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Weekly News Brief: 4/26/2017

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

This week’s update focuses on the recent chemical weapons attacks in Syria, parliamentary  elections in Burma, and the deepening multi-faceted nature of the conflict in Yemen.

 

Middle East and North Africa

Syria

Chemical weapons have been used in the Syrian conflict since 2013. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and a specific UN task force have investigated the multitude of attacks, and in 2016, the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) released a report that explicitly accused President Bashar al-Assad’s government for the occurrences.

In April 2017, the issue of chemical warfare in Syria took center stage after one of the deadliest attacks of the war occurred in rebel-held northern Syria. According to witnesses, medical professionals, and rescue workers, sarin gas, or a similar chemical nerve agent, struck dozens of civilians after warplanes dropped bombs in the area. Within a day, there were over 100 reported fatalities and many others injured.

President Bashar al-Assad has denied the Syrian government’s involvement in the attack. Representatives from Assad’s regime have instead blamed insurgents for the episode. The Trump administration responded to the gas attacks by issuing a missile strike on the Al Shayrat airfield in Syria, aimed at military equipment used by the Assad regime. In response to the U.S. missile strike, STAND issued a statement condemning the use of chemical weapons, noting civilian casualties caused by American airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and urging Congressional approval for any further military action.

On Monday of this week, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on 271 employees of the Syrian government’s Scientific Studies and Research Center, more than doubling the number of Syrian individuals and entities under sanctions by the U.S. This action seeks to punish those responsible for the chemical weapons attack earlier this month, and to deter future attacks.

Southeast Asia

Burma

Nationwide elections were held in Burma on Sunday, April 2, in which nearly half of the parliamentary seats went to Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). The popularity of Suu Kyi and the NLD has declined since it came into power in 2015 due to Suu Kyi’s passive response to ethnic conflicts dividing the region. The election nevertheless reaffirmed the party’s status as the most popular in the country for those citizens who voted. However, just five percent of Burma’s population was eligible to vote in the election, a direct result of the denial of ethnic minority citizenship in the country.

Suu Kyi has remained virtually silent on the humanitarian crisis surrounding killing and displacement of the Rohingya population, which has garnered her  intense international criticism. The leader’s silence cost the NLD many seats in the minority ethnic regions of the nation. Though Aung San Suu Kyi has promised to bring peace, her silence has spoken volumes about her priorities as a leader for many in the nation.

Prior to the election, Aung San Suu Kyi gave a public address, recognizing the lack of reform since the conflicts arose. The leader also assured her constituents that she would prioritize ending the ethnic tension that has divided the country almost to the point of war. Suu Kyi reaffirmed her commitment to ending the conflict and regaining harmony within the nation, noting afterward that the NLD would be willing to step aside if another party were more qualified and capable to lead.

In elections held in Rakhine state, a western region dominated by the Rohingya ethnic minority group, the NLD fell short and the lower house seat was given to the chairman of the Arakan National Party who has been known to stand adamantly against the Muslim Rohingya population.

Emerging Conflicts

Yemen

The​ ​multifaceted​ ​nature​ ​of​ ​the​ ​conflict​ ​in​ ​Yemen​ ​continues​ ​to​ ​deepen​ ​as​ Iran and Saudi Arabia engage in a conflict​ ​that​ ​could​ ​seriously tip​ ​the​ ​balance​ ​of​ ​power​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Middle​ ​East.​ ​Both sides consider the conflict a​ ​significant flashpoint​ ​​of both strategic and propagandic value, providing both with the opportunity​ ​to​ ​display​ ​their​​ ​military​ ​influence​ ​throughout​ ​the​ ​region.​ ​Iran​ ​has been​ ​accused​ ​of​ ​sending​ ​weapons​ ​and​ ​supplies​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​ideological ​support​ ​to​ ​the Houthi​ ​rebels.​ ​Despite ​​numerous​ ​reports​​ ​attesting to​ ​deepening Iranian support for​ ​the​ ​Houthis,​ ​Iran​ ​continues​ ​to​ ​deny​ ​arming​ ​the​ ​rebels.​ ​Meanwhile, the Saudi-led​ ​coalition​ ​has​ ​significantly​ ​backed​ ​the​ ​Hadi​ ​government​ ​through​ ​the​ ​provision​ ​of military​ ​support,​ ​notably​ ​air​ ​strikes.​ ​Their​ ​support​ ​has helped​ ​the Hadi government​ ​​take​ ​back​ ​the Khaled​ ​Ibn​ ​Al-Walid​ ​base​​ ​from​ ​Houthi​ ​rebels,​ ​and has garnered intense​ ​criticism​ ​for​ ​the ​use​ ​of​ ​munitions​ ​against​ ​civilians. ​ In late February​, the coalition used ​cluster​ ​munitions​ ​​on​ ​a​ ​farm​ ​in​ ​Northern​ ​Yemen.​ ​Indiscriminate​ ​attacks and​ ​airstrikes​ ​have​ ​resulted​ ​in​ ​the​ ​deaths​ ​and​ ​wounding​ ​of​ ​thousands​ ​of​ ​civilians​ ​in​ ​Yemen.

