New evidence is deepening fears in the scientific community that the Middle East and North Africa risk becoming uninhabitable in a few decades, as accessible fresh water has fallen by two-thirds over the past 40 years. Already, per capita availability of fresh water in the region—encompassing 22 countries and home to nearly 400 million inhabitants—is 10 times lower than the world average. The region's fresh water resources are among the lowest in the world, and are expected to fall over 50% by 2050, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). By century's end, higher temperatures may shorten growing seasons in the region by 18 days and reduce agricultural yields by up to 55%. "Looming water scarcity in the North Africa and Middle East region is a huge challenge requiring an urgent and massive response," said FAO director general Graziano da Silva on his recent visit to Cairo.
Politicians wielding a dehumanizing rhetoric are creating a more divided and dangerous world, warned Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world. The report, "The State of the World's Human Rights" (PDF), warns that the consequences of "us vs them" rhetoric setting the agenda in Europe, the United States and elsewhere is fuelling a global pushback against human rights and leaving the global response to mass atrocities perilously weak. "President Trump's policies have brought the US to a level of human rights crisis that we haven't seen in years," said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "As the world braces itself for a new executive order, thousands of people inside and outside of US borders have had their lives thrown into chaos as a result of the president's travel ban. This administration, like other governments across the world, is playing politics with people's lives. President Trump and leaders across the globe should be reaffirming and upholding international human rights protections, not exploiting fear and prejudice for their own agendas."
Leaders of multiple African countries announced Feb. 1 that they have backed a "strategy of collective withdrawal" from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Prior to this week's African Union (AU) summit, the AU issued a document seen by Reuters that proposed a coordinated withdrawal unless the ICC is reformed. The AU claims that the ICC is improperly focusing on prosecuting individuals from African countries, and its exit could be significant, as almost a third of the ICC's member countries are African. The AU and the ICC have had a tumultuous relationship over the course of the past year. In July an AU advisory board accused the ICC of narrowly focusing its investigations on African government leaders since its inception in 2002. The AU's Economic Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) recommended that members quit the ICC should Rome Statute signatories follow through with a proposed amendment allowing the prosecution and arrest of sitting heads of state. Human Rights Watch stated that giving sitting leaders immunity would defeat the purpose of the ICC's creation.
Amnesty International claims "horrific evidence" of repeated chemical weapons attacks carried out by Sudanese government forces against civilians, including young children. Using satellite imagery, more than 200 telephone interviews with survivors, and analysis of dozens of "appalling images showing babies and young children with terrible injuries," Amnesty's new report, "Scorched Earth, Poisoned Air," indicates that at least 30 likely chemical attacks have taken place in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur since January. The most recent was Sept. 9 Amnesty estimates that between 200 and 250 people may have died as a result of exposure to chemical weapons agents, with many or most being children.
The International Criminal Court released a policy document Sept. 15 calling for prosecution of individuals for atrocities committed by destroying the environment. The document, prepared by chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, sets out the types of cases that the court will now prioritize, including willful environmental destruction, illegal exploitation of natural resources, and "land grabbing." The ICC has already shown a willingness to apply its authority to situations involving environmental destruction. Between 2009 and 2010, then-prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo successfully obtained arrest warrants from the court against the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, for acts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Among other acts, these alleged crimes involved the contamination of wells and destruction village pumps in Darfur to deprive targeted populations of water. Al-Bashir's trial has not yet commenced as he continues to evade arrest. (The Conversation, Sept. 23)
Electoral authorities in Sudan say the results are in from the April 11-13 referendum on the administrative boundaries of strife-torn Darfur, with 97% voting to maintain its current five-state status. But the vote was boycotted by the civil and armed opposition alike in Darfur. Students at El-Fasher University in North Darfur protested the vote, and similar rallies were held in at least three IDP camps in Central Darfur. The US State Department issued a statement saying the referendum was unlikely to be fair, asserting that "insecurity in Darfur and inadequate registration of Darfuris residing in internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps prohibit sufficient participation." The statement drew diplomatic protests from Sudan's regime, which supported maintaining the five-state status quo and posed the referendum as fulfilling terms of the 2011 Darfur peace agreement signed with some rebel groups, the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur. But rebel factions that did not sign on remain in arms, and even as the vote was prepared violence has again escalated in Darfur.
Intensified fighting since January has resulted in a rapidly worsening security situation and large-scale displacement in Sudan’s Darfur region, the top United Nations peacekeeping official warned April 6. UN Under-Secretary-General Hervé Ladsous said that since his last briefing to the Security Council on Jan. 25, the security situation in Darfur has been characterized by fighting between government forces and militants of the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdel Wahid (SLA/AW) in the Jebel Marra region. "The escalation of fighting in Jebel Marra had led to large-scale displacement, especially from mid-January to late March, and humanitarian organizations estimated that at least 138,000 people from that region were newly displaced as of 31 March," Ladsous stated. (UN News Centre, April 6)
Syrian Kurds on March 17 formally declared a "Federation of Northern Syria," uniting their three autonomous cantons into one entity, in an announcement quickly denounced by the Assad regime, the opposition and regional powers alike. Democratic Union Party (PYD) official Idris Nassan said the federation brings together "areas of democratic self-administration" encompassing all the Rojava region's ethnic and religious groups. The decision was approved at a meeting in the town of Rmeilan (Jazira canton), attended by some 200 representatives of Kurdish, Arab, Armenian, Turkmen and Syriac communities. (Middle East Eye)