The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Weekly News Brief 12 / 8 / 17

Horn of Africa

Somalia

As the international community continues to grapple with October’s brutal terror attack in Mogadishu, the United States has steadily increased its provision of military aid to the region, increasing personnel more than twofold. The revamping of America’s military presence in the Horn of Africa has manifested in two new military headquarters in Mogadishu, as well as an escalation of airstrikes. This was perhaps prompted by AMISOM’s seemingly abrupt decision to begin withdrawing troops from Somalia last month. As AMISOM transitions out of the region, it is sure to leave a security vacuum, which the United States appears amenable to fill. Indeed, the United States’ military initiative in the region comes at a time when mounting conflict has prevented the government from establishing proper aid infrastructure to reach the millions of people currently at risk of food insecurity. As the United States escalates its military presence in Somalia, it remains to be seen whether the increasingly protected Somali government will commit itself to a more effective approach to transport and agricultural infrastructure.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia has continued to be ravaged by mounting ethnic conflict in Oromia, a region of the country where over 200,000 people have been displaced by violence. Conflict between the Oromo and Somali regions of Ethiopia has led to sporadic violence perpetrated by the regional governments of both provinces, with the Oromo criticizing the federal government for not doing more to quell the fighting. The Oromo contend that the federal government has refused to provide sufficient aid to the region, following a year and a half of anti-government protests held there. As a result of a poorly coordinated federal initiative to quell the violence, thousands of Oromo have been forced into refugee camps and hundreds more have lost their lives.

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

In continuation of August arms control policies, which has a stated aim to decrease weapons smuggling in Darfur, Sudanese Vice President Abdel Rahman made moves to aid the disarmament process by registering unregulated vehicles. This process has intensified as a widespread belief has emerged that it could ignite a series of armed conflicts between tribal leaders, local militias, and the government, putting civilians at risk. The Vice President is also cracking down on smuggling in Sudan’s porous border.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s favorable treatment of Sudan is becoming a trend. After sanctions were lifted in October, supposedly to improve economic development and to decrease their trade with North Korea, the U.S. is now open to removing Sudan as a state sponsor of terror. If the government in Khartoum continues to distance themselves from North Korea, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan says Sudan will be removed from the list. Sudan’s ties to North Korea aren’t the only relations that Sudan has to groups unfriendly to the U.S. Reminiscent of Sudan’s ties to Al Qaeda, Sudan apparently has ties to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas. Nevertheless, Sudan’s human rights record continues to be appalling, especially when it comes to freedom of speech and religion. Church demolitions are common and the country is dangerous for journalists as the National Intelligence and Security Services censor any news unfavorable to the government.

South Sudan

On November 15, UN ambassador Nikki Haley, shocked by her October visit, spoke at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, criticizing South Sudanese government forces for exacerbating and perpetuating ethnically-based conflict, while also saying the fault was on both sides. She brought to light issues of women’s rights by exposing terrible living conditions and rampant rape committed by government forces. In contrast to the unconditional support Kiir has received from other U.S. leaders, Haley has taken a hard stance concerning Kiir’s human rights record with hopes that he will go beyond denial and conciliatory rhetoric. Kiir has allowed humanitarian groups complete access to the country in hopes it will alleviate the current famine. In a country where policy implementation is so decentralized and perverted by ethnic conflict, cohesion on the part of the state is necessary to signify a true change in policy.

On Monday, the two factions within the South Sudan’s People Liberation Army (the SPLM and the SPLM-In Opposition) were united, which may help end conflict in South Sudan. These factions represent the rift between President Salva Kiir and exiled former Vice President Riek Machar, as well as the wider ethno-political conflict. Despite this move, Lt. Gen. Wesley Welebe Samson says that “The Cairo Declaration that was signed by fragmented factions of South Sudan’s SPLM party will not bring peace without the release, return and full participation of SPLA/M-IO Chairman and Commander in Chief Dr. Riek Machar Teny.” Riek Machar, the former Vice President of South Sudan, denounced the entire negotiation process. This is not unexpected as he rejected negotiations in Kampala this June, which hinged on his release and the unification of the two factions.

