By: Mark Leon Goldberg on July 16, 2012 Top stories from DAWNS Digest. Red Cross Makes it Official: Syria is a “Civil War” The International Committee for the Red Cross has declared Syria to be in a civil war. This is more than just a semantic distinction because once the term “civil war” is invoked, it means that international humanitarian law can apply to the situation. Violations of the law may be subject to prosecution should the case ever find its way to an international court. “Also known as the rules of war, humanitarian law grants all parties in a conflict the right to use appropriate force to achieve their aims. The Geneva-based group’s assessment is an important reference for determining how much and what type of force can be used, and it can form the basis for war crimes prosecutions, especially if civilians are attacked or detained enemies are abused or killed. ‘We are now talking about a non-international armed conflict in the country,’ ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said. War crimes prosecutions would have been possible even without the Red Cross statement. But Sunday’s pronouncement adds weight to any prosecution argument that Syria is in a state of war — a prerequisite for a war crimes case. Previously, the Red Cross committee had restricted its assessment of the scope of the conflict to the hotspots of Idlib, Homs and Hama. But Hassan said the organization concluded that the violence was widening. (ABC http://abcn.ws/MxhBGB) South African To Become the First Female Head of the African Union Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa’s home affairs minister and an ex-wife of President Jacob Zuma, won a contentious election to become the next chairperson of the African Union Commission, a position akin to Secretary General of the AU. “Dlamini-Zuma defeated incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon, who had been at the helm of the Commission, the AU’s steering body, since 2008. Dlamini-Zuma, a 63-year-old who has previously served as minister of health and foreign affairs, had to undergo three voting rounds before Ping, 69, was finally eliminated. A final confidence vote of 37 in favor gave her the 60 percent majority she needed to be elected. The contest to head the Commission of the 54-member AU had been deadlocked since last year. It pitted French-speaking states, largely backing Ping, against mostly English-speaking countries, especially in southern Africa, which gave their support to Dlamini-Zuma.” (Tribune http://trib.in/Mxpig1) Mali Takes One Step Closer To Becoming a Totally Failed State Fractious rebel movements in Northern Mali are splintering even further into a patchwork of militias vying for control. The central government has no ability to impose order. “Radical Islamists in northern Mali have enlisted new fighters from a tribal militia to strengthen their grip on the region, The Associated Press reported, amid growing international concern that Mali is becoming a failed state that could serve as a launching pad for terrorist activities. A resident of Douentza told The A.P. on Sunday that about 400 combatants of the government-backed Gandakoy militia appeared to have broken ranks and joined the Islamist group Ansar Dine, bolstering its edge over ethnic Tuareg rebels in the area. The witness, reached by phone from Bamako, the capital, declined to be named for fear of reprisals by Ansar Dine. One of the group’s Timbuktu-based fighters, Oumar Ould Hamaha, confirmed the resident’s observation, saying the Gandakoy militants in Douentza are “100 percent with Ansar Dine.” (NYT http://nyti.ms/Mxe4rG) *DAWNS Digest is a daily email-based news clips service for people interested in aid, human rights, and humanitarian news from the developing world. If that describes you, sign up for a month trial.