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Atrocity Alert No. 267: Afghanistan, Niger and Myanmar (Burma)

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Afghanistan
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GCR2P
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Atrocity Alert is a weekly publication by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect highlighting situations where populations are at risk of, or are enduring, mass atrocity crimes.

DESPITE TALIBAN PROMISES, REPORTS OF HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES EMERGE

Following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, reports of widespread human rights abuses are already emerging. A day after the capture of Kabul on 15 August, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned the Security Council of “chilling reports of severe restrictions on human rights throughout the country,” particularly violations against women and girls. Over the past week small demonstrations against Taliban rule have also taken place across the Afghanistan and the Taliban have responded with violence, including shooting at protesters.

Although the Taliban declared a “general amnesty” on 17 August for those who worked for the previous Afghan government, there have also been numerous reports of their forces searching for Afghans who previously worked for United States (US) or North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces, as well as former members of the security forces. Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, has reiterated their promise of no reprisals, but allegations of arrests and property seizures, as well as unverified reports of reprisal killings, continue to emerge. Internal UN reports indicate that their Afghan staff have also been beaten, harassed and threatened by the Taliban since 15 August.

Mujahid also issued a series of conditional assurances regarding the Taliban’s respect for human rights principles, including support for a free press that does not “work against national values” and no discrimination against women “within the limits of Islam.” However, freedom of the press and the fundamental rights of women and girls have previously been infringed upon, including the at least 30 journalists and media workers who have been killed, wounded or abducted by the Taliban and other armed extremists so far this year.

Despite Taliban assurances of safe passage for Afghans wishing to leave the country, at least 20 Afghans have been killed over the past week either by shootings or stampedes while attempting to flee via the airport. The US has suggested the potential extension of their troop presence to assist with evacuations from Kabul airport, but the Taliban has threatened that the presence of foreign forces beyond 31 August would be met with “consequences.”

Universal human rights are unconditional. There should be no diplomatic recognition of any Taliban-led government unless it is willing to honor Afghanistan’s international treaty obligations and demonstrate its commitment to uphold the human rights of all Afghans, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religious belief or sexual orientation. The UN Human Rights Council should immediately establish an independent international mechanism to monitor the human rights situation in the country.

TILLABÉRI BECOMES EPICENTER OF ATROCITIES IN NIGER

On 20 August suspected fighters from an Islamist armed group opened fire during evening prayers in the village of Theim in the Tillabéri region of Niger, killing 16 people. This attack followed the killing of 37 civilians, including 13 children, in the village of Darey-Dey in Tillabéri on 16 August. According to local authorities, the unidentified armed men “found people in the fields and shot at anything that moved.” This was the third such attack in Darey-Dey so far this year. A state of emergency has been enforced in Tillabéri since 2017, but civilians have come under increased attack as armed groups linked to the so-called Islamic State in the Greater Sahara have made inroads in the region.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has expressed his concern for “the cumulative impact of these frequent attacks on the humanitarian situation in the region of Tillabéri, where already more than 100,000 people have been displaced and 520,000 are in need of humanitarian assistance.”

Since the start of 2021 western Niger has experienced some of the worst atrocities in its recent history. More than 450 civilians have been killed by Islamist armed groups, with the majority of attacks targeting civilians along ethnic lines. The recent attacks in the tri-border region of Niger are also part of a wider conflict in the Central Sahel, encompassing Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Last Wednesday, 18 August, at least 59 civilians were killed in an attack near the town of Arbinda, northern Burkina Faso.

The ongoing violence is also exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Tillabéri. Since the start of the rainy season in June, armed groups have targeted civilians working in the fields, which has disrupted agricultural production and transhumance at a time when over 686,000 people are at risk of severe food insecurity. According to Human Rights Watch, Islamist armed groups have also destroyed 147 granaries so far this year in the Banibangou administrative area in Tillabéri. Over 100 civilians have been killed since the start of July, many of whom were attacked as they were farming.

All civilians, regardless of ethnicity or religion, are entitled to equal protection in accordance with International Humanitarian Law. The Nigerien government must apprehend and prosecute all perpetrators of alleged war crimes. The authorities should bolster the early warning capabilities of the army, protect vulnerable populations in the Tillabéri region, and ensure that these efforts do not lead to further human rights abuses.

FOUR YEARS SINCE THE ROHINGYA GENOCIDE IN MYANMAR

Today, 25 August, marks four years since Myanmar’s security forces initiated so-called “clearance operations” against the minority Rohingya population in Rakhine State. The operations were characterized by indiscriminate killings, sexual violence and forced displacement on a massive scale. More than 350 Rohingya villages were destroyed and 745,000 people were forced to flee. In 2019 the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar concluded that senior members of the military should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity and war crimes as well as genocide against the Rohingya. This includes General Min Aung Hlaing, who subsequently led a military coup on 1 February 2021 that overthrew Myanmar’s civilian-led government.

The genocide was the culmination of decades of institutionalized persecution of the Rohingya, including the denial of citizenship and severe restrictions on their freedom of movement as well as access to education and employment. Four years later, all these discriminatory laws and policies remain in place. Impunity for their role in the genocide has emboldened Myanmar’s security forces to commit other human rights violations and abuses, including potential crimes against humanity perpetrated by the new military junta against civilian protesters.

More than 1,000 people have been killed by Myanmar’s security forces since the 1 February coup. Thousands more remain in detention where they face torture and other forms of cruel and degrading treatment.

The Rohingya continue to face an existential threat under the junta. During May General Min Aung Hlaing publicly rejected the term “Rohingya” and cast doubt on the return of refugees from Bangladesh. Amidst a catastrophic wave of COVID-19 infections, junta-appointed authorities said they had no plans to include the remaining Rohingya population in Rakhine State, who are forced to live in densely-packed displacement camps, in their vaccination plans.

Since the 2017 genocide some progress has been made in pursuing international justice for the Rohingya. During 2019 The Gambia brought a historic case to the International Court of Justice, accusing Myanmar of violating its obligations under the Genocide Convention. The Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court has also authorized the Chief Prosecutor to investigate possible crimes against humanity committed against the Rohingya, resulting in their forced deportation to Bangladesh. Meanwhile, on 17 August a court in Argentina heard testimony from Rohingya survivors regarding a case initiated under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

“Since the military coup, the lives of the Rohingya as well as millions of other civilians in Myanmar are under heightened threat,” said Nadira Kourt, Program Manager at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. “The UN Security Council and the entire international community should publicly recognize that Myanmar committed genocide against the Rohingya and impose punitive measures against the military, including targeted sanctions. All justice and accountability processes in relation to both past and current atrocities in Myanmar should be fully supported.”