Tag Archives: Sri Lanka

#R2P Weekly: 1-5 February 2016

Rtop weekly

 Recommendations from ICRtoP Regional Initiatives

At the 2nd meeting of the Global Action Against Mass Atrocity Crimes (GAAMAC), in Manila, Philippines, ICRtoP’s Megan Schmidt delivered a speech during the workshop “Sub-regional initiatives as a support to national architectures.” Schmidt’s speech focused on the ICRtoP’s regional work in Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, and pulled the main themes that have emerged from such workshops and trainings. She also discussed three common gaps and challenges that civil society organizations have raised when discussing efforts to move RtoP forward at the national level. Finally, Schmidt shared recommendations for national capacity building that have been articulated by ICRtoP members and partners throughout the world.

Click here to read the speech in full.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Gaza/West Bank
Kenya
Iraq
Libya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Sri Lanka
Syria
Yemen
Other


Burma/Myanmar:

Burma’s new democratic majority parliament sat for the first time on Monday 1 February. The elected members of the NLD party are comprised of teachers, poets, writer, doctors, and more than 100 former political prisoners.


Burundi:

At a summit of AU heads of state, the regional body abandoned its plan to send peacekeeping troops to Burundi after failing to garner enough support to overcome Burundi’s lack of consent. Instead, the AU will send a high-level delegation to continue dialogue and consultations about a possible deployment. Opposition groups are additionally requesting the African Union to impose economic sanctions in order to obligate President Pierre Nkurunziza to engage in political dialogue.

According to Amnesty International, emerging satellite images display mass graves near the capital city of Bujumbura, believed to be holding the bodies of 50 people killed during the political turmoil in December. Witnesses claimed that the violence was perpetrated primarily by government forces, supporting other evidence of mass atrocities and human rights violations. Ivan Simonovic, U.N. assistant secretary general for human rights, stressed the necessity to increase the number of human rights monitors in Burundi.  U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also responded to the situation in Burundi by stating: “The longer this situation continues, the more people will be killed and affected.” According to Radio France Internationale, U.N. Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon is considering a visit to Burundi before the end of February.

On Monday 1 February, three grenade explosions occurred in the capital of Burundi, Bujumbura. According to BBC news, at least four people were wounded.

In a leaked confidential report to the UN Security Council, the UN Panel of Experts on sanctions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) accused Rwanda of recruiting and training Burundian rebels to overthrow President Nkurunziza. The U.N. experts, who interrogated Burundian combatants that had strayed into the DRC, stated that the rebels claimed to have received training from Rwanda in military tactics and the use of assault rifles and machine guns, grenades, anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Rwanda denies the accusations.


Central African Republic:

Another sexual allegation against foreign peace officers has emerged from CAR. The claim involved five girls and a boy, all between the ages of seven and 16 when the abuse took place. The abusers are suspected to be from Georgia, France, and the EU.

Additionally, investigators from Human Rights Watch have also accused more UN peacekeepers of raping or sexually exploiting at least eight women and girls between October and December 2015 in CAR. The abuses uncovered, which includes gang rape, allegedly involved MINUSCA peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of Congo which currently has around 800 soldiers in the CAR. The victims were living in camps for internally displaced peoples in Bambari. Some also claimed they had engaged in sexual relations with peacekeepers out of desperation, in exchange for food or money.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian stated on Sunday that France will withdraw its troops from the Central African Republic over the course of this year. France had initially deployed 1,600 troops in December 2013 to help establish peace between the ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka, but now has less than 900 remaining in the country. However, Mr. Le Drian stated that some troops will remain in the CAR even after the French mission formally concludes.

The Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF) in the CAR has released $9 million for lifesaving aid for 2.3 million people currently in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. This will include aid benefiting refugees and displaced persons, as well as the communities that host them, by improving their access to basic human necessities and services and through programs aimed at reducing violence in communities.

The ICC stated that it would deliver its verdict on 21 March in the trial of the former Congolese vice president, Jean-Pierre Bemba, who stands accused of three counts of war crimes and two counts of crimes against humanity committed over 14 years ago by around 1,500 members of his private army in the CAR. Bemba sent his troops into the CAR in order to suppress a coup against the then-president, Ange-Felix Patasse, and whilst there, his troops allegedly murdered, raped, and pillaged. ICC prosecutors claim Bemba had authority and control over his troops when they committed these atrocities, an allegation denied by Bemba’s defense team.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

In a press briefing on Thursday 29 January 2016, UNHCR spokesman Leo Dobbs explained how violence in eastern regions of the DRC has driven tens of thousands out of their homes. At least 15,000 civilians have sought refuge in UNHCR and IOM establishments since November. Following the killing of 14 people by suspected FDLR militants on 7 January, 21,000 civilians, primarily women and children, fled their homes in and around Miriki village. Meanwhile, OCHA reports 1.5 million civilians have been displaced in the DRC, and that 7.5 million (approximately 9% of the entire population), suffer from hunger.

A new brief from Small Arms Survey on the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) concludes that the FDLR has been severely weakened and no longer poses a threat to Rwanda. Nevertheless, the brief warns that the FDLR still poses an ideological threat, if not a military one, and that given the rebels’ past resilience, actors should avoid postponing or downgrading efforts to combat the group.

The Government of the DRC and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) reached an agreement on resuming cooperation against illegal armed groups.


Gaza/West Bank:

After receiving intelligence of a possible Palestinian attack in Israel, the Israeli military imposed restrictions on access to Ramallah. The measures, which bar residents from leaving Ramallah and non-residents from entering the city, came after a Palestinian police officer shot three Israeli soldiers near an Israeli settlement.

Israeli forces demolished 24 Palestinian buildings, including ten constructed with funding from the European Union, in a village in the West Bank. Israel claimed the buildings were illegal, as it had declared the area a military zone in the 1970s. However, human rights groups have challenged Israel’s claim, countering that it is “illegal to establish a military zone in occupied territory.”

In the latest in a string of stabbings and shootings, Israeli troops shot and killed a Palestinian who had been attempting to stab the soldiers in the West Bank.


Iraq:

While the US-led coalition against ISIL seems to be weakening the group militarily, civilians are still suffering the consequences of war. The Iraqi government was forced to end salaries to workers in ISIL-controlled areas because the radical group was taxing the workers’ income and using the proceeds to subsidize its activities, leaving hundreds left without an income. Many of ISIL’s supply routes have been compromised by US forces, which has taken a toll on the group, but has also left scarce resources for civilians. Police and other officials report that 20,000 civilians have fled over the Hamrin mountain ranges in the last few months, battling through cold weather and hunger.

The U.S.-led coalition fighting against ISIL is planning to recapture Mosul this year with the help of the Iraqi government. Should they be successful, their next goal would be to then drive the extremists out of their stronghold in Raqqa, Syria. Re-taking Mosul would be a massive strategic gain in the battle against ISIL occupation in Iraq and Syria.

In a resolution, the European Parliament recognized that ISIL’s crimes against the Yazidis, Christians, and other religious and ethnic minorities constitute genocide. The EU Parliament called on the Security Council to make a similar recognition.


