Around 40 FSA rebel groups on Monday rejected Russia’s planned Sochi conference on Syria, saying Moscow was seeking to bypass a U.N.-based Geneva peace process and blaming Russia for committing war crimes in the war-torn country. Russia received backing from Turkey and Iran for holding a Syrian national dialogue congress in the Russian city of Sochi on Jan. 29-30.
In a statement by around 40 rebel groups who include some of the military factions who participated in earlier rounds of Geneva peace talks, they said Moscow had not put pressure on the Syrian government to reach a political settlement. “Russia has not contributed one step to easing the suffering of Syrians and has not pressured the regime that it claims it is a guarantor by move in any real path towards a solution,” the rebel statement said. “Russia is an aggressor country that has committed war crimes against Syrians… It stood with the regime militarily and defended its politically and over seven years preventing U.N. condemnation of [Syrian President Bashar] Assad’s regime,” the statement said.
Moscow says it targets militants but rebels and residents say the Russian air strikes conducted since a major aerial campaign over two years ago has caused hundreds of civilian casualties in indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas away from the frontline.
Some rebels said they had not yet made up their mind and U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said that Russia’s plan to convene the congress should be assessed by its ability to contribute to and support the U.N.-led Geneva talks on ending the war in Syria.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres has released a statement on the upcoming Kurdistan Region independence referendum, claims that ‘any unilateral decision to hold a referendum at this time would detract from the need to defeat ISIL’ and reiterates his respect for the ‘sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Iraq’.
The Secretary-General believes that any unilateral decision to hold a referendum at this time would detract from the need to defeat ISIL, as well as the much-needed reconstruction of the regained territories and the facilitation of a safe, voluntary and dignified return of the more than three million refugees and internally displaced people.
The Secretary-General respects the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Iraq and considers that all outstanding issues between the federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government should be resolved through structured dialogue and constructive compromise.
The Secretary-General calls upon the leaders across Iraq to approach this matter with patience and restraint. The United Nations stands ready to support such efforts.
A trilateral meeting between Russia, the United States and the United Nations on Syria is scheduled to take place in Geneva on April 24, Russia’s semi-official Tass agency reports.’The meeting is tentatively scheduled for April 24 and Russia is expected to be represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov‘, agency’s source noted.
Earlier on Monday, Russia’s special envoy Syria Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said in Moscow that the meeting on Syria could be held in Geneva early next week, Washington’s confirmation is expected. “The tripartite meeting of Russia, the United States and the United Nations in Geneva is planned, we are waiting for confirmation from our American colleagues,” the Russian diplomat said, adding that the talks could be held at the beginning of the next week at deputy foreign ministers or department directors level.
Daesh fighters have reportedly shot and killed scores of civilians in Mosul in recent days, according to the UN, which has also confirmed the discovery of a mass grave in the nearby town of Hammam al-Alil in which more than 100 bodies were found.
In a brief published on Friday detailing a series of Daesh executions and abuses, the UN’s human rights office said that 40 people were killed by the armed group on Tuesday for “treason and collaboration” with Iraqi forces and their allies closing in on the city during a major military push. Dressed in orange jumpsuits, the bodies of the victims were hung from electrical poles in several areas around Mosul, the UN said.
On Wednesday evening, Daesh reportedly shot to death a further 20 civilians in the Ghabat military base in northern Mosul, also on charges of leaking information. “Their bodies were also hung at various intersections in Mosul, with notes stating: ‘Decision of execution’ and ‘used cell phones to leak information to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF)’,” the UN said. The rights office also said the mass grave in Hammam al-Alil, south of Mosul, was just one of several Daesh killing grounds.
The site was discovered on Monday and contained the bodies of at least 100 people, including former ISF officers and Daesh detainees, as well as people killed for initiating anti-Daesh attacks since the beginning of the Mosul operation four weeks ago.
“I’ve been in Erbil since the beginning of this military operation to retake the city of Mosul and we have documented hundreds of executions by Daesh,” Belkis Wille, a spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Al Jazeera from Erbil. “We are not surprised, unfortunately, to see mass graves like this one [in Hammam al-Alil]; it definitely is not the only one.”
