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A Year In Review: Darfur, Burma, and Congo in 2008


This year witnessed a rapid, rapid deterioration in the situation on the ground in Darfur: the equivalent of 1,000 Darfuris were displaced from their homes every day this year.  2008 witnessed the most attacks on humanitarian aid workers in the history of the conflict, with very few groups left operating in Darfur and hundreds of thousands left without assistance.
Several major destabilizing events happened: the Government of Sudan (GoS) re-launched scorched-earth tactics in February, launched an attack on several IDP camps, including Kalma, which is the largest IDP camp in Darfur. In August the rebel group JEM attacked the Sudanese capitol of Khartoum in an attempt to overthrow the government, which failed but resulted in a great amount of damage and a crackdown on ethnic Zaghawa.
UNAMID is still only just over 10,000-personnel strong, and continues to be without necessary equipment such as helicopters. UNAMID has been attacked countless times by all parties, ranging from Janjaweed to rebels to children in IDP camps.
In 2008, the Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, sought the indictment of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, sparking a heated international debate. He then followed with the request for the indictment of three unnamed rebel leaders for an attack on UN Peacekeepers in 2007.
The peace process was for the most part at a standstill in 2008, with the Darfur  rebel groups splintered into over a dozen separate groups, and with young men and women in the IDP camps being increasingly politicized and polarized in the camps. Bashir violated all the ceasefires he signed within 72 hours. A new UN chief prosecutor, Dribril Bassole, was deployed towards the end of the year.


2008 was a very tumultuous year in Burma to say the least.  The year started with the devastating Cyclone Nargis in May.  The Cyclone moved into the Irrawaddy delta from the Bay of Bengal and killed over 140,000 people, leaving 2 million others homeless or scattered.  The devastation of the Cyclone caused an international incident when the junta refused to allow US, British and French ships deliver aid along with other organizations.   At this time world leaders such as French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner invoked the R2P doctrine.  The regime eventual allowed some aid in, under strict conditions.  The regime, on May 10 in the Cyclone’s wake, decided to go ahead with a constitutional referendum that would further the militaries power under a civilian guise.
Multiple visits from UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari proved worthless as he did not speak with ruling general Than Shwe or see Aung Sung Suu Kyi, who remains on house arrest.  In November President Bush appointed Michael Green to be a special policy coordinator (with the rank of ambassador) to Burma.  In July Burma signed a Human Rights Charter proposed by ASEAN, but then subsequently broke it when it began a purge of the countries activists—including monks, journalists, lawyers and volunteer relief workers-throwing over 150 of them in jail.  In East Burma the ethnic cleansing against the Karen people will be escalated due to new permanent military bases in the region. In 2008 population of the Karen lived under perpetual threat of violence.       


2008 began on an encouraging note with the signing of a ceasefire agreement in January between the DRC government and several armed groups operating in eastern DRC. However, the agreement was violated almost immediately after being signed. The resulting low-intensity conflict, left largely unaddressed, has now escalated, leading to fears of a return to all-out war. Currently, over 1.5 million people are displaced throughout the country, one million in North Kivu alone. 250,000 of these have been displaced since late August, when a resurgence of fighting began between the Congolese army and the CNDP, Tutsi rebels led by General Laurent Nkunda. A major offensive by Nkunda in late October exacerbated the situation further, highlighting the inability of MONUC, the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC, to effectively protect civilians. Civilians in eastern DRC remain victims of mass killings, severe torture and widespread rape at the hands of numerous armed groups. The recent escalation of violence has also led to a dramatic increase in recruitment of child soldiers.
A mediation team of former Nigerian and Tanzanian presidents Olesegun Obasanjo and Benjamin Mkapa is attempting to facilitate peace talks. However, significant obstacles remain, including the continued presence of Rwandan Hutu militia known as the FDLR, the role of regional players (particularly Rwanda), and the ongoing exploitation of eastern DRC’s mineral resources by all armed groups. To boost civilian protection capacity, the UN Security Council has authorized reinforcements for MONUC and renewed and strengthened the force’s mandate.

"Darfur" by Sabina Carlson
"Burma" by Joshua Groll
"Congo" by Nina McMurry

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