The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Education Update 4/17/2014

Top Updates in Genocide Prevention

Democratic Republic of the Congo
A spokesperson for the Congolese government announced last week that with the combined military efforts of the Congolese army (FARDC) and the UN Congo mission (MONUSCO), the number of active militant rebel groups in the country has been more than halved, dropping from 55 to 20. He added that a new offensive had recently launched against FDLR, a primarily Rwandan rebel group and one of the largest security threats in the DRC today.

A new report released by the United Nations showed that little progress has been made in countering the high rates of rape and other acts of sexual violence in the Congo, which have long been a source of notoriety for the country’s conflict. The report showed that there have been over 3,600 victims of sexual violence in the DRC over the past four years, nearly 1,000 of which have been children; government agents were accused of holding responsibility for about half of the cases. The UN called on the Congolese government prioritize ending the impunity for the perpetrators of these acts.

Burma
In response to the growing number of arrests and jailing of journalists in Burma, several newspapers protested last week by printing messages of condemnation on their front pages. In just the last four months, six journalists have been arrested on criminal charges. Media watchdog groups believe that despite recent passage of freedom of the press laws, in practice the country’s press freedoms have deteriorated in recent months with instances of government intimidation and harassment on stories they discern disfavorable becoming more common.

Burma is currently in the midst of conducting its first national census in over 30 years. Thetwelve-day census, due to end last Thursday, has been extended until mid-May due to “technical and logistical problems.” One such problem has been the counting of the Rohingya people. The Myanmar government has refused to record individuals as Rohingya and instead calls them Bengali. To learn more about the census, check out this blog post by Alex Colley Hart, STAND’s Southeast Asia Education Coordinator.

Sudan/South Sudan
In a recent interview with AFP, former South Sudanese Vice President and current rebel leader Rief Machar spoke about further steps he and his forces are willing to take to seize power from Salva Kiir. Machar stated, “If we are to remove the dictator, Juba is a target, oil fields are a target.” These statements come on the heels of failed peace talks between the two sides and highlight the extent to which the country has become divided since gaining its independence. Commenting on having further talks with Kiir, Machar said, “What would we discuss? You are a discredited leader, you have committed massacres, I hope he accepts that”, leaving little doubt that the people of South Sudan will continue to suffer as a result of the power politics in play within the country. (AFP and Digital Journal)

The United Nations has called the ongoing conflict within South Sudan an “outrage” as the detrimental effects of what occurred in Juba in December 2013 have left the entire country in disarray. Even in the light of the ceasefire agreement that was signed in January violence has continued within several states in the country displacing close to a million people within and outside the country. Currently all UNMISS facilities and refugee camps are operating under full capacity or are over filled with people who have fled their homes. UN and other aid agencies operating within the country are struggling to reach those most in need. On April 15th the UNHCR announced that it has began “airlifts and construction of new camps to help South Sudanese refugees fleeing to Ethiopia, who now total more than 95,000 and are growing at up to 1,000 a day”. These numbers only reflect a fraction of those affected and the numbers will likely continue to rise.

Education Update, 4/3/14

Sudan and South Sudan
The video below covers the struggle of peacekeepers and other NGO officials to maintain adequate living conditions for internally displaced persons (IDPs) living within UNMIS camps in South Sudan. Since the outbreak of violence in December, up to one million people have been displaced from their homes. Now the majority of these people are residing in permanent and temporary camps refugee camps. Tensions remain high within the camps as the majority of people within them do not feel safe to return to their villages. Meanwhile, the violence occurring outside the UN compounds threatens to overflow into the camps as former combatants reside within them.
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2014/03/un-struggles-rehouse-south-sudan-refugees-201431982844274250.html

Democratic Republic of the Congo 
The video below is an excerpt from a film currently in production titled This is Congo which follows the story of a Congolese man who has been displaced from his home as a result of the ongoing conflict. Nearly three million Congolese have been displaced since the fighting began, fleeing their homes for other areas of the country or neighboring countries. Many refugees end up in overcrowded camps such as the one depicted in this video, where resources are often scarce, hygiene is nearly nonexistent, and diseases run rampant.
http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/news/140327-hakiza-congo-vin

