The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Weekly News Brief: 2/10/2017

STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND Education Task Force.

This week’s update focuses on some promising news of decreasing violence and optimism for the economy of the Central African Republic; a peace deal brokered by the Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that President Kabila has yet to sign; and continuing violence and unrest in Burundi with the recent assassination of a government official. Meanwhile, young leaders are calling for peace in South Sudan. Violence, as well as little access to food or healthcare continues to plague both Syria and Yemen. Bangladesh is looking at a possible mass relocation of Rohingya refugees from Burma, making many human rights organizations nervous.

In the United States, President Trump signed an executive order placing a block on immigration from Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and four other predominantly Muslim countries. The order also included a temporary ban on all refugees entering the United States, and an indefinite ban on all refugees from Syria. Trump has previously mentioned instituting “safe zones” in Syria, but many are unsure whether he will follow through, or what enforcement mechanisms would look like.

Central and West Africa

Central African Republic (CAR)

Although violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) has been fairly minimal in recent weeks, two Moroccan peacekeepers from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission were killed on January 4 while escorting fuel trucks near Obo. The emergence of the “Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation” armed group, or 3R, which has led to the displacement of nearly thirty thousand people in the Ouham Pende region, also continues to threaten the safety and security of the country. Yet stabilization may become easier in the upcoming months. After spending fourteen weeks in the European Union Training Mission course, one hundred and seventy troops successfully completed a simulation of a hostage situation and demonstrated a number of other skills for top military officials in Bangui. Although this is a small number of soldiers, it represents the first step towards a national army that has not existed in the country since rebels took over in 2013. Steady progress towards building the national army is essential to finally ending the fighting in the country.

There is also a great deal of optimism with regards to the economy of CAR. The parliament recently approved a forty-five percent budget increase for the upcoming year with the expectation that development will increase as peace is restored. Although violence has wracked the country for much of this past year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) claimed in a September report that economic activity actually increased, particularly in the coffee, cotton, and forestry sectors. They also reported, however, that revenues remain quite fragile as CAR is the “least efficient country at completing audits with a processing time of more than sixty-six days.”

Although the country has made a great deal of progress in the last year, the international community must not turn its attention away. A lack of funding may force the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) to stop aiding 150,000 displaced people. WFP has already fallen well short of its goal of supporting one million people, and has cut rations significantly for thousands.

Thousands of displaced individuals are returning home to their homes in Bangui as part of a program implemented by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) at the beginning of this year. UNHCR is working to construct homes and infrastructure, but is also trying to assist people with reintegration, a particularly important objective if the country is to regain peace and cohesion. On January 31, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien approved an allocation from the Central Emergency Response Fund of nearly $6 million to ameliorate food crises in the territory of Kaga Bandoro, Bambari, and Bria, which will give food access to 36,800 people.

Outside of these developments, however, much of the recent news in CAR has been negative. The government still does not effectively control territory outside of the capital of Bangui. Motivated more by the desire to extract wealth from natural resources in CAR than by a desire to advance a particular political agenda, armed groups have little incentive to lay down their weapons. A humanitarian official at the UN has appealed for calm as tensions are rising in Bambari, a town in the Ouaka prefecture. Violence here would threaten tens of thousands of civilians, some of whom are already displaced from their homes. Citing the continued presence and armament of militias in the country, the UN Security Council opted to continue its arm embargo as well as its travel ban and asset freeze on blacklisted individuals.

There have been two recent cases of human rights abuses in CAR as well. In France, a court recently sentenced a priest for five years in prison for his role in sexually abusing two young boys in CAR. Unfortunately, the priest’s crime is not unusual in CAR. On January 26, Ugandan peacemakers were accused of sexually assaulting young women and children in CAR. The UN is currently investigating this case.  

Great Lakes Region of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The first step towards democratic governance was made in the Democratic Republic of the Congo when a new agreement mediated by the Catholic Church was created on New Year’s Eve. The deal calls for presidential, legislative, and provincial elections to be held in 2017, although it does not provide a clear timeline for when these should occur. Under the terms of the new agreement current President Joseph Kabila would be prevented from seeking a third term, however Kabila himself has not yet signed onto the agreement.

The deal aims to have a new transitional government in place by March 2017. A key feature of the government to be created is a new prime minister selected by the Rassemblement opposition coalition. Although the transitional government would be more inclusive of the opposition parties, there are doubts about Kabila’s desire to step down. However, as of February 10th, Kabila has yet to agree to the deal. It is unlikely that a transitional government will be in place by the desired date.

On December 20, 2016 at least 26 demonstrators were killed in protests against President Kabila’s continued hold on power past the end of his term on December 19. The military and police forces cracked down on protesters in Kinshasa, firing live rounds and using gas to disperse the people gathered. The violence stalled mediation discussions briefly, however they resumed on Wednesday, December 21.

On December 24 in the North Kivu province, more than 22 civilians were killed. Congolese officials blamed the attacks on the Allied Democratic Forces, an armed group in the Eastern DRC that is made up predominantly of Ugandan rebels. However, there are reports that members of the Congolese military participated in the killings as well.

Burundi

The ongoing unrest and violence in Burundi culminated in the assassination of a government official on New Year’s Eve. The environment minister Emmanuel Niyonkuru was killed in Bujumbura by “a criminal with a gun,” according to a police spokesman. Burundi had remained relatively calm in recent months, but since President Nkurunziza announced his decision to run for a third term, the country has been spiraling down a more violent, dangerous path.

Human Rights Watch released their World Report 2017, breaking down the important events of 2016 in Burundi. The report focused on a variety of issues: killings by security sources and ruling party youth, torture and disappearances, rape and other abuses by ruling party youth, mass arrests, abuses by armed opposition groups, civil society and media, and key international actors.

In 2016, Burundi officially withdrew from the International Criminal Court, making it more difficult for international actors and organizations to influence the country. Burundi became the first of a few African countries to withdraw, giving civilians in Burundi even less hope that the international community will come to their aid.

Middle East and North Africa

South Sudan

On January 16, The Washington Post acknowledged that numerous human rights abuses have occurred in South Sudan. According to a UN human rights investigation, the South Sudanese government violated international law during a conflict in July that killed hundreds of people. An investigation found that the South Sudanese military operated house-to-house searches and used language tests to identify civilians from different tribes, executing them on the spot.

The UN report also detailed that government soldiers targeted civilians sheltered within a UN displacement camp, listing one case in which soldiers executed two men trying to reach safety and another where 28 women, including 12 young girls, were raped by soldiers near the camps.

From the time fighting broke out in July, the UN recorded 217 victims of sexual violence by government soldiers, police officers, or national security members. The investigation reveals that “women and girls were ordered to cook for the soldiers at checkpoints when their friends or family members were raped.”

Syria

The presidential inauguration of Donald Trump on January 20 marked a pivotal point in US relations with Syria.

On January 25, President Trump unveiled a massive immigration policy plan. The main features of the new administration’s immigration policy include the building of a wall along the Mexican border, a program conducting the mass deportation of illegal immigrants, and “additional actions to cut back on legal immigration, including barring Syrian refugees from entering the United States.”

National Public Radio’s  copy of the executive order describes how it works to “indefinitely block Syrian refugees from entering the United States and bar all refugees from the rest of the world for at least 120 days.” The action also bans immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East as the government strengthens its screening process. On February 4, a federal judge in Seattle issued a ruling that placed a temporary hold on the executive order.  The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will soon issue a definitive ruling on the legality of the action.  

Yemen

In a preview of human rights issues over the course of 2016, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing rampant rights abuses and violations of the rules of war in Yemen. They have criticized the rebels as well as the Saudi-led coalition and its allies in Yemen for indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian facilities. The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of using cluster munitions that have been banned by international law, and it has also targeted facilities where civilians gather such as mosques, schools, and markets. The use of airstrikes has resulted in the deaths of over four thousand civilians and injuries of over six thousand, according to Human Rights Watch. The Houthis and their allies have also targeted civilians through the use of artillery, rockets, and anti-personnel landmines. Terrorist organizations like ISIS and AQAP, through bombings and horrific attacks, have also indiscriminately targeted civilians. Yemen remains a hotspot for terrorism and violence. The UN has declared that the death toll in Yemen has passed 10,000, though local organizations claim higher numbers, underscoring the enormous human costs of the civil war.

Fighting remains intense, as more than two million Yemenis are internally displaced, many lacking access to health facilities, shelter, food, or basic medical assistance. The humanitarian situation remains extremely precarious, and the UN Special Envoy to Yemen plans to meet President Hadi to discuss access to aid for Yemeni civilians as well as to call for a comprehensive ceasefire and truce to lay down the groundwork for conflict resolution in Yemen.

The new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for the UN to reform its role to serve as a mediator for global conflicts, notably in Yemen. This role is sorely needed, considering that promising ceasefires brokered by the UN and US have since fallen apart. President Hadi has also stated that his government will not agree to a peace deal without a full withdrawal of Houthi forces and their allies from major cities in Yemen, which could pose a considerable roadblock to future talks.

Southeast Asia

Burma

Rohingya activists are actively pushing for the Myanmar government to investigate the country’s security forces due to the systematic slaughter of hundreds of Rohingya . UN investigators have received several reports of this abuse from the Myanmar army. Such accusations have been repeatedly rejected by Myanmar’s government, though leader Aung San Suu Kyi has recently agreed to launch an investigation as more information is provided.

Bangladesh, where many refugees have fled, has issued a government order that calls for the relocation of tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees to the island of Thengar Char, which has been deemed uninhabitable by Bangladeshi officials.  The island floods during high tide and the rainy season, and is impossible to build a home upon. Human rights activists have deemed the move a “humanitarian disaster.” Several Rohingya refugees have stated that they would rather move back to Burma and risk abuse or death than be relocated to an inhospitable island vulnerable to cyclones and severe flooding.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister Shahriar Alam stated that the Rohingya will be relocated once the Bangladesh army has worked to make the island habitable with access to humanitarian services for the refugees. Human rights activists such as Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, are strongly urging the UN and government donors to reject this order, which will put tens of thousands of Rohingya refugee lives at risk.

Justin Cole is STAND’s Central and West Africa Coordinator. He is a Junior at UNC Chapel Hill where he majors in Economics and Peace, War, and Defense.

