The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Converting Rhetoric Into Reality on Atrocity Prevention

This piece, written by the Enough Project‘s Executive Director John Bradshaw, originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

In April 2012, President Obama went all-in rhetorically when he asserted that preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a "core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States." Such statements are in part an outgrowth of the American public’s horror at the genocide and atrocities of recent decades in places like Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur. But as the limited U.S. response to the ongoing conflict in Syria illustrates, there is not yet a full understanding of the centrality of preventing mass atrocities to our national security.

Today, in addition to the fighting in Syria, brutal conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and areas of Central Africa that are plagued by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army continue to result in the death and displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, especially affecting women and children. These kinds of conflicts cross borders and perpetuate regional instability, inevitably drawing in U.S. diplomatic, humanitarian, and sometimes military resources. The shock and outrage we feel in the face of atrocities such as the rampant sexual violence against women in the Congo, Burma, and elsewhere should motivate us as a nation to find solutions.

Establishing a sustained national commitment to preventing atrocity crimes will require the creation of informed and active constituencies both within government and among the general public. In this effort, the next administration, regardless of who wins the election, will have the full support of a coalition of 22 human rights organizations and individuals that identified atrocity prevention as a priority human rights concern in the recently issued "10 Critical Human Rights Challenges for the Next American President."

The Obama administration responded to pressure from current and former policymakers as well as advocacy groups by creating the new Atrocities Prevention Board (APB), which builds on recommendations from the Genocide Prevention Task Force. If fully realized, the APB would represent a seminal moment in initiating a "whole of government" approach to tackling atrocity crimes. The APB, chaired by the National Security Council, is designed to work across agencies–including the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Treasury and the CIA–to more effectively utilize existing diplomatic and intelligence capabilities while also enlisting new tools, such as better targeted sanctions and innovative technologies for early warning. However, so far the APB has been a top-down initiative that lacks full acceptance by rank-and-file officials in the State Department and elsewhere.

If the APB is to be accepted and integrated into the relevant departments, the right bureaucratic incentives must be established. The tendency to view human rights concerns as a nuisance is deeply embedded in the State Department and the Pentagon, and those officials who care–and there are many–are forced to fight to have their voices heard. If raising concerns about pregenocide situations continues to be seen as a distraction from the perceived priority of promoting good bilateral relations with the host government, officers will be reluctant to take the lead on these issues. The next administration needs to signal strongly and repeatedly from its highest levels that atrocity prevention is a major priority, and that those who work effectively on the issue will be recognized and rewarded.

Nongovernmental organizations are also an essential part of atrocity prevention, providing early warning information from the field in atrocity-prone regions. To be successful, the APB must not only develop a more defined role within the government, but also build more effective partnerships with outside groups that work on these problems.

Beyond the vital task of institutionalizing atrocity prevention within the bureaucracy, the next administration needs to consistently send the message to the public and Congress that preventing genocide and mass atrocities is in the national interest. The new secretary of state should reinforce the fact that preventing atrocities in fragile states means avoiding crises of displacement and insecurity that necessitate the commitment of even greater U.S. resources and lead to long-term instability. In Congress, there are strong champions from both parties dedicated to preventing atrocity crimes, and the next administration should collaborate closely with them to see that sufficient resources are appropriated for this work.

Finally, strengthening the International Criminal Court (ICC) is an essential element in any effort to end the culture of impunity that prevails in regions vulnerable to atrocity crimes and replace it with a principle of deterrence. The value of such deterrence should be evident to administration officials and members of Congress who are concerned with optimizing resources for conflict prevention and crisis response.

The president’s statement in April was a potent expression of the gravity with which Americans view atrocity crimes. Turning rhetoric into reality and fully engaging U.S. capacities to prevent and punish these abuses will require a long slog through interagency meetings, congressional markups, and public debates. But it is a worthy goal, and we are embarked as a nation on the right path to achieve it.

This blog is part of the series "Ten Critical Human Rights Challenges for the Next President," sponsored by Freedom House. The series will feature renowned experts writing on some of the top human rights issues that should be addressed by the presidential candidates and the next administration. As the candidates participate in policy debates we look forward to a lively discussion of these and other important foreign affairs issues facing our country. For the full series please visit the Freedom at Issue Blog.

