Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect: Atrocity Alert: South Sudan, Myanmar and Healthcare in Conflict

Atrocity Alert, No. 53, 3 May 2017

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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

Since 25 April an escalation of fighting between government forces and armed rebels in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state has threatened populations in several towns, particularly on the West Bank of the Nile River. More than 40,000 people have arrived in the town of Aburoc, including 25,000 who fled from violence in Kodok. On 29 and 30 April the UN Secretary-General and the Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission expressed grave concern about the violence. Humanitarian organizations have no access to the area, leaving more than 38,000 vulnerable civilians without assistance.

More than a year and a half after formally signing the Peace Agreement, which was supposed to end South Sudan’s 2013-2015 civil war, fighting continues in many parts of the country, famine has been declared in Leer and Mayendit counties, and key aspects of the Agreement remain unimplemented. Since January there have been military offensives by government forces in Eastern Equatoria, Central Equatoria, Western Bahr el-Ghazal, Upper Nile and Unity states. At least 1.9 million civilians remain internally displaced and another 1.6 million have sought refuge in neighboring countries.

The UN, AU and Inter-governmental Authority on Development must send a strong and unified message to all parties in South Sudan regarding the future of the 2015 Peace Agreement. To prevent further re-escalation of armed conflict, the UNSC should immediately impose an arms embargo and extend targeted sanctions against those who have command and control over forces responsible for targeting and killing civilians.

Today the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect released a statement on the situation in South Sudan.


Myanmar’s State Counsellor and former Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, told a press conference in Brussels yesterday that her government will not accept the fact-finding mission mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate possible crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing committed against the Rohingya Muslim minority. State Counsellor Suu Kyi said that she believes the UN inquiry would be potentially divisive.

At the same time the Rakhine State government has announced plans to establish “model villages,” where authorities intend to relocate ethnic Rohingya, including those who have been displaced by previous inter-communal violence and/or security “clearance operations.” The plan, which could amount to forced relocation for approximately 1,500 families, would further entrench the apartheid-like conditions imposed upon the Rohingya by the government of Myanmar.

Photo Credit: Olivier Hoslet/EPA

Photo Credit: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

Protection of Healthcare in Conflict

Today, 3 May, marks the anniversary of the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2286 on the protection of healthcare in conflict. The resolution condemned attacks and threats against medical personnel and facilities, and demanded accountability for those responsible for these crimes under international law. The resolution also reaffirmed the primary responsibility of states to protect their populations. Despite the unanimous adoption of Resolution 2286, attacks on health workers and medical facilities continue.

The Syrian American Medical Society verified 168 attacks on medical facilities and personnel across Syria between June and December of 2016, including with illegal cluster munitions and incendiary weapons. Physicians for Human Rights also reported that Syrian government forces prevented the delivery of more than 300,000 medical treatments to besieged and hard-to-reach areas during 2016. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), six hospitals in Syria were damaged or destroyed by airstrikes in April 2017 alone. In Yemen, airstrikes and the shelling of hospitals, as well as the looting of medical facilities, have exacerbated the dire humanitarian situation. OCHA has reported that less than half of all medical facilities in Yemen are still functioning.

On 25 May the UN Security Council will hold a second debate on the protection of civilians and healthcare in conflict. Deliberate attacks on medical facilities and personnel, and the obstruction of medical aid, are war crimes. States must ensure that their forces consistently comply with their obligations under international law and uphold their responsibility to protect. All attacks on healthcare facilities and health workers must be impartially investigated and the perpetrators held accountable. The UN Secretary-General should also publicly list those states, and non-state armed groups, that target healthcare during armed conflict.

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North Korea Welcomes UN Human Rights Expert

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

North Korea is once again hitting headlines in the international media, this time on a positive note. The autarkic country has invited a United Nations representative to visit and assess the rights of the disabled. U.N. special rapporteur Catalina Devandas-Aguilar will be visiting North Korea for six days to collect information on the conditions of disabled persons in the country.

The UN will send human rights expert Catalina Devandas-Aguilar to North Korea to assess the conditions of persons with disabilities living in the state. Photo courtesy of the United Nations.

Devandas-Aguilar spoke on her upcoming visit, saying that the visit represents an important opportunity to learn firsthand about the country’s realities, policies, programs, and laws regarding the rights of people with disabilities. Devandas-Aguilar is also concerned with the shortcomings and challenges disabled persons face in the country. The trip will take place between May 3 and May 8.

The visit also marks the first U.N. sponsored trip to North Korea since 2004, when the U.N. Commission on Human Rights sent an investigator to report on North Korea’s human rights situation. Devandas-Aguilar is scheduled to visit the state’s capital, Pyongyang, as well as South Hwanghae Province.

North Korea ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities in December 2016.

Devandas-Aguilar plans to hold a press conference in Pyongyang at the end of her visit. Her official findings will be submitted to the United Nations next year.

