South Sudan: New unity government but worrying levels of violence

February 2020

Although recent developments in South Sudan including the formation of a government of national unity are positive, violence against civilians remains worryingly high and almost four million displaced have been unable to return to their homes.  

Ceasefire’s submission to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan focuses on violence related to cattle-raiding, widespread across much of the country, the role of land as a conflict resource and the consequent forced mass displacement of civilians in the context of the community-based violence that have characterised South Sudan’s civil war.  

The report of the UN Commission, issued ahead of the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council, expresses concern at the escalating toll of local conflicts across South Sudan, noting an almost 200% increase in civilian casualties between 2018 and 2019.  It accuses both government and opposition forces of deliberately starving civilians as a method of warfare in Western Bahr el Ghazal and Unity States.

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan reported 152 incidences of violence which caused 531 deaths and 317 injuries between late February and May 2019.  

The commission reported that the some groups of cattle herders, motivated by local communitarian grievances, were mobilised by military and civil authorities, equipped with light and heavy weaponry and operated like organised militia groups in carrying out attacks.

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Protecting civilians from explosive weapons in urban areas

November 2019

Over 20,000 civilians were killed or injured by explosive weapons in 2018, according to the 2019 report of the UN Secretary-General on protection of civilians in armed conflict. The year before, the number of civilians killed or injured by explosive weapons was over twice as great.

Download the full statement here

At the Vienna Conference on Protecting Civilians in Urban Warfare in October 2019, participating states supported the initiative of a political declaration aimed at strengthening protection for civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and a series of international consultations to draft the declaration are currently taking place.

The Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights works directly with civilians affected by conflict, including in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and South Sudan, many of whom have suffered from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Based on this experience, Ceasefire’s guidelines have been drawn up to support the international agreement of a strong political declaration on explosive weapons which will be effective in improving civilian protection.

  1. The political declaration should avoid undercutting or diluting existing legally-binding obligations, or appearing to shift rules from the realm of obligations to that of ‘good practice’. The civilian death toll from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is due first and foremost to a failure to implement existing international law duties, including (but not limited to) those under the Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and customary international law.
  2. The declaration should reiterate that legal limits applicable to military operations include not just international criminal law standards on avoiding war crimes, but also the complete range of legal obligations on the conduct of hostilities, including the duty to take precautions in attack. Parties to conflict often assert that attacks are lawful because they do not intentionally target civilian objects and any expected civilian damage is proportional; however,they frequently violate the duty to take all feasible precautions to avoid or minimise civilian harm and/or deploy unguided bombs or projectiles or other explosive weapons with wide area effect in populated areas whose effect is indiscriminate.
  3. Consideration of the effects of explosive weapons in populated areas should be undertaken in the context of the wider military operation(s) of which they form part. Most civilian deaths and damage to civilian objects in recent conflicts have occurred in the context of sieges, including those in Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta, Raqqa, Mosul, Hodeidah, Taiz, Donetsk and Marawi. Explosive weapons are extensively used to lay and enforce sieges, frequently trapping large numbers of civilians in besieged areas,and in attempts to capture besieged towns and cities.
  4. Assessments of expected civilian deaths or injury or damage to civilian objects should include not just immediate direct effects but also the medium and longer-term effects of explosive remnants of war,and the reverberating effects of damage to vital civilian infrastructure.The standard for including reverberating effects in the assessment should be that they are ‘reasonably foreseeable’.
  5. Operational policies to limit the humanitarian impact of military operations in populated areas should address factors which have led to higher than expected rates of civilian casualties in recent conflicts, including:
    • the conduct of operations in urban localities where civilians are not immediately visible but which are known or suspected to have high population density;
    • rules of engagement and authorization procedures for the deployment of explosive weapons in dynamic targeting;
    • authorization for air support/ airstrikes called in by partner forces on the ground;
    • verification procedures for identification of objects benefitting from special protection, including hospitals, schools, religious institutions and other cultural property.
  6. The declaration should recognise the value of local civic and civil society efforts, including civil defence organisations and those facilitating voluntary movement of displaced persons, and emphasise the need to avoid obstructing, criminalizing or politicising humanitarian action.
  7. The declaration should reiterate that parties to conflict, including but not limited to parties on the ground, have a duty to carry out or otherwise facilitate effective, prompt, thorough and impartial investigations into civilian deaths and award reparation to civilians who have suffered violations.

Where parties to conflict are unable or unwilling to implement the above provisions, there should be a presumption against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

Taiz, Yemen ©anasalhajj / shutterstock.com

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Peoples Under Threat 2019: The role of social media in exacerbating violence

4 June 2019

PDF: Peoples under Threat 2019 briefing.

