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#R2PWeekly: 05-09 December 2016

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Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan visits Myanmar amidst emerging allegations of torture, ethnic cleansing of Rohingya minority

557a4f1a-31c0-4bfd-96d5-7bbc995f4650Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, while traveling in Myanmar this week, expressed his concerns over the emerging reports of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Burmese military against the Rohingya Muslim minority in the country. Mr. Annan, with the support of Myanmar’s government, heads the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State which “aims to propose concrete measures for improving the welfare of all people” in the region. Mr. Annan emphasized that the protection of all civilians must be ensured at all times and that security operations in Rakhine State must allow for humanitarian access to civilians.

State Counsellor Daw Aung Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and the de facto leader of Myanmar’s government since April of this year, has come under scrutiny in recent weeks for her perceived silence on the issue of the Rohingya, who have allegedly been subject to torture and extrajudicial executions at the hands of Myanmar’s military following an armed uprising in October which is estimated to have killed over a dozen police and military personnel. Counsellor Suu Kyi denies allegations that Myanmar’s recent actions constitute ethnic cleansing despite the fact that Myanmar has refused to include the Rohingya in its most recent census and will not acknowledge the Rohingya Muslims as an official ethnic group amongst the country’s 135 official minorities.

Independent journalists have been banned from investigating allegations of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim minority communities in Rakhine State. The Burmese military has denied these allegations, despite footage obtained by news syndicates, which include images of burned villages and charred bodies. An estimated 30,000 Rohingya people have been displace, including many that have fled to neighboring Bangladesh and Thailand.

Source for above photo: Reuters via BBC News

*** Please note that due to the upcoming holidays, this will be the final edition of RtoP Weekly this month. However, we will resume publication with the latest RtoP news and updates on crisis situations around the world in January 2017. Thank you.


Catch up on developments in…

CAR
DRC
Iraq
Libya
Nigeria

South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen
Other


Central African Republic:

On Monday, the UN announced the completion of an internal investigation into alleged sexual abuse crimes committed by Burundian and Gabonese peacekeepers during their deployment in CAR. The UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) interviewed more than a hundred individuals, including minors, who identified a total of 41 alleged perpetrators. The UN shared the report with the governments of both countries and urged them to ensure accountability for those responsible.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

The United Nations Security Council has appealed for the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to expedite the process of updating its voter registry in order to conduct free and fair elections as it navigates the current uncertain political situation in the country. The statement also called on officials to exercise restraint and to respect the rights of citizens to peacefully protest. The remarks aimed to prevent further violence in the politically destabilized country following the clashes between protesters and government officials on 19-20 September during which several protesters were killed.


Iraq:

The battle for Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, has stalled dramatically as government and US-led coalition forces face ISIL fighters who will not surrender. The Sunni terror group has used a myriad of tactics, including deadly car bombs and suicide attacks, to deter advances by Iraqi forces, who now say that the battle will last until as late as next summer.

As fighting in Mosul continues to move west of the city, Shia paramilitary organizations barred from entering Mosul city limits, such as the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU), are likely to take on a greater operational role. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have expressed concern over the involvement of the PMU, now an authorized corps of the Iraqi military, due to previous abuses committed in Fallujah earlier this year, which saw at least 1,300 men and boys of a Sunni tribe go missing. Reports have emerged of torture and executions as over 600 people remain missing.

The US-led coalition assisting Iraqi government forces stated on Wednesday that it had targeted a hospital complex in Mosul. The coalition, known as code name Operation Inherent Resolve, released a statement describing the strike on the medical complex, which is believed to have been an operational base for ISIL fighters within the city. It is unclear if there were patients in the hospital or if any civilian casualties were sustained as a result of the strike.

Nearly 70,000 civilians have fled Mosul since the operation to retake the city began on 17 October. UN humanitarian staff have continued to provide aid to refugees, including hygiene kits, kerosene heaters, and sheets.


Libya:

A spokesman for pro-government forces announced on Monday that ISIL has officially been ousted from the coastal city of Sirte. The following day, the Libyan forces declared victory and celebrated an end to the fighting that has been raging in the area for the past six months. The Sunni terror group had previously controlled a 150-mile coastal stretch of the area since 2014 that was used as a logistics hub to supply fighters with weapons and to travel to nearby countries such as Tunisia.


