Syria Deeply Weekly Update: U.S. first strike against Assad, suspected chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun and $6 billion pledged for Syria at Brussels donor conference

Syria Deeply
Apr. 10th, 2017
 
Welcome to our weekly summary of Syria Deeply’s coverage of the crisis in Syria.
U.S. Strikes Assad: The United States fired 59 cruise missiles on the Shayrat airfield in Homs province early on Friday. President Donald Trump said the Syrian government airbase had been used to launch a deadly chemical weapons attack on rebel-held Idlib earlier this week.
Despite the Pentagon’s claim that the U.S. warned Russia prior to the strike, the move damaged relations between Washington and Moscow, according to President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, who said the attack was “aggression against a sovereign nation” on a “made-up pretext.”
U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson said the strike should not be taken as a change in U.S. policy in Syria “or our posture relative to our military activities in Syria today.”
Khan Sheikhoun: A suspected chemical weapon attack in Khan Sheikhoun on Tuesday killed at least 87 people. One doctor who treated victims of the alleged attack said that his critical patients exhibited signs of exposure to a nerve agent, particularly Sarin gas.
The alleged chemical attack in Idlib province sparked worldwide outrage and prompted the first direct U.S. military strike against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres said that the international community must come to the conclusion that “war crimes are going on in Syria.”
On Friday, air raids reportedly hit Khan Sheikhoun again. There is no information on casualties yet, nor is it clear whether the planes were Russian or Syrian.
Syrian government warplanes hit Eastern Ghouta, the last rebel enclave in the Damascus suburbs, this week. At least 22 people were killed in airstrikes on various towns in the area – with the highest number of victims in Douma – on Monday and at least another 18 people, including five children, were killed in raids on the town of Saqba on Wednesday.
Donors Conference: International donors met in Brussels on Tuesday for a two-day conference aimed at supporting the future of Syria. The United Nations appealed to donors from the E.U. and Gulf countries to reach their pledge goal of $8 billion; however, the conference ended on Wednesday with a $6 billion pledge. Last year’s conference in London raised $11 billion.

Syrian Network for Human Rights: Following Khan Sheikhoun, the Syrian Regime Carries Out yet another Chemical Attack

No more than 72 hours have passed since the chemical attack that the Syrian regime warplanes carried out in Khan Sheikhoun city in Idlib governorate, and the Syrian regime is challenging the international community again, using chemical weapons in an attack on al Qaboun neighborhood in the capital Damascus.

SNHR recorded that on Friday, April 7, 2017, approximately at 16:00, Syrian regime forces used two hand grenades loaded with a poison gas on the eastern battlefront of al Qaboun neighborhood, which caused two armed opposition fighters to exhibit symptoms such as suffocation, breathing difficulties, and severe coughing.

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WAER: Syracuse Law Professor Endorses Legality of U.S. Missile Strikes Against Syria

Professor has more than 30 years of experience in the federal government and has been a professor at Syracuse Law since 2006.
CREDIT DAVID CRANE / NEWHOUSE CENTER FOR GLOBAL ENGAGEMENT

The chemical attack in Syria is being called a crime on humanity by a Syracuse University International law expert, who says from a moral aspect Bashar al-Assad needs to be stopped. Thursday night, President Trump ordered a missile strike against Syria as a response to the chemical weapon attack.  Syracuse University Law Professor David Crane says from a legal perspective international law does allow the United States’ reprisal.

From a practical, political point of view, the U.S. needed to be seen as a player in this part of the world. It had not been a player for many, many years particularly when President Obama had essentially pulled us out of the situation by drawing that line in the sand and then doing nothing when gas was last used against the Syrian people.”

Crane is also the founder of an international organization that operates out of Syracuse University called the Syrian Accountability Project. He says they have been monitoring war crimes there since 2011. Over 55 law students have been involved in creating a trial packet for a future international prosecutor, an effort recognized by the United Nations.  Crane says they’re drafting indictments for all 13 warring parties, including an indictment against Assad.

 “We have an indictment against President Assad which we modify over time and adjust based on the crimes he’s been committing, and certainly the incident that took place this week will be one of the center points in his indictment.”

