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#RtoP Weekly: 01 – 05 April

Weekly

This week in focus:
Recognizing Genocide Awareness Month

Recognizing Genocide Awareness Month, the ICRtoP team will mark the occasion with a series of infographics. With the first week of Genocide Awareness Month, we are taking a look at the first modern genocide of the 20th century: the Armenian Genocide.

The Armenians are an ethnic group traditionally residing in the area between the Southern Caucuses into Eastern Anatolia, Turkey. Prior to World War I (WWI), Armenians were a sizeable ethnic and religious minority living within the Ottoman Empire. Practicing a branch of Orthodox Christianity, the Armenian’s beliefs set them apart from the Empire’s predominantly Turkic Muslim ruling class. Despite these differences, the Armenians lived relatively peacefully within the Empire for much of its existence.

In 1908, the Young Turks Revolution established a constitutional government in the Ottoman Empire. Though the Young Turks’ politics were progressive, the party held European ethnic nationalist views. Upon the outbreak of WWI the state feared that Armenians would side with Russia, sharing similar religious views. From 1915 to 1918, the Ottoman government employed a systematic wave of deportations and executions. In 1915, the state disarmed and eventually executed Armenian troops serving in the Empire, arrested and jailed the Armenian intelligentsia of Istanbul who were transferred to labor battalions, and deported Armenian communities to concentration camps in Ottoman Syria.

By the end of WWI, the Armenian population of the Empire went from 2 million, to an estimated 400,000. While exact numbers are difficult to determine, experts estimate between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives. Today, the genocide is official remembered on 24 April, the anniversary of the arrest of the Armenian intelligentsia, which is considered the official beginning of the atrocities.

Please click here for the infographic.

(Image via the ICC)

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What to Watch:

Mali: Mali warns any cuts in UN force will strengthen militants (The Washington Post)
The future of MINUSMA, the UN Peacekeeping mission in Mali, has come into question ahead of its June renewal date. The US looks for a reduction in the mission, in spite of the Security Council approving a request by France to discuss its revamping. Mali’s Prime Minister urged the UNSC to maintain the MINUSMA peacekeeping mission at its current strength, saying any reduction in force may endanger the already fragile peace process. The government’s work to implement the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration process has yet to improve the nation’s stability, adding that recent militia violence may significantly undermine the gains made with the assistance of MINUSMA.

Sudan: Bashir, opposition opt for negotiations (The East African)
Sudanese President al-Bashir and opposition forces agreed to negotiate a deal for a transitional government, thought it comes with its pros and cons. In agreeing to create a transitional government, President Bashir conceded his plans to change the constitution and run for a third term. However, the elections, slated for 2020, are now in doubt, based on the terms of the agreement or the processes’ failure. Experts are concerned about rivaling factions reaching a consensus given the wide range of views the parties and the army hold.


But Also Don’t Miss:

Burma: Mr. Nicholas Koumjian of the United States of America – Head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has named Nicholas Koumjian as head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar. The mechanism will collect evidence of abuses and atrocities committed against the Rohingya.

Cameroon: Half a million civilians displaced in Cameroon skirmishes
Humanitarian and UN agencies report roughly half a million civilians from the Anglophone region are internally displaced, or seeking refuge in Nigeria.

Libya: African Union to host Libya ‘reconciliation’ conference
The African Union aims to unite Libyan political rivals through reconciliation and discussing the country’s future, which are critical in creating a lasting accord and stability in the country.

Nigeria: Nigeria Struggles with Security Sector Reform
Corruption and political misuse of Nigeria’s security sector contributes to a lack of trust and accountability in the country.

Philippines: Philippine Supreme Court Orders Release of Evidence from Duterte’s Drug War
The Philippine Supreme Court has ordered police to release documents related to killings in President Durterte’s war on drugs, which human rights groups hope will help end impunity.

Venezuela: UN Should Lead Full-Scale Emergency Response
A joint John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Human Rights Watch report on the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela concluded that the UN should lead a full humanitarian emergency response to deliver life-saving aid.

Yemen: Exclusive: Yemeni child soldiers recruited by Saudi-UAE coalition
Al-Jazeera obtained exclusive footage proving the use of child soldiers in recruitment camps of the Saudi-United Arab Emirate led coalition in Yemen.


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#RtoP Weekly: 18 – 22 March

Weekly

This week in focus:
The Burmese Military, Peace, Reconciliation, and Reform

The Burmese military’s role in the ongoing discussions around peace, accountability, and its role in the country’s politics pose an interesting challenge in the way forward. On Monday, 18 March, military officials announced the establishment of an internal court to investigate and prosecute its members for actions against the Rohingya. The stated goal of the court is to “scrutinize and confirm” rights violations committed against the Rohingya, in addition to responding to the various accounts of mass killings, rape, and forced displacement organizations and international bodies such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United Nations reported. Many experts, however, still see the measure as one of “bad faith,” and is an attempt to distract and ward off additional international pressure and involvement in internal affairs, with Amnesty International’s Nicholas Bequelin alleging that the idea of the Tatmadaw investigating itself and enacting accountability measures is “dangerous and delusional.”

The military’s involvement in the country’s government in finding a way forward is another piece of the puzzle, proving to be a challenge in peace negotiations and government reform. Composed of various minority and ethnic groups, the peace and reconciliation discussions in Burma must accommodate multiple perspectives and points of view, extending the process. One particular sticking point is the stronghold the military holds in politics and government with a set proportion of representation that allows it to impose its power by being able to reject measures it opposes, as seen this past week in discussions over constitutional reform.

By being able to leverage its power and influence over politics and government, and see impunity for the mass atrocities committed, the Burmese military’s lack of cooperation threatens peace and stability in the country without the UN, its member states, and other influential actors working to address the root causes of conflict and find pathways forward to prevent the recurrence of rights violations against the country’s populations.

(Photo via Burma Link)

Weekly Burma


What to Watch:

Central African Republic:  Just one month in, optimism around CAR’s peace deal is fading (Mail & Guardian)
The latest Central African Republic (CAR) peace agreement is in peril, with fighting between armed groups increasing over the past month. Leaders of the various armed groups see impunity for their actions due to a lack of judicial mechanisms in the country, but also fail to recognize their own roles and responsibilities in the conflict, with many attesting that “if civilians suffered, then we should talk about reconciliation, not justice. Justice will only lead to more problems,” wanting amnesty for those involved. The lack of accountability measures risks the continuance of violence in the conflict. This past week, several signatories withdrew their participation in the peace agreement, resulting in additional dialogues in Addis Ababa this week to save the peace deal.

