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Atrocity Alert No. 188: Myanmar (Burma), Burkina Faso and Syria

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INTERNATIONAL COURT ORDERS MYANMAR TO TAKE ACTION TO PREVENT GENOCIDE

On 23 January the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Myanmar to comply with four provisional measures in the case of Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (The Gambia vs. Myanmar). The provisional measures require Myanmar to prevent genocidal acts, ensure military and police forces do not commit genocidal acts, preserve all evidence of genocidal acts, and report on compliance with the measures. Notably, the Court’s order was unanimous, with all 17 judges supporting the measures, including the ad hoc judge appointed by Myanmar.

In its order, the Court stated that it “is of the opinion that the Rohingya in Myanmar remain extremely vulnerable.” The Court also noted the findings of the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Fact-Finding Mission, which concluded in September 2019 that there are “reasonable grounds that the Rohingya people remain at serious risk of genocide under the terms of the Genocide Convention.”

In accordance with Article 41 of the ICJ Statute the provisional measures order was also transmitted to the UN Security Council (UNSC). The ICJ order is legally binding and according to Article 94 of the UN Charter, the UNSC may “make recommendations or decide upon measures to be taken” if a state fails to uphold an ICJ judgment.

In 2017 the UNSC failed to take any practical action to prevent or halt the genocide against the Rohingya despite overwhelming evidence of atrocities, including the systematic burning of more than 400 villages and the forced displacement of over 700,000 people who fled across the border to Bangladesh. It is imperative that the UNSC now ensures that Myanmar fully complies with the ICJ order. The UNSC should also adopt a resolution urging Myanmar to repeal all discriminatory laws and policies, and facilitate the safe return of Rohingya refugees.

Following the announcement of the ICJ provisional measures, Dr. Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said “I hope that all members of the UN Security Council will now uphold their moral and political obligation to ensure that the provisional measures ordered by the Court are fully implemented.” Dr. Adams noted that, “Justice is coming for the Rohingya, but the generals who are responsible for genocide are still in power in Myanmar and must be held accountable.”

TERRORIST ATTACKS AND CIVILIAN MASSACRES INCREASE IN BURKINA FASO

This past Saturday, 25 January, at least 30 people were killed in a terrorist attack in Burkina Faso’s Soum province. The attack occurred less than a week after 36 civilians were killed in similar attacks on the villages of Nagraogo and Alamou in Sanmatenga province. Prior to Saturday’s violence, President Roch Marc Christian Kaborè announced a two-day period of national mourning. Earlier in January, 14 civilians, including seven children, were also killed when a bus ran over an improvised explosive device near the border with Mali.

These attacks are part of an upsurge in violence perpetrated by armed extremist groups across the Sahel region. According to the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, more than 4,000 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger during 2019 as compared to 770 during 2016. The attacks have resulted in widespread human rights violations. The UN Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF’s) Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier, said that, “we cannot help but be struck by the scale of violence children are facing. They are being killed, mutilated and sexually abused, and hundreds of thousands of them have had traumatic experiences.”

The UN Refugee Agency estimates the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Burkina Faso grew more than tenfold last year, with 560,000 IDPs in December as compared to 47,000 in January 2019. Earlier this week UNICEF also reported that close to 5 million children in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger will need humanitarian assistance in 2020 and that more than 3,300 schools have closed due to violence.

Facing a rapidly deteriorating security situation, on 22 January Burkina Faso’s parliament voted to provide arms and training to civilian volunteers who could assist in the fight against armed extremist groups. The decision has been criticized by numerous human rights organizations who are concerned about the Burkinabè security forces’ history of human rights violations and abuses. In addition, it is feared that the proliferation of arms and militias could inadvertently fuel inter-communal violence which has also grown over the past year.

The international community must provide urgent logistical assistance to the Burkinabè government to strengthen its capacity to protect civilians from further atrocities. While countering violent extremism remains crucial for Burkina Faso and neighboring states, it is essential that the government ensures that its efforts do not further exacerbate inter-communal tensions or inadvertently strengthen the very forces that it seeks to defeat.

UN COMMISSION OF INQUIRY DOCUMENTS ATROCITIES AGAINST CHILDREN IN SYRIA

Throughout nearly nine years of conflict in Syria children have been subjected to widespread human rights violations, some of which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. A 16 January report by the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (CoI) documents violations perpetrated by all parties to the conflict against children between September 2011 and October 2019. Emphasizing that boys and girls have been “robbed of their childhood and forced to participate in a brutal war,” the CoI notes that since the start of the conflict thousands of schools have been destroyed and more than 5 million children have been displaced.

According to the CoI, large numbers of Syrian children have also been targeted by snipers, detained and tortured, and subjected to rape and sexual violence. Syrian government forces have deployed cluster munitions, thermobaric bombs and chemical weapons against civilians – including when targeting schools and hospitals – while some non-state armed groups have also attacked schools or used education facilities for military purposes. Meanwhile, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) subjected girls as young as nine years old to sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence. ISIL also systematically recruited and used child soldiers.

Chair of the CoI, Paulo Pinheiro, said “I am appalled by the flagrant disregard for the laws of war and the Convention on the Rights of the Child by all parties involved in the conflict. While the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic has the primary responsibility for the protection of boys and girls in the country, all of the actors in this conflict must do more to protect children and preserve the country’s future generation.”

The CoI report emphasizes that violations are particularly widespread in “large camp settings,” such as the al-Hol camp in northern Syria where 45,000 children with familial links to alleged ISIL members and supporters are being indefinitely detained. The report explains that a large number of these children lack official documents, jeopardizing their right to a nationality and putting them at high risk of exploitation and abuse. Thousands of these children are from states that refuse to repatriate them, often labeling the children as security threats.

All parties to the conflict must ensure the special protection of all children in Syria under International Humanitarian Law. The Syrian government should also uphold International Human Rights Law, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols. All parties should immediately identify, investigate and prosecute those responsible for ongoing abuses against children.