The Road to Peace

Weekly IHL Update

December 14, 2015

In the news:

Fourteen Taliban suicide bombers attacked Kandahar airfield in southern Afghanistan in a twenty-hour assault that left at least seventy people dead. Another suicide bomb attack detonated in Kabul, near the Spanish embassy’s guest house, killing at least ten people. These attacks occurred just as regional leaders were discussing the possibility of a peace deal in the country between the government and the Taliban. Meanwhile, while continued violence may have made peace in Afghanistan a more distant possibility, the conflict in Yemen seems to be moving closer to a long-standing truce. The government and the Houthi rebels have agreed to begin peace talks on December 15. A ceasefire will begin on the same day.

Burundi, on the other hand, is in danger of slipping back into an armed conflict. The most recent civil unrest is politically motivated, and largely a response to President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcing a third term in office. However, the escalation of violence in the country, especially this week, has raised fears that a country still plagued by the horrors of the Rwandan genocide will see the re-emergence of ethnic conflict. At least eighty-seven people were reportedly shot dead in the capital, Bujumbura, this week. Several of the bodies were left on the streets. These deaths were reportedly in response to an earlier attack on three army facilities by unidentified gunman.

Several rebel groups in Syria agreed to cooperate under a larger opposition group that would represent their interests in future peace talks. While a long-term ceasefire does not appear imminent, a local truce in Homs has raised hopes that more similar smaller ceasefires will provide better protection to vulnerable persons trapped in the Syrian conflict. The deal permitted hundreds of opposition members who rejected the truce, families of fighters, and other civilians, to leave the town for rebel-held areas such as Idlib, and priority was given to women, children, and the severely wounded.

The end of the siege in Homs comes at a time when another has escalated in Ramadi, in northern Iraq. Iraqi forces have been battling with ISIS for control over the city for several months, but are now preparing to push into the center of the city. ISIS, meanwhile, is preventing civilians from leaving in hopes of using them as human shields. The U.S. has offered to provide attack helicopters and advisers to the Iraqi forces to support the siege should Iraq request it.

Despite potentially increasing U.S. involvement in Ramadi, a financial assault aimed at targeting ISIS’s foreign fighter recruitment and its black market sale of oil and antiquities, together with air strikes and other support to strengthen local rebels, remains the U.S. coalition’s overall strategy against ISIS. The new U.S. envoy to the coalition, Brett McGurk, stated that its aim would be to cut off ISIS’s smuggling routes by sealing off the last strip of Turkey’s border with Syria. NATO has also affirmed that it will not send ground troops in the region. Russia, on the other hand, has begun to target ISIS with missiles shot from its submarines in the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, ISIS’s loss of Sinjar in northern Iraq has forced it to develop new supply routes to Syria in southern Mosul. The group is reportedly using civilian vehicles to transfer fighters and supplies across the border.

While the Homs ceasefire may have stemmed violence between Syrian forces and opposition groups, it has not prevented ISIS from conducting attacks in the area. A suicide bomb exploded near a hospital a few days after the deal was struck, killing at least sixteen people. ISIS also orchestrated three separate suicide attacks in Tel Tamer, in the northern Hasaka province, near a hospital, a market, and a residential area respectively, killing at least fifty civilians. The group took responsibility for two other attacks, one near a mosque in Baghdad, Iraq, and one in Aden, Yemen, which killed the city’s governor and five of his bodyguards. ISIS is not alone in causing civilian casualties, however. Coalition air strikes in northern Syria have also killed at least twenty-six civilians in al-Khan. Syrian and Russian airstrikes, meanwhile, have killed scores of civilians in the suburbs of Damascus, with at least forty-one dead in Douma alone.

Syria has accused the U.S. coalition of killing three Syrian soldiers and wounding thirteen others in a military camp in Deir al-Zour, allegations, which if found to be true, would mark the first time the coalition has attacked Syrian forces. Syria condemned it as an act of “flagrant aggression,” but the U.S. denied any involvement in the deaths, arguing that the coalition did not conduct any attacks near the camp on that day.

Iraq, meanwhile, called upon the U.N. Security Council to address Turkey’s deployment of a troops and military equipment into northern Iraq late last week. While the move was done in coordination with the Kurdish government in the region, the central government argued that it had not granted its consent and accused Turkey of violating Iraqi sovereignty. Turkey, meanwhile, defended its actions, stating that its troops have been part of an international train and equip program for local Iraqi forces combating ISIS in the region since 2014.

Around the web:

War crimes against members of non-opposing forces. Joanna Nicholson at IntLawGrrls questions case law that has found that military personnel cannot commit war crimes against those that are fighting on the same side. She notes that several provisions in the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I make it clear that certain violations can be war crimes, no matter which side they are directed against. She regrets, however, that the Rome Statute grants the International Criminal Court more extensive jurisdiction over such war crimes in NIACs than in IACs.

The melting pot that is the Syrian conflict. The Soufan Group, a New York-based security consultancy, published a report that has shed light on the extent to which foreign fighters are involved in the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts. The report concludes that at least 27,000 foreign fighters from 86 countries have fought in these countries, predominantly as members of ISIS. Such revelations emerge just as report suggest that ISIS is beginning to recruit followers from China, and has already gathered fighters from Russia and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

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.

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.

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One response to “The Road to Peace

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

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