Great Lakes of Africa: Burundi & Democratic Republic of the Congo
Bujumbura has witnessed a few days of calm since the forced disarmament and weapons seizure wherein 50 weapons were allegedly confiscated from illegally armed civilians by Burundi security forces.
As the 10-month period of the United Nations Electoral Observer sojourn in Burundi (MENUB) has come to its close, the African Union Peace and Security Council has authorized the deployment of 100 military experts, police, and human rights observers to Burundi by December 15, after the AU Commission signs a memorandum of understanding that will govern the activities and movement of experts.
Despite the AU’s indication of its willingness to deploy the Eastern African Standby Force in response to intensified violence, the African Union Peace and Security Council voted to “impose targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, against listed individuals who are impeding the negotiation process” by perpetrating violent acts, violating human rights and making provocative statements, following a recommendation by AU assessors in the field.
The African Union Peace and Security Council further decided that the inter-Burundi dialogue, to be mediated by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, should convene at a location outside Burundi to allow for participation of all Burundian stakeholders.
Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) President, Joseph Kabila, has allegedly sought Zimbabwe’s assistance to circumvent the DRC constitutional requirement of a two-term presidential limit despite violently-charged tensions as a result of his bid to stay in power.
Middle East and North Africa: Syria
The attacks in Paris last week have catapulted the crisis in Syria to the frontline of international news as well as Western diplomatic priorities. France and Russia have dramatically increased airstrikes against areas controlled by ISIS after the group claimed responsibility for the attacks in Paris as well as the downing of a Russian passenger jet. In the past week, the airstrikes have successfully hit arms depots, troops barracks, and other infrastructure in Raqqa, and killing dozens of ISIS members. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Russian air strikes have caused 1331 deaths since they began on September 30th: 381 were fighters with ISIS, 547 were militants from the al-Qaida affiliated al-Nusra Front and other rebel groups, and 403 were civilians, including 97 children. On Sunday, Assad publicly thanked these Russian strikes for improving the advancement and military success of Assad’s army on the ground.
On the morning of Tuesday, November 24, the Turkish military shot down a Russian warplane along the Syrian border, marking the first time a NATO member has engaged militarily with Russia in Syria. So far, both the Turkish and Russian governments have released conflicting accounts of what lead to the incident, and specifics are not entirely clear as of now.
As Western military campaigns in Syria continue to intensify, diplomatic talks searching for a political solution also continue. In recent days Barack Obama has reiterated his belief in the necessity of the eventual removal of Assad and speakers for the Saudi government have announced that they will hold talks in Mid-December to assist in the unification of the Syrian opposition. Assad has reiterated his willingness to enter peace talks— which he prefers to be held in Moscow— but claims the first priority of the moment should be defeating terrorism. On the 19th, Syrian rebels and government forces agreed to a temporary 15-day ceasefire in the Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus. This is the second local ceasefire in recent months, coming on the tail of successful small range temporary ceasefires in a town near the Lebanese border as well as in two northwestern villages.
Furthermore, in light of the attacks in Paris, many Syrian refugees are facing renewed difficulties in seeking asylum. On November 19th, the United States House of Representatives saw the passage of H.R. 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, that would call for harsher regulations and investigation into “covered aliens” from Iraq or Syria applying for U.S. refugee admission. The Senate will vote on the bill on Wednesday, December 2. STAND is working in conjunction with Students Organizing for Syria (SOS) to oppose the passage of the bill, and Barack Obama has vowed to veto H.R. 4038 should it pass in the senate.
On Thursday, November 19, the South Sudanese government and the rebel group, the South Sudan National Liberation Movement (SSNLM) have signed a peace agreement to end the violence within Western Equatoria state. A consensus has been reached between the group and Juba, regarding the return of rebel forces back to their homes as the harvest season begins, and abuses perpetrated by both the SPLA and the Arrow Boys, the SSNLM’s armed wing. The Arrow Boys are a sizable group of armed youth originally formed to combat incursions by Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army but redirected its attention towards protection of its communities when South Sudan’s civil war began. Though the group has said that they had no intention of fighting the government, they want to ensure that the grievances of their communities are addressed. Juba has promised to review their concerns.
The South Sudanese National Assembly voted granting President Kiir the power to expand South Sudan’s states from 10 to 28, supporting his controversial executive order on this issue last month. Supporters of the plan assert that it would improve representation in local government and provision of social services, but its opponents claim it is a violation of the Constitution, would jeopardize the August peace deal which was built around 10 state institutions, and increase tribal tensions. Thirty seven members of parliament from Equatoria and 23 Nuer members boycotted the vote over grievances regarding the proposal’s constitutionality, but a number of MPs from the Equatorian Caucus and Nuer community did vote on the proposal. At the end of the session, 231 of the 323 South Sudanese MPs voted in favor of the proposal. The opposition claims that the assembly failed to meet the minimum participation requirement of 198 members to amend the Constitution, citing that only 189 MPs were present to vote. The opposition to the amendment also cites as unconstitutional the government’s decision to lump Council of States members with that of the national legislative assembly MPs, claiming that these branches are supposed to sit separately. SPLM-IO officials immediately issued statements that this could derail the peace agreement, and lawmakers claim this would push South Sudan to a tribal war.
