Turkish Members of Parliament this morning voted to take action against the Islamic State (ISIS) as the Islamist terror organization progresses towards the Kurdish town of Kobani, which rests just within the Syrian side of the Syrian-Turkish border. The vote to authorise military action against ISIS in neighbouring countries passed 298-98. However, Turkish defence minister Ismet Yilmaz asserted that this does not necessarily mean assistance the citizens of Kobani is forthcoming. Although ISIS has not approached within sight of the city, no US-led coalition strikes occurred on Thursday, and Syrian human rights activists have warned “without intervention to protect the Kurds, the city could fall within hours.” TheNew York Times reports that ISIS forces have already taken the Kurdish village of Kazan, a town with extreme proximity to Kobani.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan outlined his intentions to attack ISIS, committing not just to aerial strikes but to ground troops as well. Erdogan also made clear his ambitions to bring about the end of incumbent Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, an ambition out of step with the central goals of the US-led coalition. Thursday’s vote will also allow for the creation of a Syrian-Turkish “security zone” which would cater to the 1.5 million Syrian refugees flooding into Turkey, including those from the largely abandoned Kobani.
This week, car bombs have killed dozens in the central Syrian city of Homs. The twin explosions reportedly killed 45 people, including 41 children. No responsibility has been claimed for the explosions thus far, though the Islamic State have recently increased their presence in Homs. The Syrian Network for Human Rights, an organization dedicated to documenting human rights abuses in the Syrian conflict, reports that 2,375 people had died in the conflict in September alone. Of those, more than 1,700 were killed by government forces, among them 294 children.
The United States has voiced concerns over Sudan’s continued arrests of political and human rights activists as the anniversary of the September 2013 demonstrations nears. The State Department also condemned Sudan’s continued negligence of human rights issues, using the case of Darfur as an example.
A report published this week addressed the “morality laws” of Sudan and their effect on women. Out of 60 civil society activists that gave testimony for the report, only five have not been arrested because of their work. Many blame the president for these unfair laws stating that President Omar al-Bashir has actively pursued a “singularly Arab, Islamic, and male-dominated country”, which has led to “government [that] has institutionalized discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnicity, political opinion, gender and sexual orientation”.
In other news, the worldwide premiere of the film, The Good Lie that follows the story of a group of refugees from Sudan’s transition to life in America, has brought Sudan back into the American media. Many hope that this will be a way to bring Sudan back into the forefront of international news.
This week, South Sudanese rebels denied accepting support from Sudan. According to one of the upper level officials in the South Sudanese rebel group, their trip to Khartoum was not in fact a trip to receive arms and funds but was “part of a peace mission initiative by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is mediating negotiations between the two warring parties”.
Additionally, the South Sudanese government stated that they are optimistic about a potential peace agreement with the rebels. Peace talks throughout this week, led by mediators from the East African regional bloc IGAD, have opened the door for the warring factions to sit together and discuss the conflict openly. Discussions have turned now to ending the conflict, stressing the importance of strong transitional governments to ensure good governance and to prevent further conflict from emerging.
Meanwhile, the international community continues to voice its concern over the worsening food crisis in South Sudan. According to UNICEF, some 50,000 South Sudanese children may die of starvation, and 2.5 million people are predicted to be at crisis food shortage levels from January to March 2015. The risk is even higher for internally displaced persons and those fleeing violence, which is still a major issue as the fighting has not stopped despite positive peace talks this week.
Following last week’s unsuccessful peace talks to establish a nationwide ceasefire between the Burma government and various ethnic organizations, Burma’s president Thein Seinclaimed in a weekly radio address that reaching a ceasefire agreement would be vital to national elections in 2015 and subsequent political transition. President Thein Sein’s comments tail news of the death of 17 soldiers from the Tatmadaw (Burma’s army) resulting from clashes in Burma’s northern Shan State with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). The KIA and TNLA are both ethnic militias and are the two largest such groups that have yet to sign ceasefire agreements with the Burma government. Fighting also broke out in Burma’s eastern Mon State between the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) after rebels detained eight government officials.
