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STAND Conflict Update: March 2021

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

Tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia continue as conflict over the Nile Dam worsens. Ethiopia believes the dam is essential for providing many of its citizens with jobs, while Sudan sees it as an imminent flooding threat that could cripple their already suffering economy. Sudan is not the only country fearing the construction of the dam, as Egypt worries their economy may be impacted as well. With the ousting of Sudan’s autocratic leader, Omar al-Bashir, and a common interest in preventing the dam’s construction, Sudan and Egypt have planned to tackle the dam issue together. Prime Minister Hamdok of Sudan has offered resolutions if Ethiopia shares information on the dam’s construction to prevent flooding hazards. 

South Sudan

Reeling from conflict, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights called on the South Sudanese government to hold accountable the many militias that were responsible for the killings and rape that pillaged the Greater Jonglei region. The UN Mission in South Sudan and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have strongly urged the Sudanese government to build an organized military and investigate the human atrocities that have occurred in the region.  

Musa Hilal, Janjaweed militia leader in the armed conflict, was pardoned and released from a detention center in Khartoum on March 11. Many in Sudan feel like the pardoning of Hilal did not give the victims of the Darfur conflict the justice they deserve. 

Middle East 

Yemen

After the United States’ calls to end Saudi support and Houthis’ calls to lift the Saudi blockade, the Saudi-backed government finally presented a new peace initiative to end the current war in Yemen. This initiative includes allowing food, fuel, and other medical imports through the Hudaydah Port (which was previously restricted), reopening the Sanaa airport, and restarting diplomatic political negotiations between the Iran-aligned Houthis and the Saudi-backed government. In addition, the Saudis proposed a ceasefire between both parties under the supervision of the United Nations.

While the chief negotiator of the Houthis, Mohammed Abdulsalam, has continued to talk with Muscat, Washington, and Riyadh to achieve a final peace agreement, Saudi Prince Faisal states that this initiative will be implemented immediately after the Houthis agree to it. The Houthis still remained determined to retain their territory, which would ensure their control over central and northern Yemen, while the Saudi-backed government attempted to stop the seizure of Marib. Meanwhile, the first fuel ship docked in the Hudaydah port this year, as the Saudi coalition agreed to relax the blockade. 

Syria

ISIL violence in Syria has increased in the past month. At the end of March, Kurdish-led forces conducted a sweep through the al-Hol refugee camp and arrested nine suspected members of ISIL. This refugee camp has seen a surge of violence since the new year, with ISIL fighters killing 47 people since the beginning of 2021. Outside of the refugee camp, Syria has experienced an increase in air strikes on its Turkish border. The United Nations and the United States have condemned the attacks and called for a ceasefire. 

Meanwhile, the United Nations has been working diligently to assist Syria in bringing justice to war crimes committed in the country. Catherine Marchi-Uhel, who investigated serious crimes in Syria, believes that the documentation provided by the United Nations has been the best since World War II. With extensive documentation, justice is possible. 

Asia

Burma

At the beginning of this month, Aung San Suu Kyi, the winner of the November 2020 election, appeared in court against four charges from the Burmese military. There is still no sign of the Burmese military relinquishing power. Pro-democracy protests are still occurring, and they are often met with deadly violence. On March 3rd, Burma’s security forces killed at least 38 peaceful protesters during a demonstration. Images and videos from the protest show soldiers heavily armed. 

On March 13th, Burma marked seven weeks under military rule. A demonstration on March 14th in Yangon ended in at least 74 deaths in the Hlaing Tharyar Township. It was reported that some demonstrators wrote their personal and medical information on themselves in case they would need medical attention during the protest. Unfortunately, on March 23rd, seven-year-old Khin Myo Chit became one of the youngest killed by the military during a raid on her family’s home in the city of Mandalay. While the Burmese military interrogated her father, she ran to his lap and was subsequently shot and killed.

In an effort to control protests, the Burmese military has taken control of some hospitals, and is targeting frontline medical workers who are aiming to aid injured protestors. On March 19th, the U.S. House of Representatives called for the reinstatement of Burma’s elected officials and the release of detainees after voting to pass legislation condemning the coup. Currently, a number of nations have publicly taken stances against the actions of the Burmese military. Alongside the fight against the military coup is the fight for equality from Burma’s ethnic minority groups. While these groups historically have felt that Suu Kyi governed in favor of only the majority, these groups support the demonstrations against military rule in Burma. 

Kashmir

Violence at the Pakistan-Kashmir border raises concerns over recent moves toward peace. Shortly after the foreign envoys’ visit, India and Pakistan announced a mutual ceasefire between the two countries on Thursday, February 25, which was the first effort towards peace since 2003. Then, as secret peace talks continued, India sent a letter asking Pakistan’s Prime Minister for “cordial relations” between the two neighboring countries on Tuesday, March 20.  However, tensions could be on the rise after very recent mentions of casualties in Jammu and Kashmir’s Shopian district on Saturday, March 27. While peace talks continue and olive branches are exchanged, it is important to keep an eye on the region since National Conference Vice President Omar Abdullah pointed out that there is still “much more to do.”

East Turkistan (Xinjiang, China)

On March 12, the United States condemned China during an address before the United Nations Human Rights Council. The condemnation follows Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s call for international monitors to probe for abuses in East Turkistan.

The Biden administration announced more sanctions against two Chinese government officials over the current human rights abuses. Between March 17 and March 22, Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States established sanctions against China and Chinese officials in response to the atrocities occurring in East Turkistan. The decision of the European Union follows the Dutch Parliament’s declaration of genocide on February 26. New Zealand and Australia released a joint statement supporting these sanctions, but have not established any sanctions of their own. 

Central Africa

Central African Republic

Since December 2020, the Central African Republic has seen over 240,000 civilians forcibly displaced as the result of rebel attacks following the country’s national elections. A humanitarian crisis now ensues, with aid blockages due to rebel control of over two-thirds of the country and violent clashes preventing mobile health clinics and other support from reaching those at risk. In Swia, an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in CAR, IDPs rely on unclean water and informal shelters to survive. On March 9, the International Committee of the Red Cross successfully sent over 135 tons of food to CAR while close to 500 UN trucks remain stuck on the Cameroon-CAR border due to clashes. 

On March 12, the UN Security Council approved a resolution to supply CAR with an additional 3,700 personnel to support already stationed UN peacekeepers in the country. The resolution also noted the role of the reinforcements in facilitating aid deliveries and providing security to CAR in light of escalating tensions between rebel groups. Despite security risks, CAR has moved ahead with a second round of parliamentary elections after rebel violence disrupted the country’s first round. On March 14, civilians in 118 of CAR’s provinces took to the polls to cast their ballots for 49 open seats. 

Cameroon

On March 18, a trial was set to resume for soldiers who killed 21 civilians in the English-speaking North West region in February of 2020. The soldiers also burned homes and pillaged many other places in the village, but their trial did not begin until December 2020 and was stopped twice in between then. The resumed trial was criticized for being inaccessible to families of the victims because of its location, but there have not been any updates since the expected resumption of the trial. Accountability is seen as a crucial step to support the victims and make progress, as the incident in question is far from the only case of military violence against civilians.

There are currently more than a million internally displaced people in Cameroon, about 70% of whom are from the English-speaking North West and South West regions. Little has been done to resolve the crisis beyond military action that has escalated conflict and harmed civilians.

Democratic Republic of Congo

On March 8, judges on the International Criminal Court awarded 30 million dollars to the victims of atrocities committed by Bosco Ntaganda, a Congolese militia leader convicted on 18 counts of crimes against humanity in 2019. Former child soldiers, victims of rape and sexual violence, and resulting children are all eligible to receive reparations for the horrors they endured in the early 2000s. Ntaganda has been sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Despite this news, violence is still ongoing, and at least a dozen people were killed in a village attack believed to be committed by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). The UN estimates that the ADF killed a total of 850 people last year.

Additionally, according to the UN, an estimated 2,945 people were killed in the DRC in 2020, and humanitarian conditions in especially the regions of North Kivu, South Kivy, and Ituri continue to worsen. The UN has stated that in order to curb violence, a program of disarmament, community support, and stabilization needs to be implemented.

Further, a recent report has found that Congolese workers are being heavily exploited at multiple palm oil plantations in the DRC. Residents of those areas have reported that Belgian colonizers stole the land in the early 20th century, and today’s exploitative practices are a reminder of this violent colonial legacy. Security guards beat a man to death after accusing him of stealing palm fruit in February, and no one has been held accountable. Workers are paid very little and have to work in dangerous conditions. Furthermore, multiple large investment companies from the U.S., Europe, and South Africa are funding this violence and exploitation.

Refugees

On March 22, there was a large fire at a refugee camp in Bangladesh, mostly filled with Rohingya people from Burma. About 45,000 people are now without a place to live, with 11 people confirmed as dead and hundreds of others injured. About 400 people are still missing. Humanitarian aid workers from the UN World Food Programme and other organizations are working to clean up the debris and support survivors.

In Lebanon, Syrian refugees are facing different trauma. Amnesty International found that the Lebanese government has detained hundreds of Syrian refugees, including children, as terrorists without any real cause since 2014. During this time, refugees were tortured, often in order to extract information that would be used against them when they were tried in military courts rather than civilian ones. It remains to be seen how the international community will respond.

Yusef Mohammed is a student at Reedley College. Yusef contributed to the Sudan and South Sudan portions of this update.

Shreya Satagopan is a sophomore at The George Washington University studying political science and criminal justice. She is a member of the STAND Yemen and Sudan Action Committees and is a State Advocacy Lead. Shreya contributed to the Yemen portion of this update. 

Jenna Walmer is a graduate student at West Chester University of Pennsylvania working towards an M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an M.A. in General Psychology. With STAND, she is the co-education and co-policy lead. Jenna contributed the Syria portion of this update. 

Valerie Owusu-Hienno is a student at The International School of Beaverton. Valerie contributed to the Burma portion of this update. 

Morgan Swindall is a student at George Mason University. Morgan contributed to the Kashmir portion of this update.

Audrey Firrone is a student at the University of Memphis. Audrey contributed to the East Turkistan (Xinjiang) portion of this update. 

Caroline Mendoza is a student at UCLA. Caroline contributed to the Central African Republic portion of this update. 

Mira Mehta is a student at Westfield High School. Mira contributed to the Cameroon and Refugees portions of this update.

Grace Harris is a senior at Tampa Prep High School. She has been a member of her school’s STAND chapter since her freshman year and currently serves as its president. With STAND, Grace is the co-Xinjiang and co-High School Outreach lead. Grace contributed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo portion of this update.

STAND Conflict Update: February 2021

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan 

Sudan’s transition continued this month with the appointment of a new cabinet by civilian Prime Minister Hamdok. This cabinet includes rebel leaders who recently signed peace agreements with the Sudanese government, as well as members of the old cabinet. Hamdok says that the goals of the cabinet are to be inclusive and to avoid the collapse of the country. The new cabinet is expected to continue reforms and to address economic struggles. 

Tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia continue to rise. The border between the two countries has been especially fraught lately, as Sudan accuses Ethiopia of supporting violence inside its borders while Ethiopia accuses Sudan of intruding on their territory. 7,000 refugees have fled into Sudan to escape ethnic violence in Ethiopia, adding another complication to the relationship between the two countries. There are also questions surrounding a dam that Ethiopia is building on the Nile River. South Sudan is expected to host peace talks for the two nations later this year. 

South Sudan

South Sudan is experiencing a new surge of attacks a year after the supposed end of the country’s civil war. According to the United Nations, violence is “a lot worse” than it was at the war’s height. Rape, ethnic-based attacks, violence against civilians, forced displacement, and abductions are at all-time highs. South Sudanese leaders have been dismissive towards the UN’s findings, stating that similar reports have been issued before. The UN also found a drastic increase in child soldiers. 

South Sudan is also grappling with famine, floods, and inadequate aid, all during a partial lockdown after an increase in COVID-19 cases. The country has more than 65 deaths and an estimated 4,000 confirmed cases. This is its first lockdown since June of 2020. Schools are closed, events are canceled, and strict guidelines have been placed regarding restaurants and mask-wearing. Citizens are concerned about economic difficulties as well as the government’s ability to enforce restrictions. 

Middle East 

Yemen

In his first major foreign policy speech, U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to “reset” foreign policy by ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition’s offensive military operations in Yemen. Previously, the Biden administration asserted that it would exempt certain aid transactions tied to the Houthi rebel group from sanctions, however these exemptions expired on February 26. In mid-February, the newly-appointed U.S. Special Envoy to Yemen, Timothy Lenderking, noted at a State Department Briefing that in efforts to pursue Biden’s promise, the U.S. is “aggressively” using back-channels to speak to Houthi leadership and “energizing” diplomatic efforts with multilateral partners to negotiate a settlement.

Despite these steps to end the war, the Houthis have increased attacks on the province of Marib and caused shells to land in the Hussein Ali Wuhaish refugee camp. As a result, the U.S. urged the Houthi rebels to stop their attack in light of potentially exacerbating the ongoing humanitarian crisis while also calling on the Houthis to stop attacks on Saudi Arabia. In response to the U.S. statement, Houthi spokesman Mohamed Abdel Salam called on the Saudi coalition to end its own offensive campaign and lift the blockade on Houthi territory. 

Syria

On February 25, the United States government ordered airstrikes on infrastructure used by multiple Iranian-backed militant groups. The attack left an estimated 17 people dead. The airstrike was in retaliation to an attack on a U.S. military base two weeks ago claimed by a group called Awliya al-Dam. While some American officials have claimed this was a defensive strike with a proportionate response, others have criticized the move for continuing an endless war.

Next month marks ten years of war in the Syrian Civil War, and violence has taken its toll on Syrians, making conditions dangerous for many. Food insecurity has reached record levels after ten years of conflict, with the cost of food rising above average salaries. The World Food Program estimates that 1.3 million Syrians are severely food insecure and another 1.8 million are at risk of becoming so. Children are especially at risk, with data showing that up to one in three Syrian children in the northwest and northeast have stunted growth due to malnutrition. Millions are not receiving an education due to attacks on schools and war conditions that make a normal life impossible.  People are also in need of health assistance and despite attacks and bombings on hospitals, doctors are still working to bring people care.

Asia

Burma

Anti-government demonstrations continue across the country as there is still no sign of the Tatmadaw (military) giving up power. Protesters were reignited when 19-year-old Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing took a gunshot to her head at a rally on February 8th, just two days before her 20th birthday. She was declared brain dead soon after and was officially taken off life support eleven days later. February 20th is recorded to be “the worst single day of violence” as two protesters, a 36-year-old man and a boy under 18, were killed at protests.

Myanmar protesters called for an intervention from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) after members agreed on a plan for “dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy”. The rest of the world, including the G7 and European Council, released statements condemning the coup.

Kashmir

On Thursday, February 24, The Jammu and Kashmir National conference agreed to a ceasefire along the Line of Control. This involves both Indian and Pakistani armies.  Both countries have agreed to strictly observe the ceasefire which became officially in effect on February 23 at midnight. 

East Turkistan (Xinjiang, China) 

On February 18, Representative Jim McGovern and other members of the House of Representatives reintroduced the bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act with the goal to once again pass in the House and move on to a vote in the Senate. About a month previously on January 27, Marco Rubio and Jeff Merkley also reintroduced the bill in the Senate. If passed, this bill will allow President Biden to apply sanctions against those who utilize forced Uyghur labor in their production lines. In addition to the reintroduction of the bill, Representatives have called for Biden to boycott the Winter Olympics set to take place in Beijing in 2022. 

Representative John Katko said in a letter to Biden that “participation in an Olympics held in a country who is openly committing genocide not only undermines those shared values but casts a shadow on the promise for all those who seek free and just societies.” As of now, there has been no word on whether the United States will boycott the upcoming winter games. 

There has also been official recognition of genocide against the Uyghurs and other Turkic minority groups by the Canadian Parliament. Canada’s designation of such is the second in the world, following the genocide designation made last month by former Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

Central Africa

Central African Republic

On February 16, two anti-balaka militias leaders were tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, murder, and rape, following accusations of leading violent attacks against Muslims. Both leaders pleaded not guilty despite evidence of the militia’s threats and hate speech against Muslim populations. This trial is noted to be the ICC’s first for crimes committed in the Central African Republic.

