Sunday, 24 April, marked two months since Russian Armed Forces invaded Ukraine. Since that time, millions of people have experienced devastating impacts from the conflict as thousands of civilians have been killed or injured, more than 5.2 million people have fled the country and an additional 7.7 million have been internally displaced. On Friday, 22 April, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, warned that, “over these eight weeks, international humanitarian law has not merely been ignored, but seemingly tossed aside… Our work to date has detailed a horror story of violations perpetrated against civilians.”
The High Commissioner’s Office and the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) have documented gross violations of International Human Rights Law (IHRL) and serious violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) that may amount to war crimes, including evidence of indiscriminate shelling and bombing of populated areas and civilian infrastructure by Russian forces, as well as the use of indiscriminate weapons by Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine. The HRMMU has also documented allegations of sexual violence, summary executions and widespread civilian detentions in areas previously under the control of Russian forces, torture, attacks on medical facilities and blocked access to medical care in besieged towns and cities.
Since 24 February the HRMMU has verified 5,939 civilian casualties, including 2,787 deaths. However, the UN has consistently noted that the actual figures are considerably higher. During her remarks on 22 April High Commissioner Bachelet emphasized that, “we know the actual numbers are going to be much higher as the horrors inflicted in areas of intense fighting, such as Mariupol, come to light.” One day prior to the High Commissioner’s remarks, Maxar Technologies published satellite imagery from the village of Manhush, outside Mariupol, allegedly showing an expanding mass grave site. According to Maxar Technologies, the mass grave spans approximately 340 meters, larger than three football fields.
While UN Secretary-General António Guterres travels to Moscow and Kyiv this week, he must use his diplomatic power to encourage a cessation of hostilities and urge both sides to ensure their forces strictly respect IHL and IHRL, including distinguishing between military and civilian targets and not targeting or deliberately killing civilians. Parties to the conflict must investigate all violations allegedly committed by their forces and ensure the appropriate preservation of evidence of potential crimes.
At least 168 people were killed and more than 100 injured when Janjaweed fighters attacked several non-Arab Massalit villages around Kreinik in the West Darfur region of Sudan on 24 April. The fighting was triggered on Thursday, 21 April, by the killing of two Arab men suspected of cattle rustling near Kreinik. The following day, Arab Janjaweed militias attacked Kreinik and killed at least nine people. The clashes spread to El Geneina in subsequent days, with several hospitals attacked and civilians forced to hide in their homes. The UN Special Representative for Sudan and Head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission, Volker Perthes, deplored “the heinous killings of civilians” and reminded “the authorities and armed groups of their international legal obligation to protect all civilians, and civilian infrastructure, including health facilities.”
Despite the considerable progress made since August 2019 in bringing armed groups together – including the historic Juba Peace Agreement signed by the transitional Sudanese government and several armed groups in October 2020 – actions by the military since their October 2021 coup have impeded peacebuilding efforts. Armed forces have been re-deployed to Khartoum to address ongoing political instability, leaving communities in Darfur vulnerable to attacks. According to witnesses, government forces, including members of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), have done little to protect civilians in Kreinik and El Geneina amidst intensifying inter-communal clashes. Many Janjaweed fighters have been integrated in the RSF, who previously waged war against armed rebel groups, including Massalit groups in Darfur.
Populations in Darfur have endured decades-long conflict and atrocities. During former President Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule, the Janjaweed – supported by the government – allegedly committed crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide against civilians. The UN estimates that in Darfur alone, over 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million forced to flee since the conflict began in 2003. In a positive step towards justice for victims of atrocities, on 5 April the International Criminal Court opened the trial of former Janjaweed leader, Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman (Ali Kushayb) – the Court’s first trial concerning potential war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.
The Sudanese authorities need to urgently implement the National Plan for the Protection of Civilians and the Juba Peace Agreement in order to provide safety and security for civilians in West Darfur. The authorities should also conduct investigations and bring perpetrators to justice. Sustainable peace and stability can only be achieved when the Sudanese military relinquishes power and restores the civilian-led transitional government.
Since Tuesday, 19 April, at least 75 civilians have been killed in a series of attacks targeting minorities, places of worship and schools across Afghanistan. Two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) detonated on 19 April outside the Abdul Rahim-e Shahid High School and Mumtaz Education Centre in the predominantly Hazara neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi in Kabul, killing six people and injuring 25, including students. On 21 April IED explosions targeted the Shia Seh Dokan Mosque in Mazar-e-Sharif, killing 17 people and injuring at least 52, many of whom were Hazara. The so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K) claimed responsibility for this bombing. The next day, another targeted attack occurred at the Sunni Mawlavi Sikandar Mosque in Kunduz, killing at least 33 people and wounding several others.
The UN Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, strongly condemned the attacks, stating that, “the people of Afghanistan have already endured immense suffering, and must be spared from such senseless and horrific attacks.” UN Secretary-General António Guterres also reiterated that, “attacks against civilians and civilian objects, including mosques, are strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law.”
ISIL-K frequently targets and threatens the Shia minority in Afghanistan, particularly the Hazara. In October ISIL-K carried out a series of attacks targeting these groups, including bombings at Shia mosques in Kunduz, Kabul and Kandahar that killed more than 90 civilians. Since then, ISIL-K has carried out numerous targeted attacks on religious institutions and residential areas, as well as against minority groups.
Vulnerable populations, including women and girls, minorities and human rights defenders, remain at risk of further war crimes and crimes against humanity under Taliban rule. According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), suicide bombings, targeted killings, enforced disappearances and incommunicado detention have all been perpetrated against vulnerable populations. The Taliban have been responsible for the deaths of dozens of Hazara in recent months, as well as mass forced displacements of Hazara communities in several provinces. The spate of attacks and the direct targeting of minorities indicate that the Taliban is likely unable or unwilling to protect vulnerable populations.
All international actors engaging with Taliban representatives must urge respect for international law, as well as the promotion and protection of human rights for all Afghans. Taliban de-facto authorities should cooperate with and facilitate access for the newly-appointed UN Special Rapporteur, UNAMA’s Human Rights Service and OHCHR. The Taliban must also ensure there is a thorough investigation of the recent attacks and end their own violations of international law.
Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
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