, as previously reported in the ICRtoP weekly, this number has been reported to be much higher by human rights groups, among them the SOHR (for more information please click here).


Yemen:

This week, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed met with senior Saudi Arabian and Yemeni officials during a four-day visit to the Saudi capital of Riyadh to discuss his initiatives to end the violence in Yemen through a political solution. By the end of his visit, Mr. Ahmed commented that the parties were “exploring significant steps that each side can take to restore confidence and move towards a viable negotiated settlement.” These steps include a renewed ceasefire and a return to diplomatic negotiations.


What else is new?
ICRtoP member HRW, along with the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa and the Fondation pour l’égalité des chances en Afrique, have launched a campaign to bring former President Yahya Jammeh from the Gambia to justice for his alleged human rights abuses during his presdency in the country. Jammeh ruled the country for 22 years before losing the elections in December 2016 and seeking exile in Equatorial Guinea. His government has allegedly been implicated in arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and torture. Targeted killings also reportedly occurred during his rule, including the alleged killings of opposition leader Solo Sandeng in April 2016 and newspaper editor Deyda Hydara in 2004.

On 9 November, ICRtoP member the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation will be launching the latest entry in its Sheri P. Rosenberg Policy Papers in Prevention series, entitled, “A Shifting Paradigm: Social media and the changing nature of conflict and conflict response,” featuring author Christopher McNaboe. Please click here for more information on the event and how to RSVP.

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#R2PWeekly: 16 – 20 October 2017

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Concern grows over impact of security situation on
civilians in the DRC as elections pushed to 2019

Several non-governmental organizations, including ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW), have pushed for increased sanctions by the European Union (EU) and the United States on President Kabila’s financial associates and family members. The sanctions are reportedly aimed at showing Kabila that his “unconstitutional abuse of power” has real consequences. The International Contact Group for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, which includes the UN, the EU and the US, will meet on 12 October in The Hague to discuss the humanitarian crisis.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for MONUSCO, Maman Sambo Sidikou, has briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in the country. He warned the Council about the rising political uncertainty brought by the fact that elections will most likely not be held before the end of 2017. Sidikou also noted that the conditions necessary to hold elections are the “implementation of confidence-building measures, the opening of political space, and the full respect of human rights.” The UN has also warned that civil society activists, journalists, and political opponents are subjected to intimidation, violence, and harassment for their opinions regarding the political process. Sidikou also highlighted the impact of the security situation on civilians, with 8.5 million people in need of assistance and almost 4 million internally displaced.

The electoral commission has said that elections cannot be held until at least April 2019. In a recent statement, the commission argued that it needs around seventeen months to pass a new law “drawing elected representatives’ constituencies, obtaining voting materials and recruiting personnel”. The delay undermines the 31 December 2016 agreement made between President Kabila and the opposition parties, in which the opposition agreed that Kabila could stay in power with the condition that new elections would be scheduled before the end of 2017.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DRC
Iraq
Kenya 
Libya
Mali

Philippines
Nigeria
South Sudan 
Sudan
Syria
Venezuela
Yemen

 


Burma/Myanmar

The UN Human Rights (OHCHR) office released a report on 11 October that outlined interviews conducted with Rohingya migrants who fled the violence in Rakhine State. The OHCHR reported that the alleged violence perpetrated by the Burmese military and Rakhine Buddhist militants against the Rohingya is “coordinated and systematic”. The witness accounts described a number of alleged human rights violations against the Muslim minority, including extrajudicial killings, ethnic cleansing, gender violence, and torture. The report also indicated that the violence may have been coordinated in an attempt to prevent migrants from returning to their homes after fleeing Rakhine by allegedly destroying crops, livestock, and other property. Furthermore, the report outlined reports of Burmese forces targeting Rohingya leaders in education, religion, and culture in the region. The OHCHR remains “gravely concerned” about the situation in Burma.

The government of Bangladesh announced on 11 October the formation of the “Citizen’s Commission for Investigating Genocide and Terrorism in Burma”. The group of 35 Bangladeshi citizens will investigate the credibility of reports of genocide in Rakhine State. Their report is expected to be released in early February.

Bangladesh announced its plan to build a refugee camp that will house more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees. The arrival of more than half a million Rohingya Muslims since 25 August has put an immense strain on the existing camps where there are growing fears of a disease outbreak. Bangladesh authorities want to expand the refugee camp in Kutupalong.

Aerial footage taken of a Bangladesh refugee camp in Cox Bazar shows the growing spread of shacks and makeshift tents as more Rohingya refugees continue to pour across the border seeking refuge.


Burundi:

Amnesty International has warned that Burundian refugees in Tanzania are being threatened with forced repatriation if they do not voluntarily apply to return to Burundi. Authorities have claimed that the security situation in Burundi has improved and that there is no reason for refugees not to return to their country of origin. Tanzanian officials have also reportedly been coercing refugees to return, while cuts in the UN Refugee Agency’s funds have left refugee camps short of assistance, leaving most refugees no option but to return.

Burundian Catholic bishops have called for inclusive dialogue to find a solution to the crisis in the country. Joachim Ntahondereye, the chief of the episcopal conference in Burundi, has said that dialogue is in the interest of all parties to the conflict and that war must be avoided. Burundian bishops have opposed President Nkurunziza since his controversial re-election for a third term, who described the move as illegal and as a threat to the fragile stability of the country. Burundi’s population is 62 percent Catholic and some protesters against the president have carried religious Catholic crosses in the demonstrations.


Central African Republic:

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in the CAR has calledfor increased funding for the Humanitarian Response Plan to avoid an escalation of the crisis that could threaten the stability of the whole region. The plan, which is aimed at protecting civilians who are targeted by armed groups, has only been funded by 30 percent of its original budget, compromising the assistance for half of the 2.4 million Central Africans that need it.

Thousands of refugees have fled the renewed violence in the CAR to neighboring Cameroon as UN aid agencies struggle to meet their needs. Gado refugee camp, where most Central Africans are seeking refuge, is currently sheltering 25,000 refugees, compared to the 1,000 that it sheltered in January. Moreover, health workers in the camp warn that children arriving at the camp show signs of severe malnutrition or are badly wounded by fighters when leaving the CAR for Cameroon.

UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng has raised an alarm on the escalation of the violence in a recent visit to the country. Dieng emphasized the importance of holding the perpetrators of crimes accountable to ensure the non-recurrence of crimes, and stated that the UN’s goal is to “explore ways to reduce inter-community tensions and ensure the protection of civilian populations.”

Stéphane Dujarric, UN Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, has said that new allegations of sexual abuse by the UN peacekeeping mission in the CAR (MINUSCA) have surfaced. The abuse is reported to have happened in the town of Bambari against a minor by UN peacekeepers. The alleged victim has received psychological and medical assistance and the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services has started an inquiry that will be referred to the CAR for further investigation.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

An attack on a UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) base in North Kivu this past Monday morning has killed two UN peacekeepers and injured several others. The Allied Democratic Forces are suspected to have carried out the attack and MONUSCO has deployed a new brigade in order to reinforce its presence and protect the population. This attack comes a month after another attack killed a UN peacekeeper in Mamundioma. The UN has created a board of inquiry to investigate the incident and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has noted that the attacks might constitute war crimes. Guterres has also urged armed groups to drop their weapons and Congolese authorities to carry out a proper investigation and hold the perpetrators accountable.


Iraq:

Since 2014, more than 5 million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes due to the conflict with the Islamic State (ISIL) in the country, according to the UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, on Wednesday. As fighting to recapture territory from ISIL has intensified during recent months, the numbers of displaced civilians within Iraq has risen significantly. More than half a million people fled Mosul during the recapture of the city late last year.


Kenya:

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga has pulled out of the 26 October election rerun. According to Odinga, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has refused to discuss the reforms proposed in order for the elections to be fair and free. The withdrawal left a situation of uncertainty in the country since the constitution says that no election can take place with only one candidate.

Kenya’s High Court ruled on Wednesday that a minor candidate could run in October’s presidential election after the withdrawal of Odinga’s candidacy. Besides Kenyatta and Odinga, none of the candidates who ran in the past election received more than one percent of the vote. The Supreme Court, however, had earlier ruled that the petitioner and the responder are the only ones who can stand in a rerun in the case of a challenging electoral outcome.

On Wednesday, more protests erupted after the parliament, which is dominated by the Jubilee party, passed a law stating if a candidate withdraws from the election, the other automatically wins the presidency.

A day after, the government banned protests in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu following weeks of demonstrations. Fred Matiangi, the security minister, said that the decision comes to protect the lives and properties of Kenyans as it identifies the demonstrations as a danger to public safety. The National Super Alliance had called for daily protests beginning next week in an effort to put pressure on electoral officials.


 Libya:

Early this week, it was reported that the recent wave of violent clashes in Sabratha rose the death toll to 43 and wounded as many as 340. Additionally, the city’s hospital was damaged in the fighting and is reportedly only partially functioning. The Ministry of Health reported in September that the wounded were being treated either at private clinics or at hospitals abroad.

On Tuesday, the UNSC delivered a presidential statement reopening a Libyan-led political process, as submitted by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The initiative is a Libyan-led peace process that includes the establishment of a unity government and an action plan that, among other things, includes preparations for the creation of a constitution.


Mali:

The UN Security Council (UNSC) has called on all parties to implement essential provisions from the peace agreement between the Malian government and the Plateforme and Coordination armed groups. The UNSC noted that the continuous delays have raised concerns over the security situation in Mali that could give rise to potential threats to terrorism and transnational organized crime throughout the Sahel.

Due to continuous violence and displacement in Mali, 165,000 children are expected to suffer from severe malnutrition within the next year, with an estimated 142,000 children already affected this year. The violence in northern Mali has caused disruptions in health services and access to water and sanitation, causing a greatest risk to children, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Although French peacekeepers have worked to stabilize Mali since 2013, there have been calls for intensified efforts to “build the resilience of families through improved food security, prevention and treatment of severe acute malnutrition”.


Nigeria:

On Monday, the Nigerian government began trials against more than 1,600 suspected Boko Haram members. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have notedthat fair trials for Boko Haram suspects are imperative. However, Amnesty International Nigeria’s Media Manager, Isa Sanusi, has reported that there are thousands of cases of arbitrary arrests where no evidence was provided and individuals were detained for years. Amnesty has also expressed concern in regards to the trials being held behind closed doors, stating that it prevents suspects from receiving access to public hearings.


Philippines:

ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) has stated that the Philippines’ grave human rights violations during its campaign against drugs should result in being removed from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The HRW Geneva advocacy director, John Fisher, noted the importance of a UNHRC member to “uphold the highest standards of human rights, and cooperation with the council”, something that Fisher believes President Rodrigo Duterte is not fulfilling. Fisher also addressed the issue of President Duterte denying the reported extrajudicial killings (EJKs) taking place in the country, stating that Duterte is following a “convenient” definition of EKJs based on the previous administration.

President Rodrigo Duterte announced his shift of small drug war targets to bigger networks and suppliers. Duterte said he will remove police from handling the drug war and instead place the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in charge. He admitted that there are lower death tolls during the PDEA’s operations than during police operations. Although it is unclear if his change in plan was due to international pressure, he specifically addressed the European Union’s focus on the rising death tolls during his speech.


South Sudan:

The Center for Peace and Justice (CPJ) has warned warring parties to not focus on division of wealth and power sharing during the upcoming peace revitalization forum organized by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional bloc that brings together Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. The CPJ has said that the discussion must prioritize solving the country’s conflict by addressing the suffering of civilians who are targeted by the warring parties themselves.


Sudan:

UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, Idriss Jazairy, has stated his approval of the United States’ (US) recent decision to lift sanctions against Sudan. Jazairy believes that this is a step in the right direction to fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda, specifically Goal 1, to eradicate poverty. However, both American and Sudanese actors have called on the United States to continue pressuring President Omar al-Bashir and his government to support peace and democratic changes, as well as ending the armed conflicts in Sudan.


