STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND Education Task Force.
This week’s update focuses on allegations of abuse against the Burmese military by the United Nations.The United States has seen policy change towards Yemen under the new presidential administration. In February, the UN Security Council held a vote on sanctioning Syria, which received nine votes and three vetoes.
An investigation was finally launched by the Burmese government to look into repeated accusations of military abuse against the Rohingya. However, it reached a standstill due to the chief of general staff, Gen. Mya Tun Oo’s, official statement that there was no plausible evidence that widespread military abuse in the form of rape or other atrocities had occurred against civilians. The allegations against the army for burning civilian homes is still being investigated. After visiting Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, the UN’s envoy for human rights in Burma called for immediate government action regarding the estimated one million Rohingya persecuted by security forces. Rohingya children are particularly affected by the persecution.
An article published on February 28 states that due to the conflict that has been ongoing since October, several thousand Rohingya children in the northwest area of the country are in critical health conditions due to malnutrition and lack of medical care. A major contributing factor is the restrictions set on UN aid due to the government’s seal of the area. The implementation of more frequent military checkpoints across the area is another contributing factor to the lack of accessibility to the area.
Last week, the UN Human Rights Council began its three-week session, during which they are expected to discuss Burma. President Obama’s former ambassador to the Geneva-based council, Keith Harper, has called out Burma’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi for failing to address the conflict in the Rakhine State of Burma where the Rohingya remain a persecuted minority group. Harper further explains that though many had high hopes for the country’s widely respected leader, it is necessary to hold her accountable for the injustices.
The Trump Administration appears to have begun shifting US policy towards the conflict in Yemen, moving away from some of the policy stances of the Obama Administration. Many human rights groups, international organizations, and parties to the conflict in Yemen – notably Saudi Arabia – have looked to the United States to help shape the civil war that has become a regional quagmire and humanitarian disaster. As Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to be locked in what has some elements of a de-facto proxy war in Yemen, there have been real consequences for civilians as the United Nations reported at least 10,000 civilian deaths and the displacement of millions across the country. Many, especially children, face malnutrition and lack of access to medical supplies, among other basic necessities.
This has sparked an international outcry especially as the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebels are reported to have attacked civilians and indiscriminately bombed areas with civilian facilities such as hospitals. Organizations like STAND have called on the US to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia while they continue to observe rules of engagement that have not respected the protection of civilians. However, the Trump Administration has has focused on balancing a number of priorities in Yemen, such as blunting the influence of Iran, halting and reversing the advances of AQAP militants in Yemen, and maintaining friendly security relations with countries like Saudi Arabia. In this, the Trump Administration had signaled a reversal in a late move made by the previous administration to block the sale of precision-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia. Although such a move requires further approval by the White House, the State Department proposed resuming the arms transfer. A senior White House official has said that the US wants to blunt Iranian influence in the region, with Yemen being a major front in this initiative. This move could mark a shift towards a more hawkish approach towards Iran, a change that will certainly hold implications for Yemen.
Middle East and North Africa
In a Human Rights Watch report released February 13, the organization stated, “Syrian government forces had carried out at least eight chemical attacks in late 2016 as they were fighting to capture second city Aleppo.” The Syrian foreign ministry dismissed the report as “unprofessional and unscientific.”
In response to the allegations, the UN Security Council was set to vote on sanctioning Syria in late February. A resolution drafted by Britain, the US, and France would have “put 11 Syrians, mainly military commanders, and 10 entities linked to chemical attacks in 2014 and 2015 on a UN sanctions blacklist.”
The resolution received nine votes and three vetoes. The vetoes—from China, Russia, and Bolivia, were not surprising. Russia has vetoed seven resolutions in the past five years, as they consider the Assad regime an ally. US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, called chemical weapons attacks in Syria “barbaric” and accused Russia and China of putting “their friends in the Assad regime ahead of our global security.”
The events and rhetoric surrounding the UNSC vote are indicative of a prolonged disagreement by Russia and China with the US on how to combat the Syrian civil war.
Emily Lyford is STAND’s Southeast Asia Coordinator, focusing mainly on Burma. She is a freshman at the University of New Hampshire where she majors in Neuroscience and Behavior.
Ana Delgado is STAND’s Middle East and North Africa Coordinator, focusing mainly on Syria. She is a junior at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in Political Science and Peace, War, and Defense.
Jason Qu is STAND’s Emerging Conflicts Coordinator, focusing today on Yemen. He is a Senior at Bronx High School of Science.