EIJI Digital Verification Project

Last summer, the EIJI collaborated with researchers from Leiden University to conduct a Digital Evidence Verification Project. One of our research teams, in partnership with the Cameroon Anglophone Crisis Database of Atrocities, worked on verifying incidents of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Cameroon military or members of non-state armed groups. This project has since been extended into this year. Edinburgh International Justice Initiative is delighted to report that the project has been an outstanding success, with the publication of 3 reports. The success of the project led to an expansion in our legal research teams and the scope of investigation for digital evidence verification. 


The Anglophone Crisis is an ongoing conflict in Cameroon’s North-West and South-West regions. For some further information on the Anglophone Crisis, please review this previous blog post.

For an introduction to digital evidence verification and its role in the international law community, have a look at this interview the EIJI previously conducted with Dr. Emma Irving, Assistant Professor of Public International Law at Leiden University.

About the Cameroon Anglophone Crisis Database of Atrocities

The Database is an apolitical, nonpartisan project established in December 2019 that stores evidence around atrocities and human rights violations that occurred over the course of the Anglophone crisis. The aims of the Database are to secure and verify evidence that can be used in future accountability procedures and the reconciliation process in the long term and to counter the culture of impunity pervading this conflict.

Hosted at the University of Toronto, the Database is staffed entirely by trained volunteers, and securely stores all incident information that is (anonymously) submitted through their website, WhatsApp, Signal, or email. The evidence ranges from incidents of police officers acting with excessive force against civilians to graphic instances of burning and looting of villages. The Database currently stores more than 1200 pieces of evidence, from photos to videos, audio clips, and other documents.

Researchers attempt to verify the incidents of the most significant investigative potential and determine when and where they happened and who was involved, through geolocation, chronolocation, and additional evidence. Each incident forms the basis of a verification report, which may be used in future justice and accountability procedures.

The role of the EIJI research team

Our researchers make use of OSINT (Open-Source Intelligence) to verify incidents – this includes Google Earth satellite images, weather data, Invid, and other visual data on the Internet. Before undertaking a project, researchers receive full training from our contacts at the Database in digital evidence verification.

Researchers are able to geolocate by identifying distinctive features in the photo or video (such as the curvature of roads, distinctive hills, or any such unnatural features) and using corroborating satellite imagery to pinpoint the coordinates in Cameroon. The date and time of the incident can be similarly determined through sun and weather data.

Corroborating evidence plays an essential role in digital evidence verification. For example, if the main evidence is a video clip, our researchers use Invid to run a reverse image search of notable frames in the video, to find similar images. If the evidence is difficult to analyse (such as a low-resolution video or a ‘generic’ image), social media can help find similar images, videos, or eyewitness evidence taken in the same suspected location. The Database also partners with on-ground organisations in Cameroon, such as CHRDA (Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa), a local NGO, to bolster investigations. 

Verification reports

After receiving and analysing a piece of evidence, the team begins to write the verification report. In these reports, our team gauges the probative value of this evidence (if it could be used in accountability procedures) and details the corroborating evidence used. This process usually takes 3 weeks to a month, with close collaboration between our research team and the Database.

The EIJI research team has successfully published 3 verification reports since the project began in summer 2020. The first report related to protests which occurred in 2016 at the University of Buea which were met with military violence. Our researchers successfully geolocated 8 video clips taken over the city and the university campus. The other reports involve evidence collected about a certain village in North-West Cameroon in early 2020, where the Cameroon military allegedly participated in looting and burning down houses and marketplaces.

Currently, there is one research team at EIJI working on the digital evidence verification project. Ultimately, the work of the Database and our research team has helped to store and analyse information about atrocities committed during this conflict, and aid the long-term process of restoring peace and justice to the region after the conflict ends. 

We would like to extend a huge thank you to the Legal Research Team and to the Database for not only their work on the project but also for their help on this piece. We look forward to continuing our work with the Database for the rest of the academic year.
*This blog post discusses sensitive information that may be triggering for some individuals. EIJI is an impartial organization that seeks to inform people about contemporary issues of international justice. Views, information, and opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect EIJI, its team or Edinburgh University. If you are interested in hearing more about our content approach please read our previous post on EIJI content philosophy.*

Yemen war: the ‘world’s worst humanitarian crisis’

The Yemeni Crisis originated in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring when authoritarian leader Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to concede power to his deputy Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. However, Mr. Hadi struggled with several problems after assuming presidency, such as attacks by jihadists, corruption, unemployment, food insecurity, and an ongoing separatist movement in the south. The Houthi movement (officially known as the Ansar Allah), an armed movement that champions the Zaidi Shia Muslim minority in Yemen, took advantage of Mr. Hadi’s problems by assuming control of the Saada province and neighboring areas in the northern areas. They were supported by many ordinary Yemenis, and assumed control over major areas of the country, including the capital Sanaa in early 2015. As a response, Saudi Arabia and eight other Arab states (governed by Sunni governments) began an air campaign supporting Mr. Hadi’s government to defeat the Houthis (which they believe are backed by Shia power Iran) sparking 4 years of military stalemate. 

Over the past year, however, these alliances have split, which has complicated efforts at adhering to a peace deal. In August 2019, fighting began between Saudi-backed government forces and the Southern Transition Council (STC), a separatist movement in the south backed by the United Arab Emirates. Although a power-sharing deal was reached in November, there was a sudden escalation in the conflict between the Houthis and the coalition-led forces, which renewed fighting on several lines and missile strikes. In April, the STC broke a peace deal signed with the Yemeni government to declare self-rule in Aden; while the Houthis rejected a ceasefire announced by Saudi Arabia in the same month.

The sheer impact of the war on Yemeni civilians has led the situation to be considered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Although the UN verified the deaths of 7,700 civilians by March 2020 mostly due to the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, the death toll is believed to be much higher. The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project said that it recorded over 100,000 deaths by October 2019, of which 23,000 were reported in 2019 alone; and about 3.65 million people have been displaced from their homes. 

The direst consequence of the war is a famine that began in November 2017, when the Houthis launched a ballistic missile to Riyadh, prompting the Saudi coalition to tighten its blockade of Yemen. In June 2018, the coalition launched an offensive to capture Hudaydah, a port city that is the major supply for food for almost two-thirds of the population. An estimated 20 million people needed help in securing food, of which 10 million were deemed “one step away from famine” by the United Nations. The impact on young children was especially severe – an estimated 30,000 children die every year from severe malnutrition. At present, half of Yemeni children under the age of 5 are chronically malnourished, and 1.1 million pregnant women are anemic, which will likely begin a ‘cycle of malnutrition’ and chronic health consequences for their children. There was also a dramatic reduction in vaccination rates after the war began, which led to thousands of deaths of children from preventable diseases, such as diphtheria and measles. This prompted Lise Grande (UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen) to warn that if the war doesn’t end soon, “we are nearing an irreversible situation and risk losing an entire generation of Yemen’s young children.” 

 The healthcare situation was dire even without the added pressure of the pandemic, as an estimated 18 million lack access to adequate sanitation and clean water. This perpetrated the largest cholera outbreak in Yemen, with 3,895 related deaths since October 2016 and a suspected 2.2 million cases. Dishearteningly, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly exacerbated the healthcare crisis. With only half of the country’s 3,500 medical facilities operational, an estimated 20 million lack access to adequate healthcare, while there is an acute shortage of basic equipment like masks and gloves. Additionally, humanitarian aid has dwindled this year, as donor funding drastically fell, and the UN was forced to close over a third of its humanitarian programmes due to a lack of funding. This year, severe malnutrition rose by 10% in the southern parts, and 15% among children under the age of 5.