Middle East and North Africa

Yemen

The UN has urged Saudi Arabia to allow humanitarian aid into Yemen. Early in November, as a response to a missile attack fired by Houthi rebels on Riyadh, Saudi Arabia imposed a blockade on all ports in Yemen after the bombing of the Sana’a airport. Justifying their decision by claiming humanitarian aid shipments are used to smuggle arms, the Saudi government has put millions of civilians at risk.  

Immediately after the blockade’s implementation, there was a global outcry. Human rights organizations expressed alarm about the threatening situation. Some of the aid that was impeded includes at least three UN airplanes full of emergency supplies; support from the World Food Program, which has been feeding seven million people a month in Yemen; and medicine for a widespread cholera outbreak.

While the block on southern ports was lifted, the situation in Yemen continues to be indisputably grave. The Guardian reports that while this was a step in the right direction, noting that the embargo remains “on all Houthi-controlled ports in northern Yemen, including Hodeidah, through which 70% of aid has been transported.”

Disease and famine resulting from destitute conditions have only been exacerbated by the blockade. A drastic increase in fuel prices and cooking gas has resulted in less pumping stations. Less pumping stations, in turn, have caused the elimination of clean water from five major cities. With seven million people on the brink of man-made famine, the gross violation of rights is evident.

Egypt

Egypt recently issued a warning to Ethiopia for its ongoing construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which Egyptians fear will cut into their water supply. Negotiations between Ethiopia, Egypt, and neighboring Sudan have broken down, and President El-Sisi of Egypt has threatened that “no one can touch Egypt’s share of water.”

On November 24, militants bombed a Sufi Mosque located in the Sinai Peninsula, killing 305 people and wounding 128. Most of the victims were Sufi Muslims. Soon after, the Egyptian government administered airstrikes targeting the militants who were responsible for the attack.

 

Soham Mehta is STAND’s Sudan and South Sudan Coordinator. He is currently a sophomore in high school at BASIS Chandler. Soham hopes to help educate people about of the scale and prevalence of genocides in order to raise awareness for legislation to counter current atrocities and to dissuade future ones. In his free time, Soham enjoys volunteering, drawing, and playing the guitar.

Sael Soni is STAND’s Horn of Africa Coordinator. Sael is a freshman at Vanderbilt University. His interests lay mostly in understanding the dynamics of post-Colonial Latin America and the intersection of human rights and economic policy.

Ana Delgado is STAND’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Coordinator. Ana Delgado is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is studying Political Science and Peace, War, & Defense while minoring in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. After graduation, Ana hopes to pursue a law degree with an emphasis on human rights.

 

 

Weekly News Brief 11/20/ 17

Southeast Asia

Burma

Earlier this week ,the U.S. announced that they will withdraw their assistance from Burmese units and officers involved in the violence against the Rohingya. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not critique Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government for the humanitarian crisis, but held Burma’s military leadership accountable.

State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert reported that the U.S. is “exploring accountability mechanisms under U.S. law,” specifically the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. This act allows the president to block or revoke visas of certain foreign individuals and entities, or to impose property sanctions on them. This has the potential to further impede injustices committed by the Burmese military. The U.S. lifted these sanctions last year, after Burma began making more significant moves towards democratization.
Furthermore, both Burmaand Bangladesh have signed two agreements aiming to strengthen border security and cooperation. Mostafa Kamal Uddin, Bangladesh Home Secretary, praised this agreement, hopeful that it will foster a way for the Rohingya to return home safely, and with dignity. However, neither country has yet to release any specific, planned steps for the repatriation, especially because Burma previously claimed military operations ceased on Sept. 5.

Sudan and South Sudan

South Sudan

Under the Magnitsky Act, Canada has decided to impose sanctions on three officials from South Sudan. These sanctions go further than previous Canadian sanctions, freezing the assets of the officials in question. These sanctions are indicative of wider institutional problems in South Sudan. According to The Sentry, South Sudan has several key attributes that make it susceptible to corruption. South Sudan’s vast majority of wealth is held in natural resources, which leads government elites to control the majority of South Sudan’s immense, but not very liquid wealth. This further incentivizes them to hold on to their wealth, explaining why the state has such tight controls over the economy and the budget, while also having corporatist tendencies. South Sudan’s corruption and corporate ties are only intensified by the existence of no-bid contracts that allow for officials to give lucrative projects to companies that are partially owned by those same government officials. In addition, the fragile financial system makes it very easy to siphon money out of the country.