Website: Peoples under Threat

The use of social media by repressive states and extremist groups is adding directly to the threats faced by some of the world’s most vulnerable populations and can exacerbate violence where atrocities have occurred or risk transpiring, according to new data analysis provided by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) and the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

The analysis, known as the Peoples under Threat index, uses authoritative indicators to identify those countries around the world most at risk of genocide, mass killing or systematic violent repression. This year’s index draws attention to the numerous instances where social media is being used in an organized way to disseminate hate and incite killing.

‘Unequal access to modern technology by way of social media creates an accelerated process through which hate and xenophobia can spread,’ says Joshua Castellino, MRG’s Executive Director. ‘The immediacy of the medium facilitates opinion without need for context or nuance. The sensationalist nature of some of these communications, designed to shock and awe, inevitably aids their spread.’

Syria, where social media platforms are used actively by all sides in the war, heads this year’s Peoples under Threat index. The power of hashtags persists in Syria, where supporters of President Bashar al-Assad popularized a #SyriaHoax hashtag on Twitter to discredit the overwhelming evidence of horrific chemical attacks on civilian targets. Numerous videos uploaded to YouTube by many parties to the conflict have received hundreds of millions of views, leading the Syrian conflict to be dubbed the ‘social media war’.

Somalia maintains its position behind Syria in the index. As it relates to social media, Al-Shabaab has been known to use Twitter and Facebook as propaganda and recruitment tools in an environment where mobile phone use has steadily risen in recent years.

Afghanistan is among those states where threat levels have increased this year. The civilian death toll in Afghanistan reached an all-time annual high in 2018, with 3,804 killed and another 7,189 injured. Government-controlled territory also shrank to its lowest since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. To mitigate this discouraging picture, the Afghan Ministry of Defense publishes daily figures of Taliban fighters who are killed or captured to its Twitter feed. The Taliban, in turn, widely uses WhatsApp and Twitter to recruit, plan, fundraise and claim responsibility for its attacks.

Myanmar is a stark example of the link between social media and the commission of atrocities. In this instance, dehumanizing language and outright incitement to mass murder was amplified via Facebook and Twitter, contributing to the widespread targeting of the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Iraq remains vulnerable to outbreaks of violence, and during its most intense and violent repression of minority communities, ISIS used the Twitter hashtag #AllEyesOnISIS to publicise its atrocities. While the hashtag has recently lost much of its currency, its deliberate use demonstrates how social media has become an important conduit for spreading hate and fear.

The threat level has also risen in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), as the country now holds more than 5 million displaced people within its borders and represents the largest displacement crisis on the African continent. Authorities in Kinshasa have engineered internet and social media bans to assist in denials of government mismanagement and insecurity.

’In country after country, social media platforms are now being used to spread hate, recruit the killers, and organize mass killing,’ said Mark Lattimer, Executive Director of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights. ‘For years we have thought of social media as the friend of civil society, but it is now being used against them on an unprecedented scale.’

India is among the highest risers this year, moving up 16 places in the Peoples Under Threat Index in 2018. Violence has been escalating in Kashmir since 2016 when a separatist commander with a major social media following among Kashmiris was killed. With increased militarisation by the government, 2018 saw the highest death toll in the region in a decade, along with greater coooperation between several Islamist separatist groups. Meanwhile, across India, it is important to note that social media has played a significant role in advancing Hindu nationalism and intolerance towards minorities and perceived outsiders in the lead-up to the 2019 general elections. Members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), supporters and ‘bots’ ratcheted up the production of inflammatory, anti-Muslim messaging. The BJP’s president Amit Shah called Bangladeshi migrants ‘termites’, and the party’s Twitter account echoed his words. The BJP won the election returning Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power with a renewed mandate. However, in the few days since the BJP’s victory, Muslims have already been targeted by numerous hate attacks.

Cameroon has also leapt up the index amid escalating political violence. Peaceful demonstrations in 2016 against decades of political and economic marginalization of the country’s Anglophone regions by the largely French-speaking government led to a separatist movement for an independent state. Facing prolonged internet shutdowns and scant international attention, protestors, and later separatists, have relied heavily on Twitter hashtags to mobilize. President Paul Biya, in power since 1982, even labelled social media used by separatists ‘a new form of terrorism’. Meanwhile, Boko Haram attacks persist in the far north, adding to the growing numbers of internally displaced and deepening the humanitarian crisis.

‘Regulating hate and false news is an imperative, with collective responsibility: of technology companies, states and politicians, but also of a responsible civil society and general population’, says Castellino. ‘Failures, as this report demonstrates, increase the threats that vulnerable communities face, which becomes ever more acute in a context of heightened competition for limited resources.’

Social media promises to increasingly influence how violence is perceived or responded to. Upheaval and conflict can no longer be dislocated from the use of social media by an array of actors. It is also important, however, to consider how these expansive communication tools can be equally used to mitigate hate and combat the spread of misinformation.