Kenya:

African Union members expressed their support for a Kenyan proposal pushing for withdrawal from the ICC at the Addis Ababa summit, citing the Court’s alleged unfair targeting of African leaders. Since its founding in 2002, out of the 9 countries the ICC has opened inquiries on, all but one have been African. Kenya’s president was tried in a failed case at the ICC and the case against his deputy, William Ruto, has been faltering. This comes amid the beginning of the latest ICC trial against the former Cote d’Ivoire president, Laurent Gbagbo, for alleged war crimes.


Libya:

The joining of the UK with France, the US, and Italy to participate in potential direct military intervention in Libya is likely dependent upon whether efforts to establish a viable national unity government in Libya will succeed in the coming weeks. This comes amid recent statements from French and US officials about the possible need for intervention in the country. French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that ISIL fighters in Libya pose a “major risk to Europe” as they could possibly hide among refugees traveling from Libya to Italy. On 2 February, the coalition of nations fighting ISIS met in Rome to discuss the group’s growing stronghold in Libya. US Secretary of State John Kerry called for the US and its European allies to help Libya’s military and increase security training for Libyan forces to help create a secure environment for the new unity government to operate in.

ISIL recently released images of the alleged execution of three people in the group’s stronghold, Sirte, Libya. They were accused of being spies and at least one of them was executed by a man in a wheelchair. Other photos also show a man being prepared for crucifixion and another tied up and crucified.

The African Union closed its summit in Addis Ababa by stating that, while it was concerned over ISIL gaining ground in Libya, the time was not right for a military solution in the country. The AU also set up a new Libya Task Force composed of fives heads of state to assist in the process of forming a new unity government. The AU also appointed a new special envoy to Libya and met with the UNSMIL chief, Martin Kobler, who urged them to play a bigger role in Libya. After talks in Algiers with the Algerian minister in charge of Maghreb affairs, Kobler again urged for a quick formation of a Libyan national unity government and reportedly said that such a government should be installed in Tripoli.

A $166 million UN-backed humanitarian appeal to aid 1.3 million people in Libya is barely one percent funded almost two months after its launch,  according to the UN. Only two donors have contributed 2.1 million in humanitarian funding as the international community has focused its efforts on mobilizing support for the Government of National Accord (GNA). While such efforts should be applauded, the UN stressed that the humanitarian needs of the people must also be addressed and cannot wait for the resolution of the political situation.


Mali:

Humanitarian workers in Mali have appealed for $354 million in order to help 1 million conflict affected people from mostly northern and central Mali. The funds will be used to help the international humanitarian community with assistance from the Malian government to increase access to food, water, education, shelter, protection, and more to support the work of 40 humanitarian organizations already working on over 127 projects throughout the country.


Nigeria:

A Boko Haram raid in Dalori, a village in northeastern Nigeria, has killed up to as many as 65 to 100 people. The raid included suicide bombers which attacked those trying to flee, the abduction of children, and the burning to the ground of up to 300 homes, including the burning alive of those inside. The government claims the death toll was 65 with around 130 injured, but residents claim that the real number of dead is closer to 100. Furthermore, some residents have complained that Nigerian authorities did not arrive to the scene fast enough to be able to assist in fighting the attackers off.

Though the Nigerian government still maintains that it has achieved a “technical defeat” of Boko Haram, in January 2016alone, Boko Haram attackers firebombed Dalori and suicide bombers killed 25 in Chibok and 10 in Gombi. Human Rights Watch argues that Boko Haram’s loss of control over key towns does not mean that the government should use this ‘technical defeat’ as an excuse to press people back to their homes, which could remain unsafe. HRW also provided satellite imagery showing that over 40% of Dalori had suffered burn scars and building damages after the the latest attack.

Days after the Dalori attack, the Nigerian military claimed it had used a drone to bomb a logistics base belonging to Boko Haram which could have possibly hit an ammunition and fuel depot and dealt a “major setback” to the group. The military said that 286 such operations were carried out by the air force last month in a “sustained aerial bombardment.”

In a press statement, the Security Council condemned the attacks committed by Boko Haram as “horrific terrorist attacks” and “called on all States to cooperate in bringing the perpetrators to justice.”


South Sudan:

Russia rejected the recommendations made by a UN panel last week to place an arms embargo on South Sudan and sanctions on President Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar, stating that such measures would not be conducive to the peace process.

A report submitted to the AU by the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) reports that the South Sudanese government had killed approximately 50 people in October. Government forces had stuffed the individuals into a shipping container in blistering heat. Despite the ceasefire negotiated in the August peace deal, the report documents at least five violations of the agreement similar to this one.

Furthermore, as the government and rebels delay forming a transitional government to end the ongoing civil war, people in the Western Equatoria region are experiencing widespread starvation.


Sri Lanka:
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will visit Sri Lanka from 6-10 February in the midst of uncertainty on the country’s permittance of an international judicial mechanism to investigate and try the alleged atrocity crimes committed during the country’s civil war with the separatist group, the Tamil Tigers.


Sudan/Darfur:

The UN now estimates that renewed clashes between the government and rebels in Jebel Marra, a mountainous region of Darfur, have caused approximately 44,700 people to flee their homes over the past two weeks alone. The UN cautioned that the numbers are likely to change as better data becomes available.
Sudan’s national dialogue conference in Khartoum earlier this week recommended that the Darfur administrative referendumbe postponed. The idea for the referendum initially spawned from the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), which entails that the permanent status of Darfur be determined via a nationwide referendum. It was originally scheduled to occur from 11-13 April 2016, but the chairman of the dialogue’s Freedoms and Rights Committee says they will be submitting a document for postponement to the general secretariat of the dialogue conference.


Syria:

The initial preparatory meeting for the UN-led Syrian peace talks in Geneva was finally held on Friday 29 January 2016. Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, announced that he had met with a “substantial” delegation from the Syrian government. De Mistura then declared the official launch of the peace talks on Monday, amid significant advances by the Assad government near Aleppo, helped by 320 Russian airstrikes.

A branch of the Syrian opposition, the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee (HRC), also met with de Mistura, but underscored that it was only in Geneva to assess the government’s intentions, not for negotiations, at least until the government ended its sieges and airstrikes on rebel-occupied territory. As a so-called gesture of goodwill, the governmentallowed aid to enter into rebel-held sections of Damascus on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, de Mistura announced a temporary suspension of the talks on Wednesday, a short two days after their official launch. The UN envoy cited the government’s unwillingness to allow humanitarian aid into rebel-held towns as an obstruction to serious talks, but hoped that negotiations would resume no later than 25 February. However, it is unclear whether Russia and the Assad government will be more willing to negotiate in three weeks than they are now, given their recent gains on the battlefield. Indeed, the pause came on the same day that the Syrian army recaptured Nubul and Zahra, two Shiite towns in Northern Aleppo held by rebels for three years.

Meanwhile, at least 50 people were killed and 100 wounded in bombings attributed to ISIL on Sunday, and King Abdullah of Jordan announced that his country was at a “boiling point” after the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.


