Foreign Terrorist Fighters Come from More than 100 UN Member States

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May 26, 2015 – More than half of the UN’s 193 member states are generating fighters for Al Qaeda and the Islamic State with some 25,000 recruits joining the terrorist groups from countries as diverse as Trinidad and Tajikistan, according to a new report from a United Nations expert group.

The report, from the Security Council team monitoring sanctions on individuals associated with Al Qaeda, says that six UN member states have generated more than 1,000 foreign fighters each while another 42 have generated more than 100 such fighters each.

“Open-source analysis by the team indicates an increase of 71 per cent in reported foreign terrorist fighters worldwide between the middle of 2014 and March 2015, in part owing to more comprehensive internal reporting by Member States and greater open-source data,” the authors state. “There has also been a sharp increase (from 70 to 733 per cent) in fighters from a number of European and Asian Member States.”

The destination countries for the majority of foreign fighters are Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, with smaller numbers present in Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, the Sahel countries, Somalia and the Philippines, according to the report while origin countries for large number of foreign fighters include Russia, Tunisia, Morocco and France. Smaller numbers are coming from countries that have no previous association with terrorism including Finland, the Maldives and Trinidad.

There is no standard profile for those that leave their home country to join terrorists groups, according to the report, other than they tend to be males between the ages of 15 and 35, though some are older veterans who fought in Chechnya and Afghanistan and returned home.

For some countries such as France, those joining terrorist groups often have a record of petty crime while in Britain, there are clusters of recruitment associated with certain towns and schools. In other cases, criminal networks, such as ethnic Chechens in Austria, are associated with recruitment.

Libya has become a major training ground for foreign fighters, the report says.

The Security Council is set to discuss the findings on Friday.

The full report is below.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UNSC Expert Panel on Al Qaeda Sanctions

Burundi’s Peacekeeping Experience Could Prove Deadly if Army Splits

Burundi chief of armed forces Gen. Prime Niyongabo visiting AMISON troops earlier this year. Photo: AMISOM

Burundi chief of armed forces Gen. Prime Niyongabo visiting AMISON troops earlier this year. Photo: AMISOM

May 14, 2015 – A former force commander with the African Union Mission in Somalia is fighting to prevent troops under his control from abandoning their posts and taking sides with Burundian coup leader Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombare.

The chief of staff for Burundi’s armed forces, Gen. Prime Niyongabo, told the BBC on Thursday that the number of soldiers backing the coup had fallen and those that had joined have been given a chance to rejoin the regular army.

Niyongabo was force commander of AMISOM from 2009 – 2010. The UN-backed mission comprises some 21,000 troops with more than 5,000 of those from Burundi.

Burundi also contributes more than 1,200 troops to UN peacekeeping missions with the bulk of its contingent serving with MINUSCA in the Central African Republic.

Burundi was one of 25 African countries selected by the US state department to take part in its ACOTA program which trained more than 250,000 troops for participation in peacekeeping operations.

UN DPKO data on Burundi's troop contributions link

UN DPKO data on Burundi’s troop contributions link


There have been no reports of any former peacekeepers among those siding with coup leader Niyombare but it would not be the first time that former UN troops were involved in a coup.

Former battalion commanders with the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon were all central to the military’s involvement in three successive coups in Fiji in 1987, 2000 and 2006.

Peter Pham of the Atlantic Council says that as a result of its involvement in UN peacekeeping, Burundian troops are far better armed and trained than at any time in the country’s history, and have gained real battle experience. He is warning that if the military splits a conflict could be far worse than any of the country’s previous conflicts.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the UN Security Council condemned the “unrest” in Burundi and those who seek to seize power through “unlawful means.” The council’s statement did not use the word coup.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

 

Gaza Report Adds to Pressure on Ban to Put IDF on Child Violators List

UNRWA school being used as a shelter, July 2014 source: wikimedia

UNRWA school in northern Gaza being used as a shelter, July 2014. source: wikimedia

April 28, 2015 – Ban Ki-moon will face further calls to include the IDF in his annual list of groups that commit grave violations against children after the release of his public summary of the report of the Board of Inquiry established to investigate death and damage at UN premises during the summer war in Gaza.

Ban’s public summary stated that the board found the Israeli Defence Forces responsible for the deaths of 44 Palestinians as a result of attacks on seven schools sheltering civilians during the July-August 2014 conflict.

Attacks on schools are one of the six grave violations that result in listing in Ban’s annual report on children and armed conflict and such attacks are also a violation of Security Council resolution 1998 adopted unanimously in 2011.

