A year ago, I wrote a short blog for Stop Genocide Now that made note of the significant move that ISIS had been declared “genocidal” by the United States. On March 17, 2016, then U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated, “Daesh [Arabic name for ISIS] is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions – in what it says, what it believes and what it does.” The statement was made in reference to the genocide committed against groups in areas under the control of ISIS, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims. This was especially significant because it was only the second time that the U.S. government had used the term “genocide” in reference to an on-going situation (the first being Darfur in 2004).
At the time, this seemed like a landmark statement and possibly motivation for real action. There was little knowledge of what may happen as a result of this recognition of genocide, but it perhaps gave the victims some hope that someone, somewhere, had recognized that what was happening was not within the normal rules of warfare. At the very least, it appeared as though ISIS would be referred to the UN Security Council for action by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
One year later, and any hope must now be in tatters. Civilians are still being slaughtered, refugees continue to flee the affected areas, and attacks in Aleppo, Mosul, and of course many other areas, remain daily news. It appears as though the international community is fatigued, and the lack of practical action is symbolic of the lack of real progress that can be made. Moreover, any attempts by the UN or ICC to address the actions perpetrated by ISIS through legal channels face stumbling blocks and complicated questions of cross-border jurisdiction. To date, any legal efforts against ISIS have focused on individual actors in specific countries, such as individuals returning from fighting abroad or individuals being detained prior to traveling to fight with ISIS. In part due to the cross-national nature of ISIS-controlled territory, the ICC is struggling to assess how to deal with the crimes. The ICC was established with the aim of addressing state atrocities, not necessarily non-state militant actors who control swathes of territory. Thus, they have been challenged by this case.
The current U.S. administration’s lofty aim to “defeat ISIS” does not reflect the practical realities of life in ISIS-controlled territories. It also ignores the complexities of this long-running conflict. The U.S. Congress should take the first steps towards actually helping the victims of ISIS by reintroducing Resolution H.R. 390, which calls for the provision of emergency aid for the victims of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Iraq and Syria. This would be but a first step toward the ending of the genocide, and should be reinforced by legal and practical action to end civilian suffering.
Throughout history, there are scores of examples of forgotten conflicts and of victims who do not receive the justice they deserve. We are at a unique time now, the term “genocide” has been used while crimes are still being committed and the world is able to see the atrocities perpetrated through television, newspapers and social media. There should be no reason that this genocide is added to the lengthy list of those forgotten, or that the victims should not receive justice.
In a surprising move, President Obama, with only a week left in his presidency, has made the decision to lift sanctions and open up trade with Sudan; a regime that has and continues to commit genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity against its own people. The announcement is due to be made public today.
Since 1997, the United States has imposed economic, trade, and financial sanctions against Sudan due to its support of terrorism, and since 2003 due to the gross human rights violations in Darfur. Sudan’s President, Omar al-Bashir—an indicted war criminal and génocidaire—has led Sudan’s armed forces and militias to rape, pillage, and kill the non-Arab populations of Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile. Never wavering from his steadfast extermination strategy, Bashir has been able to consistently evade justice and strong international pressure to end the assault on civilian populations.
Warming relations and lifting sanctions with a genocidal regime in the final days of President Obama’s term in office is not only deeply upsetting to rights advocates, it is a slap in the face to all those who suffer under Bashir’s reign of terror, the hundreds of thousands who have been killed, and the millions who have been displaced.
“Still, at its heart, the Rwandan story is the story of the failure of humanity to heed a call for help from an endangered people.” – Lt. General Roméo Dallaire
Listen to the alarm bells. Do you hear them? They rang for Rwanda, and we did not listen. They’ve rung for Syria for some time now, leaving the people of Aleppo wondering where we are. They now ring for South Sudan. Will we respond?
As the world is focused on Aleppo—with good reason—South Sudan is on the brink of genocide and no one is watching. The world’s youngest country falls into the trap of forgotten conflicts, overshadowed and set aside to be dealt with later. The problem is, later is never really an option. Later is when something becomes too big to deal with, too complicated to fix.
According to the UN Commission on South Sudan, there is a “steady process of ethnic cleansing underway in several areas of South Sudan using starvation, gang rape and the burning of villages.” Ban Ki Moon, departing UN Secretary General, accused South Sudanese leaders, including former Vice President Riek Machar, of “manipulating ethnicity for political gain.”
This week, Yasmin Sooka, Chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, addressed a special session of the UN Human Rights Council. She was there to discuss the dangerous situation in the country, and to explain to the council the crucial moment we are in as an international community. There is still time for us to stop the violence before it escalates any further. Before it becomes a full-on genocide.
In her address, Sooka detailed the horrific extent to which rape is being used as a weapon of war, describing “the levels of gang rape in this conflict as epic” (70% of the women in the Civilian Protection Camps have reported being raped; 78% had been forced to watch violent sexual attacks). She underscored that the violence is ethnically motivated, that civilians are being slaughtered, and that children are being forced into the role of child soldiers.
This is not a case of “oh, things might get bad in South Sudan.” Things are bad, and they are about to get a whole lot worse. As Sooka explained, “to be frank, we’re running out of adjectives to describe the horror.”
