Tag Archives: humanitarian law

How the World Looks Like in 10000 Air Strikes

Amnesty International researchers visited 42 Coalition air strike sites across the ruined city of Raqqa, Syria and interviewed 112 civilian residents who had survived the carnage and lost loved ones.   The accounts detailed in the report, ‘War of annihilation’: Devastating Toll on Civilians, Raqqa – Syria, leave gaping holes in the Coalition’s insistence that their forces did enough to minimize civilian harm….

“IS’s brutal four-year rule in Raqqa was rife with war crimes. But the violations of IS, including the use of civilians as human shields, do not relieve the Coalition of their obligations to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians. What levelled the city and killed and injured so many civilians was the US-led Coalition’s repeated use of explosive weapons in populated areas where they knew civilians were trapped. Even precision weapons are only as precise as their choice of targets.”

Shortly before the military campaign, US Defence Secretary James Mattis promised a “war of annihilation” against IS.   From 6 June to 17 October 2017, the US-led Coalition operation to oust IS from its so-called “capital” Raqqa killed and injured thousands of civilians and destroyed much of the city….Residents were trapped as fighting raged in Raqqa’s streets between IS militants and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters, supported by the Coalition’s relentless air and artillery strikes. IS mined the escape routes and shot at civilians trying to flee. Hundreds of civilians were killed: some in their homes; some in the very places where they had sought refuge; and others as they tried to flee.

US, British and French Coalition forces carried out tens of thousands of air strikes and US forces admitted to firing 30,000 artillery rounds during the offensive on Raqqa. US forces were responsible for more than 90% of the air strikes…

Amnesty International is urging Coalition members to investigate impartially and thoroughly allegations of violations and civilian casualties, and to publicly acknowledge the scale and gravity of the loss of civilian lives and destruction of civilian property in Raqqa…They must disclose the findings of their investigations, as well as key information about the strikes necessary for assessing their compliance with international humanitarian law. They must review the procedures by which they decide the credibility of civilian casualty allegations and they must ensure justice and reparation for victims of violations. They also have a responsibility to assist with gruelling demining and reconstruction work under way in Raqqa in a more meaningful way than at present.

Excerpts Syria: Raqqa in ruins and civilians devastated after US-led ‘war of annihilation’, Amnesty International, June 5, 2018

Ingrained Sexual Violence in Sudan

Dinka girl by Richard Buchta late 19th century

Women in South Sudan have suffered unprecedented levels of sexual violence in the last two years, including abduction, rape, forced marriage and murder as civilians became targets of merciless ethnic warfare, the head of the Red Cross mission there has said.  “We went to one village to distribute aid and (our teams) were told they had been attacked some days earlier and 90 women had been abducted. After several days only about 60 of them came back,” said Franz Rauchenstein, the outgoing head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation.The latest turbulent chapter in South Sudan’s four years of independence erupted in December 2013, after a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, revived tensions between Kiir’s Dinka and Machar’s Nuer people.

“Civilians have been directly targeted. The people are collateral damage of the attacks. Houses are burnt, properties destroyed and so the people are literally running for their lives,” Rauchenstein said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation in London.  “What is new in this conflict is that women have been attacked while they have been seeking refuge on the islands,” said Rauchenstein, referring to the remote hideouts in swamps where traumatised civilians hide during attacks….Human rights groups have also pointed to cases of gang rape, of pregnant women being cut open and of women being raped using wooden sticks or plastic bottles.

Scale of South Sudan sexual violence is unprecedented – Red Cross, Reuters, Oct. 8, 2015

The Abuse of Peacekeeping by Peacekeepers

Burundi peacekeepers for Somalia. Image from wikipedia

African Union (AU) peacekeepers in Somalia rape women seeking medicine on their bases and routinely pay teenage girls for sex, [according to] Human Rights Watch (HRW)  HRW documented 10 incidents of rape and sexual assault, including the rape of a 12-year-old girl, by African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops in 2013 and 2014.  The rights group said most of the incidents took place on AMISOM bases in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, where women come for medical care and to beg for food.  “Where this case is particularly shocking is the direct use of humanitarian assistance to lure these women in,” said Laetitia Bader, one of the report’s authors….

One woman, known as Ayanna, told HRW she was gang raped at gunpoint by six Burundian soldiers after going to their outpatient clinic to get medicine for her sick baby.  One of the three other women who were also raped at the same time was badly hurt.  “We carried the injured woman home,” she told HRW. “Three of us walked out of the base carrying her… She couldn’t stand.”  The soldiers threw packets of porridge, cookies and $5 at the women as they left, she said.  Rape is rarely punished in Somalia, particularly of vulnerable women living in overcrowded Mogadishu camps housing some 350,000 people displaced by war and famine.

HRW also interviewed 14 displaced women and girls selling sex to AMISOM soldiers for around $5 a day. Sexual exploitation – the abuse of power or trust for sexual purposes – is in violation of their code of conduct.  The sex trade on AMISOM bases appears “routine and organised”, HRW said.  Women who visited the bases regularly were not checked on their way in and HRW was told that some lived there, ostensibly employed as interpreters.

