Tag Archives: Conflict

World’s worst humanitarian crisis about to get worse… again

A battle at the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah threatens to throw Yemen even further into the depths of humanitarian catastrophe, cutting off crucial imports and displacing as many as half a million people.

A coalition of anti-Houthi forces, which includes fighters loyal to internationally recognised (but deposed) President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, a Saudi Arabian-led coalition, and now reportedly some fighters who followed former president Ali Abdullah Saleh when he abandoned the Houthis shortly before his death earlier this month, may be headed for the city.

Last week, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that “fighting along the Red Sea coast is reported to be approaching densely populated urban areas”, and Emirati state media (the UAE is a key coalition member) recently trumpeted that its forces were fighting in an area around 120 kilometres south of Hodeidah city .

A large-scale operation in the port city may still be avoided – a similar move was threatened before and postponed in part thanks to some serious diplomatic wrangling – but humanitarians are nonetheless concerned.

“The potential humanitarian impact of a battle at Hodeidah feels unthinkable,” Suze Vanmeegen, protection and advocacy advisor at the Norwegian Refugee Council, told IRIN. “We are already using words like ‘catastrophic’ and ‘horrendous’ to describe the crisis in Yemen, but any attack on Hodeidah has the potential to blast an already alarming crisis into a complete horror show – and I’m not using hyperbole.”

Hodeidah and its alternatives

Predictions of famine have hastened in the past month, following a partial blockade by the Saudi Arabian-led coalition at Yemen’s Houthi-controlled Red Sea ports of Hodeidah and Saleef.

Hodeidah imports the majority of Yemen’s staple food and fuel, and humanitarians have long argued it is key to avoiding famine in a country where the UN’s latest estimates put 8.4 million people at risk of starvation.

Even though the restrictions on imports have eased, with some aid now allowed in, few ships have been able to dock at Hodeidah. This week, the World Food Programme said that if commercial vessels with food and fuel didn’t get in soon “we will have a large-scale humanitarian catastrophe of a much larger magnitude than we currently face… It will be beyond the control of the humanitarian community.”

Aid agencies do appear to have back-up plans ready for a Hodeidah battle, which could, in the worst-case scenario, see the port destroyed.

The most recent published contingency plan, put together when a battle was predicted in March, says that if Hodeidah becomes completely inaccessible, the WFP-run logistics cluster (which facilitates humanitarian transport for various aid agencies) will reroute some cargo to Aden.

The plan notes that if all sea cargo is rerouted to Aden “there is a concrete risk of congestion, resulting in considerable delays”.

Overland transport via convoys from Oman or Saudi Arabia – both have borders that are open to commercial trade – are also on the table if access to Red Sea ports is limited and it is no longer feasible to transport cargo from Aden to northern (mostly Houthi-controlled) areas (already a difficult trip).

While the logistics of massive aid convoys would require some serious doing, not to mention a likely increase in security costs and the time it takes to deliver aid, it’s not seen as an impossible ask.

The ICRC told IRIN last month that it is “already using all available alternative land routes to bring supplies into the country” since the start of 2017, namely the Saudi Arabian and Omani land crossings.

Commercial traders – the main suppliers of Yemen’s fuel and food – may be able to adapt more quickly if Hodeidah becomes unusable, although the cost of security (not to mention the bribes at multiple checkpoints) would be passed down to the consumer.

In response to price increases seen after borders were shut – but with food still available on the markets – Oxfam told IRIN it had doubled the amount of monthly cash assistance it gives to 9,000 especially vulnerable families from 24,000 to 48,000 rials (around $190 at the time of publication, but exchange rates change quickly in Yemen).

Overall, the main message from the humanitarian community remains that Hodeidah is irreplaceable.

“The investment of the humanitarian community in ensuring Hodeidah port is protected and able to function is by no means arbitrary,” the NRC’s Vanmeegen told IRIN. “It is based on well-founded fear that the use of alternative ports would have security and cost implications that would compromise the delivery of aid and leave more people without access to the things they need to survive.”

Civilian death and displacement

A battle would not just threaten supply routes that are a lifeline to civilians – The area around Hodeidah port is heavily populated and fighting there and across the city could mean loss of civilian life and further displacement in a province that already hosts more than 100,000 displaced people.

Shabia Mantoo of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, told IRIN that an intensification of conflict in Hodeidah could lead to “large-scale displacement of anywhere between 100,000 to half a million people”.

 

“We… expect continuous displacement if hostilities intensify and prolong on the west coast, further exacerbating needs in what is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis at present,” Mantoo said.

There has been no mass displacement in the area yet, “but this is most probably attributed to both the volatile security environment and the blockage of roads hampering movement,” she added.

Mantoo said UNHCR has emergency assistance ready in Hodeidah, enough to help 2,000 displaced families, and additional stocks are in the pipeline for more than 20,000 families.

The NRC’s Vanmeegen pointed out that while there are plans in place for an emergency scenario, there’s no “guarantee that aid could be delivered as quickly or as effectively as would be needed.

“Our warehouses are too vulnerable to attack and authorities across Yemen continue to actively impede access for humanitarian actors to people in need,” she said.

Meanwhile, the capital Sana’a has seen less street fighting in recent days but at least 30 people were reportedly killed in airstrikes, with another 80 wounded.

