Tag Archives: Syria ceasefire

#RtoPWeekly: 27-31 March 2017

Untitled

Civilian death toll rises as fighting to retake Mosul from ISIL intensifies

RtoPW 27-31 March

Fighting between Islamic State (ISIL) forces and the Iraqi military has intensified in recent weeks as the latter has pushed towards the Old City area of Mosul, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have remained trapped in the densely populated area. The reported number of civilian deaths in the city has dramatically increased in the past two weeks. Mayor Hussein Ali Khajem stated that more than 150 people have been killed in violent clashes and airstrikes in Mosul since 20 March, including numerous women and children. Other sources put the civilian death toll even higher, reaching over 200, at least 130 of which are believed to have been killed by airstrikes on residential buildings in the New Mosul neighborhood. The Iraqi Civil Defence has reportedly pulled 136 bodies from the rubble from the same area of the city. It is unknown how many of the bodies, if any, may have been ISIL combatants.

The threat posited by airstrikes has increasingly become the most dangerous feature of the conflict for civilians in the city. Iraqi officers have reportedly told media sources that as the fighting against ISIL has increased in intensity, the US-led coalition has quickened decisions on whether to strike targets within the city. US military officials have insisted that there has been no change to the rules of engagement regarding distinction and proportionality, but have also said that US military advisers with the Iraqi forces have been given a greater unilateral ability to call in airstrikes since the beginning of the push for Mosul in December.

As more information has become available about the collapse of homes believed to have been caused by US-led coalition airstrikes on 17 March, the number of civilian casualties caused by the airstrikes has steadily risen, with some sources estimating it to be from 200 to 250. Residents have alleged that there was ample reason for both the Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition to believe there was a significant civilian presence in the area, claiming that leaflets asking civilians to stay in their homes rather than risk fleeing during the intense street-to-street fighting had been distributed. If the estimated number of civilian casualties proves to be accurate, this strike will be one of the deadliest US military strikes for civilians in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

On Tuesday, the top US commander in Iraq stated that his initial assessment of the evidence from the incident indicated that the alleged US airstrike probably had a role in the building collapse and the resulting civilian deaths, but also said his personal impression was that ISIL had at least some role in the casualties. He also insisted that further investigation is needed. Several conflicting reports of the incident blamed ISIL for the casualties, with some alleging the blast that leveled the building was a result of an ISIL truck-bomb or from IED booby-traps. Others have suggested it was the result of compounding actions by the conflict forces. ISIL has also been accused of forcing civilians into the building and intentionally provoking the airstrike.

The Islamic State’s use of civilians in Mosul as human shields has been well documented, and has prompted UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, to condemn the group as “cowardly and disgraceful.” Civilians have also been killed and wounded by ISIL booby-traps, IEDs, shelling, and snipers. The High Commissioner noted that due to the known use of civilians as human shields by ISIL, the use of airstrikes on ISIL positions carries the potential for a disproportionately lethal impact on civilians. As a result, the High Commissioner called on the Iraqi military and its US-led coalition allies to reconsider their tactics in order to ensure the risk to civilians is reduced to the absolute minimum in accordance with international law, particularly as the fighting draws closer to the most densely populated areas of the city.

Source for above photo of civilians awaiting the distribution of aid in Mosul: Ivor Prickett/The New York Times


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DPRK
DRC
Cote d’Ivoire
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen


Burma/Myanmar:

The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on 24 March regarding the ongoing human rights crisis in Burma. The resolution, among other things, dispatched “an independent, international fact-finding mission” to investigate the serious human rights violations that allegedly have taken place in Burma at the hands of the military and security forces, particularly those in Rakhine State. The resolution stressed the need for sexual and gender-based violence experts to be included in the mission. Moreover, it extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma for one more year. The Burmese government is opposed to the resolution’s operative paragraph dispatching the fact-finding mission within the country, as well as the resolution in general.


Burundi:

Several non-governmental organizations within Burundi have called for an immediate end to the alleged human rights violations occurring within the country. The group of NGOs, including the Human Rights Defenders of Burundi (DDH) through its SOS-Torture campaign, has claimed that law enforcement officers have conducted several extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and torture, and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of citizens. In addition, human rights activists have insisted that there has been a recent upsurge in political and ethnic violence in Burundi. The Collective of Lawyers of civil parties and victims’ families of human violations in Burundi reportedly submitted 124 new individual complaints to the International Criminal Court (ICC) against the government of Burundi regarding specific allegations of human rights abuses on Monday. The organization also submitted a collective mandate regarding general “crimes committed by the Government,” which was signed by over 400 families accusing the government of committing human rights abuses against their relatives.

A civil society organization collective named “Halte au Troisième Mandat” (“Halt to the Third Term”) is continuing its campaign against President Nkurunziza’s third term, which surpasses the constitutionally mandated two-term limit for presidents. On 26 March, the collective released a statement to the press in which they insisted “terror and resignation are progressively taking hold in Burundi” as a direct result of the government’s “bloody repression” of their protests.


Central African Republic:

Armed groups attacked at least three villages in the central Bambari region of CAR this week, where a contingent of the UN peacekeeping force is based. The attacks resulted in the deaths of 50 people and have left several more injured. The Unity of African People, a faction of the mainly Muslim Seleka movement, has been accused of perpetrating the attack, although the UAF denies involvement. Such raids are remnants of the civil war in CAR and are indicative of the CAR government’s inability to effectively transition to peace.


Cote d’Ivoire:

On 24 March, the UN peacekeeping chief, Herve Ladsous, said he expects peacekeeping operations in Cote d’Ivoire to end by March of 2018. That same week, it was reported that former Ivorian First Lady, Simone Gbagbo, was acquitted of committing crimes against humanity by Cote d’Ivoire’s high court. Human Rights Watch asserted that the decision highlights the flaws of the country’s judicial process and further emphasizes the importance of the International Criminal Court’s continuing case against her regarding similar crimes during the 2011 post-election crisis.