Elizabeth Westbrook is STAND’s Great Lakes of Africa Coordinator. She is a Junior at UNC Chapel Hill where she is a Political Science major.

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.

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.

Jason Qu is STAND’s Emerging Conflicts Coordinator, focusing today on Yemen. He is a Senior at Bronx High School of Science.

Emily Lyford is STAND’s Southeast Asia Coordinator. She is a freshman at the University of New Hampshire where she majors in Neuroscience and Behavior.

Weekly News Brief: 1/12/2017


STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND Education Task Force.

This week’s update focuses on Yemen, Syria, and Burma. Though violence and atrocious living conditions continue in Yemen, a positive development comes as the Arab Coalition in Yemen has confirmed they will cease their use of British cluster bombs. Another ceasefire agreement was reached in Syria, this time excluding ISIS and their affiliates.

 

 

Middle East and North Africa

Syria

After the latest examples of despair in Syria, the Syrian government and rebel groups in the country have finally agreed to a ceasefire. On December 29, Vladimir Putin and the Turkish government confirmed the settlement. Russian state media stated, “the two sides had also agreed to enter peace talks to end the conflict that has raged for nearly six years.” Russia and Turkey will act as guarantors of the deal.

It is crucial to note the absence of jihadist groups in this deal. The Syrian army has stated that IS groups and their affiliates are not protected by the ceasefire. However, the deal includes the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham group, formerly known as al-Nusra Front, and until mid-2016 al-Qaeda’s Syria branch.

While this is the third nationwide ceasefire in Syria this year, STAND hopes it will last. The Syrian conflict has taken hundreds of thousands of lives and casualties will only grow if this resolve is not kept.

Southeast Asia

Burma

Systemic discrimination against the Rohingya people continues, with Bangladesh reporting that more than fifty thousand Rohingya have fled there since November. On January 3, a video was released of four armed police officers beating unarmed Rohingya men. The grotesque video went viral, causing outraged activists to call for action. In response, the office of Burma’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, announced that the four officers would be punished.

One of the countries criticizing Burma’s actions is Malaysia, where Prime Minister Najib Razak has criticized ill treatment of the Rohingya. He also led a rally in December protesting the ongoing discrimination. Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, a senior counter-terrorism official in Malaysia, warned that continuing to persecute the Rohingya could make Burma a target for ISIS. His statement was released after the Malaysian government detained a man planning to fight the Myanmar government on behalf of the Rohingya. The unidentified man is suspected to have ties to ISIS.

The Myanmar government continues to depict incidents of violence against the Rohingya as isolated instances, rather than acknowledging their large scale nature. On January 4, the Myanmar government published a report claiming that there was no evidence of genocide or mass rape carried out against the Rohingya.

Emerging Conflicts

Yemen

The humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen continues to rage as the bitter conflict in a seemingly more unstable Middle East appears to have no end in sight. Over 3 million Yemenis have been displaced from their homes, and medical infrastructure, some hundreds of facilities, have been destroyed in constant fighting and bombardment, both from rebels and the Saudi-led coalition and its allies. Groups like Doctors Without Borders have faced growing pressures as a result of the conflict, and many aid organizations have simply pulled out of the region due to the massive security risk, and oftentimes the total disregard for the special protections given to humanitarian workers and civilian facilities under international law. This means that millions lack access to health facilities for basic needs, let alone war-related injuries, and understaffed and undersupplied hospitals are forced to take on more and more patients. The most vulnerable populations appear to be the elderly, pregnant women, and children. Malnourishment, notably in rural areas, has become another major issue, as over half a million children in Yemen face this condition, according to UNICEF. This has contributed significantly to civilian suffering as deaths from the conflict are expected to climb to well over 10,000 by the end of the year, with countless more injuries reported. Many of these casualties are a result of indiscriminate attacks from both rebel forces, through artillery and mortars, and the Saudi-led coalition, mainly through airstrikes.

However, in a positive development, the Arab Coalition in Yemen has confirmed they will no longer use British cluster bombs, which have an especially devastating impact on civilian casualties and infrastructure. Nonetheless, the international community appears to be at a loss regarding a possible long-term solution for Yemen, as previous ceasefires and proposals for talks or a unity government have fallen apart.

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.

Amala Karri is STAND’s Policy Intern and attends Hunter College High School in New York. She contributed STAND’s Burma Update for this week’s Education News Brief.

Jason Qu is STAND’s Emerging Conflicts Coordinator, focusing today on Yemen and Pakistan. He is a Senior at Bronx High School of Science.

Weekly News Brief: 1/2/2017

STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND Education Task Force.

This week’s news brief focuses on President Kabila’s struggle for power in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the threat of  terrorist attacks in Burundi, and a renewal of violence in the Central African Republic despite recent pledges of aid. Though Boko Haram has continued to wreak havoc in Nigeria, the Nigerian army has had some recent successes against the terrorist group.

 

 

Great Lakes Region of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Concerns over increasing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo mounted as December 19 approached without any likelihood of a peaceful transition of power. Over the past months, violence has periodically erupted  in direct response to the continuation of President Joseph Kabila’s term, as well as by militant groups, particularly in the east, who benefit from a lack of law enforcement. President Kabila remains in office due to the ruling of the constitutional court, which claims that he has the right to remain in office until a new president can be elected democratically. In the leadup to the 19th, the government police force declared all protest illegal.

LUCHA, a youth-led rights group in the DRC, maintains, along with many members of opposition parties, that the end of Kabila’s term was December 19,  2016. Multiple activists in the group, which organized peaceful protests as the date approached, have been detained unjustly. The detentions, along with the violent response to peaceful protests by the Congolese government, led to an increase in violent altercations between protesters and security forces.

Opposition members claimed that they intended to protest until Kabila was forced to step down. The opposition held protests on September 19 as a warning, and were met with overly aggressive and violent police action resulting in at least 50 deaths. Within two days of Kabila’s decision not to step down, demonstrations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo led to the deaths of over 20 people. Protesters in the capital Kinshasa set fire to the headquarters of the ruling party. Police responded to protesters with tear gas and by opening fire on multiple demonstrations. Meanwhile, members of the police force went door to door arresting known opposition members in cities considered to be strongholds. Congolese diaspora also participated in demonstrations in both Belgium and South Africa.

Access to phone lines and the internet was restricted before the election, making it more difficult for opposition groups to communicate and for the community to receive outside information. The main target was social media, which is especially important to young members of the opposition. Youth in Congo make up a significant portion of opposition movements as they pursue a more positive future.

International pressure is increasing from all directions on Kabila to step down and to respect the rights of his citizens. Calls for Kabila to respect human rights came from the United Nations, the European Union, Britain, France and the United States. Lawmakers in the United States also pushed Kabila to step down, however he has clearly chosen to remain.

Over the weekend of December 4, 31 people were killed in an altercation  between an insurgent group and government forces. The violence occurred in the Kasai province and has claimed to have been “sparked by a row between an uncle and a nephew over the title of a traditional chief.” The “row” resulted in the deaths of eighteen militiamen and thirteen members of the force sent to end the violence.

On November 27, an attack by a militia group killed 34 people in the North Kivu province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Mai-Mai Mazembe militia group who perpetrated the attack are one of many established by warlords in eastern DRC. In addition to this violence, there have been disputed reports of the Twa ethnic group attacking a freight train resulting in one death and seventeen injuries. The actions of various militia and ethnic groups have become more transparent as forces anticipate a transition into a more lawlessness.

Human Rights Watch Senior Researcher Ida Sawyer testified at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission to draw attention to the violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and call on the US government to continue to apply sanctions and pressure for a transition of power. She suggested the possibility for the government to combine forces with various militias to maintain control over the country, which may lead to mixed results.

Burundi

Burundi faces the threat of potential terror attacks on Western and local targets while dialogue attempting to find a solution to conflict remains stagnant.

In Burundi, police have been informed of threats from regional terror groups to the Bujumbura International Airport and the Kajaga neighborhood. The police force claims that it has received similar threats in the past beginning in 2007 with their support of peacekeeping missions in Somalia. The US embassy has issued a warning to all travelers to take extra precautions when traveling by air or in the Kajaga neighborhood.

Other residents of Burundi face terror as they discover crosses painted on their homes in the middle of the night. Local governments claim that “no political, ethnic or religious group in particular was targeted” and that the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, was not responsible because they were included in the targeted houses. However, residents of the town are skeptical and believe that the Imbonerakure is at fault and is targeting those in opposition to the ruling party.

On December 8, dialogue facilitator former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa arrived in Bujumbura for a series of meetings. There is uncertainty over who will participate in the dialogue, as members of various opposition parties have previously fled Burundi to other East African countries, and CNARED-GIRITEKA, the main opposition coalition group, has said that they no longer consider Mkapa as a legitimate facilitator of dialogue. This move came after Mkapa publicly recognized Nkurunziza and his government as the legitimate leaders of Burundi, saying that those who believe otherwise are “out of their mind.” Mkapa is basing his meetings off of a roadmap developed to engage Burundian politicians and parties and to encourage stabilization of the country, and has said he would like an agreement signed by June. Mkapa has met with political parties, religious groups, and other members of Burundian society. However, the current government claims it will not be speaking with opposition parties. The dialogue has received expressions of support from France, who has been a crucial aid provider in recent years.

In Gitega, attempts at a grassroots solution to peace are arising. Open discussions invite anyone able to participate to come and express their concerns. Some negotiators see this method as a potential way to include local people in high-level mediation talks, which have thus far only included elites and political opposition members.

The progress of human rights in Burundi is still deeply debated as the President of the National Independent Human Rights Commission claims improvements have been made this year in comparison to 2015. However, on December 18, more than 500 families were forcibly removed from their homes in the Kagaragara locality of Buringa Commune by the government. This is a new and unprecedented level of invasion into personal life. The governor of the area claims that families were moved into a more stable area because criminals in the Western region are destabilizing it. Individuals who were removed no longer have access to important documents and personal items that were stored in their homes. They also no longer have access to money and their crops, which will lead to an even greater increase in hunger in this region of Burundi.

