Tag Archives: Women

#RtoPWeekly: 6 – 10 February 2017

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UN Special Adviser condemns human rights violations against Rohingya population by state security forces

On 6 February, the United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, issued a statement condemning the alarming human rights violations committed against the Muslim Rohingya population in northern Rakhine State by Burmese security forces. The statement follows the recent release of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHR) latest report on the situation, which documents the testimonies of over 220 Rohingya refugees, interviewed between 12 and 21 January in Bangladesh. On Thursday, two senior United Nations officials also stated that more than 1,000 Rohingya civilians were killed during the army crackdown, of which the humanitarian consequences have been greatly underestimated by the country’s presidential spokesman, Zaw Htay.

The latest OHCHR report includes testimonies of grave human rights violations, including mass gang-rape, killings of babies, and forced disappearances, while the UN Special Adviser called on the government to fulfill its responsibility to protect the population against these “atrocious and punishable acts”. Mr. Dieng also expressed his disappointment about the recent investigation conducted by the Government Commission over these crimes, which stated to have found nothing to substantiate the claims.

Defining the Commission as a non-credible option to further undertake new investigations, the Special Adviser also called for a “totally independent and impartial body” staffed with international observers, to be allowed access to report on and document the whole range of “long-standing discriminatory practices and policies against the Rohingya Muslims,” in order to put in place conditions that would “support peaceful coexistence among different communities in Rakhine State.”

On 8 February, Pope Francis also spoke in defense of the right of Burma’s Rohingya Muslims to “live their faith” and condemned the country’s government for its campaign of persecution, which is forcing them to flee. Charu Lata Hogg, an associate fellow with the Asia Programme at Chatham House, has said that “Pope Francis’ comments should serve as a wakeup call to the international community.”

Source for above photo: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré


Catch up on developments in…

Burundi
CAR
DRC
Gaza/West Bank
Iraq 
Kenya
Libya

Mali
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sri Lanka
Sudan/Darfur
Syria
Yemen

Burundi:

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has warned that conditions in camps for Burundian refugees in countries of asylum are deteriorating and more land is urgently needed to accommodate the growing number of new refugee arrivals. The UNHCR stated that the number of Burundians fleeing political violence is expected to reach 500,000 this year as the UN seeks out more land for refugee camps in neighboring countries. Some UN human rights experts also reported over 60 cases of enforced disappearances in Burundi from November to December 2016.


Central African Republic:

A senior United Nations humanitarian official called for the protection of civilians and unhindered relief access to the town of Bocaranga after an outbreak of violence between two armed groups in the area this week. The violence has killed and injured civilians as well as displaced some 9,000 people.


Democratic Republic of Congo:

Opposition groups in the DRC are expecting talks with the government to begin next week despite the death of the group’s leader, Etienne Tshisekedi. Opposition supporters expressed concern that Tshisekedi’s death could endanger the transition agreement recently signed with the government. This agreement would allow President Kabila to lead a transitional government for a year, after which new elections would be held.


Gaza/West Bank:

Al Mezen Center for Human Rights has reported that Israeli forces have launched airstrikes and intensified artillery bombardments on the Gaza strip. On Thursday, an Israeli airstrike in Gaza allegedly killed two civilians and wounded five others after rockets were fired from the Sinai Peninsula and intercepted mid-flight by Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ missile defence system. Attacks have allegedly hit civilian farms and affected other nearby civilian properties and spread panic among the population due to the reminiscent quality of the current intensification to that of the prelude to the last major Israeli offensive on Gaza in the summer of 2014. Israeli ministers have expressed their views of the situation on the border with Gaza in escalatory rhetoric. Education Minister Naftali Bennett expressed on Tuesday that open conflict is, in his view, inevitable.

UN Secretary-General Guterres has criticized the bill passed by the Israeli parliament retroactively legalizing 4,000 settlement homes previously erected on Palestinian land as a violation of international law. In addition to the UN, the European Union, League of Arab States, and Israeli allies, notably Germany, have also criticized the bill as a violation of international law.


