Sudan and South Sudan
Talks between the Sudanese transitional government and rebel groups from the regions of Darfur, South Kordofan, and the Blue Nile began in Juba this month. The talks were temporarily disrupted October 15, after the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North movement–based out of the Nuba Mountains region–implicated government forces in a bombing killing at least one. The Nuba Mountains were the target of an intensive bombing campaign under the previous government. After further discussion and the decision by the Sudanese government to announce a “permanent ceasefire” in the conflict zones, the parties continued the talks. Sudan also agreed to allow humanitarian aid into these areas for the first time in eight years. These talks are expected to last for two months and will hopefully result in lasting peace. They are also opening up an opportunity to improve the relationship between Sudan and South Sudan, and a potential resolution of issues related to the Abyei region and a long-running border dispute.
Demonstrations continue as people respond to the ongoing trial of deposed President Omar al-Bashir and express support for a full democratic transition and justice for those killed during the earlier protests. These protesters are also calling for Bashir’s ruling party, the National Congress Party, to be disbanded. Despite the presence of the newly-formed civilian transitional government, many of the state positions are still filled with Bashir appointees. In addition, there are calls for Bashir, who is currently on trial for corruption, to be handed over to the ICC to stand trial on the charge of genocide in Darfur.
Meanwhile, work continues on a new Sudanese constitution. No end date has been announced, but the constitutional process is working to include members of various opposition organizations and to fulfill the revolution’s goals of justice and reform.
The November 12 deadline for South Sudan to form a coalition government is quickly approaching. However, opposition leader Riek Machar recently voiced that meeting this deadline could push the country back into civil war. The date, already delayed by months, is critical in securing this fragile peace deal over a year after its anniversary. Machar claimed that should a government be formed on the 12th, the ceasefire that has lasted over a year will fall apart. Because there has been no agreement on how to integrate the army, Machar claims that he would be unlikely to take part in the unity government.
The response from the international community has been mixed. 15 diplomats visited South Sudan over the weekend of October 20th, strongly pushing for the deadline to be met. Though they are concerned about Machar, they think that three weeks should be enough time for a security arrangement to be made. Despite the UN Security Council urging for the deadline to be met, some experts from organizations like the International Crisis Group doubt this to be the right approach.
Meanwhile, the head of UN peacekeeping recently reported that the border dispute between Sudan and South Sudan could see a breakthrough. Given the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir, the political process to establish formal governance over the oil-rich territory of Abyei looks promising under the leadership of South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and Abdalla Hamdouk, the civilian Prime Minister of Sudan.
Amid the fragile peace, heavy flooding that has been ongoing since July is reported to have affected over 900,000, including large communities of refugees and internally displaced people. Flooding is only expected to worsen with rains estimated to continue for another month or more. This has exacerbated the humanitarian situation, limiting access to health centers and basic services amid an already crippled economy.
Great Lakes of Africa
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s ongoing Ebola outbreak is still considered a public health emergency, although the number of new cases is dwindling. Only 15 cases were reported between October 7 and October 13 and much of the outbreak has shifted from cities to rural areas of the country. At the same time, the number of deaths due to a measles outbreak has surpassed the number dead from Ebola in the country, killing 4,096 and 2,143, respectively. Humanitarian organizations such as UNICEF continue to work to combat these deadly diseases.
In addition to this, conflicting armed groups pose a separate but still very deadly problem to Congolese citizens. Recently, Burundian security forces killed 14 armed Congolese men as the forces entered the province of Bubanza in Burundi. The group intended to replicate last year’s attack on Ruhagarika, a city near Burundi’s border with the DRC, where at least 26 were killed. Last month, the UN Office of the High Commissioner reported that fourteen people, including eleven children, were killed and then decapitated in the province of Ituri. Just a day later, 12 others were killed, all belonging to the Hema ethnic group. These acts of violence have led Leila Zerrougui, the head of the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC, to declare in a recent meeting that she will step up cooperation with the government of the DRC to fully defeat these armed groups in an effort to return peace to the region.