Nigeria:

The UN warned on Wednesday that Nigeria’s enduring counterinsurgency efforts against the Islamic extremist terror group, Boko Haram, could be the “largest crisis in Africa.” Efforts by the Nigerian military freed more than 5,200 people in the month of November. However, that number signifies Boko Haram’s capability to capture and control large swathes of highly populated areas. Perhaps the most major consequence of the conflict is widespread hunger, which the UN estimates will result in nearly 75,000 children at risk of death within only “a few months.”


South Sudan:

On Sunday, a spokesperson for the SPLM-IO said that the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the main international organization involved in mediation efforts in South Sudan, has supported the continuation of the civil war in the country by accepting the replacement of Riek Machar with Taban Deng Gai as the country’s First Vice President. The spokesperson stressed that peace will not come as long as the parties fail to address the root causes of the conflict, including the dismissal of Machar.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced on Friday that the food crisis in South Sudan is expected to worsen significantly next year. At least 3.5 million people are currently facing severe food shortages and, in the latest WFP report, this number is expected to rise to 4.6 million in spring 2017 unless humanitarian aid is heightened.

Late last week, a UN team of human rights investigators said rape is being used as a tool for ethnic cleansing in South Sudan. The investigators also added that sexual violence has increased in the country and that a survey has found that 70 percent of women in the capital, Juba, have experienced sexual assault at some point since the start of the civil war. The team called for an inquiry into the claims to collect evidence to hold the perpetrators accountable.


Sudan/Darfur:

Three employees from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) were abducted by unidentified gunmen on Sunday in the unstable Darfur region of Sudan. The UNHCR employees, one Sudanese and two Nepalese, were taken from the West Darfur state capital of Geneina by automobile to an undisclosed location. This is not the first case of UN employee abductions in the region, which has been unstable since ethnically charged uprisings began in 2003. Sudan has requested that UN peacekeepers, who have been deployed in Darfur since 2007, leave the country.


Syria:

Russia and China exercised their veto power on Monday to block a UN Security Council resolution proposed by Egypt that would initiate a seven-day humanitarian ceasefire in Aleppo between Syrian President Assad’s pro-government forces and rebel-opposition groups. Russia has openly criticized the vote on the resolution for not following the standard protocol of allowing Council members at least 24 hours to review the resolution as well as the fact that the resolution failed to account for ongoing talks with the US Secretary of State John Kerry.

The aforementioned veto comes amidst significant advances by Syrian government forces into rebel-held  areas of the besieged city. Tuesday saw Syrian government forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, retake the Old City neighborhood of Aleppo, considered a major loss to rebel opposition groups fighting against the Assad regime. Government forces are said to now control at least three-quarters of formerly rebel-held areas. The US and Russia are reportedly in negotiations for a deal that would allow remaining rebels to safely evacuate the city.


Yemen:

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson expressed his deep concern regarding the reports of Saudi Arabia’s use of UK-made weapons, including cluster bombs, against Yemen. However, Johnson added that he did not believe the UK’s sale of arms to Saudi Arabia constitutes war crimes and will not suspend the arms sales. The UN released a report earlier this year stating that incidents in Yemen are in violation of international humanitarian law.

The Joint Group to Assess Incidents, an investigative body set up by the Saudi-led coalition, said on Tuesday that the attack on a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital in Yemen was a mistake. The Joint Group has called on the coalition to apologize for the strike and stated that the families of the victims need to be given proper assistance. Other incidents that the coalition have been blamed for, according to the investigative body, are considered legitimate operations where the coalition targeted fighters. The investigation was initially set up as several rights groups said the attacks on civilians and civilian buildings may amount to war crimes.


What else is new?

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) will be holding an event entitled “Burma at the Brink: Religious Freedom Violations Threaten Its Future.” The event will be held on Tuesday, 13 December from 3:00pm-4:30pm at the National Press Club (529 14th St. NW, Washington, DC). The event will feature opening remarks from USCIRF commissioners and feature the following speakers: Rachel Fleming, independent human rights research and activist, and author of Hidden Plight: Christian Minorities in Burma, Susan Hayward, Director – Religion and Inclusive Societies at the United States Institute of Peace, and Tina Mufford, Senior Policy Analyst – U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

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#R2PWeekly: 26 – 30 September 2016

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As Ivan Šimonović begins as Special Adviser on RtoP, ICRtoP releases new infographic about the work of the Joint Office 

 

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On 1 October, Mr. Ivan Šimonović will take up his new role as Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect, succeeding former Special Adviser on RtoP, Dr. Jennifer Welsh. To mark the occasion, the ICRtoP has created a new informative infographic exploring the Office of the Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect and the work of the Special Advisers in conjunction with one another to advance the operational, political, and institutional development of the norm.