Iraq:

On Wednesday, ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the Islamic State’s (ISIL) continued occupation of hospitals in Mosul, including the al-Salam hospital, is further endangering civilians’ lives in the battle against Iraqi-led forces trying to retake the city.


Kenya:

Kenya’s High Court has blocked the government from shutting down Dadaab refugee camp and forcibly repatriating 260,000 Somali refugees. The government has claimed that the camp has “lost its humanitarian nature” and is now a hub for terrorism and crime. The government has also stated that the decision to close the camp was made in order to protect Kenyans from such threats.


Libya:

On Sunday, Libya’s coast guard said it has intercepted 1,131 migrants near the city of Sabratha since January 27. Migrants include people from Syria, Tunisia, Libya and Palestinian territories.

The outcomes of the Valletta Summit, held on Friday, show the shortcomings of the European Union’s (EU) attempt to curb the refugee flows coming from Libya, aid groups said, underlining that the EU is completely abandoning humanitarian values and misrepresenting the situation in the African country. Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) also said that the summit proved EU leaders were “delusional” about Libya.

On Tuesday, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, called on Libya and on the international community to protect migrants from sexual violence. She reiterated the UN Secretary-General’s recommendation, which specifies that sexual violence is a form of persecution that warrants refugee status.


Mali:

Defense intelligence analysts have reported that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and affiliated groups may be moving to escalate violence against UN, French, national military and large civilian targets in order to impede the peace process in northern Mali. This perspective takes into account the attack on a shared military base in Gao last month that appeared to target the preparations for a tripartite joint military patrol that is part of the northern Mali peace agreement.

Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Chad and Niger have agreed to joint operations to combat terrorism and violent extremist groups in the Sahel region. The group plans to await UN Security Council approval and a UN resolution before establishing the force.


Nigeria:

A confrontation between soldiers and two female suicide bombers on Tuesday resulted in the death of one bomber and the surrender of the other. The incident is a continuation of a disturbing trend of the use of women and young girls as suicide bombers by Boko Haram, raising concerns that the terrorist group is forcing kidnapped civilians to become living weapons. UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs  Jeffrey Feltman has said recently that Boko Haram remains a threat, but has been significantly weakened by internal feuding and a loss of funding.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has released the regional report on Nigeria for January 2017. UNHCR reported over 1.7 million Nigerians have become displaced as a result of the conflict, and an additional 200,000 have fled to neighboring countries. The report also noted that UNHCR operations in Nigeria are currently facing a 99% funding gap in 2017 at the point of publication. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization also predicted in a report that 120,000 of the 11 million Nigerians facing food shortages will suffer catastrophic famine-like conditions as a result of the conflict with Boko Haram.


South Sudan:

South Sudan’s government has announced a plan to stem the violence across the country by 2020 through President Kiir’s call for national dialogue in the country. However, Mr. Kiir has also instructed the country’s defense minister to execute soldiers who commit human right abuses and atrocities, resulting in further violence within the country.

More than 52,000 people fled to Uganda from South Sudan in January amid fighting that the UN special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, warned could amount to mass atrocities as violence continues. Mr. Dieng has also called for action before the impact of the violence in the young country becomes irreversible. Reportings of killings of civilians, destruction of homes, rape, and many other crimes has lead critics to question President Salva Kiir’s promise to end violence and bring back peace. The chairman of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) is also dismayed about the continuous violence. In a statement, he stressed the importance of unity amongst the government, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the international community.


Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, said on Tuesday that the country needs more time to properly investigate war crimes allegations from the nation’s previous civil war, which resulted in the deaths of up to 100,000 people.


Sudan:

The leadership of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), the group that has been fighting the government in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions for years, stated that they are still willing to discuss the delivery of US humanitarian aid to the region, but have rejected the role of the government in controlling the distribution. US diplomats have been leading an effort to establish a plan for humanitarian access in the region with consent from both the government and the rebel group.

The Government of South Kordofan has established a committee for the deployment of humanitarian aid within the state as part of the engagement plan between Khartoum and Washington to work towards lifting the sanctions against Sudan. Civil society commentators have criticized the decision by the US to back-off on sanctions against Sudan, arguing that they are still needed in order to bring about meaningful political change to the government structure in the country.


