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Atrocity Alert No. 101 (18 April 2018): Myanmar (Burma), Iraq and Afghanistan

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The International Criminal Court and Myanmar (Burma)

The possibility of international justice for mass atrocities perpetrated against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar appears closer following the 9 April request by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, for a ruling on a question of jurisdiction. The ruling would determine whether “the Court has territorial jurisdiction when persons are deported from the territory of a State which is not party to the Statute directly into the territory of a State which is a party to the Statute.”

Over 350 villages were systematically burnt down and at least 688,000 Rohingya forcibly expelled from Myanmar to Bangladesh during so-called “clearance operations” carried out by Myanmar’s security forces over several months last year. While Myanmar is not party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, Bangladesh is.

As a court of last resort the ICC was specifically created to address situations where national authorities are unable or unwilling to prosecute those responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. A ruling in favor of ICC jurisdiction would enable the Court to investigate and potentially prosecute those responsible for forcibly expelling the Rohingya. In the absence of a referral of the situation to the ICC by the UN Security Council – which has still not passed a single resolution regarding atrocities perpetrated in Myanmar last year – a positive ruling may offer hope to Rohingya survivors.

Two Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect staff are currently in Bangladesh meeting with humanitarian organizations, government officials and Rohingya refugees. According to Savita Pawnday, Deputy Executive Director, “Rohingya refugees are telling us that they require accountability, civil rights and guarantees of safety before they can consider returning to Myanmar.”

A potential ICC investigation and the possible prosecution of atrocity perpetrators could help deter further violence and prevent the recurrence of atrocity crimes. In the words of Ms. Pawnday, “the UN Security Council has, so far, failed to uphold its responsibility to protect the Rohingya. But international justice should not be denied or delayed.”

Pre-election violence in Iraq

On Sunday, 15 April, two candidates running in Iraq’s upcoming parliamentary elections were targeted in separate attacks. In Kirkuk a car bomb exploded next to the motorcade of a candidate for the Iraqi Turkmen Front, killing one civilian and injuring ten. Meanwhile in Baghdad armed men shot at the convoy of a current MP and candidate from Al-Wataniya Coalition. These attacks follow an earlier assault on another Turkmen candidate’s motorcade, and the 8 April bombing of Al-Hal party offices in Anbar Governorate.

Violence against civilians in Iraq has decreased substantially since the government announced the defeat of the armed extremist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), on 21 November. However, as the 12 May elections approach, cultural identities and religious loyalties continue to be manipulated by some political forces and the risk of terrorist attacks and election-related violence has increased.

In addressing these security concerns, the Iraqi and Kurdish governments must also take active steps to facilitate reconciliation and minimize the risk of recurring armed conflict, including by protecting Sunni civilians in areas previously occupied by ISIL. On 17 April Amnesty International released a report documenting the collective punishment of women and children related to suspected ISIL members or fleeing from ISIL strongholds – including the denial of humanitarian aid, sexual violence, and being prevented from returning to their homes.

In the final weeks of the election campaign the Iraqi government must not only protect the physical security of candidates and voters, but should also intensify efforts to bridge sectarian, ethnic and political divisions that continue to plague sections of Iraqi society. The next government should ensure that all perpetrators of past atrocities in Iraq, regardless of position or affiliation, are held accountable for their crimes. The new government should also adopt enabling legislation to incorporate genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity into domestic law.

Armed extremist groups burn schools and kill civilians in Afghanistan

Last Thursday, 12 April, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released its first quarterly report of 2018 on the protection of civilians. UNAMA reported that from 1 January until 31 March, 763 civilians were killed and 1,495 injured due to armed conflict. Casualties due to attacks that deliberately target civilians, perpetrated by anti-government armed groups, have more than doubled as compared to the same period during 2017.

Attacks by both the Taliban and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K) in densely populated civilian areas present an escalating threat, as do attacks on civilian infrastructure and on the ability of all Afghans to exercise their human rights. Last year UNAMA documented a significant increase in attacks on places of worship and persons exercising their right to religious worship, with the majority of these attacks targeting the minority Shia population. On 11 and 14 April, two schools were set on fire by armed militants in separate attacks in Logar and Nangarhar Provinces. At least three schools have been attacked in Nangarhar Province over the past month.

The right to education and freedom of religion are codified within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Targeted attacks on schools and places of religious worship also constitute war crimes under international law.

The international community should continue to provide support to the Afghan government to help combat the Taliban, ISIL-K and other armed extremist groups. The Afghan security forces and all international military forces operating within Afghanistan must prioritize the protection of civilians and strictly adhere to International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law while countering violent extremism.