Yemen:

Human Rights Watch revealed that Houthi forces have been preventing food and medical aid to civilians in Taizz for months. Houthi guards seized the food, water, and cooking gas at checkpoints. Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director, stated: “Seizing property from civilians is already unlawful, but taking their food and medical supplies is simply cruel.” Médecins Sans Frontières noted that its 17 January entry into Taizz was the first time it was able to bring medical aid into the city in months.

In response to a recent UN report, the Saudi-led Arab coalition formed an independent team of experts to investigate military operations that have led to civilians casualtie. Nevertheless, human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, expressed concerns about the reliability of the Saudi-led Arab coalition team of experts and called for the establishment of an international and impartial commission to investigate the possible war crimes.  The UK’s International Development Select Committee requested David Cameron, Prime Minister of the UK, to suspend the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia due to the likelihood that the arms were being used to commit violations of international humanitarian law. Moreover, the Committee echoed the call to form an independent commission to investigate Saudi-led military operations.

Al-Qaeda militants reportedly re-claimed the town of Azzan, in the Shabwa region of Yemen on Monday morning.


What else is new?

This week, the Global Action Against Mass Atrocity Crimes (GAAMAC) held its second meeting in Manila, Philippines. Read the agenda of the conference here.

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#R2P Weekly: 23 November – 4 December

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ICRtoP launches call for blog submissions: Lend your voice to the global debate

Featuring leading experts on RtoP and practitioners directly working to prevent atrocities, ICRtoP’s blog on the Responsibility to Protect provides a forum for reflection on a range of issues related to the norm. Whether focusing on country situations, thematic issues, or normative and institutional developments at all levels, the ICRtoPblog.org is a leading online resource on the Responsibility to Protect.

Are you dedicated to preventing atrocity crimes through your academic leadership, policy influence, or direct work to protect populations? Do you want to be a part of and inform the debate on the Responsibility to Protect? Would you like to have an impact on the development of RtoP and action to prevent atrocity crimes? If so, then the ICRtoP invites you to submit an abstract for consideration to be a guest writer for our blog. Submissions should be no longer than 1500 words, and can focus on a diverse range of issues not yet explored on our site. If selected, the ICRtoP will welcome your final post of to be published on the blog, featured in our newsletter, and shared on our social media channels.

Submissions will be welcomed on a rolling basis and can be sent to info@responsibilitytoprotect.org. Please use “ICRtoP blog abstract” in the subject line.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Gaza
Iraq
Kenya
Libya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sri Lanka
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen
Other


Burma/Myanmar:

Since the ceasefire last April, the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) have documented eight cases of sexual violence committed by the Burmese Army, with the most recent on 5 November. Only two of the eight cases have led to arrests of the perpetrators. The SHRF have also accused the military of bombing schools and temples and firing on civilians, which has displaced more than 10,000 people.
In their first meeting since the National League of Democracy’s (NLD) win in the November elections, Aung San Suu Kyi met with current Myanmar president, Thein Sein. According to a statement, the two agreed to “to cooperate on stability and peace, the rule of the law, unity and reconciliation and development of the country as regards to the wishes of the people.”


Burundi:

The African Union Peace and Security Council has temporarily paused the deployment of peacekeepers to Burundi and has voted to increase the number of specialized observers, including military experts, police, and human rights observers. The AU has also indicated that should the situation deteriorate, it is ready to quickly deploy the Eastern African Standby Force.
Armed vigilante units have materialized in several areas. The units patrol at night, most notably where anti-government protests erupted earlier in the year. An anonymous leader interviewed by Reuters noted that “since the government has been killing people, we decided to come up with this initiative to protect ourselves.”

Various civil society groups, including the ICGLR National Civil Society Committee, Uganda Chapter, and women’s rights groups, have called for action against the increasingly volatile spiral of violence in Burundi specifically appealing to the African Union, East African Community, African Union Peace and Security Council, and the larger international community to put in place a humanitarian corridor or buffer zone to facilitate relief operations in addition to deploying peacekeepers.

The government “suspended” 10 civil society groups, including the Association for the Protection of Human RIghts and Detained Persons (APRODH), accusing the groups of fueling widespread violence. The groups have seen their bank accounts frozen by Prosecutor General Valentine Bagorikunda.UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has condemned the Burundian government’s decision, noting that civil society organizations should be able to carry out their legitimate activities without restriction.

United Nations Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon outlined three options per the United Nations Security Council’s request for options: a U.N. peacekeeping mission, a special political mission or a support team for the special advisor on Burundi, with emphasis on the latter as a recommendation.

At least seven people including a police officer and civilians were killed overnight in separate instances in the Burundian capital and surrounding area in the latest wave of violence, which civil society groups say has already killed more than 240 people.


Central African Republic:

The ODI – Humanitarian Policy Group has released a report detailing how people in the Central African Republic are affected by conflict in the context of protection threats, how they are mitigated, and expectations from those wishing to provide protection.
UNICEF announced that more than a million children in the Central African Republic are in need of immediate humanitarian aid with almost half of those under the age of five reportedly being malnourished.

David Zounmenou, a senior researcher at leading African think-tank Institute for Security Studies, stated this week that Central African Republic authorities were neither prepared to provide adequate security nor able to guarantee all eligible voters would be represented on the voters’ roll in the upcoming December elections.

 


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Fighting between the U.N.-backed Congolese army and Islamist Ugandan rebels killled 30 at a hospital, seven of whom were hacked to death.. Intelligence gaps, poor coordination, and lack of resources have left the Congolese army and U.N. peacekeeping force ineffective in the face of the armed ADF group, estimated at only a few hundred fighters.


Gaza/West Bank:

Human Rights Watch published their letter to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor on the Court’s preliminary investigation in Palestine. The letter calls for violations associated with Israeli settlement policies committed during the 2014 fighting in the Gaza Strip to be thoroughly scrutinized by the Prosecutor’s office.

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, expressed concern at the slow progress on the case concerning the arson attack against the Dawabsha family in the village of Duma in the West Bank four months ago, calling on the Israeli authorities to “move swiftly in bringing the perpetrators of the this terrible crime to justice.”


Iraq:

Officials found a booby-trapped mass grave close to Sinjar, northern Iraq, containing the remains of at least 110 people from the minority Yazidi group. The mayor of Sinjar appealed to international organisations for help in collecting evidence for the International Criminal Court of ISIL’s alleged genocide of the Yazidis.

A suicide bomber killed six people and wounded sixteen on Saturday in Tuz Khurmatu, northern Iraq.

The UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) reported that a “vicious circle of violence”, including acts of terrorism and armed conflict, had killed 489 civilians and injured 869 civilians in November 2015. Baghdad was the most affected city, with 1,110 civilian victims (325 killed, 785 injured).

In his second report on children and armed conflict in Iraq,UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned in the “strongest possible terms” the continuous grave violations committed against children in the armed conflict in Iraq. He especially deplored the abhorrent violations against the rights of children committed by ISIL, which may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity.

The Turkish army reported a new wave of airstrikes by its warplanes on northern Iraq in the latest assault on targets belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The operation involved 22 fighter jets and 23 targets were hit.


