Burkini Ban Strictly Enforced in French Towns

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

PARIS, France — Burkinis, the full-body bathing suit worn by Muslim women, have been banned by over 15 towns in France, mainly at popular tourist locations on the French Riviera.  The bans do not mention the burkini specifically, however refer to clothing that will be respectful of the principle of secularism.  Authorities cite recent terrorist attacks, such as the ones in Nice and Paris, when justifying the need to keep the public order implications of religious clothing at bay.

A woman removes her tunic on a beach in Nice as police enforce the burkini ban (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population.  However, some mayors of the towns considering the burkini ban admit to never having seen one on their local beaches.  Some of the mayors justify the ban by citing the maintenance of public hygiene and “good morals.”

The bans are raising concerns regarding whether the proliferation of bans on the swimwear is a sign of France’s demand for conformity with the non-Muslim community, or whether the bans are an authentic, affirmative absence of government involvement in religious affairs.  Recent opinion polls reflect the support that many French citizens have for the ban, however many Muslims living in France have expressed that they feel they are being “unfairly targeted.”

This past week, images emerged depicting French police allegedly enforcing the ban on a beach in Nice.  Multiple armed police officers stood around a woman as she removed her long-sleeved tunic, and one officer appeared to write her a fine once she was finished.  Siam, the 34 year old mother who was approached by police regarding her clothing, states that she had been sitting on the beach in leggings, the tunic, and a headscarf when she was fined.  Siam also told the press that she had no intention of swimming.  Nice authorities say the enforcement of the ban is a “necessity” after the terrorist attack in Bastille in July.  Muslim activist group Collective against Islamophobia claim that within the last two weeks, 16 Muslim women have been fined for their attire at beaches in the south of France, however none of those 16 were wearing an actual burkini.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls supports the ban and those mayors who are enforcing it, calling the burkini an “affirmation of political Islam in the public space,” and considers them to be a part of a “policical project” to enslave women.  On the other hand, French education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, warns that the increase in burkini bans lets “loose” verbal racism.


For more information, please see:

BBC — France Burkini Ban: Mayors Urged to Heed Court’s Ruling — 27 August 2016

CNN — Burkini Ban: Police in Nice Force Woman to Remove Part of Clothing — 25 August 2016

The Guardian — France’s Burkini Ban Row Divides Government as Court Mulls Legality — 25 August 2016

BBC — France ‘Burkini Ban’: Images of Police on Beach Fuel Debate — 24 August 2016

Islamic State Left Thousands of Explosives in Manbij After Ouster

by Zachary Lucas
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria — Following the Islamic State’s (IS) ouster from the city of Manbij, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have discovered thousands of land mines and improvised explosive devices (IED) scattered around the city.

IED Reportedly Left by IS in Manbij (Photo Courtesy of Global Voices)

SDF, a United States backed rebel group in Syria, liberated the city of Manbij a couple of weeks earlier. Following reports that IS left the city with a couple thousand civilian hostages and using them as human shields, the SDF discovered thousands of land mines and IEDs in the city. The SDF released a statement saying there goal is to “identify and remove improvised explosive devices.” The SDF also stated the sheer amount of explosives still poses a significant threat to civilians.

The explosives are a mixture of Russian explosives, land mines, and various handmade IEDs. Approximately 13,000 to 15,000 land mines and IEDs have been discovered and disarmed according to the SDF.

Reports have revealed that not only did IS leave land mines and IED’s on known battle areas, but around areas where civilians were more likely to go or in objects civilians were likely to use. Ahmed Mohammed, an activist from Manbij who now lives in Turkey, said “Mines were found inside a garlic and onion basket, a staircase, and even normal-looking rocks across the fields.”

Pictures provided by the SDF appear to show explosives underneath rocks, on top of doorways, and even in soda cans. Sherfan Darwish, the Syrian Democratic Forces’s spokesman, stated the goal of IS was to slow down SDF progress and main and kill civilians. SDF officials say the mines have already claimed the lives of 100 civilians.

The use of mines in Syria has been extensive by all parties involved. The United Nations’ Mine Action Gateway reported that 5.1 million people live in areas where land mines are thought to have been placed. This number includes over 2 million children.