The economic future of refugees has been a top priority of the UNHCR, especially for South Sudanese arriving  without any assets. Per request of the UN, South Sudanese refugees have been permitted to work as laborers in the farms of the White Nile region of Sudan. Not only is the UN providing refugees an opportunity to learn useful skills, but it is also creating a framework whereby refugees can integrate better into their host countries. According to an OCHA report, 40 to 50 percent of the refugee population have started to work on these farms.

Political instability continues in South Sudan, as one of President Kiir’s army chiefs, Paul Malong, has been restricted to his home, now surrounded by troops. Malong was suspected of joining opposition forces after being fired for leading anti-Nuer pogroms in Juba last year. Because of his divisive actions, he was fired by Kiir and sanctioned by the US.

South Sudan

In August, the Sudanese Vice President authorized an effort to disarm rebel groups and citizens in the Darfur region, voluntarily or coercively.  Unfortunately, this effort has been hampered by a lack of funds to assist coercing individuals or groups that continue to resist this initiative. So far, the government has collected 30,000 out of the estimated 700,000 illegal arms harbored in Darfur. Tribal leaders have shown the most resistance and are willing to militarily confront any state force if necessary. The movement of state forces into Darfur has occurred in tandem with the reignition of the conflict between the Ma’alia and Rizeigat tribes. As a show of force, 93 tribal leaders have been arrested and a peaceful demonstration at the South Darfur Kalma Camp was quashed violently, with 6 people dead and 28 injured. This has warranted international condemnation and a call by the US embassy for Sudan to launch an immediate investigation into this instance.

During a diplomatic trip to Khartoum on November 1st, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir addressed the claim that South Sudan has been supporting Sudanese opposition groups. During a meeting with Kiir’s Sudanese counterpart, Omar al-Bashir, Kiir assured him that he would end all support to these opposition groups. Kiir nevertheless rebuked any criticism of his actions saying Sudan was a primary supplier of arms for South Sudanese opposition groups and that Bashir too had supported and even housed some of Kiir’s opposition. Despite this rhetoric, both nations remained conciliatory and made several compromises to end their strenuous relationship, which Kiir believes fuels the ideology of violent rebel groups. This manifested in their agreement to completely demarcate their long border and thereby finally make their demilitarized zone operational.

Middle East and North Africa

Egypt

Egypt’s Al-Aqrab prison is housing an ongoing hunger strike in protest of poor living conditions.

This notorious prison, officially named Tora Maximum Security Prison, is more commonly known by its nickname, the Scorpion. A 2016 report by Human Rights Watch details the gross human rights violations to which prisoners are subjected, including beatings, torture, lack of medical care, and psychological abuse.

The emphasis on Scorpion by human rights groups and news outlets does not mean abusesin other Egyptian prisons has been overlooked. Yet, it is crucial to note that Scorpion “has re-emerged as the central site for those deemed enemies of the state,” and thus, its prisoners are particular targets of government entities. Human Rights Watch explains that the Tora “sits at the end of the state’s repressive pipeline, overseen at nearly all points by the Interior Ministry and its internal security service, the National Security Agency.

In September, about 80% of the prisoners began a hunger strike against Scorpion employees and Egyptian government’s vile humanitarian offenses. Their complaints included: unwarranted banned family visits, malnourishment; a lack of medical care, confinement, and weather-appropriate clothing. These basic needs are crucial to human dignity, regardless of actual or supposed criminal activity.

This is not the first time prisoners have started a hunger strike at Tora. In March 2016, Al-Jazeera reported on “Egypt’s Guantanamo,” citing similar complaints among prisoners. At the time, the head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, Mohamed Gameel, in the UK,, said the “Egyptian government would not react unless there was immense pressure from the international community.”