Philippines: Philippines quits International Criminal Court over inquiry into Duterte’s drug war (France24)
In 2018, the International Criminal Court (ICC) launched a preliminary examination of President Duterte’s drug crackdown and accusations of extrajudicial killings. As of 17 March, the Philippines officially withdrew as a State party to the ICC. In spite of the country’s withdrawal, the Court announced its intention to continue its examination, as it retains jurisdiction on matters already under consideration. Duterte’s spokesperson argued the Philippines never became a State Party to the Rome Statute, and issued a statement attesting that “the tribunal is non-existent and its actions [are] a futile exercise.”


But Also Don’t Miss:

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Radovan Karadžić war crimes sentence increased to life in prison
The Appeals Chamber of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals upheld the charges of genocide against Radovan Karadzic, sentencing him to life in prison for his role in the Srebrenica massacre.

Cameroon: North West, South West: Women Ready to Contribute to Peace Initiatives
Women from the North-West, South-West Women’s Task Force met with state officials to lobby for inclusive peace dialogues.

Nigeria: ‘Impunity remains widespread at all levels of government in Nigeria’…US human rights report
The US State Department’s Country Report on Human Rights accused the Nigerian government of failing to investigate human rights violations appropriately, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and forced disappearances.

South America: As Venezuela crisis deepens, U.S. sharpens focus on Colombia rebel threat
ELN and FARC rebels from Colombia are exploiting the instability in Venezuela to expand their drug trade and operate with impunity, causing concern over peace and security situation in the region.

Sub-Saharan Africa: The Great Lakes can’t afford more instability
ISS Africa explores the need for a new regional approach to peace and stability in the Great Lakes region in order to prevent any escalation in conflict.

United States: US Threatens International Criminal Court: Visa Bans on ICC Staff
In its latest rebuke of the International Criminal Court, the US announced a travel ban on members of the Court involved in investigations against its citizens.

United States/Somalia: USA/Somalia: Shroud of secrecy around civilian deaths masks possible war crimes
Amnesty International reports increasing drone strikes and resulting civilian deaths possibly amounting to war crimes in Somalia, calling for an impartial investigation into the attacks.


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Call for Internship Applications
The ICRtoP Secretariat in New York City is now accepting internship applications for Summer 2019. Interested parties can find more information by following the link.

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#RtoP Weekly: 11 – 15 March

Weekly

This week in focus:
Violations Amounting to Possible Atrocities Committed in the DRC

Completing its investigation in the Mai-Ndombe province, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) found that the mass killings occurring between 16-18 December 2018 were planned, intentionally targeting the Banunu ethnic community. Tensions between the Banunu and Batende communities were heightened over disputes over the burial of a Banunu chief on Batende land.

The attacks occurred in four locations, and left a confirmed 535 people killed, 111 injured, and displaced 19,000, 16,000 of whom crossed the border into neighboring Republic of Congo. OHCHR’s spokesperson, Ravina Shamdasani, said the reported figures were “likely an underestimate,” as the agency believes the bodies of more victims were thrown into the Congo River.

The OHCHR also indicated that the DRC had deployed police forces in the region, as there were indications of rising tensions between the groups, but they left prior to the attacks, in a “clear absence of preventative action.” The situation between ethnic groups remains tense, with the OHCHR appealing for accountability measures, as well as MONUSCO urging the Government to take action to prevent further violence and protect civilians.

 
(Yumbi after the attacks. Image by UNJHRO.)

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What to Watch:

 

Philippines: Philippines won’t cooperate with ICC probe, says Panelo (Philstar Global)

The Philippines formally leaves the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 17 March, but the decision to do so is not without criticism. Lacking the two-thirds vote from the country’s Senate to make such a decision valid, there are questions over the move’s legality as there are also two petitions to prevent the country’s withdrawal before the Supreme Court. In spite of the uncertainties over whether or not the Philippines will remain a State Part to the ICC, the Court began a preliminary examination into alleged crimes against humanity, a process which could lead to a formal investigation, trial, and sentencing. Presidential spokesperson, Salvador Panelo, stated that the Philippines government would not cooperate with the ICC, claiming that the court did not have jurisdiction.


South Sudan:  UN Investigators Propose Hybrid Court for South Sudan (VOA)

This week, the UN Human Rights Council’s (HRC) investigative body on South Sudan reported it identified violations that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. In order to prevent further destabilization in the country, the HRC urged South Sudanese officials to create a hybrid court, or other accountability mechanism as soon as possible to try and maintain the fragile state of the most recent peace agreement. In another threat to the peace agreement, officials announced training and establishing a unified army would present a challenge, delaying the transitional unity government.

 


But Also Don’t Miss:

Burma: Oral Statement by Ms. Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar at the 40th session of the Human Rights Council

The UN Special Rapporteur claims the government is unwilling to seek accountability for crimes against the Rohingya, suggesting an independent tribunal be formed for the situation if it cannot be brought before the ICC.  


Cameroon: Constitutional Crisis Worsens in Cameroon

UN and other officials continue to acknowledge the crisis in the Anglophone region, noting its roots in the exclusion and representation of its people both politically and socially.


Colombia: A Challenge to FARC’s Narrative on Child Recruitment

Human Rights Watch research suggests FARC commanders in Colombia are attempting to whitewash the group’s recruitment of child soldiers and its sexual abuse of female members.


Nigeria: Preliminary Statement of the Joint NDI/IRI International Observation Mission to Nigeria’s March 9 Gubernatorial and State House of Assembly Elections

The International Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute released a joint report on the Nigerian elections, describing acts of intimidation and violence by state officials.


Yemen: On-the-record update on situation in Hajjah and Hodeidah, Yemen

The Norwegian Refugee Council reports that attacks against civilians see impunity, as the international community remains largely focused on Hodeidah.


Syria: International investigators moving closer to bringing justice to Syria war victims

The head of the UN International Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) announced that investigators are moving closer to prosecuting for mass atrocity crimes, collecting nearly a million records.

 


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#RtoP Weekly: 30 July – 3 August 2018

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 Coalition Member Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) Releases Report on Attacks in Southern Syria 

ICRtoP member, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), has published a report documenting the attacks occurring in southern Syria allegedly carried out by the Russian-Syrian alliance, as well as Islamic State (ISIL) forces from mid-June to 30 July 2018. The SNHR gathered and compiled photos and videos from internet sources as well as information directly from local activists in order to analyze the extent and gravity of the attacks. The report asserts that the US’ failure to intervene is an abandonment of its bilateral ceasefire agreement with Russia to maintain stability in the region.

The report calls on the international community to act on its Responsibility to Protect as long as the UN Security Council remains divided and unable to act in a timely and appropriate manner. In addition to applying pressure on the UNSC, the SNHR hopes that justice and accountability remain at the forefront of the Syrian response, by holding the Syrian government responsible for its actions, urging for the referral of the Syrian Civil War to the International Criminal Court (ICC), and for UN agencies to continue documenting human rights violations, crimes against humanity, and open commissions of inquiry and investigations.