For more information, please see:

ARA News — Western-backed Syrian rebels dismantling ISIS explosives in liberated town — 23 August 2016

Daily Mail — ISIS laid at least 13,000 landmines as it fled Syrian town of Manbij – packing fridges, fruit baskets and even KETTLES with explosives  — 26 August 2016

Global Voices — ISIS Left Thousands of Mines in Manbij Before Fleeing. It Hid Them Inside Everything — 25 August 2016

Wall Street Journal — U.S.-Backed Force Steps Up Efforts to Secure Syria’s Manbij After Ousting ISIS — 14 August 2016

UN: New UN report lays bare widespread ISIL ‘atrocities’ committed against Yazidis in Iraq

Holding a 13-day-old infant, an elderly Yazidi woman who fled Sinjar Mountain, re-enters Iraq from Syria, at a border crossing in the town of Peshkhabour in Dohuk Governorate. Photo: UNICEF/Wathiq Khuzaie

18 August 2016 – A new United Nations report lays bare the widespread and systematic manner in which the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, Da’esh) has committed “terrible atrocities” against the Yezidi and other ethnic and religious communities, the UN envoy for Iraq said today, calling for the perpetrators to be fully and properly held to account.

Compiled by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the report details heart-wrenching testimony of Yezidi survivors of ISIL atrocities in Iraq since the attack on Sinjar in August 2014, including accounts of systematic and widespread killings, sexual violence and sexual slavery, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, forced conversions and forced displacement, among other abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law.

The report contains accounts of those who were among the 308,315 mostly Yezidis who fled Sinjar District. An estimated 360,000 Yezidi remain displaced, with a serious lack of badly needed psychological care.

According to a press statement women interviewed by the UN spoke of being sold multiple times and having their young children and babies snatched from them. One woman told how she was sold to a 26-year-old Syrian ISIL member who raped her regularly for at least 15 days, threatening to kill her daughters if she did not submit.

Another woman was bought and sold to six successive men. She managed to rescue her seven-year-old daughter from the man who tried to abduct her, and tried to keep her safe by cutting off her hair and eyelashes, putting the child in a diaper and telling her to pretend to be mentally ill. However, in spite of this, an ISIL member tried to rape her daughter, driving the woman to attempt to kill her daughter and herself in despair. She eventually escaped with the help of a smuggler.

The report contains many accounts of men being separated from women, and of the mass killings of the captured men. In one instance, up to 600 men were reportedly killed in Tel Afar District. In other instances, members of the Yezidi community were forced to convert to Islam or be killed.

Special Representative and Head of UNAMI Ján Kubiš said the report also notes that approximately 3,500 women, girls and some men, predominantly from the Yezidi community but also a number of other ethnic and religious communities, remain in ISIL captivity.

“Two years after the fall of Ninewa, the Yezidi community continues to be targeted by ISIL. Thousands of men, women and children have been killed or are missing, or remain in captivity where they are subjected to unspeakable sexual and physical abuse,” Mr. Kubiš said, adding: “Faced with such evidence, it is of paramount importance that the perpetrators of these heinous acts are fully and properly held to account.”

For his part, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the testimony recorded in the report must serve as a clarion call to all members of the international community that “no effort must be spared in ensuring accountability for these terrible crimes and to send a clear message that no one may perpetrate them with impunity.”

“I am profoundly concerned at the grave impact that the current conflict is having on civilians, particularly on people from Iraq’s ancient and diverse ethnic and religious communities. The experiences recounted by survivors and documented in this report reveal acts of inhumanity and cruelty on an unimaginable scale that constitute a serious and deliberate attack on the most fundamental human rights and are an affront to humanity as a whole,” High Commissioner Zeid said.

The report states that the violations and abuses committed by ISIL may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

“Every effort must be undertaken by the Government of Iraq and the international community, in strict compliance with applicable international humanitarian law and human rights law, to put an end to the human rights abuses being perpetrated by ISIL and to secure the safe release of these civilians,” the report states.

“Psycho-social, medical and other forms of support are urgently required, notably for the survivors of sexual violence and sexual slavery. Furthermore, everything feasible must be done to create safe, dignified conditions for the Yezidi, along with [internally displaced persons] from other communities, to return to their places of origin,” it adds.

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

UN human rights panel concludes ISIL is committing genocide against Yazidis

Residents Protest Living Conditions in Colombia

By Cintia Garcia
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia—The citizens of Choco, Colombia have been on strike for the past six days. They are protesting against the governments inaction in the region that has led to neglect, corruption and poverty. Forty-thousand residents marched and protested on Monday against the neglect. Under the presidential administration of Juan Manuel Santos the region has experienced an increase in poor living conditions and its citizens have vowed not to return to work until the living conditions improve.

Protestors in Choco demand better living conditions. (Photo Courtesy of Telesur)

The demographics of Choco is 90% afro-descendants and 10% indigenous. For decades the providence has been neglected by the government and deprived of basic necessities. Choco has the highest poverty rate in the country with 65% of its residents living below poverty and 37.1% are living in extreme poverty according to Colombia’s statistic agency. The region experiences rampant violence from drug trafficking activities due to the lack of government resources to fund military personal. About 72% of the population has been a victim of crime and the homicide rate in 2015 was 69.14 per 100,000 inhabitants.

