Ukraine + 2 more

Atrocity Alert No. 307: Ukraine, Sudan and Syria

Atrocity Alert is a weekly publication by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect highlighting situations where populations are at risk of, or are enduring, mass atrocity crimes.

STRIKES ON CIVILIANS CONTINUE UNABATED IN UKRAINE AS THE FIGHT FOR DONBAS RAGES

Since 27 June at least 50 people in Ukraine have been killed by strikes launched by Russian forces. On 27 June an estimated 21 people were killed when Russian forces bombed a busy shopping center in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk. Ukrainian officials estimated an upwards of 1,000 people were in the shopping center before the attack. During overnight strikes on 1 July in Serhiivka, in the southern Ukrainian region of Odesa, an estimated 16 people were killed in a residential complex while another five were killed when a missile struck a community center.

Osnat Lubrani, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine, said that, “the level of human suffering caused by this war has no limits. The people of this country have had enough and have seen way too many of their loved ones killed, injured and traumatized, their families separated, and their homes, schools and hospitals bombed. It is high time that the parties to the conflict started to decisively comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.” At least 4,889 civilians have been killed since 24 February. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has acknowledged that the real toll is likely much higher.

Russian forces have intensified the scale of their attacks in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk, an eastern area collectively known as Donbas, in recent weeks. A majority of the infrastructure in the conflict areas of Luhansk has reportedly been destroyed by fighting. On Monday, 4 July, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed victory over the Luhansk region following a weeks-long offensive and the capture of the strategic city of Lysychansk. Many buildings in Lysychansk have been scorched and streets are strewn with rubble. Russian forces have redirected their efforts to the city of Sloviansk and other civilian areas in Donetsk. According to local officials in Sloviansk, Russian shelling killed six people on 3 July while another two were killed on 5 July.

According to the UN, over 16 million people in Ukraine need humanitarian assistance. At least 6 million people remain internally displaced while 5.3 million others have taken refuge in neighboring countries.

On 4-5 July Switzerland hosted a conference focused on recovery and reconstruction efforts for Ukraine. Sarah Hunter, Communications and Digital Media Officer at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said that, “while Ukraine will need the international community’s support as it begins to rebuild, states must continue to explore all avenues for securing a lasting ceasefire. Mitigating civilian harm and preventing further war crimes and crimes against humanity must be paramount.”

DEADLY USE OF FORCE DURING MASS DEMONSTRATIONS IN SUDAN

Since 30 June tens of thousands of protesters in Sudan have taken to the streets in Khartoum and its twin cities, Omdurman and Bahri, commemorating the third anniversary of the Sudanese uprising. During the demonstrations at least 10 people were reportedly killed and hundreds injured due to excessive use of force by Sudanese security forces, including stun grenades, tear gas and live ammunition. The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors reported that multiple people died as a result of gunshot wounds, including to the head and chest. The protests were the largest and deadliest gathering of demonstrators in Sudan since the October 2021 military takeover.

In a statement on 30 June the Trilateral Mechanism – a group consisting of the UN, African Union and Intergovernmental Authority on Development, aimed at brokering peace and overcoming political deadlock in Sudan – condemned the protest violence “in the strongest terms possible” and expressed its “disappointment over the continued use of excessive force by security forces and lack of accountability for such actions, despite repeated commitments by authorities.” Last month, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights confirmed that security forces have repeatedly used excessive force against peaceful protesters since the October coup, including the use of lethal weapons such as AK-47 assault rifles and machine guns. An estimated 114 protesters have been killed by security forces since the October coup.

On Monday, 4 July, Sudan’s top general, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, announced in a televised statement that the army would no longer participate in the political talks facilitated by the Trilateral Mechanism to allow political and revolutionary groups to form a civilian transitional government. General Burhan said that, “the armed forces will not stand in the way” of a democratic transition, stating that the military remains committed to working towards “elections in which the Sudanese people choose who will govern them.” Burhan’s announcement was received with skepticism by protesters, who question whether the military will truly step down, and continue to call for the immediate departure of the military from power.

Amid ongoing protests, the risk of further violence and atrocities remains. Sudanese security forces must respect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and immediately end the use of excessive force against protesters, as well as arbitrary arrests and detentions. Sudanese authorities must launch credible investigations and hold perpetrators of violations and abuses accountable. The international community must continue to pressure the Sudanese authorities to fully restore the political transition, taking into account the people’s desire for democratic reform.

UN COMMISSION CALLS FOR ESTABLISHMENT OF A MECHANISM ON MISSING PERSONS IN SYRIA

Syrian civil society organizations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as several UN-mandated bodies have documented and publicly reported on missing and disappeared persons in Syria since the armed conflict between the government and opposition groups began in 2011. The UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Syria has reported that at least 100,000 persons are missing or have been forcibly disappeared by parties to the conflict. The whereabouts and fate of the missing and disappeared remain unknown as parties to the conflict, including the Syrian government, withhold information from family members thereby prolonging their suffering.

Given the extent of resources required to effectively investigate, until now the thousands of individual cases and claims have not been comprehensively documented or consolidated and millions of people continue looking for their missing loved ones. Since 2016 the CoI has made repeated calls for the establishment of an independent international mechanism to resolve the issue of the missing and forcibly disappeared. On 17 June the CoI issued extensive recommendations regarding the establishment of such a mechanism, stating that it should be mandated to consolidate claims to effectively track and identify those missing and help their families; coordinate technical assistance to parties to the conflict regarding detainees and missing persons and their remains; independently monitor all places of detention; provide assistance in releases and post-release reunification of families; and on-site examination and protection of remains.

Syrian victims and survivors of enforced disappearance and detention, as well as their families, have also advocated for the creation of a mechanism for years. CoI Commissioner Hanny Megally emphasized that, any mechanism “must ensure the participation of the families of missing persons in Syria, and be accessible to them, regardless of where they reside or actual or perceived links or affiliations. They are also victims, and the mechanism should amplify their voices as they seek information.”

As requested in UN General Assembly Resolution 76/228, the UN Secretary-General is expected to soon release a feasibility study on how to bolster efforts to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people in Syria. Following the findings of the feasibility study, it is imperative that UN member states urgently establish an independent international mechanism and ensure that the rights of victims and their families, as well as their meaningful participation, are centralized.