(TOP PHOTO: A displaced child waits to collect a daily share of bread for his family from an ICRC supported bakery in Ibb, Yemen. Hussam al-Shormani/ICRC)

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Joint motion for a resolution on the situation in Afghanistan – RC-B8-2017-0678

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the results of the Brussels International Conference on Afghanistan of 5 October 2016 co-chaired by the European Union,

–  having regard to its previous resolutions on Afghanistan, in particular those of 26 November 2015 on the situation in Afghanistan, in particular the killings in the province of Zabul(1) and of 13 June 2013 on the negotiations on an EU-Afghanistan cooperation agreement on partnership and development(2),

–  having regard to the Council conclusions on Afghanistan of 16 October 2017,

–  having regard to the statement made by the UN Security Council President on 14 September 2016 on the situation in Afghanistan,

–  having regard to UN Security Council Resolution 2210 (2015), UN Security Council Resolution 2344 (2017) and to the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA),

–  having regard to the joint communication from the Commission and the EEAS to the European Parliament and the Council on ‘Elements for an EU Strategy on Afghanistan’ of 24 July 2017 (JOIN(2017)0031),

–  having regard to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report of 13 February 2017 entitled ‘Pakistan Coercion, UN Complicity: The Mass Forced Return of Afghan Refugees’,

–  having regard to the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s (SIGAR) Quarterly Report to the United States Congress of 30 January 2017,

–  having regard to the EU‐Afghanistan Joint Way Forward (JWF) on migration issues signed on 3 October 2016,

–  having regard to the EU-Afghanistan Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development signed on 18 February 2017,

–  having regard to the UN report on the Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees in Afghanistan of April 2017,

–  having regard to Rule 123(2) and (4) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas the European Union and its Member States have been working with Afghanistan and the wider international community since 2001 to combat terrorism and extremism, while also striving to achieve sustainable peace and development; whereas, on account of increasing insurgent and terrorist pressure, a struggling economy and instability in the political sphere, these goals and the substantial progress which has been achieved are at risk;

B.  whereas the EU and its Member States have contributed billions of euros in humanitarian and developmental aid and assistance to Afghanistan since 2002; whereas the EU is Afghanistan’s largest development cooperation partner and is expected to provide up to EUR 5 billion of the total EUR 13.6 billion pledged to Afghanistan for the period 2017-2020 during the Brussels International Conference on Afghanistan in October 2016;

C.  whereas ensuring democracy, human rights, the rule of law and good governance throughout the transition in Afghanistan and into its decade of transformation (2015-2024) are essential to establishing a stable and prosperous state;

D.  whereas major increases in the standard of living have occurred over the past 15 years since 2001, as access to basic healthcare and education and the empowerment of women have increased GDP per capita fivefold and average life expectancy by 15 years; whereas, according to the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), since the collapse of the Taliban in 2001, attendance at general schools had risen from one million students, most of whom were boys, to almost nine million by 2015, with female students accounting for an estimated 39 % of the total;

E.  whereas on 24 July 2017 the Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy published a Joint Communication on an EU Strategy on Afghanistan; whereas the EU’s four priority areas critical to achieving progress in Afghanistan concern: a) promoting peace, stability and regional security; b) reinforcing democracy, the rule of law and human rights and promoting good governance and women’s empowerment; c) supporting economic and human development; d) addressing challenges related to migration;

F.  whereas, following the 2014 presidential election crisis, the National Unity Government (NUG) has experienced stalled progress on its reform agenda, resulting in an increasingly unstable political situation; whereas the unemployment rate in Afghanistan is 39% and over 39% of the population live in poverty;

G.  whereas widespread corruption, entrenched patronage systems and the inability of the politically fractured Afghan Government to move forward on reforms threaten to reduce progress or reverse past achievements;

H.  whereas the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which was established in 2002, supports the Afghan Government in its efforts to achieve peace, the protection of human rights and good governance; whereas its mandate is renewed annually by the UN Security Council and was most recently unanimously extended to 2018;

I.  whereas, although some socio-economic and political gains have been made in recent years, a resurgent Taliban, Al-Qaeda and a newly emerged Islamic State (IS) presence in Afghanistan, such as the emerging local franchise in Afghanistan (Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP)), all threaten to turn instability into larger-scale conflict; whereas the recent report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has documented the highest number of casualties since 2009, with 11 318 civilian casualties in 2016, while from January 2017 to September 2017 casualties already amounted to 8 019; whereas this has also led to increased migration to Europe;

J.  whereas, under the new US strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia, an additional 4 000 soldiers will join the existing US contingent of 8 400 soldiers; whereas the new US strategy demands that Pakistan stop harbouring and supporting terrorists and calls for greater involvement by the Republic of India in helping to stabilise the region; whereas the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission will increase its current troop level from 13 000 to 16 000; whereas the new US strategy will be developed favouring a conditions-based approach according to which diplomatic and economic agreements will be integrated within the framework of the military effort;

K.  whereas Afghanistan is facing an unprecedented increase in returns of documented and undocumented Afghan nationals, mainly from Pakistan; whereas around two million undocumented Afghans and one million Afghans with refugee status are living in Iran and returning to Afghanistan; whereas according to the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), there are more than 1.8 million IDPs in Afghanistan as a result of the conflict, with a record 650 000 people fleeing to other areas of the country in search of safety in 2016, representing an average of 1 500 per day; whereas in the second half of 2016 there was a 10-year high surge in the number of Afghan refugees returning from Pakistan, rising to 370 000 from 55 000 in 2015;

L.  whereas the Republic of India is the largest regional donor to Afghanistan, providing some USD 3 billion in assistance since the Taliban Government was ousted in 2001; whereas this assistance has funded, among other things, the building of more than 200 schools in Afghanistan, over 1 000 scholarships for Afghan students, and the possibility for roughly 16 000 Afghans to study in India; whereas India has also provided assistance in the construction of critical infrastructure, such as around 4 000 km of roadways in Afghanistan, most notably the Zaranj-Dilaram highway, the Salma dam and electricity transmission lines, and the Afghan parliament building;