The citizens are demanding more state services including hospitals to serve the region. Currently, the capital of Choco, Quibdo, is served by one hospital which caters to the medical needs of 400,000 people. The hospital has been plagued with dire conditions including corruption and embezzlement of healthcare funds. In addition to a lack of health care services, there is limited access to clean water. Many of the water sources are contaminated with mercury caused by gold mining. Furthermore, the providence has two roads that are unpaved with no roads that lead to the nearest city of Medellin—the providence is isolated from the rest of Colombia.

Because of the poverty,  the child mortality rate in Choco is 70.4 per thousand, which is 10 times the child mortality rate in the United States. The death rate of children before reaching the age of one is 42%. Many of the deaths are due to malnutrition and illnesses that are preventable including malaria. The citizens will continue its protest. The government has responded to the strike by promising to visit the region.

For more information, please see:

Colombia Reports—West Colombia Province Strikes to Demand End to Rampant State Neglect—17 August 20

El espectador—Choco Sigue Firme en el Paro, el Lunes Marcharan mas de 40 mil—21 August 2016  

Colombia Reports—Colombia’s Choco: From a Tropical Paradise to a Jungle Hell—22 August 2016

Telesur—Manifestantes del Choco Esperan Commission del Gobierno—22 August 2016

Irish Women Document Journey to Britain for an Abortion

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

DUBLIN, Ireland — An Irish woman live-tweeted her journey from Ireland to Manchester, England to have an abortion this past weekend, joined by her friend who also posted updates on the account.  Both women have chosen to remain anonymous – neither have included their names on any of the social media posts.  The social media account has gained significant interest on Twitter, as it has over 12,000 followers.

The two women who traveled to Ireland posted this note to their social media followers (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

Ireland has the most restrictive ban on abortion in the European Union, as it is an illegal procedure unless the woman’s life is in danger.  This law is preserved in the country’s eighth constitutional amendment, which awards the same rights to the fetus as to the mother. This amendment is publicly supported by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

This past June, the United Nations Human Rights Committee proposed that Ireland change its abortion law following a case brought by another Irish woman who traveled from Ireland to Britain to have an abortion.  The UN Human Rights Committee does not have any legal authority to enforce its suggestion, however its suggestion marks the first time it found Ireland’s abortion law to be in conflict with the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  The picture for the social media account run by the two women who traveled to Manchester is a logo which reads “Repeal 8” referencing Ireland’s Eighth Amendment.

According to recent research, there are conflicting opinions regarding whether or not the amendment should be revised. A recent poll reflects that since 2013, more people now favor loosening the strict law to allow for abortions under more circumstances.  Ireland’s Health Minister expressed is thanks to the women for “telling the story of the reality which faces many.” Kenny, on the other hand, predicts that if there were to be a “referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment…it would not be passed.”  The topic will be discussed at the Citizens’ Assembly in October, which will consist of 100 people who plan to gather to review proposed changes to Ireland’s constitution.

According to the United Kingdom Department of Health, approximately 3,500 women each year travel from Ireland to Britain for the procedure.

For more information, please see:

The Washington Post — ‘We Defy the Irish Government’: Two Women Live-Tweet Their Trip to Britain for an Abortion Banned at Home — 22 August 2016

CNN — Irish Women Live-Tweet Journey to Great Britain for Abortion — 21 August 2016

The Irish Times — Two Irish Women Live-Tweet Journey to UK for Abortion — 20 August 2016

The Nationalist — #twowomentravel: Irish Women Live Tweet Journey to UK for Abortion — 20 August 2016

Islamic State Retreats from Manbij with Human Shields

by Zachary Lucas
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria — After retaking the city of Manbij, rebel forces accused Islamic State (IS) forces of covering their retreat with a caravan of vehicles filled with civilians. Rebel forces stated they didn’t fire at IS due to the presence of civilians.

IS Caravan out of Manbij Reported to Contain Civilian Hostages (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a United States backed rebel group in Syria, reported that IS forces covered their retreat with approximately 2,000 civilians. SDF, which is an alliance of Kurdish and Arabic fighters, stated they had regained control of most of Manbij, a city in the Aleppo governorate. An SDF spokesperson said that after IS forces had been defeated they abducted approximately 2,000 civilians from the town and took them in vehicles out of the city to Jarabulus.

The SDF claims that the civilians were taken with IS to prevent the SDF from firing at IS vehicles as they retreated. The SDF stated they treated everyone in the vehicles as non-combatants and didn’t fire out of fear of hitting civilians. US led airstrikes also didn’t target the vehicles after receiving information that civilians were in them according to Baghdad-based US-led coalition spokesman Col Chris Garver. Following the incident, most of the hostages were freed and returned to the city.

