IL Newswire

Displacement and Violence Against Aid Workers in CAR at Worst Levels Since 2013

In what the UN Humanitarian Office (OCHA) has called the worst level of displacement in the Central African Republic since civil war broke out in 2013, a cumulative 440,000 civilians had been forcibly displaced by the end of April due to renewed conflict in the country. Officials from OCHA have estimated that an additional 100,000 people could be displaced by the end of May, a number that becomes ever more likely as militia violence continues to spread to several prominent cities in the country.
 
On 18 May, the UN Deputy Special Representative in the Central African Republic, Diane Corner, reported that at least one armed militia group in the country had access to heavy weapons, such as mortars and grenade launchers, as well as “more sophisticated military tactics,” and that the groups were using these weapons during increasingly frequent attacks. The groups have targeted several towns in the past two weeks using enhanced equipment, including Bria, Bangassou, and Alindao, inflicting incredible damage on civilians. In what Social Affairs Minister Virginie Baikoua called a “catastrophe,” the recent militia attacks and looting in the town of Bria resulted in more than 41,400 of the city's 47,500 residents fleeing to the nearest UN base for shelter, equaling almost 90 percent of the city's population.
 
The renewed sectarian and ethnic-based violence in the country has resulted in a reported 300 deaths since only 8 May, including those of at least six UN peacekeeping officials. According to Corner, the majority of those deaths occurred during the recent attack on the UN mission in Bangassou, where anti-Balaka fighters “pinned down” peacekeepers before directly targeting Muslim civilians in the city.

The situation prompted UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein to release a statement on 16 May condemning the attack on Bangassou and others, noting with particular alarm that violence was spreading into previously peaceful regions of the CAR.
 
As such, Ms. Baikoua joined the Humanitarian Coordinator in the Central African Republic, Najat Rochdi, in expressing their mutual unease with the renewed violence, declaring that civilians have been “paying the highest cost” during the recent attacks. Earlier this month, Ms. Baikoua and Ms. Rochdi jointly praised regional humanitarian agencies for stepping in to assist the several thousands of displaced and injured civilians desperately in need of aid due to the attacks, but also acknowledged that it would be difficult to maintain such a tremendous response while the conflict continued. For the foreseeable future, civilians inside and near these violent regions remain at great risk.

This blog post was originally written for the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect "RtoP Weekly" for week 22-26 May. Access the Coalition's listserv archive here.

Yemen: Looming Attack on Hodeidah Would Worsen Humanitarian Crisis


A boy carries water in plastic containers outside of Hodeidah, Yemen. (AFP/Getty Images)

A boy carries water in plastic containers outside of Hodeidah, Yemen. (AFP/Getty Images)

The Yemeni port city of Hodeidah, currently held by Houthi rebels, is seen as a strategic interest in the war between the rebels and the Saudi-led coalition, the latter of which supports Yemen's deposed government. With sources alerting the UN and other humanitarian agencies of an impending attack on Hodeidah by the Saudi coalition, these organizations have warned of the terrible impacts such an attack would have on the civilians there.

Yemen is currently in the throes of an enormous humanitarian crisis due to the years-long conflict, as over 17 million civilians are facing famine with little pathway to food security. The UN has estimated that several billions of US dollars are needed to mitigate the crisis, but only 15 percent of the current $2 billion USD appeal has been funded so far. As of now, Hodeidah is one of the only main ports capable of receiving desperately needed food and supplies into the country. Therefore, humanitarian officials have warned that an attack on the Houthi-held city would dramatically worsen the already precarious situation for not only the citizens of Hodeidah but for all Yemenis that rely on the city for food imports and humanitarian assistance. Alexander Ventura, head of Yemen's mission for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), has stated that the country's healthcare system and medical services are "on the verge of collapse." It is possible that enhanced conflict in Hodeidah would push these services past their breaking point.

Furthermore, the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) recently doubled its estimates on the number of people in the city that would be displaced should an attack occur, increasing the number to over 400,000. Such a large outpouring of people from Hodeidah would create chaos and make it even harder for humanitarian assistance to make it into the city, according to Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s Director of Operations and Emergencies. The situation would be catastrophic to the newly displaced as well as the already 270,000 internally displaced civilians inside the city. 