Additionally, both the coalition and the Houthi movement have conducted grave human rights violations since the war began in March 2015, of which many constitute war crimes. Firstly, all parties involved in the conflict have used child soldiers under the age of 18, of which many were under the age of 15. A 2019 report by the UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen documents that 3,034 children recruited over the course of the war, 64% were recruited by the Houthis. Secondly, Human Rights Watch documents widespread reports of arbitrary detentions and torture and sexual violence of detainees – in a September report, the UN Group verified 12 cases of violence against 5 women, 6 men, and a young boy. Underreporting of sexual violence in the course of detentions is described as ‘inevitable’ in the report, due to stigma against victims.

The coalition has conducted at least 90 unlawful airstrikes, including 5 deadly attacks on Yemeni fishing boats since 2018, which killed 47 fishermen, including 7 children. In August 2019, multiple airstrikes were carried out on a Houthi detention center, which killed and wounded at least 200 people in the deadliest attack since the beginning of the war. The coalition has also blocked humanitarian aid from reaching civilians, by seizing fuel needed to power generators to hospitals and stopping goods from entering Houthi-controlled seaports.

A 2019 Human Rights Watch investigation finds evidence that Houthi forces have used unlawful antipersonnel mines, anti-vehicle mines, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on the western coast, resulting in hundreds of civilian injuries and deaths. At least 140 civilians were killed by landmines in just the Hodeidah and Taizz regions since January 2018. This has disproportionately affected the livelihood of farmers, whose crops and clean water supply were affected by landmines planted in farmland, villages, and wells.

An underrepresented aspect is the widespread human rights violations committed against journalists, again from all sides involved in the conflict. The OHCHR has documented 357 cases of abuse against journalists since the war began, included 28 killings, 45 physical assaults, and 184 arbitrary arrests and detentions. Since April 2020, there were 3 verified cases of arbitrary detentions and 3 physical assaults; on 11 April, the Specialised Criminal Court in Sanaa sentenced 4 to death on the charge of (paraphrased) “weakening the defense of the homeland and sabotaging public security”. During their 5-year detention, they were allegedly denied family visits, access to an attorney, and healthcare. 

Unfortunately, the process of ensuring accountability for all involved parties has been mainly unsuccessful in the international sphere. The UN Security Council has only wielded its sanctions against the Houthis, despite extensive documentation by human rights organisations of war crimes committed by the Saudi-led coalition. Additionally, several countries including the US, France, and Canada sold arms to the coalition throughout the war. In October 2018, the murder of a Saudi journalist provoked scrutiny of the coalition’s human rights violations, leading to review or suspension of arms sales to the coalition by Norway, Finland, the Netherlands, and Germany; while the UK similarly agreed to suspend arms sales in June 2019. However, the US, Canada, France, and Australia notably continue to supply weapons and military equipment, risking their complicity in the ongoing humanitarian crisis.


Yemen crisis – what you need to know: https://www.unicef.org/emergencies/yemen-crisis

Yemen crisis – Why is there a war?: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-29319423

Yemen on brink of losing entire generation of children to hunger: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/oct/28/yemen-on-brink-of-losing-entire-generation-of-children-to-hunger-un-warns

Yemen events of 2019: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/yemen

Human rights violations against journalists: https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/08/1069652 

*This blog post discusses sensitive information that may be triggering for some individuals. EIJI is an impartial organization that seeks to inform people about contemporary issues of international justice. Views, information, and opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect EIJI, its team or Edinburgh University. If you are interested in hearing more about our content approach please read our previous post on EIJI content philosophy.*

Author: Nikita Nandanwad

Editor: Kelsey Greeff

Editor in Chief: Zora Stanik

‘100 days of slaughter’: The Rwandan genocide

The Rwandan genocide occurred between 7 April and 15 July 1994, during which members of the ethnic minority, Tutsis, were sought out and systematically slaughtered by armed militia and extremists belonging to the ethnic majority Hutus. Moderate Hutus and anyone suspected of sheltering Tutsis were also killed. Today, the Rwandan genocide is among the most well known examples of a systematically planned genocide based on long-standing ethnic divisions.


By 1994, Rwanda’s population of 7 million was divided into three ethnic groups, consisting of 85% Hutus, 14% Tutsis and 1% Twa. There is a long history of tensions between the Hutus and the Tutsis, despite speaking the same language, sharing many traditions and living side-by-side. In 1899, Rwanda was colonised by the German Empire, but this only lasted a short period of time before the German empire’s defeat in World War I. Under a mandate from the League of Nations, Rwanda was absorbed into the Belgian colonial empire. Today, historians widely accept that the Belgian colonial authorities were responsible for racialising the ethnic differences between Hutus and Tutsis. The authorities favored the Tutsis and allowed them several educational and economic advantages; requiring all Rwandans to carry identity cards revealing their ethnicity – a practice which was to become deadly for the Tutsis during the genocide.

In 1962, Rwanda gained independence from Belgium and a Hutu-dominated government was set up. This post-colonial period was marked by ethnic violence and discrimination against Tutsis, causing them to flee the country and settle in neighbouring Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and Zaire (today the Democratic Republic of Congo). By the mid-1960s, about half the Tutsi population had fled, and had to remain in exile for the next three decades.

In the 1980s, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) was formed by a group of Tutsi refugees in Uganda, who were trained in the ranks of the Ugandan army. These soldiers, led by Fred Rwigyema and his deputy Paul Kagame (current President of Rwanda) began planning an invasion of Rwanda.

1990-1994: Rwandan Civil War and the Hutu Power Movement

In October 1990, a force of over 4000 members of the RPF advanced into Rwanda, and France and Zaire quickly deployed forces to support the Rwandan army in repelling the invasion. The first phase of the war lasted for two years until a ceasefire was reached in June 1992 and the RPF (now led by Kagame) began negotiations with the Rwandan government in Arusha, Tanzania. Subsequently, the Arusha Accords were signed in August 1993 and a power-sharing agreement was reached, angering a substantial number of Hutu extremist leaders.

Ethnic tensions continued to grow during this period, with the Hutus accusing Tutsis of supporting the RPF and blaming them for the social, economic and political pressures that Rwanda was facing. After the RPF invasion, then-President Juvenal Habyarimana and other Hutu extremists exploited civilians’ fears to advance an anti-Tutsi propaganda campaign, known as the Hutu Power Movement. For example, a group of army officers and politicians founded the popular magazine Kangura, which published anti-Tutsi propaganda such as the Hutu Ten Commandments, which issued guidelines for ethnic separation and labelling any Hutu who married or defended a Tutsi as a “traitor”. A private radio station, the Radio RTLM, disseminated popular messages characterising Tutsis and their supporters as “subhuman” and “cockroaches”.

Violence continued to escalate against this background, as extremist leaders began secretly creating lists of Tutsi and moderate Hutu targets. They also began arming civilians with weapons such as machetes, and training youth militias – the most notable of which was the paramilitary organisation Interhamwe, who were to become the main perpetrators of the genocide. These militias carried out small-scale massacres during this period, which were claimed to be spontaneous and uncontrollable killings by the Rwandan government. The international law community characterised the violence as part of an internal conflict.

Assassination of President Habyarimana

On 6 April 1994, an airplane carrying President Habyarimana and the President of Burundi, Ntaryamira (both Hutus) was shot down when landing in Kigali (Rwanda’s capital), killing everyone on board. The perpetrators of the attack were disputed, and both RPF members and Hutu extremists were blamed.

The assassination proved to be the catalyst event that sparked the genocide, as the slaughters began within hours of Habyarimana’s death.

The Rwandan genocide

Hutu extremists immediately began killing any moderate political leaders in the government, such as the Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana. This ensured that there was no moderate leader available to assume control of Rwanda in the ensuing power vacuum. Thousands of people were killed in their homes and streets, often by their own neighbours, and those who were caught helping the Tutsis were also sought out and killed. The militias, backed and equipped by government forces, erected checkpoints and barricades to screen the IDs of Rwandans which specified their ethnicity, thus allowing them to identify and kill Tutsis.

