Last week, a United Nations official claimed that Burma is showing signs that it is reversing its much-praised democratic reforms at an accelerating rate. In a report submitted to the United Nations Human Rights council last month, Yanghee Lee, the special rapporteur on Myanmar, cited “a growing atmosphere of fear, distrust and hostility,” and urged the government to “reverse the current slide towards extreme nationalism, religious hatred and conflict.”
In addition, three people (two from Burma and one from New Zealand) have been sentenced to two years in prison for posting an image on Facebook of the Buddha wearing headphones to promote an event. Court officials claimed the image violated the country’s religion act, which prohibits insulting, damaging, or destroying religion.
Looking ahead, Burma is set to hold additional peace talks next week between the Burmese government and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, or NCCT. However, many are skeptical about the upcoming talks as sporadic fighting between the Burmese Army and Kachin Independence Army and a variety of smaller ethnic rebel militias has occurred over the past few weeks.
On 15 March, the Congolese government arrested nearly 30 activists in the capital Kinshasa. Two days later, on 17 March, authorities arrested at least ten peaceful protesters in Goma, North Kivu, as the demonstrators called for the release of the Kinshasa 30. The arrests on 15 and 17 March also included a U.S. diplomat, Belgian journalists, and youth leaders from Senegal and Burkina Faso. The 15 March demonstrations followed a press conference by the pro-democracy youth movement Filimbi. The U.S. embassy provided support for the conference, intended to promote civic engagement among youth. Congolese information Minister Lambert Mende claims that the activists from Senegal and Burkina Faso were arrested for “promoting violence.” On 19 March, authorities released seven musicians arrested during the pro-democracy demonstration, and Mende claims that others will be released “very soon.”
In early March, a coalition of opposition activists visited Washington, D.C. to voice concerns regarding their perceptions of Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to cede power in 2016. The visiting delegation also explained that the Congolese electoral commission’s (CENI’s) 1.5 billion USD budget stands to impose unnecessary delays on the electoral process. Tensions between opposition parties and Kabila’s ruling coalition remain high: on 5 March, the leaders of seven parties sent a letter to the President stating that January’s #Telema protests signaled a break between the ruling majority and the will of the Congolese people.
Despite a withdrawal of United Nations support, the Congolese military (FARDC) continues to gain ground against FDLR rebels in eastern Congo. In late January, the FARDC launched an offensive against the rebels, rumored to number around 1,400 in DRC’s eastern provinces. The UN withdrew support from the operation in response to the government’s appointment of two generals accused of human rights violations as commanders of the offensive. On 9 March, FARDC captured a key rebel base in Virunga national park, killing 62 FDLR militants and injuring over 100. The mandate for the UN peacekeeping force in eastern Congo, MONUSCO, expires at the end of this month.
Both Syrian rebel groups and the Assad regime have accused each other of employing chemical weapons in attacks. The United Nations Security Council has accepted a United States draft resolution calling for stronger reinforcement against the use of chemical weapons in Syria, referring to a series of chlorine gas attacks carried out from April to August of 2013. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has yet to identify the party responsible for these chlorine attacks, President Assad denies the regime’s use of chemical weapons. However, in a recent statement, U.S. Permanent Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, strongly suggested that the Assad regime is behind the chemical attacks.
The commander of Syria’s Nusra Front rebel group, Abu Hammam al-Shami, was killed in an air strike, raising questions about the future of the group’s leadership. While the Syrian military claims responsibility for the attack, early reports pointed to a US-led coalition as responsible for the strike.
In northeast Syria, the U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG militia and Islamic State engaged in combat after ISIS fighters attacked the Kurds using tanks and other artillery. In response, the U.S. led coalition successfully carried out air strikes at night against ISIS bases near the Turkish border. The number of casualties on either side of the fighting has yet to be confirmed.
As the conflict in Syria marked its fourth year since the start of the civil war, the United States Department of State announced it would contribute $70 million to supporting and training opposition forces to the Syrian regime, totaling its contributions at about $400 million since the start of the revolution.
Emerging Conflicts: Burundi
Controversy over this June’s presidential elections has raised fears of violence in Burundi. The opposition believes that since the Constitution only allows presidents to serve two terms, and as President Pierre Nkurunziza has served two terms, he cannot run again. While Nkurunziza has not officially declared he will run again, he says that the two terms specified in the Constitution only count terms when the President was elected. As he was appointed by Parliament for his first term, he believes that he is eligible to run again.
The opposition party, the Forces for National Liberation (FNL), has expressed their clear opposition to a third term Nkurunziza. The Roman Catholic Church, the religion practiced by two-thirds of people in Burundi, has also stated that the Constitution forbids Nkurunziza to run again. Tanzania, a key peace mediator in Burundi, has warned of violence if Nkurunziza attempts to gain a third term. During a visit to the country, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power called Nkurunziza’s actions “extremely divisive” and “very destabilizing.” However, many analysts believe that the opposition could win the election even if Nkurunziza runs, and the FNL has confirmed that they will not boycott the elections as they did in 2010. There have also been splits in the ruling CNDD-FDD party. Nkurunziza’s intelligence chief and two deputies wrote to him asking him not to run again, and he responded by firing them. There is no clear successor to Nkurunziza within the CNDD-FDD.
Small cases of violence have already begun. The wife of FNL leader Augustin Rwasa was shot and wounded on 16 March. Rwasa claimed that it was an assassination attempt organized by Nkurunziza. Some fear that Nkurunziza has been arming and training the youth wing of his party, the Imbonerakure, in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.