Close to 400,000 Civilians in Aleppo Facing Starvation
Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, continues to be a site of intense fighting between government forces, rebels, and jihadists. Back-and-forth fighting between rebel groups and the Syrian government, backed by Russia, has been ongoing since July 2012, with heightened clashes the past three weeks. Furthermore, according to a report by Human Rights Watch, the Syrian-Russian joint military operation is complicit in the use of cluster munition bombs in recent attacks against opposition-controlled territories. Last week, Syrian army forces cut off the Castello Highway, the last supply route for rebels in and out of the city, tightening the blockade of rebel-held eastern Aleppo. Armed opposition groups retaliated with increased shelling of government-held areas of the city and on Wednesday, the Syrian Army officially cut off all rebel supply lines into Aleppo.
The next day, the governments of Syria and Russia announced that they would open uphumanitarian corridors into besieged Aleppo. Three routes will be opened for civilians, with a fourth for unarmed rebels. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has also offered amnesty for rebels that lay down their arms and surrender within the next three months. Government forces have encircled Aleppo for days, in hopes of starving out rebel fighters and forcing them to surrender.
As the siege on Aleppo tightens, as many as 300,000 civilians currently living in the city face a dire humanitarian crisis. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien said on Monday that “food supplies are expected to run out in mid-August and many medical facilities continue to be attacked.” Aleppo is therefore close to becoming the largest besieged area in Syria. O’Brien called on the actors in the conflict to establish weekly 48-hour ceasefires to allow humanitarian services to reach civilians in besieged territories. In addition to Aleppo, as many as 60,000 people in the Manbij area have been cut off from aid, as well as thousands of civilians in Idleb and Daraya. With supplies quickly running out, almost 400,000 Syrians face starvation as fighting continues.
Leaders representing 17 armed groups met this week in northern Kachin State in preparation for the upcoming Union Peace Conference in August. Participants discussed plans for a constitution based on a federal democratic union.
A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that members of Burundi’s ruling youth league party, the Imbonerakure, have repeatedly gang-raped women related to representatives of the opposing party since 2015. Security forces, including police, have also attacked women, usingrape as a weapon to discourage citizens from fleeing Burundi. HRW interviewed over 70 women and young girls who have fled the crisis and still face sexual assault in the Nduta refugee camp across the border in Tanzania. The government of Burundi rejected the allegations and accused HRW of falsely demonizing the Imbonerakure.
The UN Committee Against Torture is set to conduct a special review of Burundi on 28 and 29 July. The reviewers will discuss issues in the Committee’s written request for a report from the government last year, in light of the recent deteriorating human rights situation in Burundi. Thefindings will be announced on 12 August.
The Security Council extended the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) until 15 November 2017. The renewed mandate stressed a more comprehensive strategy prioritizing the protection of civilians; the implementation of a disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration program; and effective security sector reform. The resolution also called on CAR authorities to strengthen the rule of law and justice institutions in fighting impunity. The mandate maintainsthe authorized troop ceiling of 10,750 military personnel and 2,080 police.
Last Saturday, ex-Seleka armed fighters attacked the southern CAR town of Ngakobo, killing at least three people and injuring several.
On 22 July, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Fabrizio Hochschild of Chile as the new Deputy Special Representative for MINUSCA.
The Republic of Korea has announced that it will set up a human rights foundation in September to study and assess the situation in North Korea in order to develop policies relating to human rights issues there. The 50-member organization will be founded under the North Korean Human Rights Act, with a planned budget of $22 million USD annually.
Following a four day visit to the DRC, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein made a statement commending the country’s recent attempts to improve human rights. However, he also reminded that some of these efforts may be threatened by “violations of fundamental civil and political rights by State actors” and the restriction of the political space ahead of the upcoming elections.
After the presidential pardon and release of six youth activists on Tuesday, Amnesty International released a statement warning that, “unless all prisoners of conscience and others detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights are freed,” the latest release of the activists “will be seen as little more than an exercise in window dressing.” Those released served five out six months of their sentence for “attempting to incite disobedience” and they had to be forcibly removed from the prison as they rejected the presidential pardons in order to show solidarity with the other detainees.
On Saturday, Iraqi forces began construction on a seven-mile long trench on the northern outskirts of the recently recaptured city of Fallujah in Anbar province. Iraqi commanders have stated the purpose of the trench is two-fold: to keep several hundred ISIL fighters still being pursued in Anbar province from launching attacks on the city, and to keep out Shi’ite militias barred from entering the city.
On 25 July, the UNSC extended the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) for another year, with the mandate now extending to 31 July 2017.
That same day a string of bombings in and around Baghdad killed twenty-five people. The deadliest attack took place in the Shi’ite town of Khalis, fifty miles north of Baghdad. where a suicide- bomber drove his car into a police checkpoint.
On Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi met with officials from Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh province, announcing that Mosul and the surrounding region would be governed by a decentralized system after its liberation from ISIL. Complementing the Prime Minister’s words, the Iraqi parliament endorsed a bill that day that would increase the power of provincial capitals, allowing them a legal route to create semi-autonomous regions with greater administrative and political powers.
The US-led coalition against ISIL has estimated roughly 10,000 ISIL fighters defending Mosul remain, as the Iraqi government prepares for its offensive to retake the city.