A number of Hutu civilians were also recruited and equipped with machetes, clubs and blunt instruments; and the authorities encouraged them to maim and kill their Tutsi neighbours and to destroy their property. A large number of killings in the countryside were carried out by civilians under orders by local leaders – there were even instances of Hutu husbands killing their Tutsi wives. Some priests and nuns have also been convicted of murder, as many victims were those who took refuge in their churches. Many Hutu civilians were also killed for reasons ranging from alleged sympathy with Tutsis, being journalists, or “appearing” to be Tutsis. The genocide also saw widespread sexual violence against both men and women. An estimated 250,000 – 500,000 women were raped during this period, with many being mutilated or kept as slaves.

Large groups of Tutsis and moderate Hutus fled to traditional places of refuge, including churches, schools and government buildings – but due to the involvement of Rwandan authorities and armed forces in the genocide, these quickly became sites of massacres. For example, more than 2500 Tutsis took refuge at the Ecole Technique Officielle (ETO) school in Kigali during the early days of the genocide, where Belgium UN troops were stationed. On April 11,1994, the troops withdrew from the school under orders to evacuate Americans and Europeans. Subsequently, Rwandan armed forces and militias entered and killed most of the Tutsis hiding there – and those who survived were taken to a gravel pit and immediately killed.

International inaction

During the lead-up to the genocide, the international community labelled the Rwandan war and ensuing genocide as an internal conflict and largely discouraged intervention. International journalists on the ground also portrayed the conflict as a civil war, failing to highlight the intentional killing of civilians and the planned nature of the genocide. The US was determined not to get involved in the conflict, since a number of American troops had been killed during an incident in Somalia a year prior.

In December 1993, General Romeo Dallare, Commander of the UN peacekeepers in Rwanda, warned his superiors that there was a planned campaign of genocide due to occur. Throughout January 1994, General Dallaire continued to request a stronger mandate and an increased number of troops in Rwanda, but was repeatedly denied. After the killings began in April, the UN Security Council voted to reduce their peacekeepers from 2500 to 270, leaving General Dallaire with limited personnel and equipment, and almost no external support. Because most UN members evacuated after the genocide began, there were only a few humanitarian aid groups left.

Over the course of the genocide, an estimated 800,000 people were killed by extremists, and more than 200,000 people participated or were perpetrators of the killings.


The genocide was brought to an end when the RPF marched into Kigali and took control of the country on 4 July 1994. An estimated 2 million Hutu civilians (as well as perpetrators) fled into Zaire shortly after, fearing revenge attacks. These refugee camps were extremely crowded and squalid, leading to thousands of deaths from disease epidemics such as cholera and dysentery. Although set up by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the camps were controlled by many leaders of the former Hutu regime who had been responsible for the genocide.

This shifted the violence from Rwanda to DR Congo, as the RPF-led government in Rwanda and the Hutu militants in the camps were regularly launching cross-border incursions by 1996, sparking the First Congo War and later the Second Congo War in 1998. It is estimated that over 5 million people died in this conflict, which lasted until 2003 – violence in the Congo still continues today. The RPF and the Rwandan army has been accused of committing mass human rights violations and crimes against humanity in these wars – charges which Paul Kagame and the Rwandan government have denied.

Justice and accountability

In the international sphere, the Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), carrying out prosecutions and trials in Arusha. The ICTR delivered its first conviction on September 2 1998, accusing a town mayor, Jean-Paul Akayesu, of inciting and leading acts of violence. The ICTR is also known for a landmark case ruling, which prosecuted 3 journalists for using the media to spread hate speech, further inciting violence. Such a charge hadn’t occurred since the Nuremberg Trials after World War II. The ICTR has indicted 93 senior officials for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Within Rwanda itself, the broader problem of justice and reconciliation within the community had to be confronted. Over 40% of the population had either been killed or had fled; and the majority of those remaining had lost their families, witnessed killings or had participated in the genocide. Longer-term effects of the genocide included sexually-transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies as a result of rape, psychological problems and dire poverty. Hundreds of thousands of people (many of them ordinary civilians) were still awaiting trial. Subsequently, small community courts (known as gacacas) were set up across towns and villages. Until 2012, 12,000 gacaca courts met once a week across the country, and have tried over 1.2 million cases, attracting praise and international attention for successfully pursuing a campaign of reconciliation.

Today, the government has made it illegal to discuss ethnicity in Rwanda, with the aim of preventing hate speech and further bloodshed. President Kagame, who took office in 2000, has been hailed for transforming the country, encouraging economic growth and programmes to empower women. Rwanda holds two public holidays in remembrance of the genocide; and on 7 April, the government initiated 100 days of mourning to observe the 25th anniversary of the genocide. Although the government continues to face accusations of authoritarianism and human rights abuses in the DR Congo, it is undeniable that the government and civilians alike have made considerable efforts to rebuild the economy, infrastructure and create an inclusive community which downplays ethnic distinctions.


Rwanda genocide: 100 days of slaughter – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-26875506

Rwanda country profile – https://www.sahistory.org.za/place/rwanda#:~:text=The%20Belgian%20colonial%20occupation%20had,effect%20in%20Rwanda%5Bv%5D.&text=This%20violence%20culminated%20into%20the,in%20the%20killings%5Bvii%5D

Rwanda 1990-1994 – https://www.ushmm.org/genocide-prevention/countries/rwanda/case-study/background/divided-by-ethnicity

America’s secret role in the Rwandan genocide – https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/sep/12/americas-secret-role-in-the-rwandan-genocide 

*This blog post discusses sensitive information that may be triggering for some individuals. EIJI is an impartial organization that seeks to inform people about contemporary issues of international justice. Views, information, and opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect EIJI, its team or Edinburgh University. If you are interested in hearing more about our content approach please read our previous post on EIJI content philosophy.*

Author: Nikita Nandanwad

Editor: Kelsey Greeff

Editor in Chief: Zora Stanik

-The Genocide Series- ‘The Killing Fields’: Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge Genocide

The Cambodian genocide, which occurred under the Khmer Rouge, the official regime of Pol Pot from 1975 – 1979, is a striking example of a genocide from recent memory, It is inexorably tied to the geopolitical and ideological conflicts of the Indochinese Peninsula in the Cold War era.


In March 1965, United States Marines entered South Vietnam in an escalation of their efforts against Communist North Vietnam. Against the background of the Cold War between the US and the USSR, the spread of communism in Southeast Asia to countries like Cambodia was a deep-seated American fear, recalling the famous ‘domino theory’ articulated by President Eisenhower. In this context, Prince Norodom Sihanouk ruled as prince and prime minister from 1955, initially proclaiming Cambodia’s neutrality in the Cold War. However, this neutral position was eroded in the 1960s as both North and South Vietnamese insurgents were operating from sanctuaries just inside Cambodia. Sihanouk finally broke off diplomatic relations with the US upon the escalation of the Vietnam War and allied himself with North Vietnam. His position and influence was to become increasingly precarious. In March 1969, President Nixon secretly ordered the US Air Force to conduct extensive bombing campaigns in eastern Cambodia. This was followed by ground troops entering the east to seize Vietnamese communist sanctuaries in April 1970. In total, American warplanes dropped over 2.7 million tons of bombs on 113,000 sites in Cambodia; as a result of which over 2 million people fled their homes to escape the bombing and ground fighting.

Against this background, the Khmer Rouge originated as an offshoot of the Communist Party of Kampuchea in the 1960s. While they initially relied on North Vietnamese fighters to capture large swathes of the Cambodian countryside through the late 1960s, the Khmer Rouge gradually increased in number and battle prowess themselves. Simultaneously, Sihanouk was overthrown by pro-American general Lon Nol in March 1970, and allied with the Khmer Rouge to urge Cambodians to retake control of the country. 