Weekly News Brief 10/14


Following her recent 17-day trip to the US, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has expressed her willingness to eventually become president of Myanmar. As general secretary of her party, the National League for Democracy, she consistently repeated the three pillars of her party’s platform: establish the rule of law, amend the constitution, and bring about peace between the Myanmar government and ethnic minorities. In response to Suu Kyi’s statement, current Myanmar President Thein Sein expressed his support of the idea only if the people of Myanmar will it so in elections.

Additionally, the US has officially passed a law allowing financial support to be given to Burma through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. However, 17 human rights organizations, including United to End Genocide and US Campaign for Burma, have expressed great concern over the new policy claiming it is premature to reward the former military dictatorship with such financial freedoms.

Rumors have been circulating about the possible nomination of Myanmar President Thein Sein as a Nobel Peace Prize winner due to the drastic democratic reforms he has undertaken in the country. Recent democratic reforms have also resurfaced a debate concerning the country’s name: Burma or Myanmar. The New York Times has written an interesting article about the resurfacing of the debate, click here to read it.

In June of this year, two Kachin refugees were arrested by seven government police and were accused of being violent Kachin Rebels. The refugees alleged that they were forced to have sexual intercourse, dance their traditional Kacin dances naked, and pretend to be crucified (due to their Christian faith). The case was originally set for September, but the accused failed to show up both times and again for a third time on October 3 of last week. Many domestic and international observers have viewed this case closely, as well as the recent arrests of many Peace Day activists in Yangon earlier this month, as a test for Myanmar’s newly reformed judiciary systems.

And finally, more Buddhists monks have marched to protest the presence of the local Muslim Rohingya peoples in Rakhine State in western Burma. The protest took place in the town of Sittwe, located in Rakhine State, where more than 400 monks and 1000 townspeople took part. Click here to watch a video of part of the protest.


The government of Sudan has disclosed its willingness to split Abyei. The details were announced just after Russian envoy to Sudan, Mikhail Margelov, met President Bashir. Ambassador El-Abeed Marawah Ahmed, the spokesman of the Sudanese ministry of Foreign Affairs, revealed that Bashir agreed to divide the region of Abyei between the Dinka Ngok and the Misseriya tribes. He said that the government of Sudan considers this a satisfactory option to solve the issues in the disputed area and to find a formula for peaceful co-existence for all parties.

In other news, retaliatory Mortar shelling by rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), in Kadugli, left at least six dead and several injured. The attacks coincided with an ongoing peace forum in the city intended to bring together rival political parties. The rebels claimed responsibility, accusing Khartoum of conducting frequent aerial raids in the Nuba Mountains.


Rebels in Jonglei State are committing “crimes against humanity,” said Joshua Konyi Irer, the Commissioner of Pibor County. Commissioner Konyi accuses Yauyau’s forces of murdering and raping civilians, looting cattle, sheep and goats, culminating in the displacement of hundreds of people of people in the villages. Other sources also indicate that several villages among them Koth Char, Manybol, Lekuangole are under also the rebel control.

Meanwhile, the Toposa ethnic group in Eastern Equatoria state has condemned the allegation directed toward the state governor Louis Lobong Lojore, that he had links with militia groups operating in the state. Governor Lobong has since been summoned to Juba last week in order to answer for the charges. The allegations were labled against the governor by deputy chairperson of information, Michael Losike Lokerui, an MP who also hails from the same the tribe as the governor himself. But governor Lobong has denied the charges.


Human Rights Watch reports that Syrian government forces have dropped Russian-made cluster bombs over civilian areas in the past week, cutting the route from Damascus to Aleppo. Often times, these bombs do not fully explode on the ground, and can kill and maim civilians long after a war has ended. Though the bombs were Russian-made, it is unknown how or when Syria acquired them.

Today, hundreds of Syrian and Lebanese supporters of Assad staged a rally in Beirut to thank China and Russia for supporting the Damascus regime. Posters bore the words, “Thank you Russia!” and “Lebanon forever with Assad’s Syria,” chanting slogans against Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are supporting revolts against the Assad regime. Last week, Turkey intercepted a Syrian plane and confiscated its cargo, saying the plane was carrying military supplies. Syria has called the incident an act of piracy and a violation of international law. Syria-Turkey relations have been crumbling since Turkey banned Syrian civil aviation flights over the incident. Syria retaliated by banning Turkish civilian flights, which has taken effect today.