Horn of Africa

Somalia

On October 15, the Somali capital of Mogadishu was devastated by a deadly double car bombing attack which resulted in upwards of 300 confirmed casualties. Surrounding details that emerged soon after have all but confirmed al-Shaabab’s implication in the attack, presenting a major challenge in Somalia’s decade long battle against the militant Islamist group. The attack came as US military officials have increased drone strikes and counter-insurgency efforts.: It has become increasingly clear that accruing military elements to secure the country must come with something more. In a recently released UN article, researchers found that state-sponsored counterterrorism efforts across Africa have systematically increased levels of extremist violence, with 71% of former terrorists indicating that “government action” was the primary factor in joining a terrorist group.

Despite these findings, the front against terrorism following the attack has been primarily militaristic. In the weeks following the attack, the African Union deployed troops in the Lower Shabelle region, for the first time in two years since the AU formally launched an operation against al-Shaabab). The offensive, given the American administration’s relaxed rules of engagement effective March, is likely to contribute to a rise in civilian casualties in the region. Recent investigation has shown that in the Somali city of Bariire, for example, the United States operated on misleading intelligence, which contributed to accidental casualties, which only exacerbate terrorist threats. A week ago, al-Shaabab once again carried out an attack on Mogadishu, killing 23 people at the Nasa-Hablod hotel. On November 7th, al-Shaabab executed four men accused of spying for the Ethiopian and Kenyan governments. As the military response to the terrorist attack builds, it is difficult to predict to what extent the situation will improve.

Meanwhile, tensions in Ethiopia have come to a head as soldiers shot and killed 10 civilians protesting an unfair allocation of food supplies in the region of Oromia. This event underscores the underlying anger of many ethnic Oromo, who claim that the federal government has unequally distributed wealth in favor of other ethnic groups. After the protests dwindled, soldiers were stationed across the region to intimidate civilians and enforce rule of law. This rapid military response has cast doubt on Addis Ababa’s competence in effectively responding to civil protest, while others look to the new Oromo regional administration, which has recently promoted a ethno-nationalist agenda. The mounting instability in the region has captured regional and international attention, raising questions about the federal relationship between Oromia and Addis Ababa, and future grievances in the region.

Great Lakes Region

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Following the turbulent month of October, in which the national Electoral Commission announced elections would not be held until late 2018 at the earliest, two United Nations peacekeepers were killed, and the United Nations declared D.R. Congo an L3 emergency (on par with nations such as Yemen and Iraq). A United Nations watchdog reported on November 9th that militia groups, comprised primarily of child soldiers, continue to commit widespread human rights abuses despite years of warnings. The country’s National Human Rights Commission has been unable to act upon these abuses without funding, which they have gone without since March, and are restricted to operations within the capital city of Kinshasa.

 The Tanganyika province in the southeast of the country has suffered from some of the highest levels of violence and displacement, especially in recent months. On November 1st, the independent aid organization, Norwegian Refugee Council, released a humanitarian assessment documenting squalid living conditions, wherethe majority of internally displaced peoples have no access to clean water, shelter, or latrines. They conclude that a mass outbreak of disease is likely, and that there are not enough humanitarian aid organizations in the region to organize an adequate humanitarian response to such an event.

 On November 7th, at the 730th meeting of the African Union, the organization’s Peace and Security Council evaluated the results of a four day field mission led by the Burundian ambassador to the AU. The Council adopted a resolution reaffirming the AU’s support for a free and democratic Congo, insisting upon the public release of an elections schedule, and expressing concern about continued human rights abuses.

In a positive development, eighteen people were brought to trial on November 9th for charges of child rape, murder, and organization of an armed group. Though the significant delay of the beginning of the trial and the short initial proceedings of a mere twenty minutes have raised fears that a mistrial is possible, experts suggest there is evidence that the DRC is serious about prosecuting those accused of such crimes. In the past few years, the country has somewhat increased its efforts to combat sexual violence and has successfully prosecuted even high-level military commanders. These efforts have only targeted a tiny proportion of the crimes committed, however.

