The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

STAND Conflict Update: May 2020

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

At the beginning of the month, civil society leaders spoke out against Prime Minister Hamdok’s request to transition United Nations support from peace enforcement to peacebuilding. They highlighted the need for continued UN security forces to protect civilians in Darfur amidst mounting tensions and persistent intercommunal violence.

The African Centre for Peace and Justice Studies recently released a report documenting extensive human rights violations perpetrated by Sudanese soldiers, including the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), over the past few months. Despite clear violations, Deputy Chairman of the Sovereign Council “Hemedti” continued to hail the RSF as “protectors of the people.” While civilians have faced arbitrary arrests, assault, and torture by the armed forces, healthcare workers have also increasingly come under attack. The Sudan Doctors Committee, a leading organization in last year’s protests to remove former president Omar al-Bashir, estimated that at least 24 attacks across Sudan targeted healthcare workers and facilities. In response, doctors considered going on strike unless they received protection. While this prompted the transitional government to organize a new police force to ensure the safety of healthcare workers, civilians continue to face gross human rights violations.

Relations between Sudan and the U.S. continue to evolve as the removal of Sudan from the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list seems more likely. On May 18, the Supreme Court determined that Sudan owed over $10 billion in damages for 1998 terrorist attacks near U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The punitive measures, in addition to other recent settlements made by the transitional government for terror-related crimes, could assist the civilian-led government in removal from the list. However, it is unclear how the payment can be made when the transitional government faces pressing domestic issues.

South Sudan

Though the February formation of South Sudan’s unity government brought hesitant excitement, continued disagreement over key aspects threatens the eventual full implementation of the peace deal. At the end of April, the United Nations Panel of Experts on South Sudan warned the Security Council that actual commitment to peace varied. They documented explicit violations of both domestic and international agreements, such as arms embargoes and forced recruitment of soldiers including children. 

Substantiating the concerns of the Panel of Experts, violence increased drastically over the past month in Jonglei State. Nearly 300 people, including civilians and humanitarian aid workers, were killed in clashes between the Lou Nuer and Murle ethnic groups. No formal local government leadership presently exists in Jonglei state. President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, unable to find consensus over authority figures for newly established states, created a power vacuum which facilitated the rising violence. The number of states and Kiir/Machar previously stalled the peace deal, yet dissent continues over the appointment of governors for the 10 new states. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet denounced the escalating conflict, holding that those affected should “have access to justice, truth and reparations” in order to secure durable peace. 

Central Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

At the beginning of May, the self-proclaimed new leader of the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo (CODECO) militia group Ngabu Ngawi Olivier announced that they would enact a ceasefire. Olivier held that the ceasefire would have allowed for talks with the government, but made no promise on the potential timeline. Since then, the factionalization of CODECO following the death of its former leader made it clear that Olivier held little power over the competing sects. Another army spokesman announced that Olivier was an “imposter.” The power struggle amongst various factions within CODECO has resulted in new attacks on villages in Ituri province of northeast DRC, during which the UN has recorded at least 3,000 human rights violations. During one such CODECO raid in mid-May, at least 20 civilians were killed while at least 14 were left injured, according to the local administrator. 

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently reported increased government crackdowns on protestors. In Kinshasa, as well as several towns from the surrounding area, the Congolese police responded excessively to separatist demonstrations, resulting in at least 55 deaths and even more injuries.

Middle East

Yemen

In early May, the Saudi-led coalition announced “a unilateral truce” for the duration of the COVID-19 epidemic. However, the Houthi rebel forces did not agree to a ceasefire. Fighting has continued in the al-Bayda and Abyan governorates in the south of the country. Furthermore, the COVID-19 crisis has become part of the conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebel forces as the Yemeni government claims that the Houthi rebels, who have only reported four cases of the virus, are hiding a major epidemic. While the Saudi-backed government has called for international aid, access for humanitarian organizations, especially in the north of the country, is hindered by differentiations in faction control over the country. 

Syria

The UN urged parties in the Syrian War to pursue a ceasefire in light of the worldwide COVID-19 crisis. While the beginning of this year saw the highest number of Syrians displaced thus far in the decade-long war, a provisional ceasefire that began in early March has slowed fighting. Still, the humanitarian situation in Syria remains dire, with food prices the highest they have been since the conflict began. Furthermore, the threat of coronavirus is compounded by the country’s devastated infrastructure and high levels of displacement. 

An Amnesty International report released this month found evidence that the Russian-led coalition committed war crimes. The report cites attacks on medical centers and schools that took place throughout 2019 up to late February 2020. These attacks indiscriminately targeted civilians, thus violating International Humanitarian Law, and possibly constituting war crimes. 

Southeast Asia

Burma

As part of provisional orders given by the ICJ in January, the Burmese government submitted its first report on its steps to prevent genocide against the Rohingya Muslims. While the report has not been publicly released, many see it as an important first step to ending violence against the Rohingya. 

Because of high government restrictions on press and movement, humanitarian organizations have turned to satellite technology to track violence against the Rohingya in Burma. Human Rights Watch used satellite imagery to identify an estimated 200 homes in Let Kar, a Rohingya village in the Rakhine State, that were burned down on May 16. The organization has called for the UN to conduct an impartial investigation on the source of this mass-arson. However, many have noted that the burning closely mirrors acts previously committed by the military in Rohingya villages. 

Megan Smith is a recent graduate of the University of Southern California and served as Education and Outreach Co-Coordinator of STAND’s 2019-2020 Managing Committee. Previously, she served on the Policy Task Force of STAND France during her junior year and as California State Advocacy Lead during her sophomore year. Outside of STAND, she has interned at the USC Shoah Foundation, Dexis Consulting Group, DigDeep Water, and HAMAP-Humanitaire. Megan contributed the Sudan, South Sudan, and DRC sections of this update. 

Abby Edwards is a senior in the Dual BA program between Sciences Po Paris and Columbia University, where she is pursuing degrees in Human Rights and Politics & Government. Abby will serve as Co-Student Director on the 2020-21 MC. In addition to her work with STAND, Abby interned at the Buchenwald memorial, the US Department of State, and the Journal for European and American Intelligence Studies, as well as served as a research fellow at the Center for Khmer Studies in Cambodia and Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. Abby contributed the Syria, Yemen, and Burma sections of this update.

Graduated but Not Forgotten: Class of 2020 Farewell

The 2019-2020 Managing Committee was so #blessed to celebrate our 15th STANDiversary year with these amazing soon-to-be graduates. From totally revamping our State Advocacy Lead programs, to standing up new Action Committees, to keeping our Conflict Updates concise and informative, these four prove that youth aren’t just the leaders of tomorrow – they are leading the atrocity prevention field TODAY! We are beyond proud and honored to know these ladies. Congratulations!

Grace Fernandes, Student Director, Simmons University

Dear Grace, I can never repay you for being my STAND sherpa and guiding me through this journey all year, every step of the way! You have taught me so much about STAND, Cape Cod, and appreciating one’s elected officials. You approach absolutely every issue placing human dignity first. You show up and show out for the most vulnerable – every single time. The world could use a lot more Grace, which is why I’m investing in the latest cloning technologies (not really, I’d clone my cat first). I’m so excited to see all the ways you will combine arts, humor, activism, and hair accessories in the future. Thank you for finding every Google doc ever created. Thank you for keeping it candid AND kind. Thank you for putting your whole heart and art into fundraising. Thank you for always putting the team first. Sincerely, truly, simply: thank you. – Laura Strawmyer, Program Director


23467232_10155980346817049_6019639685719165377_oI knew about you before you knew about me. You were described to me as incredibly creative, thoughtful, kind, and a great team player–all things that I am happy to report are true. My first real introduction to you was through your artwork. Grace: your art has impacts far beyond what you know. I have been so often inspired by how you weaponize your talents to fight ignorance, to spread knowledge, and to encourage empathy. You have always been a friend to us, making us laugh with your creative icebreakers and randomcchats posts, but first and foremost, you have served as a leader who has treated us with nothing but respect and warm professionalism that has inspired me and shaped how I hope to lead in the future. Your time at STAND precedes any of us here, your impact will live on for at least as many years. I cannot wait to see what you do in the future and I hope you will think of us at STAND as often as we will remember you. – Abby Edwards, Communications and Education


GRACE! You are a queen! Watching you lead our team with diligence and compassion has been a highlight of my year. Your passion is so evident in everything that you do and you complete every task with excellence. You spread kindness in every interaction and empower those around you to be the best version of themselves. One of my favorite things about you is the way that you live your life as an advocate, not only for big political ideas, but also for those around you. You use your voice in order to uplift the voices of others, making sure that everyone on the team is heard and valued. It is that uplifting of my voice and ideas that first made me feel welcome on the team. I remember feeling so out of place at the August retreat, I had never even been to DC before and I felt as though my accomplishments were so small compared to the rest of the team. You were intentional in making sure that I felt confident to share my thoughts and ideas, and asked intentional questions that let me know that you valued me as a person beyond what skills I could bring to the table. I am going to miss having you at STAND so much, but I am so excited to see you continue to be an advocate in your future career and know that any team would be truly blessed to have you! – Megan Rodgers, DRC Action Committee