As battles have intensified, Syria has rejected a call by the UN chief to declare a unilateral ceasefire. Thursday was recorded as one of the deadliest days since the conflict began in March 2011, with at least 240 people killed nationwide, totaling to over 32,000 people dead since last March.


This weekend brought together French-speaking countries in Kinshasa for the Francophonie summit, “Environmental and economic challenges faced with good governance”, despite French President Hollande’s criticisms of human rights violations in the country. Holland told reporters that, “speaking French also means speaking of human rights, since the human rights were written in French.” Quebec Prime Minister PAuline Marois earlier said that she would not be meeting Kabila in private because of the rights situation in his country.

Opening the summit, Kabila declared that “an unjust war has been forced on us,” referring to Rwanda’s alleged involvement in the M-23 revolt in North Kivu. The Kivu question as well as the Mali crisis were expected to dominate closed-door discussions at the summit.

Congolese Minister of Communication Lambert Mende said that a neutral force of 4,000 troops will deploy on DRC’s eastern border with Rwanda and Uganda by the end of the year to combat rebel forces. This decision came after the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region on October 8. The ICGLR will submit a proposal for the force to the UNSC. Tanzania has already offered a battalion for the force.

In the US, Congolese diaspora have continued performances of “Cry for Peace: Voices from the Congo,” a play that began in Syracuse, New York, but has recently moved to a Manhattan Stage. The show features Congolese voices, as well as the voice of a Congolese-Belgian woman torn between cultures. Each piece brings a voice to the disempowered, and the play omits all mentions of tribes, as they are seeking to bring together Congolese in the US and repair relationships between people of different tribes.

Investment bids (and bombs) are set to boom in Burma

By Christine Ly, American University STAND and National Media Task Force

With the lifting of the import ban on Burma on September 27, the last bit of trade-based leverage that the US had on the authoritarian country was gone. This on top of this past June’s lifting of the investment ban by the Obama administration is reason for much criticism that it’s just too soon to reward the Burmese government for reversible reforms. However, citing a statement from the White House, President Obama says that “easing sanctions is a strong signal of our support for reform, and will provide immediate incentives for reformers and significant benefits to the people of Burma”. In the same statement, the US Government also expresses concerns “about the lack of transparency in Burma’s investment environment and the military’s role in the economy”. To elaborate on these truly vital concerns, it’s important to understand the relationship between the Burmese economy and its deep-rooted ties to government cronies and the military elite.

A 1-minute retelling of the Tatmadaw (aka the Burmese Army): the military junta ruled Burma from 1962 to 2011. Elections in 2010 saw the installation of a “civilian” government led by ex-General Thein Sein. However, due to the 2008 Constitution, the military still occupies 25% of the Parliament’s seats. This fact in particular has many Burma-watchers suspicious of the independence of the legislature from the military.

The economy during military rule was pretty much a disaster. Mismanaged state-owned firms dominated the economy. The military imposed as many as 22 simultaneous import tariffs as high as 500%. It also stunted its own economic growth by banning the export of its highest-earning commodities including rice, teak, oil, and gems.

The economy as it is now is still in shambles. In terms of corruption, Burma is ranked 180 out of 184 according to Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index. Together the military and state own hundreds of major assets including airports and gas pipelines. The recent privatization rush should not be taken as a positive reform, considering that most of the buyers are also linked to the military. For example, the top buyers are military-run corporations such as “Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, which controls the army’s pension fund, and the Myanmar Economic Corporation, which oversees funds from the sale of state-owned enterprises” according to Voice of America. The former is actually already on the US Government’s sanctions blacklist.

When the US lifts the investment ban on Burma, they could potentially give a boost to the wealth of the Tatmadaw. This is because the most attractive sectors for foreign investors are in the extractive industries including oil, gas, precious stones, metals, and teak wood. These are all controlled by state firms such as the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise that monopolize corporations through mandatory majority stakes, sidelining any foreign investors. In other sectors, incoming investors are required to partner up with domestic firms for up to 50% ownership.