Crane says the United States action could break the ice and force Russia and Iran to take action. On the other hand, now that the U.S. has proven to be a player in the region; they might have Russia, Iran, or Assad looking over their shoulders.

”There’s going to be consequences now and even though the U.N. paradigm says that we only use force as a last resort, we try to settle our disputes peacefully; at the end of the day, sometimes the use of force is required to cause another nation state to stop killing their own citizens.”

United States representative John Katko released a statement calling the U.S strike ‘a proportional response’ and urges the administration to articulate its strategy moving forward:

“The horrific and barbaric chemical attacks by the Assad regime against innocent civilians, including children, warranted strong and measured action.  Targeted U.S. strikes on the air base from which these chemical attacks emanated were a proportional response to this horrible atrocity.  Given the complexity of the conflict in Syria, I urge the Administration to articulate its strategy moving forward.  As always, our Armed Forces acted bravely, professionally, and successfully, and I remain committed to ensuring they have the resources to be safe and successful.” 

Senator Schumer released a similar statement regarding the U.S. response to the Assad regime:

“Making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do.‎

It is incumbent on the Trump administration to come up with a strategy and consult with Congress before implementing it. I salute the professionalism and skill of our Armed Forces who took action today.”

Senator Gillibrand’s statement on the issue closely follows Senator Schumer’s, vilifying the crimes of the Assad regime while clearly signaling to the Trump Administration that she strongly disapproves of these actions happening without Congressional Authorization:

The chemical attacks by the Assad regime in Syria are unconscionable atrocities and a direct violation of international law; these attacks demand a firm response from the U.S. and the world community.

However, unilateral military action by the U.S. in a Middle East conflict causes grave concern, given the lack of any Authorization for Use of Military Force from Congress and the absence of any long-term plan or strategy to address any consequences from such unilateral action.

Furthermore, there is no ‘military only’ solution to the suffering in Syria. The American people need answers from the administration about their plan here and how they will bring coalition partners to the table for a long-term diplomatic solution .

Human Rights Watch: URGENT SYRIA UPDATE

Syria: Chemicals sicken hundreds. Dozens are dead.
Syria Update: Chemicals Kill Dozens
Dear David,

I’m sure you’ve heard the news. Dozens of children, women, and men were killed this week from exposure to toxic chemicals in Khan Sheikhoun, a town controlled by armed groups fighting Syrian government forces in northern Syria.

Since then we have been reaching out to speak with victims, their relatives, first responders, and medical personnel to find out exactly what happened. The human toll is devastating.

This morning we reached a young mother who told us that she was sleeping on the first floor of their house with her family when they suddenly heard a loud explosion and the windows blew open. She told us:

“It felt like the air had weight. It got harder to breathe and tears were running down our faces and our eyes were burning. My son, who is one year and ten months, was running around. I couldn’t see because of the tears. He was screaming ‘Mom! Dad!’”
She and her husband and their son survived, but she shared with us the names of 19 of their family members and relatives who died.

Our contacts on the ground are saying that Syrian government planes dropped the chemicals. There are still many unanswered questions. But we won’t stop until we get to the truth.

After six years of conflict — with hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced — chemical attacks have become a regular occurrence in Syria, despite being prohibited by international law. Our researchers have exposed to the world that Syrian government forces have carried out chemical attacks on numerous occasions, as has the Islamic State.

If this is indeed a large-scale chemical attack, it would be one of the deadliest in the Syrian conflict.

Human Rights Watch is calling on the United Nations Security Council—including Russia and China—to condemn this latest attack, demand that Syria fully cooperate with investigators, and support steps to hold those responsible for these atrocities to account.

As this urgent crisis continues to unfold, we will keep you informed and alert you on ways to take action.

Thank you for standing with us.

Ole Solvang
Deputy Director, Emergencies Division
Human Rights Watch
@olesolvang

Justice for Sergei Magnitsky: Crane 1 of 1 Canadian Parliament Formally Recommends the Canadian Government Adopt Magnitsky Sanctions Against Human Rights Violators

Canadian Parliament Formally Recommends the Canadian Government Adopt Magnitsky Sanctions Against Human Rights Violators

6 April 2017 – Today, the Canadian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs has issued a formal recommendation to the Canadian government to update the existing sanctions legislation with the Magnitsky sanctions against human rights violators.