M.  whereas instability in Afghanistan has negative economic and security repercussions for Iran and the wider region as a whole; whereas Afghanistan’s economy is highly dependent on poppy production, which has increased significantly in recent years, resulting in a spike in drug use in neighbouring Iran; whereas this illicit drug trade is used by the Taliban to fund its operations; whereas limiting this trade and finding economic alternatives to it would be mutually advantageous for Iran and Afghanistan; whereas opium from Afghanistan is the main source of heroin in the EU; whereas working with Iran and other border countries such as Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan is necessary to further limit the flow of opiates to Russian and European markets;

N.  whereas a new infrastructure dimension is pivotal for the future of Afghanistan in order to enable an entirely new reality of economic and social opportunities for one of the poorest countries in the world; whereas a new national infrastructure development programme will attract positive and growing regional investment within the framework of the new Silk Road;

O.  whereas reports indicate that Afghanistan has between one and three trillion dollars of undeveloped mineral reserves; whereas illicit mining is a major problem that threatens to turn a potential driver of Afghan development into a source of conflict and instability; whereas mining is the Taliban’s second largest source of revenue;

1.  Recognises that, despite substantial international efforts over a long period of time, Afghanistan is still facing a serious conflict which is hampering its economic and social development substantially; recalls that Afghanistan has been torn apart by nearly 40 years of conflict and war; reiterates the European Union’s goals of promoting peace, stability and regional security, strengthening democracy, the rule of law and human rights, promoting good governance and women’s empowerment, supporting economic and human development, and addressing challenges related to migration;

2.  Recalls that Afghanistan in the last decade and a half has achieved progress in the political, security, economic and development spheres; highlights that the GDP per capita has increased fivefold, life expectancy has increased by almost 15 years, and there has been a significant increase in the number of girls attending schools in comparison to 2001, the figure today being some 40 % of the total of 8 to 9 million children; stresses that none of the above would have been possible but for the dedication of the Afghan population and the commitment of the international community, and the provision of funds, know-how and personnel on the ground; underlines that the progress achieved is very fragile and reversible; emphasises that advancing it will require further reforms to take place, stable relations with neighbours and the continued provision of a necessary level of security and stability;

3.  Recognises the efforts and pays tribute to the sacrifices of the international community which provided security to Afghanistan for over a decade through Operation Enduring Freedom and the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, during which nearly 3 500 servicemen and women died; welcomes the 39-nation NATO-led Resolute Support Mission operating since 1 January 2015, which is mandated to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces and institutions; commends the great sacrifice of the ANSF, which endure heavy losses on an annual basis in their fight against insurgents; recalls the international community’s annual contribution of approximately USD 1 billion to sustain the ANSF’s financing until 2020;

4.  Welcomes the commitment of the Afghan Government to pursuing a national strategy focused on a political, social, economic and safe environment that will allow for a peaceful, secure and sustainable Afghanistan, as outlined in the conclusions of the Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan in Brussels on 5 October 2016; calls for the post of Prime Minister to be enshrined in the Afghan Constitution in order to enable greater political stability in Afghanistan; calls on the Afghan Government to ensure a transparent electoral process in 2018; calls on Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to match his strong public commitments to the protection of rights and freedoms with swift and robust implementation of legislation to protect them;

5.  Stresses that an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process is the only way forward, unreservedly integrating the whole of civil society and all parties to the conflict; reminds the Afghan Government that in order to permit development and promote peace and stability, political infighting must cease; calls for the EU to actively support an Afghan-led disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme for former insurgents;

6.  Underscores the importance of Afghanistan for regional stability; emphasises that a secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan is vital for peace and stability in the region as a whole; reiterates, in this context, the importance of regional partners, such as the countries of Central Asia, Iran, China, India and Pakistan; encourages them to cooperate constructively to promote a genuine and results-oriented negotiation process without preconditions; takes note of the activities of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) on Afghanistan comprising the US, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as established in December 2015;

7.  Expresses extreme concern that, despite the political agreement following the 2014 presidential elections, the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated and the number of terrorist attacks has multiplied; is alarmed by the Taliban’s ongoing territorial expansion and the recent strengthening of IS and Al-Qaeda terrorist groups; points out that, according to the US SIGAR, 6 785 members of the Afghan forces were killed and another 11 777 wounded from January to November 2016, and that the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) also reported a 3 % increase in civilian casualties (3 498 killed, 7 920 wounded) in 2016 compared with the previous year; regrets the deteriorating security situation that is allowing criminal groups to kidnap both Afghan nationals and foreign citizens, including humanitarian and aid workers;

8.  Expresses strong concern about the emergence of the Islamic State as the latest element to contribute to the increasing fragility of the security landscape in Afghanistan; underlines that in addition to its stronghold in the east of the country (Nangarhar) it is attempting to assert its presence in the north of the country with the assistance of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU); highlights that, should this be successful, an environment conducive to the harbouring of foreign fighters and militants will be created, as they are pushed out of Iraq and Syria on account of IS military setbacks in those two countries;

9.  Underscores the importance of a genuine internal reconciliation process; calls for the EU to actively support an Afghan-led disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme for former insurgents; underscores the need to fight radicalisation, extremism and recruitment for terrorist organisations; underlines that combating terrorism and its financing is a key ingredient of creating an environment conducive to security in Afghanistan;

10.  Warns that the poor capabilities of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) and National Police Force remain one of the most critical issues compromising Afghanistan’s security and reconstruction; welcomes the continued EU focus on the enhancement of the role and rights of Afghan women and recognises the need to train female police officers; welcomes the Republic of India’s commitment to assisting Afghanistan with the provision of defence hardware to the Afghan military in December 2015 and the military training of thousands of Afghan security personnel, which significantly helped to enhance its military capability, in accordance with the objective of NATO-led mission ‘Resolute Support’ to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces and institutions, launched in January 2015; is encouraged by the work carried out and cooperation by the Republic of India and Afghanistan on infrastructure projects and humanitarian support;

