Today, 25 October, marks two months since the resumption of “clearance operations” by Myanmar’s security forces in northern Rakhine State. During the past 8 weeks over 600,000 ethnic Rohingya civilians have been forced to flee to Bangladesh to escape unlawful killings, sexual violence and other human rights abuses. Satellite evidence reveals that since 25 August more than 288 Rohingya villages have been burned down. On 11 October the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that the “coordinated and systematic attacks” against the Rohingya have the intent of driving the population out of Myanmar and preventing their return.
The events of the last two months, with scenes of burning villages and fleeing refugees seen around the world, has prompted international outcry. It has also led a number of governments, including the United Kingdom and United States, to suspend assistance and training programs with the Myanmar military. However, other powerful states, most notably China, continue to supply Myanmar with arms. Despite the magnitude of the Rohingya crisis, the UN Security Council has still not adopted a single resolution on the matter.
On 23 October, in partnership with the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect co-hosted a side-event at UN Headquarters in New York, with the focus on how the international community can shift from condemnation to action regarding the Rohingya crisis. The meeting, which was addressed by Bangladesh’s former foreign minister, Dr. Dipu Moni, discussed various diplomatic tracks available, including regional and bilateral action.
The Myanmar government must immediately end atrocities against the Rohingya and cooperate with the Human Rights Council mandated fact-finding mission. The government should also fully implement the recommendations of the Kofi Annan-led Rakhine Commission. The UN Security Council should impose an arms embargo on Myanmar and targeted sanctions against those senior military officers with command responsibility for atrocities committed in Northern Rakhine, including General Min Aung Hlaing. All UN member states should suspend ties with the Myanmar military until there has been a complete cessation of violence and accountability for atrocities.
Kenya is scheduled to hold a repeat presidential election tomorrow, 26 October, following the Supreme Court’s annulment of the previous vote held on 8 August. Opposition leader Raila Odinga withdrew from the repeat election process on 10 October claiming the election board had failed to carry out sufficient reforms. Since then, opposition supporters have engaged in daily protests and have threatened to block polling stations. Police have reportedly responded to some protests with tear gas and live ammunition. At least 65 people have been killed since 8 August.
Members of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), including its current head, have said that it is uncertain whether free and fair elections can be held in light of time constraints and political intimidation. On 23 October twenty Ambassadors and High Commissioners to Kenya released a joint statement condemning threats against the IEBC and noting, “inflammatory rhetoric, attacks on institutions, and growing insecurity all make holding a credible and fair poll more difficult.”
Despite Odinga reportedly calling for his supporters to stay home on Thursday, there remains a risk of clashes between the security forces and opposition supporters who may try to prevent people from voting. There is also a heightened risk of potential violence between Odinga supporters and those of President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Given Kenya’s past history of atrocities in the aftermath of a disputed election outcome in 2007, it is imperative that all Kenyan political leaders refrain from inciting further violence or instability. Both major parties should adhere to the constitution and the decisions of the Supreme Court and continue to raise political grievances through proper legal channels. The government must ensure that the security forces exercise maximum restraint regarding the use of deadly force when responding to protests.
Armed extremist groups in Afghanistan– primarily the Taliban and the local offshoot of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – have increased their attacks in government-controlled areas, resulting in over 250 people killed between 17 and 21 October.
The Taliban, which controls an estimated 40 percent of the country, carried out at least five major attacks on army and police bases last week. These included a series of attacks on 17 October, resulting in 74 people killed, including police officers and civilians.
At least 80 civilians were also killed in two suicide bombings of mosques during Friday prayers on 20 October. The first attack, which has been claimed by ISIL’s Afghanistan affiliate, took place at a Shia mosque in Kabul, killing more than 55 civilians. The second bombing targeted a Sunni mosque in Ghor, killing approximately 25 people. At least 145 people have been killed so far this year in targeted sectarian attacks on Shia mosques and religious events.
The latest wave of attacks contributes to the dramatic rise in civilian deaths in Afghanistan during 2017. According to the UN Assistance Mission, 2,640 civilians were killed between January and September, including 689 children.
The international community should continue to provide support to the Afghan government to help combat the Taliban, ISIL and other armed extremist groups. However, all such support must prioritize the protection of civilians and strictly adhere to international humanitarian law.
Yesterday, 24 October, the UN Security Council voted on a resolution to extend the mandate of the Organization for the Prohibition of the use of Chemical Weapons Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) in Syria. Despite 11 Council members voting in favor of the resolution, Russia used its veto power to block the extension of the JIM’s mandate.
This is the ninth time that Russia has vetoed a resolution on Syria since 2011, including six double-vetoes with China.
Since 2015, following the adoption of UNSC Resolution 2235, the JIM has investigated the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Over the past two years the JIM has concluded that Syrian government forces had been responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Kafr Zita (2014), Qmenas and Binnish (2015) while the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Marea (2015). The JIM is about to submit its report attributing responsibility for the April 2017 use of a sarin-like substance in an attack on Khan Shaykhun in which more than 80 people, including children, were killed.
Prior to yesterday’s vote, Russia had also vetoed an April 2017 resolution that would have condemned the Khan Shaykhun attack and obligated the Syrian government to comply with the OPCW-JIM’s recommendations. Another February 2017 double-veto blocked a resolution that would have imposed sanctions on Syrian government officials linked to chemical weapons attacks; placed an embargo on some imported chemicals; and established a sanctions committee and panel of experts to monitor the implementation of these measures.
The failure of the Security Council to act in relation to the findings of the OPCW-JIM is contributing to the gradual normalization of chemical warfare in Syria. The prohibition of chemical weapons is one of the oldest international norms, having been outlawed since 1899. It is not in the long-term interest of any UN member state, including Russia, to allow the JIM to collapse, or permit any state or armed group to use chemical weapons with impunity. If the Security Council cannot re-establish political consensus and mandate the JIM to continue its work, the UN Secretary-General should do so, in keeping with General Assembly Resolution A/RES/42/37C (1987).
Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
The Graduate Center, CUNY
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