Today, many historians believe that American military action in Cambodia helped strengthen the Khmer Rouge and led to their victory. It is argued that the bombing campaigns not only deepened Communist Vietnamese involvement in Cambodia (therefore providing aid to the Khmer Rouge), but also sparked anger among civilians and helped them recruit supporters. Ultimately, the Khmer Rouge amassed enough strength and support to enter Phnom Penh and conquer Cambodia on April 17, 1975.

The Khmer Rouge Revolution and Day One

The Khmer ideology had been influenced by Pol Pot’s time spent among hill tribes in the north-east, who lived a self-sufficient, communal lifestyle without need of money. As such, the Khmer Rouge hoped to reset Cambodia to “Year Zero”, building an agrarian, intensely nationalist utopia and regaining the glory of the Khmer Empire. Practically speaking, this would result in a one-party state in rejection of urban, ‘Western’ ideals, alongside an economy entirely reliant upon collective farming.

Upon entering the capital, the Khmer Rouge immediately began to implement this plan to ruralise Cambodia. By the afternoon of April 17, soldiers were herding the 2 million residents of Phnom Penh into the countryside, emptying houses, schools, and hospitals at gunpoint and killing thousands in the process. Foreign citizens were directed to the French embassy compound and later expelled from Cambodia, thus losing the only outside witnesses to the beginning of the genocide.

A hallmark of the Cambodian genocide was the Khmer Rouge’s attempts to completely dismantle any ‘modern’, urban or cultural elements of Cambodian society. To enforce a new, classless society, the government targeted the middle class and the educated, to the extent that people were often killed or tortured merely for wearing glasses or knowing a foreign language. Ethnic or national minorities, such as Vietnamese or Cham Muslims were also targeted. The government also denounced cultural traditions and heritage as a hindrance, seizing Buddhist temples, labeling Buddhist monks as parasites, and destroying works of art.

Additionally, the Khmer Rouge aimed to abolish the traditional family, forcibly separating children from their parents and putting them into labor brigades, and encouraging people to turn on each other and inform the authorities. Individuality of any kind was forbidden, as men and women alike wore a shapeless, black peasant garb as the national uniform.

Collectivisation and forced labor

In 1976, the Khmer Rouge issued a “Four Year Plan”, which aimed to achieve a yield of 3 tons of rice per hectare each year – much more than had ever been produced before. In the process, thousands of people were sent to work in the fields, and given primitive tools to dig canals and erect dams. Exhaustion, disease, and hunger abounded. Denise Affonco, a survivor of the genocide, stated in the Khmer Rouge tribunal regarding the conditions: “Every day, people died in the village. Every morning, they were hauling away a corpse.”

The economic self-reliance stressed by the Khmer Rouge, alongside the slaughter of most of the country’s doctors, also created extreme shortages of food, drugs, and medical care. Countless deaths occurred due to easily-preventable diseases as a result. The food shortages produced a man-made famine, as an estimated 500,000 to 1.5 million deaths occurred solely due to this.

‘Cleansing’ the country of internal enemies

A striking aspect of the genocide was the brutal persecution of anyone considered disloyal to Angkar (“the organisation”), either through killings or mass torture in prison centres. Thousands of people involved in the previous government – soldiers, civil servants, low-level leaders – were detained and murdered. 

The most infamous of these prisons was the S-21 Tuol Sleng prison, run by Kaing Guek Eav (known as Duch), which detained between 14,000 – 17,000 prisoners, of which only 12 are believed to have survived. Electric shocks, beatings, and waterboarding were liberally used to extract forced confessions around being involved with the CIA or the Vietnamese. Bodies were dumped into mass graves in farms, known as the ‘killing fields’; and over 388 sites, containing 19,733 mass graves have been identified.

By the end of the genocide, an estimated 2 million people (around a third of the population) died from execution, starvation, disease, and overwork. The Khmer Rouge regime ended on January 7, 1979, after Vietnam launched a full invasion; but for Cambodians, the ordeal was not yet over. The process of rebuilding the country and ensuring accountability had just begun.


Although the Vietnamese established a new government upon defeating the Khmer Rouge, the ousted Khmer Rouge continued to wage guerrilla attacks upon them. Meanwhile, international allies of the new government (including the USSR) were attempting to provide it a seat at the United Nations; but the US alongside China and several countries voted to keep the Khmer Rouge as Cambodia’s UN representatives in a widely condemned vote; continuing to boycott the new government as an attempt to curb Soviet influence. Sihanouk became the head of a coalition of non-Communist groups and the Khmer Rouge in an attempt to expel Vietnam from Cambodia; and while the US sent aid to non-Communist groups, China sent arms to the Khmer Rouge. 

The renewed war further disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of refugees in Thailand and civilians who had lived through the genocide. A peace agreement was only officially reached in 1991, while lasting peace was only reached in 1999 after the death of Pol Pot and the surrender of the remaining Khmer Rouge soldiers.

Accountability: The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)

After a failed series of early attempts to ensure justice for the atrocities of the genocide, a criminal investigation began in July 2006 under the ECCC, which was carried out by both foreigners and Cambodians. Four major cases emerged concerning international crimes: including crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. Notably, Duch was sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment in July 2010, which was later increased to life imprisonment. As of December 2018 however, only 3 defendants were actually convicted. Former mid-level and low-level members of the Khmer Rouge still live in communities across the country, and some hold high positions in today’s government, sparking the debate over whether due justice was truly achieved.

Overall, the court proceedings are mainly considered a success, since senior Khmer Rouge figures such as Duch were prosecuted, and the proceedings occurred inside Cambodia and allowed for Cambodians to witness and participate in the ECCC firsthand. The work of the ECCC, alongside contemporary and modern coverage of the regime (such as the 1984 film The Killing Fields) has successfully produced a thorough historical record of the mass atrocities that occurred between 1975-79, preserving it in cultural memory.


Khmer Rouge: Cambodia’s years of brutality: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-10684399

Life term for Cambodia Khmer Rouge jailer Duch: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-16865834

Cambodia, 1975-79: https://www.ushmm.org/genocide-prevention/countries/cambodia/case-study/background/an-ancient-kingdom 

The BLM Movement: seven months later

Seven months ago, George Floyd was killed during an arrest, after officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd’s death not only sparked worldwide protests against excessive police violence and racial profiling but significantly transformed American public attitude concerning systemic discrimination and racial injustice. 

Floyd’s death reintroduced a number of similar incidents into media coverage, such as the shooting of Breonna Taylor at her home under a no-knock warrant on 13 March, and of Rayshard Brooks while running away from a police officer. Their deaths were spotlighted by protestors in June, who demanded that appropriate punitive measures should be taken upon the police officers responsible for the killings.

Chauvin currently faces charges of second-degree unintentional murder and manslaughter, while the three other officers involved in Floyd’s killing are charged with aiding and abetting his death. He was originally charged with third-degree murder, but this was elevated to more serious charges in June; making him the first white officer to be charged for a black civilian’s death in Minnesota. In October, he was released from prison on a $1 million bond, and his trial is due to take place in March 2021 along with the other three officers. Minnesota prosecutors are looking to introduce evidence of a 2017 arrest, stating that Chauvin similarly knelt on the back of a 14-year-old boy who was slow to comply with instructions, and ignored his pleas that he couldn’t breathe. Assistant attorney general Matthew Frank wrote in a court memorandum: “As was true with the conduct with George Floyd, Chauvin rapidly escalated his use of force for a relatively minor offense. Just like with Floyd, Chauvin used an unreasonable amount of force without regard for the need for that level of force or the victim’s well-being.”

Another spotlight during the protests was the death of Breonna Taylor, as her family and activists called for all three officers involved to be charged with murder or manslaughter. Unfortunately, the process of ensuring accountability for her death has not been very successful. One police officer was charged with three counts of “wanton endangerment” in September for firing into a neighbor’s apartment, while the two other officers were not charged. This news further fuelled civil unrest and demonstrations in Louisville and a number of other US cities.

