January 20, 2016
**Our office is busy prepping for the annual Clara Barton Competition, so our Weekly Updates will shift to Bi-Weekly Updates until mid-March. This is a sad concession for all of us, but we promise Clara Barton will be worth it!**
In the news:
Foreign Policy came out with its list of ten conflicts that deserve the most “international attention and support.” The conflicts are: Syria and Iraq; Turkey; Yemen; Libya; Lake Chad Basin; South Sudan; Burundi; Afghanistan; South China Sea; and Colombia. War is Boring published its own list of conflicts specifically in the African continent to keep an eye out for in 2016. Those not included in the Foreign Policy list are: Mali; Algeria; Central African Republic; Democratic Republic of Congo; Darfur; Al Shabab in Somalia and Kenya; Egypt; and, South Africa. The past two weeks saw notable developments in many of these countries and/or regions.
In Syria, the humanitarian impacts of siege warfare became strikingly apparent. The focus in the past two weeks was largely on the starvation rampant in Madaya, which has been under siege by President Assad’s forces since July 2015. At least twenty-one people have reportedly died from hunger, eight due to a lack of medical care, and thirty-four while attempting to flee the town, while at least 400,000 are continuing to face starvation throughout the country. Aid convoys were finally permitted to enter the town earlier this week. Meanwhile, in Deir Az Zor, another besieged town, ISIS abducted hundreds of civilians and pro-government fighters, and executed at least 130 of them. BBC News provides a good overview of siege warfare as conducted in Syria, and Al Jazeera provides an interactive map that shows all the areas currently under siege in the country.
Meanwhile, in Idlib and Raqqa provinces, Russian airstrikes continue to have a detrimental impact on the civilian population. At least ninety-six have reportedly died in Idlib, and forty-two in Raqqa. The strikes also hit one of the humanitarian field offices of a local NGO, Syrian Emergency Task Force located in Idlib. In Aleppo, Russian planes struck a school and killed fifteen people, twelve of whom were children.
In Iraq, the U.N. announced that violence committed against civilians is “staggering,” noting that at least 18,000 people have been killed in less than two years. It attributes some of these casualties to ISIS, which recently faced a loss after Iraqi forces finally took control of Ramadi. When entering the town, the forces found evidence of ISIS brutality, including mass graves and widespread destruction. ISIS has conducted a counteroffensive for Ramadi, which have led to further civilian casualties, including thirteen who were killed by a roadside bomb as they attempted to flee the town. The U.S., in support of the Iraqi troops, has reportedly finally deployed its Special Operations targeting force into Iraq. The U.S.’s strategy has also shifted off of the traditional battlefield, with reports that its airstrikes have targeted buildings containing large amounts of cash belonging to the group. It also reportedly plans to overhaul its counter-propaganda strategies. Given the spread of ISIS, the U.S. military also plans on further extending its airstrikes into Libya and Afghanistan.
Libya continues to be particularly vulnerable to the group. ISIS-affiliated attacks on a police station that killed at least 60 policeman and injured over 200, combined with numerous ISIS attacks on oil facilities in the north, has reaffirmed the need to create a unity government.
Nevertheless, ISIS continues its attacks around the world. In the first week of January, ISIS targeted a group of Israeli tourists in Cairo. The attack did not lead to any casualties. An ISIS-affiliated attack in Istanbul earlier this week killed at least ten people, mostly German tourists. Turkish ground forces retaliated by striking ISIS targets in northern Syria and Iraq. In its first ever strike in the country, ISIS also claimed responsibility for a five-person suicide attack at a Starbucks in Jakarta, Indonesia that killed two civilians. At the end of last week, two separate ISIS attacks in Shia-areas in or near Baghdad took place, one at a shopping center, which led to the deaths of at least thirty-two people, and the other at a café, which led to twenty-three deaths. In retaliation, Shia militia members attacked nine Sunni mosques, killing ten people.
Another potential obstacle to peace in Syria is the current tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which emerged two weeks ago when Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shia cleric. Iraq offered to mediate the dispute in response to its fears that the rift would exacerbate sectarian divisions within the region. Both Saudi Arabia and the U.N. asserted that peace negotiations planned for Syria and Yemen would not be hampered. However, at least in Yemen, violence against Iran-backed Houthi rebels seems to have escalated, especially in the capital, Sanaa, and in the cities of Aden and Taiz. Casualties of the Saudi-coalition airstrikes in Sanaa included a center for the blind, and, according to Iran, its embassy in the city, although the coalition denies that it targeted the latter. A MSF hospital was also hit in Razeh, killing at least four. Meanwhile, a Human Rights Watch report condemned Saudi Arabia for using cluster munitions in Yemen, an allegation that the coalition denied. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon emphasized that if true, such conduct could amount to a war crime.
