The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

News Brief 5/9/2013



The UN has distanced itself from a statement by a UN investigator claiming that the rebels were responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria, stating that it “has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict.” White House officials also expressed doubtthat the rebels were capable of launching a chemical weapons attack. Last Thursday, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan stated, “[it’s] clear that the Assad regime is using [chemical weapons]”. The same day, however, British and US officials announced that they could no longer prove whether chemical weapons were used because samples and evidence have degraded over time. British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond announced that in order to determine whether or not chemical weapons were used they would need to collect evidence after another incident, and stated that the primary diplomatic effort was now focused on convincing Russia to end its support for the Assad administration.

Last Saturday, Israel confirmed that it had carried out an air strike against Syria targeting a shipment of advanced missiles en route to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. In response, President Assad said Tuesday that Israel is supporting terrorists and that Syria is “capable of facing Israel’s ventures,” but did not specify any retaliatory action. Prime Minister Erdogan condemned the airstrikes as “state terrorism” as well as a “violation of airspace” that is “completely against international law.”

Secretary of State John Kerry plans to announce that the US will supply an additional $100 million in humanitarian aid to address the Syrian crisis. The bulk of the money will go to Syria’s neighbors Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, with $16 million going to help those still inside Syria. On Wednesday, Russia and the UD pledged to convene an international conference aiming to end the civil war in Syria. Secretary Kerry stated that conference would be held “as soon as practical” and hopes for it to occur by the end of the month.

After a widespread outage that lasted 19 hours, internet access was restored in Syriayesterday. On Tuesday, the Syrian army captured a strategic town, Khirbet Ghazaleh, located in the southern Hauran Plain on the highway to Jordan after a two-month bombardment. The town fell after a Jordanian-backed military council failed to supply the rebel groups there with weaponry. Last Thursday, violence broke out on the northern border with Turkey, resulting in the death of a police officer and at least 10 other people. The violence erupted when a group of Syrians attempting to cross into Turkey opened fire on Turkish guards after Turkish authorities issued warnings to the group. There have been conflicting reports on the identity of the Syrians.


Communal violence erupted last week that left at least one dead, nine injured, two mosques destroyed, and 157 Muslim homes and businesses burnt to the ground. According to BBC, the violence began in the town of Oakkan when a Muslim girl on a bike bumped into a Buddhist monk. The girl is now reported to be held at one of Burma’s largest prisons, Insein Prison. The town of Oakkan is only 50 miles from Burma’s largest city, Yangon (Rangoon), making it the closest clash yet to the city. These clashes follow recent violence between Muslims and Buddhists in Meikhtila in central Burma last month that killed over 40 people and displaced at least 12,000.

On Monday, Myanmar President Thein Sein called for the protection of the rights of Muslims in a state television broadcast. He urged peaceful coexistence among people of different faiths and said his administration will work to deter illegal immigration and address citizenship-related issues. The Rohingya, a Muslim nationality in Burma’s west, have been denied citizenship by the Myanmar government for decades and are considered to be illegal migrants from Bangladesh, a country that also denies them citizenship. President Sein also said he would implement recommendations made by an all-Buddhist government commission appointed to investigate violence between the Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine late last year.

In other news, Ford announced it is planning to open its first showroom in Yangon later this year. The announcement comes just over a year after the US eased sanctions against Burma to encourage the country’s democratic reforms.


Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) approved a proposal on Tuesday aimed at amending its statute and extending the term of president Omer al-Bashir from four to five years.

Sudan’s National Assembly has decided to suspend its sessions next week in order to enable lawmakers to head to their constituencies and lead a mobilisation campaign in support of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) in its ongoing battle with rebel groups which have stepped up their military activities in recent months.

South Sudan

South Sudan Democratic Army (SSDA) rebels in South Sudan’s Jonglei state claimed on Monday that they had captured the strategic town of Boma in Pibor County from South Sudan’s military, the Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA). The spokesman of the SPLA, Philip Aguer, has denied that the rebels have captured any part of the town. However, a series of interviews on Tuesday with people in Jonglei’s capital Bor, who had established satellite phone contacts with their relatives in Boma, confirmed that Boma has fallen to the SSDA.

Tribal leader Kuol Adol of the Ngok Dinka in Abyei, died on Saturday when a convoy he was travelling in with the United Nations Interim Force for Abyei (UNISFA) was ambushed by armed members of the nomadic Arab Misseriya tribe on as they returned to Abyei town after a visit further north.

Kuol was part of a joint delegation from Juba and Khartoum that visited the area to hold talks on how the two sides could move forward with consultations to end the deadlock on the formation of a temporary administration in the strife-torn border zone.  A new chief was recently chosen to take Kuol’s place.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UNHCR has designated June 30 as the worldwide cessation of refugee status for Rwandese nationals who fled Rwanda between 1959 and 1998. The cessation clause requires refugees to choose between voluntary repatriation and residency in their host country. They can apply for a continuation of refugee status on an individual basis. The Congolese government opposes the cessation clause, reiterating the stance of Rwandan diaspora at the International Conference on Rwandan Refugees, which took place on April 19 and 20 in Brussels. “We cannot expect refugees to return home when the reasons they went into exile have not been addressed,” said Gervais Condo, former chief of staff of the Rwandan army who is living in exile in South Africa. Refugees remain concerned that the situation of freedom of expression and association in Rwanda has not changed, noting the arrest and trial of Victoire Ingabire, an opposition candidate in the 2010 presidential elections who has been sentenced to eight years in prison for “conspiracy against the country.”

Eight Congolese senators arrived in Rwanda on Monday for a visit to promote parliamentary diplomacy and regional peace. These senators with their Rwandan counterparts discussed the causes of armed conflicts in the region, steps already taken to address the problems, their effectiveness, and the role that can be played through parliamentary diplomacy in promoting peace and security in the Great Lakes and especially DRC.

Jean-Marie Runiga, former head of the M23, has said that M23 refugees in Rwanda have abandoned military activities, but will continue to work to address political issues in the DRC.

A recent investigation by London-based Global Witness revealed high-level military involvement in the region’s minerals trade. The key findings from the report are:

  • Congolese gold benefits rebels and high-ranking members of the Congolese and Burundian state armies. The gold is laundered through Burundi and exported to Dubai.
  • Neither local buyers in the Great Lakes nor international traders conduct adequate checks on purchased gold to ensure that it has not funded conflict in the DRC.
  • Efforts to establish conflict-free supply chains for tin and tantalum trade and progressing, with the first project launched in October 2012.
  • Much of the tin, tantalum, and tungsten produced in the Kivus benefit rebels and state army members. These minerals are smuggled into Rwanda and Burundi for export, are laundered through Rwanda, and exported as ‘clean’ Rwandan material.

Gilbert Makelele, founder of The Kivu Cooperative of Coffee Planters and Traders, is working to encourage young men to earn money through growing coffee, rather than joining militias. Challenges to those entering the industry include expensive land deeds, volatile prices, and a less reliable market for coffee than for food crops. Supporters argue that there is an increasing global demand for coffee, and that climate change may lead to the spread of disease in coffee plants, leading to higher prices in the future. While coffee may be one way to earn money without joining a militia, it is important that coffee growers also have financial security, which is unlikely to be provided for by the state, and that the region avoid a one-resource economy.

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