CAR continues to face extreme domestic conflict as the Central African Republic Army clashes with rebel groups working to overturn the results of the country’s December 2020 elections. On February 16, conflict between security and armed forces left 14 people dead at a religious site in Bambari. Following this event, Amnesty International published a report on their investigation of CAR’s post-election violence- the organization’s findings stated that since December 2020, an estimated 240,000 civilians have been internally displaced as a result of the country’s violence. Many of these people have fled to neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, while those who remain in CAR suffer from humanitarian aid blockage as armed groups disrupt trucks providing food supplies. 

Cameroon

On February 15, eight Cameroonian soldiers were detained after a video showing them torturing a man to the point of unconsciousness spread. The incident occurred on February 11 in the English-speaking North West Region. This region has seen much conflict between separatists and the military since 2017. Little other information about the incident is available, but it is just the latest in a series of alleged human rights abuses perpetrated by the Cameroonian government during this conflict.

Beyond their ethnic conflict, Cameroon has also arrested nine people suspected of homosexuality. The people are being detained until their trial on March 10, but they could be heavily fined or sentenced to anywhere between six months and five years in prison.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo has reported new cases of the Ebola virus. The newest fatalities were confirmed from Butembo in the North Kivu province. As of February 14th, there are now four new confirmed Ebola cases, as well as multiple unconfirmed cases. This rise in individuals carrying the Ebola virus is following a previous outbreak which lasted from July of 2019 to June of 2020.  

On February 22nd, Italian ambassador, Luca Attanasio, and his police consort, Vittorio Iacovacci were killed in what is now being considered a gun fight in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern region. Along with the death of the two Italian officials came the loss of their Congolese driver Moustapha Milamb. The incident is being investigated by not only DRC police but also an Italian investigative team. As of now, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but there are many well-known rebel groups that operate in the area.

Refugees

On February 25, the Indian Coast Guard found a boat full of 89 Rohingya refugees sailing from the refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Eight people had already died during the two weeks that the boat had been adrift due to an engine failure. The Indian government has said that they are in discussion with the Bangladeshi government to ensure the refugees’ safe return. Other refugees from Burma have faced difficulties as well, as the government of Malaysia repatriated 1,086 people even after the Kuala Lumpur High Court had ordered a halt to deportations. Among these people were refugees and asylum seekers, and many bishops and human rights figures have spoken out against this. The decision to deport the refugees comes after many similar attempts from Bangladesh, where a large portion of Rohingya refugees are currently located.

There have also been problems noted in the treatment of asylum seekers in the United States. On February 17, 42 members of Congress sent a letter to President Biden and the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security requesting that deportations of asylum-seeking Cameroonians be halted. This would be crucial for the over 100 Cameroonians currently in ICE custody. These people believe they would almost certainly be executed or imprisoned upon their return to Cameroon. For now, they are still waiting for a response from the Biden administration.

Alison Rogers is a senior University Scholar concentrating in journalism and international studies at Baylor University. Alison contributed to the Sudan and South Sudan portions of this update. 

Amna Haider is a third-year undergraduate student at the University of Iowa. Amna contributed to the Yemen portion of this update.

Grace Harris is a senior at Tampa Prep High School. She has been a member of her school’s STAND chapter since her freshman year and currently serves as its president. With STAND, Grace is the co-Xinjiang and co-High School Outreach lead. Grace contributed to the Syria portion of this update.

Don Nuam is a student at The University of Oklahoma. Don contributed to the Burma portion of this update. 

Dorene Hantzis is a junior at Terre Haute South High School. Dorene contributed to the Kashmir portion of this update.

Audrey Firrone is a student at the University of Memphis. Audrey contributed to the East Turkistan portion of this update.

Caroline Mendoza is a freshman at UCLA. Caroline contributed to the Central African Republic portion of this update.

Mira Mehta is a senior at Westfield High School.  Mira contributed to the Cameroon and Refugees portions of this update.

Simmy Ghosh is a junior at College Station High School. Simmy contributed to the Democratic Republic of Congo portion of this update.

STAND Conflict Update: January 2021

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

On January 15th, violence erupted in the West Darfur province of Sudan, quickly spreading into South Darfur. According to a tweet from the Prime Minister’s office, the violence began after a man was stabbed to death. Shortly after, armed militias attacked El Geneina, the capital of the West Darfur state. Militias also besieged a camp for internally displaced people. UNHCR reports that 250 people – including three humanitarian workers – have already lost their lives in this conflict, and more than 100,000 have been displaced. Sudanese authorities have responded by declaring a state of emergency and imposing a curfew in the region. 

Sudan has also had several developments in its relationship with other states throughout  the past month. At the beginning of the month, Sudan signed onto the U.S.-brokered peace agreement with Israel known as the Abraham Accords. In order to incentivize Sudan to take this action, the U.S. announced that it will help Sudan pay off its debt to the World Bank with a bridge loan totalling more than $1 billion. Sudan also agreed on a strategy with the African Development Bank earlier this month to provide relief on more than $400 million owed. Meanwhile, tensions have increased in Sudan’s relationship with neighboring Ethiopia. Sudan has accused an Ethiopian military aircraft of crossing into its territory. Also, ongoing armed conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia has sparked concerns with Sudanese leaders that the Ethiopian government may take advantage of the chaos to attempt to obtain control of territory in the disputed border region between the two countries. 

South Sudan

For the first time since 2016, a recent court case convicted South Sudanese soldiers for raping women from the village of Adio. Military judges were sent from the capital to oversee the case in response to growing frustrations over the lack of convictions in crimes committed by soldiers. Michael Machar Malual, head of civilian-military relations for the army in Central Equatoria state, expressed the desire that this case will serve as a warning to troops. 

A report by the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) in South Sudan also revealed that the number of grave violations against children has declined significantly in the past five years, although children in South Sudan continue to be harmed at extremely high levels. Despite these promising improvements, intercommunal conflict continues in northern regions of the country, farmers continue to face the threat of unexploded mines, and food insecurity is increasing with many in South Sudan facing famine conditions.

Middle East 

Yemen

Yemen has been one of the areas that the Biden administration has decided to focus its efforts on following his January 20 inauguration. On January 19th, now Secretary of State Anthony Blinken proclaimed that the Biden administration would end the United States’ current support for Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen. This means ending the sale of arms in Yemen by Saudi Arabians. In addition, the new administration aims to reverse former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s last-minute Foreign Terrorist Organization designation of Yemen’s Houthi rebels (also known as Ansar Allah). 

On January 24, Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Saudi-backed government entered into new negotiations about prisoner exchanges. These UN-backed negotiations seek to release about 300 prisoners. This comes after they exchanged about 1,000 prisoners last year. 

Syria 

On January 3, nine Syrian army soldiers were killed from an attack suspected to be carried out by the Islamic state. This is the second of such incidents, where only a week prior, 28 were killed in a similar attack on the border of Iraq. Israeli air raids have also become increasingly common against Iran-backed militants in Syria- on January 13, Israel carried out its fourth airstrike in two weeks, leaving 43 Iran-backed militia and 14 Syrian army soldiers dead. Many suspect that the recent strikes have been in an attempt to target warehouses and military storage facilities in the Deir al-Zour and Albu Kamal regions. Insecurity has also ensued in Syria’s displacement camps- since the start of 2021, the United Nations has reported 12 murders at al-Hol camp, the country’s largest camp with over 60,000 people. 

Asia

Burma

The Burma Military and Union Solidarity and Development Party are pushing claims of election rigging, according to Myanmar Now. The Union Parliament rejected a meeting to discuss the matter over COVID-19 concerns and the military is claiming this decision was unconstitutional. On January 7th, the military called for elections to be held as soon as possible in all townships where elections were canceled. Student unions in Rakhine State are also calling for voting to be held and are urging the release of fellow student activists who were arrested during the conflict between government forces and the Arakan Army (AA) that led to the cancellation of votes. The students are also demanding access to 4G internet that has been blocked by the government in an attempt to control the AA. To facilitate peace talks, the parliament has approved a proposal from the Arakan National Party to remove the AA from its list of terrorist groups. Without this measure, it would be unlawful for the military to meet with AA leaders to facilitate peaceful negotiations. 

After being displaced from their homes when fighting broke out in March 2020, protesters from Marlar village in Rakhine state are calling for the removal of military bases so they can return home. Villagers fear being shot or arrested by the military if they return to their homes. Outside of Burma, Rohingya refugees are suffering after a fire broke out in a refugee camp in southern Bangladesh. No serious injuries were reported, but more than 550 homes and 150 shops were destroyed in the fire. During talks mediated by China, Bangladesh and Burma have begun a third attempt to repatriate Rohingya refugees. Bangladesh’s foreign secretary, Masud Bin Momen, told reporters it looks like repatriations will begin in June. However, it is unlikely Rohingya refugees will feel safe returning to their home in Rakhine state unless several demands are met, including granting all Rohingyas full citizenship, holding the perpetrators of the violent crimes committed against the Rohingya accountable, and a neutral international security force to ensure safety in Rakhine state. With the U.S. election of President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken promised in a Senate committee hearing to oversee a review of Burma’s treatment of the Rohingya genocide if confirmed in his nomination.

Kashmir

The Kashmiri people feel cautiously hopeful after the January 20 United States inauguration of Vice President Kamala Harris. Harris, who is the first U.S. Vice President of Indian descent, has been critical of India’s Prime Minister and the government’s discriminatory policies. 

Despite this positive news, conflict still continues in the region. Internet services on mobile devices have been suspended in Kashmir. Officials fear for violence on the upcoming Republic Day and Independence Day, initiating a short-term suspension for the holiday. Additionally, Pakistan killed a Kashmiri soldier while violating a ceasefire along the Line of Control by resorting to heavy cross-border shelling.  

East Turkistan (Xinjiang, China) 

On January 19, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement declaring that what is happening in East Turkistan constitutes a “genocide.”  This is the first official move of genocide designation from the United States regarding the Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities that live in the region. Pompeo called on the People’s Republic of China to “immediately release all arbitrarily detained persons and abolish its system of internment, detention camps, house arrest and forced labor.” President Biden’s pick for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has also agreed with Pompeo’s designation. This designation does not mean that there will be international consequences, as China is not subject to the Rome Statute which would give the International Criminal Court jurisdiction to conduct inquiries. Following the designation, China’s Foreign Ministry stated that the designation is a “completely false allegation and a malicious farce fabricated and hyped up by certain anti-China, anti-communist forces.” 

Central Africa

Central African Republic

On January 19, two armed rebel groups, Union for Peace and anti-Bakala, killed two UN Peacekeepers. Many have stated that the attacks are part of a larger surge of violence following CAR’s disputed January 18 election results when President Touadéra was declared the winner. The opposition attacks have led to the displacement of close to 100,000 people, with 60,000 having fled to neighboring countries and 58,000 remaining as internally displaced peoples despite increasingly dangerous conditions in CAR. 

In light of escalating violence, CAR declared a 15-day state of emergency on January 21. This will allow the government to more easily arrest armed groups and increase the military’s ability to detain individuals without a prosecutor. Simultaneously, Mankeur Ndiaye, the UN envoy to CAR, urged the UN Security Council to deploy more peacekeepers to the region despite almost 12,000 peacekeepers already on the ground in CAR. Estimates report that at least 3,000 additional peacekeepers, special forces, and helicopters would be needed to effectively stabilize CAR. 

Cameroon

A Cameroon appeals court has rejected the case to release over twenty members of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement, a prominent opposition party, after their arrests in September of 2020. They were arrested in government crackdowns targeting peaceful protest and opposition.

Conflict is still ongoing. On January 8, more than 12 civilians, including eight children, were killed in a bombing believed to be committed by Boko Haram. On another occasion, at least eight civilians were killed in an attack by the Cameroon military. Cameroon has also taken in an estimated 5,000 refugees who were fleeing violence and post-election insecurity in neighboring Central African Republic. 

Democratic Republic of Congo

On January 22, the National Assembly filed a motion for Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga to resign within 48 hours or face a vote of no confidence. The decision is expected to cause the government to collapse, though it is seen as a political victory for President Felix Tsishekedi.  The prime minister was an ally of former President Joseph Kabila, but President Tsishekedi will now be able to select a new prime minister. He will also be able to choose a new head of the electoral commission and a new central bank board, which could open the door for international donors to give assistance. However, some are skeptical that this will bring any real change.

Forty-six members of the Pygmy ethnic group were killed on January 13 in an attack in Ambedi, a village in the Ituri province. The Congolese military stated that the Allied Democratic Forces, a rebel group in the region, were to blame for the attack, after the group had been escalating violence in the region over the past several years.

Refugees

President Biden has pledged to raise the annual refugee admissions cap to at least 125,000 and potentially continue to raise it over time. He has already begun to take steps towards more refugee-friendly policies. On January 20, after being inaugurated, he revoked former President Trump’s infamous travel ban on people from several Muslim-majority countries (as well as Venezuela and North Korea), which could pave the way to admit refugees from these countries.  

Also on January 20, Australian authorities began releasing asylum-seekers from hotels where they had been kept since November of 2019. These asylum-seekers were fleeing violence from Sri Lanka when authorities confined them to the hotel. Upon release, the refugees have only been given temporary visas, so their futures in Australia remain uncertain.

Megan Rodgers is a senior honors student at the University of Arkansas studying International Studies, Political Science, and Spanish. She is one of STAND’s co-student directors for the 2020-2021 academic year. Megan contributed to the Sudan and South Sudan portion of this update.
Ananya Gera is a junior at Terre Haute South Vigo High School. She is one of their STAND Chapter Leaders, and is also the Social Media Coordinator for STAND. In addition to her work with STAND, she is involved with Together We Remember and CANDLES Holocaust Museum. Ananya contributed to the Yemen portion of this update.

Caroline Mendoza is a student at UCLA studying international development. Caroline serves on the Managing Committee as a co-education and co-Burma committee lead. Caroline contributed to the Central African Republic and Syria portions of this update. 

Joy Senn is a recent graduate in biology from the University of Arkansas. She is a member of the Burma Action Committee and contributed to the Burma portion of this update. 

Jenna Walmer is a graduate student at West Chester University of Pennsylvania working towards an M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an M.A. in General Psychology. With STAND, she is the co-Education and co-Policy lead. Jenna contributed the Kashmir portion of this update. 

Audrey Firrone is a third year student at the University of Memphis and is a member of the East Turkistan Action Committee. Audrey contributed to the East Turkistan portion of this update.

Grace Harris is a senior at Tampa Prep High School. She has been a member of her school’s STAND chapter since her freshman year and currently serves as its president. With STAND, Grace is the co-Xinjiang and co-High School Outreach lead. Grace contributed to the Cameroon portion of this update.

Mira Mehta is a student at Westfield High School, and a co-lead of the Yemen Action Committee. Prior to this, she was the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead and served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years. Mira contributed to the DRC and Refugees portion of this update.

STAND Conflict Update: December 2020

Special Update: Armenia & Azerbaijan 

Since the dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory, conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has left debris and ruins across the area, with families on both sides victimized by the aftermath. On December 19, Armenians were spread out for three days to mourn over the victims who were lost during the conflict. Opposition in Armenia has led many to push for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation after the leader ceded large amounts of territory to Azerbaijan, some calling Pashinyan a “traitor.”

On December 27, an attack was carried out in the Khojavend region of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory by an Armenian militia group, leaving one Azerbaijani soldier dead and one injured. While all six of the attackers were killed in the attack, the Azerbaijan defense ministry sent out a warning stating it would seriously consider “‘decisive measures’” if Armenian troops continued to incite violence. 

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

On December 14, the United States formally removed Sudan from its state sponsors of terror list, a designation that was highly detrimental to the country’s economy. Sudan’s transitional government deemed the removal from the state sponsors of terror list crucial because the designation rendered Sudan ineligible for debt relief and financial support from international financial institutions. According to Sudan’s acting finance minister, the U.S. has committed to providing over $1bn for debt relief. This debt relief would enable Sudan to receive $1.5bn annually from the International Development Association.

