Sudan and South Sudan
In the two months since the fall of Omar al-Bashir, demands for civilian rule have been brutally denied by the military generals ruling Sudan. After weeks of protests, a military crackdown in early June has left at least 118 killed and 784 wounded by security forces. Eyewitnesses have reported militiamen hurling corpses into the Nile, some with cement bricks tied to their limbs to keep the bodies from floating. Militiamen have used tear gas, whips, and sticks to beat men and women alike, and have burned tents at the sit-in site, many with people still inside. Systematic rapes of both protesters and doctors have also been reported.
In response to the crackdown, demonstrators have decried the current ruling elites as holdovers from al-Bashir’s regime, initiating a civil disobedience campaign on June 9. Mass strikes have shut down businesses and public entities across Khartoum, and the government has held essential employees at gunpoint to force them to work. The Sudanese Professional Association, one of the groups that led the protest movement which forced al-Bashir out of power, has also urged international financial institutions to boycott the military government. The U.N. called for a monitoring team to be deployed to Sudan and the U.S. State Department condemned the crackdown, echoing demands for a transition to a civilian government. The African Union has suspended Sudan’s membership until a civilian government is put in place. For STAND’s latest on the Sudan crisis and its connections to U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, see our recent blog post here.
On Friday, May 3, the conflicting parties led by South Sudan President Salva Kiir and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in Opposition (SPLM-IO) leader Riek Machar met and agreed to delay the formation of a united, power-sharing government for six months. While Machar, who fled in 2016 following a previous peace deal collapse, wanted a six-month delay to resolve security issues that have prevented his return to Juba, Kiir wanted to focus on forming the joint administration. A week later, Kiir declared that the formation of this unified government should be delayed by at least a year, stating that so far his administration has been unable to fully disarm and train all of the various forces formerly fighting in South Sudan and citing difficulties due to the upcoming rainy season.
This comes a month after South Sudan’s government hired lobbyists from Gainful Solutions, a California-based lobbyist organization, to persuade the U.S. government to reverse current sanctions on South Sudan and to delay and block establishment of a hybrid court that would try those accused of war crimes in South Sudan. While complaining about the costs of peace agreement implementation, it paid $3.7 million to the firm.
Citing corruption, human rights abuses, and fears that a united government will never be formed, youth activist groups called for demonstrations on May 15 to protest the Kiir administration, concerned that the delay would simply punt the same problems down the line. In response, South Sudanese troops were sent to prevent these protests, fearing that they could result in Kiir’s ouster.
Great Lakes of Africa
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
In the second worst ebola epidemic on record, DRC’s outbreak has surpassed 2,000 reported cases, over half of which have resulted in deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In the past two months alone, the reported number cases doubled. The outbreak shows little sign of containment. On June 11, the first cross-border case was reported in Uganda. The infected five-year-old boy died after he and his family entered Uganda on June 9. Since the announcement, three more cases have been confirmed in Uganda. The cross-border spread could incite a renewed push for declaration of the ebola outbreak as a global emergency.
The rapid rise in ebola cases coincides with dramatic intensification of violence in the region. Intermittent violence driven by politics, money, and regional insecurity have afflicted DRC’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces, the center of the ebola outbreak, for over two decades. Historically, civilians have served as targets for both state and non-state actors, leaving communities with a strong distrust for authorities. Thus, rumors claiming ebola as a hoax, or caused by the government and health workers, are easily accepted. This mistrust has made emergency response efforts ineffective.
Additionally, attacks on treatment centers have become more frequent, leading organizations like Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to pull out. Attacks have been blamed by the government on local militias who often work on behalf of political sponsors and foreign bidders. In a June 3 statement, ISIS claimed responsibility for sponsoring a deadly attack in Beni—and not for the first time. Other attacks are tied to political tensions from the presidential elections. Leaflets left by attackers at treatment centers justify attacks with the exclusion of 1.2 million voters due to stated concerns of the Ebola outbreak.