Syria:

Despite US President Trump’s commitment for more safe zones in Syria, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi stated on Wednesday that he does not see the proper conditions in the country for the implementation of such zones and called instead for investing on peace talks.

On Monday, Syrian government forces from the south and Turkish-backed rebels from the north encircled the Islamic State-held city of al-Bab. This advance is likely to trigger a confrontation between the two factions, the first since Turkey launched its “Euphrates Shield” operation in August 2016.

On the same day, representatives from Russia, Turkey, and Iran began a technical meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, to discuss the implementation of a ceasefire, ahead of the UN-sponsored Geneva peace talks to be held on 20 February. However, deep divisions between Moscow and Tehran about the possible participation of the United States are likely to hamper the talks. Moreover, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, said that, as long as Islamic State (ISIL), al-Nusra, and other terrorist groups are present on the ground, a political solution for Syria will be not achievable.
On Thursday, Russian airstrikes accidentally killed three Turkish soldiers and wounded 11 others during an operation against ISIL in northern Syria. The unintended clash promptly urged the Russian President Vladimir Putin to express its condolences to the Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, blaming the misdirected strikes on poor coordination between Moscow and Ankara.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International issued a report revealing torture and mass killings carried out in Syria’s Saydnaya prison. Witness testimonies claim that 13,000 civilians have been secretly tortured and hanged between 2011 and 2015.

Airstrikes in Idlib on Tuesday killed 23 people, including civilians. It is unclear if those airstrikes were carried out by the Russian or Syrian government forces or by the US-led coalition.


Yemen:

This week, the government of Yemen has requested a reassessment of US commando operations in the country, including the botched operation last month that killed numerous civilians, including children, and for closer cooperation with the US government in future operations. Human rights monitor Reprieve has reported the civilian death toll of the aforementioned US operation to be 23,  according to witnesses.

Yemeni forces also announced on Wednesday that they had fully seized the coastal city of Mocha and cleared it of Houthi forces and have shifted priority to landmine clearance and restoring peace and security in the neighborhoods.

The British High Court is expected to make a ruling within the next few weeks on the domestic legality of the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. The London-based Campaign Against the Arm Trade (CAAT) has brought a legal case against the government of the UK to halt the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. British-made armaments are allegedly being used in the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen, according to CAAT, that has regularly resulted in civilian casualties with some sources claiming one out of every three airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition have struck civilian targets.

On Wednesday, Oxfam stated that the complicity of foreign governments, including of the United Kingdom, in the conflict in Yemen has accelerated the country’s approach to severe famine. The condemnation came the same day that the UN released a new humanitarian plan for Yemen in Geneva and appealed to world governments for $2.1 billion USD for emergency lifesaving relief in Yemen. The UN has called the situation in Yemen “catastrophic and rapidly deteriorating,” with 3.3 million people acutely malnourished as a result of the conflict.

The security situation in Yemen has also led to UN fears for the safety of refugees in the country. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) launched a campaign Tuesday to dissuade migrants and refugees, primarily from Somalia and Ethiopia, from travelling to or through Yemen due to the high levels of criminal abuse and violations faced by refugees in the conflict-afflicted country. UNHCR has expressed that, while Yemen is party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the ongoing state of war and insecurity in the country does not provide an environment conducive for asylum. UNHCR also stated that the lack of security for both UNHCR and partner personnel, as well as refugees, has made it particularly difficult to fulfill its mandate in Yemen.


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No Protection without Participation: The Responsibility to Include Displaced Women

On October 28, 2014, the Security Council held its annual open debate on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) focusing on women as refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). The urgency of this matter cannot be understated, as the world reaches a grim milestone.

Security Council meeting on Women and peace and  security

Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the Security Council meeting on Women and peace and security. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

Currently, the global population of displaced sits at approximately 50 million people – the largest number since the Second World War. What’s more appalling is that an astounding 80 percent of this population consists of women and children.