Burma
For the first time in 30 years, Burma is conducting a national census. However, it is not free of controversy. The Myanmar government has banned Rohingya from self-identifying themselves as “Rohingya” despite condemnation from the UN, which helped facilitate the census. The Myanmar government refuses to recognize the stateless Rohingya and instead refers to them as illegal Bengali migrants.
http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2014/mar/31/rohingya-anger-at-burma-census-video

So You Want To Be An Education Coordinator?

Fast Facts: Sean Langberg is STAND’s current Education Coordinator, and is a senior, studying Geography and Global Studies at UNC Chapel Hill. He is also involved with STAND UNC, and has previously served as co-facilitator of his chapter.

Why did you first get involved in STAND and how have you been involved since then?
I first got involved in STAND during my first year in college partially by chance. I knew I wanted to do something with an international focus, but STAND was the first table I came across at UNC’s club fair. I was instantly hooked. I worked closely with Erin Murphy, the UNC chapter co-chair and Regional Organizer, and then became Education Coordinator the following year.
Name a favorite STAND memory!
How much time do we have? One that sticks out is when I lobbied Richard Burr, a neoconservative senator from North Carolina. When we walked into his office, we were placed in chairs under a machete hanging on the wall. By the end of the meeting, his aide agreed to follow up with Burr about Sudan legislation and how his office could work with STAND. It proved that genocide prevention can be a bipartisan issue with some crafty language and creative entry points.
What has your experience being on the MC been like?
One of the best of my four college years. I’ve made some of my best friends working late into the night drafting campaign plans on the floor of hotel rooms. The STAND community welcomed me in 2011 when Daniel Solomon gave me an awkward high-five at my first retreat and hasn’t let me down since.
Can you tell us a little about what you do in your role as Education Coordinator?
As Education Coordinator, I’m partially in charge of working with our chapters to be as informed about mass atrocities as possible. Over the years I’ve drafted one pagers, made PowerPoints, conducted Skype trainings, spoken at conferences, and, most importantly, learned from other MC members and chapter leaders. My favorites parts were working with the MC at retreats and collaborating with the education and policy task force.
What’s one thing you’ve learned from your time in STAND, whether as a result of your experiences with your chapter, or being involved on the national level?
I’ve learned that students are uniquely qualified to make change, even when it comes to high-level issues like mass atrocity prevention. STAND is consistently willing to take risks and not shy away from nuance. We know that we can’t solve the problem alone, but we can push the atrocity prevention community to be creative and unabashedly pro-peace.
Interested in joining our Student Leadership Team next year? Apply today!

 

Education Update 3/20/14

This week we compiled a series of Storify presentations about our perennial conflicts as well as “emerging” conflicts. Storify collects information from all over the web (e.g. tweets, articles, videos, etc.) and presents it in narrative form. To see a presentation, simply click on the conflict you want to learn more about. As always feel free to provide your additions, comments, or critiques in the comments section or email slangberg@standnow.org.

Sudan/South Sudan

Venezuela

DRC

Education Update 2/15/2014

This week we’ve included our Ask of the Week with our Education Update so you can learn and take action at the same time!  Check out this week’s ask directed towards Samantha Power and continue below for your Weekly Education Update as normal.  Please contact us with any questions or comments at info@standnow.org.

Ask of the Week

Rebecca Hamilton, a friend of STAND, recently wrote a fantastic article on Samanatha Power’s actions to stop mass atrocities. Give the article a read, and then tweet at Ambassador Power, both thanking her for work and urging her to do even more.  Considering the recent massacre of Rohingya in Burma, we’d love it if you addressed Burma in your message.  Here’s a sample tweet, but feel free to make up your own:

.@AmbassadorPower Thank you for your work #genprev work! Please continue by pressuring #Burma to investigate recent #Rohingya massacre.

