Civilians face the ongoing threat of atrocities as the offensive by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Kurdish Peshmerga to recapture Mosul from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) enters its final stages. On 27 May the ISF renewed its push to recapture the few remaining districts of western Mosul still under ISIL-control and where approximately 200,000 people remain trapped. This includes an estimated 100,000 children according to the UN Children’s Fund.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, over 800,000 people have been forced to flee Mosul since military operations to retake the city began in October 2016. On 1 June the ISF reportedly found a mass grave in the Al-Shifaa neighborhood containing the bodies of 60 civilians and on 6 June the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights announced that his staff reported at least 163 people were killed by ISIL that same day in the same neighborhood to prevent them fleeing. A further 75 civilians were killed on 3 June by improvised explosive devices planted by ISIL on the streets of the Al-Zanjili neighborhood.
There have also been consistent reports of alleged human rights abuses committed by the ISF and allied forces. On 4 June Human Rights Watch reported that at least 26 bodies of blindfolded and handcuffed men have been found in government-held areas in and around Mosul since the operation to retake the city began, raising concerns about extrajudicial killings of suspected ISIL members and sympathizers.
Additionally, on 3 June Iraqi officials announced they will investigate allegations that their forces used white phosphorus bombs against ISIL-controlled areas within Mosul. White phosphorus is an incendiary weapon that burns structures and people. Dropping incendiary weapons on a civilian populated area is prohibited under international humanitarian law.
In keeping with previous public commitments by the Iraqi government, the UN Security Council should, with Iraqi consent and support, immediately establish an international investigative commission to collect and protect evidence regarding mass atrocity crimes perpetrated by ISIL in Iraq. This should include investigating the genocide against the Yazidi and atrocities committed in and around Mosul.
Violence between an armed militia, Kamuina Nsapu, and national security forces continues to threaten populations in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The fighting, which has taken place since August 2016, has resulted in hundreds of civilians killed, with at least 42 mass graves discovered by the UN, and over one million people displaced.
On 2 June the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) called for an end to the fighting, noting the disproportionate effect of the violence on children. According to MONUSCO, at least 639 schools in the Kasai region have been destroyed or attacked by the militia. The UN has also documented hundreds of children being used as combatants or human shields by Kamuina Nsapu, as well as sexual violence perpetrated against young girls. MONUSCO also noted that a number of health centers have been destroyed or looted during fighting.
On 6 June the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights gave the government until 8 June to agree to a joint investigation into the violence in the Kasai region, otherwise he will “insist on the creation of an international investigative mechanism.” The government is also under renewed diplomatic pressure to agree to a presidential election timetable. Last week the European Union and United States issued targeted sanctions against individuals within the DRC government for “planning, committing or directing” human rights violations during deadly repression of election protests.
After months of relative calm, during May renewed fighting erupted between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), supported by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a pro-government militia, and rebel groups in Darfur. The government of Sudan and the RSF engaged in sustained fighting with the Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minawi (SLA-MM) and the SLA-Transitional Council (SLA-TC) after accusing both armed groups of repositioning and regrouping in the mountains of Jebel Marra. The clashes in East and North Darfur place civilians at increased risk of attack by government forces and allied militia groups, which have targeted non-Arab populations and villages in Darfur for more than 14 years.
The Joint AU/UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and numerous foreign governments condemned the renewed fighting. The Sudanese government and all armed rebel groups should abide by the Roadmap of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel on Sudan and finalize a cessation of hostilities agreement. All parties to the conflict in Darfur must respect international humanitarian law and enable UNAMID to uphold its protection of civilians mandate.
Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
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