The human rights body said they had received reports of Daesh stockpiling large amounts of chemicals in civilian areas in order to be used as weapons. At least four people died from inhaling fumes after Daesh shelled and set fire to the al-Mishrag sulfur gas factory in Mosul on October 23.
The UN also said it had gathered evidence that teenagers and young boys were being used by Daesh as suicide bombers during the offensive, while young girls and women were being sexually exploited by the armed group’s fighters. “Since 27 October, Daesh has been relocating abducted women, including Yazidi women, into Mosul city and into Tel Afar town,” the human rights body said in its brief. “Some of these women were reportedly ‘distributed’ to Daesh fighters while others have been told they will be used to accompany Daesh convoys.”
But in its brief, the UN human rights office also urged the Iraqi government to ensure that the rights of Mosul civilians are met amid accusations of atrocities committed by government forces. It cited sporadic reports of retaliatory attacks, including allegations of revenge killings by civilians or by forces under the control of the Iraqi army.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said that he welcomed a statement by the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi condemning such acts, but urged the government to act to prevent reprisals and revenge killings. “Justice for the victims and survivors of human rights abuses and violations – irrespective of when, where or by whom such abuses and violations were committed – need to be impartial, transparent and effective,” Zeid said. “The government of Iraq must act quickly to restore effective law enforcement in areas retaken from Daesh to ensure that captured fighters and their perceived supporters are dealt with according to the law.”
One video circulating on social media on Friday appeared to show a teenage boy being shot and run over by a tank used by what seemed to be Iraqi-backed forces. “I think we need to exercise extreme caution with videos like this,” HRW’s Wille told Al Jazeera. “We know that Daesh previously produced fake videos showing Iraqi forces committing abuses.” There is a possibility that this video had been faked by Daesh fighters to shift the public opinion against Iraqi forces, she said. “There is no flag on the tank in the video. That is a bit inconsistent with what I’ve seen on Iraqi force tanks,” Wille said. “Also only one man in the video is wearing an Iraqi uniform, and there are no other armored vehicles in the area.” But, she said, if the video is genuine, Iraqi authorities should take swift action to stop these kinds of extrajudicial killings. “Unfortunately in the battle to retake Fallujah, we’ve seen multiple instances of abuses perpetrated by pro-government forces against the civilian population. “And there is an extreme concern that this may happen again in Mosul.”
Sources: UN Media Centre/Syria & Iraq News/Al Jazeera
Russia’s ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said the UN Security Council draft resolution on the situation in the Syrian city of Aleppo prepared by New Zealand is worth consideration.
“I think this is an interesting effort, and I think that we can definitely consider it. I hope they [New Zealanders] will be persistent in their efforts,” the diplomat said.
The UN Security Council draft resolution proposed by New Zealand provides for the withdrawal of rebels from eastern Aleppo in compliance with the initiative of the UN Secretary General’s special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura. It also requires combatants to “immediately and completely cease all attacks that can lead to death or injury of people or damage to civilian objects.” First of all, this concerns air strikes on Aleppo, according to the text of the draft document.
The document also provides for the regular introduction of 48-hour truce for the delivery of humanitarian aid. The first truce, according to the draft resolution, should occur within 24 hours after its adoption. In addition, the document indicates the need for demarcation of the opposition groups and terrorist groups included in the UN Security Council lists.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov returned to Syria talks on Saturday, three weeks after the failure of their painstakingly drafted ceasefire that many saw as the last hope for peace this year.
Kerry has pointedly avoided new bilateral negotiations with Lavrov, and his invitation to the Turkish, Saudi, Qatari, Iranian, Jordanian and Egyptian foreign ministers to join them for talks in the Swiss lakeside town of Lausanne will broaden the discussion to include powerful backers of Syria’s government and rebels. “We’ve asked countries to come, having done some thinking, about a realistic way forward given the differences represented in the room,” a senior U.S. State Department official said.
Since the breakdown of U.S.-Russia cooperation, long the backbone of efforts to end the war in Syria, U.S. officials have worked through ideas, some of which will be presented in Lausanne, the official said. “With all that said, I’m not expecting we will have some major announcement at the end of this. This is going to be, as it has been now for several years, a very difficult process,” the official added.
