Special Update: Armenia & Azerbaijan
After six weeks of conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan, Russia, and Armenia have come together to sign a peace deal on November 9th. The peace deal ceded some territory to Azerbaijan which was formerly under Armenian control. This prompted Armenian protestors who were discontent with the results to storm into government buildings at Armenia’s capital, Yerevan. While such reactions of dissent were expressed in Armenia, individuals in Azerbaijan were spotted taking to the streets with flags in celebration for what they perceived as a victory for their country.
Win or lose, the Prime Minister of Armenia has said that he has taken actions as he deemed fit, with much consideration of advice from political experts. The Prime Minister comforted his citizens in saying that although the signing of the peace deal was not “a victory,” there was definitely “no defeat.” Since September 27, the conflict has taken as many as 5,000 lives. Putting a halt to the war has come to the benefit of Armenia, but the peace deal has brought more power to Turkey and Russia, who back the two warring countries on opposing sides.
Sudan and South Sudan
Sudan was supposed to create a transitional parliament by November 15, based on a peace deal signed in August, however, this has been pushed back to December 31 to ensure a “national consensus.” One of the main disputes has been the distribution of seats in the parliament. Although the original agreement stipulated that there should be 300 seats, 201 of which should go to members of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), an FFC leader has now suggested that their group only be allocated165 seats. The leader has also suggested designating 75 seats for the Sudan Revolutionary Front, leaving 50 seats for members of other factions. Other organizations were strongly opposed to this plan, but new discussions have started about how to best allocate seats in the transitional parliament.
On November 12, Sudan held talks with the United States to discuss its removal from the State Sponsor of Terror List. The two countries discussed how to take full advantage of this decision and support development efforts in Sudan- doing so would provide a much-needed boost to the Sudanese economy and help establish better infrastructure for the country in the future.
On November 17, the National Dialogue Conference, at which over 500 representatives convened, ended. Refugees and internally displaced people used this opportunity to bring attention to their struggles and their need to return home. Many people also called for governance to be more inclusive of women, youth, and disabled people. While this was a key part of the 2018 peace deal, many of the more practical aspects of the deal, including the creation of a national parliament and many state governments, have not been implemented yet. It is unclear when this will happen.
On November 16, the United Nations began converting protection of civilian (POC) sites, which provided sanctuary to many civilians throughout the civil war, into camps for internally displaced people. As part of this change, many soldiers are being removed from the sites and redeployed to places with higher levels of conflict. They will be placed on temporary bases and long patrols as part of the UN’s efforts in anticipation of higher levels of conflict during the dry season (December and January). During this time, the UN has also announced that it would be building new roads in the country not only to improve infrastructure for civilians and help open borders with Sudan at key crossing points.
In a report released on November 17, Oxfam stated that the countries in the Group of 20 (G20) have made more than $17 billion off of arms sales to the Saudi coalition, a number three times more than what the G20 countries have given Yemen in humanitarian aid. As Yemenis suffer from an increasingly dire humanitarian situation, the UN allocated $100 million for the Central Emergency Response Fund due to the high likelihood of widespread famine in Yemen. The country will receive $30 million of this aid through a voucher program initiated to aid women and girls as well as people with disabilities.
The U.S. has considered designating the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization. However, numerous aid organizations view the move as detrimental to Yemeni humanitarian aid. As the Houthis govern northern Yemen, aid organizations are required to obtain their permission to deliver assistance and fear that humanitarian workers will be criminalized if the Houthis are classified as a terrorist organization. On November 27, the Saudi-led coalition carried out air raids in Sanaa in retaliation to a Houthi attack in Jeddah on the 23rd, destroying two mines south of the Red Sea.
On November 4th, the Syrian government bombed the country’s northwestern region to exterminate a rebel base, resulting in the death of seven people. Sources like World Vision state eight people were killed, but four children were part of the casualties, with the youngest being four years old, and with seventeen others injured. A truce between Turkey and Russia, who back opposite sides in the conflict, has started to deteriorate as both sides’ attacks increase and create more civilian casualties. On November 24th, attacks also occurred when Kurdish fighters, who are linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party, fought the Syrian National Army, who are rebels supported by Turkey. The two groups clashed in Northern Syria, where the conflict started after Turkish-backed forces invaded Northern Syria and the Kurds residing there rose in response. The fighting occurred in the town of Ein Issa, leaving 18 fighters dead, with another conflict in al-Bab and Afrin that killed a total of 8 people.