11.  Believes that the fight against corruption within the Afghan governmental institutions must be a permanent core priority on account of all the negative direct impacts of corruption on the quality of governance in the country; calls on the Government of Afghanistan to increase political inclusiveness, strengthen accountability and actively combat the culture of corruption and nepotism; welcomes notably, in this respect, the establishment of the Anti-corruption Justice Centre in June 2016; notes, in addition, the UNAMA’s call for continued support and assistance from the international community for the Afghan Government’s anti-corruption efforts;

12.  Calls on the Government of Afghanistan and its regional partners, in particular Iran, to fight against illicit drug trafficking and illicit mining and coordinate with one another to eliminate these illegal practices, which are detrimental to the stability of the region; reminds all parties that these are the main sources of funding for terrorist organisations in the region; recognises that any further mining development must be sustainable and beneficial to the general population, in accordance with international standards; condemns the repression, illicit drug trafficking, land grabbing, unlawful confiscation and extortion carried out by warlords; recalls that the production and trafficking of opium in Afghanistan has devastating consequences on the local population and the overall security of the country;

13.  Welcomes Afghan membership of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative; urges the Afghan Government to increase transparency in the mining sector and to establish robust requirements for licences and monitoring in order to ensure a sustainable extractive industry; urges the Government to step up efforts to protect vital public resources such as land and minerals from exploitation by criminal and insurgent networks;

14.  Stands with the people of Afghanistan and insists that all parties involved in the conflict adhere to international humanitarian law and respect the rights of all members of society, in particular minorities, women and children, who are disproportionately affected by the situation; urges the Afghan authorities to fully enforce the UN-Afghan action plan signed in Kabul on 30 January 2011 regarding the practice of ‘bacha bazi’ and enabling the rehabilitation of child victims of sexual abuse; condemns the attacks on hospitals and health clinics, schools and humanitarian operations; condemns in the strongest terms the continued disregard for human rights and the barbaric violence carried out by the Taliban, IS and Al-Qaeda against the people of Afghanistan; draws attention to the risk associated with the return of former war criminals, notably Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the founder of Hizb-e-Islami, who was designated a terrorist by the US in 2003 and has been associated with the increased presence of IS in Afghanistan;

15.  Is alarmed by the increasing resurgence of violence against women and the obliteration of women’s rights and living conditions within areas controlled by the Taliban in Afghanistan; repeats its call on the Afghan Parliament and the Afghan Government to revoke all laws that contain elements of discrimination against women, which are in breach of the international treaties signed by Afghanistan; welcomes the focus on women’s empowerment and gender mainstreaming in EU assistance to Afghanistan, in particular the fact that 53% of EU programmes have gender equality as a significant objective; fully supports full implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, and other domestic measures to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in Afghanistan, as well as to tackle violence against women;

16.  Calls on the governments of regional partners such as the countries of Central Asia, Iran, India, Russia and Pakistan to work together to pursue a peace settlement in Afghanistan, continuous socio-economic development and increased domestic stability, as well as cooperation on security and terror issues, and encourages intelligence sharing and cooperation to fight terrorists and extremists on both sides of the border; urges all Afghan regional actors to commit unreservedly to pursuing transparent engagement in the fight against terrorism;

17.  Reiterates the need for the international community to continue its engagement in Afghanistan and to contribute to rebuilding the country, developing the economy and resisting terrorism; welcomes the financial engagements confirmed by the EU and the Member States at the Brussels Conference; calls notably for support for initiatives that address the priority needs of internally displaced and returning refugees;

18.  Recognises the responsibilities of the EU and its Member States to respect the right to seek international protection and to participate in UNHCR resettlement programmes; stresses the right and ability to seek refuge in safe and legal ways as critical for preventing deaths among asylum seekers;

19.  Notes the conclusion of the Joint Way Forward informal readmission agreement between the EU and Afghanistan; regrets the lack of parliamentary oversight and democratic control on the conclusion of this agreement; calls on governments in the region to refrain from the repatriation of Afghans; points out that this is a direct violation of international humanitarian law and that the increasing number of refugees being treated this way only lends strength to terrorist groups and creates more instability in the region; underlines that repatriations to Afghanistan put the lives of returnees at grave risk, in particular those of single persons without a network of family or friends in Afghanistan who stand little chance of survival; underlines that EU assistance and cooperation must be tailored to achieving development and growth in third countries and to reducing and eventually eradicating poverty, and not to incentivising third countries to cooperate on readmission of irregular migrants, to forcibly deterring people from moving, or to stopping flows to Europe (European Parliament resolution of 5 April 2017 on addressing refugee and migrant movements: the role of EU External Action);

20.  Takes note of the decision of the ICC Prosecutor to commence an investigation into possible crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan since 2003;

21.  Calls on the Afghan authorities to commute all death sentences and to reintroduce a moratorium on executions with a view to achieving the permanent abolition of the death penalty; urges the Government of Afghanistan to implement in full its National Plan on the Elimination of Torture and deplores the reported use of torture and ill-treatment of conflict-related detainees by all sides in Afghanistan;

22.  Expresses its deepest concern over the massive increase in the number of internally displaced people in 2016, with over 600 000 new displacements, which could lead to a massive humanitarian crisis; encourages all parties involved to provide for these vulnerable Afghans, and calls on the Afghan Government to help reintegrate them into Afghan society; stresses that, according to estimates by the Afghan authorities, UN agencies and other humanitarian agencies, over 9.3 million people will have required humanitarian assistance by the end of 2017;

23.  Welcomes the provisional entry into force of the Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development between the European Union and Afghanistan on 1 December 2017, representing the first legally binding framework for relations between the two sides; further encourages the swift ratification of the agreement by EU Member States in order for it to enter into force in full;

24.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Council, the Commission, the Governments and Parliaments of the Member States, and the Government and Parliament of Afghanistan.