Organizations​ ​like​ ​Human​ ​Rights​ ​Watch​ ​and​ ​STAND​ ​have​ ​repeatedly called​ ​for​ ​countries such​ ​as​ ​the​ ​United​ ​States and the United Kingdom ​to​ ​stop​ ​the​ ​transfer​ ​of​ ​munitions​ ​and​ ​arms to​ ​the​ ​Saudi-led​ ​coalition​ ​so​ ​long​ ​as​ ​they​ ​continue​ ​to​ ​launch​ ​attacks​ ​on​ ​civilians​ ​and​ ​civilian facilities​ ​such​ ​as​ ​hospitals.​ The Trump administration has continued the Obama administration’s partnership with the Saudi-led coalition by selling arms to Saudi Arabia.

In the UK, ​Prime​ ​Minister​ ​May​ ​has defended​ ​the British​ ​relationship​ ​with​ ​Saudi​ ​Arabia​,​ ​citing​ ​crucial​ ​national​ ​security,​ ​strategic,​ ​and​ ​diplomatic interests.​ ​Yemen​ ​continues​ ​to​ ​remain​ ​in​ ​a​ ​state​ ​of​ ​humanitarian​ ​crisis​ ​as​ ​a​ ​majority​ ​of​ ​the population​ ​remains ​displaced​ ​or​ ​in​ ​extreme​ ​need​ ​of​ ​basic​ ​necessities​ ​such​ ​as​ ​food,​ ​water, and​ ​medical​ ​supplies.​ ​Indiscriminate​ ​attacks​ ​by​ ​both​ ​sides​ ​of​ ​the​ ​conflict​ ​have​ ​disproportionately affected​ ​civilians​ ​and​ ​displaced​ ​persons,​ ​such​ ​as​ ​those​ ​from​ ​Somalia,​ ​who have​ ​become​ increasingly ​affected​ ​as the​ ​conflict​ ​continues​ ​to​ ​spill​ ​outside​ ​of​ ​Yemen’s​ ​borders.​ ​​Missiles​ ​launched​ ​by​ ​Houthi​ ​forces in March, for example, resulted​ ​in​ ​the​ ​deaths​ ​of​ ​two​ ​dozen​ ​worshippers​ ​in​ ​a​ ​mosque​ ​in​ ​Yemen’s​ ​western​ ​Marib​ ​province. A​ ​boat​ ​carrying​ ​Somali​ ​refugees​ ​off​ ​the​ ​coast​ ​of​ ​Yemen​ ​​was​ ​attacked​ ​by​ ​a​ ​helicopter​ suspected to have been directed by the Saudi-led coalition, resulting​ ​in the​ ​deaths​ ​of​ ​dozens​ ​of​ ​people.​ ​In​ ​response​ ​to​ ​these rampant​ ​human​ ​rights​ ​violations,​ ​the​ ​United Nations​ ​High​ ​Commissioner​ ​for​ ​Human​ ​Rights​ ​​has​ ​called​ ​for​ ​an​ ​independent​ ​mechanism​​​ to ​hold those​ ​guilty​ ​of​ ​human​ ​rights​ ​violations​ ​accountable.

