A Conversation on the Conflict in Yemen

Earlier today, Sahr Muhammedally, director of our Middle East and South Asia program, appeared on Huffington Post Politics to discuss the conflict in Yemen and its impact on civilians. She discussed our recent report, “We Lived Days in Hell”: Civilian Perspectives of the Conflict in Yemen, and answered questions from the online audience.

New Hires at CIVIC Sharpen Focus on Military Engagement and U.S. Government Advocacy

Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) on Monday announced the addition of two staff members in January 2017, as it prepares to expand its operations and mission to improve protection for civilians caught in conflicts around the world. It also created the new position of Senior Military Advisor.

Dan Mahanty, formerly of the U.S. Department of State, joins CIVIC as Senior Advisor, US Program, to advocate that U.S. policymakers promote the adoption of policies and practices enhancing the protection of civilians in conflict, including through international security cooperation and assistance. Dan will also help raise awareness of CIVIC's impact and accomplishments among government officials and the U.S. public.

He spent 16 years at the State Department before joining CIVIC. In 2012, he created and led the Office of Security and Human Rights in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, where he oversaw efforts to integrate human rights in U.S. security assistance and arms sales, advanced the prevention of recruitment and use of child soldiers, and promoted policies related to protecting civilians in conflict.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to have Dan come on board,” said Director of Programs, Marla Keenan. “He’s been a friend of CIVIC for years, and we’ve long admired his work at the State Department. Going forward into the new year, we’ll need his experience and connections as we continue our engagement with the new U.S. administration.”

CIVIC’s former Senior Advisor, US Program Jay Morse will fill the newly created post of Senior Military Advisor. Morse has decades of experience working with militaries and governments from around the world, and his expertise allows CIVIC to strengthen its ability to influence how governments and armed forces interact with civilians before, during, and after conflict. Morse has already been instrumental in shaping the organization’s work in Nigeria, Iraq, Ukraine, and with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). He will continue to advise program managers in working with militaries, conducting technical assessments, and improving CIVIC’s ability to advise and train forces to minimize harm.

“Jay’s new position allows CIVIC to sharpen its traditional focus of working with militaries and providing practical guidance on how best to minimize civilian harm,” said Keenan. “As we expand into new areas, Jay’s record of creative engagement with militaries will help us advance the protection of civilians.”

Finally, Anysa Badran is CIVIC’s new Program Assistant, where she will support the various program teams. Prior to joining CIVIC, she worked at TalentNomics, Inc., working to close the gender pay gap and grow the pool of women leaders worldwide. Anysa studied social sciences at Sciences Po in Paris, and holds a B.A. in International Affairs, with a concentration in Contemporary Cultures and Societies, from George Washington University. 

A Question of Accountability

UN/Eric Kanalstein

United Nations peacekeeping troops often take the blame for mission failures, but a recent op-ed by Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)’s Peacekeeping Advisor Lauren Spink argues that the UN Security Council and Secretariat must share in accountability for peacekeeping operation failures and enact meaningful reform to support field operations.

Published at Global Peace Operations Review, the op-ed, titled "Accountability for Peacekeeping Failures Must Be Shared by the UN in New York," discusses the implications of the UN decision to dismiss the Kenyan Force Commander of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) following a UN Special Investigation on the performance of peacekeepers during a July outbreak of violence in South Sudan's capital, Juba. (CIVIC published its own report on the violence as well.)

Spink writes:

The fallout from the decision to dismiss the Kenyan Force commander has not been insignificant. As a result of the dismissal, Kenya announced that it would withdraw all of its troops from UNMISS and would cancel plans to contribute additional troops to a special Regional Protection Force authorized by the UNSC to be deployed to increase the Mission’s capacity in Juba. Notably, the Kenyan Government has also disengaged from the peace process in South Sudan. In the past, Kenya played a prominent role in negotiations to end violence between Sudan and South Sudan and amongst rival factions within South Sudan.

Spink emphasizes that while the Kenyan commander's dismissal should not be considered a misstep, the failures on the part of UNMISS aren't just the fault of commanders on the ground. For example, the UN leadership in New York has not done enough to drive a political solution to South Sudan's troubles.

These failures in New York directly affects troops' morale and willingness to put themselves in harm's way. Such disillusionment on the part of troop-contributing countries will continue, Spink writes, unless meaningful reform in how the UN supports peacekeeping operations from Turtle Bay.

Read the full commentary here.

What Next for UN Peacekeeping in South Sudan?

UN/Martine Perret

By Lauren Spink, Program Officer, Africa and Peacekeeping

When violence between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those allied with former Vice President Riek Machar broke out in July in Juba, South Sudan, the UN mission there, along with thousands of civilians, was caught in the crossfire. Some UN peacekeeping units took action to protect civilians threatened by the violence. “Those with blue helmets collected those who were shot and took people to the hospital,” one 29-year-old woman living in one of the Protection of Civilians (POC) sites guarded by peacekeepers told CIVIC.