Kim Jong-Un vows 'victory in showdown' with US

NNA – North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un vowed to “win victory in the showdown” against the US with his rapidly advancing nuclear arsenal, state media said Wednesday, after the country’s latest missile test heightened global tensions.

The nuclear-armed North has rattled the international community with a flurry of nuclear blasts and missile launches, most recently on November 29 when it test-fired its longest-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), capable of reaching all major US cities.

Kim told workers behind the latest test that his country would “victoriously advance and leap as the strongest nuclear power and military power in the world” at a conference on Tuesday, according to state news agency KCNA.

“The… national defence industry will continue to develop and we will win victory in the showdown with the imperialists and the US,” he was indirectly quoted as saying.

The country’s nuclear force had been completed in a “death-defying struggle” and despite a high cost, he added.

Kim’s comments come as global powers scramble for a response to the crisis, with the US backing stringent economic and diplomatic sanctions on Kim’s regime to halt its nuclear drive.

But the North has continued to lob missiles, posing a major challenge to US President Donald Trump.

Fears of a catastrophic conflict with the nuclear-armed regime have spiked as the leaders have taunted each other, with Trump dubbing his rival “Little Rocket Man”.

Tension flared anew in the flashpoint peninsula after the November 29 launch of the Hwasong-15 ICBM, which the North claimed could deliver a “super-large heavy warhead” anywhere on the US mainland.

Many analysts suggest that the rocket is capable of reaching the US mainland but voice scepticism that Pyongyang has mastered the advanced technology needed to allow the rocket to survive re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere.

Last month’s launch was the first test of any kind since September 15, and quashed hopes that the North may have held back in order to open the door to a negotiated solution to the nuclear standoff.

But US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said for the first time that Washington was willing to talk to Pyongyang “without preconditions”.

The US has long insisted that the North should take concrete steps towards disarming before any negotiations, which should lead to complete, irreversible and verifiable denuclearisation.

“It’s not realistic to say we’re only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your programme,” Tillerson told a meeting of the Atlantic Council policy forum. “They have too much invested in it.”

But he also warned that the US military stands ready to act if necessary.

The latest military standoff prompted concerns of another full-scale conflict in the region after the 1950-53 Korean War that left much of the peninsula in ruins.

Even if a second war remained conventional, tens of thousands of South Koreans — as well as many of the 28,500 US troops stationed in the country — are expected to be killed just in the first days of fighting, analysts say. —AFP

========R.A.H.

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Chief Prosecutor, Briefing Security Council, Blames Non-Cooperation by States for Non-Appearance of International Criminal Court’s Sudan Indictees

Permanent Representative Criticizes Report’s ‘Fabricated’ Information on Number of Displaced, Human Rights Violations in Darfur

The International Criminal Court’s entire judicial machinery could be frustrated unless the suspects it had indicted appeared before it, the institution’s Chief Prosecutor cautioned the Security Council today, as members discussed different approaches concerning the arrest warrants issued by the Court in the case of Darfur, western Sudan.

Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, presenting her twenty‑sixth report on the situation pursuant to Council resolution 1593 (2005), noted that since submitting her last one, President Omar al‑Bashir of Sudan had travelled to a number of countries, some of which were States parties to the Rome Statute and all of which were United Nations Member States.

Those countries had not fulfilled their obligation to arrest and surrender President Bashir into the Court’s custody, she said, noting his recent travels to South Africa, Jordan, Uganda, Chad, and the Russian Federation.  Expressing regret over the Security Council’s inaction in the face of that non‑fulfilment, she said it emboldened others to invite Mr. Bashir, safe in the knowledge that there would be no consequences.

She went on to invite Sudan to rethink its antagonistic posture towards the Court, emphasizing that its work was essential to fighting impunity.  President Bashir and the other suspects were alleged to have committed serious crimes against the people of Darfur, including murder, torture and persecution, she pointed out.  Underlining that time was on the side of justice rather than the side of the perpetrators, she pledged the Court’s commitment to victims.

Sudan’s representative responded by saying that the Chief Prosecutor and her Office had been blinded by political motives.  Reiterating that his country was not a State party to the International Criminal Court, he said the latter’s very existence contravened the principles of State sovereignty and sovereign equality of States.  Turning to the Secretary‑General’s latest report, he said it exceeded all norms by attacking Heads of State.  It also contained fabricated information about the current situation in Darfur, the number of displaced persons, and the violations committed, all of which were outside the Prosecutor’s competence, he said, adding that its exaggerated figures, as compared to reports of Department of Peacekeeping Operations, called for a serious investigation.

Ethiopia’s representative echoed the African Union’s call for suspending the proceedings against President Bashir, saying the case was becoming an embarrassment for the International Criminal Court.  The report, which showed the spectrum of countries in non‑compliance, was itself evidence of the weakness of the case against the President, he said, while highlighting Sudan’s contribution to the fight against terrorism and its improved international engagement.

Other delegates agreed, with the Russian Federation’s representative faulting the report for omitting many positive developments, from Khartoum’s efforts to implement the Doha Document of Peace, to the issuance of visas and customs clearances for the African Union‑United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).  Regarding President Bashir’s visit to other countries, he stressed:  “We do not intend to report to anybody on our bilateral contacts with Sudan.”

