Atrocity Alert No. 111: Myanmar (Burma), Nigeria and Syria

27 June 2018

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

Sanctions and accountability for atrocities in Myanmar (Burma)

On Monday, 25 June, the European Union (EU) and Canada imposed sanctions on seven senior members of Myanmar’s military and police, including the former head of the army’s Western Command, Major General Maung Maung Soe, who was also sanctioned by the United States in December 2017. The sanctioned individuals are all banned from traveling to the EU and face asset freezes.

According to the EU, the officials were targeted “because of their involvement in or association with atrocities and serious human rights violations committed against the Rohingya population in Rakhine State in the second half of 2017.” Six of the sanctioned officers are also on the list of thirteen officials identified by Amnesty International on 27 June as having command responsibility for atrocities committed in Myanmar.

Since so-called “clearance operations” began in Rakhine State on 25 August 2017 Myanmar’s security forces have committed mass killings, sexual violence and the systematic burning of at least 362 Rohingya villages. These crimes may amount to genocide.

Following the announcement of the new sanctions the Myanmar military reported that it had fired Major General Maung Maung Soe for under-performance of duties. Another sanctioned officer, Lieutenant General Aung Kyaw Zaw, was reportedly “given permission to resign” in May, according to a statement by the military.

The sanctions represent an important step by members of the international community in response to atrocities committed by the Myanmar authorities against the Rohingya population. The firing of Major General Maung Maung Soe was perceived to be in direct response to Monday’s announcement. However, more than ten months since the beginning of the “clearance operations” that forcibly displaced over 700,000 Rohingya, there has still been no legal accountability for the perpetrators.

The firing or retirement of a few generals does not constitute a credible justice process. The UN Security Council should immediately refer the situation in Rakhine State to the International Criminal Court for investigation. The Council should also impose an arms embargo on Myanmar and targeted sanctions on all senior military officers with command responsibility for atrocities committed against the Rohingya. All states with bilateral ties with Myanmar should follow the example of the EU and Canada and immediately impose similar sanctions.

Increasing inter-communal violence in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt”

Since last Thursday, 21 June, at least 104 people have been killed in Nigeria’s Plateau and Adamawa states following deadly clashes between local farmers and semi-nomadic herdsmen. More than 50 homes were also burned down in several villages during the violence between Fulani herdsmen and ethnic Berom farmers.

Recurring conflict in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt” region is often rooted in historical grievances over land-use and resource allocation. These disputes have been exacerbated by growing desertification in the north of Nigeria, which has driven many ethnic Fulani herdsmen, who are mainly Muslim, southward into areas traditionally farmed by settled communities that are predominately Christian. The competition for scarce resources has resulted in an increasing number of deadly clashes and has sharpened religious and ethnic tensions. According to International Crisis Group, since 2011 an average of 2,000 people have been killed per year in fighting between herders and settled farming communities in Nigeria.

The Nigerian government is currently dealing with multiple security threats that continue to place civilians at risk of mass atrocity crimes. In addition to the herder-farmer violence, the nine-year conflict between the extremist group Boko Haram and the Nigerian security forces continues in the northeast. Widespread banditry in the central and northern regions of the country has also resulted in civilian deaths, including a 1 June attack in Zamfara State that killed over 20 people. During the 25 June UN General Assembly formal debate on the Responsibility to Protect, the Nigerian delegation acknowledged these challenges and pledged to uphold its responsibility to protect all vulnerable civilians.

The Nigerian government should intensify programs that strengthen local security and bolster the rule of law. It is also essential to address the root causes of recurring conflict in the “Middle Belt” region through socio-economic initiatives and political reforms that tackle land rights and poor governance, as well as access to employment and educational opportunities. The government should also intensify efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, including by accelerating regional initiatives aimed at restoring environments affected by drought and desertification.

Syrian civilians in Dera’a governorate face renewed airstrikes

Now in its eighth year, the Syrian civil war continues to leave civilians facing mass displacement, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Last Friday, 22 June, Syrian government forces launched a military offensive on Dera’a governorate in the southwest of the country, shelling opposition-held territory within the region for the first time in nearly a year. Due to an agreement between Jordan, Russia and the United States, Dera’a was formally designated a “de-escalation zone” in July 2017.

Government airstrikes, including improvised “barrel bombs,” have been used to target Dera’a city and the town of Busra al-Harir. At least 30 people have been killed and over 45,000 have fled towards Syria’s southern border. The government of Jordan, which is already hosting over 666,500 displaced Syrians, has declared that they are unable to take any further refugees.

In preparation for the southern offensive, Syrian government forces dropped leaflets over Dera’a governorate warning of impending attacks and comparing the area to eastern Ghouta, which was recaptured by government forces in May 2018. The Human Rights Council-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Syria released a report last week detailing extensive war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by government forces in eastern Ghouta, including indiscriminate attacks on civilians and the denial of food and medicine to besieged populations.

Because of twelve Russian vetoes, the UN Security Council remains incapable of taking action to halt further atrocities in Syria. Nevertheless, as the offensive on Dera’a continues the Council should urgently mandate the deployment of UN monitors to oversee civilian evacuations and aid deliveries, and to deter human rights abuses. All those responsible for atrocities in Syria, regardless of position or affiliation, must be held accountable for their actions, including via the UN General Assembly’s International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to assist in the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators.

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect


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