Iraq: Coordinated offensive to retake Mosul from ISIL puts over 1.5 million civilians at risk
The Iraqi military, in conjunction with a US-led coalition, Kurdish Peshmerga forces, Sunni tribal fighters, and Shia paramilitary militias, initiated a long-awaited offensive on Sunday to retake the country’s second largest city of Mosul. The city was forcefully taken by the Islamic State (ISIL) in the summer of 2014 and has since acted as a symbol of their ability to control large swaths of territory in the country and has served as the capital of their proclaimed caliphate in Iraq.
The offensive is expected to take approximately two weeks to reach the city center and an additional two months to eliminate the threat of the approximately 4,000-8,000 ISIL fighters defending Mosul. The Under-Secretary-General for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has appealed for all sides of the conflict to prioritize the protection of an estimated 1.5 million civilians living in the city. OCHA has noted that shelter for approximately 60,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) is currently available while the construction of additional sites with the capacity for 250,000 more IDPs is in progress.
Since the offensive began, there have been few reports of residents fleeing the city, which has stirred fears that civilians are being forcefully kept within city limits to be used by ISIL as human shields as Iraqi-led forces close in. Additionally, Amnesty International released a report on Tuesday detailing accounts of torture, forced disappearance, and revenge attacks against ethnic and religious minorities committed by ISIL, pro-government militias, and Iraqi government forces during similar operations this year such as the liberation of Fallujah. The report recommends that appropriate safety measures be implemented so as to avoid the same attacks throughout the ongoing Mosul offensive. However, reports have emerged of yet unverified videos of Iraqi soldiers and allied militias committing human rights violations against civilians fleeing the northern city of Mosul. The videos allegedly show Iraqi soldiers interrogating a child to find out if his family are members of ISIL, including allegedly beating, kicking, and threatening the child when his answers are supposedly deemed unsatisfactory by the soldiers.
OCHA has reported that approximately 1,900 displaced persons, mostly women and children, arrived at camps in the area south of Mosul this week, with an additional 900 refugees crossing the western border into Syria. While food rations for 220,000 families are ready for distribution and 143,000 sets of emergency household items are stocked, funding from donor countries has been insufficient to prepare for successive waves of refugees that are expected as conflict closes in on Mosul.
Source for above photo of civilians fleeing Mosul: AP via BBC News
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The number of villagers forced to flee their homes in Rakhine State, in western Burma, has now reached over 1,000 as Burmese security forces continue to search for those responsible for attacking border posts on 9 October. Burmese authorities claim that a radical islamist militant organization is behind the attack and for the past week have dispatched security forces to sweep the area, while also increasing their numbers. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has had its movements restricted since the start of the operation, while sources have reported that at least 50 members of the persecuted Rohingya minority have been killed, with over 200 buildings burnt and destroyed. A UN official reported on Tuesday that the violence and military restrictions imposed after the raids has stopped aid agencies from delivering food and medical aid to the region, where international human rights organizations have warned that civilians have been caught up in the violence and following military crackdown. Rohingya activists have accused the country’s security forces of carrying out a counterinsurgency campaign aimed at civilians, including the burning of Rohingya homes, but the accounts have yet to be independently verified. However, Fortify Rights, an international advocacy group, has reported that witnesses interviewed by the group have described apparent extrajudicial killings being carried out by the military. It was reported on Wednesday that up to 3,000 people have been displaced, with 1,000 seeking refuge in the state’s capital of Sittwe.
On Wednesday, members of Myanmar’s Rakhine advisory commission, established by the government in August and led by Kofi Annan, met with government officials to discuss and assess the situation in the state. While Kofi Annan was not in attendance, the commission was able to meet with members of the ministries of defense and home affairs.
Late last week, the Security Council decided to dispatch a UN special envoy to Burundi for political talks. The envoy, Jamal Benomar, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General for Conflict Prevention, will consult with the Burundian government on the political crisis in the country and try to move forward towards a peaceful solution. In a unanimous statement from the Security Council the members said that the UN envoy has their “full support” and that they hope the disagreement will be resolved swiftly.
The President of the Human Rights Council met with the Permanent Representative of Burundi to the UN in Geneva late last week to discuss the country’s response to the UN report. He also expressed his concerns about the government’s decisions to ban UN experts and suspend cooperation with the UN Office for Human Rights, underlining the importance for cooperation between the country and the UN.
On Tuesday, the president of Burundi signed legislation to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). He decided to approve the legislation as it won overwhelming support in the country’s parliament. According to the government, the withdrawal is solely “for national sovereignty”. Opposition parties and members of civil society, however, claim that the decision is proof of guilt for the crimes against humanity committed by Burundi and they have urgedthat sanctions be imposed following the decision. ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch hasargued that behind the rhetoric of such threats to withdraw from the ICC is “a crude attempt to protect members of the police, military, and intelligence services who have committed the worst crimes.”