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

Nigeria
Philippines
South Sudan
Syria
Venezuela
Yemen
Other


Burma/Myanmar:

The IOM, 19,000 refugees, and local workers built 1,150 shelters for Rohingya people, as part of a quick response plan to improve the living conditions of the Rohingya refugees living at risk in Bangladesh during monsoon season.

On 25 July, the Indian Government commissioned a project to compile a list of biometric data of Rohingya refugees who fled to India from Burma to deport them “if necessary.” Rajnath Singh, Minister of the Interior, stated that the report will be given to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs so deportation negotiations with Bangladesh and Burma can begin if necessary. India sees many of the Rohingya as immigrating illegally, but the possibility of forced return to unsafe conditions is of concern under the RtoP norm and refugee law.

The Burmese Government announced on 30 July it would establish a four-person commission to investigate human rights abuses committed against the Rohingya community in the Rakhine State as a reaction to the growing international calls for accountability over accusations of ethnic cleansing. The Independent Commission is formed by two local and two international members and it is considered part of Burma’s national roadmap to “address reconciliation, peace, stability and development in Rakhine”


Central African Republic:

The UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), announced 118 incidents against humanitarian workers in CAR in the second quarter of 2018, a sharp increase from the first quarter of this year. Aid organizations are being forced to reduce service delivery for already vulnerable people, and the instability continues to place CAR at the top of the list for most dangerous countries for humanitarians.

The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) condemned the attacks occurring against civilians and peacekeepers in Pombolo, southeastern CAR, during the month of July. These human rights violations were largely committed by members of the armed group Unité pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC) or local anti-Balaka forces. MINUSCA identified over 250 perpetrators to date, and pledges to continue working to restore security in the area.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

In a UNSC Briefing on 26 July, MONUSCO Head, Leila Zerrougui, told members that the right conditions for a free and fair Presidential election in the DRC did not yet exist. Human rights violations against protesters, opposition, and media continue to curb freedom of speech and assembly rights, in addition to arbitrary detention. In provincial elections, women only comprise 12% of candidates, and the electoral commission has yet to respond to MONUSCO’s offer to provide logistical support for the election.

Jean Pierre Bemba arrived back in the DRC for the first time in 11 years on 1 August in order to submit his candidacy for the December Presidential elections. His candidacy continues to raise questions regarding the security and credibility of the elections.


Gaza / West Bank:

Al Jazeera reported on 29 July that job cuts in the Gaza Strip office of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), partly attributed to US aid cuts to Palestinians, is a “massacre for employees.” 113 employees lost their jobs this week, and reports say that 1,000 contracts will not be renewed from December. Protests against the cuts are ongoing, with staff members noting that there is little sense in letting go of the crucial workers helping “tens of thousands of refugees in the Gaza strip.” Fears over the reduction in aid workers persist; unemployment in the Gaza strip is already at 44%.

The Daily Star reported on 30 July that a Norwegian-affiliated activist boat which attempted to breach the 11-year-long blockade on Gaza but was intercepted by the Israeli navy. The ship carried personnel and medical supplies, like many other activist groups attempts to breach the blockade with humanitarian relief for Palestinians.

Only three days after Tareq Baconi of the European Council on Foreign Relations released an op-ed in the Washington Post stating that the only way to prevent the currently looming war in Gaza is for Israel to “loosen the chokehold” on the Gaza strip and prioritize “core political drivers,” Israel has blocked entry of fuel supplies into Gaza. The move is in retaliation for the continuing use of incendiary kites by Hamas causing at least 19 fires on Wednesday, Israel reported. The Gaza Strip’s two million residents will continue to suffer from a lack of power and essential services.


Iraq:

In further post-election political fall-out, authorities charged five more election officials with corruption on 28 July, Reuters reported. Officials running election offices in both Jordan and Turkey were also fired. The May election result is not yet confirmed as ballot recounts are still underway, and  protests calling for improved government services and access to electricity, water, and jobs continue across the country.

The UN Refugee agency released new figures showing that since 2014 around 2.14 million Iraqis have been displaced in attempts to flee ISIS-related violence. Many homes have been destroyed and internally displaced persons have nowhere to return to from the camps they currently live in, Al Jazeera reported on 29 July.

On 31 July coalition member, Human Rights Watch, expressed its concern that torture allegations made against security forces in Iraq are not adequately investigated. Concern is mounting as numerous alleged ISIS members are detained and tortured into giving confessions because authorities want to “achieve convictions” to reaffirm the strong message of the group’s defeat in the country. While there is the legal infrastructure within the justice system to investigate such claims, judges and lawyers interviewed by HRW noted that it is scarcely used.


Libya:

Spanish charity ProActiva Open Arms claims that an Italian towboat rescued and returned over 108 migrants back to Libya on Monday, 30 July. If confirmed by the UN, such a return would be a violation of international law.

The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) recorded that 1,504 people have died in attempts to cross the Mediterranean Sea and reach Europe 2018 to date. This marks the fifth consecutive year where over 1,500 people have died attempting the crossing.


Mali:

NGO Acción contra el Hambre reported on 26 July a new outbreak of violence amongst the Tuareg community in northern Mali. These clashes threaten to exacerbate the food crisis already present in the country and to increase the number of displaced people.

Over 300 people have been killed so far this year in the Mopti region as a result of the increase in ethnic violence. As a result, many members of the Fulani community have been forced to move to Bamako’s outskirts. Jihadists groups are using the conflict and ethnic tensions to recruit members for their cause.

In a telephone interview on 27 July, the head of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the Sahel region told said that direct humanitarian assistance provided by international forces makes it riskier for aid organizations to carry out their work, as it makes it more difficult to distinguish armed forces from humanitarians. She also explained how Doctors Without Borders is negotiating with international actors to convince them to contribute to the construction of infrastructures or provide assistance in areas where their NGO does not work instead of implementing direct humanitarian assistance activities.

Several violent incidents occurred during Malian elections, despite President Keita deploying 30,000 security personnel throughout the country. Violence disrupted and even halted voting in some villages, with 105 polling stations closed because of security concerns. Approximately 4,000 others were affected in some way by violence. Results are still unknown, but voter turnout is expected to be low.

On 31 July, the French Ministry of Defense reaffirmed the success of its stabilizing operation “Barkhane,” which neutralized over 230 suspected jihadist terrorists in the Sahel last year.


Nigeria:

Eight people were killed and seven injured on 23 July in a suicide attack on a mosque in the Borno region, historically known as the birthplace of the extremist group Boko Haram. However, no one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. This incident is the last of a series of attacks to mosques that have been occurring in recent months.

