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Weekly News Brief: 10/27/2016

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

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

Great Lakes Region of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

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

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

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

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

Burundi

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

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

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

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

Central and West Africa

Central African Republic

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

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

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

Nigeria

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

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

Sudan

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

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

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

South Sudan

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

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

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

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

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

Joanna Liang is STAND’s Sudan and South Sudan Coordinator. She is a Junior at the University of Delaware where she majors in History Education.

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

Weekly News Brief: 10/18/2016

 

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

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

 

Middle East and North Africa

Syria

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

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

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

syriaairstrikes

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

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

Emerging Conflicts: Yemen

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

Emerging Conflicts: Afghanistan

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

Southeast Asia

Burma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly News Brief: 10/12/2016

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

This week’s news brief focuses on the Central African Republic (CAR), Nigeria, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Burundi. In Nigeria, violence is on the rise by both Boko Haram and the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA). In South Sudan, the UN is threatening an arms embargo if a peacekeeping force is not allowed by the government. Those opposed to a third term for President Kabila DRC are preparing for a fresh wave of protests, as he is constitutionally mandated to step down in December.

Central and West Africa

Central African Republic

On September 23, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, the president of the Central African Republic (CAR), spoke optimistically about the status of his country at the annual general debate of the United Nations General Assembly. Praising the United Nations, Touadera stated that he was proud of the progress that had already been made in establishing peace and stability in the country. Yet his speech also remained somber as the president acknowledged challenges still facing the state. Just five days before this speech, rebels killed dozens of citizens in the small village of Ndomete in one of the worst episodes of violence in the past few months. In response, the peacekeeping mission in the country elected to bolster its position in the area surrounding the site of the massacre. The lack of security in the country was also on display in the capital of Bangui on October 4. Three men grazing their flocks were killed, and Marcel Mombeka, the head of the armed forces in CAR, was assassinated. The combination of these two incidents has prompted some concern among those who fear that the country could spiral back into violence.

In the midst of this fragile peace, CAR also is attempting to rebuild the country, which has a long history of human rights abuses and mass atrocities, most recently in the wake of the 2012 coup d-état. On November 17, the CAR Donors and Investors Conference will take place in Brussels and will focus on rebuilding the capacity of the government so that it will be able to provide public goods such as security and social welfare programs. Unfortunately, there has been some criticism that such a conference will not do enough to involve local communities, which have grown increasingly capable of solving their own problems in the absence of a functional national government. As such, the national government must use pledged funds not as a temporary solution to immediate problems, but as a foundation to permanently rebuild the country.

Nigeria

On September 25, Boko Haram launched two different assaults against military positions in northeastern Nigeria. The first attack killed four soldiers in Logomani, and the second killed three soldiers and an officer near Bama. Both positions are under seventy miles from Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno state, where Boko Haram has been the most active.

Nigeria is also dealing with a second insurgency led by a group known as the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) who have been attacking oil and gas pipelines in an attempt to expel multinational oil companies from the country and obtain a more equitable distribution of revenue from such commodities. On September 23, the group, which had briefly halted its assaults, launched an attack against the Bonny crude export line. Just under a week later, they struck again against the Unenurhie-Evwreni delivery line. In response to these attacks, the National Association of Nigerian Students has attempted to reach out to the militants in this region and has urged them to end the violence, arguing that it only contributes to environmental degradation and economic setback. The Nigerian military has opened up a negotiation process with the militants, but also warned the group that it will strike back hard against those who do not participate.

The aggressiveness of Boko Haram and the Niger Delta Avengers combined with the steep decline in oil prices have had a severe impact on the economy of Nigeria, which depends almost exclusively on oil. On October 4, European Union official Fillippo Amato advised Nigeria to devalue the Naira in an attempt to mitigate the effects of the economic recession. The purpose of such a move would be to attract foreign investors who have understandably been wary to put their capital into a country still plagued by outbreaks of violence. This policy combined with more aid from the European Union should help alleviate the presently bleak humanitarian situation in Nigeria.

South Sudan

In September, The UN Security Council went on a three-day trip to South Sudan. Despite recently celebrating its fifth birthday, there was little appetite for celebration as violence continues to endanger the country’s prosperity. The most recent conflict included intense fighting between President Salva Kiir’s army and former Vice President Riek Machar’s troops, a reignition of the civil war after several months of calm. The conflict left at least 300 dead in July.  

The civil war in South Sudan sparked from the political conflict between President Kiir and former Vice President Machar. Even though they signed a peace deal a year ago, conflict has continued and Machar fled the country in July. According to a report by the Paris-based Sudan Tribune, Foreign Minister of South Sudan Ibrahim Ghandour said his government would not allow the armed opposition to attack South Sudan from its territory.

The country has endured a devastating civil war for 3 years now. The concerns over female safety in South Sudan continue to rise. In collaboration with International Women’s Media Foundation, Al Jazeera published an article on girls education in South Sudan. The article’s interviews with several South Sudanese girls make clear that girls in the war-torn country are extremely vulnerable. Many have been forced into early marriage and remain at risk of sexual abuse. However, the article also noted that girls in South Sudan are taking a stand to seek an education while fighting for their futures in one of the world’s most unstable countries.

On September 27, the Wall Street Journal published a news article on South Sudan’s peacekeeping force, which indicated that South Sudan’s government has repeatedly blocked the UN peacekeeping mission. The Associated Press acquired the initial UN report, which showed an ultimatum dealt by the UN to South Sudan: it must accept the deployment of a 4,000-strong regional protection force from the UN, or face a possible arms embargo. The UN chief listed 22 incidents in which South Sudanese security forces denied access for the U.N peacekeepers to operate their mission and made threats to their safety. Also on September 27, rebel forces in South Sudan said government troops launched attacks in the north. The troops threatened immediate retaliation. The threat has raised fears of further escalation of the civil war.

Great Lakes Region of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

The electoral commission in the DRC declared on Saturday, October 1 that polls would be delayed until December 2018. President Kabila has claimed that as many as 10 million unregistered voters would be disenfranchised if the election were to take place in the coming months and intends to remain in power until elections can be held.

Opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi has warned that protests will be organized again on October 19, two months before the end of President Kabila’s mandate, which is December 19. Tshisekedi claimed that the protests on September 19, in which over fifty people died, were a warning to Kabila, and that the October protests will be a “yellow card” that will ultimately lead to a “red card” if Kabila does not step down in December. Le Rassemblement, a group of opposition parties, has declared that they would interpret Kabila staying in office longer than his two terms as high treason. They have also denounced attempted peace talks as a “pseudo dialogue” and an attempt by the president to legitimize his strategy.