During the first week of November, a conference was held in Damascus, Russia, over Syrian refugees. The president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, gave a speech declaring that over six million refugees spread across neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, and Europe were being blocked by Western powers from returning home. Currently, only around 65,000 of those refugees have returned home since 2016. The United Nations Refugee center and European countries’ representatives refused to attend the conference in Russia, citing the crimes committed by al-Assad’s government, which include kidnapping, sexual violence, and torture.
The ruling party of Burma, the National League for Democracy, claimed a landslide win in the November 8th election. This comes amid criticism received by the Union Election Commission (UEC) for canceling votes from 15 townships. This revoking of voters’ fundamental rights is a result of what the UEC calls a security concern. The military-backed opposition, Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), deems the election “unfair” and demands a re-vote. However, the USDP’s public rejection “does not reflect the military view,” says Major General Zaw Min Tun, the Myanmar military spokesperson. In the midst of these dissenting opinions, some minority groups still won 42 seats, such as Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (13 seats), Arakan National Party (8 seats), Mon Unity Party (5 seats), Kayah State Democratic Party (4 seats), Ta’ang National Party (4 seats), Pa-O National Organization (4 seats), and other Ethnic Parties (4 seats).
The Myanmar military recently stated publicly they would begin a formal investigation concerning recent allegations of using children as human minesweepers. This complex situation resulted in the death of two Muslim boys and injured one. This incident occurred on October 5, and the UN Country Taskforce on Monitoring and Reporting on Grave Violations against Children in Myanmar (CTFMR) is urging the military to complete an ethical investigation. Amidst this investigation, there have been further restrictions to internet access throughout Burma.
According to the Telenor Group, a major communication service in Burma, the Myanmar Ministry of Transport and Communications directed all mobile phone operators in Myanmar to extend the internet restriction on 3G and 4G networks in Rakhine and Chin States until December 31, 2020.
On October 29th, just two days after India enacted laws that would allow its citizens to buy property in Kashmir, militants killed three politicians from the Bharatiya Janta Party. Later that week, many businesses in Indian-controlled Kashmir shut down in response to those same laws, which many see as a move by India to dramatically change Kashmir’s Muslim-majority demographic.
On November 1st, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that Gilgit-Baltistanm, a region in the northern portion of Kashmir, will be granted provisional provincial status by his government. For this to happen, the Pakistani parliament will need to pass a constitutional amendment. If the proposal is passed, Gilgit-Baltistanm, which is extremely important to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) infrastructure plan, will have a status similar to that of Pakistan’s other provinces.
This weekend the Organisation of Islamic Conference’s council of foreign ministers met. Originally not on the agenda, Pakistan combatted that by proposing a resolution to recognize Kashmiri special status and human rights abuses in the region. After passing the resolution, India described this as “factually incorrect, gratuitous and unwarranted.”
East Turkistan (Xinjiang, China)
As the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act continues to go through the legislative process, lobbyists have started pushing back. On November 20, news broke that Apple lobbied to weaken the bill. Despite the reports from congressional staffers, Apple states that they support the bill as they work to ensure that workers in their supply chain are “treated with dignity and respect.” Other companies have lobbied to have their names removed from the bill, but there has been no action taken on these appeals.
Pope Francis has “publicly named China’s Uyghur minority among a list of the world’s persecuted peoples.” U.S. senators have started to work on a bipartisan effort to name these atrocities a genocide. However, their work was halted due to congressional recess.
Central African Republic
Earlier this month, the first refugees since March returned home to the Central African Republic (CAR) from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The 474 refugees returning to CAR are the first of the 4,000 the United Nations plans to bring home by the end of 2020.
Statistics on humanitarian issues within the country show that people are still at risk despite these positive signs. In the upcoming year, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 2.8 million Central Africans will need humanitarian aid. The ongoing pandemic has only worsened conditions devastated by decades of armed conflict and historical exploitation. The number of people in CAR has increased since 2019, and without large-scale programs, human rights violations, conflict, gender-based violence, and need-insecurity will only continue.
Following the killing of eight schoolchildren in Kumba last month, several teachers have been kidnapped from a school in a western Cameroon region. Armed men raided the local primary and secondary school in Kumba and kidnapped 11 teachers. Since October 2017, anglophone fighters have declared an independent state in the Northwest Region and Southwest Region, leading to conflicts negatively affecting children’s abilities to obtain a quality education. In November 2019, UNICEF estimated that 855,000 children did not get schooling in the two anglophone regions.
