STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND Education Task Force.
This week’s news brief focuses on South Sudan, Sudan, Burundi, DRC, and CAR. Thousands of South Sudanese refugees continue to flee to Uganda each day, and though the Darfur conflict may be forgotten in the international community, it is still far from over. DRC continues to face the possibility of civil war, and violence grows in Burundi as more and more flee the country. A conference held in Brussels on CAR addressed how to obtain long-term peace and resolve the humanitarian crisis within the country.
NPR reports that as violence continues in South Sudan, refugees are flowing into Uganda at a staggering rate; as many as 200,000 since fighting intensified in July. Refugees have been suffering from extreme food shortages, and many have reported being denied food rations. According to the report, “In August, the World Food Programme cut rations in half for families who have been in the country since July 2015 and are not considered extremely vulnerable,” in effect cutting rations from about 2,100 calories a day to about 1,000. A medical officer of Medical Teams International said malaria and malnutrition are two of the biggest concerns since people arriving the settlement camp have already been hungry for a long time.
On November 11, the Sudan Tribune reported that four people were killed in the South Sudan city of Yambio during a rebel attack. The mayor of Yambio said that gunshots erupted in the morning when the armed group came to attack a house belonging to a government security agent in Hai Kuba area. The group killed a young child and injured others.
The UN refugee agency has distributed lifesaving items to more than 6,000 vulnerable families trapped by fighting in Yei River state over the last six months. Internally displaced persons say they want to be allowed to safely return to their homes so that they can harvest the crops they planted. The food rations they are receiving are not enough to survive. Aid workers and local leaders reported thousands of Yei residents have been forced to enter into neighboring Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo because of food insecurity.
According to a November 16 Reliefweb report, many South Sudanese are at imminent risk of violence. The recent violence in the country particularly threatens populations who may be attacked on the basis of ethnicity and presumed political loyalties. UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng warned that populations face the threat of genocide unless national, regional and international actors “take immediate measures” to end the violence and uphold the responsibility to protect South Sudanese from atrocity crimes.
Darfur’s conflict might be forgotten, but it’s not over. The conflict that broke out in 2003 forced millions of Darfuri refugees to flee the country. Human rights groups, diplomats, and Darfuri diaspora members have limited access to information from inside Darfur. As global interest in the conflict has faded, the Khartoum government has effectively sealed off the region to outsiders and taken control of the narrative around Darfur. In early September, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir traveled to Darfur to declare that peace had officially returned to the region, just weeks after African Union-backed peace talks fell apart in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. There appears to be little interest among global powers in challenging the government’s decision. A recent Amnesty International report documented ongoing government-sanctioned violence across much of the region since the beginning of 2016, including the possible the use of chemical weapons against civilians.
On November 16, Radio Tamazuj reported that Bashir described the South Sudanese government as Sudan’s “enemy.” This remark signifies growing tensions over slow implementation of joint agreements between the two countries. President Bashir said that South Sudan still wants to implement the 2012 Joint Cooperation Agreements signed by the two countries. Separately but concurrently, Bashir rejected calls for additional dialogue initiatives between actors in Sudan and insisted that opponents should join the existing National Dialogue.
Great Lakes of Africa
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
The Democratic Republic of the Congo faces the threat of civil war if Joseph Kabila does not step down from power at the end of his mandate on December 19. The Rassemblement, the group comprised of various opposition parties boycotting Kabila’s decision to delay elections to April 2018, have insisted that elections are the only path to a peaceful solution. Criticizing the deal to postpone elections organized by the DRC’s governing party, Etienne Tshisekedi, the leader of the major opposition party, stated that “Kabila has performed a coup d’état against himself by signing that agreement, because he made an oath to protect the constitution.”
The decision to postpone elections held firm as the DRC’s Prime Minister and Cabinet resigned on November 14 in accordance with the agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, the Prime Minister and Cabinet will be replaced with members of opposition parties who participated in the discussions to establish a balance in the government. Since the majority of opposition parties, as part of the Rassemblement, refused to attend the discussions, the members of the new government will not fully represent the portions of the society who supported the major opposition group.
Opposition leaders in the DRC have compared Kabila’s reign in recent years to that of Mobutu, and new information has strengthened this case by linking Kabila to the further removal of resources from the DRC. On November 14 it was revealed that Gecamines, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s state mining company, signed over royalty rights to one of Kabila’s close friends. The revenue from the royalties, which could have generated as much as $880 million for the DRC government, is now owned by billionaire Dan Gertler, who has been accused by Global Witness of having played a role in other mining deals that have cost Congo over $1.36 billion in revenue. No reason for the selling of the royalties has been provided, but the rerouting of the income will decrease Congolese spending capabilities.