Central and West Africa

Central African Republic (CAR)

On November 18, European donors at the Brussels Conference pledged approximately $2.2 billion of aid to the Central African Republic (CAR) after President Faustin-Archange Touadéra described his strategies for bringing long-term peace to his country. Although this amount is short of the $3 billion requested by the government in its recovery plan, Federica Mogherini, the foreign affairs chief of the European Union, stated his hope that the financial assistance would move the CAR towards “sustainable growth, deep reforms, and national reconciliation.” Such progress is needed quickly given the severe humanitarian crisis in the country. Data from the United Nations demonstrates that twenty percent of children will die prior to turning five years old and half of those remaining will experience chronic malnutrition. Clearly, any help from the international community cannot arrive quickly enough.

Unfortunately, there was an abrupt renewal of violence shortly after the announcement of this news. On November 21, fighting between the Popular Front for the Renaissance of the Central African Republic (FPRC) and the Union for Peace in Central Africa (UPC) that began in Bria spread to Bambari. At least eighty-five people were killed, dozens more were wounded, and over ten thousand people have been forced to flee their homes from clashes between these groups. What is perhaps most troubling about this incident is that the FPRC allegedly targeted ethnic Fulani citizens, killing them in their homes and making it impossible for survivors to access hospitals. Adama Dieng, the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, warned that continuing to commit such crimes could make the perpetrators subject to the jurisdiction of international courts. In response, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSCA) sent more troops to the territory surrounding Bria.

In the midst of these atrocities, the UN recently finished investigating the stories of dozens of women and children who allege they were subjected to sexual assault by peacekeepers in CAR. Because the crimes allegedly took place long before the beginning of the investigation in April, interviews conducted with nearly one hundred and fifty women and children were the main focus of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). Although some evidence was dismissed as unreliable, the OIOS ultimately released the names of forty-one peacekeepers who may have committed such crimes, sixteen of whom were from Gabon and twenty-five of whom were from Burundi. The OIOS has requested that these governments process these individuals in their respective judicial systems, noting that “responsibility for further investigations lies with Burundi and Gabon.” Even though the United Nations condemned these crimes, it will likely be far more difficult now to build trust between peacekeepers and the local population in CAR, which will be crucial for the cycle of violence to end and for the country to move forward.

On December 14, the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reported an “alarming increase” in atrocities in the Central African Republic (CAR) over the last few months. Specifically, 1,301 human rights abuses have been confirmed, which represents a seventy percent increase when compared to the time between September 2014 and May 2015. MINUSCA noted that the abuses “were primarily arbitrary executions, cruel treatment, sexual violence, deprivations of liberty, destruction of private property, and restrictions on freedom of movement.” Séléka and anti-Balaka militia groups continue to exert a great deal of authority in the CAR as the government struggles to contain them.

Human Rights Watch released a report on December 20 detailing the rise of a new armed group in the Central African Republic (CAR) known as “Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation,” or 3R. The group emerged in the northwest, which has largely been neglected by the fragile CAR government as well as the international community, and continues to claim that it is attempting to protect the minority Peuhl from anti-Balaka fighters. Human Rights Watch has confirmed that 3R has slaughtered civilians, raped women, and destroyed countless villages as MINUSCA has been unable to curtail the violence.

Much of the ongoing violence in CAR can be tied to impunity. Although those who commit crimes in CAR can be prosecuted by both the International Criminal Court and the Special Criminal Court, a court consisting of both national and international judges to investigate human rights abuses since 2003, there has not been enough international support for these bodies to operate effectively.  Worse, it has been incredibly difficult to negotiate with the warlords who lead armed groups because they have too much to lose. Not only would they lose access to the natural resources in their pockets of territory, but they would potentially be subject to punishment for their role in human rights abuses. It is yet to be seen whether the $2.2 billion of aid recently pledged at the Brussels Conference will be enough to end the violence. It may be time for the UN to send a stronger peacekeeping force to the country and to broaden its mandate.

Nigeria

At the third annual Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa that took place on December 6 in Senegal, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari argued that the complete defeat of Boko Haram was imminent. Unfortunately, recent events suggest that this is likely too optimistic. Although the terrorist organization has lost the vast majority of the territory that it once controlled, it remains a deadly force. Yaga Yarkawa, the chair of the Chibok government area, recently stated that “Chibok is not safe, contrary to claims by government and security operatives,” citing attacks against over half a dozen villages by Boko Haram. The terrorist organization has also continued inflicting damage against the military in Nigeria. On November 23, a lieutenant general in the army was pronounced dead and just one day later, two soldiers were killed in Askira Uba in Borno state. On December 12, yet another officer in the Nigerian army was killed, Lieutenant Colonel O. Umusu. Unsurprisingly, Nigeria is ranked third this year with regards to the number of terrorist attacks within its territory and William Assanvo, an expert on militants in Nigeria, recently said that “there is little to indicate the group is nearing its end or even that it is severely weakened.” Concentrated efforts by the Nigerian military must continue if the country is to be successful in defeating the group.

The Nigerian army has had a few recent successes. In a campaign against Boko Haram in the Sambisa Forest, nearly two thousand women and children were reportedly rescued and over five hundred Boko Haram terrorists were captured. On December 20, Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, was allegedly captured in the area around the Gafa Mountain. However, there is some question as to whether the man seized was actually Shekau.

There is one important bright spot with regards to those living in the Borno State. On December 16, crude oil was discovered in this territory, which could potentially help its economy recover after being ravaged by Boko Haram for years. Unfortunately, it will likely be difficult to obtain the oil until Boko Haram is permanently defeated, which could obviously take many more years.

Though not often talked about, some of the worst atrocities in Nigeria, have been conducted not by Boko Haram, but by Nigerian military officers. According to Amnesty International, Nigerian soldiers have killed at least one hundred and fifty protestors between August 2015 and August 2016 by firing into crowds. Those responsible for these human rights abuses have not been investigated. On the other hand, some progress finally has been made with regards to holding Nigerian soldiers accountable for sexually abusing women and children who were forced to flee from their homes because of Boko Haram. On December 6, Ibrahim Idris, the Inspector-General of Police, said that ten people had been arrested as suspects. He further assured the country that those found guilty of committing such crimes would face justice in court.

Beyond the atrocities committed by both Boko Haram and Nigerian soldiers, the humanitarian crisis in Nigeria continues. The UN estimates that 400,000 children are at risk of starving in northeastern Nigeria. Because homes and farms have been burned by Boko Haram, many families are unable to obtain food, leaving them to hope that the international community will intervene and provide assistance. Unfortunately, the response of the UN has been essentially nonexistent, prompting criticism from some in Europe. Although the international institution finally admitted that “the crisis can no longer be ignored” on December 2, there is concern as to whether this recognition will be enough to save tens of thousands of Nigerians from impending starvation. It is also problematic that Buhari is insisting that the UN is exaggerating the magnitude of the crisis for “financial gain,” a claim repudiated by countless sources.

Over the past two weeks, Boko Haram has continued to commit atrocities throughout Nigeria. On December 10, two schoolgirls blew themselves up in the middle of a market in Madagali, a town in northeastern Nigeria, killing forty-five people and injuring thirty-three more. Using young girls as suicide bombers has become a disturbing trend for Boko Haram, as young girls generally do not attract as much attention from authorities.

South Sudan

On December 20, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that South Sudan may face genocide unless immediate action is taken to enact an arms embargo. He warned, “If we fail to act, South Sudan will be on a trajectory towards mass atrocities.” The U.N. chief urged the Security Council to impose the arms embargo which would “diminish the capacity of all sides to wage war.” U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power has said there will be a vote on the sanctions by the end of 2016 and council members will have to make a decision “on the issues of life and death that have been raised by the secretary-general.”

On December 19, South Sudan President Salva Kiir rejected reports of an imminent genocide in the country, claiming it was only a strategy to justify calls for an imposition of targeted sanctions and an arms embargo.

The humanitarian situation has deteriorated dramatically in the past year. In 2016, 6.1 million people in South Sudan required humanitarian assistance, and the aid community expects this number to rise by 20 percent to 30 percent in 2017.

Conditions for South Sudanese refugees in Uganda are grim. A clinic called Ocea Centre Two that was built in the early 1990s to serve local Ugandans, has become a settlement of some 85,000 South Sudanese refugees. As the UN makes multiple statements regarding ethnic cleansing in South Sudan, Uganda can barely open camps quickly enough to accommodate the influx of refugees. An average of 1,500 have been arriving every day since July 2016.

On December 19, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that 584,573 South Sudanese refugees have arrived in Uganda since the civil war broke out in December 2013. Resources for the refugees are limited. There isn’t enough food, water, or sanitary pads for women, and education for children is limited. It may be safer in Uganda, but conditions are also inhumane. In August, the World Food Programme (WFP) cut rations by 50 percent for all refugees who had been in Uganda before July 2015. Now, the organization faces a funding shortage of $62 million for all refugee operations in the country for the next six months. If this continues, WFP will be forced to cut the quota for new arrivals as well. Even though they are receiving their allocated amount of food, most newly arrived refugees speak of hunger and say they don’t eat enough.

Justin Cole is STAND’s Central and West Africa Coordinator. He is a Junior at UNC Chapel Hill where he majors in Economics and Peace, War, and Defense.

Elizabeth Westbrook is STAND’s Great Lakes of Africa Coordinator. She is a Junior at UNC Chapel Hill where she is a Political Science major.

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.

Weekly News Brief: 12/20/2016

STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND Education Task Force.

This week’s update focuses on Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, and Burma. An attack on a Shia mosque in Kabul left 27 dead and 50 injured. The formation of a Houthi government in Yemen has alarmed many in the international community regarding the future of Yemen. Aleppo is in crisis after being reclaimed by the Assad regime this week. Civilians have been targeted amidst multiple failed ceasefires, and 39 additional communities across Syria remain under siege.

 

Middle East and North Africa

Syria

The conflict in Eastern Aleppo escalated in recent week, with Syrian civilians facing mass atrocities at the hands of the Syrian government and its allies during the retaking of the city last week. Constant conflict between the Syrian government and rebels since 2012 has left the Aleppo and its residents in deep despair.

After a three-week pause in the Syrian and Russian bombing of Eastern Aleppo, the government targeted the area with bombs for two weeks. The conflict has had a huge effect on the rebel forces, the Syrian army, and the overall political stability of the Middle East. However, the citizens of Eastern Aleppo have suffered the hardest blows.

During the battle for Aleppo, the UN Human Rights Council received reports that 82 civilians were summarily executed by regime forces last Monday. There were credible reports of whole families with last names associated with the opposition being killed, the entire medical staff at the SAMS (Syrian American Medical Society)-run Al-Hayat Hospital being executed, and White Helmet rescuers being targeted with at least one volunteer being killed by a sniper. Activists and aid workers filmed what they thought may be their final words in a last plea to the world for action.

