The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution (PDF) Dec. 21 to establish an independent panel to investigate possible war crimes in Syria. The resolution, approved by a vote of 105 to 15 with 52 abstentions, will establish an "International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011." The mechanism will work closely with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011. The resolution:
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on Dec. 14 warned that South Sudan "teeters on the brink of a disaster." Speaking before the Human Rights Council Special Session on South Sudan, Zeid called for urgent action. "The highest priority must urgently be given to protection for those most at risk from killings, sexual violence and other serious human rights violations. And it is time for all national and regional actors to advocate decisively for a political process that is both inclusive and implemented on the ground." Zeid also urged the Council "to call on South Sudan's leaders to refrain from incitement to violence and ethnic hatred." Yasmin Sooka, chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said the international community could prevent a "Rwanda-like" genocide by immediately deploying 4,000 peacekeepers to protect civilians. The Council concluded the session by adopting a resolution condemning the ongoing rights violations and reaffirming the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.
On the fifth anniversary of its independence from Khartoum, South Sudan is again descending into civil war, with last year's tentative peace deal breaking down. Fighting has escalated across the country in recent weeks, and on July 9 it reached the capital Juba, with clashes reported between the Sudan People's Liberation Army in the Government (SPLA-IG) led by President Salva Kiir and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO) led by former South Sudanese vice-president Riek Macher. Some of the worst recent violence came in late June, when a force of SPLA-IG troops and irregular Dinka militia entered the northern town of Wau, reportedly attacking civilians and looting their property, causing more than 100,000 civilians to flee their homes. Those targeted were mainly from the Fertit ethnicity. The violence apparently began in a conflict over who is to control the newly created Wau state, which was carved out of the former Western Bahr el Ghazal state under last year's redrawing of administrative borders. (Radio Tamazuj, July 10; Al Jazeera, July 9; VOA, June 28; Sudan Tribune, June 24)
A force of Ethiopian troops crossed into South Sudan on April 20 to launch a joint offensive with the Juba government against ethnic Murle militia fighters who staged a bloody raid into Ethiopia's Gambela region a week earlier. The Murle militiamen attacked several villages and massacred over 200 civilians of the Nuer ethnicity in the raid, and abducted some 100 children as well as stealing some 2,000 cattle. News reports initially described the incursion as a cattle raid, but the militiamen were said to be armed with AK-47s and wearing uniforms. Hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese, mainly Nuer, have fled to Gambela to escape armed conflict. The raid has heightened fears of the South Sudan war spilling into Ethiopia. (Ethiopian Herald via AllAfrica, DW, April 22; Radio Tamazuj, Sudan, April 20)
The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) on March 11 released a report describing a multitude of atrocious human rights violations taking place in South Sudan in the context of the civil war. This report describes "in searing detail" violations including "a [g]overnment-operated 'scorched earth policy,' and deliberate targeting of civilians for killing, rape and pillage." The report places majority blame on state actors for the crimes, stating that some allied forces have been allowed to rape women in lieu of wages. The report focuses on the shocking scale of sexual violence in the nation, where in a five-month period last year, the UN recorded more than 1,300 reports of rape in just one of South Sudan's 10 states, oil-rich Unity. The report further states that the majority of casualties are the result of deliberate attacks on civilians and not actual combat operations.
South Sudan's fragile peace deal is in jeopardy as opposition leader Lam Akol today joined with 18 political parties to bring a legal challenge against President Salva Kiir's order to expand the number of states in the country from 10 to 28. "That order actually violates the constitution and it also contravenes the peace agreement," he said, refering to the pact that Kiir and the head of the armed opposition, Riek Machar, signed in August. "Our people are yearning for peace, so nobody should tamper with this peace agreement." he said. The leadership of rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) also said the plan threatens to unravel the peace agreement. (Sudan Tribune, VOA, Oct. 15; Al Jazeera, Aug. 29) Not surprisingly, control of oil seems the critical issue here. A commentary for Kenya's The East African (online at AllAfrica) charges that Kiir "has basically deprived rebel leader Riek Machar of all the oil resources he was to preside over in the transitional government by unilaterally creating 18 new states. The increase of the states...through a presidential decree has placed areas with the highest concentration of oil resources in Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile in the hands of President Kiir's Dinka community. This has created tension between the Nuer, Shiluk and Dinka in Unity and Upper Nile States, with the first two communities accusing President Kiir of carving out the oil-rich areas for his community."
An advance unit of a 700-strong Chinese infantry battalion arrived in South Sudan last week, marking the first People's Liberation Army infantry force to participate in a United Nations peacekeeping mission. Commander Wang Zhen said the battalion will be equipped with drones, armored vehicles, anti-tank missiles and mortars, among other weapons "completely for self-defense purpose." The force is to be fully deployed by April. Speaking during talks across the border in Sudan's capital Khartoum, Beijing's Foreign Minister Wang Yi assured: "China's mediation of South Sudan issues is completely the responsibility and duty of a responsible power, and not because of China's own interests."
War across large swaths of the Middle East and Africa in the first six months of 2014 forcibly displaced some 5.5 million people, signalling yet another record, the United Nations reported Jan. 7. The UN refugee refugee agency, UNHCR, in its new Mid-Year Trends 2014 Report finds that of the 5.5 million who were newly displaced, 1.4 million fled across international borders, officially becoming refugees. The rest were displaced within their own countries, and are known as internally displaced persons (IDPs). The new data brings the number of people being helped by UNHCR to 46.3 million as of mid-2014—some 3.4 million more than at the end of 2013 and a new record high.