Burundi

 The crisis in Burundi will be addressed again at the United Nations in November, when the Secretary General’s Special-Envoy will present his findings to the Security Council. The briefing is expected to focus on key recent developments, such as ongoing human rights abuses and the stalling of inter-Burundian peace talks facilitated by the East African Community (EAC),  a regional intergovernmental organization. According to the Security Council’s monthly forecast, the security situation in Burundi has been stable as of late, though this guise of peace is likely unsustainable and the report predicts an escalation of violence between the government and opposition should conditions fail to change.

On November 9, the International Criminal Court granted prosecutors authority to launch an investigation into human rights abuses in Burundi. This follows only days after October 27, when Burundi became the first nation to formally withdraw from the ICC. Any investigation will likely build off of claims made in a United Nations report in September, which documented extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, and other human rights abuses. The Burundian government has announced that it will not cooperate with any investigation.

 

Sael Soni is STAND’s Horn of Africa Coordinator. Sael is a freshman at Vanderbilt University. His interests lay mostly in understanding the dynamics of post-Colonial Latin America and the intersection of human rights and economic policy.

Ana Delgado is STAND’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Coordinator. Ana Delgado is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is studying Political Science and Peace, War, & Defense while minoring in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. After graduation, Ana hopes to pursue a law degree with an emphasis on human rights.

Soham Mehta is STAND’s Sudan and South Sudan Coordinator.

Caroline Brammer is STAND’s Southeast Asia Coordinator. Caroline is a sophomore majoring in Media and Journalism with a minor in Medical Anthropology at UNC Chapel Hill. She is eager to delve into her role as a member of the Education Task Force for Southeast Asia and excited to learn how she can influence change while on the other side of the world. She enjoys painting, writing, trekking, humanitarian work, and loves travelling above all else.

Rhiannon Winner is STAND’s Great Lakes of Africa Coordinator, focusing mainly on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi. She is a junior at Gettysburg College where she double majors in Political Science and Public Policy.

Weekly News Brief: 11/8/2017

STAND’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND Education Task Force.

Horn of Africa

The Horn of Africa region encompasses the countries of Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, and Eritrea, and contains 120 million people of two major religions, five main ethnic groups, and countless cultures and traditions. Due to widespread poverty and ethnic hostilities, the region is frequently subject to bloody conflict. Today, the largest sources of conflict in the region are fueled by the drought in Somalia and tensions between Eritrea and Ethiopia. These conflicts are complex, evade categorization, and ,while localized specifically to the Horn of Africa region, are accompanied by repercussions of profound international importance.

Somalia

In March of this year, the United Nations declared famine as the single largest humanitarian emergency in the world, identifying four devastating famines in Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan, and Nigeria. Each country, in turn, has a set of internal conditions which make combating widespread hunger and malnutrition particularly difficult. In Somalia’s case, 6.2 million people – more than half the population – need food aid, including more than one million children under the age of five at risk of malnourishment. Somalia has lacked a central government since 1991, creating a power vacuum that al-Shaabab, a jihadist fundamentalist group with ties to ISIS, is attempting to fill. The group currently controls huge swaths of land, and is blocking the provision of humanitarian aid to southern Somalia’s starving population.

West of the famine in Somalia, there are growing tensions between rival states, Ethiopia and Eritrea, the latter often called the “North Korea of Africa” due to its suppression of free speech, egregious human rights abuses, and state-imposed civilian conscription periods of indeterminate length (Shaban 2017). These tensions came to a head from 1998 to 2000, during the Ethiopia-Eritrea border war which resulted in an Ethiopian victory after more than 70,000 casualties. Today, the two countries are in a virtual “Cold War” state with sporadic bursts of violence. Many fear that these tensions may soon threaten regional stability and warrant international intervention. In Asmara’s address to the UN General Assembly last month, Eritrean Foreign Affairs chief Osman Saleh Mohammed accused Ethiopia of illegally occupying Eritrean land for fifteen years, with President Isaias Afwerki blaming the United States for supporting an arms embargo placed on the country under allegations of connections to al-Shaabab. This emerging conflict has the potential to escalate to full-scale war, and many have alleged state-sponsored terrorism on both sides.

These two conflicts are rapidly shifting, with urgent developments occurring each day. Both have the possibility of further escalating and threatening regional and global peace.

