Fighting continues in Yemen as reports emerged this week that a bomb that was dropped on a residential building last month – killing 16 civilians, including 5 children – was manufactured in the United States. The 25 August airstrike on the building by the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition was allegedly the result of a “technical error,” but indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations have been a defining characteristic of the Yemen conflict with all sides routinely violating international humanitarian and human rights law.
Yemen remains the largest humanitarian crisis in the world with over two-thirds of the civilian population now dependent upon aid, 7 million people facing the threat of famine and over 700,000 suffering from cholera. This is an entirely man-made crisis resulting from airstrikes, besiegement, blockade and sustained attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure. As a result, since March 2015 at least 5,144 civilians have been killed, including 1,184 children. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights says that the actual number of civilian casualties is “likely to be far higher.”
This week the Human Rights Council has an opportunity to adopt a resolution that would establish an international, independent mechanism to investigate mass atrocities and other violations of international law in Yemen. The Yemeni government’s National Commission previously established to investigate human rights violations in the country has been unable to deliver credible and impartial reporting on potential war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Various UN officials have recently voiced strong support for the establishment of an independent investigative mechanism, including the Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect. All members of the Human Rights Council should vote in favor of the resolution to establish an investigative mechanism, and support ongoing efforts to hold all perpetrators of atrocities in Yemen accountable for their crimes.
Despite the government in Myanmar (Burma) claiming that its security forces have ended “clearance operations” in Rakhine State, there continue to be reports of the systematic burning of villages and tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims continue to flee the country. In the month since operations began on 25 August, over 200 villages have been burnt and over 480,000 people have fled to Bangladesh. Almost half the Rohingya population has now been displaced and half of all Rohingya villages in Myanmar have been destroyed.
Under international law, the forced displacement, expulsion or persecution of a targeted population – as well as widespread and systematic acts of murder and sexual violence – may constitute crimes against humanity. These crimes pose an existential threat to the Rohingya population and represent a policy of ethnic cleansing on behalf of the Myanmar authorities.
On 25 September the government announced that it had found mass graves containing the bodies of 45 Hindu civilians in Rakhine State, attributing responsibility to armed militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. The claims have yet to be independently verified, demonstrating the urgent need for an impartial investigation into all atrocities in Rakhine State.
It is essential that the international fact-finding mission authorized by the UN Human Rights Council be granted access to Rakhine State. The government has previously denied members of the UN mission entry into Myanmar.
The UN Security Council is due to discuss Myanmar tomorrow, 28 September, with a briefing from UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The UN Security Council should be prepared to take decisive action to halt atrocities in Myanmar, including through imposing an arms embargo and targeted sanctions directed at senior military officers with command responsibility for forces engaged in ongoing ethnic cleansing.
In line with last week’s decision by the United Kingdom, all governments with significant ties to Myanmar should immediately suspend all bilateral aid and training programs with Myanmar’s security forces.
The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), with support from a United States-led military coalition, have launched an offensive to retake the strategic town of Hawija as part of ongoing military efforts to defeat the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Since the beginning of this year the ISF has made significant military gains against the extremist armed group, including liberating the cities of Mosul and Tal Afar.
Last Thursday, 21 September, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2397 establishing an Investigative Team to support domestic efforts to hold ISIL accountable for mass atrocity crimes it has committed in Iraq. The Investigative Team will collect and preserve evidence to be used by national courts in the prosecution of alleged perpetrators.
The international community should support the Investigative Team as a first step on the difficult path to justice and accountability in Iraq. However, all victims of atrocities in Iraq deserve justice, including Sunni families who have faced sectarian reprisals and extrajudicial killings in territory retaken from ISIL. Only a comprehensive reckoning with past atrocities, and a credible justice process, will enable Iraqis to build an inclusive democracy that respects and protects the human rights of all its people.
Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
The Graduate Center, CUNY
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