Like the conflict minerals of the Congo and oil in Sudan, Burma’s military exploits its natural resources to fund its operations. The Tatmadaw commits human rights abuses with impunity and natural resource extraction and other development projects are often the site of such violence. There are constant reports from on-the-ground civil society groups of villagers being forced to move to make way for construction, incidents of civilians forced to work on gas pipelines, the overall destruction of the environment as companies drill for oil, mine for metals and gems, etc. It’s not uncommon to also hear testimonies of villagers of shootings, mortar attacks, intimidation, and physical threats by the military who claim that they are “guarding” the construction site. Without barriers to investment, FDI will increase and in turn development projects will proliferate. Looking at the correlation between development projects and the perpetuation of human rights violations, there are doubts that it was the right time for the US to lift sanctions.

Next up: More corruption! The State Department is imposing reporting requirements for businesses that invest in Burma, but are they too weak?

Sudan 101: Student Follow Up

By Krista Mobley, Ohio University STAND

On the rainy Tuesday evening of September 25th, ten members of Ohio University’s STAND chapter gathered to watch “Sudan and South Sudan 101: The Basics.” With some chocolate chip cookies and delicious zucchini bread in tow, we all met in our chapter leader’s self-proclaimed “man cave.” Aside from the discomfort that title invoked in some members, it ended up being a super successful bonding sesh for OU STAND.

The webinar’s purpose was to update its audience on the growing conflicts Sudan and South Sudan face by educating the viewers on the different situations brought on and exacerbated by their division. Our attention has shifted from solely Darfur in pre-two-state-Sudan, to many other conflict areas in both countries after their split, especially along the border. In Sudan, Darfur, Blue Nile State, South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains are three conflicts that grant primary concern. In South Sudan, the main concern is the violence taking place in the eastern Jonglei State. Resources like oil are still common drivers in these conflicts, followed by problems at the local-level, for example the proliferation of arms.

The webinar schooled us on the historical, socio-economic, environmental, and political factors influencing these ever-developing issues. The discussion of the various regions successfully provided a descriptive synopsis of everything from the inaccessibility of areas to NGOs to the marginalization of ethnic groups. A few technical malfunctions in the duration of the webinar provided us time to converse about the information, the familiar voices, and even the sweet poster décor of our chapter leader’s cave. Nearing the end of the webinar, we tweeted our questions for the brief and informative Q&A.

It was awesome to hang out with the STAND chapter outside of our weekly meetings. The event provided a nice reprieve from the daily grind of homework and exams galore. It was really simple too. We discussed the idea of watching the webinar together at our meeting. Make it a Facebook event and throw snacks into the mix, and people are unlikely to decline the invitation. It is such a small task but reaps major benefits. Having friendships with people in the organization allows for a greater sense of unity within the group.

And really, what can beat the combination of social events and social activism? I would be hard-pressed to find a better one!

From Commemoration to Action

Our Student Director, Mickey Jackson, spoke at yesterday’s Vigil for Sudan at Lafayette Park in Washington, DC. Below is the text of his remarks. The Vigil was hosted by Voices for Sudan, a network of Sudanese organizations throughout the United States. Click here to learn more about STAND’s new partnership with Voices for Sudan.   

We have come here today to commemorate the millions of Sudanese men, women, and children who are no longer with us as the result of atrocities committed over the past two decades. You know, when we talk about such large numbers, it is easy to forget but important to remember that every one of those individuals had a name. Every one of those individuals had a mother and a father, had sisters and brothers, had friends, had a future. Each individual death was, in other words, a tragedy of unfathomable magnitude in its own right, and when multiplied by the millions the scale is simply mind-numbing. With this in mind, it is my hope that our commemoration today will inspire us to re-dedicate ourselves to helping, in any way that we can, to ensure that the tragedies of the past are no longer repeated.

In 2001, President George W. Bush was given a memo outlining the ways in which the international community had failed to prevent and stop the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. In the margins of that memo, he scribbled four short words: “Not on my watch.” Three years later, when Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that genocide was taking place in Darfur, a small group of students at Georgetown University decided that were going to do whatever they could to ensure that that promise was kept. And so they formed an organization called STAND, an acronym that stood for “Students Taking Action Now in Darfur.” But those Georgetown students weren’t the only young people who decided that apathy in the face of genocide was unacceptable. Across the country, in cities and in small towns, high school and college students made the decision to speak up. Working alongside faith groups, service organizations, and members of the Sudanese diaspora, they held rallies and vigils, wrote op-eds and letters to the editor, made phone calls to the White House, and met with their Congressional representatives. Today, STAND chapters at approximately 100 high schools and colleges continue to advocate for measures to end mass atrocities in Sudan and elsewhere.