Nearly 10,000 civilians had been evacuated from Aleppo by Friday morning, when the temporary ceasefire broke down. On Friday afternoon, the New York Times reported that “a convoy of hundreds of evacuees was detained and turned back by pro-government militiamen […] because insurgents in Idlib Province, farther north, were blocking an evacuation of civilians from two villages besieged by rebels.” On Sunday, armed men set at least buses ablaze that were planning to carry evacuating civilians to Idlib from Aleppo, again pausing evacuations.  

Yesterday, the UN Security Council voted to send UN observers to monitor evacuations, with the caveat that they must consult with “interested parties,” which could theoretically give any group on the ground the ability to block UN access to certain areas. In Turkey, the Russian Ambassador was shot by a lone Turkish gunman, who shouted, “God is great! Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!”, concerning many regarding relations between Russia and Turkey. As reported by the New York Times, the assassination came in the wake of two days of protests by Turks angry over Russia’s role in the Syria conflict, and in particular atrocities in Aleppo.

There are at least 39 communities across Syria under siege, according to a recent Siege Watch report, affecting some 1.3 million people. According to the report, the Syrian government and its allies, including Russia, are responsible “for the majority of existing sieges,” which aim to get communities to surrender by depriving them of food, medical supplies, and, vitally important in the winter, fuel for heating their homes. Many in besieged communities such as Madaya fear for their safety in light of the violence in Aleppo.  

Southeast Asia

Burma

Burmese military forces continue to target the minority Rohingya population. In recent months, 21,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh. The situation is escalating, and last week, it was revealed that the Burmese army has burnt down more than 1,500 homes and buildings in Rohingya villages located in Rakhine State, raped Rohingya women, and conducted extrajudicial killings of Muslims. These claims contradict the information the Burmese government has been providing the public, and the military has also denied the latest claims.

However, recent evidence obtained by Human Rights Watch suggests the Burmese military is guilty of committing mass atrocities. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, Yanghee Lee, has commented that the acts are quickly approaching what “we would all agree are crimes against humanity.”

The situation in Rakhine State is dire. As of December 9, only 20,000 people in northern Rakhine have received food, nutrition assistance, or cash, compared to more than 150,000 who were receiving aid before October 9. Fourteen countries, including the United States, have been pressuring Burma to allow humanitarian aid in areas populated primarily by Rohingya.

Meanwhile, Burma continues to be a dangerous place for journalists and dissidents. Areas such as Rakhine State are sealed off to journalists, leaving only local residents to attempt to report on the atrocities. Still, it is not uncommon for residents to receive threats, and on December 13, a local-based journalist in Burma was killed while reporting on illegal logging, which is a huge problem in Burma.

Emerging Conflicts

Afghanistan

Violence in Afghanistan continues to wrack the country as terrorists groups like ISIS continue to target notable minorities such as Shia Muslims. On November 21, a Shia Muslim mosque was attacked in Kabul during a service commemorating the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. At least 27 are dead and over 50 injured. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which follows a series of high-profile acts of violence committed primarily against the Shia minorities in the country. ISIS and other terrorist organizations in the country previously claimed responsibility for a chain of bombings and shootings across Afghanistan and in parts of neighboring Pakistan. Human Rights Watch has released a report detailing their concerns regarding the lack of success of the Afghani government in providing security to civilians during public gatherings. Security remains a primary concern as sectarian violence continues across the country.

Yemen

Although the Houthi rebels claim that their formation of a government on November 29 does not mean a withdrawal from a basic roadmap to peace in Yemen, many in the international community are alarmed. The United Nations had hoped for the Houthis and factions loyal to Hadi, seen by some as the legitimate President of Yemen, to form a unity government, and for both sides, notably the Houthis, to withdraw from major flashpoints of the conflict. However, continued violence has placed incredible strain on both sides’ willingness to negotiate and come to a common agreement. The establishment of a government led by Houthi loyalists is a setback to prospects for a permanent peace. US Secretary of State John Kerry announced a 48-hour ceasefire in mid-November, seeking to apply pressure on parties to the conflict to stop fighting. Although the Houthi rebels agreed to the ceasefire, Hadi’s forces refused.

While the Saudi-led Coalition accepted a temporary cessation of hostilities, the Yemeni Foreign Minister for Hadi’s government continued to reject the notion of a ceasefire. The UN brokered a similar ceasefire in October, which rapidly broke down near its end, but renewed some hopes of a more permanent settlement. However, within a day, fighting broke out again from both Houthi fighters and fighters loyal to Hadi, notably in the embattled city of Taiz. Doctors Without Borders reported that on the first day of the ceasefire, at least 76 were wounded and 21 were killed in clashes throughout the city through violent acts committed by both sides. The Saudi-led Coalition ultimately refused to renew the ceasefire, citing violations of the ceasefire by the Houthi rebels while the Houthis also accused the Saudi-led Coalition of violations. There appears to be little hope in the near future for a final settlement to the conflict in Yemen, and the consequences for civilians are huge. More than 10,000 have been killed and millions displaced throughout the country, and many continue to suffer from little-to-no access to desperately-needed  humanitarian assistance.

Recent developments continue to reshape the situation in Yemen. The precarious security situation and continued violence in the country was made even more evident when ISIS took responsibility for a suicide bombing on December 18, near the al-Sawlaban military base in Aden, where Yemeni soldiers were lining up to collect their salaries. At least 48 deaths have been reported. Secretary Kerry is on a visit to Saudi Arabia to discuss the war in Yemen, which Saudi has played a key role in through direct military intervention by a Saudi-led coalition. The intervention has attracted significant criticism from members of the international community and human rights organizations as civilian casualties and assaults on civilian facilities such as hospitals have been reported. Groups like Amnesty International have lobbied Washington to block arms deals to Saudi Arabia, asserting that they contribute to the deaths of civilians in Yemen, and the Obama Administration finally responded on December 14 by halting the sale of 400 million dollars in armaments to Saudi Arabia. It appears this was done over concerns regarding civilian casualties. While US officials have said the “precision-guided weapons” in question will no longer be transferred, the security and intelligence relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia will continue, especially as terrorism remains a major issue in the region. Groups like Human Rights Watch acknowledge this as a step in the right direction, though many say it is not enough.

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.

Amala Karri is STAND’s Policy Intern and attends Hunter College High School in New York. She contributed STAND’s Burma Update for this week’s Education News Brief.

Jason Qu is STAND’s Emerging Conflicts Coordinator, focusing today on Yemen and Pakistan. He is a Senior at Bronx High School of Science.

Weekly News Brief: 12/8/2016

STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND Education Task Force.

This week’s news brief focuses on South Sudan, Sudan, Burundi, DRC, and CAR. Thousands of South Sudanese refugees continue to flee to Uganda each day, and though the Darfur conflict may be forgotten in the international community, it is still far from over. DRC continues to face the possibility of civil war, and violence grows in Burundi as more and more flee the country. A conference held in Brussels on CAR addressed how to obtain long-term peace and resolve the humanitarian crisis within the country.

South Sudan

NPR reports that as violence continues in South Sudan, refugees are flowing into Uganda at a staggering rate; as many as 200,000 since fighting intensified in July. Refugees have been suffering from extreme food shortages, and many have reported being denied food rations. According to the report, “In August, the World Food Programme cut rations in half for families who have been in the country since July 2015 and are not considered extremely vulnerable,” in effect cutting rations from about 2,100 calories a day to about 1,000. A medical officer of Medical Teams International said malaria and malnutrition are two of the biggest concerns since people arriving the settlement camp have already been hungry for a long time.

On November 11, the Sudan Tribune reported that four people were killed in the South Sudan city of Yambio during a rebel attack. The mayor of Yambio said that gunshots erupted in the morning when the armed group came to attack a house belonging to a government security agent in Hai Kuba area. The group killed a young child and injured others.

The UN refugee agency has distributed lifesaving items to more than 6,000 vulnerable families trapped by fighting in Yei River state over the last six months. Internally displaced persons say they want to be allowed to safely return to their homes so that they can harvest the crops they planted. The food rations they are receiving are not enough to survive. Aid workers and local leaders reported thousands of Yei residents have been forced to enter into neighboring Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo because of food insecurity.

According to a November 16 Reliefweb report, many South Sudanese are at imminent risk of violence. The recent violence in the country particularly threatens populations who may be attacked on the basis of ethnicity and presumed political loyalties. UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng warned that populations face the threat of genocide unless national, regional and international actors “take immediate measures” to end the violence and uphold the responsibility to protect South Sudanese from atrocity crimes.

Sudan

Darfur’s conflict might be forgotten, but it’s not over. The conflict that broke out in 2003 forced millions of Darfuri refugees to flee the country. Human rights groups, diplomats, and Darfuri diaspora members have limited access to information from inside Darfur. As global interest in the conflict has faded, the Khartoum government has effectively sealed off the region to outsiders and taken control of the narrative around Darfur. In early September, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir traveled to Darfur to declare that peace had officially returned to the region, just weeks after African Union-backed peace talks fell apart in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. There appears to be little interest among global powers in challenging the government’s decision. A recent Amnesty International report documented ongoing government-sanctioned violence across much of the region since the beginning of 2016, including the possible the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

On November 16, Radio Tamazuj reported that Bashir described the South Sudanese government as Sudan’s “enemy.” This remark signifies growing tensions over slow implementation of joint agreements between the two countries. President Bashir said that South Sudan still wants to implement the 2012 Joint Cooperation Agreements signed by the two countries. Separately but concurrently, Bashir rejected calls for additional dialogue initiatives between actors in Sudan and insisted that opponents should join the existing National Dialogue.

Great Lakes of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

The Democratic Republic of the Congo faces the threat of civil war if Joseph Kabila does not step down from power at the end of his mandate on December 19. The Rassemblement, the group comprised of various opposition parties boycotting Kabila’s decision to delay elections to April 2018, have insisted that elections are the only path to a peaceful solution. Criticizing the deal to postpone elections organized by the DRC’s governing party, Etienne Tshisekedi, the leader of the major opposition party, stated that “Kabila has performed a coup d’état against himself by signing that agreement, because he made an oath to protect the constitution.”

