This week’s conflict update covers events of April 2019 in STAND’s key focus areas: Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Yemen, Burma, Syria, and the escalating crisis in Venezuela. We are thankful to STAND Action Committee members Grace Harris, and Megan Rodgers, as well as STAND Managing Committee members, Grace Fernandes, Caroline Mendoza, Casey Bush, and Zachary Gossett for researching and writing pieces of this brief.
Sudan and South Sudan
On April 11, 2019, after a week of thousands of protestors camping outside the nation’s military headquarters, the Sudanese military announced that President Omar al-Bashir had been arrested and ousted, marking the end of al-Bashir’s 30 year rule as an uncompromising and relentless ruler. On April 12, defense minister Lt. Gen. Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf announced he would head a two year transitional period through a military council, with terms including the dissolution of the government and 10PM curfews for all citizens. Increased protests caused Ibn Auf to step down as head of the military council within 36 hours and he was replaced by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan who lifted certain restrictions including curfews. After episodic violence during the protests, a 10-member delegation of protest organizers met with the military council at the country’s army headquarters in Khartoum. The military has agreed to allow civilian representatives on a supreme council to aid in the governing of Sudan, but refuse to allow a civilian majority out of fear of being overpowered and outvoted. Members of the military council have suggested three civilians and seven soldiers with a maximum of half of the council’s members consisting of civilian representatives. As of May 2, 2019, the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF), a group of opposition leaders, has submitted a draft constitution with proposals for a cabinet and a 120-person legislature during the transitional period. The DFCF is expecting a response from the military within two to three days, leaving the future of Sudan’s governance still up to negotiations.
Since South Sudan’s independence from Sudan in 2011 after a war over oil, religion, and ethnicity, the nation is once again in conflict and looking to commit to peace. As of April 18, 2019, opposition leader Riek Machar postponed the formation of a unified government until safety issues were resolved, as 2016’s peace agreements ended in Machar fleeing gunfire from President Salva Kiir’s troops. Machar’s return would have marked the establishment of a power-sharing government with Machar as vice president and Kiir as President. SPLM-IO, Machar’s rebel group, proposed delaying the formation of a transitional government for six more months as issues such as lacking security control and a unified South-Sudanese army have yet to be addressed.
Great Lakes of Africa
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
In early April, the Democratic Republic of the Congo held gubernatorial elections for its 26 provinces after a two-week-long postponement due to allegations of vote buying among provincial delegates. Before votes were even announced, 11 people were injured in clashes between supporters of newly-elected President Felix Tshisekedi and his predecessor Joseph Kabila in Lubumbashi. On April 11, it was determined that, months after losing the seat to his presidency, Joseph Kabila’s party, Common Front for Congo (FCC), had claimed victory in 16 of the provinces while Tshisekedi’s party won only one province while an opposition faction was successful in one other. (The remaining provinces were either postponed or will require a second round of votes.) With this announcement, Kabila’s party currently holds comfortable majorities in both houses of parliament as well as provincial governorships, thus ensuring that the country has not yet rid themselves of Kabila. As a result of the provincial election results, Al Jazeera has reported that supporters of Tshisekedi took to the streets protesting against the landslide victory of the FCC while simultaneously trying to hold off claims made by Martin Fayulu, candidate in the December election, that the presidential election was the result of a deal brokered between Tshisekedi and Kabila.
April has also marked a deadly month in the DRC as a result of the months-long Ebola outbreak that has plagued the country. More than 1,000 people have died from Ebola in eastern Congo since August, and as of May 4 the number has risen to 1,008. Despite these staggering statistics, however, it was determined by an expert panel of the World Health Organization (WHO) that the crisis would not be declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) as of April 12. Professionals have predicted that this could have deadly consequences as such an announcement is necessary to draw greater attention and funding to fighting Ebola in the country.
The United States Senate failed to override Donald Trump’s veto of the Yemen War Powers Resolution, a bipartisan measure to end US military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, on Thursday, May 2 with a 53-45 vote. Currently, the US provides intelligence and sells arms and ammunition to the coalition, all of which are used to fuel the worsening humanitarian crisis in Yemen. This unfortunate vote comes at a time when over 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition since January 2016 and over 12.6 million are in need of drinking water and adequate sanitation services. Cases of cholera are rampant among the millions of Yemeni citizens in need of humanitarian aid, with some areas seeing as many as 2,000 cases or suspected cases of cholera per week. Humanitarian groups have been blocked by fighting, restrictions to access certain areas, and bureaucratic difficulties, making it incredibly difficult to mitigate the worst of the crisis and keeping many Yemeni citizens from receiving lifesaving aid.
After the Stockholm Agreement in December, in which Yemen’s Houthi rebels and its internationally recognized government made concessions with the goal of mitigating conflict, the warring groups agreed to withdraw troops from Hodeidah Hodeidah has been and continues to be a significant port city as it is the main entry for 70% of imports, including humanitarian aid. However, in a press statement released on April 17, the UN Security Council expressed concern that the agreements are not being implemented. Both parties have been urged to follow through on the agreement to de-escalate the conflict, although a disagreement about which group should control Hodeidah has hindered this approach.