DPRK:

On 24 March, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution addressing the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This echoes the statement of Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson during the Council meeting in which the resolution was adopted, where Mr. Eliasson explicitly stated that both the DPRK and the international community as a whole have the “responsibility to protect [DPRK’s] population from the most serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights.” Furthermore, the resolution strengthened the capacity of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Seoul, which continues to monitor human rights abuses within DPRK. The improvements to the Seoul office include the addition of international criminal justice experts, whose specific function will be developing plans for the future prosecution of DPRK leaders and officials responsible for human rights crimes. Finally, the resolution extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur of the situation of human rights in the DPRK for an additional year.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

Violence has continued to escalate this past weekend in Kasai, a notably poor and remote region in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as 42 police officers were decapitated by the regional militia group Kamuina Nsapu. Instances of both armed violence and political tensions within the country have been increasing at an alarming rate.

On 28 March, Congolese police used tear gas and opened fire into the air in order to scatter hundreds of opposition supporters in Kinshasa. The demonstrators had formed public protests after talks between President Joseph Kabila’s government and the opposition party collapsed. Many critics insist President Kabila has intentionally delayed the country’s elections in order to remain in power. The event has escalated tensions within the country, raising the possibility of renewed violence.

On 29 March, the UN announced that bodies discovered recently in Kasai are in fact the two missing UN staff recently kidnapped in the DRC, along with the body of their Congolese interpreter. The staff members were investigating large-scale human rights violations in the region. Ida Sawyer, Central African director at Human Rights Watch, said the disappearances reflect the violence currently going on in the Kasai region of DRC. The UN will launch an investigation into the killings and urges the Congolese government to do so as well.


Mali:

The main faction of Tuareg-led rebels in Mali and other opposition groups declared their intention to boycott talks with the government on 1 April concerning the implementation of the 2015 peace agreement. On Tuesday, some of the groups agreed to take part after receiving additional assurances from the government. It is unknown if the rest of the opposition intends to do the same.

Medecin Sans Frontieres (MSF) has released a new report that is highly critical of the politicization of humanitarian aid by several domestic and international actors in Mali. The incorporation of humanitarian aid into the country’s political and security efforts is seen by many groups as promoting the government’s political agenda, and therefore, MSF has warned that there may be risks to doing so. Particularly, aid could be rejected by these opposition groups and, as a result, humanitarian organizations could be attacked if they are seen as partisan forces. MSF has argued that the common practice of using of armed escorts by humanitarian workers and the use of civilian vehicles by the military aggravate the risk of these attacks occurring, further hindering the delivery of the much needed aid in the country.


Nigeria:

In a move believed to be aimed at winning grassroots trust and support, a Boko Haram faction in northeast Nigeria has reportedly vowed not to harm civilians so long as they do not cooperate with state security forces. However, numerous witnesses have reported that Boko Haram has continued to kill civilians. The group remains a threat to civilians, contrary to the government’s claims that the group was “technically defeated” in Nigeria. Furthermore, unstable and lethal explosive devices from previous clashes between the military and Boko Haram continue to plague the Nigerian countryside.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Nigerian authorities to take more action in rescuing the hundreds of children that have been abducted and continue to be held captive by Boko Haram. In particular, HRW has called on the government to publicly acknowledge the 501 missing children abducted from Damasak two years ago when the Nigerian military and their Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) pushed Boko Haram out of the town. As the abductions have never been publicly acknowledged by the government, it is not believed that any concerted action has been taken to rescue them.


South Sudan:

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi and the Ugandan government jointly urged the international community for large-scale and immediate support for the thousands of South Sudanese refugees who continue to arrive in Uganda every day. In addition, after UN Secretary-General Guterres urged South Sudan to prioritize the needs of its people, the country’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Joseph Moum Majak Ngor Malok, reassured the Security Council that his government would cooperate with the UN to resolve the issues affecting his country. However, mass displacement in the country has continued as the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) initially estimated 60,000 South Sudanese refugees would flee the country in 2017, but this estimate has been exceeded in the first three months of 2017 alone. The UNHCR anticipates even more refugees this year.

The Sudanese government is due to open a new humanitarian corridor to deliver food assistance to the people of South Sudan. At this time, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been dropping tons of food to aid thousands of displaced citizens and their communities. The South Sudanese Red Cross is on the ground helping to distribute the supplies. Unfortunately, an aid worker expressed his concern that even if citizens had money to buy food, they would not be able to use this money in the current situation. As a result, airdrops have been the only option in some regions, such as Maar in the Jonglei Province.

The UN called for an open investigation for the six aid workers that were ambushed and killed in South Sudan on Saturday. The UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF) stated it is in shock following the killing of the aid workers. The workers were from UNICEF’s partner organization, the Grassroots Empowerment and Development Organization (GREDO), which works “to support children released from armed groups.” Aid agencies say that humanitarian aid in South Sudan could be delayed due to the attack of these six aid workers.

According to the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, sexual violence in the country has reached “epic proportions.” Regional leaders issued a joint statement expressing concern over the humanitarian crisis and urging the parties to stop hostilities.

South Sudanese rebels loyal to former First Vice President Riek Machar have claimed they have captured the Kajo-Keji county headquarters in Yei River state after clashing with government troops and killing 14 soldiers. The Eastern Africa’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has condemned the proliferation of armed groups in South Sudan and called upon these groups to renounce violence as a means to solve the issues in the country. The South Sudanese government has rejected the participation of troops from countries outside the region in the regional protection forces. However, President Salva Kiir has accepted the call for a unilateral ceasefire.


Sudan:

Clashes between militia and state security personnel have continued in Sudan, as well as violent crimes like murder, robbery, kidnapping, and rampant sexual assault and gender-based violence. Clashes in North Darfur resulted in the death of a police officer and the injuring of six others last saturday. Additionally, on 27 March, militiamen attacked and robbed a group of mourners while traveling between the North Darfur capital of El Fasher and the town of Tawila.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Jordan this week to either deny entry or arrest President Omar al-Bashir prior to his entry to the country for the Arab League meeting on Wednesday. Despite the warnings from HRW and other organizations that failure to arrest Bashir would be a violation of their obligations under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Jordan became the most recent ICC member state to fail to arrest Omar al-Bashir when he entered their sovereign territory. Bashir has two outstanding warrants issued by the ICC for a total of eight counts of atrocity crimes, including three counts of genocide. Representatives for South Africa are expected to appear before the Court next Friday to account for their government’s failure to arrest Bashir when he entered South Africa in June 2015 to attend a summit of the African Union. The lawyers for the South African government are expected to submit arguments against a finding of non-compliance.

