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US-led Coalition Airstrikes Contribute to Civilian Deaths in Syria

SDF forces in SyriaOn Monday, 26 June, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) reportedly captured al-Qadisia, a western district of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State (ISIL) in Syria. US-led coalition airstrikes have been assisting SDF throughout the Raqqa campaign against ISIL, but the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday that coalition airstrikes in and around Raqqa have also purportedly killed nearly 700 civilians this year.
 
Furthermore, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that US-led coalition airstrikes killed 57 people in a single attack targeting a prison operated by ISIL on Monday. Civilian prisoners are believed to make up the majority of the casualties from the strike. The prison is located in al-Mayadeen, an eastern Syrian town where US intelligence officials believe ISIL has likely moved most of its leaders. Colonel Joe Scrocca, coalition director of public affairs, said that the airstrike mission was “meticulously planned and executed to reduce the risk of collateral damage and potential harm to noncombatants," adding that the allegations will be assessed by the group’s civilian casualty team.
 
Meanwhile, US intelligence officials reported they had observed activities that seemed to indicate preparations for a chemical attack were underway in Syria's Shayrat airfield, the same airfield that Syrian government forces are reported to have used in April to allegedly launch a chemical attack that caused more than 80 deaths in Khan Sheikhoun. White House press Secretary Sean Spicer said late Monday that Syrian forces would “pay a heavy price” if they launched another chemical attack. US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reported on Wednesday that the Syrian government appears to have heeded the warning for now.
 
Despite the controversy on how its airstrikes are affecting civilians, the US-led coalition is moving forward with plans to make Raqqa safe once ISIL is effectively removed. On Wednesday, US-led coalition special envoy Brett McGurk met with the Raqqa Civil Council, which is designed to rule Raqqa after the coalition liberates the city. McGurk and other coalition officials said they would “support first removing mines, lifting rubble, maintenance of schools, then electricity stations and water," according to Omar Alloush, a member of the Raqqa Civil Council.  
 
Source of above photo: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters 


Catch up on developments in...

Burma/ Myanmar

Burundi
CAR
DRC
Gaza/ West Bank
Iraq
Mali

Nigeria
South Sudan
Sudan/ Darfur
Yemen

 

 



Burma/ Myanmar:

ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) has noted the particular absence of Burma from the United States-affiliated list of governments that use child soldiers. Burma reached an agreement with the UN in 2012 to steadily end its use of child soldiers, but HRW has documented new recruitments of children into the military as of this year. According to Jo Becker, the child’s rights advocacy director at HRW, Burma’s removal from the list reduces the pressure necessary to produce change in the country, and reduces the credibility of the list in pointing out what countries are violating international law.
 



Burundi:

Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General Michel Kafando is expected to brief Burundi officials on how to bolster cooperation between the UN and Burundi during his first visit to the country. Burundi’s Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Aimé Nyamitwe expressed confidence ahead of the Special Advisor’s visit, stating that the Burundi government believes Kafando understands the challenges facing Africa and how to combat them. His visit comes after the Burundi government accused the previous advisor, Jamal Benomar, of bias against the country’s interests.
 


Central African Republic:


On 26 June, Red Cross worker Joachim Ali was shot and killed by an armed militia group in the town of Bangassou, part of a region that has seen intense violence for several weeks. He is the second Red Cross worker to have fallen victim to the ongoing conflict, and his death occurred after the failure of the peace accord recently struck between the various armed militias in CAR and the government.
 


Democratic Republic of the Congo:

 

The Bana Mura militia has emerged as a considerable threat in the DRC. Originally arising as a rival to the Kamuina Nsapu anti-government rebel group, Bana Mura is reportedly armed and supported by the DRC government. According to the UN, Bana Mura is largely responsible for the increased level of attacks in the Kasai region over the past few months, renewing both tensions and civilian casualties. Witnesses have told UN officials that DRC soldiers had accompanied Bana Mura fighters in the attacks and had even directed some of the group’s actions.
 
Rights groups in the DRC have sought to aid rape victims in the country to speak out about their experiences. Most of the 50,000 rape and sexual violence cases reported over the past couple decades are suspected to have been carried out systematically by both DRC soldiers and rebel fighters as part of the conflict plaguing the DRC. The UN has specifically noted the DRC’s alarming levels of sexual violence in the past.
 


