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.
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Gaza/ West Bank
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.