In their recommendation, the Committee said: “In honour of Sergei Magnitsky, the Government of Canada should amend the Special Economic Measures Act to expand the scope under which sanctions measures can be enacted, including in cases of gross human rights violations.”

The Magnitsky recommendations include:
1) Freezing assets of human rights violators,
2) Banning their entry to Canada,
3) Publishing a list of people and entities subject to these sanctions, and
4) Conducting an annual review of the Canadian government’s enforcement of the legislation.

The recommendation was inspired by the case of Sergei Magnitsky in Russia, but has been expanded to apply to human rights violators globally.

The Committee concluded:

“While originally focused on addressing the human rights situation in Russia, catalysed by the tragic case of Sergei Magnitsky, this movement now calls for the application of sanctions against human rights violators globally, and was instrumental in the passing of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act in the U.S.”

The report by Canada’s Foreign Affairs Committee cites William Browder, leader of the global Magnitsky Justice Campaign:

“Effectively, with a Magnitsky act, whether it be a Russian act specifically or a global act, it would give people some hope that in Canada, the United States, and other places, people do care.”

The Canadian Magnitsky Recommendation is a result of a five-month review of the sanctions regime conducted in the Canada’s House of Commons.

“The Committee heard compelling testimony from a number of highly-respected human rights activists regarding how sanctions can be a potentially valuable tool in the promotion and protection of human rights. They recommended that Canada expand the legislative authority under which the government can impose sanctions against human rights violators,” says the Foreign Affairs Committee report.

The report by the Foreign Affairs Committee quotes Zhanna Nemtsova, founder of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, named after her father, a Russian pro-democracy advocate who was murdered in 2015, saying:

“These are not sanctions against a country or even a government. These are sanctions against specific individuals responsible for corruption and for abusing human rights.”

The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs was tasked with the review of the sanctions regime on 14 April 2016 by the Canada’s House of Commons.

The Committee held the review from October 2016, by conducting 13 hearings where different experts testified on the legislation. The committee assessed related policy issues from government officials, academics, researchers, stakeholders and practitioners.

Today, the Committee published its final report recommending the Government adopts the Magnitsky sanctions.

As part of its recommendations, the Foreign Affairs Committee called for the Government to publish a list of sanctioned persons:

“The Government of Canada should produce and maintain a comprehensive, public and easily accessible list of all individuals and entities targeted by Canadian sanctions containing all information necessary to assist with the proper identification of those listed.”

The Foreign Affairs Committee also recommended that the Government publishes an annual report on the implementation of the sanctions regime.

“The Government of Canada should amend the Special Economic Measures Act to require the production of an annual report by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to be tabled in each House of Parliament within six months of the fiscal year-end, which would detail the objectives of all orders and regulations made pursuant to that Act and actions taken for their implementation.”

The next step is for the Canadian government to consider the parliament’s recommendation and draft legislation.

For more information, please contact:

Justice for Sergei Magnitsky
+44 207 440 1777
e-mail: info@lawandorderinrussia.org
www.lawandorderinrussia.org
billbrowder.com
Twitter.com/Billbrowder

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect: Atrocity Alert: Syria

Atrocity Alert, No. 49, 5 April 2017

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.

Syria

On 4 April a suspected chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government took place in the town of Khan Shaykhun in Idlib province. The attack killed at least 60 people, including 11 children. Eyewitness reports, videos and photographic evidence appear to show victims suffering from symptoms consistent with severe exposure to a nerve agent, such as sarin gas. It was also reported that hours later an airstrike targeted a local medical facility treating victims of the attack.

If verified, Khan Shaykhun would be the deadliest chemical weapons attack to take place in Syria since August 2013, when more than 1,000 people were killed in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta during a sarin attack. Despite the Syrian government agreeing to surrender its chemical weapons in the aftermath of that attack, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Joint Investigative Mechanism (OPCW-JIM), mandated by the UN Security Council (UNSC), has determined that the Syrian government has used chlorine gas as a weapon on at least three occasions since then – in Talmenes on 21 April 2014, Qmenas on 16 March 2015, and Sarmin on 16 March 2015. The OPCW-JIM also determined that the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant used mustard gas in Marea on 21 August 2015. These attacks violate international law and directly contravene UNSC Resolution 2118 of September 2013.