The decision to postpone elections held firm as the DRC’s Prime Minister and Cabinet resigned on November 14 in accordance with the agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, the Prime Minister and Cabinet will be replaced with members of opposition parties who participated in the discussions to establish a balance in the government. Since the majority of opposition parties, as part of the Rassemblement, refused to attend the discussions, the members of the new government will not fully represent the portions of the society who supported the major opposition group.

Opposition leaders in the DRC have compared Kabila’s reign in recent years to that of Mobutu, and new information has strengthened this case by  linking Kabila to the further removal of resources from the DRC. On November 14 it was revealed that Gecamines, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s state mining company, signed over royalty rights to one of Kabila’s close friends. The revenue from the royalties, which could have generated as much as $880 million for the DRC government, is now owned by billionaire Dan Gertler, who has been accused by Global Witness of having played a role in other mining deals that have cost Congo over $1.36 billion in revenue. No reason for the selling of the royalties has been provided, but the rerouting of the income will decrease Congolese spending capabilities.

On November 8, an explosive device in Eastern Congo killed one young Congolese girl and injured two Congolese civilians in addition to 32 members of the MONUSCO task force. The UN responded by calling for action against the perpetrators, but there is no indication of who the perpetrators may be, as multiple militia groups are active in the region.

Human Rights Watch Senior Researcher Ida Sawyer submitted a letter to the UN Security Council on November 9 expressing concerns over the potential for violence if Kabila remains in office. The letter conveys a list of recommendations on how to avert crisis in the DRC. These recommendations include urging Kabila to step down, or at least to find a time before the end of 2017 to step down from his position, as well as a measures to increase the deployment of MONUSCO forces and to press them to focus specifically on the protection of journalists and political opposition.

STAND is working with partners such as The Enough Project, Jewish World Watch, and Stand With Congo, as well as Congolese diaspora and civil society organizations such as Friends of the Congo and LUCHA to push the U.S. to expand sanctions on enablers of violence against peaceful demonstrators in the leadup to December 19. You can join us by following us on twitter @standnow and tweeting/retweeting using #DRCsanctions, #ByeByeKabila, and #KabilaMustGo.

Burundi

The threat of destabilization and increased violence in Burundi has only increased in recent weeks and months, leading to an exodus of refugees leaving Burundi and hunger throughout the country.

The International Federation for Human Rights recently published a report detailing the situation in Burundi and providing specific examples of rights violations throughout the country. The report focused on “Repression and Genocidal Dynamics” and covered extrajudicial executions, targeted assassinations, enforced disappearances, lootings, torture, and ransoms. The report comes amidst concerns that Burundi has been “forgotten” by the international community. Meanwhile, the risk of genocide increases as ideology and identification processes are enforced. At the same time, citizens know little of what is happening outside of their own regions of Burundi and in the rest of the world, as President Nkurunziza has maintained a “vacuum” on all media following his announcement to run for a third term.

Refugees leaving the country now number at 311,083 since April 2015 with Tanzania alone receiving approximately 10,000 per month. Concerns about the great influx of refugees are increasing as violence continues and DRC simultaneously loses stability. UN reporters don’t anticipate any decrease in violence or in the outpouring of refugees. Most of the violence and executions have been politically motivated and directed towards those opposed to Nkurunziza’s third term.

Meanwhile, the World Food Program has determined that over 600,000 people out of Burundi’s population of 10 million are “short of food due to drought and flooding.” Most of those affected live in the Northern and Eastern provinces. Though Burundi ended its food exports to Rwanda earlier this year to attempt to prevent major shortages, it is still unable to provide enough food for all of its citizens.

Central and West Africa

Central African Republic (CAR)

The Brussels Conference, hosted by the European Union on behalf of the Central African Republic (CAR), began on November 17. The main objectives of the conference are to obtain long-term peace and address the humanitarian crisis that has engulfed the country. The success of both of these goals depends largely on the financial pledges of donors at the conference.

When France ended its military mission in CAR at the end of October, there were fears of fresh waves of violent attacks even though over ten thousand peacekeepers from the United Nations remained in the country. Though a brief period of peace lasted in early November, a fresh wave of violence between two Séléka groups in late November resulted in 14 deaths and 76 wounded citizens. The country continues to struggle with stability as most of the armed groups around the country continue to bare arms while the security sector remains woefully unequipped to execute the process of disarmament. The judicial system also remains incapable of providing justice. Many individuals who have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the conflict have not been prosecuted because of poor administration and a lack of funding. As a result, many feel as though they are able to kill again with impunity. A recent news release by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed that lasting peace would not be achieved without truth and reconciliation. For that reason, organizations such as Human Rights Watch have urged donors at the Brussels Conference to invest in the Special Criminal Court, which was established in June 2015 to prosecute those who committed crimes during the most recent conflict in CAR.

Beyond the struggle to achieve peace and justice, there is also a significant humanitarian crisis in CAR. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recently found that over 850,000 people, half of whom are children, are internally displaced or refugees. One third of children in the country do not have access to education. Furthermore, over forty percent under the age of five are chronically malnourished. The healthcare system has also suffered drastically. Hospitals do not have enough staff or supplies to effectively deal with disease. As a result, respiratory infections are the third most significant cause of death for children in CAR. Given that the country is ranked second to last in development by the UN, however, any assistance given during the Brussels Conference should not focus solely on mitigating the short-term crisis, but also on solving long-term problems.

Justin Cole is STAND’s Central and West Africa Coordinator. He is a Junior at UNC Chapel Hill where he majors in Economics and Peace, War, and Defense.

Elizabeth Westbrook is STAND’s Great Lakes Coordinator. She is a Junior at UNC Chapel Hill where she is a Political Science major.

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.

Weekly News Brief: 11/29/2016

STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND Education Task Force.

This week’s news brief focuses on Iraq, Burma, and Yemen. Fighting to gain power over the city of Mosul has increased, with Iraqi and Kurdish forces sweeping in on the now ISIS-controlled city. Ethnic violence continues in Burma as we see a disturbing continuation of sexual violence against Rohingya women. Yemen has been deemed “on the brink of the abyss” by WHO, while sectarian violence remains a major issue in Pakistan.

 

 

Middle East and North Africa

Iraq

Mosul, a city in Northern Iraq notable for its Grand Mosque and its strategically-important dam, is one of the last ISIS-controlled cities in the country. Mosul had been under the Islamic State’s control since 2014, until a battle to retake the city erupted broke out in August 2016, concluding in October.

On August 14, 2,500 Kurdish troops called peshmerga marched from Iraqi Kurdistan across Nineveh province and attacked Mosul from the north and the east. The Battle for Mosul has continued to rage on. Now, Western-supported Iraqi and Kurdish troops encircle Mosul as ISIS struggles to retain its grasp on the city. A map of who controls which areas can be found here.

Violence and fatalities are at an all time high. On November 7, NBC reported, “hundreds of civilians slowly poured out of Mosul on foot. Women and children held white flags made of scraps of dishtowels, torn clothing and pillowcases.” Though the Iraqi government refuses to release the official death toll, an American volunteer medic said he treated 44 casualties on November 4 before he stopped counting. While Mosul’s ethnically and religiously diverse population had historically attended some of the region’s best universities and worked in influential research centers, these facilities have been shut down since ISIS took control of the city.

The world continues to watch the situation unfold. The power struggle for this city will have significant consequences: either ISIS will keep its oil-rich stronghold, or Iraq could take back one of its crucial cities.

Southeast Asia

Burma

CW: sexual violence

Many reports in the past month have claimed that the risk of genocide of the Rohingya is increasing. The Muslim minority group, known as the “most oppressed minority group in the world,” is facing the systematic annihilation of their culture and population through forced removal, control of reproduction, and sexual violence.

Tensions between the Rohingya and Buddhist Nationalists have existed since British colonial times. However, a reignition of communal violence in 2012 and 2013 began the targeted removal of Rohingya from northern Rakhine State, which sparked the southeast asian migration crisis. The ethnic cleansing has continued into late 2016 as Burmese border guard officials have ordered over 2,000 villagers to abandon their homes, leaving many to live in rice paddies alongside cattle.

Beyond the obvious desire of the Buddhist nationalists to remove Rohingya to create a “Buddhist Burman state,” many petroleum companies such as Royal Dutch Shell Company (simply known as Shell in the US) stand to benefit from the removal of the Rohingya because northern Rakhine State (the only state in Burma home to a majority Rohingya population) is rich in petroleum. Chinese and Saudi Arabian firms have also benefitted from their removal, which allowed them to create the Sino-Burmese pipeline, the first overland route for oil and gas shipments between Saudi and China.

In addition to seizure of land, the Rohingya have also suffered from population control. As previously reported by STAND, the Ma Ba Tha Movement, an extremist Buddhist Nationalist movement led by monks, helped propose a bill to the former Burmese junta government limiting Rohingya reprodction to two children. Many human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, called for the Burmese government to reject the bill, which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy ultimately discarded after its election this past year. The State Sangha Maha Nayaka Commission, the governing body on Buddhist affairs, also unilaterally rejected this proposition for inflaming racial and religious tensions.

Population is but one way Buddhist Nationalists have sought to control the Rohingya. The use of sexual violence, namely rape, has been consistently used by Burmese military forces in Rakhine State. This sexual violence has deep historical precedent; in 1967, the Burmese government launched Anti-Chinese riots that resulted in the systematic rape of Chinese women in order to “Burmanize” the population. The United Nations recognized rape as a war crime in 2002.

The use of rape to control and Burmanize the population has continued in the military’s treatment of the Rohingya. In 2013, thirteen women reported their prolonged rape by Burmese military forces, which they perceived as retribution for Rohingya men accused of raping a Buddhist Burmese woman earlier that year. In 2016, this trend has continued. The Burma Human Rights Network recently released a report stating that they were extremely concerned about the ten reported rapes of Rohingya women at the hands of the Burmese military.

Emerging Conflicts

Yemen

The international community and parties to the conflict in Yemen seem to be at a standstill, unsure about how to move forward with a resolution to the violence that has killed thousands of civilians and thrown a fragile country into a divisive and brutal civil war. A 72-hour ceasefire issued in late October was seen as one of the last chances to secure a long-standing peace, but rapidly fell apart with airstrikes and violent clashes. Both sides accused the other of ceasefire violations. In the meantime, civilians continue to suffer the brunt of the violence. On October 29, in the embattled western city of Taiz, 17 civilians were killed in a Saudi air strike. The Saudi-led coalition continues to bolster Hadi’s forces after they intervened last year to prevent a Houthi takeover of Yemen.