On May 20, President Tshisekedi announced Sylvestre Ilunga Ilukamba, an ally of former president Kabila, as prime minister. The position holds a substantial amount of power, confirming that Kabila has not left the political scene (nor has he left the presidential villa). Despite evidence of fraudulent elections and growing disapproval of the Tshisekedi-Kabila alliance, there is still hope for political change. Since taking office, Tshisekedi has pardoned over 700 political prisoners, opposition leader Moise Katumbi has returned from exile, and the late opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi was finally buried on May 30, two years after his death.
The conflict in Yemen has intensified in recent weeks with an increase in Houthi actions against the Saudi coalition. In response to Saudi escalation of air raids on the Houthi in Hajjah, a northern Yemeni province, Houthi forces have begun to target the kingdom increasingly with drone and missile attacks. There has also been an upswing in cholera cases in the third major outbreak since 2015. The spread of the disease has been exacerbated due to the war: many Yemenis are forced to drink dirty water, a major cause of cholera, as water resources have become scarce. Due to restrictions on imports over the past few years, it has become increasingly difficult for patients and medical professionals to have access to life-saving medicines which would otherwise be inexpensive and easy to access.
Following the U.S. Senate’s failed attempt to override Trump’s veto of the Yemen War Powers Resolution, a measure to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, on May 24, President Trump declared a national security emergency in order to waive Congressional review of $8.1 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan. Pompeo cited tensions with Iran as the reason for the declaration. He stated that a delay in the sale could increase the risk of losing U.S. allies at a time of instability caused by Iran. In response, a bipartisan group of senators plan to introduce 22 separate resolutions of disapproval: one for each of the 22 weapons sales. This effort is intended to reassert Congress’ role of approving arms deals to foreign governments. In a related effort, Senators Chris Murphy and Todd Young have announced that they will introduce a bill to force a vote on the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Their bill will invoke the Foreign Assistance Act, requesting a report of Saudi human rights practices within a 30-day window. After receipt of the report, Congress can force a vote on U.S. security assistance to Saudi Arabia.
The last significant rebel stronghold in Syria, the northwestern province of Idlib has become the focus of a bombing campaign led by Russian and Syrian forces. The campaign has targeted over 25 health facilities and 35 schools. In the month of May alone, nearly 270,000 people were displaced and over 300 killed as a result of the bombardment.
In the southwestern city of Dara’a, more than 380 civilians have been arrested and 11 killed since the city fell to the Syrian army in July 2018. Despite the government’s promise to implement “reconciliation” agreements, the city has been a place of targeted killings, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary arrests. Hundreds remain detained for unknown reasons in a move by the Assad government to reassert control and smother resistance in the region. In Syria at large, over 2,400 are being held in prisons, where thousands are believed to have perished due to poor treatment or torture.
On May 27, 2019, the Burmese government released seven soldiers who were jailed for the killing of 10 Rohingya in 2017, serving less than a year in what was supposed to be a ten-year prison sentence. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, Reuters reporters who gained international attention after being jailed for their investigation of Burma’s violence towards the Rohingya, were freed on May 7th after serving 500 days in prison. In mid-May, the World Bank announced plans to implement a $100 million development project in Burma to support small businesses and increase employment in impoverished areas of the country. Because of existing barriers that some rights groups liken to South African apartheid, human rights groups have expressed concerns that the project could end up being counterproductive if underlying social tensions remain unaddressed — which is likely if, as is proposed, the Burmese government decides how to allocate the funds.
In late May, Amnesty International conducted an investigation in Rakhine state, confirming that violence, war crimes, and human rights abuses are continuing against the state’s varying ethnic groups. The reports that ethnic Rakhine, Mro, Rohingya, and Khami villagers are living in conflict zones, in addition to newly-found evidence that the military is pursuing the destruction of ancient temple complexes in Mrauk-U. After being first reported on in March, the trafficking of women from Burma’s Kachin and Shan states has become increasingly dire. Kachin women have been continuously sold to China due to the country’s scarcity of women, and the issue has gone largely unrecognized with little to no action from Burma’s or China’s law enforcement.
Venezuela is mired in a major political crisis as the struggle for power intensifies between incumbent President Maduro and the leader of the opposition, Juan Guaidó. The 2018 elections remain contested, as numerous opposition candidates were barred from running and Venezuela’s Supreme Court carried out the legal indictment of National Assembly members. In January 2019, the National Assembly, led mostly by parties opposed to Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela, declared Guaidó the interim president of the country.