Immediately after Floyd’s death, several state and local governments reevaluated their police department’s policies – several, for instance, banned the use of chokeholds without exception. Most notably, the Minneapolis city council promised to dismantle the Minneapolis PD to replace it with a new system of public safety; but there appears to be a gap between what was pledged and their subsequent actions. In June, the city council proposed a measure for the November ballot, to replace the police department with a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention; but this proposal was scrapped in November by the Minneapolis Charter Commission. Instead, the city council voted to divert 4.5% from the police budget towards funding for mental health crisis response teams and violence prevention programs. The council also voted against a measure to reduce the size of the police force from 888 to 750 authorized officers. The Minneapolis PD remains widely distrusted: a new survey conducted by the Leadership Conference Education Fund found that 75% of black respondents did not believe that MPD officers were held accountable for police misconduct; and the survey concluded that the MPD’s historic use of excessive force, racially-biased activity and discrimination has rendered them largely ineffective. Nevertheless, several activist movements in Minnesota are optimistic about the progress made in public safety measures through the diversion of funding and express a hope that continued public pressure will result in tangible reform.

On a national level, there is a renewed focus upon the historic oppression of the black community, which has sparked notable shifts in the practices of various institutions. This occurred on both a symbolic level – such as Nancy Pelosi’s order that the portraits of four House speakers who served in the Confederacy should be removed from the US Capital – and a legislative level, such as President Trump’s signing of an Executive Order on Police Reform to call for training on de-escalation techniques and use of force. In June, the House of Representatives passed a sweeping police reform bill, termed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 which proposes an expansive series of measures, the most notable of which include curbing “qualified immunity” (a legal provision allowing police officers immunity from civil suits unless proven to violate statutory or constitutional laws) and banning chokeholds on a federal level. This measure has stalled in the Senate, with both Democrats and Republicans introducing their own bill respectively. This echoes previous stalemates over other policies, such as efforts at introducing gun reform bills, and it remains uncertain whether such talks will yield tangible results. With Joe Biden’s presidential victory, however, if the Democrats are able to retake the Senate in the upcoming elections, the possibility of enacting a more expansive, far-reaching set of reforms will increase.


What happened to promises to disband the Minneapolis Police?: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/what-happened-disband-minneapolis-police-1102763/

George Floyd trial: prosecutors seek to show video of Derek Chauvin kneeling on teen: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/nov/18/george-floyd-trial-derek-chauvin-kneeled-on-teen-2017-video

The House just passed a sweeping police reform bill: https://www.vox.com/2020/6/25/21303005/police-reform-bill-house-democrats-senate-republicans

How George Floyd’s death has impacted American life: https://www.voanews.com/usa/race-america/how-george-floyds-death-has-impacted-american-life

*This blog post discusses sensitive information that may be triggering for some individuals. EIJI is an impartial organization that seeks to inform people about contemporary issues of international justice. Views, information, and opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect EIJI, its team or Edinburgh University. If you are interested in hearing more about our content approach please read our previous post on EIJI content philosophy.*

Author: Nikita Nandanwad

Editor: Kelsey Greeff

Editor in Chief: Zora Stanik

Syrian Civil War: international concern and displacement of thousands

The Syrian war is an ongoing civil war which began in March 2011. The conflict initiallystarted with pro-democracy demonstrations in the city Deraa, inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions; the underlying cause of the demonstrations was discontentment with President Bashar al-Assad due to high unemployment, corruption, and lack of political freedoms. After the government used deadly force to crush the dissenters, nationwide protests erupted, demanding the president’s resignation. The violence quickly escalated as opposition supporters took up arms, and the country descended into civil war.

Today, the war has evolved into a much more complex situation,with an increasing number of groups and countries becoming involved. Key supporters of the Syrian government have been Russia and Iran, while the rebel factions were backed by Turkey, Western powers (most prominently the United States), and several Gulf states who wish to counter Iranian influence in Syria.

This situation has led to several tensions: such as hatred between religious groups, primarily the Sunni Muslim majority against the president’s Shia Alawite government; the rise of jihadist groups in the opposition such as Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda; and the Syrian Kurds, who want independence. These tensions have led to numerous war atrocities and made peace negotiations difficult to implement.

The human impact of the Syrian war has been staggering and led to one of the largest refugee crises in modern history. While exact death toll figures vary depending on the source, over 500,000 people have been killed or presumed dead. The Violations Documentation Center has documented 191,219 battle-related deaths (including 123,279 civilians) as of December 2018. Overall, more than half of the population has been displaced; of which 6.2 million were internally displaced and 5.7 million fled abroad. The impact on heritage and civilian infrastructure was also serious: all six of the country’s Unesco World Heritage sites suffered significant damage, while in one district in Eastern Ghouta, 93% of buildings were damaged or destroyed by December 2017.

Human rights activists and UN inquiries throughout the war have documented war crimes being committed by all sides of the conflict. By February 2019, an estimated 13 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance; of which some 5.2 million were in acute need. Warring parties have made such issues worse by often refusing humanitarian organisations access to those in need; while physicians for Human Rights documented 550 attacks carried out on medical facilities by December 2018, which resulted in the deaths of 892 medical personnel. This has led to limited access to medical aid and healthcare for many civilians.

As of 2019, the Syrian government now controls large parts of Syria, including the major cities; however, the war and its impact on civilians shows no signs of ceasing. The situation remains highly unstable, as offshoot terrorist groups from IS and al-Qaeda remain active. In one of the latest developments, a UN-led independent commission of inquiry found grave war crimes committed by pro-government forces, the foreign powers backing them, and jihadist opponents in a battle over the Idlib province – the last significant rebel stronghold. The inquiry catalogued 52 “emblematic attacks” between November 2019 and June 2020, which led to civilian casualties and damaged infrastructure. The Syrian military and its allied Russian air force were accused of destroying hospitals, schools, markets and homes through their air strikes; though both governments have denied committing war crimes. 

Areas controlled by jihadist militants (which dominate the opposition stronghold) are characterised by rampant abuse of human rights and negligible access to humanitarian assistance. The most prominent UN-designated terrorist group, the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), has been accused of detaining, torturing and executing any civilians attempting to dissent, including journalists. Investigators found that HTS pillaged the homes of displaced civilians, and shelled civilian-populated areas held by the government “with no apparent legitimate military objective.” Furthermore, the battle over Idlib led to the largest wave of displacement in the war, with almost a million civilians forced to flee in harsh winter conditions.

In October 2019, Turkish military forces and a coalition of Turkey-backed armed groups began an offensive into northeast Syria, precipitated by the withdrawal of US troops from the border. Turkey stated that its aim was to push the US-allied Kurdish militias out of the buffer zone along the border, and that 18 Turkish civilians died as a result of Syrian Kurdish mortar attacks. 

This situation has been described as a combination of worst-case scenarios by local and international aid workers. Firstly, the 100,000 civilians displaced have limited access to food, clean water and medical supplies; and many are forced to sleep out in the open. In addition, aid agencies fear that their ability to carry out cross-border operations to deliver humanitarian aid is limited in such a situation. Finally, Amnesty International has also documented serious violations and war crimes carried out by Turkish forces, such as unlawful attacks and summary killings upon these displaced civilians. For instance, an anonymous Kurdish Red Crescent worker described the result of a Turkish air strike on 12 October in Salhiye, in an area where displaced civilians were seeking shelter: “Everything happened so fast. In total, there were six injured and four killed, including two children. I couldn’t tell if they were boys or girls because their corpses were black. They looked like charcoal. The other two people killed were older men, they looked older than 50.” Other foreign powers who support the opposition are actively carrying out arms transfers to Turkey and other parties accused of violating international law – the US is the largest exporter of weapons, while other suppliers include Italy, Germany, Brazil and India. 

