Atrocity Alert No. 402: Ukraine, Myanmar (Burma) and Nigeria

Atrocity Alert No. 402: Ukraine, Myanmar (Burma) and Nigeria

Russian forces kill 41 people in daytime attacks in Ukraine

On July 8, Russian forces fired over 40 missiles at cities across Ukraine, killing at least 41 civilians. At least 33 people were killed in Kyiv alone, including two at the Ohmatdyt Children’s Hospital. During an emergency UN Security Council meeting on the July 9 attacks, Volodymyr Zhovnir, a cardiac surgeon and anesthesiologist at the hospital, said: “At 10:42 am, we felt a huge explosion, the ground was shaking and the walls were shaking, children and adults were screaming and crying in fear and wounded in pain… it was hell,” stressing that the attack on a hospital treating children for cancer and life-threatening illnesses “is not only a war crime, but far exceeds the limits of humanity.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the attacks destroyed nearly 100 buildings, including residential buildings, a business center and two medical facilities. It is one of the largest attacks since the large-scale invasion began in February 2022. Ukrainian attacks in the early hours of July 9 also left four people dead in the Russian border region of Belgorod.

These attacks are another example of a devastating trend of rising civilian casualties in recent months. On July 3, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission for Ukraine (HRMMU) released a report highlighting the impact of the conflict on civilians. The report says that between March 1 and May 31, 2024, at least 436 people were killed due to conflict-related violence in Ukraine. The report also notes that Russian authorities reported at least 91 civilians killed in Russia by Ukrainian attacks during the reporting period, although the UN could not verify the casualty figures. HRMMU head Danielle Bell said: “With May recording the highest monthly civilian casualty rate in nearly a year, the fighting this spring took a horrific toll on civilians, particularly in the Kharkiv region and city.”

According to the HRMMU, the main reasons for the high level of civilian casualties included the use of large air-dropped bombs and rockets over populated areas, as well as at least five cases of “double-tap” attacks that resulted in numerous casualties among rescue workers.

During the UNSC meeting on July 9, Joyce Msuya, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said: “Hospitals are under special protection under international law. An attack on a protected hospital is a war crime and perpetrators must be held accountable… These attacks are part of a deeply disturbing pattern of systematic attacks damaging health care and other civilian infrastructure across Ukraine.”

The conflict shows no signs of abating and more needs to be done to reduce harm to civilians in Ukraine and Russia. States should continue to support Ukraine in its efforts to protect its population, including by strengthening its air defence capabilities to intercept more missiles fired at civilians across the country. The international community should continue to support accountability measures for crimes against civilians.

UN expert warns of “echoes” of “genocidal violence” in Myanmar

On 3 July, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, spoke at the 56th UN Human Rights Summit in session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and warned of ongoing human rights violations that could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. During the briefing, Special Rapporteur Andrews presented a conference paper that found that the junta “has launched a systematic campaign to target women human rights defenders and dismantle the organizations and networks that support women, girls and LGBT people.” According to the paper, women, girls and members of the LGBTQIA+ community face widespread rape and sexual violence.

The paper also said the situation was particularly grim in Rakhine State, where the Rohingya Muslim minority has been persecuted for decades and is currently embroiled in fighting between the Arakan Army and the junta. Special Rapporteur Andrews said: “For the Rohingya – oppressed, scapegoated, exploited and caught between warring parties – the situation is reminiscent of the period leading up to the genocide in 2016 and 2017,” stressing how the junta has deliberately stoked tensions between the Rakhine and Rohingya communities.

These updates confirm once again that civilians continue to bear the brunt of the ongoing conflict between the junta and various ethnic resistance organizations. After the failure of a ceasefire, fighting resumed in Shan State on 25 June. The Ta’ang National Liberation Army has targeted the junta-controlled regional capital of Lashio, where at least 15 civilians have been killed and 50,000 displaced in fighting in the area since 3 July. Clashes also continued to escalate in Chin, Magway, Mandalay, Sagaing and Kayah states, as well as in Bago and Tanintharyi regions, causing civilian casualties. Fighting has killed over 5,200 civilians since March 2021, displaced nearly 3.1 million people, and left 18.6 million people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

During the session, Special Rapporteur Andrews released a second conference document reporting on dozens of banks and financial institutions in seven countries – Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Russia, India, China, and the Republic of Korea – that have facilitated the junta’s transactions in weapons, dual-use technologies, manufacturing equipment, and more. Thailand has now become a leading source of military goods purchased through the international system, with companies in Thailand doubling their sales to the junta to nearly $130 million from 2022 to 2023.

The international community must continue to impose sanctions aimed at denying the junta access to the cash, jet fuel, weapons and legitimacy it needs to continue committing atrocities against civilians. States should immediately add the Myanma Economic Bank and other financial institutions to sanctions lists. In addition, sanctions should be imposed on actors in Myanmar’s jet fuel supply chain to ground the planes that continue to fly attacks on civilians.

Coordinated suicide attacks kill civilians in Nigeria’s Borno state

On Saturday, June 29, a series of suicide bombings left at least 32 people dead and over 100 injured in the town of Gwoza in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state. The first of the three coordinated suicide bombings targeted a well-attended wedding party, the second a funeral, and the third a hospital. Although no group has claimed responsibility for the latest attack, the tactics used, including the use of female suicide bombers, suggest the involvement of the armed extremist group Boko Haram.

Boko Haram has a history of attacks against women and girls. Hundreds of students have been kidnapped from girls’ schools over the past decade. Sometimes the kidnapped women and girls are later used in suicide attacks, raising fears that the female suicide bombers in Gwoza could be among those abducted by the group. A 2017 study by the Combating Terrorism Center found that 56 percent of Boko Haram’s suicide attacks were carried out by women.

The attacks came just two days after government officials announced the success of their so-called war on extremists. Boko Haram, founded in northeastern Nigeria in the early 2000s, sought to overthrow Nigeria’s secular government and began an insurgency in 2009 to establish an Islamic state. The insurgency has killed at least 35,000 people in Nigeria and displaced more than 2 million. Attacks have also occurred in neighboring countries in the Lake Chad Basin. Although the group has carried out sporadic attacks in recent years, they continue to pose a threat to civilians in the region. A renewed increase in suicide bombings in Borno state has raised significant concerns about the security situation in the region. Nigerian forces are deployed in two-thirds of the country’s states and are overwhelmed as Boko Haram, other armed extremist and bandit groups continue to expand their areas of operation.

Jaclyn Streitfeld-Hall, Director of Policy and Research at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, noted: “While the lack of adequate military protection for vulnerable populations must be urgently addressed, military means alone are unlikely to defeat the groups. Addressing the root causes of the conflict – such as poor governance, corruption, poverty, youth unemployment, environmental degradation and climate change – through social initiatives and policy reform remains critical.” Importantly, improved service delivery could curb recruitment drivers in neglected rural areas and provide vulnerable populations with more responsive civil administration and military protection. Reintegration programs for those who defect from armed and bandit groups should be strengthened, while holding them accountable for their crimes. Chad Basin governments, including the Nigerian government, should continue to contain militant advances and explore non-military ways of engaging with militant factions.