The African Union force deployed to Somalia in 2007 to help restore order and defeat the Islamist militant group al Shabaab. It is credited with pushing al Shabaab out of many towns in south-central Somalia, strengthening the hold of the two-year-old Somali federal government.,,,AMISOM’s 22,000 troops come from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Djibouti. They are immune from prosecution by the Somali government, with responsibility falling on their own governments.

Only two out of the 21 women and girls interviewed filed a complaint, for fear of reprisals, HRW said, while those having sex for money did not want to lose their main source of income.

Excerpts from Peacekeepers in Somalia use aid to rape women and buy sex – HRW, Reuters, Sept. 8,  2014

See also Killing Civilians: the African Union Peacekeeping in Somalia

Explosive Weapons Abuses 2013

ballistic missile

Data released by Action on Armed on Violence  (AOAV) on May 14, 2014 shows that civilian deaths and injuries in 2013 from explosive weapons have increased by 15%, up from 2012.Civilians bore the brunt of bombings worldwide. AOAV recorded 37,809 deaths and injuries in 2013, 82% of whom were civilians. The trend was even worse when these weapons were used in populated areas. There civilians made up a staggering 93% of casualties.  These stark figures mean that civilian casualties from bombings and shelling worldwide have gone up for a second consecutive year.  This data is captured in AOAV’s latest report, Explosive Events, which analyses the global harm from the use of explosive weapons like missiles, artillery and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

KEY FINDINGS
•Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Lebanon were the most affected countries in the world. More than a third of the world’s civilian casualties from explosive weapons were recorded in Iraq, where AOAV saw a dramatic escalation in bombings with improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
•Seventy-one percent (71%) of civilian casualties from explosive weapons worldwide were caused by IEDs like car bombs and roadside bombs.
•Civilian casualties in Iraq increased by 91% from 2012, with more than 12,000 deaths and injuries recorded in the country in 2013.
•Market places were bombed in 15 countries and territories, causing 3,608 civilian casualties.
•Ballistic missiles, used only in Syria, caused an average of 49 civilian casualties per incident, the highest for any explosive weapon type.

Saudi Arabia not Happy Iraq Gets US Drones

image from wikipedia

The report that America’s drone war has assumed frightening proportions under President Barack Obama should surprise no one. It took only three days for the new commander-in-chief to order his first covert drone strike.  On Jan. 23, 2009, a CIA drone flattened a house in Pakistan’s tribal region. At least nine civilians died, most of them from one family. The lone survivor, a 14-year-old boy, had shrapnel wounds in his stomach and a fractured skull. He lost one eye. Later that day, the CIA leveled another house killing between five and ten people

A week after Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize, a missile slammed into a hamlet in Yemen, hitting one of the poorest tribes in the poorest country in Arabian Peninsula. At least 41 civilians were killed, including 21 children and five pregnant women.  Not only has the number of drone strikes and the resulting civilian casualties increased under Obama’s watch, but he has also widened the scope of the drone war to include new countries like Yemen and Somalia. Missile strikes from unmanned drones killing unmentionable numbers of people are now the crucial component of America’s war on terror. Across Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the Obama administration has launched more than 390 drone strikes in the five years since the first attack On Jan. 23, 2009 – eight times as many as were launched in the entire Bush presidency. These strikes have killed more than 2,400 people, overwhelming majority of them civilians…

A convoy taking a Yemeni bride to her wedding came under attack on Dec. 12, 2013 causing the biggest single loss of civilian life from a US strike for more than a year in that country. President Bush ordered a single drone strike in Yemen, killing six people in 2002. Under Obama, the CIA and the Pentagon have launched at least 58 drone strikes on the country killing more than 281 people, including at least 24 civilians.

The UN General Assembly passed a resolution on Dec. 18, 2013 calling on states using drone strikes as a counterterrorism measure to comply with their obligations under international law and the UN Charter. Amnesty International released a report on Oct. 22, 2013 raising serious concerns about several recent drone strikes that appear to have killed civilians outside the bounds of the law. Pakistan High Court Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan issued a ruling on May 9, 2013 declaring the ongoing US drone strikes against tribal areas illegal under international law and saying they amount to “war crimes” when they kill innocents.

But rather than addressing such global concerns, the Obama administration is sending drones to Iraq, adding a sinister dimension to the sectarian strife there. The Iraqi government will get 48 drones this month and 10 surveillance drones in upcoming weeks.

Drone deaths on the rise, Saudi Gazette,  Jan 27, 2014

Easy Targets: why the International Criminal Court Persecutes African Presidents and not Others

Darfur

Kenya said the International Criminal Court’s case against its two highest elected officials risked destabilizing the entire east African region at a meeting of the court’s member states.  At a debate to discuss the crisis resulting from the court’s cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, the Kenyan attorney-general said the court and its member states were playing “Russian roulette” with the country.  “Our country is the linchpin in the peace and security involving more than 250 million people from Djibouti to Eastern Congo and everybody in between,” Githu Muigai told a special debate called at the request of the African Union. He said Kenya – an ally of the West in the fight against militant Islam in neighboring Somalia – was a “pillar of security” in Eastern Africa, to loud applause from many African delegates at the conference.