Rujjares Hansapiromchok, Sudan AC Lead, George Washington University (MA)

Rujjares, you arIMG_0905e dangerously funny. Thank you so much for consistently bringing humor and compassion to the team this year! You always give everyone your full presence, even working on a team with younger members. We were so lucky to have your thoughtful leadership on the Sudan Action Committee this year. I was so impressed by how you put the members first and sought new and creative ways to keep them informed and engaged. Please reach out whenever you’re in DC. STAND will miss you so much, but we’ll be happy to see your megaphone-announcing, merch-wearing face on every marketing item for years to come. -Laura Strawmyer, Program Director


Rujjares, you are an incredible example of what hard work and dedication look like. I remember meeting you at the August retreat and the first thing that I noticed was your smile and your infectious laugh. You have an amazing personality and your sense of humor is unmatched. One of my favorite things about you is that after you finish speaking on MC calls, you always say “thank you!” Every time you say it I smile and I just love it! My favorite memory with you was getting to lobby with you in January at my senator’s office. Your passion and dedication to make the world a better place is truly inspiring. At every retreat and on every Zoom call your positive energy brought out the best in all of us. You have accomplished so much, not just with your involvement with STAND and amazing leadership of the Sudan action committee, but throughout everything you have done and continue to do. I will miss seeing and hearing your energy and drive on MC Calls. I feel so fortunate to have met you and will forever be thankful for the time we spent working together! – Claire Sarnowski, Fundraising and State Education


6“Hey girl!” I can still hear the way your voice rings in a melodic pitch whenever you greet me with this simple phrase over the phone and in-person–and I love you for that!! Thanks for always being such an upbeat and fun person to be around, Rujjares. Even though I’ve only technically known you for one year, I feel like I’ve known you for a long time already, and it’s just crazy to see how time has played out this way and passed so fast simultaneously. From sending me that funny video of ratchet girls baking chicken and distributing the deliverables to Congresspersons’ offices together after a long lobby day in the summer, to taking selfies together on a staircase before visiting Ted Lieu’s office together once again for our lobby day during winter retreat, I am so glad to have shared so many memories with you already within the span of one school year. I remember when I first met you in person at the summer MC retreat and began to get acquainted with your jokester self. I was in awe of how you were able to be so carefree, sitting in a room amongst people gathered to discuss the serious topic of genocide, but your straightforward personality and eagerness to learn about genocide atrocity prevention in discussions we had with guest speakers, later on, made it clear to me that you were in the MC for a perfect reason. I love how relatable and understanding you are and admire how you are able to strike a conversation with anyone so effortlessly! I remember how you would always tell me that you were nervous before walking into a lobby meeting, only to end up nailing it when we were inside the office speaking with a Congressional aide. From what I can recall from our last lobby day, you were able to, as always with your outgoing personality, open the conversation with friendly chatter before getting to the deep stuff, which put me at ease for how the rest of the meeting would turn out because you set the tone just right at the beginning. For that, I am so grateful as well, because I was also able to learn from you that lobby meetings don’t always have to be so serious! Thank you for your presence, and for all the support you have offered me in STAND (such as offering your attendance and help for any future events I would plan to host for GMU STAND). I will forever treasure the moments we have shared lobbying and working and talking over the phone together. I can’t wait to see where your brilliant self will go next with that genuine passion, practical sense, and intelligent mind of yours. As always, STAND will always be here for you, and I’m only one call away (and a thirty-minute drive from D.C. if you’ll still be here) too! I’ll miss seeing you at MC retreats girl, but am super excited for where you’ll end up next! – Jan Jan Maran, Burma Action Committee

Jordan Stevenson, Eastern Washington University

Image from iOS (28)Jordan! You are an inspiration to me and everyone you meet! I am so very impressed by all of your accomplishments and the many incredible things that you have done for STAND this year. I am so grateful for the skills and ideas that you have brought to the team and your tenacious work ethic that has allowed you to make those ideas a reality. But more than your skills and accomplishments, I am impressed by the woman you are! You are strong, kind, compassionate and resilient and you make those around you feel loved and valued. I have loved getting to chat with you at retreats and learn more about your family, your passions and your experiences. It truly is a blessing to know you and you make those around you feel safe by setting an example of vulnerability and acceptance. Your encouragement throughout this past year has meant the world to me! I am going to miss having you on the team so much, but I am excited to continue being your friend outside of STAND, come visit Arkansas soon! – Megan Rodgers, DRC Action Committee


Jordan!! You’ve worked so hard this year and have truly opened my eyes. I’ve felt so connected with you the moment we met at the August retreat because you are unapologetically yourself! You put effort into every single thing you do and we can tell the passion you have for advocacy. I’ve truly enjoyed talking to you about marriage (lol even though I’m not married) among a variety of other things. I’ve felt connected to you as a first-gen student and I am so sorry that you don’t get to graduate this year. But you should still be proud of yourself for being one of the first in your family to graduate college because it is not easy! You have touched many hearts at STAND, including the MC and SALs, and I know you’re destined for great things. If you are in DC, please please visit us at retreat! We will miss you a ton and thank you again for everything you’ve done for STAND. – Aisha Saleem, Outreach


Image from iOS (11)Jordan!! Hola mi amiga hispanohablante. I’m so happy to have a friend like you who I can practice Spanish with at random! Let me first start off by just saying that I absolutely admire the effort, dedication, and commitment that you give to STAND. I know that you’ve confessed before about being a workaholic by nature, but I feel like even despite that being used as an excuse to explain why you always go over-the-top in your work, your passion truly shines through in everything that you have done as manager of STAND’s State Advocacy Lead Program. I am always blown away by how you are able to get so much done not only for SAL, but for all of us MC members when bringing our attention to new policies and sign-on letters countless times. It makes me so glad to know that there are truly authentic people like you in the world who put people at the center of their work and treat others gently with kindness while going hardcore at work. I aspire to be like you in this regard especially, and look forward to seeing the ways that you continue to use this amazing trait of yours in future endeavors. Te voy a extrañar definitivamente, pero me alegra que estes pasando a cosas mejores mi hermana. We’ll keep in touch for sure! – Jan Jan Maran, Burma Action Committee

Megan Smith, University of Southern California

Image from iOS (4)When I first met you at the August retreat, I was immediately intimidated. You were the last one to go to bed, staying up late to work, and the first one out of bed, to go to the gym at 5 am. What? Who does that? Meg does. Absolutely incredible. You are so dedicated to your work that I knew from the beginning that I would have to run to keep up with you. In the end, we formed such a good partnership that it ended up being much more of a relay than a race. Over the past year, I have seen your passion, your work ethic, your drive: you do not stop until things are done and done well. Thank you for the dancing banana emojis, the cowboy hats, the life advice, and for having my back every step of the way. I know you’re nervous about the future, but all of STAND’s work is a testament to your potential. I believe in you, we believe in you, and can’t wait to watch you do incredible things. – Abby Edwards, Communications and Education


Meg, I still remember our first bonding calls where you showed me the Washington monument. I’m so sorry Barnard rejected you (their loss honestly), but I congratulate you for the amazing effort you’ve put at USC. I loved meeting you at retreat because I feel like anyone can easily get so close to you. I remember being so driven by your passion for YPS during retreat in August. It’s amazing that it has been introduced in the House now (time flies!). Thank you soo much for how much effort you’ve put into outreach and conflict updates – I truly appreciated having you as a partner to give edits and comments on things! You’re honestly a burst of joy and I wish you the best of luck for everything in the future. I can tell how much effort you put into things you’re passionate about and I can already tell that you’ll be doing amazing things in the future. Also, I’m glad we’re one of the few people who don’t watch Friends. Thank you once again for how much you’ve done for STAND and hope you stay your happy/bubbly self! Also I apologize for how choppy this is, a bunch of random emotions were coming to me as I wrote this. – Aisha Saleem, Outreach


Image from iOS (21)Meg!!! Getting to work with you has been one of the best things about my time on the MC this year. I remember meeting you when I first arrived at the retreat in August. I was a little nervous going into it and scared that I would feel out of place being the youngest out of our group. I will never forget your bright smile and welcoming spirit. When I think of you so many adjectives come to mind: strong, ambitious, sincere, kind- the list goes on. However, the trait that best describes you is passionate. Whether it was working on outreach, editing conflict updates, or commenting on docs, your passion for STAND shone through. Through getting to know you, I have seen your passion when you talk about your goals for the future and your hobbies. I know that no matter what your next adventure is, you will succeed in making the world a kinder and brighter place. My favorite memory with you was this January at the retreat when we sat at the same dinner table. I loved getting to talk with you in French and hearing about your experiences abroad. Your genuine personality and compassion towards everyone you meet is something that will forever inspire me. I will miss you more than I can explain- please stay in touch and if you are ever in Portland, hmu! – Claire Sarnowski, Fundraising and State Education

STAND Conflict Update: April 2020

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan 

One year after Omar al-Bashir was removed from power in Sudan, the nation’s transitional government is struggling to retain popular support. Protests have become more frequent as rumors of a military coup spread and tensions within the government became visible. The military has denied these rumors, but concerns remain. Lack of economic development is another major factor fueling this month’s protests. While some of the protestors overtly support the previous regime, others appear disillusioned with the Sudanese revolution.