 

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

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

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

Weekly News Brief: 4/17/2017


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

This week’s update covers the escalating conflict between Séléka armed groups in the Central African Republic, and increasing economic issues in Nigeria. South Sudan also continues to struggle with issues of famine and starvation, resulting in an influx of refugees from South Sudan to Sudan. Two UN officials were kidnapped and killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Central and West Africa

Central African Republic

Twelve months after the peaceful election of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra in the Central African Republic (CAR), there was hope that the country could gradually recover from its lengthy conflict and begin to rebuild its security and economic sectors. Unfortunately, these hopes have been challenged by armed groups, who control most of the country outside of the capital of Bangui. Although the conflict was initially primarily religious—Christian militias rose up to defend themselves against the Séléka, a rebel coalition comprised largely of Muslims—its dynamic has greatly evolved. Because the two groups are geographically divided by a de facto partition between Christians in the south and Muslims in the north, violence between them has decreased. Instead, violence between different Séléka armed groups has emerged, with the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) and the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC) as the two main factions. These two groups do not seem to possess any political or religious agenda—the latter has even aligned itself with Christian fighters; instead, both appear to be fighting primarily for territory and mineral resources.

 

Bambari is a particularly desirable territory because of its proximity to the Ndassima gold mine, notable iron ore deposits, and profitable sugar plantations. The FPRC recently sought to drive the UPC out of the city with approximately forty armed fighters, forcing the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) to employ an attack helicopter against the assault. Although the FRPC militia was successfully repulsed, aid agencies have warned of the humanitarian catastrophe that could erupt if fighting around the city intensifies. About a quarter of the civilians have already fled their homes, but 150,000 people remain in Bambari. Providing healthcare in the area has been incredibly challenging, particularly because the number of people living in camps or sleeping in the open air is increasing the likelihood of a malaria epidemic. The FPRC has also reportedly interfered with humanitarian access, threatening peacekeepers, aid workers, and civilians.

Although a United Nations-backed Special Criminal Court has been launched to address such war crimes, it is unclear how effective the court will be, particularly because of a lack of financial resources and political will. In an atmosphere of violence, it is unclear if it will be possible to prosecute militia leaders and end the culture of impunity that has contributed to the ongoing violence.

Nigeria

Led by Norway, donors at the Oslo summit pledged $672 million towards emergency humanitarian aid for Nigeria in an attempt to ameliorate a famine that could affect nearly three million people. The United States notably made no financial pledge at Oslo for the impoverished region that has suffered from both Boko Haram attacks and severe drought. Stephen O’Brien, the emergency relief coordinator at the United Nations, has said that the United States may yet donate money, but President Donald Trump’s talk of significantly reducing funding to both the United Nations and other international organizations aid makes this possibility far less certain.

The humanitarian crisis comes at a time when the Nigerian economy is in distress. Low levels of foreign reserves and a sharp decrease in oil reduction as a result of conflict in the Niger Delta are the two main reasons for the rapid economic decline. Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari’s economic policies have been blamed for the poor economy, particularly his refusal to devalue the naira. With Buhari on medical leave, however, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is moving ahead with aggressive reforms to end the economic woes. He visited the Niger Delta on March 2 in an attempt to strike a deal with the fighters who have been responsible for numerous attacks on the immensely important oil sector.

Suicide bombings by Boko Haram continue and recent attacks near Chibok, which became internationally known after terrorists kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls from the town, compelled thousands of people to flee. Recently, however, a report by Amnesty International was released detailing the significant human rights abuses committed by the Nigerian military during its fight against Boko Haram. On March 1, Major-General Lucky Irabor rejected the allegations of the report, arguing that his soldiers always act professionally and adhere to the rules of engagement. It is impossible to know if this is true given the poor track record of the military in Nigeria.

Sudan and South Sudan

On March 27, special representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, released a report, stating, “Boys and girls continued to be victims of grave violations committed by all parties to the conflict, including killing and maiming, sexual violence and attacks on schools and hospitals.” The report  details the impact of the armed conflict on children in Darfur, South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Abyei between March 2011 and December 2016. It states, “In most cases, children were raped during attacks on their villages or while getting wood or water in the vicinity of camps for displaced people.”

