December 21, 2015
In the news:
While the week began on a hopeful note, the long-awaited peace talks, which started on December 15th, between the government and the Houthi rebels have been suspended until January 14th, after the Houthi rebels pulled out in protest of ongoing violations of the seven-day ceasefire. While the negotiations were still taking place earlier in the week, the parties did agree to resume humanitarian aid to Taiz, a city that has been severely affected for months by the conflict. The two sides also initiated a prisoner swap, in which the government would release 360 Houthi members in exchange for 265 civilians and fighters, but local tribesmen blocked the roads through which the prisoners would pass to prevent the swap from taking place.
In the Central African Republic, efforts to end the ongoing conflict have also derailed, after the Muslim Seleka rebel group rejected the upcoming elections, and declared an autonomous Republic of Logone in the northeast. Not all the news is negative, however. In Libya, the two rival factions finally signed a deal that will unify the two governments, and hopefully end the ongoing civil war between the factions. Moreover, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution approving plans formulated by the U.S. and Russia, as well as other world leaders, earlier in the week for peace talks and a country-wide ceasefire in Syria.
The U.N. Security Council is also taking steps to tackle ISIS. While Turkey and Iraq’s Kurdish government are attempting to seal off ISIS smuggling routes, the U.N. Security Council adopted another resolution this week that aims to combat ISIS’s financial network. The resolution, aimed to supplement previous resolutions dealing with the financing of terrorism, calls on member states to report the measures they have taken to prevent ISIS and other similar organizations from obtaining finances through the international banking system and other sources of revenue (for further information on what these sources of revenue are, visit these articles at The Economist, Foreign Policy, Lawfare, and Business Insider, to name a few). Meanwhile, reports suggest that ISIS is hoping to expand its oil infrastructure to Libya, and other vulnerable areas.
In the meantime, individual states are continuing to devise ways to combat ISIS. Saudi Arabia announced a thirty-four state Islamic military alliance that would share information and train, equip, and provide supplemental forces against ISIS. States in the alliance include Turkey, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, and Pakistan, although reports suggest that several states, including Pakistan, were not consulted before Saudi Arabia formed this alliance. Germany, which welcomed the deal, has also begun conducting airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. The U.S., meanwhile, has confirmed that its commandos are now active in Syria, reportedly to advise rebel groups on attacks targeting ISIS, and plan other logistics. It has also provided weapons to the Syrian Democratic Forces operating in the north. Iraq has declined similar offers to provide helicopters to its troops fighting ISIS, but reports suggest that it may be using Chinese drones instead.
South Sudan’s less high-profile armed conflict reached the two-year mark this week. While a ceasefire is technically in place, violence continues in the country. At least 2.2 million people have been displaced, and 3.9 million are on the brink of starvation, largely because the violence has prevented humanitarian aid organizations from accessing those in need. The U.N. has extended its Interim Security Force for Abyei for another five months to protect civilians. Lucy Hovil at IntLawGrrls assesses the work of the larger U.N. peacekeeping mission in the country, UNMISS, particularly examining the protection of civilian sites it has created around the country.
Speaking of peacekeepers, a three-member independent panel published a report that accused the U.N. of failing to address allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, who reportedly offered food to children as young as nine in exchange for sex.
In other conflict zones, vulnerable persons continue to face death and other forms of mistreatment. Reuters unearthed evidence that the U.S. was aware of, but largely ignored, the torture of detainees by Iraqi Shia militias in 2005. The New York Times similarly conducted an investigation on the torture of detainees by Afghan police and several U.S. Navy SEALs, and noted that despite such evidence, the latter were cleared of all charges during disciplinary hearings.
Human Rights Watch reported that members of armed groups, as well as others, in the Democratic Republic of Congo have kidnapped approximately 175 people for ransom this year. In Pakistan, at least twenty-four people were killed, and seventy injured, after a suicide bomb that ISIS later took responsibility for, went off in a market in Parachinar. In Syria, government rockets targeted a rebel-held eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, killing at least forty-five civilians. A school was hit in the process, and its principal was among the casualties. Unidentified air strikes also targeted the region. Russian airstrikes in a market in Aleppo killed eighteen civilians, and similar strikes that hit markets, homes and office buildings in Idlib killed at least an additional forty-three. Another twenty-one died as a result of Russian airstrikes in Raqqa. Speaking of, a member of the media collective, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, was killed by a group of masked men in Idlib. In Israel, reports suggest that Palestinians living in Israeli-governed parts of Hebron have been given identification numbers that they must quote at checkpoints when going in an out of these blocked areas. Moreover, two Palestinians were killed, and four wounded, during an Israeli raid of Qalandiya refugee camp in the West Bank.
Refugees in other parts of the world continue to also face threats. The U.N. estimates that over 60 million people will have been forced to flee war by the end of 2015. Those escaping to Turkey were reportedly forced to return to the conflict zones according to Amnesty International, actions that, if true, would be in violation of international law. Meanwhile, the Danish Parliament is considering a law that would permit authorities to search for and confiscate refugee/migrant jewelry, and other assets, to help pay for their expenses.