Meanwhile, peace talks between the transitional government and rebel groups continue over video conferencing. The talks are scheduled to continue through May 9, as the details of the agreement, including the appointments of non-military provincial governors, remain uncertain.

This month also saw continued violence in Darfur and a second assassination attempt in Khartoum, this one against a U.S. diplomat. 

South Sudan

The formation of a unity government in February marked a turning point for South Sudan, though the opposition party now faces problems as key members defect to the ruling party. These members have cited a lack of democracy and transparency, in addition to leader of the ruling party First Vice President Machar’s unwillingness to share power, as the reasons for their change in party. The defections began as an immediate response to Machar’s appointment of his wife as defense minister, a move which many saw as a signal that he did not want to share power or consider other people’s opinions. Changes in parties pose a challenge to peace, as the terms of the peace agreement allowed each party to select a certain number of ministers. With people’s parties uncertain, it will be difficult to implement this agreement while still maintaining trust. At best, the selection process will be delayed; at worst, confidence in the peace process and willingness to abide by it could be destroyed.

In order to create a stable government, governors have to be appointed to run the country’s ten states and three administrative areas. Local leaders are needed to effectively respond to local violence. This is particularly relevant in the Jonglei State, where violence last month displaced thousands. Despite the barriers to its success, the existence of a transitional unity government is a sign of hope for the country and has the potential to limit the humanitarian crisis which has been going on since 2011. For now, the government is focusing on responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has been exacerbated by the lack of healthcare infrastructure and the number of internally displaced people.

Great Lakes of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Attacks by fighters from the Coalition of Congolese Democrats (CODECO) in Eastern DRC have escalated since their commander was killed by the DRC Military on March 25. In total, more than 150 people in the Djugu and Mahagi territories have been killed since early March. Additionally, many others have been killed or abducted in this conflict. In one of these attacks, CODECO fighters killed 22 civilians while they were sleeping in the village of Koli. Six civilians were also killed in Halungupa in North Kivu province in an attack that was blamed on the rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Recent attacks have had international implications as three Chinese civilians were killed in an attack at a cobalt mine in the Northeastern province of Ituri earlier this month. The Chinese government has strongly discouraged Chinese citizens from traveling to Ituri due to the presence of armed groups in the area. In response to these recent deaths, the Chinese embassy has asked the Congolese government to “take effective measures to protect the lives and property of Chinese citizens”. They also requested an expedited investigation into the killings.

Heavy rainfall in Uvira town in the past week has caused the Mulongwe river to flood, affecting 80,000 people. Many of those impacted are refugees fleeing violence throughout the region. On April 21, the UNHCR announced assistance measures for those affected by the flood in coordination with local partners. Unfortunately, the recent attacks in Eastern Congo have hindered humanitarian access and assistance to displaced people, making it difficult for the UN to effectively distribute aid. 

Middle East

Yemen

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen extended the two-week ceasefire first implemented in early April by one month through late May. Despite the ceasefire, several Yemeni provinces continued to experience violence. This was mainly due to the lack of cooperation from the Houthi rebel group, who voiced their demands in order for them to comply with the ceasefire. The Houthis had never previously agreed to the ceasefire and furthermore demanded that air and sea blockades imposed by the coalition be lifted.

In March, the United States made major cuts in aid to UN programs that assist Yemen. Since then, it appears that the effects are beginning to take place. Thirty-one of the UN’s major Yemen programs will begin shutting down in the coming weeks. In a briefing to the UN Security Council on April 16, Mark Lowcock, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, stated that “despite all the challenges to maintain principled aid delivery, I want to remind everyone that the humanitarian operation remains a lifeline for millions of Yemenis.” That being said, the cuts to the aid could still have drastic effects on the civilians who rely on the UN’s protection from the conflict.

Syria

Earlier in April, a UN Board of Inquiry released the summary of their investigation, affirming that the Assad regime and their allies had systematically targeted civilian infrastructure in Idlib, including schools and hospitals. Attacks on healthcare facilities have strained the capacity of the rebel-controlled region to prepare for the impact of Covid-19. Furthermore, World Health Organization aid has been stalled in Idlib and other areas, due largely to bureaucratic challenges, budgetary issues, and early denials of need by the government. 

As usual, tension in the region remains high; a recent airstrike by Israel allegedly targeting Iranian forces was thwarted by Syrian defenses. However, the ceasefire has still held through the month, and reports of a conference between Russia, Turkey, and Iran have stoked hope for a resolution to the conflict. Furthermore, a trial began of Syrian forces accused of torture and other crimes against humanity. The United States still remains largely disengaged from the conflict.

Southeast Asia

Burma 

The military continues to reject rebel groups’ calls for a ceasefire. At least 32 civilians, mainly women and children, have died since last March due to regular airstrikes and shelling from the Burmese army over western Burma. Furthermore, the continued internet shutdown in Rakhine and Chin states prevents many from accessing information about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Crackdowns on civil liberties remain an alarming issue as Burma transitions to democracy. The Ministry of Transport and Communication shut down 221 websites, including ethnic newspapers. These restrictions come after the International Court of Justice ordered Burma to implement protective measures for the Rohingya, and have complicated the Court’s ability to ensure accountability of the Burmese government. Additonally, the raid and arrest of journalists upon trumped-up charges of terrorism prompted significant public outcry. Editor Nay Myo Lin faces a life sentence in prison for interviewing a spokesperson from the Arakan Army, a rebel group fighting for greater autonomy of the Rakhine State.

Boats overcrowded with Rohingya refugees were rescued after two months adrift in the Bay of Bengal. They sought a safe harbor but were pushed back to sea by Malaysia about ten days after setting sail. Finally disembarking this week in Bangladesh, authorities discovered that over 30 had died aboard, and the 396 survivors were in need of immediate medical care. In response, the human rights groups have called for countries to show compassion to those in desperate need, and condemned Malaysia for using the excuse of COVID-19 to turn boats away. But just today, Bangladesh, a nation with more than a million Rohingya in its refugee camps, announced that it will no longer accept any Rohingya refugees – though there are thousands still likely lost at sea. 

Alison Rogers is a junior International Studies and Journalism student at Baylor University, and the STAND State Advocacy Lead for Texas. She is also an Enough Project Student Upstander. Alison contributed the Sudan portion of this update.

Mira Mehta is a junior at Westfield High School and serves as the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead. Prior to this, she served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years. Mira contributed the South Sudan portion of this update.

Megan Rodgers is a junior International Studies, Political Science, and Spanish major at the University of Arkansas and serves as the Democratice Republic of the Congo Action Committee Lead. She became interested in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during her time studying abroad in Kigali, Rwanda during spring 2019 and through relationships with refugees in her community who are from the Congo. Megan contributed the DRC portion of this update.

Brandon Alonzo is a student at Baruch College in New York City. He serves in the STAND Yemen Action Committee. Brandon contributed the Yemen portion of this update. 

Jordan Stevenson is a senior at Eastern Washington University in Washington state. As a Managing Committee member, she manages STAND’s State Advocacy Lead program, works on communications, and co-leads policy. She also works on campus at the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Analysis, volunteers on the economic development committee of Partnering for Progress, and is currently completing a research project on women’s rights and the environment for the United Nations Environment Program office in Nairobi, Kenya. Jordan contributed to the Syria portion of this update.

Megan Smith is a senior at the University of Southern California, a member of STAND’s Managing Committee, and an intern at the USC Shoah Foundation. Previously, she served on the Policy Task Force of STAND France during her junior year and as California State Advocacy Lead during her sophomore year. Outside of STAND, she has interned at Dexis Consulting Group (Washington, DC), DigDeep Water (Los Angeles), and HAMAP-Humanitaire (Paris). Megan contributed to the Syria portion of this update.

Ellie Wong is a junior at Palo Alto High School and a member of STAND’s Burma Action Committee. She also participates in Lincoln-Douglas debate, writes about East Asian affairs for her school’s foreign policy magazine, and serves in her church youth group. Ellie hopes to pursue international relations or history in college, and will continue to do all she can to learn about genocide-related issues. Ellie contributed the Burma portion of this update. 

STAND Conflict Update: March 2020

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan 

In early March, Civilian Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok survived an assassination attempt. Abdullah Hamdok assured the country that his attempted assassination would not lead to the destabilization of the country’s government or peace process. “What happened today will not stand in the way of our transition,” he tweeted. Hamdok assumed office in August on a controversial platform that promised social and economic change. Some have voiced fears that the assassination attempt might be used to support the formation of a military government to prevent future threats.   

