Siding with Civilians in Yemen and Ukraine: Daily Brief
- Yemen's war victims beyond the headlines;
- Focusing on civilians in Ukraine;
- Killings by soldiers in Cameroon;
- Security forces' attacks on protesters in Sudan;
- European parliamentarians seek UN monitor for Egypt;
- Lebanon failing on investigations of sensitive murders;
- Turkey should free Osman Kavala;
- LISTEN TODAY: China's atrocity Olympics.
Putting civilians first in conflict: Whenever an international conflict hits world headlines, a chorus of partisan cheering rises up on social media and in the commentary pages of news outlets, often spouting half-truths and offering instantly falsifiable punditry to justify why side A is right (and can therefore apparently do whatever it wants) and side B is wrong (and thus deserves whatever punishment it gets). Some people then try to drag us into these drumbeating debates, and we have to tell them that human rights organizations think differently. We don’t take sides like that. What we look for in conflicts are violations of “the laws of war”, that is, international humanitarian law. In any armed conflict, all parties are responsible for respecting the laws of war, whether they are considered the “invader” or the “defender”, and whether anyone thinks they are the “good guys” or the “bad guys”. Central to the laws of war is the protection of civilians – warring parties must differentiate them from military targets – and this naturally becomes a key focus for our work in places like Yemen, where since 2015 we’ve documented abuses by both the Saudi-UAE-led coalition and the Houthi armed group, which have together resulted in thousands of civilians killed and injured.
A long list of crimes in Yemen: For example, the Saudi-UAE-led coalition is responsible for a naval and air blockade on Yemen, and has a sordid record of unlawful attacks, targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure in areas held by the Houthi armed group. The Houthis’ record of abuses and war crimes is long and growing, including holding people arbitrarily, forcibly disappearing them, and torture. The group also abuses religious minority groups, wrongfully convicts journalists and threatens to execute them, unlawfully shells internally displaced people, and forcibly displaces civilians. And the list goes on… There’s been a dramatic escalation of fighting in Yemen since mid-January, renewing international attention and partisan polemics about geopolitics, but whatever side you may think is “right” in their war aims, both warring parties have been very wrong in how they conduct their operations.
Pick a team? For those who insist that we “choose a side”, you can maybe say we’re on the side of civilians trapped in a deadly conflict that they have no control over – or you can simply say we’re on the side of international humanitarian law. Either way, this forms the core of our thinking with all international armed conflicts. If, for example, the worst happens, and Russia invades Ukraine again, we’ll be researching the impacts on civilians and civilian infrastructure, as we did in the 2014 conflict and since. Our senior researcher on Russia and Ukraine, Yulia Gorbunova, explained our approach recently in a Twitter Space and also to AJ Stream, telling the latter: “The plight of civilians in eastern Ukraine, who have suffered enormously from the beginning of this conflict, who have had their homes, hospitals & schools damaged or destroyed, should be on everyone's mind…”
It’s not about friends and enemies. Of course, there are always governments and commentators unhappy with us and other human rights groups for investigating and reporting the war crimes, crimes against humanity and other atrocities of their allies and “friends”. To them, we say: you should demand more from your friends.
New research out of Cameroon shows that government soldiers killed at least eight people and burned down dozens of homes and shops during three separate military operations in the North-West English-speaking region in December. The dead included three children, two women, and an older man. As Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior Africa researcher, says: “Cameroon’s security forces have again shown disregard for human life.”
Security forces in Sudan have repeatedly attacked or otherwise used excessive unnecessary force, including lethal force, against peaceful demonstrators in Khartoum. Following the October 25 military coup, numerous protests have taken place across the country, particularly in the capital. According to the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, security forces have killed 79 people, including a woman and nine children. On January 17 alone, there were seven reported killings of protesters by live ammunition, three of which Human Rights Watch documented. It was the second deadliest day since the coup.
The appalling human rights situation in Egypt has caught the attention of parliamentarians from across Europe, who are today calling for a UN monitoring mission - a mission that is long overdue indeed.
Lebanon is failing when it comes to investigating politically sensitive killings. “…unsolved murders and shoddy homicide investigations are a reminder of the dangerous weakness of Lebanon’s rule of law in the face of unaccountable elites and armed groups,” says Aya Majzoub, our Lebanon researcher in a new report.
Turkey should free Osman Kavala: The Council of Europe Committee of Ministers voted yesterday to begin infringement proceedings against Turkey. It’s a key step after two years of the Turkish authorities’ failure to comply with a European Court of Human Rights judgment that Turkey should free human rights defender Osman Kavala.
Listen to our discussion of the Beijing Olympics: At noon EST (18h00 CET) today, we’ll be hosting a live Twitter Space discussion on the Winter Olympics that start tomorrow in the context of China’s ongoing crimes against humanity. Join us!