 

Top Updates in Genocide Prevention: Burma, CAR, DRC, Syria

Burma

Coinciding with this recent blog post about the relationship between the religiously-motivated massacre of over 40 Rohingya and press freedoms in Burma, Reporters Without Borders released their annual report called the World Press Freedom Index. Last year, the country rose 18 positions due to hopeful democratic reforms. However, this year’s report is more pessimistic with Burma rising only six spots to number 145 on the list. Despite a relatively large growth in the availability of news content, the report cites the slow, even non-existent, progress made by Burma’s parliament in passing legislation protecting press freedoms. Moreover, five journalists were arrested just last week for a story on an alleged chemical weapons factory that the government claimed exposed state secrets.
Two Rakhine politicians escaped unharmed from an attempted drive-by shooting during a visit to Malaysia last week. According to reports, the two politicians blamed the incident on “religious terrorists”, a reference to the growing sectarian violence in Burma’s west between Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine. There are tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees, both legal and undocumented, believed to be living in Malaysia. This incident speaks to fears of the growing potential for recent violence to spread further beyond Burma’s borders.

Central African Republic

In Central African Republic, anti-balaka militia groups have been carrying out attacks against Muslim civilians since September. The violence has escalated and up to 50,000 CAR Muslim nationals have been evacuated from Bangui’s military airport to Chad, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to the senior crisis response advisor of Amnesty International, the organized violent attacks on Muslim communities are efforts at ethnic cleansing by the anti-balaka militias. In the town of Bossemptele, at least 100 Muslims were killed in January. Recent reports published byAmnesty International have indicated that the peacekeeping soldiers must take more action in protecting Muslim communities.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

hearing began at the ICC in the case of Bosco Ntaganda, former M23 warlord who turned himself in to the US embassy in Rwanda in March and was subsequently transferred to the Hague. The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence against Ntaganda for the case to proceed to trial.
The United Nations expressed approval for an amnesty bill that was given parliamentary approval in the DRC last week. Though several rights groups denounced the law, which President Kabila is expected to sign, accusing it of perpetuating the cycle of impunity in the country, UN and other officials, including US Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region Russ Feingold, praised it for excluding amnesty genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Syria

The UN brokered a ceasefire between the Syrian government and the opposition in order to improve the humanitarian situation in Homs, one of 40 besieged communities in Syria. The ceasefire started on February 7 and was extended for three days on February 13.  Since the ceasefire, 1,400 people have been evacuated from the old city, and others are still undergoing background checks and awaiting clearance.  Meanwhile, Russia presented a UN Security Council resolution addressing the humanitarian emergency in Syria.
The second round of Geneva talks convened after the first rounds ended in January. UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi discussed four main principles during this round: 1) Ending the violence and fighting terrorism 2) Forming a transitional governing body. 3) Defining the relationship between the government and security services 4) Starting some form of national reconciliation dialogue. However, the peace talks failed as the Syrian government and the opposition reached a stalemate.
Pic:
Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-26114895

 

Education Update 1/30/2014

We’re back! The STAND Education and Policy Team hopes everybody had a wonderful winter break and is ready to dive into a new semester of advocacy and action.  This semester, we have a new member of our team, Nadine Fattaleh, a student at Columbia University that will be focusing on Syria.

This week we compiled a series of Storify presentations about our perennial conflicts as well as “emerging” conflicts.  Storify collects information from all over the web (e.g. tweets, articles, videos, etc.) and presents it in narrative form.  To see a presentation, simply click on the conflict you want to learn more about.  As always feel free to provide your additions, comments, or critiques in the comments section or email slangberg@standnow.org.  Happy reading!

Changing Human Rights Activism at UNC!

By Sean Langberg, UNC STAND

Last weekend, nearly sixty student atrocities prevention advocates from Texas, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Washington D.C., gathered in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for Changing Human Rights Activism: Atrocity Prevention for a New Generation.  The conference featured three professors from the University of Chapel Hill including the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs in the Carter Administration.  Other speakers included Carl Wilkens, the only United States citizen to remain in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, Laura Seay, a professor at Morehouse College, and Niemat Ahmadi, president of Darfur Women Action Group.