IOM recommends peace talks between the Houthi rebels and Saudi-led coalition, if only because a ceasefire is the only way to ensure the safety of civilians in Hodeidah and Yemen as a whole. “Humanitarian action alone can never bring the peace all people in Yemen deserve. [IOM] advocates for dialogue and peace talks, rather than the use of military force, which puts the lives of Yemenis and humanitarians in extreme danger," Abdiker asserted.

Humanitarians have called upon the international community to pressure the Saudi-led coalition to avoid escalation of the conflict in Hodeidah, adding that providing humanitarian assistance to Yemen rather than weapons would be crucial to resolving the crisis. It remains to be seen if the coalition will conduct an attack on the city, but even if it does not, Yemen is still in critical need of humanitarian aid to even hope for a resolution of the crisis.

UN: Increasing Concern Over Violence in Central African Republic


CAR President Touadera addressing the UN General Assembly. Photo from the United Nations.

CAR President Touadera addressing the UN General Assembly. Photo from the United Nations.

Due to the worsening conflict in the Central African Republic in recent months, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and the displacement of thousands, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein expressed extreme concern for civilians and peacekeepers in the country on 16 May. 

Although the sectarian-based clashes began in 2013, the violence had not affected the relatively more urban regions of CAR, including the capital, Bangui. According to High Commissioner Zeid, the relative peace in these areas was "hard-earned," making the current spread of violence into previously untouched areas that much more troubling. The latest spate of attacks against the UN mission in CAR (MINUSCA) also indicates a bleak future for the peacekeepers stationed there, as May of this year has already become the deadliest month to date for the mission since its founding in 2014. 

The UN Security Council has condemned the recent increase in violence, stating that attacks against peacekeepers could amount to war crimes, and called upon the CAR government to investigate the incidents. Indeed, President Faustin-Archange Touadera has warned the militias to end the violence at risk of punishment, but it remains to be seen how effective his efforts will be in ending the attacks. President Touadera had appealed to the UN on 15 March for urgently needed funding and support to help the CAR government stabilize security in the country, but the situation has not improved since then.

‘This is a democracy’: Int’l court may be next for Duterte (AP)


MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte acknowledged Tuesday that allegations he induced extrajudicial killings in his war on drugs could be raised to the International Criminal Court after an impeachment case failed in the House of Representatives.

“Yeah, he can go ahead. He is free to do it. This is a democracy,” Duterte said in reaction to a lawmaker saying he was considering bringing a case against the Philippine leader to the court in The Hague, Netherlands.

The impeachment complaint killed by a House committee Monday accused Duterte of multiple murders and crimes against humanity for adopting a state policy of inducing police and vigilantes into killing more than 8,000 suspected drug users and dealers outside the rule of law. The complaint also accused him of corruption, unexplained wealth, and taking a “defeatist stand” against China’s in the territorial row in the South China Sea.

The dismissal of Rep. Gary Alejano’s complaint was widely expected since the House is dominated by Duterte allies. But the president’s critics hope the procedure could bolster a lawsuit filed against him by a Filipino lawyer before the ICC for alleged extrajudicial killings by showing that domestic efforts to stop Duterte have failed.

The dismissal of the complaint, filed in March, bars any new impeachment case against Duterte until next March.

Since taking office in June, Duterte’s war on drugs has killed 7,000 to 9,000 suspected drug dealers and addicts, according to human rights groups. The government refutes that, releasing data on May 2 showing nearly 4,600 people have been killed in police anti-drug operations and homicides found to be drug-related.

For more information, please see this report

UN warns Donald Trump that repealing Obamacare could violate international law


The United Nations warned Donald Trump that repealing the Affordable Care Act without a replacement plan could violate human rights Reuters

The United Nations warned Donald Trump that repealing the Affordable Care Act without a replacement plan could violate human rights Reuters

The United Nations warned Donald Trump that repealing the Affordable Care Act could violate international laws if there isn’t a plan for the millions of people who could lose coverage in the process.

A newly-published dispatch sent by the UN High Commission on Human Rights in Geneva shows that the intergovernmental organisation was concerned by reports that showed Mr Trump’s early efforts to repeal Obamacare would leave nearly 30 million people uninsured. The “urgent appeal,” sent in early February, informed the Trump administration that moving forward would likely violate human rights.

“Recent reports have assessed the negative impact that this reform may have on the right to health of almost 30 million people in the US,” the letter reads. “I wish to express serious concern over the impact of these measures on the rights to the enjoyment of the highest sustainable standard of physical and mental health and the right to social security of the people in the United States of America.”