However, Turkey and Russia are not the only foreign powers whose actions have directly impacted Syrian civilians. In 2014, the US launched Operation Inherent Resolve (an anti-IS campaign), which led to over 30,000 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. While most strikes were carried out by US warplanes, other countries participated in the coalition, including Britain, France, Australia, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Canada, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordan, and Bahrain. Since 2014, an estimated 11,800 civilians, including 2300 children and 1130 women were killed in these strikes. Dr Ali al-Bayati, spokesman for the IHCHR, stated that these reported deaths were much higher than the official numbers published by the coalition; accusing them of undercounting and failing to adequately investigate incidents of civilian harm. Additionally, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported scores of civilians killed even after Mr Trump declared victory over the IS in December.

Efforts to end the war have been futile despite 9 rounds of UN-mediated peace talks since 2014. Russia, Iran and Turkey have also set up parallel political talks – the Astana process- but these are also struggling to make progress. This can be largely attributed to a stalemate: President Assad is unwilling to negotiate with the opposition, while opposition groups insist that he must step down in any potential peace deal.


Why is there a war in Syria?: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-35806229

Syria wants refugees back, but do they want to return?: https://sofrep.com/news/syria-wants-refugees-back-but-do-they-want-to-return/

Syria conflict: ‘Flagrant’ war crimes committed in Idlib battle: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-53322857

Damning evidence of war crimes and other violations by Turkish forces and their allies: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/10/syria-damning-evidence-of-war-crimes-and-other-violations-by-turkish-forces-and-their-allies/

War crimes committed by almost all sides in Syria: https://apnews.com/article/0946284d5fe839d66d7549fc910ae7a1

Fresh evidence of war crimes committed by all sides in Syrian conflict: https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/07/1067761

11,800 civilians killed in US-led air strikes: https://www.syriahr.com/en/118649/

*This blog post discusses sensitive information that may be triggering for some individuals. EIJI is an impartial organization that seeks to inform people about contemporary issues of international justice. Views, information, and opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect EIJI, its team or Edinburgh University. If you are interested in hearing more about our content approach please read our previous post on EIJI content philosophy.*

Author: Nikita Nandanwad

Editor: Kelsey Greeff
Editor in Chief: Zora Stanik

Genocide Series: Holocaust Precursor guest piece



“I once spoke to someone who had survived the genocide in Rwanda, and she said to me that there was now nobody left on the face of the earth, either friend or relative, who knew who she was…. Genocide means not just mass killing, to the level of extermination, but mass obliteration to the verge of extinction. You wish to have one more reflection on what it is to have been made the object of a clean sweep?”

– Christopher Hitchens

The United Nations Genocide Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such including the killing of its members, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately imposing living conditions that seek to bring about its physical destruction in whole or forcibly transferring children out of the group to another group while human liberty is the state of being free; enjoying various social, political, or economic rights and privileges.”


The Armenian genocide is acknowledged as one of the first modern genocides. It involved the systemic mass murder and expulsion of 1.5 million ethnic Armenians in Turkey and the adjoining region by the Ottoman government between 1914 and 1923. It was carried out during and after World War I and implemented in two phases – the wholesome killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscription and forced labour; followed by mass deportation of women, children, the elderly, and the infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian desert.

The Holocaust, also known as the Shoch, was the World War II genocide of European Jews carried out between 1941 and 1945. Nazi Germany and its collaborators murdered about six million Jews – around two-third of the European Jewish population. The murders were carried out through pogrom; by a policy of extermination through forced labour in concentration camps and the use of gas chambers and gas vans.

The Rwandan genocide was a mass slaughter of the Tutsi, Twa, and moderate Hutu ethnic groups in Rwanda. It took place between 7th April and 15th July during the Rwandan civil war, claiming the lives of an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans.


Human understanding of genocide and liberty has continued to progress from a crude to a more refined state. Terms used to quantify such occurrences ranged from massacre, extermination, to crimes against humanity; in 1941, Winston Churchill described the German invasion of the Soviet Union as “a crime without a name”. The term ‘genocide’ was coined by Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, after fleeing his native Poland during World War II: a succinct articulation of mass crimes against humanity.

From the case studies examined, it is evident that there was a reduction in the level of casualties as time progressed. This can be connected with the awareness campaigns and mechanisms put in place by the United Nations. During the Armenian genocide, for instance, the level of impact would have been minimal if anti-genocide policies and social structures were in place. Comparing the casualty figures from the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide to that of Rwanda shows a decline in the number of people who died during the latter.

The time frame of the genocide is also a pointer to the progress made. 9 years, 4 years, and 3 months were the time spans for the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, and the Rwandan genocide respectively. Increased scrutiny and accountability mechanisms put in place by the international community correlate to a reduction in the time spans for each of the genocides. The Nuremberg Trials mark a turning point in international law accountability mechanisms; in particular the trials of 22 major Nazi criminals before the International Military Tribunal; who were charged for crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Not only did the Nuremberg trials mention ‘genocide’ for the first time in international law, but the court proceedings and categorisation of the crimes allowed for the development of international jurisprudence concerning war crimes resulting in the creation of the International Criminal Court.


Today, many nations have enacted anti-genocide bills into their constitutions. Senator Greig from the Australian parliament presented a bill for an act to give effect to the convention on prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, and for related purposes.

In the international sphere, the ICC is the first and only permanent international court with jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crime of genocide. To consider a modern example, the Security Council on the 8th of November 1994 set up the Tribunal for Rwanda to prosecute those responsible for the genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Rwanda and neighbouring states. Additionally, the Rwandan government implemented a participatory justice system (Gacacas) in 2001, in order to handle the enormous backlog of cases. These courts gave lower sentences if the person showed repentance and sought reconciliation with the local community. Furthermore, as men were the primary victims during the genocide a new law giving women inheritance rights was put into place. This social structure gives males and females the equal right to inherit properties.

The formation of organizations like the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education centers empower individuals and communities to take action to prevent and end genocides. Contributions from the public in the form of essays, poems, and slogans are a clear reflection of the changes wrought regarding human understanding of genocide and individual liberty – for instance, international justice initiatives further help increase coverage of contemporary genocides.

Although awareness and accountability have increased over time, modern structures certainly haven’t prevented any instances of genocides; for instance, some activists and human rights experts have termed the Chinese government’s policy towards Uyghur Muslims as an ongoing genocide of a minority group through means such as suppression of religious practice, forced sterilisation, and contraception. The government’s policy of media censorship has made the above-mentioned structures difficult to enforce, as evidence of ongoing human rights violations is scarce. Uyghur Muslims in China is just one instance of a modern 21st-century genocide with others including human rights violations of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Christians and Muslims in the Central African Republic, and many more.


The understanding of genocide and human liberty correlates with the passage of time. Tremendous progress has been made with the increase in knowledge, technology, and social structures; but the above instances of modern genocides serve as a sobering reminder of the progress that has yet to be made, and authoritative powers (such as censorship) that may hinder such progress. As the world becomes more complex, modern policies and social structures must be updated to meet the needs of a changing society. 


  • Legal definition of genocide, United Nations: 


  • Raphel Lemkin: The maa who coined the word ‘genocide’:


  • Australia: Anti-genocide bill gets the go-ahead:


  • The ICTR in brief: 


  • Activist urge Canada to recognise Ughur abuses as genocide:


Author & Essay Contest Winner: Ekoja Okewu
Editor: Nikita Nandanwad
Editor in Chief: Zora Stanik

Philippine Drug War: extrajudicial killings and police impunity

The Philippine drug war is an infamous anti-narcotics policy and crack down on suspected drug dealers and users under President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office in June 2016. Notably, before being elected as President, Mr Duterte was the mayor of Davao City for over two decades – under his governance, the so-called “Davao Death Squad” killed hundreds of drug users, street children, and petty criminals; and he was known for endorsing their killings as an effective way of combating crime. After his election, Mr Duterte launched a campaign against “illegal drug personalities”, claiming that the Philippines had become a “narco-state” and promising that he would personally ensure that millions of drug users would be killed. The anti-drug campaign, dubbed as “Operation Double Barrel”, has targeted those suspected of using or distributing drugs, ostensibly for arrest. However, it has become evident that, in practice, the police and vigilante groups are carrying out systemic extrajudicial killings of suspects without proof of drug use, and often falsifying evidence to justify the unlawful killings.

