Great Lakes Region
Democratic Republic of the Congo
In November, Air Serv mobilized to assist Doctors Without Borders’ efforts to contain the cholera outbreak in Kasai province. Kasai has been a hotspot of conflict throughout the crisis, and the number of NGOs able to operate in the region is limited. Since January 1, there have been over 1,700 cases of cholera diagnosed.
Also in November, the Chair of the Security Council Sanctions Committee published his findings after an October visit to the DRC. He briefed the Council on the ongoing environment of instability and conflict, indicating that the uncertainty of the next election cycle is worrying the Congolese public.
The country drew international interest on November 23, when the Pope led a prayer calling for peace in DRC and South Sudan. Pope Francis intended to visit DRC earlier in the year, but cancelled his plans due to safety concerns.
As a result of President Kabila’s refusal to step down from power, violent protests have continued, killing seven protesters during a December demonstration, when internet and SMS services were discontinued country-wide. The DRC’s electoral commission claims that elections are unable to occur until the end of 2018. On December 8, 15 UN Peacekeepers were killed and 53 were wounded in what UN Secretary-General António Guterres called “the worst attack on UN peacekeepers in recent history.”
On November 21, the United Nations Human Rights Council rebuked Burundi for threatening UN investigators with prosecution. The threats followed recommendations from investigators that Burundi’s top leaders be charged with crimes against humanity. The Burundian ambassador to the UN denied the charges and said that the country would pursue defamation charges.
A new health crisis is brewing in the country, and is sure to worsen if changes are not made, warns World Vision. On November 24, the organization indicated that there were upwards of 6 million cases of malaria in 2017, from which 2,800 have died. Though some nonprofits are distributing medical care and prevention measures such as mosquito nets, the crisis remains acute and response is underfunded.
On November 23, the Burmese and Bangladeshi governments signed a pact to begin the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees, but the process was stalled in January due to fear from Rohingya of forced return to Burma. The process, described as “opaque and chaotique,” included an estimated 600,000 Rohingya to be brought back to Rakhine State, where they would be housed in temporary camps due to their homes being destroyed in fires. As part of the pact, Burma promised that they would not stay in these temporary shelters long-term and will be issued identity cards in the meantime. To further address the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi government has invested $280 million to move nearly 100,000 Rohingya refugees to an uninhabitable island in the Bay of Bengal.
Pope Francis went to Burma and Bangladesh to visit the refugee camps on November 28. He is under pressure not to use the word “Rohingya,” as there is fear that it could hinder “dialogue with the country’s leaders.”
24 U.S.-based Jewish groups sent a letter to Senator Bob Corker and Senator Ben Cardin, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, outlining their desire for further condemnation of Burma due to the atrocities against the Rohingya. Groups ranging in doctrine, from the American Jewish Committee to the Anti-Defamation League, stated in their letter, “Passing this legislation through your committee and the full Senate would send a powerful message to the Burmese military and the global community that the United States will not be silent or inactive in the face of mass atrocities.” They proposed “mandating targeted US sanctions to help end the Myanmar military’s atrocities against the Rohingya people, providing refugee assistance for the Rohingya, and establishing a mechanism to address accountability around crimes committed against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities in Burma.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced on December 21 that the United States had imposed sanctions against General Maung Maung Soe, former Western commander of the Burmese military, due to his role in atrocities against Rohingya. Tillerson said, “Today’s announcement of sanctions demonstrates the United States will continue to pursue tangible and significant consequences for those who commit serious human rights abuse and engage in corruption.” These sanctions are made possible through the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, enacted in 2016, which freezes any assets perpetrators may hold under U.S. jurisdiction.
The U.S. State Department said that they had examined credible evidence of Maung Maung Soe’s activities, including that he oversaw the clearance operations, which included extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, and burning of entire villages in Rakhine State that forced over half a million Rohingya into Bangladesh. The Burmese military continues to deny all allegations of atrocity crimes.
Sudan and South Sudan
After claims that Sudan faced significant security threats from Ethiopia and Eritrea, Ethiopia has closed its border with Eritrea. During a joint press conference, the foreign ministers of Ethiopia and Sudan said they would work towards regional peace and stability. In addition, Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghadoun stated, “we’re not talking “about threats to a country per se” but that they have information to anticipate “whatever danger can come from there.”
The UN acknowledged that arms trafficking activities in Libya and South Sudan have intensified armed conflict in Darfur. A report by a panel of experts revealed that factions of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) have a presence in Libya and South Sudan respectively, violating an existing arms embargo.
In November, The World Food Program (WFP) restarted its transport of aid into Sudan, and several other corridors have been reopened. On January 7, widespread protests emerged in response to the rising price of bread, due to the Sudanese government’s elimination of subsidies as a part of its austerity campaign. These policies are a part of the IMF’s suggested actions to improve the Sudanese economy, the theory being that this will maximize the benefits of the US lifting sanctions. The government has stifled dissent, arresting an opposition leader and blocking critical coverage. So far, three people have died during these protests, including a high school student.
