West African military force enters the Gambia in support of new president
On Thursday, Senegalese troops crossedthe Gambian border as part of a West African regional initiative to ensure a transition of power from longtime ruler, Yahya Jammeh, to the democratically-elected president, Adama Barrow, who was inaugurated at the Gambian embassy in Senegal earlier that day. Following the elections in December 2016, then-President Jammeh, who seizedpower of the country in a 1994 coup, originally accepted Mr. Barrow's win, but later reversed his decision and has refused to leave office past the constitutionally-mandated date this week, citing irregularities and errors within the election process.
Thousands of civilians and tourists have already fled the Gambia to neighboring countries in anticipation of the possible violence that could ensue if Jammeh does not relinquish power. At least 26,000 people have sought refuge in Senegal alone, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).
On Tuesday, the political crisis in the country worsened as then-President Jammeh declared a state of emergency and held a parliamentary vote, which extended his time in the presidency by 90 days. He claimed that these steps would allow the country's Supreme Court to consider the legal challenge he has brought against the election results and prevent a vacuum of power during the proceedings.
After President Barrow's inauguration, the UN Security Council unanimously adopteda resolution calling on all parties to accept the December election results and extending full support to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the regional initiative to ensure a peaceful transfer of power to Barrow. However, the resolution also underscoredthat all political methods should be exhausted before using military tools.
By Thursday evening, the West African regional forces had haltedoperations in the Gambia in order to allow leaders for the region to make a final attempt to use political methods to convince Jammeh to step down. However, operations will reportedly resume on Friday at 12:00pm local time if Jammeh continues to refuse to leave office.
Source for above photo of Senegalese soldiers moving toward the Gambian border on 19 January 2017: Sylvain Cherkaoui/AP via NPR
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Fortify Rights issued a joint report on Monday claiming that there has been state involvements in the disappearances of two Baptist Christian leaders from the Kachin ethnic group from Shan State after the men were called to a military base following their assistance to journalists reporting on damage purportedly done to a church by the Burmese military. HRW and Fortify Rights have called upon the government to provide information on the two missing men and to additionally allow Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma, and other human rights monitors access to the region that has thus far been denied.
In a separate report last Friday, Fortify Rights called upon Permanent UN Security Council member China to do more to protect ethnic Kachin refugees fleeing violence in Burma after an alleged incident of Chinese state security forcing approximately 4,000 refugees back across the border on 11 January. China has denied this report and noted their provision of food and medicine as part of humanitarian initiatives.
Following the rise in violence within Burma in recent months, Malaysia urged the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Thursday to pressure Burma to address the issue and British politicians have urged Secretary of Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson to press the issue on his visit to the country on Friday.
Eight other groups who signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement with the government in October 2015 and formed the combined Peace Process Steering Team, requested a meeting with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing last week to seek solutions to ongoing violence in Kachin and Shan states.
The Burundian government has ordered the withdrawal of the over 5,400 troops it contributed to the African Union (AU) stabilization mission in Somalia (AMISOM). This withdrawal is a result of the months-long withholding of payments to Burundi for its AMISOM contributions due to sanctions levied against President Nkurunziza's current government by the European Union (EU), AMISOM’s largest financial backer.
Last Friday, Burundian national police acknowledged an increase in reports of kidnapping since the beginning of the political crisis in the country in 2015. This supports earlier findings by a UN independent investigation that uncovered multiple disappearances of opposition members, civil society advocates, and demonstrators following arbitrary arrests.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch (HRW)alleged that members of the Burundian ruling party’s youth league have beaten, tortured, and killed scores of individuals across the country in the months since the beginning of the turmoil caused by President Nkurunziza's announcement of a third term. HRW claims that the youth league has mobilized to suppress dissent against the president and his plans for a third term in violation of the Arusha Accords. The report calls on the UN Security Council to use targeted sanctions against individuals in Burundi responsible for human rights violations and urges a full investigation by the UN and, if warranted, the International Criminal Court.
Central African Republic:
The 28,000 residents of a makeshift camp outside the airport of the Central African Republic’s capital, Bangui, are being moved out by the government citing concerns for aviation safety. However, many of the civilians still fear for their safety if forced to return to their home villages from which they fled during the sectarian violence that began in 2013. President Faustin-Archange Toudéra said last Thursday that over 70,000 civilians are believed to have been displaced since the beginning of renewed fighting in September, many of whom have been displaced several times.
The United Nations announced last weekend that attacks against humanitarian aid workers in the CAR rose to 330 in 2016.
Democratic Republic of Congo:
The deal reached on New Year's Eve to allow for a peaceful solution to the political and constitutional crises in the DRC is being celebrated as a victory for diplomats and civil society. However, the deal has not halted violent ethnic clashes in country. On Monday, a UN official reported that ethnic clashes between Bantu and Pygmy communities the week prior had killed 24. UN reports noted the particularly disturbing trend of targeting women with 19 of the 24 victims being female. These casualties are part of a larger period of violence over the last six months that has included 158 deaths, 205 injuries, and 50 acts of sexual violence against women.
During his first address to the UN Security Council in the new year UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mlandenov, stated to the Council that calls for Israel to annex the West Bank, in part or as a whole, is destructive to the two-state long term peace process. A bill put forward in the Knesset to annex a settlement in the West Bank will be debated on Sunday. Mr. Mlandenov called on all actors to avoid unilateral actions that may threaten the two-state solution and also noted with concern increasing tensions in the Gaza Strip and Hamas' treatment of peaceful protestors against the power shortages and restrictions. Last week, one of the largest protests in a decade saw about 10,000 people march through the streets while security forces fired weapons to disperse the crowd.