Peace talks in Juba between rebels and the transitional government are postponed after the sudden death of Sudan’s defense minister, Lt. Gen. Omar from a heart attack. Omar was a central figure in the ongoing peace negotiations. 

South Sudan

UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet called on South Sudanese authorities to limit acts of localized violence. Bachelet additionally urged officials to provide medical care to survivors  that would support emotional, mental, and physical health. Last month, violence in the Jonglei state between Murle, Lou Nuer, and Dinka communities displaced over 8,000 civilians from their homes. The UN documented an increase of inter-communal violence, related to disputes about land boundaries, cattle raiding, ethnic groups, and natural resources. 

Great Lakes of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) 

President Tshisekedi’s government continues to face pressure from groups and individuals who question the legitimacy of his power and the effectiveness of his rule. Most notably, on March 2, a group of Congolese Bishops made a statement condemning the continued corruption of the Congolese government under Tshisekedi’s leadership. The bishops stated “We are witnessing the illicit and scandalous enrichment by a handful of political actors to the detriment of the population. To make matters worse, these crimes are committed by the same individuals being called upon to be guarantors of the public good. Measures taken to combat these ills have remained largely ineffective.” These comments came before a series of attacks committed by Cooperation for the Development of the Congo (CODECO) in Ituri province in Eastern Congo which led to more than 50 deaths. CODECO claims to defend the Lendu, an ethnic group that mainly comprises farmers and these attacks continue a long history of violence, highlighting the ineffectiveness of Tshisekedi’s government to control militia groups in the region.

Tshisekedi’s government was also put under pressure when Delphin Kahimbi, the powerful military intelligence chief to former President Joseph Kabila, was found dead at the beginning of the month. Kahimbi’s hanging occurred on the day he was set to appear before the Congolese Security Council to answer charges of being involved in a plot to destabilize President Tshisekedi. Kahimbi’s death, as well as the charges he faced, have been controversial throughout Congo with Tshisekedi’s opposition making claims of foul play. In another contentious move, Tshisekedi announced that he would soon appoint the first Congolese ambassador to Israel in more than 20 years, making a clear statement in support of the Israeli state.

Middle East

Yemen 

March 25 marked the fifth anniversary of the war in Yemen which began in 2015 with the Saudi blockade of Yemen’s seaports. Five years into the war, the majority of Yemen’s population is experiencing or at risk of experiencing famine; over 24 million rely on food aid to survive. 

A recent report released by Physicians for Human Rights highlighted numerous attacks on Yemen’s healthcare. Throughout the conflict, multiple parties have used healthcare as a pawn, either occupying medical centers or targeting them in airstrikes. Today, 16.4 million people lack access to basic healthcare, a growing concern as COVID-19 continues to spread. 

Despite the vulnerability of the Yemeni population to an outbreak of COVID-19, the United States has begun withdrawing millions in aid to Northern Yemen. According to James Reinl of Middle East Eye, “a spokesperson for USAID, a US government agency, told Middle East Eye on Thursday that Washington had started reducing assistance to northern Yemen, citing ‘unacceptable interference’ by the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels that control the region.” This move has the potential to worsen the crisis as this aid included “sanitation schemes” which would be vital in preventing an outbreak. 

Iraq 

Thousands of individuals have been injured in protests in Iraq, and new reports reveal that these may have resulted from the use of military-style weapons. Protests have lessened since they began in October, mainly as a result of the coronavirus and brutal government crackdowns. This combination of disease and violence has ended weeks of protests which had previously drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters.

Protesters have demanded a reduction in foreign involvement, both from the United States and from Iran. Although the United States had previously opposed demands from the Iraqi Parliament to remove its troops, the US has significantly reduced its military presence (partially as a result of the coronavirus, but also as a means of lowering tensions).

Protesters have also demanded regime change. Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi had been previously designated as the next candidate for prime minister, but Parliament failed to approve his nominees for cabinet positions. Because Tallawi was unable to form a government, on March 20, Adnan al-Zurfi was named the new nominee for prime minister. It is unclear whether he will be able to successfully form a government and officially become prime minister, but his nomination does provide some hope for change in the government.

Syria

This month marked the start of the tenth year of civil war in Syria, where conflict continues to be centered in Idlib, the final remaining rebel-controlled region. Last month, the Russian-backed Syrian government killed more than 50 Turkish troops and at least 134 civilians in an airstrike and other attacks. At the beginning of March, Turkey and Russia negotiated a ceasefire that has held thus far. Nearly one million refugees displaced by conflict struggle to survive in Idlib. 

The increase in conflict and humanitarian crisis led to President Erdogan of Turkey increasing acceptance of refugees by opening the border with Idlib, despite the reticence of Greece and other EU states. NATO has also strengthened its support for Turkey. Finally, although there are no reported cases yet, the UN and other government actors are taking steps to prepare for coronavirus response considering Syria’s high risk for a public health crisis.

Southeast Asia

Burma 

In the western Rakhine state, conflict between Myanmar military forces and the Arakan Army continues, despite the UN’s recent call for a ceasefire. 61,000 people were recently displaced in Rakhine as of mid-march, and at least 21 civilians were killed. Additionally, the internet shutdown in four Rakhine townships and one Chin township that began in February has not ended despite global condemnation. Without an internet connection, access to humanitarian aid, information about conflicts, and even contact with family members are greatly hindered. Many civilians, especially young people, have become increasingly involved in activism, including the six students arrested for organizing a demonstration against the internet shutdown, detained a week before their exams.

Regarding the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, displaced Rohingya refugees in camps outside the country are at a high risk to contract the disease. In crowded camps, the number and density of people make social distancing impossible. Furthermore, many refugees do not have access to clean water and sanitation services, necessary practices in preventing an outbreak. 

In Bangladesh, a country with over a million Rohingya refugees, an internet blackout continues in refugee camps, blocking information from being shared and putting countless lives at risk. This move, called a necessary security measure by the Bangladeshi government, has been criticized by the UN and is seen as a violation of international human rights law. Overcrowded camps, communication restrictions, a lack of access to water, sanitation, and hygiene, as well as poor government preparation, put Rohingya refugees at additional risk in Bangladesh.

Emerging Conflicts

New Blog Series

Check out our first blog on the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region of China, authored by Abby Edwards, STAND’s Communications and Education Coordinator on the Managing Committee. Over the next few months, STAND will be publishing a weekly blog series on different emerging conflicts around the world in order to take a closer look into these issues. If there is a specific topic about which you are passionate, feel free to email Education Co-Leads aedwards@standnow.org and msmith@standnow.org to express your interest in contributing to the series.

Alison Rogers is a junior International Studies and Journalism student at Baylor University, and the STAND State Advocacy Lead for Texas. She is also an Enough Project Student Upstander. Alison contributed the Sudan portion of this update.

Claire Sarnowski is a sophomore at Lakeridge High School and a STAND Managing Committee member. In 2019, Claire introduced legislation to make Holocaust and genocide education mandatory in Oregon schools. Claire works to boost STAND’s grassroots fundraising efforts and collaborates with communities to launch their own genocide education initiatives. Claire contributed the South Sudan portion of this update. 

Megan Rodgers is a junior International Studies, Political Science, and Spanish major at the University of Arkansas and serves as the Democratice Republic of the Congo Action Committee Lead. She became interested in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during her time studying abroad in Kigali, Rwanda during spring 2019 and through relationships with refugees in her community who are from the Congo. Megan contributed the DRC portion of this update.

Brandon Alonzo is a student at Baruch College in New York City. He serves in the STAND Yemen Action Committee. Brandon contributed the Yemen portion of this update. 

Mira Mehta is a junior at Westfield High School and serves as the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead. Prior to this, she served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years. Mira contributed the Iraq portion of this update.

Jordan Stevenson is a senior at Eastern Washington University in Washington state. As a Managing Committee member, she manages STAND’s State Advocacy Lead program, works on communications, and co-leads policy. She also works on campus at the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Analysis, volunteers on the economic development committee of Partnering for Progress, and is currently completing a research project on women’s rights and the environment for the United Nations Environment Program office in Nairobi, Kenya. Jordan contributed the Syria portion of this update.

Grace Harris is a junior at Tampa Preparatory School in Florida, where she serves as president of her STAND chapter. She also is a member of STAND’s Sudan, Yemen, Indigenous Peoples, DRC, and Burma Action Committees, and is STAND’s State Advocacy Lead for Florida. Grace contributed the Burma portion of this update.

Abby Edwards is a junior in the Dual BA program between Columbia University and Sciences Po Paris and serves on the STAND USA Managing Committee. Prior to this, she served on the Managing Committee of STAND France and worked as an intern for the Buchenwald Memorial, the Journal of European and American Intelligence Studies, and conducted research for the US Department of State – Office of the Historian. Last summer, she conducted research on memorialization and reconciliation in Cambodia as a Junior Research Fellow with the Center for Khmer Studies. Abby contributed to various portions of the update. 

