Atrocity Alert No. 105, 16 May 2018: Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, South Sudan and Burundi
Israeli Army kills 58 Palestinian protestors on Gaza border
On Monday, 14 May, at least 58 Palestinians were killed and 2,700 wounded by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) during mass demonstrations along the border between Gaza and Israel. While the majority of protesters participated peacefully, some threw rocks at the IDF and flew flaming kites into Israeli territory. Israeli troops, including snipers, responded to the protests with live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas. At least six children and a healthcare worker were among those shot and killed.
Monday’s demonstration – in which an estimated 35,000 people participated – marked the deadliest confrontation in Gaza since the series of protests began on 30 March, leading up to the 70th anniversary of the "Nakba" (or catastrophe) on 15 May, commemorating when over 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. It also coincided with the controversial opening of the new United States embassy in Jerusalem and the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel.
At least 98 Palestinians, including twelve children, have been killed by the IDF during the course of the demonstrations, and over 12,600 have been wounded.
In response to criticism regarding the excessive use of deadly force against largely unarmed civilian protestors, Lt. Colonel Jonathan Conricus of the IDF said that Palestinians involved in the violence did not deserve to be called protesters and blamed Hamas for their deaths. Hamas has encouraged protestors to breach the border fence separating Israel from Gaza in what many Palestinians are calling the “Great March of Return.”
On Wednesday 15 May the UN Security Council held an emergency session on the situation in Palestine where the United States blocked the adoption of a Presidential Statement that would have condemned the killing of Palestinian civilians and called for an independent investigation into the deaths. The United States' Permanent Representative Nikki Haley also walked out of the Council chamber when the Palestinian representative began speaking.
The use of deadly and disproportionate force against protesters who pose no direct threat to the lives of IDF soldiers is illegal under international law. In order to end the prevailing culture of impunity, all civilian deaths should be independently investigated and those responsible for any unlawful killings held accountable.
Beyond this week’s tragic events, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires international leadership and a lasting political solution in order to prevent recurring armed conflict.
Senior UN officials warn of widespread sexual violence in South Sudan
On 11 May the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict and the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide released a joint statement strongly condemning the recent escalation of violence in South Sudan, including widespread sexual violence.
Reports from Unity State indicate a sharp increase in fighting between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the SPLA-in Opposition (SPLA-IO) resulting in widespread civilian displacement. Preliminary investigations by the UN have also determined patterns of serious human rights violations and abuses, including killings, pillaging, abductions, and gang-rape committed by both parties. At least 66 women and girls have reportedly been raped since attacks began on 21 April, although the total number of cases is likely much higher. Dozens of women and girls are believed to have been abducted and are still missing.
The escalation in fighting is taking place in the midst of preparations for the next round of the High-Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF), an attempt to reinvigorate the 2015 Peace Agreement. They also constitute a flagrant violation of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed by all parties to the conflict in December 2017. The third round of the HLRF has been postponed twice, but is scheduled to reconvene on 17 May.
It has been five months since the UN Security Council (UNSC) issued a Presidential Statement in support of the HLRF, warning that there would be a “cost and consequence for those who violate the agreement.” During January the Chair of the AU Commission also said that “the time has come” for sanctions against those obstructing peace in South Sudan. Nevertheless, no collective diplomatic action has been taken in response to the most recent upsurge in violence. As a result, perpetrators operate with impunity while civilians continue to face mass atrocity crimes.
In support of the HLRF, the UNSC should immediately impose an arms embargo on South Sudan and expand targeted sanctions against all senior military officers, politicians and leaders of non-state armed groups that have violated the cessation of hostilities or are obstructing the peace process.
Massacre raises fears ahead of controversial Burundi referendum
On Friday, 11 May, an attack by unidentified armed men on a village in northwestern Burundi left at least 26 people dead and seven injured. While it remains unclear whether the attack was politically motivated, government officials have accused “terrorist groups” of carrying out the attack in order to destabilize Burundi ahead of the controversial constitutional referendum vote this Thursday, 17 May.
The attack took place in the rural province of Cibitoke. According to witnesses, around 20 armed men wearing military uniforms went from house to house, burning homes and attacking residents. Victims were allegedly shot or killed with machetes. According to government officials, the attackers entered Burundi from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Despite a lack of clarity regarding who was responsible, Friday’s deadly attack highlights the tense environment in which Burundians will go to the polls on Thursday to vote on President Pierre Nkurunziza’s proposed constitutional amendments. If approved, the amendments would allow Nkurunziza to run for office for another two seven-year terms and provide an opportunity to abolish ethnic quotas within the government. Many people see this as a potential violation of the 2000 Arusha Peace Agreement, which ended a civil war that claimed over 350,000 lives in Burundi between 1993-2005.
Since December 2017, sections of the security forces and members of the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, have been engaged in a campaign of intimidation and violence against people opposed to the referendum, with reports of individuals being beaten, arbitrarily detained, and killed.
In advance of the referendum the government should take urgent steps to de-escalate tensions and facilitate a safe and secure voting environment. The Human Rights Council-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Burundi should be granted immediate access to the country in order to carry out investigations into all alleged abuses and violations of human rights, including the Cibitoke attack and possible crimes against humanity.