Today, in 2012, we can look back and acknowledge that the movement that arose in response to the genocide in Darfur has made somewhat of a difference. Students and non-students alike helped persuade 22 state governments and dozens of universities to stop investing in companies whose activities in Sudan were supporting the Bashir regime. We pressed Congress to support funding for peacekeeping in Darfur and humanitarian relief to those affected by the violence. In late 2010, as the South Sudanese independence referendum approached and concerns grew that large-scale violence would break out, activist pressure pushed the Obama administration to launch a “diplomatic surge” that helped facilitate a peaceful and credible referendum. It is important to recognize these successes.

But it is even more important to acknowledge that our presence here today is a reflection of the fact that our work is not and cannot be done, not even close. Our work cannot be done so long as the Sudanese military continues to bomb villages in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Our work cannot be done so long as hundreds of thousands of people face famine as the result of the Bashir regime’s deliberate decision to deny them access to humanitarian aid. Our work cannot be done so long as, after nine years and multiple peace agreements, nearly two million Darfuri civilians remain in refugee camps and continue to face periodic attacks. Our work is not and cannot be done, and the stories we have heard and will hear today remind us why it is so important that that work continue.

Over the past few months, we’ve seen ordinary people around Sudan rising in protest against the Bashir regime. In the face of tear gas, arrests, and torture, these brave individuals have stood up to demand an end to one-party rule and human rights abuses. This should give us hope for the future of Sudan—all of Sudan. For, in the end, it will be the people of Sudan who bring about that future, and who own it. But for our part, we in the United States can and must take action in support of those who are calling for change in Sudan. In particular, we must continue to pressure our government to ensure true accountability for the perpetrators of atrocities, particularly the most recent atrocities in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. We must continue to push for an end to the humanitarian blockade. We must continue to support comprehensive measures to facilitate peace, civilian protection, and respect for human rights throughout all of Sudan, rather than piecemeal, region-specific efforts. And, perhaps most importantly, we must work ever harder to amplify the voices of those who have been personally affected by the violence, which is why the work of organizations like Voices for Sudan is so important.

Across America, students are ready to do their part in advocating for a peaceful future in Sudan. Since 2004, when images of genocide in Darfur began to flash across our TV screens, students have helped to keep this movement alive and strong in their communities, and we will not stop now. Samantha Power, whose book about the history of genocide in the modern world helped inspire a generation of activists, once observed that “silence in the face of atrocity is not neutrality; silence in the face of atrocity is acquiescence.” It is often very difficult to determine what we, as individuals, can do to help bring an end to atrocities half a world away. But at the very least, at the absolute least, it should be very clear to us that silence is not an option. Millions of past deaths, and the prospect of future deaths, allow for neither silence nor acquiescence. So may our remembrance today of those who have suffered and died spur a continued commitment to action in the days to come. Thank you.

Weekly News Brief 9/27


This week, clashes have continued in Aleppo, Damascus, and Homs. On Wednesday, September 26, there were two explosions near the Damascus general headquarters of Syria’s army. The attack left two floors in flames and 14 people injured. Elsewhere in the city, Maya Naser, a correspondent for the Iranian Press TV network, was shot dead by a sniper while reporting. This death brings the number of journalists killed while reporting Syria’s civil war to 22. These attacks came the morning after Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani called for unilateral Arab intervention in Syria. He cited an Arab intervention in Lebanon in the mid-70s, suggesting Arab states to do the same in Syria. On Thursday, an air strike hit a fuel station in al-Riqqa, reportedly killing 54 more people. Activists and artists critical of the regime have also been killed.

The conflict has, for the first time, spilled into the Israeli-occupied territory of Golan Heights, but there were no injuries or damage. There is further unrest between Syria and Turkey over disputed borders as well as disputes on the Lebanon border and the Jordan border. Syrian opposition figures met on Sunday to discuss peaceful ways to end Syria’s civil war and unite the opposition.

Secretary Clinton called on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to take renewed action in Syria, saying, “The atrocities mount while the Security Council remains paralyzed and I would urge that we once again try to find a path forward.” The US has also just given $21 million in humanitarian aid for the Syrian opposition, boosting funding to over $100 million.