Before assuming this new role, Mr. Šimonović served as Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and Head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in New York. Mr. Šimonović, of Croatia, previously served as Minister for Justice and Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and Permanent Representative of Croatia to the United Nations in New York. In the latter role, he also served as President of the Economic and Social Council.

To view ICRtoP’s new infographic on the Office of the Special Advisers, please click here.

To read ICRtoP’s statement on Mr. Šimonović’s appointment as Special Adviser on RtoP, please click here.

For more information, see the ICRtoP’s page on the Joint Office.


Catch up on developments in…

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq
Kenya
Libya
Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen
Other


Burma/Myanmar:

On 23 September, following weeks of ground clashes, the Burmese army launched an aerial assault on Kachin Independence Army camps.

On Monday, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) released a study on Burma’s prisons, highlighting gross human rights violations while suggesting appropriate measures for prison reform, including aligning domestic prison legislation with international standards and the signing of the Convention Against Torture.


 Burundi:

Late last week, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that the number of people fleeing Burundi has surpassed 300,000. In Rwanda, children make up half of the Burundian refugees, many of whom are unaccompanied. There has been a constant flow of people fleeing the country since the political crisis started and UNHCR has warned that “reception capacities in host countries are severely overstretched.” However, on Wednesday, the Burundian interior minister rejected the number given by UNHCR and said that the majority of refugees, about 100,000, have returned home willingly.

The report of the UN Independent Investigation in Burundi, released on 20 September, accusing the Burundi government of human rights abuses, was also rejected by the Burundi government as deliberately politicized and falsified. The Minister for External Affairs told the UN General Assembly on Saturday that the report, as well as other rumors and posts on social media have been utilized to depict the country “in a bad light”. In the coming days, the government will have the opportunity to present a counter-report in Geneva. Thousands of people in Burundi, including government officials, lawmakers, and other citizens protested outside UN offices in Bujumbura over the report.

On Wednesday, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW), released a statement in support of the report of the United Nations Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB) and urging the UN Human Rights Council to follow the recommendations set out by the experts in the UNIIB report. As serious human rights abuses have continued in Burundi since the last time the Council discussed the situation in the country, HRW argued that it is time for action, including the creation of a Commission of Inquiry or a similar accountability mechanism in order to establish responsibility for the most serious crimes committed in the country.

The East African Community (EAC) has received a donation of $200,000 USD from the Chinese government as part of efforts aimed at facilitating dialogue in the crisis in Burundi.


Central African Republic:

On Monday, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) condemned attacks on humanitarian workers in Kaga Bandoro, reminding that, “Violence against aid workers is a serious breach of international Humanitarian Law.” In September alone, there were 15 recorded attacks involving international organizations.

Armed groups are occupying schools hindering children across the country from returning to class, the United Nations said on Wednesday. MINUSCA, the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, on Tuesday demanded the armed groups to leave the schools and said it would use force to remove them if necessary.


 Democratic Republic of Congo:

The African Union (AU), European Union (EU), United Nations (UN), and the International Organization of La Francophonie released a joint statement on Saturday regarding their concern over the recent deadly clashes between law enforcement and civilians in the DRC. The statement urged both the presidential majority and the political opposition to exercise restraint and uphold their responsibilities of ensuring the protection of human rights.

During the Interactive Dialogue on the UN High Commissioner’s report on the situation in the DRC on Tuesday, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights urged all parties in the conflict in the DRC to seek a peaceful solution. The appeal comes a week after 53 people, including 49 civilians, were killed in protests in the capital city of Kinshasa. The Deputy High Commissioner also requested the Human Rights Council to further investigate the human rights situation in the DRC. On Tuesday, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch published a statement made at the Dialogue, highlighting attempts by Congolese officials to curb human rights reporting and detailing how pro-democracy activists have been detained and sequestered for speaking out against President Kabila’s attempts to extend his presidency beyond the two-term limit.

A crisis briefing released on Thursday by the Global Humanitarian Assistance Program details the current financial response by the international community to deal with the South Sudanese refugee crisis in the DRC. The report states that $356.1 million USD has been donated toward the UN-coordinated Human Response Plan, amounting to 52% of the goal for 2016. Additionally, the report notes that the South Sudan Regional Refugee Response plan calls for $14.7 million USD of assistance to DRC, but that amount has not been reached.


