From 28 April to 2 May the UN Security Council (UNSC) visited Bangladesh and Myanmar. The trip focused on the Rohingya refugee crisis. During so-called “clearance operations” in Rakhine State late last year, Myanmar’s security forces systematically targeted the ethnic Rohingya community and engaged in the unlawful killing of civilians, mass displacement, sexual violence, and the burning of at least 360 villages. More than 688,000 Rohingya refugees fled to Bangladesh between August and December as a result of this persecution and violence.
During a meeting with UNSC members the Commander in Chief of Myanmar’s armed forces, General Min Aung Hlaing, responded to allegations of widespread sexual violence against the Rohingya, saying that such acts were “not tolerated” by his forces. Nevertheless, more than eight months since the beginning of “clearance operations” in Rakhine State there has been no accountability for those with command responsibility for mass atrocity crimes committed against the Rohingya.
Impunity for atrocities committed in Rakhine State has emboldened Myanmar’s army to use excessive force in other parts of the country. Renewed fighting in Kachin State between Myanmar’s military and an ethnic armed group, the Kachin Independence Army, has displaced more than 5,000 people since early April, with reports of civilians unable to flee areas affected by the fighting. On 1 May the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, voiced concern at reports that the army was conducting aerial bombing and directing artillery fire on civilian populated areas in Kachin State. The army has also prevented humanitarian relief from reaching Kachin civilians.
The intentional targeting of civilians, preventing civilians from fleeing conflict zones, and blocking humanitarian assistance from reaching affected populations in Kachin State may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. In response to evidence of mass atrocity crimes in Rakhine State and the developing situation in Kachin State, the UNSC should urgently refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.
At the end of April the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) found five possible mass graves in the northeastern province of Ituri. MONUSCO also reported that at least 120 towns and villages in Ituri have been pillaged and destroyed since the outbreak of violence between the Hema and Lendu communities in December 2017. This fighting has led to the deaths of more than 260 people and displaced tens of thousands, including more than 60,000 people who have fled across Lake Albert into Uganda.
The Hema and Lendu ethnic groups have a long history of conflict, including several years of intense fighting in the late 1990s that resulted in thousands of deaths. The Hema are predominately pastoralists and the Lendu are mainly farmers, with longstanding disputes regarding access to land, cattle grazing rights, mining and political representation in Ituri province.
Recent fighting between the two communities has contributed to the ongoing deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the DRC. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, over 13 million people are currently in need of humanitarian assistance and 4.5 million people are displaced. During a 13 April Humanitarian Conference on the DRC, co-hosted by the European Union and the UN, donors pledged $528 million for 2018. However, the President of the DRC, Joseph Kabila, boycotted the conference due to his perception that the humanitarian crisis was “overstated” by foreigners.
The DRC government and MONUSCO should urgently deploy additional troops to Ituri province in order to prevent further inter-communal violence. The government should implement measures to mediate inter-communal tensions and address structural issues of land access, resource allocation and poor governance in Ituri province. As the DRC prepares for long overdue elections in December this year, the government must ensure that all Congolese people are able to safely exercise their right to vote.
On Tuesday, 1 May, at least 16 people, including a local priest, were killed when unidentified gunmen attacked worshipers at a Catholic church in Bangui, the capital of CAR. At least 99 people who were attending mass at the time of the attack were wounded.
The Notre Dame de Fatima church, which is near the predominately Muslim PK5 neighbourhood, was previously attacked in May 2014 when a priest and a dozen churchgoers were killed. According to the UN Mission in CAR (MINUSCA), Tuesday’s attack followed the arrest of a member of an armed group in PK5 earlier that day.
Tensions have remained high in Bangui as a result of violence between MINUSCA troops and armed groups in PK5. A MINUSCA operation during early April to disarm criminal gangs and armed militias in the neighborhood left one UN peacekeeper and more than twenty PK5 residents dead. On 11 April angry protesters from PK5 left the dead bodies of a number of residents outside MINUSCA headquarters.
It is estimated that 70 percent of CAR remains under the control of competing predatory armed groups, with many organized on the basis of ethnic or religious identity. The UN Panel of Experts on CAR has also reported that hate speech and incitement to ethnic and religious based violence have reached unprecedented levels.
Notwithstanding its numerous reconstruction, reconciliation and security challenges, the CAR government must prosecute all those who incite or organize ethnic and religious based violence. MINUSCA should continue to disarm and demobilise armed groups, and assist the authorities in ending the cycle of impunity, including via the Special Criminal Court, a hybrid judicial mechanism created in 2015 to prosecute those responsible for mass atrocities.
On Monday, 30 April, two suicide bombings carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Khorasan (ISIL-K) in the Afghan capital of Kabul killed at least 25 civilians. Nine journalists were killed in the second bombing after arriving on the scene of the first, in what was the deadliest attack on the media in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
These deadly bombings come a week after at least 57 people were killed at a voter registration center in the largely Shia Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood of Kabul in another ISIL-K attack. Targeting journalists, religious minorities and citizens exercising their right to participate in elections is an attack on freedom of expression and may amount to war crimes.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has reported that between 1 January and 31 March, casualties due to attacks that deliberately target civilians, perpetrated by anti-government armed groups, have more than doubled as compared to the same period during 2017.
The international community must continue to provide support to the Afghan government to help combat ISIL-K, the Taliban and other armed extremist groups. Increased efforts should be undertaken to protect civilians’ right to freedom of expression, especially in advance of the October 2018 parliamentary and district elections. Countering violent extremism while promoting good governance and the rule of law remains essential.