For a less text-heavy timeline of Syria’s events, check out Al Jazeera’s interactive map here.


Activists who organized rallies for the UN International Day of Peace on September 21 in Yangon and other cities are being faced with charges of up to 10 years in prison. The activists marched to protest ongoing civil conflicts in Kachin State and other ethnic areas. The local government authorities claim the activists did not get prior permission to stage a public gathering.

Earlier this week, Aung San Suu Kyi continued on her US tour making stops in Louisville, KY and Fort Wayne, IN to visit communities of Burmese refugees. There will a blog post on STAND’s website about her trip later this week.

Burma President Thein Sein wrapped up his visit to China and headed to New York where he will address the UN General Assembly. He is expected to make his argument to the international community for continued support and engagement with Burma following the countries recent democratic reforms. Additionally, after meeting with President Thein Sein, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the US will begin to ease the current ban on imports from Burma.

Additionally, Visa and MasterCard have begun to explore bringing credit cards to Burma, which has been a predominantly cash based society.


On Monday, an MiG plane dropped more bombardments in East Jebel Marra, east of Fanga, North Darfur. Terrified residents fled and sought refuge in neighboring farms. According to the report, people in the area live in constant fear of aerial and militia attacks. The government of Sudan is perceived as targeting civilians and livestock. An eyewitness from East Jebel Marra “described the humanitarian conditions for the locals as ‘very bad.’”

Pro-government militia looted a market, homes and beat citizens near the town of Tabit, Darfur. According to reliable sources, the militia group was led by Ibrahim Abodhar, worn military uniforms, and drove 35 vehicles. Pleas by the residents to the area commandant to intervene were futile as the “pro-government militia only follows orders from Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Mohammed Hussein, in Khartoum.”

Refugees safety is at stake as border tension between Sudan and South Sudan escalates, reports the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) on Tuesday. Terror of the bombings, presence of government troops, and acute lack of food are forcing people to flee, thus increasing numbers of refugees fleeing Sudan’s Southern Kordofan, said Melissa Fleming, a spokesperson for agency.

Also on Tuesday, Sudan rejected the proposed Abyei referendum at an Addis Ababa meeting. Reacting to a proposal submitted by the African Union mediation aiming at breaking the deadlock over Abyei referendum, Khartoum rejected the proposal, saying it ignored that the eligibility of Misseriya was the main cause of discord. However, earlier today, Sudan and South Sudan reached a tentative agreement on the establishment of a demilitarized border zone, as well as the distribution of oil production between the neighboring states.


Both the SPLA and UN Troops have confirmed that “Sudanese military aircraft airdropped about eight parcels of weapons to the rebels,” over the weekend near Likuangole town in the Jonglei State. Although UN peacekeepers could not confirm what the dropped consignment contained, all indications show that Sudan army delivered weapons to rebels loyal to renegade David Yau Yau, who are fighting in the region.

Ethnic conflict pitting Murle against Dinka Bor seems to be on the rise again. On Sunday, a cattle camp in Alian village of Jale Payam in Jonglei was raided by gunmen suspected to be from the Murle ethnic tribe. Over 300 heads of cattle were reportedly stolen.


Recent events reinforce that war affects not only people, but also the environment and wildlife. Because of armed groups in Congo, DRC’s already-endangered mountain gorillas are in even more danger. In DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda, the Virunga volcanoes are home to 480 of the world’s remaining 790 mountain gorillas. In recent months, dozens have been killed by armed groups and poachers. Other animal victims have included hippopotami, which has gone from a population of 27,000 in 1980 to fewer than 300 today.

On the international front, The Telegraph reports that in the past five years, the British government has spent 2.4 million pounds on training and support for military, police, and security personnel for governments of Sudan and DRC. The European Union has now voted to suspend new aid to Rwanda following allegations of Rwanda’s support of the M23 in the east.

On September 20, the African Union adopted a resolution authorizing the deployment of peacekeeping troops to DRC. Also, Uganda’s UPDF and Police have been deployed on the Uganda-Congo border following an incident that killed two Ugandans. Refugees continue to flow from DRC into Uganda.

In Kinshasa, the decision has been made to reform the national election commission. The changes will come ahead of next year’s local and senatorial elections, which are scheduled for February 25.