Gaza/West Bank:

UN women’s rights expert Dubravka Simonovic has called for renewed peace talks between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT), specifically appealing for women of both sides to take a leadership role in the process.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) has issued a call for the Attorney General to open an investigation into the death of one person and the wounding of three others by Palestinian Security Forces on Wednesday morning at the Balatah refugee camp in Nablus. According to the Governor of Nablus, the four men, one of which was a minor, were driving in a vehicle and opened fire on the Security Forces. The Security Forces then returned fire at the vehicle resulting in the aforementioned casualty and injuries.

The PCHR also released a weekly report indicating that Israeli forces have continuously committed systematic crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories. The report notes that 26 Palestinians, including 14 children were displaced on Tuesday due to Israeli incursion of property and that dozens of temporary checkpoints were created in the West Bank in order to obstruct the movement of Palestinians throughout the area.


Iraq:

An ECHO Daily Flash List indicated on Tuesday that continued military operations in the Mosul corridor of Iraq have caused the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to rise above 90,000. The report also stressed the importance of translating emergency preparedness to timely humanitarian action and protection for civilians of Mosul ahead of the upcoming offensive to retake the city from the Islamic State (ISIL). Humanitarian assistance has not reached many of these areas for about two years. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also released a flash update infographic on the IDP situation in Mosul and surrounding areas. The document notes that military operations continue to create new displacement in the areas of Shirqat and Hawiga. UNHCR’s call for US$584 million to assist IDPs and Iraqi refugees is still only 40% funded. Additional humanitarian challenges surrounding the upcoming offensive were raised in a new reportreleased by IRIN, which brings attention to issues such as the risk of the potential displacement of over one million Iraqi civilians, and cooperation concerns over land for refugee camps with the Kurdish Regional Government.

The Republic of Korea has provided $3 million in aid to UN Development Programme’s initiative, Funding Facility for Immediate Stabilization (FFIS), which supports high-priority projects in territories liberated from ISIL. The funds will be utilized for stabilization and peace projects in both Anbar and Ninewah province as well as towards projects seeking to empower women and girls to participate in community rebuilding.

Two separate suicide bombings carried out by ISIL killed at least 17 civilians in Baghdad on Tuesday. The attacks specifically targeted Shia-dominated neighborhoods. The bombings indicate a return to insurgency-style attacks as ISIL continues to lose territory on the front lines of the war with Iraqi armed forces.


Kenya:

On Tuesday, the Kenyan government announced that they have begun the process of replacing commissioners on the electoral oversight body. The move is part of the agreement struck with the opposition that put an end to a series of protests, which often escalated to violence, earlier in the year. The opposition believes that the oversight body is biased and not fit to oversee elections scheduled for August 2017.


Libya:

During a UN Security Council meeting on Sunday, in response to US accusations against Russia of civilian deaths in Syria, Russia blamed the US for the failed truce in Libya, saying it was incapable of reining in rebel groups who would not commit to it.

This week, Libya Experts Development Cooperation Forum held its fourth meeting in Tunis. The forum is made up of former Libyan ministers and it aims to provide support for post-conflict peacebuilding and statebuilding.

On Tuesday, the UN envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, called on States to support the Libyan unity government and uphold the ban on arms sales to the country. The French President vowed his country’s support to the unity government and warned that Libya must not turn into another Syria. On Wednesday a Libyan general rejected the UN-backed unity government and suggested that the country would be better served by a leader with “high-level military experience”.

A Russian diplomatic source said on Wednesday that a Libyan general has requested Russia to end its arms embargo on the country and supply the eastern forces with weapons and military equipment. The general addressed the request to both the President and Defense Minister of Russia which joined the arms embargo set up by the UN Security Council back in 2011.

On Wednesday, US military officials told media sources that the country is expected to extend its bombing campaign against the Islamic State (ISIL) in Libya for another month. This is the second such instance that the US extended its air campaign in Libya since the strikes began in the beginning of August.


Mali:

On Saturday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon renewed his call for the timely and full implementation of the peace deal in Mali. The Secretary-General met with Mali’s President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita the peace deal and the humanitarian situation in northern Mali, as well as the role neighboring countries can play in bringing about stability.


Nigeria:

On Sunday, a man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, released a video denying reports from the Nigerian military that he had been injured in an airstrike, while also threatening the Nigerian president and taunting him over attempts to have the UN help negotiate the release of 200 kidnapped girls. The same day, the Nigerian army claimed to have killed over 25 Boko Harammilitants, repelling an attack by the militant group in northern Borno state. Four Nigerian soldiers died in the assault as well. Separately, an army convoy came under fire, later in the day, near Bama, killing an additional four soldiers.

The Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate has claimed responsibility for an attack on Thursday that targeted an oil pipeline. This came days after the Niger Delta Avengers carried out new attacks, which were the first since the group began talks with the government in August.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, UNICEF reported on the malnutrition crisis that is affecting the northeast of the country, with as many as 75,000 children likely to die in the next year as a result of famine-like conditions created by Boko Haram.


South Sudan:

The humanitarian situation
On Saturday the Sudanese government dispatched $2 million USD worth of food aid and non-food items to South Sudan. A Sudanese official said the shipment was a donation from the presidency to strengthen and enhance relations with South Sudan. According to humanitarian organizations, nearly 6 million South Sudanese are in need of aid assistance. The items in this shipment meet the needs of about 400,000 families.

A human rights group released the results of a two-year investigation earlier this month, that found South Sudanese politicians spending international aid on luxury items. On Monday, South Sudanese First Vice President Taban Deng Gai responded in an interview, saying that the government is investigating, but the accusations in the report might be false.

The World Food Programme released a Situation Report on South Sudan which, among other things, showed that the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has reached 1.61 million. The number of South Sudanese refugees has also risen to over one million, with the average number of South Sudanese refugees arriving in Uganda exceeding 3,000 per day, a figure almost double the daily average in July. It was reported on Wednesday that over 15,000 refugees have arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo, fleeing the violence in South Sudan.

On Monday, UN agencies and aid organizations evacuated nearly 40 aid workers from a northern area of South Sudan due to the deteriorating security in the region.

Political and military developments
In his first statement since fleeing South Sudan in August, rebel leader and former First Vice President Riek Machar accused current President Salva Kiir of wanting to turn the country into an “ethnic state” for the Dinka group. He also called for armed resistance to the government and said he plans to resume armed struggle as well. The South Sudanese government has condemned the statement from Machar and said it was unacceptable to the people of South Sudan.

Lam Akol, former Minister of Agriculture has formed a new rebel faction, called the National Democratic Movement (NDM). Akol previously chaired the Democratic Change Party (DCP), but resigned last month because the other leaders believed in peaceful dialogue and non-violence as the only means to bring about change in South Sudan. His aim is to use the rebel group to overthrow the government of South Sudan and, according to Akol, the new faction will work closely with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM-IO) under the leadership of the former First Vice President Riek Machar.

On Tuesday, rebels from the Cobra faction of South Sudan’s armed forces announced their defection from the government forces and that they have joined the opposition. In 2014 they signed a peace agreement with the government, which has now been broken.

A new confidential report by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on South Sudan details a list of how the South Sudanese government has obstructed the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, and shows the growing backlash against the international community. Among other things, the report claims that South Sudanese soldiers forced a UN vehicle to stop last month, and then proceeded to threaten the international staffers inside with death. The Security Council approved a resolution in August demanding that the country allow UN peacekeepers to do their job unfettered, with the possibility of an arms embargo in the event of non-compliance. Although South Sudan’s government has agreed to the regional forces, South Sudanese officials have claimed it is a violation of the country’s sovereignty.


Sudan/Darfur:

A new report released on Thursday by Amnesty International has urgently called for the UN Security Council to investigate the suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians by Sudanese authorities in Darfur. The report also calls on the Security Council to pressure Sudanese government officials to allow peacekeepers and humanitarian aid workers access to remote regions of Darfur. The report estimates that 30 chemical attacks have been perpetrated in 2016 and have mostly targeted the Jebel Marra region. The deadly attacks have claimed the lives of about 250 people, many of which were children, and could amount to war crimes, according to Amnesty International.

Sudanese security services disbanded an organized protest outside of the Ministry of Justice in Khartoum on Monday, spearheaded by the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The goal of the demonstration was to deliver a message to the Minister to request an investigation into the violent killings of anti-austerity protesters by government forces in September 2013.

The United Kingdom has contributed $3.9 million USD to the Sudan Humanitarian Fund (SHF). The funds will assist the Sudanese ability to respond to humanitarian challenges such as the arrival of approximately 90,000 South Sudanese refugees and the displacement of civilians in the Darfur region.


