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Syria peace talks come to a close with "no breakthrough"
as battle for Raqqa continues

 

The seventh round of Syria peace talks held in Geneva ended in a stand-still, with UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura describing the process as having "no breakthrough, no breakdown.” He added that the Syrian government is still unwilling to discuss political transition, with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's representatives continuing their focus on the “fight against terrorism.” Syria's main opposition group, which believes that the end of "terrorism" would not be possible without stability in Syria, has failed to put the peace talks' spotlight on political transition in Syria.
 
At the same time, France has asked major powers involved in the Syrian crisis to join a contact group that would make proposals to warring parties in order to break a deadlock in political negotiations, the French foreign minister said. France’s policy on Syria has changed recently, as President Emmanuel Macron no longer sees Bashar al-Assad’s step down as a precondition for talks, despite other French officials insisting he cannot be involved in the Syrian government long-term. "Mr. Macron knows well that Bashar al-Assad is the enemy of the Syrian people, but he at the same time is also the enemy of humanity. We cannot ignore a criminal like Assad who used chemical weapons on civilians," said Nasser al-Hariri, the lead opposition negotiator.
 
Furthermore, in a move suspected to appease the Russian government, President Trump has ended the CIA’s covert program assisting and arming anti-Assad rebels, a program installed under the Obama Administration. The decision was made with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and national security advisor HR McMaster under an administration whose decision has been interpreted as a concession to the Russian government to some US officials. While the Obama Administration had considered this option, it chose to remain in the region out of strategic positioning. Now that it has been pulled by the Trump administration, experts believe radical groups may be encouraged by this news. Some have argued that this decision also risks other countries meddling in Syria to provide arms to dangerous groups.

Meanwhile, fierce fighting between US-backed forces and the Islamic State (ISIL) has continued in Raqqa this past week, as ISIL has continued defending its stronghold in the city. According to the Syrian Observatory Observatory for Human Rights, an estimated 35 percent of Raqqa is now under the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) control. Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman stated that a steady stream of civilians have been fleeing ISIL-held districts, adding that “whenever there is a lull in the fighting, they leave towards areas held by the SDF.” For its part, the SDF said on its social media accounts that its forces "managed to free about 500 civilians who were trapped inside the Al-Daraiya and Al-Tayar neighborhoods, as well as 150 others from the Old City." The UN estimates that up to 50,000 civilians remain trapped inside the city, down from around 100,000 people estimated at the end of June.
 


Catch up on developments in...

Burma/Myanmar
Burundi
CAR
Cote d'Ivoire
Iraq
Kenya
Libya
Nigeria
South Sudan
Sri Lanka
Syria
Yemen




 


Burma/Myanmar:

 

According to a report from The World Food Program (WFP) released on Monday, 17 July, 80,500 Rohingya children living in Rakhine are “wasting” — a condition of rapid weight loss that can become fatal — and will need treatment for acute malnutrition. Rakhine state has been under a military lockdown since October 2016, while the security forces have allegedly been conducting mass killing, raping, and torture against Rohingya Muslims.  

Around 75,000 Rohingya have fled Rakhine to Bangladesh since the beginning of the military’s operation, according to UN estimates. The United Nations Human Rights Council has planned to send a fact-finding mission to Burma, but the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has 
refused to issue visas to the UN team. The refusal amounts to "a slap in the face to victims who suffered grave human rights violations by Myanmar's state security forces," said John Fisher, an ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch representative in Geneva. Fisher further implied that “it would be a travesty” for Burma to block independent international investigators.
 


Burundi:


The UN Special Envoy to Burundi, Michael Kafando, has 
completed his consultations between the government and civil society and is expected to present the results to the Secretary-General on 26 July. The Burundi government has stated that it welcomes these efforts, and hopes that it will represent the “real situation” in Burundi.

Local human rights groups have 
urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the human rights violations that have rattled the region since President Nkurunziza’s announcement to seek the presidential office for a third term. The Burundi government, however, withdrew from the ICC after it believed the ICC to be threatening to its sovereignty. In addition, Burundi has also suspended its collaborative efforts with United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights after a report released accused the Burundi government of human rights violations.
 