Kenya:

Amnesty International said that the Kenyan government’s interference in the independence of the International Criminal Court during the Assembly of State Parties (ASP) was “a shocking indictment” of the country’s campaign to deny justice to victims during 2008’s post-election violence. Amnesty alleged that the government of Kenya effectively attempted to blackmail the ASP to comply to its demands, which would undermine the trial of the country’s Deputy President, William Samoei Ruto, by threatening to withdraw from the ICC. Although the proposal was defeated, Amnesty say it is a stark warning of the ASP’s vulnerability to state demands.


Libya:

Martin Kobler, the new UN envoy to Libya, expressed his hope that the peace accord establishing a unity government between Libya’s rival bodies would soon be signed. In a jointstatement, the Governments of Algeria, France, Germany, Italy, Morocco, Spain, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States encouraged both rival governments to sign the UN brokered peace deal. The Tebu and Tuareg, two rival tribes from southern Libya who have been in a battle for control of the oil fields since 2011, signed their own peace agreement in Qatar. The parties agreed to a ceasefire and the removal of armed elements from Ubari.

ISIL’s presence in Sirte has now expanded into a 5000-strong body that includes administrators and financiers, according to Libyan officials in the area. A UN report corroborated such an assessment, saying that ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, “exerts more control over its Libyan affiliate than any other chapter of the group outside Syria and Iraq and views Libya as the best opportunity to expand its so-called caliphate.” ISIL’s social media accounts are also calling on volunteers to join in Libya instead of Syria or Iraq.


Mali:

The German Defense Minister announced that the government of Germany would send up to 650 soldiers to support MINUSMA. A statement released by the Malian Army has said that two Malians were arrested in Bamako in regards to the attack last week on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali’s capital city.

A rocket was fired by unknown attackers at a UN peacekeeping base in northern Mali, killing three, including two peacekeepers, and wounding 20. The UN Security Council condemned the rocket attack, noting that it could constitute a war crime. It further urged the Malian government to investigate the attack and to hold those responsible accountable.


Nigeria:

A government spokesperson warned that the Nigerian president’s deadline to crush Boko Haram by December would not be met. As if to underscore his point, a march by Shia Muslims was interrupted by a Boko Haram suicide attack, killing 21. Residents of Gulak reported that Boko Haram had destroyed a Nigerian military base, and that civilian fighters had assisted in preventing the terrorists from overtaking the enitre town until the military sent reinforcements.


South Sudan:

The Sudan’s People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) called for the international community and rights activists to heed its call for unrestricted humanitarian access to war-affected areas. The call came after the government’s negotiating team declined a proposal submitted by mediators, which requested a ceasefire and humanitarian access to rebel-controlled areas.

Warning of a further spiral in the cycle of revenge killings on a mass scale, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recommended an extra 1,100 peacekeepers be deployed to South Sudan.

At least 25 civilians have been massacred in eastern South Sudan by rebel groups, marking a targeted attack in one of the last remaining Anyuak ethnic communities in the region. Barnabas Okony, a member of parliament from the Anuak community, said that the rebels had ordered all men and boys to be killed, and leaving the girls and some mothers for sexual abuse or exploitation.

The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has said that its workers had resumed operations this week and were able to reach thousands in southern Unity State. Civilians in the area had been cut-off from assistance after fighting resumed in October.  Joint assessment teams have found that without food, livelihood assistance, nutrition and health services, the situation is on track for degenerate even further in the beginning of 2016.


Sri Lanka:

Chandrika Kumaratunga, head of the reconciliation unit of President Sirisena’s government,announced that a Special Court to examine alleged war crimes during the civil war would begin its work by early January.


Sudan/Darfur:

While food insecurity and lack of shelter or health services plague many displaced Darfuris, for the first time since 2011 an inter-agency mission has been finally able to visit Jebel Marra, where the majority of displaced people were in need of emergency services as well as water, education, and protection services.

According to UNICEF, roughly two million Sudanese children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition annually, with nearly 550,000 of them suffering from life-threatening severe acute malnutrition in the east and conflict-hit Darfur regions. UNICEF also noted that up to 16,000 children have been forced into fighting since the beginning of 2015.


Syria:

Russia launched intensified attacks on “terrorist” targets in Syria, firing long-range cruise missiles from warships in the Caspian Sea. Russian military said it fired 18 cruise missiles on Friday, destroying seven “Islamist” targets in Raqqa, Idlib and Aleppo provinces. However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that Russian air strikes in Syria have killed 1,331 people since their campaign began on September 30: 381 ISIL fighters, 547 militants from Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front and other rebel forces and 403 civilians, including 97 children. In an additional attack, SOHR reported that Russian warplanes killed at least 18 people in the town of Ariha that is held by opposition forces, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). U.S. officials stated that reports of heavy civilian casualties from Russian airstrikes in Syria are a main reason why the two powers are unlikely to cooperate in bombing ISIL. President Obama did nevertheless affirm that Russia could join the “broad-based coalition” led by the U.S. if it shifts its focus from defending President Bashar al-Assad.

British warplanes began bombing ISIL targets in Syria for the first time late on Wednesday, hours after Britain’s House of Commons voted to extend its airstrikes against the extremist group. Prior to the vote, the UK had limited its operations against ISIL to Iraq, but Prime Minister David Cameron won the vote by 397-223 to bomb the group in its Syrian “heartland”.

In other news from SOHR, the civil society organization reported a total death toll of 4182 people in November 2015. Among the fatalities were 1053 civilians, including 198 children and 116 women, killed by airstrikes by regime and Russian air forces, ISIL attacks, US-led coalition airstrikes, inside regime jails, shells launched by Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG), Jabhat al-Nusra, the rebels and Islamist factions, shelling by the regime forces, firing by the Turkish border guards, explosions, snipers, in unknown circumstances and due to poor health conditions and lack of medicine. SOHR reiterated its call to members of the UN Security Council to issue a binding resolution that prohibits targeting civilians in Syria.

Human Rights Watch reported that Turkey has effectively closed its borders with Syria and is returning Syrian asylum seekers without assessing their asylum claims. Reports emerged of Turkish border guards intercepting Syrian asylum seekers at or near the Turkish border and in some cases beating and detaining them before expelling back to Syria.

UNICEF Representative in Syria Hanaa Singer reported that a Syria-regime air strike on a water treatment plant in Aleppo last Thursday cut water supplies to some 3.5 million people, and while pumping has been partly restored, 1.4 million still have interruptions in their supply.


Yemen:

UN OCHA, in its 2016 Humanitarian Needs Overviewreported that around 21.2 million people in Yemen (82% of the population) are in need of some kind of assistance to meet their basic needs. The overview shows that six months of war have taken a “severe toll” on civilians’ lives and basic rights. The UN World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, reported that more than 15.2 million Yemenis now lack access to health care services, more than half the country’s total population, while there is a 55% gap in requested international funding to address the crisis. The WHO needs $83 million to address the health care crisis but has so far only received $37 million.

UN Humanitarian Aid chief Stephen O’Brien accused Yemen’s Houthi rebels of blocking and diverting aid deliveries to the city of Taez, where 200,000 people are living under siege and which continues to be held by government and loyalist forces.

Human Rights Watch released a report with allegations of unlawful airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition on Houthi rebels, which have resulted in civilian deaths and casualties. Human Rights Watch alleges Saudi Arabia, its coalition partners, and also the United States, have failed to investigate the unlawful airstrikes.