On December 16, Sudan’s armed forces reported that Ethiopian militia ambushed officers during a security patrol. Meanwhile, according to a statement from Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s office, Sudan and Ethiopia intend to hold negotiations about their shared border. 

South Sudan

The head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, David Shearer, requested that the international community focus on South Sudan more. Since the 2018 Peace Deal, the country has struggled to recover and end the civil war. Additionally, a UN. panel of experts reported halted progress on South Sudan’s 2018 peace deal and that authorities have blocked humanitarian access to conflict areas.  

On December 18th, three United Nations organizations requested immediate humanitarian access to support the people in Pibor County. The UN-backed Integrated Food Security Phase Classification projected that 60% of the South Sudanese population will face either a state of official food crisis or worsening acute food insecurity between April and July 2021. In response to the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and other humanitarian organizations are increasing their efforts in the country.

Middle East 

Yemen

On December 3, the United Nations released new data on Yemen, noting that 45% of Yemenis suffer from food insecurity- a percentage predicted to increase to 54% within the first half of 2021. The statistics come amid increased shelling in the port city of Hodeidah, where suspected Houthi rebels killed eight and injured thirteen on December 4. 

On December 18, the government announced a new Presidential cabinet that includes both the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) and the Hadi government, two groups that were previously allied and now in conflict. The move comes amid hope for an end to political turmoil and power struggles between the STC and Yemeni government. After being sworn in on December 26, President Hadi faced backlash from women protestors who pointed out that the new cabinet included zero women, an exclusion not seen for the past 20 years. 

Syria

On December 22, the United States imposed new sanctions on Syria that aim to cut funding to President Bashar al-Assad and his government in order to stop the Syrian war. These sanctions target Syria’s central bank and a list of specific people, including parliamentarians, government officials, military commanders, and Assad’s advisors. 

Starting in the middle of December, northeast Syria experienced an increase in violence between Turkish-backed and Kurdish-led militias groups. The Kurdish-led forces have continued shelling Ain Issa, a city in northeast Syria, daily, forcing almost 10,000 Syrians to flee their homes. This adds to the number of already displaced people fleeing violence or impoverishment. 

Asia

Burma

The Arakan Army (AA) and Burmese military held a meeting after an agreement on a temporary truce. According to the Irrawaddy, AA spokesman Khaing Thukha said, “The meeting was centered on peace and election affairs and to ensure the bilateral ceasefire.” The AA also called for the Burmese military and government to hold elections before December 31 in townships where voting was canceled during Burma’s national elections in October. To aid these negotiations, Japan sent its special envoy, Yohei Sasakawa, to Burma to help achieve lasting peace for both sides.

Since August 2017, the Burmese military has carried out a harsh crackdown on the Muslim minority group, the Rohingya, causing about 700,000 Rohingya to flee from Rakhine State to camps in Bangladesh. Now, officials in Bangladesh have begun forcibly relocating the Rohingya to an island called Bhashan Char. Many concerns were raised by the United Nations and other human rights organizations regarding this decision, due to the fact that the island surfaced just 20 years ago and Rohingya refugees were neither informed nor allowed to make a decision about this relocation. Most Rohingya do not want to return to Burma due to safety concerns and remain in overcrowded and under-resourced camps.   

Kashmir

Earlier this month, Kashmir held multiple local elections. The Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, a party in favor of Kashmiri autonomy, took the lead with 112 out of 280 seats. In response to this, the Indian government detained 75 activists and political leaders as a means to prevent violence and protests.

An investigation into Indian military officer Bhoopendra Singh has found that he killed three Kashmiri civilians and covered up their deaths by planting weapons on them. After the killings this summer and the labeling of terrorists, family members and activists rose concern to investigate the incident. In most cases of police and military violence, the crime goes unpunished, and victims rarely receive justice. This time, however, Singh was indicted, although he has not yet been charged.

East Turkistan (Xinjiang, China)

China’s continued crackdown on the Uyghur minority shows no signs of letting up. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has detained over one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in forced labor camps across the Xinjiang region. “We cannot be complacent at this moment, because the threats are still out there,” said Xu Guixiang, director of the Xinjiang Communist Party in an interview on December 21. The Chinese government continues their systematic oppression of the Uyghur population even in the face of economic sanctions. In early December, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced that it would be halting shipments from Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps unless it could be proved that products were not made with forced labor from detained Uyghurs or other minorities. 

Central Africa

Central African Republic

Throughout 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)  has overseen the repatriation of refugees in Cameroon back to the Central African Republic. On December 2, a second group of over 200 refugees voluntarily returned to CAR as part of the UNHCR’s plan to repatriate a minimum of 1,500 CAR refugees by the end of 2020. 

During the election held on December 27, 14% of the polling stations were closed because of violence. CAR scheduled national elections for December 27, despite opposition calls to postpone voting due to escalating violence in the country. On December 25, armed combatants killed three UN peacekeepers and injured two after a truce was broken between the government and a rebel coalition. In a Human Rights Watch report released on December 23, it was noted that the situation in CAR continues to be unstable and unsuitable for a national election, given that five civilians have been killed within the past few days with thousands more fleeing conflict. CAR’s election is recognized as a chance for the nation to prove itself after years of political turmoil and internal conflict. 

Cameroon 

Cameroon held regional elections in their English-speaking regions on the 6th of December, which prompted separatists to abduct tribal chiefs in English-speaking regions, resulting in the unfortunate death of two. A group of separatists attacked the city of Beau and kidnapped three chiefs from the Southwest region, while another group kidnapped a local chief belonging to the Babanki people in the Northwest region. As these bizarre actions made headlines, they also served to exemplify the disregard which separatists held towards the elections, and their long-time ask for “independence and a return to a federal state.”

On December 19th newfound evidence confirmed that the Cameroonian government and business officials have ties to the Nigerian terrorist group, Boko Haram. This news came in a timely manner after the Cameroonian military arrested former parliamentarian, Blama Malla, when his cousin was caught transferring 10 cattle to Boko Haram. 

Meanwhile in the United States, Cameroonian asylum seekers continue to undergo horrific treatment and detention under Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Ever since ICE deported over 90 Cameroonians since October, Cameroonian asylum seekers are fearing for their lives. 

Democratic Republic of Congo

On December 1, the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced that it would be withdrawing its healthcare support for the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Kimbi and Baraka areas after repeated violence and attacks directed towards MSF staff throughout 2020. Amid escalating violence in the DRC, a new report from the United Nations, released on December 3, highlights that close to 21.8 million people are suffering from acute food insecurity, with conflict and COVID-19 being the main drivers of widespread famine and instability in the country. 

Since President Felix Tshisekedi took over the position of the former longstanding leader Joseph Kabila, the DRC’s Parliament retains numerous allies of Kablia, with 300 of 500 Parliament members in opposition to Tshisekedi. On December 6, Tshisekedi announced possible plans to dissolve the current Parliament and hold elections for a new one, sparking protests and causing newfound political turmoil in the country. 

Refugees

Bangladesh announced on December 27 that it is planning to move 1,000 Rohingya refugees to the island of Bhasan Char after 1,600 were moved there earlier in the month. The government claims that this is meant to reduce overcrowding in refugee camps, but the international community has many concerns about whether the island is actually fit for refugees to live there.  The government has responded that people should take into account how these islands could help prepare refugees to be repatriated. Previous attempts at repatriation have failed because people were too scared to return to Burma.

Refugees at Bosnia’s Lipa camp are living in freezing conditions without adequate blankets and other resources. They and other aid organizations have warned that they may die if conditions do not change.

On December 26, a confrontation between Syrian refugees in a Lebanese refugee camp and youth living in the area led to a massive fire that forced hundreds of refugees out of the camp.  Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. Resentment towards Syrian refugees has been increasing as a result of both a worsening financial crisis and blatant racism.  

Saroona Khilji is a psychology student at George Mason University, and a member of STAND. Saroona contributed the Armenia & Azerbaijan portion of this update.

Iyanu Osunmo studies international relations at Lawrence University and is a State Advocacy Lead. Iyanu contributed to the Sudan and South Sudan portion of this update.

Caroline Mendoza is a student at UCLA studying international development and STAND’s co-Education and co-Burma AC Lead. Caroline contributed to the Yemen, CAR, and DRC portions of this update. 

Jenna Walmer is a graduate student at West Chester University of Pennsylvania working towards an M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an M.A. in General Psychology. With STAND, she is the co-Education and co-Policy lead. Jenna contributed the Syria portion of this update. 

Saw Tar Thar Chit Ba is a student at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania majoring in Business Administration. Saw Tar Thar contributed to the Burma portion of this update. 

Grace Harris is a senior at Tampa Prep High School. She has been a member of her school’s STAND chapter since her freshman year and currently serves as its president. With STAND, Grace is the co-Xinjiang and co-High School Outreach lead. Grace contributed to the Kashmir portion of this update.

Rohan Shah is a senior at the University of Chicago Lab School, and State Advocacy Lead for Illinois. He is involved in Model UN and Mock Trial at his school. Rohan contributed the East Turkistan portion of this update.

Jan Jan Maran is a student at George Mason University and is STAND’s Burma Action Committee co-lead. Jan Jan contributed to the Cameroon portion of this update. 
Mira Mehta is a student at Westfield High School, and a co-lead of the Yemen Action Committee. Prior to this, she was the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead and served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years. Mira contributed to the Refugees portion of this update.

STAND Conflict Update: November 2020

Special Update: Armenia & Azerbaijan

After six weeks of conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan, Russia, and Armenia have come together to sign a peace deal on November 9th. The peace deal ceded some territory to Azerbaijan which was formerly under Armenian control. This prompted Armenian protestors who were discontent with the results to storm into government buildings at Armenia’s capital, Yerevan. While such reactions of dissent were expressed in Armenia, individuals in Azerbaijan were spotted taking to the streets with flags in celebration for what they perceived as a victory for their country. 

Win or lose, the Prime Minister of Armenia has said that he has taken actions as he deemed fit, with much consideration of advice from political experts. The Prime Minister comforted his citizens in saying that although the signing of the peace deal was not “a victory,” there was definitely “no defeat.” Since September 27, the conflict has taken as many as 5,000 lives. Putting a halt to the war has come to the benefit of Armenia, but the peace deal has brought more power to Turkey and Russia, who back the two warring countries on opposing sides. 

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

Sudan was supposed to create a transitional parliament by November 15, based on a peace deal signed in August, however, this has been pushed back to December 31 to ensure a “national consensus.” One of the main disputes has been the distribution of seats in the parliament. Although the original agreement stipulated that there should be 300 seats, 201 of which should go to members of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), an FFC leader has now suggested that their group only be allocated165 seats. The leader has also suggested designating 75 seats for the Sudan Revolutionary Front, leaving 50 seats for members of other factions. Other organizations were strongly opposed to this plan, but new discussions have started about how to best allocate seats in the transitional parliament.

On November 12, Sudan held talks with the United States to discuss its removal from the State Sponsor of Terror List. The two countries discussed how to take full advantage of this decision and support development efforts in Sudan- doing so would provide a much-needed boost to the Sudanese economy and help establish better infrastructure for the country in the future.

South Sudan

On November 17, the National Dialogue Conference, at which over 500 representatives convened, ended. Refugees and internally displaced people used this opportunity to bring attention to their struggles and their need to return home. Many people also called for governance to be more inclusive of women, youth, and disabled people. While this was a key part of the 2018 peace deal, many of the more practical aspects of the deal, including the creation of a national parliament and many state governments, have not been implemented yet. It is unclear when this will happen.

On November 16, the United Nations began converting protection of civilian (POC) sites, which provided sanctuary to many civilians throughout the civil war, into camps for internally displaced people. As part of this change, many soldiers are being removed from the sites and redeployed to places with higher levels of conflict. They will be placed on temporary bases and long patrols as part of the UN’s efforts in anticipation of higher levels of conflict during the dry season (December and January). During this time, the UN has also announced that it would be building new roads in the country not only to improve infrastructure for civilians and help open borders with Sudan at key crossing points.

Middle East 

Yemen

In a report released on November 17, Oxfam stated that the countries in the Group of 20 (G20) have made more than $17 billion off of arms sales to the Saudi coalition, a number three times more than what the G20 countries have given Yemen in humanitarian aid. As Yemenis suffer from an increasingly dire humanitarian situation, the UN allocated $100 million for the Central Emergency Response Fund due to the high likelihood of widespread famine in Yemen. The country will receive $30 million of this aid through a voucher program initiated to aid women and girls as well as people with disabilities.

The U.S. has considered designating the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization. However, numerous aid organizations view the move as detrimental to Yemeni humanitarian aid. As the Houthis govern northern Yemen, aid organizations are required to obtain their permission to deliver assistance and fear that humanitarian workers will be criminalized if the Houthis are classified as a terrorist organization. On November 27, the Saudi-led coalition carried out air raids in Sanaa in retaliation to a Houthi attack in Jeddah on the 23rd, destroying two mines south of the Red Sea. 

Syria

On November 4th, the Syrian government bombed the country’s northwestern region to exterminate a rebel base, resulting in the death of seven people. Sources like World Vision state eight people were killed, but four children were part of the casualties, with the youngest being four years old, and with seventeen others injured. A truce between Turkey and Russia, who back opposite sides in the conflict, has started to deteriorate as both sides’ attacks increase and create more civilian casualties. On November 24th, attacks also occurred when Kurdish fighters, who are linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party, fought the Syrian National Army, who are rebels supported by Turkey. The two groups clashed in Northern Syria, where the conflict started after Turkish-backed forces invaded Northern Syria and the Kurds residing there rose in response. The fighting occurred in the town of Ein Issa, leaving 18 fighters dead, with another conflict in al-Bab and Afrin that killed a total of 8 people. 

During the first week of November, a conference was held in Damascus, Russia, over Syrian refugees. The president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, gave a speech declaring that over six million refugees spread across neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, and Europe were being blocked by Western powers from returning home. Currently, only around 65,000 of those refugees have returned home since 2016. The United Nations Refugee center and European countries’ representatives refused to attend the conference in Russia, citing the crimes committed by al-Assad’s government, which include kidnapping, sexual violence, and torture. 

Asia

Burma

The ruling party of Burma, the National League for Democracy, claimed a landslide win in the November 8th election. This comes amid criticism received by the Union Election Commission (UEC) for canceling votes from 15 townships. This revoking of voters’ fundamental rights is a result of what the UEC calls a security concern. The military-backed opposition, Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), deems the election “unfair” and demands a re-vote. However, the USDP’s public rejection “does not reflect the military view,” says Major General Zaw Min Tun, the Myanmar military spokesperson. In the midst of these dissenting opinions, some minority groups still won 42 seats, such as Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (13 seats), Arakan National Party (8 seats), Mon Unity Party (5 seats), Kayah State Democratic Party (4 seats), Ta’ang National Party (4 seats), Pa-O National Organization (4 seats), and other Ethnic Parties (4 seats).  

The Myanmar military recently stated publicly they would begin a formal investigation concerning recent allegations of using children as human minesweepers. This complex situation resulted in the death of two Muslim boys and injured one. This incident occurred on October 5, and the UN Country Taskforce on Monitoring and Reporting on Grave Violations against Children in Myanmar (CTFMR) is urging the military to complete an ethical investigation. Amidst this investigation, there have been further restrictions to internet access throughout Burma. 

According to the Telenor Group, a major communication service in Burma, the Myanmar Ministry of Transport and Communications directed all mobile phone operators in Myanmar to extend the internet restriction on 3G and 4G networks in Rakhine and Chin States until December 31, 2020. 

Kashmir

On October 29th, just two days after India enacted laws that would allow its citizens to buy property in Kashmir, militants killed three politicians from the Bharatiya Janta Party. Later that week, many businesses in Indian-controlled Kashmir shut down in response to those same laws, which many see as a move by India to dramatically change Kashmir’s Muslim-majority demographic. 

