ICRtoP, Stanley Foundation, and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung
partner to host meeting on UN-civil society cooperation to strengthen
accountability and prevention under RtoP
On 7 September 2017, the Stanley Foundation, the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung partnered to hold a breakfast meeting between 15 leading civil society organizations from all continents and Dr. Ivan Šimonović, UN Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). Within an informal, not-for-attribution setting, participants discussed opportunities and offered recommendations for strengthening accountability and prevention under RtoP. This session was preceded and informed by the UN Informal Interactive Dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect, which took place 6 September 2017.
Throughout the discussion, participants focused on three important reflections from the recent UNGA dialogue on RtoP. First, it was noted that the space for civil society participation in the dialogue had been improved due to procedural changes in the format of the dialogue. This was lauded as pivotal for the development of the discussion surrounding RtoP. However, concerns were also noted over a trend towards polarization in Member States’ views on RtoP, particularly regarding the resulting effects on advocacy opportunities on behalf of support for the norm. Lastly, participants were heartened by interventions which discussed RtoP in new and innovative ways, most notably through the thematic focus of the UN Secretary-General’s latest report and the theme of the dialogue on accountability for prevention.
The breakfast meeting also resulted in a range of recommendations on how the UN can strengthen its work on the Responsibility to Protect and atrocity prevention. These recommendations include ensuring a focus on thematic topics within atrocity prevention measures, such as the importance of incorporating a gender-lens. However, the recommendations also include propositions on how to develop existing tools to support RtoP efforts, such as the addition of a focus on atrocity prevention within the Universal Periodic Review process in the United Nations Human Rights Council and including RtoP on the UN General Assembly’s formal agenda.
Finally, participants also discussed recommendations on how to better mobilize implementation of RtoP. Participants noted the importance of strengthening legal tools for atrocity preventions, such as international humanitarian and human rights treaties, which can be used to set precedent and deter the future perpetration of such atrocities. Furthermore, participants highlighted the important role of regional and sub-regional organizations in upholding RtoP and in working with and supporting national capacities for prevention.
To read the full Policy Memo with reflections and recommendations, please click here.
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Representatives from both Burma and Bangladesh agreed on 2 October to implement a working group that would aim to send over 500,000 Rohingya refugees back to the Rakhine State. The two parties are set to meet later this week to discuss the terms and conditions of the agreement. However, the Burmese government has questioned the practicality of the return of thousands of Rohingya refugees and migration experts have pointed out flaws in the process, including that many Rohingya from Rakhine State have been denied Burmese citizenship.
Human Rights Watch has collected testimonies from 14 Rohingya villagers that allegedly outline the scope of the violence that occurred in the villages of Maung Nu and Hpaung Taw Pyin in Rakhine State. The reports describe sexual assaults, beatings, stabbings, and shootings of villagers of all ages, including women and children. HRW also reported that on 27 August the Burmese military carried out several dozen summary executions of Rohingya Muslims in Maung Nu. Witnesses also reported that government soldiers had “beaten, sexually assaulted, stabbed, and shot villagers who had gathered for safety in a residential compound, two days after Rohingya militants attacked a local security outpost and military base.”
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Committee on the Rights of a Child have expressed concerns that the violence against the Rohingya in Rakhine State “may amount to crimes against humanity.” The resulting massive wave of Rohingya refugees has also led to increased rates of poverty and malnutrition, specifically among the women and children.
According to reports from UN and aid workers in Burma, UN leadership officials in the country have attempted to stop activists from raising concerns over the human rights abuses facing the Rohingya population in discussions with the Burmese government. Furthermore, a former UN official has asserted that the same leadership has also attempted to block human rights advocates from gaining access to Rohingya villages in Rakhine State.
The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva voted last Friday to extend the investigation of the Commission of Inquiry into alleged crimes against humanity. Burundi’s ambassador expressed disagreement by saying that “there was no longer any need to continue the Commission of Inquiry” after the Council passed a resolution a day before to send three experts into the country.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has made an appeal for 429 million USD to address the refugee crisis in the East African region. Around 400,000 Burundian refugees have been displaced throughout the region in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Catherine Wiesner, UNHCR Regional Refugee Coordinator for Burundi, has said that “the chronic underfunding for the Burundi refugee situation has severely hampered reception capacities and the quality of protection rendered by host countries.”