 

STAND Conflict Update: February 2020

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

Former President Omar al-Bashir has been charged by the International Criminal Court with five counts of crimes against humanity, two counts of war crimes, and three counts of genocide since 2004. A decade after the ICC issued the warrants, the transitional government announced that they will turn in all five of the wanted Sudanese, including al-Bashir. This came after the Sudanese court investigated and sentenced al-Bashir to two years after finding him guilty of corruption and illegitimate possession of foreign currency. Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok made the announcement as a sign of progress and cooperation with the international community.

The Sudanese government and rebel groups have agreed to extend the deadline for a peace deal to resolve conflicts in the Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan regions. A comprehensive peace deal was due on February 14. Instead, they signed a preliminary peace deal granting special status to the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions. The deal allows the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions to draft their own laws. The goal of the comprehensive peace deal is to incorporate the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) into the new government system in Khartoum. The transitional government is pressured to resolve the conflict with rebel groups to attract foreign aid to improve the economy. The peace deal with rebel groups is one of the main priorities as a key condition for Sudan to be removed from the United States’ State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

Earlier this month, Lt. Gen. al-Burhan met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which signaled an end of Sudan’s boycott of Israel. After the meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that two parties agreed to cooperate toward normalizing relations. However, Burhan came out to clarify that there has not been an agreement but an end of hostilities between the two countries. The Sudanese government plans to create a joint committee to examine the benefits and drawbacks of its relationships with Israel. For now, the government will allow flights to and from Israel, except through Israeli El Al airline.  

South Sudan

On February 22, South Sudan formalized the new unity government as former opposition leader Riek Machar was sworn in as Vice President. The coalition, agreed upon after over a year of stalled negotiation and missed deadlines, revives the same integration of rival parties before civil war broke out. While there is hope that this unity government will lead to a lasting solution, civil society is still wary of the extremely fragile peace.

A pivotal hurdle was passed on February 15 when President Kiir announced a compromise that would cut the number of states from 32 to 10. However, the decreased number of states was offset by the addition of three administrative areas, all of which are contentious: Pibor, Ruweng, and Abyei. Machar rejected this proposed deal the following day. Aside from disagreement over the number of states, another key obstacle in securing a successful peace process was the integration of security forces. Machar holds that these lingering issues will be resolved through continued negotiations throughout and after the new government’s formation. 

On the same day that Kiir and Machar announced that the government would be formed, the UN released a report uncovering evidence that the South Sudanese government has embezzled state funds while opposition militias purposefully starve civilians. These funds are badly needed as roughly 6.5 million people are at high risk of food insecurity. This comes as the worst locust outbreak in almost three-quarters of a century, largely prompted by climate change, reaches South Sudan from other parts of East Africa, exacerbating already intense food shortages.

Great Lakes of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Multiple attacks have occurred in the Beni province in northeast DRC where the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) have killed countless citizens. The ADF are blamed for over a thousand civilian deaths in that region since 2014, the latest of which are the murder of eight in early February and thirty-six in late January. These massacres were violent and brutal, intending to rouse fear among civilians. Since October, 265 people have been killed in this region due to ADF retaliation against the government crackdown on the rebel group

Conflict in the Ituri province between the Hema and Lundu ethnic groups has escalated since late 2017, leaving an estimated one million people displaced. Conditions in both official refugee camps and makeshift areas are poor. Even among those who live in camps built by aid groups, many still lack food, clean water, and sanitation. Thousands have died from preventable diseases despite the efforts of humanitarian groups such as Doctors Without Borders to provide medical relief and combat illnesses.

In addition to this, the Ebola virus disease outbreak is still an ongoing crisis in the DRC, with 3,308 confirmed cases and 2,250 deaths as of mid-February. The outbreak still constitutes an international health concern and a major issue within the DRC that is only worsened by instability and conflict that prevent health services from reaching those in need.

Middle East

Yemen 

Saudi Arabia announced that it intercepted missiles fired from Yemen on February 21. The missiles were allegedly fired by the Houthi Rebels toward Saudi cities from the Yemeni capital of Sanaa at 12:30 am. Coalition spokesman Turki al-Malki told the SPA, a Saudi news agency, that, “They were launched in a systematic, deliberate manner to target cities and civilians, which is a flagrant defiance of international humanitarian law,” In a statement by a Houthi military spokesman, the group successfully attacked oil company Saudi Aramco along with other sensitive targets in the city of Yanbu. They stressed that the attacks will only continue in case of “continued aggression” and “economic blockade.”

Additionally, the Yemeni Houthi rebel group has blocked half of the United Nations’ aid delivery programs in the war-torn country. Aid officials and leaked documents acquired by The Associated Press indicate that the rebels aim to gain greater control over the UN’s humanitarian campaign. According to the UN, the Houthi obstruction has had heavy consequences, especially on food security and displacement programs. The World Food Program, for example, considered limiting what is now a monthly food delivery program to serve approximately 12 million Yemenis every other month. Another example would be the reported 300,000 nursing mothers along with children under 5, who haven’t received vital nutritional supplements in months due to being held hostage by Houthi Rebels in an attempt to get a 2% cut from UN aid. In spite of these obstacles and demands, both UN and American officials are on the record stating that “they are continuing their efforts to deliver aid to Yemenis.” The Houthis have since shifted their demands from the 2% cut towards other requests. 

Syria 

Syrian government forces, backed by Russia, are closing in on the final rebel-held areas in the Idlib province in northwest Syria marking the beginning of the end of the nearly decade-long Syrian civil war. Much of these advances have been accomplished by the Russian-led coalition’s airstrikes which began in April last year. Since the last series of strikes began at the beginning of December, nearly one million refugees have fled Idlib towards the Turkish border. Turkey, already holding 3.7 million Syrian refugees, has shut its borders. 

In a UN Security Council meeting last week, UN official Mark Lowcock warned that the conflict has escalated to a point that it is nearly impossible to deliver humanitarian aid. Lowcock, as well as others at the UN, have called for a true ceasefire between Russia and Turkey as recent talks between the governments have proved unsuccessful. However, tensions further escalated on Saturday after a coalition airstrike killed a Turkish soldier

Iraq 

Protests have continued, but they have lost the support of Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr whose influence had previously given the movement significant power. Sadr’s relationship with Iran fluctuated in the past two weeks, pushing him to criticize the protests and protesters as immoral. More tangibly, he sent “enforcers,” who allude to UN peacekeepers by calling themselves “blue hats,” to help break up the protests. Protesters have been kicked out of their headquarters, and some have even been turned over to Iraqi law enforcement.

Despite this, protesters continue to demand structural change in the government. In December, Parliament missed the deadline to name a new Prime Minister. Protesters had hoped that the new Prime Minister would be aligned with their beliefs and would support a more independent, democratic Iraq. There were months of debate before President Barham Salih designated Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi as the candidate to take the role on February 1. Allawi has proposed several new cabinet members and promised to hold early independent elections, but he is still seen as a member of the establishment elite. It remains to be seen what will actually happen when Allawi takes office; a vote of confidence has yet to happen, partially due to continued controversy over his candidacy.

Without significant support, it will be very difficult for Allawi to enact the wide-reaching changes that protesters are demanding. Despite how little success they have had so far, protests against both the government and the new prime minister are set to continue, as is resistance from followers of Sadr.

Southeast Asia

Burma 

As of February, conflict in Burma’s Rakhine state has rapidly escalated. However, government restrictions have dramatically reduced both the aid from the international community, as well as the information about the conflict. Tensions have increased between the military and the insurgent Arakan Army, due to which over 19 students were injured by an artillery shell that hit a school last week. Consequently, the government imposed an internet shutdown across five townships in the Rakhine and Chin states, widening the scope of the four Rakhine state townships that have lacked internet access since June 2019. The blackout affects approximately one million people living through conflict and humanitarian crisis. 

Zaw Zaw Hutn, a local humanitarian worker, said they have difficulty helping civilians, mainly because of increased displacement and decreased humanitarian access. The UN’s humanitarian aid coordination arm reported that most aid groups have little to no access to eight of Rakhine’s 17 townships after the government ordered telecom companies to shut down mobile internet within most townships. The International Rescue Committee and small local organizations that rely on social media to solicit donations for Rakhine civilians have found it hard to continue relief efforts after the shutdown. The displacement camps are also seeing a deterioration of living conditions. According to Zaw Zaw Hutn, children and pregnant women are suffering from malnutrition due to a lack of food supply. Moreover, clean drinking water is becoming extremely scarce, increasing the threat of diseases like diarrhea within these displacement camps. Furthermore, the military has “commandeered” schools and have put them under direct scrutiny, using them as a means to interrogate civilians who they suspect as potential insurgents. Finally, landmines are now increasingly a threat, killing four children last month in northern Rakhine. 

Emerging Conflicts

New Blog Series

Check out our first blog on the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region of China, authored by Abby Edwards, STAND’s Communications and Education Coordinator on the Managing Committee. Over the next few months, STAND will be publishing a weekly blog series on different emerging conflicts around the world in order to take a closer look into these issues. If there is a specific topic about which you are passionate, feel free to email Education Co-Leads aedwards@standnow.org and msmith@standnow.org to express your interest in contributing to the series.