It was noted throughout the debate that in this context, women are at risk of a range of human rights abuses. These include gender-based discrimination in access to economic resources, education and employment, poor reproductive health care, and exclusion from decision-making and participation in most peace processes.

Furthermore, women are particularly vulnerable to sexual and gender based violence (SGBV). Recalling Security Council Resolution 1820, rape and other forms of sexual violence are recognized as a threat to international peace and security, as well as serve as indicators of and/or constitute potential genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, making this an important issue for both the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) and WPS.

The debate was part of the ongoing effort to evaluate implementation of Resolution 1325, a landmark Security Council decision that followed many incremental precedents in the advancement of women’s human rights, and subsequent resolutions that make up the WPS framework. The discussions held at this session made it clear that, while progress has been made with regards to upholding women’s rights and ensuring equal participation, there is still much progress to be made, especially as it concerns women who are refugees or IDPs.  The experience of women IDPs in countries plagued by atrocities such as Syria, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan demonstrate the stunning lack of progress, as well as a failure of national authorities to uphold their primary responsibility to protect displaced persons within their borders.

 

Horrifying Conditions for Displaced Women

The latest Secretary-General’s report on Women’s Peace and Security takes special note of the plight of displaced women. The report explains that driving factors such as discriminatory gender norms, a lack of access to livelihoods and basic services, as well as unequal citizenship rights leave women and girls especially vulnerable to a range of rights violations.

Among the risks mentioned are exposures to sex and labour trafficking, SGBV, and early and forced marriage. In addition, women are experiencing a curtailment of their rights in relation to dress, travel, education and employment – particularly in areas where extremism is rampant.

The Secretary-General’s report notes several countries as being particularly affected, including atrocity-ridden Syria, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Reports emerging from these countries bring the Secretary-General’s warnings to life, and shed light on the dire situations faced by displaced women.

For example, in South Sudan, the Special Representative on Sexual Violence, Zainab Hawa Bangura told horrific tales of sexual violence that will “…haunt South Sudan for generations to come” and include “rapes, gang rapes, rapes with guns and bullets and sexual slavery,” committed by forces loyal to both Salva Kiir and Riek Machar.  Many of these have occurred in the supposed safety of UNMISS Protection of Civilian sites and IDP camps.

In the Central African Republic, the International Displacement Monitoring Centre reports that “where 20 per cent of the country’s population is internally displaced, 68 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18.” They also note that access to education has been severely restricted, decrying that “ In Bossangoa region, education has ground to a halt almost completely, and in the country as  whole more than 70 per cent of potential pupils – at least 450,000 children – are currently out of school.”

Views of the Zaatri Refugee Camp

Syrian Refugees Crossing into the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. UN Photo/Mark Garten.

In Syria, the Assistant UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that displacement has been “accompanied by gender-based crimes, deliberate victimization of women and children and a frightening array of assaults on human dignity.”

A July 2014 Human Rights Watch report documented the abuses inflicted on women fleeing the frontlines of the country’s civil war. The organization warned that “Women in Syria have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, physically abused, harassed, and tortured during Syria’s conflict by government forces, pro-government militias, and armed groups opposed to the government.”

The examples from these countries are but a sample of the very real dangers faced by displaced women and girls, and the risks that they will become victims of RtoP crimes.

 

RtoP and Women’s Participation in the Context of Displacement

The deplorable conditions facing displaced women in South Sudan, Syria, and CAR represent a wider failure of national authorities to uphold their obligations to adequately protect IDPs and refugees within their borders.

Indeed, the broad range of rights abuses faced by displaced women are identified by the new  Framework of Analysis for the Prevention of Atrocity Crimes, recently published by the Joint Office for the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, as being a precursor to the commission of atrocity crimes.

The framework explains that of particular concern are “violations of civil and political rights” that may include “…severe restrictions to economic, social and cultural rights, often linked to patterns of discrimination or exclusion of protected groups, populations or individuals.”