Central African Republic:
The International Crisis Group (ICG) has released a report denouncing that the international community and national authorities in the CAR have not been able to address the escalation of violence or to find solutions to the crisis. Efforts have been focused on the DDRR (disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and repatriation) of the rebels, but there has been little progress made, according to the group. ICG has stated that both the government and its partners must “put pressure on the rebels – particularly by tackling their sources of income and exercising stronger military deterrence – but also rebuild trust among the populations of peripheral regions”.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has expressed concern over the difficult situation that people with disabilities face amid the rising violence in the country; many times, they are unable to escape the violence and cannot flee to another country for safety. Those who do flee are reportedly “often not identified or counted in registration or data collection exercises, are excluded from or unable to access mainstream assistance programmes and forgotten when specialised services are set up.” MSF has also pointed out that displaced persons and refugees with disabilities are also more exposed to harassment, exploitation, physical and sexual violence, and discrimination.
The UN Agency for Refugees (UNHCR) has said that around 64,000 refugees fled from the CAR to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) between the months of May and August. Congolese villages have not been able to cope with the influx of Central African refugees, as over 170,000 refugees from CAR have arrived in the DRC since the crisis began.
ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a new report claiming that sexual violence is being used as a weapon of war in the CAR. According to the report, sexual slavery and rape have been in widespread use by the two main parties to the conflict, the Muslim Seleka and the Christian anti-Balaka groups, as a method of “revenge for perceived support of those on the other side of the sectarian divide”. Such abuses are criminalized by international and national law and could constitute war crimes, but no arrests or trials have been conducted for such crimes since the conflict began in 2013. HRW has called on the government of the CAR and international partners to provide assistance to victims of sexual violence and to end impunity.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has warned that there could be further displacement in the DRC if the security situation in the insecurity remains unstable. Thousands of Congolese refugees that have arrived in Zambia have reported “extreme brutality, with civilians being killed, women raped, property looted and houses set alight.” Around 60 percent of these refugees are children and have shown signs of severe malnutrition.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the Security Council that funding cuts to the MONUSCO may “compromise its ability to deliver on its core priorities” late last week.
The African Human Rights Bureau has urged the UN Security Council to intervene in Kenya as it noted that the ongoing crisis has reached similar levels of concern the violent situation that took place after the elections in 2007-2008. Dan Alila, the bureau’s special counsel, said that “if no serious political intervention is made now by the UN, then Kenya could slide into a grave political instability with attendant chaos, violence, mayhem, and massive displacements and killings, thereby causing a humanitarian crisis.” He also said that a reformed electoral commission or an ad hoc UN committee should supervise the poll in which the two main parties are represented.
On Tuesday, recent violence in the city of Sabratha killed at least five civilians and wounded another 12. Furthermore, reports suggest that the city’s hospital has also been attacked twice.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres released a report on 28 September focused on the current state of affairs in Mali following the death of three peacekeepers. The Secretary-General reported that the security situation in the state has plummeted due to domestic political instability and the increased amounts of extremist attacks since his last report in June. He also outlined specific human rights violations that occurred within Mali, including forced disappearances, the military recruitment of children, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, and unlawful detention. In all, the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) documented 151 alleged cases of human rights violations in 2017 to date. In addition, the Gender-Based Violence Information Management System documented 1,368 cases of gender-based violence between January and June 2017. The region also continues to struggle with food insecurity, forced displacement, rampant poverty, and school closures. The Secretary-General also called upon the international community to increase UN funding for MINUSMA.
The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has claimed that portions of President Muhammadu Buhari’s speech on 1 October amounted to hate speech against ethnic Igbo populations in Nigeria.
The Nigerian military has commissioned human rights offices in conflict-affected Borno State in order to combat the perpetration of human rights violations by Nigerian soldiers. Nigerian Chief of Army Staff Lt. General Tukur Buratai has also called on the media to work with Nigerian military and security forces in the fight against Boko Haram in the region.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano stated this week that the Philippines welcomes independent experts from the UN to “conduct an objective assessment of the country’s human rights situation”. However, Mr. Cayetano also requested, that only unbiased investigators should be allowed to make the assessments.