The opposition protests have drawn the attention of the international community, leading the United States to declare sanctions against Major General Amisi Kumba and former Senior Police Official John Numbi. The US Treasury said in a report that the sanctions have been raised in response to “increasing indications that the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to suppress political opposition in the country, often through violent means.” France also raised the issue of European Union sanctions on Tuesday, October 4, claiming that Kabila has no right to stand for re-election, and should step down.

Meanwhile the government in the DRC has claimed they will not allow South Sudanese rebels to stay any longer. The 750 armed opposition soldiers were in “extremely bad shape” and were staying in the Eastern Congo. The government has asked the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission (MONUSCO) to remove the group as they are considered a security threat.

Burundi

The United Nations presented an independent investigation on Burundi on Tuesday, September 27 that accused the government of Burundi of human rights abuses. The report includes the verification of 564 summary executions since Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would pursue a third term in office. The report has also confirmed evidence of rapes, disappearances, and mass arrests. The UN investigation specifically states that “widespread and systemic […]  patterns of violations clearly suggest that they are deliberate and the result of conscious decisions, it is in the government’s power to stop them.”

Protests have been held in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, aiming to modify the UN investigative report. The government and protestors claim that the report is biased and based in rumors and gossip. However, in response to the report, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to create a commission to identify perpetrators of killings and violence. The violence remains political in nature, though there are concerns that the violence could become ethnically motivated as the top levels of government are using “unpleasant ethnic rhetoric” in an attempt to sway core Hutu supporters. The resolution and the investigation have both made reference to the possibility of invoking Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, which allows the UN to intervene using military and nonmilitary measures in order to restore peace and security. The UN has also pledged to work more closely with the East African Community to promote peace in Burundi.

Journalist Jean Bigirimana remains missing after being reported to have been arrested by security forces outside of the capital in July. Amnesty International is engaging activists with an online action urging an investigation into his case, and structural changes to protect journalists in the country.

In addition, Burundi is now facing a potential cholera epidemic and lack of clean drinking water in Mugoboka, a neighborhood in the Burundian capital. Over 9,000 people use the same source for drinking water, and although the chief of the Ruhero zone where Mogoboka is located denies any deaths caused by the cholera, he does acknowledge that the water shortage is a problem. The government is responding by trying to build a new public tap.

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

Joanna Liang is STAND’s Sudan and South Sudan Coordinator. She is a Junior at the University of Delaware where she majors in History Education.

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

Weekly News Brief: 9/21/2016

STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by the STAND Education Task Force. Thanks also go to STAND Education Coordinator Bethany Vance, Policy Coordinator Tim Hirschel-Burns, and Communications Coordinator Elisabeth Huh for their assistance in editing this week’s news brief.

This week’s news brief includes a report on the Syrian High Negotiations Committee, the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Burma, violent protests against Congolese President Joseph Kabila, a proposed U.S. arms sale to Saudi Arabia, and much more.

 

Middle East and North Africa

Syria

On September 7, the Syrian High Negotiations Committee (HNC) released a roadmap for transition into a democratic and pluralistic state, which was endorsed by many foreign ministers in London. The HNC is a Saudi-backed coalition of Syrian opposition groups and has been in existence for a little under a year. Speaking on behalf of the roadmap, Dr. Riyad Hijab, General Coordinator of the HNC, said this alliance of moderate opposition groups “has taken a strategic decision to pursue a political process of UN-sponsored negotiations and to support international efforts to achieve a genuine political transition.”

Dr. Hijab outlines the HNC’s proposal as a three-tiered transition:

  1. The return of the millions of refugees and exiled people, the release of political prisoners, and an approximately six-month negotiation process to choose a transitional executive body;
  2. President Bashar al-Assad steps down and gives way to an 18-month ceasefire handled by the transitional government; and
  3. UN-monitored elections occur after the ceasefire.

The completion of this three-step process would allow civil and military powers to work with a new, democratically elected government. With this, the HNC seeks to realize its overarching vision of “committing the country to democratic and religious pluralism.” The transition plan promises to represent all Syrian groups “without discrimination based on religion, sect, ethnicity, or class” and proposes that the transitional military include representatives from revolutionary bodies “that have not stained their hands with Syrian blood.”

After the plan was first proposed, the global community looked to the reactions of the U.S. and Russia. While the U.S. backs a number of opposition forces, Russia supports the Assad government. Key individuals dealing with the HNC proposal—and the Syria conflict in general—have been outspoken about the need for these global influencers to put politics aside and address the humanitarian concerns at stake. Boris Johnson, the UK foreign secretary, supports the HNC plan and has challenged Russia to help remove Assad. HNC spokesman Salem al-Meslet has also stated that “local ceasefires or temporary cessations that can be exploited by the [Syrian] regime and its Russian ally” are not a lasting solution.

Al-Jazeera has noted that the probability of realizing the HNC proposal is slim to none, arguing “there is no prospect of any negotiations [between the U.S. and Russia] aside from the Geneva talks.” Adding greater strain to potential compromise, Sr. Hijab said he would reject any agreement struck by Russia and the U.S. if it featured any deviation from the HNC’s terms.

Negotiations between the U.S. and Russia are underway, pointing to the construction of a no-fly zone that would “require the Syrian government not to fly over territory controlled by moderate levels, areas where there are civilians, and regions with ISIS/ISIL and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham fighters.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has also stated that a central joint operations center between the U.S. and Russia is on the table.

Since 2013, the Syrian city of Jarabulus has been under control of the Islamic State. However, Turkish-backed Ankara fighters retook the city on August 24. Jarabulus is currently subject to administrative control under the Assad regime and is located on the Turkish border. Meanwhile, Turkish forces and Ankara-backed rebels continue to move through Syria in an effort to retake more ISIS-controlled areas.

As of September 11, around 250 Syrian refugees have been able to return to Jarabulus. Turkish President Erdoğan affirmed that the primary goals of his military missions were to provide refugees with this chance to return home, and to secure the Turkish border.

Great Lakes Region of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

The electoral body in the DRC announced in August that the next presidential election would likely be delayed until July 2017, citing technical difficulties, a lack of funding, and delays in voter registration as major reasons for the delay. Current President Joseph Kabila’s elected term is constitutionally mandated to end in December, but he will retain his position until the elections are held. Opposition groups believe the electoral body has pushed for these delays as an attempt to extend Kabila’s time in office permanently.

