On 26 October airstrikes in Idlib governorate, Syria, hit a complex of three schools in the town of Hass. At least 26 deaths have been reported so far, including 20 children. As relentless attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Idlib, Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria continue, the international community is still struggling to halt the five-year civil war and hold atrocity perpetrators accountable. Following a fifth Russian veto on a Syria resolution at the UN Security Council on 8 October, the UN General Assembly held a special briefing requested by Canada – on behalf of 69 member states – on 20 October to determine whether to call for an Emergency Special Session. The Human Rights Council also held a special session on Syria on 21 October and adopted a resolution calling for the Commission of Inquiry on Syria to conduct an investigation into possible war crimes in Aleppo and identify those responsible for alleged violations of international law.
Since the Iraqi government announced the launch of its offensive to liberate Mosul from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on 17 October, over 50 villages have been retaken and at least 10,725 civilians have been displaced by fighting. ISIL has conducted retaliatory attacks against Iraqi and Kurdish forces across the country, including in Kirkuk, Rutba and Sinjar. On 25 October the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said they had received preliminary reports of mass atrocities perpetrated by ISIL in areas surrounding Mosul, including the discovery of at least one mass grave, and expressed the “fear that these will not be the last such reports we receive of such barbaric acts by ISIL.” There have also been reports of ISIL fighters using civilians as human shields as Iraqi forces advance. It is essential that all parties participating in the battle for Mosul take effective measures to ensure the protection of all civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law.
On 9 October a series of attacks on border posts were carried out by a pro-Rohingya armed group in Burma/Myanmar’s Arakhan/Rakhine state. Reports of mass arrests and extrajudicial killings of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority group who face systematic persecution by the government of Burma/Myanmar, have continued to surface since an army operation began on 10 October in response to the attacks. Since 23 October army officers have also forcibly removed an estimated 2,000 villagers from their homes. On 24 October the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee – together with four other UN Special Rapporteurs – issued a joint statement condemning human rights violations in Burma/Myanmar. The Special Rapporteurs called upon the government to undertake thorough investigations of all alleged abuses during Army operations and prevent incitement against the Rohingya.
During October several African states have formally challenged the capacity of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to conduct impartial investigations and trials and announced their intention to withdraw from the Court. On 26 October Gambia announced that it would join South Africa and Burundi in abandoning the ICC, noting that the decision came as a result of the Court seeming more like “an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans.” Gambia’s human rights record has been widely criticized internationally and President Yahya Jammeh, who has been in power since a military coup in 1994, has been accused of threatening to exterminate the Mandinka ethnic group and of inciting violence against gays and lesbians. An investigation of potential mass atrocity crimes in Burundi is currently underway and South Africa was previously criticized for not arresting President Bashir of Sudan, under indictment for genocide and crimes against humanity, while he was visiting the country during June 2015 for an African Union Summit. On 25 October Botswana issued a press release criticizing the South African decision and saying that the government was turning its back on victims of atrocities and undermining the battle against impunity.
It is essential that all States Parties to the Rome Statute encourage Burundi, Gambia and South Africa to reconsider their positions. In contrast to the message sent by these actions, during September Gabon self-referred itself to the ICC following violence during the country’s August 2016 presidential elections. Of the 9 African cases currently being investigated by the ICC, the majority have been self-referred.