The ouster of IS forces in Manbij comes after a ten-week offensive waged by the SDF with help from US led airstrikes against IS. Manbij had been in IS control since 2014. Following the liberation of Manbij, citizens celebrated in the streets. Citizens celebrated by doing things that weren’t allowed under IS authority such as cutting off beards and smoking. According to the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights, the ten-week battle for Manbij claimed the lives of over 400 civilians and 1,200 SDF and IS fighters.

The use of human shields is illegal under international law under the Geneva Convention and its Protocols along with the Rome Statute. IS has been accused of using human shields in previous incidents. After IS forces were pushed out of Fallujah in later June, on ground forces claimed that IS took civilians with them to protect their retreat. There was confusion concerning this situation which led to the IS convoy being fired upon. In May and June of this year, IS forces attempted to slow down Iraqi forces in Fallujah by positioning themselves near civilians trapped in the crossfire.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — Syria war: ISIL flees Manbij with ‘human shields’ — 13 August 2016

BBC — Photos show IS militants fleeing Manbij with ‘human shields’ — 19 August 2016

CNN — Jubilation in Syria’s Manbij as ISIS loses control of key city — 14 August 2016

Guardian — Isis appears to use civilians as human shields to flee Syrian town — 19 August 2016

Thousands March Against Femicide in Peru

By Cintia Garcia

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LIMA, PERU—An unprecedented number of protestors, more than 50,000, marched on August 13th denouncing violence against women. Protestors in Lima marched to the palace of justice while eight other cities across Peru simultaneously held protests. The march was an outcry against lenient sentences given by the court in two high profiled cases of male perpetrators.

Over 50,000 Protestors in Lima. (Photo Courtesy of Telesur)

Those among the protestors included the newly elected president, Pedro Pablo Kucynski and his wife. He announced his plan of combating femicide: “to ask for facilities for women to denounce violence because abuse flourishes in an environment where complaints cannot be made and the blows absorbed in silence and this not how It should be.” Also present was Victor Ticona, the president of Peru’s judicial system, he stated, “Today, the 13th of August, is a historic day for this country because it represents a breaking point and the start of a new culture to eradicate the marginalization that women have been suffering, especially with violence.” He also announced that a commission of judges would receive the protestors and listen to their demands. Protestors chanted “by touching one, they are touching all of us” and “no more violence nor impunity.”

Peru has experienced a rise in gender violence. According to the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable people, fifty-four women were killed by their partners and another 118 women were victims of femicide attempts. An estimated seven out of ten Peruvian women have been victims of violence. A study conducted by the defender’s office stated that in eighty-one percent of the cases of attempted femicide no measures were taken to protect survivors. Because the state neglected to protect survivors, twenty-four percent of those women were murdered by their male perpetrators. Ana Maria Romero, Peru’s minister of women stated, “our problem is not a lack of legislation, it is how we apply the law. Those in charge of justice need more sensitivity and a better understanding of the rights of the women.”

These protests follow those that have occurred earlier this year in Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico—all under the slogan “Ni Una Mas” coined by the slain poet and activist Susana Chavez.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian—Women in Peru Protest Against Rising Tide of Murder and Sexual Crime—13 August 2016

Telesur—Tens of Thousands March Against femicide in Peru—13 August 2016

Fox News Latino–#Not One Less: Tens of Thousands March in Peru Protesting Violence Against Women—14 August 2016

The Guardian—50,000 March in Peru Against Gender Violence—14 August 2016

Syria Deeply Weekly Update: Unprecedented Moves In War-Torn Syria

August 20, 2016

Dear Readers,Welcome to the weekly Syria Deeply newsletter. We’ve rounded up the most important stories and developments about Syria and the Syrians in order to bring you valuable news and analysis. But first, here is a brief overview of what happened this week:The week saw several firsts in the now five-year-long Syrian conflict, which, as unbelievable as it may seem, have further complicated the war and worsened the situation on the ground.For the first time since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, Syrian government warplanes bombed Kurdish-controlled areas in the northern Hasaka province. At least 13 people were killed in airstrikes on positions in northeast and northwest Hasaka.The Syrian government’s allies also made unprecedented moves this week. On Tuesday, Russia used an Iranian air base for the first time to strike targets in Syria, while a top Chinese official visited Damascus and announced that it was open to intensifying its military partnerships in Syria with both Russia and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s government.As shifts took place on the diplomatic front, clashes on the ground continued. Fighting has been steadily increasing in the opposition-held province of Idlib as the battle for Aleppo, just 56 kilometers (35 miles) away, intensifies. Several opposition factions originating from Idlib launched an offensive on government forces last week to break a government siege on eastern neighborhoods in Aleppo, and forces allied with the Syrian government have been retaliating.According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, dozens of airstrikes have hit Idlib since last weekend: Airstrikes on Wednesday killed at least 25 people, at least five children died from aerial bombardments on Tuesday, and on Friday at least six people, including at least one child, were killed in airstrikes in the southern Idlib neighborhood of Khan Shekhon. On Monday, a suicide bombing targeted a bus carrying opposition fighters, killing 25 people and injuring at least 25 others.Meanwhile in Aleppo, opposition forces attacked an army base and residential district in the northwestern part of Aleppo city after detonating car bombs in the area. Rebel groups then attacked government positions in the southwest of the city, in a cement factory near a route that opens up into eastern Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.The Battle for Aleppo is ongoing, with some 2 million people inside the divided city at risk of siege and living under intense airstrikes and shelling.