The prohibition of chemical weapons is one of the oldest norms of the international community, dating back to 1899. The Geneva Protocol of 1925 reinforced the strict prohibition of chemical weapons under international law. Chemical weapons remain inherently immoral, indiscriminate and illegal. The use of chemical weapons and the deliberate targeting of medical facilities both amount to war crimes.

The failure of the Security Council to act in relation to the findings of the OPCW-JIM is leading to the normalization of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Less than two months ago, on 28 February, the United Kingdom, United States and France put forward a draft UNSC resolution that would have held accountable, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, Syrian government officials and entities linked to chemical weapons attacks that have taken place in Syria since 2013. The resolution was not adopted due to Russia and China’s sixth double-veto. As the attack in Idlib demonstrates, such vetoes shield perpetrators and perpetuate a climate of impunity.

The UNSC held an emergency meeting on 5 April during which many Council members condemned the Khan Shaykhun attack and the use of chemical weapons. A draft resolution is currently under negotiation.

We urge all Security Council members to come together to uphold their responsibility to protect civilians in Syria. The international community cannot allow the normalization of chemical warfare to continue. For the sake of the Syrian people the Security Council must speak with one voice and hold those responsible for the Khan Shaykhun attack accountable under international law.

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Syrian Network for Human Rights: No less than Nine Chemical Attacks since the Beginning of 2017

In its 4th report which was published on October 21, 2016, the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism, established in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2235 on August 7, 2015, has declared the Syrian regime responsible for three chemical attacks that took place between 2014 and 2015, and declared ISIS responsible for one attack in Marea city in Aleppo. SNHR has published a report that highlights the chemical attacks in the period of time between the 4th report and the end of 2016.

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PILPG:War Crimes Prosecution Watch Volume 12, Issue 2 – April 3, 2017

Case School of Law Logo
 
Founder/Advisor
Michael P. Scharf
 
War Crimes Prosecution Watch
Volume 12 – Issue 2
April 3, 2017
PILPG Logo
Editor-in-Chief
James Prowse
Managing Editors
Rina Mwiti
Alexandra Mooney
War Crimes Prosecution Watch is a bi-weekly e-newsletter that compiles official documents and articles from major news sources detailing and analyzing salient issues pertaining to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes throughout the world. To subscribe, please email warcrimeswatch@pilpg.org and type “subscribe” in the subject line.
Opinions expressed in the articles herein represent the views of their authors and are not necessarily those of the War Crimes Prosecution Watch staff, the Case Western Reserve University School of Law or Public International Law & Policy Group.

Contents

Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina, War Crimes Chamber

Syrian Network for Human Rights: 1134 Civilians Killed in March 2017

Introduction and Methodology

The report includes only the death toll of civilians that were killed by the main six influential parties in Syria:

Syrian regime forces (Army, Security, local militias, Shiite foreign militias)

Russian forces

Self-management forces (consisting primarily of the Democratic Union Party forces, a branch for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party)

Extremist Islamic groups

Armed opposition factions

International coalition forces

Other parties

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Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect: R2P in Focus: Accountability and R2P: Achieving Justice for the Victims of Atrocities

R2P in Focus

R2P in Focus is a monthly publication from the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect designed to highlight recent events and political developments concerning the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

Accountability and R2P: Achieving Justice for the Victims of Atrocities

Mass atrocity crimes continue to be committed against civilians in Syria, South Sudan, Yemen and several other countries.  Accountability is not only essential for victims of past atrocities but can also act as a catalyst for post-conflict reconciliation and play a key role in preventing recurrence.

In the past year international justice mechanisms have found several notable individuals guilty of command responsibility for atrocities. Examples include the March 2016 genocide conviction of Radovan Karadžić by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the May 2016 war crimes conviction of former Chadian President Hissene Habre by the Extraordinary African Chambers, and the conviction of Jean-Pierre Bemba and Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes committed in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali respectively.