Southeast Asia

Burma

On September 21, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addressed the UN General Assembly to publicly condemn Burma’s treatment of Rohingya Muslims. Bangladesh has sheltered over 800,000 Rohingya refugees from Burma since the conflict arose. In addition, neither Bangladesh nor Burma recognize the Rohingya as citizens, rendering them stateless. During her address, Hasina called for the creation of “safe zones that could be created inside Myanmar under UN supervision” to allow Rohingya refugees to safely return with dignity. Furthermore, UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has characterized Burma’s treatment of the Rohingya a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

The U.S. State Department announced last month that the U.S. would provide $32 million in humanitarian aid to Rohingya for “emergency shelter, food security, nutritional assistance, health assistance, psychosocial support, water, sanitation and hygiene, livelihoods, social inclusion, non-food items, disaster and crisis risk reduction, restoring family links, and protection of over 400,000 displaced persons.” There is hope that this commitment will encourage other countries to address this increasingly dire situation.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s de facto leader and Nobel Laureate, praised in the past for her push for democracy in Burma, is under harsh scrutiny from human rights groups for not addressing this crisis with more urgency. Burma’s Constitution clarifies that Suu Kyi can not fire the Commander-in-Chief of Burma’s Armed forces, nor are the Armed forces obligated to report back to her. They are essentially their own entity, which is worrisome because the Commander-in-Chief, Min Aung Hlaing, claims that the predominantly Muslim countries’ media platforms this story. They also claim that so-called Rohingya “terrorists” are actually committing ethnic cleansing against Buddhists in Rakhine State. Roughly 40% of Rohingya villages in Burma are empty and an estimated 1,000 Rohingya have been killed since August.

Middle East and North Africa

Syria

Raqqa has been under militant control since 2014. As the first city in Syria under ISIS control, it quickly became emblematic of the group’s terror tactics. In June, “heavy street-by-street fighting amid intense U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and shelling” began.

In an effort to de-escalate the conflict and salvage civilian lives, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by the U.S., brokered a deal entailing the surrender and evacuation of Syrian militants. The most notable part about this deal is the differentiation between local and foreign forces. While local forces will be evacuated, “ISIL’s foreign fighters will be left behind ‘to surrender or die,” according to an SDF spokesperson. However, some outside sources have suggested that foreign fighters will be allowed evacuation as well.

The humanitarian aim of the brokered deal provides insight into the current humanitarian crisis in the country. Local tribal leaders stated that liberation, rather than killing, was the main goal. ABC News reports that “the tribesmen said their evacuation would save the lives of civilians, who the extremist fighters have used as human shields. Furthermore, “last week there was an estimated 4,000 civilians still in the city.”

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

On October 13, President Trump lifted sanctions on Sudan. The first round of sanctions against Sudan started in 1993 because of state-sponsored terrorism, and were expanded in 1997 and 2006. The lifting of sanctions was the culmination of former President Barack Obama’s initiative to relieve Sudan of economic isolation in January. Obama’s administration provided specific conditions for Sudan to meet in the following 6 months, in order to lift sanctions. Historically, sanctions have been leveraged in attempts to end the atrocities occurring in Sudan, which range from genocide and ethnic cleansing in Darfur, to atrocities in the Nuba mountains and Blue Nile. With insignificant humanitarian aid, a lack of international cooperation in enforcing the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrants for members of the Sudanese government, and gridlock in the UN Security Council over arms embargos, these sanctions have been the only form of leverage the U.S. has had on Sudan to stop the continued atrocities against its people. President Omar al-Bashir is eager to remove these sanctions, which are not only hated by a few government oligarchs, but also by the country’s growing middle class. Bashir has attempted to engage in multinational partnerships to give the international community the misleading perception that Sudan is undergoing a process of normalization and integration with the outside world. This façade is meant to divert attention from Bashir’s mission to “unite” the country under a homogenous Arab identity by means of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

The real question is whether these sanctions been effective and whether Sudan has taken steps to warrant a lifting of sanctions. Though the aerial strikes on the Nuba Mountains, the Blue Nile and other regions has stopped and Sudan has ended all arms and material support to rebels in South Sudan, Bashir’s track record concerning religious freedom tells a different story. The government has pursued the demolition of 25 churches and protests have been stamped out, with church leaders being killed and peaceful protests being brutally halted.