The letter apparently didn’t get into the hands of too many people in the administration or in Congress. Although it asked to be passed along to the acting secretary of State and congressional leadership, leadership offices in Congress and the State Department told the Washington Post that they never received the text.

For more information, please see this report

Nakba Day 2017: 69 Years of Occupation in the Palestinian Territories


15 May 2017 marks the 69th anniversary of the start of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military presence in the Palestinian Territories has been declared an internationally condemned occupation by the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations General Assembly, and other various human rights organizations and UN Member States. According to The Hague Conventions of 1907 and Article 50 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, there are a number of conditions an Occupying Power must follow in order for occupation to be permissible under international law. However, due to the continued building of settlements in the West Bank, the United Nations Security Council reaffirmed that Israel’s settlements are illegal under international law as a violation of Article 49, stating that “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.

Every year on 15 May, Palestinians around the world take the streets to protest Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories and Israel’s Independence Day, which led to the forced removal of more than 750,000 Palestinians from their homes following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. In 1998, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat officially declared 15 May as Nakba Day, or ‘Catastrophe Day’. In response, Israeli government officials introduced a ‘Nakba Law’ in the Knesset, which authorizes the Israeli Finance Minister to “revoke funding from institutions that reject Israel's character as a "Jewish state" or mark the country's Independence Day as a day of mourning” (Al Jazeera). 

This Nakba Day, Palestinians are also commemorating the 29th day of the ongoing hunger strike carried out by Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli prisons. The prisoners are demanding more visitation and communication rights with family members, better living conditions, and more medical services. Many claim that conditions in Israeli prisons violate the Third Geneva Convention, which call for humane treatment of political prisoners. 

Israel's alleged violations under international law have triggered numerous United Nations Resolutions that condemn Israeli policies that inflict on Palestinians' human rights. Every Nakba Day, therefore, addresses these alleged violations and calls for Israel to cooperate under international law and international humanitarian law. 

UN Peacekeepers Killed In Central African Republic


Around 425,000 people have been uprooted by the fighting in CAR [File: Baz Ratner/Reuters]

Around 425,000 people have been uprooted by the fighting in CAR [File: Baz Ratner/Reuters]

On Tuesday, United Nations officials reported that four UN peacekeepers were found dead after an attack on a convoy. It is believed that the attack was perpetrated by a Christian militia group. At least eight peacekeepers were wounded. 

This civil conflict started in 2013 when Muslim militias rebelled against the government, incurring retaliation from Christian groups like the one responsible for this attack. MINUSCA, or the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, has been present in the CAR since 2014.

Killing a UN peacekeeper is considered a war crime, and this is not the first time something of this nature has occurred in the CAR. The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that there have been at least 33 attacks on aid workers in the first quarter of 2017. 

For more information, please see this report

Will the ICC Pursue an Investigation Into Crimes Against Migrants?


On 8 May 2017, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Fatou Bensouda brief the United Nations Security Council on Libya and announced that the Court may consider prosecuting crimes in Libya against migrants. Libya has become a flashpoint in the ongoing migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, and reports continue to surface of abuse against those seeking to cross the Mediterranean. 

Libya has become the main transit point from North Africa into Italy and beyond, but the transit centers and camps near Misurata are rife with violence. The political climate in Libya is still extremely unstable as a result of the Arab Spring several years ago, which Prosecutor Bensouda cites as complicating the situation with refugees. At the UNSC briefing, "Ms. Bensouda said that reports indicate the country is at risk of returning to widespread conflict, and such an outcome would not bode well for the rule of law in Libya". The International Organization for Migration states that "migrants presently experience extreme insecurity in Libya, including arbitrary arrest by non-State actors, detention for indefinite periods of time, bonded labor, harassment and general exploitation." Ms. Bensouda said that her office is continuing to collect information of this nature to determine whether or not it is feasible to open an investigation against these alleged crimes.

For more information, see this report or the attached above hyperlinks

Canada's Bid For UN Security Council Seat Could Mean Costly Campaign


There are two seats available in the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) for seats on the Security Council. Starting in January 2018, five new countries will begin their 5-year term as non-permanent members. Ireland, Norway, and Canada are currently competing for open seats in the WEOG for 2021, which could potentially cost millions of dollars.