As it stands, The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) puts the current number of refugees who have fled the violence at 1,263,681. In October alone, people were fleeing at a rate of 3,500 per day. Per day. The death toll is rising, and the worry is that once the rainy season ends it will only get worse.
Still awaiting the Regional Protection Force (RPF) approved in August by the Security Council, and seeing the expulsion of international aid workers, as well as the silencing of independent media, the warning signs are clear for the people of South Sudan. It is only a matter of time.
We stand now at a defining moment. Will we as an international community live up to our responsibility and stop a looming genocide? Or, will we continue to wait and see as the people of South Sudan pay the price?
Listen to the alarm bells. #SouthSudan is on the brink of genocide. Will you act? cc: @POTUS @AmbassadorPower @UN http://bit.ly/2hnLgIT
War is horrifically, painfully, and unconscionably nothing new. So why does Aleppo seem different?
“We have never before received such a deluge of images from any front,” writes Michael Kimmelman in The New York Times, “never gotten such an intimate, minute-by-minute, look at what the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Wednesday most likely constituted war crimes.”
According to The Independent, six different sources confirmed that as Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad took control of Aleppo after a four-year battle with rebels, they shot 82 civilians, including 11 women and 13 children. In one of the most haunting visuals to emerge amidst footage of Syrian activists and citizens bidding farewell to the world, Bana al-Abed, a 7-year-old Syrian girl, announced into a camera, “Please, save us, thank you.” Her mother, Fatemah, who helps her run a Twitter account, wrote on Monday, “I am very surprised I am tweeting right now & still alive.”
Following reports of ceasefires, renewed violence, and civilian evacuations stalled and undertaken has been dizzying these last several days. It has been reality for Syrians throughout the more than five-year civil war that has raged through the country, killing an estimated 400,000 people as of April 2016.
As we contend with this human tragedy, the words “Never again” are ringing out yet again…like they did after the beginning of the Darfur genocide that continues today. Or after the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
Stop Genocide Now’s mission is to stand with people in grave danger of violence, death, and displacement, people like those who are suffering in Syria. We do this in the hope that the global community will finally say “Never again” and mean it. Until that day, we hope you will stand with us and with the people of Syria.
Over the past 13 years, the people of Darfur have suffered unimaginable violence at the hands of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his military. Officially labeled a genocide by the international community, efforts have been made to bring an end to the violence. The first-ever hybrid United Nations/African Union mission was launched, peace deals were struck, and it seemed progress was being made. But our attention span is limited, and the conflict in Sudan is complicated.
Today, Darfur has become known as the forgotten genocide. The international community has moved on—as our attention shifts to Syria and the refugee crisis—but the horrific suffering of the people of Darfur continues. Civilians are still fleeing, still dying, still trying to find peace.
The most recent violence has been in the mountain region of Jebel Marra in western Darfur. In January 2016, the Sudanese government launched a new series of attacks in the region against the Sudanese Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid (SLA/AW). Reports of these increased hostilities have been coming out of Jebel Marra for months, detailing hundreds of thousands displaced, and violence against civilians. As Amnesty International reports—and has been the case throughout most of the conflict in Darfur—civilians have been the direct targets of many of these attacks.
As if the people of Darfur have not suffered enough, Amnesty International now has evidence of the use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra. The evidence is clear, and unbearable.
According to Amnesty’s Director of Crisis Research, Tirana Hassan, “the scale and brutality of these attacks is hard to put into words. The images and videos we have seen in the course of our research are truly shocking.”
There is a reason it is a war crime to use chemical weapons. The violence they inflict on the body is unconscionable. Exposure to these chemicals (sulphur mustard, Lewisite, nitrogen mustard, etc.) leads to vomiting blood, diarrhea, blindness, blistering and darkening of skin, and eventually one’s skin falling off. This is what is happening to civilians in Jebel Marra…mostly children.
As Amnesty interviewed survivors in the region, a man named Mouhaildin spoke of his three-year-old son:
“The attack affected the children. My son was left behind when everyone ran away. The bomb landed near to him. He was not injured but since the day of the attack he started coughing and had difficulty breathing, then he started vomiting and having diarrhea. Then his skin started falling off.”
Stories just like Mouhaildin’s fill Amnesty’s report, with the organization finding there have been nearly 30 suspected chemical weapon attacks since January, with the most recent occurring on September 9. As of now, somewhere between 200-250 civilians have been killed, with many more surviving but suffering the long-term effects of such chemicals.
According to Al Jazeera, not only has the Sudanese government denied any use of chemical weapons, it has also refused requests from UNAMID to enter the region to investigate. This denial is a continuation of Bashir’s belief in his impunity. The international community has failed to hold him to account for any of his previous war crimes; why should he be worried about this one?
Amnesty International is now calling on the United Nations to:
- Apply sufficient political pressure on the Government of Sudan to ensure that peacekeepers and humanitarian agencies are allowed to access remote populations like that in Jebel Marra;
- Ensure the current arms embargo is strictly implemented and extended to cover the whole country.
- Urgently investigate the use of chemical weapons and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute all those suspected of responsibility.
We join Amnesty International in calling for action.
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.@UN_Geneva @UN_Spokesperson HC Zeid set up inquiry on @AmnestyOnline report on chemical weapons in #Sudan bit.ly/2dbYkQw