STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND Education Task Force.
This week’s update focuses on Aung San Suu Kyi’s refusal to allow an investigation into crimes committed against the Rohingya minority by Burma’s military and police forces, disagreements on chemical attacks carried out in Syria, and fears of revolt in South Sudan.
The United Nations has fought hard to investigate crimes committed against the Rohingya by Burma’s security forces, but State Counsellor and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has rejected the decision to investigate. Suu Kyi stated in a press conference that the country is happy to accept recommendations “in keeping with the real needs of the region.” However, she asserted that “those recommendations which will divide further the two communities in Rakhine we will not accept, because it will not help to resolve the problems that are arising all the time.”
Sri Lanka’s navy has detained at least 32 people believed to be Rohingya refugees fleeing Burma. The group included sixteen children and an infant just fifteen days old. As Aung San Suu Kyi continues to deny accusations of crimes committed against the minority ethnic group, more Rohingya refugees are attempting to find solace in other nations. The suspected refugees were handed over to Sri Lanka police for further questioning.
The current number of Rohingya refugees is estimated to be around 168,000 since 2012 and counting, many living in poverty in makeshift camps. Most of these refugees are fleeing from Rakhine state, where there is the largest concentration of Rohingya. The events of the last few months have accounted for the rise of more than half of the total number of refugees, as the estimate stood around 74,000 in February. While they may avoid government abuse, refugees are still vulnerable to lootings, arrests, and other forms of mistreatment in foreign countries.
Middle East and North Africa
On May 2, Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin engaged in their first phone conversation since the U.S. missile strike on Syria.
The U.S. strike took place on April 6 as a response to the government-perpetrated chemical attack that killed over 80 civilians. Since the Syrian government is backed by Moscow, the incident strained relations between the U.S. and Russia.
The conversation covered developing issues in Syria and North Korea. Both the White House and the Kremlin have released statements describing the conversation between the two leaders as productive. The White House statement asserts, “The conversation was a very good one, and included the discussion of safe, or de-escalation, zones to achieve lasting peace for humanitarian and many other reasons.” The Kremlin statement did not speak of safe zones.
The call took place the day before a round of ceasefire talks in Astana, Kazakhstan. After the conversation, President Trump agreed to send Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, Stuart Jones, as the representative to the talks, according to the State Department. This may be an indication that the U.S. and Russia are taking talks more seriously.
Furthermore, Presidents Trump and Putin discussed the possibility of having their first face-to-face meeting in Germany in July 2017.
Sudan and South Sudan
On May 5, the U.N. operating base in northern South Sudan was attacked by unknown assailants. The assault occurred in the town of Leer, which lies in an oil-producing region. The attack was repelled by Ghanaian peacekeepers. Although there were no reported injuries, the incident threatened the administration of humanitarian aid.
Paul Malong, the ousted South Sudanese army chief, returned to Juba, the capital, on May 13 after being fired by President Salva Kiir earlier in the week. There were concerns of his return causing an increase in violence or a potential revolt, but so far things have remained stagnant.
Québec native Renaud Philippe, who is in South Sudan on an assignment for the Humanitarian Coalition, has been working to expose the crisis in South Sudan to the public using powerful images through Radio Canada International. According to Philippe, South Sudanese refugees in northern parts of the country are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. The combination of civil war and a struggling economy, already under stress from climate change, has left more than 100,000 people facing starvation. The number is expected to rise to 5.5 million by mid-summer if no action is taken to resolve the food crisis. While traveling through a remote area in Unity State, Philippe used his photography to capture the struggles of thousands of internally displaced people fleeing the violence who have sought refuge on remote islands scattered in huge marshes along the White Nile.
On May 14, Reuters reported that Western diplomats boycotted the opening ceremony of a conference in Qatar attended by Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir. Though he is wanted by the International Criminal Court, al-Bashir has continued to travel abroad since the ICC charged him with genocide and crimes against humanity in 2008.
His appearance on a list of speakers at a humanitarian conference in Doha on Sunday prompted the U.S., Canadian, and Australian ambassadors to boycott the event. Spokespeople for the three embassies did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Three European diplomats who did attend the event walked out before al-Bashir spoke.
Emily Lyford is STAND’s Southeast Asia Coordinator, focusing mainly on Burma. She is a freshman at the University of New Hampshire where she majors in Neuroscience and Behavior.
Ana Delgado is STAND’s Middle East and North Africa Coordinator, focusing mainly on Syria. She is a junior at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in Political Science and Peace, War, and Defense.
Joanna Liang is STAND’s Sudan and South Sudan Coordinator. She is a Junior at the University of Delaware where she majors in History Education.