Ban’s summary also stated that Hamas had stored weapons in UN schools, though not in any of the schools that were attacked. The use of schools for military purposes also triggers listing the annual report of grave violators.

Ban’s cover letter to the Security Council and the accompanying public summary of the Board of Inquiry report are below.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Related Story: UN Stonewalling on Listing IDF as Child Violators

Board of Inquiry Gaza

UN Unable to Reach 420,000 Besieged in Syria

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OCHA map of besieged areas in Syria. Click for larger image.

April 22, 2015 – United Nations aid agencies delivered food to only 18,200 people in besieged areas of Syria last month while health assistance reached a mere 1,198, according to new report from Ban Ki-moon to the Security Council.

Ban wrote that 440,000 people remain besieged in Syria including 167,500 by government forces in eastern Ghouta and Darayya, a further 26,500 by unnamed non-State armed groups in Nubul and Zahra while 228,000 are besieged by ISIS in Deir ez-Zor city as well as 18,000 in Yarmouk.

“The parties to the conflict continued to restrict access to besieged areas during March,” Ban wrote. “United Nations agencies reached a total of 18,000 people (4 per cent) with food assistance and 1,198 people (0.3 per cent) with health assistance. No core relief items were dispatched during the reporting period.”

The UN defines a besieged area as “an area surrounded by armed actors with the sustained effect that humanitarian assistance cannot regularly enter, and civilians, the sick and wounded cannot regularly exit.”

The secretary-general’s report stated that with the exception of a supply of water for 300 people last month, no aid has been delivered to eastern Ghouta since March. In the government-controlled western neighborhoods of Deir ez-Zor city, 228,000 people are besieged by ISIL and no United Nations aid has reached them since May 2014, the report said. ISIL has also deactivated a power plant in Deir-az-Zor, severely restricting the water supply for besieged residents.

The report also details continuing summary execution and torture by government forces and ISIS.

The full report is below.

Secretary-General Report on Syria, April 2015

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Stonewalling on Decision to List IDF as Child Violators

"Palestinian man with child during Operation Protective Edge" by Basel Yazouri -  Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Palestinian_man_with_child_during_Operation_Protective_Edge.jpg#/media/File:Palestinian_man_with_child_during_Operation_Protective_Edge.jpg

“Palestinian man with child during Operation Protective Edge” by Basel Yazouri – License: Creative Commons

April 7, 2015 – Ban Ki-moon’s office says he is still preparing his annual report on children and armed conflict but is so far unwilling to say whether the secretary-general will name the Israeli Defence Forces in his list of groups that have committed grave violations against children.

Ban has been urged to include the IDF in the annex of the annual report, which lists state and non-state forces that have committed grave violations against children, over its conduct during the six-week summer conflict in Gaza that the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says resulted in the deaths of 551 Palestinian children.

A source told UN Tribune that a meeting was scheduled for April 6 in New York involving Ban and the UN’s special representative for children and armed conflict, Leila Zerrougui, during which a decision on listing the IDF would be made. A spokesperson for Zerrougui’s office said the meeting did not take place.

The source said UN staff working on the ground in Gaza have urged the inclusion of Israel in the annual report but have been subject to intimidation from inside the Israeli government.

At stake, the source added, is Ban’s Human Rights Up Front initiative which was launched after the UN’s systematic failure during the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka. The initiative aims to support United Nations staff who warn of human rights abuses and tasks the UN system “with using all the resources at its disposal, including its moral authority” to promote and encourage human rights especially with regard to protecting civilians.

While the United States has steadfastly lobbied the UN on Israel’s behalf in the past, which included the US mission to the United Nations overseeing Ban’s release of details of a 2009 UN inquiry into Israel’s 2008 invasion of Gaza, recent statements from the White House indicate that Washington’s appetite to shield Israel from rebuke at the United Nations is waning.

Ban would also be expected to list Hamas in his annual report for its indiscriminate rocket fire into civilian areas of southern Israel endangering the lives of Israeli children as well as for using schools and hospitals to store and launch rockets.

Last year’s annual report on children and armed conflict listed 59 parties in 15 countries including eight state armed forces and 51 other armed groups that have committed any of the six categories of grave violations identified by the United Nations.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Report: Afghan National Army Numbers Inflated

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Newly trained Afghan army recruits (Wikimedia Commons)

March 3, 2015 – When Ban Ki-moon last reported Afghan national troop numbers to the Security Council in June last year, he stated that Afghanistan’s army stood at over 185,000 personnel.