Gaza/West Bank:

 
On Tuesday, 27 June, the Israeli army bombed three locations in Gaza, according to Palestinian security sources and witnesses. The bombing caused damage but no casualties were reported. A spokesperson for the Israeli army acknowledged that the bombings were performed as retribution for a “projectile fire” allegedly launched from the Hamas-governed region. However, Hamas has denied performing any such airstrikes. The current tension comes after both Hamas and Israeli officials expressed last month that they had no interest in escalating conflict in the region.
 


Iraq:
 

On Thursday, 29 June, Iraqi forces declared they had successfully defeated the Islamic State’s (ISIL) self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq. The declaration came after Iraqi forces recaptured the ruined Grand al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, a symbolic move as al-Nuri was the place ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had asserted his group’s caliphate in 2014. During the recapturing of the mosque, civilians living nearby were evacuated through corridors by Iraqi and US-led troops. However, despite the Iraqi forces’ success in Mosul, ISIL still controls territory to the west and south of the city, a region that encompasses hundreds of thousands of people. Additionally, the cost of the ongoing battle in Mosul has been enormous, with the violence being responsbile for thousands of civilian deaths. About 900,000 people have fled from the violence, equaling nearly half the city’s population before conflict broke out, according to aid groups. Those trapped in the city, estimated at around 50,000 people by the Iraqi military last week, are used as human shields by ISIL and are in desperate situation with scarce food, water, and medicine.  

 


Mali:


A branch of al Qaeda in Mali has released Swedish hostage Johan Gustafsson after 6 years of captivity. Gustafsson was first kidnapped in a restaurant in Timbuktu along with two others. Sweden maintained its policy of not paying ransoms for hostages but would not release the details of the negotiations that led to Gustafsson’s release.

French President Emmanuel Macron recently spoke to Algerian leader Abelaziz Bouteflika in regards to their agreement in 2015 to assist the peace process in Mali. Part of the accord required Algeria to help identify and “draw a line” for the separatist movement that has riveted Mali. However, Mali has yet to contain the separatists. The peace process is expected to take years, despite the peacekeeping mission's presence.
 


Nigeria:


Nine were killed in Maiduguri, Nigeria, in what is suspected to be multiple suicide attacks orchestrated by Boko Haram. A suicide attack near the University of Maiduguri killed one security officer and injured two others. Another attack near the Jere region killed eight others and injured 11.
 
The United States 2017 Trafficking Report has listed Nigeria as one of several countries that actively employed child soldiers in violent military actions from April 2016 to March 2017. Particularly, in Nigeria, violations include the continued use of children to help support militias and “widespread sexual exploitation of Borno State women and girls displaced by Boko Haram.”

 


South Sudan:
 

The government of South Sudan has begun denying aid workers passage into rebel-held regions, asserting that the move is an effort to protect the workers. However, the restriction is also meant to protect the government’s interests, as a government spokesperson claimed on 29 June that if the workers were attacked while traveling in the conflict regions, the government would be blamed. Since May, aid groups have been prohibited from traveling to the most conflicted areas in South Sudan on at least four occasions, but the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted on Wednesday that aid workers have been allowed to travel to government-held areas during that time. Experts believe the government may be purposely restricting aid delivery to civilians in rebel-held areas.
 


Sudan/Darfur:


On 29 June, the UN Security Council unanimously voted to drastically reduce the number of peacekeeping troops in the Darfur region of Sudan. The move, which was an effort to reduce the extreme cost of maintaining peacekeeping in the region, will remove about 44 percent of the UN forces in Darfur. Sudan’s government has also been pushing for the removal of the UN and African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) by insisting that violence in Darfur has been greatly reduced recently. The same UNSC resolution expressed “serious concern” about the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, including increased instances of “extrajudicial killings, the excessive use of force, abduction of civilians, acts of sexual and gender-based violence, violations and abuses against children, and arbitrary arrests and detentions.”
 


Yemen:


On 24 June, UN-backed Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi's government claimed that it had begun an investigation into reports that United Arab Emirates (UAE)-backed forces have been holding detainees in secret prisons in southern Yemen, in which prisoners have been tortured and abused. Such claims correspond to previous reports from ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) last week, that 49 people, including children, were arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared in liberated areas of southern Yemen within the last year, with at least 38 detainees having been arrested by UAE-backed security forces. Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed bin Daghr has said that a six-member committee will investigate "human rights allegations in liberated areas… and sends its report to the prime minister within 15 days."
 

 

 

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