It is hard to say exactly how much this will cost, but "whatever the number is that they're admitting to, you can be certain it is [many] times more," says William Pace, the executive director of the World Federalist Movement, which advocates for more transparent elections at the UN. By its government's own estimates, Canada is on track to spend millions after having spent $500,000 already. These estimates do not take into account how much it would cost to staff a mission in New York City.

Either way, since voting is done by a secret ballot there is no way to tell if Canada's efforts will pay off. However, Canada announced its intent to pursue that seat in 2016 so it is clear that the North American state takes its efforts seriously and will continue to work towards the end goal of being a member on the Security Council.

For more information, please see this report

UN Security Council: DPRK's Nuclear Program Poses Risk for Both Security and Human Rights


UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the UNSC meeting on 28 April. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the UNSC meeting on 28 April. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

International criticism of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has continued to increase regarding the government's continued pursuit of nuclear-powered weapons. At a high-level United Nations Security Council (UNSC) briefing on 28 April convened solely to discuss the implications of a nuclear-capable DPRK, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted that the DPRK has openly flouted UNSC resolutions banning the development of nuclear weapons as it has conducted two nuclear tests and over two dozen launches using ballistic missile technology since the beginning of 2016. 

Guterres' main concerns were that military escalation in northeastern Asia could result in "increased arms competition and tensions" in the region, which would more fully prevent the international community from stepping in to mediate the situation and promote peace. And because the region is "home to one fifth of the world's people and gross domestic product, [armed conflict] would have global implications," he added. Thus, Guterres stressed that both the international community and the DPRK have to fulfill their international obligations to de-escalate tensions.

Many other representatives at the Security Council briefing were quick to push further on the human rights situation in the DPRK, which they saw as inextricably connected to the country's pursuit of nuclear capability. Representatives from several states, including the UK, France, Japan, Sweden, and Italy, named both direct and indirect ways the effort has hurt citizens. The United States, this month's President of the UNSC, has been especially critical in its remarks: indirectly, the country spends billions on nuclear testing that could instead be used to aid and feed its ailing civilians, United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated on 28 April based on facts iterated in a UNSC resolution this past November. And last month, United States Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley warned that human rights abuses are directly aiding the country's nuclear program because the government forces many citizens to work in "life-threatening conditions in coal mines and other dangerous industries to finance the regime’s military.” 

Although the UN Security Council has taken efforts to shed light on the risks involved with the country's nuclear tests, some experts worry that not enough action has been taken to stop the resulting abuses. Human Rights Watch specifically criticized the Council on 1 May for failing to discuss the importance of holding individual members of the DPRK government responsible for the egregious human rights situation, which has "no parallel in terms of [its] gravity, scale, and nature." 

For its part, the DPRK has resolved to continue its goal of nuclear capability and even conducted another ballistic missile test on 29 April, the day after the UNSC briefing regarding its nuclear program. DPRK leader Kim Jong Un has previously described the country as a “responsible nuclear-weapon State," the truth of which remains to unfold as the country continues its testing.

Surge in Political Crackdowns in Hong Kong


Pro-independence lawmakers Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching speak to the media outside a police station in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Nine other democracy activists have now been arrested. Photograph: Kin Cheung/AP

Pro-independence lawmakers Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching speak to the media outside a police station in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Nine other democracy activists have now been arrested.
Photograph: Kin Cheung/AP


Several pro-democracy activists have been arrested in Hong Kong following anti-government protests. The arrests yesterday as a result of a raid come just several days after political prosecution of pro-independence lawmakers. Human Rights Watch reports that these 11 arrests signal a cause for concern for potential crackdowns of political opposition. 

"'The Hong Kong government is speeding up prosecutions against activists to wipe out the influence of the opposition camp ahead of president Xi’s expected visit to Hong Kong on 1 July,' said Joshua Wong, founder and general secretary of Demosisto."

The China director for Human Rights Watch Sophie Richardson stated, "Prosecution as persecution seems to be the new norm for the treatment of Hong Kong's pro-democracy activists". 

The protests in question leading to the arrest of these activists took place in November of 2016. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has underlined Hong Kong's mandates regarding protests to be particularly inhibitive to basic rights. These arrests raise the question of whether or not Hong Kong, approaching the 20th anniversary of its handover, will move towards or away from democracy. 