Al-Qaeda fighters drove pro-government forces out of Jaar in southern Yemen on Wednesday in a new show of strength by the group, whose presence in the war ravaged country is reportedly expanding. The fighting in Jaar killed 15 people. Al-Qaeda also consolidated their control over territory in southern Yemen after fighters captured the towns of Zinjibar and Jaar from pro-government forces.

The British ambassador to the United Nations, Matthew Rycroft, said on Wednesday that long-delayed peace talks on the Yemeni conflict could finally begin in Geneva in mid-December. Mr Rycroft said the threat posed by extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda highlighted the need to find an urgent resolution. UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has tried for weeks to launch peace talks, but no date has been announced.


What else is new?

The ICRtoP and the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect will be holding the third workshop in the series “Advancing Atrocities Prevention in Southeast Asia” in Kuala Lumpur from 7-9 December. The workshop will convene civil society from Myanmar and Malaysia for a training on the UN Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes and sessions on formulating national action plans for civil society on atrocities prevention.

Liberal International will be hosting a conference at the EU Parliament in Brussels and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group (ALDE Group) on 10 December entitled: “The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Ten Years On: What Next?” Angela Patnode, ICRtoP’s Communications and Advocacy Officer, will be presenting on the panel “Is RtoP Dead? Syria, Ukraine, and Beyond”. ICRtoP members and partners based in the area are welcome to attend, please contact info@responsibilitytoprotect.org for more information.

A special issue of Global Society entitled “Contesting and Shaping the Norms of Protection: The Evolution of a Responsibility to Protect” is now available. The issue includes a collection of papers by researchers from around the world that analyze the debates about RtoP at key moments over the past ten years.

The Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation is offering a graduate-level Genocide Prevention Certificate (GPC), in collaboration with Stockton University. Click on the link for more information.


 

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#R2P Weekly: 16 – 20 November 2015

Untitled

14th Assembly of State Parties of the International Criminal Court

weeklyphoto20        The International Criminal Court, often referred to as “the legal arm” of the Responsibility to Protect, is holding its 14th Assembly of States Parties (ASP) in The Hague. As stated by the Coalition for the ICC’s Amielle del Rosario, RtoP and the ICC can be viewed as part of a ‘justice continuum’, as both require a spectrum of action, from preventive measures to timely and decisive response to addressing the risks of recurrence. Indeed, accountability for the perpetrators of atrocity crimes serves as a vital element of upholding the Responsibility to Protect, as ending impunity for these crimes functions both as a deterrent for future perpetrators and as a means to rebuild communities in the wake of atrocities.

Amnesty International, in a call that was echoed by the Coalition for the ICC, advocated for states to strengthen the ICC, rather than accept proposals by the governments of Kenya and South Africa that could undermine the Court’s independence. Such proposals, according to Amnesty, would “hit at the heart of the ability of the ICC to tackle breaches of international law.” The Coalition for the ICC further called for States Parties to the Rome Statute to express their commitment to gender justice, including by noting that sexual and gender-based crimes result from pre-existing gender inequalities that target those most vulnerable in society on the basis of their gender. FIDH, the Kenya Human Rights Commission, and ICRtoP member African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, meanwhile, encouraged States Parties to, inter alia, support a strong Trust Fund for Victims, ensure the effective participation of victims in ICC proceedings, and to create a strong field presence to supply outreach to victims and affected communities.

Find more civil society recommendations to the ASP here. The Coalition for the ICC is providing daily summaries of proceedings at the ASP. You can also follow #ASP14 on Twitter for live updates.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
Central African Republic
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Gaza
Iraq
Libya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sri Lanka
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen
Other


Burma/Myanmar:

 

The Burmese Army has increased their attacks in the Shan State, with reports of ground and air offensives from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N). Last week, the Burmese Army reportedlyattacked a high school housing 1,500 internally displaced civilians (IDPs) in Kesi Township.

The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) and the National League for Democracy (NLD) accused  Dr. Sai Mauk Kham, the current Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) Vice President, of rigging votes.

The UN Human Rights Council completed the second Universal Periodic Review for Burma on 10 November, which outlines 281 recommendations from foreign governments, rights groups and civil society organizations. President Thein Sein has agreed to less than half of the recommendations from the review, breaking a commitment to political reform made at the beginning of his term. Civil society urged the newly elected Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party to accept the core UPR recommendations that have been rejected.

A joint statement between Amnesty International and FIDH called on “all UN member states to recognize the continued need for a resolution on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.”


Burundi:

Various UN independent experts expressed outrage at the deteriorating human rights situation in Burundi after the United Nations Security Council adopted a new resolution condemning the violence. A group of seven Special Rapporteurs urged for the text to be followed by “concrete responses fitting the magnitude of the risks at stake.” Despite additional UN pleas for an end to violence, at least four people have been killed in separate shootings and explosions in Burundi’s capital of Bujumbura on Sunday, including targeted attacks on police and the residence of the mayor of Bujumbura.

UNICEF reported that child rights violations have multiplied since the beginning of the violent crisis in Burundi. UNICEF also raised attention to the lack of essential medicine and supplies for children and mothers.

The International Organization of Migration reported that over half of the thousands of displaced people are children, many of whom suffer from malaria and malnutrition. The International Monetary Fund expects the economy of Burundi to shrink by 7.2% this year, consequently reversing a decade of growth experienced by the country.


Central African Republic:

Suspected former Seleka rebels attacked two camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), killing nine individuals, including a UN peacekeeper. Later this week, raids assumed to be orchestrated by the ex-Seleka killed at least 22 people, with multiple people reported missing from the villages of Ndassima and Mala.

After talks with the Democratic Republic of Congo concerning its future involvement in the UN peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic (MINUSCA), the United Nations hasdetermined that the DRC troops have not been adequately vetted and therefore do not pass a pre-deployment assessment.


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

The director of the UN’s Joint Human Rights Office for the DRC, Jose Maria Aranaz, confirmed that government soldiers raped 14 women over a three-day period in September in South Kivu.


Gaza/West Bank:

Israeli military forces raided Qalandiya refugee camp in the West Bank before dawn on Monday, killing two Palestinian men and wounding several others. Residents said up to 1,000 soldiers entered the camp to destroy the home of the family of Muhammad Abu Shaheen, a resident who is charged with killing an Israeli civilian in June. The military reported three shootings and attacks from hundreds of Palestinians with fire bombs, improvised explosive devices, and rocks during the raids.
Palestinian attackers killed at least three Israelis in two attacks in Israel and the occupied West Bank, according to police forces. In the first attack, a Palestinian man stabbed two Israelis to death at the entrance of a shop that serves as a synagogue in Tel Aviv. Later on Thursday, attackers opened fire and rammed a car into pedestrians near the Gush Etzion settlement; one person was killed and five others wounded, according to the Israeli police.


Iraq:

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum released a report on crimes against humanity committed by ISIL against several minority groups in northern Iraq, as well as on the possible genocide of the Yezidi people.

