Atrocity Alert No. 116: Yemen, Nigeria and Central African Republic

1 August 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.

Yemen “one airstrike away from an unstoppable epidemic”

On Friday, 27 July, the Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates-led military coalition resumed airstrikes on the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, following a nearly four week pause in military operations around the Houthi-controlled city of 600,000 people. The latest airstrikes damaged a health center and a crucial water supply station, among other civilian infrastructure.

Yemen is currently the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, with at least 8.4 million people at risk of famine. Hodeidah is the entry port for approximately 80 percent of the food and fuel imports upon which over 22 million Yemenis in need of aid depend. The renewed offensive on Hodeidah places millions at risk of starvation and a new outbreak of cholera, which has already led to the deaths of 2,300 people since May 2017. On 29 July Lise Grande, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, warned that the situation was potentially “one airstrike away from an unstoppable epidemic.”

Since 2015 all parties to the conflict in Yemen have used indiscriminate weapons in civilian populated areas and have targeted civilian infrastructure, amounting to possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. The UN estimates that at least 10,000 people have been killed since 2015, although the actual death toll is assumed to be much higher. Renewed hostilities in Hodeidah could potentially violate UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions 2140 and 2216, regarding obstruction of the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Despite the risk of famine, a catastrophic cholera outbreak, and ongoing war crimes, the UNSC has not passed a substantive resolution on Yemen since April 2015. UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths will brief the Council this Thursday, 2 August. The UNSC should demand an immediate end to attacks on Hodeidah, call on all parties to uphold their obligations under International Humanitarian Law, and immediately impose sanctions on those responsible for potential war crimes, including the deliberate obstruction of vital humanitarian aid.

Farmer-Herder violence in Nigeria now killing more people than Boko Haram

Conflict between farmers and herders across the “Middle Belt” region of Nigeria continues to pose a growing threat to civilians. During the first half of 2018 an estimated 300,000 people have been displaced and more than 1,300 killed due to violence between settled farming communities and semi-nomadic herders, according to a new report by International Crisis Group (ICG). The death toll from this conflict is six times higher than that from Boko Haram-related violence during the same period.

The farmer-herder conflict is rooted in grievances over land use and resource allocation, which has been exacerbated by the southward migration of herders due to desertification and insecurity in the north of Nigeria. As most herders are ethnic Fulani Muslims and the majority of farming communities are Christians from various ethnic groups, the conflict risks escalating into wider identity-based violence. The rapid growth of ethnic militias and the introduction of anti-grazing laws have exacerbated tensions. As a result, civilians across Nigeria’s Middle Belt face a growing threat of mass atrocity crimes.

Increasing conflict between farmers and herders was recently highlighted by the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS). According to UNOWAS, during the first half of 2018 the conflict increased “in frequency, intensity, complexity and geographic scope” across the Sahel region, but especially in Nigeria. ICG’s report detailed the evolution of “premeditated scorched-earth campaigns” in Nigeria that now pose “a grave threat to the country’s stability and unity.”

The Nigerian government must improve efforts to defuse tensions in affected Middle Belt communities, and increase security across the region. The government should also intensify efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, including by accelerating regional initiatives aimed at restoring environments in the north of the country affected by drought and desertification.

Increasing attacks on aid workers and civilians in Central African Republic 

On Friday, 27 July, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs expressed alarm regarding a significant increase in attacks on humanitarian workers across the Central African Republic (CAR), reporting that 118 incidents took place between April and June. According to the Aid Worker Security Database, five humanitarian workers have also been killed since the beginning of 2018, making CAR one of the most dangerous countries in the world for such work.

The significant increase in attacks – including murder, armed robberies and kidnapping – is part of a general deterioration of the security situation across CAR. In its July 2018 report the UN Panel of Experts on CAR expressed concern about “serious outbreaks of violence” over the past months, including in areas that were previously considered to be improving. Ongoing indiscriminate attacks against civilians and widespread sexual violence constitute serious violations of international law. Targeted attacks on aid workers have also forced many humanitarian agencies to reduce their operations, increasing the vulnerability of affected civilians.

All parties to the conflict – including ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka armed groups and their affiliates – must ensure full respect for International Humanitarian Law, including the strict prohibition against targeting protected humanitarian personnel. The UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, and the Special Criminal Court for CAR should investigate all recent violations of international law and hold perpetrators accountable.

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect


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Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

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