Syria:

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported, that since the beginning of Operation Inherent Resolve in 2014, the US-led coalition has allegedly “unintentionally killed” at least 685 civilians in its military action against the Islamic State (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. However, other independent sources, such as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SORH), have reported numbers much higher. In an article published late last week, HRW argued for the responsibility of the US-led coalition towards these victims, who the coalition have reportedly regarded as collateral damage. HRW argued that the parties involved in the US-coalition have the responsibility to support the surviving victims of their actions with both symbolic gestures, such as a public apology, as well as materially, such as compensation payments.


Venezuela:

Colombian police from Cucutá, a town close to the border with Venezuela, have found a mass grave in Venezuelan territory. An investigation is set to begin soon, but authorities have given no information on which country will conduct it. Several non-governmental organizations and community members have denounced disappearances or killings of people who deal with smuggling on the border. Many criminal organizations operate throughout the more than 2,000 kilometers of border between Venezuela and Colombia.


Yemen:

On Wednesday, Reuters brought attention to the Saudi-led coalition’s military activity in the Red Sea, especially around the Houthi-controlled port Hodeidah, which they pursue with the aim of blocking weapons from reaching the Houthi rebels by ships. The military activity reportedly started in 2015, and Western governments approved the activity allegedly as a way to weaken the Houthi fighters and support the internationally recognized government. However, the blockade also stops ships from delivering essential goods, such as food and medical supplies, to Yemeni civilians, which has been of concern to the UN and international aid groups since the beginning of the blockade. Millions of Yemenis still suffer the consequences from this. According to the report, the Saudi-led blockade impeded or severely delayed ships carrying aid supplies and commercial goods from reaching Yemeni ports, even when the UN had cleared the vessels and assured that no weapons were found. Last week, Saudi ambassador to the UN Abdallah Al-Mouallimi denied that the coalition was blocking commercial shipments with food and medicine, stating that such acts would be self-contradictory since Saudi Arabia is donating humanitarian aid to Yemen. Meanwhile, the internationally recognized government of Yemen has also implemented forms of blockades, such as when the government notified the UN of its decision to block a Houthi-held oil port due to its “illegal status” last summer. Therefore, the Houthi-held areas especially suffer from a lack of essential goods due to the blockades.

In the wake of the recent blacklisting of the Saudi-led coalition by the United Nations, Matthew Rycroft, the permanent representative of the United Kingdom to the UN, reported that his government uses “extremely stringent measures” to ensure that the weapons sold to the coalition by the UK “are used correctly.” Reportedly, the UK’s biggest weapon’s client is Saudi Arabia, who purchased weapons worth four billion dollars during the past two years. However, the issue is heavily disputed within the UK; for example, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly condemned the government’s weapons sales to the coalition.

In this week’s UN Security Council briefing on Yemen, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed urged the members of the Security Council to pressure the parties to the conflict in Yemen to embrace a comprehensive peace deal, emphasizing that an agreement to secure access to humanitarian aid cannot be the end goal of efforts to protect the Yemeni civilians. In his briefing, Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed argued that the influential political parties to the conflict have an interest in prolonging the war, and thereby maintain a profitable position in which they have control. Furthermore, Director of Operations at the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) John Ging noted that the humanitarian response plan for Yemen, which has to reach 12 million people in need, is currently only 55 percent funded.

 

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#R2PWeekly: 9 – 13 October 2017

Rtop weekly

Concern grows over impact of security situation on
civilians in the DRC as elections pushed to 2019
Several non-governmental organizations, including ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW), have pushed for increased sanctions by the European Union (EU) and the United States on President Kabila’s financial associates and family members. The sanctions are reportedly aimed at showing Kabila that his “unconstitutional abuse of power” has real consequences. The International Contact Group for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, which includes the UN, the EU and the US, will meet on 12 October in The Hague to discuss the humanitarian crisis.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for MONUSCO, Maman Sambo Sidikou, has briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in the country. He warned the Council about the rising political uncertainty brought by the fact that elections will most likely not be held before the end of 2017. Sidikou also noted that the conditions necessary to hold elections are the “implementation of confidence-building measures, the opening of political space, and the full respect of human rights.” The UN has also warned that civil society activists, journalists, and political opponents are subjected to intimidation, violence, and harassment for their opinions regarding the political process. Sidikou also highlighted the impact of the security situation on civilians, with 8.5 million people in need of assistance and almost 4 million internally displaced.

The electoral commission has said that elections cannot be held until at least April 2019. In a recent statement, the commission argued that it needs around seventeen months to pass a new law “drawing elected representatives’ constituencies, obtaining voting materials and recruiting personnel”. The delay undermines the 31 December 2016 agreement made between President Kabila and the opposition parties, in which the opposition agreed that Kabila could stay in power with the condition that new elections would be scheduled before the end of 2017.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DRC
Iraq
Kenya 
Libya
Mali

Philippines
Nigeria
South Sudan 
Sudan
Syria
Venezuela
Yemen

 


Burma/Myanmar:

The UN Human Rights (OHCHR) office released a report on 11 October that outlined interviews conducted with Rohingya migrants who fled the violence in Rakhine State. The OHCHR reported that the alleged violence perpetrated by the Burmese military and Rakhine Buddhist militants against the Rohingya is “coordinated and systematic”. The witness accounts described a number of alleged human rights violations against the Muslim minority, including extrajudicial killings, ethnic cleansing, gender violence, and torture. The report also indicated that the violence may have been coordinated in an attempt to prevent migrants from returning to their homes after fleeing Rakhine by allegedly destroying crops, livestock, and other property. Furthermore, the report outlined reports of Burmese forces targeting Rohingya leaders in education, religion, and culture in the region. The OHCHR remains “gravely concerned” about the situation in Burma.

The government of Bangladesh announced on 11 October the formation of the “Citizen’s Commission for Investigating Genocide and Terrorism in Burma”. The group of 35 Bangladeshi citizens will investigate the credibility of reports of genocide in Rakhine State. Their report is expected to be released in early February.

Bangladesh announced its plan to build a refugee camp that will house more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees. The arrival of more than half a million Rohingya Muslims since 25 August has put an immense strain on the existing camps where there are growing fears of a disease outbreak. Bangladesh authorities want to expand the refugee camp in Kutupalong.