Life Sentence Confirmed for Ex-President of Chad


AFP PHOTO / SEYLLOU

AFP PHOTO / SEYLLOU

Hissène Habré, the former president of Chad, was sentenced in 2016 to life imprisonment for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of torture. His appeal was denied Thursday and his sentence was upheld in a tribunal in Dakar, Senegal. His victims and their lawyers were expecting this verdict after almost 20 years of legal proceedings.

This verdict also comes with reparations for the victims totaling more than 82 billion CFA francs. Any and all property owned by the former president is to be seized, and this reparations fund now faces the difficult task of locating funds that Habré has hidden.

This article originally appeared in RFI on 27 April 2017

US and Uganda End Search for Joseph Kony, Calling Mission a Success


Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony in 2006. Stuart Price/AFP/Getty Images

Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony in 2006. Stuart Price/AFP/Getty Images

The United States has announced its plans to withdraw troops from the Central African Republic, where a special task force had been combating the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and searching for its infamous warlord, Joseph Kony, since 2011. The withdrawal will end a six-year campaign against the group. Uganda, which has been battling the LRA for decades, also announced plans to end its involvement.

Created in 1987 by Kony, the LRA has received international attention for committing various war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murders, rapes, mutilations, and the coercion of children to become soldiers. Once a formidable organization credited with killing over 100,000 people and kidnapping around 60,000 children to become soldiers and sex slaves, the LRA now reportedly has fewer than 100 members. Consequently, even though Kony still remains at large, he is the sole leader out of five that has not been captured to date. 

Because of such numbers, both the US and Uganda have deemed their efforts to combat the LRA a success. The head of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) stated that the task force is looking to "move forward" because the LRA, although not entirely eradicated, is struggling to survive. Additionally, last week representatives for the Ugandan army declared that Kony "no longer poses any significant threat" to the country's national security, thus deeming their mission a success.

It seems likely that the groups have weighed the costs of continuing their search for Kony, which has totaled between 600 and 800 million US dollars for AFRICOM, against the risks of a continued LRA presence. Since LRA numbers are at all-time lows, the two countries see the risks as unsubstantial, with Uganda explicitly calling the group "ineffective." 

However, not all have evaluated the risks to be so little. Experts in the Central African Republic warn that a security vacuum could be created in the region if the US and Ugandan forces leave, enabling the LRA to resurface. A specialist on central Africa at the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI) cautioned that the withdrawal could lead to renewed LRA attacks, adding, "Nobody is under any illusion that the Central African troops which are to be sent there to avoid a security vacuum will be able to neutralise the LRA." Other armed groups in the area may also be emboldened by the removal of these forces. 

Civilians are especially cognizant of the risks of withdrawal. In fact, on 17 April, about 6,000 people protested in the streets of a southwestern CAR town demanding that both sets of troops stay until Central African forces could properly replace them. A spokesman from AFRICOM stated that the task force will continue to work with regional forces to avoid a security vacuum, but the complete effects of the withdrawal remain to be seen.

Rwandan Man Jailed for Life for Genocide Crimes

A Rwandan high court announced last week that Bernard Munyagishari was convicted of crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity. It is alleged that Munyagishari, who led the Interahamwe, coordinated attacks on the minority Tutsi that were killed in the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

His case was transferred to the Rwandan court from the Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, where he was on trial for his role in the genocide. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

This article originally appeared in Reuters on 20 April 2017

UN Security Council Fails to Implement Sanctions on South Sudan


South Sudanese soldiers. (AP/Justin Lynch)

South Sudanese soldiers. (AP/Justin Lynch)

The United States Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, proposed to the Security Council on 25 April that sanctions should be implemented on South Sudan for its government's alleged ongoing human rights abuses. The measure, she insisted, would be an effort to persuade South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and the opposition party to end the civil war that has plagued the country for years. The consequent humanitarian crisis has resulted in famine and displacement, with Haley declaring that at least half of the 10 million South Sudanese residents would face "life-threatening hunger" if action was not soon taken. 

Haley continued to openly blame President Kiir for the crisis in the country, stating that it was man-made and caused by the ongoing conflict occurring at Kiir's bidding, including his neglecting to honor a ceasefire agreement and conducting an alleged campaign of violence against the South Sudanese population.

Indeed, government-sponsored repression has been well-documented in the country, specifically regarding freedom of speech and censorship abuses against both foreign and South Sudanese journalists. In August 2015, President Kiir infamously threatened those who would publicly oppose his government: "The freedom of press does not mean that you work against your country. And if anybody among [the opposition] does not know that this country has killed people, we will demonstrate it one day on them." 