Syria:

Political developments
The Foreign Ministers of France, Italy, Germany, the UK, and the US, as well as the High Representative of the European Union issued a joint statement on Sunday urging Russia to assume its responsibility of working toward a cessation of hostilities, condemning the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, and reaffirming its commitment to destroying the Islamic State (ISIL).

The UN Security Council convened for an emergency meeting on Sunday regarding the accelerated hostilities in Syria following the breakdown of a ceasefire last week. An estimated 213 people were killed between Thursday, 22 September and Monday, 26 September. The three countries which called for the meeting, the US, UK, and France, walked out when the Syrian representative began speaking.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov dismissed on Thursday a proposal from the United States for a week long cessation of hostilities around Aleppo. However, Ryabkov noted that Moscow is open to a 48-hour ceasefire to allow for humanitarian aid to reach civilians caught in the crossfire.

The security situation
On Monday, airstrikes killed at least 26 people in Aleppo. The airstrikes were purportedly committed by the Syrian regime with Russian involvement. Six of the casualties are confirmed to have been children.

Airstrikes killed at least nine civilians in separate attacks on two hospitals and a bakery in Aleppo on Wednesday. Three patients were killed in the hospitals and the intensive care units in both facilities have been destroyed. An additional six casualties were confirmed outside of a bakery where civilians were waiting in line to purchase bread.

ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for the UN Security Council to address the Syrian regime’s recent use of deadly chemical weapons attacks by imposing sanctions and referring the crisis to the International Criminal Court. Separate attacks using barrel bombs containing chlorine perpetrated by the regime in August and September directly led to the deaths of five people, including three children. The HRW investigation also noted that the Islamic State has been using chemical agents in attacks in Syria.

The humanitarian situation
On Sunday, aid convoys successfully delivered humanitarian aid to four besieged towns in Syria. A large convoy of aid vans delivered food, medical, and hygiene kits to about 60,000 people in the towns of Madaya, Zabadani, Foah, and Kenfraya. It was the first time in six months that these areas have received any aid.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has released a report detailing the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria. UNOCHA estimates that between 250,000 and 275,000 civilians are trapped inside eastern Aleppo without access to safe drinking water, under constant threat of violence due to increased hostilities, and unable to evacuate as all routes out of the city are closed.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has appealed for the development of safe evacuation routes for the sick and wounded in Aleppo, as only an estimated 35 doctors remain in the city to care for over 250,000 people. WHO has officially submitted a request through the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the creation of humanitarian passages to evacuate patients to surrounding Syrian cities and areas of Turkey.


Yemen:

The humanitarian situation
Mona Relief, a Yemeni aid organization run by volunteers started delivering aid to 200 families in Hudaydah on Sunday, providing urgently needed basic supplies and on Monday, a convoy of trucks carrying humanitarian aid arrived in the same province. Starvation is widespread among the population in this area and the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) warned that a quarter of the Yemeni population are living under emergency levels of food insecurity.

Save the Children reported on Tuesday that Yemen’s hospital run out of supplies and the health system has collapsed. Children die from direct impact of the conflict or malnutrition and related illness and are not able to get treatment in hospitals unless their parents can afford medicine. As a result of the war people have lost their jobs and livelihoods, with the result that many families can’t afford transportation to the hospitals, much less are able to buy the essential medicine once they get there. Since the conflict started, at least 1,188 children have been killed and more than 1,796 wounded.

After conducting internal investigations, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) released two reports on Tuesday describing airstrikes on hospitals that resulted in the death of 20 people. A consequence of the bombings was not only loss of life and destruction, but also the suspension of activities as MSF withdrew from six hospitals. The detailed information in the reports cover actions taken before, during, and immediately after the attacks, and it showed that the neutrality and impartiality of the hospitals had not been compromised; therefore, there was no legitimate reason for the attacks. The UN Security Council had a closed session on protection of medical missions, where the reports were presented.

Political and security developments
A Saudi-led coalition airstrike killed a family of nine in their home and wounded several others on Sunday in the rebel-held city of Ibb. The Saudi Royal Air Force carried out further airstrikes on Monday, killing 10 civilians and wounding 8 others. Monday’s strikes were likely conducted in retaliation for the Yemeni Army’s missile strike at the Jizan Region of Saudi Arabia. On Wednesday, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes killed at least four civilians, including a child and injured several others, in the Haydan district.