The African Union is facilitating election talks, beginning September 1, amongst the leaders of the different parties in an attempt to bring together the government and the opposition. However, DRC opposition groups responded to the call for dialogue with protests and boycotts. Presidents of two opposition parties—the Union for the Congolese Nation, and the Labour Alliance for Development—are participating in the negotiations with President Kabila, but a majority of opposition parties are boycotting the talks until political prisoners are released and presidential candidate Moïse Katumbi is allowed to return to the DRC without threat of arrest. The government has brought charges against Katumbi for recruiting foreign mercenaries with the intent to orchestrate a coup d’état. Between August 27 and September 5, nine human rights activists were released from prison as a gesture of compromise, but the charges against some of the activists remain the same.

Many members of the opposition responded to the call for talks with protests and strikes in Kinshasa. Most of the protests were nonviolent, but some included burning tires and breaking windows. Congolese police used tear gas to disperse protesters, raising concerns about the potential for violent interactions in the future. Protesters have responded by leveraging their economic power, closing shops, and emptying streets during a strike in Kinshasa. The government ignored the strike, but the effect on businesses and the city was dramatic.

On September 7, Human Rights Watch submitted a letter to the UN Human Rights Council requesting action to address current and potential human rights violations in the DRC. As December approaches, concerns among humanitarian groups are rising regarding the likelihood of more violence.

Burundi

The United Nations detailed evidence of rampant human rights abuses in Burundi and the nation’s continued trajectory towards genocide in two recent reports. The reports found that lawyers and civil society groups in Burundi have faced reprisals for cooperating with the United Nations Committee on Torture, as issues of torture and misconduct by Burundian security forces remain of great concern to the international community. The United Nations has also reported that sexual violence, torture, and extrajudicial killings are on the rise, and that there is significant evidence of “genocidal rhetoric” coming out of Burundi, which many officials indicate as a warning sign for the early stages of genocide. The UN has condemned statements from Burundi officials regarding the Rwandan genocide as inflammatory.

In July 2016, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) authorized the deployment of up to 228 UN police personnel in Burundi to monitor the nation’s security and human rights situation. The decision has been criticized by US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, who claims that the resolution to deploy troops is not strong enough. Power argues the UN police personnel do not have the capacity to prevent violence in Burundi. However, the decision carries weight as a symbolic gesture to include the international community in the situation in Burundi, and to put personnel on the ground.

The Burundi government rejected the UNSC resolution, along with thousands of civilians who protested peacefully against it in the streets of Bujumbura and outside the French and Rwandan embassies. Government spokesperson Philippe Nzobonariba declared that it was a violation of Burundi’s sovereignty to send forces without consulting authorities first. China abstained on the vote. Burundi has also rejected an African Union proposal to deploy 5,000 African Union peacekeepers by claiming that Burundi’s security forces wield adequate control in the country. In contrast, those who oppose the government have supported the resolution, as well as stronger measures, by claiming that the presence of an international organization will help prevent mass violence and ongoing human rights violations in the country.

The resolution to send police forces was drafted in response to violence that has continued since President Nkurunziza was elected for an unconstitutional third term in April 2015. In August, a commission on public opinion reported to the President and Parliament that most people wanted the president to be able to serve for more than two terms. However, critics claim that Nkurunziza created the commission to falsify proof of public support for his desire to remain in office. The Arusha Agreement, which specifies a two term limit for the presidential seat, has been a pillar of the peace following the end of the Civil War, and its dismantlement could, amongst other things, remove ethnic balance in the government.

More than 250,000 Burundians have fled their home country since April 2015 and their views were not considered by the commission. In addition, a Burundian journalist who has been working with the independent newspaper Iwacu has been missing for over two months, raising concerns for journalists and the state of freedom of the press in Burundi. A lack of freedom of press is indicative of a larger state of repression in Burundi where opposition to the current government has no voice to make challenges.

Central and West Africa

Central African Republic (CAR)

In early February, many pointed to the presidential election of Faustin-Archange Touadera in the Central African Republic as a promising sign for a country that has endured countless atrocities as a result of attacks by Muslim Séléka rebels and the brutal retaliation of Christian anti-balaka gangs. Yet even months after Touadera assumed office, his government remains weak. Armed groups remain in the country, despite his determination to enact a disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) plan. In fact, the state is fairly nonexistent outside of the capital city of Bangui, as communities are constantly raided by armed groups who steal money and livestock and occasionally kill civilians.

In June, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) warned of a deteriorating security situation in the northwest areas of the country. On June 17, a convoy from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was attacked and one of the drivers was killed, prompting the organization to briefly suspend their operations in protest. Shortly after, sixteen Fulani herdsmen were killed in the north and six police officers were taken hostage by former Séléka rebels in the middle of Bangui. Much of the fighting in the north concerns local grievances between farmers, who are mostly Christian, and migrating herdsmen, who are mostly Muslim. Issues of disagreement can and have quickly escalated into justifications for violence, making people afraid to leave their homes.

This has had enormous ramifications with regards to the humanitarian situation within the country. Nearly half of the population—over two million people—need aid and over one million have been forced to flee their homes. Production of coffee has fallen by twenty-eight percent, while the production of cotton has fallen by forty-two percent. As these are the main cash crops in the country, and a source of subsistence for a vast majority of the population, it is not surprising that so many remain in desperate need of assistance.

Unfortunately, the problems in CAR are not limited to the crimes of armed rebel groups. There have been a number of accusations of rapeby United Nations peacekeepers. On June 7, Anders Kompass, the director of field operations at human rights office at the United Nations, resigned from his post after suspension for sharing confidential documents about incidents of sexual assault, stating that “complete impunity for those who have been found to have abused their authority makes it impossible to continue working.” Kompass has since been completely exonerated by a report that acknowledged the failure of the international organization, but the issue remains a prominent one. Very recently, actress Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy for UNHCR, argued that peacekeepers who are found guilty of such abuse should be removed. Although the United Nations claims it is taking sexual violence seriously, others argue that there must be an independent organization to oversee the UN, which otherwise cannot prosecute cases of such abuse and easily cover up any misdeeds.