For more information, please see:

Deutsche Welle – UN disabilities representative announces observer visit to North Korea – 27 April, 2017

Independent News – North Korea agrees to visit from UN human rights expert for first time – 27 April, 2017

Reuters – North Korea opens door a crack to welcome U.N. disability expert – 27 April, 2017

UPI News – U.N. disabilities rapporteur to make observation visit to North Korea – 27 April, 2017

Trump Invites Philippines President, Nicknamed “The Punisher,” to White House

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America


WASHINGTON D.C., United States — On Saturday, April 29, President Trump invited Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte to the White House during a “very friendly conversation” over the telephone.  Duterte is nicknamed “the Punisher” and is accused of effectuating a drug war that has killed over 7,000.  Duterte has also been accused of ordering extrajudicial killings of drug suspects.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks with reporters in Manila on Friday (Photo Courtesy of NPR)

The White House released a statement that explained that Trump invited Duterte to the U.S. so the two leaders can discuss the “important of the United States-Philippines alliance.”  The White House also commented that on the phone on Saturday, the two discussed the difficulty the Philippine government is facing in fighting “very hard” to rid the country of drugs.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus supported the invitation in a statement to reporters, commenting on the importance of U.S. outreach to other Asian nations in the ongoing nuclear threat issue posed by North Korea.  Priebus acknowledged the issue of human rights, however argued that the North Korean problem takes precedence.  Priebus noted that “[t]he issues facing us developing out of North Korea are so serious that we need cooperation at some level with as many partners in the area as we can get to make sure we have our ducks in a row.”

Trump administration officials are preparing for criticism from human rights groups.  Two senior officials said they expect the State Department and National Security Council to raise internal objections, as the two departments were allegedly surprised by the invitation.

Duterte has been accused of encouraging civilians to kill anyone attempting to sell or buy drugs.  In his final campaign speech before being elected, Duterte announced to the crowd “[f]orget the laws on human rights.”  In December, Duterte released a statement alleging that Trump told him that he was going about the war on drugs in the Philippines “the right way.”  A few weeks after that statement, the top human rights official within the United Nations called for Duterte to be investigated for murder.

In a statement, the White House declined to comment on details of Duterte’s possible trip, however stated that Trump is looking forward to his trip to the Philippines in November.


For more information, please see:

CNN — Trump Invites Philippines’ Duterte to the White House — 30 April 2017

The Huffington Post — Trump will Meet President Duterte, Despite Philippines’ Ongoing Extrajudicial Killings — 30 April 2017

NPR — Trump Invites Controversial Philippines Leader to White House — 30 April 2017

The New York Times — Trump’s ‘Very Friendly’ Talk with Duterte Stuns Aids and Critics Alike — 30 April 2017

Venezuela Withdraws from the OAS

By Cintia Garcia

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Caracas, Venezuela—President Nicolás Maduro announced last week that he is withdrawing Venezuela out of the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS has been critical of President Maduro’s accumulation of power at the cost of democratic institutions.

Demonstrators, including the wife of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, have taken to the streets against president Maduro’s government. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

On Wednesday the representative of Venezuela to the OAS, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez announced that President Maduro instructed her to sever ties with the OAS because “of what she described as intrusive, arbitrary, illegal, deviant and crude actions.” She also stated that “A faction of governments from the region had eyes on our sovereignty and tried to intervene and lecture our country, but this, fortunately, will not happen.” Venezuela submitted a letter of complaint which will initiate the process to withdraw. The decision to leave the organization comes after the OAS voted to hold a meeting to discuss the crisis in Venezuela. As a result of leaving the OAS and in accordance to its rules, Venezuela will need to pay a debt of 8.7 million and will need to wait two years to withdraw.

Many experts claimed that the decision to leave the OAS is unprecedented—no country has left the OAS since its initiation.  A professor of International Relations at the Central University of Venezuela stated, “It is evidence of an authoritarian character o the government, especially in the case of the OAS, whose pillars are to defend democracy and human rights.”

The OAS promotes democracy among its member states in the Western Hemisphere. Neighboring countries have used the OAS to exert pressure on Venezuela due to a rise in instability. Additionally, the OAS invoked the Democratic Charter against Venezuela for “stifling opponents, holding political prisoners and ruling by decree.” President Maduro has accused the OAS as being a pawn of Washington in order to undermine the country by establishing alternative regional bodies.

Venezuela is experiencing continued unrest as protests against the government have turned violent and deadly. Nearly 30 people have been killed in the wave of protests.

For more information, please see:

BBC—Venezuela to Withdraw From OAS as Deadly Protests Continue—27 April 2017.

Telesur—Venezuela Formally Begins Process to Exit ‘Interventionist’ OAS—27 April 2017.

New York Times—Venezuela Says It Will Leave Pro-Democracy Organization—26 April 2017.

NPR—Venezuela to Leave OAS, Death Toll Climbs After Dueling Rallies—26 April 2017.