Finally, the Lesula has become the first new species of monkey found in the past 28 years. Check out the beautiful monkey here!

Weekly News Brief 9/13

Breaking News: Libya

On Tuesday night, an armed group attacked the US embassy in Libya, leading to the deaths of US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other US personnel. The attack was spurred by protests over an amateur film, “The Innocence of Muslims,” which mocks and insults the Prophet Muhammad. Although the film was released in the US in July, it was translated into Arabic approximately eight days ago and quickly spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa. In response to the killings, 50 members of the Marine Corps were dispatched to Libya to reinforce existing troops. Up to 10 Libyan security guards, who had been fighting the attackers, were also killed in the attack on the consulate. On Wednesday night, residents of Tripoli and Benghazi staged demonstrations to condemn the attack and express their remorse of the death of Ambassador Stevens.

The film has received similar reception in Egypt, with protesters replacing the US flag with the black Islamic flag; Tunisia, where 50 protesters burned US flags outside of the embassy in Tunis; and Yemen, where demonstrators stormed the US embassy in Sanaa, burning a US flag and setting cars aflame. The film is said to have been written by an Israeli-American man, and promoted by Morris Sadek, an anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian living in California.

The US is now conducting an investigation to figure out if the attack in Libya was a spontaneous reaction to the film or pre-planned. The New York Times reports that, “the assailants seemed organized, well trained and heavily armed, and they appeared to have at least some level of advance planning,” and a senior Obama administration official told reporters that, “it was clearly a complex attack.” Reports are still developing, but for more information see articles by Wired and BBC.

Al Jazeera has released a short informational video on the Libya situation, which you can watch here.


On Tuesday, September 11, Radio Dabanga reported that four civilians were killed in East Jebel Marra, North Darfur, as a result of aerial bombings by a Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) Antonov airplane. The plane flew above the area for about two hours before dropping 10 bombs, killing a woman and a child as well as a number of herd animals in the area. The shelling and killings on the ground have been ongoing for the past two months.

Also in Darfur, it is reported that a splinter rebel group has emerged from the existing Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The communiqué said the dissident group had held a meeting in Furawiyya, North Darfur on 8 and 9 September, where they decided to relieve JEM leader Gibril Ibrahim. The group appointed Mohamed Bashar Ahmed, a cousin of Ibrahim, as interim president of the splinter group’s military council.

JEM former general commander, Bakheit Abdallah Abdel-Karim (Dabajo), who was fired by Ibrahim last month, was instated as the general commander in the splinter group. Ali Wafi, former JEM military spokesperson, was appointed as spokesperson of the military council. Sources say the faction has high military strength, as they have over 150 vehicles and sophisticated weapons that were brought from Libya last year.

According to SAF’s official spokesperson Al-Sawarmi Khalid Sa’ad, on Monday 18 members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army North (SPLM/A-N) were killed in an attack which targeted SPLM/A-N positions in Jibal Daloka area (south of South Kordofan’s capital Kadugli). Although Al-Sawarmi admitted such incidence, and that a number of SAF soldiers were killed and injured, the SPLM/A-N has denied the occurrence of any clashes with the Sudanese army.

South Sudan

The co-chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC), Luka Biong, said that the United States has expressed its support to the organization of a referendum on the status of Abyei and to uphold the rights of the Ngok Dinka in the disputed area. Biong was in Washington, where he met with the Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, Princeton Lyman, and US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman, and Director of African Affairs in the White House, Grant Harris. From Washington, Biong headed to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa to join the South Sudanese delegation for the talks over the outstanding between the two countries which includes the final status of Abyei.


At the end of August, the Myanmar government lifted the ban on over 2,000 blacklisted dissidents. Many dissidents quickly returned to Burma to push the government’s ongoing reforms. However, more than 4,000 names remain blacklisted.

On September 2, hundreds of Buddhist monks marched in Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city, in solidarity of President Thein Sein’s proposal to send the Rohingya to Bangladesh. Thousands of Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine have been displaced after violence erupted between the two groups due to allegations of the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman by three Rohingya men. The Rohingya, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority living in eastern Bangladesh and western Burma, have been denied citizenship and deemed unwelcome by both Myanmar’s President and Bangladesh’s Prime Minister (see a video interview here of Bangladesh’s Prime Minister explaining why she won’t help the Rohingya). The ongoing conflict has been highly scrutinized by the international community as the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar government has been slow to allow aid organizations access to affected areas. Newly appointed US Ambassador Derek Mitchell completed an official visit to the affected areas Monday, September 10.