In an investigation of 24 incidents that occurred between October 2016 and January 2017, which resulted in 32 deaths, Human Rights Watch found a discrepancy between official police reports and eyewitness accounts. While police reports asserted (and continue to assert) self-defence to justify the killings, eyewitness accounts overwhelmingly state that unarmed, defenceless suspects were killed in custody. The report also found evidence that the police routinely planted guns, spent ammunition, and drug packets next to the victims’ bodies to back up their claims.

Over the course of the campaign, the majority of victims were from impoverished urban areas, either unemployed or working menial jobs; and many were suspected drug users and not dealers. In addition, local human rights groups have identified an official modus operandi: an individual would first receive a visit from a neighbourhood official, informing them that they were on a watch list. These visits have been proved as being a method of confirming a target’s identity and location, rather than being official warnings – as shortly after the visit, armed assailants would barge into homes and shoot targets. Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that the assailants failed to identify themselves or provide official warrants, usually wearing civilian clothes and shielding their faces with masks, caps, or helmets. In September 2016, for instance, 32-year-old Rogie Sebastian was handcuffed and shot in his home by three armed, marked men. A neighbour testified: “I heard the gunshots. There were also uniformed cops outside, they did not go inside the house. But the three killers in civilian clothes came and went on a motorcycle without any interference from the uniformed cops.”

The death toll over the course of the campaign is greatly debated, with contradicting claims made by police officials, the Philippines government, and human rights groups. To date, Human Rights Watch has estimated the deaths of over 12,000 Filipinos, at least 2500 of which were attributed to the Philippines National Police. But in December 2018, the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights suggested that the number of drug-war killings might be as high as 27,000; while recent government data states that 5,600 suspected drug dealers and users were killed in operations since July 2016. Overall, the campaign appears to have intensified this year, with a recorded 50% increase in drug-war deaths during the lockdown from April to July.

In addition, the extrajudicial killings have been aided by the failure to arrest and consequently prosecute responsible police officers. A UN report, released in July 2020, states that the Philippines police regularly raid homes and private property without legitimate warrants, forcing suspects to make self-incriminating statements or risk lethal force. Yet since 2016, there has only been 1 conviction for the killing of a suspect during police operations, while the government maintains that all deaths have occurred legitimately. 

The recent UN report cites three key concerns regarding the government’s hardline policy towards suspected drug users – firstly, that harsh drug enforcement could lead to users “going underground”, away from critical health services. This could fuel the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C among users and certainly discourage people with addiction from seeking effective treatment. Secondly, the UN report states that extrajudicial killings committed on baseless grounds are accompanied by “near-impunity” for such violations, which would embolden police to behave as if they have permission to kill. Finally, the report raises concern over the government’s vilification of open criticism against the anti-drug policy, stating that attacks against critics of the anti-narcotics campaign are being “increasingly institutionalised and normalised in ways that will be very difficult to reverse.” For instance, the government has used their Covid-19 special powers laws to file criminal charges against people criticising them online; and between 2015-2019, at least 248 human rights defenders, legal professionals, journalists, and trade unionists were killed in relation to their work. 

The government appears to be maintaining and perhaps even intensifying its hardline stance against narcotics – in June, President Duterte renewed his threat to kill drug dealers upon the seizure of 756kg of crystal methamphetamine, just a day after the UN report claimed near impunity on the part of the police in the drug war. Mr Duterte said that these drugs were proof that the Philippines was a transshipment point for illegal drugs and stated, in a recorded address: “If you destroy my country distributing 5.1 billion pesos worth of shabu…I will kill you.” 

There are growing calls among human rights groups and other parties for the UN Human Rights Council to order a further independent inquiry concerning human rights abuses in the Philippines.  “Like the UN, we are deeply concerned by the total impunity enjoyed by those who have perpetrated these crimes,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific regional director.


Philippines’ War on Drugs: https://www.hrw.org/tag/philippines-war-drugs

“License to Kill”: https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/03/02/license-kill/philippine-police-killings-dutertes-war-drugs

Philippines’ war on drugs may have killed tens of thousands: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/04/philippines-police-may-have-killed-tens-of-thousands-with-near-impunity-in-drug-war-un

Philippines drug war: Do we know how many have died?: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-50236481

“I will kill you”: Philippines’ Duterte renews drug war threat: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/06/05/i-will-kill-you-philippines-duterte-renews-drug-war-threat/

UN Report: Situation of human rights in the Philippines: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/PH/Philippines-HRC44-AEV.pdf 

*This blog post discusses sensitive information that may be triggering for some individuals. EIJI is an impartial organization that seeks to inform people about contemporary issues of international justice. Views, information, and opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect EIJI, its team or Edinburgh University. If you are interested in hearing more about our content approach please read our previous post on EIJI content philosophy.*

Author: Nikita Nandanwad

Editor: Kelsey Greeff

Editor in Chief: Zora Stanik

Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict: Fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh and the civilian impact

Since 27 September, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been embroiled in an armed conflict in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. This conflict originated in the 1980s, as the USSR saw tensions arising in its constituent republics, and Nagorno-Karabakh (inhabited mostly by ethnic Armenians) voted to become part of Armenia in 1991. This further aggravated the war which then continued until 1994 and saw about 30,000 deaths, the displacement of around one million people, and significant reports of ethnic cleansing carried out by both sides. Armenia argues that the province is a historic part of their homeland and cites the 1991 referendum to justify their claim; while Azerbaijan says that the province is internationally recognised as part of their territory. Since then, the dispute has remained unresolved, with Nagorno-Karabakh remaining part of Azerbaijan, but controlled by separatist ethnic Armenians. 

Tensions were high for several months prior to September, and it remains unclear which side started the conflict. Since the fighting began, an estimated 532 military members have died and officials say that roads, electricity, gas and communication networks have taken significant damage across the region.

The impact on civilians has been severe – Azerbaijani authorities reported that 42 of their non-militants were killed over 2 weeks, and Nagorno-Karabakh human rights ombudsman, Artak Beglaryan, said that at least 31 civilian deaths have occurred in the region, with hundreds more wounded and tens of thousands displaced. However, it’s difficult to independently verify these reports – while Armenia releases its military toll, Azerbaijan does not, and the overall number of casualties is likely much higher than reported. Both sides also deny ever targeting civilians or their infrastructures, while simultaneously accusing the other of doing so.

Efforts to broker a ceasefire have been difficult, despite many attempts from the international community to negotiate a peace deal. An agreement mediated by Russia was reached on October 10, but it was breached shortly after – with each side accusing the other of breaking the pact and targeting civilians. Another understanding was reached for a mutual withdrawal from midnight, 17 October – but early on the 18th, both sides again accused each other of violating it. The peace announcement came mere hours after Azerbaijan said that Armenia carried out a missile attack on Ganja, leaving 13 civilians dead, which Armenia has denied. Conversely, Armenia reported rocket attacks carried out by Azerbaijan, wounding at least 3 civilians. The Azeri Embassy in Washington, D.C. accused Armenia of committing “war crimes against civilians in order to distract from its battlefield losses and the illegal occupation of Azerbaijan,” but the Armenian government countered that they aimed for “legitimate military targets”, such as an air force base and a military industrial complex. 