The Citizen reports that since 2011, the Sudanese government has strengthened its national framework to protect children and has raised the minimum recruitment age for national forces to 18. The UN Secretary-General issued a report stating that fewer children have been recruited to armed groups since this policy was put in place.

On March 28, the UN refugee agency announced that more than 60,000 South Sudanese have entered Sudan in the first three months of 2017, already reaching the total annual number of South Sudanese refugees previously projected to enter the country for the year. South Sudan has declared a famine in parts of the country where approximately  100,000 people are reported to be suffering from starvation.

Great Lakes Region of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

The United Nations has been struggling to maintain peace and security in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On March 13 the Congolese government reported that two UN officials and  four Congolese support staff had been kidnapped in the Kasai region. Their bodies were found two weeks later. The previous week, another UN peacekeeper was shot and killed in the area.

This news was released approximately a week before the United Nations reported the discovery of a number of mass graves in the Kasai region, where a rebellion has broken out in recent months. The graves were filmed by a Reuters journalist on March 11. Though initial news sources had reported three mass graves in the area, that number has since increased to eight and then to ten. The United Nations believes that the graves were dug by Congolese security forces and noted that in February more than 800 people were believed to have been killed in the region.

The United Nations stated on March 21 that the deteriorating security situation in the DRC since President Kabila’s refusal to step down from power has become a “source of major concern.” Concerns for the security of civilians have motivated  a number of human rights organizations to produce a report detailing the importance of security sector reform in Congo.The likelihood of Congolese elections in 2017 remains a possibility, as various outlets continue to offer mixed support. The head of MONUSCO claimed as of March 21, more than 19 million voters had been enrolled with their support, and that the enrollment process should be completed by the end of March. Their support is accompanied by pressure from the UN to implement the agreement to hold 2017 elections, signed at the end of 2016.

Activists in the DRC are less optimistic about the potential to see elections in 2017, however. Fred Bauma, a prominent youth activist, warned, “there is no political will from either side to hold elections in the DRC.” He also questioned whether outside funding for the elections from the US, EU, or UK would be provided to ensure that the elections occur.

Burundi

In Burundi, human rights violations continue, natural disasters are taking a toll on local communities, and the International Development Association is providing funding for those in poverty.

A number of bodies have been found in the aftermath of ethnic and political violence in Burundi. On March 20, the body of police officer Charles Ndihokubwayo was  found in Ntahangwa, one among upwards of 60 bodies reported by human rights organization Ligue ITEKA in Burundi. In addition to these killings, disappearances continue to take place throughout the country, as notable journalists such as Jean Bigirmana are still missing after almost eight months of searching. Sources on this particular disappearance claim that he was abducted by the National Intelligence Service, raising concern over Burundian rights to freedom of expression and information. NGOs in Burundi continue to raise concerns over broader rights violations, including “extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment to public members.”

Torrential rain in Bujumbura has resulted in flooding and landslides, leading to the deaths of at least six people, numerous injuries, and the destruction of over 162 homes. On March 18, it was reported that the rainfall had dropped more than a month’s worth of water on the city in a few hours. Those impacted by the rainfall have been seeking support from neighbors and family members as they attempt to respond to the destruction.

The International Development Association will work through the World Bank to provide $40 million to support those in poverty in Burundi. The money will be distributed to 48,000 households in four regions of Burundi and will be given to women, who are traditionally responsible for handling budgets in the household. Independent agencies who monitor corruption have been calling for the establishment of  an independent commission that would circumvent the government and ensure that the money reaches those who need it most.

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: 4/5/2017

standnewsimage

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

This week’s update focuses on allegations of abuse against the Burmese military by the United Nations.The United States has seen policy change towards Yemen under the new presidential administration. In February, the UN Security Council held a vote on sanctioning Syria, which received nine votes and three vetoes.

 

Southeast Asia

Burma

An investigation was finally launched by the Burmese government to look into repeated accusations of military abuse against the Rohingya. However, it reached a standstill due to the chief of general staff, Gen. Mya Tun Oo’s, official statement that there was no plausible evidence that widespread military abuse in the form of rape or other atrocities had occurred against civilians. The allegations against the army for burning civilian homes is still being investigated. After visiting Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, the UN’s envoy for human rights in Burma called for immediate government action regarding the estimated one million Rohingya persecuted by security forces. Rohingya children are particularly affected by the persecution.

