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What You Need to Know: Week of 6/15/15


The flow of Rohingya refugees has slowed since its peak a few weeks ago, but the problems still remain.  Large numbers of Rohingya refugees, often transported in boats by traffickers demanding large sums, attempted to leave repression in Burma and refugee camps in Bangladesh.  Their primary destinations were Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, but these countries mostly turned away refugees who were then left stranded.  At this point, many smugglers left the refugees at sea, and there are even mass graves where smugglers are believed to have left refugees.  The Burmese government has responded to the crisis by increasing efforts to prevent the flow of refugees.  However, they maintain that the Rohingya are Bengali, not Burmese, and refuse to improve their conditions.  Many Burmese share this view, and 500 people marched in Sittwe to protest the return of Rohingya refugees to Rakhine State.  Pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who recently visited China, has maintained her silence on the situation of the Rohingya, likely because of a fear of losing popularity as she runs for President.  Bangladesh’s response to the crisis has been to propose moving its 32,000 registered Rohingya refugees to a frequently flooded island.

500 Rohingya were recently granted Burmese citizenship, reportedly after officially accepting the government’s label as Bengali.  However, the government has restricted their movement, arguing that this is necessary for protecting their safety.

In Shan State, the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) unilaterally declared a ceasefire with the Burmese government.  The Khokane rebels cited a desire for elections to go forward peacefully, and the decision also closely followed a summit of ethnic armed organizations that they attended.

Central African Republic (CAR)

The Central African Republic is preparing for parliamentary elections next month.  The UN Peacebuliding commission has called on all stakeholders to support a successful atmosphere for the upcoming elections.  However, they have acknowledged that the budget for the elections is $21 million short, and they called for additional support from international partners.

A new study by Save the Children has found that over 60% of school-aged children in the Central African Republic suffer from PTSD.  They found 91% of children have experience fear of death or serious injury, and large portions of children have witnessed serious acts of violence.  The Enough Project also released a new report which found that armed groups in the country have extensive profit-generating operations.

Pope Francis has announced that he is planning a visit to the Central African Republic in November, and he hopes the trip comes before the presidential transition.

DR Congo (DRC)

The DRC military (FARDC) has launched operations with UN forces against the Ituri Patriotic Resistance Front (FRPI).  The operation marks a return to military cooperation between the UN and FARDC, who have not worked together since the UN rejected cooperation with FARDC in an operation against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) after the Congolese government appointed generals with records of human rights abuses for the operation.  The operation against the FRPI, a local militia of several hundred fighters, has led to the death of 34 FRPI fighters and four members of FARDC, while the civil death toll is unclear.  In Walikale, clashes between factions of the Raia Mutomboki have led to civilian insecurity.

The Executive Secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes region says the repatriation of M23 fighters should finish in August.  Meanwhile, the founder of M23, Bosco Ntaganda, is set to undergo trial at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.  Due to concerns about the safety and emotional wellbeing of victims, the ICC somewhat controversially decided not to hold the hearing in the northeastern DRC city of Bunia.  Ntaganda is charged with 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  He is the first suspect to voluntarily surrender themselves to the ICC.

In other news, 220 Congolese NGOs and 14 international NGOs have demanded the release of two activists arrested in a raid on a pro-democracy meeting in Kinshasa in March.  They are charged with plotting against President Joseph Kabila.  Verisk Maplecroft also published their corruption index this week, and the DRC topped the list.

South Sudan

South Sudanese rebels in Northern Bahr el Ghazal have claimed that as many as 200 government troops defected to join their ranks.  The rebels are under the command of Riek Machar, who recently met with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete to discuss the Arusha SPLM Intraparty dialogue.  The UN also told the African Union that it would support its efforts to resolve the conflict.  The peace process is not going entirely smoothly, however, and President Salva Kiir has rejected the most recent IGAD peace proposal.  As the conflict continues, civilian casualties grow and UNICEF documented the deaths of 129 children in May in Unity State.  There could also be another layer to the conflict, as the South Sudanese government accused the Sudanese government of carrying out an air attack in Upper Nile state.