Nigeria

Although Boko Haram is far weaker than it was just one year ago when it was classified as the deadliest terrorist organization in the world, it would be a mistake to suggest that Nigeria is at peace. Though the Nigerian military has taken back much of the territory that Boko Haram had previously seized, the terrorist organization has continued to engage in what Stephen O’Brien, the humanitarian coordinator at the United Nations, has called “heinous, barbaric, and unconscionable” violence. On May 12, a suicide bomber killed six people in the northeastern Nigeria city of Maiduguri, and on June 4, thirty soldiers from Niger and two from Nigeria were killed at the border city of Bosso. In July, a United Nations humanitarian aid convoy was ambushed by Boko Haram, which frightened the United Nations into briefly halting aid deliveries into the northern state of Borno. Contrary to what Nigerian leaders have argued, the terrorist organization is far from defeated and has continued to launch suicide bombings and other assaults.

The damage that Boko Haram continues to inflict is only one part of the humanitarian crisis that has engulfed the country. In August, two Nigerian children in Borno were paralyzed by polio. Given that the north has been one of the most severely impacted by the onslaught of Boko Haram, there is concern that there are not enough doctors in place to ensure that other individuals receive vaccines. Moreover, almost two-thirds of hospitals in the area have been severely damaged and are not functional. Prior to these two cases, Nigeria had not suffered a case of polio in nearly two years. It would be a major setback for the country to once again become a host to the disease.

There are many other major concerns facing Nigeria. In Borno, seventy-five percent of water and sanitation facilities currently need repairs. Almost a quarter of a million people are severely malnourished in the state and about fifty thousand are likely to die without international assistance. As recently as September 13, these same Nigerians have accused government officials of stealing food. One man who managed to escape from Boko Haram after being shot said that trucks full of food have been taken away to the homes of these officials; however, he claims he cannot protest for fear of being killed or expelled from the camps to face Boko Haram. Yet recently, it seems as though Nigerians have had enough. In Maiduguri, the capital of Borno, over six thousand people from a shelter known as the Arabic College protested food rations that were so small that their children starved to death.

Finally, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes due to natural disasters, and many more are at risk. Based on information provided to the National Emergency Management Agency in Nigeria, the country is at risk of flooding if heavy rains continue through September. Approximately five thousand people were displaced when the Iyi-Udele-River in central Nigeria flooded in June and damaged or destroyed thousands of homes. Further flooding would only exacerbate existing issues and could ignite a scramble for resources and exacerbate tensions between groups.

Southeast Asia

Burma  

Last week, Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan visited Burma. The visit has stirred up renewed conflicts in Rakhine state, with many groups mobilizing to oppose the diplomat’s criticisms of the marginalisation of the regions Rohingya community. Annan, who was invited to head an advisory commission on this issue by the de facto leader of Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi, visited a number of camps in Sittwe on September 6. The commission discussed humanitarian concerns, human rights, development issues, access to basic services, and the right of displaced persons to remain in the Rakhine state. This comes after the Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) voiced concern last week about cuts to food aid for Internationally Displaced Persons (IDPs) by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) in parts of Rakhine state. Rations have been cut in 41 camps in recent weeks, which has left all but the most vulnerable (widows, the disabled, the sick, and children under the age of five) with little to no food aid.

Despite the increasingly desperate situation in Rakhine state, Burmese nationalists continue to oppose the advisory commission’s recognition of the Rohingya as an official ethnic group and a national concern. Campaigners in the area have been outraged by Annan’s use of the word “Rohingya” to refer to the group. They insist that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refer to them as “Bengalis.” Aung Htay, a leader of one of the protest groups who mobilised in Naypyidaw on September 8, opposed the commission, claiming, “Rakhine affairs are local affairs. We acknowledge Kofi Annan and his reputation, but we do not accept his interference in our affairs.” In Yangon last Sunday,  400 people from nationalist groups gathered in the city’s downtown area to call for the commission to be abolished, claiming that its inclusion of non-Burmese people was “totally unacceptable.” There is more and more evidence that such top-down change is unlikely to bring peace to Rakhine state. Next week, the Rakhine State parliament will discuss a proposal to reject the commission.

On August 31, the Union Peace Conference  began a first round of peace negotiations with Burma’s warring factions, the first of its kind in decades. The conference assembly managed to agree on a united commitment to ending fighting, but many of the regional armies were unwilling to subscribe to an unconditional surrender without guarantees. Furthermore, the Ta’aung National Liberation Army and Arakan Army have criticised the government’s conduct during the negotiations and have accused them of discriminating against representatives of the United Wa State Army. Just hours before the Peace Conference got underway, reports surfaced of fresh fighting in Kachin and Shan States. According to the AFP news agency, the Burmese military attacked rebel strongholds in northern Shan and Kachin States early on Tuesday morning. Elsewhere, fighting between the Burmese Border Guard Forces (BGF) alongside the army, and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) in Kayin State, has intensified. A total of 3,452 residents from 22 villages in the region have fled their homes to Myaing Gyi Ngu where refugees are receiving assistance.

Though violence continues in Northern Burma, the army has made significant progress in releasing 55 children and young people from armed services this week in accordance with the U.N.-backed 2012 Joint Action Plan. So far, 800 children and young people have been discharged under the plan to end the recruitment of child soldiers. It is crucial that the international community continue to pressure the Burmese Army to reform. However, this past week, the Obama administration announced its plans to lift all sanctions on Burma, including those limiting the power of the Burmese armed forces and exploitation of natural resources, including the jade and gemstone trade. Activists both within and outside of Burma have criticized this move, which would reward the current government for recent democratic progress, but leave minority ethnic groups largely on their own in a hostile environment.

South Sudan

Earlier this month, the UN announced that starvation in South Sudan has reached “unprecedented levels.” The country has been facing a crisis of food shortages since violence broke out in December 2013, and the current crisis has put 4.8 million people’s lives at risk.  

On July 16, a report revealed that some South Sudanese leaders have been making a fortune from the conflict, which has killed thousands since its outbreak. Documents released by The Sentry, a Washington-based watchdog organization, indicated that President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar both own homes in a wealthy Nairobi neighborhood while million of their citizens continue to die from starvation. The war has forced 1.6 million South Sudanese to flee their homes for U.S.-protected refugee camps in neighboring countries. At a press conference on September 9, the team from The Sentry indicated that this was “just the beginning” of the investigation.

As the conflict continues in South Sudan, its epidemic of gender-based violence also continues to spread. Earlier this year, South Sudan launched a National Action Plan  for implementing the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda, a well-known global framework for gender protection and women’s rights. However, the plan has yet to produce tangible positive results.

On July 8, U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous reported that South Sudan’s government had not taken any action to follow through on a pledge it made earlier to collaborate on the deployment of more U.N. troops in order to avoid a possible arms embargo. Israel’s involvement adds an additional layer of complexity to the situation. Though Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu has recently been working to reinforce ties with African countries, many critics have called him out for doing little to use his relationships to address human rights concerns, and for helping exacerbate conflict by providing arms and surveillance equipment to the South Sudanese government.

