Sudan and South Sudan
It’s been a year since protests began against the Sudanese government. Now, Sudan is making progress in its transition to democracy even as protestors continue to demand lasting change. This month saw the signing of an initial peace agreement between rebel groups and the transitional government, the delivery of long-awaited aid to the conflict zones and the lifting of old restrictions on women.
December also saw the conclusion of the Omar al-Bashir trial. The former president was tried and sentenced to two years in a reform facility for financial corruption. The verdict did not mention genocide in Darfur or violence against protestors, an omission which led to frustration from rights organizations and protestors. However, investigators are now working to open a war crimes probe into the Darfur conflict. This investigation has already implicated over 50 people, including members of the regime and Janjaweed fighters.
Sudan is also working to improve relations with the United States. The U.S. has recognized Sudan’s progress, specifically related to the treatment of religious minorities, and the countries have agreed to exchange ambassadors for the first time in over twenty years. Sudan’s position on the U.S. State Sponsor of Terror list remains a point of discussion. Civilian Prime Minister Hamdok, along with multiple rights groups, has consistently stressed the importance of removing that designation to Sudan’s reforms. Removal from the list would mean lifting economic sanctions and allowing Sudan to access international financial support. The State Department expressed willingness to begin the process. However, it will require congressional approval to proceed.
President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar have announced that regardless of their ability to resolve all remaining disagreements, a transitional unity government will be formed by the February 2020 deadline. This is the second delay in creating a transitional government since the September 2018 peace deal was first signed. The United States, unhappy with the delay, placed sanctions on senior officials claimed to have delayed implementation of the peace deal, and have announced they will place visa restrictions on anyone who impedes the process. In response, South Sudan recalled its ambassador to the United States back to the capital of Juba for consultations shortly after the U.S. ambassador to South Sudan returned.
A recent UN report found that the South Sudanese government has been breaking key aspects of the peace deal as they have recruited 10,000 Dinka soldiers of President Kiir’s ethnic tribe. Shortly after the report was released, the government announced an allocation of $40 million towards integrated armed forces. The 2018 peace deal remains fragile as key milestones towards implementation have not been achieved; the ceasefire long seen as stable has shown signs of slipping as violence rises in some communities. December 2019 marks six years since the civil war began partly along ethnic divides, leaving 400,000 dead and millions displaced.
Meanwhile, South Sudan faces severe flooding affecting most of East Africa. The floods have demolished homes, killed livestock, and cleared crops, leaving experts to predict looming famine. According to an executive at the World Food Program, the threat of food insecurity prompted by both years of conflict and recent floods is worse than expected, and famine is likely within the next few months. The government has declared a state of emergency.
Great Lakes of Africa
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
At least 43 people were killed over the course of one weekend earlier this month in attacks likely committed by the Allied Democratic Forces, one of the many armed groups targeting civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These attacks are some of several that have hindered the ability of medical workers to combat the DRC’s ebola epidemic while outbreak control has seemed within reach. Insecurity and conflict put aid workers bringing necessary medical aid at further risk, limiting their ability to reach those in rebel-controlled areas and causing some organizations, such as the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders, to withdraw from certain areas.
Within the United States, the human rights group International Rights Advocates filed a lawsuit on behalf of 14 Congolese families against tech companies including Apple, Dell, Microsoft, Tesla, and Google for their involvement in the deaths of children forced to mine cobalt to manufacture technology for these companies. Of the 14 families whose children were killed or maimed due to forced, exploitative child labor, six saw their children die in mining accidents while the others saw their children injured, sometimes to the point of permanent paralysis. The majority of these companies have not yet publicly responded to the case, but the few that have commented have only said that they do not knowingly use child labor, not that they actually do not. If the families win this case, it has the potential to be a landmark that holds companies accountable, forcing them to restructure their supply chain to respect human rights and sustainability.
In Northern Yemen, the health ministry run by the Houthis declared Tuesday that a bout of fast-spreading swine flu had killed 94 people in October alone. Thousands of reported cases have overwhelmed health care facilities already crippled by constant violence, said Mohammed al-Mansour, a senior Houthi health official, warning that the death toll would likely rise. A new outbreak of dengue fever has also swept across the country, killing 68 people, including 16 children under five so far this month. The disease has re-emerged due to the deterioration of Yemen’s health and sanitation systems. This comes as the country continues to be plagued by cholera.
There has also been a massive influx of attacks on markets in Yemen this month, killing thousands. Several humanitarian groups have been forced to halt their work due to such attacks. The suspension of aid work came after unknown perpetrators fired rocket-propelled grenades at three aid organizations in the southwestern province of Dhale. According to the UN, this halted the distribution of much needed aid to about 217,000 residents. The International Rescue Committee reported that grenades exploded in its office and women’s center, rendering the space too dangerous to work in.
On December 26th, the UN condemned an attack on a busy market that killed at least 17 people earlier in the week in northern Yemen, a region that has been under the control of Houthi rebels. It is not yet known who was behind the attack, but Houthi spokesman Yehia Sarea has blamed the Saudi-led coalition, saying on Twitter that the attacks “will not go by unnoticed” and promising that the victims would be avenged.
The Russian-led coalition’s attacks on Idlib have only intensified this month as the Syrian government closes in on the last rebel-held province. These attacks, which began in April, have been characterized by indiscriminate bombing of schools, healthcare centers, and civilian gathering sites, such as markets. With the government now controlling over 40 villages in Idlib, many activists believe that the heightened attacks are a means of distracting rebel fighters, many of whom are now choosing to evacuate their families from the region. The UN released an estimate that approximately 60,000 people have fled Idlib due to increased attacks this month.