The International Crisis Group reported on 26 July that the conflict between farmers and herders in Nigeria is more lethal than Boko Haram in 2018 thus far. The pastoral conflict has become Nigeria’s severest security challenge with 1,300 deaths, and displaced hundreds of thousands of Nigerians, strengthening ethnic, regional, and religious polarization.

On 29 July, the President Buhari ordered the deployment of aircraft and 1,000 troops to combat banditry in Zamfara State, which has resulted in the killing and kidnapping of hundreds in the region.


Philippines:

On 27 July, UNSG Guterres welcomed Duterte’s new legislation which grants more autonomy to Muslim communities in the Southern Philippines. SG Guterres congratulated negotiators, the Government of the Philippines, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for their work, and describes the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) as a “landmark achievement on the road to lasting peace”. The legislation institutionalized terms of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro, which the the government and MILF signed in 2014.

11 people died on 31 July when a car bomb exploded in the city of Lamitan. The Philippine government condemned the terrorist attack, calling it a “war crime.” The Islamic State group has claimed credit for the attack.


South Sudan:

On 2 September, members of Nepal’s peacekeeping operations in South Sudan were accused of allegedly raping two teenage girls. UNSG Guterres’ office responded, announcing they would send in investigators as the SG has pledged to take a harder line in responding to misconduct among UN forces against members of the populations they are supposed to be protecting.


Syria:

A Kurdish-Arab alliance supported by the US is willing to negotiate with Assad’s government in the hope of working towards a “democratic, decentralized Syria.” Faced with a choice between further fighting or negotiations over the fate of the northeastern region of Syria in which they function, the alliance hopes to build a “decentralized” state working “alongside the Syrian government,” Al Jazeera reported on 28 July.

Arab News reported on 30 July that recent attacks on the Sweida province by Daesh fighters left over 200 dead and 36 women and children kidnapped since last Wednesday. At least two of those kidnapped have since died. Syrian military planes conducted airstrikes on Monday in the Sweida area against the group. Daesh holds small areas of territory in the Syrian desert in both Sweida and Daraa.

According to the Guardian, Syrian government forces took control of Daraa province, previously under ISIS control, on 31 July. Members of the White Helmets that were not evacuated last week are still appealing to be rescued, fearing the progressing government military.


Venezuela:

On 31 July, Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro, tweeted: “The crimes against humanity committed by the dictatorship in Venezuela will not go unpunished”. Also, he reminded the international community of its commitment to enforce freedom and justice in the country.


Yemen:

On 2 August CNN released rare drone footage taken from the capital city, Sanaa, which exhibits the destruction caused by years of siege and airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition. Human Rights Watch alleges that the coalition has conducted 85 illegal airstrikes in the area.

Save the Children estimates that over 6,000 residents of the port city, Hodeidah, flee “every single day” and are in “extreme danger.” Half of those fleeing are children, with their escape involving encountering “minefields, airstrikes and being forced to cross areas of active fighting.” The UN continues to hold talks between the warring parties – the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition – over the fate of the city, but Save the Children representatives describe the city as a “ghost town” with extensive destruction already clear to see. 22.2 million out of the country’s total 27.4 million (80%) of civilians require humanitarian assistance, representing a 15% increase on last year’s figures.


Other:

In an initiative lead by Rwanda, the US, and the Netherlands, 32 countries urged UNSG Antonio Guterres to take administrative actions when UN Peacekeepers violate the Kigali Principles of civilian protection. The signing states also pledged to ensure that the troops they provide peacekeeping missions take more proactive measures in mitigating potential threats to civilian safety.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Al-Hussein, announced that the OHCHR would investigate the reports of human rights violations and escalating violence against the Anglophone community in Cameroon. Although violence has occurred on both sides, the Anglophone community alleges economic and political discrimination in government policies and tens of thousands have fled to neighboring countries.

Following the 30 July elections, violence once again fell upon Zimbabwe, in what many hoped to be a peaceful event. The government deployed forces against unarmed and peaceful protesters in its capital, Harare, which turned violent. Prior to the official Presidential Election results, ZANU-PF, the party of former President Robert Mugabe and his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa, had secured the necessary two-thirds vote to amend the country’s constitution in the parliamentary election. Following the instability and violence, Amnesty International called for an investigation into the army’s role and conduct against protesters.

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#RtoP Weekly : 10 – 15 June 2018

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Attacks on Hodeidah, Yemen endanger an already fragile environment

Despite intense negotiations between UN officials and members of the Saudi-led coalition forces endeavoring to peacefully resolve fighting around Hodeidah, Yemen, the coalition began attacking the city on 13 June. The attack comes as an attempt by the coalition forces to seize the Houthi-held region and return it to Yemeni-government rule. The UN and numerous humanitarian aid groups remain concerned over the attack which risks damaging the infrastructure and port that currently supplies the vast majority of food and aid to the country. Indeed, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, says that “250,000 people may lose everything – even their lives.”

Saudi-led coalition forces remained within 10km of the city while negotiations were underway.

Martin Griffiths, UN Envoy to Yemen, arrived in the country on 2 June to propose that the Houthis cede control of the city to the UN, in an attempt to avert the likely “bloodbath” attack. The war-torn country is home to hundreds of thousands of people who already face starvation and an intense cholera outbreak, what is arguably one of the severest humanitarian crises at the time.

Despite the initiation of the attack on Wednesday, The Norwegian Refugee Council reported on 14 June that the Hodeidah port remains open. The port serves as a crucial lifeline, as the “main entry point for food and aid” to the whole of Yemen.

Saudi-led coalition forces are fighting against Houthi rebel forces within Yemen, whom it accuses of acting as a proxy force of Iran. The Saudi-led coalition supports the Yemeni president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Of over 10,000 civilian casualties killed in the Yemeni civil war since 2015, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has noted that almost two thirds were as a direct result of Saudi-led coalition air attacks. There are already 2 million internally displaced people in Yemen, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and over 20,000 people have fled the country to seek shelter refugee camps in Somalia, Jordan, and Ethiopia.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
CAR

DPRK
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq
Libya
Mali 
Nigeria
Philippines
South Sudan
Sudan
Syria
Yemen
Other 


Burma/Myanmar:

On 8 June, the Burmese government held a meeting at the presidential palace to discuss, amongst others, the situation of the Rakhine State, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with the UNHCR and the UNDP, national security, and international relations.

On 11 June, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that monsoon rains destroyed many refugee shelters in Bangladesh, which host one million Rohingya refugees from Burma. So far, 9,000 refugees have been affected and the number continues to grow.

Britain’s Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson, stated that he had spoken with Prime Minister Suu Kyi and also urged her to implement measures for safe return as soon as possible now that Burma has agreed to the UN supervising the return of the refugees, and that an investigation be carried out on the alleged atrocities.