During the two days, students discussed contemporary issues affecting the atrocities prevention movement such as the role of diaspora groups, how to understand the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, how to avoid and improve “slacktivism,” and how students can develop nuanced advocacy.  In keeping with the theme of the conference, speakers discussed ways to transform the way we think about the history of human rights, the intersection of international politics and morality, and the ways in which we approach activism as students in the United States.

Big thanks go out to all of the organizers, most notably Shomya Tripathy, Hannah Finnie, Ashley Jowell, Daniel Solomon, Kat Fallon, Stefani Jones, Mickey Jackson and the entire Stand UNC team, including Mariah Bragg and Zach Bijesse, Brenna Yellin, Rachel Desch, Maitreyee Singh, Joanna Matanga, and Erica O’Brien.  Also, a special thanks goes out to the Topsail High School students and teachers.

If you would like to get in touch with any of the speakers or organizers of the event or learn more about the content of the weekend, feel free to send an email toselangberg@gmail.com.

A STAND Leader Reacts to the Foreign Policy Debate

 By Sean Langberg

Sean is the Co-Chair of the STAND chapter at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Side note: Sean’s chapter is hosting an atrocity prevention conference on December 1 and 2, 2012. The registration deadline is November 15, and attendance is free for students. For more information, visit http://standnow.org/NCconference

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney met last night in Florida to discuss their plans for some popular foreign policy issues. This presidential debate is different because voters are typically less informed about foreign policy issues and, as a result, many election experts think the debate is less important than ones focused on issues such as the economy and taxes. This is not necessarily wrong or unnatural. Voters are more inclined to care about issues that directly affect them. However, while many voters may not consider the US position on sanctions in Burma when they stop into the ballot box on November 6, thousands of atrocity prevention advocates across the country will. Moreover, the intimate connections between foreign and domestic policy mean that issues that may seem remote are actually very pertinent to the everyday US citizens. Examples include war spending, soldier deployments, and foreign aid appropriations.

Let’s start with what the candidates did talk about. Iran, Israel, Benghazi, China, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and a dose of Syria. Check the cable news ticker for more info.

Now what did Obama and Romney not talk about? First, neither of the candidates mentioned anything of significance regarding Syria. Neither wants to involve the US military directly, but think that material support and training are acceptable. Second, continuing violence in Sudan was completely left off the table despite the independence of South Sudan during Obama’s term. Third, Aung San Suu Kyi’s recent trip to the United States and the cycles of reform in Burma. Fourth (and least surprising), the ongoing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo supported by Rwanda and a multitude of domestic armed groups. All of these issues are ones that the US government engages with, but are rarely discussed in popular discourse. It’s our job, as advocates of peace and atrocity prevention to bring these issues to the forefront with the help of civilians on the ground and diaspora groups in the US. Last, by no means are these the only issues that were neglected. Other important ones such as climate change, US-Mexico border violence, and the Israel-Palestine peace process were largely ignored as well.

It’s important to note that calling last night the “foreign policy debate” is a bit of a misnomer. The issues that the candidates discussed (Iran, Benghazi, etc.) will be a small fraction of their actual foreign policy. Crafting and implementing a global geopolitical code is a complicated, often ad hoc process that involves everyone from the US Postal Service to the Central Intelligence Agency. In my experience, Stand is committed to viewing foreign policy as the broad, intricate issue it is rather than focusing on headline-grabbing issues. Our engagement with conflict minerals (Securities and Exchange Commission/Department of Commerce), foreign aid (Congress, USAID, et al), and the Sudan peace process (Department of State, Department of Energy, et al) represents only a portion of the comprehensive advocacy and policy solutions that are required. Students, diaspora groups, and professional allies must continue to push our representatives to act, develop smart prevention strategies, and empower communities affected by mass violence no matter what CNN reports on November 6.