But a report released on Tuesday says that the Afghan ministry of defense was reporting incorrect numbers and the actual number of military troops is almost 20,000 less, at a strength of 169,000.

The report, from the U.S. Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, paints a grim picture of the state of the Afghanistan’s security forces who are expected to take the lead security role in the country with the wind down of ISAF.

The United States has spent more than $50 billion in building up, training and paying the salaries of Afghanistan’s military and police forces.

“The military’s inconsistent reporting on ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] strength numbers indicates long-standing and ongoing problems with accountability and personnel tracking. Accurate information is necessary to assess Afghanistan’s ability to maintain security and to determine the pace of U.S. troops withdrawals from the country,” the Inspector General’s report states. “It is also key to ensuring the United States is paying to train, equip, and sustain the ANSF based on accurate troop strength numbers.”

As well as inflated troop numbers, attrition remains an ongoing concern with 40,000 personnel dropped from the rolls of the Afghan army and police from Sept. 2013 to Sept. 2014, according to the report.

It also says that only about 35 percent of Afghan security force members are functionally literate and it further cannot determine how many recruits that received literacy training are still members of the security forces.

The report adds that only 860 women are enlisted in the Afghan National Army, or less than half a percent of the overall total.

The precarious security situation is also taking its toll on the Afghan army with more than 1,300 personnel killed in action last year, and another 6,200 injured.

– Denis Fitzgerald 
On Twitter @denisfitz

Afghan Civilian Casualties Hit Record Levels in 2014

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Feb. 19, 2015 – More than 10,000 civilians in Afghanistan were killed or injured last year, a 22 percent increase from 2013 and the worst year for civilians since the United Nations started collecting figures in 2009.

In all, a total of 3,699 civilians were killed and 6,849 were injured in conflict related violence in 2014 with anti-government forces responsible for 72 percent of the casualties; pro-government Afghan forces, 10 percent; and ISAF, 2 percent.

Three percent of casualties were caused by land-mines and other remnants of war that could not be attributed to either side, one percent was caused by cross-border shelling from Pakistan into Afghanistan while the responsibility for the remaining ten percent was due to ground engagements for which the perpetrator could not be determined.

The information is included in the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan’s (UNAMA) annual review which was released on Wednesday.

(source: UNAMA)

(source: UNAMA)

Deaths and injuries to women and children last year were also at record levels with 2,474 casualties of children, including 714 deaths, and 909 casualties among women including 298 deaths.

The use of improvised explosive devices by anti-government forces was the leading cause of civilian casualties last year, resulting in 925 deaths and 2,053 injuries.

The report also documents the Taliban’s imposition of punishment for perceived infractions of Sharia law including summary executions, beheadings, amputations of body parts, beatings, lashings and illegal detention as well as house burnings of those who expressed opposition to the group.

In addition, UNAMA says that the number of internally displaced last year increased by 156,193, an eight percent increase from 2013 with the total number of IDPs now at 805,409.

Children continue to be recruited by both pro- and anti-government forces, the report says, and it also documents incidents of sexual violence against children committed by both sides.

The drawdown of international military forces in the country has negatively impacted the safety of civilians, the report says, “in particular the reduction of combat air support to Afghan forces ground troops, provided the Taliban and other anti-Government armed groups with more opportunities to launch large-scale ground operations in some areas.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

2014 Ends with Security Council Defeat of Palestinian Resolution

SC vote on Palistine
Jan 5, 2015 – The last act of the 2014 Security Council was to defeat a draft resolution calling on Israel to withdraw from territory it occupied since 1967.

Eight countries supported the text which was put to a vote on Dec. 30 – Argentina, Chad, China, Chile, France, Jordan, Luxembourg and Russia – while five abstained – Britain, Lithuania, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Korea. The United States and Australia voted against the text.

That the draft did not secure the requisite nine votes needed for adoption meant the United States was not forced to use its veto for the 43rd time in defense of Israel. But it was Samantha Power’s first no vote in the Council since assuming the post of US envoy to the UN in August 2013.

It was also Australia’s fist no vote in the Council in its two-year term which ended on Dec. 31st.

The vote exposed the lack of unity among EU countries on the Palestinian question with France and Luxembourg voting for the draft while Britain and Lithuania abstained. There was also disunity among UN regional groups, with the exception of Latin America where both Council members from the region – Argentina and Chile – supported the text.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday said he plans to re-submit the resolution. Two of the countries who ended their non-permanent term on the Security Council on Dec. 31 supported the resolution – Argentina and Luxembourg, two more abstained, Rwanda and South Korea, while Australia voted against it.