On November 1st, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that Gilgit-Baltistanm, a region in the northern portion of Kashmir, will be granted provisional provincial status by his government. For this to happen, the Pakistani parliament will need to pass a constitutional amendment. If the proposal is passed, Gilgit-Baltistanm, which is extremely important to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) infrastructure plan, will have a status similar to that of Pakistan’s other provinces. 

This weekend the Organisation of Islamic Conference’s council of foreign ministers met. Originally not on the agenda, Pakistan combatted that by proposing a resolution to recognize Kashmiri special status and human rights abuses in the region. After passing the resolution, India described this as “factually incorrect, gratuitous and unwarranted.”

East Turkistan (Xinjiang, China)

As the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act continues to go through the legislative process, lobbyists have started pushing back. On November 20, news broke that Apple lobbied to weaken the bill. Despite the reports from congressional staffers, Apple states that they support the bill as they work to ensure that workers in their supply chain are “treated with dignity and respect.” Other companies have lobbied to have their names removed from the bill, but there has been no action taken on these appeals. 

Pope Francis has “publicly named China’s Uyghur minority among a list of the world’s persecuted peoples.” U.S. senators have started to work on a bipartisan effort to name these atrocities a genocide. However, their work was halted due to congressional recess.

Central Africa

Central African Republic

Earlier this month, the first refugees since March returned home to the Central African Republic (CAR) from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The 474 refugees returning to CAR are the first of the 4,000 the United Nations plans to bring home by the end of 2020. 

Statistics on humanitarian issues within the country show that people are still at risk despite these positive signs. In the upcoming year, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 2.8 million Central Africans will need humanitarian aid. The ongoing pandemic has only worsened conditions devastated by decades of armed conflict and historical exploitation. The number of people in CAR has increased since 2019, and without large-scale programs, human rights violations, conflict, gender-based violence, and need-insecurity will only continue.

Cameroon

Following the killing of eight schoolchildren in Kumba last month, several teachers have been kidnapped from a school in a western Cameroon region. Armed men raided the local primary and secondary school in Kumba and kidnapped 11 teachers. Since October 2017, anglophone fighters have declared an independent state in the Northwest Region and Southwest Region, leading to conflicts negatively affecting children’s abilities to obtain a quality education. In November 2019, UNICEF estimated that 855,000 children did not get schooling in the two anglophone regions. 

The negative effects on children’s upbringing in these regions are only deepened by the fact that more than two million children in Cameroon do not have a birth certificate according to Public Health Minister, Manaouda Malachie. The authorities blame the situation on the conflict in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions and the attacks by Boko Haram militants in the north. On November 16, 2020, Parliament began meeting to find solutions to the issue and released a statement hoping to make the process of obtaining a birth certificate easier. UNICEF notes that more than 40,000 children could not attend their school exams last year because of a lack of a birth certificate.

In the U.S., Cameroonian asylum seekers claimed that ICE agents forced them to sign their own deportation orders. In a complaint filed by Southern Poverty Law Center, Freedom for Immigrants, and the Detention Watch Network, six Cameroonian asylum seekers allege that ICE agents physically forced and threatened them into signing deportation orders. In the report, they claim, “These are not isolated incidents; rather, the use of violent force to obtain signatures in violation of immigrants’ rights appears to be part of an ongoing pattern and practice.” If forced to return home, Cameroonian asylum seekers fear their lives could be at risk, since deportees repatriated last month are now missing.

Democratic Republic of Congo

On November 23, a military court convicted militia leader Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka of war crimes committed in 2010 and between 2012 and 2014 in the Walikale and Masisi territories. They used child soldiers, pillaged towns, murdered people, and committed many acts of sexual violence. The UN sees this as an important step to achieving justice and healing for victims of this violence. Unfortunately, conflict continues in Salamabila in the Maniema province. People are fighting over access to a natural gold mine called Mount Namoya. Civilians are often caught in the crossfire as targets of violence, looting, property destruction, sexual violence, and other human rights violations. 

Refugees

In Ethiopia, tensions are rising swiftly with over 4,000 refugees from the Tigray region crossing over the border into Sudan per day. This makes around 33,000 people who have sought asylum in Sudan since early November. Refugees reported that the sudden accounts of heavy artillery and tanks around the regional capital, Mekelle, caused them to immediately seek shelter. The arrival of these refugees was not expected or prepared for and the United Nations is planning for around 200,000 more refugees in the next six months. With rising cases of COVID-19 in refugee camps, humanitarian access and help are becoming harder to come by and more needed by the minute. Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, said that conditions for refugee children are “extremely harsh” and that the UN agency is working to urgently provide critical life-saving support. 

Jan Jan Maran is a student at George Mason University and is STAND’s Burma Action Committee co-lead. Jan Jan contributed to the Armenia & Azerbaijan portion of this update. 

Mira Mehta is a student at Westfield High School, and a co-lead of the Yemen Action Committee. Prior to this, she was the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead and served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years. Mira contributed the Sudan, South Sudan, and Democratic Republic of Congo portions of this update.

Caroline Mendoza is a student at UCLA studying international development. Caroline serves on the Managing Committee as a co-education and co-Burma committee lead. Caroline contributed to the Yemen portion of this update. 

Madeline O’Brien is a student at Northeast Community College studying Global Studies and is transferring to University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire to study Public History. Madeline contributed to the Syria portion of this update. 

Saw Tar Thar Chit Ba is a freshman at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania majoring in Business Administration. Saw Tar Thar contributed to the Burma portion of this update. 

Sulphia Iqbal is a senior at South Brunswick High School and a member of the STAND Yemen and Burma Action Committees. Sulphia contributed to the Kashmir portion of this update.

Audrey Firrone is a student at the University of Memphis and is a member of the East Turkistan (Xinjiang) Action Committee. In addition to working with STAND, she also works with the Free Uyghur Student Coalition. Audrey contributed the East Turkistan (Xinjiang) portion of this update.

Grace Harris is a senior at Tampa Prep High School. She has been a member of her school’s STAND chapter since her freshman year and currently serves as its president. With STAND, Grace is the co-Xinjiang and co-High School Outreach lead. Grace contributed to the Central African Republic portion of this update.

Ishreet Lehal is a senior at Terre Haute South Vigo High School, and serves on the STAND Managing Committee as the Kashmir Action Committee Lead. Ishreet contributed to the Cameroon portion of this update. 

Dorene Hantzis is a student at Terre Haute South Vigo High School, and a chapter leader and Indiana State Advocacy Lead. She is also a partner with Together We Remember to remember victims of identity-based violence. Dorene contributed to the Refugees portion of this update.

STAND Conflict Update: October 2020

Special Update: Armenia & Azerbaijan

On September 27th, a decades-long unresolved conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan hit its most violent point since a cease-fire brokered in 1994 with heavy fighting from both sides. This conflict centers around the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region which traditionally belongs to Azerbaijan but has a majority Armenian population. Nagorno-Karabakh voted to become a part of Armenia as the Soviet Union collapsed in the late 1980s- this led to a full out war with reports of ethnic cleansing and massacres committed by both parties. There have been multiple flare-ups since 1994, but none as significant as the one that is currently occurring. 

Nearly 800 Armenians have died in this conflict since September 27th. These civilian casualties are largely due to war practices that do not attempt to protect civilians, such as the use of artillery salvos and ballistic missiles in populated areas. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other human rights groups have called for an immediate end to these practices. The conflict also threatens to spiral into a regional war with 1,000 Syrian fighters employed by a private Turkish security force sent to support Azerbaijan in the first days of October. This Turkish support of Azerbaijan threatens to catalyze Russian involvement in the area in support of Armenia.

Attempts at peace talks have been unsuccessful so far. Fighting partly subsided on October 10th after a cease-fire came into place, but both sides were accusing the other of breaking the agreement before it started. By midnight fighting had resumed. A break in fighting was once again attempted on October 18th with both sides issuing statements declaring a “humanitarian truce.” This attempt also failed within the day. Misinformation has repeatedly been cited by foreign news outlets as the cause for these failures as it is likely that false videos have been used as reasoning for breaking off agreements. A new cease-fire agreement set to start on the morning of October 26th was negotiated in a meeting between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and senior U.S. diplomats.

Genocide Watch, a non-profit working to predict, prevent, stop, and punish genocide, has released a genocide emergency alert on Azerbaijan’s atrocities. They also note that this atrocity has reached Stage 9: Extermination and Stage 10: Denial of the Ten Stages of Genocide

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

On October 3, around a year after peace talks began, the Sudanese transitional government and several rebel groups signed a peace deal that promises to provide monetary aid for conflict-affected regions and plans for the return of internally displaced peoples. Despite this, civil unrest continues throughout the country. After the governor of the eastern Kassala province was sacked, large protests caused authorities to impose a curfew in Port Sudan and Suakin. At least six people have died and 20 have been injured due to the protests, which stem from an ongoing conflict between two ethnic groups in the region. Protests have also broken out in Sudan’s capital. The Resistance Committees, which led the protests against al-Bashir last year, organized to call for improved living conditions and results from an investigation carried out on the violent crackdown against Khartoum protests in June 2019. 

On October 19, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that Sudan would be removed from the U.S. State Sponsor of Terrorism list on the condition that Sudan pay a $335 million compensation for U.S. terror victims. Congress has 45 days to object to this motion, and, if passed, grant Sudan a new status not seen since 1993 when it was placed on the blacklist. 

South Sudan

On October 5, a group of UN World Food Program boats was attacked near Renal town in northern South Sudan, leaving one missing and three injured. The WFP was providing aid for victims of recent flooding in the country and followed a similar attack on World Vision offices in early October. Violence also continues in South Sudan’s Tonj East County, where fighting between the Thiik cattle community and Akok cattle camp left nine dead and 30 injured. The state’s governor has called upon local communities to refrain from engaging in inter-communal violence for the sake of secure aid delivery to these areas. 

Sudan and South Sudan have made little progress in resolving the disputed Abyei area, an oil-rich region commonly subject to attacks on villages. While peace processes are not yet in the works, the UN Security Council noted the importance of the increased dialogue between the two nations in strengthening their relationship. 

Middle East

Yemen

Tensions have escalated between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition during the month of October. On October 24 the Iran-backed Houthis launched an attack in Saudi Arabia utilizing drones, targeting the Jizan and Abha airports and an air force base in Khamis Mushait. The Saudi-led coalition, however, stated that it intercepted drones going towards the southern region of Saudi Arabia, making it unclear if any civilians were hit. Since early October, more Yemeni civilians have been reported killed or injured in recent fighting. Two Yemeni civilians were killed in a shelling launched by the Houthis in the port city of Hodeidah. Hodeidah has seen increasing disruptions and turmoil despite the Houthi rebels and the government striking a ceasefire deal in 2018. These risks are worsening the widespread famine and starvation already plaguing Yemeni civilians in the country, as both sides of the conflict use aid disruptions as a tool of war.

Syria

On October 15, Kurdish authorities released 631 ISIL prisoners in northern Syria who have, according to the Syrian Democratic Council, expressed regret about joining ISIL and are ready to reintegrate into society. The move comes as part of a general amnesty in the U.S.-supported military region, and all those released were noted to have served at least half of their sentences. 

On Monday, October 26, over 50 Turkish-backed fighters were killed after an airstrike in northwest Syria. Syrian opposition forces blamed Russia for the attack, vowing to rebel despite a recent increase in daytime airstrikes. The vast number of civilian deaths as a result of the Syrian War was recently investigated in a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on October 15. The HRW concluded that the Russian and Syrian offensive’s attacks on civilians could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The report noted that between April 2019 and March 2020, the Russia-Syria alliance launched 46 attacks on public places including hospitals, markets, and schools, and called for targeted sanctions on Syrian and Russian military commanders. 

Asia

Burma 

With Burma’s November 8 elections only two weeks away, many issues with this election have arisen. The ruling National League for Democracy Party has excluded all Rohingya from voting or running for office, canceled elections in nine of seventeen townships in the Rakhine state due to conflict, and banned the country’s largest election monitoring group. Conflict continues to escalate in the Rakhine state. Countless sources from first-hand reports, video evidence, and satellite imagery analysis show the atrocities committed by the Burmese Military. Their fighting has traumatized, injured, and killed innocent people. Additionally, Burma’s government has kept about 130,000 internally displaced Rohingya in inhumane conditions in refugee camps for eight years now with no sight of when they can return home. 

Kashmir

Unease between the Kashmiri people and the government has been rising expeditiously, especially now at the release of the former chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti. She was freed by the Indian authorities after 14 months of house arrest. Mufti was detained on August 5, 2019, after Kashmir was stripped of its right to self-govern. The Indian government has a history of illegally detaining Kashmiri activists, politicians, and teachers. Even though several political leaders have been released, thousands are still detained unconstitutionally all over Kashmir. Now after Mufti’s release, seven political parties of Jammu and Kashmir mobilized at Mufti’s residence in Srinagar to format their recently formed alliance. The alliance aims to reinstate Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which would grant Jammu and Kashmir autonomy and specify the limits and allowances for their self-government. 

East Turkistan (Xinjiang, China)

On October 21, a parliamentary committee in Canada announced that they deem the current atrocities occurring in China against the Uyghurs and other Turkic minority groups should be labeled as a genocide. This announcement comes after a Chinese envoy to Canada warned against labeling the mass detentions as a genocide. The members of parliament on the international human rights subcommittee have called for Magnitsky sanctions to be made against China in the coming weeks. In addition to labeling the atrocities a genocide, they are also calling on other world powers, including the United States, to do the same. China’s foreign ministry has denied the allegations, calling them “groundless.”

In the United States, the Uyghur Forced Labor Disclosure Act passed in the House of Representatives on September 30 and has been moved into the Senate. The bill would require public companies to consistently review and audit supply chains to monitor for forced labor practices. On October 16, Robert O’Brien, U.S. national security advisor, said that “if not a genocide, something close to it [is] going on in Xinjiang,” during an online event. O’Brien also said that the United States is considering how to best approach the issue on the global stage.

Central Africa

Central African Republic

Russia expanded its influence in the Central African Republic (CAR) by opening a representative office and sending the state ten armored vehicles. CAR hopes to have their arms embargo lifted with the help of Russia, which would allow Russia to supply CAR with more weaponry. In a report released this month, Amnesty International explained that the Special Criminal Court (SCC), a “UN-backed hybrid tribunal” in the Central African Republic, has been ineffective in upholding justice in the country. As a result, many criminals and abusers who have engaged in “unlawful killings and sexual violence” have not been held accountable for their crimes and human rights violations. According to Samira Daoud, an Amnesty International regional director, UN member states should “consider making contributions to the SCC” in order to help it properly serve its purpose. 

Cameroon

The English-speaking regions (mainly North-West of Cameroon) reopened around 140 of the 475 schools after a 4-year closure. The four-year conflict commenced in 2016 when civilians emerged to end the superfluous amount of support of French-speaking individuals in a nation that has more than one official language. The UN has reported more than 3,000 civilians are dead or displaced due to the ongoing violence in the North-West regions. The recent opening of schools seems to be a positive step to end the violence against women and children; however, many separatist fighters disagree with the re-opening of schools. On October 24, attacks on school children in the city of Kumba (a South-West region) killed eight children and injured about twelve others. The attacks occurred at the Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy. 

Security forces attacked peaceful protestors with tear-gas and water cannons. The security forces even detained the opposition leaders and supporters. Since September 22 and continuing in October, security forces have arrested and beat individuals for exercising their rights and political views. MRC leader, Maurice Kamto, has been under house arrest since September. On October 5th, Kamto’s lawyers requested the release of the opposition leader before the Yaounde Court of First Instance. On October 12, 14 UN human rights experts called for the release of the opposition leaders, including Kamto and political activists. 

Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo has seen a recent uptick in the amount of people fleeing the country. In October, over 50,000 people left because of the fighting in North Kivu. The UN Refugee Agency has increased its support in the area by providing relief items, constructing emergency shelters, and helping communities bolster protective mechanisms. Between October 26 and 27, the Congolese Army made strides in taking down rebel groups near their eastern border. On the 26, the army took control over the Burundi rebel groups headquarters, as well as fighting against the Rwandan rebel group. Reports the next day stated that the Congolese army had killed 27 rebels between the two groups. 