The UN Secretary-General’s recent report on children in armed conflict in Sudan, which was released last Friday, has found that the numbers of children recruited into the conflict by the warring parties decreased in the most recent reporting period. However, the report also noted that children are still killed, injured, and victimized by sexual violence and exploitation as result of the conflict. During the reporting period from March 2011 to December 2016, roughly 1,300 children were killed or maimed as result of the conflict, mostly in Darfur. Darfur was also an area of high occurrence of sexual violence and exploitation against children, with at least 372 victims during the same period.

Burkina Faso has announced it will be withdrawing its 850 troops currently serving with the UN mission in Darfur (UNAMID). The Sudanese government will reportedly be paying for the costs of the withdrawal, according to a statement delivered by the Foreign Minister of Sudan.


Syria:

On Sunday, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced they had captured the Tabqa airbase west of Raqqa from the Islamic State (ISIL), resulting in the first major victory for the Kurdish group.

As the fifth round of peace talks resumed in Geneva, opposition forces launched the biggest offensive in the last 18 months against the Syrian army in Damascus and north of Hama. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that several clashes were ongoing in the countryside north of the city, where government forces were trying to retake territory. In Geneva, the Syrian opposition’s chief negotiator in the talks, Nasr al-Hariri, accused the government of not being committed to peace because several civilian buildings have been targeted by the State air force since the beginning of the last round of talks. Consequently, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, admitted that he is not expecting breakthroughs, but all parties have at least agreed upon the agenda, which is a mark of progress in itself. On 29 March, the Syrian opposition and a senior Russian diplomat agreed upon the need to stabilize the fragile ceasefire implemented on 30 December 2016. Cessation of hostilities is seen as crucial to any hope of progress in the Geneva peace talks. However, as bloodshed in the country continues, Western diplomats are skeptical about any practical outcome the talks could reach.

Meanwhile, as fighting intensifies, the UN said around 300,000 people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance in Damascus. “Starvation is just around the corner,” affirmed UN humanitarian adviser on Syria Jan Egeland, adding that civilians have not received any supplies at the hands of the UN since October in Douma, and not since June of last year in the Kafr Batna area.

The UN has estimated that nearly 40,000 civilians, mostly women and children, have been displaced over the past week by fighting to the northwest of the Syrian city of Hama. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that people have begun to flee Hama and the districts of Homs, Latakia, and Tartous. On Thursday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the number of Syrian refugees now exceeds 5 million, while he also estimated that 6.3 million people are internally displaced. Turkey hosts the highest number of Syrian refugees, numbering nearly 3 million people.


Yemen:

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on Sunday arguing that a recent attack on a refugee boat off the coast of Yemen, which resulted in the deaths of around 40 people, likely constitutes a war crime. HRW also noted that the Saudi-led coalition is the only party to the conflict with access to the military aircraft allegedly used in the attack. The report was also critical of the system for investigations established by the Saudi-led coalition and expressed doubt that the inquiry requested by Somalia, an ally of the coalition, will have meaningful results. HRW has reportedly documented 62 unlawful airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition that are believed to have killed nearly 900 civilians in total. It is unknown what impact this event will have on the decision the US government is expected to soon make on a proposal to increase its intelligence and logistical support for the Saudi-led coalition.

Residents in Taiz reported on Sunday that a girl was killed by a Houthi sniper in the eastern portion of the city where clashes between government and rebel forces have already killed dozens. President Hadi has reportedly declared that 80% of Yemen is now under his government’s control and that the offensive against the Houthis will continue until they are forced to the negotiating table. The contested port city of Hodeidah remains the Houthis’ last stronghold position and the primary target of the government and Saudi-led coalition’s offensive.

On Thursday, the UN Special envoy for Yemen urged the UN Security Council to apply pressure on all parties in the conflict in Yemen to engage in diplomatic and political negotiations to end the ongoing bloodshed. The past week marked the second anniversary of the beginning of the Saudi-led bombing campaign in the Yemeni conflict. UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien released a statement marking the anniversary in which he said that the thousands of civilians killed in the conflict, including over 1,400 children, shows “the magnitude of the tragedy unfolding in Yemen.” Mr. O’Brien went on to discuss the looming man-made famine in the country and the need of two-thirds of the Yemeni population for humanitarian aid. Mr. O’Brien called on all parties to the conflict to start a political dialogue to prevent the imminent humanitarian catastrophe.

The UN children’s agency (UNICEF) also released a report marking the second year of the escalated conflict in which it noted that there has been a markable increase in the number of girls forced into child marriages in Yemen since the conflict escalated. UNICEF estimates that now more than two-thirds of girls are married off before the age of 18 in Yemen and that more that 44% of girls and women are married under the age of 15 in some parts of the country.

The UN has begun to look for alternative ports to deliver vital food and medicine to Yemen should Hodeidah come under attack. The UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, has said that despite the urgency for the 17 million Yemenis facing imminent famine conditions, humanitarian access has been hampered by a massive funding gap of over $2 billion USD, as well as by the intense fighting along the western coast. The International Committee of the Red Cross estimated that the international community has, at most, three to four months to save two-thirds of Yemen’s population from starvation. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, 17 million Yemenis live in a state of severe food insecurity as result of “ruthless war tactics against civilians by both parties to the conflict.” This figure is equal to about two-thirds of the entire country’s population.

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Filed under Burma, Burundi, CARcrisis, Human Rights, Myanmar, Nigeria, Rebuilding, RtoP, Security Council, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Syria Ceasefire, UN, Weekly Round-Up, Yemen

#R2P Weekly: 9 – 13 May 2016

Untitled
The Challenges of Engaging National Governments with RtoP and Atrocity Prevention: Confessions of a British RtoP Advocate

 

By Alexandra Buskie, Policy and Advocacy Manager, United Nations Association – UK. UNA-UK is a Steering Committee Member of the ICRtoP.

Over the past 4 years, the United Nations Association – UKalt(UNA-UK) has been working on a dedicated policy and advocacy programme “to strengthen understanding, support and leadership for the Responsibility to Protect principle in the UK’s policy, parliamentary and public arenas”. This has been no small ambition. Engaging the UK Government on RtoP and atrocity prevention has represented huge challenges and success has been difficult to measure. What follows is a reflection on these challenges, how we have sought to respond to them and what we have counted as incremental steps towards a stronger national engagement with the principle in practice. (…)

Read the full blog here.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
Central African Republic
Côte d’Ivoire
DRC
Iraq
Kenya
Libya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen
Other


Burma/Myanmar:

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has exhorted President Htin Kyaw to urgently revamp the nation’s “repressive and rights-abusing laws,” particularly those pertaining to race and religion protection.