The United Nations announced on October 22 the establishment of four joint observation posts in the city of Hodeida. The posts are occupied by forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized government as well as the Houthi rebels. Last year the government loyalists backed a Saudi-launched attack to regain control of the formerly Houthi controlled territory. The UN hopes that this move will enhance de-escalation efforts at one of the most vital entry points for humanitarian aid.
Yemen officials claimed on October 24th that the Saudi-led coalition is increasing its military presence in the southern parts of the country. They have deployed additional troops along with armored vehicles, tanks, and other military equipment. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates (a main ally of the Saudis) continues to withdraw troops from the country.
In a report recently released by the UN, September was the most deadly month in Yemen this year with an average of 13 killed each day. However, since the beginning of September, the UN response plan to Yemen has gone from 45% funded to 65% funded. This shows improvement in the amount of aid that can be used to save lives, but the obstacle of getting aid to civilians remains unsolved.
Earlier this month, President Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from Syria, a move that has left the region’s Kurds in danger of Turkish military action. The Kurds have historically served as the primary partner of the U.S. in the fight against ISIS. The U.S. withdrawal and the vulnerable position of the Kurds have created conditions allowing hundreds of ISIS terrorists in Kurdish-run prisons to go free.
Despite the withdrawal of U.S. troops, President Trump announced this weekend that the U.S. will send armored vehicles and troops into eastern Syria to protect oil fields from falling to ISIS control. Additionally, the President announced that a U.S. commando raid on Saturday led to the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
In the past week, nearly 200,000 Kurds have fled the battle zone on the Turkish border, pushed further into Syria. Footage of Kurds being tortured by Arab forces in northern Syria has been announced by U.S. special envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, as well as Kurdish officials as evidence of “potential war crimes.”
The Turkish government has repeatedly stated that it plans to move up to 1 million Syrians currently living in Turkey to a safe zone. However, Amnesty International reports that Turkey is forcibly sending refugees back to Syria against their will. The report claims people were handcuffed, beaten, and forced to sign ‘voluntary return’ forms they were not allowed to read.
Human rights violations against the Rohingya people continue in Burma. Most recently, the Burmese authorities arrested a group of 30 Rohingya Muslims for attempting to travel from Rakhine State to the city of Yangon. On October 4, after a one-day hearing and a reported lack of access to legal representation, 21 of the Rohingya were sentenced to 2 years in prison and 8 children were sent to a detention center.
Human Rights Watch says that Burma should “lift all arbitrary restrictions on freedom of movement for Rohingya, repeal discriminatory regulations, and cease all official and unofficial practices that restrict their movement and livelihoods.” The restrictions the Burmese government is imposing on the Rohingya violate international human rights law, which grants the right to freedom of movement within, and to leave, Burma. More than 700,000 Rohingyas have fled from this abuse to neighboring Bangladesh. However, the refugee camps are overcrowded with around 1 million displaced Rohingyas.
The Bengali government plans to relocate around 100,000 Rohingyas to the island of Bhasan Char. This relocation presents a problem for the Rohingya because Bhasan Char is a flood-prone island, which could prove to be especially unsafe during the monsoon season. Many human rights groups are reporting that this relocation plan would only further the hardship these refugees already face. The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, established by the United Nations, released its final report on October 22, 2019, calling on UN Member States to keep watchful over the persisting threat of genocide. At the UN General Assembly, Yanghee Lee, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, says she sees no improvement to the situation. Human rights experts are calling on the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court or to try alleged perpetrators of international crimes.
As Mali continues its struggle against local al-Qaeda affiliates, at least 38 soldiers were killed on October 2 after two army camps on the border of Burkina Faso were raided and attacked. The Malian army and lost soldiers are part of the greater G5 Sahel Force, a multinational military backed by France to secure peace in the Sahel region. This attack is representative of the violence spreading throughout West Africa, affecting countries including Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali, all of which have seen losses due to jihadist insurgencies dating back to as early as 2015.