Clashes this week between civilians and Israeli security forces have left a 17-year-old Palestinian dead after being identified as the “main instigator” and shot by Israeli forces.
The battle for Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, has shifted favorably for the Iraqi and coalition forces with their successful capture of most of the eastern portion of the city announced on Wednesday. However, the western portion of the city, across the Tigris River, remains uncaptured and the narrow streets and dense neighborhoods promise intense and violent fighting, posing extreme danger to the 750,000 civilians the UN estimates remain in that area. Evacuation may be hampered by both fighting and the destruction of five bridges by US-led airstrikes as part of Operation Inherent Resolve that has left even the approaching Iraqi forces searching for makeshift alternatives for crossing. The UN has reported that more than 1,500 people have been evacuated from Mosul to hospitals in a neighboring city since the beginning of the operation in October.
The pressure of the advancing Iraqi forces hasled to an evolution in the Islamic State’s (ISIL) battle tactics, with local media reporting the terror organization has begun adapting consumer model drones to drop grenades on small ground targets. The Iraqi CTS (Counter-Terrorism Services) have also seized and taken control of several barrels of chemical mixtures from the labs at the University of Mosul that had allegedly been used by ISIL to produce rudimentary chemical weapons.
The brutality of the violence in Mosul is hinted at by a media reportreleasedon Wednesday that includes Iraqi forces boasting to journalist on video about the revenge killing of a surrendered ISIL fighter. The soldiers claimed they executed the man to avenge their fallen compatriots.
The UN-brokered Libya dialogue, which is intended to bring about successful unity of the country’s two rival governments, was delayed for the second time in a week on Wednesday as political figures in Libya disputed the makeup of the dialogue team. The meeting is now scheduled to begin on Sunday.
Thegrowing body of reports of abuse of seafaring migrants by the Libyan coastguard now includes an incident in August that involved the firing of multiple bullets into a humanitarian aid ship operated by Médecins Sans Frontières. A report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has previously found that migrants have been imprisoned, robbed, raped, and subjected to forced labor after life-threatening interceptions by Libyan coastguard vessels. One account from a migrant stated the coast guard opened fire randomly on a boat of migrants killing at least three.
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on Wednesday stated that the Malian government is failing to protect civilians in the northern and central parts of the country. The report detailed attacks on villages and peacekeepers with the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA), noting that despite the 2015 peace accord, the human rights climate worsened in Mali through 2016 as signatories failed to execute many of the deal’s provisions, including disarmament.
UN Secretary-General Guterres, noting the stagnated adoption of the 2015 accord, urged the UN Security Council on Monday to consider imposing sanctions on those obstructing the deal’s implementation. The UN Secretary-General also called on all parties to resume negotiation.
On Thursday, Nigeria released details of an airstrike that reportedly accidentally targeted a humanitarian aid camp on Tuesday. The airstrike, which was operating as part of Nigeria’s ongoing counterinsurgency effort against terrorist organizations in the region, reportedly dropped multiple bombs on the camp, killing at least 70 people, including six aid workers. In addition to the deaths and injuries, aid organizations are concerned that the incident may cause a lapse in the humanitarian aid infrastructure in the area. The Nigerian military is set to launch a formal inquiry that will release findings by early February, but top commanders have already called the incident a mistake, directing blame to the “fog of war.”
On Monday, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) released a human rights report detailing the records of human rights abuses documented by UNMISS during the violence in Juba in July 2016. UNMISSrecorded 217 incidents of sexual violence against women and girls by both factions during that period. The report also detailed the targeting of civilians sheltering in UN camps, including multiple acts of sexual violence against women and girls, as well as findings that the South Sudanese military used language tests to identify members of different tribes during house-to-house searches in July, at times executing civilians on the spot.
Russia has invited officials from the in incoming US administration to the talks between Syrian government and opposition representatives in Kazakhstan next week. On Thursday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told media that he is hopeful the peace talks will lead to local reconciliation with rebel forces. Fighting continues in several areas in the country and has intensified in some, such as in Deir al-Zor, where the UN World Food Program has announced that it will be forced to suspend its airdrop deliveries of food.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Thursday that the Islamic State (ISIL) had beheaded four and shot eight in Palmyra. The monitor added that the victims were made up of captured soldiers, rebels, teachers, and state employees.
The monitoring group has also reported continued infighting amongst rebel factions after the fighters from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly the al-Qaeda-linked al Nusra Front, attacked checkpoints and positions of the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham rebel group. Jabhat Fateh al-Sham claimed responsibility on Wednesday for a car-bombing in Damascus last week that killed seven.
The UN envoy on Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, met with President Abrabbuh Mansour Hadi on Monday to attempt to persuade the government to agree to a new cessation of hostilities and the resumption of peace talks. The current halt in negotiations is a result of the President’s rejection of an earlier proposal that would have reduced his power and moved towards a transitional government and new elections. The envoy previously metwith senior officials of Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar over the past week and is set to travel to Sana'a in the next few days to meet with Houthi leaders to deliver the same message. The envoy is also intended to report to the UN Security Council regarding the situation in Yemen later this month.
On Thursday, the internationally-recognized government spoke well of elements of a new peace plan presented by the UN envoy, which would begin with a cessation of hostilities and lead to the formation of a unity government.
Fighting between Houthi and government forces in Shabwa province on Monday reportedlykilled 34 people and wounded 16 others. Six civilians were also killed by a Houthi-fired rocket during fighting around Taiz. On Tuesday it the UN reported that the death toll in the Yemeni conflict has broken 10,000. The report also claimed that local human rights monitors have recorded 11,332 civilian casualties, including 4,125 deaths in Yemen through October 2016. Furthermore, 10 million people in Yemen are in urgent humanitarian need.