Aung San Suu Kyi announced that her government is determined to help Thailand solve its long-standing refugee problems. The Thai Foreign Minister, Don Pramudwinai, has estimated that there are 1.6 million Burmese migrant workers residing in Thailand.

Two human rights organizations, Fortify Rights and United to End Genocide, have released areport entitled “Supporting Human Rights in Myanmar: Why the US Should Maintain Existing Sanctions Authority,” urging President Obama to renew the sanctions authority on Burma for at least another year. According to the report, more than 140,000 Rohingya, Kaman and other Muslims remain confined to over 40 squalid internment camps.


Burundi:

The Pan African Parliament (PAP) called on the African Union to step up its efforts to resolvethe Burundi crisis. The PAP Rapporteur, Victor Hlatshwayo, stressed the need to put the lives of the Burundi people at the forefront.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Chaloka Beyani, stated that concrete steps must be taken in order to improve the situation of IDPs in Burundi, highlighting the importance of establishing a legal framework for their assistance and protection. According to IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), the number of IDPs in March 2016 has reached over 25,000 in the three provinces of Rutana, Makamba and Kirundo. In addition, some 78,000 persons remain internally displaced from the 1993 crisis.

On 9 May, Burundi’s Supreme Court sentenced 21 army officers to life in prison, including Burundi’s former Defence Minister, General Cyrille Ndayirukiye, in connection with a coup plot in May 2015.

On 9 May, unidentified gunmen wearing police uniforms killed three people and injured one in a bar in Maramvya.

Jean Minani, the newly elected leader of opposition group Cnared, urged rebels to “lay down their weapons” should President Nkurunziza agree to participate in peace talks later this month.
 


Central African Republic:

OCHA has reported that the government service delivery capacity for healthcare in the Central African Republic is extremely poor everywhere except in Bangui. This has left the population vulnerable to diseases and with very little access to health services. Over 1 million are currently being served by non-governmental organizations and UN agencies through mobile services in areas not covered by the government’s basic health facilities.

Doctors Without Borders stated that 4,000 South Sudanese refugees living in CAR are doing so in deplorable conditions after having fled conflict and violence. The organisation underlined the “lack of food, water and medicines”.


Côte d’Ivoire

The trial of former first lady, Simone Gbagbo, opened in Côte d’Ivoire on 9 May. She is charged with crimes against humanity during the post-election violence that took place in the country in 2010-2011, which resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 people after her husband, former President Laurent Gbagbo, refused to step down and relinquish power after losing the election. Mrs. Gbagbo has also been charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity during the same period. Côte d’Ivoire has not applied to the ICC to challenge the admissibility of the case and Amnesty International has called for Côte d’Ivoire to comply with their obligation pursuant to her arrest warrant and surrender Mrs. Gbagbo to the ICC. Côte d’Ivoire contends that Mrs. Gbagbo’s trial is fair and transparent, but her defense has claimed that the jury is biased.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

Suspected Islamist militants reportedly killed approximately 20 to 40 villagers in the eastern region of the DRC. Meanwhile, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), another active rebel militia in the area, killed at least nine civilians in the eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri.

Authorities in the DRC have arrested Brigadier-General Leopold Mujyambere, the chief of staff for the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel militia group linked to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. A DRC government spokesman said that authorities have taken Mujyambere to the capital to await a decision from the military system on whether he will be tried in Congo or extradited to Rwanda.

On Wednesday, the DRC’s Constitutional Court ruled that President Joseph Kabila may remain in office beyond his constitutional mandate should the election be delayed, as a clause in the constitution mandates that the sitting president must remain in his post until a new president is elected and installed. Opposition parties, who have accused Kanila of attempting to hold onto power by delaying the elections later this year, have denounced the decision.

Since late April, authorities have arrested at least 27 associates of Moise Katumbi, an opposition presidential candidate, as well as other opposition party members. The Justice Ministry opened an investigation into Katumbi on 4 May, the same day he announced his candidacy for president.


Iraq:

Iraq’s government failed again to vote on a cabinet proposed by Prime Minister Hadi, prolonging the month-long political crisis.

Amnesty International urged the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to carry out an “impartial and independent” investigation into abuses committed by their respective militias and security forces.

According to the Pentagon, on 6 May, an airstrike killed Abu Wahib, a top ISIL commander, and three others outside of Rutba in Iraq. Wahib was reportedly a former al-Qaida member in Iraq and made appearances in several ISIL execution videos.

On Tuesday, a suicide bombing in Baqouba, a city northeast of Baghdad, killed at least 13 people and wounded 60 others in a commercial area of a Shiite neighborhood. ISIL has claimed responsibility for the attack and reported that a Shiite mosque was the intended target.

On 11 May, a car bomb killed 62 people, mostly women and children, and wounded 86 others in a crowded market in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad. ISIL has claimed responsibility for the attack in an online statement, specifying that they were targeting Shiite fighters.


Kenya:

Kenya has announced that the government has closed the country’s Department of Refugee Affairs and is currently working towards closing Kenya’s refugee camps. Amnesty International expressed concern over the closure of Kenya’s two large refugee camps, including the Dadaab camp, the largest in the world. Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, stated, “This reckless decision by the Kenyan government is an abdication of its duty to protect the vulnerable and will put thousands of lives at risk.” The closure could displace over 600,000 people.

The United Nations and human rights organizations have also called on the Kenyan government to revoke its decision on closing the refugee camps. In a joint statement, several non-governmental organizations, which are already providing assistance to refugees in the country, have pledged to provide full support to the Kenyan government in handling refugee problems.


Libya

Next week, regional foreign ministers will meet for talks in Vienna on providing support for Libya’s new unity government and bringing stability to the country, according to Italy’s foreign minister.

Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) has announced the establishment of a “Presidential Guard”, a new military force in charge of protecting government buildings, border posts, and other important public facilities and notable visitors. It is the new unity government’s first move to reorganize military forces in Libya.

Western Libyan forces have announced that they are preparing an advance to retake the the city of Sirte, which has been ISIL’s Libyan stronghold. The forces have called for international logistical support in retaking the city but stated that they would not wait for the international assistance to lunch the operation.


