February 11, 2016
In the news
In possibly one of the most absurd ISIS-inspired plots, a nineteen-year-old Australian man is on trial for planning to commit a terrorist attack in Melbourne last year by packing a kangaroo with explosives and sending it towards Australian police officers.
On Monday, a U.N. Human Rights Council report indicated that the treatment of civilians, including children as young seven, detained in prisons run by the Syrian government forces, amounts to a government policy of extermination, which is a crime against humanity. The report indicates that such conduct also amounts to war crimes, and, as such, recommends the U.N. Security Council impose sanctions on high-ranking Syrian officials.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called the Syrian conflict an “unfolding humanitarian catastrophe unmatched since World War II.” Thousands fled on Friday from a Russian-backed assault around Aleppo as aid workers fear an upcoming full government siege. Human Rights Watch has claimed that Russia’s daily cluster bomb attacks, conduct that has been banned under IHL by one hundred and eighteen countries, have killed at least thirty seven civilians, including nine children, since January 26th On Monday, the Syrian army, backed by Russia, has advanced toward the Turkish border and Reuters reports that this advance has been one of the “biggest shifts in momentum of the war”. These attacks and advances have created serious obstacles to the Syrian peace talks, which were officially suspended on February 3rd.
The same day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia will not stop its involvement in Syria until “the terrorist organizations” are defeated. A Russian military adviser was killed by mortar fire in Syria. On the ground, Just Security (citing the Financial Times) and Gulf News note that this was the first time Moscow admitted to the death of one of its service members on the ground since the onset of its intervention.
Both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have stated that they are ready and willing to send ground troops into Syria. Two Saudi officials told CNN on February 5th that they plan to run a multinational military training exercise in March to prepare for future anti-ISIS operations.
The Islamic State is reportedly using Syria’s largest dam, Taqba Dam, as a refuge, and is hiding high-value prisoners and senior officials. ISIS is convinced that the U.S. will not risk bombing the site for fear of unleashing a large flood that could leave no electricity for all of eastern Syria.
Syrian teachers in Aleppo have declared that they will teach despite airstrikes that UNICEF says has destroyed one out of four schools. Enrollment in Aleppo has dropped dramatically, and UNICEF reports that a total of two million Syrian children are out of school.
Daily Beast reports that the U.S. admits to bombing twenty-nine civilians in the war against ISIS in fourteen separate incidents throughout 2015, but no children are believed to be among the dead.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported that, as of mid-December, thirty-four militant groups have reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. He warned that its ability to persuade groups from around the world to pledge allegiance poses an unprecedented threat, and its increasing influence “demonstrates the speed and scale at which the gravity of the threat has evolved in just 18 months.”
While Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he will pull Canadian fighter jets from the U.S. coalition airstrikes against ISIL, and instead focus on Canada’s “train, advise, and assist” mission, President Obama has “taken the gloves off” against ISIS. The White House is encouraging the widening of strike zones, and even though military officials believe the U.S. coalition has made significant progress, Pentagon officials conclude that more is needed to make a significant impact.
The top US military commander in the fight against ISIS, Army Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, acknowledged that carpet bombing ISIS is militarily unacceptable, pointing out that indiscriminate bombing and killing large numbers of civilians are inconsistent with US values: “We are bound by the laws of armed conflict. And you know at the end of the day it doesn’t only matter if you win, it matters how you win.”
Libya seems to be the next front in the fight against ISIS. While ISIS forces have declined in Iraq and Syria according to new intelligence, Secretary Kerry warns that ISIS now poses a threat in Libya, particularly to its oil wealth. According to the Economist, it has been confirmed that American and British special forces are already on the ground in Libya.
Libya’s twenty-month-long civil war has not only opened the doorway for ISIS infiltration, but has also created a health situation that has become so dire that the WHO Representative for Libya, Syed Jaffar Hussain, has said that they cannot wait for a political solution to initiate a humanitarian aid response.
Both Iraq and Turkey are taking measures to defend themselves against the Islamic State. Iraq has reportedly begun building a wall and a trench around Baghdad. Meanwhile, Turkey has erected walls and watch towers on its border with Syrian territory under ISIS control.
A U.N. panel investigating the Saudi-led bombing campaigns in Yemen has uncovered violations of IHL through systematic attacks on civilian targets. Multiple airstrikes on January 21st killed at least eighteen people, including civilians and an ambulance driver from a Doctors Without Borders-supported hospital. On January 25th, Saudi-led airstrikes hit the home of a senior judge in Yemen’s capital, Sana, killing him and six of his relatives. A car bomb outside the presidential palace in Yemen’s southern city, Aden, on January 28th, left at least seven dead and fifteen wounded.
As the fighting in Yemen continues, Houthi rebels are besieging Taiz and hospitals have either closed or are left ill-equipped, resulting in many newborns dying. Camel caravans are being used to smuggle in some medical supplies. However, the supplies cover only a fraction of the need.
The United States has expanded its fight against ISIS in Afghanistan, carrying out a number of operations throughout January. U.S. military officials confirmed that US airstrikes destroyed an ISIS-operated radio station in Afghanistan called the “Voice of Caliphate”.