Refugees

On October 19, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the Trump administration’s policy requiring asylum seekers to wait outside the country while their applications are being processed. The case will not be decided until at least after the election, meaning that migrants waiting in Mexico near the U.S. border will have to remain there in the interim.

With the end of the fiscal year on October 1, the United States has recently announced that it took in a mere 11,814 refugees during FY 2020, only about two-thirds of the 18,000 person limit and the lowest number of refugees admitted in a fiscal year on record- it is important to note, however, that overall immigration and movement between countries was limited this year due to the pandemic. 

The United States is not alone in its low acceptance of refugees- the number of refugees accepted by Australia reached a record low this year. There have also been more active attacks on refugees. On October 23, several independent news organizations released a report detailing how Frontex, the border and coast guard agency of the European Union, has been involved in illegally sending refugees back to their home countries. In June, a Frontex vessel assisted Greek authorities in stopping a vessel of refugees before it had even reached Greek shores, and this was not an isolated incident. Greek authorities have repeatedly engaged in similar behaviors, known as pushbacks, and Frontex authorities, despite being aware of their violations of EU laws, did not intervene. Greece is not the only EU country to have conducted pushbacks-Croatian authorities have long been accused of sending refugees back to their home countries after they had reached land, and the Danish Refugee Council documented several incidents that occurred between October 12 and October 16. These were reportedly violent and aggressive, with some migrants accusing Croatian authorities of physical and sexual abuse. This violence against and refusal to help refugees is reflected throughout the world, highlighting the need to do more to protect refugees.

Megan Rodgers is a senior honors student at the University of Arkansas studying International Studies, Political Science, and Spanish. She is one of STAND’s co-student directors for the 2020-2021 academic year. Megan contributed to the Armenia portion of this update.

Caroline Mendoza is a student at UCLA studying international development. Caroline serves on the Managing Committee as a co-education and co-Burma committee lead. Caroline contributed to the Sudan and South Sudan and Syria portions of this update. 

Alondra Becerra is a student at Texas State University studying international relations and is a member of the Yemen, Sudan, and South Sudan Action Committees. Alondra contributed the Yemen portion of this update.

Grace Harris is a senior at Tampa Prep High School. She has been a member of her school’s STAND chapter since her freshman year and currently serves as its president. With STAND, Grace is the co-Xinjiang and co-High School Outreach lead. Grace contributed to the Burma portion of this update.

Dorene Hantzis is a student at Terre Haute South Vigo High School, and a chapter leader and Indiana State Advocacy Lead. She is also a partner with Together We Remember to remember victims of identity-based violence. Dorene contributed to the Kashmir portion of this update.

Audrey Firrone is a student at the University of Memphis and is a member of the East Turkistan (Xinjiang) Action Committee. In addition to working with STAND, she also works with the Free Uyghur Student Coalition. Audrey contributed the East Turkistan (Xinjiang) portion of this update.

Sulphia Iqbal is a senior at South Brunswick High School and a member of the STAND Yemen and Burma Action Committees. Sulphia contributed to the Central African Republic portion of this update.

Saroona Khilji is a psychology student at George Mason University, and a member of STANDnow. Saroona contributed the Cameroon portion of this update.

Jenna Walmer is a graduate student at West Chester University of Pennsylvania working towards an M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an M.A. in General Psychology. With STAND, she is the co-Education and co-Policy lead. Jenna contributed the Democratic Republic of the Congo portion of this update. 

Mira Mehta is a student at Westfield High School, and a co-lead of the Yemen Action Committee. Prior to this, she was the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead and served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years. Mira contributed the Refugees portion of this update.

STAND Conflict Update: September 2020

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

Relations between Sudan and the United States continued to develop this month. Sudan’s government has been seeking removal from the U.S. State Sponsor of Terror List, which would allow the country access to much-needed aid. This has been a major priority for the transitional government since taking office, and with Sudan in an economic state of emergency, it has only become more necessary. There is bipartisan support for normalization in Congress, as Sudan has indicated willingness to compensate victims of Bashir-era terrorist attacks, and the Trump administration is pushing to finalize a deal before the election. Sudanese leaders are meeting with U.S. officials in the United Arab Emirates to discuss the terms. However, the U.S. administration is attempting to make the removal conditional on normalized relations with Israel – a condition the Sudanese government has rejected despite additional monetary incentives. Despite its continued presence on the list, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has agreed to give Sudan $1.5 billion annually in assistance. 

South Sudan

On September 2, the UN mission in South Sudan announced that it will be initiating a peacekeeping base in Lobonok after two civilians were killed in the area in late August. This resurgence in violence has been attributed to the National Salvation Front, a rebel group that many fear is mobilizing again in the Equatoria region.

Violence has also been on the rise for South Sudanese refugees. On September 14th, six South Sudanese refugees were killed and four were injured in a resettlement camp in northwestern Uganda. Uganda currently holds over 1.4 million refugees, the majority of which are from South Sudan. Reports have stated that tensions between South Sudanese refugee communities and local Ugandan villages have become increasingly high as land and water have gradually become scarce. 

Middle East

Yemen

On September 13th, the Saudi-led coalition launched 11 air raids in Sanaa, Yemen, targeting the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels. These attacks hit various Houthi military sites and the Sanaa airport, leaving parts of the city in flames. Later that week, representatives from Yemen’s internationally recognized government and the Houthi rebels met in Geneva to discuss a potential exchange of prisoners with the UN envoy to Yemen. 

The discussion of humanitarian aid in Yemen is raising concerns. On September 15th, the UN’s humanitarian chief called out Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait for not financially contributing to aid being sent to Yemen. Additionally, Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleges that aid interference in the region is preventing millions of Yeminis in need from receiving humanitarian aid. Lack of funding is resulting in the shutting down of essential services relating to the health and sanitation of the country. In a report released on September 14th, HRW accused major parties involved in the conflict of “systematic interference in relief operations,” and explained the consequences of such action, especially taking into account the damage done by the COVID pandemic on the country. Considering Yemen’s already weakened healthcare system and a population plagued by disease, famine, and poor immune systems, continued aid interference will be extremely harmful for the country. President Hadi also echoed this concern in his speech to the United Nations on September 24th, asking that the Houthi rebels allow humanitarian aid to reach the people who need it. 

Syria 

The United Nations has noticed that Syrian groups have increasingly been committing human rights violations and violence towards Turkish civilians. The UN has urged Turkey to investigate war crimes in Syria. The UN Human Rights Office noticed an increase in violence and human rights violations in the past few months. In addition to Turkey’s investigations, the Dutch government has also taken strides toward holding Syria responsible to international law. They plan to enter negotiations with Syria, use a Dutch arbitration system, and if both these steps fail, take the case to international court. 

The U.S.-Syrian relationship continues to be tenuous, yet hopeful. On September 24, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun announced that the U.S. would provide over $720 million to Syria for humanitarian assistance. Sanctions under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act had taken effect in June and on September 26, Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister, Walid al-Moualem, stated, “The real purpose for the (Caesar) Act is to put pressure on Syrians, their livelihoods and their daily lives. It is an inhumane attempt to suffocate Syrians, just like George Floyd and others (who) were cruelly suffocated in the United States.” 

Asia

Burma

The United Nations has denounced the ongoing village attacks that have killed many in  Rakhine State, as well as the overall atrocities committed and enabled by Burma’s government and military. The UN urged leadership to comply with the International Criminal Court, the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, and the International Court of Justice. Investigations into genocide and other human rights atrocities are ongoing, and the hope is that those in power can be held responsible and the injustices can end.

Youth in Burma have been at the forefront of resistance to these atrocities and continue to protest, focusing on attacks in Rakhine and Shan states as well as the internet blockade that has only recently been replaced with a slow 2G network. At least 20 students protesting the Burmese government’s and military’s human rights abuses were arrested earlier this month for failing to give a two day’s notice before holding a protest and for acting in a way the government deemed as causing “fear and alarm.” Following the arrests, the Burmese government was criticized by international human rights organizations for utilizing intimidation to suppress anyone who speaks out against atrocities.

With a surge in COVID-19 cases, ongoing conflict, and the exclusion of ethnic minorities from running for public office, many fear for the integrity of the upcoming national elections in November. Each factor contributes to the suppression of those already vulnerable to atrocities and further cuts civilians off from participating in the electoral process.

Kashmir

The tension amongst locals and government forces have been escalating in Kashmir, specifically in the main city of Srinagar. Rebel groups have emerged against the security forces, attempting to cease the growing violence within the region. On September 17, three members of the rebel forces were caught in a shootout with government forces that ended with the rebel fighters and a woman deceased. These deaths led to an uproar amongst the locals in Kashmir; protests have been frequent in many neighborhoods in an attempt to resist the security forces, where protesters threw rocks at the police forces who were firing back with tear-gas and other forms of riot control. Due to the constant attacks, bloodshed has been increasing between the rebels and the security forces. On September 25, lawyer-activist Babar Qadir, who resided in Srinagar and was outspoken about Kashmir’s right to self-determination, was shot and killed by gunmen who came over to his house disguising themselves as clients. However, this incident has not stopped protestors from being vocal against the security forces.

The ongoing human rights abuses in Kashmir have become dire enough to involve the UN. Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, held a meeting with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Geneva to discuss the issues occurring in  Kashmir. It was later announced that the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, will address the UN General Assembly on September 25th to make several demands of India, including the restoration of the internet in Kashmir, the release of all prisoners, and the allowance of human rights investigators to observe on-the-ground in Kashmir.

East Turkistan (Xinjiang, China)

On September 14, the United States announced that they will put an export ban on items from East Turkistan, including cotton, computer parts, clothing, and hair products. The ban is meant to target four companies and one manufacturing site due to their human rights violations against the Uyghurs after accounts of forced labor have come forth. Mark A. Morgan, the acting commissioner of the U.S. Customers and Border Protection agency, said, “[These orders] send a clear message to the international community that we will not tolerate the illicit, inhumane, and exploitative practices of forced labor in U.S. supply chains.” However, one of China’s foreign ministry’s spokespeople, Wang Wenbin, stated that the allegations of forced labor were invented by Western countries. China is still supporting the claim that the internment sites are necessary to combat terrorist threats and provide education, job training, and other utilities. U.S. Officials are still considering a larger regional ban. 

Central Africa

Central African Republic

On September 23, the Parliament of the Central African Republic extended the time period for people to register as voters. The decision was met with significant criticism from the opposition party, who suggested that disruptions to the voter registration process necessitated a full delay of the election. However, the extended registration period was meant to reach citizens who have not yet been able to register as a result of violence, displacement, and other structural problems. CAR’s elections are particularly important because they will be the first since the signing of a peace deal in February 2019. As of now, the election is still scheduled for December 27, and the deadline for voter registration has been extended one month until October 27.

Cameroon

Assaults committed by Boko Haram terrorists forced thousands of residents of Northern Cameroon to leave their homes and relocate to UN camps, one of which was attacked on September 4, resulting in seven deaths and 14 injured. On September 18, multiple security units were positioned at major intersections in Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital, in anticipation of a planned demonstration organized by the Cameroon Resistance Movement (CRM). Here, the security units forcibly conducted searches of vehicles. Just days before the protests organized by the opposition CRM party were meant to be carried out, the Cameroonian health minister banned “all protests,” using coronavirus and social distancing as an excuse. Human Rights Watch has expressed their disapproval of this decision, stating that the Cameroonian government utilized the pandemic as poor justification to “quell the right to assemble.” A heavy police and security presence was reported to be positioning themselves outside of the CRM party’s headquarters and fired tear gas at protestors. According to the first vice president of the CRM party, Barrister Christopher Ndong, “Peaceful protestors have been shot at, arrested, brutalized, and tear-gassed.” The party attests that 593 people were arrested during the opposition protests, including four journalists. One protestor was shot and killed by Cameroon police in the country’s largest city, Doula. Maurice Kamto, leader of the CRM opposition party, has been unable to leave his home as a result of his involvement and planning of the opposition protests on September 22. Despite police cars being stationed outside of his home, Mr. Kamto says the protests will continue to occur until the current Cameroonian president, Paul Biya, resigns or is forced to step down after 38 years in office. 

On September 24, following the opposition protests in several cities across Cameroon, the CRM opposition party agreed to a debate against President Paul Biya’s party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement. The opposition is calling for a resolution of the long-established Anglophone crisis and changes to the electoral code. 

Democratic Republic of Congo

Violence in the Ituri province of the Democratic Republic of Congo has persisted for a long time, but new efforts for peace are giving a glimmer of hope. A peace envoy established by President Tsishekedi has been negotiating with the Cooperation for the Development of Congo (CODECO), a political and military group blamed for hundreds of civilian deaths. Since the arrival of the envoy, violence in the region has reportedly decreased.

Former rebels who were released from prison in January were sent to help the peace envoy on September 23. Some progress has been reported, but a peace deal would likely require members of the CODECO to be reintegrated into the military and community. The UN representative in the DRC has cautioned against this, stating that those guilty of war crimes will likely need to be prosecuted to provide justice to the victims of those crimes. The negotiations between the President’s peace envoy and the CODECO are still ongoing, however, and it remains to be seen what the details of the settlement will actually look like.

Refugees

The number of refugees to be admitted to the United States through the Department of State’s refugee resettlement program is typically set before the new fiscal year begins on October 1st.  A bipartisan letter signed by 540 elected officials from all 50 states was sent to President Trump on September 17th, expressing their support for resettlement in their communities. However, it is likely that the U.S. will not have a resettlement quota for FY 2021 before this date as President Trump has yet to consult with Congress to set a presidential determination as required by law. This could result in the freeze of all U.S. refugee resettlement until a quota is set.

This freeze on resettlement would result in a further limitation of options for refugees to leave camps where cases of COVID-19 are expected to increase throughout winter months. Refugee camps have also seen an increase in cholera and malaria cases due to disruptions in the diagnosis and treatment of these diseases caused by COVID-19. Disruptions caused by COVID-19 have also resulted in limited access to education for refugee children, a topic that was addressed during a recent video broadcast in connection with the UN General Assembly.

Failures in systems to protect and support refugees have been highlighted throughout the past month. A recent report released by Amnesty International revealed that over 10,000 refugees in Libya are trapped in a cycle of violence and abuse from which there are few paths for escape.  In Greece, violations of European asylum law continue to be exposed and two groups, Oxfam and WeMove Europe, recently asked the European Commission to launch infringement proceedings against Greece to investigate these violations. Additionally, a boat that rescued 125 refugees off of the Libyan coast and was denied asylum by France several weeks ago was allowed to dock in Italy. Plans are being made for the resettlement of all those onboard with 25 staying in Italy and the rest being resettled in other European countries. 

Alison Rogers is a senior University Scholar concentrating in journalism and international studies at Baylor University. She leads the STAND Sudan and South Sudan Action Committee. Alison contributed to the Sudan and South Sudan portions of this update. 

Sulphia Iqbal is a senior at South Brunswick High School and a member of the STAND Yemen and Burma Action Committees. Sulphia contributed to the Cameroon portion of this update.

Jenna Walmer is a graduate student at West Chester University of Pennsylvania working towards an M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an M.A. in General Psychology. With STAND, she is the co-Education and co-Policy lead. Jenna contributed the Syria portion of this update. 

Grace Harris is a senior at Tampa Prep High School. She has been a member of her school’s STAND chapter since her freshman year and currently serves as its president. With STAND, Grace is the co-Xinjiang and co-High School Outreach lead. Grace contributed to the Refugees portion of this update.

Saroona Khilji is a Psychology student at George Mason University and a member of STAND. Saroona contributed the Kashmir portion of this update.

Ananya Gera is a junior in high school, and STAND’s Social Media Coordinator. Ananya contributed to the Xinjiang portion of this update.

Khadeeja Abd-Allah is STAND’s State Advocacy Lead for Maryland. Khadeeja contributed to the Cameroon portion of this update. 

Mira Mehta is a student at Westfield High School and a co-lead of the Yemen Action Committee. Prior to this, she was the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead and served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years. Mira contributed the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of the Congo portions of this update.