Mali:

Malian security services have arrested Yacouba Toure, an alleged weapons trafficker and senior member of the Islamist militant group, Ansar Dine. Toure is suspected of trafficking weapons across the border from Mali that were used in a deadly attack near Bobo-Dioulasso in Burkina Faso in October.

Oumar Aldjana, representative for Mali’s Union of Fulani, has reported that 33 Fulani civilians have been killed in a conflict between the Fulani and Bambara communities in Mali’s central Mopti region.


Nigeria:

The Nigerian military spokesman announced that the army had launched a new military offensive to rescue unarmed civilians kidnapped by Boko Haram. The U.S. is also considering selling light attack aircraft to Nigeria to help it counter Boko Haram, a deal previously put on hold due to U.S. concerns over human rights abuses perpetrated by the military.

French President Francois Hollande will attend this week’s summit in Abuja to search for a regional response to the militant threat in Nigeria. Leaders from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger will also attend. During the summit, France and Nigeria are set to sign a defense cooperation agreement, according to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.

Gunmen killed two policemen and three soldiers in raids on Monday in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s oil-producing region. A rise in recent violence in the region has raised concerns that a previously quelled insurgency could resume. The military has vowed to use “all available means and measures” to stop militants from attacking oil facilities in the region, but a labor union has called for oil companies to evacuate all staff in the region.

In a recent report, Amnesty International said that at least 149 detainees, including seven young children and four babies, have died at the Giwa barracks detention center in Maiduguri. The report called this center “a place of death” and called for its immediate close and the release of all 1,200 believed detainees or their transfer to civilian authorities. Amnesty International also said that over 8,000 young men and boys have been shot, tortured, suffocated, or starved to death since 2011 while in Nigerian military custody, with no one held responsible.

On Thursday, a suicide bombing in Maiduguri killed at least five people and wounded 19 others at a government compound. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the act.


South Sudan:

The World Food Programme warned that up to 5.3 million people in South Sudan may face severe food shortages during this year’s lean season.

An independent report by the International Organization for Migration revealed that the “protection of civilians” camps at UNMISS bases around the country, to which over 200,000 individuals have fled, will likely be necessary for years to come, despite the August peace agreement.

The United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict urged the South Sudanese government to actively address sexual violence crimes in the country, stating that sexual violence crimes have continued to be systematically committed during the conflict.


Sudan/Darfur:

Dr. Amin Hassan Omar, the head of the Darfur Peace Implementation Office, has announcedthat the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Movement-Minni Minawi (SLM-MM) have expressed interest in signing the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD).

Gunman from local tribes killed six people, including two children, near a Darfuri camp for displaced civilians. The incident occurred after a rise in tensions between the tribesman and the displaced caused by recent cattle raiding.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour has stated that Sudan would open its borders to South Sudanese people when the South Sudanese government stops providing support to Sudanese rebel groups.

Many called for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir during his visit to Uganda, a signatory to the Rome Statute. The sitting president is wanted by the International Criminal Court for having allegedly committed genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.


Syria:

Assad’s forces have failed to regain control of a prison in Hama, where opposition leaders have been warning of possible mass executions of the 800 prisoners by the government. Most of the prisoners are political detainees.

In retaliation for ISIL attacks on the Turkish border town of Kilis. Turkish shelling killed 55 ISIL militants. Kilis now hosts nearly 110,000 Syrian refugees. On Thursday, Turkish artillery and US-led coalition airstrikes killed another 28 militants in ISIL-held territory near Kilis. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that the Turkish military is currently preparing to “clear” ISIL from the Syrian side of the border.

Recent reports show that around 700 Iranian soldiers and militiamen have died fighting in the Syrian civil war, although Iran maintains officially that only “military advisers” have been deployed there. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), around 2,000 troops from the special forces wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are currently in Syria as well as at least 13 Shia militias.

On Monday, the US and Russia announced that they would work together towards reaffirming the ceasefire agreement from February. US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged Russia’s major role in achieving the initial ceasefire, but also called Russia’s political solution to the conflict “not necessarily a workable equation.” The 17-nation International Syria Support Group will meet next week in Vienna.

On Tuesday, airstrikes on Binnish, a town in Syria’s Idlib province, killed at least 10 people and injured others. Clashes also erupted in and around Aleppo, regardless of the ceasefire in effect. However, on Thursday, the truce in Aleppo expired with no extension announced.

After the two deadliest weeks since the ceasefire began in the country, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, issued a statement condemning the “ongoing indiscriminate and seemingly calculated attacks against civilians and civilian objects in Syria.” He also reminded States of their responsibility to protect populations from atrocity crimes and urged the international community to end impunity for perpetrators of the worst crimes in Syria. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, a UN-mandated human rights inquiry, also condemned the attacks and called on all parties to immediately stop the unlawful attacks on civilians, medical facilities, and internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.

ISIL has tried to mount a comeback outside of Palmyra, with militants cutting a crucial supply route connecting Homs, which is controlled by the government, and Palmyra.

On Wednesday, France, the UK, the US, and Ukraine blocked a Russian proposal in the UN Security Council to blacklist Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham for their alleged links to ISIL and al-Qaida militants. Jaish al-Islam is part of the High Negotiating Committee, which has been representing the opposition at the UN-brokered peace talks with the government. The US said that blacklisting them would undermine the negotiation attempts to attain a full cessation of hostilities in Syria. Ahrar al-Sham, meanwhile, is an ultraconservative Sunni militant group, which has fought as part of a military alliance with the Nusra Front, a group that is not part of the previously-brokered ceasefire. Russia has long maintained that Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham should have no involvement in the peace talks.


Yemen:

UN reports indicated that the cessation of hostilities agreement has substantially facilitated the delivery of humanitarian aid. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was able to restore water facilities in Kitaf district, serving an estimated 10,000 people. At the same time, the UN has announced that over half of Yemen’s population, 14.4 million people, are in dire need of food, which the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is struggling to provide. The FAO has reported that Yemen is suffering the worst food shortage, “the volume of food required in Yemen is far greater than humanitarian actors can provide.”

On 10 May, Yemen’s government and Houthi rebels reached an agreement on prisoner swap, releasing half of the prisoners and detainees held by both sides. The agreement was seen as the first major result of peace talks that began in Kuwait on 21 April.