Rujjares Hansapiromchok is a second year graduate student at George Washington University and lead of STAND’s Sudan Action Committee. Alongside her work with STAND, she is also an Enough Project Student Upstander Fellow. Rujjares contributed the Sudan portion of this update.

Megan Smith is a senior at the University of Southern California, a member of STAND’s Managing Committee, and an intern at the USC Shoah Foundation. Previously, she served on the Policy Task Force of STAND France during her junior year and as California State Advocacy Lead during her sophomore year. Outside of STAND, she has interned at Dexis Consulting Group (Washington, DC), DigDeep Water (Los Angeles), and HAMAP-Humanitaire (Paris). Megan contributed the South Sudan portion of this update.

Grace Harris is a junior at Tampa Preparatory School in Florida, where she serves as president of her STAND chapter. She also is a member of STAND’s Sudan, Yemen, Indigenous Peoples, DRC, and Burma Action Committees, and is STAND’s State Advocacy Lead for Florida. Grace contributed the DRC portion of this update.

Brandon Alonzo is a student at Baruch College in New York City. He serves in the STAND Yemen Action Committee. Brandon contributed the Yemen portion of this update. 

Abby Edwards is a junior in the Dual BA program between Columbia University and Sciences Po Paris and serves on the STAND USA Managing Committee. Prior to this, she served on the Managing Committee of STAND France and worked as an intern for the Buchenwald Memorial, the Journal of European and American Intelligence Studies, and conducted research for the US Department of State – Office of the Historian. Last summer, she conducted research on memorialization and reconciliation in Cambodia as a Junior Research Fellow with the Center for Khmer Studies. Abby contributed the Syria portion of this update.

Mira Mehta is a junior at Westfield High School and serves as the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead. Prior to this, she served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years. Mira contributed the Iraq portion of this update.

Eesha Kashif is a Junior at Clark University and serves as a State advocacy lead for STAND. She is also a member of the Burma action committee. Other than a member of STAND, she is currently the Vice President for the South Asian Student Association for her school. Eesha contributed the Burma portion of this update. 

STAND Conflict Update: January 2020

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

Sudan’s transition faced several challenges this month. An attempted mutiny by members of the intelligence forces raised questions about the role of the military in the new government. Meanwhile, violence in Darfur escalated, displacing an estimated 40,000 and killing over 50. The continued presence of militia groups – including the military-affiliated Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – in the conflict region has made securing peace difficult even with the ongoing Juba peace talks between the government and the rebels. Darfuris say that they are not feeling the effects of the revolution and that they do not trust local governing bodies to prevent the violence. The Sudanese government has responded by promising to create processes to ensure justice and accountability in Darfur.

The transitional government issued a budget this month that would result in a deficit of 1.62 billion USD. Rebuilding Sudan’s infrastructure has been a major priority for the new government, along with securing removal from the United States State Sponsors of Terrorism list. Sudan’s inclusion on the list has prevented their access to financial resources. Last month, meetings between the U.S. State Department and Sudan suggested a mutual commitment to this outcome. It seemed as though both sides were ready to begin the six-month process of evaluating Sudan’s progress that would ultimately lead to normalization. However, the recent decision to add Sudan to the 2020 version of the infamous travel ban suggests continued reluctance from the U.S. The previous ban has been challenged and upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court. 

South Sudan 

Though certain security provisions and other issues remain, President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, leader of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO), have expressed full intention to meet the quickly approaching February deadline to form a coalition government. Some tokens of “goodwill,” such as President Kiir pardoning prisoners – such as a prominent economist charged with treason – have been given in hopes of signaling the peace process is on track. While there are still outstanding issues, such as the number of states, international pressure is still pushing the leaders in South Sudan to reach the deadline. In an effort to push for the unity government, the U.S. Senate agreed to a resolution supporting peace and dialogue in South Sudan, while the Treasury Department imposed new sanctions on South Sudan’s First Vice President, Teben Dang Gai, for alleged killings of an opposition leader and human rights lawyer.

Approaching the deadline, a ceasefire was reached on January 15 by the government and opposition forces in Rome. Despite the ceasefire, attacks have still occurred, especially around the disputed territory of Abyei along the Sudan-South Sudan border. On January 22, almost 30 people were killed in their homes. The violence broke out amongst peacebuilding efforts, which has caused concern amongst UN security forces. 

 

Great Lakes of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

The UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) released a report in January about the ethnic tensions between the Hema and Lendu groups in DRC. The report mentioned that 142 people have been subjected to sexual violence, in the territories of Drug and Mahagi from December 2017 to September 2019. It also documented multiple cases of women being raped and children being killed. One of the stories described a Hema man’s efforts to prevent his wife from being raped by armed assailants. He also witnessed the beheading of his 8-year old son. The report mentioned that the “barbarity of these actions” reflects the desire of “attackers to inflict lasting trauma.” These acts of violence may amount to crimes against humanity. 

Due to recent ethnic-based fighting, hundreds of Congolese people have fled their homes. Gerald Menya, the commissioner for refugees in Uganda, said that over 60,000 arrived in Uganda from DRC over the past year alone. However, there are few resources available in Uganda, a country that has 1.3 million refugees, most of whom fled from the neighboring country, South Sudan. Additionally, Lendu armed groups have targeted and destroyed many of the villages where the Hema people were taking refuge. 

Middle East

Yemen

Dengue fever has become a problem in Yemen. In Hodeidah, there are trash-strewn pools that attract mosquitoes carrying the fever. Hodeidah has the most cases of Dengue fever in the country and is difficult to access because it is on the frontlines of the war. Yemen’s health and sanitation systems are practically obsolete, making the poverty-ridden population vulnerable to disease. There is no specific treatment and no widely available vaccine has been constructed as of yet. 

On January 21, the Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen stepped up its bombing campaign. It launched airstrikes in Nehlm, the Houthi-held capital, killing at least 35 people. Throughout the day, both sides fired rockets and pounded the area with gun weaponry, wounding and killing dozens. Abdu Abdullah Magli, a spokesman for the Yemeni Armed Forces, stated the militia made progress on the ground, taking control of several strategic roads and Houthi sites. The Houthis reinforced their outposts and deployed new troops to the front. The wave of bombings comes in retaliation for a Houthi missile attack on a mosque in Marib that killed at least 116 Yemeni government troops over the weekend

On January 22, the Commander of Joint Operations at the Yemeni Ministry of Defence, Major General Sagheer Bin Aziz, called on the armed forces to advance towards the capital, Sanaa, to recapture it from the Houthis who had taken control in 2014. This comes after numerous failed attempts by the coalition to regain control over the region. The Yemeni armed forces supported by the Saudi-led coalition have been fighting the Houthis in the district of Nehm. 

Syria

A ceasefire deal within the Idlib province of Syria was introduced by Russia and Turkey on January 9, but was already broken by January 15 with overnight airstrikes on the towns of Khan al-Subl, al-Hartamyeh, and Maasaran. No deaths were reported as a result of those attacks, but several were killed soon before the ceasefire officially began.

Since then, more airstrikes have occurred in the northwestern regions of Aleppo and Idlib, killing at least 21 on January 16 in a strike on a marketplace, and at least 40 on January 21 through multiple rural town attacks. In the past week, military escalation has resulted in the deaths and injuries of around 259 civilians and 220 Syrian, Russian, and rebel militia troops due to nearly 3,900 air and ground strikes. Despite the many attacks on civilian areas that have killed people, destroyed towns, and knocked down schools and hospitals, the Syrian and Russian governments deny their roles in the bombing of civilians, instead blaming them solely on Iranian-backed militant groups.

Currently, around 350,000 Syrians, mainly women and children, have fled rebel-controlled Idlib and sought shelter near the Turkish border. These displaced people have joined the almost 400,000 others who escaped from earlier conflict. For those still in Idlib, the humanitarian crisis has only worsened as recent Russian attacks near densely-populated areas have left nearly three million people trapped.

Iraq

Protests in Iraq, sometimes called the Tishreen Revolution or the Iraqi Intifada, have come to not only demand an overhaul of Iraqi politics, but also to resist American presence in the region. The recent American drone strike which killed Iranian leader Qassem Soleimani took place on Iraqi soil, and Iran’s retaliation consisted of missile strikes against an American military base in Iraq. Any future conflict, though unlikely at the moment, could take place, at least in part, in Iraq because of the military bases there, and neither the U.S. nor Iran want fighting on their own soil.

On January 24, prominent Shia leaders, in concert with Iranian-linked leaders, called for a million-man march. 200,000 protesters showed up to protest American influence with chants like “Death to the U.S.” The United States has had troops in the country since its 2003 invasion, with 5,000 currently there to fight ISIS. In a nonbinding vote, the Iraqi Parliament decided along (religious) party lines to remove American troops.