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Congo’s president Joseph Kabila recently promoted General Gabriel Amisi, appointing the FARDC officer as commander of one of Congo’s three newly created “zones of defense.” The move came as part of Kabila’s reorganization of top military commanders, which critics view as an attempt to consolidate the President’s power. The UN group of experts has accused Amisi of selling weapons to armed groups, and Kabila himself deposed the officer from power in 2012 on the grounds of this accusation.
Congolese civil society expressed outrage this month at delays in the repatriation process for Rwandan FDLR combatants in North Kivu province. The UN recently granted a two-month extension during which time FDLR rebels might voluntarily surrender and return to Rwanda. Civil society leaders in North Kivu view the continued presence of FDLR rebels as punishment to civilian survivors of FDLR war crimes. Congolese leaders called on the Rwandan government to do its part to ensure a smooth repatriation of the militants.
In late September, the Congolese national police force (PNC) commissioned a class of nearly 200 new officers in South Kivu province. This class of officers, the third of its kind, received UN-facilitated, UK-funded training on human rights. The contingent of officers will deploy to rural areas throughout South Kivu to work in collaboration with civilian populations to prevent human rights abuses.
Central African Republic (CAR)
The top UN official in the Central African Republic expressed concern on Sunday over possible delays for elections in CAR, saying that pushing back elections could worsen the crisis. Some have suggested that the elections, scheduled for February, could be delayed until after next year’s rainy season which ends in September.
The country continues to suffer from interethnic violence. Last Thursday, French forces killed at least five people in clashes with both Muslim and Christian forces in Bambari, northeast of CAR’s capital. In the southern city of Ngaboko, attacks and reprisal attacks by the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition and majority Christian anti-balaka rebel coalitionleft over 20 dead in late September, including the city’s mayor. The recent decision of several high-level rebel leaders of the Seleka group to quit has caused further concern. The rebel leaders stated that they disagreed with the group’s secessionist plans for its northern enclave and opposed the group’s purported plans to march on the capital of Bengui despite the presence of UN and French peacekeepers. Central African Republic interim president Samba Panza recently asked the UN to consider tweaking an arms embargo in order to allow the government’s troops to be properly equipped in order to work alongside UN forces in the country.
Meanwhile, the country’s continued insecurity combined with the rainy season has caused the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to face a double challenge for the organization in carrying out aid distribution. In a more positive development, the International Criminal Court (ICC) recently announced that it is opening an investigation into a “nearly endless” list of atrocities in the Central African Republic. The announcement comes following calls for the ICC to send investigators to the country.
Emerging Conflicts: Yemen
Yemen is in an uneasy peace after Houthi rebels took most of the capitol. Located on the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, the country of 23 million saw Houthi forces take the capitol of Sana’a on 21 September. The Houthi forces had moved through the country from their base in the northwest of the country over the course of about a month before taking most of Sana’a, including many important government buildings, with little opposition. The same day, Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwa resigned and a peace deal was signed in which the rebels agreed to leave the capitol after a new Prime Minister was named. The peace deal also lessened power for President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and gave an increased role in the government to the Houthis. Whether the Houthis will eventually leave the capitol is unclear, as they continue to station a number of troops in the city and have made orders regarding state spending. At least 200 people have died so far, although it seems that violence has slowed.
Religion plays a role in the conflict, as the Houthis are part of the Zaydi branch of Shi’ite Islam and the ruling government is primarily Sunni. However, the Houthis also represent many popular grievances with the government and have allied with Sunni groups and participated in many nonviolent actions in opposition to the government. After large scale protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, current President Hadi stepped in, and many of the protesters’ grievances were never addressed. Widespread corruption and the poor economy have been major focuses of the Houthi’s movement. Still, many Sunni groups do not trust the Houthis as they have at times been very aggressive towards their enemies.
The conflict has significant geopolitical implications. While the Houthis deny they are backed by Iran, they certainly have close ties, and opponents of Iran are worried of growing Iranian influence. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council have both expressed concern over the Houthi uprising. The US has made clear its “strong support” for Yemen’s ruling government, although its main concern is Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The US has launched a number of drone strikes against AQAP targets in Yemen and in September President Obama called Yemen one of his models for counterterrorism. AQAP opposes Yemen’s ruling government, but it opposes the Houthis even more strongly.