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Security Council membership in 2015

Of the five new countries joining the Council for 2015/16, Angola, Malaysia and Venezuela are almost certainties to support the draft resolution and while the positions of New Zealand and Spain are unclear, neither is thought to oppose the resolution.

Although the chances of the draft securing the nine votes needed for adoption increase with the composition of the new Council, the United States will more than likely use its veto to defeat the text.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo/UN Photo

Campaign Against ISIS Exposes Major Gap in Arms Trade Treaty

ammo
Oct. 2, 2014 – The Arms Trade Treaty will go into force on Dec. 24th following its fiftieth ratification last week but the recent campaign launched against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, by Western and Gulf countries exposes a major loophole in the Treaty.

The pact prohibits supplying arms to countries that would use the eight types of conventional weapons covered under the Treaty to violate international human rights law but there are no prohibitions on the transfer of these arms to non-state actors.

The US, UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have all either supplied or said they will supply weapons to groups fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and to other groups fighting the Assad regime in Syria.

In the negotiations leading up to the agreement on the text of the Arms Trade Treaty, a number of countries – including Brazil, India, Nigeria and Turkey – called for a clear prohibition on transferring arms to non-state actors and that the entry of arms to any state must be based on the permit given by the government of such state.

But the lack of a clear and agreed definition of a non-state actor and because of a desire to avoid a subject that would stalemate the negotiations the subject was avoided.

While no country outright said it opposed a provision on arms transfers to non-state actors, the United States included the following in its red lines: “provisions inconsistent with existing US law or that would unduly interfere with our ability to import, export or transfer arms in support of our national security and foreign policy interests.”

The US is one of the 121 signatories to the Treaty but is unlikely to get the support of two-thirds of the Senate to support its ratification.

Other arms producers such as China, Canada, Israel and Russia have not signed the Treaty while major arms importers India, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have also not signed.

France, Germany, Netherlands and the UK have all ratified the Treaty.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

US Invokes Article 51: Does the UN Charter Cover Attacks by Non-State Actors?

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Sept. 23, 2014 – US envoy Samantha Power has cited Article 51 of the UN Charter as cover for the airstrikes the United States carried out inside Syria overnight Monday against ISIS and the Khorasan unit of the Nusra Front.

Power wrote to Ban Ki-moon Tuesday saying, “States must be able to defend themselves … when, as is the case here, the government of the state where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory for such attacks.”

Power’s letter also cites Iraq’s letter to the Security Council of Sept. 20 warning that the country “is facing a serious threat of continuous attacks coming out of ISIL safe havens in Syria.” It adds that the Iraqi government has requested the US lead “international efforts to strike ISIL sites and military strongholds in Syria.”

The UN Charter prohibits the use of force by a state against another state unless authorized by a Security Council resolution. But Article 51 provides an exception: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations.”

The UN Charter is concerned with inter-state conflict as only states can become members of the UN so the applicability of Article 51 for use of force inside a sovereign country against a non-state actor is a question that international law scholars have grappled with.

Marko Milanovic argues that Article 51 does not require the attribution of the armed attack by a non-state actor to a state. “Rather, for the attacked state to respond against the non-state actor which is operating in another state, the conduct of this latter state must be such to justify the ensuing violation of its sovereignty.”

He proposes three scenarios that would justify an attack inside a sovereign state against a non-state actor:

“(a) the territorial state was complicit or was actively supporting the non-state actor in its armed attack; (b) the territorial state failed to exercise due diligence, i.e. it did not do all that it could reasonably have done to prevent the non-state actor from using its territory to mount an armed attack against another state, or is not doing all it can to prevent further attacks; (c) the territorial state may have exercised due diligence, but it was nonetheless unable to prevent the attack, or to prevent further attacks.”

And the due diligence case would appear to be the US argument when Power writes that “the government of the state where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory for such attacks.”

Ban Ki-moon earlier on Tuesday spoke of the US airstrikes, saying that “today’s strikes were not carried out at the direct request of the Syrian Government, but I note that the Government was informed beforehand.”

“I also note that the strikes took place in areas no longer under the effective control of that Government.   I think it is undeniable – and the subject of broad international consensus – that these extremist groups pose an immediate threat to international peace and security,” Ban said.

For more discussion on Article 51 and non-state actors see here and here.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: Wikimedia