Conservationist Kuki Gallmann Shot at Her Kenyan Conservatory

By Samantha Netzband 

Impunity Watch, Africa Desk Reporter

NAIROBI, Kenya– Kuki Gallmann, renowned author and conservationist has been shot at her conservatory in Kenya.  Gallmann is 73 years old and owns the Laikipia Nature Conservatory.  There is currently conflict between landowners, like Gallmann, and cattle herders in the Laikipia area.  Gallmann owned a luxury safari lodge which was burned to the ground last month.  It is suspected that the cattle herders may have been behind the arson.

Kuki Gallmann

Author and conservationist Kuki Gallmann. (Photo Courtesy of BBC Africa)

Currently it is unclear exactly who shot Gallmann, but those that were with her at the time claim it was a group of armed men without cattle.  Gallmann is not the only one who has been shot.  A British rancher, Tristan Voorspuy, was shot dead while inspecting his ranch in the same area.  Gallmann has also been shot before in 2009.

Gallmann and others fear that Northern Kenyan is become a land of lawlessness.  There are many who have nothing to lose and simply run around the country doing whatever they can to support themselves.  Sometimes that means targeting individuals like Gallmann.

The widespread drought that is happening in East Africa is only complicating matters.  Gallmann’s daughter said that she and her mother often will let herders graze on their land.  However, recently due to the drought, there have been many more herders than usual.  Some cattle, Gallmann’s daughter believes, actually belongs to wealthy owners rather than locals just seeking a place for their cattle graze.  This has cause conflict between Gallmann and some of the herders.

Gallmann is currently recovering in ICU at a Nairobi hospital after a seven hour surgery to do repairs on her abdomen.  She is expected to make a full recovery.

For further information, please see: 

BBC Africa – Kuki Gallmann shot and wounded at Kenya conservation park – 23 April 2017

CBS News – Kuki Gallmann, “I Dreamed of Africa” author, shot at Kenyan ranch, officials say – 23 April 2017

Huffington Post – Activist Kuki Gallmann Shot At Her Kenyan Ranch – 23 April 2017

The New York Times – ‘I Dreamed of Africa’ Author and Conservationist is Shot in Kenya – 23 April 2017

France Confirms “Signature” of Assad Regime and Use of Sarin in Khan Sheikhoun Attack

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria — On Wednesday, April 26th, French officials stated that the chemical weapon attack in Syria earlier this month which killed eighty-nine people bears the “signature” of President Bashar al-Assad.

Samples taken from the attack site were compared to samples taken from 2013 attacks to confirm the use of sarin (Photo courtesy of CNN)


The French Foreign Ministry posted a tweet, which read “[t]here’s no doubt that Sarin was used.” The Foreign Minister of France, Mr. Jean-Marc Avrault, stated that samples had been taken from the attack site of the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun and that they matched samples which had been taken from a previous attack. Mr. Avrault noted that the French government had “definite sources” which confirmed that the procedure utilized to make the sampled Sarin is “typical of the methods developed in Syrian laboratories[.]” He indicated that they were able to compare the samples since French laboratories had stored samples taken from other chemical attacks in Syria. He added that the French government established responsibility for the attack by analyzing the method used to develop the Sarin, which “bears the signature of the regime[.]”

The French Foreign Ministry stated that samples taken from the attack site along with the blood of one of the victims confirmed that Sarin had been used in the attack. The Ministry added that the attack site and blood samples were compared with samples taken from a 2013 Syrian attack, in which three Sarin grenades were dropped from a helicopter. The French army had noted that the only forces in possession of a helicopter were the Syrian regime, and had thus concluded that the attack had been carried out by Syria.

The Ministry further added that a “warplane had been deployed from the Syrian regime’s Shayrat airbase on the morning of April 4[.]” The statement indicated that the plane had executed up to six airstrikes in the area of Khan Sheikhoun, and that only the Syrian regime is in possession of such assets.

A report released by French intelligence services alleges that the Sarin, or similar substance, used in the attack came from “hidden stockpiles of chemical weapons[.]” Syria had been required to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 after 1,400 people had been killed in an attack in Damascus.

Western countries have been blaming this month’s Sarin attack on the Syrian government. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), however, indicated that its international chemical weapons inspectors had found “incontrovertible evidence that Sarin, or a similar substance,” had been used in the chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun. After testing samples gathered from the attack site, scientists from the United Kingdom had previously confirmed that Sarin, or a similar chemical, had been used. The French Foreign Ministry stated that its “independent investigation” supported “with certainty[,]” the findings of the United States, United Kingdom, Turkey and the OPCW. Syria, on the other hand, has maintained its long-standing position that it is not in possession of any chemical weapons, and has denied any involvement in the Khan Sheikhoun attack, dismissing allegations as “fabrication[.]”

For more information, please see:

Los Angeles Times—Syrian chemical attack bears Assad’s signature, France says—26 April 2017

ABC News—French intelligence says Syria behind the deadly sarin gas attack—26 April 2017

CNN—France ‘has proof’ Assad regime was behind Syria chemical weapon attack—26 April 2017

The Washington Post—Samples from Syria’s deadly sarin attack bear Assad’s ‘signature,’ France says—26 April 2017

BBC News—Syrian government made Sarin used in Khan Sheikhoun, France says—26 April 2017