In September, the continuing intimidation of activists, harassment of journalists, and rampant use of sexual violence in South Sudan raised the concerns of U.N. Human Rights Commission. These issues were raised at a news conference in Juba after an editor reported that the authorities had suspended his publication.

Emerging Conflicts

Yemen

The conflict in Yemen continues to rage as conditions for civilians further deteriorate. A new report has asserted that the Saudi Air Force, a key entity fighting against the Houthis, has targeted civilian areas such as schools and hospitals in a third of its strikes. The Saudi government has denied these allegations and justified its actions by claiming that Houthi rebels utilize civilian facilities for military purposes. Nevertheless, the threat of violence has surged as earlier peace talks failed, and the number of new mass atrocities reach all-time highs. Thousands of civilians have died so far and over 3 million Yemeni civilians across the country remain displaced. Today, U.S. Congress is voting on whether or not to send $1.15 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, a move criticized by numerous human rights groups, including STAND.

Afghanistan

During a rally in June, an explosion that killed 87 and injured over 200 Hazara civilians demonstrated that the Hazara ethnic group continue to face tough conditions. While ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, the discrimination that the Hazara have faced isn’t new; the Taliban also oppressed this minority group during its brief rule of the country. The Hazara community remains at extreme risk of mass atrocities in the conflict in Afghanistan as ISIS and other terrorist organizations continue to target them, and as militants continue to gain footholds in portions of the country.

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

Elizabeth Westbrook is STAND’s Great Lakes of Africa Coordinator, focusing mainly on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Burundi. She is a Junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Justin Cole is STAND’s Central and West Africa Coordinator, focusing mainly on the Central African Republic (CAR) and Nigeria. He is a Junior at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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

Joanna Liang is STAND’s Sudan and South Sudan Coordinator. She is a Junior at the University of Delaware.

Jason Qu is STAND’s Emerging Conflicts Coordinator. He is a Junior at Bronx High School of Science.

News in Brief: The Latest on STAND’s Conflict Areas

 

 

Get ready for a school year full of genocide prevention activism by getting caught up on the past 6 months in each of STAND’s watch areas. Interested in contributing to STAND’s reporting on these areas during the school year? Check out our Education Task Force applications here, due August 15. Contact Education Coordinator Bethany Vance at bvance@standnow.org with any questions!

 

 

Burundi

After over a year of political unrest in Burundi, nearly 300,000 people have fled to other countries, and over 400 people have been killed. There are over 6,000 political prisoners, including over 500 youth recently arrested for doodling on photos of President Pierre Nkurunziza. According to the UN, there have been 345 recorded torture cases, including by electrical shock and use of acid. Testimonies show women forced to strip naked to see relatives in prison, and Human Rights Watch has reported gang-rape of women by youth militia members as part of attacks on perceived opponents. UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra-ad al-Hussein has expressed concern regarding the growing use of hate speech, stating in June, “There are also deeply disturbing allegations of ethnic-based hate speech against Tutsis during a large public rally organised two weeks ago in the south of the country by the Imbonerakure militia. These allegations of speech amounting to incitement to violence must be urgently addressed.”

On March 22, an army colonel, Lieutenant Colonel Darius Ikurakure, was killed in Bujumbura. A Burundi rebel group claimed responsibility for the killing, which took place in the Defense Ministry compound. The Burundi government was in pursuit of the killer. Reuters reports the event as “the latest in a series of killings” that has occurred due to political instability in the country.

In January, the African Union failed to pass a resolution to bring peacekeepers into Burundi after Burundi’s government said they would consider such a force an invasion. On April 1st, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for the deployment of UN police to Burundi. Francois Delattre, French Ambassador to the UN, called the resolution “a first step towards a strengthened UN presence in Burundi to help ensure the respect for human rights and alert the international community on the reality of the situation on the ground.” Since then, the UN Security Council has waffled over the details—whether 3,000 police officers should be sent, or as few as 20 police advisors. Finally, on July 29, the UNSC voted to send a 228-member police force to Burundi. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power expressed her disappointment in the resolution, noting that the Security Council has not acted to prevent atrocities in Burundi.

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The Burundian government has thus far resisted efforts by the UN to deploy police and military monitors. Before the UNSC vote, Burundian Foreign Minister Alain Nyamitwe affirmed, “The United Nations has to remember that there are AU observers who are on the ground so we just need a few to help stabilise the situation in the country.” Burundi was promised 100 AU military observers and 100 human rights observers, but so far, only 15 military observers and 32 human rights observers have actually been deployed.  

In April, The International Organisation of la Francophonie (OIF) suspended multilateral cooperation with Burundi. The OIF noted a ‘lack of progress’ and political will to resolve the conflict that has lasted over a year. The OIF articulated that several implemented programs that are “benefiting the civilian population in Burundi would continue.” Later in June, UNICEF voiced their concerns for Burundi school children after arrests, expulsions, and injuries continued to take place in schools. They have urged that children be left out of the political violence taking place in the country in order to peacefully continue their education.

For in-depth analysis on the Burundi crisis, see our blog post here. Take action for civilian protection in Burundi by signing our petition to the African Union here.

Burma

On March 15, Htin Kyaw, a writer and close friend of National League of Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was elected the new president of Burma. Suu Kyi was not expected to take a formal position in the new government, but rather to act as a senior advisor to the cabinet. The president-elect has already shown his commitment to the democratisation of the Myanmar government, notably by creating a new ethnic-affairs ministry that will support the peace process in ethnic minority areas. Shortly after the election, a statement from the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and Arakan Army announced, “Oupresr armies are ready to find a real and better solution for ending the civil wars, seeing through a peace process and rebuilding Myanmar with the hope of national reconciliation by cooperating with the government of president U Htin Kyaw.” These changes, however, seem to have given the international community the go-ahead to downsize operations in Burma. This is premature, as fighting has displaced 10,000 people in recent months, and caused an increase in incidents of forced labour, torture, and sexual violence against women. Over 100 civil society organisations in Burma have written to the UN asking for it to continue its monitoring presence in the country as a reminder that there remain massive human rights challenges facing the country, despite its democratic transition.

Aung San Suu Kyi issued an amnesty order for the release of 113 prisoners of conscience as her first official act as Burma’s de facto leader. The new president Htin Kyaw announced that, in celebration of the Burmese New Year (04/17/2016), 63 political prisoners would be freed immediately to satisfy the majority of the people. However, while Burma was celebrating the release of student protesters and pro-democracy activists, two Muslim men were sentenced in Mandalay to two years in prison with hard labour for breaching internal migration laws by visiting the rebel-held Kachin state.

