President Thein Sein said in an interview that the plight of the Rohingya is a media fabrication. He denied allegations of human rights violations being committed by government authorities against the stateless Rohingya people in western Burma. He also claimed that international organizations have been conspiring with media outlets to produce such stories.
In other news, Burma’s federal parliament requested a meeting to discuss constitutional reform last Tuesday. The high level talks would be attended by President Thein Sein, speakers Shwe Mann and Khin Aung Myint, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, and Arakanese lawmaker Aye Maung (who would represent Burma’s ethnic minorities). The goal of the meeting would be to alleviate the deadlock in amending the 2008 Constitution which grants a great deal of power to the military and has few checks and balances. However, not all proposed participants have agreed to attend the high level talks, as some believe that such a meeting should only be held after the 2020 elections.
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
On Friday, November 7, a Congolese military court convicted Jerome Kakwavu, a general in the Congolese army (FARDC) and former rebel fighter, of war crimes. The court sentenced Kakwavu to 10 years in jail. The court found Kakwavu guilty of multiple counts of rape, murder, and torture, and of failing to take necessary measures to prevent human rights abuses by soldiers under his command. The court’s finding makes Kakwavu the highest-ranking Congolese military official to face a war crimes conviction since the start of the First Congo War in 1996.
Reports of an M23 comeback continue to circulate amongst the group’s military and civilian leaders in Rwanda and Uganda. In November 2013, the UN and the Congolese military defeated the March 23 movement. The rebel group occupied the North Kivu provincial capital of Goma for nearly two years prior to the defeat. Dissatisfied with the Congolese government’s refusal to provide amnesty, the M23 reportedly plans to again mount attacks in eastern Congo. The group’s weak current capacity, however, raises doubts about the validity of these claims.
On November 11, Justin Banaloki, military leader of the rebel group Front de Resistance Patriotique d’Ituri (FRPI) and known as “Cobra Mtata,” surrendered to Congolese authorities. Despite the surrender of Banaloki and former FRPI leader Colonel Adirodhu, the whereabouts of other high-ranking FRPI leaders remain speculative. The FRPI militia is based in Ituri province and remains one of the longest-standing armed groups in eastern DRC.
On Monday, November 10, UN peacekeepers opened fire on Congolese civilians in the town of Mbau, shooting and killing one man. The troops opened fire following a dispute over motorcycles blocking the passage of UN vehicles. The next day, activists staged a protest against the actions of the troops. One protester was killed and two others injured during the demonstrations. The dispute follows a period of heightened tension between the UN force in the DRC (MONUSCO) and Congolese civil society, largely resulting from MONUSCO’s inability to stop attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group.
Sudan ** trigger warning: sexual violence **
This week in Sudan, President Al Bashir condemned the UN mission in Darfur as a security burden to Sudan. Despite the continually declining situation in Darfur with the recent report of mass sexual assaults in the region, Bashir has called the UN mission in Darfur, UNAMID, a security burden to Sudan’s own army. Bashir also stated that UNAMID has been falsifying facts, accusing them of being a biased source for information on Darfur. Bashir also formally asked UNAMID to shut down its human rights offices in the capital, Khartoum.
In a press conference on 30 November, Bashir stated that Sudan is seeking foreign investors for its extractive industries sector, particularly in natural gas. He said that Sudan is interested both in developing natural gas extraction in Sudan and importing gas from other countries. Some analysts speculate that Bashir is hoping that Qatar will invest heavily in this new venture, as the two countries have had increasingly friendly relations.
Additionally, Sudan’s Agricultural Minister, Ibrahim Mahmoud, stated that Sudan is in need of a massive agricultural revolution. He stated that the country needs to start taking drastic measures to change the way their agricultural system works if they are going to be able to feed their population. This would have to include the implementation of modern technology and modern farming methods. The statement came during a World Bank mission on agricultural investment in Sudan.
A recent UN report showed that the number of South Sudanese refugees continues to increase. As the amount of refugees continues to increase, so too does the need for more aid and funding from the international community. Ethiopia, where most of the refugees are now being relocated, is struggling to provide for the South Sudanese refugees on top of its preexisting Eritrean and Somalian refugee populations. The UN warns that without a solid political solution, the number of refugees could rise to 350,000 by the first quarter of 2015. This means that more and more refugees will have to seek shelter across the border in Ethiopia, further straining Ethiopian resources.