On Sunday, a top Houthi official offered to cease attacks on Saudi Arabia and an amnesty for government and other Houthi-opposed Yemeni fighters in exchange for a cessation of Saudi-led airstrikes and a lifting of the blockade-like conditions on the country. The move has not fulfilled all of the demands by the Yemeni government and its supporters in Saudi Arabia, but has offered a rare hope for a cessation of hostilities in the country. On Monday, a spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition responded, expressing a preference for a broad political settlement over a ceasefire, which, he explained, are usually short and without any control.

Last week, Britain blocked the EU’s efforts to establish an independent international inquiry into war crimes in Yemen, proposed by The Netherlands. However, after human rights organizations accused the country of placing arms sales to Saudi Arabia over investigations into civilian deaths from coalition bombings, the UK shifted policy on Monday, and added its voice to a call at the UN this week to set up an independent mission. Then, on Thursday, the call for the inquiry into the conflict was denied in the Human Rights Council and the Dutch proposal was withdrawn. A weaker Saudi Arabian-led resolution was introduced, where, instead of the international probe, the Human Rights Council will now call on a national inquiry to look into the conflict. The national probe suggestion was criticized by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights last month since it has only focused on the Houthi rebels and not human rights violations committed by other parties to the conflict. The delegation from the EU called the accepted resolution a “reasonable compromise”.


 What else is new?

The Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre will hold a course from 14 – 25 November on the Responsibility to Protect in Accra, Ghana. The aim of the course is to train African officials, including lawmakers, government and military officials, police, and civil society members, on the concept of RtoP and its implementation. The course it will discuss the foundations and evolution of RtoP, information on atrocity prevention and early warning, the protection of civilians, and the military/security sector. For more information on the course and how to apply, please click here.

The Syrian Committee, Amnesty International, and PAX held a joint demonstration on Friday, 30 September at 1:00pm in front of the Russian Embassy in The Hague, demanding that the Russian and Syrian governments stop the bombardments on civilian targets in Aleppo.

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Diplomatic Pressure Intensifies on Syria as UN General Assembly Set to Vote on New Resolution

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has scheduled a vote on 16 February at 3:00 pm EST on a new resolution concerning the situation in Syria, drafted and circulated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on 10 February. The UNGA has previously condemned the Syrian government’s crackdown against civilian protesters on 22 November and 19 December 2011, with each urging strong support for regional efforts by the League of Arab States.

The UN General Assembly, whose members met to discuss the situation in Syria on 13 February (UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

The Saudi-drafted UNGA draft resolution is similar to the one that was subject to in-depth negotiations and ultimately vetoed by Russia and China at the UN Security Council (UNSC) on 4 February.

Specifically, it calls for the UN to support the Arab League peace plan, which provides that President Bashar al-Assad delegate power to a deputy and begin a process of political transition. However, the language of the UNGA draft resolution is much stronger in condemning the violence and urging accountability for violations for human rights, “including those violations that may amount to crimes against humanity.”

It also calls on the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, to support the efforts of the League of Arab States through the appointment of a Special Envoy and technical and material assistance.

It is expected that the draft resolution will pass at the 16 February vote. There are no veto rights within the General Assembly, which has crippled efforts to respond to the situation in Syria at the Security Council. The passing of a resolution at the UNGA would increase diplomatic pressure on Assad and throw UN support behind the Arab League peace plan; however the resolution would not be legally binding for UN Member States.

The draft was circulated after a Cairo meeting of the League of Arab States on 12 February. The organization passed a resolution which formally backed the Syrian opposition, called for it to unite, and requested that the UN Security Council authorize a joint United Nations-League of Arab States peacekeeping force to protect civilians and oversee a cease-fire.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made his opposition to the idea clear by stating that his country would not support a  joint peacekeeping operation unless there was a ceasefire in place between the government and the rebel Free Syrian Army and other armed opposition. China’s Foreign Ministry stated that it supported the League of Arab States’ efforts to resolve the crisis, but did not express whether it would support peacekeepers being deployed in Syria, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, the US administration of President Barack Obama also expressed concerns with peacekeepers being deployed in Syria, among them the challenges in overcoming Russian and Chinese opposition, and gaining Syria’s consent to such a force.

There is not, however, any mention of the formation of a joint UN-League of Arab States peacekeeping force in the General Assembly draft resolution.

UN Officials Speak Out Ahead of Vote

Ahead of vote at the UNGA, UN officials continued to condemn the violence in Syria.

