Taxation, Airstrikes, Prisoners, and Humanitarian Crisis

Weekly IHL Update

December 7, 2015

In the news:

Evidence suggests that despite its lucrative businesses in oil, the sale of antiquities, and other forms of financing, ISIS’s largest revenue comes from its taxation of those living under its control, leading some experts to believe that taking ISIS territory should be a priority for combating the group. Recent reports seemingly support this argument, noting that ISIS is losing revenue largely because it is also losing several of its strongholds. However, the New York Times opines that the increasing military pressure against ISIS in Syria and Iraq is pushing ISIS towards Libya as an alternate place to set up its caliphate. The U.N. reports that ISIS has already begun to take advantage of the instability in the country to establish a larger presence there, although it notes that ISIS remains an “outsider group,” which has made it difficult to obtain support from the population.

In other ISIS-related news, hours after a favorable Parliament vote authorizing air strikes in Syria, U.K. missiles were deployed and have already struck an ISIS oilfield. Germany has also agreed to send military support in the form of 1,200 troops, reconnaissance jets, tanker planes, and a frigate. Meanwhile, the U.S. will send in a “specialized expeditionary targeting force” of around 100 soldiers to Iraq, despite Iraqi assurances against the need for such forces, an allegedly deepening mistrust of the U.S. in the country, and Kurdish peshmerga claims that U.S. troops are already operating in the north. The U.S. government has stated that forces will eventually conduct raids, rescue hostages, gather intelligence, and capture, rather than kill, ISIS leaders. What the U.S. will do with the prisoners captured will reportedly be decided on a “case by case” basis.

Speaking of prisoners, Lebanon and Syria’s al-Nusra Front have conducted a Qatar-mediated prisoner exchange, where the former released thirteen, and the latter sixteen detainees. In other news, the ISIS prisoners freed in northern Iraq in October have spoken out about their experiences in detention, explaining ISIS’s execution system and its use of torture as an interrogation method. The Daily Beast reports that Kurdish forces that had helped rescue these prisoners are also torturing six ISIS members they captured during the raid.

The Daily Beast also reports that the Yazidis in Sinjar have been killing those who remained in the now-liberated towns and villages when ISIS took over in retaliation for allegedly supporting the group. The U.N. has expressed concern that Sunni Muslims in liberated areas are facing persecution from Kurdish and government forces as well, including forced evictions, kidnappings, burnings, and beheadings. Shia Muslims have also been the subject of as-yet-unattributed attacks, most recently in Baghdad where two separate bombs targeted Shia pilgrimage routes, killing and injuring dozens. More civilian deaths were reported in Fallujah. The U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq has reported that nearly 500 civilians have been killed in November alone in the country as a whole.

In Syria, airstrikes suspected to be conducted by Russia hit a popular marketplace, as well as other areas, in Ariha, a rebel-controlled town near the Turkish border, killing at least forty-four people. One other area attacked was a bakery belonging to a Turkish humanitarian organization that was providing food to internally displaced persons. Meanwhile, in Aleppo, airstrikes against a water treatment plant has left millions without access to clean drinking water.

In Yemen, another Médecins Sans Frontières (“MSF”) hospital was attacked in Taiz, where heavy fighting has been taking place throughout the week. Many other hospitals have shut down, and many residents are unable to access electricity, food, shelter, and humanitarian aid. Unidentified kidnappers abducted two International Committee of the Red Cross staff in Yemen’s capital, Sana. Only one has so far been released.

In more positive news, troops in Cameroon have reportedly freed 900 Boko Haram hostages, although their identities have yet to be revealed. Meanwhile, as part of an ongoing effort, Myanmar has released fifty-three more child soldiers from its military. It has released 146 this year, and 699 in total since 2012.

Around the web:

Targeting ISIS’s Oil. Several IHL scholars have debated the legality of recent U.S. attacks on ISIS oil transport trucks in Syria. These attacks took place on November 16, and President Obama affirmed in his Oval Office address last night that the targeting of ISIS’s oil infrastructure remains one of U.S.’s key strategies to combat the group. In response to Butch Bracknell’s commentary last week supporting the legality of targeting both the trucks and their drivers, Aurel Sari at Lawfare notes that the issue requires a more nuanced legal assessment given that the laws that apply to the situation, especially direct participation in hostilities, are rather controversial. Beth van Schaack at Just Security also suggests that identifying these trucks as military objectives, when they are destined for export or civilian consumption rather than for military use, “strech[es]” the definition of military objectives under IHL. In the second part of her assessment, she notes that U.S. practice to give the drivers advanced warning before striking the trucks meets the U.S.’s obligations to take precautions before an attack, and suggests that the drivers likely did not lose their civilian protections under IHL.

On the blog:

International Humanitarian Law Workshop with Seattle University School of Law. The IHL Unit, together with the Seattle University School of Law and the American Red Cross’s Northwest Region Chapter, will host an IHL workshop in Seattle, Washington on January 30, 2016. Register here.

South Sudan’s Precarious Future. This week’s Situation Update focused on the ongoing violence in South Sudan, which although technically at peace, has had difficulty re-establishing stability in the country. The post highlights the catastrophic humanitarian situation of tens of thousands of internally displaced persons who have fled to the relative safety of the Sudd marshlands to escape this violence, only to be met with starvation, and unhygienic living conditions.

Humanity in War Live-Stream Series. In its next installment, the Humanity in War Live-Stream Series will broadcast a discussion with Jane Zimmerman, the Director of International Policy & External Affairs, and Brad Gutierrez, Director of International Police & Relations on their takeaways from the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent taking place December 8-10, 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland. Tune in on December 17, 2015 at 2pm.

Global Refugee Simulation & Conference. Each day millions of people around the world are displaced due to violence, prosecution, and disaster. The American Red Cross’s Global Refugee Simulation & Conference, which took place on March 29, 2015, was designed to provide an experiential learning opportunity that excites, engages, and inspires young people to action.  Watch the video of the two day conference and simulation for more information.

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One response to “Taxation, Airstrikes, Prisoners, and Humanitarian Crisis

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

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