An article published on February 28 states that due to the conflict that has been ongoing since October, several thousand Rohingya children in the northwest area of the country are in critical health conditions due to malnutrition and lack of medical care. A major contributing factor is the restrictions set on UN aid due to the government’s seal of the area. The implementation of more frequent military checkpoints across the area is another contributing factor to the lack of accessibility to the area.

Last week, the UN Human Rights Council began its three-week session, during which they are expected to discuss Burma. President Obama’s former ambassador to the Geneva-based council, Keith Harper, has called out Burma’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi for failing to address the conflict in the Rakhine State of Burma where the Rohingya remain a persecuted minority group. Harper further explains that though many had high hopes for the country’s widely respected leader, it is necessary to hold her accountable for the injustices.

Emerging Conflicts

Yemen

The Trump Administration appears to have begun shifting US policy towards the conflict in Yemen, moving away from some of the policy stances of the Obama Administration. Many human rights groups, international organizations, and parties to the conflict in Yemen – notably Saudi Arabia – have looked to the United States to help shape the civil war that has become a regional quagmire and humanitarian disaster. As Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to be locked in what has some elements of a de-facto proxy war in Yemen, there have been real consequences for civilians as the United Nations reported at least 10,000 civilian deaths and the displacement of millions across the country. Many, especially children, face malnutrition and lack of access to medical supplies, among other basic necessities.

This has sparked an international outcry especially as the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebels are reported to have attacked civilians and indiscriminately bombed areas with civilian facilities such as hospitals. Organizations like STAND have called on the US to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia while they continue to observe rules of engagement that have not respected the protection of civilians. However, the Trump Administration has has focused on balancing a number of priorities in Yemen, such as blunting the influence of Iran, halting and reversing the advances of AQAP militants in Yemen, and maintaining friendly security relations with countries like Saudi Arabia. In this, the Trump Administration had signaled a reversal in a late move made by the previous administration to block the sale of precision-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia. Although such a move requires further approval by the White House, the State Department proposed resuming the arms transfer. A senior White House official has said that the US wants to blunt Iranian influence in the region, with Yemen being a major front in this initiative. This move could mark a shift towards a more hawkish approach towards Iran, a change that will certainly hold implications for Yemen.

Middle East and North Africa

Syria

In a Human Rights Watch report released February 13, the organization stated, “Syrian government forces had carried out at least eight chemical attacks in late 2016 as they were fighting to capture second city Aleppo.” The Syrian foreign ministry dismissed the report as “unprofessional and unscientific.”

In response to the allegations, the UN Security Council was set to vote on sanctioning Syria in late February. A resolution drafted by Britain, the US, and France would have “put 11 Syrians, mainly military commanders, and 10 entities linked to chemical attacks in 2014 and 2015 on a UN sanctions blacklist.”

The resolution received nine votes and three vetoes. The vetoes—from China, Russia, and Bolivia, were not surprising. Russia has vetoed seven resolutions in the past five years, as they consider the Assad regime an ally. US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, called chemical weapons attacks in Syria “barbaric” and accused Russia and China of putting “their friends in the Assad regime ahead of our global security.”

The events and rhetoric surrounding the UNSC vote are indicative of a prolonged disagreement by Russia and China with the US on how to combat the Syrian civil war.

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

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

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

 

Weekly News Brief: 3/13/2017

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

This week’s update focuses on failing peace talks in South Sudan and Burundi; hunger and famine in South Sudan and Nigeria; the proposed halt to the US conflict minerals rule, which will affect progress made on armed group funding, supply chain transparency, and money laundering; renewed fighting in the Central African Republic; and protests against Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari.

South Sudan

On February 7, The Sudan Tribune published a report that two women have died from starvation in South Sudan’s Eastern Equatoria state. The incident reflects the food security difficulties that South Sudan is currently facing.