Aerial footage taken of a Bangladesh refugee camp in Cox Bazar shows the growing spread of shacks and makeshift tents as more Rohingya refugees continue to pour across the border seeking refuge.


Burundi:

Amnesty International has warned that Burundian refugees in Tanzania are being threatened with forced repatriation if they do not voluntarily apply to return to Burundi. Authorities have claimed that the security situation in Burundi has improved and that there is no reason for refugees not to return to their country of origin. Tanzanian officials have also reportedly been coercing refugees to return, while cuts in the UN Refugee Agency’s funds have left refugee camps short of assistance, leaving most refugees no option but to return.

Burundian Catholic bishops have called for inclusive dialogue to find a solution to the crisis in the country. Joachim Ntahondereye, the chief of the episcopal conference in Burundi, has said that dialogue is in the interest of all parties to the conflict and that war must be avoided. Burundian bishops have opposed President Nkurunziza since his controversial re-election for a third term, who described the move as illegal and as a threat to the fragile stability of the country. Burundi’s population is 62 percent Catholic and some protesters against the president have carried religious Catholic crosses in the demonstrations.


Central African Republic:

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in the CAR has calledfor increased funding for the Humanitarian Response Plan to avoid an escalation of the crisis that could threaten the stability of the whole region. The plan, which is aimed at protecting civilians who are targeted by armed groups, has only been funded by 30 percent of its original budget, compromising the assistance for half of the 2.4 million Central Africans that need it.

Thousands of refugees have fled the renewed violence in the CAR to neighboring Cameroon as UN aid agencies struggle to meet their needs. Gado refugee camp, where most Central Africans are seeking refuge, is currently sheltering 25,000 refugees, compared to the 1,000 that it sheltered in January. Moreover, health workers in the camp warn that children arriving at the camp show signs of severe malnutrition or are badly wounded by fighters when leaving the CAR for Cameroon.

UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng has raised an alarm on the escalation of the violence in a recent visit to the country. Dieng emphasized the importance of holding the perpetrators of crimes accountable to ensure the non-recurrence of crimes, and stated that the UN’s goal is to “explore ways to reduce inter-community tensions and ensure the protection of civilian populations.”

Stéphane Dujarric, UN Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, has said that new allegations of sexual abuse by the UN peacekeeping mission in the CAR (MINUSCA) have surfaced. The abuse is reported to have happened in the town of Bambari against a minor by UN peacekeepers. The alleged victim has received psychological and medical assistance and the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services has started an inquiry that will be referred to the CAR for further investigation.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

An attack on a UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) base in North Kivu this past Monday morning has killed two UN peacekeepers and injured several others. The Allied Democratic Forces are suspected to have carried out the attack and MONUSCO has deployed a new brigade in order to reinforce its presence and protect the population. This attack comes a month after another attack killed a UN peacekeeper in Mamundioma. The UN has created a board of inquiry to investigate the incident and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has noted that the attacks might constitute war crimes. Guterres has also urged armed groups to drop their weapons and Congolese authorities to carry out a proper investigation and hold the perpetrators accountable.


Iraq:

Since 2014, more than 5 million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes due to the conflict with the Islamic State (ISIL) in the country, according to the UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, on Wednesday. As fighting to recapture territory from ISIL has intensified during recent months, the numbers of displaced civilians within Iraq has risen significantly. More than half a million people fled Mosul during the recapture of the city late last year.


Kenya:

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga has pulled out of the 26 October election rerun. According to Odinga, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has refused to discuss the reforms proposed in order for the elections to be fair and free. The withdrawal left a situation of uncertainty in the country since the constitution says that no election can take place with only one candidate.

Kenya’s High Court ruled on Wednesday that a minor candidate could run in October’s presidential election after the withdrawal of Odinga’s candidacy. Besides Kenyatta and Odinga, none of the candidates who ran in the past election received more than one percent of the vote. The Supreme Court, however, had earlier ruled that the petitioner and the responder are the only ones who can stand in a rerun in the case of a challenging electoral outcome.

On Wednesday, more protests erupted after the parliament, which is dominated by the Jubilee party, passed a law stating if a candidate withdraws from the election, the other automatically wins the presidency.

A day after, the government banned protests in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu following weeks of demonstrations. Fred Matiangi, the security minister, said that the decision comes to protect the lives and properties of Kenyans as it identifies the demonstrations as a danger to public safety. The National Super Alliance had called for daily protests beginning next week in an effort to put pressure on electoral officials.


Libya:

Early this week, it was reported that the recent wave of violent clashes in Sabratha rose the death toll to 43 and wounded as many as 340. Additionally, the city’s hospital was damaged in the fighting and is reportedly only partially functioning. The Ministry of Health reported in September that the wounded were being treated either at private clinics or at hospitals abroad.

On Tuesday, the UNSC delivered a presidential statement reopening a Libyan-led political process, as submitted by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The initiative is a Libyan-led peace process that includes the establishment of a unity government and an action plan that, among other things, includes preparations for the creation of a constitution.


Mali:

The UN Security Council (UNSC) has called on all parties to implement essential provisions from the peace agreement between the Malian government and the Plateforme and Coordination armed groups. The UNSC noted that the continuous delays have raised concerns over the security situation in Mali that could give rise to potential threats to terrorism and transnational organized crime throughout the Sahel.

Due to continuous violence and displacement in Mali, 165,000 children are expected to suffer from severe malnutrition within the next year, with an estimated 142,000 children already affected this year. The violence in northern Mali has caused disruptions in health services and access to water and sanitation, causing a greatest risk to children, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Although French peacekeepers have worked to stabilize Mali since 2013, there have been calls for intensified efforts to “build the resilience of families through improved food security, prevention and treatment of severe acute malnutrition”.


Nigeria:

On Monday, the Nigerian government began trials against more than 1,600 suspected Boko Haram members. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have notedthat fair trials for Boko Haram suspects are imperative. However, Amnesty International Nigeria’s Media Manager, Isa Sanusi, has reported that there are thousands of cases of arbitrary arrests where no evidence was provided and individuals were detained for years. Amnesty has also expressed concern in regards to the trials being held behind closed doors, stating that it prevents suspects from receiving access to public hearings.