Kenyatta and Ruto face separate charges of crimes against humanity for their alleged role in stoking ethnic violence in the aftermath of an election in 2007 when 1,200 people were killed. Kenya is pressing the ICC’s members for an immediate change in the rules to say that heads of state do not have to attend trials, part of a broader campaign to halt the cases against its political leaders.  Officials also want a longer-term amendment to the founding treaty that would ban the prosecution of heads of state, a campaign which has become a rallying point in Africa, where many leaders say they are the target of an overzealous court in The Hague. Kenyatta and Ruto deny the charges of fomenting violence after the election. Ruto’s trial began last month, while Kenyatta’s trial is due to start on February 5 after being delayed for a third time.  “Africa feels marginalized, like toddlers, whom the international community feels has never learned to walk,” Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed told Reuters.

Last week, the African Union lost its bid to have the U.N. Security Council defer the cases for a year so the two could deal with the aftermath of an attack on a shopping mall by al Qaeda-linked Somali militants in which at least 67 died.Kenya said the outcome highlighted the need for reform of the Security Council to prevent a few powerful nations imposing their will on the world. It pledged to continue its fight at the ICC’s annual meeting in The Hague.

Human rights groups oppose the proposed changes as well as apparent compromise solutions such as a British proposal that would make it easier for the accused to participate via video link, saying these would weaken the court’s mission to bring to justice those ultimately responsible for war crimes. “The amendments represent an attempt to recreate the ICC in the image of African justice,” said George Kegoro, executive director of the Kenyan section of the International Commission of Jurists.  “Timid, pliable and serving the comfort of leaders rather than justice for victims.”  The court has 34 African members, but any amendment would need the support of two thirds of the court’s 122 members to pass.  But even if the amendments have little chance of passing, Foreign Minister Mohamed said a court composed of members of equal rank should listen to Africa’s concerns. If some members were “more equal than others,” she said, then “we have no business being there.” Since their election, the two men have been defending themselves before the Hague-based court with the help of some of London’s best-known human rights lawyers.  Kenyatta’s legal team has asked judges to throw out the case against him, which they say is based on evidence from bribed witnesses.

By Thomas Escritt, Kenya warns of ICC threat to Eastern Africa’s stability, Reuters, Nov. 21, 2013

Darfur: All the Girls Get Raped Here

Darfur_IDPs_1_camp. image from wikipedia

Asha Ibrahim was searching for firewood when the attackers struck. She had set off with three other women from the makeshift camp where she has lived since conflict broke out in Sudan’s Darfur region a decade ago.”Several men grabbed and raped us,” the mother of four said, standing on the dusty square of the Shangil Tobaya camp for displaced people in the north of a region the size of Spain. “All the girls get raped here.”

The camp is only a few km from a large base of UNAMID, a joint mission between the African Union and the United Nations and the world’s second largest international peacekeeping force. UNAMID has an annual budget of $1.35 billion and almost 20,000 troops mainly from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. But it has struggled to protect civilians since it set out in 2008. Attacks, often by Arab “Janjaweed” militiamen, continue according to UNAMID and aid groups. The conflict, which started as a row between African pastoralists and Arab nomads over land, has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced two million.  Amsallam Adam, another woman who lives in the camp, said life beyond the perimeter was dangerous. “Even our men don’t dare leave.”

UNAMID has a mandate to use force to “protect its personnel, facilities, installations and equipment, and to ensure the security and freedom of movement of its own personnel and humanitarian workers.” But it is penned in by both rebel fighters and the government, which has armed Arab militias, according to the U.N. resolutions setting out UNAMID’s mission. Around 50 UNAMID peacekeepers have been killed.  “It’s kind of open season on UNAMID,” said Dane Smith, former U.S. special adviser for Darfur. Sudanese authorities make no effort to arrest culprits, he said. Khartoum denies this.  Critics say UNAMID should be more aggressive. UNAMID officials respond that they need to work with the government or risk getting kicked out.  Even if it wanted to be more aggressive, the force lacks transport, equipment and experienced soldiers. Sudan has rejected the deployment of more robust troops from NATO.

UNAMID has a unified command but in practice all troops report to their individual governments. This makes it a nightmare to respond to emergencies.  When diplomats ask UNAMID commanders why its patrols can’t better protect women, they are told that the mission’s shift system does not fit in with that of the women searching for wood. One patrol goes in the afternoon, a rather unproductive time, soldiers say, because people stay indoors to escape the heat. The women like looking for wood late at night when it’s cooler. But the patrols don’t venture too far at night for security reasons.

UNAMID head Mohamed Ibn Chambas said his forces have limited resources. UNAMID stresses that it makes the camps safer and provides basic services such as clean water and hospitals. But women like Ibrahim have given up hope a long time ago. “We have no security, food rations are not enough and no hospitals,” she said. “Life is very bad here.”

In Darfur, the limits of peacekeeping, Reuters, Oct. 10, 2013