Since South Sudan’s controversial 2015 peace deal has created controversy because it requests that rebels who fought the administration of President Salva Kiir return to Juba, the capital city of South Sudan. The peace deal was administered by the former Botswana president Festus Mogae, who serves in the Joint Evaluation and Monitoring Commission (JMEC). Mogae reportedly said to the BBC that former Vice President Riek Machar should not return to Juba. These comments have raised the concerns of human rights experts who believe that Mogae’s remarks show favoritism toward the government of South Sudan. As the administrator of the peace deal, Mogae should not show favoritism to either side.

On February 17, South Sudanese minister of Labor Lieutenant General Gabriel Duop Lam joined the side of the rebels, marking the second high-level resignation this week from the government. The defection was confirmed at a news conference in Juba on Friday.

On the same day, a senior UN human rights official called for the need for accountability for “those committing atrocity crimes in conflict-torn South Sudan.” UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour said, “This is a war that has been waged against the men, women and children of South Sudan, and the only way of ending this onslaught will be when the perpetrators face consequences for what they’re doing.” Mr. Gilmour travelled to the country last month, where he observed the devastation and human rights abuses suffered by civilians. Gilmour went on to emphasize his frustrations with the limited access available to the UN Mission to South Sudan, whose mission is to protect and provide humanitarian assistance to civilians.

Great Lakes Region of Africa

Burundi

Peace dialogue in Burundi is crumbling as the government continues to refuse to participate. The Burundian government’s refusal to participate lies in the invitation of groups who they do not consider peaceful stakeholders. Meanwhile, the National Council for the Respect of the Arusha Accord (CNARED), an opposition group predominantly in exile, complained that Benjamin Mkapa, former president of Tanzania and mediator of the talks, was not including all invested groups in the dialogue and was therefore failing to represent the views of the Burundian people. In an attempt to satisfy CNARED’s concerns, Mkapa agreed to allow individuals accused of participating in a 2015 coup attempt to participate in the discussion. This decision spurred the Burundian government’s refusal to continue the peace talks, leading many in the region to doubt that the dialogue will see any success. The talks were scheduled to run from February 16 to 18, but the Burundian government refused to send representatives.

The government in Burundi maintains that the political crisis has ended and that Burundi is now a safe country, issuing a call for refugees to return home. The response from surrounding countries has been hesitant at best. In Uganda, contradictory statements have been made regarding the return of refugees to Burundi. The Minister for Disaster Preparedness Hillary Onek said that refugees would receive a three-month extension if they desired to stay, but the minister’s deputy Musa Ecweru claimed that the laws regarding refugees require that their return be voluntary. The Commissioner for Refugees of the Office of the Prime Minister, Mr. Kazungu Apollo, released a clarification that Uganda will support Burundians seeking asylum until they feel it is unsafe for them to return home.

The UN peacekeepers Burundi has sent to other countries, especially Somalia, have provided a source of financial support to the country’s defense department. The continued use of Burundian peacekeepers has raised concerns that the UN is indirectly funding repression in Burundi. Though the European Union pays the Burundian soldiers’ salaries, it has requested that the African Union find a way to pay Burundian peacekeepers without passing through Burundian banks.  

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Although pressure has been applied to the Congolese government to hold elections in 2017, the budget minister claimed on February 15 that “it would be difficult to gather the necessary $1.8 billion” for the election. The minister, Pierre Kangudia, claims that the government does not have the money to host elections in 2017 come just twelve days after the death of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi. Tshisekedi was expected to lead a transitional government with the current President Kabila until elections could be held later this year. His death, along with the statements from the budget minister, have led to a renewed uncertainty about the future of democracy in DRC. The minister also stated that “we have to fill the holes before we can even put anything in it [the treasury],” a reference to the corruption present in the country.

Meanwhile, President Trump re-ignited a conversation about conflict minerals and the Dodd-Frank law in the United States when a directive was leaked that would temporarily suspend the Dodd-Frank law for two years. The executive order declared that the secretary of the treasury would “review regulations on financial institutions and report back specific recommendations.” The Dodd-Frank act requires US firms to “declare where they’re sourcing their gold, tin, and other minerals, often used in consumer electronics.” Removing this piece of legislation, or even simply suspending it, could lead to a resurgence in investment in conflict minerals: gold, tin, tungsten, and tantalum. In eastern Congo, armed rebel groups sell these resources to fund violent activities, and this policy change opens the possibility of a backslide in improvements made in responsible sourcing practices in the past few years.