The negative effects on children’s upbringing in these regions are only deepened by the fact that more than two million children in Cameroon do not have a birth certificate according to Public Health Minister, Manaouda Malachie. The authorities blame the situation on the conflict in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions and the attacks by Boko Haram militants in the north. On November 16, 2020, Parliament began meeting to find solutions to the issue and released a statement hoping to make the process of obtaining a birth certificate easier. UNICEF notes that more than 40,000 children could not attend their school exams last year because of a lack of a birth certificate.
In the U.S., Cameroonian asylum seekers claimed that ICE agents forced them to sign their own deportation orders. In a complaint filed by Southern Poverty Law Center, Freedom for Immigrants, and the Detention Watch Network, six Cameroonian asylum seekers allege that ICE agents physically forced and threatened them into signing deportation orders. In the report, they claim, “These are not isolated incidents; rather, the use of violent force to obtain signatures in violation of immigrants’ rights appears to be part of an ongoing pattern and practice.” If forced to return home, Cameroonian asylum seekers fear their lives could be at risk, since deportees repatriated last month are now missing.
Democratic Republic of Congo
On November 23, a military court convicted militia leader Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka of war crimes committed in 2010 and between 2012 and 2014 in the Walikale and Masisi territories. They used child soldiers, pillaged towns, murdered people, and committed many acts of sexual violence. The UN sees this as an important step to achieving justice and healing for victims of this violence. Unfortunately, conflict continues in Salamabila in the Maniema province. People are fighting over access to a natural gold mine called Mount Namoya. Civilians are often caught in the crossfire as targets of violence, looting, property destruction, sexual violence, and other human rights violations.
In Ethiopia, tensions are rising swiftly with over 4,000 refugees from the Tigray region crossing over the border into Sudan per day. This makes around 33,000 people who have sought asylum in Sudan since early November. Refugees reported that the sudden accounts of heavy artillery and tanks around the regional capital, Mekelle, caused them to immediately seek shelter. The arrival of these refugees was not expected or prepared for and the United Nations is planning for around 200,000 more refugees in the next six months. With rising cases of COVID-19 in refugee camps, humanitarian access and help are becoming harder to come by and more needed by the minute. Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, said that conditions for refugee children are “extremely harsh” and that the UN agency is working to urgently provide critical life-saving support.
Jan Jan Maran is a student at George Mason University and is STAND’s Burma Action Committee co-lead. Jan Jan contributed to the Armenia & Azerbaijan portion of this update.
Mira Mehta is a student at Westfield High School, and a co-lead of the Yemen Action Committee. Prior to this, she was the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead and served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years. Mira contributed the Sudan, South Sudan, and Democratic Republic of Congo portions of this update.
Caroline Mendoza is a student at UCLA studying international development. Caroline serves on the Managing Committee as a co-education and co-Burma committee lead. Caroline contributed to the Yemen portion of this update.
Madeline O’Brien is a student at Northeast Community College studying Global Studies and is transferring to University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire to study Public History. Madeline contributed to the Syria portion of this update.
Saw Tar Thar Chit Ba is a freshman at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania majoring in Business Administration. Saw Tar Thar contributed to the Burma portion of this update.
Sulphia Iqbal is a senior at South Brunswick High School and a member of the STAND Yemen and Burma Action Committees. Sulphia contributed to the Kashmir portion of this update.
Audrey Firrone is a student at the University of Memphis and is a member of the East Turkistan (Xinjiang) Action Committee. In addition to working with STAND, she also works with the Free Uyghur Student Coalition. Audrey contributed the East Turkistan (Xinjiang) portion of this update.
Grace Harris is a senior at Tampa Prep High School. She has been a member of her school’s STAND chapter since her freshman year and currently serves as its president. With STAND, Grace is the co-Xinjiang and co-High School Outreach lead. Grace contributed to the Central African Republic portion of this update.
Ishreet Lehal is a senior at Terre Haute South Vigo High School, and serves on the STAND Managing Committee as the Kashmir Action Committee Lead. Ishreet contributed to the Cameroon portion of this update.
Dorene Hantzis is a student at Terre Haute South Vigo High School, and a chapter leader and Indiana State Advocacy Lead. She is also a partner with Together We Remember to remember victims of identity-based violence. Dorene contributed to the Refugees portion of this update.