Weekly Highlights:

Educational Reform for Syrians Must Not Ignore the Country’s Children

Humanitarian solutions to the education crisis facing Syrian children are largely ignoring those most in need, argues Middle East writer and researcher James Denselow. Children inside Syria are being overlooked.

Syrian refugee children sit on the ground as they listen to their teacher inside a tent, the home of a refugee family that has been turned into a makeshift school, at a Syrian refugee camp in the eastern town of Kab Elias, Lebanon. AP/Bilal Hussein, File

My Days in Damascus Entry 4: Getting Permission

Farah, a young woman living in Syria’s capital city, writes about the obstacles and discrimination she faced as a young, single woman trying to rent a studio apartment in Damascus.

A stray cat in an alleyway in the center of the Syrian capital, Damascus. Farah

Diabetes Patients Battle for Insulin in Syria

In the second installment of our series on chronic illnesses in Syria, we explore the diabetes crisis across the war-torn country and the constant struggle to obtain the insulin needed to treat the disease.

Rada Hallabi, 4, who is sick with diabetes, lies on a blanket in a refugee camp on the border with Turkey, near Azaz village, Syria, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012. AP/ Manu Brabo

Additional Reading:

For new reporting and analysis every weekday, visit www.newsdeeply.com/syria.
You can reach our team with any comments or suggestions at info@newsdeeply.org.

Top image: A screenshot from a video shows five-year-old  Omran Daqneesh, who was pulled from the rubble of a bombed building, bloodied and in shock, after an airstrike in Aleppo. Aleppo Media Center

Syria Justice and Accountability Centre: The SJAC Weekly Update: Monitoring is Needed for All Detention Facilities in Syria

Inside Saydnaya: Syria’s Torture Prison, Video of Amnesty International

Monitoring is Needed for All Detention Facilities in Syria

Prisons are by their very nature isolated and concealed spaces where abuses can go unnoticed, and in countries with ongoing conflict, prisons are often rife with human rights violations. Already, a former photographer with the Syrian military police showed the world evidence of widespread torture through what is now known as the Caesar files. And over the past several months, prisoners throughout Syria have rioted against the government’s practice of summary executions, whereby military field courts, authorized to try both civilians and military personnel, sentence detainees to execution without due process. In Hama and Aleppo, prisoners rioted when death sentences issued by a field court were scheduled to be carried out against fellow inmates. Most recently, on August 3, prisoners in the Sweida civil detention facility rioted due to  mistreatment and the transfer of four detainees to the security branch in Damascus for execution. Although no monitors have been allowed access to any of these detention facilities, Amnesty International created a an interactive 3D model of the Sednaya prison to give outsiders a better understanding of the conditions inside Syrian prisons.

The Geneva Conventions prohibit the inhuman treatment of persons not actively taking part in hostilities, including combatants held in detention. Specifically, the Conventions prohibit murder, cruel or humiliating treatment, torture,and “the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording . . . judicial guarantees.” Syria signed and ratified the Geneva Conventions in 1953, and in 1976, Syria ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which states that “All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect.” Based on the many reports of abuse and summary executions, the Syrian government is in clear violation of these treaties. The Optional Protocol of the UN Convention against Torture mandates periodic visits of international monitors to detention facilities. Although Syria ratified the Convention (with a reservation on Article 20 that recommends visits to detention centers by the UN Body), it never signed or ratified the Optional Protocol so observers are not mandated by any UN treaty body. However, the UN could pressure the parties to the conflict to accept prison visits as a part of its role as mediator in the ongoing negotiations.