University Women Spark #SudanRevolts

"Women do not make sandwiches
Women make revolutions
Women make dreams come true"
Fatma Emam, Nubian Egyptian Diaspora member in Cairo

This has certainly been the case since the beginning of the Sudan Revolts on June 16, when, in response to President Omar al Bashir’s austerity measures, female dormitory residents at the University of Khartoum began to protest. Since then, students have been joined by adults in protesting the lift on fuel subsidies and the increase of food prices.

Opposition forces say the government’s budget cuts did not affect the budget of the army, police, security apparatus, and sovereign sector, which makes up 56% of the country’s budget. The country has been facing mass inflation since South Sudan seceded from Sudan a year ago, taking with it three quarters of the country’s oil production. Riot police have used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up demonstrations and keep them from extending past the universities and into the streets.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) of the Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan, who have been fighting government forces in those areas, joined with the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and other Darfuri allies to form the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF). Their stated goal is to overthrow the central government and create a democratic state. Although the SRF is pursuing military strategy, they have asked protesters in Khartoum to remain peaceful. They have offered a ceasefire on all fronts, provided the government falls.

The recent demonstrations have differed from previous student-led protests in a few ways. For one, they have been strategically dispersed. Small crowds have spread throughout different locations in Khartoum to exhaust security forces’ resources. Additionally, they have been led not only by students, but also by older people, including Sudanese women.

However, as analyst Eric Reeves reminds us, this is the first serious domestic challenge in years, and the regime has demonstrated its willingness to use force to retain control over national wealth and power. Indeed, earlier today riot police in Khartoum and Omdurman used tear gas against protesters who had gathered outside mosques after Friday prayers. Reeves notes that it remains to be seen whether the Sudanese army will continue to support the government as the protests grow, and whether heretofore peaceful protests will escalate into armed insurrection as the government’s crackdown leads to greater civilian casualties.

Activists have called for further mass protests tomorrow, June 30, which marks the day that Bashir assumed power in 1989. You can follow #SudanRevolts on twitter for footage, pictures, and stories from protestors, as well as Alex Thurston’s Roundup of news sources and articles, international reactions, and commentary.

By Mac Hamilton (mhamilton@standnow.org)

UN Cannot Give Up on Diplomacy in Syria

United Nations observers monitoring violence in Syria suspended operations today amidst increasing violence and threats to their safety.  The lead monitor, Robert Mood, became concerned after some of the monitors came under fire last Tuesday as they entered the scene of a massacre.  This comes over a month after a ceasefire was supposed to take effect.  However, Assad’s remaining loyal forces continue to shell centers of opposition in an attempt crush the sixteen month old uprising.  

The United Nations Security Council approved the monitoring mission on April 14th as the internationally agreed upon ceasefire collapsed.  However, despite the presence of the monitors, Assad continued his violence campaign.  During this time there were two instances of mass killing in Houla and Qubair that garnered significant media attention.  More broadly, thousands of civilians have been killed since the mission began with unofficial estimates around 14,000 dead.  

Today’s development is another blow to international efforts at resolving the Syrian crisis through peaceful diplomacy.  The now famous Annan six-point plan adopted last April was widely seen as the most promising peace effort.  However, after months of continued violence many are calling the plan a failure and the suspension of the monitoring mission will only bolster those claims.  Realizing the fragility of his efforts, former Secretary-General Kofi Annan released a revised agenda that reflects a more nuanced understanding of the conflict.  The plan calls for the creation of a Syria “contact group” consisting of regional partners and other relevant state actors.  This group, notably including Russia, would try to find a political solution to the crisis most likely involving Assad’s protection in exile.  

While today’s announcement is not favorable to non-violent resolution measures, it should not be seen as an invitation for military operations.  The international community must remain committed to finding a diplomatic solution.  Recent claims that the conflict is now a civil war is somewhat of a misnomer because of the international support opposition and loyalist forces receive from Russia, Saudi Arabia, others.  In order to reach a responsible non-military conclusion, these actors must be deliberately engaged and persuaded that a post-Assad Syria is safer for the region.