China has come under criticism for the forced repatriation of Kachin refugees living in camps in Yunnan province. As many as 5,000 people will be forced to return to Burma. The Kachin, one of Burma’s nine main ethnic groups, have been fleeing northern Burma since fighting began last June between the Myanmar government and the Kachin Independence Army.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the iconic leader of Burma’s democratic reform and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is due to visit the US later this month, making stops in Washington DC, New York, Kentucky, Indiana, and California. You can check out her speaking schedule here. Suu Kyi has recently been criticised for her silence on the Rohingya. Some analysts say that Suu Kyi, now an elected official in Burma, has avoided the Rohingya issue as to not upset her predominantly Buddhist electorate.

In other news, due to Obama’s recent lifting of US investment sanctions, Coca-Cola will soon be available in Myanmar for the first time in more than 60 years.


Today, September 13, UN-Arab League envoy and mediator Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Syria for the first time since taking up his post. His spokesman said he would hold talks with both the government and “representatives of the Syrian opposition and civil society” during his visit. On Wednesday, he met Syrian opposition officials in Cairo.

Also today, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will evaluate a proposal to join a team of non-aligned nations to solve the crisis in Syria. These countries include Egypt, Lebanon, and Iraq.

Inflation is rising in Syria, the AFP reporting that the buying power of ordinary Syrians has been slashed by a third. Economist Mohammad Jumaa is quoted as saying that economic sanctions have brought about “a reduction in products and services offered on the market which, set against the high demand of consumers, has caused the price rise.”

Clashes in the northwest town of Saraqeb have led to the deaths of at least 18 government soldiers. Also in the northwest, Idib has been the subject of heavy bombings over the past two weeks. In Homs, in central Syria, WHO estimates that 550,000 out of the 2.2 million population need humanitarian aid. Most of Syria’s pharmaceutical plants are located in Aleppo, Homs, and Damascus, which have suffered extensive damage due to the conflict.

As of this week, UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards reports that Syrian refugees in surrounding countries have reached the following numbers: 85,197 in Jordan, 78,431 in Turkey, 66,915 in Lebanon, and 22,563 in Iraq. However, many have not yet registered with authorities, and these numbers may be off by tens of thousands.

For Al Jazeera’s Live Blog on Syria, click here.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

According to the UN News Centre, a proposal for a neutral force to quell the violence in eastern Congo is being considered by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The concept was proposed by the Great Lakes countries at a regional summit in July. The fighting in the east has uprooted nearly half a million people in the past months including approximately 220,000 people in North Kivu and 200,000 is South Kivu, with over 51,000 fleeing to Uganda and Rwanda. Human Rights Watch has documented the forced recruitment of at least 137 young men and boys since July and the execution of 33 recruits who had tried to escape.

The M23 now controls a portion of Congo larger than Delaware and has developed a strong PR front, trying to portray a gentle image through press releases, interviews, and a strong web presence. You can hear NPR’s report here. Frederick Golooba, a Ugandan political scientist, says that as Tutsi, the M23 are motivated by a desire to protect their community, not by “power and bridandry.” Jason Stearns adds that “In private, they’re telling people the only way [they] can maintain [their] interests–economic, political and security–is to have [their] own country.” While important to hear both sides of the story, it should be noted that NPR provides a simplistic version of Tutsi-Hutu power struggles in the region, equating it to an “ethnic hatred”–a claim scholars have vehemently argued against since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

In other news, WHO reports that if not brought under control soon, Congo’s ebola outbreak risks spreading to major towns. Thus far, the disease has affected people in the towns of Isiro and Viadana in Orientale province in the northeast of the country. In august, 16 people in Uganda died of ebola, although the outbreaks are not believed to be connected.

Coming to Syracuse Stage on Friday is the world premiere of a documentary theatre piece entitled “Cry for Peace: Voices From the Congo.” The 90-minute piece features a cast of five former residents of Congo, who will “speak of the anguish of living in a country under constant assault from its neighbors and tribal discord within its borders.” For ticketing information, click here.

By the STAND Education Team: Mac Hamilton, Julius Wani, & Alex Colley-Hart