Megan Rodgers is a senior honors student at the University of Arkansas studying International Studies, Political Science, and Spanish. She is one of STAND’s co-student directors for the 2020-2021 academic year. Megan contributed to the refugees portion of this update.

STAND Conflict Update: August 2020

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

On July 25, an estimated 500 armed men stormed through Masteri village, killing over 60 people and displacing countless more. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs noted that this was the most recent attack of seven similar cases documented from July 19 to the 26th. On August 13, Sudan also saw renewed tribal violence in Port Sudan, where clashes between the Nuba and Beni Amer tribes left 32 people dead, 98 wounded, and 85 arrested. Following the violence, the Sudanese government sent additional security troops and imposed a curfew on the area in hopes to restore order. Tribal violence has been noted as one of the most significant challenges to gaining stability, and renewed efforts to bring peace to Sudan have worked to address this. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who is currently heading the transitional Sudanese government, is said to be meeting with a number of rebel groups on August 28 to plan and create a peace agreement. 

On August 22, Hamdok announced the country’s decision to collaborate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) to bring in any individual accused of human rights violations and war crimes in Darfur, including former leader Omar al-Bashir. Al-Bashir, who was previously overthrown by a military coup in April 2019, has remained in prison in Khartoum and is wanted by the ICC for mass genocide in Sudan that has killed over 300,000 people since 2003. While Al-Bashir has escaped previous attempts to bring him to the ICC and the Hague Tribunal, Hamdok released a formal statement in an official televised address, stating that “the government is fully prepared to cooperate with the ICC to facilitate access to those accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

South Sudan

On August 11, at least 82 civilians were killed as a result of conflict between armed civilians and South Sudan’s security forces. The conflict spread to a number of villages in northern Warrap state and involved the UN peacekeeping mission, which is currently facilitating reconciliation efforts with community and political leaders. The violence began after government attempts to disarm civilians as a means of reducing retaliatory attacks between ethnic groups, something extremely common between the Nuer, Dinka, and Murle ethnic groups. On August 16, the Murle ethnic group attacked a cathedral in Bor, causing 33 deaths and the desertion of a nearby village. Locals stated that these “revenge attacks” are not unusual. South Sudan has been plagued by violence since gaining independence in 2011, and despite government attempts to reach a peace deal, has still largely struggled to grapple with security challenges.   

Middle East

Yemen

On August 26th, Yemen’s southern separatist groups decided to withdraw from the Riyadh peace deal, a huge step back in peace talks in the region. These talks started in the end of 2019 to devise a power-sharing deal between governments and the Southern Transitional Council. The continual conflict in Yemen may have an environmental impact, as a deteriorating oil tanker leaks oil with a prediction of reaching the Red Sea in September. Al Jazeera’s report mentions that the combination of UN pressure to address the leaking tank coupled with international attention could bring the warring sides together to negotiate a peace deal.

As wars continue and the coronavirus ravages the globe, Yemen continues to approach a famine. In addition to these major issues, the United Nations is in the midst of a funding crisis, greatly impacting Yemeni children. The AP reports that these aid cuts will halt treatment for 250,000 children. These aid cuts also closed health facilities, reduced food aid, and cut allowances for health employees working on the pandemic. 

While writing this conflict update, reports came out that Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile toward Najran, Saudi Arabia, but it was intercepted and destroyed prior to reaching its civilian targets.

Syria

Talks between Syria’s government and opposition forces were carried out in Geneva to discuss reforms and redrafting a new Constitution beginning on August 24. Syria saw spikes in COVID-19 and totaled more than 2,000 cases as of August 18. Testing for the coronavirus has been inadequate due to limited personal protective equipment and medical shortages. Additionally, the United Nations Security Council has been hard-pressed to provide humanitarian aid as attacks by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and Israel continue. Geir Pedersen, Special Envoy for the Secretary-General for Syria, noted that drafting a new constitution, holding UN supervised elections, and re-establishing Syria’s sovereignty should be priorities of the international community. 

The U.S. has reported there are more than 2,000 IS insurgents across the Iraq and Syria border, with the eastern part of Syria, particularly Badia, experiencing high amounts of IS attacks. U.S.-backed troops remain in Badia and other regions of Syria to control IS attacks and gather intelligence on Iran militias. U.S. Special Envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, went to Turkey on August 22 to commence discussions about the issues in Syria and met with Syrian opposition groups later that week. 

After the Beirut blast on August 4, Syrian refugees living in Lebanon were deeply affected. According to the Syrian Embassy, more than 43 Syrian refugees were killed during the incident. Reportedly, hospitals refused to treat Syrian refugees after the explosion. Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, more than one million Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring countries, including Lebanon. Although they are far from the chaos in Syria, many refugees struggle to live in Lebanon and elsewhere due to lacking financial stability, inability to find jobs, and discrimination. 

On August 24, another explosion occurred in Damascus, Syria. The explosion was the result of a pipeline attack that led to a blackout all over the nation. There is speculation that the attack, aimed at three power stations, was a terrorist attack by IS. 

Asia

Burma

On August 2, the internet service in eight Rakhine and Chin townships was restored after months of government blackout— but only 2G has been made available. Thus, citizens remain largely unable to obtain public health information about the COVID-19 pandemic which exacerbates the risks of the disease in impoverished areas. Furthermore, rural areas have not been able to receive crucial news about the approaching elections.

Serious concerns have been raised about Burma’s national elections, now less than three months away. The Union Election Commission (UEC) barred the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE) from monitoring the November polls. The UEC’s move has been assailed as a “hindrance to freedom of association and freedom of speech”. Additionally, Human Rights Watch called for the UEC to amend rules relating to political parties’ access to state-owned entertainment. As the rules stand, every broadcast must be pre-approved by the National League for Democracy under vague restrictions such as “[disturbing] the… peace and stability of the country,” defaming the Tatmadaw, or “[harming] dignity and morality.” These measures restrict almost all criticism of the government and impact citizens ability to make an informed vote. Moreover, just as in previous national elections, it seems that the Rohingya ethnic minority will not be given the right to vote at all

As part of the ongoing international investigation into Burma’s “genocidal intent” during the military’s 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya, Gambia requested that Facebook release military and police communications. The social media platform’s lawyers are refusing, citing a U.S. privacy law and claiming that the request is too vague. Gambia’s request did in fact specify seventeen officials, two military units, and dozens of pages and accounts of interest. Nicholas Koumijan, the head of a UN investigative body, said Facebook is withholding evidence of “serious international crimes” and critics therefore argue that Facebook is obstructing justice, failing to comply with “international tribunals attempting to hold perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocity crimes accountable.” 

Kashmir

August 5th marked the one year point of the Indian government rescinding Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomous status and the lockdown that followed, causing those in Kashmir to be completely cut off from the world. In the past year, Kashmiris have been arrested, tortured, and subjugated to deadly attacks, along with having their internet taken away. They have been the victims of multiple human rights violations. The day before, Indians troops traveled across Kashmir to inflict a curfew. Due to constant lockdowns and the COVID-19 pandemic, many industries have suffered from major economic losses. Tourism, agriculture, horticulture, transport, and small businesses are among the few aspects of the economy that have been hit the hardest. 

Also on August 5th, the UN had a virtual discussion about Kashmir at Pakistan’s request. This is the third time in the past year that the UN has met to review the events happening in Kashmir at the hands of the Indian government. However, after this meeting, the UN did not send out an official statement or take any action. India’s UN Ambassador, TS Tirumurti, stated, “In today’s meeting of UN Security Council which was closed, informal, not recorded, and without any outcome, almost all countries underlined Jammu and Kashmir was a bilateral issue and did not deserve time and attention of [the] Council.” 

In conjunction with India revoking Kashmir’s autonomy last August, Kashmiris have also been without internet for the past year. The Internet was restored after 213 days, the longest internet shutdown in a democratic country. This month, Kashmiri authorities ordered for a restoration of 4G internet services. 

East Turkistan (Xinjiang, China)

Over the last month, the End Uyghur Forced Labor coalition circulated a call to action and over 190 clothing brands committed to end all sourcing from the Xinjiang region. This coalition is a combination of “civil society organizations and trade unions united to end state-sponsored forced labor and other egregious human rights abuses” in the Xinjiang region. The hope is to promote better research and oversight for international fashion brands. In the coalition’s call to action, they cite the lack of reliable information that can be used to verify “that any workplace in the Uyghur Region is free of forced labor.” Signatories of this call to action, including brands from 36 countries, are expected to disengage from relationships with elements of their supply chain that take part in the use of forced or coerced labor in the Xinjiang region within 365 days of signing. 

In addition, the U.S. Treasury Department announced a new round of sanctions on July 31 on a government entity and two senior officials in China “citing systemic human rights abuses.” These sanctions are designed to prevent economic relationships between these entities and American companies and citizens. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hopes that the sanctions, in addition to ongoing government action, will deter human rights abuses in the region. American retailers must research the origination of their supplies by September 30 to avoid supply chain disruption. At this time, it is unclear to what extent these sanctions will work to help end the human rights abuses in Xinjiang. 

Central Africa

Central African Republic

Although CAR celebrated 60 years of independence on August 13, the country is far from the political and economic security it previously expected. Currently, over 680,000 people are internally displaced from clashes between rebel groups. In an attempt to address the country’s security issues, the European Union launched a Common Security and Defence Policy civilian advisory mission in CAR on August 8. In tandem with the UN’s 13,000 troops in CAR, the EU hopes to support domestic security forces and improve local authorities’ capacity to respond to security challenges.

On August 14, 33 people were arrested on suspicion of holding hostages in Northern Cameroon, a crisis that the Cameroonian military has attributed to a spike in crime on the country’s shared border with the Central African Republic. Trafficking, customs fraud, and the demand for ransoms from CAR and Chad rebels have been on the rise since a kidnapping crisis began during the peak of CAR’s civil conflict. COVID-19 has made Central Africans increasingly vulnerable to trafficking as well as starvation and malnutrition- according to the World Food Programme, the humanitarian assistance currently provided falls $83 million short of what would meet CAR’s food needs until the end of 2020.

Cameroon

This month, about 300 Cameroonians have taken to the streets to protest the growing violence in the country’s English-speaking regions. This protest was sparked by the gruesome killings of civilians that have taken place in the last few weeks. On August 11th, three separtist fighters beheaded a 35 year old woman in Muyuka. There have been 13 more reports of civilian killings in Cameroon’s English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions. While the killers are suspected to be Anglophone separatists, some separatists accused the Cameroonian government of disguising its soldiers as separatist fighters in order to commit these acts of violence. In response to these killings, the Cameroonian military arrested hundreds of people as they tried to find the killers. However, the mass arrests have been met with backlash as many innocent civilians are being arrested and tortured, despite having no connection to the civilian killings and the separatist groups. 

According to the Cameroonian government, over 130 former separatists fighters escaped their disarmament, demobilization and reintegration centers, which poses a threat to Cameroon’s security and the safety of its civilians. In light of these escapes, many former fighters have taken to social media to urge runaway fighters to return to their centers. In their video messages to the escaped fighters, former fighters explain that the rumors on social media about the military torturing and killing former fighters for information are false and that the centers have improved in their functionality. 

Democratic Republic of Congo

On August 22, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) allegedly killed 13 people in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.The ADF is an armed group formed in 1986 in Uganda, and it has been blamed for increasing violence along the border with the DRC. In fact, it has been attributed with the deaths of nearly 800 civilians in the past 18 months. People have demanded action from local authorities, but there have not been any other updates so far.

In addition, in early August, Zimbabwe began mediating the border dispute between the DRC and Zambia. On August 17th, they decided upon a resolution to their issue. Leaders are hopeful that this will prevent future conflict between soldiers stationed near the border.

Refugees

Across the world, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened fragility, especially for already vulnerable populations of refugees. Refugee camps are overcrowded. Greece’s Moria refugee camp, designed to host 3,000 people, now holds 13,000 refugees. While humanitarian NGOs have attempted to help, social distancing and practicing proper hygiene are both practically impossible due to the sheer number of people sharing limited resources. The Greek government is also violating international law by expelling refugees, denying the right to seek asylum, and sending them to other countries on unstable boats

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh now experience better access to information via the internet after the Bangladesh government overturned the restrictions.  Internet access affords refugees the ability to learn about COVID-19 trends and reconnect with family and friends. 

Shreya Satagopan is a sophomore at The George Washington University studying political science and criminal justice. She is a member of the STAND Yemen and Sudan Action Committees and is a State Advocacy Lead. Shreya contributed to the Central Africal Republic and Sudan/South Sudan portion of this update. 

Jenna Walmer is a graduate student at West Chester University of Pennsylvania working towards an M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an M.A. in General Psychology. With STAND, she is the co-education and co-policy lead. Jenna contributed the Yemen portion of this update. 

Saroona Khilji is a senior at George Mason University studying Forensic Psychology. She is a member of STAND. Saroona contributed the Syria portion of this update.

Ellie Wong is a senior at Palo Alto High School who looks to pursue International Studies or History in college, with a specific focus in the Asia region. Apart from being a member of STAND’s Buma Action Committee, she has published research about war crimes in North Korea during the Korean War and in the Pacific Theater of WWII. Ellie contributed the Burma portion of this update.

Audrey Firrone is a junior at the University of Memphis where she studies creative mass media, political science and French. She is a member of the STAND Xinjiang Action Committee. Audrey contributed the East Turkistan portion of this update.

Sulphia Iqbal is a senior at South Brunswick High School and a member of the STAND Yemen and Burma Action Committees. Sulphia contributed to the Cameroon portion of this update.

Mira Mehta is a student at Westfield High School and a co-lead of the Yemen Action Committee. Prior to this, she was the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead and served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years. Mira contributed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo portion of this update.

Grace Harris is a senior at Tampa Prep High School. She has been a member of her school’s STAND chapter since her freshman year and currently serves as its president. With STAND, Grace is the co-Xinjiang and co-High School Outreach lead. Grace contributed to the Refugees portion of this update. 

STAND Conflict Update: July 2020

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan 

This month, Sudan’s government ratified a series of laws that included the criminalization of the wide-spread practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Practices of FGM are punishable for up to three years in prison, and hospitals that violate the new law will be promptly shut down. The decision was applauded by human rights advocates and The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The Prime Minister of Sudan, Abdalla Hamdok, publicly supported the law, which was a drastic change from former President Omar al-Bashir, who shot down a 2015 bill trying to achieve the same thing.

The United Nations has condemned the violence in Sudan’s North Darfur this month when reports came in that unidentified men attacked a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) on July 12th. The attack happened in the town of Katum at the Fata Borno IDP camp, where at least nine people died and twenty were wounded. Unidentified gunmen have inflicted attacks in the region for the past weeks on protests demanding “better security and a civilian state government.” Among the growing protests, Abdel- Karim, the acting governor of North Darfur, said in a public statement that he pledged to work on the demands of the protestors.

Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia have reached a “major common understanding” on the dam project along the Nile that has contributed to regional tensions. Sudanese Irrigation Minister, Yasser Abbas, agreed to continue negotiations to maintain a fair relationship that utilized the dam for the interests of all parties involved.

South Sudan 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, South Sudan is facing economic challenges in relation to their oil production. South Sudan’s oil production has dropped due to the pandemic delaying the transportation of materials and maintenance of the equipment. Oil is South Sudan’s major export, and it is a crucial component to the success of the country’s economy. South Sudan is also an OPEC+ participant, which means it must contribute to the cartel’s wider supply. Awow Daniel Chuang, who works In the Ministry of Petroleum, stated that South Sudan is experiencing prices it never has before and the country is “running at a loss.”

United Nations coordinator in South Sudan, Mohamed Ag Ayoya, reported that two aid workers and four others were shot dead after an unknown armed group opened fire. The attack occurred in the Jonglei state, which has seen violence throughout this year. The threat of violence in the region has limited aid organizations, causing Ayoya  to call on the South Sudanese government to do its part in protecting aid workers. This proved an even greater problem as malaria continues to kill people in South Sudan. A report released on July 19th by South Sudan’s Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization states that an estimated 100 people have died from Malaria since January. Malaria cases have increased and aid workers are already wary of entering the region after the attacks on aid workers. The country has reported 2,000 COVID-19 cases and 40 deaths, although the number is derived from very limited testing.