Central African Republic:
On Saturday, 11 people died as gunmen opened fire on a camp for internally displaced persons in Ngakboo. This comes in the wake of the deaths of 30 people in an attack last week when a primarily Muslim militia group targeted both civilians and UN peacekeepers. MINUSCA has strongly condemned both attacks, stating that those responsible may face charges of war crimes.
Armed groups attacked a number of convoys from the UN mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) throughout the week. On Tuesday, MINUSCA condemned the continuous targeting of peacekeepers in the country and called them “cowardly and irresponsible actions”. Rebel groups have also continued to attack aid groups, resulting in the diminished access for the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Small protests were held in Abidjan following last week’s approval by Parliament of a new draft constitution. The protesters, which reportedly amounted to around 50 people, were met by police in riot gear who fired tear gas and arrested some, including opposition political leaders. Protesters convened ahead of the referendum on the constitution, which will be held on 30 October, to denounce what they feel has been a secretive drafting process. While the draft constitution seeks to make changes to the nationality issues facing prospective presidential candidates, an issue which has been at the heart of political crises in the country, some are concerned about other elements within the draft that are feared to increase the power of the president. This includes decreasing the number of votes needed to support amendments by the President, as well as removing the age limit, currently at 75 years, which would enable current the president to run again in the next election.
Democratic Republic of Congo:
On Sunday, the government officially announced the delay of the presidential election until April 2018, against constitutional restrictions on presidential term limits. The election was originally scheduled to take place next month, but has been postponed by the government, which has cited an inadequate voter registry and lack of funds as the main reasons for the delay. The main opposition parties refused to participate in the talks leading to Sunday’s decision, which they view as a thinly-veiled attempt by President Joseph Kabila to retain power beyond his second and constitutionally-mandated final term as leader of the DRC.
A signed agreement emerged from the DRC’s “national dialogue” on Tuesday that will keep President Joseph Kabila in office beyond the constitutional limit. However, due to a lack of participation of many of the key opposition parties, opposition leaders have appealed for an interim president who would helm the country as it prepares for the delayed elections.
The opposition responded to the government’s announcements by calling for general strikes for Wednesday, which took place in the capital city of Kinshasa. The streets in the city of 10 million people were virtually empty as most shops closed their doors in a gesture of protest to Tuesday’s national dialogue agreement.
A team of prosecutors from the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrived in the DRC on Sunday for a five-day visit to monitor the ongoing political unrest in the country. The ICC has said that last month’s clashes between political protesters and government security forces, which led to several deaths, could be constituted as war crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC. The team of prosecutors met with government officials, political parties, civil society members, and the media.
Congolese politician Jean-Pierre Bemba was convicted by the International Criminal Court on Wednesday of crimes involving witness tampering and bribing. The crimes occurred during a previous trial for which Bemba was accused and convicted of war crimes for leading a four month campaign of rape and murder in the Central African Republic over a decade ago. Bemba is currently serving an 18 year sentence for the aforementioned war crimes conviction.
The European Union (EU) and the Palestinian Ministry of Social Development (MoSD)introduced a program to strengthen “social protection systems” in Palestine. The program aims to support the MoSD in its mission to eradicate poverty and strengthen the government’s ability to provide services for its people in order to support “a future Palestinian State.”
Several NGOs operating in and around Gaza have expressed concerns over a recent spike in travel restrictions by the Israeli government. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) saw an increase from 3% to 65% of travel permit denials from January to August of this year.
The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien, has estimated in a briefing to the UN Security Council that approximately 2.3 million Palestinians, out of a total population of 4.8 million, are in immediate need of humanitarian assistance.
Airstrikes by the US-led coalition increased in the besieged northern city of Mosul in advance of the Iraqi offensive to retake the city from ISIL. More than 50 airstrikes specifically targeting ISIL in Mosul have been conducted in the last two weeks. Iraqi ground troops, including special forces units, are reportedly taking up positions in areas south and east of the main city.
The Islamic State (ISIL) executed 58 members of its own organization who allegedly were part of a plot to aid the Iraqi military in retaking the northern city of Mosul. The victims are said to have been drowned and buried in a mass grave outside of the city.
On Monday, the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) released a statement saying that US air forces launched 36 airstrikes against ISIL in the city of Sirte over the weekend, bringing the total number of conducted airstrikes to retake the city to 324.
The Presidential Guard of Libya released a statement on Sunday saying that they would no longer support the UN-backed Presidency Council as they had failed to uphold their promises. Instead, they confirmed their backing of the General National Congress. The High Council of State vowed that those from the Guard who cease support for the government will be arrested.