UN Special Advisers for the Prevention of Genocide, Dr. Francis Deng, and for the Responsibility to Protect, Dr. Ed Luck, issued a statement on 10 February condemning the recent violence in Homs, which has been reported to have claimed upwards of 300 lives. The Special Advisers warned that such indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations could constitute crimes against humanity. Dr. Luck also warned in a press statement on 14 February that the conflict in Syria was splitting along sectarian lines, with attacks occurring against specific groups.

In light of situation, the two Special Advisers urged the international community to act:

At the 2005 World Summit, Heads of State and Government made a solemn commitment to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, including their incitement. They agreed, as well, to utilize the full range of regional and global tools under the United Nations Charter to help protect populations from these crimes. Many of these measures would not require authorization by the Security Council. These would include efforts to build trust among communities within Syria, to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need, and to encourage regional cooperation in advancing human rights and preventing further rounds of violence against civilian populations.  

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay briefed the UNGA on 13 February on the situation in Syria. In her address to the Assembly, Pillay condemned the continued government crackdown in Syria, expressing her “outrage” over the serious violations of human rights that have been committed since March 2011.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay speaking to the press about the situation in Syria. (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

The High Commissioner stated at the General Assembly that the systematic nature of the government’s response to protests, including it’s shoot-to-kill policy against civilian protesters, its “massive campaign” of arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture and sexual violence, and the high number of children who have been killed by security forces, indicated that crimes against humanity had been perpetrated by Syrian forces.

Pillay again encouraged the UNSC to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court so that the crimes committed do not go unpunished. The High Commissioner also urged the international community to “act now” to uphold its obligations to protect Syrian populations from continued violations of human rights, which she noted the Syrian government had manifestly failed to do.

Push for Security Council Re-Engagement

The renewed effort to respond to the situation in Syria through the United Nations comes after Russia and China employed their vetoes to strike down a draft resolution at the Council on 4 February.

It appears, however, that France – a permanent member of the Security Council – is holding negotiations with the Russians in order to introduce a new resolution that overcomes Russia’s concerns with previous drafts tabled at the Council.

Reuters reported on 15 February that French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé hopes that a new resolution would include the creation of humanitarian corridors in Syria. Juppé argued that the humanitarian zones would serve to alleviate civilian suffering in Syria by allowing inter-governmental and non-governmental aid agencies to deliver food, water and medical services, but would likely have to be protected by armed observers or peacekeepers.

Given Russian and Chinese opposition to any form of outside military intervention in Syria over the course of the UN’s efforts to respond to the situation, such a proposition would likely encounter resistance from those Members at the UNSC.

Meanwhile, following a Russian delegation’s meeting with President al-Assad of Syria, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun announced that China would also travel to Syria with an envoy to discuss the situation with the Syrian government.

Diplomatic Efforts Come as Violence Escalates

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis continue as violence has escalated steadily since the failed UN Security Council draft resolution on 4 February. The bombardment of Homs by Syrian security and military forces has continued in recent days, and clashes between those forces and the rebel Free Syrian Army have reportedly expanded across the country. New raids were reported in Daraa as well, as the government seeks to extinguish rebellious pockets in major Syrian cities.

On 16 February, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed the calls of many of his UN colleagues by stating that there have been “certaincrimes against humanity in Syria, particularly the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas by Syrian security forces.

Stressing the need for continued international engagement in Syria despite the failure to pass a resolution at the UNSC, Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P), called for a “diplomatic surge” through the framework of the responsibility to protect in order to end the violence in Syria. Adams writes:

“Crimes against humanity are occurring in Syria…What we need now is a diplomatic surge, with Russian engagement, to overwhelm those elements in the Syrian regime who think that they can simply shoot their way out of the current crisis.”

And according to Amnesty International (AI), such a “diplomatic surge” could not come a moment too soon. In a press release, AI states that as the debate has moved from the Security Council to the General Assembly, the Syrian government has steadily stepped up its attacks, which have resulted in a rising civilian death toll. As such, Ann Harrison, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa for AI, urged the international community to “not stand idly by” as Syrian civilians continued to be targeted by the government in Homs, Hama, and Daraa, Syria.

AI and Human Rights Watch issued a joint-letter ahead of the UNGA vote, which urged the UN body’s members to vote in favour of the draft resolution and, “strongly affirm that the vast majority of states have not abandoned the people of Syria”.

Post researched and written by Evan Cinq-Mars. Editing by Rachel Shapiro and Megan Schmidt. 

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Filed under Arab League, CivSoc, Prevention, Regional Orgs, RtoP, Security Council, Syria, UN