Photo Source: © Guillem Sartorio/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Photo Source: © Guillem Sartorio/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Atrocity Alert No. 171: Afghanistan, South Africa and Burundi

11 September 2019

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.

Scores of civilian deaths as US-Taliban peace talks collapse

At least 75 civilians have been killed and hundreds wounded since 30 August in a spate of attacks perpetrated by the Taliban across Afghanistan, including in Kabul, Kunduz and Pul-e Khumri. These deadly attacks took place as the Taliban and the United States concluded their ninth round of negotiations in Doha, Qatar, in an attempt to end the 18-year war.

Despite participating in peace talks since December 2018, the Taliban has intensified their attacks and car bombings. Civilian casualties during July totaled more than 1,500 — the highest number documented in a single month since May 2017. On 2 September the United States government announced that they were on the verge of reaching a final agreement, but on the same day the Taliban carried out a car bombing in central Kabul that killed 30 civilians.

The Taliban view ongoing attacks on civilians and Afghan government personnel as a key part of their political and military strategy, with spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid asserting that, “we understand that peace talks are going on… but they must also understand that we are not weak and if we enter into talks… we enter from a strong position.” US President Donald Trump abruptly called off the negotiations with the Taliban on 8 September. It is unclear if or when negotiations will resume.

Although Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has made a renewed call for direct talks between his government and the Taliban, the collapse of the US-Taliban negotiations has led to fear of an increase in violence. The risk to civilians is particularly acute ahead of the scheduled 28 September presidential elections. The Taliban has previously threatened to attack election rallies and officials have already announced that for security reasons at least 2,000 out of 7,400 polling stations will not open on election day.

The international community should assist the government of Afghanistan in ensuring that all civilians are able to safely participate in the upcoming election and exercise their franchise. Regardless of how negotiations between the US and Taliban proceed, all parties to the conflict must meaningfully reduce civilian casualties and consistently uphold International Humanitarian Law. Any future talks between the Taliban, Afghan government and United States should proceed on the basis that protecting civilians and upholding their universal human rights remains essential to any lasting peace agreement.

Hate speech and xenophobic violence in South Africa

Since 28 August foreigners in Pretoria and Johannesburg have been targeted in a wave of xenophobic violence. South African police have reported 15 deaths as foreigners, mainly from elsewhere in Africa, have been attacked and foreign-owned shops have been looted and destroyed. In an attempt to curb the violence, the police have fired tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades. On 3 September President Cyril Ramaphosa posted a video condemning xenophobia, asserting that “there can be no justification for any South African to attack people from other countries.”

The violence started amid a struggling economy in South Africa as well as a series of protests in the transportation industry linked to the employment of foreigners. According to South Africa’s Road Freight Association, more than 200 people have been killed in attacks on foreign truck drivers since March 2018.

There has also been increased hate speech circulating on social media over the past few months accusing immigrants of taking jobs from locals and of cheating customers in their shops. One WhatsApp message widely circulated in Johannesburg on Sunday, 9 September, threatened to “kill every person from outside this country,” called for the closure of all foreign-owned shops and churches and warned that, “everyone who’s not against the foreigners shall die with them.” Pamphlets circulated on social media have also encouraged South Africans to “chase foreigners out of their communities.” Such messages foment a culture of fear and intimidation and deliberately attempt to incite further attacks.

Since South Africa’s 1994 transition to democracy and the historic end of apartheid, there have been several episodes of mass violence targeting African refugees, migrants and asylum seekers. During May 2008 a wave of attacks across Gauteng Province resulted in 62 people being killed and tens of thousands displaced. In 2015 a nationwide increase in xenophobic attacks prompted the repatriation of citizens by a number of foreign governments.

The government of South Africa must actively combat all forms of hate speech on social media and address the root causes of violent xenophobia. South Africa’s long struggle against apartheid was an inspiration to the world. South Africa’s multi-racial society and vibrant democracy continues to attract migrants from across the continent. But the government has a responsibility to protect all populations in South Africa and simply must do more to ensure the safety of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers.

UN Commission of Inquiry warns about major risk of atrocities in Burundi 

On 4 September the Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi warned that serious violations and abuses of human rights, including crimes against humanity, have continued since a constitutional referendum in May 2018, and that there is a risk of further escalation ahead of elections scheduled for 2020.

In their latest report, which will be presented to the HRC next week, the CoI raised the alarm about ongoing extrajudicial and summary executions, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, torture and arbitrary detentions. While the report documents violations and abuses carried out by the National Intelligence Service and police, it identifies the Imbonerakure – the paramilitary youth league of the ruling party – as the main perpetrator of possible atrocity crimes.

The CoI utilized the UN Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes, developed by the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect, concluding that ongoing violations in Burundi are facilitating an environment conducive to the perpetration of atrocities. According to the CoI, “the eight common risk factors identified in the Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes are clearly present in Burundi.” The CoI argued that although “the presence of those risk factors does not make it possible to draw conclusions about the likelihood of atrocity crimes or when and in what way any such crimes will be committed, it gives the international community an objective basis for understanding the reality of the situation in Burundi and the possible risks facing the country.”

The HRC, during its current 42nd session, should renew the mandate of the CoI and the Commissioners should be granted immediate access to the country. The UN Security Council should invite the CoI to brief the Council on its conclusions and should impose targeted sanctions against all those who continue to threaten peace and security in Burundi, including the list of suspected perpetrators of crimes against humanity supplied by the CoI.

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect


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