Those conflicts that fall outside of the Foreign Policy and War on the Rocks lists have also seen some interesting developments in the past two weeks. In Burkina Faso, al Qaeda gunmen conducted a day-long siege of a luxury hotel at the capital, taking over a hundred people hostage, and ultimately leaving at least twenty-seven dead, four of whom were the gunmen. Tensions between North and South Korea also heightened, after North Korea announced that it had detonated its first hydrogen bomb near its nuclear test site. While many are skeptical about the validity of this claim, the U.N. Security Council condemned the conduct and vowed to impose punitive sanctions on the state. In retaliation, South Korea has resumed its propaganda broadcasts. North Korea threatened that continued broadcasts would bring both states to the “brink of war.” South Korea is also reportedly in talks with the U.S. to deploy U.S. strategic weapons against North Korea. The U.S. already flew a B-52 bomber over South Korea as a show of force. Most recently, South Korea fired warning shots at a suspected North Korean drone that flew over the border.
Going back to Foreign Policy’s list, a local program in South Sudan, Remembering the Ones We Lost, is seeking to identify all of the victims of armed conflict in the country since 1955, and has recently launched a website that it views as a public memorial to the victims. Other states also took steps toward accountability these past two weeks. Guatemalan authorities arrested eighteen former military officials allegedly responsible for a series of massacres and disappearances during the country’s long civil war. The U.K. has similarly referred to prosecutors dozens of cases against British soldiers who were allegedly responsible for unlawful killings and/or torture during the second Iraq war. The U.S. has reopened investigations into the Navy SEALs who allegedly beat detainees in Afghanistan in 2012. Similarly, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered investigations into the kidnapping of 219 schoolgirls by Boko Haram to determine their whereabouts. Meanwhile, an Egyptian lawyer has filed suit against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for alleged war crimes Israel committed in the 1967 war, namely the deaths of Egyptian detainees. In the international arena, a new special tribunal will be set up at The Hague to investigate alleged Kosovo Liberation Army war crimes during the 1998-99 conflict.
Around the web:
Starvation as a method of war. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon referred to the humanitarian situation in Madaya as “unconscionable” and emphasized that using starvation as method of war is a war crime, and has sent the U.N. commission of inquiry on Syria to investigate further. Mai El-Sadany at Lawfare seems to agree that such conduct amounts to a war crime, while James Denselow at Al Jazeera outlines the history of starvation as a war tactic, and opines that the international community has a duty to put a stop to such conduct. Sam Heller at Vice News explains why starvation and siege warfare may be attractive to President Assad’s regime.
ISIS’s technical college. Sky News has uncovered videos that shows an ISIS-operated “jihadi technical college” that trains, with the help of scientists and weapons experts, its members to modify conventional weapons systems, something which demonstrates the growing sophistication of the group. For example, the article reports that ISIS has built remote control cars that contain rigged mannequins that are able to produce the heat signature of humans.
POW protections against public curiosity. Iran’s release of photos and videos of the ten U.S. sailors it captured for “trespassing” into its waters has sparked debate on whether such conduct amounted to a violation of the Third Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War, which provides that all prisoners of war be protected against “insults and public curiosity.” Although Iran released the sailors the next day, Adam Klein at Lawfare argues that the arrest constituted a “resort to armed force” that triggered the application of the Third Geneva Convention.
Mexican drug lords with an increasingly political agenda. The recent arrest of “El Chapo,” a Mexican drug lord who escaped prison six months ago, has brought the conduct of Mexican cartels back into the forefront. The New York Times provides a good overview of the politicization of these drug lords, a factor that some scholars believe help shift the violence in the country increasingly towards an armed conflict.
Ukraine and cyber war attack. Evidence emerged that a cyber attack on Ukraine’s power grid was the cause of the power outage in late December that left 700,000 people without electricity. The Daily Beast and Foreign Policy ask whether Russia may be to blame, and examine the repercussions such a large-scale cyber attack could have on the conduct of war. At Lawfare, Paul Rosenzweig notes that this is the fifth known cyber attack that has had physical effects.
On the blog:
Weekly Geek. The blog has a new weekly feature! The IHL Unit’s very own Joe Gibson will provide weekly geek-outs on exciting, innovative, or just plain weird war technologies. Last week, Joe discussed robotic war balls and tricycle guns. This week, he focuses on robotic exoskeletons and autonomous ghost ships. Be sure to check it out!
IHL Workshop Dates. The IHL Unit is conducting two new workshops, the first at the University of Virginia School of Law on February 27, 2016, and the second at the Washington University School of Law on April 8, 2016. Visit the links for further information on how to register.
Professional Training Course Spring Dates. The IHL Unit has also confirmed the dates for its monthly professional training courses. These will take place February 11, March 3, April 14, May 12, and June 9. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register.
Future War. The IHL team’s very own Joe Gibson will be interviewing Peter Singer, the author of Ghost Fleet, war futurist, and consultant to the Call of Duty video game. This event is part of the IHL Unit’s Live-Stream series. To watch the interview live, visit our blog on January 26, 2016.