Despite this cautious progress, on 6 May, a bomb attack killed seven people and wounded 15 others in Marib. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition killed at least 10 rebels in Yemen on Monday. On 11 May, a suicide bomber rammeda car packed with explosives into a government military convoy killing at least eight people and wounding 17 others in eastern Yemen. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. Yet another suicide bomber attacked the convoy of General Abdulrahman al-Haleeli, killing four of his guards. General Abdulrahman al-Haleeli escaped unharmed from the attack. On 12 May, ISIL claimed a suicide attack that killed ten soldiers and wounded 15 others in the provincial capital Mukalla. The attack was carried out hours before Prime Minister, Ahmed Obeid bin Dagh’s, visit to the city.

The Pentagon has reported that a small number of US military personnel are on the ground in Yemen in order to aid Emirati forces and Saudi-led coalition efforts to root out al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). However, on 11 May, the Yemeni people took to the streets of Mastaba, a city in Hajja province, demanding the withdrawal of the US soldiers from Lahij province. Meanwhile, the Council for the Unity of Yemeni Tribes, expressed condemnation over the US military presence, calling it as “a provocative move and violation of all international laws and charters.”

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) has released a report entitled, “2016 Global Report on Internal Displacement,” indicating that Syria, Yemen, and Iraq have the highest number of IDPs, amounting to more than half the global total of displaced people.


What else is new?

Next Thursday, May 19, The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies will be livestreaming “Partners in Prevention: A Global Forum on Ending Genocide” hosted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum at the Simons Center in Washington DC. Register here.

The Global Centre for R2P released a report “Ten Years of the Responsibility to Protect: Strengthening South-South Cooperation to Prevent Mass Atrocities.

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Buffer Zones and Local Freezes: What Hope for Ending Syria’s Civil War?

It is a stain on the collective conscience of the international community that after nearly four years of fighting, 200,000 killed and 10 million displaced, there is still little hope for an imminent end to Syria’s civil war. Regional and international efforts to end the conflict, documented in great detail in our ‘Crisis in Syria’ page, have had limited impact.

The rare consensus that allowed the Security Council to pass resolutions 2165 permitting cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid, and 2118 calling for the destruction of the Assad regime’s chemical arsenal, were welcome developments. However, in practice, it has done little to relieve the suffering of civilians still caught in the slaughter.

SRSG at SC Stakeout

Staffan De Mistura as SRSG for Afghanistan. UN Photo/Mark Garten.

Instead, the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS or IS) has regionalized the war, bringing wanton destruction and the threat of genocide to neighbouring Iraq, while Turkey’s borders are currently threatened by the ISIS siege of Kobane.

Already, the conflict has consumed two astute international negotiators – Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi – both sent to Syria as joint UN/Arab League Special Envoys, and both unable to stem the bloodshed. The third to try his hand is Staffan De Mistura, a veteran diplomat who has served as the head of the UN missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The siege of Kobane and the appointment of De Mistura have both brought with them new proposals for a gradual ease in the fighting aimed at creating space for a political solution. The Turkish proposal to create a ‘buffer zone’ along the Syria-Turkey border, and De Mistura’s local ‘freeze’ represent the latest attempts to change the conflict’s trajectory.

While similar in their aims, they differ in operational terms. Both, however, have invited criticism and praise that underscore the complexity of the conflict and any solution to it. The potential for these plans to bring immediate relief to civilians and a long-term settlement is measured through the vocal response of civil society and other influential voices below.

Buffer Zone: Bastion of Safety or Invitation to Bloodshed?

On October 10, 2014, the Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP or R2P) expressed deep concern over ISIL’s offensive in Kobane, particularly for ethnic and religious minorities who have been the targets of ISIL’s murderous campaign throughout Iraq and Syria. The advisers warned that:

“ISIL and other armed groups have reportedly committed grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity…the situation in Kobane raises the credible prospect that the population is at imminent risk of being subjected to similar acts.”

The US and its allies have heeded calls for international action to prevent the slaughter of Kobane’s civilians, launching airstrikes on ISIL targets inside the city. However, there is broad agreement that more is needed.

Though scant on details, the Turkish requests for a protected “buffer zone”, if approved, could significantly change the dynamic on the ground. If implemented, the plan would see US aircraft utilizing the Incirlik Airbase in Turkey to launch strikes reaching from north of Aleppo to the town of Kobane to prevent further ISIS incursions. Simultaneously, Turkish special forces would enter Kobane to provide support to Syrian opposition fighters and its leaders, who would be free to use the zone to consolidate their efforts.

The plan also has a protective element to it. It seeks to prevent what UN officials have warned could become another Srebrenica by providing a safe haven for civilians who have been forced to flee or who remain caught in the fighting. In an interview with Syria Deeply, Ambassador Frederic Hof, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, praised the idea for both its humanitarian and political appeal, suggesting that:

“There are very strong humanitarian justifications to be able to protect people inside Syria rather than see them race across borders as refugees.” He also adds, “…there needs to be the growth of decent, legitimate governance in Syria, governance that would ultimately be extended to all Syrians,” recommending that a buffer zone in Kobane could be the starting place.

Likewise, in an article for Foreign Affairs, J. Trevor Ulbrick acknowledged the urgency of the situation for Kobane’s civilians, justifying a buffer zone in RtoP terms. Ulbrick holds that:

The situation in northern Syria, where ISIS has attacked the citizens of Kobane with impunity, seems to fall squarely under R2P. The Assad regime is either unwilling or unable to protect the Kurdish civilians living there, who are now under imminent threat of being massacred by ISIS on the basis of their ethnicity.”

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Twin Explosions in Kobane, October 8, 2014. Flickr/Karl-Ludwig Poggemann.

Still, others are much more cautious and suggest a buffer zone may in fact run counter to the objective of civilian protection. For example, in another Syria Deeply interview, Elizabeth Ferris also raised the spectre of Srebrenica – though to remind of the tragic consequences of the UN’s inability to prevent a Serbian massacre in the supposed ‘safe zone’. She explains, “Any time you mix military action with the protection of civilians, you put them in danger. The Assad regime could argue that they are a military target and a threat to the regime.”