An ISIL suicide bombing killed 21 and wounded at least 46 when a bomber targeted a Shia memorial service in the Baghdad suburb of Hay al-Amala. An ISIL roadside bomb detonated at a Shia shrine in Sadr City killed at least five people and wounded 15.

Kurdish forces discovered a mass grave believed to contain the remains of 70 Iraqi Yazidis in Sinjar after the Kurdish forces retook the town from ISIL. The mayor of Sinjar, Mahma Xelil, said the grave would be left undisturbed so experts could analyze the remains and collect evidence for a case to recognize the atrocities as genocide.


Libya:

A Joint Report of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was released on 16 November,  stating “all parties in Libya appear to be committing violations of international humanitarian law, including those that may amount to war crimes as well as gross violations or abuses of international human rights law.” The International Criminal Court is investigating the claims.

Martin Kobler, who formally took over from Spaniard Bernardino Leon on Tuesday as the U.N. Libya envoy, announced that he will restart the unity government talks and prioritize security-related issues.


Mali:

Military sources announced that its army had arrested Alaye Bocari, a financial supporter of the Islamist radical group Massina Liberation Front (MLF). The MLF has been responsible for many deadly attacks in Mali.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen reported that Berlin planned to increase its military presence in Mali; Northern Ireland also expressed its willingness to send more peacekeepers to Mali.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the progress that has been made at the political level for Mali is not reflected within communities where fighting continues and people are forced from their homes. Aid efforts have also been affected by attacks on aid workers and their facilities.


Nigeria:

According to Nigerian top officials and international security experts, Boko Haram has lost much of its ground in northern Nigeria. Nevertheless, on Thursday an explosion believed to be the work of Boko Haram killed more than 30 people and injured about 80 in Yola.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the arrest of Sambo Dasuki, a key adviser to former President Goodluck in 2011, as well as other former high ranking officials who issued fraudulent arms contracts amounting to $5.4 billion, denying Nigerian forces weapons needed to fight Boko Haram.

The Institute of Economics and Peace released the “Global Terrorism Index” which determined Boko Haram to be responsible for more deaths last year than any other terrorist group. Boko Haram is reported to have killed 6,664 people, while the deaths of 6,073 were attributed to ISIL in 2014.


South Sudan:

The European Union vocalized its support for a continental network of African judiciaries under the African Union to establish a hybrid court. The AU Commission of Inquiry, alongside others, has recommended the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to further investigate rights abuses.

Both the South Sudanese rebels and the government have accused the other of further violating August’s peace deal with increased attacks or raids in Unity State, just ahead of their meeting at a regional peace conference in Juba on Nov. 23.

South Sudanese president Salva Kiir stated that his country has struggled to resettle thousands of refugees and IDPs during the last two years of war, emphasizing that low world oil prices have depleted government coffers.


Sri Lanka:

The main Tamil party (TNA) and civil society organizations organized the complete shutdown in Sri Lanka’s North and Eastern provinces of public transportation, schools, offices, and businesses over the government’s failure to uphold its pledge to release all political prisoners by November 7 and repeal the terrorism law.

UN working group experts, Bernard Duhaime, Tae-Ung Baik, and Ariel Dulitzky, said they had “found a secret underground detention center at a Sri Lankan navy base where many post-civil war detainees were believed to have been interrogated and tortured.” However, the Sri Lankan navy denies these allegations.


Sudan/Darfur:

OCHA released a statement on Monday that as many as 166,000 people have been forced to flee the country this year, in addition to 286,000 people last year. The head of OCHA’s Sudan office also raised his concerns over the 2.5 million IDPs in the region.

The Sudanese government chief negotiator expressed the readiness of his government to sign a humanitarian agreement with the Sudan’s People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N) ahead of a new round of dialogue on Thursday.

The UK-based charity Sudan Social Development Organisation (SUDO) released a report by its network of human rights monitors, which verified 71 incidents of human rights abuses throughout four of the five states of Darfur. The Government of Sudan is deemed responsible for 32 of the incidents, with militias such as Janjaweed responsible for 34. Meanwhile, the SPLM-N has reportedly committed two of the abuses, with the remaining four conducted by unknown assailants. The abuses documented include targeted murder of civilians, destruction of villages, rape of women and minors, barrel bombing of civilian targets and situations of torture.


Syria:

Foreign ministers of nearly 20 nations devised an “ambitious yet incomplete plan” on ending the conflict in Syria in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday. The plan sets a 1 January deadline to start the negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition groups. The Syrian government has reportedly already nominated representatives, and UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura will begin immediate work to determine who will represent the opposition.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a statement instructing the United Nations Secretariat to accelerate planning on “modalities” to support the implementation of a political process in Syria and a nationwide ceasefire for further exploration with relevant parties. The statement also expressed the Secretary-General’s hope that this Saturday’s meeting in Vienna will make progress in ensuring humanitarian access throughout Syria, in accordance with relevant Security Council resolutions.

France bombed the ISIL stronghold of Raqqa on Sunday night, following the terrorist attacks in Paris. American forces launched attacks on 116 ISIL trucks carrying oil near Deir al-Zour in eastern Syria. The group has been selling oil as one of its main revenue sources and the US has increased strikes against infrastructure that allows ISIL to pump oil in Syria. Until Monday’s strikes, the US has refrained from striking the fleet of oil tankers out of concerns for causing civilian casualties. Following Monday’s strikes, an American official reported that there were no immediate reports of civilian casualties.


Yemen:

A bomb explosion on Friday during midday prayers at a Houthi-frequented mosque in Shibam killed several worshippers and wounded others.

Yemeni and Saudi-led coalition forces attacked Houthi rebels in Taez province on Monday in an attempt to retake the territory.

The UNHCR reported that thousands of Yemenis are fleeing to Djibouti across the Gulf of Aden.

Following the US state department’s announcement on Monday to sell $1.3bn worth of bombs to Saudi Arabia, Amnesty International reported that three types of bombs that the US proposes selling have previously been used in unlawful strikes in Yemen, which violated international humanitarian law. The US Congress now has 30 days in which to block the sale.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released evidence of the use of banned antipersonnel landmines by Houthis in Yemen, which have caused multiple new civilian casualties. HRW advocated for the UN Human Rights Council to create an independent international Commission of Inquiry to investigate serious violations of international humanitarian law by all warring parties in Yemen.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator Johannes Van der Klaauw announced that the ongoing war has caused over 32,000 casualties and 5,700 deaths, including 830 women and children. He also reported a dramatic rise in human rights violations, with an average of 43 violations occurring every day.


What else is new?

Jennifer Trahan, an Associate Clinical Professor at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs, published an op/ed on the proposed “Code of Conduct” for Security Council action in the face of mass atrocities, calling on the United States to join.

During Geneva Peace Week, the Permanent Missions of Australia, Ghana, Hungary, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uruguay, with the support of the United Nations Office at Geneva, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and the Graduate Institute, held an event entitled “10th anniversary of Responsibility to Protect: A Focus on Prevention.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights delivered a statement on the implementation of RtoP, concluding with the notion that no discussion in the world today is more important than “our common responsibility, as human beings, to protect other people” – a strong affirmation of the core values behind RtoP.