The UN envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, has condemned the attempted coup in the country where a rival administration to the UN-backed government seized control over several key government buildings. The rebels behind the attack proclaimed a former administration as the legitimate regime. Martin Kobler called for cessation of hostilities for the sake of the people.
Over the weekend, Nigeria’s restive ‘middle-belt’ once again became a flashpoint for communal violence as a mob of farmers attacked a group of Fulani herdsmen, killing 14 people. The violence broke out between the Muslim Fulani herdsmen and primarily Christian farmers over disagreements on the use of land for either farming or pastoral purposes.
The same faction of Boko Haram which released 21 of the roughly 200 girls kidnapped from their school in Chibok in 2014 last week has announced they are willing to negotiate over the release of an additional 83 of the girls. Rifts in the movement have recently come to the forefront as the group has apparently divided over adherence to orders from ISIL. Over the past week, the group has come under renewed pressure from a Nigerian government offensive on one of its last strongholds in the Sambisa forest.
Rebels loyal to former First Vice President Riek Machar attacked government troops during the weekend, resulting in the deaths of at least 60 fighters, according to a spokesman for the SPLA. The clash took place near the city of Malakal, which is the town closest to the oil field in the region and brings in a lot of revenue for the government. After the attacks, the government decided to deploy extra troops by the oil field. A spokesperson for the rebel group denied the accusations, saying they only target government troops.
Riek Machar said he is prepared to go back to full-scale war if the peace deal with the government from August can not be revived. In an interview, Machar said his movement is reorganizing itself to launch an armed resistance against President Salva Kiir and his government. On Tuesday, speaking from South Africa, Machar stated his intention to return to South Sudan sometime in the near future, maybe as early as next month, iterating his belief that rebels in the SPLM-IO loyal to him could still come to terms with the South Sudanese government. President Kiir has stated he is open to Mr. Machar’s return to South Sudan under the condition that Machar make a pledge to renounce violence and fully support the implementation of the 2015 peace agreement. The spokesman for the president added that Mr. Machar should not return to South Sudan before the 2018 elections.
Officials from the South Sudanese government earlier accused the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) of harbouring rebels in sites designated for the protection of civilians. On Tuesday, the mission released a statement expressing their concerns over how such suspicions discredit the neutrality of their operations. The statement stressed that the mission only follows its given mandate and that strict security measures are in place to make sure people who enter such sites are not carrying weapons of any kind.
Hervé Ladsous, the UN peacekeeping chief, told the UN Security Council (UNSC) this week that the deployment of 4,000 additional peacekeepers to UNMISS is being delayed as much as possible by the South Sudanese government. He called for an arms embargo to be implemented as both sides in the conflict are violating human rights. The Russian representative, whose country holds veto power in the UNSC, replied that Russia will not support an arms embargo on South Sudan.
The UN’s Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Ms. Rita Izsak-Ndiaye, has called on the government of Sri Lanka to put in place “some urgent, important and concrete measures to clearly demonstrate its political will and commitment to better protect the dignity, identity, equality” of minority populations in the country. Ms. Izsak-Ndiaye’s ten-day visit to Sri Lanka follows complaints by Tamil and Muslim minorities of rights violations, and claims that little has changed in the former war zones in the north and east of the country.
Amnesty International has launched a new initiative, the Decode Darfur Interactive Platform, which will enable volunteers to review and analyze satellite imagery in areas of Sudan which are suspected to have been subject to chemical weapons attacks. Anyone with an internet connection is now able to conduct comparative analysis of vast areas of the Jebel Marra region. Concrete evidence of the attacks is extremely difficult to come by as the Sudanese government staunchly restricts media and humanitarian access to these areas.
A failed peace attempt last week between the Ma’alia and Rizeigat pastoralist tribes hasstirred fears that violence is imminent in East Darfur. Livestock theft is a major contributing cause to the conflict and has led to several deadly clashes that have occurred in recent years.
Multilateral peace talks, which included the US, UK, Russia, Turkey, Qatar and Iran, ended in Lausanne, Switzerland on Saturday without reaching any resolution to the conflict in Syria. Key points of contention, such as the continued bombardment of Aleppo by Russia and the Syrian regime, as well as the lack of civilian access to humanitarian aid, have prevented talks from moving forward. The US and UK have threatened to impose new sanctions on Russia and Syria should indiscriminate attacks on Aleppo continue.
The humanitarian situation
Russia announced plans on Monday for a “humanitarian pause” in its bombing campaign of rebel-held areas of eastern Aleppo for eight hours in order to allow for civilians and rebel opposition to vacate the city, which went into effect on Thursday morning as Syria and Russia announced the opening of two exit corridors in northern Aleppo. The announcement of the pause was welcomed by the United Nations, however no deal has yet been reached to deliver food and water to areas ravaged by fighting. Opposition rebels say they are preparing for an offensive to break the current siege on the city.