Violence between the government and various militias in the DRC continues. Over a five-day span from February 9 to February 13, soldiers killed at least 101 people in an altercation with the Kamwina Nsapu group in central Congo. UN human rights spokesperson Liz Throssell accused the troops of “firing indiscriminately” and using “excessive and disproportionate” force to handle the situation. The deaths of 39 women in this altercation support the accusation. The UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC also stated that the Kamwina Nsapu group had “committed violent atrocities and used child soldiers.”

Major armed groups active in the eastern DRC include the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which also carries out abuses in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), comprised predominantly of Rwandan Hutu linked to the 1994 genocide, the Forces for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri (FRPI), which is responsible for various abuses against civilians, local Mai-Mai community-based militias, and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed Ugandan group that has bases in eastern Congo.

Central and West Africa

Central African Republic (CAR)

In the last three weeks, the Central African Republic (CAR) has seen a resurgence of violence perpetrated by armed groups. On February 7, rebels killed at least five civilians after the Central African army, with support from UN peacekeepers, killed Youssouf Malinga, also known as “Big Man,” a leader of a local Muslim militia group, during an operation. Additionally, over two dozen were wounded, and two churches and a school were destroyed. Just four days earlier, a clash between two armed groups in Bocaranga killed civilians and compelled thousands to flee to nearby forests.

Much of this violence continues because of its political and economic expediency. Warlords continue to exploit religious tensions in the country to gain popular support and strengthen their political bargaining power, thus increasing their chances of earning a government position. Because the judicial system has been unwilling or unable to prosecute these individuals for their crimes, a culture of impunity has been created, encouraging such behavior. In fact, the idea of blanket amnesty for war crimes recently arose while President Faustin-Archange Touadéra was meeting with the leaders of several armed groups. Beyond political rewards, the revenue that armed groups obtain from natural resource extraction further incentivizes them to continue to perpetuate violence. This may be exacerbated if President Donald Trump follows through on a proposal that would suspend federal rules on conflict minerals. Members of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) say that this policy could lead to “the resurgence of armed groups controlling and exploiting minerals. This might ultimately lead to a generalised proliferation of terrorist groups, trans-boundary money laundry and illicit financial flows in the region.”

Much of the future of CAR depends on action taken by the international community. On February 15, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous warned the international community not to turn away from the country, as armed groups remain a grave threat. As such, the peacekeeping force in the country has changed its deployment to more effectively protect the country. Regional organizations have also gotten involved, with the African Union, the Economic Community of Central African States, and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region launching a joint-initiative for a national peace and reconciliation agreement. Only concerted international attention will allow this lengthy conflict and humanitarian crisis to cease.

Nigeria

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), at least half a million children under the age of five in northeastern Nigeria will suffer from severe acute malnutrition during this upcoming year, leading up to twenty percent of them to die, unless more aid is given. At least fourteen million require some type of humanitarian assistance. The hunger crisis in the northeast is caused primarily by Boko Haram, whose attacks have displaced millions of farmers, significantly reducing their ability to farm. The man-made famine is the first in over a decade. Donor countries from 14 countries pledged to scale up funding for vulnerable groups threatened by famine at the Oslo conference last month.

Thousands of Nigerians are expressing their grievances at the present humanitarian situation by protesting the government of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. Although much of Boko Haram has been defeated, citizens believe Buhari has failed in his other responsibilities related to eliminating corruption, bolstering the education system, and promoting economic growth. In particular, the economy has suffered under Buhari with plummeting exchange rates and virtually non-existent foreign direct investment. Anger is exacerbated by Buhari’s decision to receive medical treatment outside of the country, attesting to his lack of trust in local healthcare. Concern for the president’s health—and questions about whether it may be worse than government officials are saying—is putting further pressure on the government and raising concerns about the continued functioning of the political system.

