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Weekly News Brief: 4/26/2017


STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND Education Task Force.

This week’s update focuses on the recent chemical weapons attacks in Syria, parliamentary  elections in Burma, and the deepening multi-faceted nature of the conflict in Yemen.


Middle East and North Africa


Chemical weapons have been used in the Syrian conflict since 2013. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and a specific UN task force have investigated the multitude of attacks, and in 2016, the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) released a report that explicitly accused President Bashar al-Assad’s government for the occurrences.

In April 2017, the issue of chemical warfare in Syria took center stage after one of the deadliest attacks of the war occurred in rebel-held northern Syria. According to witnesses, medical professionals, and rescue workers, sarin gas, or a similar chemical nerve agent, struck dozens of civilians after warplanes dropped bombs in the area. Within a day, there were over 100 reported fatalities and many others injured.

President Bashar al-Assad has denied the Syrian government’s involvement in the attack. Representatives from Assad’s regime have instead blamed insurgents for the episode. The Trump administration responded to the gas attacks by issuing a missile strike on the Al Shayrat airfield in Syria, aimed at military equipment used by the Assad regime. In response to the U.S. missile strike, STAND issued a statement condemning the use of chemical weapons, noting civilian casualties caused by American airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and urging Congressional approval for any further military action.

On Monday of this week, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on 271 employees of the Syrian government’s Scientific Studies and Research Center, more than doubling the number of Syrian individuals and entities under sanctions by the U.S. This action seeks to punish those responsible for the chemical weapons attack earlier this month, and to deter future attacks.

Southeast Asia


Nationwide elections were held in Burma on Sunday, April 2, in which nearly half of the parliamentary seats went to Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). The popularity of Suu Kyi and the NLD has declined since it came into power in 2015 due to Suu Kyi’s passive response to ethnic conflicts dividing the region. The election nevertheless reaffirmed the party’s status as the most popular in the country for those citizens who voted. However, just five percent of Burma’s population was eligible to vote in the election, a direct result of the denial of ethnic minority citizenship in the country.

Suu Kyi has remained virtually silent on the humanitarian crisis surrounding killing and displacement of the Rohingya population, which has garnered her  intense international criticism. The leader’s silence cost the NLD many seats in the minority ethnic regions of the nation. Though Aung San Suu Kyi has promised to bring peace, her silence has spoken volumes about her priorities as a leader for many in the nation.

Prior to the election, Aung San Suu Kyi gave a public address, recognizing the lack of reform since the conflicts arose. The leader also assured her constituents that she would prioritize ending the ethnic tension that has divided the country almost to the point of war. Suu Kyi reaffirmed her commitment to ending the conflict and regaining harmony within the nation, noting afterward that the NLD would be willing to step aside if another party were more qualified and capable to lead.

In elections held in Rakhine state, a western region dominated by the Rohingya ethnic minority group, the NLD fell short and the lower house seat was given to the chairman of the Arakan National Party who has been known to stand adamantly against the Muslim Rohingya population.

Emerging Conflicts


The​ ​multifaceted​ ​nature​ ​of​ ​the​ ​conflict​ ​in​ ​Yemen​ ​continues​ ​to​ ​deepen​ ​as​ Iran and Saudi Arabia engage in a conflict​ ​that​ ​could​ ​seriously tip​ ​the​ ​balance​ ​of​ ​power​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Middle​ ​East.​ ​Both sides consider the conflict a​ ​significant flashpoint​ ​​of both strategic and propagandic value, providing both with the opportunity​ ​to​ ​display​ ​their​​ ​military​ ​influence​ ​throughout​ ​the​ ​region.​ ​Iran​ ​has been​ ​accused​ ​of​ ​sending​ ​weapons​ ​and​ ​supplies​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​ideological ​support​ ​to​ ​the Houthi​ ​rebels.​ ​Despite ​​numerous​ ​reports​​ ​attesting to​ ​deepening Iranian support for​ ​the​ ​Houthis,​ ​Iran​ ​continues​ ​to​ ​deny​ ​arming​ ​the​ ​rebels.​ ​Meanwhile, the Saudi-led​ ​coalition​ ​has​ ​significantly​ ​backed​ ​the​ ​Hadi​ ​government​ ​through​ ​the​ ​provision​ ​of military​ ​support,​ ​notably​ ​air​ ​strikes.​ ​Their​ ​support​ ​has helped​ ​the Hadi government​ ​​take​ ​back​ ​the Khaled​ ​Ibn​ ​Al-Walid​ ​base​​ ​from​ ​Houthi​ ​rebels,​ ​and has garnered intense​ ​criticism​ ​for​ ​the ​use​ ​of​ ​munitions​ ​against​ ​civilians. ​ In late February​, the coalition used ​cluster​ ​munitions​ ​​on​ ​a​ ​farm​ ​in​ ​Northern​ ​Yemen.​ ​Indiscriminate​ ​attacks and​ ​airstrikes​ ​have​ ​resulted​ ​in​ ​the​ ​deaths​ ​and​ ​wounding​ ​of​ ​thousands​ ​of​ ​civilians​ ​in​ ​Yemen.