Afghanistan expects to hold direct talks with the Taliban by the end of February in the hopes of ending what Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Ahmad Shakib Mostaghani, calls “the futile violence which is imposed on our people.”
Turning to North Korea, after defying warnings from the international community, North Korea launched a long-range rocket carrying an observation satellite last week. The U.N. Security Council has condemned the launch, and is discussing imposing a new round of sanctions. The North Korean embassy in Moscow has reportedly stated that North Korea would continue to launch rockets carrying satellites. South Korean and American military personnel will commence negotiations for the deployment of an anti-missile defense system in South Korea.
Dominic Ongwen, one of the most senior commanders of the Lord’s Resistance Army, is on trial at The Hague facing 70 war crimes charges. In addition, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court has vowed to investigate all sides of the Ivory Coast War, as the trial against former Ivory Coast President, Laurent Gbagbo, opened last month. The ICC has also officially initiated an investigation on the war crimes committed in the 2008 Georgia-Russian Conflict.
According to the Washington Post, the six year long Islamic uprising in Nigeria has killed about 20,000 people and driven 2.5 million people from their homes. A survivor reports that on January 31st Boko Haram extremists burned 86 people alive, including children, about three miles away from Maiduguri, the largest city in northeast Nigeria. Recent attacks are reportedly being carried out by suicide bombers who are often hiding explosives under religious gowns or bags of vegetables.
On February 2nd, a bomb blast created a large hole in a passenger plane at Somalia’s Mogadishu airport forcing the Djibouti-bound plane to make an emergency landing. One passenger reportedly died and two others were injured. No group has taken responsibility for the attack so far.
In other news, IBM has developed software that they believe can help law enforcement fight terrorism by separating real refugees from imposters or even predict bomb attacks.
In Guatemala, the first national trial for sexual slavery perpetrated during armed conflict opened, offering hope for women who have been sexually abused in war.
Around the Web
The Cultural Trail of Destruction. A new tool from the Antiquities Coalition shows the cultural heritage destruction left by Islamic extremist groups and shows the monuments still at risk.
Life as a refugee. The New York Times Op-Doc has a short documentary about a 17-year-old Syrian girl and her life in a refugee camp.
Prehistoric war. The New York Times discusses an interesting finding of a prehistoric massacre that hints at a war amongst the hunters and gatherers. The origins of war are hotly debated, as some scientists point to an ancestral predilection, while others focus on the influence of complex and hierarchical human societies.
Confiscating refugee property. The Danish Parliament recently passed an amendment to the Aliens Act allowing the police to search and confiscate property of asylum seekers. EJIL: Talk! discusses how the confiscation of assets likely violates several human rights, but notes that similar laws in other countries have not been taken to the European Court of Human Rights.
Could the future of cyber security be in the Israeli desert? Motherboard’s Hunter Stuart discusses Israel’s building of a military-industrial security megacomplex in Beersheba involving a compound of army bases, academic research centers, and startups.
On the Blog
Humanity in War Live-Stream Series. The latest installment of the IHL team’s series on the law of armed conflict aired February 8th with a talk about Modern Approaches to International Justice moderated by our very own Christie Edwards and featuring Adam M. Smith, author of After Genocide: Bringing the Devil to Justice, Susana SaCouto, Director of the War Crimes Research Office at American University Washington College of Law, and Ari Bassin, Senior Transitional Justice Advisor in the Office of Global Criminal Justice at the U.S. Department of State. Follow the series and leave your questions and comments on our twitter account @humanityinwar. The next talk will be on Urban Warfare on February 23rd.
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 information on registration.
Human Rights Law and Security in the Information Age. The Washington University School of Law will host a presentation by the American University International Law Review in partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, American Red Cross, and American Society of International Law on Wednesday February 17, 2016. Registration information can be found here.
Now’s the Time to Shape the Future. Ahead of the upcoming Clara Barton International Humanitarian Law Competition, King County Bar Association sat down with Christie Edwards to discuss how IHL connects with current issues around the world.
Future War. Our very own Joe Gibson interviewed Peter Singer, author of Ghost Fleet, war futurist, and consultant to the Call of Duty video game on January 26, 2016. To watch the interview, visit this link.
The Weekly Geek. The IHL Team’s Joe Gibson posted an interesting read on autonomous weapons and cyborgs becoming potential forces on the battlefield and the slow emergence of biohacking.
Migrant Smuggling on the Mediterranean Sea. Katherine Jacobs points out the growing crisis of refugees/migrants smuggling into and throughout Europe. Their passage to security is rife with its own set of dangers.
Impact Through Education. Tommy Tran discusses his time operating as a Program Coordinator of the IHL Action Campaign as a stepping-stone toward making the world a better place.
Why I Continue to be Part of the IHL Action Campaign. Team Leader of the Eastern Pennsylvania Region, Craig Colbert, discusses his time with the IHL Action Campaign over the past four years and his experiences as a team leader.
An Education Unlike Any Other. Guatam Adumusmilli writes about his discovery of the field of IHL and his hope that one day IHL will be a known concept in every household.