Tag Archives: humanitarian law

How the World Looks Like in 10000 Air Strikes

Amnesty International researchers visited 42 Coalition air strike sites across the ruined city of Raqqa, Syria and interviewed 112 civilian residents who had survived the carnage and lost loved ones.   The accounts detailed in the report, ‘War of annihilation’: Devastating Toll on Civilians, Raqqa – Syria, leave gaping holes in the Coalition’s insistence that their forces did enough to minimize civilian harm….

“IS’s brutal four-year rule in Raqqa was rife with war crimes. But the violations of IS, including the use of civilians as human shields, do not relieve the Coalition of their obligations to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians. What levelled the city and killed and injured so many civilians was the US-led Coalition’s repeated use of explosive weapons in populated areas where they knew civilians were trapped. Even precision weapons are only as precise as their choice of targets.”

Shortly before the military campaign, US Defence Secretary James Mattis promised a “war of annihilation” against IS.   From 6 June to 17 October 2017, the US-led Coalition operation to oust IS from its so-called “capital” Raqqa killed and injured thousands of civilians and destroyed much of the city….Residents were trapped as fighting raged in Raqqa’s streets between IS militants and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters, supported by the Coalition’s relentless air and artillery strikes. IS mined the escape routes and shot at civilians trying to flee. Hundreds of civilians were killed: some in their homes; some in the very places where they had sought refuge; and others as they tried to flee.

US, British and French Coalition forces carried out tens of thousands of air strikes and US forces admitted to firing 30,000 artillery rounds during the offensive on Raqqa. US forces were responsible for more than 90% of the air strikes…

Amnesty International is urging Coalition members to investigate impartially and thoroughly allegations of violations and civilian casualties, and to publicly acknowledge the scale and gravity of the loss of civilian lives and destruction of civilian property in Raqqa…They must disclose the findings of their investigations, as well as key information about the strikes necessary for assessing their compliance with international humanitarian law. They must review the procedures by which they decide the credibility of civilian casualty allegations and they must ensure justice and reparation for victims of violations. They also have a responsibility to assist with gruelling demining and reconstruction work under way in Raqqa in a more meaningful way than at present.

Excerpts Syria: Raqqa in ruins and civilians devastated after US-led ‘war of annihilation’, Amnesty International, June 5, 2018

Abuse of Peacekeeping by Peacekeepers

African Union (AU) peacekeepers in Somalia rape women seeking medicine on their bases and routinely pay teenage girls for sex, [according to] Human Rights Watch (HRW)  HRW documented 10 incidents of rape and sexual assault, including the rape of a 12-year-old girl, by African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops in 2013 and 2014.  The rights group said most of the incidents took place on AMISOM bases in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, where women come for medical care and to beg for food.  “Where this case is particularly shocking is the direct use of humanitarian assistance to lure these women in,” said Laetitia Bader, one of the report’s authors….

One woman, known as Ayanna, told HRW she was gang raped at gunpoint by six Burundian soldiers after going to their outpatient clinic to get medicine for her sick baby.  One of the three other women who were also raped at the same time was badly hurt.  “We carried the injured woman home,” she told HRW. “Three of us walked out of the base carrying her… She couldn’t stand.”  The soldiers threw packets of porridge, cookies and $5 at the women as they left, she said.  Rape is rarely punished in Somalia, particularly of vulnerable women living in overcrowded Mogadishu camps housing some 350,000 people displaced by war and famine.

HRW also interviewed 14 displaced women and girls selling sex to AMISOM soldiers for around $5 a day. Sexual exploitation – the abuse of power or trust for sexual purposes – is in violation of their code of conduct.  The sex trade on AMISOM bases appears “routine and organised”, HRW said.  Women who visited the bases regularly were not checked on their way in and HRW was told that some lived there, ostensibly employed as interpreters.

The African Union force deployed to Somalia in 2007 to help restore order and defeat the Islamist militant group al Shabaab. It is credited with pushing al Shabaab out of many towns in south-central Somalia, strengthening the hold of the two-year-old Somali federal government.,,,AMISOM’s 22,000 troops come from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Djibouti. They are immune from prosecution by the Somali government, with responsibility falling on their own governments.

Only two out of the 21 women and girls interviewed filed a complaint, for fear of reprisals, HRW said, while those having sex for money did not want to lose their main source of income.