Ukraine’s representative, however, said that, as Chair of the Sudan Sanctions Committee, he was concerned about continuing violations of human rights.  Emphasizing the importance of bringing to account those responsible for extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and harassment of political opponents and human rights activists, he said each unimplemented Court decision widened the gap between crime and accountability.

The representative of the United States said it was unacceptable that suspects indicted by the International Criminal Court remained at large.  It was disappointing that President Bashir continued to travel to countries around the world, diminishing the tremendous suffering of victims.  Despite some progress, lasting peace remained elusive and accountability non‑existent, she said, adding: “We will continue to use the tools at our disposal” to promote justice for the people of Darfur.

Senegal’s representative stressed that no peace could be built upon the remnants of impunity.  Justice for the victims required tireless commitment, he added, encouraging the Government of Sudan to respond to allegations of human rights violations, while underlining the essential importance of dialogue and reconciliation to realizing holistic and definitive peace.

Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Kazakhstan, Italy, Egypt, Uruguay, Bolivia, China and Japan.

The meeting began at 11:06 a.m. and ended at 12:57 p.m.

Briefing

FATOU BENSOUDA, Chief Prosecutor, International Criminal Court, presented her twenty‑sixth report on the situation in Darfur.  She said the Court’s entire judicial machinery could be frustrated unless those it had indicted appeared before it.  Expressing regret over the Security Council’s consistent failure to act when a number of States parties to the Rome Statute had welcomed President Omar al‑Bashir, she emphasized that there was no legal lacuna or ambiguity concerning their obligation to arrest and surrender suspects into the Court’s custody when they travelled to their respective territories.  Recalling the decision of Pre‑Trial Chamber II relating to South Africa’s failure to arrest and surrender Mr. Bashir to the Court in June 2015, saying the Council’s repeated inaction could potentially undermine the struggle against impunity.  It emboldened others to invite Mr. Bashir, safe in the knowledge that there would be no consequences from the Council for such breaches.

She went on to state that since her last report, Mr. Bashir had travelled to a number of countries, some of which were States parties and all of which were United Nations Member States.  Just yesterday, Pre‑Trial Chamber II had found that Jordan had failed to comply with its obligations under the Rome Statute by failing to execute the Court’s request to arrest and surrender Mr. Bashir during his late March visit to that country, she noted, adding that Uganda had hosted Mr. Bashir in November 2016, despite having been referred to the Council for its failure to arrest him in May 2016.  Due to the efforts of Ugandan civil society, however, an application had been filed at the International Crimes Division of the High Court in Uganda, requesting that a warrant of arrest be issued and executed against Mr. Bashir, but the High Court had declined to issue a warrant.  Public records showed that Chad, another country referred to the Council for failure to arrest and surrender Mr. Bashir, had hosted the Sudanese leader during a recent official visit, she recalled, noting also his official travel to the Russian Federation, a permanent Council member, in November.

Such inaction undermined the Court’s credibility in the eyes of victims who had pinned so much hope on it, she emphasized, while also welcoming the declaration by the European Union in relation to Mr. Bashir’s visit to Uganda and the Russian Federation.  Noting that Sudan maintained an antagonistic posture towards the Court, refusing all cooperation, she invited that country to rethink its position.  Pointing out that Mr. Bashir and the other suspects were alleged to have committed serious crimes against the people of Darfur, including murder, torture and persecution, she emphasized that the Court’s work was essential to fighting impunity, and that the Court deserved the Council’s support.  Notwithstanding the decrease in the scale of the violence in Darfur, she said, the Office of the Prosecutor continued to receive reports of unlawful killing of civilians, as well as sexual and gender‑based crimes.  The annual operating budget for the Office was insufficient to support its growing workload, she noted, urging the United Nations to make suitable arrangements for financial support.  She pledged the Court’s commitment to the victims of Rome Statue crimes allegedly committed in Darfur, underlining that time was on the side of justice, and not on the side of the perpetrators.

Statements

SUSAN JANE DICKSON (United Kingdom) welcomed the reduction in armed conflict, saying she was encouraged by improvements in humanitarian access.  Whereas the situation was showing cause for cautious optimism, however, it had not yet normalized.  Security issues and human rights violations made the situation volatile, particularly for internally displaced persons, she said, noting that sexual violence continued although the number of incidents had reportedly declined.  A permanent ceasefire was needed so that the root causes of the conflict could be addressed, she emphasized.  Welcoming the progress achieved by the African Union‑United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) in the first phase of its reconfiguration, she expressed regret, however, that the Government of Sudan had not yet agreed to a new base for the mission in the Jebel Marra area.  The United Kingdom urged the Government to authorize the base opening without further delay.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) said his delegation’s position reflected that of the African Union, which had called repeatedly for the suspension of proceedings against President Bashir.  The case against him was very weak and nothing more than the Prosecutor’s report was required as the evidence validating its weakness.  “The spectrum of countries in non‑compliance is a call for change,” he said, adding that the case was becoming an embarrassment for the International Criminal Court.  Calling on the Council to re‑examine its position, he said that Sudan had been playing a leading role in fighting terrorism and had enhanced its bilateral and multilateral engagements.  The lifting of the sanctions imposed by the United States was a major development, he noted.  The Council was often criticized for under‑performance, but on this matter it had been hyperactive, he said, urging the international community to change its approach in dealing with Sudan.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said the goals of fighting impunity and promoting stability in Sudan had not been achieved, even after 12 years, emphasizing that prosecution was the only solution.  Calling on all concerned States to implement the arrest warrants issued by the Court, she noted that civilians remained the primary victims in Sudan, and despite encouraging developments on the ground, the displaced were still afraid to return to their homes due to the presence of militia and the proliferation of weapons.  To encourage the return of the displaced, it was necessary to deal with deep‑seated cycles of violence by bringing those responsible to justice, she said, emphasizing that States parties to the Rome Statute had a particular obligation to implement the arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court.