Above photo: Coalition for the International Criminal Court, 18 November 2015, ASP 2015

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RtoP and Rebuilding: Preventing atrocities through post-conflict reconstruction

In the lead up to the World Summit, then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, noted that “roughly half of the countries that emerge from war lapse back into violence within five years.” RtoP was first put forward in the report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, with advocates embracing it as a full spectrum of responsibilities from prevention, to reaction and rebuilding. When governments unanimously endorsed RtoP in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, the “responsibility to rebuild” was not included (presumably because rebuilding was to be the focus of the newly created Peacebuilding Commission), but rebuilding obviously plays a large part in preventing a return to conflict and the commission of atrocity crimes. This leaves us asking – What is the responsibility of actors in post-atrocity situations? With a number of states – Libya, te d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka, and Kenya – emerging from bloodshed in recent years, it is important to understand how actors can effectively contribute to the rebuilding process.

What does post-crisis reconstruction after mass atrocities entail? 

Mass atrocities – genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing – are the most extreme forms of violence and often literally destroy a country by leaving it with collapsing infrastructure and destabilized political, judicial and legal systems. These institutions often need to be rebuilt from scratch and on top of this, the social fabric – how members of a society interact with each other – breaks down, and mistrust and suspicion predominate between the fractured communities.  As can be expected then, rebuilding is a complicated and multi-faceted process, and includes a range of measures that can be taken by actors at all levels to assist in reconstruction. Such measures may include fostering political inclusiveness and promoting national unity, reforming legislation, ratifying relevant treaties, promoting human rights, monitoring elections, improving judicial processes, reintegrating ex-combatants and others into productive society, curtailing the availability of small arms, providing psychological support and reparations to victims, and establishing truth and reconciliation commissions. It is critical that these efforts not only serve to bring security to a country or region, but also address the causes of the conflict and mistrust between communities.  Without this complete approach, it is likely that continued suspicion could fester, risking a return to the deadly cycle of violence. What this demonstrates is that no single measure in the rebuilding process stands alone, but rather that all action must be linked to ensure a holistic approach that achieves long-term stability.

Responsibility to Rebuild in Practice

But what does rebuilding look like in practice?  As the cases of Libya, Côte d’Ivoire and Sri Lanka show, post-conflict countries are fragile and the tasks before them complex, as each state faces unique challenges based on its past, the causes of the conflict, and the level of destruction experienced.

Libya: Weapons continue to destabilize a nation and the region

The international community upheld its responsibility to protect populations in Libya by taking swift and coordinated efforts to halt the bloodshed and imminent threat to the people of Benghazi at the hands of the Gaddafi government, which had resorted to force against what began as a peaceful popular uprising. However, rebuilding remains an ongoing challenge as the countless weapons, which flooded the nation during the crisis following the arming of the opposition by outside states, continues to destabilize security in Libya and surrounding countries. While measures were taken to secure anti-aircraft missiles, nearly every adult male carries a weapon, and countless more arms that went missing have turned up in the hands of rebel forces in Mali. This is not to say the government and international community have done nothing since the crisis – both have remained engaged in the justice process by attempting to eliminate impunity through the national judiciary and the International Criminal Court, and have provided economic support, with the European Union giving an economic package to combat post-crisis challenges and the United States unfreezing assets worth US $32 billion. Yet as Ramesh Thakur argues, the challenges we see today demonstrate that more needs to be done to prevent revenge killings, reprisal attacks and the return to mass violence by establishing security and law and order and disarming the country.

Côte d’Ivoire: The struggle for justice and reconciliation 

Meanwhile, Côte d’Ivoire continues to struggle to rebuild by holding perpetrators accountable following the disputed 2010 presidential election between former President Laurent Gbagbo and recognized election winner Alassane Ouattara that left hundreds dead, thousands displaced and descended the country into war. Since the crisis, claims of one-sided justice have emerged – further perpetuating divisions between communities and causing an increase in attacks. Pro-Ouattara forces were quick to seek justice by arresting Gbagbo on 11 April 2011. They re-established key institutions such as courthouses and prisons, and assured that all responsible for atrocities would be held accountable. Yet, as Human Rights Watch (HRW) points out, tensions remain as the special unit established to investigate crimes has charged more than 150 people, but all only from Gbagbo’s supporters. If continued, this would ignore the risks associated with giving one side of the conflict a free pass for committing atrocities, which could have devastating outcomes for the people and the country. As HRW states, “the impunity of today leads to the crimes tomorrow”.

Sri Lanka: “Exclusive development” renews tensions

Following the 30-year civil war that arose out of ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority and ultimately destroyed the country’s infrastructure, halted development, and resulted in the commission of RtoP crimes – including 40,000 killed in the last months of the conflict – the Sri Lankan government began to rebuild. The government has driven development by addressing housing needs and providing safe drinking water and electricity. With the building of highways and airports, the government has begun to extend transportation and develop the tourism industry. These efforts, however, have not been without their challenges.  Firstly is the fact that some areas of the country remain devastated and uncultivated, leading, as International Crisis Group (ICG) points out, to renewed tensions between communities as some Tamils believe the development process has been selective and the government has undertaken efforts to impose Sinhala culture on Tamil communities across the country.  Then there’s the issue of accountability, with HRW noting that the government has resisted taking meaningful steps to investigate and prosecute government forces for alleged war crimes and failed to implement most of the accountability-related recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. ICG recommends that the international community increase pressure on the government to make it more accountable and to expand the democratic political role for the Tamil minority. The failure to address these social aspects of rebuilding may risk reviving Sri Lanka’s violent past.

Preventing atrocities in the long-term

Just as every crisis is unique, so is every path for reconstruction.  While the process of rebuilding a society following atrocity crimes remains an imprecise science, what these cases demonstrate is that there needs to be a holistic approach where security, justice and reconciliation and sustainable development are able to be achieved. The responsibility of all actors is not just to act to prevent or respond to imminent threats but assist in rebuilding efforts to ensure that populations are not threatened by the reoccurrence of atrocities.  As the UN Secretary-General reminds in his 2009 report on RtoP, “The surest predictor of genocide is past genocide,” so we need to be sure that the world’s attention goes well beyond stopping the most immediate threats, and includes long-term commitments to preventing atrocities.

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Shocking report details the UN’s failure to protect the people of Sri Lanka

A United Nations (UN) report alleging the failure of the international body to uphold its responsibilities to protect civilians threatened by massive human rights violations during the Sri Lankan civil war was released on 14 November 2012, and quickly spurred impassioned reactions from civil society and UN actors. For many, the Report of the Secretary-General’s Internal Review Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka confirmed their earlier claims that the UN did not act rapidly or robustly to protect the people of Sri Lanka. For others, the report was a shocking reality check that the international community still has a long way to go to build the necessary political will and capacity to respond to these deadly conflicts.

Large-scale civilian suffering during the civil war

The final stages of the Sri Lankan civil war, from August 2008 until May 2009, saw a dramatic escalation of violence between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), known as the Tamil Tigers, who had been fighting to establish the state of Tamil Eelam in the north of the country since the late 1970s. Violence was concentrated in the Wanni, a northern region, and clashes trapped hundreds of thousands of civilians without access to basic necessities or humanitarian aid.