Syrian Network for Human Rights: Russian Forces Surpasses ISIS in Killing Syrian Civilians

State’s Terrorism is more Atrocious than the Terrorism of Extremist Groups
The Russian regime is claiming that Russia intervened in Syria to protect the Syrian people from the terrors of the extreme group ISIS. From our perspective, the Syrian people welcomes anyone who would help get rid of extremist groups with open arms. That, however, should be through practical and actual means and not merely a pretext to justify and mitigate a military interference as we haven’t ever touched on any serious methods to protect the Syrian people from extremist groups whether by Russian forces or by the international coalition forces. All what have been done is a military action that lacks a popular approval firstly, and secondly this military action has failed to protect the Syrian civilians from the savagery of the Syrian regime which is the primary base and justification for the existence of such extremist groups.
Google Plus

Syria Deeply Weekly Update: Toxic Bombs, Air Raids on Hospitals Hit Syria

August 13, 2016

Dear Readers,Welcome to the weekly Syria Deeply newsletter. We’ve rounded up the most important stories and developments about Syria and the Syrians in order to bring you valuable news and analysis. But first, here is a brief overview of what happened this week:Fighting intensified in several areas of Syria, the worst of it taking place in Aleppo. As clashes escalated, there were several reports this week that prohibited weapons had been used in at least two provinces in Syria.The Syrian Civil Defense, a group of volunteer rescue workers, accused Russia of dropping thermite bombs on civilian areas of rebel-held Idlib province over the weekend. If true, using the incendiary weapon in a civilian area would be a violation of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. On Thursday, medical officials in opposition-held Aleppo said barrel bombs believed to be filled with toxic gas fell on the neighborhood of Zubdiya, killing at least four people and injuring at least 55 others.At least three hospitals in Syria were hit in airstrikes this week. Over the weekend four airstrikes targeted a hospital in Idlib, killing at least 10 people. On Friday, airstrikes hit the last remaining hospital for women and children in Kafr Hamra, a town in northern Aleppo. At least two staff members were killed in the air raid. Activists inside rebel-held Aleppo also said that airstrikes also hit the Omar Abdul Aziz Hospital.According to a group of 15 of the last remaining doctors in eastern Aleppo, “Right now, there is an attack on a medical facility every 17 hours. At this rate our medical services in Aleppo could be completely destroyed in a month,” the doctors wrote in a statement addressed to President Barack Obama.Opposition forces broke the siege in eastern Aleppo over the weekend, but the battle for control of both the opposition-held and western, government-held areas continued this week in Syria’s largest city. Various rebel factions fighting in eastern Aleppo also launched an offensive to seize the western site of the city, effectively besieging some 1.5 million people.The U.N. warned that more than 2 million people living in Aleppo could fall under complete siege as fighting escalates in the city. Water has already been cut across the entire city. “Civilians on both sides of the conflict – on both sides of Aleppo – are in danger of being surrounded and affected by shortages and bombings,” Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special envoy for Syria, said.On Wednesday, Russia announced it would implement daily three-hour cease-fires in Aleppo to allow aid deliveries. All military action, both ground and air, would be stopped for these three-hour periods and Moscow will coordinate with Damascus to “ensure that all interested organizations have the opportunity to deliver their humanitarian assistance to the residents of Aleppo,” Lieutenant-General Sergei Rudskoi, an official with the Russian defense ministry, said.Fighting also continued this week in other areas of northern Syria. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters, launched its final assault to clear out ISIS militants from Manbij city near the Turkish border. Last week, the SDF announced it had cleared roughly 90 percent of the city.On Friday, Russian airstrikes cut the water supply in the so-called Islamic State group’s de facto capital, Raqqa, BBC News reported. The strikes hit a water pumping station that supplied the city, killing at least 24 civilians, as well as six others whose affiliation could not be identified, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Weekly Highlights:

The Siege Sector: Why Starving Civilians Is Big Business

As 2 million people are at risk of coming under siege in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, researcher Will Todman speaks to Syria Deeply about the war economy that has taken hold in besieged areas across the country.

Anti-Syrian-government activists hold up placards during a sit-in against the ongoing siege imposed on the Syrian town of Madaya in front of the E.U. embassy in Beirut. AP/Hassan Ammar, File

Analysis: How Syrian Men Changed Under Militant Rule

ISIS has been increasing its influence on the local population, creating changes in the fabric of society that could outlive the militant group’s existence, Syrian journalist Jalal Zein al-Deen explains.

An ISIS flag hangs amid the ancient ruins of Palmyra in Syria July 4, 2015, after Islamic State group militants had previously seized the city. Islamic State Group

My Days in Damascus Entry 3: The Post-Revolution Generation

Farah, a young woman living in Syria’s capital city, explores the difficulties of living in Damascus, where most of the people her age have fled, giving way to a younger generation that is far less interested in the future of Syria.

View from a balcony in Damascus, Syria. Farah

Additional Reading

For new reporting and analysis every weekday, visit www.newsdeeply.com/syria.
You can reach our team with any comments or suggestions at info@newsdeeply.org.

Top image: Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, leader of the faction Jabhat al-Nusra, announces the group’s split from al-Qaida. Telegram

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect: Atrocity Alert: South Sudan, Yemen and Nigeria

Atrocity Alert is a weekly publication by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect highlighting and updating situations where populations are at risk of, or are enduring, mass atrocity crimes.