IRINA SCHOULGIN NYONI (Sweden) said she shared the Chief Prosecutor’s view that success depended on the cooperation of States, including those that had signed up to the Rome Statue as well as members of the Council.  Sweden was disappointed that there had been few developments since the last meeting and that all suspects remained at large.  Urging the Government of Sudan to cooperate with the Court, in accordance with Security Council resolution 1593 (2005), she said it was a matter of concern that President Bashir remained able to travel internationally.  Although the number of rape cases reported in Darfur had declined, the issue of sexual violence remained and the root causes of instability must be addressed, she said, underlining that impunity and lack of accountability for violations of international human rights law could not be accepted.

FODÉ SECK (Senegal) said his delegation was attached to the universal character of human rights and the fight against impunity, and aware of the International Criminal Court’s role in that struggle.  Emphasizing that no peace could be built upon the remnants of impunity, he said justice for the victims required tireless commitment.  Senegal encouraged the Government of Sudan to provide quick responses to allegations of human rights violations, he said, stressing that dialogue and reconciliation were essential to achieving holistic and definitive peace, as well as a sustainable solution to such issues as refugees and internally displaced persons in that part of Sudan.

BARLYBAY SADYKOV (Kazakhstan) noted the continuing progress in Darfur’s security and humanitarian situation, commending the Government of Sudan for its cooperation with the United Nations and the African Union.  Khartoum’s commitment to stability had resulted in the lifting of sanctions imposed by the United States, he said, encouraging Sudan to maintain that positive momentum.  The Government must secure dignified and lasting solutions for the more than 2 million internally displaced, he said.  Stressing the importance of the Doha Document for Peace and commending the efforts of the African Union and UNAMID, he said Government ownership was crucial for long‑term reconciliation and the international community must support Sudan’s capacity to promote the rule of law.

EVGENY T. ZAGAYNOV (Russian Federation) noting the continuing decline in the fighting between Government and rebel forces, said that if there had been fighting at all, it was only at the beginning of the reporting period, and it had been residual in nature.  The Prosecutor might want to more precisely reflect that trend, he said, pointing out also that the report omitted to mention of Khartoum’s efforts to implement the Doha Document.  Turning to cooperation between Khartoum and the international community, he noted the issuance of visas and customs clearances for UNAMID.  Sudanese forces were working constructively with the mission to protect its personnel and equipment, and the Government had taken measures to ease humanitarian access to southern Sudan, he said, noting that the report did not consider those facts worthy of mention.  The States that President Bashir had visited did not intend to follow the International Criminal Court’s interpretation on questions of immunity, and “we do not intend to report to anybody on our bilateral contacts with Sudan”, he emphasized.

SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy) said that despite some progress, intercommunity conflict, human rights violations, impunity and a lack of accountability persisted in Darfur.  The Council was faced with a prolonged and unsatisfactory stalemate linked to a lack of cooperation, he said, emphasizing that cooperation with the International Criminal Court was a crucial element of resolution 1593 (2005).  The entire international community was called to action, and the Council could decide to act or not, he said, adding that it should adopt a mechanism that would facilitate greater in‑depth discussion before any conclusions were reached.  Such a mechanism would also create deeper engagement and allow for creative solutions to be devised, he said, emphasizing that repeating the same arguments every six months did not lead to progress, but was a reminder that justice must be done for victims in Darfur.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) pointed out that there was a unified African Union position on the way in which the International Criminal Court dealt with some African issues.  That position was stressed in successive resolutions adopted during regional summits, he said, citing resolution 586 from the twenty‑fifth summit.  The resolutions stressed the need for the Court to respect international law in relation to the immunity granted to high‑level officials carrying out their mandates.  He expressed hope that no measures would be taken to thwart the stability and sovereignty of African States.

MICHELE J. SISON (United States) recalled that more than 300,000 people had been killed since the beginning of the violence in Darfur, and both Sudanese military forces and militias had been responsible for the violence.  She said her country was committed to efforts to end the conflict, as reflected in the five‑track engagement plan launched by the Government of the United States.  Sudan had stopped aerial bombardments in 2017 and had taken meaningful steps to improve humanitarian access, but lasting peace remained elusive and accountability non‑existent, she noted.  Calling on the Government of Sudan to uphold all its human rights obligations, she said it was unacceptable that the International Criminal Court’s suspects remained at large.  It was disappointing that Mr. Bashir continued to travel to countries around the world, diminishing the seriousness of the charges against him and the tremendous suffering of the victims, she said, stressing:  “We will continue to use the tools at our disposal” to promote justice for the people of Darfur.

VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said that, as Chair of the Sudan Sanctions Committee, he was concerned about continuing violations of human rights.  All those responsible for extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and exerting pressure on political opponents and human rights activists should be brought to account, he emphasized.  Without cooperation from States, all suspects would remain at large and States would use their status as an excuse to evade their responsibility to fulfil their international obligations.  The Council was still not ready to give effect to the Court’s decisions on non‑cooperation, he said, stressing that each unimplemented decision only widened the gap between crime and accountability.  Non‑compliance with Court decisions and requests undermined the foundation of the international criminal justice system, he said, emphasizing that anti‑impunity efforts should prevail over any issue impeding decisive steps towards the arrest and surrender of suspects.