At the same time, Iraqi protesters continue to demand systemic change, with many still opposed to Iranian influence in the country. Before the “Million Man March,” leaders of the original protests increased their protests to bring attention back to their movement. They rallied more people, began burning tires, and started to cut roads. The Iraqi government responded with violent force, injuring twelve protesters. Over 500 have been injured since the protests began in October.

 

Southeast Asia

Burma

Following the beginning of the International Court of Justice trial last month, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution to officially condemn the human rights atrocities committed by the Burmese government against the nation’s ethnic minorities in the Kachin, Rakhine, and Shan states. The resolution does not compel action by the Burmese government, but does reflect public opinion and pressures other nations to formally acknowledge the injustices being carried out in Burma. In response, Burma’s ambassador to the UN criticized the resolution, calling it a “double standard” and warning that it would only “sow seeds of distrust.” 

The ICJ remains in deliberation and has yet to release the verdict of the case filed by the Gambia last fall against Burma. However, the ICJ issued a provisional decision ordering that the state must protect any Rohingya remaining within the country’s borders, marking the first step towards holding the regime accountable for atrocities against the Rohingya. It is estimated that this case will take somewhere between three to five years to be completed. Just a few days before the ICJ released their ruling, a commission created by the Burmese government concluded that they found no evidence of genocide during the 2017 crackdown in Rahkine state. Without releasing the full report nor mentioning the Rohingya by name, the Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) has been questioned on its methodology, autonomy, impartiality, and thus credibility since its launch. Despite the concern, Burma has been able to use the report as a basis to dispute the initial ICJ ruling. 

Rohingya refugees continue to be stateless indefinitely, unable to seek citizenship in Jammu and Kashmir due to India’s new Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). This controversial law grants Indian citizenship on the basis of religion; Muslim minorities including the Rohingya are therefore left out. “Sizeable populations” of Rohingya refugees currently residing in Kashmir and Jammu will soon face deportation, according to Jitendra Singh, the Union Minister of India. These refugees will likely be sent to Bangladesh’s mass refugee camps, where children receive no education and adults are barred from finding work. 

 

Emerging Conflicts

New Blog Series!

Stay tuned! Over the next few months, STAND will be publishing a weekly blog series on different emerging conflicts around the world in order to take a closer look into these issues. If there is a specific topic about which you are passionate, feel free to email Education Co-Leads aedwards@standnow.org and msmith@standnow.org to express your interest in contributing to the series.

Alison Rogers is a junior International Studies and Journalism student at Baylor University, and the STAND State Advocacy Lead for Texas. She is also an Enough Project Student Upstander. Alison contributed the Sudan portion of this update.

Megan Smith is a senior at the University of Southern California, a member of STAND’s Managing Committee, and an intern at the USC Shoah Foundation. Previously, she has served on the Policy Task Force of STAND France during her junior year and as California State Advocacy Lead during her sophomore year. Outside of STAND, she has interned at Dexis Consulting Group (Washington, DC), DigDeep Water (Los Angeles), and HAMAP-Humanitaire (Paris). Megan contributed the South Sudan portion of this update.

Aisha Saleem is a sophomore at Barnard College, and a member of STAND’s Managing Committee. Previously, Aisha was a task force member where she contributed to monthly blogs and op-eds about genocide-related issues around the world. She is also interested in current issues in education and enjoys doing neuroscience research. Aisha contributed to the Yemen portion of this update.

Grace Harris is a junior at Tampa Preparatory School in Florida, where she serves as president of her STAND chapter. She also is a member of STAND’s Sudan, Yemen, Indigenous Peoples, DRC, and Burma Action Committees, and is STAND’s State Advocacy Lead for Florida. Grace contributed the Syria portion of this update.

Brandon Alonzo is a student at Baruch College in New York City. He serves in the STAND Yemen Action Committee. Brandon contributed to the Yemen portion of this update. 

Mira Mehta is a junior at Westfield High School and serves as the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead.  Prior to this, she served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years. Mira contributed the Iraq portion of this update.

Ellie Wong is a junior at Palo Alto High School and a member of STAND’s Burma Action Committee. She also participates in Lincoln-Douglas debate, writes about East Asian affairs for her school’s foreign policy magazine, and serves in her church youth group. Ellie hopes to pursue international relations or history in college, and will continue to do all she can to learn about genocide-related issues. Ellie contributed the Burma portion of this update. 

STAND Conflict Update: December 2019

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

It’s been a year since protests began against the Sudanese government. Now, Sudan is making progress in its transition to democracy even as protestors continue to demand lasting change. This month saw the signing of an initial peace agreement between rebel groups and the transitional government, the delivery of long-awaited aid to the conflict zones and the lifting of old restrictions on women.

December also saw the conclusion of the Omar al-Bashir trial. The former president was tried and sentenced to two years in a reform facility for financial corruption. The verdict did not mention genocide in Darfur or violence against protestors, an omission which led to frustration from rights organizations and protestors. However, investigators are now working to open a war crimes probe into the Darfur conflict. This investigation has already implicated over 50 people, including members of the regime and Janjaweed fighters.

Sudan is also working to improve relations with the United States. The U.S. has recognized Sudan’s progress, specifically related to the treatment of religious minorities, and the countries have agreed to exchange ambassadors for the first time in over twenty years. Sudan’s position on the U.S. State Sponsor of Terror list remains a point of discussion. Civilian Prime Minister Hamdok, along with multiple rights groups, has consistently stressed the importance of removing that designation to Sudan’s reforms. Removal from the list would mean lifting economic sanctions and allowing Sudan to access international financial support. The State Department expressed willingness to begin the process. However, it will require congressional approval to proceed. 

South Sudan

President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar have announced that regardless of their ability to resolve all remaining disagreements, a transitional unity government will be formed by the February 2020 deadline. This is the second delay in creating a transitional government since the September 2018 peace deal was first signed. The United States, unhappy with the delay, placed sanctions on senior officials claimed to have delayed implementation of the peace deal, and have announced they will place visa restrictions on anyone who impedes the process. In response, South Sudan recalled its ambassador to the United States back to the capital of Juba for consultations shortly after the U.S. ambassador to South Sudan returned. 

A recent UN report found that the South Sudanese government has been breaking key aspects of the peace deal as they have recruited 10,000 Dinka soldiers of President Kiir’s ethnic tribe. Shortly after the report was released, the government announced an allocation of $40 million towards integrated armed forces. The 2018 peace deal remains fragile as key milestones towards implementation have not been achieved; the ceasefire long seen as stable has shown signs of slipping as violence rises in some communities. December 2019 marks six years since the civil war began partly along ethnic divides, leaving 400,000 dead and millions displaced. 

Meanwhile, South Sudan faces severe flooding affecting most of East Africa. The floods have demolished homes, killed livestock, and cleared crops, leaving experts to predict looming famine. According to an executive at the World Food Program, the threat of food insecurity prompted by both years of conflict and recent floods is worse than expected, and famine is likely within the next few months. The government has declared a state of emergency.

Great Lakes of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

At least 43 people were killed over the course of one weekend earlier this month in attacks likely committed by the Allied Democratic Forces, one of the many armed groups targeting civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These attacks are some of several that have hindered the ability of medical workers to combat the DRC’s ebola epidemic while outbreak control has seemed within reach. Insecurity and conflict put aid workers bringing necessary medical aid at further risk, limiting their ability to reach those in rebel-controlled areas and causing some organizations, such as the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders, to withdraw from certain areas.

Within the United States, the human rights group International Rights Advocates filed a lawsuit on behalf of 14 Congolese families against tech companies including Apple, Dell, Microsoft, Tesla, and Google for their involvement in the deaths of children forced to mine cobalt to manufacture technology for these companies. Of the 14 families whose children were killed or maimed due to forced, exploitative child labor, six saw their children die in mining accidents while the others saw their children injured, sometimes to the point of permanent paralysis. The majority of these companies have not yet publicly responded to the case, but the few that have commented have only said that they do not knowingly use child labor, not that they actually do not. If the families win this case, it has the potential to be a landmark that holds companies accountable, forcing them to restructure their supply chain to  respect human rights and sustainability. 

Middle East

Yemen

In Northern Yemen, the health ministry run by the Houthis declared Tuesday that a bout of fast-spreading swine flu had killed 94 people in October alone. Thousands of reported cases have overwhelmed health care facilities already crippled by constant violence, said Mohammed al-Mansour, a senior Houthi health official, warning that the death toll would likely rise. A new outbreak of dengue fever has also swept across the country, killing 68 people, including 16 children under five so far this month. The disease has re-emerged due to the deterioration of Yemen’s health and sanitation systems. This comes as the country continues to be plagued by cholera. 

There has also been a massive influx of attacks on markets in Yemen this month, killing thousands. Several humanitarian groups have been forced to halt their work due to such attacks. The suspension of aid work came after unknown perpetrators fired rocket-propelled grenades at three aid organizations in the southwestern province of Dhale. According to the UN, this halted the distribution of much needed aid to about 217,000 residents. The International Rescue Committee reported that grenades exploded in its office and women’s center, rendering the space too dangerous to work in. 

