Sudan and South Sudan
Sudan is in the process of removing their forces from the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. This is not a complete withdrawal: a smaller group will remain in the country. This comes after Houthi rebels claimed to have captured and killed thousands of Sudanese troops. Over 40,000 Sudanese troops have been deployed in Yemen throughout the conflict, primarily members of the General Mohammed “Hemedti” Dagalo’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The RSF has been accused of deploying to Libya despite UN sanctions and of committing war crimes in Darfur. Dagalo is a member of the Sudanese transitional government.
Sudan’s civilian Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdok visited Darfur earlier this month. He met with internally displaced persons (IDPs) and promised to meet their conditions for return. These conditions include peace, security, education, healthcare, and an end to RSF attacks, as well as justice for the Darfur genocide. Specifically, Darfuri leaders want former president Omar al-Bashir to be handed over to the ICC on war crimes charges. Bashir is on trial for corruption and for his role in the 1989 coup which brought the National Congress Party dictatorship to power. A verdict is expected in December.
Also in December, peace talks will resume between rebel groups and the Sudanese government. The talks were supposed to take place this month, but they have been postponed, with multiple reasons given for the delay.
The United States government is considering removing Sudan from the state sponsored terrorism list and lifting remaining sanctions. Sudan has been on the list since 1993, making them ineligible for World Bank and IMF aid. Hamdok has made removal of the designation a priority for the new government, saying that a change would offer the Sudanese economy a chance to grow.
Postponing their November 12 deadline to form a transitional unity government, President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar agreed on a 100-day delay. Crucial aspects of the peace deal signed in September 2018 remained contested between Kiir and Machar, especially relating to “security arrangements and governance.” Because negotiations were already stalled, there were fears that the country would relapse into civil war should either side be pushed too far. Some South Sudanese civil society groups encouraged the postponement in order to avoid returning to violence.
The U.S. announced the day following the intended deadline that it is “gravely disappointed” over the extension. Because of it, the U.S. will be reconsidering the relationship between the two states. There is a possibility of new sanctions on those “impeding South Sudan’s peace process.” Ten days after the postponement, the UN Security Council also expressed their disappointment and concern.
Great Lakes of Africa
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
The fight against Ebola in the DRC has grown increasingly hopeful in the past month. UNICEF’s DR Congo Ebola Situation Report for 28 October-10 November cited increased community support in response to Ebola in the region as well as increased access to medical care and vaccines for hundreds of thousands of Congolese. One of the most promising developments in the fight against Ebola has been the release of a new vaccine that is expected to be tested on 500,000 Congolese in the next month. Despite these positive developments, the relationship between violence in the area and combating Ebola was highlighted when a journalist involved in Ebola awareness programs was attacked and killed in his home.
Violence in the country has continued with rebel fighters killing several civilians in an Eastern providence earlier this month. As a response, the central government launched a large scale operation against rebels with the goal of creating and sustaining peace throughout the country. One of the outcomes of this operation was the killing of the leader and four bodyguards from a Hutu armed group with connections to the Rwandan Genocide. Also an important development in the past month was the release of an independent strategic review of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The review re-emphasized that DRC continues to be unstable and unpredictable but that a strong democratic government would be essential in creating sustainable peace.
On November 20, the Houthi rebels warned that they could hit vital targets deep inside Israel’s “occupied territories” in order to combat Israel’s ambitions in the Yemen region. In an event held in Sana’a, Houthi spokesman Yahya Saree claimed that the Israeli government planned to extend control over strategic sites in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. He also stated that the Houthis had the capacity to make such strikes.
A Saudi Arabian tugboat was seized by the Houthi Rebels in the Red Sea on Sunday, November 17. The ship was carrying a drilling rig from South Korea when it was hijacked. At a news conference, Saudi military spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki stated that the ship “fell under hijacking and armed robbery by two boats.” The Saudi ship was reportedly one of the three ships seized close to Uqban island and taken to the Salif Port in Yemen. This comes as the Saudis and Houthi rebels are holding indirect peace talks to end the five year conflict.
The peace talks are being held with Oman, a Gulf Arab country that borders both Yemen and Saudi Arabia, as a mediator. The two parties have been in contact via video conference over the past two months, according to Gamal Amer, a negotiator for the Houthis. However, the current objective is to consider what will work in the short term such as reopening Yemen’s Sana’a international airport, which was shut down by the Saudi-led coalition in 2016.
Since the Turkish invasion of Syria last month, more than 200,000 people have been displaced. 15,000 of those displaced have escaped to northern Iraq. The majority of those remaining are without clean water and shelter. Turkey promised to keep Syrian forces from a “safe zone” on the Turkish-Syrian border, however heavy fighting has continued.
Despite a supposed ceasefire, airstrikes continue in the northwestern province of Idlib. Beginning in April, the Russian-led coalition has orchestrated regular attacks on Idlib, systematically targeting hospitals, markets, and schools. Since the attacks began, over 1,000 civilians have lost their lives. A recent airstrike on a camp for displaced people killed 12–mostly women and children.