Central African Republic:

On 11 June, the UN announced the death of another UN Peacekeeper. The attack also left another injured during regular patrol outside of Bambari. It is the second death of MINUSCA forces in two weeks. UN Officials warned that attacks against Peacekeeping forces may constitute a war crime.


DPRK:

On 11 June, UNSG Guterres described Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump’s meeting as “a promising development for global peace and security.” Guterres also highlighted that the way towards peace and denuclearization is with cooperation, compromise, and a common goal. He also drew attention to the fact that the North Korean humanitarian situation is far from ideal, as the UN estimates that 40 percent of the population requires assistance.

On 12 June, the long-awaited historic summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump took place in Singapore. They signed a statement where Jong-un reaffirmed his commitment to complete North Korea’s denuclearization and, in exchange, Trump agreed to “provide security guarantees” to North Korea, halting military exercises with South Korea. The statement keeps the countries engaged, but it fails to resolve any issues, lacking a specific plan of action or timeline.

On 14 June, US Secretary of State Pompeo denied the sanction relief on North Korea, suggested by DPRK state media. According to Pompeo, these sanctions will not disappear until North Korea denuclearizes.


DRC:

Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) DRC Country Director, Ulrika Blom, published a call to action in order to protect the people of the DRC and prevent a regional crisis. Humanitarian aid to the DRC is severely underfunded, leaving many Congolese displaced, without shelter, and without adequate food supply. Blom noted regional clashes between armed groups, tribal warfare, and unrest are causing people to flee their homes both internally, and across borders. Such large-scale displacement and instability, she warns, will inevitably affect regional politics and humanitarian aid responses.

On 8 June, the ICC Appeals Chamber acquitted Former Vice President, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Appeals Court ruled that Bemba was convicted based on crimes outside the scope of charges and that the Trial Chamber made errors in assessing whether or not he had taken all reasonable and necessary measures to prevent, repress, or punish the commission of his subordinates of the crimes that were within the scope of the case. Bemba was originally sentenced to 18 years in prison for two counts of crimes against humanity, and three counts of war crimes.

Following his acquittal on war crimes and crimes against humanity, the ICC ordered the release of Jean-Pierre Bemba on 11 June. The former VP faces sentencing in his appeals trial for witness tampering, but his release concerns many who believe his freedom could impact the elections scheduled later this year in the DRC. The judge was clear, however, that his release is temporary, pending the determination of the second case for which he stands up to five years in detention. Elise Keppler of HRW’s International Justice Initiative said that the ruling raises questions about the ICC’s credibility and may shock many who survived the violence in CAR.


Gaza/West Bank:

Coalition member Human Rights Watch called for the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry to investigate the alleged attacks on Palestinian medical workers at the Gaza border  by Israeli forces. Deliberate targeting of civilians and medical workers could amount to war crimes, particularly when targeted against civilians “who posed no imminent threat to life,” Human Rights Watch has noted in relation to the Gaza protests.

At a meeting on 9 June, the Israeli cabinet failed to adopt new decisions regarding proposals on how to deal with the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, claims that Israel is the country that is doing the most, despite the 11 year-long blockade it has put on the Gaza strip, which has caused a humanitarian crisis in the region.

Meanwhile, on 13 June the UN General Assembly passed a resolution which “blamed the Israelis for the casualties” seen in Gaza since Palestinian protests began on 30 March. Despite the US and Israel being critical of the lack of inclusion of Hamas-based criticism in the resolution, it has been seen by many as a “moral victory.” Palestinian Ambassador, Riyad H. Mansour, urged that Palestine needs “protection of [its] civilian population.” While the resolution is not legally binding, and a similar legally-binding resolution put forward to the Security Council was vetoed by the US, it nonetheless displays the US and Israel’s overwhelming “isolation” relating to the conflict at the UN.


Iraq:

On 9 June, a huge fire engulfed the warehouse that is storing the ballot boxes from Iraq’s parliamentary election which took place on 12 May. The fire represents a deliberate “plot to sabotage the country and its democratic process,” says Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, as it comes just before a planned recount of all votes following accusations of election foul play.

On 11 June, the Iraqi court issued  arrest warrants for four suspected perpetrators, including policemen and an Independent High Elections Commission employee, Al Jazeera reports. Further, the current parliament proposed that nine judges take over the leadership of the Independent High Elections Commission. Haider al-Abadi is rejecting a call to repeat the elections, despite his third place election result. He reminded the country that the decision is one for the “judiciary, not politicians” and Parliament would not have the power to cancel the election anyway.

On 12 June, first and second-place election winners Moqtada al-Sadr and Hadi al-Amiri announced their political blocs will create an alliance for the future government. They have announced that they “would keep the door open for other winning blocs to join them in forming a new government.” Their alliance is “a Nationalist one,” which al-Abadi may yet join.

The Iraqi Government has estimated that around $90 billion is required to rebuild Iraq in the wake of the previous 15 years of war in the region. At a donor conference in February, Iraq’s allies pledged only $30 billion to aid the reconstruction effort.


Libya:

Human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, continue to call for General Khalifa Hiftar to open humanitarian corridors and allow civilians still trapped within the city of Derna to leave before the Libyan National Army advances further into the city. On 11 June, Amnesty released a report stating their fears that civilians would be caught up in a “bloody street battle” if advances continue.

Meanwhile on 11 June, a US Navy ship assisted and rescued a group of migrants off the Libyan coast. While Italy refuses to take migrants, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, has pledged to accept those rescued at sea, stating that “it is our obligation to help avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a ‘safe harbor’ to these people.”

On 12 June, the UN Security Council extended the Libya arms embargo for another year. Both of Libya’s governments have called for the arms embargo to be lifted, on the basis that they want to “create an army and police force to defend against crime” and need arms. The opposition, however, maintains that an effort must be made to seize the millions of arms already circulating among civilians and militias before any more weapons should be imported.


Mali:

The UNSG published a report on the situation in Mali which includes some of the findings and recommendations recently put forward by the independent strategic review of the MINUSMA. The report states that the protective environment, particularly in the center of Mali, continued to deteriorate during the reporting period. Indeed, during this time 43 civilians were killed and 24 were injured in targeted attacks and conflicts among communities, with many others displaced.

On 8 June, thousands of Malians protested in Bamako against President Keita. The civil opposition movement, Trop c’est trop, organized the march to denounce proposed constitutional amendments which would give excessive powers to the president.

On 9 June, security forces informed Efe International News Agency that two attacks perpetrated by alleged jihadists in Mopti killed three Malian soldiers and wounded nine others. The International Crisis Group confirmed jihadist groups are settled along the Niger-Mali border are utilizing the instability and insecurity of the country in their favor.


