End of the Year Review

Weekly IHL Update

January 5, 2016

Happy New Year!  2015 was certainly been an eventful year but below is our summary of the key IHL-related news items, articles, and Humanity in War blog posts that we have featured in our 2015 Weekly Updates.

In the news:


  • Houthi rebels seized Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s chief of staff and attacked the presidential compound.
  • Meanwhile, the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris that took place at the beginning of the month.
  • Boko Haram massacred as many as 2,000 people in northern Nigeria.
  • A leaked report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed that chemical weapons have been used in Syria.


  • The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution to implement a finalized ceasefire agreement in the Ukraine. Nevertheless, violence in the country continued.
  • The battle against Boko Haram became increasingly regional, as the armed forces of Chad joined Cameroon in the fight, while the group began launching attacks in Niger.
  • ISIS’s large-scale kidnappings and executions continued this month, including a Jordanian pilot, and captive, being burned alive. Libya’s ISIS-affiliate attacked a hotel, and released a video depicting the mass execution of Egyptian Coptic Christians, prompting Egypt to bomb ISIS targets in Libya.
  • In the most severe eruption of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah since 2006, a U.N. peacekeeper was killed in an Israeli airstrike launched in retaliation after Hezbollah fired anti-tank missiles that killed two Israeli soldiers.


  • As Houthi rebels gained ground toward the government stronghold in Aden, Yemeni President Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia.  Saudi Arabia began launching drone strikes against the Houthi rebels with the help of regional Sunni allies, as well as U.S. logistics and intelligence.
  • ISIS bulldozed an ancient Assyrian palace, which UNESCO called a war crime, and desecrated the ancient capital of Kohsabad.
  • Libya’s army launched its first military effort against ISIS in the city of Surt and ISIS kidnapped twenty Libyan medical workers.
  • U.N. investigators released the names of suspected war criminals in Syria.


  • Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack on a Kenyan university.
  • The Palestinian Authority ratified the Rome Statute.
  • Islamist rebels captured Idlib, while ISIS took control of most of the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, sparking a fight between ISIS militants and Palestinian fighters.  Meanwhile, Iraqi forces reclaimed Tikrit from ISIS, and discovered mass grave sites of thousands of Iraqi soldiers.
  • ISIS coordinated with its affiliate in Libya for the first time after its leaders in Iraq and Syria released a video purporting to show the execution of Ethiopian Christians in Libya.
  • Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced that her office would not investigate allegations of war crimes committed in the Syrian Civil War.


  • The Saudi-led coalition forces deployed “reconnaissance” troops in Yemen. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch accused the coalition of using cluster munitions.
  • Reports by British and Syrian human rights organizations accused the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS of killing at least fifty-two civilians during its May 1 airstrikes.
  • Hundreds of women and children were rescued during Nigerian military raids of Boko Haram camps. Meanwhile, evidence emerged that the group raped and deliberately impregnated 214 of the girls liberated from the camps.
  • Fighting between rebels and government forces in South Sudan resumed this month, forcing nearly 100,000 people to leave their homes.
  • Ten rival armed groups in the Central African Republic agreed to a peace deal requiring disarmament and potential prosecution of war crimes committed during the two-year conflict.


  • ISIS destroyed two ancient shrines in Palmyra, the 2,000-year old World Heritage Site they had taken control of in May.


  • Sudan became the first African country to sign the Deed of Commitment to protect children during armed conflict from the hostilities and dangers of war.
  • A humanitarian ceasefire took place in Yemen during the month of Ramadan. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that between July 3 and July 15, at least 165 civilians died and 210 injured due to airstrikes and street fighting.


  • ISIS fighters blew up another ancient temple, the Temple of Baalshamin, in the ruins of Palmyra.
  • The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution to create an investigatory panel to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria, following allegations that ISIS has been using mustard gas and other chemical agents in the country.


  • Violent clashes took place in Ukraine when police attempted to disburse protesters who opposed the government granting more autonomy to rebel-held territory in Eastern Ukraine. Ukraine agreed to extend International Criminal Court jurisdiction for potential war crimes committed in the region since February 20, 2014.
  • Russia confirmed that it was sending military aid to Syria, but denied any further presence.
  • U.S.-coalition airstrikes in Syria and Iraq were under investigation amid allegations that over 400 civilians died because of these strikes. Monitoring organizations and analysts in Syria observed that Assad’s forces have killed thousands more civilians than ISIS.
  • ISIS destroyed the Temple of Bel and three funerary towers at Palmyra. UNESCO condemned the conduct as a war crime.
  • South Sudan adopted the peace deal that was signed in August.
  • The Colombian government and FARC rebels agreed to sign a peace deal within six months.
  • The EU finally approved a controversial plan to relocate around 120,000 refugees/migrants in the region, and agreed to donate 1 billion euros to U.N. agencies to help improve conditions for refugees/migrants in Syria’s neighboring countries.