On December 29, U.S. forces attacked sites in Iraq and Syria claiming to target an Iranian-backed militia that the Pentagon has found responsible for attacks on joint US-Iraq military facilities. At least 25 were killed in the attacks. Just over a week before, a U.S. defence policy bill passed the Senate on December 17, aiming, among other things, to impose sanctions on Syrian forces and others responsible for atrocities. In the UN, the U.S., France, and Britain are pushing against Russia and China in favor of provisions of humanitarian aid which would be concentrated on key border crossings in northern Syria.
Protests in Iraq entered their 13th week, despite a brutal response from the government. Over 400 people have been killed in these protests, and about 19,000 have been wounded. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has resigned, though he is still involved in the government. Protests continue in part because of the passing of the deadline on December 22 for Parliament and the President to appoint a new Prime Minister.
Protesters believe a complete overhaul of the system is needed to reduce corruption and poverty. Iranian influence has infiltrated the government, and officials of Ayatollah Khamenei’s (supreme leader of Iran) have made themselves crucial parts of the search for a new prime minister. President Barham Salih threatened to resign rather than to suggest any of the candidates supporting Iran, creating further tension and gridlock.
There are significant challenges for protesters’ success, but they have managed to shut down some of the country’s operations. State offices and schools have been closed for weeks in the south, and on December 29th, protesters for the first time blockaded an entire oil field. On Tuesday December 31, protestors attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as part of demonstrations against American airstrikes. The embassy has been put under lockdown, with the USG placing blame for the attacks on Iran. These latest developments show that the protesters have the power to create real effects throughout the country, but the question still remains whether they will be able to influence the creation of a new, reformed government. Protests are likely to continue throughout January as protesters’ conviction grows stronger with every act of violence committed by the government.
The Burmese government is once again delaying the repatriation of Rohingya refugees that have lived in displacement camps in Bangladesh for over two years now. The government previously signed an agreement with Bangladesh in late 2017 to repatriate a significant portion of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya that had fled to the country, but that has not occurred. They stated that repatriation would be put on hold until the genocide case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is completed and potentially even until after Burma’s next elections in late 2020. Very few Rohingya have returned to Burma because of the fear of “continued violence and systematic discrimination,” and most will not consider returning until measures are taken by the government to ensure their safety.
After the Gambia filed a case against Burma at the ICJ last month with charges of genocide, the court held public hearings concerning the allegations. From December 10th to the 12th, the court was presented with detailed testimony about the vast atrocities committed against the Rohingya Muslims in Burma while Aung San Suu Kyi, the de-facto civilian leader of Burma and representing the country in front of the ICJ, vigorously denied the accusations. She argued that claims by the media and foreign actors of an orchestrated campaign of persecution against the Rohingya by the Burmese government and military were exaggerated and false. However, she did not directly respond to or even explicitly deny the various crimes that were alleged to have been perpetrated against the Rohingya. Aung San Suu Kyi’s reputation, record, and values have seen a startling reversal compared to the time she was once a gleaming icon of human rights around the world.
Since the hearings completed on December 12th, the judges of the ICJ have stated they will soon make a decision regarding the case. The purpose of the proceedings was to “determine whether judges need to issue an emergency order to protect the Rohingya still in Myanmar.” It is unclear what decision the judges will come to, but the hope of the Gambia and most of the international community is that interim measures will be enforced to protect the Rohingya from further violence. However, it will be more difficult for the court to declare that Myanmar acted with the intent of genocide against the Rohingya, and such a decision would take years to make. Even then, the ICJ would not necessarily have the power to enforce such a judgment and the guilty would likely evade punishment besides the possibility of sanctions.
Security in the Sahel region is worsening as attacks on the Malian army continue to cause casualties despite French backing. On November 26, 2019, 13 French soldiers were killed in Mali after two helicopters collided whilst descending to support ground forces engaged in combat with Islamist militants. This is the largest loss of French troops in a single day since a conflict in Beirut 36 years ago and is representative of the extent to which ISIS and Al-Qaeda branches have strengthened their hold across the region. Following the losses in Mali and an attack that occurred in neighboring Niger, the United Nations Security Council held a briefing on violence in West Africa, convening Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Burkina Faso, but released a joint statement that offered few details on how to secure peace in the Sahel region.
Save the Children estimates that over 105,000 children have been forcibly displaced from their homes due to violence in Mali, with the number of those in need of humanitarian assistance rising from 3.2 million in January 2019 to 3.9 million in December 2019. As of current, France is the only Western country with significant military presence in Mali among other West African countries working to combat the violence.
Amid ongoing allegations of extrajudicial killings and various human rights violations, the Venezuelan Supreme Court opened criminal cases against four anti-Maduro lawmakers on the National Assembly for rebellion and treason. The Constituent Assembly, a legislative body created by Maduro to oppose the National Assembly, stripped the lawmakers of any immunity from criminal persecution and approved the trial. The National Assembly is virtually the only branch of government not under Maduro’s control. Meanwhile, Guido claims that 30 other lawmakers remain detained, exiled, hiding in embassies around Caracas as the re-election vote for Guido as leader of the National Assembly quickly approaches.
Protests have decreased this month after thousands of national, largely student-led protests took place in November against President Maduro and the hyperinflation rendering the bolivar more useful as craft paper than currency. While the economic crisis persists, Venezuelans, especially children, suffer from malnutrition. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, spoke to the Human Rights Council about rising rates of malnutrition among other signs of severely deteriorated conditions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Moni Islam is a senior at George Mason University, serves as secretary of the STAND chapter at George Mason, and is a member of STAND’s Burma Action Committee. He is an Anthropology and Global Affairs double major, with a concentration in the Middle East & North Africa, and hopes to pursue a career in ancient Near Eastern archaeology in the future. Moni contributed to 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 the Mali portion of this update.