Regional involvement has defined the civil war, as Saudi Arabia and their allies help arm and support forces loyal to Hadi. There has also been evidence of Iranian support for the Houthi rebels. In rebel-held Hudaydah, dozens of inmates and rebels were killed as an airstrike hit a building used as a prison. The situation in the country remains bleak for millions who have been displaced, and the violence and fighting continues to escalate. The World Health Organization (WHO) called Yemen “on the brink of the abyss,” pointing to rife malnutrition, sparse access to aid for over 2 million Yemenis, and the full-functioning of only half of all medical facilities in the country.

Pakistan

Sectarian violence remains a major security and humanitarian issue in Pakistan, especially as regional tensions  and the presence of radical terrorist organizations like ISIS remain. The focus for many is on the minority Shia population that makes up approximately 15% of the population. They are viewed by radical Sunni groups as “heretics,” and as a result have been extremely vulnerable to violence. Attempts on the part of the government to protect the community have fallen short as acts of terrorism and militancy continue to rack the country and threaten civilians. On October 30, an attack on a Shia shrine in Karachi left five dead, including a British tourist. Lashkar-i-Jhangvi al-Alami, a terrorist organization, has claimed responsibility for the attack. However, it is not just the Shia community that’s at risk for violence, as Sufi Muslims have also suffered from violent attacks. An attack on a remote Sufi shrine in Pakistan left at least 52 dead and over 100 wounded, with ISIS claiming responsibility. This underscores the vulnerability of religious minorities in Pakistan, and the importance of pushing the Pakistani government to extend more protection to them. The government must also end the years of discrimination and violence that many Sufi and Shia, notably Hazara, have faced or are in danger of facing.

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.

Mary Marston is STAND’s Southeast Asia Education Coordinator, focusing mostly on Burma. She is a senior at American University.

Jason Qu is STAND’s Emerging Conflicts Coordinator, focusing today on Yemen and Pakistan. He is a junior at Bronx High School of Science.

Weekly News Brief: 11/14/2016

STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND Education Task Force.

This week’s news brief focuses on the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burundi. Tensions between UN Peacekeepers and CAR citizens grew as protests erupted in Bangui. Continued election delays in DRC also led to protests and many arrests. Burundi raised concerns by officially leaving the ICC, revoking access permits from human rights organizations, and arresting journalists.

Central and West Africa

Central African Republic (CAR)

On October 24, there was a demonstration in the capital of Bangui where protesters put up barricades and waved posters critical of the United Nations peacekeeping mission. Some individuals began throwing stones and yelling at the peacekeepers, which prompted them to fire warning shots. Unfortunately, the situation only worsened from there as shooting broke out between armed individuals in the crowd and the peacekeepers. Ultimately, four civilians were killed and fourteen people were injured. Gervais Lakosso, the leader of the Work and Civil Society Group that organized the protest, insists that the peacekeepers are biased in favor of the Séléka rebels and that they permit armed groups to commit atrocities. The United Nations believes that these views do not represent the majority of citizens in the Central African Republic (CAR). It is clear, however, that the growing discontent with the United Nations can be attributed at least in part to “frustration and a lack of communication” between the peacekeepers and the people they are supposed to be protecting.

On October 27, just a few days after the violence in Bangui, fifteen people were killed near the town of Bambari as violence erupted once again between the Séléka rebels and the anti-balaka militias. Just one day later, an additional ten people, six of whom were police officers, were killed in an ambush. Furthermore, several hundred Séléka rebels have allegedly assembled in Batangafo, indicating that the armed rebels may be emboldened and aim to launch larger, more coordinated attacks. According to Lewis Mudge, a researcher in the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, this is the most instability that CAR has experienced all year. Moreover, the situation could easily worsen in the wake of France withdrawing almost all of their troops from CAR as it ended Operation Sangaris on October 31.

The violence continues to take a significant toll on the people of CAR. Tens of thousands of people are unable to receive the aid that they so desperately need because of the strength of the numerous armed groups throughout the country. In fact, some international non-governmental organizations are even reducing their attention to the country due to a lack of resources. The Donors Conference on the Central African Republic that is taking place in just over two weeks cannot come soon enough.

Great Lakes of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was silent on October 19 due to a strike by opposition parties. The strike was effective in the capital city and Mbuji-Mayi, while many other cities did not respond to the opposition’s call for a nation-wide strike. The strike was in response to continued election delays, specifically an agreement, referred to as a “flagrant violation” by opposition, signed on October 18 to push back the election until April 2018. In preparation of potential protests the streets were lined with police.

The controversial agreement has received support from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which described the agreement as “a result of successful African Union led National Dialogue.” The agreement has also been supported by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), a regional organization created “to promote sustainable peace and development.” The support from these organizations is an indicator to the main opposition bloc, the Rassemblement, that they should not expect support from other countries in the region. According to a new poll conducted by the Congo Research Group the majority of the Congolese population shares the opinion of the Rassemblement, with 74.3% agreeing that Kabila should leave office in December 2016.

A total of 26 activists were arrested in the last week of October. The activists were from two youth movements, Filimbi and the Struggle for Change (LUCHA), and were peacefully protesting the national dialogue and the African Union’s expression of support for it. Activists from these groups were arrested earlier in 2016 for similar reasons. The protests and arrests remained peaceful despite threats of violence from the police force. This is in stark contrast to protests held in September, when the UN reported excessive, lethal force used during the demonstrations. A count published on October 21 found that “at least 53 people were killed over two days, 143 injured and more than 299 unlawfully arrested.”

On Wednesday, October 12, the governor of the Haute-Katanga province announced that the warlord Gédéon Kyungu Mutanga and 100 of his fighters had surrendered to authorities. Mutanga has previously been associated with a Mai Mai faction, and Mai Mai groups have been responsible for hundreds of deaths in Katanga province. Mutanga was received with a “celebratory welcome” and wore a shirt featuring a photo of President Kabila and the phrase “Shikata,” which translates to “stay for a long time.” The shirt is a reference to the government’s delay of elections. Human Rights Watch researcher Ida Sawyer, who is based in the DRC, raised concerns that Mutanga would not be punished, but rather incorporated with honor into the Congolese army. The issue of bringing rebel groups into the Congolese army was included on October 27 in an Enough Project report on the DRC as a facet of one of the seven “pillars” that maintain the corrupt government.

Burundi

Burundi’s decision on October 18 to leave the International Criminal Court (ICC) has ignited a flame throughout Africa. The South African government announced on October 21 that they would be submitting a bill to exit the ICC. In addition, on October 26 Gambia announced their decision to leave the ICC due to bias. The Gambian information minister Sheriff Bojang, claimed the International Criminal Court, “is in fact an Infamous Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans.” The Burundian government has not commented on the debate, however as of October 21 they have officially submitted their letter of intent to withdraw. Burundi’s withdrawal from the ICC will not take immediate effect, but will make it more difficult to bring the government to trial for any future human rights violations.

On October 19 the Burundian government withdrew permits from human rights organizations within the country for “stirring up hatred and tarnishing the nation’s image.” The groups included the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH), the Forum for Awareness and Development (FOCODE), Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT), the Network of Honest Citizens (RCP), and the Forum for the Strengthening of Civil Society (FORSC). The chairmen of both the ACAT and the FORSC have claimed that the measures against them will not prevent them from continuing their work in Burundi. The most well-known of the groups is APRODH, which is run by activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa and has “accused the state and security forces of rights abuses.” In addition, APRODH has claimed to have discovered at least 14 mass graves throughout Burundi containing bodies of individuals killed since the violence following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to pursue a third term.

The withdrawal of permits has been supported by two non-profit groups in Burundi: the PISC-Burundi, a Platform for Burundi Civil Society and CAPES+, a Collective of Associations of People Infected and Affected by HIV/AIDS. Together they have made a declaration in favor of the government’s restriction on civil rights and other groups. Both groups are known for their pro-government stances and have previously criticized APRODH and the FORSC for favoring the opposition.

On October 23 two journalists were arrested and detained “on suspicion of destroying criminal evidence.” American journalist Julia Steers was released from custody the following day, but Burundian journalist Gildas Yihundimpundu was retained. These arrests were the continuation of a repression of free-speech in Burundi that began in May 2015 with the suspension of leading Burundian private radio stations.

Justin Cole is STAND’s Central and West Africa Coordinator. He is a Junior at UNC Chapel Hill where he majors in Economics and Peace, War, and Defense.

Elizabeth Westbrook is STAND’s Great Lakes Coordinator. She is a Junior at UNC Chapel Hill where she is a Political Science major.

Weekly News Brief: 11/3/2016

 

STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND Education Task Force.

This week’s news brief focuses on Syria, Turkey, Yemen, and Ethiopia. In Syria, airstrikes continue to target civilians, including 14 children in Haas, near Idlib; Yemen is experiencing increased airstrikes after a shattered ceasefire; and protests are growing in the Oromo and Amharic regions of Ethiopia.

 

 

Middle East and North Africa

Syria

In Northwestern Syria, Idlib province is one of the last remaining areas still controlled by the Syrian opposition. On October 26, airstrikes targeted the village of Haas in Idlib province and killed over twenty people, including at least 14 children.

While the source of the airstrikes is unknown, it is probable that either the Syrian government or Russia is culpable. Syrian state media quoted a military source reporting “terrorists” among the fatalities while neglecting to mention a school as a primary target. Among those killed were at least 14 children and a teacher, demonstrating the little mercy shown for women, children, and civilians in the Syrian civil war. The U.S. edition of Reuters notes that “Western countries and international human rights groups have regularly highlighted the high number of civilian deaths reported after Syrian and Russian air strikes.”

Islamic State (IS) Eliciting Fear in Manbij

Within the last month or so, hundreds of civilians have either been injured or killed by IS-improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the northern Syrian city of Manbij. Since 2014, IS had been in control of Manbij and used it as an operational center. Mostly, it was a “hub for moving militants to and from Turkey and Europe” that also “controlled a key supply group for [the Islamic State].”