Philippines:

ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) has stated that the Philippines’ grave human rights violations during its campaign against drugs should result in being removed from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The HRW Geneva advocacy director, John Fisher, noted the importance of a UNHRC member to “uphold the highest standards of human rights, and cooperation with the council”, something that Fisher believes President Rodrigo Duterte is not fulfilling. Fisher also addressed the issue of President Duterte denying the reported extrajudicial killings (EJKs) taking place in the country, stating that Duterte is following a “convenient” definition of EKJs based on the previous administration.

President Rodrigo Duterte announced his shift of small drug war targets to bigger networks and suppliers. Duterte said he will remove police from handling the drug war and instead place the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in charge. He admitted that there are lower death tolls during the PDEA’s operations than during police operations. Although it is unclear if his change in plan was due to international pressure, he specifically addressed the European Union’s focus on the rising death tolls during his speech.


South Sudan:

The Center for Peace and Justice (CPJ) has warned warring parties to not focus on division of wealth and power sharing during the upcoming peace revitalization forum organized by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional bloc that brings together Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. The CPJ has said that the discussion must prioritize solving the country’s conflict by addressing the suffering of civilians who are targeted by the warring parties themselves.


Sudan:

UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, Idriss Jazairy, has stated his approval of the United States’ (US) recent decision to lift sanctions against Sudan. Jazairy believes that this is a step in the right direction to fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda, specifically Goal 1, to eradicate poverty. However, both American and Sudanese actors have called on the United States to continue pressuring President Omar al-Bashir and his government to support peace and democratic changes, as well as ending the armed conflicts in Sudan.


Syria:

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported, that since the beginning of Operation Inherent Resolve in 2014, the US-led coalition has allegedly “unintentionally killed” at least 685 civilians in its military action against the Islamic State (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. However, other independent sources, such as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SORH), have reported numbers much higher. In an article published late last week, HRW argued for the responsibility of the US-led coalition towards these victims, who the coalition have reportedly regarded as collateral damage. HRW argued that the parties involved in the US-coalition have the responsibility to support the surviving victims of their actions with both symbolic gestures, such as a public apology, as well as materially, such as compensation payments.


Venezuela:

Colombian police from Cucutá, a town close to the border with Venezuela, have found a mass grave in Venezuelan territory. An investigation is set to begin soon, but authorities have given no information on which country will conduct it. Several non-governmental organizations and community members have denounced disappearances or killings of people who deal with smuggling on the border. Many criminal organizations operate throughout the more than 2,000 kilometers of border between Venezuela and Colombia.


Yemen:
On Wednesday, Reuters brought attention to the Saudi-led coalition’s military activity in the Red Sea, especially around the Houthi-controlled port Hodeidah, which they pursue with the aim of blocking weapons from reaching the Houthi rebels by ships. The military activity reportedly started in 2015, and Western governments approved the activity allegedly as a way to weaken the Houthi fighters and support the internationally recognized government. However, the blockade also stops ships from delivering essential goods, such as food and medical supplies, to Yemeni civilians, which has been of concern to the UN and international aid groups since the beginning of the blockade. Millions of Yemenis still suffer the consequences from this. According to the report, the Saudi-led blockade impeded or severely delayed ships carrying aid supplies and commercial goods from reaching Yemeni ports, even when the UN had cleared the vessels and assured that no weapons were found. Last week, Saudi ambassador to the UN Abdallah Al-Mouallimi denied that the coalition was blocking commercial shipments with food and medicine, stating that such acts would be self-contradictory since Saudi Arabia is donating humanitarian aid to Yemen. Meanwhile, the internationally recognized government of Yemen has also implemented forms of blockades, such as when the government notified the UN of its decision to block a Houthi-held oil port due to its “illegal status” last summer. Therefore, the Houthi-held areas especially suffer from a lack of essential goods due to the blockades.

In the wake of the recent blacklisting of the Saudi-led coalition by the United Nations, Matthew Rycroft, the permanent representative of the United Kingdom to the UN, reported that his government uses “extremely stringent measures” to ensure that the weapons sold to the coalition by the UK “are used correctly.” Reportedly, the UK’s biggest weapon’s client is Saudi Arabia, who purchased weapons worth four billion dollars during the past two years. However, the issue is heavily disputed within the UK; for example, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly condemned the government’s weapons sales to the coalition.

In this week’s UN Security Council briefing on Yemen, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed urged the members of the Security Council to pressure the parties to the conflict in Yemen to embrace a comprehensive peace deal, emphasizing that an agreement to secure access to humanitarian aid cannot be the end goal of efforts to protect the Yemeni civilians. In his briefing, Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed argued that the influential political parties to the conflict have an interest in prolonging the war, and thereby maintain a profitable position in which they have control. Furthermore, Director of Operations at the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) John Ging noted that the humanitarian response plan for Yemen, which has to reach 12 million people in need, is currently only 55 percent funded.

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#RtoPWeekly: 25 – 29 September 2017

Untitled
 The ICRtoP and scores of NGOs around the world appeal for action in Burma

Since 25 August, over 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Burma to escape violence described by the United Nations as “ethnic cleansing.” Finally, on 28 September, the UN Security Council (UNSC) met for a public briefing by the UN Secretary-General on the situation in Burma for the first time in over eight years.

Ahead of this UNSC meeting, the ICRtoP and 87 other organizations from all over the globe signed an appeal calling for the UN, UN Security Council, and UN General Assembly to take action.

The appeal states:

UN member states should act to pressure Myanmar to end crimes against humanity

We, a global coalition of 88 civil society organizations, urgently call upon UN member states to take immediate steps to address the human rights abuses and humanitarian catastrophe engulfing Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya population. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein have described the Myanmar security forces’ ongoing campaign against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State as ethnic cleansing. As more evidence emerges, it is clear that the atrocities committed by Myanmar state security forces amount to crimes against humanity. The United Nations and its member states need to take urgent action.

We urge UN delegations, especially those from the 114 countries committed to the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Code of Conduct, who made a pledge to support “timely and decisive action” to prevent or end the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, to immediately undertake efforts to adopt a resolution in the UN General Assembly addressing the situation, and call upon the UN Security Council to consider measures to be imposed on the Myanmar government.