Organizations​ ​like​ ​Human​ ​Rights​ ​Watch​ ​and​ ​STAND​ ​have​ ​repeatedly called​ ​for​ ​countries such​ ​as​ ​the​ ​United​ ​States and the United Kingdom ​to​ ​stop​ ​the​ ​transfer​ ​of​ ​munitions​ ​and​ ​arms to​ ​the​ ​Saudi-led​ ​coalition​ ​so​ ​long​ ​as​ ​they​ ​continue​ ​to​ ​launch​ ​attacks​ ​on​ ​civilians​ ​and​ ​civilian facilities​ ​such​ ​as​ ​hospitals.​ The Trump administration has continued the Obama administration’s partnership with the Saudi-led coalition by selling arms to Saudi Arabia.

In the UK, ​Prime​ ​Minister​ ​May​ ​has defended​ ​the British​ ​relationship​ ​with​ ​Saudi​ ​Arabia​,​ ​citing​ ​crucial​ ​national​ ​security,​ ​strategic,​ ​and​ ​diplomatic interests.​ ​Yemen​ ​continues​ ​to​ ​remain​ ​in​ ​a​ ​state​ ​of​ ​humanitarian​ ​crisis​ ​as​ ​a​ ​majority​ ​of​ ​the population​ ​remains ​displaced​ ​or​ ​in​ ​extreme​ ​need​ ​of​ ​basic​ ​necessities​ ​such​ ​as​ ​food,​ ​water, and​ ​medical​ ​supplies.​ ​Indiscriminate​ ​attacks​ ​by​ ​both​ ​sides​ ​of​ ​the​ ​conflict​ ​have​ ​disproportionately affected​ ​civilians​ ​and​ ​displaced​ ​persons,​ ​such​ ​as​ ​those​ ​from​ ​Somalia,​ ​who have​ ​become​ increasingly ​affected​ ​as the​ ​conflict​ ​continues​ ​to​ ​spill​ ​outside​ ​of​ ​Yemen’s​ ​borders.​ ​​Missiles​ ​launched​ ​by​ ​Houthi​ ​forces in March, for example, resulted​ ​in​ ​the​ ​deaths​ ​of​ ​two​ ​dozen​ ​worshippers​ ​in​ ​a​ ​mosque​ ​in​ ​Yemen’s​ ​western​ ​Marib​ ​province. A​ ​boat​ ​carrying​ ​Somali​ ​refugees​ ​off​ ​the​ ​coast​ ​of​ ​Yemen​ ​​was​ ​attacked​ ​by​ ​a​ ​helicopter​ suspected to have been directed by the Saudi-led coalition, resulting​ ​in the​ ​deaths​ ​of​ ​dozens​ ​of​ ​people.​ ​In​ ​response​ ​to​ ​these rampant​ ​human​ ​rights​ ​violations,​ ​the​ ​United Nations​ ​High​ ​Commissioner​ ​for​ ​Human​ ​Rights​ ​​has​ ​called​ ​for​ ​an​ ​independent​ ​mechanism​​​ to ​hold those​ ​guilty​ ​of​ ​human​ ​rights​ ​violations​ ​accountable.


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.

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