Protests in Iraq have gained momentum, with over 200,000 people coming out to protest every day for the past five weeks. Protesters are coming from all around the country. Some of them are young, educated, and secular, but the majority are Shi’ite members of the working poor. The economy is suffering, with one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world at about 25%. More than just economic policy, protesters are decrying corruption and Iranian influence in the country. The Iraqi government lacks transparency, and Iranian spies have been able to control officials in significant leadership positions. Many people thought that the removal of Saddam Hussein and the establishment of Iraq as a republic would make the government more effective and trustworthy as well as spur economic recovery. However, persisting problems have led to a sense of desperation and inspired rebellion.
Despite the momentum and strength of these protests, the government has not made any changes. In fact, it has used tear gas, rubber bullets, and in some cases, even machine gun fire against the protesters. Over 300 people have died, and about 15,000 people have been wounded. Meanwhile, the spokesman for the Iraqi Armed Forces, General Abdul Kareem Khalaf, has repeatedly lied about the situation. He denies that the military used force against the protesters and made false claims about the protesters provoking soldiers. The protesters continue their dissent against the government, hoping that reforms will come in the future.
This month, The Gambia filed a genocide case against Burma at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) because of atrocities committed against Rohingya Muslims in Burma. Past efforts to hold the country accountable for the murder, rape, and torture of Rohingya civilians in the Rakhine state and to seek justice for the victims of this genocide have failed to prosecute leaders who perpetrated violence and human rights abuses. Human rights activists hope that the ICJ will pressure Burma to address its responsibility, help survivors, and prevent future violence.
Additionally, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has greenlighted a separate investigation into crimes against humanity committed by the Burmese government against the Rohingya. Finally, a Rohingya and Latin American human rights group submitted a lawsuit in Argentina, naming several high-ranking Burmese officials, for crimes against humanity under universal jurisdiction. These investigations have the ability to show the horrors the Rohingya face at the hands of Burma’s government and hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes at an international scale.
Despite the ongoing investigations, many Burmese government officials refuse to accept publicly that they took part in a genocide. Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi does not acknowledge any wrongdoing done by Burma and will defend the Burmese government in front of the ICJ in December. Her refusal to condemn the Rohingya genocide has led some to call for her Nobel Peace Prize to be revoked, which would not be the first humanitarian award she has lost due to her indifference towards the suffering of the Rohingya people. Once a revered political figure, Aung San Suu Kyi has lost respect and credibility through her continued defense of genocide.
On November 2, 2019, 53 soldiers in eastern Mali were killed after an attack from the Islamic State (IS). This attack is noted to be one of the deadliest against the Malian forces, which included at least three suicide bombers who detonated explosives inside the military camp. Sporadic violence on the part of the IS has caused consistent struggle amongst the G5 Sahel force, a joint military initiative between Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, and Mauritania, as November’s attack is the second in the region in two months. The G5 is noted to lack training, finance, and equipment, and numbers 4,000 despite an originally planned 5,000.
The UN is struggling to defeat al-Qaeda and Islamic State-linked groups, as Mali is now the most dangerous country in the world for UN peacekeepers with a death toll of 123, and 358 severely wounded. On November 19, another 24 Malian soldiers were killed by regional counter-insurgency forces as reported by the French military. Continual violence has caused more than 1,500 civilian deaths in Burkina Faso and Mali, with an additional one million internally displaced. To combat this issue Western African leaders have pledged $1 billion over five years, starting in 2020.
Over the past week, Venezuelan students, heeding the call of opposition leader Juan Guaido, have organized demonstrations in the capital of Caracas against President Nicolas Maduro. One march, attended by several hundred singing and chanting students, attempted to reach the Defense Ministry, but was nonviolently blocked by riot police and a National Guard blockade. Students remain optimistic and determined; however, hyperinflation and water shortages, among other issues, undermine capacity for mass mobilization like protests of 2018. Despite this, other smaller demonstrations have been happening even before Guaido’s call for large-scale protests. As reported by the Washington Post, the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict recorded about 14,330 protests this year alone, mostly demanding improvements in the economy and the country’s infrastructure.
These protests have unfolded as Venezuela enters its 36th month of hyperinflation; the economic crisis created a humanitarian crisis. The UNHCR recently reported that as of November 2019, the over 4.6 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants need $1.35 billion in order to help them and host countries. A “harmonized plan” was launched by the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration to address humanitarian needs with a particular focus on social and economic inclusion.
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 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 the South Sudan and Venezuela portions of this update.
Megan Rodgers is a junior International Studies, Political Science, and Spanish major at the University of Arkansas and serves as the Democratice Republic of the Congo Action Committee Lead. She became interested in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during her time studying abroad in Kigali, Rwanda during spring 2019 and through relationships with refugees in her community who are from the Congo. Megan contributed 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 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.
Mira Mehta is a junior at Westfield High School and serves as the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead. Prior to this, she served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years. Mira contributed the Iraq 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 Mali portion of this update.