In recent crisis situations, governments and the international community have utilized a variety of means to ensure accountability for mass atrocity crimes. During 2015 the transitional government of CAR passed a law on the establishment of a Special Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute atrocities committed in the country since 2003. In South Sudan’s August 2015 peace agreement, parties to the conflict agreed to the creation of a Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS), which would include domestic and international personnel, to establish responsibility for atrocities perpetrated during the country’s recent civil war.

Meanwhile, the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC) has authorized Commissions of Inquiry and fact-finding missions to document evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity, most notably in Syria, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Burundi and Eritrea. On 24 March the HRC mandated the creation of an independent fact-finding mission to investigate crimes perpetrated by the security forces in Myanmar, particularly in Rakhine State, during “clearance operations” that started in October 2016. On 21 December 2016 the UN General Assembly also passed a resolution to establish an independent international mechanism to collect evidence of atrocities in Syria, in order to enable future prosecutions of perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

While some of these mechanisms have faced significant constraints in resources, and some continue to face political opposition, efforts to ensure accountability for grave international crimes should remain a global priority. The international community should continue to support the battle against impunity, including through providing funding for the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for accountability in Syria and encouraging the AU to establish the HCSS.

The Fight Against Impunity for Atrocities: Bringing Da’esh to Justice

On 9 March the Permanent Missions of the United Kingdom, Iraq, Belgium, Canada and Germany, in association with the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, co-hosted a high-level event entitled “The Fight Against Impunity for Atrocities: Bringing Da’esh to Justice.” Participants were briefed by the co-hosts along with the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sexual Violence in Conflict, Ms. Zainab Bangura, UNODC Goodwill Ambassador and Yazidi Genocide survivor, Ms. Nadia Murad Basee Taha, and Barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, Ms. Amal Clooney. Global Centre Executive Director, Dr. Simon Adams, moderated the discussion.

Speakers focused their remarks on efforts to hold Da’esh accountable for their crimes in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, including under universal jurisdiction. Dr. Adams, Ms. Murad and Ms. Clooney all called for the Iraqi government to request the UN Security Council establish an international mechanism to investigate Da’esh’s crimes in the country, including the genocide against the Yazidis.

Seventh Annual Meeting of the Global Network of R2P Focal Points

The seventh annual meeting of the Global Network of R2P Focal Points will be held in Doha, Qatar, from 24 to 25 June 2017. The Government of the State of Qatar will co-host the meeting along with the Global Centre. More than 50 R2P Focal Points from around the world were invited to attend.

Any Other Business

  • Sixth Anniversary of the Conflict in Syria. On 15 March the conflict in Syria entered its seventh year. Violations of human rights, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, have become a daily occurrence in Syria. On 28 February, Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution aiming to hold perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria accountable. This was the sixth double veto by Russia and China of a UNSC resolution on Syria since 2011. Russia also independently vetoed another Syria resolution on 8 October 2016. Click here to view our statement.
  •  Joint NGO Letter to the UN Security Council on the Situation in Burundi. On 8 March the Global Centre joined 18 other NGOs to call on the UN Security Council to impose targeted sanctions on perpetrators of human rights abuses in Burundi.

Calendar Highlights

7 April

International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda

17 April

Cambodian Genocide Remembrance Day

24-25 April

Seventh Meeting of the Global Network of R2P Focal Points

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Syria Justice and Accountability Centre: Bridging the Digital Divide of Human Rights Documentation in Syria