Central African Republic:


The Security Council has 
stated its concern that ongoing clashes between warring factions in CAR, as well as continuing violence against UN peacekeepers there, may violate the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Members of the Council have agreed that the violence “continues to destabilize the country [and] cause many civilian casualties and large displacements of the population.” The violence is rooted between the Muslim Seleka and anti-Balaka factions, whose fighting has affected the country since 2012. According to Eric Batanon, County Director for the Norwegian Council, “The number of families displaced from their homes has increased to a level we have not witnessed since the peak of the conflict in 2014.”
 


Cote d'Ivoire:


On 15 July, Cote D’Ivoire 
held bilateral meetings with Liberia in order to enhance the effectiveness of their collaboration in sustaining peace and security. Both countries also discussed the continued maintenance of roads, which are imperative for transporting goods between the two countries. The countries agreed to work constructively to assist one another in sustaining growth in both regions.
 


Iraq:
 

On Monday, 17 July, the UN envoy for Iraq Jan Kubis expressed concerns about the rise of revenge attacks in Mosul against civilians who are believed to be linked to Islamic State (ISIL) militants. After the liberation of the city, civilians who are seen as having ties to ISIL are increasingly being subjected to “evictions, confiscations of homes, and other retribution and revenge measures,” said Kubis, adding that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi should take “urgent steps” to stop the attacks, as actions taken against civilians without sufficient evidence violate Iraq's constitution and international law. Kubis also warned the Security Council that the future in Mosul is “extremely challenging” and stressed that securing the rule of law and promoting development will be crucial in turning victory into stabilization of the just liberated City. ISIL still controls some territory outside Mosul and some bigger areas in neighboring Syria.
 


Kenya:


Ahead of the August elections, Kenya has stated that it has 
begun taking measures aimed at ensuring safe and fair elections. Security officials have imported equipment meant to maintain crowd control, such as guns and teargas, in anticipation of violence. While Kenya is not expected to shut down the internet, social media may be closed off to the public “if necessary” due to concerns of users who may mislead the public about election results. To ensure the security and safety of the election, neighboring countries Burundi, Uganda and Ethiopia are expected to shut down internet access. Furthermore, Kenya has installed cyber security systems in case of election fraud, which leading opposition candidate Raila Odinga expressed concern for.
 


Libya:

The UN 
called on Tuesday for the Libyan National Army (LNA) to investigate alleged torture and summary executions of prisoners by the Special Forces, a unit aligned with the LNA. The LNA effectively controls the eastern part of the country and is expanding into central and southern Libya while fighting with forces linked to the UN-backed government in Tripoli. Last March, the LNA announced that it would conduct investigations into alleged war crimes but has not shared any information since then, according to UN human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell. "We urge the LNA to ensure there is a full, impartial investigation into these allegations," Throssell said. Furthermore, Throssell called on the group to suspend Special Forces field commander Mahmoud al-Werfalli, as videos have circulated on social media that allegedly showed al-Werfalli shooting bound prisoners and overseeing torture and summary executions. In response, the LNA has declined comment on the videos.

 


Nigeria:


Eight people are dead and 15 others injured after a suicide bomber 
detonated a bomb outside of a mosque in northeastern Nigeria on 17 July. This comes after an increased number of attacks committed by women sent by Boko Haram. The Nigerian government declared it had defeated Boko Haram several months ago, but coordinated attacks have persisted. The World Food Programme has estimated that as a result of Boko Haram’s attacks, 4.5 million people are in need of emergency food aid.

Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed 
visited Nigeria to urge the government to further invest in advancing women’s rights in addition to promoting peace. Ms. Mohammed met with Acting President Yemi Osinbajo and has expressed confidence that the development of women will contribute to peace-sustaining efforts in the region.
 


South Sudan:
 

On 16 July, South Sudan’s government acknowledged that its forces had used offensive campaigns to reclaim Pagak, a stronghold of the rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO), which aligns with former Vice President Riek Machar. According to the presidential adviser of military affairs, the act was provoked by the rebels’ failure to observe the ceasefire, though some disagree and state that the ceasefire does not include the Pagak region. 5,000 civilians have already been forced out of their homes in the region and have fled to neighboring Ethiopia, exacerbating the refugee crisis.
 