Other civilians were angered by inaction on the part of some peacekeeping units: “No one was protecting [civilians],” an employee of a medical clinic inside POC1 told CIVIC, referring to the abandonment of POC1 site by peacekeepers during the heaviest fighting. “Even those patients who could run and relatives who could help ran to the Level 1 [clinic] in UN House. … That the UN could leave civilians, I didn’t believe it could happen until I saw it with my own eyes.”

On July 8–11, 2016, violence between the two parties to the conflict raged around the UN House base, UN Tongping base, and the POC1 and POC3 sites attached to the UN House base that house approximately 37,000 South Sudanese internally displaced persons (IDPs). Indiscriminate small arms and artillery fire from Kiir’s Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Sudan People's Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO), allied to Machar, killed more than 30 civilians inside the POC sites alone and seriously injured many more.

Through interviews with civilians, UNMISS officials, and humanitarian aid workers, CIVIC documented that while some peacekeepers remained in their positions and assisted civilians in finding safe spaces during July violence, others abandoned their posts and refused to follow direct orders to conduct foot patrols or rescue international and national aid workers under attack by SPLA soldiers at the Terrain Hotel. Our findings are reflected in our October report, Under Fire: The July 2016 Violence in Juba and UN Response.

Concerns of underperformance by UNMISS peacekeepers during the July crisis prompted the United Nations (UN) to launch its own Special Investigation into the response of the Mission. On November 1, 2016, the UN released the Executive Summary of the investigation, which went further than any previous report in naming specific actors and troops who underperformed or failed to protect civilians. It found that UNMISS mounted a “chaotic and ineffective response to the violence.”

The Executive Summary also makes broad recommendations that are not only addressed to peacekeepers and UNMISS staff on the ground, but also to the UN Security Council (UNSC) and Secretariat, which are vitally needed to improve the training, support, and capabilities of the Mission.

While CIVIC welcomes the level of openness demonstrated in the Executive Summary of the Special Investigation, we continue to call for the release of the full findings of the Special Investigation to promote more meaningful accountability and transparency for both UNMISS and wider UN deficiencies. Likewise, we recognize that the removal of the Force Commander from his position and the announcement by Hervé Ladsous, the Under-Secretary-General for UN Peacekeeping Operations, that a task force is being created to implement the recommendations of the Special Investigation are major steps forward. However, these are only the first steps in what will need to be a sustained and determined effort at peacekeeping reform.

As both CIVIC’s report and the Special Investigation note, UNMISS troops need additional scenario-based training on the use of force to protect civilians, patrolling, and combatting sexual violence. The UN Secretariat needs to address the issue of national caveats that plagues UNMISS along with other peacekeeping missions and to prioritize funding and recruitment of medical personnel to improve the level of medical care available to peacekeepers in South Sudan. The UN Security Council must take more decisive action to address countless violations of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between UNMISS and the Government of South Sudan that have reduced the freedom of movement of the Mission.

As the UN prepares to deploy a Regional Protection Force (RPF) to South Sudan to reinforce the capacity of the Mission, the Security Council and Secretariat must recognize that additional troops will not improve protection of civilians on the ground unless those troops are well trained, supported by additional medical and engineering personnel, and permitted to enter the country with weaponry and equipment such as armored personnel carriers (APCs) and attack helicopters. The RPF should be one tool employed alongside persistent international political engagement to resolve sources of conflict in the country. CIVIC also believes that the UN Security Council must implement a long overdue arms embargo that could begin to stem the flow of weapons into South Sudan, where weapons have been turned against the civilian population throughout three years of conflict.

Finally, transparency in the UN peacekeeping system needs to be the norm, not the exception. Public reports should be issued by the new task force on a regular basis that outline what actions have been taken towards implementing the recommendations of the Special Investigation. The UN Secretariat should also begin systematically tracking the performance of peacekeeping troops and troop-contributing countries across all Chapter VII peacekeeping missions and publish a bi-annual or annual report that highlights both failures and successes in civilian protection. Such measures, aimed at improving transparency and accountability within UN peacekeeping operations, are critically needed to catalyze change in the face of recurring challenges and shortcomings that have left civilians without adequate protection.

Waiting and Hoping Amid the Mosul Campaign

Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) 's own Sahr Muhammedally, senior program manager for the Middle East, is in northern Iraq right now while the offensive against Mosul grinds on. She has witnessed thousands of civilians fleeing east into Kurdish territory seeking safety from the self-styled Islamic State (also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh and ISIS). The Kurdish authorities and their fighters, the Peshmerga, are doing their best to accommodate the influx of internally displaced people, but resources are limited. Still, some residents of the Mosul area are just glad to be alive and out of ISIS's grasp.

CIVIC’s Sahr Muhammedally on Mosul

Sahr Muhammedally, senior program manager for the Middle East and Asia, briefed the House of Representative's Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on Oct 6, 2016, on the humanitarian concerns related to the expected upcoming military operation to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the self-styled Islamic State.

Her remarks and recommendations on how to better plan for civilians before and after the operations are available here.