October 12, 2015
In the news:
Russia’s military involvement in Syria is escalating at a seemingly alarming pace. At the beginning of last week, Turkey condemned the incursion of Russian warplanes into its airspace on two separate occasions. While Russia claims it was an accident, NATO is not convinced, and has criticized Russia for its “irresponsible behavior.” Later on in the week, Russia fired cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea. Four out of the twenty-six, while intended for targets in Syria, reportedly landed in Iran, although Russia and Iran deny it. It has confirmed, however, that “volunteer” ground forces, similar to those that went to the Ukraine, would join Assad’s forces. Russian airstrikes also reportedly attacked three Syrian hospitals in Hama, Idlib, and Latakia. Physicians for Human Rights states that at least 307 medical facilities have been subjected to attack since the beginning of the conflict, over 90 percent of them reportedly conducted by Assad’s forces.
Similar threats face aid groups in Afghanistan. Médecins Sans Frontières (“MSF”) released an official statement condemning the U.S. airstrikes against its hospital, and has declared the act a war crime and called for an independent fact-finding mission to investigate the incident. Twenty-two people have died because of the attack, and MSF suspects that the death toll will continue to increase. The U.S. has apologized to MSF, and called the attack a “mistake.” The Afghan government claims that the Taliban was using the hospital for military purposes, a claim which MSF denies. Meanwhile, MSF has left Kunduz, and Reuters reports that this may have a detrimental impact on the civilian population in the region since the MSF hospital was the only one that could attend to major injuries.
Violence in Israel and the West Bank has continued this week, resulting in several deaths and hundreds of injuries. The New York Times abates fears that the increasing violence will lead to a third intifada, arguing that the same level of organization in 1987 does not exist today, and opining that the Palestinian Authority (“PA”) would be able to maintain order, although Al Jazeera reports that the PA security forces are nevertheless facing mounting pressure.
The U.N. Security Council has authorized the European Union under its Chapter VII powers to conduct military operations in international waters on the Mediterranean to “seize” and “inspect” ships suspected of smuggling refugees/migrants into Europe from Libya. The EU has already conducted several seizures, and was hoping, but failed, to obtain a mandate from the U.N. to pursue these ships into Libyan waters.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has reportedly seen increasing activity in North Korea’s main nuclear facility, although it has warned that its intelligence is limited given that it is does not have any inspectors in the country. Meanwhile, a top U.S. official claims that North Korea possesses the technology to place nuclear weapons into a missile, although doubts remain as to the country’s capability in that regard. In related news, the Associated Press has published a feature on the nuclear black market, investigating reports that transnational criminal networks are attempting to sell radioactive material to extremists, including ISIS.
Around the web:
Accountability for MSF hospital strike. Several commentators have discussed whether the attack in Kunduz against the MSF hospital could amount to a war crime under IHL, including those at The Intercept, Just Security, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and IntLawGrrls. One commentator at the Washington Post assesses the indiscriminate nature of airstrikes in general, and War is Boring notes that these strikes often lead to civilian deaths when they are unplanned. Another at the Guardian warns that such civilian casualties help the cause that the airstrikes are aimed at combating. While MSF hopes for legal accountability, one commentator at the LA Times argues that history is not in its favor. David Bosco in Lawfare agrees that the attack will not likely result in any prosecutions, at least at the ICC, but opines that the incident should at least draw more attention to the ICC prosecutor’s preliminary investigations of the Afghanistan conflict.
Detention guidelines. The U.N. has approved the Revised Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, dubbed the “Mandela Rules,” which provide non-binding guidelines on the treatment of all persons deprive of their liberty. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Simonovic, praised the revisions for their more comprehensive definition and regulation of solitary confinement, and their inclusion of provisions relating to strip and body cavity searches, and to the investigation of custodial death, disappearance or serious injury incidents. The text of the rules can be found here.
Non-refoulement in the CAT. In light of U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez’s August expert report on the extraterritorial application of the CAT, Beth Van Schaack has published an article in Just Security summarizing Mendez’s analysis of a state’s non-refoulement obligations, and discussing how this principle applies to refugees and asylum seekers.
Efficacy of U.S.’s training program. The U.S. has announced that it has cancelled its rebel training program in Syria, recognizing it as a failure, and has chosen to spend the remaining money allocated for the program to arm existing rebel groups. The New York Times questions the efficacy of U.S.’s training programs in various conflict situations around the world, including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia
Interplay between IHRL and IHL in Ukraine. EJIL: Talk! published a commentary on the Ukraine’s derogation notice from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. The article focuses on Ukraine’s limited reference to IHL in support of its derogation. Marko Milanovic wonders what this will mean for Ukraine’s recent interstate application against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights. He suggests that if the court characterizes the situation as a non-international armed conflict, it may not be willing to grant the derogation notice much legal weight in support of some of Ukraine’s targeting and preventative detention activities because of the lack of the explicit invocation of IHL in its derogation notice.
On the blog:
Peace in Colombia – Will it Finally Happen? Last week’s Situation Update focused on the recent developments in reaching lasting peace in Colombia. The post describes the joint agreement for transitional justice between the government and FARC rebels, which will aim to establish accountability for the series of human rights violations that have been perpetrated throughout the conflict.
A Somali Story. As part of the global Red Cross network’s Humanitarian Education Storytelling Campaign, Mohamoud Faaris, a humanitarian worker for Save the Children International, recounts his experiences as a child during Somalia’s civil war, and discusses his current efforts to provide children in his old village access to education in a healthy learning environment.
International Criminal Law: Why does the U.S. fear it? The American Red Cross, in collaboration with Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law’s Center for Law and Global Affairs, will host a talk on the history of international criminal law, and the U.S. reactions to the International Criminal Court. The talk will feature Bernard Dougherty, an independent lecturer and International Humanitarian Law Advisor. RSVP here.