Excerpts from Peacekeepers in Somalia use aid to rape women and buy sex – HRW, Reuters, Sept. 8,  2014

 

Explosive Weapons: Deaths and Damages

Data released by Action on Armed on Violence  (AOAV) on May 14, 2014 shows that civilian deaths and injuries in 2013 from explosive weapons have increased by 15%, up from 2012.Civilians bore the brunt of bombings worldwide. AOAV recorded 37,809 deaths and injuries in 2013, 82% of whom were civilians. The trend was even worse when these weapons were used in populated areas. There civilians made up a staggering 93% of casualties.  These stark figures mean that civilian casualties from bombings and shelling worldwide have gone up for a second consecutive year.  This data is captured in AOAV’s latest report, Explosive Events, which analyses the global harm from the use of explosive weapons like missiles, artillery and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

KEY FINDINGS
•Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Lebanon were the most affected countries in the world. More than a third of the world’s civilian casualties from explosive weapons were recorded in Iraq, where AOAV saw a dramatic escalation in bombings with improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
•Seventy-one percent (71%) of civilian casualties from explosive weapons worldwide were caused by IEDs like car bombs and roadside bombs.
•Civilian casualties in Iraq increased by 91% from 2012, with more than 12,000 deaths and injuries recorded in the country in 2013.
•Market places were bombed in 15 countries and territories, causing 3,608 civilian casualties.
•Ballistic missiles, used only in Syria, caused an average of 49 civilian casualties per incident, the highest for any explosive weapon type.

Saudi Arabia Not Happy Iraq Gets Drones

The report that America’s drone war has assumed frightening proportions under President Barack Obama should surprise no one. It took only three days for the new commander-in-chief to order his first covert drone strike.  On Jan. 23, 2009, a CIA drone flattened a house in Pakistan’s tribal region. At least nine civilians died, most of them from one family. The lone survivor, a 14-year-old boy, had shrapnel wounds in his stomach and a fractured skull. He lost one eye. Later that day, the CIA leveled another house killing between five and ten people

A week after Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize, a missile slammed into a hamlet in Yemen, hitting one of the poorest tribes in the poorest country in Arabian Peninsula. At least 41 civilians were killed, including 21 children and five pregnant women.  Not only has the number of drone strikes and the resulting civilian casualties increased under Obama’s watch, but he has also widened the scope of the drone war to include new countries like Yemen and Somalia. Missile strikes from unmanned drones killing unmentionable numbers of people are now the crucial component of America’s war on terror. Across Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the Obama administration has launched more than 390 drone strikes in the five years since the first attack On Jan. 23, 2009 – eight times as many as were launched in the entire Bush presidency. These strikes have killed more than 2,400 people, overwhelming majority of them civilians…

A convoy taking a Yemeni bride to her wedding came under attack on Dec. 12, 2013 causing the biggest single loss of civilian life from a US strike for more than a year in that country. President Bush ordered a single drone strike in Yemen, killing six people in 2002. Under Obama, the CIA and the Pentagon have launched at least 58 drone strikes on the country killing more than 281 people, including at least 24 civilians.

The UN General Assembly passed a resolution on Dec. 18, 2013 calling on states using drone strikes as a counterterrorism measure to comply with their obligations under international law and the UN Charter. Amnesty International released a report on Oct. 22, 2013 raising serious concerns about several recent drone strikes that appear to have killed civilians outside the bounds of the law. Pakistan High Court Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan issued a ruling on May 9, 2013 declaring the ongoing US drone strikes against tribal areas illegal under international law and saying they amount to “war crimes” when they kill innocents.

But rather than addressing such global concerns, the Obama administration is sending drones to Iraq, adding a sinister dimension to the sectarian strife there. The Iraqi government will get 48 drones this month and 10 surveillance drones in upcoming weeks.

Drone deaths on the rise, Saudi Gazette,  Jan 27, 2014

International Criminal Court Only for Africa

Kenya said the International Criminal Court’s case against its two highest elected officials risked destabilizing the entire east African region at a meeting of the court’s member states.  At a debate to discuss the crisis resulting from the court’s cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, the Kenyan attorney-general said the court and its member states were playing “Russian roulette” with the country.  “Our country is the linchpin in the peace and security involving more than 250 million people from Djibouti to Eastern Congo and everybody in between,” Githu Muigai told a special debate called at the request of the African Union. He said Kenya – an ally of the West in the fight against militant Islam in neighboring Somalia – was a “pillar of security” in Eastern Africa, to loud applause from many African delegates at the conference.