Furthermore, as noted above, Resolution 1820 recognized for the first time that sexual violence could potentially constitute three of the four mass atrocity crimes and violations under RtoP, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The Framework of Analysis also warns that increasing acts of sexual violence “may indicate an environment conducive to the commission of atrocity crimes, or suggest a trajectory towards their perpetration. “

English classes for displaced women

UNAMID police facilitate English classes for displaced women in Darfur. UN Photo/Albert González Farran.

While a range of actions need to be in focus when addressing these crimes, a partial explanation of the failure to curb these violations is the exclusion of women from decision-making–including on policies regarding IDPs/refugees and peace processes in general. This exclusionary trend is at odds with the commitments set out in the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Beijing Platform for Action, and in particular, the Women, Peace and Security agenda, including Resolutions 1325 and 2122.

Resolution 1325 served as a landmark document, marking the UN Security Council’s recognition of the unique effects of conflict on women, and that their voices must be included in all stages of the peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding process. Through the adoption of Resolution 2122, the Council sought to strengthen the WPS agenda by explicitly focusing on the need to take further action to ensure women’s participation in all stages of conflict prevention and response. Without the recognition and inclusion of women, it is widely acknowledged that any strategy implemented will be “faulty” and unsustainable.

Thus, states hosting a displaced population have an urgent responsibility to protect women from these crimes, while the international community has a responsibility to provide assistance when authorities are failing as spectacularly as in the cases above. However, due to the indispensable nature of women’s involvement, protection cannot be fully achieved without their active participation and the facilitation of these efforts.

 

Ending Abuse through Gendered Strategies

Both civil society advocates and member states that participated in the open debate have offered recommendations that could help ensure protection obligations are upheld, and that the voices of women are included in the design and implementation of policies for the protection of the displaced.

In their civil society statement delivered at the WPS debate, the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security called for a comprehensive and gender-sensitive protection effort for women in displaced situations.  They stressed that:

“…women must fully participate and be consulted systematically in decision-making, across all displacement settings, in humanitarian programming, and, of course, in the broader political, security and peace processes.”  To these ends, the provision of political and financial support, as well as specialized training to civil society and women’s human rights defenders were recommended.

The Permanent Representative of Lithuania highlighted  the importance of ensuring personnel involved in the protection of IDPs are well-versed in gender-sensitivity by “providing gender awareness training to peacekeepers, field staff and humanitarian actors, appointing gender advisors, and developing concrete indicators to assess implementation of gender mainstreaming policies.”

Suggesting examples of best practices, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet identified steps that have been taken to incorporate a gender perspective into IDP protection in peacekeeping operations.

UNAMID Civil Affairs Officers Meet IDP Camp Residents. UN Photo/Olivier Chassot.

One such practice was UNAMID’s establishment of a Women’s Protection Network in Darfuri IDP camps to elicit their participation in formulating protection strategies.  Another was the UNMISS advocacy efforts that led to a gendered approach to IDP camp management, including the appointment of female camp managers.

An important recurring theme was the extension of women’s empowerment to the socioeconomic sphere, as horizontal inequalities exacerbated by displacement create the conditions that leave women vulnerable to exploitation. They are also considered a common indicator of atrocity risk under the Special Advisers’ Framework of Analysis.

As the Nordic countries remarked in their joint statement delivered by Sweden, “Gender inequalities lie at the heart of the issue. Gender equality in political, economic, and social life is a goal in itself and also contributes to preventing sexual violence and armed conflict.” Recommendations made by states for reducing inequalities, including by improving access to services and livelihoods, are therefore critical.

No Protection without True Participation

By implementing gendered protection strategies, and ensuring the full participation of women in all matters related to the protection of IDPs, a double purpose is being served. Not only are national and international actors doing their part to satisfy obligations laid out in the WPS agenda, but they are taking steps towards fulfilling their responsibility to prevent and respond to mass atrocities. Furthermore, they are upholding their responsibilities to help improve the capacity of national actors to live up to their primary RtoP obligations.

As Edmond Mulet stated “We have a responsibility to better protect women, but protection cannot exist without genuine understanding of women’s rights and acceptance of their full participation, as demanded by resolution 1325 and all subsequent mandates on women, peace, and security.”

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