The US and UK have rejected Russia’s offer for a temporary ceasefire in Aleppo to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to ravaged areas as well as allow for the safe departure of civilians and rebels from the city. The US State Department described the proposal as “too little, too late”, while the United Nations noted that a longer cessation of hostilities would be necessary to adequately deliver humanitarian aid throughout the city.
An attack on a primary health care facility in Hama killed five people, including two children and two women, on Saturday. The facility, which was providing an estimated 900 monthly consultations, is now out of service as a result. More than 90 attacks on health facilities have occurred in Syria this year.
Airstrikes carried out by Russian or Syrian warplanes once again targeted the M10 hospital in eastern Aleppo late last week. There were no deaths reported in the “bunker buster” airstrike, however, two doctors and a pharmacist were injured in the attack. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad referred to the aerial campaign over Aleppo as a “cleaning” of the city to use it as a springboard to retake other regions of the country in a recent interview with Russian media.
Fourteen members of one family, including eight children and two women, were killed by Russian air strikes over Aleppo on Monday. The aerial attacks occurred in the al-Marja district of the city.
Twenty members of the Islamic State (ISIL) were killed in Syria by US-led coalition airstrikes between Monday and Tuesday. The targeted attacks destroyed two ISIL-held defensive positions and three vehicles.
Turkish airstrikes killed at least 200 Kurdish militia members in two areas north of Aleppo on Wednesday. The strikes targeted shelters, ammunition dumps, and the headquarters of Syrian Kurdish forces, which were all destroyed in the attack.
Representatives from the UK and the US met on Sunday to discuss the situation in Yemen and called for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. The decision came following the bombing on a funeral ceremony for a rebel commander last weekend where more than 140 people died. Saudi Arabia first denied involvement in the bomb, but admitted that misinformation and abuse of procedure had been the reason for the incident. The British minister for the Middle East stated that the bomb was due to a “deliberate error made by an individual” and he added that disciplinary actions would take place. As the crisis deepens it is “causing increasing international concern” and the international community has called for the two sides to lay down their weapons and join at the negotiation table. Saudi Arabia agreed to a ceasefire as long as the Houthi rebels will accept freedom for the country.
On Monday, the UN announced that a 72-hour ceasefire would go into effect in Yemen starting at 23:59 local time on Wednesday and would be open for possible renewal. The announcement of the ceasefire came in the wake of strong international pressure from the US and the UK. It is hoped that the truce will make it possible for humanitarian actors to deliver aid and for peace talks to be resumed. An official from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), stated that the organization will focus mainly on reaching previously unreachable parts of the town of Taiz to deliver relief to the many people in need.
Heavy fighting erupted hours before the ceasefire began as the Saudi-led coalition launched several airstrikes on heavily populated regions. The bombs killed and wounded a large number of civilians, according to the official media wing of the Yemeni Republican Guard. As of Thursday afternoon, the ceasefire was said to have been holding, although all eyes will be on the parties to see whether they will keep to the truce, since previous attempts have been deemed unsuccessful.
What else is new?
On 8 September, the ICRtoP, the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung and the Stanley Foundation hosted a panel discussion, entitled “Overcoming Barriers: Civil Society Perspectives on Implementing R2P”. The event was a follow-up to the eighth annual UN General Assembly informal, interactive dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect and focused on how RtoP is implemented on the ground and how actions taken by local stakeholders can actively strengthen and reinforce national and international efforts to uphold RtoP. The conversation also sought to identify and reflect on recommendations for the international community to implement to improve preventive measures and enhance civilian protection. To read the full summary of the event, please click here.
On 14 October, the UN Development Programme released its annual report on its Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding Work in the Asia Pacific for the year of 2016. The report highlights and summarizes how the consolidation of Governance and Conflict Prevention initiatives has led to a multitude of diverse regional initiatives.The full report can be read here.
The UN’s Organisation for Migration (IOM) has released a new report detailing the ordeal of migrants arriving in Europe by boat from North Africa. The IOM’s survey found that nearly 70% of all migrants who travel the overland north African route to reach Europe have become victims of human trafficking, organ trafficking, or exploitation. The full report can be read here.
On 15 October, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Francois Lounceny Fall as his acting special representative for Central Africa and head of the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA). UNOCA has the responsibility of assisting Member States in the region in consolidating peace and preventing future conflicts.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has released a new special human rights report, which has found that the suicide bombing attack on a peaceful demonstration in Kabul deliberately targeted civilians and could amount to a war crime. The attack, which killed 85 people and injured over 400 others, is the single deadliest civilian casualty incident in Afghanistan since 2009, when UNAMA began documenting civilian casualties in the country. Furthermore, the report found that the attacks seem to have been targeting “persons belonging to a specific ethnic and religious community.” To read the full UNAMA report, please click here.