Middle East

Yemen

Concerns over a potential oil dump in the Red Sea are increasing due to the decaying SAFER FSO tanker residing off the Port of Ras Isa. The 45-year-old supertanker, which carries over 1.1 barrels of oil, is at a high risk exploding. The vessel has been stranded off the coast for over five years and has failed to be maintained.  Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Inger Andersen, explained the importance of preventing the spill: “Time is running out for us to act in a coordinated manner to prevent a looming environmental, economic and humanitarian catastrophe.” Andersen fears that the tanker would cause irreparable damage to the environment, including poisoning coral reefs and exhibiting gases into the sea. UN officials predict that a spill would unleash nearly four times the oil of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. The UN stated that a spill would not only kill birds and marine life, but also impact the lives of 28 million individuals in Yemen. The largest consequence of the eruption would be the closing of the ports and shipping lanes that assist the arrival of international aid to Yemen. 

On July 12, a series of airstrikes in the province of Al-Jawf killed at least seven Yemeni civilians. There have been three similar incidents near this region since June. The Yemen director of Save the Children, Xavier Joubert, issued a statement condemning the violence in the region: “Yemeni children are paying with their lives in a war they have no part in, leaving families torn apart while the airstrikes continue to indiscriminately target civilians.” The Yemen Data Project and United Nations recently released statistics showing the Saudi-led coalition has been responsible for injuring and killing over 3,481 children in the last five years of conflict. The UN Yemen envoy stated that they will launch a thorough investigation into the airstrikes and the overall surge in violence seen in Yemen these past few months. 

Syria

Despite the global coronavirus pandemic, war continues to wage on in the Idlib province of Syria. Due to the pandemic, Idlib has seen a decrease in direct airstrikes, however, the region has been negatively affected by a series of decisions made by the UN Security Council on the provision of humanitarian aid. In early July, Russia and China vetoed a resolution that would provide humanitarian aid across two Syria-Turkey border crossings for the next six months. Just days later, China and Russia joined again to shut down one of the border crossings, creating a bottleneck of refugees trying to escape the violence of Idlib. Around a week after these decisions, an unclaimed car bomb explosion killed at least five and wounded around 85 others at the Bab al-Salameh border crossing. 

Asia

Burma

The internet shutdown in Burma is said to continue until at least August 1, 2020, in multiple townships in Rakhine and Chin State. This is one of the many attempts the Burmese government has made to halt transportation of resources, free speech, and access of information. 

In 2018, the Burmese military sentenced members of the security forces to a decade in prison for the killing of 10 Rohingya in Inn Din village, but they were released after serving less than a year. Many noted that this performative accountability is common within the Burma military, which, as Human Rights Watch recently stated, “reflects ongoing government efforts to evade meaningful accountability, scapegoating a few soldiers rather than seriously investigating the military leadership who oversaw the atrocity crimes”. Additionally, human rights groups accused the Burmese military of committing atrocities in Gu Dar Pyin village in Rakhine State, where at least five mass graves had been found. Two journalists who exposed the massacre were arrested and eventually released from jail after spending more than 16 months in confinement.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s current leader, will run for president in November. Although her previous election led to an end of a five-decade military rule, she did not intervene or condemn the genocide against Rohingya Muslims and continues to allow the Burma military to perpetrate violence towards the rest of the nation’s ehtnic groups. The lack of attention to giving autonomy to minority groups has estranged Aung San Suu Kyi’s relationship with her political allies. The Associated Press predicts that these allies will not hold up in this year’s elections.

Kashmir

The presence of the COVID-19 pandemic has only fueled the tension in Jammu and Kashmir. The two territories have been in an 11 month lockdown following Prime Minister Modi removing the region’s autonomous status. Due to this, Kashmiris had been confined in their homes long before the coronavirus hit. The implementation of Indian soldiers in these territories has led to a number of human rights violations. According to a report by the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir, “There has been denial of the right to bail and fair and speedy trial, coupled with misuse of draconian legislation, such as the Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), to stifle dissent.” 

The region’s limited access to the outside information has made their fight against the coronavirus much harder. Kashmir is restricted to 2G internet, slower than elsewhere in India. These slow internet speeds are supposedly implemented to fight terrorism. The throttling of internet speeds has inhibited the abilities of health care professionals-for instance, it took Kashmiri health providers over an hour to download international recommendations for COVID patients. According to JKCCS, the internet in Kashmir has been cut over 55 times by the Indian government in 2020.

There has also been a significant impact on the quality of education in the region due to COVID. School shutdowns happen frequently and sometimes last for months. Schools have barely functioned for 100 days in 2019-2020. During this time, students have been locked in their homes with very little access to educational resources. Even when schools are opened parents are reluctant to send their children out of fear for their safety. Shaheena Akhter, a Kashmiri mother, questioned what parent would ever send their child to school in this situation

Xinjiang, China

On June 17, the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act was signed into law in the U.S., over a year after it was introduced. This act, condemning human rights violations against the Uyghur people that include torture, harassment, and surveillance in forced detention camps, is an important step in putting global pressure on the Chinese government for its treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. However, the exact form of oppression seems to be changing, as forced Uyghur labor becomes more common. A recent investigation into the production of personal protective equipment in China for the COVID-19 pandemic found that many Chinese companies have been using Uyghur labor through a government program that sends Uyghurs as well as other ethnic minorities to work in factories. With those detained being sent from camps to factories and even more being recruited by this program with penalties for not complying, oppressive labor systems are another way to continue the oppression of Uyghur muslims under the guise of “counterterrorism”.

The production of P.P.E. is only one of the many industries that use Uyghur labor. At least 83 global corporations have been found to use Uyghur labor at some point in their supply chains, according to a recent report. Conditions at these factories, which include constant surveillance, ideological retraining, and restrictions on religious observance, show the continued oppression of the Uyghurs. In response to this information, the U.S. has put economic sanctions on eleven Chinese companies linked to these human rights violations, preventing them from buying goods and technology from the U.S. While this may put pressure on the Chinese government, it may also continue the ongoing trade conflict between the two countries. 

Central Africa

Central African Republic

On July 13, an ambush in the Northern Central African Republic killed a Rwandan United Nations peacekeeper and wounded two individuals. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic stated that this attack was likely carried out by the Return, Reclamation, and Rehabilitation (3R) armed group, which was formed in 2015 to respond to conflict with the Anti-Balaka, one of CAR’s main militia groups. CAR has been plagued with armed conflict between militia groups since 2013, with violence causing at least one million people to become displaced. Although fourteen armed groups, including the 3R, signed a peace agreement in February 2019, violence and conflict between groups has steadily increased and is on track to eventually break the peace accord. Secretary General António Guterres noted that attacks on peacebuilders can constitute war crimes and is looking to forward peace in CAR. 

CAR has struggled with child soldiers since 2013 and has recruited thousands of children to armed groups. Many have had issues reintegrating into society after returning from conflict, but some 100 children have begun to return to their communities as of mid-2020 due to a 2017 program between the USAID and Caritas. COVID-19 has continued to cause issues in CAR due to what CAR’s health minister deems a “big inequality crisis” in terms of coronavirus testing. The health minister noted that CAR is still waiting on testing kits from the World Health Organization and may be an overlooked country because of its status as a “small and fragile” state. 

Cameroon

At the beginning of July, representatives from the Cameroonian government held a meeting with leaders of an Anglophone seperatist group. One notable participant in these talks is Julius Ayuk Tabe, a separatist leader who is the president of the self-declared, English-speaking state of Ambazonia. In the meeting, representatives from both groups discussed a possible ceasefire to their ongoing conflict, which has resulted in more than 3,000 deaths and forced many civilians out of their homes. 

On July 22nd, the Cameroonian armed forces announced that Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea had come to an agreement on the matter of cross-border defence and security, an issue that the two countries have been negotiating since June. 

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW),  Mozogo soldiers are forcing civilians to  perform guard duty to protect against terrorist attacks by Boko Haram. These duties include completing dangerous tasks without training, necessary equipment, or compensation. Local authorities beat and threaten civilians who refuse to perform guard duty. Any civilians left are currently living in hiding to avoid the forced labor and abuse. 

Democratic Republic of Congo

In mid-July, protests broke out  in response to the appointment of Ronsard Malonda as the president of the Independent National Election Commission (CENI). Malonda has been accused of rigging elections in favor of Joseph Kabila, who came to power in 2001 and only stepped down last year. Malonda was also accused of rigging Parliamentary elections to give Kabila supporters a majority when current President Tshisekedi came to power. It was this Parliament that appointed him, although the President has not yet approved his appointment. Three people died as police cracked down on the protests.

Since then, the protests were banned under a broad declaration of a public health emergency, supposedly to contain the spread of COVID-19. After the ban was lifted, protests began again on July 23. Many of these protests were against President Tshisekedi and alleged abuses of power, not only through the ban but also through controversial judicial appointments. There has been no government response to the new round of protests. 

Refugees

The Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine Concerning Recognition as a Stateless Person came into law this month. This law gives an estimated 35,000 people the chance to gain citizenship, which affords them the rights to obtain residence permits, move freely, work, receive education, and utilize health services. Anna Miryasheva, a current stateless Ukrainian states, “With this law, I will finally get a sense of how it is to be someone who exists.” Although not all stateless people are refugees, this law lays the foundation for naturalization as a Ukrainian citizen for those who are stateless or have an unidentified nationality. 

The closure of Morton Hall detention center in Lincolnshire, United Kingdom marks another positive stride in the rights of refugees. A report showed that this detention center has higher levels of self-harm, violence, and use of force. As the UK has one of the largest detention systems in Europe, this demonstrates that detention centers are not needed to monitor immigrants. However, this is not the case for refugees in other parts of the world. Pope Francis has recently called the detention centres in Libya concentration camps. Traffickers and armed groups operate these detention centers using extortion, rape and abuse. Refugees are kidnapped on land or at sea and taken to “off-the-grid” detention centers. 

COVID-19 continues to impact refugees everywhere. Refugees have become a scapegoat for the pandemic globally because of the spread of false information and xenophobia. The pandemic also impacts refugees economic well-being, as they are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The World Economic Forum reports that “refugees are 60% more likely to lose jobs or income due to the pandemic.” However, the United Nations raised its budget to $10.3 billion to help fragile and vulnerable countries fight the pandemic. This appeal could help 250 million people in 63 countries. 

Refugee rights also hit close to home, as the Canadian court determined that, “the STCA (Safe Third Country Agreement) violated Canadian constitutional guarantees of life, liberty, and security, due to the risk of detention that returned asylum seekers face in the U.S.”

Alondra Becerra is a student at Texas State University. Alondra contributed to the Sudan and South Sudan portion of this update.

Abby Edwards is STAND’s co-Student Director and 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. In addition to her work with STAND, Abby is currently a research fellow with the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University and an intern at the Embassy of France in the United States. Abby contributed the Syria portion of this update.

Claire Sarnowski is a junior 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 to the Yemen portion of this update. 

Mherat Woldemeamlake is a bioengineering student at George Mason University, and former vice president of STAND GMU chapter. Mherat contributed to the Burma portion of this update.

Simmy Ghosh is a student at College Station High School, and is a member of the STAND Kashmir, Yemen, Burma, Sudan, and Xinjiang Action Committees. Simmy contributed the Kashmir portion of this update.

Grace Harris is a rising senior at Tampa Prep High School. She has been a member of her school’s STAND chapter since her freshman year and currently serves as its president. With STAND, Grace is the co-Xinjiang and co-High School Outreach lead. Grace contributed to the Xinjiang portion of this update. 

Caroline Mendoza is a senior at Cerritos High School and works with STAND as a co-Education and co-Burma committee lead. Caroline contributed to the Central African Republic portion of this update. 

Sulphia Iqbal is a student at South Brunswick High School and a member of the STAND Yemen and Burma Action Committees. Sulphia contributed to the Cameroon portion of this update.

Mira Mehta is a student at Westfield High School and a co-lead of the Yemen Action Committee. Prior to this, she was the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead and served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years. Mira contributed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo portion of this update.

Jenna Walmer is a graduate student at West Chester University of Pennsylvania working towards an M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an M.A. in General Psychology. With STAND, she is the co-education and co-policy lead. Jenna contributed the Refugee portion of this update. 

STAND’s Special Edition Conflict Update for World Refugee Day: June 2020

“One person becomes displaced every 2 seconds– less than the time it takes to read this sentence.” -UNHCR

Introduction to World Refugee Day

In December of 2000, the United Nations General Assembly declared June 20th an international day, where June 20th would represent the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Each year, the UN Refugee Agency celebrates this day with a variety of activities led by or involving refugees. The UNHCR designated the 2020 theme “Every Action Counts” to remind the global community, “No Matter who you are or where you come from, pandemic or not; every one of us can make a difference. Every action counts.” This year, STAND honors the refugees around the world through this special edition Conflict Update focusing on the refugees in our priority conflict areas. 

Sudan and South Sudan

South Sudan

Since December 2013, brutal conflict in South Sudan has claimed thousands of lives and driven 3.3 million people from their homes. While an estimated 1.9 million people remain displaced inside the country, 2.2 million have fled as refugees to neighboring countries in a desperate bid to reach safety.” -UNHCR

South Sudan is Africa’s largest refugee crisis. Over 2 million have left the country, and an additional 1.86 million people are internally displaced. South Sudan’s conflict, which began in 2013, remains unstable despite ongoing peace negotiations. Refugees continue to flee into Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, and other East African states. Uganda hosts the majority of South Sudanese refugees, who are primarily women and children. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Uganda announced on March 25 a 30 day suspension of refugee arrivals. Uganda has over 700 cases of coronavirus already, and there is widespread concern about preventing the virus from spreading into the refugee camps. Social distancing measures are not enforceable in these camps, and lack of food, water, and medical supplies would make stopping an outbreak difficult. Similar concerns exist within South Sudan, related to both internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees from neighboring states, including Sudan. 

Sudan

Sudan’s own refugee situation remains volatile, despite promises from civilian Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok. Sudan hosts nearly 1 million South Sudanese as well as refugees from the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Somalia. Moreover, 2 million Sudanese remain internally displaced as a result of conflicts in the Darfur and Nuba Mountains regions. Hunger, general health and COVID-19 prevention for these people will require more aid. Sudan’s government has asked for funding, but so far this call has gone unanswered. Additionally, there are currently about 800,000 Sudanese refugees in neighboring states who remain unable to return. 

While peace processes in both states offer some hope of eventual return, lack of resources remains the biggest problem facing Sudanese and South Sudanese refugees. Fears about COVID-19, along with general food and medical concerns, are pressing. This makes a coordinated humanitarian response even more necessary. 

Middle East

Yemen

Nearly 20 million Yemenis need humanitarian assistance. Those forced to flee their homes are especially at risk. Over 2 million people now languish in desperate conditions, away from home and deprived of basic needs. The situation is so dire that 1 million displaced Yemenis have lost hope and tried to return home, even though it is not yet safe.” -UNHCR

The Yemeni War has produced one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world. Today, there are over 11,000 refugees and more than 3.6 million internally displaced people as a result of the violence and human rights abuses that have ensued. Many of these internally displaced people have been displaced multiple times because other countries are not accepting refugees, and violence seems to follow them. This has also made it difficult to access the limited international aid that is able to get into other parts of Yemen.

With so many people displaced from their homes and most civilian infrastructure destroyed, the country is struggling to respond to COVID-19. In fact, only about half of Yemen’s health facilities are currently functioning. Moreover, the millions of internally displaced people living in makeshift shelters across the country are forced to live in close quarters. This means that people cannot socially distance, and disease spreads fast. Many Yemeni people are also at high risk because of malnourishment- about two-thirds of the population struggles to afford food, and about half of the country is considered on the brink of famine. Food has only become harder to access as remittances, money from family members abroad, have seen an unprecedented decrease. International donors, despite having pledged 1.35 billion dollars in humanitarian aid to Yemen, have still fallen short of the 2.4 billion dollar fundraising goal.