Forces loyal to rebel general Khalifa Haftar suffered losses during clashes with forces loyal to the Shura Council of the Benghazi Revolutionaries (SCBR).
Several of Libya’s most influential political and military figures, including Prime Minister Fayez Serraj and Awila Saleh, the head of the Libyan parliament, are in Egypt for talks aimed at ending the political deadlock. General Hifter, who is supported by Saleh and his parliament, is meeting with deputies of both Saleh and Serraj.
Fighting in northern Mali between the mostly Tuareg group, Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), and Gatia militiamen killed an estimated 20 people and wounded at least 40 more, threatening the already shaky peace deal in the country late last week. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and MINUSMA, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, havereleased a statement condemning the attacks and calling on the leaders of the rival groups to restore calm, while also reminding them of their obligations to protect civilians under international law.
Malian security forces arrested Mahmoud Barry, also known as “Abou Yehiya”, one of the most senior members of Ansar Dine. Barry is alleged to have had involvement in several attacks, including the recent attack on a Malian military base which killed 17 soldiers and left many more wounded last week.
Late last week, humanitarian aid, including 31 metric tons of food and other non-food stuffs, finally reached around 15,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Borno State.The food delivered is not expected to last more than a week.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has released another warning this week that Borno State in Nigeria is facing a “large-scale humanitarian disaster” with over 500,000 people living in deplorable conditions.
UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman briefed the Security Council on the Boko Haram situation in the Lake Chad Basin region on Wednesday. Although military action against the terrorist group is essential, Feltman noted that in order to end the threat completely, countries must take steps to address the root causes contributing to Boko Haram’s emergence. This includes the social, political, and economic tensions amongst communities, he said.
On 23 July, the mayor of Raja, in South Sudan’s Lol state, confirmed that he had defected to the armed opposition, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO).
On 25 July, the UNHCR updated its figures on those fleeing the recent violence in South Sudan, stating that an average of 4,000 people are fleeing per day to Uganda from South Sudan, more than doubling from the 1,500 per day estimate released ten days ago. The past three weeks have seen more South Sudanese leave for Uganda than in the previous six months combined.
On Monday, South Sudanese Pres. Salva Kiir officially replaced Riek Machar with Taban Deng Gai as first vice president. Mr. Machar has not been seen in public since fleeing the outbreak of violence in the capital of Juba in early July. The UN has released a warning, stating "any political appointments need to be consistent with the provisions outlined in the peace agreement." Both the SPLM-IO armed forces sector commander and governor dismissedGai’s claims that he has their support.
On 27 July, reports surfaced that South Sudanese soldiers raped dozens of ethnic Nuer women and girls last week within sight of a UN camp dedicated to the protection of civilians from the recent uptick in violence.
On 24 July, the umbrella opposition group Sudan Call announced it would meet with the head of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) Thabo Mbeki to discuss eventually signing the proposed African Roadmap for Peace in Sudan.
Developments in the fighting
Forty-two people died in Russian and Syrian airstrikes on the town of al- Atareb in Aleppo province on Monday. That same day, airstrikes in East Aleppo struck four hospitals and a blood bank. Two days later, after having made gains into the territory, the Syrian government announced that they had officially cut off all rebel supply lines into East Aleppo. As the Syrian Army tightens its siege, it has sent text messages to the residents of the eastern part of the city claiming to have made several safe corridors, three of which will be for civilians and a fourth for rebels to surrender. Assad further offered amnesty to any rebels in East Aleppo who surrender in the next three months.
On Monday, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien addressed the UNSC on the humanitarian situation in Syria. Stressing the degradation of the situation in Aleppo, Mr. O’Brien called for the implementation of a weekly 48-hour ceasefire in Aleppo to allow for humanitarian access.
On 25 July, the SDF and its allied forces announced that they are now in control of the majority of the besieged ISIL-held city of Manbij, claiming eighty-percent of the city was now in their control. The SDF reiterated calls for ISIL to allow civilians to leave the city, while opening up a new humanitarian corridor of their own.
A mortar attack on the Bab Touma district of Damascus killed six people and wounded scores more. Meanwhile, a twin-bombing by ISIL in the predominantly Kurdish town of Qamishli, in Syria’s northeast, killed 44 people.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, US Secretary of State John Kerry stated further progress had been made on the proposed US-Russian military cooperation in Syria. Mr. Kerry went on to state he expects to have an agreed upon plan ready for the public in early August.
On Sunday, the Syrian government announced its desire to resume the peace talks in Geneva. After talks faltered and collapsed earlier in the year, the UN is hoping to begin a new round sometime in late August.
On Monday, operations by the Saudi-led coalition reportedly resumed and killed 20 Houthi rebels during airstrikes in Roudha, Taiz, Jawf, and Abyan.
The UN called for a ceasefire in the Taiz region this week, where conflict has recently escalated between the government forces and Houthi militia, especially in Al-Sarari, a town in the southeast of the region.
Five Saudi border guards were killed by Yemeni militants at the border with Yemen. According to Saudi authorities, the guards perished after an 8-hour long battle with the armed militia, who were said to be attempting to enter Saudi Arabia
On Thursday, UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed met separately with delegations from the Shia Houthi group and the Yemeni government in Kuwait. Negotiations had previously been suspended due to the Arab League summit in Nouakchott this week.