Plight of the Rohingya

On April 20, 21 Rohingya refugees were drowned when their boat, carrying 60 passengers, capsized during a routine trip from their refugee camp in Pauktaw Township to a local market in Sittwe. The UN denounced the treatment of Rohingya refugees at the camp and called for provisions for their transport to be improved immediately. On April 21, clashes between the Myanmar army and the Arakan Army (AA) forced more than 300 people in the Buthidaung township to flee their homes.

New disputes have risen along the Burma/Bangladesh border as the Myanmar government dismissed claims made by the Bangladeshi border control authorities that 340 displaced Rohingya refugees were unofficially deported across the border over those last 20 days in April. The 340 internationally displaced persons remained in detention in Bangladesh awaiting further decisions by the Myanmar authorities. Elsewhere, border security along the India-Burma border has been bolstered by both nations to guard against population movements.

The Myanmar government has not taken much decisive action to prove its commitment to freeing Burma’s political prisoners. On April 9, the Myanmar police force announced that it was in the process of dropping charges against all of the county’s remaining prisoners of conscience. However, this news was somewhat tarnished by the imprisonment of Nyi Nyi Lwin, better known as Gambira, a former anti-junta activist, on Tuesday for illegally entering Burma through Thailand. Gambira was sentenced to six months hard labour.

Commander in Chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, denounced the actions of the US Embassy, which on April 19 used the term ‘Rohingya’ in reference to the 20 people who drowned off the coast of Rakhine State last month. The army and much of the civilian population refuse to recognise the Rohingya and insist on referring to them as ‘Bengali’ temporary immigrants. In April, there was a sharp rise in anti-Rohingya activity in Burma, with several Buddhist nationalist groups mobilising to oppose the government’s and the international community’s recognition of the Muslim minority as a Burmese ethnic group. Tensions began to rise following a press conference on May 13 in which Min Aung Hlaing asserted that Burma has no Rohingyas and will not accept the term.

In response to this statement, several hundred Buddhist nationalists took to the streets in Mandalay demanding that President Htin Kyaw and foreign minister Aung San Suu Kyi declare the absence of Rohingya in the country within three days. Following the government’s refusal, a seshittymonkscond protest took place on the 18th in the Ayeyarwady Region’s capital Pathein in which hundreds of protesters, including 90 monks and nuns, reasserted the demand for the Rohingya to be classified as ‘illegal immigrants.’ The government refused to bow to pressure, and, in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week, Suu Kyi asked for the United States to be patient in its support for the Rohingyas’ claim to citizenship and to give the Myanmar government “enough space” to tackle this divisive and complex issue.Near the end of June, the United States State Department named Burma one of the worst countries for human trafficking. The indictment further marred their international reputation and could potentially lead to economic sanctions. This came as a surprise to many, as Burma has experienced a period of sanction lifting by the United States and other countries in recent years. Many think this black mark on Burma is not only due to their poor human trafficking record, but also to their continuous poor treatment of the Rohingya.

Central African Republic (CAR)

On May 4, UNICEF, released a statement recognizing that one-third of the entire school-eligible population in the Central African Republic would not be attending school due to the shortage of school openings owed to violence, displacement, and a lack of schools and teachers. Many had been hopeful that with the election of the new president in kidsinclassMarch, schools would reopen. UNICEF is providing classroom materials, teaching lessons to students, and providing psychosocial support training to teachers due to the trauma faced by many students.

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was reported to have renegade fighters in the northern part of the Central African Republic, especially in Obo, a small community near the border of South Sudan. However, the village has equipped itself with high-tech measures to fight off the group over the past few years, including high-frequency radios and satellite telephones provided by the organization Invisible Children. With these tools, the Obo radio station reports attacks and sends information immediately to the Ugandan Army, the African Union, and U.S. troops to address the threat. Recently, many homes have been burnt by the LRA in the region and three farmers were kidnapped and later returned.

Victims of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers in CAR say that they have received little to no help or reparations. According to many of these victims, gang rapes carried out by peacekeepers have not been addressed sufficiently. Many survivors have not been treated, have moved from the area in which trauma occurred, and have seen their attackers leave the region unharmed. At a recent hearing in the US Senate, lawmakers threatened to withhold aid, both for the UN Department of Peacekeeping and for countries that fail to hold their soldiers accountable.

On June 21, former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jean-Pierre Bemba, was sentenced to 18 years in prison by the International Criminal Court for “leading a campaign of rape and murder in neighboring Central African Republic.” Bemba has already spent 8 years in International Criminal Court Detention, meaning he will only be forced to serve 10 more in order to complete his sentence. Since the trial ended, accusations have also surfaced that defense witnesses were bribed and coached into lying for Bemba’s defense in earlier trials. Aimé Kilolo Musamba, Bemba’s defense lawyer, claims to have no knowledge of the accused actions.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

On March 30, the UN decided to extend the UN mission in the DRC through March 2017. The Head of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), Maman Sidikou, said the DRC was at a ‘critical juncture’ due to upcoming elections in November, which pose a threat of violence. The UN Security Council kept the authorized troop ceiling of 19,815 military personnel, 760 military observers and staff officers, 391 police personnel and 1,050 personnel of formed police units.

In northwest Congo, the Congolese military recently detained approximately 29 children suffering from dire conditions. More boys, ranging from 15-17 years old, have been held there since early 2015. They were allegedly members of the rebel armed group Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that none of the detainees were charged with any crimes. Ida Sawyer, a senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch has argued, “Congolese authorities should immediately release the children and adults held at Angenga prison who have committed no crime and fairly charge the rest.” Sawyer further stated, “Children who were rebel fighters should be rehabilitated, not thrown into prison and held there indefinitely.” HRW has also reported the poor conditions the detainees are forced to live in, “with inadequate food, clean water, and medical care.”

