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Atrocity Alert No. 108 (6 June 2018): South Sudan, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Venezuela

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UN Security Council names those responsible for atrocities in South Sudan

Last week fourteen confidential reports from the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism in South Sudan were leaked to the media. The reports document mass atrocity crimes which continue to be committed by both government forces and armed rebel groups, including the targeted killing of civilians. One particularly horrific report detailed the murder of four children by government forces when they deliberately torched a hut in which the children were taking refuge, burning them to death.

On Thursday, 31 May, the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted a resolution proposing sanctions against six senior officials from South Sudan, as well as a potential arms embargo. The UNSC agreed to impose such measures if parties to the conflict continue to violate the December 2017 “Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities, Protection of Civilians, and Humanitarian Access” (ACOH), or if there is no longer any possibility of a viable peace agreement in South Sudan.

The six senior officials identified within an annex to the resolution are:

  • Defense Minister, Lt. Gen. Kuol Manyang Juuk;
  • Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) Deputy Chief of Staff, Malek Reuben Riak Rengu;
  • Minister of Cabinet Affairs, Martin Elia Lomuro;
  • Minister of Information, Michael Makuei Lueth;
  • former SPLA Chief of General Staff, and now rebel leader, Paul Malong Awan;
  • and high-ranking opposition official, Governor Koang Rambang Chol.

Among other crimes, Paul Malong reportedly ordered SPLA units to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching vulnerable civilians. Under Malong’s command the SPLA “attacked civilians, schools and hospitals; forced the displacement of civilians; carried out enforced disappearances; arbitrarily detained civilians; and conducted acts of torture, and rape.” He also mobilized “the Mathiang Anyoor Dinka tribal militia, which uses child soldiers” and ordered the SPLA to obstruct efforts by the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to carry out its mandate to protect civilians. Since being fired by President Salva Kiir in May 2017, Malong has established his own armed group and is now fighting the government.

In its Presidential Statement of December 2017 the UNSC promised that parties who violate the ACOH would face “a cost and consequence.” The Council should impose the proposed sanctions and expeditiously implement an arms embargo. The UNSC must ensure that all parties to the conflict fully commit to the High-Level Revitalization Forum and end armed conflict and mass atrocities in South Sudan once and for all.

Death toll continues to grow on Gaza border

Last Friday, 1 June, healthcare volunteer Razan An-Najjar became the 119th Palestinian to be killed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) since mass protests along the border between Gaza and Israel began on 30 March. Ms. An-Najjar was wearing her white healthcare uniform, clearly distinguishing her from protesters, and had her hands in the air only moments before she was shot in the chest. Her death was widely condemned by UN representatives, as well as international human rights and humanitarian organizations.

Although the Gaza border protests have been largely peaceful, some Palestinians have thrown rocks and petrol bombs at the IDF and flown flaming kites into Israeli territory. Additionally, Hamas has encouraged protestors to breach the border fence separating Israel from Gaza in what many Palestinians are calling the “Great March of Return.” Israeli troops, including snipers, have responded with live ammunition, rubber-bullets and tear gas, raising concerns about the deliberate and excessive use of force as more than 13,000 Palestinians have been injured.

Between 28 and 30 May Palestinian armed groups, including Hamas, fired over 200 rockets and mortars into Israel, injuring three members of the IDF and one civilian. The indiscriminate firing of rockets and mortars into Israel constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and in a 30 May briefing the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nikolay Mladenov, told UN Security Council members that the violence was “a warning to all how close to the brink of war we are every day.”

In response to the escalation of violence, on 18 May the UN Human Rights Council created a Commission of Inquiry into human rights violations committed during the Gaza protests, and on 22 May Palestine referred the situation to the International Criminal Court for possible investigation. However, the UN Security Council is yet to take any action. On 1 June the Council failed to adopt two draft resolutions on Gaza – the first due to a veto by the United States, and the second because the United States’ draft only received a single vote.

The deadly and disproportionate use of force against unarmed protesters is illegal under international law, as is the deliberate targeting of healthcare personnel. All civilian deaths along the Gaza border should be independently investigated and those responsible for any unlawful killings held accountable. All states with strong political and economic ties to parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must encourage strict adherence to international law, and the protection of human rights for all civilians in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, regardless of ethnicity or religion.

New report details crimes against humanity in Venezuela

On Tuesday, 29 May, a new report by a panel of independent international experts commissioned by the Organization of American States (OAS) accused the government of Venezuela of having committed crimes against humanity. The report documents 8,292 extrajudicial killings since 2015 and accused the government of the arbitrary detention of more than 12,000 individuals since President Nicolas Maduro’s electoral victory in 2013.

The 400-page report also details the killing of 131 demonstrators during protests which began in 2014. Responsibility for the deaths was attributed to state security forces and to auxiliary militias, or "colectivos." The findings, which are based on witness testimonies and documentation from more than 40 non-governmental and international organizations, have been rejected by the Venezuelan government.

The report states that “the widespread and systematic targeting of opponents of the regime or suspected ‘enemies of the state’” constitute crimes against humanity and emphasizes that these “reflect a policy put in place by the Government of Venezuela through acts directed by the highest State authorities.” The panel of experts has requested that the OAS forward the report to the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose Chief Prosecutor opened a preliminary examination of the Venezuelan situation last February.

Venezuela’s ongoing political and economic crisis has exacerbated the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country, which has resulted in an exodus into neighboring countries. Venezuelan state security forces must immediately end the violent intimidation, arbitrary detention and disappearance of suspected government opponents. The government and OAS should fully cooperate with the ICC as it carries out its preliminary examination.