This is the 14th year that the Peoples under Threat index has been released by MRG, joined now by the Ceasefire Centre. It is based on indicators from authoritative sources and continues to provide early warnings of potential mass atrocities.

Notes to editors

  • Visit the online map which visualizes data from Peoples under Threat. View the map by year or by country, and find links to reports, press releases and further information on the communities under threat.
  • Download the full Peoples under Threat 2019 briefing.

Interview opportunities: 

  • Joshua Castellino, Executive Director, Minority Rights Group International (London, UK)
  • Mark Lattimer, Executive Director, Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights (London, UK)
  • Minority representatives from Syria, Somalia, Iraq, DRC and other countries featured in the index.

For more information or to arrange interviews please contact:

ceasefirePeoples Under Threat 2019: The role of social media in exacerbating violence
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Call for expert researchers on Iran and Iraq

Calls for experts to research and write reports on human rights-related issues in Iran and Iraq

The Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and Minority Rights Group International are seeking two experts to research and write separate reports on human rights in Iran and Iraq.

The Iraq expert will research and write a report on reparations and the future of Mosul, considering the legacy of violations committed in recent years and the implementation of reparations, focusing on the consequences for human rights in Iraq.

The Iran expert will research and write a report on human rights violations in Iran related to measures taken for the purpose of national security and/or the prevention of terrorism, including the impact of these violations on Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities.

Both reports will be approximately 12,000 words long, written in English and are to be completed by no later than 19 August 2019. Remuneration for each report will be US $4000.

Applicants should submit a CV, a brief cover letter and a suggested chapter outline by no later than 10am on 27 May to contact@ceasefire.org

Please refer to the terms of reference below for more details.

TOR: A report on security-related human rights violations in Iran

TOR: A report on reparations and the future of Mosul

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Study finds displacement, economic hardship drive domestic abuse among Syrian refugees in Iraq   

March 2019

PDF: Combating Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Refugee Crises: Lessons from working with Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq: ENGLISH, ARABIC, KURDISH

A two-year programme on sexual and gender-based violence among Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq found that displacement and economic hardship have led to an increase in physical and emotional abuse, with one focus group of women reporting that as many as half of husbands yelled at and hit their wives.

The programme, a joint project run by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and Asuda, an Iraqi women’s rights group, surveyed Syrian refugees in the governorates of Erbil, Dohuk and Suleymania in Iraqi Kurdistan. The lessons learned from this study are highlighted in Ceasefire’s report: “Combating sexual and gender-based violence in refugee crises: Lessons from working in with Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq”.  

‘This report clearly highlights the psychological impact forceable displacement, exile and economic hardship has on vulnerable refugee populations,’ said Ceasefire’s Head of Middle East/North Africa Programmes, Miriam Puttick. ‘The most vulnerable sections of the refugee community – women and children – bear the brunt of this trauma.’

Almost half of the participants reported ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ mental health. Both male and female Syrian refugees said stresses related to displacement, especially financial stress and the inability to find work, had led to an increase in physical and emotional violence against women by their husbands, and to women taking out their stress and frustration verbally on their husbands and verbally and physically on their children.

Some women in Suleymania said many men were angry at how the men were treated by the host community — often taken advantage of at work, suffering physical and verbal abuse, being underpaid and forced to work long hours. These abuses were hard to address as Syrian refugees had inadequate access to legal protection.

‘However, the programme also made a strong case for the effectiveness of early and proactive intervention to address this issue, to change perceptions and start open discussions within the refugee community,’ Puttick noted. ‘The engagement of men and boys in this programming is critical – both to engage them as allies in sexual and gender-based violence programming and as potential victims of emotional and physical abuse.’

Key findings and recommendations of the programme include the importance of building trust in target communities, linking anti-SGBV efforts with livelihood and job creation schemes, ensuring services reach all of the affected community, including those living outside of refugee camps, and engaging host communities.

Recommendations for the INGO community engaged with SGBV include engaging the local government and building its capacity to effectively address this issue, and improving cooperation mechanisms between INGOs themselves.

Key project lessons: 

  • Project activities should be designed in a way that facilitates trust-building;
  • Anti-SGBV efforts should be combined with livelihoods assistance and job creation programmes;
  • Men and boys should be included in anti-SGBV programming by engaging them as allies in combating violence, but also by ensuring that services are available to male victims of SGBV;
  • Anti-SGBV programming should be extended to non-camp residents in a more sustained and targeted manner;
  • The quality of and access to shelter facilities for survivors of SGBV should be improved;
  • Host communities should be engaged with awareness sessions to reduce SGBV against refugees and create social cohesion between host and refugee communities.

Key lessons for INGOs: 

  • Building the capacity and involvement of the government should be a priority;
  • Cooperation mechanisms between NGOs need to be improved.


SianStudy finds displacement, economic hardship drive domestic abuse among Syrian refugees in Iraq   
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