SJAC Update | March 30, 2017
DatNav Arabic cover. Photo from The Engine Room.
Bridging the Digital Divide of Human Rights Documentation in Syria
This week in Brussels, human rights and technology organizations convened at RightsCon to hear about the latest developments at the intersection of the Internet and human rights. At the same time, a collaborative effort between Amnesty InternationalBenetech, and The Engine Room released the Arabic version of DatNav: How to navigate digital data for human rights research. DatNav was created in May 2016, and brings together 70 leaders of the human rights, technology, and data communities representing over 40 organizations.  The translation of DatNav into Arabic is made possible by Meedan, a group building digital tools for global journalism and translation.
The translation of DatNav gives Syrian civil society groups greater access to information about the benefits and limitations of a variety of digital tools. DatNav Arabic also provides advice on how groups with limited resources can still leverage digital data in their documentation work. The guide, however, is not a replacement for a sound documentation methodology. Rather, DatNav unlocks the ability of documentation groups to understand how digital data can contribute to information about human rights violations, including by strengthening the veracity of traditional documentation methods like interviews.
DatNav is not only a valuable resource for civil society; when the UN’s new International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) begins developing its methodology for building case files through documentation collection and analysis, it will be confronted with an enormous challenge given the large volume of information that has emerged from Syria and the variety of digital resources available, including satellite imagery, social media data, and telephone records. Given that the IIIM’s mandate is broader than the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria (COI-Syria), many groups have suggested that the UN create a technology task force for the IIIM to assess the different digital tools available. It is also critical that the IIIM reach out to existing documentation groups to understand what types of data have been collected to date and how to prioritize its collection and analysis in order to complement what has already been achieved.
READ MORE
The Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) is a Syrian-led and multilaterally supported nonprofit that envisions a Syria where people live in a state defined by justice, respect for human rights, and rule of law. SJAC collects, analyzes, and preserves human rights law violations by all parties in the conflict — creating a central repository to strengthen accountability and support transitional justice and peace-building efforts. SJAC also conducts research to better understand Syrian opinions and perspectives, provides expertise and resources, conducts awareness-raising activities, and contributes to the development of locally appropriate transitional justice and accountability mechanisms. Contact us at info@syriaaccountability.org.

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect: Atrocity Alert: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen and Iraq

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.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Violence between security forces and the Kamuina Nsapu militia poses an escalating risk to civilians in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Local authorities reportedly found at least 40 police officers killed and beheaded on 25 March after their convoy was ambushed by the militia. Earlier in March two members of the UN’s Panel of Experts on the DRC were abducted along with four Congolese colleagues in Kasai-Central province. On 28 March the UN confirmed it had discovered the bodies of the two UN investigators near Kananga. At least 10 mass graves have been discovered in the region and more than 400 people have been killed by Kamuina Nsapu since July.

Violence and instability in eastern DRC is increasing as talks in Kinshasa on the implementation of a 31 December agreement regarding the country’s elections are falling apart. As the UN Security Council votes to extend the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC this week, it must consider the growing risk of further atrocities and ensure that civilian protection remains at the core of the UN’s mission in the DRC.

Yemen

Sunday, 26 March, marked two years since the escalation of the conflict in Yemen, where Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh have been engaged in an ongoing armed conflict with the UN-recognized government backed by a Saudi-led military coalition. In the past two years over 4,700 civilians have been killed, including more than 1,500 children. Over 3.1 million Yemenis have been forcibly displaced, and an estimated 18.8 million people – over 75 percent of the population – require humanitarian assistance. According to the UN, approximately 7 million Yemenis are now at risk of starvation, including 462,000 children who are at risk of death due to severe acute malnutrition.

Yemen remains a politically neglected, and under-reported, crisis. It is imperative that the UN, the Security Council and regional powers facilitate a permanent ceasefire and a return to political negotiations; urge parties to enable unhindered humanitarian access; and establish a UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate atrocities committed since the start of the conflict. UN member states must also immediately halt the sale of weapons to parties to the conflict who have been implicated in atrocities in Yemen.

Iraq

On 25 March the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) had temporarily paused military operations in western Mosul due to a sharp increase in civilian casualties. An estimated 500 civilians were reportedly killed in airstrikes during the week beginning on 19 March. Particular concern has also been expressed over reports of a massive airstrike in the al-Jadidah district of Mosul that took place on 17 March, where up to 200 civilians may have been killed. On 28 March a senior United States commander in Iraq conceded that that a US airstrike had likely contributed to civilian casualties.

The so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), who remain in control of most of western Mosul, refuses to comply with international humanitarian law and continues to commit war crimes, including targeting civilians as they try to flee.