Nigeria:

On 14 June, President Buhari assured that “Nigeria will continue to deepen relationships with her allies, particularly those with whom her shares mutually beneficial interests.” During his meeting with the Ambassador of Ethiopia, he highlighted the importance of security and economic development for any country and that was why he has been visiting Nigeria’s immediate neighbors.


Philippines:

The House of Representatives of the Philippines approved a bill which aims to provide full protection to children in armed conflict. It declares children below the age of 18 as “zones of peace” and gives them certain rights in situations of armed conflict. These rights include, amongst others, the right to life, survival and development, special respect and protection against any form of abuse, and the right to be treated as victims.


South Sudan:

Over the past week peace talks between President Salva Kiir and SPLM-IO leader, Dr. Riek Machar,show promise with Khartoum offering to host the talks between the two leaders. Both leaders are insisting a right to self-defense, causing concern that the talks may result in escalated violence.


Sudan/Darfur:

The Sudanese government denied plans to forcibly evict the internally displaced from camps in Darfur. On 9 June, the Sudan Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) has announced, however, several options for IDPs; voluntary return, integration into their local communities, or resettlement in another location of their choosing. This came along announcements of 400,000 voluntary returns of IDPs this year to date, making a total of 1.9million people residing in one of the 39 remaining IDP camps. According to the report released by ReliefWeb (linked) the HAC has not announced a timeline or plan of action for the various return and integration plans.

With the situation on the ground shifting, the joint mission between UNAMID and the AU must change, said UN Under Secretary General, Jean-Pierre Lacroix in a Security Council meeting on 11 June. Shifting its peacekeeping priorities to Jebel Marra, the location of continued conflict, and addressing the humanitarian issues as needed throughout Darfur. The newly proposed two-year strategy would continue peacekeeping operations to ensure the protection of civilians, mediation of conflicts, and humanitarian aid, but also include a shifting focus towards early recovery and development focusing on long-term projects and solutions.

An AU communique on 12 June announced the extension of the joint UNAMID mission in Darfur for 12 months, following the Joint Special Report by the AU Chairperson and UNSG. The Council also addressed the ongoing attacks in Jebel Marra, which has resulted in attacks against and the displacement of civilians. The region remains under humanitarian concern, and that security, land ownership, and public services delivery remain of concern. The communique also stressed that returns must be voluntary, safe, and in dignity, as stipulated by international standards. The Joint Special Report proposed dissolving the mission in June 2020, but the AU was clear that consideration must be given to the political and security situation, gradually paring down operations to remove the threat of a security vacuum.


Syria:

In a development for the prevention of international impunity for atrocity crimes, Germany’s Federal Court of Justice issued an international warrant of arrest for Syria’s Air Force Intelligence Chief, Jamil Hassan, on 9 June. The charges issued are in relation to his alleged ordering of forces under his command to murder, torture and perpetrate sexual violence against Syrian detainees between 2011 and 2014. Secretary General of The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) stated that “Germany is prepared to make its contribution to the legal reappraisal of these serious human rights crimes.” The principle of universal jurisdiction within international law allows the prosecution of such crimes to be pursued anywhere, regardless of where the acts were physically committed. While Syria has not ratified the Rome Statute and therefore is not under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, Hassan could theoretically be tried in the UN Court of Justice, permitting that Syria does not veto such action in the Security Council.

In a statement released on 10 June, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, expressed his condemnation of last week’s airstrikes allegedly committed by Russian Jets, which targeted the rebel-held town of Zardan. The White Helmets reported that the attacks resulted in at least 47 civilian deaths. The UN is calling for a full investigation into the strikes.

The Islamic State (ISIL) mass executed 90 of its own members in Syria due to them being “reluctant about the defense battles against Syrian army,” Iraqi News reported on 14 June. Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on 13 June that while he is “giving the political process a chance” with regards the supposed liberation of the southwest region currently held by rebels, but will “liberate it by force” if diplomacy does not prove successful.

Proposals for the creation of a constitutional committee for Syria will be discussed on 18-19 June by senior Iranian, Russian and Turkish officials and UN representatives. The meeting will take place in Geneva, and is aimed to “rewrite the Syrian constitution, paving the way for new elections as part of a post-war political reform.”

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons determined that the chemical Sarin was in fact used in an attack in Latamina on 24 March 2017, in which at least 32 people were injured. Although the OPCW did not assign blame, but it is urged that government forces were attacking the area at the time. The OPCW did however assign blame on the Syrian government for using Sarin in a different attack in Khan Sheikhoun a few days after the Latamina attack.


Yemen:

On 14 June Amnesty expressed concern over the arrest of key human rights activist and Executive Director of Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, Abdulrasheed al-Faqih, by Yemeni security forces. They note that if the arrest is solely on the basis of his invaluable human rights work then “he must be released immediately and unconditionally.”


Other:

On 31 May ICRtoP coalition member, Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) published a handbook for Parliamentarians on preventing violent extremism and mass atrocities. The handbook, written by Phil Gurski, in collaboration with the Stanley Foundation and Parliamentarians for Global Action, was born out of the November 2017 Milan Forum.

The Dominican Republic became the 117th signatory to the ACT Code of Conduct on 1 June. The Code of Conduct calls upon all members of the Security Council, in particular the P5, to refrain from using the veto in cases of mass atrocity situations. A full list of signatories can be found here.

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#RtoP Weekly: 3 – 8 June 2018

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Updates from the ICRtoP: national and international atrocity prevention initiatives

It may have been a while since you’ve seen an RtoP Weekly from us. We apologize for putting our newsletter on hold, but we’re excited to announce we will be resuming of our weekly updates on RtoP-related situations from around the world.

2018 has already proven to be a busy and exciting year for the Responsibility to Protect. Recently, ICRtoP staff traveled to Kampala, Uganda to participate in the third Global Action Against Mass Atrocity Crimes conference (GAAMAC III), where representatives of governments, international and regional organizations, relevant UN offices, civil society, and academia gathered to exchange and discuss best practices for “Empowering Prevention”. Furthermore, ahead of GAAMAC III, the ICRtoP partnered with the Ugandan National Committee for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide and Mass Atrocities and Human Rights Network-Uganda to co-host a pre-GAAMAC CSO (civil society organization) Symposium, which featured discussions and panels focused on approaches in mass atrocity prevention, particularly in dealing with the past and deficits of governance, the Rule of Law, and democracy at the national level. Please find the symposium communique here.