A General Assembly resolution should demand an immediate end to the abuses, that humanitarian aid agencies have immediate and unhindered access to populations in need, and for the UN Fact-Finding Mission authorized by the Human Rights Council in Geneva to be allowed unfettered access into and within Myanmar to investigate alleged human rights abuses across the country. It should also demand that the Myanmar authorities commit to ensuring that all Rohingya and other refugees and displaced people are able to return to their places of origin safely, voluntarily, and with dignity, and to dismantling the institutional discrimination and segregation of Rohingya and other Muslims in Rakhine State that forms the backdrop to the current crisis. The resolution should also urge member states and the Security Council to explore possible avenues to bring perpetrators of crimes under international law to justice.

We also urge members of the Security Council to add to the pressure on Myanmar authorities by seriously considering options such as an arms embargo against the military and targeted financial sanctions against individuals responsible for crimes and serious abuses.

All concerned UN member states should also consider bilateral, multilateral, and regional actions they can take to place added pressure on the Myanmar government. In particular, we call on all states to immediately suspend military assistance and cooperation with Myanmar.

If governments, UN officials and diplomats simply hold meetings and make speeches as atrocities continue in Myanmar, they bear the risk of failing to use every diplomatic tool at their disposal to stop the ethnic cleansing campaign and further crimes against humanity. In the face of mass destruction, killings and hundreds of thousands displaced, inaction should not be an option.

For the full text of the appeal and a complete list of  the signatories, please click here.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DRC
Iraq 
Kenya 
Nigeria
South Sudan 
Sudan
Syria
Venezuela
Yemen
Other 


Burma/Myanmar:

On 22 September, seven members of the UN Security Council asked Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to brief them on the situation in Burma. Those who initiated the request include the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Egypt, Sweden, Senegal, and Kazakhstan. The Security Council has met in private twice since conflict erupted in Burma on 25 August, and issued a statement last week condemning the violence. Members of the Security Council expressed interest in the passing of a resolution, but it is expected that in such an event, UNSC Permanent Members China and Russia would utilize their veto power.

In her speech to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) this week, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called upon the international community to create “safe zones” inside Burma where Rohingya migrants could return. ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged that the proposal be reconsidered, and referenced the acts of violence in safe zones in former Bosnia-Herzegovina and Sri Lanka.

The Burmese government has reported that they have discovered three mass graves with the remains of at least 45 Hindus in the Rakhine state. Burmese officials accused, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARCA) of being responsible for the murders. It is reported that Burmese forces recovered the remains of 20 women and eight boys, including six boys under the age of ten.  A third mass grave nearby contained the remains of 17 more Hindus, according to Burmese officials. Locals have reported that ARCA have abducted 100 Hindus, and killed all but eight women. ARCA also reportedly forced the women to convert to Islam.

On 25 September, HRW released a report accusing the Burmese security forces of atrocities, including rape, forced deportation, murder, and persecution against the Rohingya population in Burma. The alleged actions have resulted in countless deaths and mass displacement, according to HRW, and may amount to crimes against humanity. HRW has called for the “Security Council and concerned countries to impose target sanctions and an arms embargo on the Burmese military to stop further crimes.”

Doctors from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and from Doctors Without Borders have reported that have treated scores of Rohingya women for complications associated with rape and sexual violence. Pramila Patten, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence, expressed concern about the utilization of sexual violence against the Rohingya minority group. She reported that victims said sexual violence was being used as a “calculated tool of terror to force targeted populations to flee.” Almost all of the reports from migrants have claimed that sexual violence was perpetrated by individuals outfitted in Burmese military uniforms. The Burmese government dismissed the claims of sexual violence, and said that the reports were “militant propaganda.” UN investigators are set to examine the reports from migrant camps in Bangladesh.

According to HRW, the Burmese government has reportedly laid anti-personnel landmines on the border between Burma and Bangladesh, which are directly in the path of refugees fleeing violence in Rakhine State. HRW also urged the Burmese government to join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina spoke about the utilization of landmines by the Burmese government in her speech to the UNGA on 21 September. “At least five people have been killed and 12 injured from landmine blasts,” reported Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB). Even though Burma is not a party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, HRW noted that landmines are illegal because “they cannot discriminate between civilians and combatants.” Zaw Htay, spokesman for de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, claimed that Rohingya militants, like the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARCA), might be responsible for the placement of landmines on the border, while Rakhine State Security and Border Affairs Minister Col. Phone Tint directly accused ARCA for the placement of landmines.

Bangladesh has announced plans to build refugee camps specifically for Muslim children who have fled the violence in Rakhine State without parents. The number of child refugees in the Burmese conflict is estimated to be at six thousand. The Bangladeshi government believes that the separation of children into two groups — one group under the age of seven and the other from eight to eighteen years of age — would limit the amount of children becoming involved in criminal activity and being harmed.


Burundi:

On 23 September, the Minister for External Relations and International Cooperation of Burundi stressed the importance of the principle of sovereignty and non-interference at the General Assembly. The Minister called “attention to certain States, who even in the 21st century, believe they have the right to interfere in the internal affairs of other States, especially developing countries,” while also criticizing the European sanctions that have been imposed on his country.

Burundi has accused the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry into Burundi (CoI) of having a hidden agenda and of showing “affection and sympathy for the insurgents by refusing to investigate the crimes that they committed,” rejecting the report that the commission presented on 19 September. The European Union (EU) has supported the referral of the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and has stated that the East African Community should have a role in mediation. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), however, joined Burundi in calling the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) a politicized body.

The UNHRC was expected to back an EU resolution on 28 September to expand the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry, but a group of African countries had its own meeting a day before and unveiled a rival resolution that did not mention the renewal of the CoI. Diplomats from the EU, United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and other expressed their concern, and the EU representative said that Burundi attended meetings where the EU resolution was discussed but had never raised any concerns. Burundi’s sudden willingness to cooperate with the UN, when it had always rejected the organization’s efforts to do so, has been viewed with suspicion. John Fisher, Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, has asserted that Burundi’s sudden switch to cooperation is not credible in light of its permanent refusal to accept the CoI.