During the 8069th meeting of the Security Council on October 12, Secretary-General António Guterres made countering instability-rooted starvation a priority saying,Until these conflicts are resolved and development takes root, communities and entire regions will continue to be ravaged by hunger and suffering.” One of the conflicts prioritized is South Sudan, where half of South Sudanese people depend on food aid, with women and children being hit the hardest. Rebels from both sides frequently block humanitarian aid and plunder homes and fields. Women, who often bring food from areas far from their homes, constantly fear for their lives as they pass through the territories of various rebel groups. With the constantly shifting loyalties of militias, an aid distribution center or a field that was safe to enter previously may now be several rebel territories away. Due to the same uncertainty, aid workers can be welcomed in a refugee camp one day and slaughtered the next. Without UN protection, aid workers may be more reluctant to serve in the country, where 79 aid workers have died since the beginning of the civil war in 2013.   

 

Sael Soni is STAND’s Horn of Africa Coordinator. 

Ana Delgado is STAND’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Coordinator.

Soham Mehta is STAND’s Sudan and South Sudan Coordinator.

Caroline Brammer is STAND’s Southeast Asia Coordinator. 

Upholding “Never Forget” and “Never Again”

This summer, I had the opportunity to travel to Poland to learn about the Holocaust. During my trip, I went to different concentration and extermination camps, including Sobibor, a death camp constructed in 1942. As this was the third camp I had visited, I had already accustomed myself to the routine of visiting, learning, and leaving. I figured this would be a similar experience. I was not prepared for what I would see there. As we approached the death camp, I looked for stark buildings and barbed wire fences similar to those I had seen at Majdanek days before. Here, I saw nothing. In place of where the camp had been, I saw only a large grassy field, railroad tracks, and a pile of human ash. Somehow, this empty field was supposed to mark the place where more than 200,000 people had been killed. The absence of any trace of remembrance was stunning. I was unable to comprehend how this bare field had previously been used for something so horrific. When it was time to leave, I walked away from Sobibor entirely unsettled.

I realize physical reminders of the Holocaust will not always appear in our everyday lives. Yet my experience with the Sobibor death camp has made me fully appreciate  the vital importance of remembrance. The day of Yom HaShoah, which honors each of the 11 million innocent people that were murdered, ensures that we do not forget the magnitude of the largest genocide in history. Too often, the absence of physical representation leads to desensitization, which  leads the international community to downplay the enormity of the Holocaust and the lasting effect it has had on the world. Holocaust education is critical to ensure we not only remember, but also learn, from the past. The international community must recognize how the Holocaust could have been prevented and implement effective mechanisms to prevent history from repeating itself anywhere else in the world.

Today, in the United States, we have an opportunity to turn our remembrance into action. We can support a bill entitled the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, which increases the United States’ capacity to prevent and proactively respond to genocide and mass atrocities around the world by coordinating a whole-government approach to atrocity prevention, authorizes funds for emerging atrocity situations, and trains Foreign Service Officers in atrocity prevention and response.

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 11.39.53 AM

Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, for whom the legislation is named, passed away last year, but his words continue to inspire generations:

Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.

We must understand that in the face of mass atrocities we should welcome those who seek help, rather than closing our borders and turning them away. We should take steps to stop any form of senseless hatred and scapegoating, regardless of where it occurs, and foster compassion. Lastly, we should not need to rely on physical reminders be represent the tragedy of the Holocaust. The absence of the physical death camp in Sobibor should not diminish the potency of our memory of what occurred there. We must never forget the victims who had their lives stolen. Only then will we truly be able uphold the promise of “never forget” and “never again.”



16002765_422766264730008_759533419891447940_nEllen Bresnick
is the Midwest Regional Organizer for STAND. She is currently a senior in high school in Middleton, WI, and the co-founder of En Masse, a multilingual publication platform for international issues. She looks forward to continuing her work with human rights next year in college at Washington University in St. Louis