In international criminal law news, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (“ICTR”), tasked with trying cases related to the 1994 genocide and armed conflict in Rwanda, officially closed down last week. Custody over the court’s extensive archive of court records remains a point of contention between the U.N. and the Rwandan government, which wants the documents to be brought to Rwanda. Meanwhile, the court’s counterpart for the Yugoslavian conflict, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (“ICTY”), has ordered a retrial of Jovica Stanisic, former chief of the Serbian secret police, and his deputy, Franko Simatovic on grounds that the court misinterpreted key aspects of “aiding and abetting” liability. Various commentators have since examined the “special direction” requirement for such liability, including two at Opinio Juris (Kevin Jon Heller and Jens David Ohlin), and Marko Milanovic at EJIL: Talk!.
Around the web:
Interpreting IHL. While it is essential to trust that IHL will regulate armed conflicts, several commentators this week have considered whether certain IHL principles should be interpreted differently when applied to modern warfare. Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare, commenting on the percentage of civilian deaths during the IDF 2014 military operations against Hamas in Gaza, observed that no single number defines the acceptable threshold for proportionality of an individual attack. He noted that certain factors, such as Hamas’s use of civilians and civilian objects as shields from attack, and the urban setting of the conflict, could lead to a different acceptable threshold than attacks conducted on traditional battlefields (visit here for an updated response to his article). Charles Dunlap at Just Security similarly observes that the pervasive use of human shields in modern conflicts may increase the acceptable threshold for the proportionality of attacks against targets that employ such illegal methods of warfare.
Also at Just Security, Ryan Santicola comments on Butch Bracknell’s previous post in Lawfare on the legality of the U.S.’s targeting of ISIS oil tankers. He notes that Bracknell’s use of the U.S. Law of War Manual’s interpretation of “direct participation in hostilities” to justify targeting the drivers of oil trucks sheds light on the Manual’s more expansive view of the causal nexus. This view, he notes, may permit the targeting of civilians that provide more indirect contributions to military action, including those that engage in war sustaining activities.
At EJIL: Talk!, Tilman Rodenhäuser looks at the self-defense argument for conducting air strikes against non-state actors, such as the one employed by France against ISIS after the Paris attacks, through the lens of IHL. He notes that such a justification, when used to argue that a non-international armed conflict (“NIAC”) has been triggered between a state and a non-state actor, could have implications for the definition of a NIAC, which, under the current IHL discourse, requires a higher threshold of intensity.
The week of Reports. Human Rights Watch has published a series of reports this week highlighting alleged violations of IHL in the armed conflict in South Sudan and Syria. In its report on South Sudan, the advocacy group identifies fifteen commanders and officials it claims are responsible for recruiting and abusing child soldiers, and uses interviews with over one hundred former child soldiers, ranging from thirteen to seventeen years of age, to highlight these violations. Its report on Syria uses the photos made public by a military defector that had photographed the treatment of detainees in Syrian custody, known as the Caesar photographs, as well as interviews, to identify at least nineteen victims of torture, mistreatment, and summary execution in Syrian detention facilities. The report notes that at least 7,000 Syrians have been subjected to such treatment as a whole.
The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan similarly published a preliminary report on the civilian deaths and injuries that took place during the Taliban’s attack, and subsequent temporary occupation, of Kunduz between September 28 and October 13 of this year. It noted that the documented 848 casualties were likely not the fault of one party.
On the blog:
Humanity in War Series. Check out the video, if you unable to watch it live, of our latest Humanity in War Live-Stream Series, where our very own Jane Zimmerman, Executive Director of International Policy and External Affairs, and Brad Gutierrez, Director of International Policy and Relations share their perceptions on the recent International Conference of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Colombians in Yemen. The latest Situation Update discusses the Saudi-coalition’s use of foreign fighters to bolster its military efforts in Yemen. Recent reports revealed that the United Arab Emirates, which is part of the coalition, hired 400 Colombian fighters to fight in Yemen. The Situation Update assesses whether these individuals would fall under the definition of mercenaries in Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, and thereby lose the protections IHL grants to combatants.
When Does War End? Alice Debarre, intern with the IHL Unit’s Legal Education division, analyzes the point in which an armed conflict is said to be over under IHL. She makes a distinction between the “general close of military operations,” which would end the conflict, and thereby make IHL no longer applicable, and the “cessation of hostilities,” which would require parties to a conflict to release and repatriate prisoners of war (“POWs”). She assesses the impact this distinction may have in the ongoing al Warafi case, where a current Guantanamo detainee is contesting his continued detention largely on the grounds that the hostilities between the U.S. and the Taliban in Afghanistan have ceased.
May the Law be Ever in Your Favor. Alexa Magee, intern with the IHL Unit’s Youth Education division, examines the most recent installment of the Hunger Games film franchise through the lens of IHL, explaining the circumstances in which the conflict in the movie between rebelling districts of Pan Am and the Capitol abided, and did not abide, by the principles of IHL.
Opportunities with the Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. The Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law has opened its applications for the 2016 Program of Advanced Studies on Human Rights and Humanitarian law, where participants will be able to choose from over nineteen English and Spanish lectures discussing various topics relevant to human rights and humanitarian law. The Academy is also continuing to receive submissions for its Human Rights Essay Award. The topic this year is Extractive Industries and Human Rights. Visit here for more information.