November 23, 2015
In the news:
The refugee/migrant crisis reached a critical stage after the attacks in Paris when evidence that one of the attackers had a Syrian passport, reportedly potentially a fake, fueled fears that ISIS, and other Islamist groups, would use the refugee flow to obtain entry into the West. The EU conducted an emergency meeting to discuss the need for tighter border controls in the Schengen region. Many have criticized such fears as being unfounded. In the U.S., the House of Representatives approved a bill that would make refugee vetting processing for Syrians more difficult. Obama threatened to veto the House bill should it pass in the Senate. The U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson emphasized at a General Assembly meeting that countries should not “clos[e] the door” to refugees/migrants because of “unjust, dangerous stigma” that associates them with those responsible for the attacks.
Meanwhile, France has declared war on ISIS (although it is not the only one), and has called on the EU to aid it in its efforts. All twenty-eight states have formally agreed. Russia is also on board, after having confirmed that its airliner crashed in Egypt because of a bomb. The U.S. is taking a more cautious approach, standing by its own strategies against ISIS, but it has agreed to share intelligence with France. The New York Times opines that an alliance between the three states remains “largely theoretical.” John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State, emphasized that a political solution to the Syrian conflict is an essential step to combating ISIS. So far, this political solution seems like a long way off. The U.N. is prioritizing setting up a ceasefire. To that end, the Islam Army, one rebel group fighting in the country, is reportedly considering a local ceasefire with government forces in and around Damascus.
Air strikes in Raqqa, conducted mostly by French, U.S., or Russian planes, have reportedly destroyed the city, without providing these states with any significant military advantages. Sinjar, now controlled by Kurdish fighters, is also reportedly in ruins, and many fear returning to their homes because of potentially hidden mines and booby traps. Others, mostly Yazidi soldiers, have entered the city and looted what remains of ISIS’s possessions. Evidence has also emerged of a mass grave of older Yazidi women east of the town. Locals claim that ISIS took the younger women as sexual slaves, and shot the older women.
ISIS is apparently not the deadliest terrorist organization in the world, however, a title that the 2015 Global Terrorism Index has given to Boko Haram. This week, an attack in a Nigerian market in Yola, attributed to the group, killed at least thirty. Two female suicide bombers attacked another market in Kano a few days later. Boko Haram reportedly forces young women to be suicide bombers. Meanwhile, the U.N. claimed that Boko Haram was responsible for destroying around 1,100 schools in this year alone.
In Mali, a group of heavily armed men entered the Radisson Blu hotel and took dozens of people hostage. At least twenty-seven people were killed. Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, and its affiliate, Al Mourabitoun, took responsibility.
Israel continues its punitive demolitions of Palestinian homes, an act which the U.N. Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities in the Occupied Territory called a violation of international law’s prohibition on collective penalties. Two Palestinians died when Israeli forces entered the Qalandiya refugee camp to conduct one such demolition, and engaged in a gun battle with the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade. Palestinian attacks against Israelis also continue. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has re-initiated a settlement project in East Jerusalem.
Speaking of, Spain has indicted Netanyahu and other Israeli officials in relation to the 2010 flotilla raid in the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, two opposition leaders convicted of committing war crimes, genocide, rape, and torture, among other things, during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan, were sentenced to death and hanged this week.
Around the web:
France’s war. France is the first country to invoke the mutual defense clause under article 42.7 of the EU treaty. The Guardian assesses what this would mean. Meanwhile, Just Security lays out what it thinks will be the nature of France’s declared war against ISIS.
The end of occupation. Marko Milanovic at EJIL: Talk! finds that ICRC’s official adoption of the “functional approach” to the end of occupation in its annual Report on International Humanitarian Law and the Challenges of Contemporary Conflicts “noteworthy”, particularly because of its potential implications for the application of occupation law to the Israel/Palestine conflict. The functional approach finds that if the occupying power continues to exercise governmental functions in the occupied territory, the occupation continues, even if the power has withdrawn its forces from the territory.
Questions of status and means of combat in IHL. Just Security has published the final two installments to its “mini-series” of commentary in response to the ICRC’s annual Report on International Humanitarian Law and the Challenges of Contemporary Conflicts (the first two can be found here and here). This week, Gabor Rona discusses the IHL rules that govern the involvement of foreign fighters, mercenaries, and private military contractors in armed conflicts. He also looks at certain challenges posed by new weapons, such as cyber and autonomous ones, as well as states’ obligations to provide humanitarian assistance during armed conflicts.
Perceptions of humanity in drone operations. The Guardian features the story of four former U.S. military drone operators and technicians who describe the psychology behind the U.S.’s targeted killing program. One drone operator, Michael Haas, explains “Ever step on ants and never give it another thought? That’s what you are made to think of the targets – as just black blobs on a screen.” The four of them also sent a letter to President Obama, Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, and CIA Director John Brennan calling for an end to the drone program.
Landmarks in ICL history. To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg trials, which took place on November 20, 2015, Philippe Sands looked at how international justice has paved the way to accountability since, concluding that while it continues to face many challenges, it remains a “work in progress.” Meanwhile, Justice in Conflict assesses the Office of the Prosecutor’s annual report on its preliminary examinations, focusing on Afghanistan, Georgia, Israel and Palestine, and Iraq.
On the blog:
Training in Action: A New Year of IHL Action Campaigns. The American Red Cross’s IHL Action Campaign is well under way for the coming new year. Team Leaders at several Chapters have received their training, and already begun sponsoring educational events. The Greater St. Louis Region hosted a Raid Cross event on October 25th focusing on delivering health care in conflict zones.
Joining the Humanitarian Movement. Alexa Magee, an American Red Cross volunteer, personally tells us how humanitarian education changed her life. Watch the video here.