On November 8, an explosive device in Eastern Congo killed one young Congolese girl and injured two Congolese civilians in addition to 32 members of the MONUSCO task force. The UN responded by calling for action against the perpetrators, but there is no indication of who the perpetrators may be, as multiple militia groups are active in the region.
Human Rights Watch Senior Researcher Ida Sawyer submitted a letter to the UN Security Council on November 9 expressing concerns over the potential for violence if Kabila remains in office. The letter conveys a list of recommendations on how to avert crisis in the DRC. These recommendations include urging Kabila to step down, or at least to find a time before the end of 2017 to step down from his position, as well as a measures to increase the deployment of MONUSCO forces and to press them to focus specifically on the protection of journalists and political opposition.
STAND is working with partners such as The Enough Project, Jewish World Watch, and Stand With Congo, as well as Congolese diaspora and civil society organizations such as Friends of the Congo and LUCHA to push the U.S. to expand sanctions on enablers of violence against peaceful demonstrators in the leadup to December 19. You can join us by following us on twitter @standnow and tweeting/retweeting using #DRCsanctions, #ByeByeKabila, and #KabilaMustGo.
The threat of destabilization and increased violence in Burundi has only increased in recent weeks and months, leading to an exodus of refugees leaving Burundi and hunger throughout the country.
The International Federation for Human Rights recently published a report detailing the situation in Burundi and providing specific examples of rights violations throughout the country. The report focused on “Repression and Genocidal Dynamics” and covered extrajudicial executions, targeted assassinations, enforced disappearances, lootings, torture, and ransoms. The report comes amidst concerns that Burundi has been “forgotten” by the international community. Meanwhile, the risk of genocide increases as ideology and identification processes are enforced. At the same time, citizens know little of what is happening outside of their own regions of Burundi and in the rest of the world, as President Nkurunziza has maintained a “vacuum” on all media following his announcement to run for a third term.
Refugees leaving the country now number at 311,083 since April 2015 with Tanzania alone receiving approximately 10,000 per month. Concerns about the great influx of refugees are increasing as violence continues and DRC simultaneously loses stability. UN reporters don’t anticipate any decrease in violence or in the outpouring of refugees. Most of the violence and executions have been politically motivated and directed towards those opposed to Nkurunziza’s third term.
Meanwhile, the World Food Program has determined that over 600,000 people out of Burundi’s population of 10 million are “short of food due to drought and flooding.” Most of those affected live in the Northern and Eastern provinces. Though Burundi ended its food exports to Rwanda earlier this year to attempt to prevent major shortages, it is still unable to provide enough food for all of its citizens.
Central and West Africa
Central African Republic (CAR)
The Brussels Conference, hosted by the European Union on behalf of the Central African Republic (CAR), began on November 17. The main objectives of the conference are to obtain long-term peace and address the humanitarian crisis that has engulfed the country. The success of both of these goals depends largely on the financial pledges of donors at the conference.
When France ended its military mission in CAR at the end of October, there were fears of fresh waves of violent attacks even though over ten thousand peacekeepers from the United Nations remained in the country. Though a brief period of peace lasted in early November, a fresh wave of violence between two Séléka groups in late November resulted in 14 deaths and 76 wounded citizens. The country continues to struggle with stability as most of the armed groups around the country continue to bare arms while the security sector remains woefully unequipped to execute the process of disarmament. The judicial system also remains incapable of providing justice. Many individuals who have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the conflict have not been prosecuted because of poor administration and a lack of funding. As a result, many feel as though they are able to kill again with impunity. A recent news release by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed that lasting peace would not be achieved without truth and reconciliation. For that reason, organizations such as Human Rights Watch have urged donors at the Brussels Conference to invest in the Special Criminal Court, which was established in June 2015 to prosecute those who committed crimes during the most recent conflict in CAR.
Beyond the struggle to achieve peace and justice, there is also a significant humanitarian crisis in CAR. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recently found that over 850,000 people, half of whom are children, are internally displaced or refugees. One third of children in the country do not have access to education. Furthermore, over forty percent under the age of five are chronically malnourished. The healthcare system has also suffered drastically. Hospitals do not have enough staff or supplies to effectively deal with disease. As a result, respiratory infections are the third most significant cause of death for children in CAR. Given that the country is ranked second to last in development by the UN, however, any assistance given during the Brussels Conference should not focus solely on mitigating the short-term crisis, but also on solving long-term problems.
Justin Cole is STAND’s Central and West Africa Coordinator. He is a Junior at UNC Chapel Hill where he majors in Economics and Peace, War, and Defense.
Elizabeth Westbrook is STAND’s Great Lakes Coordinator. She is a Junior at UNC Chapel Hill where she is a Political Science major.
Joanna Liang is STAND’s Sudan and South Sudan Coordinator. She is a Junior at the University of Delaware where she majors in History Education.