Atrocity Alert No. 123: South Sudan, Burundi and Myanmar (Burma)

19 September 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.

South Sudan between war and peace

On 12 September the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, and the main opposition leader, Riek Machar, signed a revised version of the 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS). The new agreement brings an end to various negotiations that have taken place intermittently since the international High-Level Revitalization Forum was launched during December 2017.

Despite this important step towards peace, within 24 hours of the signing of the new agreement, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) allegedly attacked military positions held by the SPLA-In-Opposition (SPLA-IO) in the area around Kajo-Keji in Yei River State. On 14 September the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism launched an investigation into the reported violations.

President Kiir, speaking to a church congregation, said, “I want to personally assure you that the agreement we have just signed has ended the war. Your suffering provided the primary motivation for this government to pursue peace by all means necessary.” He also said that he phoned Machar in an effort to end the fighting in Yei River State, claiming that it was initiated by the SPLA-IO.

Since December 2013 at least 50,000 people in South Sudan have been killed as parties to the civil war perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity, including widespread extrajudicial killings, torture, child abductions and sexual violence. An estimated 4.5 million South Sudanese have been forced to flee their homes, with 2.5 million refugees in neighboring countries.

Separately, a Nepalese UN peacekeeper was shot and wounded in the town of Yei on 15 September. The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in South Sudan, David Shearer, said that the government lacks sufficient command and control over its armed forces, resulting in “unruly elements who continue to commit human rights abuses.”

Despite a precarious start, all parties to the revitalized ARCSS must refrain from further violence and respect the ceasefire. In keeping with the terms of the agreement, the Hybrid Court should be expeditiously established to investigate all mass atrocity crimes and hold perpetrators accountable. There can be no lasting peace in South Sudan without ending the culture of impunity that has led to recurring cycles of armed conflict.

Burundi threatens UN investigators

Following the latest report of the Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi, government representatives warned that they might withdraw from the Geneva-based UN body. The CoI report, released earlier this month, documented serious human rights violations, including crimes against humanity, committed across the country. Burundi is currently a member of the HRC, although its three-year term ends on 31 December.

The government of Burundi vehemently denounced the CoI report, which documented extrajudicial killings, torture, rape and sexual violence committed during 2017 and 2018. The government also said that it “reserves the possibility of bringing to justice any person who engages in defamation, even a member of the Commission.” The CoI reports that Burundi’s government has consistently pursued a policy of intimidation against critics inside the country, a policy that it has now apparently extended to the commissioners themselves.

During the current 39th session of the HRC the government of Burundi received strong criticism from fellow member states for not upholding its obligation to cooperate with HRC mechanisms. In 2017 a Burundian-backed resolution authorized the dispatch of three international experts to collect information regarding human rights violations and abuses within the country, and to support national judicial authorities in efforts to hold perpetrators accountable. In April 2018 the visas of the UN team were unexpectedly cancelled just one month after they were deployed, hindering their ability to fulfill their mandate.

The HRC should review and renew the mandate of the CoI during its current session. The Burundian government should grant full and immediate access to all UN-mandated investigators and retract all threats made against the commissioners.

ICC opens preliminary examination into atrocities against Rohingya

On Tuesday, 18 September, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, announced that her office was proceeding with a full-fledged preliminary examination into the alleged deportation of more than 700,000 ethnic Rohingya civilians to Bangladesh from Rakhine State, Myanmar (Burma). The Prosecutor noted that the preliminary examination may take into account acts “having resulted in the forced displacement of the Rohingya people, including deprivation of fundamental rights, killing, sexual violence, enforced disappearance, destruction and looting.”

On the same day, the Human Rights Council-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Myanmar officially released its report. The extensive 444-page report documents atrocities committed in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states by Myanmar’s security forces.

The FFM’s report calls for the Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar’s armed forces, Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, and other senior officers to be investigated for genocide against the Rohingya, as well as for crimes against humanity and war crimes perpetrated in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan states. The report also said that atrocities committed by Myanmar’s armed forces, the Tatmadaw, “have so seriously violated international law that any engagement in any form with the Tatmadaw, its current leadership, and its businesses, is indefensible.”

All governments and regional organizations that have not already done so should suspend all cooperation and training programs with Myanmar’s armed forces and impose targeted sanctions on those responsible for atrocities. All international trade, investment and development programs in Rakhine State should be scrupulously reviewed to ensure that they do not reinforce discriminatory structures.

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect


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