As the battle for Mosul continues, members of the US-led coalition and the ISF must ensure their military operations fully comply with their obligations under international law. All potential violations, including possible war crimes, must be thoroughly investigated.

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Syria Deeply: Rebels launch fresh offensives, the war on ISIS opens a new front and geopolitical tensions are increasing

Syria Deeply
Mar. 24th, 2017
 
Dear Readers: Here’s your weekly update on the war in Syria.
New Offensives: Syrian opposition forces launched two new offensives this week, both spearheaded by Tahrir al-Sham, a coalition of rebel and jihadist factions led by al-Qaida’s former affiliate in Syria.
On Tuesday, jihadist and rebel forces advanced on Syrian military positions north of Hama, and have since taken control of at least 11 villages. Clashes between pro-government forces and several rebel units including “non-Syrian groups” were continuing on Friday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
On Sunday, Tahrir al-Sham launched a surprise offensive on government positions in eastern Damascus. Pro-government forces regained control of the area by Sunday night, but rebels began a new push toward the capital on Tuesday, advancing on a major road in an attempt to retake lost territory. Government forces retaliated with heavy airstrikes on Jobar, where rebels have been under pressure to surrender to the government.
War on ISIS: The Pentagon said it dropped fighters with the United States-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) close to the Tabqa dam, opening a new front in the battle against the so-called Islamic State near the militants’ de facto capital of Raqqa. French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday that the battle for Raqqa “will start in the coming days.”
At least 33 people were reported to have been killed in an airstrike on a school sheltering displaced people in the village of al-Mansoura, near Raqqa, on Monday night. The SOHR said the U.S.-led coalition is believed to have carried out the attack. The United Kingdom-based monitor said that at least 152 people, including 19 children and 28 women, have been killed in U.S.-led coalition airstrikes between March 8 and March 24.
The Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a major part of the U.S.-backed SDF, said Russia was training its fighters in Afrin, a Kurdish area in the northwest of Aleppo. Russia’s defense ministry confirmed that its forces had been deployed in the area, claiming that it is a part of its “Center for Reconciliation,” used to negotiate local truces and monitor cease-fire violations.
Geopolitical Tensions: Russia’s move to train the Kurds is likely to anger Turkey, which considers the YPG a terrorist group. Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Huseyin Muftuoglu described pictures of Russian soldiers with Kurdish fighters as “unpleasant,” and on Thursday Turkey summoned the Russian envoy in Ankara after a sniper in Afrin reportedly killed a Turkish soldier.
Israel challenged reports from earlier in the week saying Russia would no longer allow it to operate without restrictions in Syria’s airspace. On Tuesday, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country would continue to target Hezbollah weapon convoys in Syria.
Read our daily Executive Summaries

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EDITOR’S PICKS

Community Insight
Alexander Bratersky,  Senior Foreign Policy Writer, Gazeta.Ru
Though Russia is able to sustain its military support for President Bashar al-Assad, growing frustration at Moscow’s involvement in Syria is pushing the Kremlin to declare the war resolved sooner rather than later, writes Russian political expert Alexander Bratersky.
Kim Bode,  Community Editor of Syria Deeply and Refugees Deeply
Filmmakers Sara Afshar and Nicola Cutcher spent two years interviewing survivors of Syrian detention centers and the families of detainees and defectors from the regime for their documentary “Syria’s Disappeared: The Case Against Assad.”
Frederic C. Hof,  Director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East
March 15 marked the sixth anniversary of the war in Syria. The Atlantic Council’s Faysal Itani spoke to former Ambassador Frederic C. Hof about how the war has impacted the region, the broader international community and the United States’ position.
Oula Abu-Amsha,  Syrian Professor of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics
While struggling to restart her career in Europe, Syrian academic Oula Abu-Amsha found solace helping refugees in Jordan access higher education through the Jamiya Project and was reunited with her former students from Damascus University.
FIRST LOOK
Upcoming coverage
In the coming weeks, we will keep a close eye on the rebel offensives in Damascus and Hama, as well as the situation in the opposition-held province of Idlib. We will also monitor the latest round of U.N.-sponsored peace talks that started in Geneva on Thursday.