On August 6, an assemblage of the Syrian Democratic Forces and Arab and Kurdish fighters recaptured the city. The battle took approximately two months, during which IS militants left IEDs throughout Manbij. The organization Human Rights Watch reported that IEDs had been “placed in doorways and windows, under mattresses and piles of shoes, in refrigerators and bags of clothes, and in television sets and kitchen sink taps.”

In a Middle East Eye report on October 26, the death toll in Manbij caused by these IEDs was at 69 civilians, 19 of whom were children. The IEDs are victim-activated, so as civilians return to their homes, the number of fatalities is expected to continue rising.

Turkey

In Turkey, ruptures between different ideological groups have created a breeding ground for repression. In late October, groups who were protesting the detention of Gultan Kisanak and Firat Anli were met with Turkish police who used tear gas and water cannons to silence them.

Kisanak and Anli were co-mayors to the Turkish city of Diyarbakir. They belonged to the Democratic Regions Party. On October 25, Kisanak and Anli were taken into custody as fighting between the Turkish security forces and members of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) erupted.

Emerging Conflicts

Yemen

Saudi-led airstrikes and new offensives by all parties to the conflict in Yemen shattered a 3-day ceasefire beginning on October 19, an initiative many had hoped would pave the way for ending the conflict. Both the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebels blame the other side for violating the terms of the truce, which was supposed to allow for civilians to leave besieged areas and to access increased flows of desperately-needed humanitarian assistance. Despite a few minor clashes, the ceasefire appeared largely to hold until the end of the third day. The UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, had issued pleas to both sides to extend the ceasefire, which were disregarded as airstrikes occurred in Sanaa, the capital, shortly thereafter. Over 10,000 have been killed in the conflict, many of whom are civilians, and millions have been displaced and left in need of food aid. Any future path to peace requires both sides to guarantee access to crucial aid and to pledge to stop the targeting of civilians and public facilities such as hospitals.

Ethiopia

Since last year, Ethiopia has been wracked by protests leading to hundreds of deaths, notably in the Oromia region and ethnically Amhara regions. The small Tigray minority in Ethiopia, which has dominated government for years, has disproportionate influence over the security forces and have excluded the Oromo and Amharic people from equal access to resources and power-sharing. The government’s plan to extend the country’s capital into portions of Oromo land served as the powder-keg that began the protests. Responses to the demonstrations have often been violent, and since they began, it is estimated that over 500 people have been killed. Earlier in the month, on October 3, over 50 people were killed in a stampede at an Oromo festival after police fired warning shots in reaction to what the government called “trouble-makers” who attacked elders who “were making their way to the stage.” Effective since October 8, the Ethiopian Government has issued a six-month state of emergency, which permits security forces to detain people assembling without a warrant or due process for up to six months. It also suspends online services and social media services, which have been essential to protesters in organizing. Over 1,600 people have been arrested so far under the state of emergency.

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.

Jason Qu is STAND’s Emerging Conflicts Coordinator, focusing today on Yemen and Afghanistan. He is a Junior at Bronx High School of Science.

Weekly News Brief: 10/27/2016

STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND Education Task Force.

This week’s news brief focuses on the Central African Republic (CAR), Nigeria, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Burundi. Human rights are under attack in Burundi as its leaders undergo steps to remove themselves from the International Criminal Court (ICC) and deny UN investigators access to the country. Violence continues to grow in the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, there is some good news from Nigeria, where Boko Haram released 21 school girls previously held captive.

Great Lakes Region of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Congolese President Joseph Kabila, his party, the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and smaller opposition parties have officially proposed to delay the presidential election until April 2018. The proposal would allow Kabila to stay in power until elections, but with a Prime Minister selected from the opposition. On Monday, October 17, the Constitutional Court gave the electoral commission permission to delay the election, following the signing of the deal.

The main opposition bloc was not involved in the decision making of the election delay, and an official of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, the largest opposition party in the DRC, Jean-Marc Kabund, claimed that his group did not recognize the agreement, which he described as a working document. The bloc has claimed they will continue to apply pressure to have the transition of power take place as originally planned in December, which could lead to more violent protests similar to those held in September.

On October 13, Human Rights Watch (HRW) distributed a message to European Union (EU) member states encouraging the imposition of targeted sanctions to “help prevent the situation in Congo from spiraling out of control in the coming weeks.” HRW has encouraged the EU to place sanctions on senior security forces officials, intelligence officers, and government officials to send the message that the international community will not tolerate repressive actions. HRW also issued a report that found that security forces used excessive force in September, resulting in the the deaths of 56 opposition protesters. In response, Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, sent a delegation to the DRC to call for restraint from both the opposition and the ruling party.

Meanwhile, in Katanga province, a dispute erupted between the Batwa and Luba ethnic groups. The Batwa accused the Luba of beating up vendors and imposing an illegal tax on the sale of caterpillars, which are one of the Batwa’s main sources of income. In response to the tax, members of the Batwa group killed several members of the Luba ethnic group, who in response killed thirteen Batwa. The groups have never fought over caterpillars before, suggesting that motivation for the violence comes most likely from their ongoing feud.

Burundi

Burundi has attempted to remove themselves from the scrutiny of the international community by officially declaring their withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC) and by denying three United Nations (UN) rights investigators access to the country.

On October 18, Burundi became the first country to begin the withdrawal process from the ICC. President Pierre Nkurunziza signed legislation following a vote by lawmakers to withdraw; however, the withdrawal will not stop existing investigations that began before their withdrawal. The ICC began a preliminary investigation in April of this year, but will face difficulties pursuing a formal investigation because the government refuses to allow outsiders, and in particular those with a human rights focus, into Burundi.

Three UN investigators, Pablo de Greiff, Christoff Heyns, and Maya Sahli-Fadel, submitted a report on September 20 accusing the Government of Burundi and the people associated with it of “gross, widespread and systemic human rights violations.” These included enforced disappearances, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, and extrajudicial executions. The Burundian government has since banned all three investigators from entering the country. There are concerns that mounting violence will lead to genocide, however it is important to note that the violence and repression thus far appear to be limited to political opponents rather than ethnic or religious groups.

The political crisis in Burundi is leading to a greater economic crisis in the country. The government has banned food exports to Rwanda in hopes of meeting greater demand in Burundi, and fuel shortages have hurt the production of coffee, Burundi’s largest revenue source. In addition, the violence and political unrest are deterring tourists from entering the country, further damaging the economy. These blows to the economy have significantly lowered the living standards for those within Burundi.

Central and West Africa

Central African Republic

Two days after Marcel Mombeka, the head of the armed forces in the Central African Republic (CAR), was killed in the capital of Bangui on October 4, eleven civilians were killed in the PK5 neighborhood, a predominantly Muslim area of the city that had been largely peaceful since a visit by Pope Francis last November. Exactly one week later, fighters from the Séléka rebel group killed thirty in Kaga-Bondoro, allegedly in response to the death of four Muslims in the town. A different attack against a camp for displaced people in Ngakobo resulted in the deaths of eleven more.

These clashes are emblematic of two main realities. First, there are a number of “lawless enclaves” in CAR where the government lacks control. In these areas, armed groups have readily exerted influence by extorting taxes from the terrified population. Second, the goals of demobilization and reconciliation championed by President Faustin-Archange Touadéra are going to be far more difficult to achieve than anyone had hoped. Violence in certain neighborhoods have made people reluctant to return to their homes; as a result, close to 400,000 people remain displaced. Worse, the recent violence is making it more difficult to convince certain groups to disarm and reintegrate into society. After the recent violence in Bangui, anti-Balaka groups talked for three hours about whether they would still participate in the disarmament process. Although they ultimately did not withdraw, they made it quite clear that they would respond with violence if the Séléka fighters did not cease their attacks. They also expressed that their desire to be integrated into the military and involved in policymaking. Given that the government has rejected both of these demands already, the prospect of peace remains uncertain.

Beyond the violence, there remains a serious humanitarian crisis in the country, which is at least in part due to attacks against humanitarian organizations throughout the country. CAR ranks the highest on the Global Hunger Index, with malnutrition and starvation widespread around the country. There has also been an outbreak of monkeypox, the magnitude of which public health organizations are still trying to determine. As long as violence continues, however, it will be difficult to resolve such crises.

Nigeria

On October 13, twenty-one of the nearly three hundred Nigerian schoolgirls captured from a Chibok school in northern Nigeria were freed by Boko Haram. With the help of the International Red Cross and the government of Switzerland, the government of Nigeria and Boko Haram were finally able to come to an agreement after numerous failed negotiations that have taken place over this past year. The girls were found to be in “reasonably good health,” but were sent to medical facilities for monitoring. Despite this good news, the vast majority of the kidnapped girls remain captives. Although similar negotiation tactics could be used to free the remaining girls, Yemi Osinbajo, the vice-president of Nigeria, suggested that such talks with the terrorist group could also potentially compromise the safety of the country overall. If the government does believe such a tradeoff exists, it remains to be seen if all the girls will be rescued.

Although the release of these girls is rightly viewed as a success for President Muhammadu Buhari, he has also faced severe criticism as of late. Although he pledged both to defeat Boko Haram and to reduce corruption in the government, he has accomplished neither objective so far. On October 19, the terrorist organization attacked a small military encampment in the northeastern part of the country, wounding thirteen soldiers. For months, Boko Haram focused exclusively on attacking soft targets designed to kill civilians. This most recent attack, which is one of three recent strikes against the Nigerian army, may indicate that the terrorist group is regaining strength, despite the efforts of Buhari. The president is also widely acknowledged to have failed with regard to his second goal. Although he recently put two of his reportedly ten presidential jets up for sale in an attempt to “cut waste,” many critics argue that these actions are not enough. BudgIT has claimed that more money is spent on the presidential fleet than on higher education. Worse, many Nigerian lawmakers make handsome salaries as the vast majority of civilian suffer from the economic recession. Discontent has grown so great that Aisha Buhari, the first lady of the country, has said that she may not back her husband in the next election. The political turmoil within the government will likely make it even more difficult to address the recession that is hitting the people of Nigeria hard.

Sudan

On Friday, October 21 the 5th Annual Symposium on Women and Genocide took place in Washington, DC, featuring a series of panels and testimonies from genocide survivors to bring together scholars, student activists, and educators to discuss ongoing issues of genocide and mass atrocities throughout the world. The conference focused primarily on ongoing violence against women and children in Darfur. According to the UN, at least 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in Darfur since the outbreak of the genocide in the early 2000s.