The International Center for Transitional Justice’s Reparative Justice Program Director Ruben Carranza has argued that the International Criminal Court (ICC) may initiate an investigation into the Philippines if the government does not take action on alleged human rights violations in the country. According to Carranza, this could include an investigation into the criminal accountability of individuals in the country, including President Duterte.
Human rights defenders have repeatedly called for the removal of the Philippines as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council due to the government’s continued denial of extrajudicial killings allegations.
President Salva Kiir has begun pushing for elections to be held in 2018 despite the ongoing conflict in the country. The current term of the transitional government expires in February 2018. The UN has warned, however, that the insecurity in the country is not a stable environment for a vote to take place.
Clashes between government armed forces and rebel groups have killed 91 rebels and five soldiers in the northeastern part of the country. Mabior Garang Mabior, a spokesman on behalf of the rebel groups, has accused the government of breaching a ceasefire.
At the beginning of this week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report on individual deportations and collective expulsions of entire families of Syrian refugees from Jordan, a process which the group alleges has been occurring and increasing in frequency since mid-2016. In the first five months of 2017, the Jordanian authorities reportedly deported 400 registered refugees per month. According to interviews conducted by HRW, Syrian refugees were deported without basic due process, an explanation for their deportation, or even information about the state of security they would be returning to in Syria. Furthermore, such acts would be a violation of, among other international legal obligations, the Arab Charter of Human Rights, to which Jordan is a State party. The report also noted that international humanitarian workers have suggested that the deportations increased as part of an overall increase in security measures throughout Jordan, however, according to HRW, the Jordanian authorities have failed to provide evidence that any of the deported refugees were involved in situations of armed attacks in Jordan.
On Monday, two suicide bombers detonated their explosive belts in a car bomb attack on a police station in Al-Midan, an area of Damascus. The attack killed 17 civilians and policemen. Islamic State (ISIL) has claimed responsibility.
On Thursday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that in the past two weeks violence in Syria has reached its most intense level since the battle for Eastern Aleppo in the winter of 2016. The ICRC noted that the military activity correlated with very high levels of civilian causalities and that at least ten hospitals had been damaged in the last ten days. As violence escalated, the number of internally displaced people increased and humanitarian aid workers are reportedly struggling to provide food and basic health care for the many refugees who have arrived in refugee camps around Raqqa and Deir Az Zor. ICRC has repeated its call on all parties in the conflict to abide by International Humanitarian Law.
An investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has found evidence that sarin nerve gas, which was the substance used in the attack on Khan Sheikhoun in April, was also used in another attack five days earlier in the town Latamneh in northern Syria. This attack reportedly injured more than 50 people. The findings disprove earlier statements that the Khan Sheikhoun attack was the first time the banned substance had been used in the war since 2013. On Wednesday, the UN Security Council met in New York to discuss the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
The crisis in Venezuela has provoked massive waves of refugees fleeing to Colombia. An estimated 25,000 people cross the border every day through the Simon Bolivar International bridge. Common goods have become scarce in Venezuela and hospitals struggle to treat their patients with a shortage of medicines. Many cross the border daily to acquire food or sell goods in the market of the town of Cucutá and go back to Venezuela. For this reason, the government of Colombia has introduced “border mobility cards” so that Venezuelans can cross the border back and forth without their passport
Late last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously adopted a resolution establishing an independent group of experts to investigate violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by all warring parties in Yemen. Amnesty International called the resolution a “breakthrough” and a “victory for Yemenis.”
This week, journalists from several media outlets reported that a draft UN blacklist allegedly included States in the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen for killing and maiming children as part of their military campaign in the country. However, the UN Secretary General (UNSG) has yet to approve the list, and it is therefore still subject to change. The UN ambassador of Saudi Arabia has reportedly refused to comment until the list has been officially published and the Saudi Mission to the UN commented that there was no justification for their government to be on the list..
The Universal Rights Group, with support from the Permanent Mission of Norway to the UN in Geneva, has launched a comprehensive guide on the 2017 Human Rights Council Elections.