South Sudan

On 15 August, the one-year anniversary of the signing of a peace agreement to end South Sudan’s civil war, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting widespread abuses perpetrated by soldiers from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army during five days of fighting with rebel soldiers between 7 and 11 July. The report details widespread rape, noting that the UN has documented more than 200 cases of sexual violence since 7 July, as well as indiscriminate armed attacks on civilian-populated areas. Government forces also targeted populations based upon ethnicity, particularly non-Dinka civilians.

Last Friday, 12 August, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2304 authorizing the creation of a Regional Protection Force within the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to “engage any actor that is preparing attacks or engages in attacks” against UN protection of civilians sites, humanitarian actors or civilians. This Regional Protection Force needs to be deployed as soon as possible to bolster the efforts of UNMISS. In keeping with Resolution 2304, any further obstruction of UNMISS’ mandate or continued violations of international humanitarian and human rights law should result in the UN Security Council imposing an arms embargo on South Sudan.


Ibrahem Qasim



Fighting in Yemen significantly escalated following the 6 August cessation of UN-mediated talks to end the civil war. On 12 August the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen raised alarm at the impact of the intensification of violence, with widespread reports of civilians killed and homes destroyed. On 13 August ten children were killed when airstrikes hit a religious school in Sa’ada and the following day fourteen people were killed when a Médecins Sans Frontières-supported hospital was bombed in Hajjah. The Saudi-led coalition has been implicated in both attacks. Meanwhile, the midterm report of the UN’s Panel of Experts on Yemen, leaked to the media last week, includes evidence of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by all sides, noting that Houthis have used civilians as human shields to avoid attacks. All parties to the conflict must strictly adhere to international humanitarian and human rights law and take all necessary measures to avoid further civilian casualties. It is essential that all parties to the conflict reestablish peace talks without delay and commit to a long-term political solution to the civil war.


On 14 August Boko Haram published a video showing some of the more than 200 girls kidnapped from a secondary school in Chibok, Borno state, during April 2014. The video has been released during a leadership struggle within the extremist group between Abubakar Shekau, who has led the group since 2010, and Abu Musab al-Barnawi, who was recently appointed by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Infighting within the leadership could result in dire consequences for populations as the rival leaders attempt to assert their control over the group. Al-Barnawi has declared his intention to increase Boko Haram’s targeting of Christians, putting these populations at greater risk of atrocities and potentially exacerbating religious tensions across the country. The government must provide protection to all vulnerable communities and renew efforts to secure the release of the Chibok girls, as well as the hundreds of other women and children abducted by Boko Haram.

Sam Olukoya/IRIN

Obinna Anyadike/IRIN

Connect With Us

ICTJ: What We Need: Asking Victims About Reparations in Côte d’Ivoire


By Cristián Correa and Didier Gbery

For more than a year, in collaboration with the National Commission for Reconciliation and Compensation for Victims (CONARIV), ICTJ’s Reparative Justice Program has made an effort to consult with victims of Côte d’Ivoire’s 2010 post-election violence and its national government. These consultations are meant to push forward a definitive reparations policy that is based on the following four fundamental pillars: the need to prioritize the victims of the most serious violations; the need to focus on natural persons as victims; the need to implement a comprehensive policy that responds to the different consequences caused by those violations; and the need for a clear implementation strategy that provides certainty to victims.

ICTJ has worked with CONARIV, victims’ groups, and other government entities on reparations since 2012. A new briefing paper, titled “Recommendations for Victim Reparations in Côte d’Ivoire,” presents the conclusions of these consultations and makes recommendations to encourage the state of Côte d’Ivoire to advance its process of implementing a credible reparations policy through a participatory and transparent process.

Côte d’Ivoire faces a challenge in how to define a reparation policy that includes not just the victims who are near Abidjan or are politically connected, but also those in remote areas or with with more limited political access. Although the Programme National de Cohesion Sociale (PNCS), the Directorate of War Victims, and the Commission for Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation (CDVR) made efforts to listen to victims and define a policy of reparations that would respond to the most serious consequences of the armed conflict, the policies fell short and failed to engage victims. Victims’ organizations did not have enough of a role in the process, and what limited participation they did have excluded those in the rural areas most affected by the post-election violence.

In establishing these consultations, we knew we had to encourage a process of dialogue in which victims in isolated regions, female victims, and victims of the most serious crimes could be involved in the process of policy-making. So we started by selecting the areas of the country that suffered the most during these periods of violence. We identified two neighborhoods in Abidjan, Abobo and Yopougon, and two other cities, Bouaké and Duékoué – the former near the center of the country who had suffered mainly during the 2002-2005 period of conflict, and the latter in the west, who had been affected by all the successive eruptions of political violence. Once selected, we began a process of mapping the victims’ groups in the area. The process of mapping heavily relied upon existing organizations located in the selected areas and we were able to identify 225 grassroots organizations.