Similarly, in the Brookings Institute’s Lawfare blog, Ashley Deeks argues that couching the buffer zone in humanitarian terms, rather than the collective self-defence argument that currently underpins coalition operations, could undermine the tacit agreement with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, giving him “a stronger argument for claiming that the United States is engaged in an armed attack against it and for using force to protect its territorial integrity.” If indeed the ‘Article 51’ collective self-defense argument falls apart, there are also important implications for the legality of a buffer zone, which would then need Security Council approval to fulfill this requirement and to be considered as an action falling under the realm of RtoP.*

With reports that the U.S., France, and Britain are coming closer to accepting such a plan, all of these possibilities must be weighed carefully.

Local ‘Freeze’: Brave New Initiative or Same Old Formula?

The local ‘freeze’ proposed by Staffan De Mistura is another initiative that is currently on the table. The plan would look something like this: the government and opposition would agree to a UN-mediated de-escalation of the violence by ‘freezing’ the conflict in the iconic city of Aleppo. This would allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to beleaguered populations, and a semblance of normalcy to be restored. Ultimately, it is hoped that the model can be transposed to other key cities to create the political space for a national peace process. It can also demonstrate the possibility of shifting the narrative of the conflict from the military to political.

De Mistura views the plan as going beyond simply “talking” about peace at the international level, to taking incremental steps to achieve a “bottom-up” solution. According to the UN Envoy, both the Assad government and the Syrian opposition are seriously considering the initiative.

Like a buffer zone, the freeze has invited optimism along with skepticism. Much of the latter stems from observing previous ceasefire agreements that have failed to produce results. A report commissioned by the London School of Economics and the Syrian civil society organization Madani analyzed four locally negotiated ceasefires in Homs, Aleppo, Barzeh and Ras Al-Ain.

The report outlines the salient factors that led to ceasefire collapse, including: military and strategic manipulation of the agreement to gain concessions; negotiations conducted in bad faith and with a lack of trust; the existence of war profiteers and other spoilers who stand to gain from prolonging the violence; the absence of an independent mediator; and the lack of a larger peace process in which to frame the ceasefire.

Many are concerned that De Mistura’s plan will suffer from similar setbacks. For example, Joseph Bahout, a visiting fellow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace believes:

“The regime appears to be interested in ‘easing’ pressure on certain fronts, so that it can send its elite forces from one place to another…Alleviating the suffering of people is a good thing, but [de Mistura’s proposal] is a ‘time out,’ which the regime needs, before a resumption of hostilities takes place.”

Bahout also notes the lack of a parallel peace process as an impediment to the plan’s effectiveness. Such concerns should be considered seriously, for as Noah Bonsey of International Crisis Group warns, “Ceasefires don’t have an inherently positive value…Bad cease-fires end up costing more lives.”

Free Syrian Army soldier walking among rubble in Aleppo. Voice of America News/Scott Bobb.

Regardless of the risks, the lack of alternatives has led others, such as Coalition members PAX and Human Rights Watch, to view the freeze as the only viable way forward. PAX, in a recent policy brief on the subject, recognized that there are indeed risks associated, including the potential to manipulate the agreement for strategic gains. But under the proper conditions, it can also improve human security and allow for the development of local governance structures by civil society actors.

For this to occur, PAX cites a few crucial ingredients that have been missing from past ceasefire efforts. These include: UN third-party monitoring to ensure compliance with the terms of the freeze, including through sanctions if necessary; significant and sustainable improvement of the humanitarian situation; support and promotion of inclusive and responsive local government; securing buy-in and commitment of all local commanders in Aleppo; and a political framework that links the freeze to a broader peace process.

Steps such as these could potentially set the freeze apart from other failed initiatives. However, the damage done by previous ceasefire violations still hangs heavy. Indeed, the Syria National Coalition has reportedly stated it would reject the plan unless it is backed by a Chapter VII resolution and tied to a concrete peace plan such as the stalled Geneva talks. This reflects the reluctance to trust a government that has been all too willing to renege on past agreements. It also clearly shows that any chance for implementation will rely heavily on De Mistura’s ability to skillfully negotiate the terms with both parties.

No Perfect Solutions

Both of the above proposals follow the similar logic of creating zones of protection and stability that will ripple outwards, demonstrating the possibility of good governance and political agreement in the war-ravaged nation. However, De Mistura’s plan relies much more on consensus and cooperation, while a buffer zone is far more coercive in nature. Both utilize important RtoP tools, including mediation, humanitarian assistance, and potentially, the use of force for the immediate protection of civilians. However, as in any RtoP case, the proper course of action should depend on a careful analysis of the situation and the potential consequences of any intervention, in accordance with the UN Charter. Crucially, the precautionary “Do no harm” principle must continually be minded.

Ultimately, both plans bring with them the potential of failure and unintended consequences. However, the international community can no longer dither, and certainly the people of Syria can no longer wait. The sad reality is, as Alex Bellamy rightfully professes, “The time for perfect solutions is long past.”

 

* The Responsibility to Protect norm, as agreed to in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, does not sanction a unilateral military response or a response by a “coalition of the willing.” Any military response under RtoP must be authorized by the Security Council. 

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Ceasefire Violations Abound As UN Deploys Monitors in Syria

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has unanimously moved to oversee the Syrian ceasefire in two separate resolutions since 14 April, but continued reports of violations by Syrian security forces and attacks by the opposition have called into question the sustainability of the fragile six-point peace plan of joint United Nations-League of Arab States Special Envoy Kofi Annan.

Adopting Resolution 2042 on 14 April, all members of the Council agreed to dispatch an advance team of up to 30 unarmed United Nations monitors to assess whether the Syrian government and the opposition were respecting the ceasefire. And while Syrian Ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja’afari, said his country would “spare no expense” to ensure the success of the Annan plan, violence escalated a day after the Council’s decision was made, with Syrian forces and heavy weaponry remaining in cities across the country. Amnesty International called the passing of the resolution positive, but underwhelming, noting the constant breach of trust by the Syrian government.

By 19 April, with reports of ceasefire violations by the government nearly every day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that the Syrian government had failed to adhere to the ceasefire plan, and that, there has been no meaningful progress on the ground.” Attempting to salvage Annan’s peace plan and ensure greater implementation on the ground in Syria, the Secretary-General proposed an expansion of the monitoring mission mandated by Resolution 2042 of up to 300 unarmed monitors, and the establishment of a new mission, the United Nations Support Mission in Syria (UNSMIS).