The conflict has led to a humanitarian crisis, and 4.6 million people are in need of food assistance, according to the UN office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  The US has announced it will contribute another $133 million to assist displaced South Sudanese civilians.  Aid agencies took a hit in Jonglei state, however, where bandits broke into the office of the Jonglei Food Security Program and stole $147,000.

In an effort to stop the conflict, Humanity United, Human Rights Watch, the Enough Project, United to End Genocide, the American Jewish World Service, and the National Association of Evangelicals called on the US to impose targeted sanctions against individuals in South Sudan who have committed serious human rights violations.  The South Sudanese government did not agree, calling the NGOs’ actions a “disincentive” for peace.  The NGOs are not the only ones examining targeted sanctions.  The African Union proposed sanctions on parties that do not comply with the peace process, and the UN also has a team of investigators in the country to determine if some individuals and parties should be the targets of sanctions.


The biggest story in Sudan this week was the escape of President Omar al-Bashir from South Africa.  Al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, travelled to Rome Statute signatory South Africa for an African Union Summit.  He has travelled to other countries obliged to arrest him before, and South Africa’s government was prepared to allow him to visit without arresting him.  However, after al-Bashir arrived, a court issued an order barring him from leaving the country in the next day, as the determined whether South Africa had an obligation to arrest al-Bashir and send him to stand trial at the Hague.  While they were making their decision, al-Bashir managed to leave the country.

Sudanese forces were attacked by rebels in West Darfur this week.  Negotiations took place between the Sudanese government, the African Union, and the United Nations to create an exit strategy for the peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID).  However, the UN has refused to sign an agreement.  Meanwhile, Darfur’s National Liberation and Justice Party has suspended their partnership with the ruling National Congress Party and withdrawn from the Sudanese government.


The Assad regime has suffered a number of losses to extremists and the moderate opposition and is in its weakest position for quite some time.  The Southern Front, an affiliate of the Free Syrian Army, seized a military base in Deraa.  In Palmyra, ISIS forced Syrian government forces to flee, and they are now close to gas plants that supply 50% of Syria’s electricity.  Rebel forces led by Jabhat al-Nusra let the last area held by the regime in Idlib province.  In the US, the House Foreign Affairs Committee heard testimony on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs.  In a separate statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said he is “absolutely certain” the Assad regime used chlorine gas.  President Assad has recently agreed with UN Peace Envoy Staffan de Mistura to continue talks towards a political solution to the conflict.

Kurdish militia group YPG, with some support from Free Syrian Army forces, advanced on ISIS stronghold Tal Abyad and engaged in heavy fighting.  Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is not impressed with Kurdish rebels, however, and has accused the West of backing terrorist Kurdish rebels.

In Idlib province, Jabhat al-Nusra forces massacred 20 Druze villagers.  Although al-Nusra considers Druze heretics, they had pledged not to attack religious minorities that did not oppose them.  However, after one Druze man was suspected of supporting the Syrian regime, a clash broke out and al-Nusra forces began massacring Druze villagers.

Emerging Conflicts: Yemen

Yemen’s conflict rages on and shows few signs of abating.  The Islamic State has stepped up their involvement in the conflict, detonating four car bombs in Sanaa.  The bombs targeted four Houthi buildings: two mosques, a house, and an office.  Dozens of people were killed.  In Southern Yemen, 31 people were killed when a Saudi airstrike hit a convoy of civilians fleeing violence.  A US airstrike struck and killed Nasir al-Wuhayshi, al-Qaeda’s second in command and the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  The US was originally unaware of al-Wuhayshi’s whereabouts, and the airstrike was not aimed at him.

Peace talks in Geneva between Houthis and the exiled government have led to little progress.  The Houthis seem to favor a truce but are unwilling to accept the conditions proposed by the other party.  The parties refuse to sit in the same room and rely on UN intermediaries to convey messages, and there was even a fistfight between members of the different parties.

The conflict has created a humanitarian crisis in the country.  The UN has said 6 million people are in urgent need of food assistance, with 10 of Yemen’s 22 governorates facing an “emergency level” of food insecurity.  Saudi Arabia promised $274 million in emergency aid to assist Yemeni civilians, but two months later it still has not arrived.  Matters have been made even worse as an outbreak of Dengue fever has infected thousands in Southern Yemen.

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