Sri Lanka:


The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, Ben Emmerson, 
criticized Sri Lanka for its slow progress in bringing perpetrators of war crimes and other human rights abuses to justice. The Sri Lankan military allegedly killed thousands of civilians, mostly Tamils, during the last weeks of the civil war with Tamil separatists, which ended in 2009. Sri Lanka has previously promised an impartial investigation into human rights violations in the country, but President Maithripala Sirisena then indicated that he would not allow foreign judges to take part in the investigation. Emmerson said if Sri Lanka failed to meet its previous commitment, it could face a range of measures, such as a referral to the UN Security Council. The Sri Lankan government has responded that it needs more time to tackle the abuse charges cited by Emmerson. Sri Lankan Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksa defended the slow process by explaining that, as a democracy, Sri Lanka’s government could not “make laws immediately.”
 


Syria:

 
The European Union has continued to 
support transitional justice initiatives and international justice mechanisms in Syria. Recently, the EU funded €1.5 million to the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in Syria.
 
ICRtoP member Human Rights Watch (HRW) 
called on the Lebanese government to conduct an independent, thorough, and transparent investigation into the deaths of Syrians in military custody and allegations of torture and ill-treatment. On June 30, the Lebanese army raided two unofficial refugee camps in Arsal and encountered suicide bombers, a bomb, and a grenade, resulting in the injury of seven soldiers. The army detained 356 people following the raids and referred 56 for prosecution. On July 4, the Lebanese military said four Syrians who “suffered from chronic health issues that were aggravated due to the climate condition” died in its custody, however, the pictures of the bodies showed signs of physical torture, according to HRW. Moreover, former detainees told HRW that army personnel beat and ill-treated them. A military officer told HRW that the army is investigating the deaths and would publish its findings.
 
Obstacles have 
mounted for international aid groups to deliver aid to stranded Syrian refugees near the border with Jordan. In 2016, UN agencies agreed to a controversial aid system that critics say gave much of the control over aid distribution to Jordan's military and armed forces on the Syrian side. The system has failed repeatedly and only sporadic aid shipments have reached the refugee camps, while rival groups accused each other of diverting aid. Critics say the struggle to provide aid reflects the international community's wider failure in responding to the Syrian refugee crisis. Around 5 million Syrians have fled their home since the civil war, but countless others are still trapped in the country after neighboring countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey largely closed their borders. "Syria is locked in, and I think this is an issue which is not at all in the public debate or being raised by the aid agencies," said Kilian Kleinschmidt, a former Jordan-based UN refugee agency official. Countering criticism, Jordan defended itself and indicated that it has absorbed far more refugees than wealthier Western countries, and Islamic militants on the border pose a security threat.
 


Yemen:


A Saudi-led coalition air attack allegedly 
killed at least 20 civilians in southwest Yemen on 18 July, according to the United Nations and witnesses. Those killed are believed to have been in their homes when the attack took place and the majority of the victims are likely to be from the same family. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said in a statement that it was "deeply shocked and saddened” at reports of casualties in the aerial attack and added that the civilians had fled fighting in the nearby Mokha district. "This latest incident once again demonstrates the extreme dangers facing civilians in Yemen, particularly those attempting to flee violence, as they disproportionately bear the brunt of conflict," a representative for UNHCR said in a statement on Tuesday. Yemen's human rights minister, Mohammed Askar, described the attack as an "unfortunate incident" and called for a government investigation, while Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam condemned the attack as a "monstrous crime.” The coalition has allegedly bombed civilian gatherings, markets, hospitals, and residential areas across Yemen. The allegations assert that the coalition is responsible for over 8,160 civilian deaths since the beginning of its campaign against Houthi rebels in 2015. Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition has reiterated it does not target civilian neighborhoods, despite the accusations by human rights groups.
 
Moreover, the Saudi-led coalition 
prevented a UN flight carrying staff from an international aid agency from flying to Houthi-controlled areas, according to UN officials. Aviation sources said the flight was blocked because there were 3 BBC journalists on board, and the coalition has advised the journalists to travel on commercial planes since they could not guarantee their safety in rebel held areas, according to Ahmed Ben Lassoued, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Yemen. "It's unfortunate and partially explains why Yemen, which is one of the world's largest humanitarian crises, is not getting enough attention in international media," Lassoued added.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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