Making Sense of ISIS and Ongoing Armed Conflicts

Weekly IHL Update

November 30, 2015

In the news:

It is seemingly unlikely that Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian jet this week will escalate into further hostilities between the two states, but tensions continue, particularly over the events leading up to the attack. Both Russia and Turkey have implied that they wish to resolve the issue peacefully, despite using more incendiary rhetoric earlier in the week.

Lin-Greenberg at War on the Rocks opines, that Russia may retaliate by increasing strikes against Turkey-backed Turkmen rebels operating in northern Syria.  Turkey has already approached the U.N. Security Council to discuss Russia’s previous bombings of Turkmen villages.  Russia’s treatment of this group will also likely be influenced by news that Turkmen rebels in Syria shot, and killed, one of the two Russian pilots as they descended down with their parachutes, an act which may constitute a war crime.

Speaking of potential war crimes, U.S. investigations into the Kunduz bombing have concluded that the attack was the result of “human error” because the pilots mistakenly thought the MSF building was a government building that Taliban forces had taken over.  Another Pentagon investigation tasked with assessing an attack on an ISIS checkpoint in Iraq admitted that at least four civilians died, the first time that the U.S. has officially recognized civilian deaths because of its airstrikes in the country.  Meanwhile, another mass grave was discovered near Sinjar containing the bodies of Yazidi people.  At least five others have been found in the area, and are reportedly the work of ISIS.

ISIS continued its attacks this week. The first occurred in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where suicide bombers targeted a hotel. In Tunisia, another suicide bomber detonated inside a bus full of presidential guards. Boko Haram-affiliated bombers were also active this week.  In Nigeria, a suicide bomber targeted a procession of Shia Muslims, and one teenage female suicide bomber set off another bomb at a military checkpoint.  Four others did the same near the Cameroon-Nigeria border. Other Islamists groups in Mali are suspected to have been behind rocket attacks targeting a U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (“MINUSMA”) peacekeepers’ base.  Meanwhile, Germany has agreed to send 650 more troops to bolster MINUSMA’s ranks in the aftermath of last week’s hotel attack.  While al-Qaeda affiliate al-Mourabitoun claimed responsibility, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita stated that further investigations suggested that a local group, the Macina Liberation Front, were the perpetrators.

The groups involved in the Yemen conflict are becoming even more complex, as reports suggest that the United Arab Emirates has deployed at least 450 Colombian mercenaries into Yemen, and the U.N. suspects that around 400 Eritreans have also been sent to fight.

Human Rights Watch has published a report accusing Bahrain of torturing detainees during interrogation.  Bahrain claims that the report is “misleading, unbalanced and controversial.”  In Israel, Ministerial Committee for Legislation proposed a bill that would lower the age at which children can serve prison sentences from 14 to 12, in contravention of the Convention on the Rights of the Child as one human rights group claims.  In Gambia, President Yahya Jammeh has banned female genital mutilation, an announcement that coincided with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.  Meanwhile, refugees/migrants continue to face difficulties at European borders.  Sweden has tightened its asylum rules, as has Canada, which will reportedly turn away any single men at its border.  Human Rights Watch has also accused Turkey of turning away refugees/migrants, even though it claims its borders are open.  In protest, several refugees/migrants stranded on the Macedonian border have sewn their lips shut, and at least one has declared a hunger strike.

Around the web:

ISIS’s rules of engagement.  William McCants at War on the Rocks briefly analyses the Management of Savagery, a handbook used by both ISIS and al Qaeda.  The manual provides guidelines for Islamist fighters on the types of violence they can engage in, using Islamic principles and laws to justify these actions.  McCants notes that states wishing to combat the group should examine how ISIS understands violence, to better develop their own strategies against it.

Understanding ISIS through those in its employ and those living under its rule.  The New York Times provides an in-depth look at the lives of three women who reluctantly joined ISIS’s all-female police force, Khansaa Brigade, when ISIS took control of Raqqa.  They describe how they were forced to marry ISIS fighters, how their lives were affected by ISIS’s restrictions on women, and how they witnessed, and contributed to, the suffering of civilians as members of the Brigade.  The Washington Post sheds light on the complex propaganda regime set up by the group through the story of Abu Hajer al-Maghribi, an ISIS-employed cameraman.  At Al Jazeera, a resident of Raqqa describes daily life in the city, and discusses his efforts to document the atrocities ISIS commits to “one day…bring ISI[S] to justice.”  At EJIL: Talk!, Kai Ambos analyzes whether the ICC would have jurisdiction to bring about such justice at the international level.

Deciphering Security Council Resolution 2249’s Ambiguities.  A little over a week ago, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved an unprecedented resolution identifying ISIS as a “threat to international peace and security” and calling on states to take “all necessary measures” “prevent and suppress” ISIS attacks.  Scholars observe that the resolution does to authorize the use of force against ISIS because the Security Council did not act under its Chapter VII powers.  However, Dapo Akande and Marko Milanovic at EJIL: Talk! argue that the resolution grants approval to states to engage in any act of force legal under the U.N. Charter, including self-defense and consent, the latter applying to Russia’s involvement in Syria.  Marc Weller, also at EJIL: Talk!, agrees that the resolution may be used by states as justification for the right to use force in self-defense.  Ashley Deeks at Lawfare observes that it may legitimize the use of force in Iraq should the same legal arguments be used by the U.S. and its allies, or Russia.

Determining customary international law.  EJIL: Talk! contributors will engage in a discussion on Stefan Talmon’s article “Determining Customary International Law: The ICJ’s Methodology between Induction, Deduction, and Assertion.”  Tune in for the next few days to read commentary from Sir Michael Wood, Harlan Grant Cohen, and Fernando Lusa Bordin.

On the blog:

An Engaging Humanitarian Education Tool.  Sarah Gangl, an American Red Cross volunteer, explains how much she values the humanitarian education she received through the IHL Action Campaign.  She writes that her experiences with the Red Cross have taught her “that one person’s voice, or a team’s voice, can send ripples through a community that might one day make a difference.”

One response to “Making Sense of ISIS and Ongoing Armed Conflicts

  1. Pingback: End of the Year Review | Humanity in War·

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