Several militias operating in Iraq have been committing war crimes—using weapons manufactured in 16 different countries, including the US, Russia, China and Iran—according to a report (PDF) issued Jan. 5 by Amnesty International. The report discusses the actions of four particular militia groups—Munathamat Badr (Badr Brigades or Badr Organization), 'Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq (League of the Righteous), Kata'ib Hizbullah (Hizbullah Brigades) and the Saraya al-Salem (Peace Brigades). These militias operate under the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) in Iraq, which include 40 or 50 distinct militias. Iraq's prime minister designated these PMUs as an official part of the Iraqi military in February.
After initiating talks on Syria that exclude Washington, Turkey and Russia each accused the US of backing what they called "terrorist groups" in the country. The accusations came Dec. 27, the same day both governments agreed to hold further talks in Kazakhstan next month. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he had evidence that US-led coalition forces support ISIS as wel as the Kurdish-led Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military arm, the People's Protection Units (YPG). "They were accusing us of supporting Daesh," Erdogan said at a press conference in Ankara, using the Arabic abbreviation for ISIS. "Now they give support to terrorist groups including Daesh, YPG, PYD. It is very clear. We have confirmed evidence, with pictures, photos and videos." The US State Department issued a requisite statement dismissing Erdogan's claims as "ludicrous." (Al Jazeera, Dec. 21)
Algeria has announced plans to build a 120-kilometer wall along its border with Libya, local media sources report. The wall along the 1,000-kilometer border is another step in a list of upgraded security measures Algeria is undertaking to improve its counter-terrorism initiatives. Measuring three metres in height, and lined with barbed wire, the wall is intended curb the movement of ISIS militants and arms smugglers from entering the country. Growing reports of incursions by armed militants and criminals, alongside growing attacks and kidnappings in Algeria's remote south, have spurred calls for construction of the barrier. According to Geoff Porter, president of North Africa Risk Consulting, Algeria seeks to avoid "trespassing on another sovereign territory" by militants and smuggling networks. Tunisia earlier this year completed the first phase of its own separation wall on the Libyan border. (MEM, Sept. 2)
Human rights organizations on Sept. 1 claimed mounting evidence shows Russia is behind the increasing number of cluster bombings in Syria. The accusations were levied in response to the annual Cluster Munition Monitor report (PDF) which found that Syrian government forces used 13 types of cluster munitions in more than 300 attacks. The cluster munition report maintains that civilians instead of opposition forces are often killed or harmed during munition usage, as some of the bombs have delayed detonation devices, essentially making them landmines. The report claims that not only are most of the munitions manufactured by Russia but also that the spike in their usage did not occur until after the joint Russian-Syrian military partnership began in September 2015.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his concern for the human rights violations faced by the Yazidi minority in Northern Iraq on Aug. 3, stating that actions of the Islamic State (IS) may amount to genocide. Two years ago the IS attacked the Sinjar area in Iraq killing nearly 5,000 individuals. The statement claims that 3,200 Yazidi women and children remain in captivity and are subjected to nearly unimaginable violence. The Secretary-General proclaimed these acts may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and even genocide. The UN encouraged the Iraqi government to bring perpetrators of these crimes to justice, with a fair trials and due process, while supporting the survivors.
A US air raid, carried with both warplanes and drones, killed more than 150 al-Shabaab militants in Somalia March 5, with the Pentagon citing an "imminent threat" to US and African Union forces. Spokesman Cpt. Jeff Davis said a "large-scale" attack was being prepared at the camp. The target, identified as "Raso Camp," was in Bulobarde province, about 200 kilometers north of the capital, Mogadishu. Al-Shabab was pushed out of Mogadishu by African Union peacekeeping forces in 2011 but has continued to launch frequent attacks in its bid to overthrow the Western-backed government—including the twin bombing at a busy restaurant in the Somali city of Baidoa that killed 30 on Feb. 28.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on June 8 warned that the use of cluster bombs by the Saudi-led coalition against neighborhoods in Yemen may amount to a war crime. Cluster bombs spread bomblets over a wide area, many of which do not immediately explode, allowing the bomblets to kill or maim civilians long after a conflict ends. They were prohibited by the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions treaty (PDF) adopted by 116 countries, not including Saudi Arabia, Yemen or the US. Of particular concern, the coalition has utilized indiscriminate bombing on several civilian areas in the city of Sanaa, including a wedding hall, chamber of commerce and a center for the blind. In a field visit the UN confirmed use of these munitions, finding remnants of 29 cluster bombs.
Human Rights Watch is calling on the Obama administration to cancel a pending arms sale to Saudi Arabia in the absence of serious investigations into alleged laws-of-war violations in Yemen. On No. 17, the Pentagon announced that the State Department had approved a sale of $1.29 billion worth of air-to-ground munitions such as laser-guided bombs and "general purpose" bombs with guidance systems. "The purchase replenishes the Royal Saudi Air Force's current weapons supplies, which are becoming depleted due to the high operational tempo in multiple counter-terrorism operations," the Pentagon statement said. But HRW's Joe Stork countered: "The US government is well aware of the Saudi-led coalition's indiscriminate air attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians in Yemen since March. Providing the Saudis with more bombs under these circumstances is a recipe for greater civilian deaths, for which the US will be partially responsible."