In the international context, the key countries involved are Russia and Turkey. While Turkey supports Azerbaijan, Russia is allied with Armenia but has good relations with Azerbaijan, and has made repeated calls for a peace agreement. Both sides also insist that the other brought in foreign military forces on the ground – the Russian government complained to Turkey about militants allegedly being transferred from the Middle East to Nagorno-Karabakh, while Armenia (backed by French President Emmanuel Macron) accused Azerbaijan of recruiting foreign fighters from Syria. 

Furthermore, international consensus overwhelmingly calls for a ceasefire between the two sides, owing to the ‘human cost’ of civilian casualties as a result of the fighting. The EU recently denounced the attacks on Ganja and said that the original peace deal “must be fully respected without delay.” UN Secretary Antonio Guterres condemned the “indiscriminate attacks on populated areas” that have occurred, including in Stepanakert and other localities around the Nagorno-Karabakh zone of conflict, and urges both sides to resume negotiations.

As of today (October 28th), the fighting has intensified after the collapse of a third attempt at a ceasefire (brokered by the US), and both Azerbaijan and Armenia have reported civilian casualties in urban areas. Recent days have seen clashes on multiple fronts, with Azerbaijani forces capturing territory in the southern area, along its border with Iran. Although information about civilian victims is yet to be clarified, Azerbaijan claims that 21 civilians were killed and 70 injured in the city of Barda (outside the Nagorno-Karabakh region), a claim which Armenia denies. The conflict is ongoing and shows no signs of stopping as of yet.


What’s behind the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-54324772 

Both sides obliged to ‘spare and protect civilians over Nagorno-Karabakh fighting’: https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/10/1075672

Armenia, Azerbaijan accuse each other of violating truce: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/10/17/new-armenia-azerbaijan-truce-comes-into-force-in-nagorno-karabakh

Russia seeks Nagorno-Karabakh truce return as deaths rise: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/10/12/nagorno-karabakh-live-news

‘600 killed’ in fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/armenia-azerbaijan-conflict-death-toll-nagorno-karabakh-latest-b1031273.html

Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict: Why are they fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh: https://www.wsj.com/articles/armenia-azerbaijan-conflict-11601325097?tesla=y

Ceasefire fails to hold as Armenia, Azerbaijan accuse each other of targeting civilians: https://www.rferl.org/a/armenia-azerbaijan-urged-to-seek-lasting-cease-fire-as-diplomatic-efforts-continue/30916763.html 

*This blog post discusses sensitive information that may be triggering for some individuals. EIJI is an impartial organization that seeks to inform people about contemporary issues of international justice. Views, information, and opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect EIJI, its team or Edinburgh University. If you are interested in hearing more about our content approach please read our previous post on EIJI content philosophy.*

Author: Nikita Nandanwad
Editor: Kelsey Greeff
Editor in Chief: Zora Stanik

US Wildfires and the Environmental Ramifications

Since July, the West Coast of the United States has been experiencing an unprecedented series of wildfires, which have been recognised as the worst wildfires in the past 18 years. Currently, firefighters are battling 106 wildfires across the western coast, the majority of which are concentrated in California and Oregon. The formation of wildfires is usually caused by dry seasonal winds along the west coast but this summer, these winds were aided by a heatwave. 

The resulting impact has been especially devastating in California, which has seen 7,606 blazes this year, compared with 4,972 in 2019. These wildfires have burned through 4 million acres of California – double the previous annual record. Earlier this month, the August complex fire expanded beyond 1 million acres and is now larger than the state of Rhode Island. Thus, elevating its classification from a ‘megafire’ to a ‘gigafire’ – the first to ever occur in modern history. 

The wildfires have had a catastrophic impact on the west coast, with their economic cost exceeding an estimated $20 billion (£15.5 billion). More than 30 people have been killed, thousands of houses destroyed, tens of thousands of people either evacuated or left homeless, and dozens remain missing. Additionally, the clouds of smoke emitted from the fires are so large that they have crossed the US and the Atlantic Ocean and reached Northern Europe, according to scientists from the European Commission’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service – and are expected to do so again in the coming weeks. Plumes of smoke have blanketed the west coast, at times obscuring the sun.

Smoke emitted by the fires has also resulted in a higher amount of carbon emissions. Douglas Morton, chief of the biospheric sciences laboratory at NASA Goddard, stated that 2020 was the highest year of carbon emissions for California since records began in 1997. Furthermore, the 2020 fire emissions have significantly outpaced the annual totals for other years, despite this season not yet ending.

A further consequence of the wildfires is the huge amount of air pollution that they have produced. Pollution from wildfires contains noxious chemicals and soot, which is highly dangerous to human health. Air quality in Oregon, Washington, and California is said to be some of the unhealthiest on the planet. Specifically, in some parts of Oregon, air quality is so hazardous that it went beyond the scale of Oregon’s Air Quality Index. In these areas, pollution has reached historic levels particularly in 5 of its cities: Portland, Eugene, Bend, Medford, and Klamath Falls.

Dishearteningly, although California’s peak fire season usually runs until October, it shows no signs of receding as yet. Some light to moderate rains are predicted in the north this week, but they are unlikely to end the fire season.

NASA has cited a combination of factors as responsible for the intensity and scale of the fires. The heatwave, alongside unusually dry air, fierce winds and drought in some parts, has exacerbated the fires. However, climate change is a major factor for their record-breaking intensity, with rising temperatures and prolonged drought causing vegetation and soils to lose moisture. According to an analysis by Climate Central, big wildfires are now 3 times more common on the west coast than in the 1970s, and the fire season is 3 months longer. Experts predict that the 2020 fire season is only the beginning of increased fires over the 21st century, as temperatures will continue to climb due to the release of greenhouse gases from human activity. 

The US Government faces widespread criticisms of inaction on the back of this fire season – while President Trump was quick to dispatch federal police to crush the Portland protests, he failed to send any help to extinguish the wildfires occurring in the same city. Mr Trump also blamed poor forest management for the scale of the blazes, despite overwhelming consensus by scientists that climate change is responsible for their growing prevalence and intensity.

This blatant denial of scientific evidence persists on a broader scale, where the administration has been criticised by climate activists for halting and actively discouraging efforts to combat climate change and climate activism generally. There is evidence that the government has impeded research efforts around human-caused climate change. This evidence highlights the disruption of research projects and the significantly diminishing role of science in US federal policymaking.

Additionally, a 2018 report by the Washington Post states, that the Trump administration already predicted a 7-degree rise in global temperatures by 2100 as a result of human activity. Despite these predictions clearly acknowledging the effects of climate change, there remains evidence that the administration has taken steps to actively encourage the fossil fuel industry. Regulators at the Securities and Exchange Commission have been reported to help corporations block shareholders from voting on climate-related corporate resolutions; while last year, the White House barred California from setting its own auto emissions standards.

David Sirota at The Guardian argues that these climate-denying assertions on a national level actively influence decision-making processes, which would not just sabotage the climate movement but carry a significant, long-term, human cost. As evidenced from the wildfires, the climate crisis will only prolong and intensify natural disasters in the coming decades – and in order to reduce the human impact, political leaders will need to take decisive steps to reduce emissions and pass reforms that actively encourage the climate movement.


California wildfires spawn first modern ‘gigafire’ in history: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/oct/06/california-wildfires-gigafire-first

California and Oregon 2020 wildfires in maps, graphics and images: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-54180049

Historic fires devastate the US Pacific Coast: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/147277/historic-fires-devastate-the-us-pacific-coast

America is at war with deadly wildfires: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/sep/19/america-deadly-wildfires-trump-inferno

Trump administration sees a 7-degree rise in global temperatures by 2100: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/trump-administration-sees-a-7-degree-rise-in-global-temperatures-by-2100/2018/09/27/b9c6fada-bb45-11e8-bdc0-90f81cc58c5d_story.html

How Trump is sidelining researchers and their work: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/28/climate/trump-administration-war-on-science.html?auth=login-email&login=email

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Author: Nikita Nandanwad

Editor: Kelsey Greeff

Editor in Chief: Zora Stanik