On December 26th, the UN condemned an attack on a busy market that killed at least 17 people earlier in the week in northern Yemen, a region that has been under the control of Houthi rebels. It is not yet known who was behind the attack, but Houthi spokesman Yehia Sarea has blamed the Saudi-led coalition, saying on Twitter that the attacks “will not go by unnoticed” and promising that the victims would be avenged. 

Syria

The Russian-led coalition’s attacks on Idlib have only intensified this month as the Syrian government closes in on the last rebel-held province. These attacks, which began in April, have been characterized by indiscriminate bombing of schools, healthcare centers, and civilian gathering sites, such as markets. With the government now controlling over 40 villages in Idlib, many activists believe that the heightened attacks are a means of distracting rebel fighters, many of whom are now choosing to evacuate their families from the region. The UN released an estimate that approximately 60,000 people have fled Idlib due to increased attacks this month. 

On December 29, U.S. forces attacked sites in Iraq and Syria claiming to target an Iranian-backed militia that the Pentagon has found responsible for attacks on joint US-Iraq military facilities. At least 25 were killed in the attacks. Just over a week before, a U.S. defence policy bill passed the Senate on December 17, aiming, among other things, to impose sanctions on Syrian forces and others responsible for atrocities. In the UN, the U.S., France, and Britain are pushing against Russia and China in favor of provisions of humanitarian aid which would be concentrated on key border crossings in northern Syria. 

Iraq 

Protests in Iraq entered their 13th week, despite a brutal response from the government. Over 400 people have been killed in these protests, and about 19,000 have been wounded. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has resigned, though he is still involved in the government. Protests continue in part because of the passing of the deadline on December 22 for Parliament and the President to appoint a new Prime Minister.

Protesters believe a complete overhaul of the system is needed to reduce corruption and poverty. Iranian influence has infiltrated the government, and officials of Ayatollah Khamenei’s (supreme leader of Iran) have made themselves crucial parts of the search for a new prime minister. President Barham Salih threatened to resign rather than to suggest any of the candidates supporting Iran, creating further tension and gridlock. 

There are significant challenges for protesters’ success, but they have managed to shut down some of the country’s operations. State offices and schools have been closed for weeks in the south, and on December 29th, protesters for the first time blockaded an entire oil field. On Tuesday December 31, protestors attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as part of demonstrations against American airstrikes. The embassy has been put under lockdown, with the USG placing blame for the attacks on Iran. These latest developments show that the protesters have the power to create real effects throughout the country, but the question still remains whether they will be able to influence the creation of a new, reformed government. Protests are likely to continue throughout January as protesters’ conviction grows stronger with every act of violence committed by the government.

Southeast Asia

Burma

The Burmese government is once again delaying the repatriation of Rohingya refugees that have lived in displacement camps in Bangladesh for over two years now. The government previously signed an agreement with Bangladesh in late 2017 to repatriate a significant portion of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya that had fled to the country, but that has not occurred. They stated that repatriation would be put on hold until the genocide case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is completed and potentially even until after Burma’s next elections in late 2020. Very few Rohingya have returned to Burma because of the fear of “continued violence and systematic discrimination,” and most will not consider returning until measures are taken by the government to ensure their safety.

After the Gambia filed a case against Burma at the ICJ last month with charges of genocide, the court held public hearings concerning the allegations. From December 10th to the 12th, the court was presented with detailed testimony about the vast atrocities committed against the Rohingya Muslims in Burma while Aung San Suu Kyi, the de-facto civilian leader of Burma and representing the country in front of the ICJ, vigorously denied the accusations. She argued that claims by the media and foreign actors of an orchestrated campaign of persecution against the Rohingya by the Burmese government and military were exaggerated and false. However, she did not directly respond to or even explicitly deny the various crimes that were alleged to have been perpetrated against the Rohingya. Aung San Suu Kyi’s reputation, record, and values have seen a startling reversal compared to the time she was once a gleaming icon of human rights around the world.

Since the hearings completed on December 12th, the judges of the ICJ have stated they will soon make a decision regarding the case. The purpose of the proceedings was to “determine whether judges need to issue an emergency order to protect the Rohingya still in Myanmar.” It is unclear what decision the judges will come to, but the hope of the Gambia and most of the international community is that interim measures will be enforced to protect the Rohingya from further violence. However, it will be more difficult for the court to declare that Myanmar acted with the intent of genocide against the Rohingya, and such a decision would take years to make. Even then, the ICJ would not necessarily have the power to enforce such a judgment and the guilty would likely evade punishment besides the possibility of sanctions.

Emerging Crises

Mali

Security in the Sahel region is worsening as attacks on the Malian army continue to cause casualties despite French backing. On November 26, 2019, 13 French soldiers were killed in Mali after two helicopters collided whilst descending to support ground forces engaged in combat with Islamist militants. This is the largest loss of French troops in a single day since a conflict in Beirut 36 years ago and is representative of the extent to which ISIS and Al-Qaeda branches have strengthened their hold across the region. Following the losses in Mali and an attack that occurred in neighboring Niger, the United Nations Security Council held a briefing on violence in West Africa, convening Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Burkina Faso, but released a joint statement that offered few details on how to secure peace in the Sahel region. 

Save the Children estimates that over 105,000 children have been forcibly displaced from their homes due to violence in Mali, with the number of those in need of humanitarian assistance rising from 3.2 million in January 2019 to 3.9 million in December 2019. As of current, France is the only Western country with significant military presence in Mali among other West African countries working to combat the violence.

Venezuela

Amid ongoing allegations of extrajudicial killings and various human rights violations, the Venezuelan Supreme Court opened criminal cases against four anti-Maduro lawmakers on the National Assembly for rebellion and treason. The Constituent Assembly, a legislative body created by Maduro to oppose the National Assembly, stripped the lawmakers of any immunity from criminal persecution and approved the trial. The National Assembly is virtually the only branch of government not under Maduro’s control. Meanwhile, Guido claims that 30 other lawmakers remain detained, exiled, hiding in embassies around Caracas as the re-election vote for Guido as leader of the National Assembly quickly approaches.

Protests have decreased this month after thousands of national, largely student-led protests took place in November against President Maduro and the hyperinflation rendering the bolivar more useful as craft paper than currency. While the economic crisis persists, Venezuelans, especially children, suffer from malnutrition. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, spoke to the Human Rights Council about rising rates of malnutrition among other signs of severely deteriorated conditions. 

Alison Rogers is a junior International Studies and Journalism student at Baylor University, and the STAND State Advocacy Lead for Texas. She is also an Enough Project Student Upstander. Alison contributed the Sudan portion of this update.

Megan Smith is a senior at the University of Southern California, a member of STAND’s Managing Committee, and an intern at the USC Shoah Foundation. Previously, she has served on the Policy Task Force of STAND France during her junior year and as California State Advocacy Lead during her sophomore year. Outside of STAND, she has interned at Dexis Consulting Group (Washington, DC), DigDeep Water (Los Angeles), and HAMAP-Humanitaire (Paris). Megan contributed the South Sudan and Venezuela portions of this update.

Grace Harris is a junior at Tampa Preparatory School in Florida, where she serves as president of her STAND chapter. She also is a member of STAND’s Sudan, Yemen, Indigenous Peoples, DRC, and Burma Action Committees, and is STAND’s State Advocacy Lead for Florida. Grace contributed to the DRC portion of this update.

Brandon Alonzo is a student at Baruch College in New York City. He serves in the STAND Yemen Action Committee. Brandon contributed to the Yemen portion of this update. 

Mira Mehta is a junior at Westfield High School and serves as the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead.  Prior to this, she served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years. Mira contributed the Iraq portion of this update.

Abby Edwards is a junior in the Dual BA program between Columbia University and Sciences Po Paris and serves on the STAND USA Managing Committee. Prior to this, Abby served on the Managing Committee of STAND France and worked as an intern for the Buchenwald Memorial, the Journal of European and American Intelligence Studies, and conducted research for the US Department of State – Office of the Historian. This summer, Abby conducted research on memorialization and reconciliation in Cambodia as a Junior Research Fellow with the Center for Khmer Studies. Abby contributed the Syria portion of this update.

Moni Islam is a senior at George Mason University, serves as secretary of the STAND chapter at George Mason, and is a member of STAND’s Burma Action Committee. He is an Anthropology and Global Affairs double major, with a concentration in the Middle East & North Africa, and hopes to pursue a career in ancient Near Eastern archaeology in the future. Moni contributed to the Burma portion of this update.

Caroline Mendoza is a STAND Managing Committee member and an incoming senior at Cerritos High School in California. She and served as STAND’s 2018-2019 West Region Field Organizer, and on STAND’s Burma and Yemen Action Committees. In her free time, Caroline participates in Model United Nations, marching band, and Girl Scouts, and pursues Holocaust and genocide education. Caroline contributed the Mali portion of this update.