On October 25, Sudan president Omar al-Bashir accused Amnesty International of spreading rumors that Sudanese government forces had used chemical weapons to attack civilians in Darfur. Amnesty had previously issued a report that Sudanese forces had used more than 30 suspected chemical weapons in a mountainous area in Darfur, which killed up to 250 people, including a large number of children. Darfur has been wrapped up in a deadly conflict since 2003 when different ethnic groups took up arms against Bashir’s Arab-dominated government.

On September 27, the UN reported that the Sudanese government continues to broach sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council because of their violent actions in Darfur. A group of experts issued the report, which found violations of the arms embargo and the use of cluster bombs, which have historically caused incredible harm on civilians in places ranging from Vietnam in the 1960s to Yemen and Syria today. The report also included numerous human rights violations committed by the government. Human Rights Watch’s Deputy U.N. Director Akshaya Kumar has argued that the sanctions “now exist in name only.”

South Sudan

On October 25, Amnesty International issued another report on recent atrocities committed by South Sudan’s army. The new report describes the murder of a 6-year old girl and a journalist and the gang-rape of a 15-year-old girl as among the crimes committed by South Sudanese soldiers during the clashes with the opposition in the capital city of Juba, where hundreds of people were killed in July.

In recent days, Sudanese rebels were given an ultimatum to leave South Sudan within 30 days. The two countries signed a non-aggression pact which demands that the two nations take no military action against each other. In order to show its full and sincere commitment to respecting the deal, the South Sudanese government has given armed groups from Sudan fighting the Sudanese government the opportunity to leave at the end of November, a move that contradicted the government’s earlier claims that it did not host armed dissidents opposed to the Khartoum regime within its borders.

On October 24, Ellen Margrethe Løj, the head of the UN mission in South Sudan, said the road to peace in South Sudan would be challenging. The South Sudan peace deal has stood at the verge of complete collapse since fighting broke out in the capital Juba last July, forcing the country’s former first vice president Riek Machar to flee. Løj heads a 12,000-strong peacekeeping force to protect civilians, some 200,000 of whom are sheltered at 6 UN bases in various parts of South Sudan. The number continues to rise as violence in the country continues.

After nearly three years of devastating civil war, several South Sudanese artists have recently launched a public art project in Juba, which aims to incite discussion about peace. The works of art, painted on walls, shipping containers, bakeries, schools, and cultural centers across Juba, often seek to emphasize the suffering of children and the self-destructive nature of the conflict to encourage work towards reconciliation.

Justin Cole is STAND’s Central and West Africa Coordinator. He is a Junior at UNC Chapel Hill where he majors in Economics 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.

Elizabeth Westbrook is STAND’s Great Lakes Coordinator. She is a Junior at UNC Chapel Hill where she is a Political Science major.

Weekly News Brief: 10/18/2016

 

STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND Education Task Force.

This week’s news brief highlights continued air strikes on civilian targets in Syria, an air strike by the US-supported Saudi Coalition on a funeral in Yemen, terrorist attacks against the Hazara minority in Afghanistan, and increased violence against Rohingya in western Burma.

 

Middle East and North Africa

Syria

Last month, a deadly attack on aid convoy at a Syrian Arab Red Crescent Warehouse killed at least 18 civilians and destroyed various lorries and a clinic. On October 5, UN experts declared that the occurrence was an air strike and said that it may constitute a war crime. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has organized an investigation into the attack.

“We’re totally devastated by the deaths of so many people, including one of our colleagues, the director of [The International Committee of the Red Cross’] sub-branch, Omar Barakat. He was a committed and brave member of our family of staff and volunteers, working relentlessly to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people. It is totally unacceptable that our staff and volunteers continue to pay such a high price because of the ongoing fighting,” said the SARC President, Dr Abdulrahman Attar.

Various opinions as to who is to blame have surfaced. While the US believes that Russian warplanes are behind the attack, Russia has denied the claim. Meanwhile, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was unclear whether the strike “was carried out by the US-led coalition fighting ISIL, or Turkey, which is leading an operation against the group in the area with support from Syrian rebel forces.”

syriaairstrikes

The recent airstrikes targeting Aleppo have left the city in turmoil. Since the collapse of the US-Russia ceasefire, the UN Satellite Imagery Program says the damage has multiplied. New pictures, mostly of destroyed homes and buildings from the rebel-held areas in the eastern half of the city, show the devastation caused by airstrikes.

Last week, the Turkish Parliament voted to extend its military presence in Iraq for another year in order to take on “terrorist organizations,” a likely reference to both Kurdish rebels and ISIS. Iraq’s parliament responded on Tuesday by denouncing the vote and calling for Turkey to pull its estimated 2,000 troops out of northern Iraq. Haidar al-Abadi, the Iraqi Prime Minister, warned Turkey that it risks triggering a regional war by keeping troops in Iraq. Conflict may be imminent between the two countries, as relations are already tense due to the Syria crisis and the rise of ISIS.

Emerging Conflicts: Yemen

On October 8, a Saudi airstrike on a funeral for the father of Galal al-Rawishan, the Houthi Interior Minister, underscored the vulnerability of civilians in the conflict in Yemen and the continued violence against civilians in the country. At least 140 were killed and over 500 injured, sparking condemnation from human rights organizations. Over 4,000 civilians have died since the Saudi-led coalition began its operations in the country in March 2015. This attack was called an act of genocide by the spokesman of the Houthi rebel government, which has been fighting President Hadi’s government in the brutal civil war which also began last March. Saudi Arabia has denied involvement in the attack, but the event moved the United States to review its policy of providing the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen with munitions, a long-standing demand from human rights organizations such as STAND and Amnesty International. This move comes weeks after the Senate rejected a proposal that would have blocked an arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth $1.15 billion.

Emerging Conflicts: Afghanistan

Recent acts of violence continue to underline the tragic and deteriorating conditions that the mostly-Shia Hazara face. The Hazara are an ethnic and religious minority residing in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Kabul, on the eve of the Day of Ashura, October 12, a gunman opened fire on a group of Hazara Shia mourners at the Sakhi Shrine, killing 18 and injuring 54. The next day, a bombing at a Shia mosque in Balkh District in Northern Afghanistan killed at least 14 people, and injured dozens more. ISIS claimed responsibility for both attacks. The Hazara were persecuted on a systematic basis by the Taliban when they controlled the government in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Though the Taliban is no longer in power, the Hazara are still persecuted in areas that are Taliban-controlled and other terrorist-controlled areas. Violence against the Hazara has displaced thousands into countries like Iran and Pakistan, where they continue to face discrimination over their ethnic and religious identity.

Southeast Asia

Burma

On October 7, the US officially announced the lifting of sanctions against Burma. 50 controversial public figures were removed from the US Treasury’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN) List, including the country’s former head of state Senior General Than Shwe. An additional 16 high-ranking military officials and 5 Burmese businessmen accused of corruption (U Tay Za, U Khin Shwe, Yuzana U Htay Myint, U Zaw Zaw and Stephen Law) were also exonerated. These men and their families have been involved in trading arms to North Korea and supporting trade in illegal narcotics for decades. The US claims that this decision demonstrates the US’s commitment to support growth in Burma and rebuild trust between the two nations in light of the progress Burma has made towards peace and democracy. However, many critics of the decision argue that those who stand to gain from the lifting of sanctions are not ordinary Burmese citizens, but rather members of the old military regime who are already rich and powerful.

The success of Burma’s democratization processes has been called into question over the past week following the arrest of a young police officer charged for criticizing the leadership of State Councillor and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi via Facebook. The accused man, Zaw Zaw (aka Ngaphar), from North Dagon Township, faces 5 years in jail. His arrest has stirred discontent among right-wing factions in Burma who have accused Suu Kyi’s party, the National League of Democracy, of double standards regarding free speech. According to right-wing newspaper Eleven Myanmar, 30 people have been arrested for publicly criticizing the party since last November’s election. If true, this could become dangerous ammunition in the hands of the party’s many opponents.

Furthermore, many in Burma are questioning whether the peace agreement made last October (and consolidated by the newly elected National League of Democracy) has had any impact on the ground. Over the past 6 days, Rakhine State in Southwestern Burma has been racked by conflict. Over a dozen soldiers and police have been killed, and a large, but unreported, number of civilian casualties took place after 300 men attacked the town of Maungtaw. A state of emergency has been announced, which has imposed a 7 PM to 6 AM curfew and closed all schools in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships Rakhine State. Burmese authorities are on the hunt for the men involved in the uprising, who, if caught, are likely to face execution. According to police, 8 of the attackers have already been killed by state troops and 2 captured. According to the Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, “the recent clashes have not only caused grievous deaths and injuries including to infants and children, but also displaced tens of thousands of people” in the region, which is already at the centre of Burma’s growing Rohingya crisis. The UN has urged the civilian population of the area to exercise “maximum restraint” and not to target or place blame on minority groups, particularly the Rohingya community.

In light of recent events, international organizations have warned of a heightened risk of Islamophobic attacks and discrimination against displaced Rohingya communities in Western Burma. This week, the International Organisation for Migration published a statement urging Burmese police and aid organizations to offer greater protection for displaced Burmese nationals, who are largely Rohingya, on the Bangladeshi border. It warned that the recent crackdown on Rohingya settlements may send a dangerous message to Buddhist nationalists who are already hostile to the state’s vulnerable and marginalized residents.

There has also been unrest in the Shan State after the Burmese Army attacked a Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) relief centre for drug addicts in Mong Kung Township on October 5th. The fighting has forced 2,000 people to flee their homes and scatter across the state, many seeking refuge in monasteries. Many in Burma fear that these recent attacks may destabilize the peace agreement, which is already unpopular among many in Burma’s eastern provinces.  

The Burmese government and army must take urgent action to prove their commitment to peace and democracy and rebuild trust with the country’s marginalized civilian populations.

Ana Delgado is STAND’s Middle East and North Africa Coordinator, focusing mainly on Syria. She is a Senior at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in Political Science and Peace, War, and Defense.

Jason Qu is STAND’s Emerging Conflicts Coordinator, focusing today on Yemen and Afghanistan. He is a Junior at Bronx High School of Science.

Sophie Back is STAND’s Southeast Asia Coordinator, focusing mainly on Burma. She is a Senior at the University College of London.