Kenyatta and Ruto face separate charges of crimes against humanity for their alleged role in stoking ethnic violence in the aftermath of an election in 2007 when 1,200 people were killed. Kenya is pressing the ICC’s members for an immediate change in the rules to say that heads of state do not have to attend trials, part of a broader campaign to halt the cases against its political leaders.  Officials also want a longer-term amendment to the founding treaty that would ban the prosecution of heads of state, a campaign which has become a rallying point in Africa, where many leaders say they are the target of an overzealous court in The Hague. Kenyatta and Ruto deny the charges of fomenting violence after the election. Ruto’s trial began last month, while Kenyatta’s trial is due to start on February 5 after being delayed for a third time.  “Africa feels marginalized, like toddlers, whom the international community feels has never learned to walk,” Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed told Reuters.

Last week, the African Union lost its bid to have the U.N. Security Council defer the cases for a year so the two could deal with the aftermath of an attack on a shopping mall by al Qaeda-linked Somali militants in which at least 67 died.Kenya said the outcome highlighted the need for reform of the Security Council to prevent a few powerful nations imposing their will on the world. It pledged to continue its fight at the ICC’s annual meeting in The Hague.

Human rights groups oppose the proposed changes as well as apparent compromise solutions such as a British proposal that would make it easier for the accused to participate via video link, saying these would weaken the court’s mission to bring to justice those ultimately responsible for war crimes. “The amendments represent an attempt to recreate the ICC in the image of African justice,” said George Kegoro, executive director of the Kenyan section of the International Commission of Jurists.  “Timid, pliable and serving the comfort of leaders rather than justice for victims.”  The court has 34 African members, but any amendment would need the support of two thirds of the court’s 122 members to pass.  But even if the amendments have little chance of passing, Foreign Minister Mohamed said a court composed of members of equal rank should listen to Africa’s concerns. If some members were “more equal than others,” she said, then “we have no business being there.” Since their election, the two men have been defending themselves before the Hague-based court with the help of some of London’s best-known human rights lawyers.  Kenyatta’s legal team has asked judges to throw out the case against him, which they say is based on evidence from bribed witnesses.

By Thomas Escritt, Kenya warns of ICC threat to Eastern Africa’s stability, Reuters, Nov. 21, 2013

Naming the Dead in the CIA Drone War

Naming the Dead is a project run by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a not-for-profit research organisation based in London. The project aims to identify those killed in CIA drone strikes on Pakistan.  Over the past nine years, the tribal region of Pakistan’s north west has been hit by hundreds of drone attacks as the CIA has sought to stamp out al Qaeda fighters and the militant groups that have given them shelter.  Missiles launched from these high-tech, unmanned aircraft have hit homes, cars, schools, shops and gatherings. At least 2,500 people have been killed, according to data already collected by the Bureau as part of our wider Covert Drone War research.

Senior US officials have described drones as highly precise weapons that target and kill enemies of the US. John Brennan, who oversaw the development of the drone campaign and is now director of the CIA, has called drone technology an ‘essential tool’ for its ‘surgical precision – the ability, with laser-like focus, to eliminate the cancerous tumour called an al Qaeda terrorist while limiting damage to the tissue around it.’

Those killed by drones include high-ranking militant leaders – figures such as Abu Yahya al Libi, al Qaeda’s feared second-in-command, or Baitullah Mehsud, commander of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP).  But according to credible media reports analysed by the Bureau, the dead also include at least 400 civilians. Some were unlucky enough to be nearby when militants were attacked. Others were killed alongside their husbands or fathers, who were believed to be militants. Still others were mistaken for terrorists by drone operators sitting thousands of miles away.

In most cases, there is little information available about who the drones are really killing. Most of the dead – an estimated four-fifths of those killed – are believed to be militants. But their deaths are typically reported as a number – their names, origins and livelihoods remain a mystery.  For so many people to die in obscurity, unnamed and unacknowledged, is a tragedy. But it is a further tragedy that the public, and even policy makers, are unable to properly test whether drones are ‘highly precise weapons’ when so little is known about who is actually dying.