The conflict in Yemen has put all of its citizens at higher risk in the midst of the pandemic, but the situation is particularly dangerous for the internally displaced people and refugees.

Iraq Special Focus: Yazidi Displacement

More than 3 million Iraqis have been displaced across the country since the start of 2014 and more than 240,000 are refugees in other countries including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Germany.” -UNHCR

In 2014, ISIS attacked Sinjar, Iraq, forcing the survivors of a predominantly Yazidi community to relocate. Yazda, a global Yazidi organization, predicts that 360,000 Yazidis currently live in  internally displaced peoples camps in the Kurdish Region of Iraq, 1,800 Iraqi-Yazidis live in Turkey, 1,500 in Syria, and 1,000 in Greece, with an additional 90,000 Yazidis having fled from Iraq since 2014. Yazidis living in IDP camps have ill-equipped medical services, especially in this time of COVID-19. However, because of their close proximity to their atrocities, some Yazidi refugees, with the help of a research agency Forensic Architecture, can gather evidence of the genocide through drones made out of clear plastic bottles, rubber bands, helium balloons, and a camera.

Other Yazidis have found refuge outside of Europe. As many as 3,000 Yazidis found a new home in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Yazidi Cultural Center, sponsored by Yazda, draws the Yazidis to Lincoln because of the established cultural community and variety of resources provided, such as a youth mentorship program, English classes, and legal immigration assistance. Canadian organizations also work to help Yazidi immigrants with language barriers and medical needs.

Syria

Syrians continued to be the largest forcibly displaced population in the world, with 13 million people at the end of 2018. That’s more than half of the Syrian population.” -UNHCR

Over 5.5 million Syrian refugees currently seek refuge in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. These individuals are fleeing a brutal and deadly conflict, which is now entering its 10th year. Refugees face many challenges to meet their basic needs, and these challenges have only increased with the COVID-19 pandemic. Refugees with already unstable income are now unable to pay rent or purchase basic necessities. For example, in Lebanon, 55 percent of the estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees fell below the Survival Minimum Expenditure Basket, meaning they lived on less than $2.90 US per person daily. These financial losses have hit members of host countries as well, exacerbating already strained relationships between Syrian refugees and their neighbors. 

In order to address the increasing needs of Syrian refugees, and as a part of their global response to the coronavirus outbreak, the European Union Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis has mobilized an additional €55 million for Syrian refugees along with other vulnerable persons in Jordan and Lebanon. This aid is timely, but by no means sufficient for the many Syrian refugees in Lebanon where multiple crises and lack of protection for refugees has resulted in a significant need for increased humanitarian assistance. 

Asia 

Burma 

At the end of 2018, the UNHCR estimated that there were over 1.1 million refugees from Myanmar. This made it the fourth largest refugee population in the world.” -Refugee Council of Australia

Burma is a country that has long experienced ethnic tensions dating back as early as the 10th century when ancient Burmese kingdoms existed and fought with other kingdoms and experienced invasions from other groups of people. However, such ethnic tensions became even more aggravated due to British colonization, when colonizers favored certain ethnic groups more than others. After receiving independence from Britain in 1948, Burma struggled to solidify a shared national identity amongst its over 135 ethnic groups, and clashes between the Tatmadaw (Burmese/Myanmar Military) and ethnic armed rebel groups continuing to this day are demonstrative of how this same struggle persists in the present. This marks the longest-running civil war in the world. 

Not only is Burma home to the longest-running civil war in the world, but it is also home to the world’s longest internet shutdown in Rakhine and Chin states, where people have had connections cut off from family members and the rest of the world since June 21, 2019. The human rights violations documented in Burma have been some of the most severe in the world, as well, with far too many accounts of sexual and gender-based violence, war crimes, and crimes against humanity amounting to genocide, committed by the Burmese Military. 

Since 2011, more than 17,000 Shan and over 120,000 Kachin have been displaced from their homes in IDP camps, and more than 200,000 Chin have fled as refugees, with over 39,000 having fled to Malaysia. Due to the military crackdown in Arakan State on August 25, 2017, an estimated 1,600 Chin fled to India’s Mizoram State while over 700,000 Rohingya children, women and men escaped to Bangladesh as of April 2018, creating the world’s largest refugee camp in history. Rohingyas are still on the run–even as recent as this month, Rohingyas were arriving in boats to Malaysia and Thailand. As of January 2020, more than 160,000 Arakan have also been displaced from their homes, and as of January 2019, around 162,000 Karen IDPs have been displaced, with 97,439 Karen refugees residing in nine different camps on the Thai-Burma border. 

To this day, IDPs in Kachin, Shan, Arakan, Karen, and Chin States within Burma, and refugees in neighboring Bangladesh and India have limited access to food, medical care, and educational opportunities. As it has nearly been a decade now that IDPs in Myanmar have been displaced, donor fatigue has set in, with many humanitarian organizations and donors, like the World Food Programme, reducing their aid dramatically over the years. Kachin IDPs living within Kachin Independence Organization-controlled areas, in particular, are blocked by the Burmese government from receiving international humanitarian aid, too, and there are shortages of not only food but face masks in almost all the refugee and IDP camps. What’s more, Kachin IDPs also have to deal with the possibility of returning back to no home at all after their time in displacement because their land is being grabbed by the government while they are gone. IDPs and refugees alike from Myanmar are thus in need of humanitarian aid now more than ever before, especially in the face of a pandemic. COVID-19 screening centers in IDP camps have been burned to the ground, and IDPs even got in trouble with the Burmese military for receiving face masks. The Myanmar military is not stopping at all, but taking advantage of the pandemic while the rest of the world is fixated on COVID-19 issues, to inflict more harm upon the country’s very own citizens with impunity.

Kashmir

STAND just added Kashmir as a Priority Area for the 2020-2021 Academic year. To get involved in Kashmir advocacy, join the new Action Committee.

When the Partition of India occurred, the state of Kashmir had a majority Muslim population. The rest of the population was comprised of Pandits, Sikhs Hindus, and Zoroastrians. Tensions arose in the 1990s when Kashmir saw an increase in Muslim opposition to the Indian occupation in Kashmir. The conflict grew when Muslim militant groups learned that the Kashmiri Pandits did not recognize their struggle. In addition, many of these rebellious groups started calling the Pandits “informers of the Indian Government”, which caused animosity towards the Pandits. Tensions kept growing as India appointed a Hindu Governor to look over Kashmir, which deepened the divide between the Kashmiri Pandits and the Muslims in the area. This resulted in a huge uprising, where Muslim militants set homes ablaze, raped women, and murdered Pandits, forcing most to leave Kashmir.  

The Indian Government recommended that the Pandits leave the area as they could guarantee their safety and set up refugee camps. Many of the Pandits left the land they lived on for thousands of years. These refugees settled everywhere from Jammu to Johannesburg. When the refugees left, they thought that they could return in the future but that was not the case. The trauma inflicted caused the Pandits to become refugees within their homeland. As of recent, Congress at the Centre announced a package for rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, but this plan was stalled. In 2017, Union Minister Rajnath Singh announced the government’s decision to make 6,000 transit accommodations for the Pandits, but this plan did not come to fruition either. 

In 2019, when the Indian Government revoked the special status of Kashmir, a lot of rhetoric began being used which suggested that the current violence against Kashmiri Muslims was being justified with the pain inflicted upon the Kashmiri Pandits due to the exodus in the 1990s. On the other hand, many people looked at the current conflict as not one caused by religion but as one caused by a lack of correct leadership. Even in 2020, 4G internet is still not available to Kashmiri’s due to the fear of militant groups rising. This state-imposed internet barrier has caused a disconnect between Kashmiris and the rest of the world which has major effects, especially during COVID-19. Since information is not readily available, doctors do not have access to new research related to the disease. Even though the world has just now gone on lockdown due to coronavirus, Kashmir has been locked down since 2019, and the effects have been detrimental to its citizens.

Xinjiang, China

STAND just added Xinjiang as a Priority Area for the 2020-2021 Academic year. To get involved in Xinjiang advocacy, join the new Action Committee.

China routinely uses its international power and influence to pressure states into returning Uyghur refugees to China where they are frequently jailed or forcibly disappeared, if not killed. Furthermore, China has extended the bounds of their surveillance state across the world, spying on Uyghur refugees, forcing them to stay quiet on their experiences in Xinjiang and human rights more broadly, and threatening them with the internment or disappearance of their family members back in China. Uyghur refugees are rendered stateless by the Chinese government that refuses to renew their passports, making it incredibly difficult for them to travel, work, or establish a new life abroad. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the inaction of Chinese officials has stranded thousands of stateless Uyghurs in Turkey, including over 1,000 orphans and 1,000 single mothers in dire need of aid.

Still, Uyghur refugees have proved essential in raising awareness of the systematic persecution of Uyghurs within the tightly veiled region of Xinjiang. President Trump signed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act (UHRPA) on June 19—the same day that leaked clips from former U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s memoir accused the President of expressing support for the detainment of Uyghurs in concentration camps. Uyghur refugees across the world expressed support for the policy as an important first step. However, some argue that the bill’s provisions—for instance, demanding reports on the construction of camps and the surveillance state—are now outdated and would be redundant to reports already created by non-governmental organizations. More recent research shows that China is “in the process of decommissioning [the camps] and pushing the Uyghurs who occupied them into various forms of forced labor.” Nury Turkel, Uyghur activist and co-founder of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, urged Congress to follow the UHRPA with the passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA). Introduced into the House in March, the UFLPA would ban imported goods from the Xinjiang region, assumed to be created by forced labor. 

Central Africa

Central African Republic

Since 2013, nearly 1 million men, women, and children have fled their homes in desperation, seeking refuge within mosques and churches, as well as in neighboring countries (Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and the Republic of the Congo.” -UNHCR

In December 2013, armed conflict and violence spread across the Central African Republic (CAR), causing thousands to be forcibly displaced and killed by indiscriminate attacks. The UNHCR estimates that there are over 593,000 CAR refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Chad, Cameroon, Sudan, and South Sudan, in addition to the over 600,000 internally displaced peoples taking shelter in CAR’s forests. In Mbilé camp in Cameroon, over 11,000 CAR refugees scavenge for food while many women walk up to five hours a day to retrieve firewood. In refugee camps on the River Ubangi in the Democratic Republic of Congo, many suffer from outbreaks of malaria in addition to extreme heat, hunger, and lack of sanitation. Before the influx of refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo, over 110,000 refugees received aid from the UNHCR, however, a mere 11 percent of the UNHCR’s 2017 funding appeal has been received. The refugee crisis from the CAR is noted to be one of the most underfunded in the world, where many camps survive off of the charity of local communities rather than governmental or organizational assistance. 

In February 2019, the CAR president signed a peace deal with fourteen armed groups, ushering in relative stability as of mid-2020. While many refugees are hesitant to return home, the CAR has stated that it plans to prioritize the reintegration of refugees into society. In October 2019, the UNHCR assisted 6,000 refugees in crossing the Cameroon border to return to CAR, while over 274,000 refugees chose to stay. Although the number of internally displaced people has decreased by 20 percent in the months following CAR’s peace deal, the agreement is extremely fragile. UN agencies hope to repatriate more refugees in 2020 as on-the-ground security improves. 

Cameroon

As of October 2019, “Cameroon currently has 1,575,403 people of concern, including 271,960 Central African and 106,761 Nigerian refugees.” -UNHCR

Cameroon’s English-speaking separatist groups have long been in conflict with the Cameroonian government, where estimates state that the armed disputes have killed over 3,000 and forcibly displaced 679,000 in Anglophone regions. 60,000 people have also become refugees in nearby Nigeria, where about 47.5 percent of refugees live in four UNHCR settlements. The majority of Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria reside in host communities, where the aid of the UNHCR and other agencies does not reach, and many struggle without access to food, education, and basic health necessities.

Cameron’s army confirmed anglophone journalist Samuel Waizizi died in prison 10 months ago “as a result of severe sepsis” after accusing him of associating with “terrorists” referencing English-speaking separatist groups. Cameroon’s journalist union reported that the army tortured and killed Wazizi. Reporters Without Borders called Wazizi’s death “the worst crime against a journalist in the past 10 years in Cameroon. He was arrested in the city of Buea on August 2 and “accused of speaking critically on the air about the authorities and their handling of the crisis”.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The DRC currently hosts more than half a million refugees and five million internally displaced people (IDPs) – the largest IDP population in Africa.” -UNHCR

On April 12, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) believed that the Ebola outbreak was over in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) due to the lack of new cases. This announcement came about a year after WHO declared Ebola a public health emergency in the eastern area of the country. The vaccination seemed to control the outbreak, and officials did not see any new cases for a few weeks. To officially declare the outbreak over, there must be no new cases for 42 days, or until June 25. However, on June 1, 2020, health officials reported new cases of Ebola in the northwestern region of the country. As of June 1, four people already died from the outbreak in the city of Mbandaka. Because of the resurgence of Ebola, refugees are in  greater need of resources. The DRC is a refugee hotbed, hosting over 500,000 refugees from Rwanda, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Burundi, as well as 5 million internally displaced people due to conflict dating back to 1960. The UNHCR is increasing its capacity in the DRC to combat the heightened risk. This agency is working to improve sanitation efforts and to distribute medical resources, shelter, food, and water. 

Additionally, many mining companies are sealing off mining sites in the southern DRC region to avoid COVID-19 outbreaks. These companies force workers to choose between working or losing their jobs. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also reported that workers are given insufficient amounts of food and no adequate personal protection equipment (PPE). One company, Glencore, claims to provide efficient PPE and that it is working closely with the government. Other companies including, Eurasian Resources Group, Chemaf, Huayou Cobalt, and Ivanhoe Mines, have not replied yet.

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 to the Xinjiang potion of this update.

Alison Rogers is a journalism student at Baylor University and the lead on the Sudan Action Committee. Alison is also an Enough Project Upstander and was previously the Texas advocacy lead for STAND. Alison contributed to the Sudan and South Sudan portion of this update.

Mira Mehta is a student at Westfield High School and a co-lead of the Yemen Action Committee. Prior to this, she was the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead and served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years. Mira contributed to the Yemen portion of this update.

Jenna Walmer is a graduate student at West Chester University of Pennsylvania working towards an M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an M.A. in General Psychology. With STAND, she is the co-education and co-policy lead. Jenna contributed to the Iraq-Yazidi portion of this update.

Megan Rodgers is a senior International Studies, Political Science, and Spanish major at the University of Arkansas and served as the Democratic Republic of the Congo Committee Lead prior to becoming one of STAND’s Student Directors for the 2020-2021 school year. She became interested in the DRC 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 to the DRC portion of this update.

Htoijan (Jan Jan) Maran is a senior at George Mason University in Virginia, where she is studying Global Affairs and Environmental Sustainability Studies. She serves various roles as Co-lead of the Burma Committee, Assistant Secretary for both the Calvary Burmese Church Youth group and the Kachin Alliance, and is involved with grassroots organization, Action Corps, as VA Lead Organizer and Burma Policy Lead. Jan Jan contributed to the Burma portion of this update.

Ishreet Lehal is a student at Terre Haute South Vigo High School and is the Kashmir Committee Lead. She is active in the Together We Remember Youth Action Network and CANDLES Holocaust Museum Youth Board. Ishreet contributed to the Kashmir portion of this update.

Caroline Mendoza is a senior at Cerritos High School and a co-lead of the Burma Committee in addition to a co-Education lead. Prior to this, Caroline served as STAND’s West Region Field Organizer as well as a Burma co-lead and High School Outreach Coordinator. Caroline contributed to the Central African Republic portion of this update.

Rohan Shah is a senior at the University of Chicago Lab School, and State Advocacy Lead for Illinois. He is involved in Model UN and Mock Trial at his school. Rohan contributed the Cameroon portion of this update.

Aisha Saleem is a junior at Barnard College in NYC. She is a biochemistry major and enjoys being a mentor to underrepresented youth around the world. She served on the Managing Committee last year and is excited to continue her work with this movement. She is excited to mobilize grassroots organizations to take part in campaigns and co-lead the Yemen committee. Aisha contributed to the DRC portion of this update.