We asked the groups the following questions: What are the most serious violations that occur in the area? What are the consequences of each one of those violations? What are the daily obstacles the victims face, and how are the effects felt differently by different groups of victims (widows, women, youth, etc.)?

We decided to work with separate women-specific victims groups in order for them to have their own definitive voice on the issue of reparations. This allowed for us to better understand the perspective of women victims and for all other organizations to grasp their perspective as well. Actually, having women presenting their own recommendations, and making concrete gender-based proposals while male leaders listened, resulted on an unintentional boost for their power and capacity in very traditional community organizations. In some cases, we also created youth-focused victims’ groups.

Through these discussions, we prompted the organizations to suggest concrete and prioritized proposals that would help victims of the most serious violations in overlooked and isolated regions overcome these various consequences and obstacles.

Meanwhile, we also worked closely with the government, making them acknowledge the need for consultation in the reparations process while also demonstrating to them that we were already working with victims. This pushed the government to organize a conference where 50 representatives of various organizations convened in Abidjan, the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire, to present their proposals and conclusions. The conference went beyond simply providing an initial list of the most vulnerable victims to the government; instead it addressed how to register victims, how to implement reparation policies beyond monetary compensation, and how to formulate a clear and comprehensive implementation strategy nimble enough to adapt to the different challenges different victims face.

In this way we sought to transform basic principles into action according to the opinions of the numerous organizations. We felt encouraged by victims being able to speak so clearly, so strongly, and with even more knowledge than the authorities had on these issues.

Part of being a ‘victim’ is an experience of being passive, of not being strong enough. Part of a reparations process is to strengthen the capacity of victims to be agents. We seek to restore a political process that is respectful of people as citizens and not just recipients of charity, allowing victims to attain political dignity through their participation. We are not simply saying: “Let’s just propose a draft law that will have the principles embedded in them,” because that does not work.

The question is how many proposals are implemented and how many are implementable. The solution for reparation processes can be found in victims’ participation. Victims know best when telling us what might work and what will not and how to be realistic under different conditions for each country. This does not mean that government does not need to play a role, as those priorities need to be translated into budgets and policy implementation strategies, frequently checking with victims if those strategies are working well enough.

The briefing paper aims to help to organize Côte d’Ivoire’s reparations policy in a practical way. It includes some concrete definitions for forms of compensation, rehabilitation, and satisfaction of individual victims. It also includes proposals for community reparations, the search of the forcibly disappeared, access to documentation for those what have either lost them or have never been properly documented, a reconstruction policy specially focused on the areas most affected by the conflict, and symbolic reparations based on community participation.

It also highlights the need to undergo a budgetary exercise based on the profile and numbers of victims registered, which could help define responses to the priorities outlined.

In order to create lasting reconciliation between the victims of post-election violence and the Côte d’Ivoire state, the reparations program must respond to the most serious consequences of the violence for victims through measures that address their long-lasting socioeconomic, psychosocial, and education-related effects for victims and their children.

We recommend an implementation strategy that requires a timeline for the different actions to follow. Reparations should be a joint effort between policies that work to guarantee the non-repetition of political violence and repression and policies that enforce the respect for human rights and humanitarian law in all state institutions. Both sets of policies require mechanisms that oversee the conduct of armed forces and state institutions while also investigating and prosecuting serious violations of human rights.

We hope that, with the recommendations included in this briefing paper, the Côte d’Ivoire government will be able to take state responsibility and recognize the serious consequences caused by its violence and thus set the foundation for a better, more just future.


Follow Didier and Cristián on a series of consultations in our photo gallery.
PHOTO: During group consultations, Moussa Soulama stresses the urgent need for school infrastructure in Bouaké.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: #SaveSyria

Dear Colleague,

This summer the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stepped up its attacks on rebel forces and Syrian civilians, this time besieging the ancient city of Aleppo. In Syria’s largest city, territory had been divided between government control in the west and opposition control in the east. Last month the government surrounded the eastern part of the city, indiscriminately bombing the residents and systematically blocking delivery of food and medical supplies.

The main roadway in or out, Castello Road, became a harrowing passage dotted with burned out cars and permeated by the smell of death. Anyone attempting to enter or leave faced attack.

Largely cut off from outside assistance, the 300,000 desperate residents in Aleppo, including 120,000 children, lived mostly without food, water, medical supplies or electricity. They faced daily, deadly attacks and even starvation.

This video tells the story of life under siege and chronicles the efforts of some of those trying to assist.

Please share this video and help us raise awareness to #SaveSyria.


Cameron Hudson
Director, Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide
Image courtesy of Aleppo Media Center.