  • During a joint NATO and Afghan offensive to regain Kunduz from the Taliban, U.S.-led air strikes struck a Médecins Sans Frontières (“MSF”) hospital and killed at least sixteen civilians. MSF labeled the strike as a war crime and called for an independent investigation.
  • Russia’s involvement in Syria against ISIS and rebel groups fighting President Assad escalated.
  • Russia faced criticism over civilian casualties allegedly caused by its use of indiscriminate weapons. Its airstrikes also struck Syrian hospitals.
  • Saudi Arabia was condemned for the increasing civilian death toll in Yemen. The U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a Saudi-backed resolution that supports a national commission of inquiry, instead of a U.N. one, to investigate alleged war crimes.
  • Rights groups, and even the U.S., expressed concern about the proportionality of Israel’s response to the Palestinian attacks and protests in East Jerusalem.
  • ISIS-affiliated suicide bombers killed at least 128 people in Ankara, Turkey.
  • Somalia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, leaving the U.S. as the only country in the world that has yet to do so.
  • The ICC’s first case dealing with the 2012 destruction of Timbuktu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Mali, kicked off. The court’s Chief Prosecutor requested its judges to authorize an investigation into the 2008 Russia-Georgia armed conflict.


  • The U.N. and ICRC condemned states for exhibiting “disturbing paralysis” in relation to current armed conflicts conducted in defiance of “humanity’s most fundamental norms.”
  • Several large-scale Islamist-group attacks took place, including in Iraq, Lebanon, France, Somalia, Mali, Egypt, and Tunisia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad.
  • France declared war on ISIS and escalated its airstrikes in Syria. Russia pledged to combat the group after confirming that a bomb, which ISIS took responsibility for, caused its airliner to crash in Egypt. Meanwhile, the U.S. expanded its “train and assist” program into Syria.
  • The increasing flow of refugee/migrants into Europe and other states caused tensions.  Fears that ISIS, and other Islamist groups, would use the refugee flow to obtain entry into the West led to discussions on tighter border controls in EU member states, Canada, and the U.S.
  • Rebels reportedly locked Alawite Syrians in over 100 cages to use them as human shields.
  • Kurdish rebels took control of Sinjar from ISIS, and discovered a mass grave of Yazidi women.
  • Turkmen rebels in northern Syria shot down a Russian pilot as he was parachuting out of a jet downed by Turkish forces after it reportedly entered Turkish territory.
  • The United Arab Emirates deployed at least 450 Colombian mercenaries into Yemen, and the U.N. suspected that around 400 Eritreans were also sent to fight.


  • The U.N. Security Council called on states to report the measures they have taken to tackle the financing of terrorism. States targeted ISIS’s oil trade, attacking oil transport trucks and oil fields, and sealing off smuggling routes through Turkey and Iraq.
  • Reports emerged that increasing military pressure against ISIS in Syria and Iraq is pushing ISIS toward Libya.
  • The two rival factions in Libya signed a deal that would unify the two governments.
  • The long-awaited peace talks between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels, which began this month, were suspended until January 14.
  • The escalation of violence in Burundi raised fears of the re-emergence of ethnic conflict.
  • The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, tasked with trying cases related to the Rwandan genocide and armed conflict, officially closed down.
  • Evidence emerged that the U.S. was aware of, but largely ignored, the torture of detainees by Iraqi Shia militias in 2005, and failed to adequately punish Navy SEALS who contributed to the torture of detainees in Afghan police control.

Around the web:

  • The U.S. Department of Defense (“DoD”) released its first DoD-wide Law of War Manual that is intended to serve as a resource on international humanitarian law for military commanders, legal practitioners, and other military and civilian personnel.
  • The U.N. approved the Revised Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, dubbed the “Mandela Rules,” which provide non-binding guidelines on the treatment of all persons deprived of their liberty.
  • Several commentators discussed whether the attack in Kunduz against the MSF hospital could amount to a war crime under IHL, including those at The Intercept, Just Security, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and IntLawGrrls.  In November, MSF released its own report summarizing its initial investigations into the incident.
  • Following the release of yet another video of ISIS militants destroying an ancient archeological site, some wondered whether the international community could intervene to remove art and artifacts from countries where they are threatened by ISIS.
  • Notes from a recent conference on asymmetric warfare questioned adherence to the laws of armed conflict when the strategy on non-state groups violate these norms.

On the blog:

  • The controversial wartime practice of security detention enables a State to detain individuals without trial on the basis of the security risks they might pose. This concept, although recognized by IHL, is nonetheless in dire need of an improved framework.
  • In honor of Veterans Day Christie Edwards, Director of the American Red Cross International Humanitarian Law Program, interviews Benjamin B. Ferencz, former prosecutor at the Subsequent Proceedings at Nuremberg.
  • Alice Debarre examines the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission’s (“IHFFC”) unprecedented, although unlikely, involvement in the investigations surrounding the bombing of the MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.
  • Participating IHL Action Campaign teams and the IHL team at National Headquarters reflect on the Youth Leadership Summit and the creative Action Campaign projects of 2015.
  • Millennials are constantly inundated with information from social media. Much of this information relates to armed conflict, but many in this generation are unaware of IHL, that wars have limits, and the importance of being familiar with IHL.

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