However, Haley's proposal on 25 April was vetoed by both Russia's and China's representatives due to their disagreeing with sanctions being used to combat the crisis. Petr Iliichev, Russia's Deputy Ambassador to the UN, stated that the way to achieve peace was to "disarm civilians as well as demobilize and reintegrate combatants," instead of imposing an arms embargo on the government as the US had proposed. China's Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Wu Haitao, declared that a political settlement was the only path to peace for the country, and that the UN should work with regional intergovernmental groups, such as the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, to promote peace talks in South Sudan. 

Haley lamented the lack of action by the UN Security Council, stating it actively helped the South Sudanese government, but also agreed that cooperation with regional intergovernmental groups was crucial to success. 

ICC: Rodrigo Duterte Accused of Crimes Against Humanity


REUTERS/FAISAL AL NASSER

REUTERS/FAISAL AL NASSER

A Philippines lawyer has formally complained to the International Criminal Court (ICC), accusing President Duterte of crimes against humanity. The complaint regards the ongoing widespread murders of Filipino citizens as part of Duterte's self-declared anti-drug and anti-corruption campaign, which has reportedly resulted in the deaths of several thousands of civilians. The lawyer, Jude Josue Sabio, cited the confession of one of his clients, a member of a "Death Squad" that alleged he had committed some of the murders under Duterte's direction while Mayor of Davao City.

Mr. Sabio's complaint does indeed have merit. According to the ICC, a crime against humanity has occurred when the perpetrator has committed murders constituting a targeted "widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population." It is clear that Duterte's alleged actions would constitute a systematic attack, as the President openly ran his election campaign on the promise of eliminating corruption and drugs from the Philippines. Additionally, Mr. Sabio accused at least 11 other government officials of being involved in the scheme, and alleged that the Philippines' police forces were also openly complicit in the deaths, further emphasizing the methodical nature of the mass murders. 

President Duterte has previously stated that he is unafraid to face the ICC, declaring: "I will deliver on my promises, even if it would cost me my life, my honor, and the presidency." Such commitment to eradicating corruption and drugs throughout the country has led to his continued support among Filipino citizens. Polls indicate the majority of the country still has faith in his actions, including young citizens who claim to hold progressive, anti-violent views. Some even believe that the killings and violence have been tremendously exaggerated by the "elite-controlled mainstream media" in an effort to regain power from Duterte. 

It is possible that such widespread support is what makes the referral of the situation to the ICC necessary in the first place. Since the ICC is a "court of last resort", it will only prosecute in situations where the government is unwilling or unable to do so itself. This would clearly be the case with President Duterte, with the lack of internal pressure from Filipino citizens to end his scheme as well as his democratic election enabling him to claim legitimacy for his actions. 

The ICC has yet to formally accuse Duterte of crimes against humanity, if it will even do so. However, even simply having the formal complaint filed against him brings attention to Duterte's alleged extrajudicial killings, and hopefully will help achieve justice for the over 9,000 Filipino victims to date.

Islamic State and Al-Qaeda in Discussions to Form Alliance


"Protesters carry Al-Qaeda and Free Syrian Army flags during an anti-government protest... in Idlib province, Syria, March 11, 2016." Courtesy of  Newsweek . KHALIL ASHAWI/REUTERS

"Protesters carry Al-Qaeda and Free Syrian Army flags during an anti-government protest... in Idlib province, Syria, March 11, 2016." Courtesy of Newsweek. KHALIL ASHAWI/REUTERS

The future of the Islamic State (ISIL) is becoming ever more precarious in both Iraq and Syria, two countries of which the group had previously controlled significant portions. In Iraq, ISIL retains a small but solid stance in the city of Mosul, but faces staunch opposition from "an alliance of Iraqi troops, Kurdish forces, Iran-backed Shiite Muslim militias and a U.S.-led international coalition" in the area. Similarly, both ISIL and former ally Al-Qaeda face a non-aligned but equally threatening opposition in the Syrian forces, backed by Russia, as well as US and Kurdish groups.