LUIS HOMERO BERMÚDEZ ÁLVAREZ (Uruguay) said the Chief Prosecutor’s report added value to the analysis of issues on the Council’s agenda.  Expressing concern about all the cases of non‑cooperation with the International Criminal Court, he pointed to the stipulation within Security Council resolution 1593 (2005) that the Government of Sudan and all parties to the conflict in Darfur must cooperate with the Court.  Uruguay was prepared to work to ensure that the Council could play a more active role in cases of non‑cooperation with the Court so as to ensure that the arrest warrants were executed, he said.  The word “accountability” was heard about issues on the Council’s agenda, he said, but unfortunately calls for accountability were never accompanied by action.  The actions proposals presented by New Zealand a year ago would make it easier for the Council to act on cases of non‑cooperation with the Court.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) encouraged the International Criminal Court to join the efforts of regional organizations to strengthen the political process in Sudan, particularly implementation of the Doha Document for Peace.  Cooperation with the African Union was fundamental, he said, noting that the regional bloc had established a ministerial council to deal with issues relating to Sudan.  Stressing the complementary nature of the International Criminal Court, he said it was important to re‑establish local capacity.  Furthermore, the universal nature of the impunity debate was diminished by the Court’s relative incapacity due to non‑ratification of the Rome Statute by some States parties.

LI YONGSHENG (China) said that despite improvements in the overall situation in Sudan and the commitment of its Government to maintaining stability, Darfur still faced multiple challenges to its long‑term security and stability.  In lending support to the Government, the international community must take an objective position, he emphasized.  Calling on all parties in Darfur to continue efforts to resolve the conflict peacefully, he emphasized that the relevant opposition parties must join the political process at the earliest opportunity.  He underscored the importance of the mediation efforts undertaken by regional and subregional organizations, saying the international community must fully respect Sudan’s judicial sovereignty and heed the legitimate concerns of the African Union and the Government of Sudan.

YASUHISA KAWAMURA (Japan), Council President for December, spoke in his national capacity, voicing his country’s commitment to the fight to end impunity.  Japan supported resolution 1593 (2005), believing the Court had a role to play in bringing perpetrators to justice, and that cooperation with the Court was vital to successful outcomes.  Urging full implementation of resolution 1593 (2005) — requiring the full cooperation of the Government of Sudan and other parties — he cautioned that continued failure would undermine the Council’s legitimacy.  While huge challenges remained, there had been encouraging changes in the Darfur situation and in the Government’s behaviour, he said, pointing out that there been no open confrontation recently.  Japan commended the efforts of the Government, the African Union, and the United Nations, he said, stressing that they must continue.

OMER DAHAB FADL MOHAMED (Sudan), commenting on a point by representatives relating to the collection of weapons, said the existence of light weapons in conflict zones contributed to instability and the collection of arms in Darfur was a challenge for the Government.  During a recent meeting between the Vice‑President of Sudan and the Joint Representative of the African Union and United Nations, he recalled, the Vice‑President had stressed that the Government would not participate in the collection of weapons if UNAMID was to be responsible for that task.

Pointing out that his country was not a State party to the International Criminal Court, he said its Chief Prosecutor and her office had been blinded by political motives.  They were unable to see a clear point of international law — any international convention or agreement was only binding upon its signatories.  Security Council resolution 1593 (2005) stated that the Court’s jurisdiction was not applicable to non-States parties — in contradiction to the explicit and commanding rules of international law — and was the result of inconsistences inherent in the Rome Statute.  The latest report was no different from previous ones and had gone beyond all norms by attacking Heads of State, he said.

The mere establishment of the Court on the basis of the Rome Statute contravened the principles of international law, such as national sovereignty and sovereign equality of States, he said, reiterating that international agreements and conventions were only binding on signatories.  In that respect, according to paragraphs 7 and 8 of the report, the pre‑trial chamber had rejected a recognized principle of international law relative to immunity and subjected it to article 27(2) of the Rome Statute, he said, adding that he was not surprised by such a position, having followed the Court’s failures.  The report also contained fabricated information about the situation in Darfur, the number of displaced persons and the violations committed, all of which were outside the Chief Prosecutor’s competence, he noted.  It also contained exaggerated figures that did not compare to the reports of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, he added, suggesting that a serious investigation was needed.

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*  The 8131st Meeting was closed.

Death toll from fighting in South Sudan's Great Lakes rises to 170

NNA – The death toll from inter-clan fighting in South Sudan’s Great Lakes region last week – a new source of violence in a country devastated by a four-year civil war – has reached at least 170, officials said on Tuesday.

The clashes in the province’s Malek county broke out after a group of young men from the Ruop ethnic group attacked rival youth from the Pakam group on Wednesday and Thursday.

Revenge attacks have since taken place.

Dharuai Mabor Teny, a member of parliament from the region, updated an earlier death toll of 45.

“Right now, from both sides, we have 170 plus people who lost their lives. 342 houses have been burnt and almost 1,800 people displaced,” Teny told Reuters.

The violence prompted the government to declare a three-month state of emergency in the region and surrounding areas on Monday. The military has also been ordered to deploy troops to quell the unrest.

Shadrack Bol Maachok, the regional government’s spokesman, said the widespread availability of arms complicated efforts to control the conflict.

“Those arms in the hands of the civilians are going to be taken away and heavy forces are going to be brought here,” he told Reuters.

The UN mission in South Sudan UNMISS said its troops were helping remove roadblocks mounted by the clashing groups in a bid to open up routes for movement and trade.

South Sudan was plunged into war in 2013 after a political disagreement between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president Riek Machar escalated into a military confrontation.

The fighting has killed tens of thousands, uprooted about a quarter of the population of 12 million people and left its small, oil-dependent economy moribund.

Violence between rival communities is common in parts of South Sudan, often triggered by quarrels over scarce grazing land and cultural and political grievance.–REUTERS

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