Furthermore, in the coming weeks, the Global Network of R2P Focal Points will convene its eighth annual meeting in Helsinki and the UN General Assembly will convene the first formal debate on the Responsibility to Protect since 2009 on 25 June 2018. Both the convening of the Focal Points meeting and the formal UNGA debate provide great opportunities for Member States to engage with one another on best practices for atrocity prevention. The UNGA debate on RtoP, in particular, provides an historic opportunity for Member States to discuss the norm formally and to develop on-the-record statements, necessitating greater discourse and consideration of RtoP and its implementation within capitals and therefore outside of the UN. This should therefore raise the potential for increased implementation and domestication of RtoP.

For more information on this and all things RtoP, please visit our website here.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq
Libya
Mali
Nigeria
Philippines
South Sudan
Sudan
Syria
Venezuela
Yemen
Other


Burma/Myanmar:

On 31 May, Burma and the UN announced deal for the return of Rohingya Muslim refugees to the country, but many are still concerned about gaps in the memo and  reported ongoing violence against the Rohingya. The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees alerted that “conditions are not conducive for voluntary return yet,” but they will be working with the government to make improvements. In fact, Kunt Ostby, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Burma, stated that the two key conditions for the UN to allow repatriation were, 1) an assured citizenship for the Rohingya and 2) assurance that they will not have the fear of being attacked. Rohingya have also expressed fears that it does not do enough to guarantee their safety.

On June 6, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by the Government of Myanmar, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP). It addresses the UN system’s support to creating suitable circumstances in order to provide refugees a voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return from Bangladesh and their effective non-violent reintegration into the country. The UNSG Guterres also encouraged Burma to take “decisive steps to implement the agreement” and restated his call for an end to violence.


Burundi: 

In an unexpected turn, President Pierre Nkurunziza announced on 7 June that he would not run for another term, and would support the new Executive who will be elected in 2020. The results from May’s referendum on presidential term limits caused concern that Nkurunziza would try and extend his tenure to 2034, in spite of the violence and ethnic tension that resulted from his reelection in 2015.


Central African Republic:

Child Soldiers International confirmed on 5 June that many children who were released by armed groups in CAR have voluntarily joined rebel groups. While the organization believes that the majority of children are kidnapped, but many see membership in a rebel group as an option for a better life or to avenge the death of a loved one.

An attack by armed militants on 6 June resulted in the death of a UN Peacekeeper from Tanzania. Secretary General Guterres condemned the killing, and urged authorities to investigate the attack so the perpetrators could be brought to justice. He also reiterated his support for MINUSCA and its mission to protect civilians and help stabilize the country. So far four UN Peacekeepers have been killed in action this year.


Gaza/West Bank:

Al Jazeera reported on 28 May that Israeli troops are deliberately using snipers to target volunteer medical teams tending to injured unarmed Palestinians during “Great March of Return” demonstrations in Gaza. The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition also expressed concerned over “interferences with delivery of healthcare, obstruction of medical transport, and denial of impartial care to wounded civilians.” The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OHCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory released on 31 May a “humanitarian snapshot” showing the total casualties during protests.

The death of 21-year old medic, Razan Al Najjar, who was reportedly shot and killed by an Israeli sniper on 1 June, has sparked further outcry from human rights groups. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Jamie McGoldrick, reminded the international community that “healthcare workers must be allowed to perform their duties without fear of death or injury” in a recent statement. Unless there is an “imminent threat of death or serious injury,” use of lethal force is illegal under human rights law. The death toll from the demonstrations has reached 119.

Two rival UN Security Council Resolutions ascribing blame for the situation in Gaza, proposed by parties on opposing sides of the conflict were vetoed last week, The Independent reported on 2 June. Such fundamental disagreements at the UN are continuing to delay the international community’s response to the ongoing atrocities.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is set to meet with the Israeli cabinet this week to decide on an action plan for Gaza, with a view to easing the humanitarian crisis. Proposals to be discussed include a UN infrastructure reconstruction program funded by the UN and the international community.


Iraq:

Volunteers discovered over a thousand dead bodies of ISIL fighters in Mosul, as they attempt to clear up the Old City, Al Jazeera reported on 31 May. The group of around 30 volunteers is working to rehabilitate the area, although experts predict that it “could take a decade” before Mosul is fully cleared. Rebuilding efforts are hampered by the remnants of “unexploded artillery” and “complex booby traps” that still pose a potentially life-threatening risk to volunteers.

The Iraq election probe continues; on 5 June Iraq’s current Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi, banned all high-ranking people working within Iraq’s election commission from leaving the country, citing that criminal charges may be pursued against some of them due to purported election rigging. Al-Abadi asserted that, while there are alleged violations by party members, the election commission “bears the largest share of the responsibility.”  On 7 June, the Iraqi Parliament ordered a total recount of the ballots and fired all officials within the Electoral Commission who oversaw the election process.

Indeed fears are being raised of expected backlash from growing tensions between Iran and the US that will potentially destabilize Iraq, Al Jazeera reports. While pro-Iran militias helped to defeat ISIL in Iraq, the US allegedly “wants to limit” Iranian influence in Iraq, including in its currently fragile politics. Iran also favors a new Iraqi government sympathetic to Iranian interests. However Shia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon coalition won the most election seats; he envisages an Iraq with absolutely no “foreign interference.”  With the current political unrest, formation of a government is likely to be somewhat delayed.

The New York Times plans to return “The ISIS Files” recovered from Iraq which help to piece together “how a terrorist group like ISIS was able to control such a large area for as long as it did.” Journalists involved in the removal of the documents from Iraq claimed that it was best to gather and remove the documents from Iraq, where they were “at risk of being destroyed.”

On 31 May, Antonio Guterres appointed Karim Khan to head the investigative team “tasked with collecting and preserving evidence of serious crimes committed” by ISIL in Iraq. However, Human Rights Watch expressed concern over the limited mandate of the UN investigation, which only authorizes investigation into alleged ISIL-perpetrated crimes committed in Iraq, and not anti-ISIL forces. A UNSC resolution adopted in September last year approved the investigation.


Libya: 

United Nations Migration Agency reported almost 900 individuals fled the region of Derna on 30-31 May due to continued shelling severely affecting local population, with 17 recorded dead in the area since 16 May.

On 4 June, the Libyan National Army (LNA) allegedly entered Derna to retake the town from militant group Derna Mujahideen Shura Council. The advance into several neighborhoods comes after “heavy shelling and air strikes” in recent weeks by the Libyan National Army, under the command of General Khalifa Hiftar, Reuters reports. The council is comprised of anti-Hiftar fighters and Islamists.

United Nations Refugee Agency released coverage on 1 June regarding over a dozen refugees coming from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, who were attacked and recaptured by human traffickers as they tried to escape a detention center south of Tripoli on 23 May. Survivors explained that they were subjected to “torture, abuse and exploitation” by the traffickers, some for up to three years. UNHCR Spokesperson, William Spindler, notes that this is “not an isolated case.” He claims that many refugees attempting to escape war and persecution in other neighboring African countries are being subjected to similar detention conditions at the hands of traffickers, in and around Bani Walid.

