Atrocity Alert No. 47: Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Syria

22 March 2017

Atrocity Alert is a weekly publication by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect highlighting and updating situations where populations are at risk of, or are enduring, mass atrocity crimes.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

At least eight mass graves have been discovered following violence between the Congolese army (FARDC) and the Kamuina Nsapu militia in Kasai-Central province of the DRC during January and February. Earlier in March the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, urged the Human Rights Council to establish an inquiry in response to evidence of the FARDC using disproportionate deadly force and the discovery of mass graves.

On 18 March seven FARDC officers were charged with “war crime by murder, war crime by mutilation, war crimes by cruel inhuman and degrading treatment” in connection with a February video of soldiers shooting a group of suspected militia members. The UN mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) reported that between 14 and 17 March clashes in Kananga between the military and the Kamuina Nsapu militia resulted in “high numbers of deaths.” MONUSCO released a statement noting recent militia attacks on state institutions, but criticized the disproportionate use of force and targeting of civilians, including women and children, by the FARDC and other state forces.

South Sudan 

Despite declaring a famine in parts of South Sudan during February, the government has been accused of continuing to spend approximately half its budget on weapons. The UN Panel of Experts for South Sudan has called upon the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan and to sanction individuals who actively obstruct the peace process.

As of 20 February at least 100,000 people were facing starvation. The UN and the government have classified at least another 1 million South Sudanese civilians as being “on the brink of famine.” The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, Eugene Owusu, and Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, have said that the South Sudanese government is responsible for the dire “man made” famine.

The African Union and UN Security Council must hold those responsible for famine, endemic conflict and mass atrocities in South Sudan accountable, regardless of their affiliation or position. Despite promises by the government, the Regional Protection Force has still not been deployed and the Hybrid Court to prosecute perpetrators of past atrocities has not been established. An arms embargo should immediately be imposed upon South Sudan.


On 20 March at least 33 people were killed in an airstrike on a school where displaced civilians had been sheltering near the city of Raqqa, Syria, the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the attack was carried out by the United States-led coalition, which is currently conducting an air campaign against ISIL forces in both Syria and Iraq. The attack took place four days after the US military was accused of targeting a mosque in Al-Jineh, in northwestern Aleppo province, in an airstrike that killed more than 40 people, most of whom were civilians. A spokesperson for the US Central Command confirmed the airstrike on the village, but denied targeting the mosque.

Today in Washington D.C. representatives from 68 countries that form the broad international coalition against ISIL met for the first time since 2014 to discuss military efforts to defeat the extremist group in the remaining areas under its control in Iraq and Syria. Coalition members should emphasize the centrality of civilian protection to anti-ISIL military operations. All potential violations of international law, including possible war crimes, must be thoroughly investigated.

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect


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