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which halted operations for four months in response to a December abduction of two MSF staff members, has decided to resume medical humanitarian assistance in Mweso, Masisi territory. After the attack, Annemarie Loof, MSF operational manager, explained, “this kind of attack against MSF is unacceptable, and we were left with no choice but to immediately suspend all activities and pull out the MSF teams.” MSF mandated proper security and the return of everything taken in the attack as a condition to resume work. Loof recently reassured that “MSF is now in a position to resume its lifesaving activities” for more than 390,000 people.joseph

In June, many Congolese opposition leaders began calling for elections to take place on time in November and for a review of the electoral commission, in spite of its request to have more time to prepare. The opposition fears elections may be postponed to keep President Joseph Kabila in power beyond his mandate. Later in June, the president promised democratic elections and assured that they would take place in November. However, Kabila has still not made it clear whether he intends to run for president again. On July 1, opposition leader Moise Katumbi spoke out against Kabila publicly for the first time for refusing to promise that he will step down. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has not had a democratic transition of power in 56 years.

 

Sudan

In March, President Al-Bashir declared that military operations would continue in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile State, and that he would not renew a ceasefire that was originally put into place to encourage groups to join the widely boycotted National Dialogue initiative. This dramatic and troubling change in policy came after a week of deliberation in Addis Ababa between the SPLM-N, JEM, NUP, SLM/AMM and the Sudanese government. The deliberations, facilitated by the African Union, produced an AU-proposed roadmap to ending conflicts in Darfur, Blue Nile State, and South Kordofan. The agreement called for a total and permanent ceasefire, a national dialogue, and the provision of humanitarian aid across Sudan. Although the AU and the Sudanese government agreed to uphold and implement the agreement, all opposition groups in attendance refused to sign it. The opposition claimed that the agreement favors the government and that the dialogue outlined by the agreement would be unproductive and exclusionary. In response, the UN and AU urged Sudanese rebel groups to sign the agreement, and gave non-signatories five days to sign. The March 28 deadline passed without any additional signatures.

Darfur

The AU and the UN issued a joint statement reiterating their concern over clashes and the displacement of over 90,000 civilians surrounding Jebel Marra, as fighting began again in mid-January. A lack of access to Central Darfur prompted a call from the US and other members of the international community for Khartoum to open Central Darfur up to aid agencies, much like it has done with North Darfur.

As it has been for years, the relationship between the UN and their peacekeeping mission in Sudan remains thorny. In a meeting between the UN, the AU, and Sudan, the Sudanese government renewed their call for UNAMID to speed u01-10-south-sudanp their exit strategy. In early June, Sudan expelled a top UN human rights official, Ivo Freijsen, claiming that he was publishing false reports about Khartoum’s conduct and displacement numbers. Burkina Faso, along with South Africa, recently withdrew forces from the UNAMID mission after the Sudanese government claimed they were no longer needed. On June 30, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to extend the UN-AU Mission in Darfur for one yearuntil June 2017. This decision to extend the mandate proceeded from the need to address the continued violence and weapons proliferation in Sudan as well as the needs of over 1.6 million Sudanese people still living in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.

Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains

The SPLM-N claimed that they stopped a government offensive conducted in March 2016 in Blue Nile, as the Sudanese Armed Forces started sending reinforcements to Jebel Kolgo, stoking fears of a dramatic military escalation in the area. In late March, Blue Nile State saw some of the fiercest fighting in clashes between rebel groups and the Sudanese Army. Renewed shelling in Jebel Marra led to the displacement of thousands more civilians in the region, adding to a UN-approximated total of 129,000 displaced persons.

The Nuba Mountains became a flashpoint of violence in South Kordofan as the Sudanese Army launched new offensives in March in six areas of the region in response to SPLM-N rejection of the roadmap ceasefire agreement. Allegations also surfaced that both sides have targeted civilians on the basis of religious or ethnic identity. The international community condemned Sudanese bombing of civilians in South Kordofan, but the condemnation was rejected by Khartoum, claiming it was biased.

South Sudan

As political instability grows, violence and unrest continue to wreak havoc in South Sudan, as the Ceasefire and Transitional Monitoring Mechanism has claimed that they have observed at least five violations of the ceasefire stipulated in last August’s peace accords. The SPLA-IO has accused the government of planning to launch an offensive on their positions in Mundri. As fighting rages on, human rights violations and egregious war crimes such as mass rape and indiscriminate targeting of civilians continue to play a role in the conflict in South Sudan. The United Nations recently accused the SPLA of committing atrocities across the country, including killing 50 civilians by stuffing them into shipping containers. South Sudan’s Presidential spokesperson dismissed these allegations, calling them “unethical” and blaming the opposition for committing these acts.

In early March, there was renewed optimism surrounding the imminent creation of a new transitional government, despite numerous obstacles to long-term peace in the country. The arrival of a number of SPLM-IO forces to Juba, South Sudan’s capital, raised hopes that the August peace accords would begin to come into full effect, especially as Vice President and opposition leader Riek Machar reiterated his intention to return to the capital city as soon as a minimum of 1,370 SPLM-IO forces were in place. Despite months of delay and logistical issues, on March 25, 22 opposition police officers entered the city as part of a joint police forcethe first time armed members of the SPLM-IO have been in Juba in two years. More troops followed in the next several weeks.

On April 27, Riek Machar returned to Juba and was sworn in as Vice President of South Sudan. His return, which had been hampered and constantly delayed over security concerns and logistical difficulties, was seen as the next step to the formation of a transitional government and creation of a new constitution to govern South Sudan, after 3 years of civil war. Machar’s presence in the capital was lauded by the US and other members of the international community as a positive move. After additional pressure from the UN to quickly form an interim government, as well consultations with political organizations in the country, a unity government was formed.

Although fighting between the SPLA-IO and SPLA have died down markedly from the apex of the South Sudanese Civil War, inter-communal fighting and tensions continue to rise as major social issues remain unaddressed in the country. At a Dinka church, Machar made controversial remarks calling for the people of South Sudan to forget past atrocities and fighting between ethnic groups. Displaced Nuer people have also called for South Sudanese leaders to emphasize reconciliation and forgiveness. Following these remarks, violent Dinka protests forced the pastor, who invited Machar to the church, to resign. The UN has called for a transitional mechanism to try those who committed war crimes during the course of the conflict.

United Nations announced on June 23 that it was removing its peacekeepers in the South Sudanese city of Malakal for failing to respond to a violent attack on a UN camp that took place in February. During the attack, armed men stormed the camp and opened fire on civilians before setting many parts of the camp on fire, leaving 40 dead and 123 wounded. “There was a lack of responsiveness by some, a lack of understanding of the rules of engagement by some,” said UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, who refused to single out any individuals. 48,000 people were being housed at the camp before the blaze cost 20,000 their homes. The attackers were said to have burnt the homes of civilians who belonged to particular tribes.