Central African Republic: 

President Touadera said in a recent speech to the UN Human Rights Council that peace in CAR will only be achieved by combating impunity and holding perpetrators of crimes accountable. He added that the crisis in the country has weakened the judiciary and consequently, “has paved the way for people to carry out their own justice.” Touadera remarked that there is no contradiction between peace and justice but, instead, they are complementary.
On 22 September, President Touadera stated to the UN General Assembly that his main commitment was to ensuring the success of peace efforts, but also acknowledged that neither the country nor the UN Peacekeeping Mission in CAR (MINUSCA) has had the capacity to do so. He has stated that he will also “seek greater dialogue with regional actors in hopes they would provide political support for the road map for peace and national reconciliation.”
On the same day, militants that experts believe to be part of the anti-Balaka militant group attacked a MINUSCA convoy, wounding one peacekeeper.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has warned that the situation in CAR has deteriorated since the beginning of September, especially in the western part of the country. In a report, the organization stated that armed groups have taken control of several areas, causing large numbers of displacement and attacking humanitarian workers. Najat Rochdi, the UN humanitarian coordinator in CAR, has announced that, to date, only 30 percent of the humanitarian funding needed in in CAR has been secured, and has called for the international community to provide assistance to the country’s population.

Cameroon has closed its border with CAR after the recent escalation of violence has resulted in kidnappings of Cameroon citizens by armed rebels. It is feared that food shortages will increase in CAR if the border remains closed as Cameroon supplies most food and consumer goods to the war-torn country.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

President Kabila told the UN General Assembly on 22 September that holding elections in the country is presenting major security and logistic challenges, but that he is confronting them. Kabila has also defended the military campaign in the Kasai Region, but the UN has stated it “resulted in hundreds of extrajudicial killings”. The president also stated that the killings of two UN workers in the country will not go unpunished.

Zambia has received more than 6,000 refugees from the DRC in just one month, according to the country’s president. Spokesman Amos Chanda has warned that “the refugee situation could escalate and lead to a serious humanitarian crisis” and that around 500 people have entered the country in the last week. The presidents of Angola and South Africa have joined in saying that the situation is worrying and that an all-inclusive election is needed in the DRC to heal the tensions. The chief representative of the UNHCR in Zambia has said that “it is the government of the DRC that is said to be persecuting its own people by killing, maiming and torching houses, as well as committing rape and looting food stored in granaries”. The representative has warned that the armed forces are increasingly targeting civilian populations because they cannot differentiate between those that belong to the insurgency and those who do not.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the DRC to release nine activists arrested in July when they were participating in reportedly “peaceful protests”. HRW has denounced that the nine are among hundreds of others that have been arrested since 2015 “as part of the Congolese government’s widespread crackdown on people who have opposed President Joseph Kabila’s effort to remain in power beyond his constitutionally mandated two-term limit”. HRW has claimed that the government of the DRC has targeted opposition members, including leaders, journalists, supporters or anyone with a possible link to the opposition.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has warned that 1 million people are “severely food insecure” and around 400,000 children are at risk of malnutrition in the Kasai region. Between the months of June and August, 6,800 people have fled the region and since the conflict began the nearly 630,000 people have been displaced. The organization has warned that there are “no formal camps or sites hosting the displaced people around Kananga” and only 37 percent of the funds needed for the region have been received.

Kate Gilmore, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, has accused the government of the DRC of “turning a blind eye to systematic and gross violations of human rights committed by its security forces”. A recent report from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has also argued that the justice system in the country is not independent and “allows impunity to flourish”, which has led to further violence. In what has been a change of the official position of the government, the Minister of Human Rights Marie-Ange Mushobekwa has told the UNHRC that the DRC would “welcome investigations in the Kasai region by the international team of experts appointed by the Council”.


Iraq:

Late last week, the UN Security Council (UNSC) unanimously voted to establish a UN investigation team to support Iraq in securing evidence for acts committed by the Islamic State (ISIL), which “may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide”. The United Kingdom, who drafted the resolution, has also promised to contribute a significant amount of financial resources to support the initiative. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called this resolution a “landmark”. However, the resolution has nevertheless received criticism by Amnesty International for being “flawed” and for cultivating a “dangerous culture of impunity”’ at the UN. Since the resolution falls short of including any provisions of ensuring accountability for parties who are not ISIL, for instance Iraqi government forces and their allies, Amnesty has expressed fears that this will “send a dangerous message” to all other parties to the conflict, that would therefore presume impunity. In the meantime, Amnesty has documented a range of serious violations of international humanitarian law reportedly carried out by Iraqi and coalition forces in the country.

On Monday, Kurdish officials stated that 3.9 million Iraqi Kurds were registered to vote at the referendum on Kurdish independence in Northern Iraq, and early counting of 300,000 ballots showed 93 percent of votes were in favor of independence. However, the Iraqi Kurds face severe threats of isolation from both the government in Baghdad and their neighboring states, including Turkey, as a response to the referendum. Iran has called the referendum “illegal and illegitimate” and has, following orders from Iraq, closed off its border with the Turkish region. On Tuesday, it was reported that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan expressed harsh comments towards the Iraqi Kurds, stating that they “would go hungry”, if he were to decide to impose sanctions on the flow of oil across the border, as well as warning that “all military and economic measures were on the table,” if the Kurds do not call off the referendum. However, this referendum remains extremely important to many Iraqi Kurds, and has been seen as an expression of long-standing grievances of the Kurdish population in Iraq towards the government.


Kenya:

Kenyan police have used tear gas to disperse protests that took place in front of the electoral commission this week. The protests included both ruling party supporters, who do not support a change in the electoral body, and opposition supporters, who demand the resignation and prosecution of officials from the electoral commission. The protests took place a month before elections are set to be held on 27 October 2017.

Around 270 suspects have been taken to court for hate speech in the wake of the elections. Irene Wanyoike, the Vice Chairperson of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, has warned that “the rising cases of hate speech by senior politicians could sink the country into anarchy”. Most of the detained used social media platforms to spread hate speech, according to  Wanyoike.