The new talks will not deliver an immediate solution, but could be the basis of a new process, the official said. Pressure is rising for a halt to a ferocious, three-week-old Syrian government offensive to capture the rebel-held eastern zone of the city of Aleppo, where the United Nations says 275,000 civilians still live and 8,000 rebels are holding out against Syrian, Russian and Iranian-backed forces. Western powers have accused Russia and Syria of committing atrocities by bombing hospitals, killing civilians and preventing medical evacuations, as well as targeting an aid convoy with the loss of around 20 lives.
Syria and Russia counter that they only targeting militants in Aleppo and accuse the United States of breaking the ceasefire by bombing scores of Syrian troops fighting Islamic State insurgents, over which the United States has expressed “regret”. A senior rebel commander said on Friday Syrian government forces would never be able to capture Aleppo’s eastern sector, but a military source said the operation was going as planned.
The United Nations has said food, fuel and medicine are running out in eastern Aleppo and there will be no rations to distribute from the start of next month. In a gesture of apparent desperation, U.N. Syria peace envoy Staffan de Mistura has offered to escort members of an Islamist militant group, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, out of Aleppo if that would entice Damascus to forge a ceasefire with the remaining rebels.
According to Lavrov, the key elements would be the “separation of terrorists from the so-called moderate opposition” as well as “humanitarian aid deliveries.” The start of peace talks between the Syrian government and rebel representatives without pre-conditions is another central goal, he noted. The foreign minister appeared cautious in regard to the meeting’s outcomes, saying he doesn’t “have any particular expectations.” “So far [we] can see no steps which our Western partners are undertaking to come closer to the implementation of the existing agreements,” Lavrov said.
Lavrov’s deputy Gennady Gatilov said Russia wants to discuss de Mistura’s offer, as well as elements of last month’s failed truce deal, namely humanitarian aid deliveries and a pullout of both sides’ troops from the Castello Road, a key supply route. “And it’s about time to start moving toward an inclusive political process,” Gatilov told Interfax news agency.
Many in Syria’s opposition say Kerry has put too much trust in Lavrov, with protracted diplomatic wrangling over ceasefires buying time for Russia’s military campaign and obscuring the once central question of the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while the clock runs down to the U.S. elections on Nov. 8.
Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Nadia Murad Basee Taha, who survived trafficking at the hands of Daesh was today appointed a United Nations advocate for the victims of human trafficking.
With the appointment, which marks the first time a survivor of atrocities is bestowed this distinction, Ms. Murad, a 23-year-old Yazidi woman, wears the mantle of Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). “Nadia is a fierce and tireless advocate for the Yazidi people and victims of human trafficking everywhere,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at her induction ceremony today, which was held in connection with the UN’s commemoration of the International Day of Peace. “She was subjected to unspeakable abuse and human rights violations at the hands of Daesh. Nadia has shown exceptional courage in speaking out. She gives a much-needed voice to trafficking victims who continue to suffer, and who demand justice,” the UN chief added.
Ms. Murad briefed the UN Security Council in its first-ever session on human trafficking in December 16, 2015. She described being rounded up with fellow Yazidis in Iraq in 2014 and witnessing as Daesh fighters shot men and boys in cold blood. She was bought and sold various times. “It is two years since Daesh seized Sinjar. It is unconscionable that thousands of Yazidi, in particular women and children, continue to be held captive,” Mr. Ban said, calling for their immediate release. “And I repeat: the crimes committed by Daesh in Iraq against the Yazidi may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and even genocide.”
A relentless advocate for victims, Ms. Murad was recently named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People of 2016.” During her Ambassadorship, she will focus on advocacy initiatives and raise awareness around the plight of the countless victims of trafficking in persons, especially refugees, women and girls.
UNODC is the lead UN entity fighting all forms of human trafficking, including sexual slavery, forced labour, child soldiering and trafficking for the purpose of organ removal. It is also the custodian of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and mandated to manage the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons. “Nadia’s appointment as a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Goodwill Ambassador, provides a unique opportunity to urge others to join us in our fight against human trafficking. We know that Nadia’s extraordinary commitment to the plight of trafficking victims will move people to take action against this scourge,” UNODC Executive Director, Yury Fedotov, said in his message on her induction.