In 2014, when ISIL's self-proclaimed caliphate was at the height of its territorial reach, the group formally severed ties with Al-Qaeda, of which ISIL had been the working branch in Iraq until that point. While both groups have extremely conservative Sunni Muslim affiliations, Al Qaeda has openly criticized ISIL for using "brutal methods" to achieve its goals, such as beheading, burning, and drowning victims. Such measures seem to be one of the reasons the groups have remained separate for several years. Despite its controversial actions, ISIL immediately gained huge traction throughout Iraq and Syria when it split from Al-Qaeda, proving itself capable of succeeding without ties to its long-standing parent organization. 

However, intense opposition has hurt both groups in the subsequent years. ISIL is backed into a concentrated fight in Mosul, unleashing chemical weapons attacks against Iraqi troops in a desperate effort to slow their advances on ISIL territory. It is unknown how long ISIL can even sustain attacks of this type, and it seems that some of its chemical stockpile have been destroyed already, according to a video produced by the ISIL-opposition group, the Popular Mobilization Units. Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda's decision to support anti-regime rebels in Syria has not achieved significant results, particularly because the group has encountered much resistance from the Syrian military.

Now, both groups are in talks to renew their alliance in an attempt to stem the territorial losses they've suffered in both Iraq and Syria. According to Newsweek, an alliance would not likely accomplish a complete turnaround for the groups, but it could "result in even further delay for hopes of peace in Syria and could have deadly global consequences." The article states that although ISIL is almost completely defeated in Iraq, it still can claim several thousands of supporters and active members elsewhere, such as regions in Africa and Asia. Additionally, Al-Qaeda still enjoys significant support throughout both of those continents, and consequently an alliance between the two groups may unite supporters outside of Iraq and Syria and form a much larger movement. 

As of now, talks between the two militant groups have not yielded any official agreement, but it is wise to remain wary of their success in doing so. So far, opposition forces have been successful in fighting the two groups separately, but it is unknown if that could change with a formal alliance.

UN Peacekeeping Force in Western Sahara Must Urgently Monitor Human Rights


On 18 April 2017 Amnesty International published a statement encouraging the Security Council to renew its peacekeeping mission in the Western Sahara region as a result of the continuing human rights abuses. The vote is scheduled for 27 April; currently, the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) has no reporting mechanism enabled to report on or publicize the human rights abuses perpetuated by both the pro-independence groups (the Polisario Front) and the opposition groups (the Moroccan government). 

In his short time as Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres has already called for a renewed discussion on the Western Sahara issue. Talks have stalled and UN efforts have not amounted to anything since the advent of the conflict in 1975. A report was published which outline the imperative that "talks must aim for a mutually acceptable political solution over the ultimate status of Western Sahara, including through agreement on "the nature and form of the exercise of self-determination". 

The Amnesty International report calls for independent and impartial human rights reporting since "perpetrators of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law committed during Morocco’s armed conflict with the Polisario Front between 1975 and 1991 have largely gone unpunished". The African Union echoed this statement, as well as also calling upon the Security Council to review and renew MINURSO's role in the region. 

For more information on understanding the resurgence of interest in resolving in this decades-old conflict, see this Al Jazeera report

Amid Protests, Venezuela's Humanitarian Crisis Worsens


Venezuelans sleep in hammocks outside a shelter in Brazil, while others sleep on the floor inside. February 11, 2017.   © 2017 César Muñoz Acebes/Human Rights Watch

Venezuelans sleep in hammocks outside a shelter in Brazil, while others sleep on the floor inside. February 11, 2017. 

© 2017 César Muñoz Acebes/Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported that a severe lack of medicine and food in Venezuela is amounting to a humanitarian crisis within the country, and that several thousands of Venezuelan citizens have been fleeing due to the shortages.

Unfortunately, the Venezuelan government is not taking the appropriate action to protect its citizens from the worsening situation. Not only is the government, headed by President Nicolás Maduro, denying that the crisis exists, but police repression towards protesters of the government has reportedly increased tremendously. Residents of the Montana Alta neighborhood stated that police forces could be heard firing shots well into the night this past weekend, and a 6 April protest even claimed the life of one teen protester there. Additionally, residents have insisted that the government's claims that the police are only protecting citizens from looting and violence are incorrect, with some claiming they feel safer among the protesters than the police forces.