Kenya’s opposition has quit talks on how a rerun of the presidential election will be managed. The ruling Jubilee Party proposed a law that includes “enabling commissioners to appoint a new chairman and reducing the number of people required to make a quorum”, which the opposition has claimed is an attempt to bring the country to a “single-party dictatorship”. The proposed law would also “stop the court from invalidating results if the electronic transmission again fails to work smoothly,” according to the opposition. The ruling party has faulted the Supreme Court for not explaining how the illegalities they cited interfered in the elections.


Nigeria:

The Presidential Panel of Investigation in Nigeria has reviewed alleged human rights abuses in Port Harcourt by the Nigerian military. The panel heard individual and group accounts over alleged human rights violations from the 25 – 28 September.

Nigeria is set to put 1,600 Boko Haram-affiliated suspects on trial. The trial is said to begin 9 October and the suspects will appear in front of four judges.

Human Rights Watch has reported that Cameroonian forces sent 100,000 Nigerian asylum-seekers back to northern Nigeria, which still has a strong Boko Haram presence. According to international law, this makes the Cameroonian government in violation of non-refoulement laws, or the prohibition of forcible return of refugees to areas of violence. After surveying 61 asylum seekers and refugees, Human Rights Watch also documented numerous reports of assault, violence, and harassment against Nigerians allegedly perpetrated by Cameroonian forces.


South Sudan:

Forces loyal to former First Vice-President Riek Machar have captured 14 government officials and have claimed that the officials pose a security threat and will therefore be treated as war criminals.

President Kiir has stated that dialogue is the best option to end the conflict in South Sudan and has vowed to end military confrontations between rebels and government forces. The statement comes weeks after the United States imposed sanctions on three of Kiir’s allies for their involvement in fueling corruption and war in the country. However, David Shearer, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for South Sudan, has warned that the “parties have shown little interest in engaging in serious negotiations on the way forward, despite the various initiatives aimed at finding a political solution to the conflict.” Shearer has urged international partners to support the peace process, noting that there are only a few months remaining of the transitional period as agreed in the peace deal. He also warned that the humanitarian situation has deteriorated, with civilians and aid convoys now also being targeted.


Sudan:

The Sudanese government has submitted a draft resolution to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) with the United States on the human rights situation in Sudan. However, this draft was met with criticism from the European Union, who have claimed that the draft does not include enough efforts to improve human rights in the country.

ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) has emphasized the importance of the UNHRC to strengthen scrutiny of the situation in Sudan. “The situation in Sudan continues to warrant a Council mandated Special Rapporteur under Item 4 to monitor and publicly report on violations of human rights and humanitarian law in all parts of the country,” accord to HRW. Requests have also reportedly been made to the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights to “urgently dispatch investigation teams, with expertise in sexual and gender-based violence, to investigate crimes under international law and serious violations and abuses of human rights in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile”.


Syria:

In March this year, the anti-Islamic State (ISIL) coalition’s Combined Joint Task Forcelaunched two aerial attacks near Raqqa which killed at least 84 civilians, including 30 children, when allegedly targeting a civilian areas, such as a school, which housed displaced families at that time, as well as a marketplace and a bakery. In a report released on 25 September, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has questioned the coalition’s ability and will to abide by the international humanitarian law principles of precaution and proportionality in these attacks. The report has claimed that, while ISIL fighters were present at the given locations at the time, so too were dozens, or perhaps even hundreds, of civilians. The coalition has acknowledged that it attacked the school in Mansourah, but it claims that the location at the time was believed to be an ISIL headquarter with no civilians present. On this note, the HRW has also expressed deep concerns as to the coalition’s methods of ascertaining numbers of civilians in the vicinity of a given target area and the process for taking all feasible precautions when launching these attacks in March. If the coalition failed to do so, the HRW has stated that the coalition may have broken the principle of proportionality in these attacks.

Pro-government and Russian forces allegedly carried out five airstrikes throughout the past week in opposition-held Idlib in northern Syria. Civilian defense workers and other humanitarian aid workers have documented the destruction of six hospitals and five defense centers, and reported at least 150 civilians killed. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) called the attacks “the most dramatic, sustained attacks on Syria’s health care system since the spring de-escalation agreement in Idlib went into effect.” The agreement to set up de-escalation zones was signed by Russia, Turkey and Iran in Astana in May this year, and, at the time was heavily criticized by the Syrian opposition for not securing safety. While the PHR called the strikes on civilian health facilities a direct strategy, the Russian defense ministry has denied directly attacking civilian facilities and stated it had attacked “hard-line Islamist militants”.


Venezuela:

The opposition has stated that it will not join the scheduled talks with Nicolás Maduro’s government, claiming that the “government has not made enough progress on issues such as human rights to warrant full bilateral talks”. Talks between the opposition and government were held in 2016 under the auspices of the Vatican, but ended because the opposition claimed that the government was using the talks as a delaying tactic.


Yemen:

The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) met this week in Geneva to yet again attempt to set up an independent inquiry for investigation of alleged abuses by all parties to the conflict in Yemen. Human Rights Watch (HRW) referred to this meeting as a “chance to change course” for the UNHRC. HRW has also emphasized the urgency of the matter, by taking note of the ever-increasing support for such an inquiry by Member States within and outside the UNHRC, including the Netherlands, Canada and Belgium. Further support has also come from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, more than a 100 international, regional, and Yemeni rights organizations, the former head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and 14 major humanitarian organizations.

As such discussions began at the UNHRC, Saudi Arabia objected to the resolution on an independent inquiry into potential crimes in Yemen and reportedly also threatened other states, stating that the decision to send such an inquiry to Yemen could negatively affect diplomatic relations and trade. In lieu of the independent inquiry, Saudi Arabia and its allies instead proposed that the UN should send experts to assist the Yemeni human rights commission. The text proposed by Saudi-Arabia “offers more of the same” and cannot replace an international independent commission, according to HRW Advocacy Director John Fisher.


Other:

The Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre will be conducting a course on the Responsibility to Protect in Ghana from 13 – 24 November 2017. This course aims at training African policymakers, government officials, military, police and civil society personnel about RtoP and its implementation. The deadline for applications is 30 September. For more information on the course and how to apply, please click here.

 

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