On July 7, troops loyal to South Sudan President Salva Kiir and soldiers loyal to Vice President Machar clashed in Juba. This confrontation sparked the worst violence the country has seen in months. At least five soldiers died on July 7 alone, and over the 5 days of violence, over 300 people, including many civilians, were killed. The killings stopped on Saturday, South Sudan’s fifth anniversary of independence from Sudan, but continued on Sunday and Monday. Several foreign countries withdrew their citizens from the country, and several elite officials, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, called for an end to the violence. Monday evening, the clashes ceased after leadership from both sides called for an end to the fighting. While tenuous, the ceasefire ended virtually all violence in the region and has held to this day. Vice President Machar left Juba in response to the fighting. On July 23, an armed opposition group claimed to have replaced Machar with Taban Deng, who acted as the rebel’s chief negotiator during peace talks with the South Sudanese government. Machar refuted the claim and stated that he fired Taban earlier that week for holding negotiations with Kiir without Machar’s permission.

The United Nations Security Council voted on Friday, July 29 to extend the UNMISS mandate to August 12. Many are hoping that, following this extension, an arms embargo on South Sudan or a security force in Juba would help lessen the violence. Some groups are pushing for the UNSC to include an arms embargo in their next resolution on South Sudan.

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Syria

The Geneva peace talks, which had been delayed repeatedly, finally resumed on March 14. Representatives from the HNC (the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee, formed in Riyadh last December) did not meet with Assad regime representatives, but rather negotiations occurred by proxy through United Nations Envoy Staffan de Mistura. De Mistura held substantive talks with the HNC to discuss the HNC’s proposal for political transition in Syria. The talks focused on conceptualizing the mechanics of political transition in Syria with Assad’s potential role remaining a point of contention.

Peace talks in Geneva continued through the end of March. After the first week, de Mistura praised the depth of the opposition’s proposals, but remained frustrated with the Assad regime’s reluctance to discuss specific issues, as opposed to vague principles of transition. In the second week, the UN increased pressure on the Syrian government to explicitly express their vision for political transition in Syria, specifically in regards to the expected role of the Assad regime. As negotiations paused, with an aim to reconvene on April 9, De Mistura hoped that the next round would focus more on the detailed mechanics of the political process. Diplomats on all sides expressed cautious optimism following the first round of talks, and expressed that they felt the early stages of negotiations set the foundation for tangible change. However, in an interview published on March 30, Assad expressed his plans to reject the opposition-proposed idea of a “transitional body,” asserting the need for Syria to move directly from one constitution to another.

The March ceasefire had some success in reducing violence and creating the necessary conditions for the delivery of humanitarian aid. However, the ceasefire was not wholly successful, as accusations of violations continued to come from all sides of the conflict. In response, the US State Department created a 24-hour hotline to monitor ceasefire violations. The 17-Nation International Syria Support Group created a task force to monitor violations, but complications have arisen due the role of Russia (which has also been accused of violations) in leading the group. Representatives from the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee have been the most vocal critics of the temporary ceasefire, which, they argue, has allowed Russia and the Syrian government to make significant military gains, while refusing demands for the release of detainees.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he would begin withdrawing forces from Syria on Tuesday, March 15. While this announcement came as a shock to many, analysts claimed that the Russian withdrawal was not entirely unexpected, given that Putin has largely accomplished his goals in Syria by bolstering the Assad regime, preventing Western- or American-led regime change, and reasserting Russia’s role as a major world power. De Mistura and Syrian opposition negotiators expressed hope that the Russian withdrawal would have a positive impact on negotiations, pushing the Syrian government to be more participatory. However, Putin made it clear that Russia could resume its military presence within Syria in a matter of hours, whenever necessary. Finally, a leading Kurdish group declared the creation of an autonomous federation in Northern Syria. Practically, this declaration is unlikely to change much, as the area is already under autonomous Kurdish control, but the declaration raised serious political concerns for the HNC, the Syrian government, and the Turkish government, and may complicate the Geneva talks.

Despite diplomatic progress, new reports indicate that progress on on-the-ground humanitarian initiatives have stalled. An April press release from Amnesty International reported that Turkish officials have forcefully repatriated hundreds of Syrian refugees through Turkey’s southern borders. These estimates indicate that Turkish authorities have deported groups of 100 men, women, and children back to Syria on almost a daily basis since mid-January. These individuals have included children without their parents, a protected group that is illegal to deport under Turkish, EU, and international law. Another report from UN humanitarian chief Stephan O’Brien indicates that only 30% of Syrians living in besieged areas and less than 10% in hard-to-reach areas have received aid this year due to security concerns. The chief added that over 80,000 medical items had been removed by the Syrian government from convoys containing aid and medical supplies.

On May 12, Amnesty International released a press release describing reports of indiscriminate attacks carried out by armed opposition groups, possibly including the use of chemical webarrelbombpicapons, surrounding the predominantly Kurdish Sheikh Maqsoud district of Aleppo. Two of the opposition groups said to have been carrying out these attacks, Ahrar al Sham and Army of Islam, had sent representatives to Syrian peace talks in Geneva in the past, leading many to question if they should be allowed to return. Doctors in the area reported treating 6 civilians who exhibited symptoms similar to those of chlorine gas victims, and most of these victims reported seeing yellow gas upon impact of the missiles. The Sheikh Maqsoud district was heavily under attack between February and April 2016. 83 civilians have been reported dead, while over 700 have been injured. Since the attacks, the United Nations has promised to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but has yet to pinpoint all of the exact groups carrying out chemical weapons attacks.

Approximately 224 people were reportedly killed within the first week of the holy month of Ramadan, an Islamic holiday observed in the ninth month of the Muslim year, which began on June 5. Most of these deaths were attributed to barrel bombs dropped by the Syrian government and Russian airstrikes. These bombings led to the deaths of 50 children and 15 women between June 6 and June 12. The deadliest attack took place in the city of Idlib when a single Russian airstrike killed 41 civilians, including many women and children.

This News Update was compiled by the 2015-2016 Education Task Force:

  • Ellen Bresnick, Great Lakes of Africa Education Coordinator, Middleton High School ‘17
  • Ruhi Bhaidani, Central and West Africa Education Coordinator, University of Chicago ‘19
  • Sophie Back, Southeast Asia Education Coordinator, University College London, ‘16
  • Jason Qu, Sudan and South Sudan Education Coordinator, Bronx High School of Science, ‘17
  • Maddie King, Middle East and North Africa Education Coordinator, Johns Hopkins University, ‘17

We are also entirely indebted to STAND summer intern and incoming Education Coordinator Bethany Vance, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ’18 for editing and updating this news brief.