Additionally, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) has begun registering South Sudanese families in Khartoum for relocation. The families are waiting to be relocated to refugee camps in Ethiopia. Meanwhile, funding shortages at the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) mean that the refugee camps in nearby Kenya will be receiving 50% less food from the WFP, with similar cuts possible in Uganda in coming months.
Finally, South Sudanese peace activists have called for a national reconciliation process to ensure that any political solution to the civil war is accompanied by lasting social peace between and within communities. While peace-builders agree that the first step priority is to end the fighting, they have emphasized the need to work towards resolving long-standing issues in South Sudan such as lack of accountability for past grievances.
More than 1.7 Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt are facing malnourishment and hunger as the winter sets in. This comes after a funding crisis forced the UN World Food Programme to suspend food vouchers for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. The World Food Programme has previously provided food for millions of Syrians both inside and outside of the country. The voucher programme allows refugees to buy food from local shops, and has injected around $800 million into the economies of the host countries. However, as reported by The Guardian, the WFP has been forced to halt the scheme after falling short of the $64 million needed to support Syrian refugees in December. Funding crises have already forced the UN to reduce funding of rations within Syria, where it provides for up to 4.25 million people. According to the UN, the WFP requires $412.6 million to support almost 3 million Syrian refugees based in neighbouring countries. Syrian refugees are poorly equipped for winter, lacking warm clothing, shelter, and adequate sanitation. António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, said in a statement: “[The food aid cuts] couldn’t come at a worse time.”
The UN has documented the appearance of a flesh eating maggot disease called Myiases near Damascus. The cases have been documented in Douma, a rebel held suburb that has been under government siege for more than a year, and whose residents have been subjected to terrible sanitation, and scarce food and medical supplies. The disease itself is indicative of the poor sanitary conditions within Syria, as well as threats to the water supply and what WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier calls the poor “socioeconomic circumstances in besieged and hard-to-reach areas. “
ISIS militants have launched an attack on Kobane from Turkey for the first time. The group has been laying siege to the Kurdish town on Syria’s border with Turkey for months, though this is the first instance of attack from Turkey itself. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the attack began with a suicide attack by a bomber in an armoured vehicle on the border crossing between Kobane. Turkey has thus far supported Syrian rebels in the fight against the Assad government, and has also limited assistance to Kurdish fighters confronting ISIS, for fear of – as The Guardian calls it – “stoking ambitions for a Kurdish state.”
Both the US-led coalition and the Syrian regime have been intensely bombing Raqqa, the de facto capital of the self-proclaimed Caliphate of the Islamic State. The regime killed almost 100 people last week in airstrikes on Raqqa. On Sunday alone, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented 19 deaths. This includes seven women and children, when Syrian government warplanes hit the town of Jassim in the southern province of Deraa.
Emerging Conflicts: Afghanistan
Taliban attacks continue to wrack Afghanistan. Three compounds used by foreign workers have been attacked in the last two weeks in Kabul, despite the capital having the largest presence of security forces in the country. Although there are not exact figures, dozens of Afghans were killed in the recent attacks in Kabul. Three South Africans, two British embassy workers, and two American soldiers were also killed. The Kabul police chief unexpectedly resigned after the attacks.
Afghan soldiers and the Taliban also fought over the major military base Camp Bastion in Helmand Province. At least five Afghan soldiers and 26 insurgents were killed. Another 14 soldiers died in an attack on a smaller outpost.
The Taliban’s increase in attacks is believed to be in response to President Ashraf Ghani’s support for continued foreign military presence in the country. Although foreign forces are being phased out, more American troops are staying in the country than was originally expected. However, Afghan forces have suffered from poor equipment and organization in the face of increased Taliban attacks. Over 4,600 Afghan forces have been killed this year. Over 1,500 civilians were killed in the first six months of 2014, and it is currently on track to be the deadliest year of the war. There was further discouraging news for Afghanistan this week as its currency fell to its lowest point for 13 years and Oxfam issued a report finding that women have been excluded from peace negotiations with the Taliban.