 


Mali:

On 2 June, Secretary General Guterres asked for “calm and restraint” after incidents in Mali’s capital, where the police allegedly used tear gas to break up opposition supporters who wanted to march through Bamako with the aim of calling for more transparency before the presidential elections held next month. He also highlighted the importance of inclusive political dialogue as it is a key element for the protection of fundamental human rights and freedom of expression.


Nigeria:

On 5 June, Nigeria’s National Assembly threatened to impeach Muhammadu Buhari over killings in the country, questionable fight against corruption, and his appointees’s actions seen as “persecuting his opponents” unless certain conditions are met. The first condition states, “The Security Agencies must be given marching orders to curtail the sustained killing of Nigerians across the country and protect lives and properties of Nigerians, as this is the primary duty of any responsible Government.” Conditions also include for the National Assembly to liaise with International Communities through the IPU, APU, ECOWAS, CPA, Parliament, Pan African Parliament, EU, UN, US Congress, and UK Parliament to secure their democracy.


Philippines: 

On 7 June, President Duterte declared that martial law countrywide “is not feasible” as it will lead to a “divided nation.” This statement comes as a clarification after his latest comments about making “radical changes in the coming days” because “too many crimes” were happening in the country.


South Sudan:

On 4 June, IGAD officials said it is now up to President Salva Kiir and SPLM-IO leader Dr. Riek Machar to meet in order to advance the South Sudan peace process. This call for a face-to-face meeting between the two leaders comes at a time when lack of trust is at a low, and both insist they cannot work with one another. The date for such a meeting is unclear, though it must be decided by the IGAD heads of state meeting prior to July’s AU meeting.

The same day, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, called on governments to impose economic sanctions against leaders on both sides of the South Sudan crisis. He reaffirmed that humanitarian aid was still being provided, but voiced an opinion that the perpetrators of violence did not seem to be bothered by the welfare of the South Sudanese people and were concerned more with their own personal economic interest.

The Carnegie Corporation released the latest episode of their “Peacebuilders” podcast on 5 June, discussing the crisis in South Sudan. They discuss how South Sudan was hoped to be a symbol of international cooperation, but instead how the country has regressed into conflict and is now a humanitarian crisis without an end in sight, bringing about the implementation of multiple securitization approaches and tactics in order to find a durable solution.

A report by the Associated Press on 6 June stated they had learned of 14 unreleased human rights reports by the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission in South Sudan, the independent watch-dog charged with monitoring the current cease-fire agreements, and diplomats from the US, UK, and UN. The unreleased reports allegedly contain evidence that soldiers continue to commit atrocity crimes such by killing, raping, and destroying property. While the reports detail violations by both sides, they describe deliberate targeting of the military against civilians. Edmund Yakani, Executive Director for Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, said that IGAD and AU leaders need to take action as “silence on the violations on encourages further violations.”


Sudan/Darfur:

The Sudanese Communist Party issued a statement on 31 May against the downscaling of UNAMID operations, stating that it would have negative consequences on the people of Darfur. The party called on the UN Security Council and international human rights organizations to take action to protect the people and property in the region. Additionally they called on the Human Rights Council to take action in order to ensure justice by bringing rights violators to court.


Syria:

According to a Reuters article released on 2 June, the Syrian government is committed to recapturing territory in the Southwest, currently held by insurgents. Walid al-Moualem, foreign minister, says the US must pull out of the southeastern Tanf base.

Amnesty International’s report, “War of Annihilation,” released on 5 June investigates the devastating effects of conflict in Raqqa between ISIL & US Coalition forces. While Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Advisor at Amnesty, recognizes the commission of war crimes by ISIL, she notes that this does not relieve coalition forces “of their obligations to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians.” The report asserts that Coalition strikes appear to be “disproportionate or indiscriminate” and potentially constitute war crimes, before recommending further investigation.

Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly plans to meet with the President of the DPRK, Kim Jong-Un. While both countries largely face international isolation, Assad mentions of the meeting that his administration “will as ever fully support all policies and measures of the DPRK leadership” and “strengthen and develop the friendly ties with the DPRK.”


Venezuela:

On 4 June, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for Venezuela to be suspended from the Organization of American States (OAS) as a consequence of the country’s May presidential vote that resulted in the re-election of President Nicolás Maduro. At the OAS headquarters, Pompeo told representatives of the 35 member countries that Maduro was not acting under constitutional order and failed to follow OAS responsibilities, displaying “unmistakable bad faith and exhausting options for dialogue under current conditions.” Moreover, Pompeo urgedincreasing sanctions against Maduro’s government in addition to its suspension from the OAS which implies penalties such as the suspension from aid granted by the Inter-American Development Bank.

On the 5 June Resolution on the Situation of Venezuela, the OAS declared that “ the electoral process as implemented in Venezuela, which concluded on 20 May 20 2018, lacks legitimacy, for not complying with international standards, for not having met the participation of all Venezuelan political actors, and for being carried out without the necessary guarantees for a free, fair, transparent and democratic process.” This resolution takes the first steps towards the historic suspension of a South American country from the OAS.

The European Commission announced on 7 June it would give £35.1m in emergency aid to help thousands of affected by the severe economic crisis. “This package will improve the Venezuelan people’s access to food and nutrition, as well as basic services like water, sanitation and hygiene”, stated Neven Mimica, Europe’s Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development.


Yemen:

The UN Refugee Agency published “Yemen’s Critical Requirements” detailing that 22.2 million people require assistance in the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” in Yemen. Priorities include “protection space for refugees” and “advocacy against unlawful detention.”

Saudi-led coalition forces are now within 8km of Hodeidah, a Houthi-held territory. Martin Griffiths, UN Envoy to Yemen, arrived in the country on 2 June to propose that the Houthis cede control of the city to the UN. The proposal comes amid fears that the city’s population of 400,000 will be put in substantial danger from a likely “bloodbath” between Houthi and Saudi-led coalition forces. Any destruction of infrastructure would obstruct crucial aid supplies that the country’s population is heavily reliant on. Griffiths is likely to discuss the situation of Hodeidah at his Security Council briefing on 18 June.


Other:

On 31 May ICRtoP coalition member, Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) published a handbook for Parliamentarians on preventing violent extremism and mass atrocities. The handbook, written by Phil Gurski, in collaboration with the Stanley Foundation and Parliamentarians for Global Action, was born out of the November 2017 Milan Forum.

The Dominican Republic became the 117th signatory to the ACT Code of Conduct on 1 June. The Code of Conduct calls upon all members of the Security Council, in particular the P5, to refrain from using the veto in cases of mass atrocity situations. A full list of signatories can be found here.

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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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