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.
MYANMAR MILITARY ESCALATES HOSTILITIES AMIDST RISING COMMUNAL VIOLENCE
Myanmar’s (Burma) military, the Tatmadaw, has been intensifying its scorched-earth campaign in Sagaing Region – a resistance stronghold – burning over 500 houses between 25-27 April alone. The Tatmadaw launched arson attacks across five villages in the townships of Mingin, Khin Oo and Shwebo, setting houses on fire and reportedly killing people. According to residents, the military has ramped up their raids since early March, when the internet was shut down in nearly three-fourths of Sagaing’s townships.
The series of arson attacks are the latest in the Tatmadaw’s large-scale offensive in apparent retaliation for the actions of armed resistance groups. The research group Data for Myanmar estimated that by the end of April 2022, the military had torched more than 11,400 civilian houses across the country since the 1 February 2021 coup, including an estimated 7,500 houses in Sagaing alone. The Tatmadaw has burned houses across 10 states and regions, with Sagaing, Magway, Chin and Kayah the most severely impacted. The Tatmadaw’s ongoing scorched earth campaign likely amounts to crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Communal violence is also escalating in Myanmar, increasing risks for tit-for-tat killings and reprisals. Last week a newly-formed pro-junta militia killed eight people in Mandalay, the country’s second largest city. All of the victims were members or supporters of the deposed National League for Democracy (NLD) party. On 21 April the militia – called the Mandalay branch of the Thway Thauk, or “Blood Comrades” – announced that it had launched “Operation Red” to “destroy” members of the NLD party and its supporters, as well as anti-junta resistance forces. The militia has also threatened to kill journalists who are critical of the Tatmadaw, as well as their families. It is unclear whether the militia has any ties to the Tatmadaw.
Savita Pawnday, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said, “in the year since ASEAN adopted the Five-Point Consensus, it has done little to pressure the junta to halt its assault on civilians in Myanmar. Unless the international community adopts stronger measures to hold the Tatmadaw accountable and weaken its capacity for violence, the military will continue to be emboldened to perpetrate mass atrocities around the country.” The UN Security Council must immediately attempt to impose an arms embargo on Myanmar and sanction the oil and gas sector. During next week’s Special Summit between ASEAN and the United States (US), the US government must ensure that the crisis in Myanmar is a focal point of the meeting, with the aim of moving beyond the failed Five-Point Consensus and encouraging ASEAN member states to take bilateral steps to improve the situation.
CIVILIAN DEATH TOLL IN DR CONGO NEARLY DOUBLED DURING FIRST YEAR OF “STATE OF SIEGE”
Friday, 6 May, marks one year since the “state of siege” began in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) two conflict-ridden eastern provinces, North Kivu and Ituri. President Félix Tshisekedi asserted that military control would restore peace and security in these provinces where decades of armed conflict and inter-communal violence have left thousands of people dead and forced millions to flee. Approximately 20,000 troops have been deployed to North Kivu and Ituri to combat armed groups and protect civilians.
Yet the security situation in North Kivu and Ituri has deteriorated in the past year, with armed groups intensifying their attacks against civilians. According to the Kivu Security Tracker, the civilian death toll nearly doubled from May 2021 to April 2022, with at least 2,563 civilians killed in the two provinces compared to 1,374 in the same period the prior year. The majority of attacks were perpetrated by two armed groups, the Allied Democratic Forces and the Cooperative for the Development of Congo. The UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in the DRC has previously alleged that attacks by these groups may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Some members of the government’s armed forces (FARDC) have also been implicated in serious human rights violations and abuses in the context of the state of siege. UNJHRO documented at least 231 violations, including “attacks on protected people and places…abduction, recruitment and use of children,” as well as sexual violence and torture, perpetrated by the FARDC in Masisi territory, North Kivu Province, between 6 May 2021 and 9 February 2022. UNJHRO stated that some of the violations constitute war crimes.
Under the state of siege, civil authorities have been replaced with military officials who have been granted broad powers, including the authority to restrict people’s movements and arrest anyone for disrupting public order. According to investigations by Human Rights Watch, the military and police have suppressed peaceful demonstrations with lethal force and arbitrarily detained and prosecuted activists, journalists and political opposition members.
The situation in eastern DRC cannot be solved through military means alone. Christine Caldera, Research Analyst at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, stated that, “the state of siege has not only failed to advance the restoration of peace and security, the volume of attacks by armed groups, as well as violations by the FARDC, has left many people living in fear of the next atrocity.” The DRC government should enact measures to re-establish trust with communities, including by consulting with civilian populations and civil society about protection needs. The authorities should also implement a vetting process to identify and suspend soldiers and officers implicated in serious human rights violations.
UN SECURITY COUNCIL MEETING HIGHLIGHTS IMPORTANCE OF ACCOUNTABILITY FOR ATROCITIES
On 27 April the UN Security Council (UNSC) held an Arria-formula meeting on accountability for crimes in Ukraine. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet; Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan; and President of the Clooney Foundation for Justice, Amal Clooney, briefed the Council.
High Commissioner Bachelet stated that her office has documented summary killings and executions in areas of Ukraine previously under Russian control and is working to verify reports of arbitrary arrests and conflict-related sexual violence. She also emphasized that as gross violations of international law continue unabated, the preservation of evidence of alleged violations – some of which may amount to war crimes – is crucial. A combination of pre-existing monitors – including the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine – and new mechanisms – such as the Commission of Inquiry established by the Human Rights Council on 4 March and an ICC investigation opened on 28 February – have already allowed for the gathering and preservation of evidence, as well as the identification of some perpetrators.
Despite the considerable efforts to swiftly respond to the situation in Ukraine, the international community, particularly the UNSC, has failed when responding to other atrocity situations across the world, including in facilitating justice and accountability. The UNSC has not referred a situation to the ICC in more than a decade, and in 2014 vetoed a resolution referring the situation in Syria to the Court. Even Arria-formula meetings focusing on justice and accountability are rare, with only four other such meetings held by the UNSC in the past five years. Amal Clooney emphasized that, “we have watched as perpetrators of mass human rights abuses have murdered, raped and tortured without consequence. From Darfur, to Myanmar, to Yemen. The perpetrators committed these crimes believing they would get away with it. And they were right.”
The pursuit of justice and accountability is critical to deterring future crimes and preventing recurrence, as well as for ensuring victims’ rights to justice and reparation. The international community must do more to commit to the pursuit of justice across all atrocity situations. Where possible, all states should pursue accountability for perpetrators under the principle of universal jurisdiction. All UN member states must standardize their support for the work of the ICC and drop unprincipled objections to the ICC’s jurisdiction.