While citizens protest against the regime they believe has led the country to "the brink of political and economic collapse," President Maduro has ominously sought to ostracize those who speak out against the government. On 17 April, Maduro publicly told a gathering of thousands of pro-regime militia members that they are either "with the homeland or against it," before announcing his plans to increase the size of the civilian militia five-fold. Consequently, many are angry that not only is Maduro refusing to address the humanitarian crisis, he is instead directing funds towards repressing citizens even further. As one young Venezuelan stated, Maduro is "spending money on tear gas... and equipment to suppress demonstrators instead of spending money on health care," the latter of which he believes is "totally dismantled."

According to HRW, it is the duty of neighboring states to pressure Maduro into responding to the crisis. Brazil in particular is heavily burdened with Venezuelans fleeing their own country in pursuit of medical care that they are unable to obtain at home. Consequently, not only is Brazil's healthcare system suffering, but the rest of its public institutions and shelters are struggling to handle the over 12,000 Venezuelans that have remained in the country since escaping from their own in 2014. The situation is so precarious that even some Brazilian regions have issued states of health emergency, and Brazil is struggling to handle the increased need for funding. Therefore, Venezuela's crisis is prompting secondary crises for at least one of its neighbors, and others may follow if the situation in Brazil worsens and Venezuelans are forced to go elsewhere.

Unfortunately, even if Brazil's infrastructure could adequately handle the large influx, its laws restrict Venezuelans' abilities while inside Brazilian borders. Because asylum cases take time to decide upon, Brazil's Justice Ministry has only resolved a fraction of the thousands of asylum requests that Venezuelans have filed since 2012. While waiting for a decision, Venezuelans do not have legal authority to work inside Brazil, resulting in poor conditions or exploitation at the hands of employers. 

Therefore, not only does the Venezuelan government have the responsibility to respond to the crisis within its borders, it would be beneficial for the country's neighboring states to pressure the Maduro government, as well. Brazil's infrastructure, in particular, would benefit if fewer Venezuelans were in need of its public services. However, due to the Maduro regime's efforts to isolate its opposition rather than unite Venezuelans and address the country's issues, it seems unlikely that a solution will be easily found. 

Turkey's Constitutional Referendum: What Happens Next?


Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gives a referendum victory speech to his supporters at the Presidential Palace on April 17, 2017 in Ankara Turkey. Elif Sogut—Getty Images

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gives a referendum victory speech to his supporters at the Presidential Palace on April 17, 2017 in Ankara Turkey. Elif Sogut—Getty Images

On 16 April 2017, a referendum was put forward by the Justice and Development Party and the Nationalist Movement Party to amend the Turkish constitution. The amendments pertained sections calling for the abolition of Turkey's current political system of a parliamentary democracy, replacing it with extended powers in an enlarged role for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The referendum passed with 51.4% of the vote "despite a state of emergency and a widespread crackdown on dissent" and groups in opposition to President Erdogan who "vowed to challenge the outcome". 

With the margin of victory narrow for Erdogan, it is evident to election observers that the nation of Turkey is deeply divided. This referendum comes in the aftermath of a failed coup that took place in July of 2016, which highlighted the political discord between those who support Erdogan and those who oppose him. Erdogan, in defeating the coup, sought to centralize and expand his powers to ensure such a coup would not happen again in the future. This referendum accomplishes that goal. It means that Erdogan will continue to be president of Turkey for the foreseeable future. 

The three largest cities - Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir - all voted against the referendum, while the interior rural regions of Turkey voted strongly in favor of the changes. The urban malcontent is a stark change from the support Erdogan garnered in his rise to power in the 1990s. However, now Erdogan must manage the dissent, which he can do through his expanded powers which extend the national state of emergency. The next elections are in 2019, but Erdogan may choose to move them up within the next several years to better manage opposition.

With the election on the referendum now over, several international election monitors have reported that the election may not have been fair and votes may have been manipulated by the state. Erdogan dismissed the criticism stemming from these reports. The report from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe strongly suggested that Erdogan and his supporters unfairly manipulated the election in his favor. This deepens the already-tenuous relationship between Turkey and the EU, "especially because Erdogan spent the past few months framing the referendum as 'us vs. the West'". It is looking less and less likely that Turkey will become a member of the European Union after years of a stalled bid. One of the reasons for this is Erdogan's stated desire to reinstate the death penalty in Turkey, which would almost certainly void the country's bid for E.U. citizenship. 

Turkey will have to contend with opposition in the coming months as groups seek to challenge the referendum while simultaneously fending off criticism from international groups challenging the legitimacy and fairness of the election.

For more information, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's monitoring report on the election can be found here