Violence continues to rock South Sudan, despite a peace deal and ceasefire being in place, as Unity State, an area of the country that had attracted the economic and political interest of the rebels and South Sudanese government, due to its oil reverses, had felt the brunt of the fighting throughout the war. Earlier this week, the SPLA and SPLM/A-IO have traded accusations of ceasefire violations in clashes in Unity State’s Nhialdiu and Buaw Payam villages, with the SPLA-IO alleging that the SPLA began the clashes after moving on their positions in Leer County last Sunday. The South Sudanese Government claims that the SPLA-IO began the clashes by launching ambushes and attacking SPLA garrisons in the area, but nevertheless, rebel forces withdrew from the area on November 18th amid the deployment of SPLA reinforcements. There are also more allegations from the rebels that the SPLA has violated the ceasefire in other parts of the country, including Upper Nile State and Western Equatoria State.
A new round of talks has begun between Khartoum and a number of rebel groups on Thursday, which are being facilitated by the African Union in Addis Ababa, and include the SPLM-North (SPLM-N), Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), and the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM). Fighting in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile State have raged for years, and wreaking havoc on the civilian populations in these areas, and this meeting presents a rare opportunity to find a resolution to the violence. Both the rebel groups and the Sudanese Government have reaffirmed their commitment to creating a permanent ceasefire, after unilateral, temporary ceasefires were declared by Khartoum and the rebels ahead of peace talks. However, allegations are coming from the representatives of Khartoum, that the AU is biased in favor of the SPLM-N.
Despite peace negotiations underway between SPLM-N and Khartoum, rebel forces belonging to the SPLM-N have accused the Sudanese Army of violating the temporary ceasefires in place by attacking rebel positions in Blue Nile State. In response, SPLM-N spokesman Arnu Ngutulu Lodi has stated that in response to the alleged government offensive, the rebels had seized Soda garrison. Lodi also expressed concerns regarding aerial bombardment of the area, as part of the “Summer Campaign” launched over two years ago by the Sudanese Army in order to quell rebellions in Blue Nile State and South Kordofan.
Southeast Asia: Burma
Despite a multi-national clampdown on human trafficking, smugglers are continuing their trade further in land. Burmese refugees now make up 90% of Malaysia’s 150,000 asylum seekers. Though many have been granted safety in the country, Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations’ Convention on the Status of Refugees, and refugees and asylum seekers are often unable to work in the country, nor are they able to receive public education or healthcare. Like Thailand, Malaysia is urging for a change in the treatment of minority groups, such as the Rohingya, in Burma in order to resolve the refugee crisis.
At the 27th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday a spokesperson for Burmese President Thein Sein promised a smooth handover of power to the newly elected National League of Democracy (NLD). The summit focussed on development (with the creation of the ASEAN Economic Community), counter-terrorism initiatives concerning ISIS and Islamist militant groups, and concluded with the signing the ASEAN Convention Against Human Trafficking. It is hoped that this new treaty will bring about greater cooperation regarding the Asian refugee crisis.
While the ASEAN leaders discussed their next steps in addressing the Rohingya refugee crisis, President Barack Obama visited an educational center for refugees in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. He met with refugees at the centre as part of his campaign to encourage greater compassion in the US for the global refugee crisis.
The United Nations General Assembly’s human rights committee drafted a resolution on Wednesday demanding the Burmese government to restore the citizenship to its Rohingya populations and to protect the human rights of all citizens. The resolution also called for all institutions, including the military to be brought under democratic parliamentary rule. The resolution will be put to the vote at a plenary session of the General Assembly next month.
However, U Win Htein a leading member of the NLD as spiked concerns in the international community over the Rohingya migrant crisis by stating that the ‘Rohingya issue’ would not be among the party’s main priorities during next year’s democratic transition. This week significant developments towards peace were made as martial law was suspended in Kokang, Shan State where violent clashes between government forces and local militia groups have displaced tens of thousands of people over the last 9 months. Elsewhere, a landslide in Hpakant in Kachin province this week has killed at least 90 people and destroyed many homes. It seems in the face of pressing concerns of poverty reduction, disaster relief and national security, the issue of the Rohingya’s persecution is in danger of being side-lined in the coming months.
Get to know the 2015-2016 Education Task Force
Ruhi Bhaidani serves as Central and West Africa Conflict Coordinator, and has been a STAND member for over four years. As president of her high school’s STAND for Peace club, she organized a concert to draw attention to ongoing genocidal violence around the world. Ruhi is a freshman at the University of Chicago.
Lindah Mogeni serves as STAND’s Great Lakes Conflict Coordinator, and is a senior at Barnard College studying Political Science. Lindah comes to STAND with extensive human rights advocacy and research experience, and spent three months in 2014 as a Fieldwork Research Intern with the United Nations Stabilization Mission (MONUSCO) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Maddie King serves as STAND’s Middle East and North Africa Conflict Coordinator, and is a junior at Johns Hopkins University, where she is pursuing majors in International Studies and Global Environmental Change and Sustainability and a minor in Islamic Studies. She is passionate about addressing issues of refugee resettlement, particularly as they relate to the roots of displacement.
Sophie Back serves as STAND’s Southeast Asia Conflict Coordinator, and is a third year student at University College London pursuing a degree in History and Political Science. An outspoken advocate for Amnesty International on campus, Sophie comes to STAND after spending the summer in Vietnam, where she led a team that organized workshops to prepare students for the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community free trade area.
Jason Qu serves as STAND’s Sudan and South Sudan Conflict Coordinator, and is a junior at the Bronx High School of Science. He is also Vice President of the Amnesty International chapter at his school, and is extensively involved in Model United Nations and the Muslim Student Association at Bronx Science.