Both Boko Haram and other militants in the Niger Delta continue to pose a problem in Nigeria. Seven suicide bombers, six of whom were women, launched an attack in Maiduguri on February 16. Though there were no civilian casualties during this attack, such attacks continue to occur with regularity around the country. Horrifically, Boko Haram is now deploying children as young as nine, who are able to get through security checkpoints more easily. The petroleum minister of Nigeria also recently announced that armed groups in the Niger Delta cost the  country between $50 and $100 billion in oil revenue as it was forced to cut back production by nearly two hundred thousand barrels per day. Although a detailed plan has recently been released to end the insurgency through development of infrastructure and social institutions, it remains to be seen whether Nigeria will have the financial or technical capacity to effectively do the job.

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.

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

Weekly News Brief: 2/23/2017

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

This week’s update focuses on violence against the Rohingya by the Burmese military; an appeal by the UN for more funding to assist with the humanitarian crisis in Yemen where Yemenis are not only facing violence, but also starvation and lack of medical care; and attempts at Syria peace talks planned for this week in Geneva.

 

 

Southeast Asia

Burma

UN officials have reported on Burma’s persistent ethnic cleansing targeting the Rohingya population and forcing their mass evacuation from the country. While the government still denies any abuse, the BBC released a video documenting victim accounts of the violence. Victims reported that the military has burned their houses and mosques and brutally murdered their family members. The UN and other human rights investigators are calling on the Myanmar government to end these mass atrocities.

At the beginning of the month, a Malaysian ship docked in Yangon, Burma to deliver food, clothing, and medicine to the persecuted Rohingya was met by Buddhist monks and protesters as well as health workers and activists. Malaysian aid workers reportedly trusted that the Myanmar government would hand over the 2,300 tons of food, clothing and medicine to Rakhine state where around 1 million Rohingya reside. Razali Ramli, who helped organize the shipment, stated, “We have to respect Myanmar’s sovereignty.” He felt that they handed over the supplies “in good faith.”

Middle East and North Africa

Yemen

The humanitarian situation in Yemen remains precarious, raging on without a clear end in sight. Humanitarian organizations and the international community remain concerned about the development of a crisis that touches the lives of millions of Yemenis due to the lack of access to medical facilities, medical care and supplies, food, and other basic necessities. There is severe need throughout the country, but particularly for those in hard-to-reach areas. In response, the UN has appealed for over two billion dollars in funding for 2017.

Despite slow advances, President Hadi’s forces retook the south-west port city of Mokha at the end of last month, which was seized by the Houthis in December 2014. Dozens of families fled the clashes and bombardment in Mokha. Violence has also hit the Saudi border, and the Saudi-led coalition lost seven Saudi soldiers on February 14 in clashes with the Houthi rebels. This incident highlights the continued influence of foreign parties in the conflict.

The violence continues to rage without signs of abating, as countless efforts at peace talks have been exhausted without a long-term deal. However, the dynamics of the conflict have great potential to change as developments in the Middle East as well as changes in foreign policy for nations involved in the conflict begin to have an impact on the war.

yemengraphic22317

Syria

The Geneva Talks scheduled for February 23 are anticipated to assist a collaborative dialogue between President Assad’s government representatives, various opposition figures, and rebels fighting within the Syrian borders.

The UN envoy to Syria, Staffan De Mistura, says negotiating a political transition for the war-torn country will be the sole item on the agenda for upcoming talks between the government and opposition in Geneva. U.S. News comments that De Mistura said the agenda is “fixed in UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which mandates a new form of governance for Syria, a new constitution, and new elections.”

The attendees were slated to arrive in Geneva on February 20. According to information reported by Rudaw, Bashar Jafar and a Kurdish member of the Syrian parliament will head the Syrian government’s delegation. Furthermore, Rudaw says that “the Syrian opposition will send 21 delegates to be headed by Nasr al-Hariri,” and that Fouad Aliko, a member of the Kurdish National Council (KNC, ENKS) will head the Kurdish representation within the opposition groups.” However, some rebel leaders refuse any negotiation talks until the current government reinforces the current ceasefire and addresses humanitarian concerns.

This will be the first time since the suspension of the April 2016 talks that the Syrian regime and opposition delegations have returned to Geneva.

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

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

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

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.