The international community is now split between those who have withdrawn recognition of Maduro’s government (including the U.S., Canada, the Organization of American States, and the majority of E.U. members), and those who view the Maduro government as legitimate (including Russia, China, and Iran). In the midst of the political unrest, the conflict also harbors a massive humanitarian crisis, as the 1.3 million % inflation rate, medical crisis, and food shortages cause millions of Venezuelans to flee.
In April, the West solidified its stance against Maduro’s government, as the U.S. demanded that Maduro be held accountable for the humanitarian crisis. Canada joined by placing further sanctions against 43 members of Maduro’s government and freezing their assets. Red Cross and other humanitarian aid organizations have begun relief deliveries and services in the region. As oil sanctions from the West intensified mid-April, Venezuela increased oil sales to Russia. On April 19, Guaidó called for a nation-wide march against Maduro’s government, intensifying the military crackdown in the country.
Meanwhile, Maduro has increased his reliance on the military, continuing to praise their ‘total loyalty’ and their importance in preserving Venezuelan leadership. Pro-Maduro countries such as Turkey and Russia accused Guaidó’s party of resorting to violence. As rallies against the Maduro regime have intensified, Brazilian and Lima Group intelligence have suggested that there are fractions in the military which could lead to the regime’s collapse. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have called for the ICC to investigate crimes against humanity in Venezuela as the E.U. and the U.S. continue to condemn Venezuelan courts’ proceedings against opposition parties.
Isabel Wolfer is a recent graduate of The George Washington University in Washington, DC, and is STAND’s outgoing Communications Coordinator. In addition to her work with STAND, Isabel has interned for the Darfur Women Action Group, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and has been a Junior Resident Fellow at the Center for Khmer Studies in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Isabel contributed the Sudan portion of this update.
Grace Harris is an incoming junior at Tampa Preparatory School in Florida, where she serves as the president of her STAND chapter. She also serves on STAND national’s Sudan and Yemen Action Committees, and will be STAND’s State Advocacy Lead for Florida in the 2019-2020 academic year. Grace contributed the South Sudan portion of this update.
Megan Smith is a rising senior at the University of Southern California, where she will be working to reestablish a STAND chapter, and is an incoming member of STAND’s Managing Committee co-leading education and outreach. Previously, she has served on the Policy Task Force of STAND France during her junior year and as California State Advocacy Lead during her sophomore year. Outside of STAND, she interned at the nonprofits DigDeep (Los Angeles) and HAMAP-Humanitaire (Paris) and currently works at Dexis Consulting Group. Megan contributed the DRC portion of this update.
Yasmine Halmane is an incoming senior at Teaneck High School in New Jersey, where she is working to establish her school’s first STAND chapter. She also serves on STAND national’s Yemen and Sudan Action Committees. In addition to her work with STAND, Yasmine is also affiliated with Amnesty International US. Yasmine contributed the Yemen portion of this update.
Abby Edwards is a junior in the Dual BA program between Columbia University and Sciences Po Paris and serves on the STAND USA Managing Committee. Prior to this, Abby served on the Managing Committee of STAND France and worked as an intern for the Buchenwald Memorial, the Journal of European and American Intelligence Studies, and conducted research for the US Department of State – Office of the Historian. This summer, Abby will be conducting research on post-conflict education in Cambodia as a Junior Research Fellow with the Center for Khmer Studies. Abby contributed the Syria portion of this update.
Caroline Mendoza is a STAND Managing Committee member and an incoming senior at Cerritos High School in California. She and served as STAND’s 2018-2019 West Region Field Organizer, and on STAND’s Burma and Yemen Action Committees. In her free time, Caroline participates in Model United Nations, marching band, and Girl Scouts, and pursues Holocaust and genocide education. Caroline contributed the Burma portion of this update.
Vishwa Padigepati is an incoming first year student at Yale University, and a member of the STAND Managing Committee, as well as the Yemen and Sudan Action Committees. In addition to her work in STAND, she has interned for her State Senator and Congressional Representative and has done policy research on developmental infrastructure for Andhra Pradesh, India. Vishwa contributed the Venezuela portion of this update.