At the time, several civil society organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, criticized the UN for its limited efforts to hold the Sri Lankan government accountable for likely war crimes and crimes against humanity. As noted in the report, the UN evacuated its staff in the Wanni in September 2008 when the government announced it would not be able to guarantee their security, and after that was largely unable to gain access to distribute humanitarian relief aid. With the end of the war in May 2009 came widespread calls to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to investigate the perpetrators of mass atrocities and UN efforts to protect civilians.  After a Panel of Experts, established by the UNSG, reported in April 2011 that many UN agencies and officials had not done enough to protect civilians, the UNSG created the Internal Review Panel on UN actions in Sri Lanka, which is responsible for the recently released report.

UN fails to protect Sri Lankan population

The report concludes that though the government and LTTE were primarily responsible for “killings and other violations” committed against the civilians trapped in the Wanni, the “events in Sri Lanka mark a grave failure of the UN to adequately respond to early warnings and to the evolving situation during the final stages of the conflict and its aftermath, to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of civilians and in contradiction with the principles and responsibilities of the UN.”

The report criticizes the UN for its overall lack of action on the crisis, condemning the evacuation of UN staff without protestation as a “serious failure”. According to the report, the UN system as a whole did not put enough political pressure on the government, and left its staff on the ground ill-prepared to deal with the escalating crisis. The report also draws attention to the fact that, though the UN officials had data on the number of civilian deaths and evidence that the government, in many cases, was responsible, they only reported on the violations committed by the LTTE. According to officials at the time, they were reluctant to release information about the government’s involvement out of fear it would further hinder their access to the population in the Wanni. The sole exception was a public statement issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on 13 March 2009, in spite of strong criticism by most UN senior officials, which reported on the number of casualties and declared that actions by the government and LTTE “may constitute international crimes, entailing individual responsibility, including for war crimes and crimes against humanity”.  The report concludes that “in fact, with its multiplicity of mandates and areas of expertise, the UN possessed the capabilities to simultaneously strive for humanitarian access while also robustly condemning the perpetrators of killings of civilians.”

According to the report, the low level of commitment to civilian protection in Sri Lanka was exacerbated by the inaction of Member States, who failed to take up the escalating crisis in the Security Council, Human Rights Council and General Assembly. To what extent was the commitment governments made in 2005 endorsing their collective responsibility to protect populations from crimes against humanity and war crimes considered during the crisis? The report notes that though RtoP was raised in the context of the war, states were unable to agree on how the norm could help the international community halt the ongoing violence. The report concludes that governments “failed to provide the Secretariat and UN [Country Team] with the support required to fully implement the responsibilities for protection of civilians that Member States had themselves set for such situations.”

Civil society and former UN officials clash over the report’s findings

Civil society organizations swiftly responded to the report, calling for accountability and to use the example of Sri Lanka as an impetus to strengthen UN protection capacities. On 14 November Amnesty International’s José Luis Díaz called the report a “wake-up call for UN member states that have not pushed hard enough for an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes committed by both Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE in the last phase of the war.”  Philippe Bolopion of Human Rights Watch agreed, stating that the report serves as “a call to action and reform for the entire UN system.”  Additionally, Bolopion noted that “The UN’s dereliction of duty in Sri Lanka is a stark reminder of what happens when human rights concerns are marginalized or labeled as too political”.

Meanwhile, others reacted to the UN’s decision to evacuate its staff from the Wanni region. In reading the report, Edward Mortimer, who serves on the Advisory Council of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice and who formerly served as Director of Communications in the Executive Office of the UN, declared that he believed the UN left when they were most needed. The report, Mortimer stated, would show that the “UN has not lived up to the standards we expect of it…”

Benjamin Dix, a UN staff member in Sri Lanka that left the war zone, recalled his own doubts at the time, saying that he “believe[d] we should have gone further north, not evacuate south, and basically abandon the civilian population with no protection or witness….As a humanitarian worker questions were running through my mind – What is this all about? Isn’t this what we signed up to do?

Sir John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs at the time of the crisis and one of those whom the report blames for underreporting the government’s responsibility for the violence, defended the UN’s actions. Holmes told BBC that “the idea that if we behaved differently, the Sri Lankan government would have behaved differently I think is not one that is easy to reconcile with the reality at the time.”  In an attempt to provide clarity on the UN’s decision not to report casualty figures, UN spokesperson in Colombo, Sri Lanka at the time, Gordon Weiss, stated that, “It was an institutional decision not to use those [casualty lists] on the basis that those could not be verified and of course they couldn’t be verified because the government of Sri Lanka wasn’t letting us get anywhere near the war zone.” However, his remarks starkly contrast the findings of the report.

Some took the opportunity to remind that the report highlighted the ultimate failure of the Sri Lankan government to protect its population from mass atrocities.Steven Ratner, a professor at University of Michigan’s Law School, stated, “the UN failed, but the Sri Lankan government is ultimately most responsible…They are the ones who have not begun a bona fide accountability process.”  Echoing this, Amnesty International’s José Luis Díaz noted that “The report clearly illustrates the Sri Lankan government’s lack of will to protect civilians or account for very serious violations. There is no evidence that has changed.

Report shows challenges in implementation must not lead to inaction

The Secretary-General’s report not only shows the need to uphold the responsibility to protect populations in Sri Lanka by preventing a culture of impunity for crimes against humanity and war crimes, it emphasizes the critical gaps that the international community must address to strengthen its political will and overall capacity to respond to emerging and ongoing situations of RtoP crimes.

With regard to the Responsibility to Protect norm, the report concludes that, “The concept of a ‘Responsibility to Protect’ was raised occasionally during the final stages of the conflict, but to no useful result. Differing perceptions among Member States and the Secretariat of the concept’s meaning and use had become so contentious as to nullify its potential value. Indeed, making references to the Responsibility to Protect was seen as more likely to weaken rather than strengthen UN action.” This finding serves as a sober reminder to governments, UN officials and the international community as a whole that though we continue to address important questions about how to implement the Responsibility to Protect, these disagreements must never hinder our commitment to react when populations are in dire need of assistance.  The report as a whole underlines the prevailing importance of the prevention of and rapid response to RtoP crimes and violations by highlighting a tragic example of the consequences when the protection of populations is not prioritized.

The initial establishment of the Panel and the Secretary-General’s decision to make its findings public show a commitment to holding perpetrators of the crimes committed in Sri Lanka accountable. However, as Human Rights Watch’s Philippe Bolopion said, “While Ban deserves credit for starting a process he knew could tarnish his office, he will now be judged on his willingness to implement the report’s recommendations and push for justice for Sri Lanka’s victims.”  The UNSG stated that the report’s findings have “profound implications for our work across the world, and I am determined that the United Nations draws the appropriate lessons and does its utmost to earn the confidence of the world’s people, especially those caught in conflict who look to the Organization for help.”  We can only hope that this report will act as a much needed impetus to reform the system as a whole to better respond to protect populations from the most horrific crimes known to humankind.

 

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Filed under Human Rights, Prevention, RtoP, Security Council, Timely and Decisive Action, UN