After the October 2 attack on Malian forces and a succeeding attack in neighboring Burkina Faso, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita shut down rumors of a military coup on October 7. According to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), one peacekeeper was killed and five others were wounded by a roadside bomb that same day, adding to MINUSMA’s total of 200 peacekeeper casualties since its establishment in 2013. In an October 2nd meeting on Mali and the Sahel, UN chief Antonio Guterres stated that “We are losing ground to violence and terrorism,” noting that the number of civilian deaths in the region had quadrupled since 2012.
Since 2015, an estimated 4.5 million Venezuelan citizens have fled their homes due to Venezuela’s ongoing political and humanitarian crises. Nearly 80 percent of these citizens have stayed in Latin America and other regions of the Caribbean. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), European Union, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have partnered to host an International Solidarity Conference on October 28 and 29 focusing on the Venezuela conflict. Keynote speakers at this conference include Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Commission, António Vitorin, IOM Director, and Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. In the press release issued last week, these organizations strongly encouraged surrounding countries to continue showing solidarity towards Venezuelan migrants and refugees. The purpose of the conference is to further raise awareness for the conflict and call for increased international aid for Venezuelan citizens.
Due to recurring blackouts, Venezuela’s water system is collapsing. The shattered economy and lack of basic infrastructure have led to insufficient water access. The New York Times commissioned professional researchers from Universidad Central de Venezuela to initiate a study of Venezuela’s water quality. The researchers discovered that nearly one million Venezuelans have been exposed to contaminated water sources, which put them at an elevated risk for waterborne illnesses. This water crisis is a serious concern for scientists as infants, children, and the elderly are most susceptible to contracting these illnesses. In the most recent study conducted, samples were taken from over forty water sources in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital. One-third of these samples failed to meet the national expectations of water quality. Humanitarian organizations across South America plan on making the Venezuelan water crisis a top priority in the coming months.
Alison Rogers is a junior International Studies and Journalism student at Baylor University, and the STAND State Advocacy Lead for Texas. She is also an Enough Project Student Upstander. Alison contributed to the Sudan portion of this update.
Megan Smith is a senior at the University of Southern California, a member of STAND’s Managing Committee, and an intern at the USC Shoah Foundation. 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 has interned at Dexis Consulting Group (Washington, DC), DigDeep Water (Los Angeles), and HAMAP-Humanitaire (Paris). Megan contributed to the South Sudan portion of this update.
Grace Harris is a junior at Tampa Preparatory School in Florida, where she serves as president of her STAND chapter. She also is a member of STAND’s Sudan, Yemen, Indigenous Peoples, DRC, and Burma Action Committees, and is STAND’s State Advocacy Lead for Florida. Grace contributed to the DRC portion of this update.
Brandon Alonzo is a student at Baruch College in New York City. He serves in the STAND Yemen Action Committee. Brandon contributed to 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 conducted research on memorialization and reconciliation in Cambodia as a Junior Research Fellow with the Center for Khmer Studies. Abby contributed the Syria portion of this update.
Yasmine Halmane is a senior at Teaneck High School, and is a member of STAND’s Yemen, Sudan, DRC, Indigenous Peoples and Burma Action Committees, hoping to gain as much insight into these conflict zones as she can. Outside of STAND, she works with the volunteering network at CODEPINK and with UNICEF’s New York advocacy team. Yasmine contributed the Burma 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 to the Mali portion of this update.
Claire Sarnowski is a sophomore at Lakeridge High School and a STAND Managing Committee member. In 2019, Claire introduced legislation to make Holocaust and genocide education mandatory in Oregon schools. Over the 2019-2020 academic year, Claire will be working to boost STAND’s grassroots fundraising efforts and work with communities to launch their own genocide education initiatives. Claire contributed the Venezuela portion of this update.