Rudwan Dawod, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Sudan, is being illegally detained, after being arrested for his involvement in fighting illegal land confiscation in Algarif East on December 6. A prominent activist involved in the Sudan Congress Party and the Sudan of the Future (SOF) campaign, Dawod’s actions supporting civilians in conflict regions like Darfur and the Blue Nile have led to his detention and torture in the past. After the National Security Act of 2010 was passed, the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) have been able to commit extra-judicial detainments of any perceived “enemy of the state.”
On January 12, Indian peacekeepers quickly built a bridge in Akoka to connect the village to larger urban areas, allow aid access, and pave the way for vital road repairs to proceed.
Pastoralist-farmer conflicts have remained consistent, bloody, and divisive. Several farmers, pastoralists, and women representatives took part in the Migration Agreement Dissemination Forum for the Marial-Bai agreement on cattle migration on January 10. This forum hopes to reiterate and indoctrinate the agreement to younger generations. The agreement takes into consideration the the two different lifestyles of the pastoralist and farmer; how the lifestyles affect each other; and how to nonviolently resolve conflicts.
The U.S. is threatening new sanctions on South Sudan if progress towards peace isn’t made. Michael Morrow, the interim U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan, has threatened targeted sanctions on officials and an arms embargo. After numerous officials and state-owned companies were blacklisted, banned, and barred from the U.S. banking system earlier in 2017, the South Sudanese have engaged in peace talks. However, talks continue to be undermined by both sides.
On December 9, women marched in the streets of Juba, lamenting the ongoing war consuming South Sudan and its dire effects on women. Posters reading “Give our children pens, not guns” and “Save my future, stop the war” were carried by women of all different classes and ages. As the war enters its fifth year, women are demanding humanitarian aid promoting international dialogue by being at the forefront of protests.
In December, skirmishes in South Sudan took the lives of several government and rebel soldiers. 27 people died in a confrontation in the Southern Liech State. Additionally, 60 people were killed and many injured in ethnic clashes in Western Lakes State incited by reciprocal cattle-raids between the Rup, Pakam, and Dinka pastoralist clans. SPLA troops were dispatched to stop the violence. With much of the country food insecure, a scarcity of grazing land, and vast social distrust fueled by the war, ethnicity-driven attacks have been on the rise.
On December 15, a “hybrid” court was agreed on between South Sudan’s Council of Ministers and the African Union in order to prosecute war criminals.
Government forces attacked the southeast town of Lasu just as peace talks began on December 19. On December 24, a ceasefire went into effect as a direct result of a negotiated peace deal. Though the representatives of several countries and international organizations, such as Norway, China, EU, and IGAD, were present as guarantors and signatories, the U.S. representative refused to sign it. The deal will not only release several political prisoners, but will also open up areas desperately in need of humanitarian aid. Even after the ceasefire was implemented, a spokesperson for the SPLM-IO said that rebel bases in the north and in the southeastern Yei state have come under “the most aggressive attack” by government forces. The South Sudanese army spokesperson claims the opposite, saying that rebels violated the ceasefire, accusing them of instigating the government’s aggressive takeback of territory post-ceasefire. Any undermining of the ceasefire may lead to increased sanctions by the UN Security Council. The UN threatened similar severity if the use of child soldiers and sexual violence continues.
West & Central Africa
Central African Republic (CAR)
The Central African Republic experienced a 50% increase in the number of displaced peoples in 2017. Foreign ministers from CAR and 10 other central African countries met on December 8 to discuss and address the violence in the region. The focus of the discussion was on “assessing and examining the security and geopolitical situation in Central Africa and a reviewing of disarmament and arms limitation programs in the region.”
Violence in CAR continued with an attack on a MINUSCA checkpoint on December 4 that wounded three and killed one. Secretary-General António Guterres “reiterate[d] the determination of MINUSCA to protect civilians and contribute to the stabilization of the Central African Republic,” and encouraged all parties in CAR to end the violence.
The Bloomberg Business Report found that gem smuggling is crippling the economy, making it even more difficult for the country to advance. According to this report, illegal diamond sales continue to fund conflict in the region, even though there is currently an embargo on diamonds from the Central African Republic. The government claims that it is aware of the illicit sales, but does not have the resources to counter them. In addition to gem smuggling, armed groups are using roadblocks to fund their operations.
In Nigeria, the fight against Boko Haram has a new face: General Nicholas Rogers. General Rogers replaced the former leader in the offensive against Boko Haram, Major General Attahiru Ibrahim, who was removed from his position in September. General Rogers previously led special military and police forces dedicated to fighting ethnic conflict in Nigeria.
The news of the change in leadership came not long after suicide bombers, suspected to be working with Boko Haram, killed at least twelve people in an attack on a market in Biu. In addition, reports from officials say that almost 50 were injured in the blasts.
On December 3, Human Rights Watch raised alarms over toxic pollution in northern Nigeria that has killed over 400 children since 2010. They reported that children are especially at risk due to the pollution.
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.
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.
Elizabeth Westbrook is STAND’s Central/West Africa Coordinator focusing on the Central African Republic and Nigeria. She is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she is studying Political Science and History, with a concentration in Middle Eastern and African history. After graduation she hopes to pursue work in peace building and conflict prevention.