Developments followed quickly at the Security Council, with the 15-member body unanimously endorsing the expansion of the monitoring mission to 300 unarmed observers with Resolution 2043 on 21 April. In an interesting turn of events, it was the Russian delegation – which has twice vetoed Security Council action on Syria (on 4 October 2011 and 4 February 2012), as well as voted against a General Assembly resolution – that circulated the Resolution, which calls for the expeditious deployment of the monitors, unimpeded access for them, cooperation between the UN and Syria to provide for air transportation assets, and the ability of the monitors to communicate with individuals without retaliation against those individuals.

Members of the UN Security Council unanimously approve Resolution 2042 on 14 April. (UN Photo/Rick Bajornas)

Reports of government-perpetrated violence in Homs and Damascus continued to emerge immediately after the passing of Resolution 2043, leading UN officials to call for a full cessation of violence and Security Council Members to urge the rapid deployment of more monitors to the country on 24 April.

Ten days after the advanced observer team was mandated by the Council, only 11 monitors were active in the country. Ahmad Fawzi, the spokesperson for Kofi Annan, said on 27 April that the full advance team of 30 monitors would be deployed by Monday, 30 April, but Syrian activists have expressed concerns with the slow deployment process. The mission also faces complications on the ground as a result of Syria’s lack of cooperation and non-compliance. The Syrian government has reportedly refused to allow any monitors that are nationals of any of the countries in the 14-member “Friends of Syria” group, and a government spokesperson also stated on 15 April that it would need to be involved in “all steps on the ground” by UN monitors, raising concerns over the ability of the monitors to have unhindered access in the country.

Recent reports suggest that a game of cat and mouse has ensued in Syria between security forces and the UN monitors, with gunfire and shelling by government security forces occurring immediately after the observers toured cities like Homs and Hama, which have seen some of the most destructive violence by government mortar fire.

On 25 April, Special Envoy Annan called the recent flares of violence “unacceptable and reprehensible”, and confirmed that the Syrian government has still yet to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from major cities and towns. This was echoed by the Secretary-General on 26 April, who expressed his alarm at continued attacks by government forces against civilian populations and demanded Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s President, comply with the ceasefire. A day later, the Secretary-General appointed Norwegian General Robert Mood as head of UNSMIS, who urged for help and cooperation” by all sides to end the violence.

An advanced group of UN monitors tour Homs on 21 April. (UN Photo/Neeraj Singh)

As violence in Syria continues, including devastating explosions in Hama and deadly blasts in Idlib, and hopes falter for the successful implementation of Annan’s peace plan, Western and Arab countries have begun to talk of the need for contingency planning if the Assad government does not cease attacks and withdraw troops and heavy weaponry from cities.

At the Friends of Syria meeting on 19 April, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for the imposition of an arms embargo, as well as stricter sanctions against the country to ensure Syrian compliance with Annan’s six-point plan. On 25 April France’s Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé, also stressed the need for contingency planning, stating that Paris would be pushing for a Chapter VII resolution at the Council, which could include punitive sanctions against the Assad regime, if Syria did not fully implement the peace plan by May. The Arab League has also stated on 26 April that it will call on the UN Security Council to take “immediate action to protect Syrian civilians” at an upcoming Council meeting, with Nabil el-Araby, the League’s Secretary General, stressing the need to rapidly deploy the full monitoring force to Syria.

Despite the continued violence in the wake of the deployment of UN monitors, some analysts are urging caution in writing off Annan’s plan, especially as the monitoring mission has yet to be deployed in full. Mark Lynch, Associate Professor at George Washington University and author of a blog on the Middle East at Foreign Policy Magazine online, urges against abandoning Annan’s plan in favour of military intervention, stating:

“The painstakingly constructed international consensus in support of diplomacy and pressure should not be abandoned before it has even had a chance. Nobody expects the current diplomatic path to quickly or easily end the conflict in Syria, but military intervention does not offer a compelling alternative…It is highly unlikely that Bashar al-Assad or his regime will voluntarily comply with a ceasefire, and even more unlikely that they will surrender power.  But international diplomacy does not depend on Assad’s good intentions. Instead, it aims to demilitarize the conflict and create the political space for change driven by Syrians disgusted by the destruction of their country.” 

Daniel Serwer, professor at John Hopkins School of Advance International Studies and blogger at peacefare.net, noted, ensuring the 300 monitors are deployed as rapidly as possible will be crucial to success:

“If they are going to have an impact, the observers will need to acquire it after full deployment over a period of weeks, working diligently with both protesters and the regime to ensure disengagement and to gain respect for Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan. This they can do, but only by being forthright in their assessments of what is going on, determined in their efforts to go where they want when they want and honest in communicating their observations to both the Syrian and the international press.”

Writing in the Christian Science Monitor, George A. Lopez, sees the long-term utility of the monitoring mission, despite the continued violence:

“Assad’s increased bombardment of city areas before the monitors’ arrival has generated cynicism and criticism of this UN effort as irrelevant….But the monitoring presence is not futile. Rather, the monitors’ documentation and related work, especially in making consistent demands of all fighting parties to end particular actions, can decrease the killing. The monitors provide a first, small crack in the previously closed door of Syrian repression.”

The deployment of monitors by international and regional organizations is one of the many tools available to the international community under the third pillar of the Responsibility to Protect framework. If such missions receive the cooperation of the host government of the country in which they are deployed, as well as the requisite capabilities and support from the international community, they can investigate and report on violations, which may effectively deter attacks against civilians in the context of a ceasefire between armed belligerents.

If, however, the threat or commission of mass atrocities in the context of a country-specific situation continues in spite of a deployment of monitors, the third pillar of the RtoP provides for a range of diplomatic, economic, legal, and military measures that national, regional, and international actors can implement to stem such atrocities. Proactively assessing the effectiveness of measures employed to protect civilians, as well as contingency planning in the wake of the failure of such measures, is thus critical in responding to situations of ongoing mass crimes. Such planning does not mean that a particular measure will be written off, or that another will be favoured as a course of action moving forward. Instead, it indicates that the international community is prepared to mobilize the necessary will and resources to effectively respond to massive human rights violations in a flexible, timely manner.

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Filed under Monitoring Mission, Prevention, RtoP, Security Council, Syria, Syria Ceasefire, Third Pillar, Timely and Decisive Action, UN