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.
UN ‘GRAVELY CONCERNED’ AS VIOLENCE INTENSIFIES IN MYANMAR
Monday, 8 November, marked the one-year anniversary of the general election victory by Myanmar’s (Burma) ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), which comprehensively defeated the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party. This was the second democratic election held since Myanmar’s transition to civilian rule began in 2011. Myanmar’s military – the Tatmadaw – launched the coup on 1 February 2021 in response to the NLD’s victory. The coup leaders sought to ignore the will of the people of Myanmar by disregarding the outcome of democratic elections, thus reversing progress made over the past decade.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have participated in peaceful protests and strikes against the reimposition of military rule, while numerous civilian militias known as People’s Defence Forces (PDFs) have also formed as part of an armed resistance. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, more than 1,200 people have been killed since 1 February and over 7,000 people remain detained for resisting the coup. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, have indicated that abuses committed by the military since the coup may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.
On the one-year anniversary of the elections, Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, Stéphane Dujarric, said that, “the United Nations reiterates its call on the military to respect the will of the people and put the country back on track to democratic transition. The United Nations remains gravely concerned about the intensifying violence in Myanmar.”
Violence continues to escalate in upper Myanmar’s Chin State, Magway and Sagaing regions, where resistance to the coup has been especially active. Eight days after the military razed more than 200 buildings in Thantlang, Chin State, the military launched another shelling attack against the town on 6 November, burning at least seven buildings. Three days later, the military destroyed an additional two buildings. Amidst the escalating violence in upper Myanmar, more than 37,000 people have been newly displaced according to UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths. Violence is also escalating in Shan and Kayah states, where the Tatmadaw is reportedly using civilians as human shields while fighting PDFs and ethnic armies, which may amount to a war crime.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) held a closed meeting on 8 November to discuss the situation in upper Myanmar but did not agree to any substantial action. The UNSC must act to prevent further escalation in upper Myanmar and uphold its responsibility to protect by immediately imposing targeted sanctions and an arms embargo. The UN should not recognize the credentials of the representative of the junta, as the military has no democratic legitimacy.
DRAMATIC INCREASE IN ATTACKS ON CIVILIANS IN WESTERN NIGER
On Thursday, 4 November, the Nigerien government declared two days of mourning after 69 people from a civilian self-defense group were killed by suspected fighters of an Islamist armed group in the village of Adab-Dab located in Niger’s western Tillabéri region. The gunmen ambushed the convoy, who were being led by the mayor of Banibangou, while they were searching for fighters from Islamist armed groups. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack yet.
This latest incident is part of a wave of intensifying violence against civilian populations in the tri-border area with Mali and Burkina Faso since the start of 2021. The tri-border area, which includes the Tillabéri region, has been volatile in recent years as Islamist armed groups allied to the Islamic State, such as the so-called Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), as well as to Al-Qaeda have made inroads in the region. Excluding this latest attack, more than 530 people have been killed by armed groups during attacks on civilians in southwest Niger this year, over five times more than in 2020, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. Populations in Banibangou, Tillabéri region, have suffered from recurrent violence this year, including an attack in August that killed 37 civilians.
Although the group used to spare civilians, ISGS fighters have been responsible for the highest number of civilian deaths in Niger this year. The rise in the targeting of civilians is primarily in response to the creation of community self-defense groups by villagers, who are increasingly resisting the punitive collection of “zakat” or alms, which ISGS uses as a pretext for extortion and cattle theft. While Niger has thus far avoided the expansion of community self-defense groups seen in Burkina Faso and Mali, a growing number of communities in Niger appear to be establishing their own defense capacities in response to ISGS attacks and the government’s failure to protect communities. In Burkina Faso and Mali, these groups and arms proliferation have fueled further violence and inflamed grievances along ethnic lines.
The rise in inter-communal tensions and creation of community self-defense groups in several villages throughout western Niger highlights the growing risk of further atrocities and violence. Christine Caldera, Research Analyst at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said that, “Nigerien authorities should discourage the formation of these groups and take urgent steps to protect vulnerable populations in the Tillabéri region, including by bolstering early warning capabilities and reducing the army’s reaction time to threatened populations.”
MASS PROTESTS CONTINUE AMIDST POLITICAL UNCERTAINTY IN SUDAN
On Sunday, 7 November, pro-democracy groups in Sudan launched two days of civil disobedience and strikes in the ongoing protest against the military coup last month. The Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella organization of several different trade unions that were instrumental in bringing an end to President Omar al-Bashir’s thirty-year rule in 2019, promised continued protests until a civilian government is established. Pro-democracy groups have organized additional protests scheduled to take place on 13 and 17 November, raising fears of a potential crackdown by the military.
According to the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, at least 14 people have reportedly been killed and more than 300 injured as a result of excessive force used by security forces. Security forces also continue to arrest and arbitrarily detain civilians, journalists, human rights defenders and others. Internet and telecommunication have been disrupted since the coup, limiting people’s access to information and inhibiting reporting on human rights violations.
With security forces controlling the streets, populations in Sudan are at increased risk of atrocity crimes due to their history of violent crackdowns on protests and dissent. During mass demonstrations against military rule between December 2018 and August 2019, security forces used teargas and live ammunition against largely peaceful protesters, killing more than 200 people and arresting thousands. Security forces reportedly fired teargas at protesters in several locations in the capital, Khartoum, on 7 November. Amidst the ongoing protests, mediation efforts by the United Nations and others that aim to restore the civilian-military partnership continue.
The military coup has been widely condemned by the international community. On 27 October the African Union suspended Sudan from all its activities. Several states and multilateral organizations, including the United States and the World Bank, paused foreign aid and halted disbursements. On 5 November the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution during a special session that designated an Expert on Human Rights to monitor and report on the developing situation in Sudan since the coup.
Juliette Paauwe, Senior Research Analyst at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, stressed that, “Sudan’s military and political leaders must prioritize human rights and the protection of civilians in any discussion regarding the country’s future. Instead of forcing a new power-sharing arrangement, the international community must ensure that the Sudanese people’s demands for democracy and justice are sufficiently taken into account. Calls for a restoration of the pre-coup situation will not lead to a sustainable solution.”