Through Naming the Dead, the Bureau aims to increase the transparency around this conflict and inform the public debate. Initially this project will record all names published in open-source material – in credible reports by journalists, in legal documents presented in court, in academic studies and in field investigations carried out by human rights groups.  In the future, the Bureau aims to identify more of the dead on a regular basis, and to uncover more details of those who have been killed. Where possible we will provide further identification – where they were killed, and their occupations, full names and ages. In the remote areas of Pakistan where drone strikes take place, official identification is rare. Few people possess identification cards, birth certificates, or even documents recording their relatives’ deaths. But wherever possible this project will provide documentation recording a person’s death.

Photographs of the destruction of a particular site are included in the database. Affidavits, photos, hospital records, student identification and transcripts of interviews with researchers are all provided when available. Over time, the Bureau aims to build on such currently scarce records in an attempt to properly scrutinise the little that is reported, and the claims being made – on all sides.

Bureau of Investigative Journalism

Double-Tap Drone Strikes: attacking rescuers

A field investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in Pakistan’s tribal areas appears to confirm that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) last year briefly revived the controversial tactic of deliberately targeting rescuers at the scene of a previous drone strike. The tactic has previously been labelled a possible war crime by two UN investigators.  The Bureau’s new study focused mainly on strikes around a single village in North Waziristan – attacks that were aimed at one of al Qaeda’s few remaining senior figures, Yahya al-Libi. He was finally killed by a CIA drone strike on June 4 2012. The Bureau’s field researcher found five double-tap strikes took place in mid-2012, one of which also struck a mosque.

Congressional aides have previously been reported as describing to the Los Angeles Times reviewing a CIA video showing Yahya al-Libi alone being killed. But the Bureau’s field research appears to confirm what others reported at the time – that al-Libi’s death was part of a sequence of strikes on the same location that killed up to 16 people.  If correct, that would indicate that Congressional aides were not shown crucial additional video material.

The CIA has robustly rejected the charge. Spokesman Edward Price told the Bureau: ‘The CIA takes its commitment to Congressional oversight with the utmost seriousness. The Agency provides accurate and timely information consistent with our obligation to the oversight Committees. Any accusation alleging otherwise is baseless.’

The Bureau first broke the story of the CIA’s deliberate targeting of rescuers in a February 2012 investigation for the Sunday Times. It found evidence of 11 attacks on rescuers – so-called ‘double-tap’ strikes – in Pakistan’s tribal areas between 2009 and 2011, along with a drone strike deliberately targeting a funeral, causing mass casualties.  Reports of these controversial tactics ended by July 2011. But credible news reports emerged a year later indicating that double-tap strikes had been revived.  International media including the BBC, CNN and news agency AFP variously reported that rescuers had been targeted on five occasions between May 24 and July 23 2012, with a mosque and prayers for the dead also reportedly bombed.

The Bureau commissioned a report into the alleged attacks from Mushtaq Yusufzai, a respected journalist based in Peshawar, who reports regularly for NBC and for local paper The News.  Over a period of months, Yusufzai – who has extensive government, Taliban and civilian contacts throughout Waziristan – built up a detailed understanding of the attacks through his sources.  His findings indicate that five double-tap strikes did indeed take place again in mid-2012, one of which also struck a mosque. In total 53 people were killed in these attacks with 57 injured, the report suggests.  Yusufzai could find no evidence to support media claims that rescuers had been targeted on two further occasions.  No confirmed civilian deaths were reported by local communities in any of the strikes. A woman and three children were reportedly injured in one of the attacks. Yusufzai says: ‘It is possible some civilians were killed, but we don’t know’.

However a parallel investigation by legal charity Reprieve reports that eight civilians died in a double-tap strike on July 6 2012 (see below), with the possibility of further civilian deaths in a July 23 attack.  Islamabad-based lawyer Shahzad Akbar says Reprieve’s findings are based on interviews with villagers from affected areas…

The rescuer strikes examined by Yusufzai all appear to have been aimed at very senior militants – so-called High Value Targets. Under international humanitarian law, the greater the threat a target represents, and the more imminent that threat is deemed to be, the greater the leeway for targeting. The Bureau’s findings suggest that strikes on rescuers are still permitted in certain circumstances, such as in the pursuit of a high value target such as Yahya al-Libi….

Bureau field researcher Mushtaq Yusufzai notes that civilians now rarely appear to take part in rescue operations, and are often prevented from doing so by militants. They also fear further CIA attacks, he says.

Chris Woods,Bureau investigation finds fresh evidence of CIA drone strikes on rescuers, Aug. 1, 2013