Since the removal of ISIS from Syrian territory, thousands of women and children have fled to refugee camps within the country. With 12,000 women and children now residing within these camps — many of whom are the families of ISIS fighters— their potential repatriation has garnered international attention. In just one camp in northeastern Syria, 2,500 children of ISIS fighters are being held which has prompted the International Committee for the Red Cross to urge that these children be repatriated to their country of origin.
In the past month, Russian and Syrian-led air-raids have recommenced in what was once a demilitarized zone in Northwestern Syria. Schools, health facilities, and residential areas within the “safe-zone” have all been hit. Additionally, the UN regional humanitarian coordinator reported that the area was experiencing the worst barrel bombing in fifteen months. These barrel bombs are found to have killed at least 15 civilians. The increase in attacks is exemplified by the May 5th targeting of three hospitals. Two of the hospitals were put out of service and one, The Nabad Al Hayat Hospital was destroyed.
Reliefweb reports that, since April 21, 231,087 individuals have been displaced and 462,496 remain under attack. Additionally, in this time, at least one hundred civilians have been killed. In the end of March, there were 6.2 million internally displaced people within the country and 11.7 people in need of humanitarian assistance.
In the past month, the Burmese government has continued to refuse to change its treatment of the Rohingya minority and has initiated a crackdown against critics of the government and national armed forces, refusing the right to freedom of speech and expression. Especially concerning was the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold seven-year prison sentences of two reporters in apparent retaliation for their implication of the armed forces in an investigation of a massacre of Rohingya villagers in Inn Din, Rakhine State. The situation of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh remains concerning as the government is ill-equipped to deal with the massive influx of refugees resulting in food shortages within refugee camps and the mistreatment of Rohingya refugees by Bangladeshi police, as well as the refusal of access to education for refugee children. Bangladesh is hoping to repatriate Rohingya as soon as possible after initial repatriation plans were delayed in November of 2018 but many refuse to return to the country until changes are made.
Throughout the past month, the international community has issued several responses to the persecution of the Rohingya. On April 29th, the EU council extended an embargo on arms and other materials that could be used for internal repression, issued travel bans to Myanmar, and froze assets on 14 top officials connected to serious human rights violations. These extensions will last until April 30, 2020. Efforts to address the persecution of the Rohingya have also been made in the U.S., where a bill proposing sanctions against the Burmese government due to their treatment of the Rohingya was introduced to the Senate on April 12th. Additionally, the status of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh was discussed at length during talks between the Russian and Bangladeshi governments on April 29th. During this discussion, Russia agreed to back Bangladesh in promoting the timely repatriation of the Rohingya by encouraging the Burmese government to create a safe environment for the Rohingya within their own home country. In April, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock, head of UN migration agency (IOM) António Vitorino, and UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi took a joint visit to Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. After this trip, the officials reiterated their concern for the Rohingya, imploring the Burmese government to end persecution and asking the international community to support the Bangladeshi government in providing aid to Rohingya refugees. The UN also condemned the deportation of 3 Rohingya refugees who were returned to Burma from India due to their lack of documentation.
The situation in Venezuela continues to escalate. On April 30, Guaidó asked Venezuelans to join the “final phase” of the efforts to topple Maduro. On May Day, protestors took to the streets once again to demand Maduro’s resignation and they were violently suppressed with tear gas and rubber bullets. The military did not follow Guaidó’s demands for a revolt, exemplifying Maduro’s strong hold. On May 2, Maduro spoke on national television to frame the military’s support as a victory over the opposition’s attempt at a United States-backed coup.
The US claims that Maduro was prepared to flee if the military did follow Guaidó’s request, saying he had a plane ready to take him to Cuba. Maduro’s Administration denies these claims. These comments are the most recent mention of the United States’ “threatening drumbeat” to overthrow the Maduro regime, which includes talks of military intervention. The increasingly violent protests and suppression combined with threats of foreign intervention and seemingly everlasting economic suffering puts Venezuela in a dire situation, with political violence seeming more likely by the moment.
Megan Rodgers, who contributed to the Burma section of this brief, is a student at The University of Arkansas. Megan serves on STAND’s Burma and Democratic Republic of Congo Action Committees.
Grace Harris, who contributed to the Sudan section of this brief, is a sophomore at Tampa Preparatory School in Florida, where she serves as the president of her STAND chapter. Grace serves on STAND national’s Sudan and Yemen Action Committees.
Casey Bush, who contributed to the DRC section of this brief, is a graduate student at Clark University and one of STAND’s Student Co-Directors. She is a member of all of STAND’s Action Committees.
Grace Fernandes, who contributed to the Syria section of this brief, is a junior at Simmons University and one of STAND’s Student Co-Directors. She leads STAND’s Indigenous Peoples Action Committee and works with Simmons Amnesty International, an affiliate of STAND.
Caroline Mendoza, who contributed to the Sudan and South Sudan section of this brief, is a junior at Cerritos High School in California, and serves on the STAND Managing Committee. She is a member of the Burma and Yemen Action Committees.
Zachary Gossett, who contributed to the Venezuela section of this brief, is a sophomore at Butler University and a member of STAND’s Managing Committee. He serves on the Indigenous Peoples and Burma Action Committees.